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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Romans 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-7

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.

Authentication and salutation

I. The apostle.

1. Paul was not the name by which he was always known, but was assumed shortly after the commencement of his mission to the Gentiles. The practice of assuming a Gentile, in addition to the original Hebrew name, was then common, and indicated a loosening of the bonds of religious exclusiveness.

2. Servant of Jesus Christ. Not a hired servant ( μίσθιος ἢ μισθωρὸς), nor a voluntary attendant ( ὑπηρέτης), nor a subordinate officer ( ὑπηρέτης), nor a ministering disciple ( διάκονος); but a slave ( δοῦλος). Yet the title is very far from denoting anything humiliating. That, indeed, it must do if the master were only human. Even though the slave should be promoted as minister of state, the stigma of servitude was not removed; for the despot might, at any moment, degrade or destroy him. We may therefore rest assured that to no mere man, however exalted, would St. Paul have willingly subscribed himself a slave. But to be the bondmen of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose property he was both by right of creation and redemption; all of whose requirements were known to be in absolute accordance with truth and righteousness, and to all of which his own renewed heart responded with most lively sympathy, was the truest liberty and the highest dignity.

3. This dignity St. Paul participated in common with every other disciple; but, unlike many others, he had been called to the office of an apostle. Those thus called were constituted “ambassadors for Christ,” being chosen, qualified, and deputed by Him to transact business with their fellow men in respect to His kingdom. The twelve had been chosen by the Master during the days of His flesh, and had companied with Him during His earthly ministry (Acts 1:21). St. Paul had not enjoyed this advantage. Nevertheless, he, too, was an apostle by Divine call (Galatians 1:1). True, he was confessedly, because of the lateness of his call, “as one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8); but his call was not the less real or effectual. And in all that was requisite, he was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2Co_12:12).

4. He had not only been called, but specially “separated unto the gospel of God.” Like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), so, too, St. Paul was “separated from his mother’s womb” (Galatians 1:15). His parentage, birth, endowments, education, etc., had been so arranged by God as to constitute him “a choice vessel” for this very work (Acts 26:16-19; Act_13:1-3).

II. The gospel to publish which he had been separated.

1. It had been “promised afore by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures; so designated because they were written for holy purposes, by holy men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and developed holy fruits.”

2. This gospel was “concerning His Son” [Divine dignity] “Jesus Christ” [the personal name and official designation] “our Lord” (absolute right of property and dominion).

III. The object, extent, and result of His commission. He had received “grace and apostleship.”

1. To promote “obedience to the faith”: i.e., first of all, men must be taught the faith--i.e., the things to be believed (Matthew 28:19). It is a mistake to suppose that Christian men are called upon to believe they know not what, nor why (2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 8:32). Now these things, proposed to faith not only bring to us the tidings of peace and of new life in Christ, but they propose to us a course of life to be pursued. They require belief, in order to obedience; and make it plain that a faith which does not result in obedience is a dead thing (Matthew 28:20; Romans 16:26).

2. The apostle had received authority to promote this obedience of faith amongst “all nations.” The Gentiles had never grasped the truth of the universal brotherhood of man; while the Hebrews, though very strictly separated from all others, not only possessed the thought, but were preparing the way for a reign of grace in which all the nations should be blessed. That was the purport of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and confirmed to David and his son. Therefore the prophets sang triumphantly of one whom the Gentiles should seek (Isaiah 11:10). The nation did not indeed admit Gentiles on equal terms. They required that these should assume the yoke of the Mosaic law. But now the obedient to the faith from amongst all nations were to constitute the true Israel of God.

3. The whole result was to be for the glory of “His name,” by whom our redemption has been accomplished. It was not for the glory of Israel, nor of the apostles, nor of any number of men (1 Corinthians 1:27-29; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

IV. The formal address and salutation. The things to be noted are--

1. That the blessing sought for the saints was the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, so manifested as to insure peace.

2. The specially Christian conception of God as our Father.

3. The significant association of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as the common object of prayer and the common source of grace and peace. (W. Tyson.)

The opening address

I. The author.

1. Paul, once called Saul, of Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city, a Benjamite, of pure Hebrew extraction, well trained in a knowledge of the Scriptures, a free citizen of the Roman empire, acquainted with the literature of Greece, by nature endowed with great force of intellect, passion, and resoluteness, of bold and ambitious spirit, a Pharisee of the austerest type, zealous for the law, and hating its enemies, real or supposed.

2. Yet a servant of Jesus Christ, by a free, rational subjection. He stood before his Lord, like the angels which stand before the throne of God, or like nobles in the court of a mighty prince. How was this?

3. He received grace for his own salvation’s sake; and apostleship to bring about the salvation of others.

4. He was an apostle to the Gentiles: while Peter and the other eleven were apostles to the Jews.

II. The persons addressed. The letter was written in 58. Think what Rome was at that period--much like London at the close of the last century, only without its Christianity. Its population exceeded two millions, half of whom were slaves. Many families were amazingly rich and luxurious: but far more, among the freemen, were as lazy as they were proud, and as poor as they were lazy. The population was low sunk in misery and sensual degradation. In religion, the vulgar were besotted polytheists and the philosophers avowed atheists. The Jews occupied a quarter apart from the rest of the city. It is not known by whom that Church was founded, but probably by some of the strangers from Rome who were in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and was composed principally of Gentile converts. To these would be added such Jewish converts as had effectually separated themselves from the synagogue. The Church seems to have been one of singular purity, spirituality, and strength. Its disciples were “beloved of God”; His “chosen saints.” And the Church needs to be built up in its holy faith. It is not enough to hear of Christ and believe in Him; to be converted and witness a good confession; but to be fully instructed in the apostle’s doctrine, and to continue in it, that we may grow up to the full stature of a perfect man in Christ.

III. The subject matter of the Epistle.

1. It is an exposition of what is contained in the prophets. Here is no new thing, but the historic verification and doctrinal development of what the prophets declared.

2. It concerns the glad tidings of God, which relate all to the salvation wrought out for men by Jesus Christ, who--

IV. The spirit of the whole. This comes out in the benediction and salutation of verse 7.

1. “Grace” is Divine favour. Its fruit and effect is “peace,” which comprehends all gospel blessedness.

2. Grace and peace come from God the Father, and God the Son. (T. G. Horton.)

The true preacher and his great theme

I. The true preacher.

1. His spirit: a willing bondsman--not by force or legal orders, but by inward necessity. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” Bound by obligations that are as tender as silken cords, but firm as adamant; too weak to fetter, but too strong to break.

2. His preparation: “called” “separated” the Godward side of the call to the ministry, and the ground of ministerial authority.

3. His aim--

II. His great theme. The gospel is great because of--

1. Its Author, God: not about Him merely, but from Him. The gospel has its source in God as the river in the fountain, the beam in the sun. It is--

2. The method of its fore announcement (verse 2). A gospel which had been foretold by such men as Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and in such a way, is indeed a great gospel. And just as by the dawn God promises day, by spring, summer, so by old prophecy He “promised the gospel.”

3. Its subject. “His Son Jesus Christ.” Christ is great because of--

Christianity as an objective system

I. Its nature--a gospel (verse 1).

II. Its antiquity. It was promised before in the Holy Scriptures by the prophets (verse 2).

III. Its central idea. The Lord Jesus Christ (verse 3).

IV. Its instrumentality. Men, apostles, with the truth, not priests with things to do, but men with a truth to teach (verse 5).

V. The immediate and alternate aims. The obedience of faith in the reception of the truth, a holy sainthood to the man who receives it (verses 5-7).

VI. Its supernatural and spiritual elements. Grace and peace, etc. (verse 7). VII. Its sphere. It is to go abroad into the whole World, and be exhibited there (verse 8). (T. Binney.)

A servant of Jesus Christ

I. The highest title known in earth or heaven is “a servant of God.”

1. At the commencement of their Epistles, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude, use, indiscriminately, the expressions--“servant of God,” and “servant of Christ,” as if they were synonymous. It is one of the undesigned, and therefore strongest arguments for the Deity of Christ. James combines the two. And in every case each apostle places it first as his highest title--above his apostleship.

2. And were you to ask the man on earth nearest heaven, “What are you?” or the saints in Paradise, or the angels--in all their order and degrees--the response would be, “I am a servant of Jesus Christ.”

3. And no marvel! The Lord Jesus Himself gloried in the name. It designated Him in prophecy. It was His own delineation of His work--“a Servant.”

II. How do we enter the service?

1. It begins with a vocation from God. It is not such as anyone may say that he has it. It is a distinct call. Everyone here might be inclined to say, “I am a servant of Christ--of course I am.” When did you go to that “service”? There cannot be “service” without an act of engagement. The outward vocation--the pledge on either side--was at baptism. But it was not there that it became real. It is real when you begin to close, with certain inward impulses, which have been at work in your heart by the Holy Ghost; and to love God. This love is the child of liberty, and the service is the child of love.

2. Now you are prepared for “service.” And you go, and in some way or other--it may be at confirmation, or holy communion--you go and consecrate yourself to His work. “Lord, here I am. I am Thine. Accept me, fit me, teach me, use me, as Thou wilt.”

III. The privilege of the service.

1. You are placed in close communication with your Master, He tells you His secrets. “The slave knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.”

2. You serve “the King of kings and Lord of lords”; but you serve One who was once a servant. Many an earthly servant may sometimes have wished, “O that my master or mistress knew what service is!” That is what you have. He understands it all, and has the heart to feel, and the power to help.

3. And to that same Master His servants bring all their work; and as they lay it at His feet, He makes it clean, and perfumes it with the odour of His own perfect service. What has been wrong in it, He cancels: what is good, He accepts, when He has made it--by what He adds to it--acceptable to Himself.

4. And all along the sweet feeling of the servant is, “My Master is pleased with me and my poor service. And all I am doing, it is practice for a far higher and better service.”

IV. The character of the “service.” It does not much matter what Christ’s servants do. They are His servants everywhere. It is the motive which makes the service, not the action. If a person desires to carry on his business upon Christian principles--and directly or indirectly to honour Christ in the world--that man is “a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” If anyone does an act of kindness to another--if he give to the poor, or minister to the afflicted, and if he see Christ in them--then he does it to Christ, and he is “His servant.” If a man humble himself for Christ’s sake, then that man is Christ-like in His service, and he is a “servant” indeed. Or, no less, if a man suffer patiently, for Jesus’ sake, he is “a servant of Jesus.” Perhaps that is the highest service which combines the right fulfilment, for Christ’s sake, of the greatest number of the duties of life. The daughter whom every day her father, mother, brothers, sisters, and servants, rise up to bless, and who, as she has opportunity, goes out to the poor, and the sick, and the schools about her, she is a truer “servant of Christ” than the daughter who shuts herself up into the one narrower sphere of her own selection. Practically, what you have to do, is to accept whatever work the providence of God may give you. And if you want to know what it is, in the providence of God, that you should do, consult, after special prayer about it, your minister, your Christian friends, your own judgment. A field of service will be sure to open to you, in due time, if you look for it. There go in, nothing doubting, and put all the Christ you can into it. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The servant of Jesus Christ a willing servant

The following story well illustrates the force of δοῦλος, as applied to the believer. A slave, on hearing that an Englishman had purchased him, gnashed his teeth, knit his brows, and declared, with true pathos and heartfelt indignation, that he would never obey so unworthy a representative of the land of boasted freedom. On learning afterwards, however, that his new master had bid for and bought him in order to bestow upon him his freedom, the poor negro was so overcome with joy and gratitude, that he fell down at the feet of the man he had just vowed never to serve, and exclaimed, “I am your slave forever” (Psalms 116:16). (C. Neil, M. A.)

Paul, the slave of Jesus Christ

I. No one had a more vivid sense of liberty and the right of private judgment than this disciple of Gamaliel. He had all the zeal of a Republican for the worth of manhood. He was a free-born Roman citizen, and he never forgot it. He could make a stand for his civil rights like a Hampden or a William Tell. He allowed no privileged authority to rob him of his franchise. He was the champion of personal liberty before the weak-minded Felix, or the straightforward Festus, or the frivolous Agrippa. And that famous declaration: “I appeal unto Caesar!”--it rings down eighteen centuries like the sound of a war trumpet. “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Yes, a slave--in body, mind, and spirit; boasting of his slavery in the face of the world.

II. The authority of this Divine slave is proportionate to the extent of his slavery. The more slave he is of the Supreme Mind of humanity, the more right and power has he to be the founder of Christian theology. For what does this splendid slavery mean? It is a soul finding a personality higher and better than its own, and yielding allegiance to it. Slavery? It is liberty. It is moving within God. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (H. Elvet Lewis.)

The mystery of loyalty--the master and the slave

1. Christianity has revolutionised the world, above all by teaching the value and dignity of man as man. There is one instance which exhibits this in the highest degree--“Paul, the slave of Jesus;”

2. It is thus that he begins the most elaborate of his letters. Now such a beginning is noteworthy for two reasons, because--

3. The gospel, however, had spread through every rank of society; and so in these two cities there would be those who understood the term of “master,” as well as those who, to their sorrow, could not fail to realise the position of a “slave.”

4. Dwell for a moment on the title. This man gives of himself an almost contemptuous description to the proudest people in the world. And then think of the man who thus voluntarily places himself in the ranks of the conquered. Brought up a Pharisee, by his very training inclined to be proud, uncompromising; to this must be added the possession of learning, and a consequent sense of superiority, was ever man less likely to submit willingly to the place of a slave? Note--

I. The meaning of the apostle.

1. Complete submission of will to the commands of Christ. What those commands are, or mean, may be a matter, in part at least, of question; but the point of importance is that once discovered, they are to be unhesitatingly and entirely obeyed. It has been said that “a Colt craves for a king.” It is true of all mankind, and a true King for us there is. One who understands man, whose sway is imperial, but whose laws meet the deepest yearnings of the soul, and whose result is blessing. To disobey such is to make life a scene of slaughter; and obey Him and “the wilderness and the solitary place blossom as the rose.”

2. Entire submission of judgment to the revelation of Christ. To accept Christ at all is to accept Him as the absolute truth. Hard sayings, mysterious doctrines, came from His lips. To accept these in so far as they accord with our preconceived notions, or suit our tastes and wishes, is scarcely to accept them at all. To hold ourselves in submission to His revelation is the attitude of mind suited to His followers: to that tone of thought more light is given, and “spiritual things are spiritually discerned.”

3. An entire and earnest effort to imitate the life of Christ. St. Paul felt this robe a necessity, because that life was itself a revelation. St. Paul, like others, might have set about to seek self in a manner not altogether ignoble, but in the prudent indulgence of legitimate ambition, and, indeed, he did so till Christ crossed his path. He had taken one view of life, and it was the wrong one. Here, in spite of all the world’s assertion to the contrary, was the best, the noblest, the happiest life. What is your line in life? A servant you are to whom you obey; and your obedience will be regulated by that object of imitation and attainment to which your desire is turned. Is it pleasure? To seek it is, proverbially, to scare it from your path; and if found in any degree, how soon it palls upon the satiated soul! Is it reputation? Ah, me! it is a mere bubble shining for a moment in a gleam of sunlight, then bursting and gone. Is it riches? Our graveyards remind us that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Nay, more. What is dearer, what more beautiful than family life? If ever the weary worker may find an end and an object in his work, it is to create around him those objects of love which elevate and soothe. And yet they die.

4. That one attitude towards the Redeemer that is suitable in a soul which has sinned. When we are fully alive to sin, how little do the arguments with which before we cozened ourselves when sinning then avail! We want--and we feel that we want--a Redeemer. It is then that Jesus Christ is precious. To waken to that great truth to which Paul wakened--“loved me, gave Himself for me”--is to become the willing, loving slave of the Redeemer.

II. The consequences of this Christian view of submission to Christ.

1. It points to a large and loving recognition of all who name the Holy Name. “Our common Christianity” is a dangerous phrase, when it is meant to hint or encourage a doctrine of indifferentism. But it is true and consoling when it expresses that amongst all who are “baptized unto Jesus Christ” there is a share in one main ground of common faith and hope, which may unite them more at last than their differences can divide.

2. It affects in a very serious sense the attitude of the individual life.

III. The secret spring of such an attitude of mind. In the mind of Paul there was no sort of question as to who Christ was. He had had amplest opportunity of examining His claims, but no amount of study, observation or evidence was enough. Divine faith ruled his life. He recognised Christ as the Eternal God, who was also the Representative Man, and recognising this, by the grace given him, he acted on the recognition.

1. To do this was to live by faith. Henceforth he directed his course by the visual efficacy of a fresher and fuller spiritual sense directed upon the reality of the unseen world. That reality was Christ’s, To submit to the absolute supremacy of the same Master involves in each soul the supremacy of the same principle, to “walk by faith.” Now the antagonist of such a principle is to walk by sight. The man who lives by the principle of “sight” may be respectable; but one thing he is not doing, viz., seeking to guide his course and govern his actions by habitual reference to an unseen, a loving Friend; he has in no way staked his all upon the promise, and committed his destiny to the keeping of “the Son of God.”

2. But as faith was allowed to exercise its sovereign sway, there grew and deepened in the mind of the apostle an intense personal love and loyalty towards Christ. This lay at the root of his patient study of the mind of his Master, and his unwearying effort to do His work. Henceforth life was changed. Not only was he now baptized into Jesus Christ, but he rose to the fulness of his regenerate life. One, the Highest, had thought of him, even him. Could he ever forget it? “The life that I now live in the flesh,” so he writes, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Jesus the Conqueror! Paul the slave! A great love had overmastered Paul, and a faithful response was given.

1. The comfort. Life is full of failure, of sorrow, of sin. Listen. He changes not, “He loved you, and gave Himself for you.” Well, then, if listening--

2. The result.

The sublimest servitude

Men are made to serve. In true service alone they realise the harmonious development of their powers, and the realisation of their aspirations. Note here--

I. The highest masterhood.

1. His mission--Jesus, i.e., Saviour; Christ, i.e., anointed. Christ is God in His redemptive capacity. There is no salvation where there is not a deliverance from sin, from its possession, dominion, consequences.

2. His divinity--“the Son of God.” The universe teems with sons of God; but the Infinite has no son like Christ, Hence He is called “His only begotten Son.”

3. His human history.

II. The highest employment. Paul was an apostle of this Master. There are many branches of employment in the service of Christ; but there is nothing higher than that of apostleship (1 Corinthians 12:28). It is an office of the highest trust, it is to represent his Master. Of the most salutary and ennobling influence, it is to redeem the world. Paul was “called” to this high office, on the way to Damascus, and from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15).

2. He was an apostle of the highest message. “The gospel of God.” God is the Author, the Substance, and the End of this good news to men. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Paul’s servitude and apostleship

I. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.

1. On his first appearance in history who would ever have thought of finding his name associated with such a designation? The Jewish priests and rulers, the sworn enemies of Christ, were then his masters; and Satan was theirs. But the slave of the devil became the servant of Christ. And he transferred from the one service to the other all his native ardour, and all his indefatigable activity. That service was more than destitute of dignity in the eyes of both Jews and Gentiles. But now to be “a servant of Jesus Christ” was esteemed by Paul his most distinguished honour, and was enjoyed by him as the chief zest and happiness of his life.

2. Let the disciples of Christ remember that they are all His servants; and what department soever of that service they are called to fill, whether public or private, let them cherish the same spirit with Paul. The more highly we think of the Master the more honourable will we deem His service; and the deeper our sense of obligation, the more ardent will be our delight in the doing of His will, and in the advancement of His glory.

II. But Paul served Christ in a special capacity.

1. The office of an apostle was the highest among the offices of the Christian Church. In every enumeration of them this stands first (Ephesians 4:8-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28). In the apostles we find all gifts combined. They were, in the very highest sense, “ambassadors for Christ,” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Their testimony was the standard of truth; and their authority, as the plenipotentiaries of their exalted Lord, was without appeal (John 17:18).

2. And that authority continues still. The writings of the apostles have all the authority of the apostles themselves. What a powerful inducement to their careful study, and how solemn the admonition, that if we “wrest” them, it must be to “our own destruction”! This is coin that bears “the image and superscription” of the King of Heaven; to destroy, to debase, or to lighten it is an act of treason.

III. This official honour required a commission from the lord Himself. Such commission Saul of Tarsus received when the Lord appeared to him on his way to Damascus (Acts 26:15-18). There was he “called to be an apostle.” The word “called” has by different commentators been explained as of the same meaning with “chosen.” It may be questioned, however, whether the calling is not, more properly, the result, or practical following out, of the choice. “A called apostle” means one who had not assumed the office of his own will, but in virtue of an express call, at once authoritative and effectual, from the Lord; for while the call included the sanction of authority, it included also that Divine operation upon the mind by which he was at once inclined and fitted for the office.

IV. The object to which he had been previously set apart, and was subsequently called, was “the gospel of God.” “The gospel of God,” is a message from Him to His sinful and guilty creatures; and its very name implies that it is a message of good. As such, it recommends itself to all to whom it comes by the appeal which it makes to their desire of happiness, and as “the gospel of God” it comes with all the united recommendations of authority, kindness, and truth. Thus it should be contemplated with solemnity and awe on the one hand, and welcomed with delight on the other.

V. The subject of that gospel is--

1. Jesus, “Jehovah that saveth”--i.e., a Divine Saviour. He was to “save His people from their sins.”

2. Christ--i.e., anointed--the Hebrew Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus was thus anointed when, after His baptism, “the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and lighted upon Him,” being given to Him “without measure,” and consecrating Him to His official work.

3. Our Lord (Matthew 28:18; Romans 16:9; Philippians 2:9-11). (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

A servant of Christ

When the saintly George Herbert took possession of the humble parsonage to which strangers for his sake made pilgrimage, he is said by his biographer to have entered a resolution from that day forward always to speak of Jesus Christ with the added words “my Master”; and the appropriation seemed, it is added, to perfume his very life. He then may be said to have consecrated Christ as Lord in his heart. (Dean Vaughan.)

The happiness of service

Many years ago, happening to be in South Wales, I made the acquaintance of a Welsh gentleman. He was then a landed proprietor, living in his own mansion, and in very comfortable circumstances. He had been before carrying on an extensive business in a large town. By the death of a relative he had unexpectedly come into possession of this property. After considering whether he should retire from business, he made up his mind that he should still continue to carry it on, though no longer for himself, but for Christ. I could not help being struck with the gleesomeness of a holy mind which lighted up his countenance when he said, “I never knew before what real happiness was. Formerly I wrought as a master to earn a livelihood for myself; but now I am carrying on the same work as diligently as if for myself, and even more so, but it is now for Christ, and every halfpenny of profit is handed over to the treasury of the Lord, and I feel that the smile of my Saviour rests upon me.” I think that is an example worthy of being imitated. (Dr. Duff.)

The Christian’s personal service

Every Christian hath his talent given him, his service enjoined him. The gospel is a depositum, a public treasure, committed to the keeping of every Christian; each man having, as it were, a several key of the Church, a several trust for the honour of this kingdom delivered unto him. As in the solemn coronation of the prince every peer of the realm hath his station about the throne, and with the touch of his hand upon the royal crown, declareth the personal duty of that honour which he is called unto, namely, to hold on the crown on the head of his sovereign; to make it the main end of his greatness, to study, and by all means endeavour the establishment of his prince’s throne; so every Christian, as soon as he hath the honour to be called unto the kingdom and presence of Christ hath immediately no meaner a depositum committed to his care, than the very throne and crown of his Saviour than the public honour, peace, victory and stability of his Master’s kingdom. (Bp. Reynolds.)

Christ’s servant Christ’s representative

A man who knocks at our door, and calls himself a servant of some great one, implies that he has come on his master’s business; and claims an attention to be measured by the importance, not of himself, but of his master. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)

Called to be an apostle.

A call to the ministry--includes

I. Divine approval. A servant, accepted, devoted, faithful.

II. A Divine commissions. Inward conviction, holy impulse.

III. Divine designation. By suitable qualifications, providential arrangements, to a special work. (J. Lyth.)

Qualifications for the apostleship

He had seen the Lord after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1). He had received his commission directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1). He possessed the signs of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). He had received the knowledge of the gospel, not through any man, or by any external means, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12), and although he was as one born out of due time, yet, by the grace vouchsafed to him, he laboured more abundantly than all the rest. (R. Haldane.)

Separated unto the gospel of God.--

Separated unto the gospel

Christ separated him from the service of sin; from Jewish tradition, superstition, and empty ceremony; from working out a righteousness of his own; from all merely temporal aims and purposes; from cares and anxieties of provisions for the flesh; from the more worldly affairs of the Church, the serving of tables; to be a living depositary of gospel doctrine, a gracious example of the gospel’s power, and an efficient organ for the gospel’s utterance. Like a vessel separated from the foul clay of the mine, the worthless dross of the metal, the graceless and useless forms of the shapeless mass, the common uses of the world, and even the ordinary uses of the house of Christ, “a chosen vessel,” to be filled full to overflowing with the water of life, and borne about everywhere among thirsty men. “No man can serve two masters.” “Be ye separate.” “It a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour,” etc. (W. Griffiths.)

Paul’s separation

I. What. Set apart to a special purpose, sanctified (Jeremiah 1:5).

II. How.

1. In God’s purpose from the womb (Galatians 1:15).

2. Actually and generally at his conversion (Acts 9:15).

3. Specially as apostle of the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 13:2). The first separation preceded the call; the others followed it. Before his conversion Paul separated himself and became a Pharisee; after it he was separated by God and became a Christian and an apostle. The first separation by human pride; the second by Divine grace.

III. What to.

1. The gospel.

(a) Of the kingdom (Matthew 4:2).

(b) Of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

(c) Of salvation (Ephesians 1:13).

(d) Of peace (Ephesians 6:15).

(e) Glorious of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11).

(f) Everlasting (Revelation 14:6).

2. Of God. God is its Author and subject matter (John 3:16). It is the product of His wisdom and love (Ephesians 3:10; Titus 3:4). Hence--

(a) True;

(b) Important;

(c) Full of authority.

(a) Earnestness;

(b) Reverence;

(c) Thankfulness.

(d) Obedience. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The gospel of God

God is--

I. Its Author, as He has purposed it in His eternal decrees.

II. Its Interpreter, as He Himself hath declared it to men.

III. Its Subject, because in the gospel His sovereign perfections and purposes towards men are manifested. (R. Haldane.)


Verses 1-7

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.

Authentication and salutation

I. The apostle.

1. Paul was not the name by which he was always known, but was assumed shortly after the commencement of his mission to the Gentiles. The practice of assuming a Gentile, in addition to the original Hebrew name, was then common, and indicated a loosening of the bonds of religious exclusiveness.

2. Servant of Jesus Christ. Not a hired servant ( μίσθιος ἢ μισθωρὸς), nor a voluntary attendant ( ὑπηρέτης), nor a subordinate officer ( ὑπηρέτης), nor a ministering disciple ( διάκονος); but a slave ( δοῦλος). Yet the title is very far from denoting anything humiliating. That, indeed, it must do if the master were only human. Even though the slave should be promoted as minister of state, the stigma of servitude was not removed; for the despot might, at any moment, degrade or destroy him. We may therefore rest assured that to no mere man, however exalted, would St. Paul have willingly subscribed himself a slave. But to be the bondmen of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose property he was both by right of creation and redemption; all of whose requirements were known to be in absolute accordance with truth and righteousness, and to all of which his own renewed heart responded with most lively sympathy, was the truest liberty and the highest dignity.

3. This dignity St. Paul participated in common with every other disciple; but, unlike many others, he had been called to the office of an apostle. Those thus called were constituted “ambassadors for Christ,” being chosen, qualified, and deputed by Him to transact business with their fellow men in respect to His kingdom. The twelve had been chosen by the Master during the days of His flesh, and had companied with Him during His earthly ministry (Acts 1:21). St. Paul had not enjoyed this advantage. Nevertheless, he, too, was an apostle by Divine call (Galatians 1:1). True, he was confessedly, because of the lateness of his call, “as one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8); but his call was not the less real or effectual. And in all that was requisite, he was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2Co_12:12).

4. He had not only been called, but specially “separated unto the gospel of God.” Like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), so, too, St. Paul was “separated from his mother’s womb” (Galatians 1:15). His parentage, birth, endowments, education, etc., had been so arranged by God as to constitute him “a choice vessel” for this very work (Acts 26:16-19; Act_13:1-3).

II. The gospel to publish which he had been separated.

1. It had been “promised afore by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures; so designated because they were written for holy purposes, by holy men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and developed holy fruits.”

2. This gospel was “concerning His Son” [Divine dignity] “Jesus Christ” [the personal name and official designation] “our Lord” (absolute right of property and dominion).

III. The object, extent, and result of His commission. He had received “grace and apostleship.”

1. To promote “obedience to the faith”: i.e., first of all, men must be taught the faith--i.e., the things to be believed (Matthew 28:19). It is a mistake to suppose that Christian men are called upon to believe they know not what, nor why (2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 8:32). Now these things, proposed to faith not only bring to us the tidings of peace and of new life in Christ, but they propose to us a course of life to be pursued. They require belief, in order to obedience; and make it plain that a faith which does not result in obedience is a dead thing (Matthew 28:20; Romans 16:26).

2. The apostle had received authority to promote this obedience of faith amongst “all nations.” The Gentiles had never grasped the truth of the universal brotherhood of man; while the Hebrews, though very strictly separated from all others, not only possessed the thought, but were preparing the way for a reign of grace in which all the nations should be blessed. That was the purport of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and confirmed to David and his son. Therefore the prophets sang triumphantly of one whom the Gentiles should seek (Isaiah 11:10). The nation did not indeed admit Gentiles on equal terms. They required that these should assume the yoke of the Mosaic law. But now the obedient to the faith from amongst all nations were to constitute the true Israel of God.

3. The whole result was to be for the glory of “His name,” by whom our redemption has been accomplished. It was not for the glory of Israel, nor of the apostles, nor of any number of men (1 Corinthians 1:27-29; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

IV. The formal address and salutation. The things to be noted are--

1. That the blessing sought for the saints was the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, so manifested as to insure peace.

2. The specially Christian conception of God as our Father.

3. The significant association of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as the common object of prayer and the common source of grace and peace. (W. Tyson.)

The opening address

I. The author.

1. Paul, once called Saul, of Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city, a Benjamite, of pure Hebrew extraction, well trained in a knowledge of the Scriptures, a free citizen of the Roman empire, acquainted with the literature of Greece, by nature endowed with great force of intellect, passion, and resoluteness, of bold and ambitious spirit, a Pharisee of the austerest type, zealous for the law, and hating its enemies, real or supposed.

2. Yet a servant of Jesus Christ, by a free, rational subjection. He stood before his Lord, like the angels which stand before the throne of God, or like nobles in the court of a mighty prince. How was this?

3. He received grace for his own salvation’s sake; and apostleship to bring about the salvation of others.

4. He was an apostle to the Gentiles: while Peter and the other eleven were apostles to the Jews.

II. The persons addressed. The letter was written in 58. Think what Rome was at that period--much like London at the close of the last century, only without its Christianity. Its population exceeded two millions, half of whom were slaves. Many families were amazingly rich and luxurious: but far more, among the freemen, were as lazy as they were proud, and as poor as they were lazy. The population was low sunk in misery and sensual degradation. In religion, the vulgar were besotted polytheists and the philosophers avowed atheists. The Jews occupied a quarter apart from the rest of the city. It is not known by whom that Church was founded, but probably by some of the strangers from Rome who were in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and was composed principally of Gentile converts. To these would be added such Jewish converts as had effectually separated themselves from the synagogue. The Church seems to have been one of singular purity, spirituality, and strength. Its disciples were “beloved of God”; His “chosen saints.” And the Church needs to be built up in its holy faith. It is not enough to hear of Christ and believe in Him; to be converted and witness a good confession; but to be fully instructed in the apostle’s doctrine, and to continue in it, that we may grow up to the full stature of a perfect man in Christ.

III. The subject matter of the Epistle.

1. It is an exposition of what is contained in the prophets. Here is no new thing, but the historic verification and doctrinal development of what the prophets declared.

2. It concerns the glad tidings of God, which relate all to the salvation wrought out for men by Jesus Christ, who--

IV. The spirit of the whole. This comes out in the benediction and salutation of verse 7.

1. “Grace” is Divine favour. Its fruit and effect is “peace,” which comprehends all gospel blessedness.

2. Grace and peace come from God the Father, and God the Son. (T. G. Horton.)

The true preacher and his great theme

I. The true preacher.

1. His spirit: a willing bondsman--not by force or legal orders, but by inward necessity. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” Bound by obligations that are as tender as silken cords, but firm as adamant; too weak to fetter, but too strong to break.

2. His preparation: “called” “separated” the Godward side of the call to the ministry, and the ground of ministerial authority.

3. His aim--

II. His great theme. The gospel is great because of--

1. Its Author, God: not about Him merely, but from Him. The gospel has its source in God as the river in the fountain, the beam in the sun. It is--

2. The method of its fore announcement (verse 2). A gospel which had been foretold by such men as Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and in such a way, is indeed a great gospel. And just as by the dawn God promises day, by spring, summer, so by old prophecy He “promised the gospel.”

3. Its subject. “His Son Jesus Christ.” Christ is great because of--

Christianity as an objective system

I. Its nature--a gospel (verse 1).

II. Its antiquity. It was promised before in the Holy Scriptures by the prophets (verse 2).

III. Its central idea. The Lord Jesus Christ (verse 3).

IV. Its instrumentality. Men, apostles, with the truth, not priests with things to do, but men with a truth to teach (verse 5).

V. The immediate and alternate aims. The obedience of faith in the reception of the truth, a holy sainthood to the man who receives it (verses 5-7).

VI. Its supernatural and spiritual elements. Grace and peace, etc. (verse 7). VII. Its sphere. It is to go abroad into the whole World, and be exhibited there (verse 8). (T. Binney.)

A servant of Jesus Christ

I. The highest title known in earth or heaven is “a servant of God.”

1. At the commencement of their Epistles, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude, use, indiscriminately, the expressions--“servant of God,” and “servant of Christ,” as if they were synonymous. It is one of the undesigned, and therefore strongest arguments for the Deity of Christ. James combines the two. And in every case each apostle places it first as his highest title--above his apostleship.

2. And were you to ask the man on earth nearest heaven, “What are you?” or the saints in Paradise, or the angels--in all their order and degrees--the response would be, “I am a servant of Jesus Christ.”

3. And no marvel! The Lord Jesus Himself gloried in the name. It designated Him in prophecy. It was His own delineation of His work--“a Servant.”

II. How do we enter the service?

1. It begins with a vocation from God. It is not such as anyone may say that he has it. It is a distinct call. Everyone here might be inclined to say, “I am a servant of Christ--of course I am.” When did you go to that “service”? There cannot be “service” without an act of engagement. The outward vocation--the pledge on either side--was at baptism. But it was not there that it became real. It is real when you begin to close, with certain inward impulses, which have been at work in your heart by the Holy Ghost; and to love God. This love is the child of liberty, and the service is the child of love.

2. Now you are prepared for “service.” And you go, and in some way or other--it may be at confirmation, or holy communion--you go and consecrate yourself to His work. “Lord, here I am. I am Thine. Accept me, fit me, teach me, use me, as Thou wilt.”

III. The privilege of the service.

1. You are placed in close communication with your Master, He tells you His secrets. “The slave knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.”

2. You serve “the King of kings and Lord of lords”; but you serve One who was once a servant. Many an earthly servant may sometimes have wished, “O that my master or mistress knew what service is!” That is what you have. He understands it all, and has the heart to feel, and the power to help.

3. And to that same Master His servants bring all their work; and as they lay it at His feet, He makes it clean, and perfumes it with the odour of His own perfect service. What has been wrong in it, He cancels: what is good, He accepts, when He has made it--by what He adds to it--acceptable to Himself.

4. And all along the sweet feeling of the servant is, “My Master is pleased with me and my poor service. And all I am doing, it is practice for a far higher and better service.”

IV. The character of the “service.” It does not much matter what Christ’s servants do. They are His servants everywhere. It is the motive which makes the service, not the action. If a person desires to carry on his business upon Christian principles--and directly or indirectly to honour Christ in the world--that man is “a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” If anyone does an act of kindness to another--if he give to the poor, or minister to the afflicted, and if he see Christ in them--then he does it to Christ, and he is “His servant.” If a man humble himself for Christ’s sake, then that man is Christ-like in His service, and he is a “servant” indeed. Or, no less, if a man suffer patiently, for Jesus’ sake, he is “a servant of Jesus.” Perhaps that is the highest service which combines the right fulfilment, for Christ’s sake, of the greatest number of the duties of life. The daughter whom every day her father, mother, brothers, sisters, and servants, rise up to bless, and who, as she has opportunity, goes out to the poor, and the sick, and the schools about her, she is a truer “servant of Christ” than the daughter who shuts herself up into the one narrower sphere of her own selection. Practically, what you have to do, is to accept whatever work the providence of God may give you. And if you want to know what it is, in the providence of God, that you should do, consult, after special prayer about it, your minister, your Christian friends, your own judgment. A field of service will be sure to open to you, in due time, if you look for it. There go in, nothing doubting, and put all the Christ you can into it. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The servant of Jesus Christ a willing servant

The following story well illustrates the force of δοῦλος, as applied to the believer. A slave, on hearing that an Englishman had purchased him, gnashed his teeth, knit his brows, and declared, with true pathos and heartfelt indignation, that he would never obey so unworthy a representative of the land of boasted freedom. On learning afterwards, however, that his new master had bid for and bought him in order to bestow upon him his freedom, the poor negro was so overcome with joy and gratitude, that he fell down at the feet of the man he had just vowed never to serve, and exclaimed, “I am your slave forever” (Psalms 116:16). (C. Neil, M. A.)

Paul, the slave of Jesus Christ

I. No one had a more vivid sense of liberty and the right of private judgment than this disciple of Gamaliel. He had all the zeal of a Republican for the worth of manhood. He was a free-born Roman citizen, and he never forgot it. He could make a stand for his civil rights like a Hampden or a William Tell. He allowed no privileged authority to rob him of his franchise. He was the champion of personal liberty before the weak-minded Felix, or the straightforward Festus, or the frivolous Agrippa. And that famous declaration: “I appeal unto Caesar!”--it rings down eighteen centuries like the sound of a war trumpet. “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Yes, a slave--in body, mind, and spirit; boasting of his slavery in the face of the world.

II. The authority of this Divine slave is proportionate to the extent of his slavery. The more slave he is of the Supreme Mind of humanity, the more right and power has he to be the founder of Christian theology. For what does this splendid slavery mean? It is a soul finding a personality higher and better than its own, and yielding allegiance to it. Slavery? It is liberty. It is moving within God. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (H. Elvet Lewis.)

The mystery of loyalty--the master and the slave

1. Christianity has revolutionised the world, above all by teaching the value and dignity of man as man. There is one instance which exhibits this in the highest degree--“Paul, the slave of Jesus;”

2. It is thus that he begins the most elaborate of his letters. Now such a beginning is noteworthy for two reasons, because--

3. The gospel, however, had spread through every rank of society; and so in these two cities there would be those who understood the term of “master,” as well as those who, to their sorrow, could not fail to realise the position of a “slave.”

4. Dwell for a moment on the title. This man gives of himself an almost contemptuous description to the proudest people in the world. And then think of the man who thus voluntarily places himself in the ranks of the conquered. Brought up a Pharisee, by his very training inclined to be proud, uncompromising; to this must be added the possession of learning, and a consequent sense of superiority, was ever man less likely to submit willingly to the place of a slave? Note--

I. The meaning of the apostle.

1. Complete submission of will to the commands of Christ. What those commands are, or mean, may be a matter, in part at least, of question; but the point of importance is that once discovered, they are to be unhesitatingly and entirely obeyed. It has been said that “a Colt craves for a king.” It is true of all mankind, and a true King for us there is. One who understands man, whose sway is imperial, but whose laws meet the deepest yearnings of the soul, and whose result is blessing. To disobey such is to make life a scene of slaughter; and obey Him and “the wilderness and the solitary place blossom as the rose.”

2. Entire submission of judgment to the revelation of Christ. To accept Christ at all is to accept Him as the absolute truth. Hard sayings, mysterious doctrines, came from His lips. To accept these in so far as they accord with our preconceived notions, or suit our tastes and wishes, is scarcely to accept them at all. To hold ourselves in submission to His revelation is the attitude of mind suited to His followers: to that tone of thought more light is given, and “spiritual things are spiritually discerned.”

3. An entire and earnest effort to imitate the life of Christ. St. Paul felt this robe a necessity, because that life was itself a revelation. St. Paul, like others, might have set about to seek self in a manner not altogether ignoble, but in the prudent indulgence of legitimate ambition, and, indeed, he did so till Christ crossed his path. He had taken one view of life, and it was the wrong one. Here, in spite of all the world’s assertion to the contrary, was the best, the noblest, the happiest life. What is your line in life? A servant you are to whom you obey; and your obedience will be regulated by that object of imitation and attainment to which your desire is turned. Is it pleasure? To seek it is, proverbially, to scare it from your path; and if found in any degree, how soon it palls upon the satiated soul! Is it reputation? Ah, me! it is a mere bubble shining for a moment in a gleam of sunlight, then bursting and gone. Is it riches? Our graveyards remind us that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Nay, more. What is dearer, what more beautiful than family life? If ever the weary worker may find an end and an object in his work, it is to create around him those objects of love which elevate and soothe. And yet they die.

4. That one attitude towards the Redeemer that is suitable in a soul which has sinned. When we are fully alive to sin, how little do the arguments with which before we cozened ourselves when sinning then avail! We want--and we feel that we want--a Redeemer. It is then that Jesus Christ is precious. To waken to that great truth to which Paul wakened--“loved me, gave Himself for me”--is to become the willing, loving slave of the Redeemer.

II. The consequences of this Christian view of submission to Christ.

1. It points to a large and loving recognition of all who name the Holy Name. “Our common Christianity” is a dangerous phrase, when it is meant to hint or encourage a doctrine of indifferentism. But it is true and consoling when it expresses that amongst all who are “baptized unto Jesus Christ” there is a share in one main ground of common faith and hope, which may unite them more at last than their differences can divide.

2. It affects in a very serious sense the attitude of the individual life.

III. The secret spring of such an attitude of mind. In the mind of Paul there was no sort of question as to who Christ was. He had had amplest opportunity of examining His claims, but no amount of study, observation or evidence was enough. Divine faith ruled his life. He recognised Christ as the Eternal God, who was also the Representative Man, and recognising this, by the grace given him, he acted on the recognition.

1. To do this was to live by faith. Henceforth he directed his course by the visual efficacy of a fresher and fuller spiritual sense directed upon the reality of the unseen world. That reality was Christ’s, To submit to the absolute supremacy of the same Master involves in each soul the supremacy of the same principle, to “walk by faith.” Now the antagonist of such a principle is to walk by sight. The man who lives by the principle of “sight” may be respectable; but one thing he is not doing, viz., seeking to guide his course and govern his actions by habitual reference to an unseen, a loving Friend; he has in no way staked his all upon the promise, and committed his destiny to the keeping of “the Son of God.”

2. But as faith was allowed to exercise its sovereign sway, there grew and deepened in the mind of the apostle an intense personal love and loyalty towards Christ. This lay at the root of his patient study of the mind of his Master, and his unwearying effort to do His work. Henceforth life was changed. Not only was he now baptized into Jesus Christ, but he rose to the fulness of his regenerate life. One, the Highest, had thought of him, even him. Could he ever forget it? “The life that I now live in the flesh,” so he writes, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Jesus the Conqueror! Paul the slave! A great love had overmastered Paul, and a faithful response was given.

1. The comfort. Life is full of failure, of sorrow, of sin. Listen. He changes not, “He loved you, and gave Himself for you.” Well, then, if listening--

2. The result.

The sublimest servitude

Men are made to serve. In true service alone they realise the harmonious development of their powers, and the realisation of their aspirations. Note here--

I. The highest masterhood.

1. His mission--Jesus, i.e., Saviour; Christ, i.e., anointed. Christ is God in His redemptive capacity. There is no salvation where there is not a deliverance from sin, from its possession, dominion, consequences.

2. His divinity--“the Son of God.” The universe teems with sons of God; but the Infinite has no son like Christ, Hence He is called “His only begotten Son.”

3. His human history.

II. The highest employment. Paul was an apostle of this Master. There are many branches of employment in the service of Christ; but there is nothing higher than that of apostleship (1 Corinthians 12:28). It is an office of the highest trust, it is to represent his Master. Of the most salutary and ennobling influence, it is to redeem the world. Paul was “called” to this high office, on the way to Damascus, and from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15).

2. He was an apostle of the highest message. “The gospel of God.” God is the Author, the Substance, and the End of this good news to men. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Paul’s servitude and apostleship

I. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.

1. On his first appearance in history who would ever have thought of finding his name associated with such a designation? The Jewish priests and rulers, the sworn enemies of Christ, were then his masters; and Satan was theirs. But the slave of the devil became the servant of Christ. And he transferred from the one service to the other all his native ardour, and all his indefatigable activity. That service was more than destitute of dignity in the eyes of both Jews and Gentiles. But now to be “a servant of Jesus Christ” was esteemed by Paul his most distinguished honour, and was enjoyed by him as the chief zest and happiness of his life.

2. Let the disciples of Christ remember that they are all His servants; and what department soever of that service they are called to fill, whether public or private, let them cherish the same spirit with Paul. The more highly we think of the Master the more honourable will we deem His service; and the deeper our sense of obligation, the more ardent will be our delight in the doing of His will, and in the advancement of His glory.

II. But Paul served Christ in a special capacity.

1. The office of an apostle was the highest among the offices of the Christian Church. In every enumeration of them this stands first (Ephesians 4:8-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28). In the apostles we find all gifts combined. They were, in the very highest sense, “ambassadors for Christ,” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Their testimony was the standard of truth; and their authority, as the plenipotentiaries of their exalted Lord, was without appeal (John 17:18).

2. And that authority continues still. The writings of the apostles have all the authority of the apostles themselves. What a powerful inducement to their careful study, and how solemn the admonition, that if we “wrest” them, it must be to “our own destruction”! This is coin that bears “the image and superscription” of the King of Heaven; to destroy, to debase, or to lighten it is an act of treason.

III. This official honour required a commission from the lord Himself. Such commission Saul of Tarsus received when the Lord appeared to him on his way to Damascus (Acts 26:15-18). There was he “called to be an apostle.” The word “called” has by different commentators been explained as of the same meaning with “chosen.” It may be questioned, however, whether the calling is not, more properly, the result, or practical following out, of the choice. “A called apostle” means one who had not assumed the office of his own will, but in virtue of an express call, at once authoritative and effectual, from the Lord; for while the call included the sanction of authority, it included also that Divine operation upon the mind by which he was at once inclined and fitted for the office.

IV. The object to which he had been previously set apart, and was subsequently called, was “the gospel of God.” “The gospel of God,” is a message from Him to His sinful and guilty creatures; and its very name implies that it is a message of good. As such, it recommends itself to all to whom it comes by the appeal which it makes to their desire of happiness, and as “the gospel of God” it comes with all the united recommendations of authority, kindness, and truth. Thus it should be contemplated with solemnity and awe on the one hand, and welcomed with delight on the other.

V. The subject of that gospel is--

1. Jesus, “Jehovah that saveth”--i.e., a Divine Saviour. He was to “save His people from their sins.”

2. Christ--i.e., anointed--the Hebrew Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus was thus anointed when, after His baptism, “the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and lighted upon Him,” being given to Him “without measure,” and consecrating Him to His official work.

3. Our Lord (Matthew 28:18; Romans 16:9; Philippians 2:9-11). (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

A servant of Christ

When the saintly George Herbert took possession of the humble parsonage to which strangers for his sake made pilgrimage, he is said by his biographer to have entered a resolution from that day forward always to speak of Jesus Christ with the added words “my Master”; and the appropriation seemed, it is added, to perfume his very life. He then may be said to have consecrated Christ as Lord in his heart. (Dean Vaughan.)

The happiness of service

Many years ago, happening to be in South Wales, I made the acquaintance of a Welsh gentleman. He was then a landed proprietor, living in his own mansion, and in very comfortable circumstances. He had been before carrying on an extensive business in a large town. By the death of a relative he had unexpectedly come into possession of this property. After considering whether he should retire from business, he made up his mind that he should still continue to carry it on, though no longer for himself, but for Christ. I could not help being struck with the gleesomeness of a holy mind which lighted up his countenance when he said, “I never knew before what real happiness was. Formerly I wrought as a master to earn a livelihood for myself; but now I am carrying on the same work as diligently as if for myself, and even more so, but it is now for Christ, and every halfpenny of profit is handed over to the treasury of the Lord, and I feel that the smile of my Saviour rests upon me.” I think that is an example worthy of being imitated. (Dr. Duff.)

The Christian’s personal service

Every Christian hath his talent given him, his service enjoined him. The gospel is a depositum, a public treasure, committed to the keeping of every Christian; each man having, as it were, a several key of the Church, a several trust for the honour of this kingdom delivered unto him. As in the solemn coronation of the prince every peer of the realm hath his station about the throne, and with the touch of his hand upon the royal crown, declareth the personal duty of that honour which he is called unto, namely, to hold on the crown on the head of his sovereign; to make it the main end of his greatness, to study, and by all means endeavour the establishment of his prince’s throne; so every Christian, as soon as he hath the honour to be called unto the kingdom and presence of Christ hath immediately no meaner a depositum committed to his care, than the very throne and crown of his Saviour than the public honour, peace, victory and stability of his Master’s kingdom. (Bp. Reynolds.)

Christ’s servant Christ’s representative

A man who knocks at our door, and calls himself a servant of some great one, implies that he has come on his master’s business; and claims an attention to be measured by the importance, not of himself, but of his master. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)

Called to be an apostle.

A call to the ministry--includes

I. Divine approval. A servant, accepted, devoted, faithful.

II. A Divine commissions. Inward conviction, holy impulse.

III. Divine designation. By suitable qualifications, providential arrangements, to a special work. (J. Lyth.)

Qualifications for the apostleship

He had seen the Lord after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1). He had received his commission directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1). He possessed the signs of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). He had received the knowledge of the gospel, not through any man, or by any external means, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12), and although he was as one born out of due time, yet, by the grace vouchsafed to him, he laboured more abundantly than all the rest. (R. Haldane.)

Separated unto the gospel of God.--

Separated unto the gospel

Christ separated him from the service of sin; from Jewish tradition, superstition, and empty ceremony; from working out a righteousness of his own; from all merely temporal aims and purposes; from cares and anxieties of provisions for the flesh; from the more worldly affairs of the Church, the serving of tables; to be a living depositary of gospel doctrine, a gracious example of the gospel’s power, and an efficient organ for the gospel’s utterance. Like a vessel separated from the foul clay of the mine, the worthless dross of the metal, the graceless and useless forms of the shapeless mass, the common uses of the world, and even the ordinary uses of the house of Christ, “a chosen vessel,” to be filled full to overflowing with the water of life, and borne about everywhere among thirsty men. “No man can serve two masters.” “Be ye separate.” “It a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour,” etc. (W. Griffiths.)

Paul’s separation

I. What. Set apart to a special purpose, sanctified (Jeremiah 1:5).

II. How.

1. In God’s purpose from the womb (Galatians 1:15).

2. Actually and generally at his conversion (Acts 9:15).

3. Specially as apostle of the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 13:2). The first separation preceded the call; the others followed it. Before his conversion Paul separated himself and became a Pharisee; after it he was separated by God and became a Christian and an apostle. The first separation by human pride; the second by Divine grace.

III. What to.

1. The gospel.

(a) Of the kingdom (Matthew 4:2).

(b) Of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

(c) Of salvation (Ephesians 1:13).

(d) Of peace (Ephesians 6:15).

(e) Glorious of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11).

(f) Everlasting (Revelation 14:6).

2. Of God. God is its Author and subject matter (John 3:16). It is the product of His wisdom and love (Ephesians 3:10; Titus 3:4). Hence--

(a) True;

(b) Important;

(c) Full of authority.

(a) Earnestness;

(b) Reverence;

(c) Thankfulness.

(d) Obedience. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The gospel of God

God is--

I. Its Author, as He has purposed it in His eternal decrees.

II. Its Interpreter, as He Himself hath declared it to men.

III. Its Subject, because in the gospel His sovereign perfections and purposes towards men are manifested. (R. Haldane.)


Verse 2

Romans 1:2

Which He had promised afore by His prophets.

The Messiah predicted

The Jews, throughout their history, differed from every other nation in their expectation of a Messiah. While heathen kingdoms decayed and fell without hope of deliverance, in Israel political decline was attended by an increasing expectation of a high and God-sent deliverer. This idea was always referred by the prophets to Divine revelation, and we have every reason to receive their testimony; for it is contrary to the very nature of things that such golden fruit as this should grow on the barren thorn of the simple human heart. Could this have been, surely the great and noble spirits of other nations would also have confidently expected salvation, whereas we only hear from the lips of a few some dim and obscure yearnings of this kind. It was only as a vanished epoch, a poetical dream, or a political panegyric, that heathen poets ever sang of a golden age. The heathen were “without hope” because they were without God in the world. (Professor Auberlen.)

Christ foretold by the prophets

I. Who they were. Persons--

1. Speaking by special Divine impulse (1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Corinthians 14:1).

2. Employed by God to reveal His will and to foretell future events.

3. Moved to compose and sing hymns to God (Exodus 15:20; 1 Chronicles 25:1).

4. Living in habitual communion with God.

II. What they promised. Christ and His salvation (Luke 24:27; Acts 3:18; Act_10:43).

1. By Moses as--

2. By David as--

3. By Isaiah as--

4. By Jeremiah as--

5. By Ezekiel as the true David, the Shepherd King (Ezekiel 37:24).

6. By Daniel as Messiah the Prince (Daniel 9:25-26).

7. By Micah as the Judge of Israel (Micah 5:2).

8. By Haggai as the Desire of all nations (Haggai 2:7).

9. By Zechariah as--

10. By Malachi as--

Messianic prophecy

The prophets had foretold concerning the Messiah--

1. His Divine and human natures (Isaiah 9:6).

2. His descent (Genesis 3:15; Gen_12:3; Gen_49:10; Isaiah 11:1; 1 Samuel 16:11).

3. The time of His appearing (Genesis 49:10; Daniel 9:24-25; Haggai 2:6-9).

4. The place of His birth (Micah 5:2).

5. The virginity of His mother (Isaiah 7:14).

6. The Forerunner who should prepare His way (Malachi 3:1).

7. The special scene of His ministry (Isaiah 9:1-2).

8. The miracles that should accredit His mission (Isaiah 35:5-6).

9. His sufferings and death (Psalms 22:16, etc.; Zechariah 13:7; Isaiah 53:5-9).

10. Jeremiah His resurrection (Psalms 16:10).

11. His ascension (Psalms 68:18).

12. His sitting down at the right hand of the Father (Psalms 110:1).

13. His effusion of the Holy Ghost (Joel 2:28).

14. His second coming in judgment (Daniel 7:13). (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The gospel is no afterthought, but the forethought of God

God sees the end from the beginning. All things in nature and grace are working out one grand scheme, which God before the creation of heaven and earth designed. The gospel was but a further and fuller development of God’s plans in Old Testament times. The stem is no afterthought; the leaves and buds are no afterthought; the flower is no afterthought; the fruit is no afterthought; for they were all wrapped up from the first in the seed, or cutting, or bulb. Or, to take another illustration, it is of no unfrequent occurrence that the architect designs a Gothic church which is not to be built all at once, but as sufficient funds are forthcoming, or as the congregation increases. At first the nave is constructed, then one aisle after another is added; and afterwards the chancel is built, and last of all is erected the spire--whose “silent finger points to heaven.” The pulling down of temporary walls and hoardings, and the additions from time to time made, are no afterthought, but only the carrying out of the original design. Thus the doing away with the ceremonial law and Jewish ritual, and the bringing life and immortality to light through Jesus, are no afterthought, but the forethought of God--the revealing of His glorious scheme of grace designed before the foundation of the world, and previously promised by His prophets. (C. Nell, M. A.)

In the holy Scriptures.

The Old Testament Scriptures called holy from

I. Their Author, God the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1).

II. Their matter, God’s holy will, thoughts, words, and works.

III. Their design and tendency, to make man holy (2 Timothy 3:17; John 17:17).

IV. To distinguish them from all other books. (T. Robinson, D. D.)


Verse 3-4

Romans 1:3-4

Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ, God’s Son

I. In what sense.

1. Not--

2. But in an entirely peculiar sense (John 5:17-18).

II. By whom declared.

1. By prophecy (Psalms 2:7).

2. By the Father (Matthew 3:17; Mat_17:5).

3. By Himself (Matthew 26:63-64; John 9:35; Joh_9:39; Joh_10:30-36).

4. By the apostles (Acts 3:13; Act_9:20; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1Co_15:28; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 1:2; Heb_5:8 : 1Jn_4:9). (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ as Lord

He was promised as such (Psalms 2:6; Psa_2:9; Psa_110:1; Psa_011:2; Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:1-2), and assumed as by right the title (John 13:13; Joh_20:28). He was made so by the Father (Acts 2:36; Philippians 2:11; Ephesians 1:22), and the universal confession of the fact will constitute His mediatorial reward (Philippians 2:11). Now He is confessed as such by men only through the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3). As Lord, Christ.

I. Is the Sovereign of the universe; men, angels, and devils, are subject to Him (Ephesians 1:21).

II. Is Head of His Church and King of saints (Ephesians 1:22; Eph_4:15; Revelation 15:3). All other headship is usurpation.

III. Abolishes the Old Testament economy (Matthew 11:6; John 4:21; Joh_4:23; Hebrews 12:26-27; Revelation 21:5).

IV. Sends down the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33-36).

V. Gathers men into His kingdom (John 10:2-4; Joh_10:14-16; Isaiah 55:4-5).

VI. Commissions His apostles to preach with that object (Matthew 28:18-19). VII. Appoints what is to be done in His Church (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1Co_11:23; Matthew 28:19-20). (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.

Christ the seed of David

Christ’s descent from David gave Him a claim upon the Jews as a descendant of their ancient kings; and as a scion of the stock to which the future royalty was promised (Jeremiah 23:5; Psalms 132:11). (Prof. J. A. Beet.)

Christ the seed of David

Messiah to be descended from David (Psalms 132:11; Matthew 22:42). He was David’s seed by Mary (Luke 3:23), also by Joseph, His adoptive Father (Matthew 1:18). The promised Saviour.

1. The seed of the woman and therefore a man (Genesis 3:15).

2. The seed of Abraham and therefore a Jew (Genesis 22:18; Romans 15:8).

3. The seed of David and therefore a king (Psalms 89:29; Luke 23:3; John 1:49). (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The Incarnation of God (a sermon for Christmas Day)

I. Such an event as that can have nothing like it, or parallel to it, while this world lasts. It is the turning point in the history of the world. The gospel of Christ has made the Incarnation of the Eternal Son what St. Paul made it--the centre of all teaching, worship, obedience, and morality, the fulfilment of all that was old, the starting point of all that was new--the gospel of Christ refuses to compromise with any view of religion which puts this tremendous truth in any less than its sovereign place. God has been with us, and seen our life, what we are, what we do, all our sin and all our need--seen it with the eyes of a man, with a heart as human in its sympathy and brotherhood as it was Divinely perfect in its love and righteousness. God has unveiled Himself to us here, to be as man the restorer of mankind. Is it possible that such a thing could be, and not that all things else be changed by it?

II. The Incarnation was the turning point in the history of the world; and, as a matter of fact, we have before our eyes the consequences which have followed from it. For each man, as for the world, the Son of God was made man to enable each man to reach the perfection for which he was made. His Incarnation has been made known to us, not only for the public creed of the Church, but for the personal hope and stay of each of our souls. And to know what it means, to realise what it is to us, is the turning point of each man’s belief. To think that He who loved with such self-sacrifice is He of whom all may be said that the mind of man can conceive of the everlasting God--this is a revelation to a man’s spirit which, whether it comes gradually or suddenly, is one of those things which lift him up out of the common places of routine religion, one of those things which bring him face to face with the real questions of his being--with those fateful alternatives, the choice of which decides the course of life and its issues. We may overload and cloud it with subordinate doctrines, with the theories and traditions of men, with a disproportionate mass of guesses on what is not given us to know--of subtleties and reasonings in the sphere of human philosophy. We may recoil from it as something which oppresses our imagination and confounds our reason; but we may be sure that on the place which we really give it in our mind and heart depends the whole character of our Christianity, depends what the gospel of Christ means to us.

III. We see in the Incarnation how God fulfils the promises He makes, and the hopes which He raises, in ways utterly unforeseen and utterly inconceivable beforehand, utterly beyond the power of man to anticipate; and, further, we see exemplified in it that widely prevailing law of His government, that in this stage of His dispensations with which we are acquainted--which we call “this world” and “this life”--that which is the greatest must stoop to begin from what is humblest, the greatest glories must pass through their hour of obscurity, the greatest strength must rise out of the poorest weakness, the greatest triumphs must have faced their outset of defeat and rebuke, the greatest goodness start unrecognised and misunderstood. Is it not something almost too great for the mind to endure--the contrast between what the eye of man really saw and what really was; between what was to be, and its present visible beginning? When wonder, adoration, and thanksgiving, if it were possible, without bounds, have had their due, there remain the practical impressions to be laid up for the serious work of life. You are the heirs--you cannot doubt it in presence of that manger cradle--of a hope which passes measuring here. You are the object of a Divine solicitude, interested in an economy of grace and recovery, of which human language is absolutely incapable to reveal the fulness. But, in the meanwhile, you are men and women, with your appointed parts to play on this earthly scene--with time to waste or to elevate, with the risks of unfaithfulness, with the sure rewards of self-discipline, with a character to fashion after the mind of Christ, with an allotted and fast shortening term to finish your work. What can you learn for your own guidance from the mystery of His Incarnation? Is it not, surely, that we must begin our eternal work, as He was pleased to begin His, according to that law which He has laid down for the kingdom of God, by which those who are to reach the highest must have known and welcomed the humblest and the lowest. “Except ye become as little children,” is His characteristic word, “ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Let us think of ourselves as children in the presence of that supreme mystery with which all our destiny is bound up--children before the incalculable humiliation of the Son of God, before the infinity of His greatness and His love; children on the brink and threshold of that vast, unchanging life, to which this one is but a play time and a trial ground, knowing nothing except in part, yet with the fortunes of an eternal existence in our hands. (Dean Church.)

The necessity of Christ’s Incarnation

Whenever the Saviour’s character can be understood there is a felt adaptation. We do not know Him as a Jew any more; we know Him as the Son of Man, as the Saviour, as the Great Representative of the human race; we know Him as having something in common with everything that is human; we know Him as being more nearly related to human beings than any human being is to another, feeling every throb--shall I say?--every emotion, and every anxiety of every human creature with an interest, a depth, and a nearness of sympathy that no mother ever felt for her child. This is wonderful! It is an amazing provision for human want. All humanity cries out for an Incarnation. Did you ever think that the very idols which the poor heathen hath prepared throughout the whole world, wherever the gospel has not gone, are the product of the groaning there is in the human heart after God incarnate? They are groping in the dark, and yet they are reaching out after the light of heaven. It is the want of humanity reaching after something that is more tangible, more accessible, and more within the grasp and conception of human character than an invisible, intangible, inappreciable, all-pervading and infinite Spirit. It is strange that men shut themselves off in a vacuum when this wonderful provision is brought to them--God manifested in the flesh. (C. Kingsley.)

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.--

Christ evinced by the resurrection to be the Son of God

His resurrection then did not constitute Him the Son of God, it only evinced that He was truly so. Jesus Christ had declared Himself to be the Son of God, and on this account the Jews charged Him with blasphemy, and asserted that He was a deceiver. By His resurrection, the clear manifestation of the character He had assumed, gloriously and forever terminated the controversy which had been maintained during the whole of His ministry on earth. In raising Him from the dead God decided the contest. He declared Him to be His Son, and showed that He had accepted His death in satisfaction for the sins of His people, and consequently that He had suffered not for Himself, but for them, which none could have done but the Son of God. On this great fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ Paul rests the truth of the Christian religion, without which the testimony of the apostles would be false, and the faith of God’s people vain. (R. Haldane.)

Christ’s resurrection a proof of His Divinity

I shall--

I. Explain the words.

1. “Declared” may signify decreed or determined. But with what propriety could Christ be said to be decreed to be that which He was from eternity. That which is the proper object of decree or destination is something future; but that which was eternal cannot be imagined in any period of time to be future. Those who deny the eternal godhead of Christ, and date His Sonship principally from His resurrection, are great friends to this exposition. But the word also means to declare, show forth, or manifest, and this signification carries a most fit and emphatic opposition to “He was made of the seed of David,” which word imports the human constitution that did not exist before; but here, since He had from eternity been the Son of God, it is not said of Him that He was made, but only declared or manifested to be so.

2. “With power”; which, though some understand of the power of Christ, as it exerted itself in His miracles; yet here it signifies rather the glorious power of His Divine nature, by which He overcame death, and properly opposed to the weakness of His human nature, by which He suffered it (2 Corinthians 13:4).

3. “According to the Spirit of holiness.” Christ’s Divine nature--in opposition to His human nature (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 3:16). This qualification of holiness is annexed because Paul considers not the Divine nature of Christ, absolutely in itself, but according to the relation it had to His other nature. For it was His Divinity which consecrated and hypostatically deified His humanity.

4. “By the resurrection from the dead” cannot, as some suppose, mean the general resurrection, because that was future, and the apostle’s design here is to demonstrate the Divinity of Christ by something already done and known. It must be understood therefore of His personal resurrection.

II. Show that Christ’s resurrection is the greatest argument to prove Him the Son of God.

1. The foundation and sum of the gospel lies within the compass of this proposition, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. For that which properly discriminates the Christian religion from the natural, or Judaical, is the holding of Christ’s Deity. Of course Christ is capable of being called the Son of God in several respects.

2. Now this super eminent Sonship ought in reason to be evinced by some great and conclusive argument; and such a one is supplied by His resurrection.

3. The resurrection is the principal proof of His Divinity, The ordinary arguments are--

(a) All His miracles, supposing that His resurrection had not followed, would not have had sufficient efficacy, but His resurrection alone had been a full and undeniable proof. The former part of the assertion is clear from 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1Co_15:17. Now before Christ’s death all His miracles were actually done, and yet the apostle states that if He had not risen the whole proof of the gospel had been buried with Him in the same grave. And for the other part of the assertion, that appears upon two accounts; first, that the thing considered absolutely in itself, according to the greatness of it, did transcend all the rest of His works put together. Secondly, that it had a more intimate connection with His doctrine than any of the rest; and that not only as a sign proving it, but as enabling Him to give being to the things which He promised, viz., to send the gifts of the Holy Ghost upon His disciples to fit them to promulgate the gospel, and to raise up those that believed in Him at the last day, which are two of the principal pillars of His doctrine. But for Him to have done this not rising from the dead, but continuing under a state of death, had been utterly impossible.

(b) His miracles did not convince men so potently, but that while some believed, more disbelieved, and assigned them to some other cause, short of Divine power, either devilish or magical (Matthew 12:24). But now, when they came to His resurrection, they never attempted to assign any cause besides the power of God, so as to depress the miraculousness of it; but denied the fact, and set themselves to prove that there was no such thing; allowing, tacitly, that, if real, His Godhead could not be denied. Their scepticism in regard to the other miracles arose from--first, the difficulty of discerning when an action is really a miracle; i.e., above the force of nature, and therefore to be ascribed to a supernatural power. For who can assign the limits beyond which nature cannot pass? Then, secondly, supposing that an action is fully known to be a miracle, it is as difficult to know whether it proves the truth of the doctrine of that person that does it, or not. For it is by no means certain but that God may suffer miracles to be done by an impostor, for the trial of men, to see whether or no they will be drawn off from a received, established truth (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). But now neither of these exceptions take place against the resurrection. For first, though we cannot assign the determinate point where the power of nature ends, yet there are some actions that so vastly transcend it, that there can be no suspicion that they proceed from any power but a Divine. I cannot tell, e.g., how far a man may walk in a day, but I know that it is impossible for him to walk a thousand miles. Now reason tells us that the raising of a dead man to life in reference to the force of natural causes, that is not in their power to do it. And secondly, should God suffer a miracle to be done by an impostor, there is no necessity hence to gather that God did it to confirm His words; for God may do a miracle when and where He pleases. But since Christ had so often laid the stress of the whole truth of His gospel upon His resurrection, and declared to those who sought for a sign that it was the only sign that should be given to that generation, God could not have raised Him but in confirmation of what He had said and promised, and so have joined with Him in the imposture. In a word, if this does not satisfy, I affirm that its not in the power of man to invent, or of God to do any greater thing to persuade the world of the truth of a doctrine and he who believes not upon Christ’s resurrection from the dead would scarce believe, though he rose from the dead himself. (R. South, D. D.)

The resurrection of Christ: its evidence, and its bearing of the truth of Christianity

I. It was predicted beforehand. In the Old Testament (Psalms 16:9-10; Isaiah 26:19), and by Himself (Matthew 17:9; Mat_17:23). This was not understood by His disciples (Mark 9:10; Luke 18:33-34), and they were slow to believe the tact when it took place (Mark 16:11-14; Luke 24:21; Luk_24:25).

II. It occurred under circumstances which rendered imposture impossible.

1. Christ’s death was real.

2. The story of the Jews in regard to the resurrection is absurd.

III. The idea of falsehood is contradicted by the whole life and conduct of the apostles.

IV. The existence of Christianity the proof of Christ’s resurrection. The institution of the Christian Sabbath is due to it, and all its other institutions and distinctive doctrines stand or fall with it. The resurrection is true, or Christianity is built on a lie, to believe which requires greater credulity than the resurrection itself. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The secret of the success of Christianity

The theophilanthropist Larevellere Lepeaux had laboured to bring into vogue a sort of improved Christianity, which should be both a benevolent and rational religion. He went to Talleyrand, and, with expressions of mortification, he admitted that he had failed, for the sceptical age would have nothing to do with religion. “What, my friend, shall I do?” he mournfully asked. The wily ex-bishop and diplomat hardly knew, he said, what to advise in a matter so difficult as the improvement of Christianity. “Still,” said he, after a moment’s pause, and with a smile, “there is one plan you might try.” His friend was all attention, but there was a somewhat prolonged pause before Talleyrand answered. “I recommend to you,” he said, “to be crucified for mankind, and to rise again on the third day!” It was a lightning flash, and the reformer stood, at least for the moment, awed and reverent before the stupendous fact suggested by the great diplomat. (W. Baxendale.)

Christ’s Holy Spirit

The word “spirit” is in contrast with “flesh,” and “according to” (Gr.) limits the assertion “who was marked out as Son of God” to the spirit which animated the body born of David’s seed. Looking at the material of His body, we call Him David’s Son; looking at the Spirit which moved, spoke, and acted, in that human body, we call Him Son of God. In every man there is a mysterious linking together of two worlds, of that which is akin to the clay, and that which is akin to God; of flesh and Spirit. In Christ on earth we have this in a still higher degree. The flesh of Christ was ordinary flesh; and therefore needs no further description. But the Spirit which animated that flesh is altogether different from all other human spirits. Spirit of holiness is chosen, perhaps, to distinguish the personal Spirit of Christ from the Holy Ghost, and to show that it was a personal embodiment of holiness (Psalms 51:11; Isaiah 63:10), i.e., absolute devotion to God is a great feature of the nature of Christ, that of Him every thought, purpose, word, act, points directly towards God. This agrees with the words of Jesus about Himself (John 4:34; Joh_5:19; Joh_5:30; Joh_6:38). With Him holiness was not accidental or acquired; but was an essential element of His nature, arising directly from His relation to God (Romans 5:19). When we look at Christ’s body, we find Him like ourselves; and we call Him David’s Son; but when we look at the Spirit which moved those lips and hands and feet, which breathed in that human breast, and when we see that Spirit turning always and essentially to God, we declare Him to be the Son of God. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)


Verse 5

Romans 1:5

By whom we have received grace and apostleship:

Grace and apostleship

I.
Grace of apostleship, i.e., the favour of being an apostle. Given to the twelve (Matthew 10:1-2); to Paul (Acts 9:15; Act_13:2). The ministry of the Word is given as a mark of Divine favour. So Chrysostom deemed it when he said, “Not by our labour and industry, but by His grace”; and Philip Henry, after his ordination, “I received this day as much honour and work as I shall be able to know what to do with.” Especially was this a grace to one who had been a blasphemer and persecutor.

II. Grace with apostleship, i.e., apostleship with the necessary gifts and graces, extraordinary gifts as well as spiritual grace (2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 4:8-11). The grace which calls also qualifies for office (Romans 12:3; Rom_15:5 : Ephesians 3:2). This is necessary, as was felt by Augustine when he said, “The ministry is a weight from which even an angel might shrink”; and by Luther, who, “though an old preacher, trembled each time he ascended the pulpit.”

III. Grace, then apostleship, i.e., saving grace necessary to apostleship. Grace and office not to be separated (Psalms 50:16). A graceless ministry a grievous curse to the Church and to the minister himself. Of all callings the ministry is the most dangerous to an unconverted man, and more likely to destroy men’s souls than to save them. How dreadful to preach to others and be at last a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27). Noah’s workmen refused to enter the ark and perished. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Apostleship

1. Its source.

2. Its privilege.

3. Its object.

4. Its sphere.

5. Its motive. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

For obedience to the faith.--

Obedience to the faith

Or (Gr.) obedience of faith:--

I. Obedience. The gospels thing to be obeyed (Romans 6:17; 1 Peter 1:22; Acts 6:7). In it God commands as well as invites and offers (1 John 3:23). Men are commanded to believe the gospel (Mark 1:15); in Christ (1 John 3:23). Unbelief and rejection of Christ rebellion against God.

II. Faith viewed--

1. Subjectively is--

2. Objectively--the doctrine of the gospel to be received in faith (Galatians 1:23; Gal_3:23-25). Gospel truth is only to be known and learned by a Divine revelation.

III. Obedience to the faith.

1. Obedience, in which faith consists. Faith is itself obedience. When God speaks men are not to reason, but to believe and accept. The Jews asked for a sign, Greeks for wisdom; God demands faith, and faith cordially submits to His method of salvation by Christ.

2. Obedience as the fruit of faith. Faith in Christ is the mother of all true and acceptable obedience (Romans 15:18; Rom_16:19; 2 Corinthians 7:15; 2Co_10:5; 2Co_01:6; 1 Peter 1:8). Works without faith, faith without works, both alike dead (James 2:26). God seeks evangelical, not legal obedience, because the gospel, not the law, produces the love that alone fulfils it. Faith in Christ proved by obedience to Him as a tree by its fruit (James 2:18-26). Faith is the obedience of the understanding to God revealing its effect, the obedience of the will to God commanding. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Faith measured by obedience

Our obedience being the child of faith, partakes of its parent’s strength or weakness. Abraham was strong in faith, and what an heroic act of obedience did he perform in offering up His Son! (W. Gurnall)


Verse 6

Romans 1:6

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.

The called of Jesus Christ

This expression denotes--

1. That the change is wholly of the Lord, that it is the effect of His own good pleasure, and accomplished by His Almighty power. Others may attempt it, but none can do it effectually but Himself. The Word may be the instrument, but its success is of Him alone.

2. The ease with which this great work is accomplished, for what more easy than to do it with a word. In the morning of creation God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” In the morning of conversion His mandate is equally sovereign and efficacious.

3. The great difference that is made between the former and present state of the person called. It clearly implies that a separation existed between the parties, and that in virtue of this call the sinner is brought nigh to God.

I. The nature of this holy calling. There are various calls mentioned in the Scriptures.

1. To particular services of a civil nature. God called Cyrus to the conquest of nations, and to be the protector of Israel. A person’s secular employment is said to be his calling; it is the work to which Providence invites him (Isaiah 45:4; 1 Corinthians 7:20).

2. To office, as when Paul was called to the apostleship (Romans 1:1). Thus every faithful minister of the gospel, in an inferior degree, is called of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

3. To mankind, wherever the gospel comes, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. But though all without exception are thus invited, few are chosen (Proverbs 8:4; Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 22:1-10; Acts 17:30). But the call mentioned in our text is peculiar to true believers.

It implies--

1. A conviction of the evil of sin, of the utter insufficiency of the creature, and of the want of a Saviour.

2. A sweet and powerful inclination of the whole soul towards God. The compliance is voluntary, while the energy is efficient and almighty. “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.”

3. A solemn surrender of ourselves to be the Lord’s.

4. Certain effects. Sinners are hereby called out of darkness into marvellous light; from the bondage of sin, Satan, and the law, to the glorious liberty of the sons of God. It is said to he a holy and a heavenly calling, whereby we are called to the attainment of glory and virtue. It is that by which we are meetened for heaven. A partial but real conformity to God in this world will be followed by a perfect conformity to Him in the next; for whom He called, them He also glorified (Romans 8:30; 2 Peter 1:3).

II. The means employed. These are diverse, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. Some are called into the vineyard at the third hour, some at the sixth, some at the ninth, and some even at the eleventh hour of the day. Sometimes remarkable providences have become the messengers of unexpected mercy; sometimes fearful dreams, or the edifying discourse of pious friends, but more frequently the public ministry of the Word. The Lord calls some in thunder, others in the still small voice.

III. Its distinguishing properties. It is--

1. Personal and particular. The general call of the gospel is addressed to all who come within its sound, but this singles out the object and speaks to him as it were by name. “Zaccheus, come down.” “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” The former is drawing the bow at a venture, the latter directs the arrow to the mark. The one is the act of man, the other the sole work of God: the one is directed to the ear, the other to the heart.

2. Secret and internal. It is visible only in its effects (John 3:8). Saul’s companions heard a sound of words, but knew not what was spoken.

3. Effectual. Many other calls are not so, even where God Himself is the speaker; for he speaketh once--yea, twice--to our senses, to our reason, in the works of creation and providence, and in the ministry of the Word, but man perceiveth it not, or does not regard it. But when God speaks to the conscience and the heart the sinner is made to hear and to obey, His language is, “Call Thou and I will answer--speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”

4. Irrevocable. Not only the gifts, but the calling of God is without repentance (Romans 11:29), God is said to repent that He gave man a being, but never that He gave him grace,

Improvement:

1. How necessary and important is it that we give all diligence to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

2. Let us learn our obligations to Divine grace. Whatever we are enabled to do for Christ is the fruit of what He has done for us.

3. Let our gratitude for God’s distinguishing grace be exemplified by a course of universal obedience. (B. Beddome.)

The inspiring energy of a Divine call

Great heroes of history have often been represented as urged on, stimulated, or inspired by some influence beyond themselves. Whether it has been called a genius or a spirit, a demon or an angel, fate or providence, the principle is the same. They have either themselves believed, or the superstition of their followers has given birth to the idea that some overruling and irresistible power was leading them through the intricacies of their earthly course and directing their every step towards a predetermined end. Thus Joan of Arc, a simple rustic country maid, was led on by imaginary voices which she heard to seek the deliverance of her country from the hand of her enemies. She believed herself inspired to take the lead of armies and to place the crown of France upon the head of the rightful monarch. Nor did she cease or fail in her endeavours till she had roused her countrymen to vigorous action, led them on to victory, and restored the kingdom to him whom she regarded as its true and lawful king. (Harvey Phillips.)

The Christian calling ascertained

To every Christian man there is a heavenly calling, a Divine mission, a sacred consecration, and it behoves him to see, to contemplate, to study what that calling is and how he can best perform its sacred obligations. (Harvey Phillips.)

Life not to fall below the heavenly calling

A being already invested with a deathless life, already adopted into the immediate family of God, already enrolled in the brotherhood of angels, yea, of the Lord of angels; a being who, amid the revolutions of earth and skies, feels and knows himself indestructible, capacitated to outlast the universe, a sharer in the immortality of God--what is there that can be said of such an one which falls not below the awful glory of his position! Oh, misery, that with such a calling, man should be the grovelling thing that he is that, summoned but to pause for awhile in the vestibule of the eternal temple ere he be introduced into its sanctuaries, he should forget, in the dreams of his lethargy, the eternity that awaits him! Oh, wretchedness beyond words, that, surrounded by love, and invited to glory, we should have no heart for happiness, but should still cower in the dark, while light ineffable solicits him to behold and enjoy it! (Prof. W. A. Butler.)

The Christian calling should lead to service

Like as if the Queen, to show her puissance against a foreign power, should call forth some of her subjects who are most beholden to her to combat in her presence for her honour, they would, no doubt, strain all their strength in this service, yea, and their lives too: even so, much more ought we that are Christians to perform this duty to our God and Prince, who hath called us out by name to fight for His honour, to be a chosen and peculiar people unto Himself, to stand on His posts, to show forth His virtues and to be zealous of good works; yea, and, that we might the better perform this service, He had furnished us with His own armour and weapons, yea, and His own holy hand is with us too, though all men see it not; therefore we must endeavour to do valiantly, and to do our best, to answer the expectation of our heavenly King and Prince. (Cawdray.)

The gospel is

I. The call of God.

1. He provides it.

2. Speaks in it.

3. Sends it.

II. Addressed to all.

1. Of every nation.

2. To you in particular. (J. Lyth, D. D.)


Verse 7

Romans 1:7

To all that be in Rome.

The apostolic greeting

I. Its contents.

1. Grace.

2. Peace.

(a) Reconciliation with God--indifference of fear replaced by love and confidence.

(b) Inward tranquillity--freedom from mental and moral disturbance; all can cast upon God.

(c) Amity with all men. When men are at peace with God they will be at peace with each other. Wars and dissentions are utterly foreign to the family of the God of peace.

II. Their source.

1. God as Father delights to bestow--

(a) To confer the highest benefit.

(b) To see its blessed operation.

(c) To contemplate its lovely effects.

(d) To enjoy its everlasting fruits.

2. God as our Father is the warrant for our confidence in--

III. Their medium--“The Lord Jesus Christ.”

1. As God He has grace and peace to give.

2. As Man He exhibited the perfect enjoyment of these blessings. He was “full of grace”; and He had peace to such an extent that He regarded it peculiarly as His own--“My peace.”

3. As God-Man Mediator He is qualified and commissioned to bestow them.

This salutation is

I. Rich in its import.

1. Grade.

2. Peace.

II. Divine in its efficacy--from God, etc.

III. Special in its application and design--to all that are beloved, etc. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Christian salutation

Many persons say, “What is the use of salutations? When I meet a lady in the street, why should I raise my hat?” And, by the by, young men, it is worth your while either to salute a lady, or not to. The habit of touching your hat is a vulgar habit. It is like, in letter writing, using “gent” instead of “gentleman.” It is a kind of contraction that is indicative of a lack of proper information. A man says, “Why should I say ‘Good morning’ to a man when I meet him?” or, “Why should friends say ‘Good-bye’ when they part?” That very expression, “Good-bye,” shows what the Western literalising tendency is. There was a time when friends at parting looked gravely at each other, and said, “God be with you”; but now they say “Good-bye,” which is the same thing abbreviated. In the “God be with you” of the West there is no “God,” no “with you,” no anything, except “Good-bye,” which is what a bird is when its feathers have all been plucked off. But why should we have so many of these salutations? Well, for my part, I think that even good folks, without such little ceremonies, are like grapes packed for market without leaves between them. They will crush and come in mashed. Even good folks need to have little courtesies between them to keep them from attrition. And to take society and divest it of all these little civilities would be to deteriorate it, and carry it toward the savage state. I do not think that the bushmen of South Africa trouble themselves about such things. They economise speech and conduct. And as you go up in civilised and Christian communities, you will find more and more, and not fewer and fewer, of them. And when you come to the very height of civilisation and Christianity--the family--you will not only find more of them, but you will find that they are not conventional. There you will hear the mother talking to the little child, and the child talking back; and you will hear them calling each other all manner of fond epithets. The whole of society is chased by golden figures of those civilities that tend to make life rich and happy. And if you think that these things are of no use, it is because you never put your heart into them. When you see a friend coming, and you say, “Good morning,” mean good morning. Let your heart go in kindness toward him. If you meet a person, and you choose to uncover your head, let your heart be uncovered too. When in honour you prefer others to yourselves, put more goodwill, more Christianity into it. Please men more, desire to please them more, and it will swell up the shrunken proportions of these civilities, and make them put new buds and new blossoms out. We need not fewer, but more of these things in human life, to take away its vulgarity, and its hard surfaces, and to enrich it with more flowers and perfumes. (H. W. Beecher.)

Beloved of God.

Beloved of God

This is the glorious distinction of believers. So of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:4). God’s love the origin of believers’ salvation (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 3:1). God has a common love to all men (Deuteronomy 10:18; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Tit_3:4); a special love to believers (1 John 3:1; Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:3-6; Eph_2:4-8). This special love is seen in making them His people and blessing them as such. This love is--

I. Distinguishing (1 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 8:28-29).

II. Free and spontaneous (Ephesians 1:2-6; Eph_2:4).

III. Unchanging and everlasting (John 13:1; Jeremiah 31:3; Isaiah 54:10).

IV. Infinitely costly (Zechariah 13:7; Isaiah 53:6; Isa_53:10; Romans 8:32).

V. Operative and efficacious (2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Timothy 1:9).

VI. All-conquering (Psalms 110:3; Romans 8:30; Rom_8:35-39).

VII. Existing in and for the sake of Christ (Romans 8:39; Ephesians 1:8; Eph_1:6; John 17:23). To be beloved of God is a creature’s highest blessedness, secures every blessing, and, when realised, is bliss itself (Psalms 63:3; Psa_30:5; Song of Solomon 1:2). (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Called to be saints.--

Called to be saints

The text might have been rendered “called saints.” It is requisite to remember this, because you might think that it means “called to be saints” hereafter, as though it would be impossible to be a saint here.

I. Where and by what means are we called to be saints?

1. By the election of God and the providence of birth in a Christian land.

2. By the dedication and grace of baptism,

3. By those inward calls felt in the heart.

4. By the many voices of affliction and the constant gentle operations of the Comforter in the soul.

II. What is the process?

1. Stands the pardon of sin and the sense of pardon. Many greatly increase the difficulty of saintliness by putting holiness before peace.

2. But forgiveness is not merit; it is not even acceptance. You must be acceptable and pleasing in God’s sight, And for this you must have righteousness not your own, and be able to present yourself to God in Christ, and be pleasing even to Him, because He sees the Christ in whom you are.

3. When you are so justified, an act of union takes place between Christ and your soul, Through that union the Holy Ghost, who is the fountain of all saintliness, flows into you, and the flow will vary according as the Spirit is grieved or honoured in you,

4. And now saintliness, properly so-called, begins. You are a thing dedicate,

Called to be saints. Why?

Because--

I. They lived with Jesus.

II. They lived for Jesus, and therefore--

III. They grew like Jesus. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Saints

What is a saint? A celebrated wit, who was asked this question, replied, “A saint is long-faced piety, which has neither the smile of friendliness, nor the tear of pity.” It is to be regretted that the word “saint” is a sort of nickname for that which is mean and spurious; but when people know a man to be really saint-like they give him reverence. I remember, one day, asking a little orphan girl, “What is a saint?” After a little thought, she answered, “Please, sir, my mother was a saint!” To that child’s mind saint meant somebody good, holy, and loving; and the person whom she had known to fulfil that description was her mother. Every mother should try to be to her daughters the panorama of what a saint should be, and every father too. A saint is--

I. A repenting child of God.

II. A changed child of God. That man who is honest, because it is the best policy, is in a very low state of morality; is he not at heart a thief? The prodigal may desire pardon as a policy which saves him from hell and admits him into heaven; but the saint acts from a nobler motive. The saint yearns for heaven more as a state of holiness than as a place of freedom from pain. Napoleon once said, “If you would truly conquer, you must replace.” This is true of morals as of nations. If you wish to take away the craving for sin, whatever it may be--drink, or anything else--you must replace it with a craving for something higher and better. You remember the old fable of the Isle of Sirens, whose songs lured the sailors from their ships to sin and death; and the shore of the island was covered with the bleached bones of tempted men. We are told that Ulysses, when sailing past, in order to see and not be captivated, ordered that his crew should have wax put into their ears, and then stopped up his own ears, and had himself tied to the mast. When his ship sailed by the island the Sirens sang their most bewitching melodies, but Ulysses and his crew did not hear; and were, therefore, not tempted as other sailors who had both seen and heard. But, some time afterwards, there came another ship, commanded by Orpheus, who was a master of music, Orpheus did not attempt to resist the temptation by putting wax in his ears, or by tying himself to the mast. The Sirens sang their most melodious strains; but Orpheus played a sweeter music, which, like a magnet, kept his crew from having the slightest desire to go to the island. The song of the Sirens charmed the ear; but the music of Orpheus thrilled the soul. Such is the change which has taken place in the soul of the saint. The joys of religion are sweeter to him than the pleasures of sin; to be beloved of God is more precious than the applause of erring men. You may ask, “How is this accomplished?” Just by the love of God being inspired in the spirit of the forgiven penitent.

III. A forgiven child of God. A young man went headlong into evil courses, and stole some of his father’s money, and ran away from home. Some time afterwards his father solemnly crossed the prodigal’s name from the family register at the beginning of the Bible. After many years the son, like the prodigal, “came to himself,” and when he knocked at the door was received with a loving welcome. Tim following morning the father opened the Bible at the first page, wrote the name of his son, and after it, “Everything forgiven.” This is like what takes place when a penitent cries for pardon; but the page where the forgiveness is written is in the heart of the penitent. (W. Birch.)

Sainthood now being prepared for glory

They who are not made saints in a state of grace shall never be saints in glory. The stones which are appointed for that glorious Temple above are hewn and polished and prepared for it here, as the stones were wrought and prepared in the mountains for building the temple at Jerusalem. (T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)

Grace.--

Grace

1. The word is from the French, who got it from the Romans. And the Romans got it under the old parental roof, at that remote period which preceded the migration both of Latins and Greeks from their common Oriental home. The Greek form of the word is χάρις, connected with χαίρω, “I rejoice.” So that the word, in its etymology, means “that which gives joy and pleasure, that which is delightful.”

2. Hence it was, at a very early period of its career as a word, applied to that which was beautiful. Beauty gives delight. It is grace. A beautiful movement of the body is graceful. If a dress is beautiful in its fabric, and if it fits beautifully, it is graceful. The fertile Greek imagination constructed three distinct personifications of beauty, “the Graces.” The echo of their idea continues, and we still speak of the three Christian graces--faith, hope, charity. When our Queen visits some private home, we sometimes say that the royal lady graces the home with her presence. She lends charm and beauty to it; and the charm and beauty occasion delight.

3. But Greeks, Latins, French, and English, were not slow to perceive that there is an inner as really as an outer beauty. There is beauty of character, of moral deportment, of moral feeling and acting; and this beauty is fitted to give great delight and joy. Hence all united in calling it grace. Kindness and loving kindness is grace. It is really most graceful. It is the most beautiful possible ornament. Justice is admirable. It cannot be dispensed with. Its presence lends dignity to character; and dignity is a species of grandeur; and grandeur is a species of beauty. Thus there is beauty in justice. But it is by a circuitous logical process that we find out “the beauty of holiness,” and the corresponding beauty that is inherent in the hatred of sin. But not so is it with kindness. It inspires us, on the spur of the moment, with delight and joy, especially when we find ourselves the objects of the loving kindness. It is the grace that belongs peculiarly to God. God’s favour is grace.

4. But man, too, as well as God, can be gracious. Our Queen and Princess of Wales are gracious. It is their pleasure to be kind; and their loving kindness is delightful, and, because delightful, is grace; so that they are gracious. Even a very humble man can be gracious, or show favour to his fellow men, when, e.g., his fellow men have injured him. Such graciousness is the reflection in man of the peculiar glory which is inherent in the character of God.

5. Again: We speak of grace before and after meals. The meaning is the utterance of thanks or gratitude to God, the bountiful Benefactor. This gratitude is grace. How significant! With what charm it invests the idea of gratitude! Gratitude for favour received, as a token of loving kindness, is as truly graceful as is loving kindness itself. In nothing is there greater deformity and unloveliness than in ingratitude. Hence both Greeks and Romans freely combined in calling gratitude grace. “For if ye love them who love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them who do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners to receive as much again.” We read in another part of the New Testament those glorious and glowing words of the Apostle St. Paul, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” In these passages the term employed is grace. In the sayings of our Saviour, as is evidenced by the parallel expression in St. Matthew, the word is tantamount in import to reward. What thank or reward do ye deserve? In the saying of the apostle it simply means thanks; and thanks is expressed by this term “grace,” just because thankfulness is always, as a manifestation of character, a grace, delightful to God and to all other beings who are Godlike. (J. Morison, D. D.)

The beginnings of grace

Trace back any river to its source, and you will find its beginnings small. A little moisture oozing through the sand or dripping out of some unknown rock, a gentle gush from some far away mountain’s foot, are the beginning of many a broad river, in whose waters tall merchantmen may anchor and gallant fleets may ride. For it widens and gets deeper, till it mingles with the ocean. So is the beginning of a Christian’s or a nation’s grace. It is first a tiny stream, then it swells into a river, then a sea. There is life and progression towards an ultimate perfection when God finds the beginning of grace in any man. (J. J. Wray.)

Grace necessary for human perfection

The nature of a seed is such that when it is thrown into the ground it unfolds itself without culture, without any exterior influence beyond the light and air and soil, to be just that thing which it was meant to be. Every flower comes to its own nature; and although culture may make it larger and finer, yet it expresses the radical idea involved in the seed. It is so with every insect and every animal But man is not a creature that, according to this analogy, being born into the world opens and develops himself to that which God meant manhood to be. When left in the most favourable conditions man does not, and will not, so develop himself; for that which is required to make manhood is not in him. There were elements left out of the nature of man without which that nature never can come to its perfection. For, as in fruits sugar comes from the sun, so in man grace comes from the Sun of righteousness, working in us, and elaborating the things that we need. But they are never wrought out by any process that takes place by the natural faculties in the soul. (H. W. Beecher.)

Peace.--

The peace of God

Hence the worldling does not understand our peace, and frequently sneers at it because he is puzzled by it. Even the Christian is sometimes surprised at his own peacefulness. I know what it is to suffer from terrible depression of spirit at times; yet at the very moment when it has seemed to me that life was not worth one single bronze coin, I have been perfectly peaceful with regard to all the greater things. There is a possibility of having the surface of the mind lashed into storm while yet down deep in the caverns of one’s inmost consciousness all is still: this I know by experience. There are earthquakes upon this earth, and yet our globe pursues the even tenor of its way, and the like is true in the little world of a believer’s nature. Why, sometimes the Christian will feel himself to be so flooded with a delicious peace that he could not express his rapture. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 8-16

Romans 1:8-16

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.

True Christian zeal

I. As it respects God is--

1. Thankful.

2. Sincere.

3. Constant.

4. Prayerful.

5. Dependent (Romans 1:8-10).

II. As it respects man is--

1. Earnest.

2. Communicative.

3. Loving.

4. Unquenched by difficulties.

5. Expansive.

6. Humble, not a merit but a debt.

7. Self-sacrificing. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Paul’s desire to see Rome

I. The facts of the passage.

1. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 16:19). The “world” here means, in the first place, the Roman Empire. But the term must be limited further to a particular class in the empire; though even at this time the general population were alive to some of the great Christian facts. The expression however, does not mean that the people in all parts of the empire were all talking about the “faith” of the Romans, because as you know there are twenty distinct worlds even in this London of ours. There are different classes that actually intermingle, but do not touch. There may be a world close to you that may have connections all over the nation and yet you know nothing abort it. Literary men have a world of their own, and they are known one to another all over the world; and there are religious teachers who are known all over their world, and yet they often know nothing of one another, So the meaning is that every city wherever Paul went, amongst the Christian people with whom he mingled, the faith and obedience of the Roman Christians was spoken of. And when I was in America I did not enter a single town but I met with some one or more persons who had been in this place. I was mingling with a certain class; they found me out and I found them out, because we had sympathies in common; but there are many millions of people who never heard either of them or me. Well now, three years after the apostle wrote that he got to Rome, and called a number of most respectable Jews, yet these men seemed to know nothing of the “faith” or “obedience” of the Christians at Rome; but only knew concerning the “sect” that it was “everywhere spoken against.” Now these two accounts may at first seem rather startling, but they are perfectly in harmony, with each other if properly viewed; and the entire naturalness of the two convinces me of the truth of both statements. The Jews and the Christians at Rome lived in different worlds.

2. “God is my witness” (verses 9-12).

3. The apostle goes on--“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come to you (but was hindered), that I might have some fruit among you, even as among other Gentiles.” He wanted to have men converted as well as to comfort and impart spiritual gifts to the Church. The apostle felt that he had “a dispensation committed to him.” “I am called and commissioned, and, therefore, am a debtor to all men; I am, therefore, ready to preach the gospel to you at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

II. The lessons.

1. In regard to the Christian life we perceive here its--

2. In relation to the apostle.

Thankfulness for the blessings of others

The expression of thanks to God for His mercy to them was fitted to conciliate their feelings and to prepare them for the truths he was about to communicate to them. It showed the deep interest he had in their welfare, and the happiness it would give him to do them good. It is proper to give thanks to God for His mercies to others as well as to ourselves. We are members of one great family, and we should make it a subject of thanksgiving that He confers any blessings, and especially the blessing of salvation, on any mortals. (A. Barnes.)

Standard of thankfulness

As physicians judge of the condition of men’s hearts by the pulse which beats in their arms, and not by the words which proceed from their mouths; so we may judge the thankfulness of men by their lives rather than by their professions. (Dictionary of Illustrations.)

The bond of Christian union

is a bond of--

I. Brotherly love (Romans 15:8-10)

II. Mutual help (Romans 15:11-12).

III. United effort for the spread of Christ’s kingdom. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Thanksgiving

I. Is every Christian’s first duty.

II. Should be offered through Jesus Christ.

III. Should be presented for every blessing and for all.

IV. Is especially due for the success of the gospel. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Personal religion

“My God,” is--

1. The Author of my being and my well-being.

2. The object of my worship.

3. My covenant God in Christ. The text is the language of--

I. Faith in Christ. God is only ours through faith in Him, only according to the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). Receiving Jesus and trusting in Him God becomes our God (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26).

II. Love. That is our God which we most love and esteem (Psalms 73:25).

III. Trust (Psalms 18:2). The object of our confidence is our God (Job 31:24; Habakkuk 1:16).

IV. Subjection, dedication, obedience (Isaiah 44:5; Acts 27:23). Conclusion:

1. Thanksgivings to be presented to God as our God in Christ.

2. The gospel teaches us not only to say “our Father,” but “my God.”

3. God as our God, the most glorious and only satisfying portion. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Thankfulness for faith spoken of

I. Faith spoken of proves--

1. Its nobility.

2. Its boldness.

3. Its fruitfulness.

II. Thanks given for this on account of--

1. Honour bestowed on the Romans.

2. Benefit likely to accrue to others.

3. Glory redounding to Christ. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Exemplary faith

I. Its features--Consistent; earnest; loving.

II. Its effects--a good report; glory and thanks to God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)


Verses 8-17

Verse 9

Romans 1:9

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.

Paul’s appeal to God

I. Its ground is the consciousness of entire consecration to the service of that God whom he had found in the revelation of His Son.

1. These are the two thoughts which are stamped on the whole of this introduction, and which everywhere else are prominent.

2. Let the richest treasure of your experience be “God is my Witness.” Paul had no grace that we may not claim. But the real secret which enables us to dare this Omniscient scrutiny is the habitual revelation of the Fatherly love of God in Christ which enables us to say, “My God.” “If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity!” carried to an extreme would take away all confidence. “God is my witness,” but He is “my God” in Christ.

II. Its special emphasis rests upon the words ‘‘in my Spirit.”

1. The terms are liturgical, for Paul never forgot the ancient temple. The soul is regenerate because inhabited by God. Where He dwells must be a temple; and all glorious things spoken about the ancient dwelling place of Jehovah may be transferred to the spirit of the believer. But He is Priest as well as Temple. “Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts.” The great concern of our life must be to preserve our spirit inviolate for the sacred Indweller. The apostle lived in his body as in a temple: “an earthly house” which should be dissolved, but then built again. He lived in his spirit, however, as in a temple which should never be dissolved; and he lived in hope that both should be reunited and glorified as the eternal dwelling place of God in Christ.

2. This service that he offered in his spirit was the service of God in the gospel of His Son.

3. Cultivate this habit of prayer for yourself, your own communion, Christendom and the world in general; cultivate also the habit of mixing mutual prayer with all your engagements.

4. Remember that God alone is the witness of your fidelity, but men will be the witnesses of its results. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)

The true service of God

I. Respects the spread of the gospel.

II. Is rendered with the Spirit.

III. Is constant.

IV. Prayerful.

V. Is discharged as in the sight of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

The nature of Christian obedience

We all serve something or someone, self, passion, prejudice, sin, business, ambition, etc., and we find the service pleasant enough. But the only service worth entering upon is that of Christ.

I. The claims which God has upon our service. These are--

1. Self-interest. God is a good Master.

2. Gratitude. A child that turns his back on a kind parent, a servant who repays affection by insult, a rebel who plots against a munificent king--all these is the man who forgets God.

II. The principles which should direct and govern our service to God. “Whom I serve with my spirit,” implies--

1. Voluntariness. We are not so much influenced by the command which addresses the ear, or the threatening which alarms the conscience, as by love.

2. Sincerity. The “spirit” is that which commands the whole of man. Often we see the affections dormant and the will persevering. How much of God’s worship is performed outwardly when it is inwardly disliked. The body without the spirit is dead; service without love is hypocrisy.

3. Universality. It had respect to every precept of God’s Word. The carnal mind will only obey such commands as seem pleasing to us.

4. Perpetuity. Not in prosperity only nor in adversity only. It is only by continuousness that perfection is arrived at.

III. The rule by which the service should be governed. The gospel is not only the means of salvation, but it is the rule which regulates our life. To serve God in the gospel is to--

1. Serve God in light. The gospel is the light which shows the Christian’s safety and danger.

2. To serve God in faith. The whole principle of the gospel is faith, the principle of life, thought, and action.

3. To serve God in love. Love is the great rule of life and sanctification.

4. To be rewarded by God according to the gospel. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)

My spirit

1. There was an auction one day of the books and furniture of a very celebrated author, and a vain but rich young man, having induced the auctioneer to offer them in one lot, paid several thousand pounds for the books, shelves, carpet, and in fact everything except the room itself. He directed the things to be taken carefully to his house and fitted up in a room, and placed in the same positions as in the author’s study. The young man then sat down with reverence on the author’s chair, took up the author’s pen, dipped it in the author’s ink, and bent his head over the paper on the author’s table. But nothing came; the paper remained a blank. The genius of the author was in neither his pen nor his surrounding, but in his spirit--the gift of God. We may be unable to create in our spirit the genius of a celebrated man; but we may develop our own faculty; and, if we do this, we shall bless the world exactly as God wishes us to do. The little forget-me-nots which grow in the quiet nook of the steep rock do their work as effectively as the great oaks which grace the park of a king; and as the tiny flower does its best, it is as worthy of praise as the gigantic tree that does no more.

2. But though we cannot obtain the special genius of another man’s spirit, we can receive as our own the disposition of the greatest man who ever lived--Christ can be received by all, and the breathings of His Spirit within us shall mould our thoughts, fashion our desires, and develop our lives like His own. If a man would occupy the place in the world for which he has been specially created, it is absolutely needful for him to have the breathings of Christ in his own spirit; and when undertaking any sacred mission for the benefit of our fellow men, our inquiry should not be, Have I bags of money? but, Is my spirit influenced by Christ? Christ direction is the first and most important step in the kingdom of God.

3. One day a young soldier went to visit the tomb of Scandenberg and the sword of the famous warrior was placed in his hand. The soldier lifted it saying, “Is this really Scandenberg’s sword? Why there is nothing in it more than mine!” The old clerk exclaimed, “You see only the sword; you should have seen the hand that grasped it!” Likewise, the preacher may be only an ordinary man, he is only an earthen vessel; but in his spirit there should be a power which can move men’s hearts and influence their lives--God should breathe within him.

4. Christ and the angels do not look on us as we look on each other. We value a man’s surroundings rather than the man himself, An artist whose soul loves beauty does not value a picture by its frame. Seeing the picture to be a gem, he buys it, and does not care twopence for the frame, So, when the Lord looks on you, He does not value your bank book, your dress, your bodily strength and beauty; he values you--your spirit. “A man is measured by his soul!” (W. Birch.)


Verses 10-12

Romans 1:10-12

Making request, if by any means … I might have a prosperous journey.

Prosperous journey

What is necessary to render a journey, or a voyage, prosperous in the estimation of a real Christian? Is he satisfied if by it his temporal interests are advanced, if he enjoys worldly pleasure, if he meets with kind friends, if he be preserved from calamity, and return home with invigorated health? These are blessings which require his grateful acknowledgments to God. With these he ought to be contented, if this world were his home. But when he remembers that heaven is his true country, and religion his great business, he must feel that something more is necessary.

I. We should seek more affecting and admiring views of the Creator, as displayed in His works. When our minds are employed upon the works of nature, it is generally only to make them subservient to our worldly interest, or to administer to our earthly gratification; and not to warm our hearts by the contemplation of that infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, which appear in the formation of them. If such conduct at all times is inexcusable and ungrateful, it is doubly so in our journeys, in which the works of God are presented to us in rapid succession.

II. We should acquire a more deep and grateful sense of the goodness and care of that Providence on which we depend. Though in God “we live, and move, and have our being,” yet the majority of mankind think but little of this guardian providence. And even Christians, when nothing occurs to interrupt the regular course of their lives, are too apt to forget their dependence; but surely in our journeys we must, from their unseen dangers, feel that we need each moment to be shielded by the power of God.

III. It should deepen our conviction of the value and uniformity of the religion of Jesus. The various objects presented to him will be calculated to produce this conviction. Far from home we meet with the disciples of the Redeemer.

IV. We should embrace opportunities of acquiring and doing good. Sometimes even believers, during their journeys, have found their graces withering, because they neglected these means of spiritual improvement. Carefully guard against this. Let the Word of God not be disregarded. Let nothing interfere with prayer, Sabbath duties, etc. Be not ashamed to avow your attachment to the blessed Saviour. A word spoken in season may be the means of saving a soul.

V. Remember that our whole life is a journey towards eternity. Frequently think, when far from home, that you are only sojourners upon earth; that heaven is your country. (S. Davies, D. D.)

A prosperous journey

I. Depends upon the will of God.

II. Supposes God’s care, direction, and blessing.

III. Can only be secured by earnest prayer. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

By the will of God

Or in the will, etc.

Paul seemed to regard the will of God as a straight course, in which he was desirous of sailing; or as a circle, outside of whose radius he would not steer, through selfishness, impatience, and self-judgment. The track marked out on God’s chart must be followed, for out of it were shoals and rocks, where he would founder and make shipwreck of his faith. (C. Nell, M. A.)

Prayer and the will of God

There is nothing with which Christians should be more habitually impressed than that God is the disposer of events. They should look to His will in the smallest concerns of life, as well as in affairs of the greatest moment. Even a prosperous voyage is from the Lord. In this way they glorify God by acknowledging His providence in all things, and have the greatest confidence and happiness in walking before Him. Here we also learn that, while the will of God concerning any event is not ascertained, we have liberty to desire and pray for what we wish, provided our prayers and desires are conformed to His holiness. We also learn in this place that, since all events depend on the will of God, we ought to acquiesce in them, however contrary they may be to our wishes; and likewise that in those things in which the will of God is not apparent, we should always accompany our prayers and our desires with this condition if it be pleasing to God, and to be ready to renounce our desires as soon as they appear not to be conformed to His will. “O how sweet a thing,” as one has well observed, “were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burthen, and making the Lord’s will our law!” (J. Haldane.)

For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift.--

Paul’s desire to see the Roman Christians

Note--

I. The longing of an earnest mind for engagement in Christ’s service. Paul wished to see them--

1. That he might impart some spiritual gift. Some suppose reference is made to those supernatural gifts in which the Church at Corinth was so rich, and were they still in the Church some would be tempted to say, “Give me this power,” with a view to usefulness. But why do you not use those you already have? It is not that our Churches come behind in gifts, but that so many are unemployed. Everyone has some gift--use it. Some mistake their gifts and hinder. If you have no gift for public prayer, pray in silence. But all have the gift of tongues. Everyone can speak a word in season to them that are weary. Pray that they may be baptized with fire. That will purge from detraction, etc., and make meet for the Master’s use.

2. That he and they might be comforted by the faith of each. There is a law pervading God’s works by which the giver becomes the receiver. The seed comes back in the harvest; the ocean receives the rain it gives off in evaporation. Nothing is so injurious as selfishness; nothing so remunerative as benevolence. No prayer is so profitable as intercession for others; no Bible knowledge so rich as that derived from exposition to others. How many have been recompensed for efforts made to attend the prayer meeting!

II. The delays often met with in the accomplishment of our work. Do not suppose that because your motive is pure your end will be achieved at once. Paul planned long ago to visit Rome, but found his plans set aside by God. In all your undertakings do what he did--pray to, and then wait for, God to make the way plain. The opportunity will come in His, i.e., the best time.

III. Our desire for employment in Christ’s work may be realised in a way least expected. The spirit, rather than the letter, of the prayer is answered. How little Paul thought that he would enter Rome a prisoner; but the sequel shows that God was right. What a rich experience Paul brought with him, and accumulated for the benefit of the Church of all ages. How invaluable is the record of his shipwreck! We could ill have spared the incidents of his history even for more sermons and epistles. Then he tells us how that all fell out for the furtherance of the end he had in view (Philippians 1:1-30).

IV. To accomplish Christ’s work we must have a powerful conviction--

1. Of our personal indebtedness.

2. Of the glory and power of the gospel. (J. S. Pearsall.)

Personal intercourse

I. Its advantages. It accomplishes more than a letter--hence reading the Word at home does not supersede the necessity of the living ministry.

II. Its objects.

1. The communication of some spiritual good.

2. Mutual edification.

III. Its attractions.

1. Mutual love.

2. Love to Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Pastoral visitation

1. Supposes personal communication about Divine things.

2. Contributes to the development, increase, and communion of faith.

3. Secures mutual comfort--the minister needs it--can impart it.

4. Promotes unity of affection and effort. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

The bond and purpose of the ministry

I. Notice the manly expression of Christian affection which the apostle allows himself here. Very few Christian teachers could or should venture to talk so much about themselves as Paul did. The strong infusion of the personal element in all his letters is so transparently simple, so free from affectation or unctuous sentiment, that it attracts rather than repels. He had never been in Rome when he spoke these words; he had no personal relations with any of the believers there; but still his heart went out towards them, and he was not ashamed to show it. “I long to see you.”

II. Note the lofty consciousness of the purpose of their meeting. The word he employs here, “gift,” is never used in the New Testament for a thing that one man can give to another, but is always employed for the concrete results of the grace of God bestowed upon men. The very expression, then, shows that Paul thought of him self, not as the original giver, but simply as a channel through which was communicated what God had given. In the same direction points the adjective which accompanies the noun--a “spiritual gift”--which probably describes the origin of the gift as being the Spirit of God, rather than defines the seat of it when received as being the spirit of the receiver. Notice, too, as bearing on the limits of Paul’s part in She gift, the delicacy of the language in his statement of the ultimate purpose of the gift. He does not say, “that I may strengthen you,” which may have been too egotistical, but he says, “that ye may be strengthened,” for the true strengthener is not Paul, but the Spirit of God. And now, what are the lessons that I take from this?

1. No Christian teacher has any business to open his mouth unless he is sure that he has got something to impart to men as a gift from the Divine Spirit. And no Christian organisation has any right to exist unless it recognises the communication and farther spreading of this spiritual gift as its great function. That is the one lesson, and the other one is this--

2. Have you received the gift that I have, under the limitations already spoken of, to bestow? That is, have you taken Christ, and have you faith in Him. The purpose of the Church, and the purpose of the ministry, is that spiritual gifts may be imparted. And if that purpose be not accomplished, all other purposes that are accomplished are worse than nothing.

III. Note the lowly consciousness that much was to be received as well as much to be given. The apostle corrects himself after he has said, “that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift,” by adding, “that is, that I may be comforted (or rather, encouraged) together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” If his language were not so transparently sincere, and springing from deep interest into the relationship between himself and these people, we should say it was exquisite courtesy and beautiful delicacy. But it moves in a region far more real than the region of courtesy, and it speaks the inmost truth about the conditions on which the Roman Christians should receive, viz., that they should also give. There is only one giver who is only a giver, and that is God. All other givers are also receivers. Paul’s was a richly-complicated nature--firm as a rock in the will, tremulously sensitive in its sympathies; like some strongly rooted tree with its stable stem and a green cloud of fluttering foliage that moves in the lightest air. So his spirit rose and fell according to the reception that he met from his brethren, and the manifestation of their faith quickened and strengthened his. And he is but one instance of a universal law. All teachers, the more genuine they are, the more sympathetic they are, are the more sensitive of their environment. The hearer reacts on the speaker quite as much as the speaker does on the hearer. If you have got ice in the pews, that brings down the temperature up here. And the unbelief and low-toned religion of a congregation is always pulling down the faith and the fervour of their minister, if he be better and holier, as they expect him to be, than they are. On the other hand, the true encouragement to give a man when he is trying to do God’s will, to preach Christ’s gospel, is not to pat him on the back and say, “What a remarkable sermon that was of yours! What a genius; what an orator!” not to go about praising it; but to come and say, “Thy words have led me to Christ; and from these I have taken the gift of gifts.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Sharing happiness

Men of the noblest disposition think themselves happiest when others share with them in their happiness. (Jeremy Taylor.)

To the end ye may be established.--

Christian establishment

I. The object which we all should have in view--“that we may be established.”

1. In knowledge. This kind of knowledge Paul terms “the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God,” etc. When we attain this, comprehend the gospel of Christ so completely that we see its adaptation to all our wants, it becomes its own evidence; doubt vanishes, the heart and the mind are both at rest.

2. In holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13) So that we get a fixed abhorrence of evil, and love good for its own sake, and be like God and those holy beings who minister to Him perpetually.

3. In all those external habits which flow from holiness. The holiness of the Christian’s heart must be manifest in his daily habits and conduct, “in every good word and work.”

II. The means which may be employed to further that object. God Himself is the source of the establishment of His people, but the Word of God is explicit as to the part which men should take in the same. While, therefore, it is frequently a prayer of the apostle that the Churches might be “established in the faith,” this is no less the subject of exhortation (1 Corinthians 15:58). While we are using the prescribed means, we may look to Him for His needful blessing; the grace of God cooperates with the energy to which He brings His people. And among these means which God has provided are--

1. The ministry of the gospel. This is perhaps a less important means than it once was, because of the accessibility of the Word of God to all; and now each parent, each master, may become a minister of Christ in his own household. Yet still ministers have been appointed by Christ as instruments in the building up of their fellow Christians.

2. The summoning into activity all the individual powers. If you have any earnestness, decision, promptitude, courage, in prosecuting any common business, try the sincerity of your spirits by seeking whether they are manifest in seeking your spiritual progress daily.

3. Prayer. (Baptist Noel, M. A.)

That I may be comforted together with you.--

Christians mutual helpers

The relations of Christians to each other are like the several flowers in a garden that have upon each the dew of heaven, which being shaken with the wind, they let fall the dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of one another. (J. Bunyan.)

The joy of imparting joy

And I might add that service in itself, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, is always a means of comfort, because of the blessedness which it yields to a generous heart to be doing good to others. Oh! you little know how much pleasure you would derive from the kindly endeavours to impart joy to others. I passed a brother yesterday whose eyes sparkled, and his cheerful face was lit up with smiles. Though I did not know the man, I seemed to read his character in his countenance. Surely, thought I, he is a busy one who is trying to dispense some blessings to the needy. Again this morning I fell in with him, and this time I made his acquaintance. His cordial greeting pleased me, and his lively manner induced me to ask on what good errand he had been. “Well,” said he, “I have just been visiting some poor people, and talking with some sick ones, and I have had a sweet time with them.” Yes; that is the way to get sweet times. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The communion of saints

As in the case of fire, if anyone gather together many lights, it is a bright flame that he kindles; thus also does it naturally happen with the faithful. For when we be by ourselves, torn away from others, we are somehow in worse spirits. But when we see one another, and are entwined with the members of our own selves, great is the comfort we receive. (Chrysostom.)

By the mutual faith both of you and me.--

Mutual faith

Faith is the all-inspiring element of work everywhere! No man long pursues any work which he does not believe in. No man invests his money in something he does not believe in. Faith is not misty imagination, nor is it a mere mystical meditation about God; it is built upon what God is and what God has said and what God has done. But then there comes in this other consideration; faith is a thing of degree. Here, then, it touches the point of mutuality! If you and I engage in a commercial enterprise, I find my faith weakened or strengthened. I say I wish you knew a little more about that enterprise. If we do business with a great firm, the doubt of others affects us. It was a terrible thing when the crew of Columbus said, “We do not believe.” The heroism of that man is seen in the fact that he found the land in spite of the mutinous crew! But where there is this element of mutuality in faith, there is wonderful strength.

I. Successful enterprises need the faith of every one of us. The unbeliever is a weakness wherever he is. Do you believe that yourself? Masses are not strong in and of themselves. The unity of the spirit in the bond of faith--that is strength.

1. Men who are engaged on gospel enterprises can only do it in proportion as they believe in Christ, and in each other as true men in Christ.

2. If you are mated to another, take care your friend believes with you, or, young woman, you will regret it. You cannot row to heaven with one oar comfortably; both must row together. It is a terrible revelation to some. “I am yoked to an unbelievers.”

3. The enterprises of home-life demand mutual faith.

II. The best faith needs refreshment. Even Paul gained strength by another’s faith. The rivulet feeds the sea, as well as the mountain feeds the river! The little child feeds my faith--I cannot hear a child’s prayer without being helped. The increase of faith is made up of quiet influences! When you went to the seaside out of health, you wonder how it was you got better. You breathed the pure oxygen; you looked up to the broad heavens and forgot meaner things; your nature was influenced by a million little touches along the nerves. So you may be in an atmosphere of faith; and Paul wanted to see them to be in such an atmosphere and to contribute to it.

III. Faith brings comfort. When we voyage to America, “Do you believe in the captain, too?” Then, when evening comes, “Good night,” and we are all comforted. The vessel is safe in which we voyage to heaven. All believe in the same Divine Lord over the storm. You are going home without trepidation tonight, but if you had lived in some parts of Italy some time ago we might have asked, “Are you afraid of being stabbed tonight? Which way are you going? We will walk together!” We are comforted by mutual faith in each other. The same thing holds good in regard to religion. What a glorious triumph over fear the early Christians enjoyed.

IV. Faith gives courage. There were a few people inside Rome who believed in Jesus, and the apostle took courage from the thought that he should not be alone, but be surrounded by a loyal few. In the army everyone helps the other’s courage. There is no talk about danger, but only of taking the battlements! So wherever you are, by the exercise of your faith you are sustaining that poor fellow there who has the same battle to fight as you have.

V. Faith means prayer. “Making request,” etc. You cannot work yourself up into love or faith! It must be something that comes to you. Every good gift comes from God. What we want to make request for is faith, and if we have it as a possession, may God enlarge it. (W. M. Statham.)


Verse 13

Romans 1:13

Oftentimes I purposed to come unto you.

Paul’s purpose

I. Its history. “Oftentimes.” The project doubtless early formed. What more natural than that so distinguished a Christian citizen should desire to see the gospel firmly planted in the centre of the empire. This would be strongly opened by the conviction that from Rome the gospel would perforce radiate more powerfully. A Christianised Rome would mean a Christianised world. The purpose was originated or confirmed by Divine revelation (cf. Acts 19:21; Act_27:24; Romans 15:23)
. His eye would never be off this great object.

II. Its temporary frustration.

1. Doubtless by Divine interpositions. He was kept from Rome as he was kept from Asia, etc. (Acts 16:6-7). Sometimes God’s purposes are best answered by the frustration of our own when they are of the highest. Perhaps it was best for Paul to work his way to Rome by a circuitous route, coming in contact with diverse peoples, and so preparing him for dealing with the heterogeneous population of the capital. Anyhow, no ministry at Rome would have compensated for the loss of his brilliant history.

2. Certainly by necessary engagements (Romans 15:20-21). It is always best to do the duty which is nearest to hand, and follow it up by proceeding to the next. All Paul’s career seems an illustration of this. He never seems to have gone out of his way. One event leads to another by a perfectly natural sequence.

3. Possibly Satan may have hindered. If at one time, why not at another (1 Thessalonians 2:18; Daniel 10:13)? Did he hinder at Illyricum (Romans 15:20) when Rome was so temptingly near?

III. Its ultimate object. “Fruit.”

1. This fruit was--

2. Much fruit he had reaped already (Romans 15:18-21).

3. Yet he yearned for more. He could have no rest while one field remained unplanted, and he knew that the most fruitful field yet remained.

IV. Its accomplishment. Read Philippians 1:1-30, and remember that Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon were written at Rome. Who shall estimate the fruit reaped by this visit to Rome? Only the Great Husbandman at the Great Day. (J. W. Burn.)

But was let hitherto.--

The true estimate of hindrances

1. Distinguish between the imaginary and the real.

2. Do not be discouraged by them, nor seek to evade them.

3. Conquer them by prayer.

4. Convert them into means of advancement--among other things the apostle’s difficulties occasioned this Epistle to the Romans. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

That I might have some fruit.--

Anxiety for souls

Brainerd could say of himself on more than one occasion, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls to Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things; and, when I waked, the first thing I thought of was this great work. All my desire was for the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God.”

Earnestness in seeking for souls

When Judson carried the message of salvation to the villages and jungles of India, he declared his conviction that men mast be redeemed to God by personal, individual contact with those who knew the grace of Christ; and he said, “I am determined to preach the gospel wherever I can find a congregation of one.”


Verses 14-16

Romans 1:14-16

I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.

I am debtor

The text raises a question on points which, in mercantile phraseology, would be designated--

I. The business.

1. A merchant, embarked in an extensive foreign trade, has fallen into the habit of doing a good deal of petty business at home on which the profit is small; but it is near, and therefore occupies time out of all proportion to its worth. In the meantime rumours are rife that in one foreign market prices had suddenly fallen before his goods arrived; that in another his agents had sold his cargo and absconded; and that in a third direction an investment, not insured, had been lost at sea. He declines to examine these reports, because he does not like the subject; and to keep his mind free from painful reflections he throws himself with redoubled energy into his huckstering, and exults over the halfpence of profit which each transaction produces. The man is mad, you say. He is. But probably “thou art the man.”

2. We are all merchants. We have business with both worlds; but our stake in the one is slight, in the other all but infinite. It becomes, therefore, an important question whether our attention to these two is in due proportion to their comparative worth. Alas! there are many foolish traders who are anxious about the balance of their accounts for time, and leave the interests of eternity to sink or swim.

3. Paul was a diligent and energetic man. Had he been a merchant, the keenest wit in all the Exchange could not have overreached him. He closely examined the worth of an article, and nicely calculated how much it would bring. He embarked all in one business, and then pushed it to the uttermost. He did not neglect the necessary affairs of this life, but his treasure was in heaven, and his heart followed it.

II. The debt.

1. However good men’s position in the present world, in their greatest business all begin in debt, and no efforts of their own can ever discharge it. Some heirs would fain get quit of their heritage. When a man discovers his property is burdened beyond the worth of all that he has or can ever hope to win the consequences are disastrous. If there were any hope of success, he might strive by industry to diminish gradually his burden; but the debt is obviously so great that, in spite of all his efforts, its amount will grow greater every year. He loses heart, and abandons himself to his fate. Such is the condition of men in relation to God. We are born with a debt, and the amount of our liabilities has increased and is still increasing day by day. In this extremity a Daysman comes in between the Judge and the guilty and pays the debt. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” The handwriting that was against us is blotted out; the bond is cancelled, and we are free.

2. The forgiven sinner is clear in the book of God’s judgment; but he owes much to his Redeemer. He is as deeply in debt as ever, but it is now a debt of gratitude. It is greater than he can ever pay; but the more he realises its greatness the happier he grows.

3. But Paul confesses here that he is a debtor to man--to every man. How comes this? Thus: In the complicated processes of modern merchandise a man often finds himself in debt to unknown persons. You have done business with a merchant at a distance, and the result is a pecuniary balance in his favour, while in transactions with another party the balance is against him. With a view to the convenience of himself and his correspondent, instead of getting money from you and paying it to his creditor, he hands over to that creditor the claim which he holds against you; or, to make the analogy more complete, the merchant to whom you owe money desires to help certain destitute persons in your city, and to them makes over the bill as an equivalent for money. The person who possesses that claim so transferred presents it for payment, and you must pay. Thus you become debtors to persons whom you never saw. Thus Paul became a debtor to the Greeks; and he owed all that he had and was to Christ, who transferred his claim, and Paul was bound to honour it. So wherever there is a man in want, spiritual or temporal, there a legal claim is presented to the disciples of Christ; and if they repudiate they dishonour their Lord. This principle is exhibited in the story of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment (Mark 14:3-9).

4. The root and life of true religion is personal devotion to a personal Redeemer; thereafter and thereon grows active service in his cause. These are the first and second commandments of the New Testament decalogue. Neither of these can thrive alone. Devotion without work degenerates into monkery; work without devotion sinks into a shallow, fitful secularism. If we have got mercy from Christ, we owe mercy to men.

5. Nor does the world’s apathy release a Christian from his obligations. If a company of poor people held a claim against a citizen, and if he should take advantage of their ignorance and poverty to evade the payment, he would be a dishonourable man. In like manner, although those who now hold Christ’s claim on us, not knowing its value, do not present it for payment, we are bound in honour to seek them out and discharge our obligations.

III. The composition; in what manner and to what amount the insolvent proposed to pay. Carefully observe that the most devoted life is not offered as an adequate return to the Saviour. As well might a man purchase his pardon at first from the Judge as repay the Redeemer for it afterwards. He pays, not in the spirit of bondage, but in the spirit of grateful love; not that he looks to a time when the debt will be paid off, but that he delights in the act of paying it. Having announced his principle, Paul plunged at once into its practical details (Romans 1:15). Adopting the natural and Scriptural order, we shall suggest first some installments of the debt that are due to parties--

1. At home. It is not necessary that the debtors should go far away in order to find a person authorised to receive the payments. The original creditor has secured that properly qualified receivers should be at band. Wherever there is being in wretchedness within your reach, to that human being you am a debtor. Behold the open spring of all home mission effort! When certain institutions which at first were supported by voluntary contributions were transferred to a tax imposed on the community by imperial authority the difficulties of the managers disappeared. Ah, the treasury of mission would always be full if the authority of Christ were as effective in the hearts of Christians as that of the government! But let it not be supposed that it is in money only or chiefly that Christians should pay their debt. Personal service is the legal tender, and it is only to a limited extent that money may be received as an equivalent. Personal dealing is the need of our day.

2. Abroad. A rich man dies, leaving a large family of young children, of whom another rich man obtains the guardianship. Partly by law and partly by violence he drives off all competitors and constitutes himself sole trustee of the wealthy minors. He then proceeds to enrich himself out of the inheritance of his wards. We have masterfully, not to say unjustly, ousted all other claimants, and assumed absolute guardianship over the vast populations of India. We have enriched ourselves by the inheritance of those little children. As a Christian nation, therefore, we are debtors to them. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Debtor and creditor

The text suggests that Christian missions are “a new way to pay old debts.” The debts are indeed old; the way to pay them is new. The creditors have been increasing in numbers, while the debt, with interest, has been growing. The debtors, too, have been growing in numbers and in ability to discharge their obligations. But still the debt is, to a large extent, unpaid.

I. The debtor and his debt. The apostle used these words as representing the whole Church. The Church is not a company under the Limited Liability Act, but is a partnership, and each partner is involved to the uttermost of his possessions. Consider--

1. The ground of this indebtedness. Paul’s words are not used directly of his relation to God. Yet we must remember that there is an intimate connection between our debt to God and our debt to our fellow men. The question, “How much owest thou unto thy Lord?” must ever precede the other, “How much owest thou to thy neighbour?” Because we are debtors to God we are debtors to man, and just in proportion as we recognise the one shall we recognise the other. The true ground of this indebtedness is found, therefore, in the relation of the regenerate man to God as a subject of “the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”

2. Looked at in this light, the debt is a debt of honour. I do not use the term, as is often done, in such a way as to imply that there may be no dishonour in neglecting debt in other forms. But as in this case no writ can be issued, it is therefore peculiarly a debt of honour. When God gave us His salvation it was not for ourselves alone, but for the family of man, of whom we are but members. Our honour is concerned, therefore, in fulfilling to the utmost the purpose of God thus made known. A trustee has a charge committed to him by another whose representative he is. The due administration of the trust is with him a point of the highest honour. Every Christian is, in virtue of his Christianity, a trustee of the gospel for mankind at large, and therefore in honour bound to see that the members of the race get their full share.

3. Granted this, I think you will admit that to the man of honour it is a sad thing to be in debt. Paul was no pessimist; but he was far too true a man to shut his eyes to the real state before God of those who knew not Christ. There were, therefore, two sides to his experience, as there must be to that of every Christian. Looking Godward, he was gladdened by the rays of the Sun of Righteousness; looking manward, he was saddened by the thick darkness of his unregeneracy and death in sin. So it came about that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” and his sorrow wakened in him a deep sense of responsibility which found expression in the words “I am debtor.”

4. The Christian debtor, seeing the true ground of his indebtedness, moved by a sense of honour to Christ, and saddened by the thought of his responsibility, will make strenuous and self-denying efforts to discharge his debt. Thus it was with Paul. In spite of the scanty means of transport at his disposal he managed to reach nearly all the chief centres of the then known world. Brief as was his Christian course, it was packed full of action. “He flew across the world,” and at every point he touched he held meetings of his creditors--meetings the object of which was, not to offer a composition, but to pay twenty shillings in the pound--as he unfolded to them “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The debt is owing still. There is no “statute of limitations” cancelling our obligations to preach the gospel to every creature.

II. The creditor and his claim.

1. Where is he? The touching cry of the widow to Elisha was, “The creditor is come,” Aye, the creditor is come. Civilisation has brought him, Time was when the heathen was afar off; but railroad and steamboat, telegraph and telephone, have unified the race. In three weeks you may be among the teeming millions of India. You may know today what took place in China yesterday, as William Carey could not have known in Northampton what had transpired in London the day before. The discoveries of science have laid fresh and weighty burdens of responsibility on the Church of God, but at the same time help us to discharge our obligations.

2. Who is he? “I, too, am a man,” he says; “no evolutionised ape, much as appearances are against me, but of the creation of God. Your father Adam was my father too.” The common brotherhood constitutes the claim of man upon man in regard to the gospel. When God, in the mystery of the Incarnation, was pleased to take humanity into union with Himself, it was not English humanity or civilised humanity, but humanity as such. The brotherhood of the race, established in creation in the person of the first man, is confirmed in Incarnation in the person of the Second Man. The creditor, then, is your long-lost brother asking for his share of that salvation which God came near to man to secure.

3. His claim. This is emphatically the day of the people. The day of oligarchy and of aristocracy has set; the day of democracy, whether we like it or not, has dawned. The few have had their day, the many are now to have theirs, The rights of man as man are being rapidly brought to the front. He who discerns the signs of the times hears the ever-swelling cry of the proletariat claiming a larger share of privilege, and alongside of it the equally eager though silent cry from the heathen world for a fuller communion in Christian privilege and blessing. He who notes these things will still have sounding in his ears the cry, “Come over and help us!”

3. How is this claim to be met? The claims of the widow’s creditor were met by a supply given by God. The debts we owe to the heathen must be paid by that which we receive from the same Divine source. When God had multiplied her oil, the prophet said, “Pay thy debt and live, thou and thy children, of the rest.” Home work will not suffer because the demands of the outside world are met. I do not undervalue money nor men; but in order to the bringing out in fuller measure both of men and money we need that which neither money can buy nor men create--a fuller measure of Divine power in the whole Church. (W. P. Lockhart,)

Debtors

1. The language is commercial, and yet the obligation is not precisely that which a merchant commonly understands. Debt is that which a man owes to another for something received. But Paul was not in any such way indebted to the Gentiles, He owed no one a penny. Neither did he owe the Gentiles any gratitude, for in almost every city he had suffered wrong. It was not, therefore, on this ground that Paul acknowledged himself to be a debtor, but solely on the ground that he had received something for them. “The glorious gospel of the blessed God” had been “committed” to his “trust”; he had been “allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel.” This, therefore, he could not honestly hold back. On the one hand he had been signally blessed by Christ. Then, on the other side, were the needs of the Gentile world. The vision of the Macedonian crying, “Come over and help us,” was, indeed, a special Divine indication of what the Lord would have him to do; but it came in that form and time because it was already in the line of all his desires. He knew the hollowness and degradation of the idolatries of the Gentiles, and having learned the value of his own soul at the Cross of Christ, he was eager to be the means of communicating the same revelation and conveying the same life to them. Whether they should accept it or not rested with themselves. But as for the proclamation, necessity was laid upon him, and he felt that it was at his peril if he should hold his peace,

2. How that motive operated is seen by his course at Athens. He was there alone. He had not intended without companions to do anything publicly there; but when he saw the state of things his spirit was so stirred that, at the risk of scorn and persecution, he could not but speak. He was always on the outlook for opportunities of paying this debt, He was not afraid to speak to men like Sergius Paulus or Festus; and yet he was not above seeking the salvation of a runaway slave like Onesimus. He was equally earnest in the little prayer meeting at Philippi and upon the summit of Areopagus, and even in Rome he found a congregation large enough for his ambition in the soldier that was chained to his right arm. He never saw a man without remembering that he had a debt to pay to him, and so, not more for the benefit of the stranger than for the exoneration of his own conscience, he sought his highest welfare. When I put it so, I cease to wonder at the unwearying assiduity of the great apostle, while at the same time I am filled with shame at the paltry littleness of our modern Christianity.

3. His was only a specific instance of a principle, which holds for us as really and powerfully as it did for him, viz., that personal possession of privilege is of the nature of a trust, and involves the obligation to use it not for individual profit merely, but for the welfare of others. The greatness of exceptional endowment carries with it an obligation to exceptional service. The highest of all, by virtue of his very elevation, is to be the servant of all. The power of the strong is Divinely mortgaged in the interests of the weak; the sufferer has a God-given claim upon me for relief and the ignorant for instruction. This is clearly the true interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan; and indeed it is the true and proper outcome of the gospel itself. I know that selfishness would repudiate all such indebtedness. The man of wealth, rank, learning, power, says he has won his position, and that he has a right to use it as he will, no matter what may become of others.

4. But Christ has reversed all that by introducing the principle on which I am now insisting, and already we see indications of its operations among us. Take power, for example; and how readily now men assent to the statement that it has its duties, i.e., debts, as well as its prerogatives! Then as to wealth: the conviction is becoming stronger among us that the man who is blessed with it is a debtor to the community of which he is a member. The same is true of education, etc. True, we are a very long way yet from a full recognition of this principle; but it is making its way.

5. The principle has had its origin in the gospel, for until Christ came men cared little for anything outside of themselves. The question of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” gives the key to the explanation of all the enormities Of the ancient civilisations. But Christ taught His followers to look “not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” And this principle furnishes what is needed to meet the perils of our modern civilisation. The tendency of the times is to increase the separation between different classes. We continually hear it said that the rich are becoming richer and the poor are growing poorer. The gulf which has long yawned between employer and employed is widening. Now some of that is no doubt inevitable. We can never have a dead level of absolute equality. What we have to do is to bring the gospel principle to bear upon this subject with more force; for see how it takes the poison out of all this diversity of condition. It makes the powerful man the trustee for the weak, the rich man the guardian for the poor, the learned man the teacher of the ignorant, and the free man the emancipator of the enslaved. When His followers disputed among themselves which should be greatest, the Lord, instead of seeking to uproot ambition, gave a new definition of greatness as service, and bade them be ambitious of that. And in precisely the same way here the gospel, far from blotting out all distinctions in society as the Communist would do, makes the very privileges which mark the distinction between a higher class and a lower the basis of obligation, so that the one is the debtor of the other, and the obligation increases with the increase of the privilege.

6. But we should expect to find the highest manifestation of this principle in the Christian Church. And here, though it has not attained anything like its legitimate development, we are not entirely disappointed, for it has originated and sustained the great missionary enterprise; and though the Church as a whole has not yet anything like come up to the level of Paul, still there have been individuals who are not unworthy to be compared even with the great apostle of the Gentiles. While we here at home are enjoying our privileges with self-complacency and satisfaction, and thinking that we perform our part by giving a small annual donation, missionaries are labouring with devoted heroism to carry the gospel into benighted lands. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Every Christian a debtor to the pagan

I. The nature and strength of that particular motive to labour for the spread of the gospel which is presented in the text. The feeling of indebtedness in an honourable mind is--

1. A powerful one. It lies under all the commerce of the world, and is the spring which impels all the wheels of secular business. Never are the secular abilities of a man braced up to a more vigorous activity than when, under the sense of obligation, he proceeds with perfect integrity to obey the injunction, “Owe no man anything.”

2. A cheerful and an encouraging motive. Men distinguished in the monetary world have described the gush of pleasure which they experienced in the earlier days of their career from the excitement incident to a gradual but certain overcoming of their liabilities.

II. Its source and foundation. Every Christian owes the gospel to the pagan--

1. Because of’ the deep interest which Christ takes in the pagan. In the account of the last judgment we are taught that all neglect of human welfare is neglect of Christ, and that anything that is done for human salvation, in any nation or age, is done for Him. We have no conception of the immensity of that Divine compassion for man which moved Christ to “take our infirmities and bear our sicknesses.” So absorbed was He in His merciful work that “His friends went out to lay hold on Him.” This compassion originated partly from His Divinity and partly from His humanity. The Divinity in His complex person gave the eye to see, and the humanity the heart to feel and suffer; and when such an eye is united with such a heart the sorrow and the sympathy are infinite. As God, the Redeemer was the Creator of men, and as Man He was their Elder Brother; and therefore He can so unify Himself with mankind, as He does in these wonderful utterances, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me,” etc.

2. Because of his own personal indebtedness to Christ. Language fails to express the absoluteness of the right which the Redeemer has to the service of His redeemed people. The right to man’s service which He has by virtue of His relation as a Creator is immeasurable; but this claim which God as Redeemer possesses upon a human being who He has saved from eternal death is even greater. This it was that made Paul say, “I am debtor,” etc.

“I owe the knowledge of this great atonement which my Redeemer has made for the sin of the whole world to every creature.”

Conclusion: Every Christian--

1. Should look upon the work of evangelising the world as a debt he owes to Christ and to his fellow man. He should heartily acknowledge this debt and not attempt to free himself from it by explaining it away as a figure of speech. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” This was the command which the Saviour gave to His twelve disciples when He endowed them with miraculous powers “against unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” Suppose now that they had attempted to use this supernaturalism for their own selfish purposes, how instantaneously would the wrath of the Redeemer have fallen upon them! But the case would have been the same had they neglected to make any use of their gifts. They were debtors, and owed these healing mercies to the sick and the dying, and the mere non-use of them would have been a sin and a crime. Precisely such is the relation which every Christian sustains to that power of healing spiritual maladies which is contained in the gospel of Christ. We cannot too carefully remember that the work of missions is not an optional matter; it is a debt. “Woe is me,” said St. Paul, “if I preach not the gospel.” It is like the manna, which, so long as Israel used it, was the bread of heaven; but when they hoarded it, it became corruption in their very hands. If this sentiment of indebtedness declines, then the Church will lapse back into indifference and apathy, and these are the harbingers of a corrupt Christianity, which will be buried in one common grave with paganism, Mohammedanism, and all forms of human sin and error.

2. Should labour zealously to discharge this debt. The debt which the believer is to pay is not his debt to eternal justice. That he can never discharge. Christians are not to send the gospel to the Greek and the Barbarian for the purpose of making atonement for their sins, and thereby cancelling their obligations to law and justice. That debt Christ Himself has paid. But our debt is to “preach the gospel to every creature.” If the providence and Spirit of God indicate that we are to go in person, then we are to go in person. If the providence of God has placed in our hands the silver and the gold by which we can send our representative, then we are to give our silver and our gold, with our prayers for the Divine blessing upon it. And, by the grace of God, this can be done. The labour is of that moderate and proportioned species which consists in giving back to Christ what we have received from Him.

3. Will be rewarded for his discharge of his obligations. “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” God rewards His own grace. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)

The Christian a debtor to mankind

I. How was Paul a debtor?

1. Not for special benefits conferred. He had the Roman citizenship, indeed, an he was not unmindful of its privileges; but he did not have it as a peculiar grant in consequence of any peculiar favour of the Roman people. He had received benefits from contact with the Greek literature and art, the influence of which pervaded the atmosphere of the world in that age; but even this was not a benefit which was conferred upon him as separate from others. And these benefits, whatever they were on any human calculation, were wiped out by the treatment which Roman and Greek alike gave to him.

2. Still less was he indebted to the barbarian who had nothing whatever to give him.

3. He felt the obligation of those who have special gifts of power or grace entrusted to them of God to use them for the benefit of others.

II. The important and helpful suggestions which flow from this.

1. What reason the poor and the weak always have to bless God for the gospel. It is simply the gospel of Christ taking the current of man’s natural inclination--arresting it, and then reversing it--which gives to the poor, the weak, and the friendless their recognised claim upon those who are stronger.

2. What a beautiful civilisation it is which the gospel contemplates as its result in the world--a civilisation the key of which is in this doctrine; that weakness confers right, and power simply imposes obligation.

3. What the test is of the progress of Christian civilisation in the world. Not in the multiplying inventions of mechanism; in the accumulating wealth of cities; in the extension of free institutions; in the spread of literature, and the steady advance of science in the earth; but in the answer to this one question: How far does society recognise its obligation to the weakest and the poorest in it?

4. Here is the practical test of our individual Christian experience. Not in outward belief; not in ecstasy of spirit, but here: How much have I of the feeling of Paul toward all around me that, by whatever of power and grace, and of His supreme knowledge God has given to me, I have become the more indebted to them? (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

Christian debt

I. Its nature and our power to pay it.

1. When a footpad starts to relieve a traveller of his purse he says to himself, “The world owes me a living, and a living I must have.” Many a one cherishes the same feeling. A scholar murmurs, as he gazes upon his unsold volume, “The world owes me fame and a hearing!” The woman of fashion declares, “The world owes me a position!” As the politician clamours for votes he insists, “The world owes me a place!” The ancients exercised themselves much in the attempt to answer the question, What is man? One said, It is the animal which laughs. Another said, It is the animal who cooks his food. A truer answer is, It is the animal who never is appreciated. There lives not the man who is restful under the estimate he receives. And if that great burden bearer--the world--should attempt to pay all the bills for undervaluation presented to it from day to day, it would be hopelessly bankrupt in a single generation.

2. Now precisely here the gospel meets our race. When Jesus hears the cry, “The world owes me,” He answers, “Well, I will pay you all it owes; I will pour out upon you such a wealth of resource that the balance due shall be reversed; then you will in turn owe the world.” Here is a man who has been wont to say, “The world owes me a competence, for it is the duty of the strong to take care of the weak.” To him Christ says in the gospel, “I admit that principle. You shall have all you need. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God,’ etc. Concern yourself no more about money. If you implicitly trust Me, I will see that the treasure never falls. Remember steadfastly your own principle. You owe the world a living. I have furnished you with vast resources. You are to spread the kingdom which crowns you.” Just so of everything else. If one demands happiness, influence, position, the gospel bestows it beyond any measurement. All that it ever says the world owes, is so copiously transcended that the obligation rushes across the ledger into a new balance. And now it is the Christian man who is in debt, and that upon his own showing; for he is strong, and the strong are to care for the weak.

II. The parties who hold our obligations. The apostle specifies the ranks and the races he owes. He meant, simply, he owed everybody. As he says elsewhere, he was to “do good to all men.” And all Christianity is embodied in Paul. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” Love is the fulfilling of the law, and ye are the children of God!

III. The purpose of all which has been said is this--

1. There is a lesson of deepest importance here to all young Christians. Life is certain to be moulded by the ideal one has of it, and the principles which he makes to underlie it at the start. A child of opulent parents who goes forth into life saying, “The world owes me honour, ease, flattery, and place,” will make a very different man from the child of many prayers who enters the conflict saying, “I owe the world a work and a duty.” So the gospel sets the Christian on the search, not how much he may claim in the wrestle of existence, but how much he may give.

2. There is something instructive in those instances when men have put forth all their energies to pay their debts. Sir Waiter Scott once tried to rest his half-delirious brain. But he had no time to be sick, as the outstanding obligations matured. “This is folly,” said he to the startled servant, as he sprang up from the couch; “bring in the pens and paper!” There is no fertility of genius like the pressure of a great debt. Necessity is the mother of invention.

3. Note, also, the industry and thrift it promotes. That man pays most of his dues whose unfailing hammer rings earliest in the morning and latest at night. He lessens debt the most whose shuttle weaves the most yards in faithful toil. Diligence in business keeps the bailiff a stranger. Put this commonplace alongside of devout Christian life, and so learn the lesson. A child of God who really feels that he is a debtor to the whole world will surely find some shrewd way of his own to discharge the duly. Conclusion: Sometimes you notice a new church coming into being. Once a pastor was asked, “When will this building be completed?” He easily gave the time. “Will the congregation be in debt?” “Oh yes, awfully; sometimes it frightens me to think of it!” Then came the question, “Why did you begin when you had not the money?” Then the minister of God answered, “Oh, we have money enough; we shall have no such debt as that; but think how much a church like this is going to owe the community and the world! How they will look to us for man’s love and God’s grace!” Is our church debt paid? How much owest thou? Souls are looking to us for help. The true test of piety is a sense of debtorship to souls. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Debtors to all men

Then I am afraid there are a great many dishonest Christians who scarcely recognise, and never pay, their debts! What was it that Paul felt he owed to the whole world? It was the gospel, the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

I. We are all debtors by the possession of a common humanity. The differences between slave or free, cultured or uncultured, rich or poor, are but the surface. What lies beneath is the one human heart, with the same wants, the same weaknesses, the same aspirations, the same fears, the same possibilities. Here stand a range of Alps, separate, frowning, white-topped, the Jungfrau, the Eiger, and the Monch, and all the brother giants of that mountain system, parted from each other by profound gulfs. Yes! so they are, at the top; but at the bottom all rise up from the one formation. And so mankind. And that unity involves, as a distinct consequence, the thought that every man possesses all his possessions in order that through him the benefit and the use of them may pass to his fellows.

II. We are debtors by the possession of a common salvation. God’s purpose in giving you and me Christ for ours is that we should give Him to others. The world needs healing; you there have the healing that the world needs. Is anything more required to prescribe duty? What would you say about a man that, in the midst of famine, sat at home and feasted luxuriously whilst his brethren were starving, and then pleaded that nobody had bade him go out to supply their wants?

III. We English Christians are debtors, in many cases, to the world, by benefits received. This great commercial, maritime, colonising nation, what does it not owe; what do your homes not owe; what does the business of Manchester not owe to the heathen, to whom you owe your Saviour? We have received our civilisation in its germs, our language, and much high thought, from that far off East which is still the possession of the English Crown.

IV. We are debtors by injuries inflicted. That is a sad but, as it would appear, almost an inevitable law, that the contact of the superior, or, at all events, of the civilised, with the inferior or uncivilised races, shall result in the gradual fading of the latter from before the stronger conquerors. And, in addition to that injury, the vices of our modern civilisation are carried whithersoever our ships and our colonies and our commerce goes. “How much owest thou unto thy Lord?” You pay Christ when you pay your fellows. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Christendom’s debt to the world

If A gives me property to be employed for the use of B, my debt is to B. God has given the gospel to Christendom to impart to mankind, and Christendom owes it as a debt. This is a debt--

I. Whose magnitude is immense.

1. It is the gospel. Who can estimate this treasure? It is the pearl of great price, God’s unspeakable gift.

2. It is the consecration of life to the diffusion of the gospel. We owe not merely the gospel, but all our powers and circumstances in order to its diffusion. Not merely the preaching of it, but the living it, and that forever. What a debt is this! We are not our own.

II. Whose justice is indisputable. Think of--

1. The terms of its bestowment. It was given in trust; not to monopolise, but to diffuse, “Go ye fate all the world,” etc.

2. The universality of its provisions. They are not for a class, but, like the elements of nature, for universal man--the bread and water of life to all.

3. The conscience of its possessors. All its genuine disciples feel that they ought to communicate it. “Necessity is laid upon me.”

4. The condition of its claimants, Those to whom we owe it are perishing for the lack of it.

III. Whose discharge is urgent. It is urgent as far as--

1. The creditor is concerned--the whole heathen world, sunk in ignorance, superstition, and misery. The recovery of these fallen millions depends on our paying the debt.

2. The debtor. He who neglects to discharge it is injuring his own nature, character, prospects, and usefulness.

Conclusion: Let us all rise to discharge this debt.

1. It has long arrears.

2. Is ever accumulating.

3. May be on our hands at death. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Our debtorship

I. Paul’s estimate of the gospel.

1. He designates it “the gospel of Christ,” not so much because Christ is the author, as because He is the subject of it. It is the good news about Christ as our Substitute and Sacrifice. In this sense only is it “good news.” Ignore the doctrine, and the bare facts of the history are no more a gospel than any other story of a life or death would be. Only when you speak of a Christ who has died for our sins will you put music into the heart of a sin and sorrow-stricken world.

2. In view of Paul’s anticipated visit to Rome this expression is especially suggestive. The Romans prided themselves on power, and worshipped it, and Paul seizes on this historic fact to tell the Romans that he knew of a greater power even than theirs. The emblems of this power are the dew, the seed, the light, the leaven, things which work quietly; mighty forces, resistless in the might of their stillness. Sometimes, it is true, God comes to men in the thunders of the law, as when He made Felix tremble; but more frequently it is with the gentle persuasiveness which opened Lydia’s heart to the gracious message as the flower unfolds its petals to drink in the dew. I have seen machines used in Nottingham lace work with power enough to rend the whole fabric into a thousand pieces, yet working with such exquisite nicety that they do not break the finest thread. So in the gospel, though God brings His Omnipotence to bear upon the soul, He influences men through means and motives so sweet yet strong that they willingly and gladly yield.

3. And the sphere of the gospel’s operation is to be as broad as its power is boundless. “To everyone,” etc. There is an old Turkish proverb which declares that Islam can flourish only where the palm tree grows. But there is no such legend for the gospel as that. The word of life which Paul sought to plant will grow in every soil.

II. Paul’s sense of the obligation in which the possession of the gospel involved him. “I am debtor,” etc.

1. Debt implies obligation, and obligation is--

2. Christianity enlarges and ennobles this feeling.

3. And having laid the obligation on us, the Master has opened the way for its fulfilment. Never have the nations been so accessible as they are today. As Englishmen we mix with the world everywhere. Now, why has God thus brought us into touch with all the nations? Merely that we might fill the coffers of our merchants or sharpen to a keener point the boast about “An empire on which the sun never sets”? Conclusion: Do we realise our obligation, and, if so, are we ready and willing to discharge it? Paul said, not only “I am debtor,” but “I am ready.” So ready that neither pain, nor peril, nor privation could root out of him his eagerness. Thus “ready,” like Paul, to proclaim the gospel, let us rejoice in the assurance that it will be as resistless in our hands as it was in his. When the knights of Germany offered their swords to Luther in behalf of his cause he replied: “The Word shall do it.” And he was right. There is an old story about the conqueror of Rome, who dashed his sword down into the scales when the ransom was being paid; and Christ flings His two-edged sword into the scale when we are weighing resources, and the other scale kicks the beam. Only make sure that your hand grips His, and then nothing can withstand you. A young officer detailed by the Iron Duke for some dangerous service, asked for one grasp of the great commander’s “all-conquering hand,” to fit and fire him for the death-daring enterprise. (J. Le Huray.)

The Christian’s obligation to diffuse the gospel

This declaration of the apostle implies--

I. The adaptation of the gospel to all the varieties of human character. There are three reasons which prove this fact, which fact constitutes the basis of all missionary duty, and gives encouragement to missionary exertion.

1. The perfection of its evidence. There is no species of moral proof by means of which the understanding can be convinced, the heart impressed, the conscience affected--that is, not brought before us in that evidence which establishes and illustrates the divinity of the gospel.

2. The completeness of its discoveries. Jesus is expressly termed “the Finisher of the faith.” He has not only announces it, but completed it. Whatever respects the character of God, the way of salvation, the rule of duty, the source of happiness--whatever belongs to the faith, the hope, the holiness of the Christian--is fully revealed in this sacred testimony.

3. The results of its influence. We can look back on the workings of this mighty system for eighteen centuries, and see how it has always been attended by the same gracious power, and secured the same spiritual results, and thus has been demonstrably proved the truth that it “is the power of God to salvation unto everyone that believeth.”

II. The obligations which Christians are under to secure by all practical and divinely appointed means its universal diffusion.

1. The obligation respects yourselves. There is a question which should always take the precedency when we are contemplating any line of benevolent effort. Have you fled to the refuge of mercy? Is the gospel testimony cordially believed by you? Let these be your feelings, and then you will be at once prepared to appreciate the force of the apostle’s statement: “I am a debtor,” etc. Having yourselves tasted that the Lord is gracious, you will be delighted to invite others to partake with you in the rich banquet of mercy. The very fact of receiving it carries along with it the obligation to make it known as well as imparts to the mind receiving it an holy activity in its diffusion.

2. In what respects may we regard this obligation as a debt?

The Christian’s obligation to propagate the gospel

I. The obligation under which the apostle lay. “I am a debtor.” Necessity was laid upon him (1 Corinthians 9:16). But there it was a necessity laid on him to Godward; here it is towards man. How so?

1. There is an obligation in man towards man, established by the law of creation, which nothing can set aside. One proof of it will be seen in the character of the man who disowns the obligation. He is anti-social. He opposes the fundamental law of society by which it is seen that men are formed for each other. And, if so, no limitation either of country or peculiarity of condition, can supersede this law. The parable of the good Samaritan establishes and illustrates this position. It was the old commandment from the beginning, though in Christ new both as to motive, extent, and object.

2. But there is an obligation which results from the condition on which good is imparted by the great Giver of all good. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” The apostle himself states that Christ was revealed in him, that he “might preach Him among the heathen.” And in another place that “a dispensation or stewardship was committed unto him” (1 Corinthians 9:17), “to make all men know the fellowship of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9).

3. But, while the apostle would quicken his own zeal by thoughts of responsibility and by the plea of necessity, he delighted rather to dwell upon the more constraining obligation of love. He was one of a redeemed brotherhood. He could honour all men. Hence he could look on everyone he met, whether “Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free” (Colossians 3:11), as one of the families which are all blessed in Christ.

II. The manner in which the apostle discharged the obligation. The proposition is, that the debt owing from every Christian man to another is the gospel: the preaching or communicating the gospel is the discharge of that debt. How so? The substance of all good is comprised in the gospel. Everything short of it leaves a man short of salvation, is an abridgment of human happiness. The gospel brings the sinner near to God (Ephesians 2:13; Eph_2:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and restores man to his former position of love to his fellow (Ephesians 2:19-22). The preaching of it satisfied all the claims, because it answered all the wants, of man. (Canon Jacob.)

The duty of proclaiming the gospel

I. An urgent Christian obligation. There is an obligation in man towards man which nothing can destroy. It is instituted and established.

1. By mutual expediency. The interest of one demands the good of all. One bad man in a community will destroy the peace of all. One diseased person may infect a whole nation.

2. By the fundamental laws of society. All men are made for each other.

3. By the law of benevolence. Even heathens have felt the force of this sentiment, and among the early Christians it became particularly prominent.

4. By the condition on which all good is imparted to us. “Freely ye have received, freely give.”

II. The Christian’s manner of carrying this obligation out. There is--

1. Undaunted purpose. “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” Rome had everything which was opposed to the nature and character of Christianity, and could endanger the apostle’s life. How little do we imitate this example! Do we care for men’s moral and social well-being to such an extent that we should be willing to sacrifice home, comfort, or even self, for their advantage?

2. A limitation of power. “So far as in me is.”

The missionary spirit

I. The missionary estimate. The “power of God to salvation,” and from this the debtorship to extend it rises.

1. You would not have expected that Paul would have had this estimate. The doctrine was incredible, the demand insupportable, the blessings impalpable and vague--belonging either to the world of the spiritual or of the future. And how could he expect such a gospel to he accepted? But Paul knew what it had been to himself and dared not despair. He took it everywhere, and the new power, wherever it went, although ignored by the better and despised by the worse forces of society, made its calm and even way. Its very incredibilities were the things that won credence of the human heart, and its insupportable demands came to men as a dignity Which they were proud to wear, and its impalpable blessings of peace with God of light, of heavenly hope came to them as the balm of heaven.

2. But it is not the acceptance that the apostle accentuates. A man may accept a creed, and if it has no influence there is no great importance in the acceptance of it; but this creed men accepted to a throne of mighty influence, It wrought marvels, It was “the Omnipotence of God unto salvation.” You know how hard it is to touch the character; how that is the aim and the despair of all reform. The necessary thing is to lift men’s manhood, then you lift everything about them. But it is just here that other reforms fail. But where everything else failed the gospel never failed, but lifted them up into what Paul calls “salvation.” And it did this universally. Philosophers wanted specially fitted disciples to receive their truths, mysteries wanted some culture, other doctrines wanted some congruity; but the glory of the gospel was this--that whoever believed it in him it was omnipotent.

3. That was Paul’s estimate of the gospel after twenty years’ experience; the estimate and experience of all that preached it. Let us today remember that what we have got in our hands is no feeble thing, but the omnipotence of God for salvation to everyone that believeth.

II. The missionary instinct. “I am debtor,” etc.

1. This is not exclusively Christian, it is a human instinct; we all have to say, “I am debtor.” From infancy to age no day passes but we are enriched with some comfort that comes to us from the service of our fellow men. We did not work our freedom; others wrought the laws which give us protection; others achieved the sciences which gives us delight; others opened wide those very avenues of trade by which men make their wealth. What would we be without the example, influence, sympathy of other men? We cannot pay the debt back to those that have gone; we can only pay it forward to those they make their heirs, and every generous nature feels that unless he gives back to the world as much service as he lakes from it, he is a delinquent and short of honour.

2. And this instinct blossoms into many forms--into neighbourly affection, into righteousness, patriotism, philanthropy, sympathy. Sometimes this instinct is thwarted in its growth. But in the degree in which there is nobility, in that degree men look not to society’s duty to them, but to their duty to society. Sometimes thwarted by the action of pride and fear and weakness; when this sense of debtorship meets with the gospel, then it comes forth in all its lordly strength. Everything helps to develop it then--penitence deepens it; gratitude increases it; it thrives beneath the dew of Calvary and especially under the influence of grace, because it moves love, and sees men in the new light. Outside the light of the gospel men may almost question whether their fellow men are worth helping. But when we begin to see them precious in God’s sight, then our fellow men put on a dignity which makes it worth our while to serve them. It has, therefore, been the singular mark of the Church of Christ. At Pentecost men saw the love of God and copied it, and none said that aught of the things that he possessed was his own. The widows’ hearts began to sing for joy with the new kindness that had dawned upon the world. Now it blossoms into the care of the infants cast out into the streets of the heathen cities; now in the redemption of captives; now in the ministry to the sick. All the fairest names in the Church’s history are the names of those who felt that debtorship to proclaim the gospel of Christ to their fellow men. You do not wonder, then, that Paul should feel this debtorship. He saw a creditor in the face of every man--his creditor wanting gold that he could give him; and he woke glad and eager to pay his debt.

III. The missionary consecration. “I am ready”--that is Paul in three words. The first question at conversion was, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” and that was the last, the hourly question. So ready was he that “forthwith” he preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus and in Jerusalem; so ready that God had to stop him and send him to Arabia to meditate and pray. So ready that if tonight he dreams of the Man of Macedonia, in the morning he is looking out for the ship that will carry him across the wave. So ready that nothing can root out of him his eagerness. He was ready always, and now--a battered, withered old man--he is ready to assail Rome itself, and believes in the possibility of converting that secular empire, and all its degradation, to Christ. Of what infinite value that readiness is in any man! Presence of mind is good, but presence of heart is better. It saves time, freshness, and penetrative power. What a different story there would have been in Christianity if Paul’s readiness had not been so bright! The gospel grew richer with every new effort to proclaim it. Paul’s heaven has grown larger and richer from that hour to this, as daily still the pilgrims have entered it who were led by him to know and to choose the Lord! He was “ready,” but we are unready. We are rich, but not ready. Strong minds and warm hearts are ready for commerce, war, science, but the great ambition does not seem to touch them. (R. Glover.)

The Grecian

There are four departments of human nature spoken of in these verses, with only one of which we can now deal. Four characteristics marked Grecian life and religion.

I. Restlessness.

1. Polytheism divided the contemplation over many objects, etc. The Grecian was to obtain wisdom from one Deity: eloquence from Mercurius; purity from Diana, etc. Hence dissipation of mind: that fickleness for which the Greeks were famous. All stability of character rests on the contemplation of changeless unity.

2. And all the results of science have been to simplify and trace back the manifold to unity. It is ever tending towards unity of law. Hence science is calm and dignified, reposing upon uniform fact.

3. So also in religion. Christianity proclaimed “One God and one Mediator,” etc. St. Paul’s view of the gospel, the salvation of the Gentiles, was the eternal purpose, and his own personal election was part of an eternal counsel. Now see the effect on character. First, on veracity (2 Corinthians 1:18, etc.). He contemplated the changeless “yea” of God--his own yea became fixed as God’s. Again in orthodoxy--“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Be not carried about by divers and strange doctrines. Truth is one--Error manifold--many opinions, yet there can be but one faith. See how calm and full of rest all this spirit is. St. John’s view of the gospel recognised it rather as the manifestation of love. Pain and pleasure, the sigh and smile, the sunshine and the storm, were but the results of eternal love. Hence came deep calm--the repose which we are toiling all our lives to find, and which the Greek never found.

II. Worldliness. There are men and nations who live as if they had no aspiration above it. If ever there was a nation who understood the science of living, it was the Grecian. This world was their home and the object of their worship. The results were three fold.

1. Disappointment. Lying on the infinite bosom of Nature, the Greek was yet unsatisfied. The worldly man is trying to satiate his immortal hunger upon husks.

2. Degradation. Had you asked the Greek his highest wish, he would have replied, “This world, if it could only last--I ask no more.” This is to feed on husks: but husks which the swine did eat.

3. Disbelief in immortality. The more the Greek attached himself to this world, the more the world unseen became a dim world of shades. Accordingly, when Paul preached at Athens the resurrection of the dead, they “mocked.” This bright world was all, and the Greek’s hell was death. The dreadfulness of death is one of the most remarkable things that meet us in their ancient writings. And these men were startled by seeing a new sect rise up to whom death was nothing. For the Cross of Christ had crucified in their hearts the Grecian’s world. The rise of the higher life had made this life nothing, “and delivered those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject unto bondage.”

III. The worship of the beautiful.

1. The Greek saw this world almost only on its side of beauty. He looked at actions in the same way. If he wanted to express a perfect man, he called him a musical or harmonious man. What was the consequence? Religion degenerated into the arts. Hence, necessarily, sensuality became religious. There is a peculiar danger in refinement of sensuous enjoyments. Coarse pleasures disgust and pass for what they are; but who does not know that the real danger and triumph of voluptuousness are when it approaches the soul veiled under the drapery of elegance? They fancied themselves above the gross multitude; but their sensuality, disguised even from themselves, was sensuality still--ay, and at times even, in certain festivals, broke out into gross and unmistakable licentiousness.

2. There is this danger now. Men are awakened from coarse, rude life to the desire of something deeper. And the God of this world can subtly turn that aside into channels which shall effectually enfeeble and ruin the soul. Refinement, imagery, witchery of form and colour, music, architecture: all these, even coloured with the hues of religion, producing feelings either religious or quasi-religious, may yet do the world’s work. For all attempt to impress the heart through the senses, “to make perfect through the flesh,” is fraught with that danger beneath which Greece sunk. This, too, is the ruinous effect of an education of accomplishments. An education chiefly romantic or poetical, not balanced by hard practical life, is simply the ruin of the soul.

3. If anyone ever felt the beauty of this world it was Christ, but the beauty which He exhibited in life was the stern loveliness of moral action. The King in His beauty “had no form or comeliness”: it was the beauty of Divine self-devotion. The Cross tells us that it is the true beautiful which is Divine: an inward, not an outward beauty, which rejects and turns sternly away from the meretricious forms of the outward world, which have a corrupting or debilitating tendency.

IV. The worship of humanity.

1. The Greek had strong human feelings and sympathies. He projected his own self on nature: humanised it: gave a human feeling to clouds, forests, rivers, seas. In this he was a step above other idolatries. It was not merely power, beauty, or life, but human power, etc., which was the object of his profoundest veneration. His effort therefore was, in his conception of his god, to realise a beautiful human being. Much in this had a germ of truth--more was false. This principle, which is true, was evidently stated: The Divine, under the limitations of humanity, is the only worship of which man is capable; for man cannot conceive that which is not in his own mind. They wanted humanity in its glory--they asked for a Son of Man. Christ is Deity under the limitations of humanity. But there is presented in Christ for worship, not power, nor beauty, nor physical life, but the moral image of God’s perfections. Through the heart and mind and character of Jesus it was that the Divinest streamed. Divine character, that was given in Christ to worship.

2. Another error. The Greek worshipped all that was in man. Every feeling had its beauty and its divine origin. Hence thieving had its patron deity, and treachery and cunning, and lust had its temple erected for abominable worship. All that was human had its sanction in the example of some god. Christ corrects this. Not all that is human is Divine. There is a part of our nature kindred with God; the strengthening of that, by mixture with God’s Spirit, is our true and proper humanity--regeneration of soul. There is another part whereby we are related to the brutes; and whoever lives in that, sinks not to the level of the brutes, but below them, to the level of the demons; for he uses an immortal spirit to degrade himself, and the immortal joined with evil, as the life to the body, is demoniacal. Conclusion: In all this system one thing was wanting--the sense of sin. The Greek would not have spoken to you of sin: he would have told you of departure from a right line, want of moral harmony, discord within: he would have said that the music of your soul was out of tune. Christ came to convince the world of sin; and for this there is only one remedy--that which is written in the Redeemer’s blood. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The Roman

The Roman nation was one of the noblest that the world has seen. We may judge from the fact of St. Paul’s twice claiming his Roman citizenship, and that at a time when a luxurious Greek could purchase his freedom. We may conceive what it had been once, when even the faint lustre of its earlier dignity could inspire a foreigner, and that foreigner a Jew, and that Jew a Christian, with such respect. At the outset, then, we have a rare and high-minded people and their life, to think of.

I. The public life of Rome.

1. The spirit of its religion--the very word means obligation, a binding power. Very different from the corresponding Greek expression, which implies worship by a sensuous ceremonial (threskeia). The Roman began from the idea of duty. The fabulous early history of Rome preserves the spirit of the old life when it does not preserve the facts. Accordingly, the tradition taught that the building of Rome was done in obedience to the intimations of the will of Heaven. Its first great legislator (Numa) is represented as giving laws after secret communion with the superhuman. It was the belief of Roman writers that the early faith taught access to God only through the mind: that therefore no images were found in earliest Rome. War itself was a religious act, solemnly declared by a minister of religion casting a spear into the enemy’s territory. Nay, we even find something in spirit resembling the Jewish sabbath: the command that during the rites of religion no work should go on, but that men should devoutly contemplate God.

2. This resulted in government. Duty, and therefore law on earth, as a copy of the will of Heaven. Beauty was not the object of the Roman contemplation, nor worship; nor was harmony. Hence, when Greece was reduced to a Roman province, in 146 B.C., the Roman soldiers took the noblest specimens of Grecian painting and converted them into gambling tables. You may distinguish the difference of the two characters from the relies which they have left behind them. The Greek produced a statue or a temple, the expression of a sentiment. The Roman, dealing with the practical, has left behind him works of public usefulness: roads, aqueducts, bridges, drains, and, above all, that system of law which has so largely entered into modern jurisprudence.

3. In accordance with this, it is a characteristic fact that we find the institutions of Rome referred to inspiration. Turning to Scripture, whenever the Roman comes prominently forward, we always find him the instrument of public rule and order. Pilate has no idea of condemning unjustly: “Why, what evil hath He done?” But he yields at the mention of the source of law, the emperor. The Apostle Paul appeals to Caesar, and Festus respects the appeal. The tumult at Ephesus is stilled by a hint of Roman interference. When the angry mob was about to destroy Paul, Claudius Lysias comes “with an army, and rescues him.” It was always the same thing. The Roman seems almost to have existed to exhibit on earth a copy of the Divine order of the universe, the law of the heavenly hierarchies.

II. Private life.

1. The sanctity of domestic ties.

2. Let us break up this private life into particulars.

III. The decline of Roman life.

1. First came corruption of the moral character. The soul of the Roman, bent on this world’s affairs, became secularised, then animalised, and so at last, when there was little left to do, pleasure became his aim. Then came ruin swiftly. When the emperors lived for their elaborately contrived life of luxury--when the Roman soldier left his country’s battles to be fought by mercenaries--the doom of Rome was sealed. Lofty spirits rose to stem the tide of corruption and the death throes of Rome were long and terrible.

2. Scepticism and superstition went hand in hand. The lower classes sunk in a debased superstition--the educated classes, too intellectual to believe in it, and yet having nothing better to put in its stead. Or perhaps there was also a superstition which is only another name for scepticism: infidelity trembling at itself--shrinking from its own shadow. This is as true now. Men tremble at new theories, new views, the spread of infidelity; and they think to fortify themselves against these by multiplying the sanctities which they reverence. But it is not by shutting out inquiry and resenting every investigation as profane, that you can arrest the progress of infidelity. Faith, not superstition, is the remedy.

3. Religion degenerated into allegiance to the State. In Greece it ended in taste. In Rome it closed with the worship of the emperor, and the word “sacrament” meant an oath of allegiance. In the Christian Church it is also the oath of highest fidelity. “Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice.” And in this contrast of the sacramental vows were perceptible the different tendencies of the two starting points of revealed religion and Roman. Judaism began from law or obligation to a holy Person. Roman religion began from obedience to a mere will. Judaism ended in Christianity; whose central principle is joyful surrender to One whose name is Love. The religion of Rome stiffened into Stoicism, or degenerated in public spirit.

4. The last step is the decline of religion into expediency. It is a trite and often quoted observation of a great Roman, that one minister of religion could scarcely meet another without a smile upon his countenance. And an instance of this, I believe, we have in the town clerk of Ephesus, who stilled the populace by an accommodation to their prejudices, much in the same way in which a nurse would soothe a passionate child. He was the friend of Paul, yet he assures the people that there could be no doubt that the image fell down from Jupiter--“great goddess Diana.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Neglecting to extend the gospel

The late Hugh Stowell said:--“In the Isle of Man, as I was one day walking on the seashore, I remember contemplating, with thrilling interest, an old grey ruined tower, covered with ivy. There was a remarkable history connected with the spot. In that tower was formerly hanged one of the best governors the island ever possessed. He had been accused of treachery to the king during the time of the Civil Wars, and received sentence of death. Intercession was made on his behalf, and a pardon was sent; but that pardon fell into the hands of his bitter enemy, who kept it locked up, and the governor was hanged. His name is still honoured by the Manx; and yon may often hear a pathetic ballad sung to his memory to the music of the spinning wheel. We must all feel horror struck at the fearful turpitude of that man who, having the pardon of his fellow creature in his possession, could keep it back, and let him die the death of a traitor. But lot us restrain our indignation, till we ask ourselves whether God might not point His finger to most of us and say: ‘Thou art the man! Thou hast a pardon in thine hands to save thy fellow creatures, not from temporal but eternal death. Thou hast a pardon suited to all--sent to all--designed for all; thou hast enjoyed it thyself, but hast thou not kept it back from thy brother, instead of sending it to the ends of the earth?’”

Paul’s desire to extend the gospel

Paul was anxious to do more good, to get more good, to be more good. He sought to win souls. He wanted to make Christ’s name known. An ardent passion inflamed him; a high enthusiasm inspired him. Tent making, it is true, was his trade, but tent making did not monopolise quite all his heart, and soul, and strength. Does your secular vocation absorb all your thoughts? Though Paul was proud of his industry, and could say, conscientiously, “My own hands have ministered to my necessities,” yet preaching the gospel was the one thing he pursued as his life work. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 16

Romans 1:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

The gospel

What grand truths lie concealed in this Scripture, as in a kaleidoscope! The gospel being its focal point, several easy turns bring into clearest view some of the most precious things of our Christian faith.

I. The first turn presents its efficacy: “It is … power.”

II. The second its Divinity: “It is the power of God.”

III. The third its object: “It is the power of God unto salvation.”

IV. The fourth its impartiality: “It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone.”

V. The fifth its conditionality: “It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.”

VI. The sixth the order in which it was to be preached to and employed by guilty man: “To the Jews first, and also to the Greek.” A man who can define it so comprehensively and grandly, could not well be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” In more than the sense of willingness he is “ready to preach” it anywhere. (W. H. Luckenbach.)

The apostle’s estimate of the gospel

I. Paul’s estimate of the gospel.

1. The gospel is a power. This power is manifested--

2. The gospel is the power of God. The Jews said this power was of Beelzebub. The Pagans that it was the power of fanaticism. Paul said it was of God.

3. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, Nature exhibits His power in creation. The Deluge furnished proof of His destructive power. The gospel reveals His power to save. It saves--

4. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to believers. The Lord has a perfect right to fix the terms of our salvation.

5. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

II. Paul’s personal feelings concerning the gospel. “I am not ashamed.” Being satisfied of its Divine origin.

1. The poverty of its adherents did not make him ashamed of it. Though our religion had a carpenter for its founder, fishermen for its advocates, and the poor for its supporters, yet Paul was not ashamed.

2. The illiterateness of its adherents did not make him ashamed of it. Paul was a learned man. The vast majority of Jewish rabbis and heathen philosophers despised the gospel. The bulk of Christians were unlearned and ignorant men. Yet Paul was not ashamed.

3. The persecutions of its adherents did not make him ashamed.

Lessons:

1. The apostle was not ashamed to profess the gospel.

2. The apostle was not ashamed to live the gospel.

3. The apostle was not ashamed to preach the gospel.

4. Are you ashamed of the gospel? (W. Sidebottom.)

Not ashamed of the gospel and why

?--The success of Christianity has won for it the respect even of its enemies.

I. The subject which it emphasises--the “gospel.” In the context we have clearest evidence that a knowledge of certain facts and truths associated therewith existed among those to whom the apostle wrote. These facts and truths all clustered around the person, life work, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bare historical record of these, however, was not the gospel any more than mere creeds or systems of Christian truth, however important these may be. The members of the body are the servants of the living soul; so the gospel is the animating spirit which employs as its instruments facts and doctrines, precepts and institutions.

II. The reference which our text implies--Not ashamed of the gospel! Strange language, surely, for Paul to use, is it not? Did he not love the gospel with a most ardent affection? Did he not prize it above all things, and glory in it as an ineffable trust Divinely committed to his charge: How could Paul content himself with declaring that he was “not ashamed of the gospel”? The reference here implied brings us back to the words in which Christ described His mission to the world at its commencement (Luke 4:18), and also, when replying to the messengers sent to Him by John the Baptist, from the prison (Luke 7:22). Christ’s heart glowed with love to all; but most intensely towards the poor, the vast struggling masses of humanity, denied universally the rights of citizens and of manhood. Slavery and class privilege were the cornerstone of that Pagan civilisation, then so powerful, and to these the gospel did not offer any terms of compromise; and so its advocates, as Paul tells us, were “made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” Enemies were constantly asserting that this “new religion drew to it the dregs of the population--peasants, mechanics, beggars, and slaves.” Even long after the time of Paul, when Christianity had won many triumphs, we find Celsus, a haughty, heathen philosopher, remarking that “even the Christian teachers were wool workers, cobblers, and fullers--the most illiterate and vulgar of mankind.” We can easily understand that some might waver in the good cause, and that others, though favourable, might shrink from embracing it through fear of being treated as persons who had degraded themselves in the social scale. So the apostle Paul comes down for the moment from his wonted high position of “glorying “in the gospel and adopts a lowlier strain; he “was not ashamed of the gospel:”

III. The argument upon which this declaration rests. (J M. Cruickshank.)

The distinguishing features of Christianity

Whether religion in general has any rational ground or not, it is certain that human society in the long run is quite impossible without religion. You have heard of the ten great religions of the world. Of these only three have been expansive and conquering religions--Buddhism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. To these three the struggle is narrowed down. And as between the three, whether legitimately or illegitimately, the hard, historic fact is, that Christianity is certainly carrying the day.

I. I name as the first distinctive feature of Christianity, the incarnation of God in Christ. History teaches that human nature cannot endure a bald spiritual theism. We have two thoughts of God equally necessary. We think of Him as an Infinite Spirit, wholly separate from matter and superior to it--wise, just, awful in holiness. Hence the pure monotheism now recognised as lying in the background of all the better mythologies. But human weakness, and, above all, human depravity necessitate another conception of God. The human heart, yearning for sympathy in its weakness, and stricken with terror in its defilement, cries out passionately for an Incarnate God. Call it reason and conscience, or call it finite limitation and guilty fear, this uniform importunate demand for an Incarnate God is answered only by our God in Christ.

II. The second distinctive feature of Christianity is atonement. Both Testaments are full of it.

III. The third distinctive feature of Christianity is regeneration. Confession of sin is not confined to Christendom. Universal sacrifice is universal confession. Christianity begins its curative work by a better diagnosis of the disease. It sets in clear light the original rectitude of man, discloses the tempter, and proclaims the fall. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)

On Christianity

I. The character of its Author recommends Christianity to particular regard.

II. The intrinsic excellence of Christianity marks its superiority to every other religious system.

III. Consider the mode of its establishment. (T. Laurie, D. D.)

The Christian evangel, its contents and results

In these words we have exhibited the true spirit of this ambassador of Christ, and the nature of the message he was commissioned to make known. “The gospel is no feeble utterance, no mere human speculation composed of sentiments light as air. It is charged with Divine energy, and works out the salvation of all who receive it.”

I. Notice that by these words we are assured there is a Divine positive message to man. Paul did not appear before the world as a philosopher, who by the workings of a powerful intellect could solve all the problems of being and knowing which had baffled those who went before him. He did not assume the position of a reformer, whose business was to set in order those things which pertained to the social and political conditions of life. Neither did he maintain the position of an educator who should train minds in the mental products of human genius. Paul was a herald of the King of grace and of glory; he was an ambassador of Christ, a preacher of a positive message of truth and love to all mankind, and which came from the heart of the Eternal. God has looked down from His high and holy abode in tenderest love and righteous mercy, and has made known to us His purposes and desires.

II. Our text teaches us that the burden of this Divine message to man is a person. The gospel is the gospel of Christ--concerning Christ. It came from Him and it is occupied with Him and nothing else.

III. The Christian evangel is charged with Divine power. The magnetism of great men--which is the resultant of their personalities--has more power with those they influence than their wisest counsels. So it is with the gospel. It is powerful, not only because of its truthfulness, or merely because of the love it reveals, but because God in the person of His own Son is in it, and with it, dealing personally with the sinful and the lost. Its efficiency is from Heaven, and the spiritual revolutions it has wrought have been produced, not only by power as power, but by the living spirit of the Lord.

IV. We advance a step further by noticing that the gospel is a saving power. The Roman power was in its outgoings, in very many instances, a power unto destruction. It pulled down, injured, and destroyed; and the more destruction it produced, the greater it was feared, and the more loudly it was applauded. This destroying power is a low, vulgar power. Any person--no matter how weak and wicked--is capable of destroying the finest work of art which ever proceeded from the reason and hand of man. On the other hand, it takes one who is wise, tender, and good inspired by more than human genius--to raise and to save the human soul, and secure the advance and development of the human race. Of all beings who ever appeared in this world, no one has ever been equal to this Herculean task except the Man of Sorrows. He alone can build up the temple of humanity which was pulled down by sin.

V. Finally, it is to be observed that the salvation the gospel works out is to be possessed and enjoyed by faith. Faith is the door by which all spiritual power and upbuilding influences enter the soul. It is receptive in its nature, and takes into the inner man those thoughts, feelings, and persons, which regulate the heart out of which flows the issues of life. He that believeth the testimony of the gospel takes Christ and all that is in Christ into the deepest parts of his spirit. By faith Christ dwells in us the hope of glory and the power of an endless life. (W. Adamson, D. D.)

God’s power unto salvation

If he had been ashamed, could we have so much wondered? Consider the time and the place, and the man and the message. The time was the hideous time of Nero; the place was the city of Rome, in which, as in a sort of moral sewer, all the detestable, and, to us, in many respects, inconceivable wickedness of the world festered. The man was a Jew, one of an ancient and indestructible race, which then, even more than now, the world despised, ill-used, and robbed. The message was this: that a crucified Hebrew had risen from the dead, being the Son of God, with power. And the apostle felt no sort of reluctance with this message. Of this gospel, the apostle tells us these magnificent statements. First, he calls it a gospel, a good news--a good news which could have been discovered only in one way, by revelation from heaven, a good news declared in a life sealed by death, confirmed by resurrection, and written in a book. And this great revelation, which none of the great thinkers of the day had been able to think out, tells us of three great things. It is a revelation of the fatherhood of God, of the redemption of Christ by the power of grace. Then, in the power of this grace, we go on free, reconciled, and strengthened for the duties of life and for the city of God. This is the gospel, there is no other--the free, full, present forgiveness of sin in Christ our Lord. And it is called the gospel of Christ; Christ is the gospel; Christ reveals the Father. “And Christ is our Redeemer. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” “The gospel of Christ,” the apostle calls it, and he goes on to tell us that the gospel of Christ is the power of God. How is it the power of God? It is the power of God because God uses it to convert, and to instruct, and to console, and to inspire. This book that brings us to God makes us like God, it makes us thirst for God, it helps us to be filled with God. And once more it inspires ideas of the power that rules the world; and this power, with its lofty ideals, with its moral principles, with its wonderful history, with its life-giving promises, is the one book in all the world which has done more than anything else to break the chains of the captive, to lift up mortal man to the true dignity for which God intended him. It is the power of God; and yet there is another sense in which it is the power of God, because only God can make it powerful. I think it is upon this great truth that we preachers need to rely more than we have ever relied yet. “Not by might, nor by power, but My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” The apostle further defines what he means by “power”; he says, “unto salvation.” Salvation from the power of sin; from the dominion of the world; from the yoke of selfishness; from the misery of small, wretched faults which eat and ulcerate the soul like venomous insects; salvation from all that makes life poor and mean; salvation from low idea; salvation from forgetting God. It is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation, because it tells us whence we came, and to what we go: that we are the sons of God. But there is a limitation to this--“unto everyone that believeth.” God never makes a man good against his will, He never takes from any one of us our awful freedom. He knows that one day we shall stand to be judged for our works before His Son, to whom He hath committed judgment. How could He punish us for the evil we have done, how could He recompense us for the good which, by His grace, we may have done if He did not leave us free? To everyone that believeth is the gospel a power, and to no one else. It was of this gospel of which the apostle was not ashamed first to accept it for himself, and then to proclaim it to others. He knew, if any man ever yet knew, on whom he had believed. With these last three truths I will leave the subject in your hearts. First, St. Paul’s reason for writing to Rome, and afterwards going to Rome, was the sense of his indebtedness. “I am a debtor,” so we are debtors to God, to the world, to the Church, and in a sense to ourselves and to those who come after us; and just so far as we know what we owe to Christ, and what Christ has done for us, shall we feel the blessed duty and obligation of passing on to others what has been given to us. And then when this is the case, when we feel our obligation, and when each takes such share as we may in what Christ gives us to do, we shall feel the reasonableness of faith--the reasonableness of a reasonable faith. (Bp. Thorold.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ--

I. Because of the heroic character of its witnesses.

II. Because of the influence it has had on civilisation.

III. Because of its adaptability to human necessities.

IV. Because of the promise it gives of eternal life.

I. The heroic character of its witnesses. I think it is Thomas Carlyle who says that “the history of a nation is the history of its great men.” On the same principle it may be said that the history of Christianity is the history of its heroes. For it is from them and by them that we have given to us practical illustration of the power and processes of the great God-sent religion. And first we turn to Him who was at once the Founder and Finisher of the faith, Jesus Christ, whose life may be said to epitomise the biography of mankind. But perhaps it may be said, “Time has lent a fascination to their labours; what they did perforce has been transfigured into something done for love.” If it was done “perforce,” it was the force of Christianity--the force of Jesus Christ, and that is the force of devotion and love. I do not know that history and the lapse of time have done anything to magnify their work. The gospel of Jesus Christ prompts men to acts of as great heroism today as it did in the darker times of history.

II. Because of its influence on civilisation. So silently has this power been exercised, that we are very apt to lose sight of its influence upon the morals of men. And yet in its very secrecy has lain its strength. It began by enforcing the truth of universal brotherhood: the duties of each to all, and of all to each. It flung aside the superstitions of the age. Civilisation without religion! It is impossible. It is fire without warmth; it is motion without progress; it is existence, but it is not life. It becomes in time the very apotheosis of immorality. I have said that the influence of religion is spiritual. But all work which is spiritual eventually reveals itself in the natural, the material. So is it especially, I think, with the Christian faith. What has Christianity done for men in the mass? Each phase of its spiritual activity has its equivalent in the natural world, in society.

III. Because of its adaptability to human necessities. Herein lies the beauty and the blessedness of our religion. It is to this that what in the most sacred sense may be called its success is due. To go back to its earliest days, how did it attract men? It gave rest to the weary, and comfort to the sad; it cheered the mourning and raised the dead to life. Today its methods are the same. How are we to account for this power? Simply, I think, because its Founder was “the Man Christ Jesus.” He knew what was in man.

IV. Because of the promise it gives of eternal life. It is not a reward; it is a development. And even if it were only a reward, I am too human to disregard its value as an element in the teaching of Jesus Christ. A religion which provides for this world only is no religion at all. (R. Barclay, M. A.)

The nature and claims of the gospel

I. What are we to understand by the gospel of Christ? Christianity, or the scheme of religion revealed in the New Testament.

1. The things it proposes to our faith. These are of several sorts. Some of them are merely historical; others purely authoritative, and some partly historical and partly authoritative. Of this latter class are the truths relating to the Incarnation of Christ.

2. The things which the gospel commands to be practised.

II. What are the reasons for not being ashamed of this gospel, but, on the contrary, for embracing it, and glorying in it, with all the heart?

1. Its incontrovertible truth.

2. Its incomparable excellence. Compare the system, in its doctrines and duties, with all other systems.

3. Its sovereign efficacy. “It is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth.” Its objects and sentiments are not merely to fall upon the ear, or to remain before the eye, but to enter into the mind and accomplish its renovation.

III. What are the objections urged by men against this system and by which they attempt to justify their neglect of it? These may be easily shown to be trivial.

1. Do they object that they can arrive at the knowledge of the truth of the New Testament history, only in a secondary way--only from the testimony of others--and that, therefore, they are not so responsible for their unbelief as these other would be? This, however, is felt to be no prejudice to the truth of any other history, and no argument for its disbelief.

2. Do they object to severity of the gospel requirements? The gospel requires us to crucify only our sins; to deny ourselves only what would be injurious to us. The virtues it inculcates it renders easy to us by a new nature, and productive of a present happiness surpassing every other kind of happiness.

3. Do they object the incomprehensibleness of many things which the gospel states to exist? If God has not revealed them, reject them for their incomprehensibleness; if He has, receive them for His veracity’s sake.

Conclusion:

1. How awful is their condition who oppose the gospel! What excuse can there be for this? What evil has the gospel done? What attestation does it lack? What good has it not done?

2. How pitiable is their condition by whom the gospel of their salvation is practically disregarded! We are about to be wrecked; the gospel is the only plank left for our escape to the shore; and while we neglect to seize it, our danger increases, and the destructive waves bear us nearer and nearer to our doom.

3. Let them who have received the gospel, and who, in addition to all other evidence, have that of experience in its favour, attach themselves closely to it.

4. The gospel is a subject of triumph to Christians, as through life, so especially at the hour of dissolution. Its grandest objects are those of another world. (J. Leifchild.)

St. Paul’s confidence in the gospel

St. Paul’s enthusiasm for Christ is one of the great problems of history. That such a man should deliberately renounce all his advantages, and embark on a career which involved obloquy and suffering, is a fact that has to be accounted for. His own explanation is clear enough, viz., that the Lord Jesus appeared to him under circumstances which left no room for doubt as to His person and His claims; that the evidences he received of Christ’s love acted on him like an irresistible constraint to yield to those claims; and that to discharge them he had become a preacher of a gospel which he knew to be the power of God unto salvation to a perishing world. The world, therefore, was his creditor until the glad tidings had been everywhere proclaimed. By the time he wrote this letter Paul had been able to wipe off no inconsiderable portion of his debt. But he felt that until he had seen Rome the greatest portion of the debt must remain unpaid, and that at Rome the most favourable opportunities would be afforded for paying it. Once firmly rooted there the gospel would spread its branches everywhere. So he says, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome.” Here the apostle seems to pause to take breathing time, so that he might calculate his resources for an enterprise the like of which he had never yet attempted. “At Rome! Yes, at Rome also, for I am not ashamed of the gospel. I was not ashamed of it at sacred Jerusalem, at philosophical and artistic Athens, at commercial Ephesus and Corinth, any more than among my own friends at Tarsus, or among the unsophisticated heathen at Lystra. And now, although I shall have to confront in combination at Rome all the forces I have elsewhere met singly, I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

I. The apostle’s confidence in the gospel. To fully appreciate this we must--

1. Reflect where the apostle was writing to. If St. Paul could have been ashamed of the gospel it would certainly have been when brought into juxtaposition with Rome. The incredible tenets of some obscure Hindoo or Chinese sect would hardly appear to greater disadvantage in London than would Christianity in that proud capital of the world. For Rome was now in the zenith of her glory. Yet before this wondrous city, where all that constituted what was then thought greatness existed in colossal proportions, the advocate of a creed which was everywhere spoken against, and to whom, as a provincial, the grand metropolis, we may be sure, would lose none of its glamour, says, “I am ready to preach the gospel at Rome; for I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

2. Notice where the apostle was writing from. St. Paul had only recently been prosecuting a vigorous ministry in Ephesus which had been brought to a riotous close. From Ephesus Paul went to Corinth, where he wrote to Rome, and where there was enough to put a far less sensitive mind than his to the blush, and enough for some men to utterly discredit the pretensions of a religion claiming to be heavenly and Divine. And again, he had just learned how the gospel had fared among the Churches of Galatia, and the memorable Epistle to these Churches unfolds one of the most tragic of all the stories of early Christianity. Riot and scandal and failure had been the result of three of the most recent experiments of the gospel, and Paul knew the impression that they would make at Rome. And besides, were these results to be repeated there on a gigantic scale? But such was the apostle’s faith in the gospel that, with Ephesus, Corinth, and Galatia behind him, and Rome, with its unmeasured and complicated problems before him, he nevertheless declares, “I am ready to preach the gospel in Rome,” etc.

3. Consider what that gospel was of which he was not ashamed at Corinth when writing to Rome.

II. The grounds of the apostle’s confidence in the gospel.

1. Paul sounded the apparent power of Rome and found it weakness. As the apostle gazed at Rome he saw a colossal fabric whose foundations were sand. The empire was built up in utter disregard of the forces on which power has ultimately to depend. The mere lust of power was satiated; but with its gratification everything that made it worth the having went to wreck.

2. Paul proved the apparent weakness of the gospel and found it power. He knew that under the seeming weakness of its infancy lay the germs of a mighty manhood, which would soon measure itself with Rome and wrest from its senile grasp the sceptre of the world. This knowledge was born of a personal experience of its power.

(a) It was offered to every man. It began, as it has continued, not by dealing with the mass, but by dealing with individuals.

(b) This universal offer was to be accepted on the condition of faith. The embrace of the heart’s faith was and is necessary to quicken it into a salvation. “The word could not profit “where it was not “mixed with faith in them that heard,” but it worked effectually in them that believed.

(c) This condition was within the compass of every man’s ability. The evils which the gospel proposed to remedy were worldwide. If the remedy therefore were to be equal to the evil, the conditions of its application must be within the reach of all. All the gospel asks is to be embraced, and surely every man can do that. Paul lived long enough to repeat this boast after a ministry at Rome. With what emphasis would he repeat it could he stand where we stand today! And how he would endeavour to make those tongues which, eloquent on every other, are dumb on this great theme aflame with a live coal from off the altar, and the vehicles of this solitary boast, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” etc. (J. W. Burn.)

Paul’s holy audacity in regard to the gospel

Courage is of two kinds. There is the hardihood which can face danger, and there is the intrepidity which can confront shame. The former can only be where the danger is without dishonour, and the latter where the shame is without desert. The former is an instinctive and animal endowment, while the latter is an acquired virtue and a moral quality possessed only by man. It is physical courage which we admire in the soldier who stands unmoved in front of blazing musketry; in the sailor, lashed to the wheel, and steering his tumbling vessel across the foaming waves, or in the traveller of science scaling untrodden heights: but it is a much higher, rarer, and Diviner quality which we admire in the pious workman who rebukes the ribaldry and oaths of his fellow craftsmen. Rarely does it happen that these two kinds of courage meet in the same individual. You may see the undaunted hero of a battlefield crimson with shame and rage to be twitted for his virtue, or the firm heroine of the household tremble to hear an unusual noise. In Paul, however, the union may be found; and it is this which ranks him among the kingliest of men. Let us ponder a few of the reasons of Paul’s holy audacity. Note--

I. The end proposed: Man’s salvation, an object not only aimed at but achieved.

1. Salvation may be viewed either as an individual benefit or as a social one. On the one hand, it is a blessing for everyone that believeth; on the other hand, it is needed by the race at large, and the gospel proposes to accomplish the salvation of mankind in both these aspects. In saying this we oppose those who speak and act as if the whole aim of the gospel was to pick out themselves, and a few other individuals, from the mass devoted to destruction, and translate them one by one to a better world. And we also oppose the vague dreams of rationalistic philosophers who profess to be engrossed with a noble concern for the good of mankind at large. The peculiarity of the gospel is that it begins with the individual, and so seeks, as its last result, the salvation of the community.

2. It may be regarded as either an inward or outward process. Inward salvation is sanity or soundness; outward salvation is deliverance and safety. Each one of us needs to be both restored to righteousness and rescued from hell.

3. It is negative and positive. There is much sin and suffering from which we are saved by it; but there is also much of holy attainment and heavenly joy to which we are raised by it.

II. The power employed.

1. Its source is Divine; and this in so direct a way that its very nature is Divine. It is the power of--

2. Its extent. The gospel is as strong as God. It can do all that He can do.

Not ashamed of the gospel

We have no reason to be ashamed of--

I. The evidence by which it is supported.

1. Historical. Take the testimony of Paul. He was a contemporary of Christ; he conferred with the apostles; he saw the Lord. In his four undisputed Epistles he embodies all the facts of gospel history. His testimony is unexceptionable, for he was too sane to be imposed upon, too disinterested to be an impostor.

2. Prophetical. The canons of prophecy are that it should be long anterior to the event; that it should be so constructed that the story of its fulfilment could not be manufactured out of the mere study of its terms, and that its fulfilment be undesigned and in full correspondence with it. Apply these to Isaiah 53:3. Moral. How can we account for the difference between the character of Christ and that of His age? The age could produce a Nero, but not a Christ.

II. The intellectual calibre of its chief representatives. Although not exclusively fitted for intellectual giants, but for the least intelligent also, yet in every age it has produced champions able to cope with the most gifted of its opponents.

III. The effects it has produced.

1. Individually. It has made the drunkard sober.

2. Domestically. It has given sanctity to the marriage tie and blessed little children.

3. Socially. It has stood between class and class as the good Samaritan.

4. Politically it has laid the foundation of liberty. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

I. The nature of this avowal. “Not ashamed.”

1. Of what is this spoken? Of the gospel’s--

2. By whom? Paul--

3. To whom? Rome--

4. What is implied in it?

II. Its ground.

1. The Divine energy of the gospel.

2. The powerful combination against which it has to contend.

3. Its saving efficacy.

4. Its impartiality.

Learn--

1. The evil of religious cowardice.

2. The necessity of consistency in religion.

3. Your obligation to make it known.

4. Your duty to expect that your efforts will be successful. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

I. What there is in the gospel, to make carnal men ashamed of it.

1. It proceeds upon principles so contrary to the natural man, and so brings down human reasoning and the pride of intellect, that men are shocked at its positions and requirements.

2. It exposes a man’s great idol.

3. It demands absolute submission.

4. The world attributes regard to it to weakness of either the head or heart.

5. It levels men.

II. Why Paul was not ashamed of it. Because he knew it to be--

1. The power of God.

2. The power of God to the greatest end--salvation. (R. Cecil, M. A.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

The solitary grandeur of the imperial city; Paul’s knowledge of Rome’s own and its borrowed glories, as a centre of power; his courage in meeting the contemptuous estimate which ancient society passed upon the truth of God.

I. Some elements of power in the gospel.

1. Great in--

2. These forces Paul had seen exerted on individuals and on communities. They were--

II. Having seen and felt these beneficent influences, Paul gloried in the same. We urge--

1. Paul’s interpretation of the gospel is vital in its power. The doctrines of sin, atonement, the Holy Spirit and eternal retribution, cannot be eliminated and any power remain. A glass crowbar could as well tunnel the Alps.

2. That each of us trust the gospel as heartily as did Paul. Exemplify its power here, and enjoy its fruition in the perfect felicity of heaven. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

There were reasons which made it needful for Paul to say this. The gospel was then a “contemptible thing.” Its Author had been despised and executed. Its character was at variance with the traditions of men, and, above all, of the Pharisees. Its followers were looked upon as the scum of the earth. But, amid all this, there was a man of the highest intellect and the noblest powers, who knew the gospel and knew the world, standing forth and declaring in the face of all that he was not ashamed of it. Consider it--

I. Intellectually. As a scheme it is more magnificent than any mind of man could have conceived. No systems of philosophy possess its grandeur or power. The gospel is no puny, drivelling, or paltry imitation. Other systems have been propounded, but all are borrowed more or less from the gospel.

II. Morally. It is the purest system of morality which the world has known. God’s spotless purity is made the model for human conduct. But the gospel is not only a system of morality, it is a means thereto. It teaches men how they may become holy. Its chief object is to purify and to destroy the evil which is in the world.

III. Historically. It affords an outline of history of which but for it we should know nothing. That which it is requisite for us to know--the life of Christ, and the particulars of the way of salvation--are fully developed.

IV. Its purpose. It is the “gospel”--good news, and it is the power of God unto salvation. Salvation is a great word. What can we wish for more than it includes? Its object is to transform human nature. It is to glorify the soul, to exalt the spirit, to give us thrones in the kingdom of heaven, to purge us from the dross of sin. Is this a thing whereof to be ashamed? (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ

There are three gradations of artists. The lowest is one who is able to reproduce an exact representation of natural objects as they appear to ordinary eyes. A higher type is where one brings to objects a clearer eye than belongs to most men. There is a third and rare artist power, where the things represented are, as it were, but instruments to represent the effect produced upon the mind of the artist by the scene, or the event, or the thing. Now, upon this scale Paul was the greatest moral artist of the world. All the way through, it was the unconscious endeavour of the apostle to represent truths as they reflected themselves upon the sensitive surface of his glowing soul. Instead of showing what were all the wonderful elements that in his view constituted it, he reflects what the impression was of the whole gospel of Christ upon his sensitive soul. “I am not ashamed.” Well, why should he have been? Every one of us would say it now; but not one of us would have said it in his time, perhaps. In our time, yes. And it is a matter of much interest to imagine what would be Paul’s thought if he were permitted to discern the Christianity of the present age and all its triumphs, its monuments, its power, its wealth, its learning, its refinements.

1. If he had looked out into the world and at the external forms and organisations of the Church, what would he have had occasion to be ashamed of?

2. And if Paul had seen the pomp of their worship, and their worship in the pomp of architecture which had been inspired and created by them, he would not have occasion to express a feeling of shame.

3. Still less could he have been insensitive to the literature and the learning that have been inspired among devout scholars all over the world, and that have sprung from Christianity.

4. And still more would he have been in sympathy with the outpouring of the spirit of manhood, “the enthusiasm of humanity,” that has sprung from the temper of the gospel, and has gradually crept into the laws, and ameliorated the theory of morals, and softened and sweetened the whole intercourse of human life; and that, moreover, has made man helpful to man.

5. More beautiful still to Paul, who had the art of discerning much from little, would have been the exhibitions of the Christ spirit in its humbler workings among Christian men and in Christianity unorganised, or but slightly organised.

6. More yet, to him, would it have been to have seen what a class of men and women had arisen in every household, and become scattered up and down through every village and hamlet of the land. Domestic life, its purification and its exaltation, would have been a glorious sight to his eyes. As one that should go across a prairie and carry a bag filled with the rarest seeds and give them to the north wind that scattered them south, and to the south wind that scattered them north, every whither, might, years afterwards, when he goes over the same ground, rejoice to see, in the midst of many coarse weeds and much choking grass, here and there ledges and beds of flowers; so if Paul should come down to our day, and see the seeds he has sown which are every day springing up in the household, would not he be filled with more than gratitude and wonder--with transcendent transport? Of course he would not be ashamed. Nobody is ashamed of the gospel now except those of whom it is ashamed. (H. W. Beecher.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

We are not ashamed of the gospel because it is--

I. Divine power.

1. The history of Christianity among the nations of the earth has established its claim to power. Its progress has often been in the face of bitterest hostility, without the help of worldly patronage. It proved more than a match for the iron despotism of Rome, and it has never failed for eighteen centuries to make its enemies its footstool.

2. The secret of this amazing power is that God is behind it. Nothing but Divine influence could account for such uniform and unfailing triumphs. Other systems may show the power of man, but the gospel shows the power of God. It brought into the world a force unknown before.

II. Saving power. The power seen in creation and providence is truly Divine, but not necessarily saving. Nor will the power that resides in the gospel result in salvation, unless it is accompanied by the influence of the Spirit. The gospel--

1. Comes with a message of forgiveness to guilty man. Sin is the disease, and in God’s hands alone is the remedy.

2. It is a power for the renewal of man’s nature. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” This is a task beyond unaided human resources. Man can neither begin the work of grace in his heart nor carry it on after it is begun.

III. Universal power. “To everyone that believeth.” The glory of the gospel consists not only in its Divine origin or saving efficacy, but also in its universal adaptation. It suits the needs of mankind everywhere. It reaches out a helping-hand to all, without respect to nation or social standing. (D. Merson, M. A.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

I. Justify the high claim here made for the gospel. Paul was not ashamed of--

1. Its origin. The advocates of other systems had reason to be ashamed of their origin.

2. Its sentiments--

3. Its practical tendency. It is a system of purest morals springing from the purest motives--gratitude and love. It shows us a temper without a flaw, and a life without a stain; and it says, “We ought to walk as He also walked.”

4. Its efficacy. The efficacy of the ancient systems was nothing. But the gospel is “the power of God to salvation.”

II. Who are guilty of being ashamed of the gospel? One would suppose that none could ever be ashamed of it; but, alas! there is reason to fear that some are.

1. Such are those preachers and writers who know the truth, but conceal it by specious arguments.

2. In the social circle how many are ashamed of the gospel!

3. In private life there is not that attention to religion which there should be. Young Christians are too often ashamed because of the sneers of those around them. (B. Rayson.)

Not ashamed of the gospel

The botanist is not ashamed of the insignificant plant which he prefers before the rose and the jasmine, because of its healing properties and powers. The gardener is not ashamed of the tiny, dusky little seed, because he knows that God has endued it with hidden virtues which He has denied to the diamond and ruby. Thus the apostle was not ashamed of the gospel, because it could accomplish what the law was powerless to do; and because from his own personal experience he knew that it was able to produce a mighty and spiritual change in a man’s whole character and life. (C. Nell, M. A.)

Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ

1. Years ago the subject of the extension of the Church would have suggested questions of one kind only--viz., that it was desirable, and possibly discussions would have turned upon the best means of carrying it out. Now you only raise in certain minds the previous question, whether it is worth the effort.

2. St. Paul is led to use this expression by an association of ideas which is easy to trace. “In Rome also.” Before his imagination there rises the imperial form of the mistress of the world. And this vision for a moment produces a momentary recoil, so that, like a man whose course has been suddenly checked, he falls back to consider the resources at his disposal. There is a moment’s pause and then, “I am not ashamed,” he says.

3. He is not ashamed of the gospel. We are struck at first by the reserved and negative phrase. It seems to fall so far below the requirements of the occasion and the character of the man. Elsewhere the apostle uses very different language from this. He loves to call the gospel, just as the Jews call their law, his boast. The truth is the apostle is not using a rhetorical figure at all. His negative and measured phrase is imposed on him by the thoughts which rise before him. He is resisting the feeling which threatens to overawe him, and it is in protesting against this feeling, and in thus disavowing it, that he cries, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Why, you may ask, should he be ashamed of it? Note--

I. The apparent insignificance of the gospel relatively to the great world of thought and action represented by and embodied in Rome.

1. The very name was a symbol of magnificence and power. Rome was the seat of empire, the centre of society, the home and the patroness of learning and thought, the great centre of the current religions. She was in ancient civilisation what Paris is to France; everything else was provincial.

2. And the gospel--how did it look when placed in juxtaposition with Rome? Was it not relatively to everything else, as far as the natural sense and judgment of man could pierce, poor and insignificant?

3. True enough Paul had his eye on higher things; but his was too sympathetic a nature not to be alive to what was meant by Rome. Yet the splendours of Rome do not overawe him. He is not enslaved by the apparent at the cost of the real; he knows that a civilisation which bears a proud front to the world, but which is rotten within, is destined to perish. Already, five years before, he has shown in one line in 2 Thessalonians that he forsees the end of all this splendour. In Christian eyes Alaric and his Goths were at the gates of Rome before their time.

4. St. Paul was well aware of the insignificance of the gospel when measured by all ordinary human standards. It was his own observation that not many mighty, not many noble, are “called.” But then, in his estimate of the relative value of the Divine and the human, this did not matter; for “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”

II. The appearance of failure which had clung to the gospel.

1. Remember that he was writing from Corinth, and what was the Church there a short year before in the judgment of the apostle himself. Its discipline forgotten; its unity rent by schisms; fundamental articles of the faith were denied among its members; scandals permitted such as were not even named among the heathen. Of all this the apostle was sufficiently conscious; and yet with Corinth behind him, and Rome with its gigantic and unattempted problems before him, he still exclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”

2. And the truth is that in this matter St. Paul distinguished between the ideal revealed from above as in his Master’s mind, and the real, embarrassed by the conditions imposed on it by fallen human nature. He “knew that the treasure of the faith was deposited in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the glory might be of God and not of us.” And, therefore, Paul for his part was not surprised. The failure lay not in the gift, but in the recipient. It was still possible to believe that a new power had entered into human nature which was not therefore incapable of raising and saving human nature, because it did not suspend man’s free will and overrule his instincts of resistance and mischief.

III. The substance of the message.

1. Paul was well aware that there were features in the Christian creed which were in the highest degree unwelcome. Less than this he cannot mean by “the offence of the Cross,” or “Christ crucified foolishness to the Greeks.” How was this teaching, familiar enough to our generation but strange beyond all measure to the men who heard it from its first preachers, to compass acceptance and victory? Was it the cogeny of the evidence? No doubt much of the earliest teaching of the apostles was devoted to enforce this. Certainly the resurrection of Christ was sufficiently well attested, and yet its witnesses were not believed. Mere demonstrative evidence, although at first hand, has no effect against a strong and hostile predisposition of the will.

2. And here it is that the apostle may give us his own reason for not being ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for not despairing of its capacity to win a cynical and scornful world. He says that it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. There is lodged in it a secret impetuosity which pours forth from it into the human soul, with the result of bearing down all opposition and landing it safely on the eternal shore. And by this gospel he means no mere fragment of it, such as Christian morality without Christian doctrine, or as the atonement without the grace and power of the sacraments. For all, all is really included in that free unmerited gift of righteousness which faith receives at the hands of Christ, and which robes the believer in the garments of salvation. St. Paul knew that this had been his own experience. Since that scene on the road to Damascus he had been another man, he had lived a new life. Old things had passed away, and all things had become new. And as with himself, so with others. The gospel had made many a man, whom he knew, utterly unlike his former self. The religion of Jesus Christ is here upon ground peculiarly its own. There are many claimants in our modern world for the throne which it has owned for eighteen hundred years. But whether the eye rests upon the masters who have done so much for mind, or upon the masters who have spent themselves in manipulating matter, what has been achieved by these great and distinguished men that could be described as the power of God unto salvation? No: the deeper aspects of human life, and much more the grave and real significance of death, are quite beyond them.

3. And yet, even here, a lingering feeling might well be experienced, I do not say of shame, but of hesitation. Those to whom the saving power of Christ’s gospel is intimately certain, cannot without difficulty bring themselves to talk about it. We do not any of us readily talk about that which really touches us. Men have no objection to talk politics, because politics address themselves to those common sympathies and judgments which we share with others. But no man will consent to discuss, if he can help it, his near relations or some family interest in public. This motive operates not infrequently in the case of religion. Religion twines itself round the heart like a family affection. The relations of each soul to the Lord of souls are quite unique; and therefore the very best of men are not unfrequently the least able to talk freely on the one subject respecting which they feel most deeply. Doubtless so human and sympathetic a nature as St. Paul’s would have felt this difficulty in its full force, and yet we know how completely he overcame it. If he did not yield to the instinct which would have sealed his lips and stilled his pen, this is so because he knew that the gospel of his Lord and Master was not really, like some family question or interest, a private matter for him. The friend of his soul was the rightful, the much-needed friend of every human being. And therefore no false reserve could permit St. Paul to treat the gospel as a private or personal interest. Conclusion: In their degree the feelings which may have been present to St. Paul’s mind will have been our own. Pagan Rome has perished, and yet that which it represented to the apostle’s eye is still in a modified form before us. And yet to those who can take a sober measure of men and things there are no reasons for being ashamed of Christ’s gospel. The world which confronts us is really not more splendid nor yet more solid than the empire which has long since gone its way. The religious weakness and disorganisation which alarms us in the Church is not greater than that which was familiar to St. Paul. Modern attacks upon the faith are not more formidable than those which he refuted. And the gospel is now what it was then, only to a much greater multitude of souls, the power of God unto salvation.

1. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Here is a fitting motto, not merely to Christ’s great apostle, but--

Who are ashamed of the gospel

I. The wise, because it calls men to believe and not to argue.

II. The great, because it brings all into one body.

III. The rich, because it is to be had without money and without price.

IV. The gay, because they fear it will destroy all their mirth. (R. M. McCheyne.)

The gospel ashamed of some of its preachers

Dr. Murray was made warden of Manchester by James

I. There was little to do, and Murray had neither the ability nor the inclination to do much. He was expected to preach but seldom, and he did not intend to preach at all. Once, however, he did preach before the king, and his text was, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” “True” said James, “but the gospel may well be ashamed of thee.”

The shame of the gospel of Christ is its glory

I. In its relation to the human intellect. Its mysterious character.

II. In its relation to the moral constituting. Its humiliating character.

III. In its relation to other kinds of religion. Its transcendent character.

IV. In its relation to this life. Its unworldly character. (H. G. Weston, D. D.)

Reasons for glorying in the gospel

There are three things in connection with this avowal which invest it with great significance: the distinguished character of the author--the great apostle; the universally execrated nature of the subject--the religion of the crucified malefactor; and the class of persons to whom it was addressed, the cultured, intrepid inhabitants of the imperial city. For such an avowal there must have been good reasons and here they are specified:--The gospel is--

I. A system of Divine power.

1. There are three manifestations of Divine power.

2. All truth is powerful. But there are three things that make gospel truth peculiarly powerful.

II. A system of Divine power to save. What is salvation? Some persons speak of it as if it were a local change, a transporting of man from one world to another. “But the mind is its own place.” Salvation may be regarded as consisting in the restoration of a--

1. Lost love. We were made to be governed in all things by a supreme affection for God, but nothing is more clear than that man is not so governed now. The gospel comes to restore it.

2. Lost harmony. The soul is all in tumult. This cannot be the normal state.

3. Lost usefulness. Our relations to each other and our social instincts and powers are such as to show that we were intended to be useful to each other. But we are injurious. The gospel makes us useful. This is another reason which made Paul glory in it. If it had been a power to destroy, his generous nature would have been ashamed of it. Any power can destroy.

III. A system of Divine power to save all.

1. “The Jew first,” because--

2. The gospel is, like the air and sun, for humanity. Had it been for a sect, or class, Paul might have been ashamed of it.

IV. A system of Divine power to save all on the most simple condition. “To everyone that believeth.” Man as man--

1. Has this power to believe. It requires no peculiar talent or attainment.

2. Has a strong tendency to believe. He is credulous to a fault. Conclusion:--Who are ashamed of the gospel?

1. Any in heaven? No! They owe their blessedness to its discoveries, and chant the praises of its Author.

2. Any in hell? No! There are thousands there ashamed of themselves for having been ashamed of the gospel.

3. Who on earth? Not the best parents, etc., the greatest sages, poets, patriots and philanthropists. They are to be found in the lower strata of moral life. They are to be found amongst men who ought to be ashamed of themselves. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Moral courage ready to encounter shame

Let us not pass over the intrepidity of Paul, in the open and public avowal of his Christianity. We call it intrepidity, though he speaks not here of having to encounter violence, but only of having to encounter shame. For, in truth, it is often a higher effort and evidence of intrepidity to front disgrace, than it is to front danger. There is many a man who would march up to the cannon’s mouth for the honour of his country, yet would not face the laugh of his companions for the honour of his Saviour. We doubt not that there are individuals here who, if they were plied with all the devices of eastern cruelty to abjure the name of Christian, whose courage would bear them in triumph, and yet whose courage fails them every day in the softer scenes of their social and domestic history. The man who under the excitements of persecution was brave enough to be a dying witness to Jesus, crouches into all the timidity of silence under the omnipotency of fashion. There is as much of the truly heroic in not being ashamed of the profession of the gospel, as in not being afraid of it. Paul was neither: and yet when we think of what he once was in literature, and how aware he must have been of the loftiness of its contempt for the doctrine of a crucified Saviour; and that in Rome the whole power and bitterness of its derisions were awaiting him, and that the main weapon with which he had to confront it was such an argument as looked to be foolishness to the wisdom of this world--we doubt not that the disdain inflicted by philosophy was naturally as formidable to the mind of this apostle as the death inflicted by the arm of bloody violence. So that even now, and in an age when Christianity has no penalties and no proscriptions to keep her down, still, if all that deserves the name of Christianity be exploded from conversation--if a visible embarrassment run through a company when its piety or its doctrine is introduced among them--if, among beings rapidly moving towards immortality, any serious allusion to the concerns of immortality stamps an oddity on the character of him who brings it forward--if, through a tacit but firm compact which regulates the intercourse of this world, the gospel is as effectually banished from the ordinary converse of society as by the edicts of tyranny the profession of it was banished in the days of Claudius from Rome:--then he who would walk in his Christian integrity among the men of this lukewarm and degenerate age--he who, rising above that meagre and mitigated Christianity which is as remote as Paganism from the real Christianity of the New Testament, would, out of the abundance of his heart, speak of the things which pertain to the kingdom of God--he will find that there are trials still which, to some temperaments, are as fierce and as fiery as any in the days of martyrdom; and that, however in some select and peculiar walk he may find a few to sympathise with him, yet many are the families and many are the circles of companionship where the persecution of contempt calls for determination as strenuous, and for firmness as manly, as ever in the most intolerant ages of our Church did the persecution of direct and personal violence. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

For it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

The power of the gospel

I. The power of the gospel.

1. We can quite understand that to a man of such singular force of character as St. Paul, the “power” of the gospel would be its leading idea. To St. John, it might be its sweetness. And we can follow the current of St. Paul’s feelings when he said that he could not be “ashamed” of anything which was so very strong.

2. What we all want is to treat religion more as a thing of “power.” We think and speak of it, and act about it, too softly. It is a thing of beauty, poetry, enjoyment,--but would not it be far better if we held it more as a grand fact for vigorous thought, manly action, and practical effort? The piety of the day is too enervated. Hence its watery literature, its feeble hold on the minds of working men, its pettiness, unreality, and small results. There would be less “shame” if there were more “power.”

3. I need scarcely say that before the gospel can be this “power,” it must be gospel indeed--not a theory, a system of theology, an abstract truth, a diluted joy, something half fear and half hope, but “God’s spell.”

II. Some facts in reference to this power.

1. The Christian religion is the only one which has ever had “power” to set in motion real missionary action. Why? The selfishness and sluggishness of human nature is exclusive, and it requires an immense lever to stir it, and nothing in the world has ever been found equal to do it, except the love of such a God as we have in Christ. That, and that only, can “thrust out labourers into the vineyard.” We have something to say worth making a mission for--we have a motive which can send us forth to say it.

2. See what the gospel of God does in all lands wherever it is planted--what softening of savagery, what civilisation it carries along with it. True, it may be hindered by the inconsistencies of Christians. But in itself the gospel always grows into an improvement in everything.

3. Look over this world at this moment. There are about two hundred millions of Christians upon the earth--once there were twelve. The increase without war--the great engine of Mahometanism--with very little to please and attract flesh and blood into it, rather with the greatest opposition to all which is natural to us, what “power” lies in that single historical fact!

4. Or let me tell you the experience of every Christian minister. It is when he preaches the full simple gospel that he gets all his success. If he preach morality, or an abstract divinity, or a gospel which is half gospel, he has no results whatever. But Christ carries everything.

5. Or listen to the witness of your own heart.

III. Ways in which you may use this “power.”

1. Perhaps you are a weak character. You long for more strength of mind, and will, and purpose, and for capacity and power to persevere. Now nothing will give what you want but real personal religion--union with Christ, the gospel of Christ in you, and that gospel is “power.”

2. Or you may have a habit, and you want to conquer it. Bring Christ to bear upon that habit, have motive enough, make the effort for Christ’s sake, because He has loved you, do it to please Him, and show that you love Him. That principle will command all victory.

3. Or, perhaps, there is someone you very much wish to influence, but you cannot move him. Lead him to your object through the peace you bring into his own soul, and Christ will be stronger than the strong one.

4. Or, you are conscious of a want of moral courage in speaking of religious subjects; there is only one remedy, Christ must be more to you, and then you will be able to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” etc. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The gospel’s power: it is great

I. In the revelation it embodies. It is the power of God, because it not only emanates from God, but God is in it. The Father has centred all His thoughts in the words of His gospel, and these words retain their power because they are the only satisfying portion of the human heart.

II. In the deliverance it effects. It was with a mighty hand that Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage. No less wonderful is the power demonstrated in the deliverance of man from under the thraldom of sin.

III. Is the transformation it produces.

IV. In the motives it inspires. Men are actuated by a desire to gain wealth, fame, learning; and what unflagging energy this inspires! The gospel inspires us with a hope of being kings and priests unto God. But love to God and our fellow men is to be the great motive for our actions. This is to be the ruling power of our lives, and this will render us godlike.

V. In the universality of its application. “To everyone that believeth.” It is the gospel for mankind, and among all nations it has gained its trophies. Its power has not waned. Conclusion:--Its hindrances are in the individual soul. Sin makes the barrier. But the gospel brought home by the Spirit can overcome all. There is nothing in it of which we should be ashamed. (A. Huelston, Ph. D.)

The power of the gospel contrasted with other theories

Suppose that two persons start upon a philanthropic mission. One shall be a preacher determined to preach the old-fashioned gospel; and the other shall be a nineteenth century lecturer, whose great article of faith is, “I believe in the nineteenth century,” Each of us addresses congregations, and at the end of one of my sermons I say, “Now then, if there are any of you who feel yourselves tied and bound with the chain of your sins, while you are longing to lead a better life, stay behind and I will endeavour to make the way as plain as I can.” Well, suppose also that the lecturer has delivered his oration, the place is crowded, and a great amount of enthusiasm is kindled by the wonderful oratory of the man. At the end, suppose again that he too says something of the same kind: “Now then, I have been speaking of the progress of civilisation, and the development of humanity, and what we may expect as years roll away and as man rises to a higher level. But I wish to be practical, and to endeavour to benefit any now present who feel they need some help. Should any of you tonight feel as if you are failing to benefit by this general advance that is being made, just remain behind and I will offer you a few words of advice.” Suppose that in both cases the invitation is accepted by some. I come down, and there approaches me a miserable-looking specimen of humanity. I have only to look in his face to see the marks of sin there. A few minutes’ conversation discloses the fact that there is scarcely a sin which that man has not committed; tears stand in his eyes as he says to me, “I wish you could tell me, sir, what I must do to be saved.” To such a one I should have no difficulty in making answer--“My dear brother, you are just the person I have to preach to. My Master came to seek and to save the lost. Tell me, are you altogether out of conceit, nay, out of heart, with yourself?” I can imagine the melancholy reply. “What hope have I left in myself? Unless a higher power than mine do something for me, there is nothing before me but despair.” If such be the response, I can hail that self-despair as the harbinger of true hope. I am able to lead the forlorn and hopeless wretch out of self and into Christ; show him the provision that has been made to meet the case of the helpless, and guide him step by step, till at length he claims Christ as his all-sufficient Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost. Well, in such a case, the man will become a changed person. The intervention of the Creator will have made him a new creature, and he who before delighted in sin, will suddenly find himself hating sin and loving purity and holiness, blow let us turn to the other scene. The lecture is just closing, and the lecturer gives such an invitation as I have suggested. One man comes up and addresses himself to the lecturer: “I am a very bad man, and have lived a very bad life, and I want to know if you can give me any advice that shall make me better.” “Well, my friend, reasoning on utilitarian grounds, I assume that you have found your evil course not much to your advantage.” “Advantage! Why, I have stripped my house of every comfort, and turned it into a wild beast’s den rather than a human home; I have lost my situations; and it is all through that cursed drink.” “Then your case is very clear, my friend. You can see without any lecture on utilitarianism that drunkenness is unprofitable to you.” “Well, I know that; but the point is how I am to overcome this craving.” “Well, first reflect seriously that you are injuring yourself.” “But I am convinced of that already.” “Well, then act in accordance with that conviction; sign the pledge.” “I have signed the pledge, over and over again, but I cannot keep it.” “Why not? Have you been really in earnest?” “Yes, sir; but I could never keep it for any length of time.” “Well, but you had better sign it again.” “I have signed it a dozen times, sir.” “Well, I don’t know what to advise; struggle more earnestly.” “But I have struggled my very utmost.” “Then can you keep out of the way of bad company?” “I may try, sir; but the bad company won’t keep out of my way.” What is the lecturer to say next? My own impression is that there is nothing left for the apostle of the new creed but to admit his failure, unless he has the assurance to say to him, “Very well, then, your only chance is to believe in the nineteenth century!” But where is there one who would dare to say this? No! the individual must perish, while the lecturer comforts himself with the hope that the species will improve. You ask me to lay aside the gospel, and take in place of it one which leaves me in such a position that I am morally helpless and incapable of grappling with the infirmities of human nature, or of holding out a helping hand to those around me who are sinking down to perdition. We are asked to accept the dictates of science, or the theories of philosophers, or what are supposed to be exhibitions of supernatural power, or some enthusiastic visionary who sets himself up as a religious reformer, and bids us accommodate our convictions to his dreams. But we go back to that question, “Where is the power?” As I look around on all the various substitutes for the gospel, I seek an answer, and I seek in vain. Where is the man who is ready to tell me how a bad man is to become good, how a weak man is to become strong? From all these I turn to the cross of Emmanuel. The power of God in redemption is felt, and from the cross I see men going forth, new creatures in Christ Jesus, possessed of new desires and new affections, and animated by a new power. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

The gospel a power unto salvation

(Text and Matthew 6:13; Acts 1:8). The first of these verses declares that power belongs to God, and, by implication, that we have power only as we borrow it from God; the second, how this power is, in the moral and spiritual realm, to be bestowed upon men; the third, through what instrumentality this power shall be bestowed--“the gospel.”

I. The religion of the Bible is, then, characteristically a power-bestowing religion. It is this which distinguishes it from all other religions.

1. All the significance of the miracles of the Old Testament and the New Testament lies in this, that they are witnesses to a help that lies beyond humanity, but which is extended to humanity. The entire Old Testament is the history of a power not belonging to humanity, and yet working for the benefit of Israel. It is by the power of God that the Israelites are summoned from their bondage, that the waves of the Red Sea part for them, and that one after another victory crowns their campaigning in Palestine. The history is not the history of what the Jews did or Jewish great men did, but of what a power not themselves was doing for them. As this is the Old Testament history, so this is the Old Testament experience of the individual. It reappears in David, in Isaiah, in every prophet.

2. The old doctrine that power belongeth unto God, and that God bestows this power upon His children, reappears in the New Testament, but in a new form. It is now the spiritual helpfulness of God that comes to the front. We speak as though a man’s power had greatly increased our power during the past few centuries; but all the power of civilisation is a power that is not our own. We have increased a little our individual muscular power, but the increase is very little, while it is stored in nature, and we lay hold upon it and use it. And I will not go to an orthodox authority, but I will ask Herbert Spencer what this power is in that famous definition: “Amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from whom all things proceed.” What is this but the old Hebrew Psalmist’s “Power belongeth unto God?” And what is the result of all modern science but this: a skill to lay hold on this power that is not our own, and to make it our own by obedience to its laws?

3. Now, the New Testament, as a spiritual appendix to the Old, confirmed by modern science, adds the declaration that there are powers not our own that make for human helpfulness and lift us up in the spiritual realm. The power that is of God is a power unto spiritual salvation. As there is a power to help man in the material and physical world, so there is a power to help him in the realm of virtue and truth. A hopeful man can inspire hope; a weak-willed man can be made stronger in will by leaning upon a man whose will is stronger than his own; there is power in a great heart to fill vacant hearts full of noble, Divine love.

4. And as the individual imparts to the individual, parents to their children, the teacher to his pupils, the pastor to his congregation, so generations impart to other generations. It is not all a fiction, this Roman Catholic idea of works of supererogation stored up, on which men may draw. The world has accumulated a great reservoir of virtue, and we draw on it every day. You are stronger men and women today for your Puritan ancestry, for your Anglo-Saxon blood.

II. Salvation is not something you are to get in heaven by and by, on condition that you do believe, think, or experience something here on earth now. That man will be saved from future punishment through faith in Christ is true, but it is not the burden of the Bible declaration. The great good news of the Bible is this: men are saved from the burdens of their present life; from the darkness of their scepticism; from the bondage of their superstition; from inhumanity, weakness of will, and sin, here and now. This universe is stored with great spiritual powers. Do not fight your battle alone; lay hold on those powers and ask their help in the conflict. “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” What is that? A narrow declaration? Not at all. I find a man trying to lift a great stone, which is too heavy for his strength; and I say to him, Get out your tackle and pulleys, and then you can lift it. Is that narrow? No man can take the fruits of civilisation unless he lays hold on powers other than his own; and no man can take the fruit of Divine culture unless he reaches out and lays hold of powers that are not his own, that make for righteousness.

III. Faith is not belief. It is not belief in a long or a short creed. Faith does in the spiritual realm that which reason does in the material realm. It is simply reaching out a heart of sympathy and laying hold on the heart of God, and receiving strength that God pours into the children whose souls are open to receive His help. What virtue is there in the mere declaration of an opinion? This is not faith. Faith in Christ is an appreciation of the quality that is in Christ, a sense of His worth, a desire to be like Him, a resolute purpose to follow after Him. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)

The power of the gospel to save

The gospel manifests the power of God.

I. In the revelation it makes of what God has done for us in the work of His Son.

1. As transgressors the law held us in bondage, and bound us over to endure the wages of sin in everlasting death. But in the obedience which Christ has rendered to the law, and the satisfaction He has made to its demands, He has opened a new and certain way of life for the guilty. Satan also held us captive, but Christ has overcome him who had the power of death.

2. The influence of this work is displayed--

II. In the exhibition of the work which God accomplishes within us by His Spirit. Take a view of this as given--

1. In the past history of the Church. Reflect on the progress of the gospel, and the multitudes who have been actually rescued.

2. In the experience of the individual.

III. In the proper ground for hope which it thus affords.

1. If you look upon yourselves you find yourselves utterly weak and unworthy; but there is offered to you in the gospel a sufficient and abiding hope.

2. Let the Christ have all the praise for this work of salvation. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)

The gospel the power of God

There are two reasons for which we may be ashamed of anything--

1. If it be base in itself, or shameful in its aim.

2. Though good in itself, and honourable in its aim, if it be weak and powerless to achieve the good it aims at. For example: we are ashamed of a traitor who sells his country for gold; and of a general who, though loyally fighting for his country, ruins its cause through ignorance or incapacity. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because--

I. It was not base in itself, nor shameful in its aims. Its facts were true, its morals pure, its doctrine ennobling. Its aim is “salvation.” You have seen at a railway station carriages labelled “London,” “Edinburgh,” etc., signifying that the company engaged to carry the passengers to these places. So the gospel is labelled as intended to carry passengers “unto salvation.” Anything short of that would be to fail in its promise. But what is this “salvation”? The common idea is, that when a man dies he shall be saved from hell and have a place in heaven. But salvation implies more than this--deliverance from the corruption of sin as well as from its condemnation; from its power as well as from its punishment--in short, deliverance from sin itself.

II. It was not feeble and unable to achieve its aim. Its power is as great as its purpose is good. This is what most of all we need? We know the doctrines of the gospel, the sins it forbids, the duties it requires, the hopes it teaches. But somehow we feel that these things do not influence us as they ought. What we need is power to convince us, to subdue us, to rule over us, to sustain us, power to resist the devil, to overcome the world. In some things the gospel has come to us in power. For example, we believe in the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood. And that belief has brought us peace from the fear of punishment. But oh I how we long that the words, “Go and sin no more,” would “come in power.” Behold, then, gospel promises do not speak more truly of pardon than they speak of power for present duty by Christ’s living grace.

3. Its offer is not limited to any one nation or class, but is free and sure “to everyone that believeth.” “To as many as received Him, to them gave He power,” etc. Everyone who believes on Jesus receives of the Holy Spirit. They receive this power, but they must use it. The power of God is laid up for them in Christ; but out of His fulness they must go on to draw grace for grace. (W. Grant.)

The gospel the power of God

1. The apostle here gives his reason for the statement that he was willing to preach the gospel in Rome. In characterising the gospel as “the power of God,” he showed his usual tact. It was his object to present the gospel to his readers in such an aspect as would commend it to their peculiar disposition as admirers of power. At Athens, on the other band, he was amongst a people who spent their time in telling or hearing some new thing. The apostle, therefore, observing an altar to “the unknown God,” presents himself as one who had the key to this mystery. The effect upon men of such an inquisitive turn of mind may be easily conceived. The Corinthians, again, made great pretensions to wisdom; to them, therefore, the apostle represents the gospel as the highest wisdom--the wisdom of God. Whilst, however, representing the gospel as “power,” to the Romans the apostle is careful to say that it was the “power of God,” not that military and political power so much desiderated by them.

2. In the text we have three terms, salvation, gospel, and power. The gospel effects the salvation, and the power is the reason why.

I. The product of Divine power. The transactions it records testify to the power of God in the same way that every author’s power is revealed by his works. Power has three qualities, Moral, which indicates the motive, and has regard to the end in view; intellectual, which contrives, and has regard to the means; physical, which executes, i.e., applies the means devised to the end contemplated. Thus, power manifests itself in force, contrivance, and purpose. The Divine operations ever display these qualities. These qualities, however, in the gospel show different degrees of combination from those which obtain in creation--e.g., all physical objects are distinguished by some one particular colour, although all the other hues of light are there. In the light falling upon objects which appear blue, all the hues of light are present, but by the operation of a certain law, the blue alone presents itself to the eye. So in creation physical power prevails, at least to our senses. The multiplicity of its worlds and their vast magnitude divert the mind from the equally glorious, but less obtrusive, manifestations of intellect and beneficence. Now the gospel is a marvellous manifestation of power in its several phases. As the product of God’s moral power it is defined as “the exceeding riches of His grace” (Ephesians 2:5). As an exhibition of His intellectual power it is represented as “making known the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:10). Its manifestations of physical power, instanced in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, are described as the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:19). But its moral power is its crown and glory. One characteristic will suffice to show this. Its pith and marrow is its provision for the forgiveness of sin, and this is the grandest exercise of moral power possible. “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity?” So far was the idea of forgiveness from the hearts of men that when they came to create gods they never imagined gods possessed of the power to pardon sin. Does not this prove that the religion which presents this fact to us must be, as regards its conception, absolutely Divine?

II. An instrument of Divine power. “The power of God unto salvation.” The transactions it embodies were characterised by superlative condescension and self-sacrifice. As such they were replete with power in the two senses of legal merit and spiritual influence--the one frowning the ground of men’s reconciliation with God, the other forming the instrumentality for weaning them from sin, for changing their disposition, subduing their passions, and kindling in their hearts the love of Christ. But this is not all. The gospel possesses instrumental fitness for securing justification and sanctification, but in order that these may become experimental realities men must, believingly, accept, as the ground and instrument of their salvation, the transactions it records. Hence powerful influences are necessary to overcome men’s indifference and stubbornness. The gospel is the power of God to this end. The transactions it embodies are presented as messages of love. This message is instinct with the moral and Divine power of the transactions which form its theme. No wonder the gospel is called the “word of salvation”--the word which both reveals salvation and opens the heart, by conviction, to its reception. (A. J. Parry.)

The gospel the power of God

The gospel is the power of God--

I. In its most paradoxical and yet highest form.

1. Of course, the message was power only as being the record of power; the real energy lay in the Incarnate Word. And Paul’s thought is, that high above all other manifestations of the Divine energy, rises that strange paradox, the omnipotence of God declared in weakness. Sinai is impotent, compared with the tremendous forces which stream from the little hillock, where stand three black crosses, and a dying Christ on the midmost.

2. There is the power of God; for material force is not power; nor majesty, which being deprived of its externals becomes a jest; nor the rule over men’s wills by iron constraint; nor is the rule of ideas the highest power; but the Divinest force in God is tenderness, and the true signature of omnipotence is love.

II. In its mightiest operation. Rome gathered its forces for destruction. And Paul is thinking of the contrast between the devilish use of human strength which generally attends it, and the Divine use of Divine power which dedicates it all for salvation. Salvation is negatively the deliverance from everything that is evil; positively it is the endowment with every good.

1. Think of the strange audacity of Christianity in calmly proposing to itself such an end as this. People tell us that the gospel idea of men is dark and depressing. Why? but because the gospel can afford to look facts in the face, inasmuch as it knows itself able to overcome all that is evil, and to reverse and supplant it by perfect good. And there is nothing in the New Testament that is more of the nature of a demonstration of its Divine energy than the unruffled composure with which it declares, looking on the ruins that lie round about it, “I have come to set all that right, and I know that I can do it.” And it has done it. I do not know any other religion that would not be laughed out of court if it strode forward and said, “I have come here to abolish all evil, and to make every soul of man like God.” “Well, then; do it!” would be the simple answer; “and if with your philosopher’s stone you can turn the smallest grain of a baser metal into gold, we will admit the claim and believe that the transmutation of the rest is a question of time.” Well, Christianity has done it, and there are millions of people in this world today who will say, “One thing I know, there are a great many things I do not know, but one thing I do: whereas I was blind now I see. Look at my eyes if you doubt it.”

2. This transforming and saving power is clearly beyond man’s ability. It will take God to change a man’s relations to the Divine government, and to hold back the consequences which, if there were no God, by the law of cause and effect, would certainly follow every transgression and disobedience. And it needs no less than God to renew the spirit into a loftier life. And the world knows it, and instead of salvation it talks about reformation, restraint, culture, etc.; all very good in their way, but not going deep enough down into the facts of man’s condition, not being able to lift him high enough up towards the destined good, to be accepted as a substitute for the Divine idea of salvation. There tower the great white summits of the Himalayas; down at their feet stand palaces, temples, porches for philosophers. Measure the height of the one by the other, and you get an approximation to the difference between human efforts upon human society and the Divine design for every soul of man upon earth.

3. This restoring work of salvation is not only exclusively a Divine work, but is the most energetic exercise of the Divine power. Creation is great and Divine. The new creation, which is restoration to more than primeval blessedness and beauty, is greater, inasmuch as it is accomplished not by a word but by toil, sacrifice, and death, and inasmuch as the result is man more truly and gloriously the image of God than was he over whose appearance angels shouted for joy, and God said, “It is good.” It is great to “preserve the stars from wrong,” and to keep the most ancient heavens “fresh and strong,” but the conception of the Divine power that is gathered from those majestic regions where His finger works is low compared with that which flows from the redeeming work of Christ. God never has done, and never will do a mightier thing than when He sends His Son with power to save a world.

III. In its widest sweep.

1. Rome wielded an empire which approached to universality, so far as the world then knew. But Paul has a vision of an empire that overlaps it, as some great sea might a little pond, and sees the Dove of Christ outflying the Roman eagle, and the raven, sin. For to him his Christ is everybody’s Christ; and that which changed him from persecutor to apostle can never have a more obstinate block to hew into beauty.

2. The text may seem to narrow the universality which the apostle proclaims, but not really, For to believe is nothing more than to take the power which the gospel brings. Faith is the belt by which we fasten our else still and silent wheels to the great engine, and the power then begins to drive. You would not say that a universal medicine was less universal because it did not cure people that did not take it.

3. Nay! rather the intention and power of the gospel to save everybody can only be preserved by faith being the condition of its operation. For the condition is one that everybody can exercise, and just because men do not get saved by things that belong to classes it comes about that “not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty after the flesh” are saved. The wise man wants a religion that will give culture its proper high seat in the synagogue. The noble does not like to have his robes crumpled by a crowd of greasy jackets going in at the one common door. And so they turn away because they would like to have a little private postern of their own, where a ticket of a special colour would let them and their friends in. Conclusion: Are you exercising this faith, and therefore saved? You can separate yourselves from the power, notwithstanding the Divine purpose and adaptation of the gospel to everybody. And although God wants all of us to come to His heart, you can, if you will, stand apart. You do not need to do much. Putting your hands behind your back, or letting them hang languidly at your sides, is enough. Not to accept is to reject. You can waterproof your souls, as it were, and so lie there as dry as a bone, whilst all around you the dew of His blessing is refreshing others. Christ’s power received is life; Christ’s power not received is not negatived, but reversed, and becomes death. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The gospel the power of God unto salvation

By affirming this the apostle lays down the fundamental doctrine which he intends to establish against the legalistic pretensions of the Jews. Here are no less than five cardinal terms, keywords, which suggest a five-fold antithesis between Christianity and Judaism. The gospel is--

I. “The power of God”--a hint as to the weakness of the law in reference to salvation. This contrast is brought out fully and clearly in chap. 8:2-4, God Himself is powerless to save anyone righteously except through the gracious provisions of the gospel of His Son, whom He accordingly “set forth to be a propitiation,” etc. (Romans 3:25).

II. “The power of God.” He who wins souls in the presentation of the gospel is wielding a power not human, but Divine; and the resulting justification before God is based, not on the righteousness of man, but “the righteousness of God.” Here we have another antithesis of the apostle’s great theme, which is fully presented in Romans 10:3 and Philippians 3:7-9. The Jews, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” It is only on the ground of merit that law can justify. If, then, a man could merit his acceptance with God, his justification would not be due to the gracious “power of God,” but would rest upon his own inherent goodness.

III. The “power of God unto salvation.” This the law could not accomplish in that it was weak through the flesh, But as regards the very opposite result, condemnation and death, it has, indeed, tremendous power (Romans 7:9-10; 2 Corinthians 3:6-7). Thus the only hope for man is to pass from under a legal system, which can only justify the sinless, to a dispensation of grace which is clothed with Divine power to “justify the ungodly.”

IV. “The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” But the Jew, supposing that he had kept the law sufficiently to stand before God in the strength of his own righteousness, very naturally limited the favour of God to legalistic worshippers, and looked upon all others as inevitably doomed to death without mercy. Now the argument of the Epistle, in dispelling this double delusion, enables us to discern the broad contrast between the universality of grace and the exclusiveness of legalism (Romans 3:21-23). We are again and again reminded that this blessedness cometh not upon the circumcision only, but upon the uncircumcision also; that “the same God over all is rich unto all who call upon Him,” and that, consequently, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

V. “The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” The contrast between the gospel and the law is the significant antithesis of faith and works so extensively developed in this Epistle. The dictum of the law is, “Do this and thou shalt live.” The maxim of the gospel is, “The just shall live by faith.” Doing is the ground of legal justification. Believing is the condition of gracious justification. The radical opposition between these, together with the inapplicability of the former to man as a sinful being, undergoes thorough discussion, especially in chaps. 3 and 4. (Prof. I. B. Grubbs.)

To the Jew first and also to the Greek.--

Our duty to Israel

The gospel should be preached first to the Jews, because--

I. Judgment will begin with them (Romans 2:6-10). Why is this? Because they have had more light than any other people. God chose them out of the world to be His witnesses. Every prophet, evangelist, and apostle was sent first to them. Christ said, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Word of God is still addressed to them. Yet they have sinned against all this light and love. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” etc. Their cup of wrath is fuller than that of other men. Is not this a reason, then, why the gospel should first be preached to the Jew? They are ready to perish--to perish more dreadfully than other men. In an hospital the physician runs first to the worst case. When the sailors have left the shore to save the sinking crew they first help those that are readiest to perish. And shall we not do the same for Israel? The billows of God’s anger are ready to dash first over them--shall we not seek to bring them first to the Rock that is higher than they? Yes, and some of you are in a situation very similar to that of Israel--you who have the Word of God in your hands and yet are unbelieving and unsaved, Think how like your wrath will be to that of the unbelieving Jew.

II. It is like God. It is the chief glory and joy of a soul to be like God. Too many rest in the joy of being forgiven. We should be like God in understanding, in will, in holiness, and also in His peculiar affections; and the whole Bible shows that God has a peculiar affection for Israel (Deuteronomy 7:7; Lamentations 4:2; Jeremiah 12:7). Shall we be ashamed to cherish the same affection as our heavenly Father?

III. There is peculiar access to the Jews.

IV. They will give life to the dead world. A reflective traveller, passing through the countries of this world, and observing the race of Israel in every land, might be led to guess, merely from the light of his natural reason, that that singular people are preserved for some great purpose in the world. There is a singular fitness in the Jew to be the missionary of the world. They have not that peculiar attachment to home and country which we have. They are also inured to every clime; they are to be found amid the snows of Russia and beneath the burning sun of Hindostan. They are also in some measure acquainted with all the languages of the world, and yet have one common language--the holy tongue--in which to communicate with one another. But what says the Word of God? (Read Zechariah 8:13; Zec_8:23; Micah 5:7) (R. M. McCheyne.)

To the Jew first

The preaching of the gospel to the Jews first, served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, as Isaiah 2:3. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed His blood, to whom, after His resurrection, He commanded His gospel to be first proclaimed. It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners, and proved the sovereign efficacy of His atonement in expiating the guilt even of His murderers. It was fit, too, that the gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded and established; and this furnished an example of the way in which it is the will of the Lord that His gospel should be propagated by His disciples, beginning in their own houses and their own country. (R. Haldane.)

The usefulness of converted Jews

A Jewish convert says: “It is a well-known fact that men celebrated as theologians, as lawyers, as teachers of the young, as professors at the various universities of Europe, have been or are converts from Judaism. The late Mr. Fould, the great French finance minister, was a Jewish convert. The late Dr. Neander, the author of one of the most erudite works on the Church of Christ, and professor of theology at the University of Berlin, was a converted Jew. Dr. Crippadorn of Holland, physician to his Majesty the King of Holland, is a converted Jew. The late Dr. Dufosty, one of the greatest poets which Holland has ever produced, and the author of ‘Israel and the Gentiles,’ ‘A Harmony of the Gospels,’ and several other works, was a Jewish convert. Prof. Leone Levi, of King’s College, is a Jewish convert. The late Dr. Alexander, the first bishop of Jerusalem, was a converted Jew; while not less than a hundred and thirty clergymen of the Church of England are converted Jews.” He states further that, in London, there are between two and three thousand Jewish converts, whose conduct, whether as heads of families, as citizens, or as men, is an honour and credit to the churches with which they are connected.


Verse 17

Romans 1:17

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.

Righteousness revealed

I. The gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness.

1. Righteousness is a regard to what is right.

2. God is essentially a righteous Being. He knows what is due from each to the rest, and from all to Himself, and also sees and acknowledges what is due from Him to them. The foundation and standard of all righteousness are to be found in His nature and character. He has no desire, and can have no temptation to do that which is unjust. The Judge of all the earth must do right.

3. He loves righteousness in others, and hates iniquity. Whether we rob God or our neighbours, it is alike abhorrent to Him. He shows His love of righteousness--

4. The gospel is not merely a display of mercy, but of righteousness. He could not bestow forgiveness on sinners in violation of righteousness.

II. The object of the gospel is to raise man to righteousness.

1. Man was at first made upright. In the enjoyment of this righteousness he possessed life. But by transgression he fell. Instantly his understanding was darkened, his conscience perverted, his heart disordered, and his happiness destroyed. He lost his life.

2. God’s purpose in the gospel is to make us again righteous; to deliver us from condemnation and renew our souls in virtue and truth. This is the same thing as to recover us from death to life. By being righteous we live, by being unrighteous we die.

III. Faith, as the instrument of man’s recovery to righteousness.

1. Faith is mentioned in opposition to legal works. We might be righteous if we could keep the whole law unfalteringly and unceasingly. But we have not, and cannot do so. Hence we are shut out from works, and shut up to faith. We cannot acquire a righteousness of our own, but must be content to let God give us one.

2. Faith is not to be confounded with feelings. It may lead to certain emotions of the soul, but it does not consist of them. The object of faith is not to be found within ourselves; it lies without.

3. What, then, is faith?

4. Faith is a noble and worthy instrument of our salvation. It is not to be disdained as inferior to reason. Rather it is reason’s highest and most enlightened exercise. Faith gives reason wings, wherewith she mounts to regions of truth otherwise beyond her reach.

5. Faith is necessary as the means of salvation. It is not an arbitrary condition of salvation, but indispensable in the very nature of things; and, being such, it is all that is demanded, for “whosoever believeth,” whatever else he lacks or hath, “shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (T. G. Horton.)

The righteousness of God

The two statements of the previous verse are here explained and confirmed. The gospel is the saving power of God, because it reveals a Divine righteousness which is itself salvation. The first of these propositions declares to us what gives the gospel its saving property. It has many excellences which may well recommend it. It inculcates a morality which in purity and completeness is unapproached. It presents us with its historical embodiment in a character equally lofty and unique. It contains the noblest and most attractive conception of God which has ever dawned upon the world, while it invests men with a new and unspeakable dignity by bringing life and immortality to light. Yet while all this is true, it remains that what constitutes the gospel saving power is that revelation of righteousness of which the apostle here speaks, Whatever else it may do for you in awakening conscience, in haunting you with an ideal which you have never really embraced, in sobering you with convictions of judgment and eternity, it will not save you unless this righteousness be apprehended. And what in the last resort will it have done for you if it has failed to save you?

I. What, then, is the righteousness of God?

1. The ostensible meaning might seem to be the righteousness which is an attribute of God. But it cannot be said that this in any special sense is a revelation of the gospel, for it was the great theme of Old Testament teaching. Moreover, it is impossible to see how the revelation of it could constitute a saving power. We can understand how it might awaken conscience and deepen the conviction of sin. But this would only make our condemnation more obvious and inevitable.

2. The righteousness of God, as is evident from the quotation in Habakkuk, as well as from other parallel expressions, is the righteousness of which God is the author, which He provides and bestows, so that the man who acquires it becomes thereby a righteous man. Now, this is precisely what we need.

3. Thus understood, it is not difficult to see how the gospel becomes thereby the power of God to salvation. For--

II. The gospel is the saving power of God because it is from faith to faith.

1. This righteousness of which the apostle has spoken is not due to our own works, which do not contribute to it anything whatever. When it becomes ours it is due entirely to faith, which appropriates Christ, and by resting upon Him enters into it and invests us with all its prerogatives. “We are found in Him, not having our own righteousness,” etc.

2. And just as it is due to faith, so also it is designed to produce faith. The more thoroughly its character is understood, the more perfectly its completeness and satisfactoriness in all points is perceived, the more will faith be confirmed. For if anything weakens faith it is just our not being sure of our rightness with God, or of the foundation on which that rightness depends. On the other hand, if the ground of our acceptance be clearly distinguished and seen in its length and breadth in Christ Jesus, we learn more boldly to appropriate the contents of His salvation. Here lies the secret of its power to transform you and lift you up. There is no other sure foothold for us. But this is sure. (C. Moinet, M. A.)

The righteousness of God for justification revealed in the gospel as being by faith

I. There is a righteousness of God available foe sinful men. This righteousness is revealed as a “free gift” of God (Romans 5:16-17), of which they become possessed “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and this, not as a result of their own striving or legal obedience (Romans 10:3; Philippians 3:8-9), but simply by faith in Him (Romans 3:21-22).

1. It is manifest therefore that this “righteousness of God” does not denote--

2. What then is this “righteousness of God”? It is that one righteousness of Christ which He affected for us in His obedience unto death. To establish valid ground for the justification of the sinner, it is obvious that mere innocence was not enough; nor the most splendid achievements of active righteousness. That which law demands, in regard to an offender, is the endurance of penalty. When that has been endured, the law relaxes its grasp, and sets the prisoner free. Then he goes forth justified, so as that he cannot be again legally touched on account of the offences for which he has already suffered. It is quite true that such a righteousness could never be won for himself by a sinful man; for a sinful act in him induces at once a sinful character, and the fact and guilt of sin go on increasing with the progress of his being. Hence, in the Scriptures, the possibility of any man being justified before God on the ground of his own righteousness, however accomplished, is never once imagined. But these Scriptures do maintain that “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of One, the free gift (namely, of righteousness) came upon all men unto (or for) justification of life” (Romans 5:18). But that righteousness is preeminently the righteousness of suffering. Therefore it is written that “He was delivered [namely, to suffer unto death] on account of our offences, and [that having so suffered, and thereby earned the legal claim for our discharge, He] was raised again on account of our justification” (Romans 4:25). This, then, we apprehend, is “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:22). It is this which, being conferred upon believers as a free gift of grace, secures for them the legal ground on which they can be justified. To impute this to them is to put them in possession of that which insures for them a full discharge from all liability to arrest, imprisonment, or punishment on account of their own past offences. In Christ, the demand of the law has been met on their behalf. They were arrested in Him, condemned in Him, led forth to be crucified in Him, suffered the extreme penalty of the law in Him, and are now also “made the righteousness of God in Him.”

II. This righteousness is revealed in the gospel, not indeed exclusively, but specially, preeminently, and perfectly. The righteousness itself, in its true ground and nature, had not been before revealed. Indeed, till the Holy One and the Just had given exhibition of it in His own actual human history, it could not be. Yet, even in the Old Testament times, thus much was known, namely--

1. That no man could, in his own right, claim to be legally justified--he had no righteousness which could command that result; and yet--

2. That some men should, through gracious Divine provision, inherit the rewards of righteousness; righteousness should be imputed to them; they should be justified and treated as righteous (Psalms 24:5; Isaiah 45:24-25; Isaiah 61:10). What constituted that righteousness had not yet been disclosed. It was indeed faintly foreshadowed by those perpetual sacrifices, which could not make the offerers perfect, but without reference to which the plea for mercy could not be successfully urged. This plea failed indeed to supply any solid ground of hope, and yet there was hope, a hope which in some sense was sustained by it (Psalms 51:16-17). But that hope was ever reaching onward into the coming age, for that One who would make an end of transgression and bring in an everlasting righteousness, and whose name was fore announced as “The Lord our righteousness” (Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 23:6). But now, in the gospel of Christ, this Hope of Israel has actually come, and accomplished His work of righteousness for sinners.

III. This righteousness is here revealed to be from faith to faith, or by faith for belief.

1. Of faith, or by faith. Men attain possession of it by faith, and by faith only (Romans 4:16). Hence the protest of St. Paul to the “dissembling” Peter (Galatians 2:15-16).

2. By faith for belief. The righteousness of God, as the ground of justification, is proclaimed to men in the gospel, as being by faith, in order that they may believe and be justified. So the testimony that the faith of Abraham was counted to him for righteousness, had been put upon record, not for his sake alone, but for ours also (Romans 4:23-25). And the whole mystery concerning the righteousness of God is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26).

Conclusion:

1. A salvation grounded in the righteousness of God must, when clearly apprehended, afford an equal satisfaction to reason, judgment, and conscience.

2. A salvation which is by faith is possible to all.

3. Salvation on any other terms would be impossible. (W. Tyson.)

God’s righteousness of faith

It is a “righteousness” because on it the acquittal of accused and sinful men justly proceeds. It is “God’s righteousness” because provided by the Triune God through the human passion of the Second Person. It is “God’s-righteousness-of-faith,” because, in order to our becoming justified by it, faith is the solitary condition. The relation of gospel righteousness is thus expressed by its very name on both sides. As it respects God, it is His, as opposed to its being mine: He is its Author, Achiever, Proprietor. But it comes to me, stands me in stead, is reckoned to me for acquittal “by faith.” This expression stands opposed to another often recurring--“by law-works” (Romans 3:20), i.e., personal acts of obedience carrying with them some merit in God’s sight. If men could accomplish these they would have a righteousness of their own, not God’s, arising out of such “law works.” But in sharp contrast to this self-provided righteousness stands the gospel righteousness provided by Another. Thus the whole of this composite title, “God’s-righteousness-by-faith,” is at every point clean contrary to “Man’s-righteousness-by-works,” and accordingly the apostle through nearly three following chapters endeavours to abolish the latter that he may establish the former, and shut us up to accept it. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)

The righteousness of God

All our conceit about our past righteousness must be completely overthrown. Perhaps we flatter ourselves that all is well, because we have been baptized, or have come to the communion, like one who was visited, a few days ago, by an elder. Seeing that she was sick, and near to die, he asked her: “Have you a good hope?” “Oh, sir, yes; a good and blessed hope.” “And pray,” said he, “what is it?” “Well,” she said, “I have taken the sacrament regular for fifty years.” What think ye of that in a Christian country, from the lips of one who had attended a gospel ministry? Her confidence was built upon the mere fact of her having attended to an outward ceremony, to which, probably, she had no right whatever! There are hundreds and thousands who are thus resting upon mere ceremonies. They have been churchgoers or chapel goers from their youth up. They have never been absent, except under sickness, from their regular place of worship. Good easy souls! if these are the bladders upon which they hope to swim in eternity, they will surely burst, to their everlasting destruction. Some base their confidence on the fact that they have never indulged in the grosser vices; others that they have been scrupulously honest in their commercial transactions. Some that they have been good husbands; others that they have been charitable neighbours. I know not of what poor flimsy tissue men will not make a covering to hide their natural nakedness. But all this must be unravelled--every stitch of it. No man can put on the robes of Christ’s righteousness till he has taken off his own. Christ will never go shares in our salvation. God will not have it said that He partly made the heavens, but that some other spirit came in to conclude the gigantic work of creation, much less will He divide the work of our salvation with any other. He must be the alone Saviour, as He was the alone Creator. In the wine press of His sufferings Jesus stood alone; of the people none were with Him: no angel could assist Him in the mighty work; in the fight He stood alone, the solitary Champion, the sole Victor. So too thou must be saved by Him alone, resting on Him entirely, and counting thine own righteousness to be but dross and dung, or else thou canst never be saved at all. It must be down with Shebna, or else it cannot be up with Eliakim. It must be down with self, or it can never be up with Christ. Self-righteousness must be set aside to make room for the righteousness of Jesus; otherwise it can never be ours. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

From faith to faith indicates

I. The exclusiveness of faith. Faith all in all in a man’s justification. Works not in the account. Not from faith to worlds, but from faith to faith (Romans 3:22; Rom_3:28).

II. The growth of faith. From one degree of faith to another. Advance made in clearness, simplicity, strength.

III. The many sidedness of faith. From one kind of faith to another. From faith which saves to faith for still further blessings. From faith which justifies to faith which sanctifies. From faith of the intellect to faith of the heart. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

The just shall live by faith.

The life of faith. The harmony of the Old Testament teaching and the New

The apostle quotes from Habakkuk, who mourns the vileness and lawlessness around. He foresees as its retribution the rapid and complete conquest by the Chaldeans. He appeals to the character of God; and expresses for himself and the godly in Judaea an assurance of deliverance grounded on God’s character, “We shall not die.” He betakes himself to the watchtower, and awaits the reply of God. In solemn tones God proclaims the destruction of the proud Chaldeans; and declares that while others perish, the righteous man shall live, shall live by his faith. In the Old Testament, as in chap. 3:3, the words “faith” and “faithful” denote, not belief--as almost always in the New Testament--but faithfulness, that constancy and stability of character which makes a man an object of reliance to others. In these words God assumes that faithfulness is an element of the righteous men’s character; and declares that by his faithfulness he shall survive. It is quite evident that this faithfulness arises from belief of the Word of God. Habakkuk 1:12 is an expression of belief. The prophet is unmoved because he leans upon the veracity of God. “Shall live” refers primarily to the present life. The righteous shall escape when others perish. But in this sense the promise is only partially fulfilled. And the incompleteness of its fulfilment in the present life was a sure proof that there is a life to come. Thus in the Old Testament God proclaims in face of the coming storm, that the righteous man will survive by his faith. In Paul’s day God spoke again. In face of the tempest so soon to overwhelm the Jewish nation, and some day to overwhelm the world, God proclaims that the man of faith shall live. Therefore God’s word in the gospel is in harmony with His word to Habakkuk. This harmony, amid so much divergence, confirms the words both of prophet and apostle. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)

The life of faith

1. The soul is the life of the body.

2. Faith is the life of the soul.

3. Christ is the life of faith. (J. Flavel.)

High living

The secret of all living is living by faith. Faith is the Christian’s vital principle. “No man’s religion,” it has been said, “survives his morals”; and it is equally true to assert that no man’s religion survives his faith, for the just shall live by faith, if he lives at all in the higher sense of the word. Other graces may be necessary to his comfort, to his completeness as a man of God, but faith is necessary to his very existence.

1. This faith by which the just are to live is to be in continual operation from first to last. The just shall live by faith, and that not at any one stage of their career, but all the way through, from the moment they leave the house of bondage till they plant their footstep on Canaan’s happy shore. Faith is not to be exercised only occasionally. It is not to be kept for great occasions, or for dire emergencies. It is to resemble not the rushing torrent of Kishon’s brook, sweeping all before it for the time, but the steady flow of Siloah’s quiet waters, which make glad perpetually the city of God.

2. Faith as a principle of living is intensely practical. It is not a garment to be worn on Sundays, but the ordinary workday garb, which we are to wear in the farmyard and the field, in the shop and in the marketplace.

3. This principle of faith is exclusive of every other that may compete with it. There is not a word here in favour of living by feeling. Our feelings are too variable to rely on. Such a one must needs live jerkily, inconsistently, uncomfortably. But, behold, I show unto you a more excellent way. The just shall live by faith. That is a form of living which is not liable to the ebbs and flows incident to a state of emotionalism, for faith fixes on a Saviour who never alters, on a righteousness which is always the same, and on a promise which is forever sure. There is another class who are accustomed to live by experience. The same objection applies here. There are so many ups and downs, even in the best experience, that to build upon it is to build upon a quaking bog. The just have more stable comforts, for they live by faith, and faith walks above experience, singing of heaven’s brightness when earth is dark around her, and boasting of pardon when sin makes itself felt most consciously. When Ralph Erskine lay upon his death bed one of the bystanders said to him, “I hope, sir, you have some blinks of sunshine to cheer you in the valley.” The answer was: “I had rather have one promise of my God than all the blinks of sunshine that ever shone.” “The just shall live by faith.”

4. The faith here spoken of is applicable to all kinds of living. If the just are to live by faith, the faith must be capable of adjustment to every variety of life that the just may be called upon to lead. “We talk of human life as a journey,” says Sydney Smith, “but how variously is the journey performed.” Variously indeed. It is a Pilgrim’s Progress to us all, but to no two pilgrims is the progress the same.

5. But it is time to ask the question, By faith in what?

Faith: life

(text and Habakkuk 2:4; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38):--When the Spirit frequently repeats Himself, He thereby appeals for special attention. A doctrine so often declared--

1. Must be of the first importance.

2. Should be constantly preached.

3. Should be unhesitatingly received by the hearer. We will treat the four texts--

I. As one:

1. Life is received by the faith which makes a man just. A man begins to live--

2. Life is sustained by the faith which keeps a man just.

(a) As a child and as a servant.

(b) As a pilgrim proceeding and a warrior contending.

(c) As a pensioner enjoying, and as an heir expecting.

(a) In joy and sorrow.

(b) In wealth and poverty.

(c) In strength and weakness.

(d) In labouring and languishing.

(e) In life and death.

3. Hearty belief in God, His Son, His promises, His grace, is the soul’s life, neither can anything take its place. “Believe and live” is a standing precept both for saint and sinner (1 Corinthians 13:13).

II. Separately.

1. Habakkuk exhibits faith as enabling a man to live on in peace and humility, while as yet the promise has not come to its maturity. While waiting, we live by faith and not by sight. We are thus--

2. Paul in the text exhibits faith as working salvation from the evil which is in the world through lust. The chapter presents an awful view of human nature, and implies that only faith in the gospel can bring us life in the form of--

3. Galatians exhibits faith as bringing us that justification which saves us from the sentence of death. Nothing can be plainer than the declaration that no man is justified before God except by faith.

4. Hebrews exhibits faith as the life of final perseverance.

Conclusion:

1. What can you do who have no faith? In what other way can you be accepted with God?

2. On what ground can you excuse your unbelief?

3. Will you perish sooner than believe? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Rectitude and faith

The just man is the righteous man--the man who is right--right with God, with man, with his environments, with himself. Faith is what keeps a man right in every department of life. A man can only live rightly as he lives by faith.

I. On what may be called his secular side.

1. Intellectually. Faith is necessary to mental soundness, and to efficient mental work. First principles must be taken for granted; results of previous workers must be accepted. To be ever digging foundations and discussing axioms not only wastes time, but unsettles and enervates the mind, and incapacitates it for healthy work. The just thinker works from established conclusions to first results.

2. Commercially. All business would be at a standstill but for faith--faith in self, faith in others, faith in success. The distrustful man is unjust to himself and all concerned, and eventually dies in bankruptcy.

3. Domestically. Family life is dead where the members distrust each other, but flourishes in full vigour when there is honest and implicit faith between husband and wife, etc.

4. Politically. Where there is no faith in principles, but only a scramble after place and power, political injustice supervenes and political life dies.

II. His spiritual side.

1. As a religious character.

2. As a Christian worker. His is preeminently a work of faith, and only as such can he rightly perform it. He requires faith which--

3. As a Bible student. Faith--

4. As an immortal being. Faith links the future with the present, makes both one, and sets the believer right with both. (J. W. Burn.)

The office of faith

It is not dead: but living and active. It is not something by which we conceive of ourselves as interested in that which is infinitely removed from us. It is the hand by which we grasp the Saviour near to us; making Him, with all His wealth and all His righteousness, our own; so that, in having Him, we become both righteous and rich. It is the tendrils by which the branches of the vine do cling around their all-supporting stem; it is also the common vessels by which, from the root, the sap is conducted to the branches and leaves. It is that system of nerves by which all the parts of the body are consciously connected with the head. It is very artery, the aorta, by which from the heart life is conveyed; so that by its habitual action the very lowest extremities are continually invigorated and warmed. (Wm. Elliott.)

The conversion of Martin Luther

Near the splendid church of St. John de Lateran is the famous Scala Sancta, or Sacred Stair, supposed to have been brought from Jerusalem--the same steps down which our Saviour walked from Pilate’s hall of judgment to the hill of Calvary. These steps are twenty-five in number, made of solid marble, and covered with wood to keep them from being worn away by the knees of the climbing pilgrims. These pilgrims on Easter week come from all parts of the world. They are of different colours, and ranks, and ages, and I watched them beginning to climb this “holy stair,” slowly creeping up, counting their beads, crossing their faces, and muttering their “Ave Marias and Paternosters” as they went. Near the top was a full-sized image of the Saviour made of wood, crowned with thorns, and wearing the marks of His wounds on His temples, and hands, and side, and feet. Around this “image” of Jesus a group, of women were gathered. It was sad to see their pitiful looks and hear their groaning prayers, as they beat their breasts and kissed each wound, from the pierced feet to the thorn-crowned head. Poor people! they were quite in earnest, but they were sadly self-deceived. They thought that for every step they climbed, they received indulgence or pardon for the sins of a year! Therefore, when they reached the top, they thought that sins of twenty-five years were blotted out; so that, taking their average life at fifty, two visits to the Sacred Stair would carry them to the “gates of heaven.” I thought of a noble man--namely, Martin Luther--who, three centuries ago, found the light of the gospel on that same stair. Dressed as a monk, with his shaven head and bare knees, he was creeping up those marble steps, hoping thereby to calm his troubled conscience and work his way to heaven, when all at once the voice of God was heard crying in his soul, “The just shall live by faith.” Obedient to the heavenly voice, he saw his error of trying to earn his title to salvation by his own pains and works; and leaving the city in disgust, he went home to nail his “Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg, and to kindle the fire of the glorious Reformation.

Faith

Now we talk so much in Christian teaching about this “faith” that, I fancy, like a worn sixpence in a man’s pocket, its very circulation from band to hand has worn off the lettering. And many of us, from the very familiarity of the Word, have only a dim conception of what it means. It may not be profitless, then, to remind you, first of all, that this faith is neither more nor less than a very familiar thing which you are constantly exercising in reference to one another, that is to say, simple confidence. You trust your husband, your wife, your child, your parent, your friend, your guide, your lawyer, your doctor, your banker. Take that very same emotion and attitude of the mind by which you put your well-being, in different aspects and provinces, into the hands of men and women round about you; lift the trailing flowers that go all straggling along the ground, and twine them round the pillars of God’s throne, and you get the confidence, the trust of praises and glories of which this New Testament is full. There is nothing mysterious in it, it is simply the exercise of confidence, the familiar cement that binds all human relationship together, and makes men brotherly and kindred with their kind. Faith is trust, and trust saves a man’s soul. Then remember, further, that the faith which is the foundation of everything is essentially the personal trust reposing upon a person, upon Jesus Christ. You cannot get hold of a man in any other way than by that. The only real bond that binds people together is the personal bond of confidence, manifesting itself in love. And it is no mere doctrine that we present for a man’s faith, but it is the Person about which the doctrine speaks. We say, indeed, that we can only know the Person on whom we must trust by the revelation of the truths concerning Him which make the Christian doctrines; but a man may believe the whole of them, and have no faith. And what is the step in advance which is needed in order to turn credence into faith--belief in a doctrine into trust? In one view it is the step from the doctrine to the Person. When you grasp Christ, the living Christ, and not merely the doctrine, for yours, then you have faith. (A. Maclaren D. D.)


Verse 18

Romans 1:18

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.

The wrath of God

I. Its objects.

1. Unrighteousness.

2. Impenitence.

II. Its revelation.

1. In the conscience.

2. In the Word of God.

3. In Divine providence.

III. Its consummation.

1. Certain.

2. Terrible. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

The wrath of God

I. Of a holy God, whose hatred of sin is infinite.

II. Of a just God, who cannot but punish sin according to its true desert.

III. Of an omniscient God, whose eye there is no eluding, who is “greater than our hearts and knoweth all things.”

IV. Of an almighty God, whose ability to punish no created power can resist.

V. Of an unchangeable God, whose nature must continue eternally opposed to sin, whose knowledge no forgetfulness can ever impair, and whose power eternity cannot weaken! “Who knoweth the power of His anger?” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Wrath in God and wrath in man

I. The difference of wrath as it is in God and as it is in man.

1. In man it is an exciting passion. It shakes him to the very centre of his being. It is seen in his countenance; sometimes in a ghastly pallor, and sometimes in scarlet fire. Not so in God; it wakes no ripple on the infinite rivers of His being. He is ever of one mind.

2. In man it is a malignant passion. It burns with a desire to make its object miserable. But there is no malevolence in the heart of God. “Fury is not in Me.” “God is love”; and all His other attributes are but so many forms of His love. All His threatenings are but love raising its warning voice to prevent His creatures from falling into rum.

3. In man it is a painful passion. The man who treasures anger inflicts a greater injury on himself than he can on the object of his hate. But nothing can disturb the peace of the “ever blessed God.”

4. In man it is a selfish passion. Man’s wrath is excited because something has occurred which he supposes injuriously affects him in some way or other. There is nothing of this kind in the wrath of God. No creature can injure Him.

II. The agreement of wrath as it is in God and as it is in man.

1. Repugnance. Wrath in man raises his whole nature against the offence, or the offender, or both. There is at once a recoil, and an antagonism. Is there nothing answering to this in the wrath of God, in relation to sin? There must. Wickedness is repugnant--

2. Retribution. There is in the wrath of man an avenging instinct. There is this retributiveness in the wrath of God. Not as a passion, but as an eternal and unalterable principle. The principle of retribution runs through the whole universe, so that the wrong never fails to meet with punishment. Thus the wicked now and here are “going away into everlasting punishment.” Every sin is a step adown. Every sinful feeling is a nest where the furies hatch their swarming brood.

Conclusion: This subject--

1. Corrects a theological error. The error is that Christ’s death was an appeasement of Divine vengeance. Christ’s mission was the effect, not the cause, of God’s love.

2. Supplies a terrible warning to sinners. “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

3. Urges the necessity of regeneration. The only way to avoid wrath is to avoid sin, the only way to avoid sin is by repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

On ungodliness and unrighteousness

I. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and impiety of men. This description of sinners use the name of God irreverently, in vain, and for criminal purposes. It is a consequence of such impious representations, to arraign the dispensation of Divine mercy by a Mediator, and to become incapable of salvation, by an unrighteous rejection of the best means Infinite Wisdom has appointed for its attainment.

II. The wrath of God is also revealed from heaven against every species of injustice and crime. Under injustice I comprehend every injury done to character and to fidelity, as it respects promises and engagements; and it may be extended to every mean and insidious art by which another is overreached and circumvented.

III. In what manner the judgments of God are made known and executed. Man, by the moral constitution of his nature, is susceptible of various and intense punishment; and his corporeal frame subjects him to another species of it. The constitution of things is adapted to the nature of man, and is either adverse or friendly in proportion to his obedience or disobedience to the laws of his Maker. (A. Stifling, LL. D.)

God’s wrath against wickedness

I. The world’s abounding wickedness.

1. Its exhibition.

(a) The most reckless profligacy of manners.

(b) Abandonment to every selfish and malignant passion.

2. Its guiltiness. It was wilful. Men had the truth, but stifled it in their unrighteousness; and therefore they were “without excuse.” The race began with a sufficiency of Divine knowledge; but it interfered with their bad passions and propensities, and so they resolved to adapt their theology to their base practices. This disposition, started at an early period, was maintained by every succeeding generation. In each age the light diminished; but still in each enough remained to convict the human conscience of wrong. “God left not Himself without witness.” Ever since the creation of the world His “eternal power and Divine supremacy” have been displayed in the material universe. Besides which, other means of religious instruction have always been accessible. Once in Judaism, and since in Christianity, God has maintained a testimony for Himself. Hence the wickedness of the world brings with it an infinite culpability.

II. God’s anger revealed against it.

1. Its mode. This is various. It was declared of old by the prophets. It was displayed in the great crises of the world’s history, as the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the overthrow of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and the downfall of Babylon, etc. Besides, there were the acknowledged miseries of life bewailed by philosophers and poets; could these be pondered by the thoughtful without the conviction that God was “angry with the wicked every day”? Above all there was death. Was it not in His wrath that the Almighty consumed the nations? All these evidences of God’s anger, backed by the internal monitions of every man’s conscience, were patent to all long before the time of Paul, but they had all been cast into the shade by a still mightier and more convincing demonstration furnished by the gospel of Christ.

2. Its burden. The thing revealed is that He hates sin, and is resolved severely to punish those who practise it. Each individual who persists in his iniquity will die, and after death be judged, condemned, and banished into “the outer darkness,” etc. So also there is a day of wrath appointed for the world at large. Conclusion: Let the subject--

1. Convince you of sin.

2. Inspire you with salutary fear.

3. Turn you to the gospel of Christ. (T. G. Horton.)

The revelation of the wrath of God

I. The wrath of God.

1. Its nature. It is no easy thing to speak of wrath in connection with God. Among us it is known to be a passion, and seldom a righteous passion. But it is not a passion in God: “Fury is not in Me”; in Him it is principle, the love of order, a determination to maintain equity, a resolution to punish sin. It results, therefore, from the perfection of His nature. The legislator is not angry when he promulgates his laws, nor the judge when he pronounces sentence. But the case is that society cannot be maintained without laws, and laws are nothing without penalties and sanctions. In all well-ordered countries crime is punished; and can it escape in the empire of a Being who is “righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works”? And this we contend to be essential to the very character of God. We could not esteem nor love Him if we supposed that He viewed equally truth and lies, honesty and injustice, cruelty and benevolence.

2. Its dreadfulness. If “the wrath of a king” be, as Solomon says, as “the roaring of a lion,” what must the wrath of God be? “Who knoweth the power of His anger? Even according to Thy fear so is Thy wrath.” In many cases the evil is far less than the fear; and when the reality comes it is found to be nothing compared with the apprehension. But here the reality will equal, will surpass all imagination.

II. The revelation of this wrath to our very senses.

1. To our faith. This is done by the Scriptures. There hell is naked before it, and destruction has no covering; there faith beholds the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

2. To the conscience. Thus it is revealed in those uneasinesses and apprehensions which attend the commission of sin. When Joseph’s brethren were in the hold, they said one to another, “We are verily guilty,” etc. What was there here to remind them of Joseph? Oh, there was enough. Inhumanity deserves and demands punishment, and conscience knows it. And when Belshazzar saw the handwriting his face gathered terror, the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Why? How does he know but that it is an eulogium upon his character, or an announcement of the raising of the siege, or a prediction of the extension of his reign? There was something within him that foreboded of evil; and the interpreter, therefore, only came in to confirm the exposition of his own feelings. So was it with Herod, who, when he heard of the fame of Jesus, said, “It is John the Baptist.”

3. To our senses. All nature abounds throughout with tokens of God’s displeasure against sin. And before we dismiss this part of the subject we will observe that, while the existence of this wrath shows us the holiness and justice of God, the revelation of it displays His mercy and His grace too. He would not take you sinners by surprise. He has revealed the wrath before that you may escape it.

III. The objects against which this wrath is revealed.

1. Ungodliness. Ungodliness comprehends all the sins against the first table of the law. The ungodly do not fear God, do not love Him, worship Him, confide in Him. God is not in all their thoughts; they practically say unto Him, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.”

2. Unrighteousness. Unrighteousness comprehends all the sins against the second table of the law. Unrighteousness is injustice in your regards and in your dealings with your fellow creatures.

3. All ungodliness, and all unrighteousness--the concealed and the open, the refined and the gross. You do not worship a graven image, but then you take the name of your God in vain.

IV. The class of victims peculiarly obnoxious to it. “Who hold the truth in righteousness.”

1. The heathen themselves never lived up to the light they possessed. This is the charge directly brought home against them by the apostle in this chapter.

2. It was not otherwise also with the Jews, they never practised what they knew. This is the charge the apostle brings against them in the next chapter.

3. There is not a man that lives up to his own principles; he does many things which he knows to be wrong, and he omits many things which he knows to be right. The plea of ignorance therefore can only be admitted in the case of idiots. The original is, “who imprison the truth in unrighteousness”; that is, the truth would speak in them, and struggles to be heard; but it is confined, imprisoned. Fashion, the god of this world, the love of fame, the love of money, the love of pleasure, these are the jailers that confine the truth in prison. Saul knew it belonged not to him to offer sacrifice; his conscience told him, therefore, that it was a sin; he struggled hard, but yielded. “I forced myself.” Herod knew John and revered him, yet for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he sent and beheaded John. It was the same with Pilate.

Conclusion:

1. What then shall we say to the state of many born in a land of light, who have from children known the Holy Scriptures? With what accusing and condemning consciences you have forced yourselves on, you and God only know. I have read of a captain who, when he found his men begin to waver, threw himself on the ground, and exclaimed, “Well, if you will flee, you shall tread me under foot.” Conscience has done the very same with regard to some of you.

2. Let me beseech you to practise what you know. Do you believe that covetousness is a sin? Let the conviction go free; be ready to distribute. If you believe it your duty to make a profession of religion, and to join the Church of God, why, then, go immediately and give up yourselves, not only “to the Lord,” but “to His people,” and be concerned to walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless.

3. Is there nothing else revealed from heaven but the wrath of God? We deserve nothing else; but is there no way of escape from it? We have a revelation of mercy and of grace too. Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. (W. Jay.)

The revelation of wrath

I. It is here assumed, the position being presently fully established, that all men are both unrighteous and ungodly.

1. They are ungodly. For, being the creatures of God, they owe to Him perpetual allegiance and service. Those who withhold this violate their moral obligations, and rob God of His due.

2. They are unrighteous. Indeed, it is hardly to be supposed that it could be otherwise. The more completely men are cut off from the fear of God the less regard do they have for the rights and happiness of their fellows. Besides, the claims of God being first and supreme, there can be no true righteousness where those claims are denied.

II. This being so, what aspect does the administration of the God of nature assume towards ungodliness and unrighteousness. Is it one of complacency? or of indifference? or not rather of active and resolute antagonism? Paul is not here writing of a revelation of righteous wrath which is to be made at the close of human history, but of one which is present and preparatory. It is made openly and incontestably “from heaven.” Not that it comes glistering down from on high as the shaft of livid lightning. When M. Arnold affirms that “there is an eternal Power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness”; and when the Psalmist exclaims that “the face of the Lord is against them that do evil,” they but set forth, in varied form, the truth that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” For heaven is the throne of God; and that throne is but the symbol of His supreme legislative and executive dominion. From that heaven--that throne--the wrath of God is being perpetually revealed--

1. In the human conscience. What but the manifested power of conscience, as an actual revealer of the wrath of God from heaven, gave occasion to the Proverbs, that “the wicked trembleth at the shaking of a leaf,” and “fleeth when no man pursueth”? Why fled our first parents, but that conscience had already revealed a coming wrath? Why that whispering, pallid terror in those ten bronzed Bedouins in the Egyptian treasure city? (Genesis 42:21; Gen_42:12). Why does that agitated man in the temple treasury so vehemently press those officials to take from him his thirty pieces of silver? And why, when he finds that it cannot be recalled, does he hasten away to hang himself? Who knows not that conscience has compelled many a man to reveal secrets of iniquity, from whom no rack or torture could have extorted the disclosure? And though many a guilty conscience becomes so accustomed to its load as to be little incommoded thereby, it requires but that startling touch which Providence may, at any moment, give to cause it to awaken from its slumbers.

2. In the general moral sentiments of mankind--those sentiments as they are exercised in reference to those who invade human rights. It is quite true that, as human nature now is, it is not safe to leave the administration of justice in private hands. Therefore society has combined for the purpose of maintaining private rights by public power. This power for the administration of justice is ordained of God (Romans 13:1-7). And hence the penal laws and all the instruments of punishment are but so many mediums, through which the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

3. In the general course of providence, or of God’s own administration of the universe in reference to men.

4. In the Scriptures. In the Pentateuch the principles of the Divine government, including the revelation of wrath against sin, are clearly set forth. In the prophets those principles are so expounded and enforced as to warn against misapprehension and perversion; while in the historical books, the principles not only receive abundant illustration from God’s actual treatment both of Gentiles and Jews, but the additional information is given, on God’s own authority, that such and such calamities which had overtaken particular men and nations were revelations of His wrath from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the sufferers. By these Scriptures the general truth is established beyond all contradiction, that “verily there is a God who judgeth in the earth”; and that, “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”

Conclusion: But--

1. It should ever be remembered that this revelation of wrath is but preparatory and predictive. It is neither perfect nor universal. Many criminals remain undetected, and, in this respect, unpunished, and sometimes the innocent are wrongfully convicted and punished. The whole effect, therefore, of the present revelation of the wrath of God from heaven is to remind us that we are under moral government; and that all are hastening onwards towards that day in which “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

2. And in prospect of that final retribution, this present revelation of the wrath of God from heaven may prove to us what ample and tremendous powers of punishment are provided for the unrighteous and ungodly. (W. Tyson.)

Who hold the truth in unrighteousness.--

Holding the truth in unrighteousness

The word “hold” signifies “to restrain or hold back.” Under the influence of “unrighteousness” they restrained or held back the truth from exerting its proper power. They laid it, as it were, under arrest, because its imperative dictates were such as opposed the inclinations of their depraved hearts. It is not merely that they kept the truth to themselves--holding it in concealment and captivity, and instead of disclosing to others what they knew, criminally leaving them in error and delusion, which some of the philosophers have justly been charged with doing in regard to the unity and other attributes of the Divine Being; but more generally that both philosophers and others refused to frame their lives even according to such knowledge of truth as they actually possessed, or had the ready means of attaining. They acted towards the truth, in voluntarily resisting its control, and shackling its freedom, as a foolish and unprincipled king does towards his best and wisest counsellor, whom he throws into prison to have him out of the way, resenting his past fidelity, and determined to be no longer troubled with his salutary but unpalatable admonitions. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Holding down the truth

The heathen world would not allow the truth to exercise its proper and legitimate influence upon them. They failed to educate their minds to perceive it, or their hearts to love it. The eye can be trained to discover beauty in the landscape and in works of art; or it may have its very powers of vision impaired and destroyed by gazing at the sun or on the snow. So man, by a holy walk and conversation, may fit and prepare his soul to discern and value the truth concerning the eternal power and character of God; or by unrighteousness he may injure his spiritual faculties and be unable to read the revelation of God, though plainly written in the book of nature. The following are some of the steps by which men keep back the truth:--

1. They are prejudiced against it.

2. They positively hate it.

3. They neglect or misrepresent it.

4. They deny and dethrone it in order to enthrone and exalt falsehood.

5. They revile it. (C. Nell, M. A.)

Repression of God’s truth

Two interpretations: One, that a man may be of unrighteous life and yet have a knowledge of the truth; he holds the truth, but is unrighteous in spite of it. The other, that men keep down the truth by their unrighteousness. Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:6, where the word here translated “hold” is translated “withhold.” We take the latter. Man’s unrighteousness “withholds,” “keeps back,” “represses God’s truth.” This is evidently the view of the revisers of the Authorised Version, for they translate: “Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.”

I. All things demand for their proper development suitable conditions and surroundings. Truth no exception to this rule. We observe that it requires--

1. An appreciative spirit--love for truth.

2. A receptive spirit--openness to truth,

3. An earnest spirit--zeal for truth. Such, and such alone, attain truth; into such minds only will truth enter or come to anything. This with respect to truth generally. Religious truth requires something more.

4. An obedient spirit (John 7:17; Joh_8:31-32).

II. Trust involves a moral element because it does not concern the intellect alone, but regulates the life. The text declares that unrighteousness--sin--represses the truth. This appears from the following considerations: Sin--

1. Destroys the love of truth.

2. Sensitiveness to truth.

3. Zeal for truth.

4. Obedience to truth.

Hence it destroys the conditions necessary to the development and progress of God’s truth.

III. It follows from all this.

1. That a sinner is disqualified for pronouncing upon Divine truth.

2. That our doubts--all scepticism--are finally referable to a sinful nature in ourselves rather than to any inherent difficulties in the truth itself.

3. That the progress of Christ’s religion is hindered not only by outward sin, but by the imperfections and inconsistencies of those who profess it. (H M. Jackson.)

The truth held prisoner

I. What is that truth which men hold prisoner? Religious and practical truth which tends to the right ruling of the heart and life in obedience to the will of God. The truth is two fold.

1. The truth of natural religion, or the dictates of a natural conscience, agreeable to those common notices of good and evil left in man since the Hall.

2. The truth of revealed religion, which comprehends the whole truths of the law and of the gospel also.

II. How men hold truth prisoner.

1. In others.

2. In themselves. This is what the text mainly aims at. It is kept prisoner--

(a) When it is restrained by undue silence. If the Lord call men to bring it forth, silence in that case is a bond laid on truth. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words,” etc. When is truth held prisoner by undue silence?

(i) Negatively, not when one has no sufficient call to bring it forth. “There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” And in discerning these times there is much spiritual wisdom. Truth kept in silence, during the proper time of silence, is not kept prisoner, but entertained in its lodging suitable to its character. “A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” Truth is too sacred a thing to bring forth just to make a show of, and far more to prostitute to men’s lusts and humours. There is an unseasonable venting of truth, by which truth and holiness gain nothing, but lose much (1 Samuel 22:10). Our Lord forbids it. “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”

(ii) Positively, when the honour of Goal requires the bringing it forth (Mark 8:38). When the Lord’s honour is at stake, truth is like a fire that will seek a vent, and get it in a tender soul. Thus speaks Jeremiah, “His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” And it exposes men to the wrath of God, to hold in truth in that case, for that is to sacrifice God’s glory to men’s own interests. Again, to hold it in when the good of our neighbour requires it to come forth, is to hold it prisoner, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” Where there is any probable appearance of sin’s being prevented in others, by means of the coming forth of truth, it is not to be held in, nor can it be so, without the guilt of imprisoning it.

(b) When by words or actions, one holding in the truth, leads another into sin. This is to hold truth prisoner with a witness, shutting the prison door with double bars.

(a) Neglecting, overlooking, and not adverting to it in the management of their hearts and lives. The light shines about them, but they take no notice of it to order their steps by it. This is put the Lord’s candle in them, under a bushel.

(b) Not obeying truth speaking to them in their consciences.

(c) Going on in opposition to known truth, knowing the right and doing the wrong. “They are of those that rebel against the light.”

(d) By overcoming the truth in their war against it. Many a battle there is betwixt truth in the conscience and a man’s lusts, till the man taking part with his lusts against the truth, convictions are murdered, the troublesome light in the soul is put out, and truth is taken and held prisoner, that it can no more disturb the man in the enjoyment of his lusts.

III. Truth is unjustly thus treated, wrongly held prisoner by sinners. This is clear, for that--

1. It is God’s messenger to men and His deputy in the soul, over which they have no power and authority. So that one cannot hold it prisoner but in unrighteousness, or in rebellion against the God of truth.

2. It is never guilty of any crime against men, that it should be so treated. Falsehood and lies are ever contrary to men’s true interest, but the truth is never so.

3. It cannot be held prisoner but for an unrighteous cause, and in favour of some lust or other.

4. A just God will clear it, and set it free at the cost of those who hold it prisoner. “They shall know, saith the Lord, whose word shall stand, Mine or theirs.” If truth prevail not to men’s reformation, it will prevail to their destruction.

IV. To confirm the doctrine. Consider--

1. A person’s treating truth thus is rebellion against God, who is the God of truth and Lord of light. “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.”

2. It exposes men to severe temporal judgments. It was our first parents holding truth prisoner which brought in the flood of miseries on the world (see also 1 Peter 3:19-20).

3. It exposes to spiritual judgments (Isaiah 6:8-10; Romans 1:21-23).

4. It exposes to eternal judgments.

Conclusion: Consider--

1. The evil of it.

It is the putting out of the candle which God in compassion to our darkness has lighted unto us. It is like one travelling through a wilderness of pits, rising up against his guide, binding him and casting him into one of them. Like captives conspiring against their deliverers, or sick men against their physicians, to their own ruin.

2. The greatness of the hazard.

“It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you.” Remember the doom of the servant who knew his master’s will, but did it not. As the sharpest vinegar comes of the most generous wine, so the most fierce wrath comes from the despising of truth revealed to one in the gospel.

3. Set truth free, loose its bands that it may reign freely in your hearts and lives. That is--

(a) It will set you at liberty. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

(b) The way of truth is the way of holiness and happiness. (T. Boston, D. D.)

God’s truth and man’s treatment of it

I. The thing spoken of here as “the truth.”

1. Truth in the spheres of science, literature, art, philosophy, is an object worth attaining. But it is not in reference to such truth that Paul writes. Truth, indeed, is one, in whatever you may find it, whether in geological records or in the Bible. It means universally the reality as opposed to that which is not real. Now we want to know what the reality is in everything that comes before our minds. We want the historian to give us the reality as he narrates for us the events of history. So also in the higher matters of religion. The truth about God and His relation to man; truth bearing upon our duties, destiny--this is our supreme want. That which distinguishes us from the brutes is the possession of a religious nature with its moral capacities.

2. It is only as this religious nature grows that the man himself can be said to truly grow; and this growth can proceed only in connection with religious truth, which is its proper food. Take away light and moisture from the plant, and it dies. So our spiritual being can live and grow only in the light and under the vitalising influence of religious truth. Christ assigns two functions to Divine truth in relation to our fallen humanity.

II. Man’s conduct in reference to “the truth.” It does not get access to the heart, does not get its rightful power and ascendancy; it is checked, hindered, held back in its design to bless by unrighteousness. In what way? Notice--

1. That sin extinguishes the love and desire for the truth. It does not do so in regard to secular truth. The astronomer in his observatory, the chemist in his laboratory, the geologist among the rocks--each in his own way seeks the truth and desires it. But it is very different in regard to “the truth” as it comes to us in God’s Word, and sounds in the conscience. Why?

2. Sin destroys the soul’s sensitiveness to the truth. It weakens the soul’s power of moral perception, beclouds the inner vision. (A. Bell, B. A.)


Verses 18-23

Verses 19-21

Romans 1:19-21

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them.

What acquaintance man can have of God without Divine revelation

Consider--

I. His means of information. Conscience; nature; providence.

II. The extent of his information. God’s natural perfections, eternity, power, wisdom, etc.; even something of His justice, etc.; but nothing of His infinite holiness and mercy. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Ignorance of God is

I. Criminal Because every man has the opportunity of knowing something of Him; is only hindered by his corrupt nature and love of sin.

II. Never total God reveals Himself in the conscience, in nature.

III. A judicial consequence of sin. Sin darkens the heart, eclipses the intellect.

IV. A precursor of final judgment. They are without excuse. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Divine revelation is

I. Limited. “That which may be known”--hence some things may not be known. Do not pry into the mysteries of the Divine existence, futurity, etc., but be humble and contented with what may be known.

II. Sufficient. “That which may be known.” God knows best what this is. Enough has been revealed to make us holy and happy; let us be thankful.

III. Manifest to reason and conscience. Reason approves the contents of revelation as true, and conscience accepts them as good.

IV. Clear. Therefore--

1. Study it.

2. Embrace it.

3. Carry it out. (J. W. Burn.)

The limit of nature’s revelation

Nature proclaims the existence of a God; but concerning what that God is to us, nature is altogether silent. Nature tells us that there is a God, possessed of boundless wisdom and of vast benevolence; but nature’s oracles do not announce that that God will pardon sin. It gives us intimations from our conscience that He is just; it gives us intimations from the mechanism of our frames that He is infinitely wise; it whispers to us from the broad surface of the world we gaze on that He is a benevolent God; but conscience, while it tells us that God is holy, tells us, too, in the tones of a despair that it cannot dissipate, that man is a fallen, guilty, miserable sinner. I ask philosophy, How shall God be just while He justifies the ungodly? I ask of physiology, with all its bright and brilliant announcements, Will God forgive me my sins? I ask of astronomy, as it discloses world piled on world, If amid the brightness and the glory of those stars, if amid the splendour of those ten thousand lamps, it has discovered that there is “a just God and yet a Saviour”? And all nature is dumb; astronomy is dumb; the mechanism of a man’s frame is dumb. Still the great proposition that must be solved before my dying pillow can be peace remains unexplicated, unreconciled, unknown. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Our knowledge of God limited

A young child, who has hitherto fancied that the rim of the sky rests on the earth a few miles away, and that the whole world lies within that circle, sails down the Forth there, and sees the riverbanks gradually widening and the river passing into a frith. When he comes back, he tells his young companions how large the ocean is. Poor boy! he has not seen the ocean, only the widened river. Just so with all creature knowledge of God. Though all the archangels were to utter all they know, there would still remain an infinity untold. (J. Culross, D. D.)

For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen.

Invisible things clearly seen

See here, I hold a Bible in my hand, and you see the cover, the leaves, the letters, the words, but you do not see the writers, the printer, the letter founder, the ink maker, the paper maker, or the binder. You never did see them, you never will see them, and yet there is not one of you that will think of disputing or denying the being of these men. I go further; I affirm that you see the very souls of these men in seeing this book, and you feel yourselves obliged to allow that they had skill, contrivance, design, memory, fancy, reason, and so on. In the same manner, if you see a picture, you judge there was a painter; if you see a house, you judge there was a builder of it; and if you see one room contrived for this purpose, and another for that, a door to enter, a window to admit light, a chimney to hold fire, you conclude the builder was a person of skill and forecast, who formed the house with a view to the accommodation of its inhabitants. In this manner examine the world, and pity the man who, when he sees the sign of the wheat sheaf, hath sense enough to know that there is a joiner, and somewhere a painter, but who, when he sees the wheat sheaf itself, is so stupid as not to say to himself, “This had a wise and a good Creator.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The illustrious manifestations of God and the inexcusable ignorance of men

I. It is more knowable that there is a God than anything else is knowable.

1. In respect of the fulness of being that is in Him. We sooner find out the sun than a lesser light, the sea than a little fountain.

2. In respect of the ways of knowing Him. We come to a more certain knowledge of God--

3. In respect of our relation to Him. We stand nearer related to God than to anything in the world; our souls and bodies are not nearer related than our souls and God (Acts 17:28).

4. In respect of our dependence upon Him, and His conservation of us and cooperation with us. Any man that is in any degree spiritual and intellectual, and not altogether sunk down into sense and brutish affections, seeks in himself foreign suggestions and whispers that direct him better and carry him beyond his own mind and resolves (Job 32:3; Job 35:27).

II. I infer--

1. The excellency of religion. It is no stranger to human nature, nor any of the eminent notable acts of it. Man contradicts his own principles and departs from himself when he falls off from God.

2. The use of reason in matters of religion. In religion there is the natural knowledge of God, and the knowledge of the revelation of His will. In the former we are made to know; in the latter we are called to partake of God’s counsel. In the former we know that God is and what His nature is; and in the latter we know what God enjoins in order to oar future happiness.

3. That there is no invincible ignorance as to the great rights, viz., that God is to be worshipped and adored, and that there is a difference between good and evil. If a man varies from these laws, he contracts guilt to his conscience, and is condemned by the sense of his own mind.

4. That reason is so far from doing any disservice to Christian faith, that it fits men to receive it. For man in the true use of his reason, knowing that he hath not performed his duty to God, reason puts him upon deprecating God’s displeasure, and to think that God, who is the first and chiefest good, will certainly be ready to commiserate the case of him who repents and returns to duty. And this is gospel, that Jesus came into the world to confirm. And taking up the Bible and finding that “God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” Reason says, “This is that I did expect: I did believe such a thing from the first and chiefest good; and now I am assured of it by the gospel.”

5. Since the great things of religion and conscience are committed to reason to keep and secure, why should we think the reason of a man may not be trusted with those things that are of lesser moment.

III. The impious and profane are therefore without excuse. There is a natural sense of Deity in every rational soul; and this is fundamental to all religion. The eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. If men are ignorant, it is through their own fault; either through the neglect of their own faculties, or through an inobservance of the great effects of God in the world, which show and declare what He is. To pursue the argument a little further. The Scripture doth thus represent the state of man’s creation that the proper employment of mind is to inquire after God (Acts 17:27). God did never intend that reason should ever be adjudged to be a hewer of wood or a drawer of water, but for observance of God and attendance upon Him. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.” A candle is a thing first lighted, then lighting; so that mind is first made light by Divine influences, and then enlightens a man in the use thereof to find out God, and to follow after Him in creation and providence. And we find degeneracy is thus described: “They have no fear of God before their eyes.” “Without God in the world.” And it is the fool’s sense that “there is no God.” There is therefore no plea for want of the sense of Deity.

1. No invincible difficulty lies upon any man but that he may come to the cognisance of a God. Not the difficulty of--

2. There are invitations everywhere afforded us to acts of acknowledgment and taking cognisance of God.

3. To speak a little more home, and only to the Christian world. There is God’s superadded instrument, the Bible, which contains matter of revelation from God whereby also our natural notices of God are awakened and enlivened. Being disposed by the two former arguments, this Book gives further assurance. So that here are my three arguments.

Conclusion: Note--

1. The infinite patience of God to endure men of stupid minds, havocked consciences, and profligate lives (Hebrews 12:3).

2. The business of the Day of Judgment is very easy on God’s part, but very sad on degenerate men’s part. For God’s work is prepared to His hands; all sinners are self-condemned.

3. The greatness of the work of reconciliation. A man must be made whole in himself, or else he cannot be kept out of hell. A man cannot be at ease until all that he hath sinfully done be undone, and until right judgment hath been renewed which hath been violently forced, and regular life and conversation be restored. Now these are the materials of regeneration. (B. Whichcote, B. D.)

The doctrine of correspondences

The science of correspondences is little understood at the present day; yet it is in truth the grandest of all sciences. For it is founded on the relation that exists between heaven and earth, between the Creator and His creation. There is nothing existing in the material world, whether of the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom, which does not correspond to something spiritual, as an effect corresponds to its cause. Here is the foundation of what is called figurative writing, in which human thoughts and feelings are described by natural images. Thus we say in ordinary conversation, “bold as a lion,” “cunning as a fox,” etc.; and the Lord Himself is called, in the Divine Word, a Lion, and also, in other places, a Lamb. He calls Himself also a Vine: “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” The Scriptures, indeed, are written throughout according to this science, and it is only by means of an understanding of its laws and principles that we can rightly interpret Scripture. Thus the sun, moon, and stars are all used in Scripture as metaphors or correspondences, and a knowledge of their signification is a key to many singular passages. As for instance, when it is said, “that the sun and moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall fall.” By the sun is here meant Divine love, because love is spiritual heat, of which Divine love is the sole source. Hence the Lord is called the “Sun of Righteousness.” The moon, again, is the emblem of faith, because all the light of faith is derived from love, as the moon derives all her light from the sun. The stars signify the various forms of knowledge in the mind with reference to Divine truth: for as the stars are little points of scintillating light scattered through the sky, so these truths in the mind are as little points of spiritual light, whereby the young Christian may be guided in his dark way, ere yet the brighter light of faith of the glowing sun of love has arisen in his soul. The declaration, therefore, that at the “end of the world the sun and moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall fall,” means, when spiritually understood, that at the end of the Church love and faith should be extinguished, and that even the very knowledge of truth should be lost. Other things also in the visible heavens, or in the atmosphere, as rain, snow, clouds, etc., are all correspondences. Water refers in a general sense to truth; hence rain, which is water falling from the skies, signifies truth descending from heaven into the human mind. As the objects above the earth are correspondences, so are all things upon the earth itself, whether in the mineral, vegetable, or animal kingdom. A knowledge of this will explain innumerable difficult passages in the Scriptures. Let us look first at the mineral kingdom. The Lord says in Isaiah, “For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver.” Brass corresponds to natural goodness, and gold to celestial goodness. Iron, again, refers to natural truth, and silver to spiritual truth. The meaning, therefore, is that when the Lord came to publish the gospel, and to establish Christianity, then instead of only natural or external goodness and truth, which had prevailed in the Jewish Church, He would bring to men celestial and spiritual goodness and truth--in other words, that the Christian Church was to be an internal or spiritual church. Let us now turn to the vegetable kingdom. We know that the olive, the vine, and the fig tree are very often mentioned in Scripture, and frequently simultaneously. The same general meaning is implied as in the case of the metals already explained. By the olive is signified celestial, by the vine spiritual, and by the fig tree natural goodness; for there are three distinct degrees or regions in the human mind. Turn now to the signification of the animals mentioned in Scripture. The Lord Himself is compared both to a lion and a lamb; a lion from the power of His Divine truth, and a lamb from the innocence of His Divine love; for a lion in a good sense signifies the power of truth, and a lamb the principle of innocence. In a bad or opposite sense, a lion is used to denote the power of falsity and its destructive influence in the Church; for false doctrines have a powerful effect in leading men into evil practices. Birds represent generally thoughts and intellectual faculties. Thus where it is said in Jeremiah, “I beheld, and there was no man, and all the birds of the heaven were fled,” the meaning is that the Jewish Church had come to an end; there was no wisdom left, and no thought of spiritual things. From the views here set forth, we learn how all things in nature are representative of things in the spiritual world; how the outward universe reflects, as in a mirror, the inward and unseen, and how the whole creation is an image of the great Creator. (P. Hiller.)

The inexcusableness and unreason of unbelief

The law of manifestation is that there must always be hidden powers and forces adequate to produce the manifestation. The law is worthy of all honour, and commands our reverence; it is the basis of faith in invisible things. Whatever we see is but the face, or expression, which the unseen substance and energy, have made for themselves. If men are dubious about there being an invisible universe behind the veil of the visible, they are mentally and spiritually blind. Our houses, ships, steam engines and whatever is mechanically fabricated are made out of things which appear; but living, breathing organisms could only be evolved by an invisible spirit. Bells on the stem of the lily, the petals of the rose, equally with the constellations of the heavens, could only be played into form by an inscrutable mind. Not only is the visible creation a birth from the invisible; but it is every moment fed and kept alive by the communication and inbreathing of the invisible potency. To scientists who affirm “We can know nothing but phenomena,” I reply we can know, and do know, the invisible world of our affections, of our thoughts a great deal better, and with much more certainty, than we can ever know phenomena. If we speak of an imaginary world, it must be the world that, is outside of us rather than the unseen world of our consciousness. We all know the hidden world of our likes and dislikes, our designs and motives, our hopes and fears, much more indubitably than we can ever know external appearances. Aspirations, reasonings, and intuitions are constantly coming to birth within us, and are very living realities; but they can neither be seen nor handled. Nor can they be ascribed to the solids and fluids of our physical structure. By physical observation a man can no more find himself than he can find God, who is to the universe what man is to the organs of his natural body. Observe that the conclusions of our very knowing, but unknowing, friends empty the universe of all real contents, and the soul of all reverence and hope. Yet it is somewhat instructive to find many of these cold sciolists surrendering and even bowing down the invisible fire of love which they find embodied in woman, and pulsing through woman. Man’s admiration of woman has no adequate ground, nor can it endure, unless she be regarded as a shrine for the love and beauty of eternal God. Suppose a man has actually come to such a conclusion,” and that his” final positivism is, There is no infinite understanding in and over the universe, nor is there any enduring spirit in man”; what in that case has he done for himself and the human race? He has set up reasonless atoms above reason; for he has made them to be the cause of reason. He has exalted icy indifference to the throne of the universe. In effect, he says, “I have searched creation through, and I find everywhere complicated contrivance, realising most admirable results; and from beginning to end law reigns, all-comprehending, but there is no Lawgiver, no supreme Fount of Life, no God and Father of the spirits of men.” Now if that be reason, I earnestly pray that I may be forever and ever void of such reason. The truth is, that men who magnify material forms, above spiritual and personal entities, suffer the penalty in the infatuation of their own minds. Strictly speaking, education is not the acquisition of knowledge from without; but consists rather in awakening and leading out the latent and superior powers which are in the man, that he may be able to correct the conclusions of his outer senses--a work this involving a vastly higher estimate of humanity than the wretched postulate that you can catalogue the contents of a man by the analysis of his physical form. There is a path of entrance to the sacred substance and centre of life; but neither the lion nor the vulture of materialism will ever find it. And let me press the inquiry here: How could there be in nature such a scope for the researches of the human mind, unless she were a revelation of mind? If the heavens and the earth do not show forth the wisdom of God, how is it they are so attractive to mind? And surely, if we admire mind and wisdom in the men, who are no more than appreciative observers, we must much more ascribe mind and wisdom to the originating genius and architect. If mind, and mind only, can read and study the book of the heavens, how is it possible to escape the conclusion that mind, and mind only, could have composed the book? Our friends, therefore, who say that they can discover no evidence of mind in the structure of the universe are, as it appears to us, strangely illogical. We are afraid also that they are answerable for some degree of perverseness. For they treat not the works of man as they treat the works of the Infinite. They see man’s mind in his machinery, and in his manipulation of the forces of wind and water; steam and electricity; but fail to see the Mind of minds in the forces and the laws, the processes and beneficent results of nature. The infinite soul which streams through and through nature, blending with our souls, gives us an intense feeling of at-homeness in the universe. It is our Father’s house and our house. Light, hope, and joy reign in our bosoms. And, by a like law of cause and effect, all human souls who turn to God as the earth turns to the sun, and whose affections attract the Spirit of His love, become absolutely conscious of a new summer in their breasts, which is their heaven begun. We compassionate greatly all blind and paralysed souls who never see what is best worth seeing, and never taste the sublime, the undying human joy. (J. Pulsford.)

The universe a manifestation of God

Some may ask, “What has this to do with our sins and our salvation--with this life or the life to come?” I answer, “Much,” for the root of them all lies in the nature of God and in the state of man; and as we should know more of our own selves if we knew more about humanity, so should we know more about humanity if we knew more of the great truths which God has written upon the tablets of the universe. The beauty of the works of God is one of the most signal manifestations of the Creator’s handiwork, and the recognition of this is one of the purest sources of human happiness, and one of the surest proofs that the universe is a revelation of its God. The reason why I am not sorry thus to touch on this theme is because in these great cities, where we lose nine-tenths of the lessens of nature, we are more liable to be feverishly absorbed in our personal and material interests, and because we should be much purer, wiser, larger-hearted men if we looked more lovingly and thoughtfully at the great works of God. The remedy for much personal sadness, narrowness, irreligious spirit of much that calls itself religion, is that deeper knowledge of God to be found not only in Scripture, but in nature, history, conscience, and the reason of mankind. For them who have the knowledge and the humility to read His awful signature, God has written His name upon the universe.

I. Even the heathen read it there. The mythology of Greece, in its purer and earlier stage, was but an expression of the sights they saw and the lessons they read therein. In Homer, the earliest of Greek poets, we see throughout this cheerful piety. St. Paul himself appeals to the holy lessons which the Greek poets had learnt from the works of God. “We are all God’s offspring”; “God giveth us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”; and, in my text, he argues with the Romans that God was manifest even to the heathen, because “the invisible things of Him,” etc. Many an age had intervened between the early Greek singers and the late Stoic philosophers; yet in them, too, we find exactly the same feeling to the works of God. “All things,” says Marcus Aurelius, “come from that universal power. Everything harmonises with me which is harmonious to thee, O universe! Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring.” Is not this the language in every age of natural piety? And if, in all ages, it has been thus that the best and wisest have interpreted the universe, is not that alone a proof that God meant it to be so interpreted?

II. The scriptures leave us in no doubt upon that matter. Read over Psalms 104:1-35, which has been called the natural theology of the old Jews. It is eminently refreshing, at all times, to turn from the wordy strifes, and petty jealousies, and miserable interests of earth, to these sweet and wholesome truths of natural theology. When God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind to console his sorrows, to revive his sinking faith, He points him to the sweet influences of the Pleiades and the bands of Orion, etc. And is it not thus in our Lord’s own sermon on the Mount? Did not our Lord speak there of the fowls of the air and of the lilies of the field? And does He not draw parables from the simplest objects of nature? Why should He have done so if it were not to show us that this universe is a parable of God?

III. God’s true saints in all ages have not been unmindful of the lesson. They have ever regarded nature as a revelation of God’s awfulness and goodness, of God’s care and love. When St. Anthony was asked how he could exist without books, he replied that to him who read the two books of Scripture and of nature no other teaching was necessary. Take the medieval saints. St. Bernard said that the oaks and beeches of Clairvaux had been his best masters in theology. St. Francis thanks God “for our brother, my lord the sun, and for our sister, the moon, and for the jocund strength and irresistible brightness of our brother, the fire, and for the sweet, chaste usefulness of our sister, the water.” Take the outburst of our own Milton, “These are Thy glorious works, Parent of good,” etc.; and the sweet hymn of the poet-statesman, “The spacious firmament on high,” etc.; and the touching story of the dying Livingstone, revived into the effort which saved his life by seeing there, in the African desert, the little tuft of moss, and thinking that if God could water that little beaming moss, and keep it moist with the dew and bright with the sunshine, He surely would care for him.

IV. And this also has ever been the attitude of all true science. It is the attitude of Bacon, praying that after labouring in God’s works with the sweat of his brow, God would make him partaker of His rest and Sabbath. It is the attitude of Faraday, worshipping Sunday after Sunday in his little, quiet Dissenting chapel. It is the attitude of Linnaeus falling on his knees under the open sky to thank God for the unspeakable beauty of fields, golden in the sunshine with a summer gloss.

V. And such, also, is the intuition of genius. The great poets, painters, musicians of this and the close of the last century, seem to have been specially commissioned to interpret nature to man. Who that has heard the thrilling jubilance of the “Creation,” has not seen, as it were, a new door opened into heaven--has not been drawn nearer to the presence chamber of God? To Wordsworth it was given to make others feel that “the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” To Turner it was given to perpetuate the most transient glories of nature, and the scenes he painted became an apocalypse of the splendour and the meaning of the world. The greatest thing which Ruskin’s writings have done for us has been to show us how all creation testifies to its God, and that we miss the happiness which His mercy has provided when we fail to trust Him, and to learn of Him as we drink in the delights of the hearing ear and the seeing eye. Conclusion: Believe me, it is often the most humble and obvious arguments which are most irresistible; and the simple earthwork stops the cannon ball which shatters the buttress into dust. Once when the great Napoleon was sailing to Egypt, he sat on the deck with a circle of distinguished savans around him, who were openly boasting of their infidelity. He listened in silence; but as he rose to leave them, he raised his arm towards the starry canopy of night, and he asked them the simple question, “It is all very well to talk, gentlemen, but who made all those?” And if this natural conviction has been shaken in some minds by the pride of science, it has, as we have seen, been simultaneously intensified in others; and that is why the great painters, and poets, and musicians have not only saved many of us from being crushed by the revelations, or inflated by the discoveries, of science; but, pouring on every realm of nature a flood of Divine illumination, they have opened our eyes to beauties before unnoticed, and filled our souls with melody, which heaven only can excel. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

God in nature

I. Wherever we see a change, we are forced by the very constitution of our mind to believe that it had a cause. If we see a plant growing today where there was none a short while ago, we conclude that some hand has planted it there. If we feel pain we at once ascribe it to some cause, and immediately set about to discover what it is. And so with every change. I take the book geologists have opened for me, and I find there that innumerable changes have passed upon our globe. Science takes us back to a time in its history when there was no life upon it. Nothing, therefore, is more certain than that life had a beginning on our globe. What produced it? The most distinguished scientific men have to confess that there is a gulf here which they cannot bridge. “The present state of knowledge,” says Professor Huxley, “furnishes us with no link between the living and the not-living.” “I am,” says Sir W. Thomson, “ready to adopt, as an article of scientific faith, true through all space and through all time, that life proceeds from life and nothing but life.” So far, then, as science is concerned, the origin of life remains a mystery. “Give me matter,” said Kant, “and I will explain the formation of a world; but give me matter only, and I cannot explain the formation of a caterpillar.” I contend, therefore, that the existence of life on our globe proves its origination by a living Being.

II. Wherever we see order, we see an evidence of mind.

1. When we see that changes have been produced through which there runs a principle of order, we are compelled, by the very constitution of our nature, to say, Here is not only a power which causes these changes, but one which has intelligence.

2. Now, when we turn to nature, we find order everywhere. There may be much in the world of which we do not know the precise use, except that of ornament. The architect who planned this building designed much which was not needed, except to please the eye. And so, in the works of nature, we find precisely the same thing. As Professor Le Comte puts it, “The law of order underlies and conditions the law of use”; and he illustrates this in the following way.

(a) Number. You find seven bones in the vertebrae of the neck of all mammalia, whether the neck be short or long.

(b) Colour. Seldom or never are the two primary colours, blue and red, found on the same organ, or in contact on the same plant. Every dot in the flower comes in at the proper place, every tint and shade and hue is in accordance with all that is contiguous to it.

(c) Form. All minerals crystallise in certain forms, and every living object, though composed of numerous parts, has a definite shape as a whole, and a normal shape for each of its organs.

3. But all this, we are told, is the result of evolution, in which force is revealed but mind dispensed with. But evolution only describes a process, and does not account for it. It is not enough to point to force as the explanation; it may account for change, but not for order. Force throws no light upon the evolution of protoplasm now into a fish, now into a bird, and now into a man. The prevalence of order is the “reign of law”; and the “reign of law” is the reign of mind.

III. In the arrangements and adaptations to ends which we find in matter we have also the evidence of mind.

1. Take the simple illustration of a rude hut. The materials are so placed and adapted that you have not only order, but a useful end; you have a contrivance, an evidence here of design, and this means that you have here a proof of mind. Or take the steam engine. There you have iron, water, coal, and fire; but observe how they are arranged. The iron is so disposed as to furnish a receptacle for the water, and a chamber into which coals can be put and lighted. You have also cylinders, pistons, connecting rods, and wheels. And then the connection of all the parts is such that, when the coals are lighted, the water is changed into steam, which gives motion to piston, rod, and wheel, and sends the engine along its track, or propels the vessel over the ocean. No mere shaking of coal, iron, and water, for any period, however lengthened, and by any forces, however mighty, could ever have resulted in forming such an engine. No union and adjustment of them, such as we have, could have been brought about by mere chance. This adaptation and arrangement of different elements of matter, so as to accomplish this end, the production of motive power, required mind, ay, and vastly more of it than the construction of a rude hut.

2. Now, let us turn to the works of nature, and we shall see that whether we look to earth, or ocean, or sky, or man, we meet everywhere with arrangements for distinct ends, which reveal the highest intelligence, and not only constrain belief in the Divine existence, but rouse to admiration and praise.

(a) Its chemical elements are being constantly abstracted in the vital processes of vegetable and animal; but what the one consumes the other supplies; and so, by this and other arrangements, the balance of elements in the air is maintained, otherwise it would become unfit to support life.

(b) Look at it us the medium for the diffusion of light and heat and sound. If we had no atmosphere, then, while every object on which the sun’s rays fell would dazzle us by its brightness, everything else would be in the deepest darkness. Nor could we hear, for the air is necessary to the transmission of sound. Nor could the heat of the sun’s rays be retained and diffused without an atmosphere.

Nature’s revelations overlooked in their commonness

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. (R. W. Emerson.)

God seen in the order of nature

A clergyman asked an old negro his reasons for believing in the existence of a God. “Sir,” said he, “I have been here going hard upon fifty years. Every day since I have been in this world, I see the sun rise in the east and set in the west. The north star stands where it did the first time I ever saw it; the seven stars and Job’s coffin keep on the same path in the sky, and never turn out. It ain’t so with man’s works. He makes clocks and watches: they may run well for a while; but they get out of fix, and stand stock still. But the sun and moon and stars keep on the same way all the while. There is a power which makes one man die, and another get well; that sends the rain, and keeps everything in motion.”

The existence of God

I. Grounds of belief in the existence of God. God reveals Himself--

1. By the works of nature.

2. In providence.

3. In the Scriptures. Here we have the portraiture of His moral character.

4. To the soul by His Spirit.

II. Improvement. This doctrine lies at the foundation of all religious truth. This established, and the most important inferences follow.

1. To the impenitent hearer. If there is a God, He is your Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer; and you are under infinite obligations to serve and obey Him.

2. To Christians this doctrine is the source of great consolation. If there is a God, the Christian’s hopes are all safe; death loses its terror, and the bright visions of heavenly bliss are a glorious reality. (N. Rounds, A. M.)

The existence of God; evidence for

Basil called the world a school, wherein reasonable souls are taught the knowledge of God. In a musical instrument, when we observe divers strings meet in harmony, we conclude that some skilful musician tuned them. When we see thousands of men in a field, marshalled under several colours, all yielding exact obedience, we infer that there is a general, whose commands they are all subject to. In a watch, when we take notice of great and small wheels, all so fitted as to concur to an orderly motion, we acknowledge the skill of an artificer. When we come into a printing house, and see a great number of different letters so ordered as to make a book, the consideration hereof maketh it evident that there is a composer, by whose art they were brought into such a frame. When we behold a fair building, we conclude it had an architect; a stately ship, well rigged, and safely conducted to the port, that it hath a pilot. So here: the visible world is such an instrument, army, watch, book, building, ship, as undeniably argueth a God, who was and is the Tuner, General, and Artificer, the Composer, Architect, and Pilot of it. (J. Arrowsmith.)

No effect without a cause

A man of talent was supping one evening with some atheists. The philosophers spoke of their denial of the existence of God, but he remained silent. They asked his opinion, and while they were speaking the clock struck. He answered them by pointing to the clock and saying, “Clocks do not make themselves.” (A. G. Jackson.)

So that they are without excuse; because that when they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.--

Natural religion, without revelation, sufficient to render a sinner inexcusable

I. The sin here followed--Idolatry. “They glorified not God, as God,” which general charge is drawn into particulars: as, that they “changed His glory.” etc. (Romans 1:23); where, by glory, he means God’s worship; that by which men glorify Him, and not His essential glory, which is not in men’s power to change or debase. Note that the persons charged with idolatry are affirmed to have known and worshipped the true God. From whence it follows that they did not look upon those images, which they addressed, as gods. So idolatry is a worshipping the true God in a way wholly unsuitable to His nature--viz., by the mediation of corporeal resemblances of Him. For the defence of which no doubt but they pleaded that they used images, not as objects of worship, but only as instruments by which they directed their worship to God. But the distinction, which looks so fine in the theory, generally miscarries in the practice; especially where the ignorant vulgar are the practisers.

II. The persons charged with this sin. The old heathen philosophers, who “professed themselves to be wise.” Their great title was σοφοί, and the word of applause, still given to their lectures, was σοφῶς. Pythagoras was the first who brought φιλόσοφος down to φιλόσοφος, from a master to a lover of wisdom, from a professor to a candidate. These grandees and giants in knowledge looked down upon the rest of mankind, and laughed at them as barbarous and insignificant, yet blundered and stumbled about their grand and principal concern, the knowledge of their duty to God, sinking into the meanest and most ridiculous instances of idolatry--having confessed a God, and allowed Him an infinite power and an eternal Godhead, they yet denied Him the worship of God. Had the poor vulgar rout only been abused into such idolatrous superstitions, it might have been detested or pitied, but not so much to be wondered at: but for the stoa, the academy, or the peripaton to own such a paradox; for an Aristotle, or a Plato, to think their Eternal Mind, or Universal Spirit, to be found in the images of four-footed beasts; for the Stagirite to recognise his gods in his own book, “De Animalibus,” this, as the apostle says, was “without excuse.”

III. The cause or reason of their falling this sin: their holding of the truth in unrighteousness.

1. What was the truth here spoken of? There were these six great truths, the knowledge of which the Gentile philosophers stood accountable for: as--

2. These truths they held in unrighteousness.

IV. The judgment, or rather the state and condition penally consequent upon the persons here charged by the apostle with idolatry: “they were without excuse.” The last refuge of a guilty person is to take refuge under an excuse, and so to mitigate, if he cannot divert the blow. It was the method of the great pattern and parent of all sinners, Adam, first to hide, and then to excuse himself. But now, when the sinner shall have all his excuses blown away, be stabbed with his own arguments, and, as it were, sacrificed upon that very altar which he fled to for succour; this, surely, is the height and crisis of a forlorn condition. Yet this was the ease of the malefactors who stand here arraigned in the text; they were not only unfit for a pardon, but even for a plea. An excuse imports the supposition of a sin, and--

1. The extenuation of its guilt. As for the sire itself, we have already heard what that was, and they could only extenuate it on the ground either of ignorance or unwillingness. As for unwillingness, the philosophers generally asserted the freedom of the will, which, in spite of the injury inflicted by sin, has still so much freedom left as to enable it to choose any act in its kind good, as also to refuse any act in its kind evil. This is enough to cut off all excuse from the heathen, who never duly improved the utmost of such a power, but gave themselves up to licentiousness. The only remaining plea therefore must be that of ignorance, since there could be no pretence for unwillingness. But the apostle divests them even of this also (verses 19, 21).

Conclusion: Note--

1. The mercy of God to those to whom He has revealed the gospel, since there was nothing that could have obliged Him to it upon the account of His justice; for if there had, the heathens, to whom he revealed it not, could not have been thus without excuse.

2. The unspeakably deplorable condition of obstinate sinners under the gospel. The sun of mercy has shined too long and too bright upon such, to leave them any shadow of excuse. (R. South, D. D.)

Sin without excuse

How fearful an evil is sin! Its nature precludes all apology for it. And yet all men “with one consent make excuse.” Apt scholars of the first apologist! Adam and his fallen race, rather than condemn themselves on account of transgression, will venture to charge the Holy One with the occasion of it. Many lines of Scriptural argument might be adduced to show the inexcusableness of sin. But we know of none more answerable than that of the text--man’s impiety and ingratitude. Take the case of--

I. The first silence. Whatever was the occasion of Satan’s sin, the text gives a clue as to its nature. “The first estate” of the fallen angels was doubtless one of extensive knowledge. In their present condition what craft, what subtlety do they display! And yet angels were made to live even in His unveiled presence--to know Him, to love, serve, and glorify Him. But from some unrevealed cause, their knowledge did not beget humility, their surprising privileges did not ensure gratitude; whilst standing before “the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity,” they were “lifted up with pride,” and rebelled against Him. And God, who created them and had blessed them, spared them not, and “they are without excuse; because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.”

II. Our first parents. Their nature was one degree lower than that of the angels. They were created after the image of God in holiness and happiness. What bounds could have been fixed to that mind which held daily converse with God? What privileges were there! The body and soul united in blissful harmony, and both united in the God of love! But notwithstanding, impiety and ingratitude were the sin and ruin of Adam! He credited the word of “the father of lies” before the word of the God of truth. Ambition made him forget his privileges. And “they were without excuse, because that,” etc.

III. The heathen. The apostle proves that though they are ignorant of the revelation of grace (and they will not be condemned for rejecting that which was never offered to them), yet they cannot be ignorant of the revelation of nature. The present awful and ruinous state of the heathen has arisen from the depravity of human nature; the love of sin, and consequent hatred of holiness. They abused their privileges, “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

IV. The jews. What nation was ever so blessed as they! Raised from obscurity to The dignity of a theocracy, they passed on from one degree of glory to another, till the Lord of glory appeared as “the King of the Jews.” And notwithstanding all this, impiety and ingratitude were the sin and the ruin of Israel.

V. Nations professing Christianity. Have we not known God. Are we not blessed by Him with extraordinary and peculiar privileges? To what modern nation has God revealed Himself so signally as the God of love has unto us? And how great our temporal prosperity, and our influence and power over the whole world! Such are our privileges. And what use do we make of them? If we “know God,” by what national acts do we “glorify Him as God”? Does He receive the glory due unto His holy name in the calm deliberation of our senators? Is His Word alone the acknowledged and the supreme rule of faith and practice? Is truth and piety upheld and protected, and are falsehood and idolatry trampled under our feet? Alas! if our candlestick were removed, we are “without excuse, because that,” etc. (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)

Inexcusable irreverence and ingratitude

After a missionary had gone into a certain part of Hindostan, and had given away New Testaments, a Hindoo waited upon him, and said, “Did you not write that first chapter of Romans after you came here?” “No; it has been there nearly two thousand years.” “Well, all I can say is, that it is a fearfully true description of the sin of India.” However, I am not going to talk about Hindoos; they are a long way off. I am not going to speak about the ancient Romans; they lived a couple of thousand years ago. I am going to speak about ourselves, and about some persons here whom my text admirably fits. Here is--

I. Want of reverence. “They knew God,” but “they glorified Him not as God.”

1. Many never think of God. Whether there is a God, or not, makes no practical difference to them; if we could prove that there were no God, they would feel easier in their consciences. “Well,” says one, “I do not care much whether there is a God or not; I am an agnostic.” That is a Greek word, is it not? And the equivalent Latin is “Ignoramus.” I could not bear robe an “ignoramus or an “agnostic about God! I must have a God. He is to me as necessary as food to my body, and air to my lungs. The sad thing is, that many who believe that there is a God yet go from the beginning of the week to the end of it without reflecting upon Him at all.

2. Have no right conceptions of God. The true conception of God is that He is all in all; and unless we treat Him as such, we have not treated Him as He ought to be treated.

3. Some who think of God a little, but never offer Him any humble, spiritual worship. Do not imagine that God can be worshipped by anything which is merely mechanical or external, but which is not from the heart.

4. There are those who do not obediently serve Him--for they are the servants of themselves; and there is no master more tyrannical than unsanctified self. But, remember, if the Lord be God, and He made us, we are bound to serve Him.

5. They do not trust Him. The place for man is under the shadow of God’s wings, but you run to your neighbours as soon as ever you are in difficulties.

6. They did not seek to commune with Him. It is a very sad business when a boy who has been at home with his father and mother for years has never spoken to them.

7. They do not want to be reconciled to Him.

II. Want of gratitude. I cannot say anything much worse of a man than that he is not thankful to his benefactors; and when you say that he is not thankful to God, you have said about the worst thing you can say of him. I will prove ingratitude on the part of many.

1. God’s law is despised. God has taken the trouble to give us this map of the way, and to direct us in the only right road; yet some have gone directly in the teeth of it; in fact, it looks as if the very existence of the law is a provocation to them to break it.

2. God’s day is dishonoured. God has, in great mercy, given us one day in seven wherein to rest, and to think of holy things. He said, “Take six, and use them in your business. No, we must have the seventh as well.”

3. God’s book is neglected. Was there ever such a book, so full of wisdom, and so full of love? But there are many who do not take the trouble to read it. A father’s love letter to his son, and his son leaves it unread!

4. God’s Son is refused. Ingratitude, thou hast reached thy utmost limit now.

5. God’s deliverances are forgotten. Some years ago I spoke with a soldier who rode at Balaclava; and when he told me so, I took him by the hand; I could not help it, though he was a stranger to me. The tears were in my eyes, and I said, “Sir, I hope that you are God’s man after such a deliverance as that.” But I did not find that he had given his heart to Christ. Over there is a man who has been in half a dozen shipwrecks; and if he does not mind, he will be shipwrecked to all eternity! One here has had yellow fever. Ah, sir, there is a worse fever than that on you now I

6. God’s providences are ignored! Some of you, from your childhood, have had all that heart could wish. Should God not have some gratitude from you? But one says, “I have had good luck.” Here is unthankfulness to God indeed, when you ascribe His gifts to “good luck.” “Well, you know, but I have been a very hard-working man.” I know you have, but who gave you the strength for your work?

7. God’s Spirit is resisted.

III. This irreverence and ingratitude were against knowledge. “When they knew God.” Notice--

1. Knowledge is of no use if it does not lead to holy practice. It was no good to them to know God, for “they glorified Him not as God.” So, my theological friend, it does not matter what you think, or know, unless it leads you to glorify God, and to be thankful.

2. Knowledge will increase the responsibility of those who are irreverent and ungrateful. Whatever excuse might be made for those who never heard of God, there was none for these people. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

False and faulty conceptions of God

1. To right hearts, a study of God’s character both attracts and repels. The attractive influences are our need of God, our thirst after Him, and the curiosity of our natures. And yet no sooner do we approach the consideration of His appalling greatness and spotless purity, than we shrink back under an oppressive sense of our demerit. Only sanctity of heart can give the power of apprehending this subject needs.

2. Our age is preeminently one of criticism and reconsideration. Every theory of science and theology is being put into the crucible. We have no anxiety about the final issue. Nothing will be lost but the dross. But this fact should not become a couch on which our indifference reclines, but rather an inspiration to us to defend the truth. Between the Bible representation of God and the God of much modern thought there are sad discrepancies. Error can change its form without disappearing. If heathens have had a god made with their own hands, modern thinkers have one cast in the mould of their wild imaginations. They may revolt at the idea of bowing before an idol; but they conceive a Deity lacking the qualities essential to the nature of Jehovah, such as righteousness, justice, and grace.

3. There are many reasons why we should seek to have right conceptions of God.

I. False conceptions of God. The most prevalent of these are--

1. Pantheism which teaches that the universe is God, and that God is the universe. This, of course, denies His distinct existence, and affirms that God has neither intelligence, consciousness, nor will. He is not a personality who can say “I,” or be addressed as “Thou.” What a man would be without faculties and without consciousness, that, say they, is God without the universe. The destiny of the human soul, according to Pantheism, is its absorption into the Infinite. And, as we may well suppose, its effects have been, and still are, disastrous. It destroys all distinctions between good and evil, for they are alike the operations of God. Sin is no barrier to intercourse with God. Self is deified, for the soul is part of the Divine essence. The drapery and sophistry of this form of religion deceive the imagination and captivate the minds of some. But there will come a time when all hearts will be sick of it. The heart yearns for a personal Father to whom it can carry its burdens and tell its griefs. But that Father is not found in Pantheism, but in the personal, self-existent, glorious God of the Bible.

2. The mechanical conception of God is very different, but little less revolting. According to this “God is”--as Carlyle has worded this theory, “an absentee, sitting, ever since the first Sabbath, on the outside of His creation seeing it go.” God is only present in the world by the agency of law, and law acts through the agency and tendencies of matter; while the Lawgiver Himself is, to use Martineau’s words, “a remote and retired mechanician, inspecting from without the engine of creation, to see how it performs.” Those who thus believe seem to leave the character of God with no other perfection than that which belongs to a great first cause, or an Almighty contriver “too vast to praise, too inexorable to propitiate, with no ear for prayer, no heart for sympathy, no arm to save.” They believe in law, and that is all they do believe in. Poor mortals! We are fed, preserved, and nurtured from the cradle to the tomb by machinery. We do not hesitate to pronounce this conception of God to be false. The world is not a mere machine. Natural law is but the omnipresent expression of God’s will. Law does not govern, but God--by means of law. Instead of God being “an absentee,” “He is not far from any one of us,” etc.

3. The poetic view of God has been propagated, by sentiment and imagination, influenced and guided largely by an unsanctified heart. A few of God’s attributes are admired, but the stern integrity of His nature is forgotten. With these dreamers God is not principle, but sentiment. As to how the great Lawgiver is to act towards a broken law these visionaries never trouble themselves. The King of kings may reign, but He certainly does not govern. But such conception is false. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still lives, and, as ever, He has thunderbolts as well as tears. He awards and avenges. Holiness and heaven, sin and hell, He has linked together with indissoluble chains. The Judge is not lost in the Father nor the Father in the Judge.

II. Faulty conceptions of God, i.e., defective, fragmentary.

1. Perhaps there are few of us but have faulty conceptions of God.

2. How are we to avoid these mistakes?

The sin of not glorifying God

I. What is it to glorify God?

1. Negatively.

2. Positively.

II. What is it to glorify God as God?

1. To acknowledge Him to be God.

(a) Maker (Genesis 1:1-31)

(b) Preserver (Acts 7:28).

(c) Governor (Psalms 75:6; Matthew 10:29-30).

(d) Redeemer (Psalms 47:41).

2. To fear Him as God.

3. To hope in Him (Psalms 27:1; Psa_46:1-2) as an all-wise, almighty, all-gracious and all-faithful God.

4. To rejoice in Him (Philippians 4:4) as reconciled in Christ, and a soul-satisfying God in Himself.

5. To desire Him as one without whom we cannot but be miserable, and in whom we cannot but be happy.

6. To love Him as the chief Lord in Himself (Luke 18:19), and as the fountain of goodness in His creatures.

7. To worship Him only, and in spirit and in truth.

8. To serve Him alone, in all things, so as to do all to His glory (Isaiah 42:8; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

III. How does it appear to be a sin not to glorify God as God?

1. God here accuses the Gentiles of it, and blames them for it.

2. Not to glorify God as God is not to glorify Him at all.

IV. Who are guilty of this sin?

1. Such as do not acknowledge there is a God (Psalms 14:1).

2. Such as do not know the Lord they acknowledge.

3. Such as know Him, but do not glorify Him.

4. Such as glorify Him, as they think, but not as God and these are--

Conclusion:

1. You know God; you know that He is an all-knowing and all-powerful God, that He is the chiefest Good, most merciful and gracious, and that He will bring all things into judgment, and yet you do not live up to this knowledge, and therefore do not glorify Him as God.

2. Examine whether you have not been guilty of this sin, humble yourselves for it, and then reform it. Consider--

God dishonoured by the heathen

They did not render to Him the honour that was His due; cherish towards Him those tempers of mind which became His creatures, or express the sentiments of devotion in worship befitting His nature and character. They forgot His unity, and gave Him not exclusive adoration; they lost sight of His spirituality, and instead of worshipping Him “in spirit and in truth,” imagined Him to be gratified with what pleased the sensual appetites of corporeal beings; the impression of His infinite though unseen majesty (the majesty of eternity, immensity, omniscience, and omnipotence) being effaced from their minds, their homage was no longer that of “reverence and godly fear”; and, letting slip the remembrance of His infinite and irreconcilable separation from all evil, they served the God of light with the works of darkness, the “Holy One” with the mysteries of iniquity and impurity. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Ingratitude to God

Why are men unthankful to Heaven?

I. Is it because heaven does not bestow favours on men? There can be no gratitude without favours. What has God given us? Existence, the world, His blessed Son. Were He to withdraw from us all that He has given, we would have nothing left, and be no more. Ingratitude to man is bad; but to God it is infinitely worse, for the greatest favours we receive from men are only borrowed from Heaven, and are mean, and few in comparison with what God bestows.

II. Is it because those favours are deserved? Great favours have not power in themselves to generate gratitude. The recipient must feel that he has no claim whatever to them. He who gives me that which I feel to deserve will fail to inspire with thankfulness by that act.

III. Is it because God is not free in their bestowment? If I know that a man is constrained to bestow a favour, his gift will fail to inspire me with thankfulness. I care not how valuable his gift, nor how greatly it may serve my interest; the feeling will destroy the possibility of gratitude.

IV. Is it because he is not disinterestedly kind in giving? If in the man who bestows on me a favour I discover indifference or selfishness, I can feel no thankfulness, however valuable the gift may be. Conclusion: Ingratitude to God is not only without all reason, but against all good reason. It is the basest of all vices, and lies at the root of nearly all the evils of life. “As the Dead Sea,” says an old author, “drinks in the river Jordan, and is never the sweeter, and the ocean all other rivers, and is never the fresher, so we are apt to receive daily mercies from God, and still remain insensible of them, unthankful for them. The rain comes down from heaven in showers; it goes up but in mists.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Ingratitude

Ingratitude is here reckoned among the fatal steps taken toward degradation and toward gross impiety. The whole world agree to consider that nature base which is not moved by substantial kindness. All agree, too, that gratitude is a manly and noble quality. There is a great difference in this affection. There are some natures that take but the slightest favours to make them exhale thanks and gratitude. There are others that require much. Gratitude works also with different degrees of expression. In some, favours are very soon forgotten. In others, never. With some, gratitude is like the new-fallen snow, exquisite; but, like it, it very soon dissolves and passes away. With others, gratitude is like the diamond, once formed, hard and enduring, brilliant, and from every facet sending radiance. In some, gratitude excites uneasiness and unrestfulness till in some way it can discharge obligation. In others, there is no such thing as discharging the obligation for a favour--a kindness done to them binds them to the doer evermore. It is perfectly fair, then, that God should demand at our hands gratitude for mercies received, and that we should attempt to measure human character and human conduct by this expectation of God.

I. Has thankfulness to God been in any proportion to the benefits received? Has it ever been a common experience, lively and quick? Has it acted to promote obedience? The children of unnumbered kindnesses--have these blessings of God that have watched you from youth up to this hour, and that have flowed through all the channels of your life, ever brought forth in you a profound sense of recognition? Is not what the apostle describes applicable to us? But let us more in detail look into this matter. Let us look at--

1. A man’s own organisation, and inquire in what way he is wont to receive that ass comprehensive and complex gift of God. It is no small thing that we have an organisation that brings health and strength. There are many that are born to misfortune. They carry organised suffering with them. That, for the most part, is not our condition. The separate elements that go to constitute this gift of our organisation are marvellous. If the eye could keep a journal of all the pleasures that it has brought to us no tongue could measure our obligations. If the ear could give its account of pleasures issued; if not a single sense merely, but the whole of our body, could rise up and bear witness to God’s goodness in its organisation, what a complex series of services from God to us would be exhibited! And yet, are not life, and health, and strength, more frequently a reason of indifference? All the senses that God has put together to create the most noble thing made under the heaven--we take them as a gift, of course. We arrogate to ourselves personal beauty, if we are handsome; personal strength, if we are strong; personal skill, if we have a hand to execute. We take all these sovereign gifts of God, not with thanksgiving, not as if they brought us nearer to Him in sweet obedience, not as benefits received, but to set us apart from Him and His service.

2. The gifts of God expressed in the human mind and disposition. We are neither thankful for the casket nor the jewels that God has put within the casket. Indeed, the more men have, usually, the less apt are they to be grateful. Men are apt to become vain, arrogant, worldly, and foolish in the possession of their mental gifts and powers. We carry about, in reason, in imagination, in hope, in love, in sympathy, in everything that goes to make up the human disposition, that wonderful gift of God, the human soul, from the cradle to the grave, and scarcely think to thank God or to love Him for His benefaction.

3. Our social advantages. It is no small thing to have been born in a Christian land. How many of us find occasion for real thankfulness in this? It is no small thing to have been born of Christian parentage--to have been put into this life through a right gate. Have you ever made it an object of thought? Our honourable connections are matters of no small moment, as they stand intimately related to our happiness. The position we are permitted to occupy in society we are apt to ascribe to our own skill and work. But there is not a man living that has really achieved the social advantages which he has. There is a providence in them. And all that which we have of repute, ease, influence, consequence by reason of our social connection--does not this tend to puff us up? How many men requite God by being to others exactly what He is not to them! God bridges the way from His heart to ours by kindnesses without number. We look down upon men less favoured than we, and seem to say, “Stand thou there: come not near to touch our robes.”

4. Our relations to the gifts of God in nature and in human society

5. The work of God in providences toward every one of us. There are gifts of prosperity and gifts of adversity; there are sparing mercies in sickness and danger to us, and, what comes nearer to a sensitive nature, to others. The providence of God that attends our daily walk is marvellous to him that has an eye to discern all its details, and wisdom to comprehend its full meaning. But we walk through the day, the year, often without a thought, or scarcely a reminiscence.

6. God’s spiritual dealings with us. The gift of Christ, that richest and Divinest of all gifts, and the premise through Him of eternal life, and of help in every time of need; the gift of the Holy Ghost; His mindfulness of every feeling in us, though we are mindless of any feeling in Him--in all these spiritual blessings, gratitude and thankfulness are the exception, and not the rule.

II. The sin of this.

1. There is no one thing that you admit to be a fairer measure of character and life than this principle of gratitude; and when you take it and measure your course of conduct, not toward an inferior, or an equal, or a mere superior, but toward God--the highest, the noblest, the most disinterested, and the best being that ever lived--no man, not even the purest, can help feeling that he has lived a life of ingratitude. God’s wonderful bounties have come before you unrecognised. You have made yourself selfish through God’s kindnesses. You have made yourself proud through His goodness. The very things that were meant to draw you to God have built around you walls of separation between yourselves and God.

2. It does not need that men should lay to their consciences the charge of theft, of crime. There is no offence anymore guilty than this. If there be a single soul that says, “I need no repentance, no change of heart: I am not a sinner,” I lay this charge upon him, and he cannot resist it, We cannot receive from our father and mother a love token and not know it; but from Christ we can. We cannot take a poor gift from a fellow’s hand without feeling a sentiment of honour and requital; but from God’s hand we take royal bounties without any such consciousness. Ah! when Christ takes His own heart, His sacrifice, and His love, and brings it to us and makes it a present, is there no requital, are there no thanks due? When God requires the service of our life and the fulness of our heart, is it an exacting requisition? Does the mother expect too much when she demands that the child she has reared shall love and serve her? If you have given your time to nurse the sick, is it too much to expect that when they come to health they will kindly remember you? If a man is about to be destroyed, and you step between him and his peril and rescue him, is it strange that you should expect at least kindness and love from him? The untutored savage would never forget such a benefactor. It requires Christians, men educated in the knowledge of the death of Christ, who died that they might live, to refuse to requite service with gratitude. (H. W. Beecher.)

On the causes of unthankfulness

I. We are apt rather to rest in second causes than to trace our blessings to their primary source. Does man receive any good, it appears to be the fruit of his own labour, or prudence, or of the kindness of his friends; but the First Cause is the Being to whom our thanks are chiefly due. Take a case. The way in which I can best serve a friend is by persuading a third person to do something for his benefit. To whom, then, is my friend really indebted? While his thanks ought undoubtedly to be given to the third person, they are principally due to me. Suppose you deemed it right, before you conferred a favour upon your child, to require of him some previous exercise--would he, when he received it, argue justly if he were to say, “I do not owe this to my parent, but to my own labour”? The fact is, the favour is enhanced by the appointment of the means where a merciful end is secured. This we discover in other cases, but not where God is the Author of our success. Paradise was not less replenished by His bounty because He appointed Adam to dress the garden. The bounty of the monarch is not the less because he distributes it by the hand of his ministers.

II. Our defective view of His providence. Our acknowledgment of the agency of God in some instances becomes a means of diminishing our sense of His agency in others. The facet is God more distinctly reveals to us His agency in some instances that we may learn to recognise it in all. The very idea of a particular Providence arises from our imperfect conception of the Divine agency. For, if we saw the agency of God as it is seen in heaven, we should discover that His providence is as distinct, as minute in one case as another. Thus men call it a “providence” when they receive some unexpected deliverance or blessing. But they do not call a loss, or a disease, a providence. But it is certain that on this point the views of God differ most widely from our own; and when we shall be able to form a true conception of the goodness of God we shaft discover mercy where we once discerned only severity, and shall thank God for trials and sufferings as the most signal instances of His providential care.

III. Men do not consider themselves indebted to God except for peculiar or distinguishing mercies. For the mercies they share in common with others they think little gratitude is due. But do the diffusiveness and extent of the bounty of God form any just cause of unthankfulness? What would you think of a child who should say, “I am not indebted to my parent; for he feeds and clothes and takes care of my brothers and sisters as well as of myself”? The fact is, that the very extent of those blessings we share with others demands additional gratitude, for such mercies are the most valuable. Compare such a gift as light with any petty comforts granted to an individual. All private mercies may be compared to the dew which fell only upon the fleece of Gideon. But general mercies are like the dew of heaven descending on the general surface of nature, refreshing the thirsty fields, and clothing them with verdure and beauty. Surely the blessing cannot be lessened to me because others also are blessed.

IV. The very number of the mercies of God tends to diminish our gratitude. Examine the common feelings of mankind: is it not evident that some extraordinary instance of the bounty of God excites more gratitude than the more valuable mercies of every day? The constant enjoyment of our senses, the nightly refreshment of sleep, make scarcely any impression; but if a sense, apparently lost, is restored, then we feel much gratitude to our Benefactor. The name disposition is seen in other cases. If a parent gives to his children something new and unexpected, they are more thankful than for their daily food and clothing. Thus, also, although the unexpected bounty of a friend may at first excite thankfulness, yet, if repeated every day, it is received with diminished gratitude, and at length the withholding of it is resented as an injury. If it be urged in reply that this springs from a principle in human nature, surely it is no excellent principle, but argues a depraved nature and a corrupt heart. From the same depravity it arises that the very feeling of obligation is attended with pain, especially where the debt is large. Men love to be independent, and therefore hate an obligation.

V. A prevalent view of God’s character as a just and holy rather than as a kind and compassionate God. (J. Venn, M. A.)

But became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.--

Paul’s indictment of heathenism

Note--

I. The corruption of human nature. The facts enumerated are such as to manifest--

1. Corruption in principle evincing itself by corruption in practice. Had there been in the human heart any liking to the true God, the difficulty would have been to forget not to remember Him. Those whom we love we are fond to think of. Has this been the case with men in regard to God? Has it not rather been, in everyone point, precisely the reverse? And if it be in human nature to forget and depart from the living God, must it not be emphatically corrupt?

2. Idolatrous defection is here associated with practical wickedness as its inseparable concomitant. Does not the state of the heathen world bear ample testimony to its truth?

3. And observe further--the connection, in the way of reciprocal influence, between impiety and immorality. Immorality in the life is the natural consequence and evidence of impiety towards God in the heart, while the love of sin inspires the wish that God were other than He is.

II. The necessity and the value of revelation. How early did this necessity appear! (Genesis 6:5; Gen_6:11-12; Joshua 24:2). And yet men talk of the sufficiency of the light of nature, while the experience of every age plainly contradicts this. Never was an experiment more completely tried, and on every trial the great general result has been uniformly the same. Take the most enlightened nations in the most enlightened times. Have they, in these circumstances, excelled others in their views of God and in moral goodness? Frequently, indeed, they have even been worse. Even the philosophers had defective and erroneous views of Deity, of the way of obtaining His favour, and of morals. All that is good in any of their systems is to be found in the Bible along with infinitely more and infinitely better. Yet the Bible must be discarded and their conjectures substituted! Because they had a dim taper, we must seek to quench the sun! No; blessed be God for this heavenly light! But for it we too should have been sitting in the region and shadow of death--“without God and without hope in the world.”

III. How inexcusable must they be who, possessing such a revelation, remain, notwithstanding, ignorant of God! But alas! the same principles of corruption which make men willing to forget God amidst His works of creation and providence, make them unwilling to receive the truth concerning Him when set before them more directly in His Word.

1. If the heathen be “without excuse,” what shall be said of those who shut their eyes against this superior light, and while it shines around them continue to walk in darkness?

2. How inexcusable, too, and how deeply criminal must they be who still “hold the truth in righteousness”! Here is the Bible. You have a general knowledge of its contents. You profess to believe them. Yet, withal, they have no proper influence upon your hearts and lives. What if the righteous God, in His just displeasure, should give you over to “a reprobate mind”? Beware of imagining that the mere possession of revelation constitutes you Christians. The mere having of the Bible can do no good if its important truths are disbelieved or neglected.

IV. The guilt of idolatry, it is to be feared, attaches to many who little imagine that they are at all chargeable with anything of the kind. The spirit of idolatry is the alienation of the heart from God; the withholding from Him, and the giving to other objects, that homage and those affections to which He alone is entitled. Every man’s idol is that on which his heart is supremely set. Ambition, wealth, power, learning, etc., are all idols if served irrespective of God.

V. What an irresistible motive is here presented to missionary exertions! Whose spirit is not stirred within him with the emotions of indignant zeal in beholding the world “wholly given to idolatry.” To suppose a Christian indifferent on such a subject is to suppose a contradiction in terms--a Christian without piety, without mercy, without benevolence! Think how the glory of God is trampled under foot; how Satan reigns triumphant; how large a proportion of the world is still in the condition here described!

VI. Let Christians make it manifest by their whole character that the connection is as close between truth and righteousness as between error and wickedness. Let your profession of the faith of the gospel be adorned by a conduct uniformly consistent with its pure nature and its holy influence. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The omission of good leads to the commission of evil

1. In respect of the understanding the refusal of adoration, “they did not glorify,” became a vain labouring of the mind, “they became vain,” and complete estrangement from the truth, “they became fools.”

2. In respect of the heart, ingratitude was first transformed into darkness, and then into monstrous and degrading fetishism. The ungrateful heart did not stop short at not thanking God, it degraded and dishonoured Him by changing Him into His opposite. (Prof. Godet.)

Evil imaginations

What you love, what you desire, what you think about, you are photographing, printing on the walls of your immortal nature. And just as today, thousands of years after the artists have been gathered to the dust, we may go into Egyptian temples and see the figures on their walls in all the freshness of their first colouring, as if the painter had but laid down his pencil a moment ago; so on your hearts youthful evils, the sins of your boyhood, the pruriences of your earliest days, may leave ugly shapes that no tears and no repentance will ever wipe out. Nothing can do away with “the marks of that which once hath been.” What are you painting on the chambers of imagery in your hearts? Obscenity, foul things, mean things, low things? Is that mystic shrine within you painted with such figures as in some chambers in Pompeii, where the excavators had to cover up the pictures because they were so foul; or is it like the cells in the Convent of San Marco at Florence, where Fra Angelico’s holy and sweet genius painted on the bare walls, to be looked at, as he fancied, only by one devout brother in each cell, angel imaginings, and noble, pure celestial faces that calm and hallow those who gaze upon them? What are you doing, my brother, in the dark, in the chambers of your imagery? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verse 22-23

Romans 1:22-23

Professing themselves to be wise they became fools.

The follies of the wise

Futility of thought has reached the character of folly. What, in fact, is polytheism, except a sort of permanent hallucination, a collective delirium, a possession on a great scale? And this mental disorder rose to a kind of perfection among the very peoples who, more than others, laid claim to the glory of wisdom. When he says, “professing to be wise,” Paul does not mean to stigmatise ancient philosophy absolutely; he only means that all that labour of the sages did not prevent, the most civilised nations--Egypt, Greece, and Rome--from being at the same time the most idolatrous of antiquity. The popular imagination, agreeably served by priests and poets, did not allow the efforts of the wise to dissipate this delirium. (Prof. Godet.)

Boasting of wisdom

In every department of knowledge, but especially in religion, boasting of wisdom is alike the proof and parent of folly.

I. It leads a man to go beyond the limits of his own powers, and to meddle with matters too high for him, or else to refuse to believe in anything which he cannot understand or grasp.

1. In either case this ends in folly. For the wisest and the most ignorant are on a par when they speculate upon subjects which transcend human thought, or over which God has been pleased to place an impenetrable veil.

2. He who believes in truth taught by nature and revelation is wiser than the so-called philosopher, who declines to receive anything but what his human intellect and finite powers can explain or fully grasp.

II. It leads a man to dispense with the help to be derived from the labours, remarks, or suggestions of others, as well as to advance the most absurd opinions, and to maintain them with the most inveterate obstinacy for the sake of notoriety.

III. It makes a man too willing to accept his own conclusions without sufficient and searching examinations.

IV. It ignores God’s law that the temple of Divine knowledge must be entered only by the gate of humility. (Biblical Museum.)

And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image.

Degradation of God’s glory

The glory of God is the splendour which His manifested perfections cast into the heart of His intelligent creatures; hence a bright image which is to man the ideal of all that is good. This image had been produced within them. What did they make of it? The sequel tells. While holding the Divine person, they wrapped it up, as it were in the likeness of its opposite; it would have been almost better to leave it in silence--it would not have been so great an affront. The preposition ἐν exactly describes this imprisonment of the Divine glory in a form ignoble and grotesque. The epithet “incorruptible” is, as it were, a protest beforehand against this degradation. (Prof. Godet.)

Idolatry a retrogression, not an advance in religious though

Idolatry according to Paul is not a progressive stage reached in the religious thought of mankind starting from primeval fetishism. Far from being a first step towards the goal of Monotheism. Polytheism is, on the contrary, the result of degeneracy, an apostasy from the original Monotheism, a darkening of the understanding and heart which has terminated in the grossest fetishism. The history of religions, thoroughly studied nowadays, fully justifies Paul’s view. It shows that the present heathen peoples of India and Africa, far from rising of themselves to a higher religious state, have only sunk, age after age, and become more and more degraded. It proves that at the root of all pagan religions and mythologies there lies an original Monotheism, which is the historical starting point in religion for all mankind. (Prof. Godet.)


Verse 23

Romans 1:23

Who changed the truth of God into a lie.

The truth of God exchanged into a lie

ἐν, signifies the workshop, or matrix, where the exchange took place. Everything, of course, effected in and coming out of the workshop or matrix of falsehood is falsehood itself. How ridiculous would it be for us to exchange the present knowledge of science for the crude notions and false theories of savages or of the ancients! How absurd for us to strip the walls of our national galleries of the masterpieces of such artists as Raphael and Titian and the like, and to put up in their places paintings without true perspective, worthy conception, or correct execution! Or, again, what an act of madness would it be to abandon springs of clear and crystal waters for impure and poisonous ponds! (Isaiah 44:20.) But such instances of folly and madness in exchanging the true for the false, the good for the evil, were nothing in comparison to the exchanging the positive and precious knowledge of God in the workshop of falsehood, and, as a matter of course, into falsehood itself, such as idols, the tales of mythology, and heathen systems of philosophy and religion. (C. Neil, M. A.)

Idolatry a lie against God’s truth

The number of the gods of the heathen is a lie against the Divine unity; their corporeal nature a lie against His pure invisible spirituality; their confined and local residence a lie against His omnipresence and immensity; their limited and subdivided departments of operation a lie against His universal proprietorship and dominion; their follies and weaknesses a lie against His infinite wisdom; their defects and vices and crimes a lie against His unsullied purity and perfection. The entire system, in all its diversity of modes, is a sacrilegious robbery of Heaven, a universal slander on the character of the Most High. Every framer and every worshipper of idols, or of real or imaginary beings represented by idols, has “changed the truth of God into a lie.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

A lie

I. An idol is a lie.

1. As professing to be what it is not.

2. As deceiving him who trusts in it.

II. Everything opposed to God is a lie.

III. Everything is a lie which--

1. Disappoints man’s hopes.

2. Fails to satisfy the cravings of his immortal soul.

IV. That life is a lie which is not--

1. According to God’s will.

2. Directed to His glory.

3. The realisation of His enjoyment. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.

Nature worship

1. There is no fact in the history of the Jews more certain or familiar than their propensity to lapse into idolatry, yet after the return from Babylon they have never been reproached with any tendency to idol worship. While a large part of the Christian world has resumed the form, if not the substance of idolatry, the Jews have borne witness against their defection.

2. This extraordinary contrast prompts the question, How and why is it so? What has become of the idolatrous propensity which once appeared inseparable from the corruptions of the human heart? There might be less cause to propound this question if a corresponding change had taken place among the heathen. But the heathen world is as idolatrous as ever. Is it because we are too civilised? If by this we mean intellectual refinement and cultivation of the taste, we have only to remember Greece. Or if a civil and political wisdom, military force, and practical sagacity, then look at Rome!

3. Since none of these solutions explain why idolatry is now so rare among ourselves, it may not be without its use to inquire whether, after all, we are so free from idolatry as supposed. Let us then inquire what is idolatry. We must reject the etymological definition which would restrict it to the worship of images. Then they who adored the host of heaven, who invoked the winds, bowed down at the fountains, whispered their devotions to the air, and called upon the mountains, are excluded from the catalogue. On the other hand, idolatry is not to be resolved into a purely spiritual act, the preference of some other supreme object of affection to our Maker. This, though the soul of all idolatry, is not the whole of it, and exists now just as much as in ancient times. Covetousness is idolatry, but idolatry is not covetousness. What imparted to the ancient Paganism its distinctive character, and gave unity to it, was the worship of nature. However they might differ in their symbols, rites, theology, or ethics, they are all reducible to this.

4. This view does not exclude a vast variety of forms and of gradations. The lowest stage, above that of mere stupid fetishism, may be described as the religious worship of particular natural objects or their artificial representatives, rising from the shapeless stone to plants, to trees, from the meanest brutes to the most noble, from the clod to the mountain, from the spring to the ocean, from earth to heaven. A still more intellectual variety would be that which, instead of individual sensible objects, paid its adorations to the elements or mysterious powers of nature. By a still higher act of philosophical abstraction some worshipped Nature itself, including all the objects which have been already mentioned.

5. These views as to the essential character of ancient heathenism derive at least some countenance from the solution which they seem to afford of the disappearance of idolatry. On this hypothesis, if on no other, it may certainly be said that there is still a strong taint of idolatry perceptible.

I. In our language; for to what strange accident can it be owing that in common parlance and in current literature there should be so constant, so instinctive an aversion to the name of God as a personal distinctive appellation. Can it be reverence? Alas! this explanation is precluded by the levity with which the same men often make that venerable name the theme of jests and the burden of imprecation. No; the name seems to be shunned because it means too much. Not only is the grand and simple name of God exchanged for a descriptive title, such as Supreme Being--or an abstract term, the Deity--but still more readily and frequently is God supplanted by a goddess, and her name is Nature. It is Nature that endows men with her gifts and graces, that regulates the seasons and controls the elements. Whatever explanation may be given of this, it is still an odd coincidence that this darling figure of speech or philosophical formula should so exactly tally with the spirit and language of idolatry considered as the worship of nature.

II. But this coincidence may, in some, be the effect of classical studies, and need excite no serious alarm if confined to the fanciful creations of romance or poetry. But we find these analogies also in real life and its least imaginative walks. The compulsory dependence upon seasons and weather often takes the form of an extreme anxiety, a breathless watching of the elements, a superstitious faith in something quite distinct from God, and a constant disposition to invest this something with an individual existence and with personal attributes; although it may prove nothing with respect to any formal belief, it certainly presents another strange approximation to the spirit and the practice of the old idolaters. The fisherman who feels himself to be the slave of the winds and tides, without a thought of God as his Creator, is not so very far removed from the old Greek or Phoenician, who sacrificed to Ocean ere he launched his bark. The mariner who spends whole nights in whistling for the wind, may do it from habit or in jest; but he may also do it with a secret faith, by no means wholly different in kind from the emotions of the ancient pagan, as he poured out his libations to Eolus, or his prayers to the particular wind of which he stood in need. The social and domestic superstitions which have lingered in all Christian countries, as to signs of good and evil luck, and the methods of procuring or averting it, are the relics of a heathenism which we sometimes look upon as finally exploded.

III. But objection may be made to sweeping influences from the errors of the vulgar. Well, admitting that the uninstructed multitude must always embrace errors, some of which may accidentally resemble those of heathenism, let us ascend again into the region of intellectual cultivation in reference to scientific observation. The philosophical explorer often looks upon God’s place as empty, or as filled by another--yet the same--viz., Nature. No one supposes that astronomers ever formally adore the stars, or geologists earth, or chemists the elements, or botanists trees and flowers. But let the evidence that some of all these classes recognise a Nature, quite distinct from God, by whose mysterious virtues these effects are all produced, and whose authoritative laws are independent of His will, be gathered from the language, actions, and feelings of these votaries of science, and then it will appear whether the prophets and the high priests of material wisdom are or are not in heart and practice worshipped of nature.

IV. Another class adore nature as the source of sensible and imaginative pleasure. These are the worshippers of beauty. The voice that whispers in the trees or roars in the tornado may, to some ears, be the voice of God; but they may also utter other inspirations, and bring responses from another oracle. Instead of calling us to God, they may but call us to themselves, or to the place where nature sits enthroned as God. This form of idolatry has all the aid that art can yield to nature. The idolater of nature cannot but be an idolater of art. The high art of the ancients was a part of their religion. It was nature that they represented, beautified and worshipped. The gradual return in modern times to this view of the arts, and the impassioned zeal with which it is pursued, is one of the most startling analogies to heathenism that can be produced, and threatens, more than any other, to result in an exterior resemblance corresponding to the essential one described already. It may no doubt be said that this apotheosis, both of art and nature, has resulted by reaction from the barbarous and unscriptural contempt, especially of God’s material works. This is in some sense true. But the idolatry itself springs from a deeper and remoter source. As long as man retains the sensibilities which God has given him, and yet remains unwilling to retain God in his thoughts, the voice of nature will be louder than the voice of God.

V. From the agreements which have now been traced, it may reasonably be expected that the principle of this idolatry will also avow itself in doctrine. It has done so already in the pantheistical philosophy of Germany. Conclusion: From all this it becomes us to take warning, that whatever we do we do with our eyes open, to see to it that we incur not the reproach, “Ye know not what ye worship,” and to see to it that we are not led into idolatry by any specious figments or delusions, lest we be constrained to take up the lament of those confessors in the times of heathen persecution, who, though proof against all menace and persuasion, were at last miserably cheated into sets of worship at the altar of an idol, when they thought themselves kneeling at the altar of their God. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

Scepticism and superstition

There is a very close connection, as all history proves, between theoretical disbelief in a future life and spiritual existence, and superstition. So strong is the bond that unites men with the unseen world that if they do not link themselves with that world in the legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject superstitions. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Heart idolatry

Worship is the attribution of supreme excellence to, and the entire dependence of the heart upon, a certain person. And the people or the things to which a man attributes excellence, and on which he hangs his happiness and his well-being, these be his gods, no matter what his outward profession is. You can find out what these are for yourself, if you will honestly ask yourself one or two questions. What is it that I want most? What is it which makes my ideal of happiness? What is it which I feel that I should be desperate without? What do I think about most naturally and spontaneously, when the spring is taken off, and my thoughts are allowed to go as they will? And if the answer to none of these questions is “God!” then I do not know why you should call yourself a worshipper of God’s. It does not matter, though we pray in the temple, if we have the dark subterranean pit, where our true adoration is rendered. Oh! I am afraid there are a great many of us nominal Christians, connected with Christian churches, posing before men as orthodox religionists, who keep this private chapel where we do our devotions to an idol and not to God. If our real gods could be made visible, what a pantheon they would make! All the foul forms painted on that underground cell would be paralleled in the creeping things--which crawl along the low earth, and never soar nor even stand erect, and in the vile bestial forms of passion to which some of us really bow down. Honour, wealth, literary or other distinction, the sweet sanctities of human love dishonoured and profaned by being exalted to the place which Divine love should hold, ease, family, animal appetites, lust, drink--these are the gods of some of us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Who is blessed forever.--

The blessedness of God

I. The blessedness of God. To bless is to make happy, and to be blessed is to be happy. God is necessarily happy--

1. In His benevolent feelings. God is love. Benevolence always gives pleasure to the mind. There is a selfish benevolence, which is a happy feeling so long as it continues. There is also a pure, disinterested, and universal benevolence, which yields a purer, higher, and more lasting satisfaction to the mind. And such is the benevolence of the Deity. His benevolent feelings, therefore, must be a source of pure and permanent felicity.

2. In expressing His benevolent feelings. There are emotions which are not productive of any external act. Good men have a thousand affections which they never could express by any external actions, but God is both able and disposed to express His benevolence. He diffuses as much happiness among His creatures as His mighty power, guided by His unsearchable wisdom, can produce. And all these expressions of His goodness are extremely gratifying to His benevolent heart. He makes Himself happy by making His creatures happy. Do parents feel peculiar satisfaction in expressing their love to their children? So does the kind parent of the universe.

3. In beholding the effects of His benevolence. As He loves to promote the happiness of His creatures, so He loves to see the happiness which He bestows and they enjoy.

II. God is perfectly and forever blessed. This blessedness is--

1. Without the least alloy, or mixture. It is as pure as His perfect benevolence, from which it flows. God is love, and in Him is no malevolence at all. Though the benevolence of saints in this life affords them some real happiness, yet it is mixed with many painful feelings, which arise from the mixture of their selfish with their benevolent affections. But all the affections of God’s heart are uniform and harmonious.

2. Uninterrupted. There are many things which serve to interrupt the happiness of saints in this imperfect state. But there is nothing to interrupt the pure and unmixed felicity of the Divine Being. He never finds any difficulty in the way of extending His benevolent regards to any of His creatures, who are always in His sight and His reach. He never sees a good to be done which is out of His power to do. He never sees an evil to be removed which it is out of His power to remove.

3. Unlimited. The happiness of created beings never can be unlimited. Their finite natures will forever set bounds to their enjoyments. But the blessedness of the Deity can admit of no limitation. This is evident from the great scheme which God formed from eternity. Among all possible modes of operation which stood present to His omniscient eye, His infinite wisdom chose the best, to give the most free, full, extensive expressions of His perfectly benevolent feelings. Among all possible things to be done, He determined to do all those which would diffuse the greatest sum of happiness through the universe. And by forming this scheme which would give the most unlimited indulgence to His benevolent feelings, He laid a foundation for His own unlimited felicity and self-enjoyment.

4. Everlasting. He is blessed forever. He can never see any reason to alter His designs, and therefore it is certain that He never will alter them. He can never meet with any insurmountable difficulties in carrying His designs into effect, and therefore He will infallibly accomplish them. And if He does eventually accomplish all His purposes, His joy will be full. He was blessed in forming His benevolent designs; He has been blessed in carrying them on; He will be blessed in bringing them to a close; and He will be blessed in contemplating them, through interminable ages.

III. Improvement:

1. If the blessedness of God essentially consists in the benevolence of His heart, then we may clearly understand what is meant by His acting for His own glory. His creating the universe for His glory, means His creating it for His own most benevolent and perfect blessedness.

2. If God’s blessedness, which consists in the gratification of His benevolence, be His glory, which He seeks in all His works, then His glory and the good of the universe cannot be separated. His acting for His glory is acting to express His pure benevolence to His creatures, in promoting their highest happiness. It is impossible that God should promote His own glory to the highest degree, without promoting the highest good of the universe.

3. If God means to gratify His own benevolence in all His conduct, then we may be assured that He never has suffered, and never will suffer anything to take place but what will promote the greatest good of the whole system of moral beings. Since He has caused both natural and moral evils to exist, we may be sure that no more shall exist than He sees necessary to promote His benevolent purposes. As He designs that the wrath of man shall praise Him, so the remainder of wrath He will restrain, or not cause to exist.

4. If it be God’s supreme design to make Himself and His creatures as happy as possible, then we have reason to rejoice that He is absolutely sovereign. If any of His selfish creatures could guide or stay His hand, they would not suffer Him to seek His own happiness, nor the greatest happiness of the universe, but constrain Him to promote their own private, personal, selfish happiness.

5. Since God places His highest happiness in promoting the highest happiness of His creatures, we have solid ground to believe that He will fulfil all His great and precious promises to believers. He has inseparably connected their happiness with His own.

6. We learn from what has been said that none can be miserable, in time or eternity, but those who are unwilling that God should promote the highest good of the universe. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

The Divine blessedness

I. Let us approach this subject from the easiest standpoint, that of the future. We project our vision through dim ages yet to come. The curse has gone from the universe. Terrible whilst it lasted, God’s tenderness has at last abolished it from the hearts and lives of men. God’s innate blessedness has been transfused into numbers no arithmetic can compute, and they are eager to copy the beneficence that has won their supreme adoration. If there were fresh worlds to be redeemed, not one would decline the task, for the Son who gave Himself a ransom for many is in them. In spirits many as the sands of the sea, He has implanted the foundation motives of His own saving love, and has drawn them into the same circle of sacred joy with Himself. When we look at God from this standpoint, it is not difficult to conceive of Him as infinitely and endlessly blessed. But the subject is not without its difficulties.

1. On the far-off confines of all this blessedness, is there not the smoke of a torment that ascendeth up forever and ever? Whilst there is one world of guilt and pain, can God’s great pitying heart be quite at rest? Well, do not suppose that the ratio between good and evil will always be what it was when Christ spoke of the few that were saved, or even what it is now. Evil will shrink to ever-diminishing proportions in the uncounted centuries yet to be. In the quiet night the heavens breathe their wealth of dew upon the fields and moors and forests, but you can scarcely find the dewdrop that has distilled itself into the cup of the nightshade. For many a hundred miles the trellised vines spread their proud clusters before the sun, You may travel for days before you find the one vine that has been smitten with mildew. Uncounted suns glitter through the Milky Way. The astronomer may search for months before he can find the sun whose light has been quenched. And so evil will be lost in the prevalence of good, and God’s blessing prove itself measureless.

2. But does not this view run counter to that of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety and nine to seek that which was lost? Yes, if the lost one could still be brought back. But I know of no law of beneficence that compels the Shepherd to tarry in the wilderness when the wanderer fights the hand that seeks to guide it back, or rushes into thickets where it is impossible to follow it. I know of no law of beneficence which compels the Shepherd to sit down by the carcase of His lost sheep, like Rizpah by the bones of her son, and rend the air with incessant lamentation. God would be untrue to the claims of the saved if He were so full of regrets for the lost few, that He could not rejoice with infinite gladness over the saved multitudes.

3. But was not God the Father of these lost ones, and can a father be perfectly blessed whilst a single child remains in uncancelled sin and abiding torment? But what is it that haunts the mind of the parent? The sense of possible failure in himself. “If I had guided more wisely, spoken more softly, prayed more faithfully, sympathised more ungrudgingly, possibly the issue might have been otherwise.” But no thought akin to that can be awakened in the Divine mind. Whatever suffering convulses the world of impenitence, He has not contributed to it. In respect of the damned He has the blessedness of knowing that He has done for them all that infinite love and patience and resource could.

4. But He might have withheld the freedom through the misuse of which these men have damned themselves. Yes, but that would have been to create a vast negative hell of privation and frustrated gladness, in place of a limited positive hell of incurable perversity and woe. If God does all that His great heart can devise, and all that His mighty hand can achieve, and if what He has done issues in the sanctity and blessedness of a vast preponderating majority, God is without qualification infinitely blessed.

II. Contemplate God’s blessedness from the standpoint of the present. That is much more difficult. How are we to reconcile God’s blessedness with suffering and sin? If a mother lay in a trance, conscious of all that was going on around, but unable to move, and heard the cry of pain from her little one, could she be blessed? And God seems to be blessed? And God seems to be present in every scene of human woe. The human parent is spared the pain of looking upon the actual circumstances of the child’s profligacy. But God is looking with unveiled eye upon every offence. One hot summer morning, long before daybreak, I wandered through the streets of a Japanese city. The houses are built of thin board, and the rooms separated by paper partitions only. I cannot describe the strange sensations that took possession of my mind. I could hear the tick of every clock, the very breath and movements of the sleepers. And I thought, Is it not thus with God as He walks through this world of ours? How can He be perfectly blessed? The least sensitive man in our midst could not bear it for an hour. Is not God’s present relation to pain a qualification of His blessedness?

1. No; for He is ever exercising a ministry of pity and healing. A nervous woman in the presence of disaster is brought by the excess of grief to the verge of madness; but commit to her some trifling ministry of help, and she becomes calm as an angel. The people whose lives are employed in mitigating pain are always the happiest. And so the blessedness God realises through His secret ministry to sorrow, protects Him against the shadow that the spectacle of widespread suffering might otherwise cast upon His gladness.

2. God’s blessedness can suffer no eclipse from contact with pain, because it is His will to make it the vehicle for the manifestation of conspicuous tenderness. How many cynical people have only felt the sympathy and affection of their kind in the hour of affliction? Although the human heart in its perversity may make of suffering a curse, it is God’s will to make it a point in our wilderness lives at which sweet, secret springs of Divine and human sympathy shall arise and blend with each other, and create magic balm and beauty and freshness. When God’s purpose is accomplished, He makes His servants glory in their tribulations; and when men glory in their tribulations God glories with them, and in that case His blessedness is not impaired.

3. God’s blessedness is not overshadowed by human pain, because by it He is teaching us sympathy with each other, and conformity to His own pattern of beneficence. God very often does not help and heal because He wants us to do it. God is blessed in the very pains of His creatures, when they teach His people to be full of kindness.

4. God looks upon pain from the standpoint of that wider epoch when sorrow and sighing shall have fled away,

III. Realise God’s blessedness in relation to the past. We go back to the epochs when the worlds had not issued upon their courses. How can we reconcile the Divine blessedness with solitude? There can be no blessedness without beneficence, and no beneficence without a relation.

1. Well, the beneficence of character that was the spring of all after triumph and achievement was there. The righteousness and purity and love that were exercised in the relations to be afterwards constituted, were already living and conscious forces. And God could not be morally perfect without being infinitely blessed in Himself.

2. More still: the Son, who was to be the instrument for the accomplishment of all the Father’s vast and holy and loving purposes, was already a willing instrument in the Father’s bosom. And in the life of that Son every soul was reflected that was to be afterwards united by faith to Him as its Saviour and Head. Literary artists sometimes identify themselves with the creatures of their imagination. They have shed tears over their pains and reverses, and been in ecstasies over the good fortune to which they thought fit to bring them at the breaking of the clouds. And the mind of God has been peopled from the beginning with the forms of those who were afterwards to be, not the figures of a romance only, but profound realities upon the platform of human life and action. And towards all these, the Divine love has been pouring itself out from everlasting. Conclusion: But it may be asked: “Does not this view of the eternal blessedness of God preclude the possibility of sympathy? How can the eternal God enter into the fleeting sorrows of time? Can He grieve for us in our grief and shame? Does not the vast perspective in His vision seem to exclude every trace of affinity and sensitive relation with our mortal life?” Just as the human eye has different focal lengths, and can adjust itself to the different degrees in which light may be diffused, so the Divine mind can mysteriously combine into one the view of life opening itself at the standpoint of time, and that other view opening itself at the standpoint of eternity. Indeed, in the Person of Jesus He has given us proof of the fact that He can bring Himself under the conditions of time, looking at sorrow and sin from our own levels, and transcending all human brotherhood and friendship in the perfectness of His sympathy. (T. G. Selby.)


Verse 24-25

Romans 1:24-25

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness.

The consequences of the Divine abandonment

You have merely to loose the connection, and the trucks by their own weight rush down the incline, and dash themselves to a thousand pieces. A physician has merely to retire when his orders have been repeatedly disregarded, to deliver his refractory patient over in his disease to protracted suffering and possibly to a premature grave. In like manner, if God judicially delivers over men who wilfully reject Him to their lusts, they will sink into the lowest depths of degradation, and come to everlasting destruction. (C. Neil, M. A.)

The Divine penalty attached to sin

Here Paul expresses the feeling of indignation raised in his heart by the thought and view of the treatment of God by the creation to whom He had revealed Himself so magnificently. There is something here of that “exasperation of heart” (Acts 17:16), felt at Athens. This feeling is expressed forcibly by the conjunctions, διὸ, “on account of which,” i.e., of the sin just described, referring to the justice of the punishment in general. καί, “also,” brings out more especially the relation of congruity between the nature of the punishment and that of the offence. They sinned, “wherefore” God punished them; they sinned by degrading God, wherefore also God degraded them. The word “gave over” does not signify that God impelled them to evil, to punish the evil committed. The holiness of God is opposed to such a sense, and to give over is not to impel. On the other hand it is impossible to stop short at the idea of a simple permission. God was not purely passive in the terrible development of Gentile corruption. Wherein did His action consist? He positively withdrew His hand; He ceased to hold the boat as it was dragged by the current of the river. This is the meaning of the apostle in Acts 14:16. It is not a simple abstention, but the positive withdrawal of a force. Such is the meaning of Genesis 6:3. As Meyer says, “The law of history, in virtue of which the forsaking of God is followed by a parallel growth of immorality, is not a purely natural order of things; the power of God is active in the execution of this law.” If it is asked how such a mode of action harmonises with the moral perfection of God, the answer undoubtedly is that when man has reached a certain degree of corruption he can only be cured by the excess of his own corruption; it is the only means left of producing what all preceding appeals and punishments failed to effect, the salutary action of repentance. So it is that at a given moment the father of the prodigal lets him go, even giving him his share of goods. The monstrous character of the excesses about to be described confirms this view. The two prepositions ἐν, “through,” and εἰς, “to,” differ from one another as the current which bears the bark along, once it has been detached from the shore, differs from the abyss into which it is about to be plunged. Lusts exist in the heart; God abandons it to their power, and the legions that fall which must end in the most degrading impurities. “You have dishonoured Me; I give you up that you may dishonour your own selves.” (Prof. Godet.)


Verses 24-32

Verses 26-32

Romans 1:26-32

For this cause God gave them up to vile affections.

Human depravity

I. The cause of all this gross ignorance and corruption is assigned in Romans 1:28. “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

1. The expression plainly assumes God’s having been known, and that the cause of corruption and loss of the original knowledge was entirely of a moral nature. This will appear--

2. The true character of God it is impossible that corrupt creatures should relish. As a creature in love with sin, he wishes to believe that God is “such an one as himself.” In this way idolatry becomes an evidence of the deep and universal depravity of the human heart. This view of the case accords well with the character of the “gods many and lords many of the heathen world.” Men love sin; and they make their gods sinners, that they may practise evil under their sanction and patronage. The worship of their gods is such as might be anticipated from their characters. They consist, not merely of the most senseless fooleries and extravagances, but of the most disgusting impurities, and the most iron-hearted cruelties.

II. The consequences are clearly represented in Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28, as bringing upon them the just displeasure of a forgotten and insulted God.

1. “God gave them over to vile affections,” “to a reprobate mind.” God is not represented as infusing any evil principles; but simply as leaving them to the unrestrained operation of the principles of evil already in them. What an awful curse this was, will sufficiently appear from the portrait in the passage before us. The various evils are represented as “not convenient”--not becoming--against all propriety and all law; and as abounding--personal and social life being “filled” with them. The description shows the fearful length to which the corrupt affections of “a reprobate mind” will carry those who are given up to their unchecked dominion. We are not, it is true, to suppose all the evils enumerated to exist in individual characters. Many of them are of such different kinds that they could not exist together. It is with nations as with individuals. Some of the features of the picture may appear with more or less of characteristic aggravation or diminution, according to particular circumstances. But of the general state of the Gentile world, at that time and still the outline here drawn, hideous as it is, is not overcharged, but faithful to nature and to fact.

2. The displays of “eternal power and Godhead” in the works of God rendered men’s forgetfulness and ignorance of Him “without excuse.” In like manner, the wickedness here described was also rendered inexcusable by what is stated in Romans 1:32. The judgment originally pronounced by Jehovah against sin was death. Of this tradition could not fail to carry down some remembrance, and tradition had the assistance of natural conscience. And while the sentence of death was thus engraven on the memories and consciences of sinful men, the early and singular institution of animal sacrifices spoke the very same language. And so did the regular fulfilment of the original sentence against sin--“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”; together with all the judgments by which the Supreme Ruler manifested His displeasure against sin. Men, then, knew, and ought to have kept in mind, “the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death.” Yet, instead of this, they cast off all restraint. Instead of “striving against sin” they strove to rid their minds of every check to the commission of it. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Sin

I. Its name is legion.

II. Its nature is devilish.

III. Its effect is demoralising.

IV. Its judgment is death. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Sin its own punishment

I. In the sins here enumerated. Which were--

1. Senseless;

2. Filthy;

3. Inhuman;

4. Self-deceptive;

5. God dishonouring.

II. In their effects, such as--

1. Health impaired and bodily frame debilitated.

2. Mental faculties enfeebled.

3. Conscience seared, and moral sense weakened and degraded.

4. Finer feelings and delicate sensibilities blunted and extinguished.

5. Incapacity to appreciate the natural affections.

6. Insensibility to the noble and good, the beautiful, and true. (T. Robinson, D. D.)


Verse 28

Romans 1:28

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.

The state of heathendom

Idolatry is essentially the same in every age and place.

1. In its origin. It flows from a corrupt heart, desirous not to retain the knowledge of God.

2. In its nature. However great the variety, or modes of worship, there is a grand generic likeness in them all. The Greeks may worship Jupiter, and the Hindoos Vishnu; one class a god, and another a goddess; but still all agree in this one point, they “like not to retain God in their knowledge.”

3. In its effects: “God gave them over to a reprobate mind”; and, as the necessary consequence of that, they did “those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:29-32). Such were the effects produced by idolatry in ancient times. And we ask those who object to this language to show us by idolatry, by being continued in for nearly two thousand years, has grown better than it was in the days of the apostle?

I. The state of the heathen as here described.

1. God has given them over to “a reprobate mind.” The term signifies disapproved. The mind which God approves must be one which has correct views of the Divine character--a just idea of the plan of salvation; and these views must have a holy influence on the heart and life. The views of the heathen on these points prove that they are given over to a reprobate mind.

2. God has given them over “to do those things which are not convenient,” Without entering into all here stated, we may instance--

II. What effect ought this view to produce in our minds? We ought to learn--

1. How evil and dreadful a thing it is to separate God from our thoughts. If we exclude God from our thoughts, we must expect that He will east us out from His presence. It became the righteous God to give over to a reprobate mind those who “did not like to retain Him in their knowledge.”

2. To be truly thankful for our superior state and privileges. Contrast your state with theirs: they have no Bible, you have the Word of God. Their sacred books countenance the most unhallowed feelings, while the Bible teaches you to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and to “follow holiness.” Your Bible reveals an immortality of purity and bliss, their Bible reveals nothing except a sensual heaven. You have teachers to guide you in the way to heaven, but ignorance is perfect bliss compared to the knowledge which they obtain from their Brahmins. The priest will visit them at their houses, and covet some article which he sees in the room; and if it be not given to him, he will leave a curse instead of a blessing. You have Sabbaths, but the Sabbath never shines on Hindoostan!

3. To pity and to pray for the heathen. We ought to look on them as Christ looked on us when in our sins and our blood. If your feeling of pity be genuine, it will lead to prayer.

4. To make the most strenuous exertions for the amelioration of their condition. It is well to pity them and to pray for them; but if you do no more, it will be difficult to prove to God or man the sincerity of your pity and your prayers.

God lost to the sight of an evil heart

The heart that is addicted to evil, that is in love with sin, that is clogged and burdened with guilt, has lost the capacity of discerning God as it has lost the wish to be near Him. His name is not welcome, the idea of Him is not pleasant; we are neither willing nor able, when we are plunged in our selfish sinfulness, to cherish the bright and purifying thought of our loving Father. As a cloud darkens the heavens, the mist of our own evil hearts rises up and fills our sky, and blots out all the starry intentions of our spirit, and drapes the face of God Himself in a blackness that can be felt. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Diminishing light but not diminishing responsibility

We would infer from this account that men, in the first instance, had a far more clear and convinced sense of God; but, not liking to retain it, committed the sin of a perverse disposition against the light which they had, and in part extinguished it--that they of course left their own immediate posterity in a light more shaded than that which shone around the outset of their own progress through the world--that these still disliked the remainder of truth which they enjoyed; and, by their wilful resistance inflicted upon it a further mutilation, and transmitted it to their descendants with a still deeper hue of obscurity thrown over it; but still with such glimpses as were enough at least to try the affection of man towards it, to stir up a distinct resistance on the part of those who disliked it, to keep up the responsibility of the world, and to retain it in rightful dependence on the judgment of Him who made the world--so as to make it clear on the day of reckoning, that men, even in their state of most sunken alienation from the true God, were never so destitute of all capacity for discerning between the good and the evil, as to render them the unfit subjects of a moral sentence and a moral examination. With every human creature who shall be pronounced worthy of death on that day, will it be seen that there was either a light which he actually had and liked not to retain, or a light which he might have had and liked not to recover. To whom much is given of him much shall be required; and there will be gradations of punishment in hell. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)


Verses 29-31

Romans 1:29-31

Being filled with all unrighteousness.

The prevalence of evil

All is full of crime and vice; there is more committed than can be healed by punishment. A monstrous prize contest of wickedness is going on. The desire to sin increases, and shame decreases day by day. Vice is no longer practised secretly, but in open view. Vileness gains in every street and in every breast to such an extent that conscience has become not only rare but extinct. (Seneca.)

Wickedness.

With and without the gospel

The worst kind of religion is no religion at all; and these men, living in ease and luxury, indulging themselves in the “amusement of going without religion,” may be thankful that they live in the lands where the gospel they neglect has tamed the beastliness and ferocity of the men who, but for Christianity, might long ago have eaten their carcasses like the South Sea Islanders, or cut off their heads and tanned their hides like the monsters of the French Revolution. When the microscopic search of scepticism, which has hunted the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of a Creator, has turned its attention to human society, and has found a place on this planet ten miles square where a decent man can live in decency, comfort, and security, supporting and educating his children unspoiled and unpolluted--a place where age is reverenced, infancy respected, manhood respected, womanhood honoured, and human life held in duo regard; when sceptics can find such a place ten miles square on this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way and laid the foundations and made decency and security possible, it will then be in order for the sceptical literati to move thither and then ventilate their views. But so long as these very men are dependent upon the religion which they discard for every privilege they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope and humanity of its faith in that Saviour who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom. (J. R. Lowell.)

Spreading tendency of sin

I need not, I suppose, spend any time in illustrating the vividness and truthfulness of that metaphor which compares any kind of evil in a man’s character to the silently, gradually, surely working leaven. The cancer spreads; the fungus creeps steadily through the rotting timber; the smallest hidden speck of evil in a man’s nature has in it a demoniacal transforming and assimilating power which works underground, unconsciously even to the man himself, until some strain of temptation and stress of trial comes; and lo! he finds that what he thought was solid timber is all eaten out in the heart of it, and has no strength to resist or to bear. The smallest sin may corrupt a man’s whole nature, and change, as it were, the chemical composition of every part of it; though in itself it be but an infinitesimal and almost invisible atom that has been dropped into the hole. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Whisperers, backbiters.--

Detraction

These two words agree that they both wound the fame of our neighbour, and they both do it behind his back or in his absence. But they differ--

1. In that whispering doth it secretly and closely, but backbiting openly.

2. Whispering tendeth to breed strife among our friends, but backbiting to our general disgrace before the world. The one seeketh to deprive us of the goodwill of our friends, the other to destroy our service. They are often conjoined (2 Corinthians 12:20).

I. What is detraction?

1. The nature of it in general. It is an unjust violation of another’s reputation. God, that hath bidden me to love my neighbour as myself, doth therein bid me to be tender not only of his person and goods, but of his good name. Therefore certainly this is--

(a) Malice and ill-will, which prompteth us to speak falsely of others, so to make them odious, or do them wrong or hurt. Now, to hate our brother is inconsistent with that charity which the love of Christ should beget in us (1 Peter 4:8; 2 Peter 1:7);

(b) Uncharitable credulity, whereby men easily believe a false report, and so convey it to others (Jeremiah 20:10);

(c) Rashness and unruliness of tongue (James 1:26). Possibly it may not come from downright malice, but (Proverbs 11:13) whisperers must be talking, and be it true or false, out it comes;

(d) Passion for our different interests and opinions. Bitter envying (James 3:14) hath made mad work in the world as to strifes, and confusions, and quarrels, and bloodsheds, and persecutions. But usually it venteth itself in evil-speaking (2 Corinthians 12:20).

2. The kinds of it are two in the text.

(a) Because it is here reckoned among those which reigned among the heathen, and God hath expressly forbidden to His people (Leviticus 19:16; Jeremiah 11:4).

(b) It is against natural equity, because they do that to others which they would not have done to themselves (Matthew 7:2).

(c) It is a cause of much mischief in the world, as--Grief to the party wronged (Proverbs 18:8); much debate and strife (Proverbs 26:20; Pro_16:28; Pro_6:19); sometimes even the destruction of another’s life (Ezekiel 22:9; 1 Samuel 22:9). But here ariseth a question, whether all private complaints and informations against others come under the name of whispering? I answer--No, with these cautions--

(i) If the party be duly admonished; for, before we go any further, the rule is (Matthew 18:15).

(ii) If it be made to such as have power to redress the fault by the most discreet and gentle means (Genesis 37:2).

(iii) If the complainer seeketh nothing but the amendment of the party.

(iv) If he grieve that he hath cause to complain, and pray for his conversion.

3. Backbiting is a more public speaking evil of our absent brother, to the impairing of his credit. Now, this may be done--

(a) When we deny them. This is not only to wrong our neighbour, but to rob God of His own praise.

(b) When we lessen them. To extenuate and clip another’s due praise is envy, but in honour to prefer them above ourselves is charity and humility (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:10).

(c) When we but deprave them by supposing a sinister intention (Job 1:9).

(d) When we enviously suppress them.

(a) When we publish their secret slips, which in charity we ought to conceal (Proverbs 11:13).

(b) When, in relating any evil action of another, we use harder terms than are required, and make beams of motes, and mountains of mole hills. We should lessen sins all that we can (Acts 3:17).

II. The heinousness of the sin.

1. In general, that is evident from what is said already. I shall urge two arguments more.

2. More particularly, it is the more heinous.

Conclusion: Note--

1. How good natured Christianity is, and befriendeth human societies; it condemneth not only sins against God, but sins against our neighbour (Philippians 4:8).

2. That we should not speak evil of others behind their backs, but tell them their faults plainly in love and wisdom, nor encourage others in this sin (Proverbs 25:23). (T. Manton, D. D.)

Haters of God.--

Hatred of God

Enemies of God in heart and work (Romans 8:7). Hatred of God is the essence of sin, as the love of God is the essence of holiness. Hatred to God is shown in dislike--

1. To His character as just and holy.

2. To His government as opposed to evil-doers.

3. To His laws as forbidding what is sinful.

4. To His people as bearing His image.

Hatred of God is the cause of men’s rejection of Christ (John 15:21-24). Written in characters of blood in times of persecution (Psalms 79:2-3). Shows the intense wickedness and madness of the human heart. God is hated who is supremely excellent, and man’s greatest benefactor. An unholy nature is at the root of such hatred, which is aggravated by conscious guilt and dread of God. It is only overcome by the belief of God’s love as seen in Christ. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Hatred of God: its futility

The inventions of a hater of God are as the proud engines and presumptuous artillery of a Titanic warfare of defiance against Heaven, which recoil on himself, like mountains which are hurled back on the heads of the giants who attempted to scale the skies, and which crushed them beneath the ruins. (Bp. Chr. Wordsworth.)


Verse 32

Romans 1:32

Who knowing the Judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

The displeasure of God with all who are pleased with sin

I. Sinners do things which they know are displeasing to God. The heathen do things which God has forbidden by the law of nature; the Jews those which are forbidden by the God of revelation: both, therefore, do things which they know must be displeasing to Him. And this is true of all men now. They know that God forbids them to love themselves and the world supremely; but they do both. God forbids them to disobey His commands; but they do disobey them. God forbids them to disbelieve and reject the gospel; but they do disbelieve and reject it. And they will persist in displeasing Him, notwithstanding death appears to be their certain doom.

II. They take pleasure in seeing others take the same path to ruin. It will be easy to account for this if we consider--

1. That they love one another. They are all by nature possessed of the same selfish heart. And it is therefore reasonable to suppose that, notwithstanding the great diversity in their external conduct, they love one another because they are sinners, and not saints. Christ says repeatedly, “that sinners love those that love them.” And He tells His disciples that this selfish spirit is essential to their character. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.” Men of the world universally approve the spirit of the world, and are pleased to see one another act it out without the least reserve; though they know it is infinitely displeasing to God.

2. As sinners possess one and the same selfish and sinful heart, so they are heartily united in opposing one and the same holy and benevolent cause. The greatest nations have been, and still are, united in their views, and feelings, and conduct, towards the Church of Christ. As all sinners wish that God’s gracious designs may be defeated; so they have pleasure in seeing any of their fellow men doing what they think has a tendency to frustrate them.

3. Those who do things which they know are displeasing to God, take pleasure in seeing others do the same. Those who disbelieve the existence of God are pleased to hear others say that they believe there is no God. Those who disbelieve the inspiration of the Bible are pleased to hear others say that they believe it is a cunningly devised fable. Those who disbelieve the doctrines of the Trinity, of atonement, of total depravity, of regeneration, etc., are always pleased to hear others say that they disbelieve all these doctrines. Those who disbelieve in the Sabbath, who practise tavern haunting, vain and sinful amusements, like others to do the same. Those who are ambitious love to see others ambitious. Those who are worldly minded love to see others worldly minded. Those who despise all religion love to see others despise it.

III. Improvement.

1. If sinners love to do things which they know are displeasing to God, then they never refrain from doing anything merely because they know it will be displeasing to Him. They know what is pleasing to themselves, and they mean to do what is pleasing to themselves, though they know it will be displeasing to God. They are like disobedient children and servants, who will always do what is agreeable to their own corrupt heart, though they know it will be disagreeable to their parents or masters, unless they fear their displeasure. It is the fear and not the love of God that restrains sinners from doing any evil action or pursuing any evil course.

2. If sinners love to do things which they know are displeasing to God, then, though they do a great many things which He has required, yet they never do anything merely for the sake of obeying or pleasing Him. They labour to please themselves, and not Him.

3. If sinners love to do things that they know are displeasing to God, and take pleasure in seeing others act from the same principle, then no external means nor motives are sufficient to restrain them from sin, and induce them to love and please God. They sin with their eyes wide open. They know what would please God, but they do not desire to please Him.

4. If sinners not only do things which they know are displeasing to God, but take pleasure in seeing others do the same things, then they are guilty not only of their own sins, but of all the sins of others, which they see and approve. And the approvers are often more guilty and criminal than the actors. Parents who allow their children to profane the Sabbath, to game, to attend balls and haunt taverns, are more guilty than their children that do these things. Executive officers, who see and approve of those who break the laws of the land, are more guilty than the actual transgressors. The reason is, that in all these cases the approvers know more than the actors, and are under stronger obligations to condemn and restrain those who are under their care, than the transgressors are to refrain from their evil courses.

5. If men are guilty of all the sins which they know and approve of, then we may see what it is to be guilty of national sins. It is to approve of those sins, which the majority of a nation commit and approve of. And, in this view, it is easy to see that one nation may be guilty of the sins of another nation. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

The heinous guilt of taking pleasure in other men’s sins

From the beginning of Romans 1:18 to the end of Romans 1:31 we have an abridgment of the lives and practices of the whole heathen world. And yet, as comprehensive as this catalogue of sin is, it is but of sin under a limitation; sins of direct and personal commission. Is not this a sufficient comprehension? For is not a man’s person the compass of his actions? Or, can he operate further than he does exist? Yes; he may not only commit sins, but also take pleasure in the sins of others. Which implies, first, that thus to take pleasure in other men’s sins is a distinct sin from all the former; and, secondly, that it is much greater--the furthest that human pravity can reach. For surely, that sin that exceeds idolatry, monstrous unnatural lusts, etc., must needs be such a one as must nonplus the devil himself to proceed further.

I. What it is that brings a man to such a disposition of mind as to take pleasure in other men’s sins.

1. In order to show this I shall premise--

2. From these considerations we naturally infer--

3. What, then, are the causes that corrupt the mind of man as to take pleasure in other men’s sins?

II. The reasons a man’s being disposed to do so comes to be attended with such an extraordinary guilt.

1. That naturally there is no motive to tempt a man to it. The lesser the temptation the greater the sin. For in every sin, the freer the will the more sinful the act. If the object be extremely pleasing, though the will has still a power of refusing it, yet it is not without some difficulty. Now this pleasure springs from the gratification of some desire founded in nature. An irregular gratification it is often; yet still the foundation of it is, and must be, something natural. Thus drunkenness is an irregular satisfaction of the appetite of thirst; and covetousness a boundless, unreasonable pursuit of the principle of self-preservation. There is hardly any one vice but what is the abuse of one of those two grand natural principles; namely, that which inclines a man to preserve himself, or to please himself. But now, what is, or can be, gratified by another man’s pursuit of his own vice? All the pleasure that naturally can be received from a vicious action can immediately affect none but him who does it. And therefore the delight that a man takes for another’s sin can be nothing else but a fantastical, preternatural love of vice, as such, a delighting in sin for its own sake. “If a man plays the thief,” says Solomon, “and steals to satisfy his hunger,” though it cannot wholly excuse the fact, yet it sometimes extenuates the guilt. But when a man shall, with a sober, diabolical rancour, enjoy himself in the sight of his neighbour’s sin and shame, can he plead the instigation of any appetite in nature inclining him to this? No, for he may as well carry his eyes in another man’s head, and run races with another man’s feet, as directly and naturally taste the pleasures that spring from the gratification of another man’s appetites. Nor can that person, who accounts it his recreation to see a man wallowing in his filthy revels, allege for a reason of his so doing that it leaves the least relish upon the tip of his tongue. What can we then assign for the cause of this monstrous disposition? Why, that the devil and long custom of sinning have superinduced upon the soul new, unnatural, and absurd desires, that relish things not at all desirable. In fine, there is as much difference between the pleasure a man takes in his own sins, and that which he takes in other men’s, as there is between the wickedness of a man and the wickedness of a devil.

2. A second reason is, from the boundless nature of this way of sinning. For by this a man contracts a kind of a universal guilt, and, as it were, sins over the sins of others; so that while the act is theirs, the guilt of it is equally his. Personal powers and opportunities of sinning comparatively are not great; for at greatest, they must still be limited by the measure of a man’s acting, and the term of his duration. But now, for the way of sinning which we have been speaking of, it is neither confined by place nor weakened by age; but the bedrid and the lethargic may, upon this account, equal the activity of the strongest sinner. A man, by delight and fancy, may grasp in the sins of countries and ages, and by an inward liking of them communicate in their guilt.

3. It presupposes and includes in it the guilt of many preceding sins. For a man must have passed many periods of sin before he can arrive to it, and have served a long apprenticeship to the devil before he can come to such a perfection and maturity in vice as this imports. It is the wickedness of a whole life, discharging all its foulness into this one quality, as into a great sink. So that nothing is, or can be, so properly and significantly called the “very sinfulness of sin,” as this.

III. What kind of persons are to be reckoned under this character? In general whosoever draws others to sin. But to particularise--

1. Those who teach doctrines directly tending to a sinful course (Matthew 5:19; cf. Mat_15:5-6). Now these are of two sorts.

2. Such as endeavour to allure men to sin, either by formal persuasions (Proverbs 7:13-22), or by administering objects and occasions fit to draw forth a man’s corrupt affections; such as are the inflaming of a choleric person into a fit of rage against his neighbour, the provoking of a lustful person by filthy discourse, books, and pictures.

3. Such as affect the company of vicious persons. For otherwise, what is there in such men, which they can pretend to be pleased with? For generally such sots have neither parts nor wits. It is clear, therefore, that where a man can like the conversation of debauched persons, amidst all the natural grounds of dislike, it can proceed from nothing but the inward affection he bears to their lewd humour. It is this he enjoys; and for the sake of this the rest he endures.

4. Such as encourage men in their sins. This may be done--

IV. The effects of this sin.

1. Upon particular persons.

2. Upon communities. Some men’s taking pleasure in other men’s sins will cause many men to sin to do them a pleasure, for--

.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 1:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/romans-1.html. 1905-1909. New York.


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Monday, December 10th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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