Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN APOSTLE'S TITLE. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ" (ver. 1). St. Paul's titles are not numerous or high-sounding. He gloried in the title of "servant" - a servant of Jesus Christ. Consider what it meant for Paul that he became and lived a servant of Jesus Christ. It meant to him loss of worldly prospects. "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things." It meant to him bodily suffering. "I bear about with me in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." It meant to him - a man of high mental endowments, a man of unblemished character - a life spent largely in the prison-cell, with the chains hound upon his wrists. It meant to him - and he knew it well - a life ended on the scaffold, or, like his Master's, on the cross. "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." But he had counted the cost. Three things sustained him as he trod that lonely path of service and suffering. He looked back to the cross of Jesus. He had the love of Jesus and the spirit of Jesus in his heart. And he looked forward to the crown of glory that awaited him. Therefore he was able to say, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus." It means much the same to be a servant of Jesus Christ in our own day. You may not meet with bodily suffering as a consequence of your faithfulness to Jesus. But there arc other sufferings, perhaps just as bitter and as hard to bear, which must be endured by the faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Make up your mind to this - that you are not the servant of the world, and then what the world may say of you will affect you very little. A servant of Jesus Christ. St. Paul was what he professed to be. The world has confirmed the description. Could the same be said of us? Could we look up to God, or look into the faces of our fellow-men, and say, "Yes, I am a servant of Jesus Christ"?
II. AN APOSTLE'S WORK, AND HOW HE DID IT. "Called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (ver. 1). The word "apostle" means a messenger, or one who is sent. This was Paul's work, to be an apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ. This was the form of service he rendered to his Master. His work, the great ambition of his life, was to win men to Christ. General Lew Wallace, in that beautiful story of his, 'Ben Hur; a Tale of the Christ,' speaks of Jesus Christ as "the one Man whom the world could not do without." That, too, was St. Paul's firm conviction. This was one of the things that carried him on in his work. He realized the power of the gospel. He felt that it was something more than human. Heart and conscience and intellect told him it was Divine. He, who was so well instructed in the Jewish Scriptures, knew that the prophets spoke of Christ. "Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures" (ver. 2). He knew that Jesus had come. He knew that he had died upon the cross. Yes, and he knew that he had risen again. Look at the fourth verse: "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Had he not seen him? Had he not heard his voice - that voice that spoke to him on the way to Damascus, and changed for ever the whole current of his life? Yes; Paul knew whom he had believed. He had no doubt about it. He knew what Christ had done for him. And he knew what Christ could (to for the world. He knew how much the world needed Christ. And so he went forth on those great missionary journeys of his, burning with the one overwhelming, overmastering desire, to preach Christ crucified, and to persuade men in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God. This is one of the great secrets of successful work for Christ still. We must have a personal knowledge of Jesus as our own Saviour. "An educated ministry is desirable," said the late Dr. Cooke, of Belfast, "but a converted ministry is indispensable." And we must then go forth in the conviction that men need Christ, and that he will save them if they come to him.
"I love to tell the story, I love to tell the story,
I love to tell the story,
I. THE MAN.
1. We have called him the man, for as such he steps frankly into the foreground: "Paul." The necessity for sympathetic helpfulness in the work of man's salvation. Not a voice from afar, but a fellow-helper by our side. So the Captain of our salvation: "taken from among men." And so the true minister - a man first, one of the sinful, struggling mass of men, and saved with the common salvation.
2. But this brings us naturally to the second characteristic: "A servant of Jesus Christ." The word is literally, "bond-servant." And though the expression is to be applied very cautiously, lest the harsher suggestions should mislead us, yet there are elements of meaning which are full of force. Absolute proprietorship on the one hand, and obligatoriness of service on the other; but the relationship transfused with blessedness, for the claims are claims of love, and the service is a service of love. All true Christians, like Paul, bear about with them the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 4:10), and the brand-mark is this, "He died for me" (see 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 7:22, 23).
3. Christ's service is manifold, and to all departments the true introduction is by "call." What dignity this throws over the humblest work! For the meanest toil that is sanctified by Christian motives is a service of Christ, and to that service the toiler is "called" by Christ. The labourer in the field, and the hardworked wife in household cares, as well as the man of letters, the statesman, or the prince, is "called of God." But while such are called to a service which is the exemplification of Christian principle in the conduct of common life, others, nay, all, are called to service, more or less, which bears directly on the extension of the kingdom of God. And to some the call is an exclusive one; their life is to be spent in the fulfilment of this mission from heaven. Such a one was Paul. Called to Christian service, in common with all his brethren; called to exclusive service, in common with many of his brethren; called furthermore to apostolic service, in common with a few selected ones, who led the van of the new faith, and testified authoritatively of the crucified and risen Christ. "By call an apostle." The distinctive call was made in connection with one special crisis of his life - the Damascus journey, and the voice from heaven. But was this, with its ratification of Acts 13:2, the only "separation unto the gospel" of which Paul goes on to speak? Nay, we are rather led to think of the phrase in Galatians 1:15, "separated... from my mother's womb." For there is a certain Divine fatalism which is in perfect harmony with moral freedom; every one born into this world is predestined from the first for some special work for God. The work may be marred, or altogether left undone, by man's perverseness; but the work is the Divine destiny of the man. And the after-life is an equipment for the fulfilling of this destiny. The circumstances of our lot, and the events that befall us; our joys and our sorrows; and all our natural and moral education, combine with our original constitution and temperament at once to indicate God's purpose and to fit us for its fulfilment. And was not Paul "a chosen vessel"? - marked out from the first for the conspicuous part which he afterwards played in the world's history; "separated unto the gospel of God." Such was the man.
II. THE CHURCH. And his apostleship was to "the nations;" the Gentile "world was his parish." Therefore the little Christian band at Rome though not gathered, directly at least, by his labours, might well receive his message. They formed a Gentile Church, and as such he writes to them. They are threefoldly designated.
1. "Beloved of God." "God's love is the source of all his benefits, and the sure ground of our hope. Our consciousness of his love is the basis of the Christian life. Of this love all men are objects, but only believers are conscious objects. To them it is real and living. It moulds their thoughts and life" (Beet, in loc.). Yes; "we have known and believed the love that God hath to us" (1 John 4:16): that is the inspiration of the new life.
2. "Called to be Jesus Christ's... called to be saints." Or, "Jesus Christ's... saints, by call." For the summons had been responded to; the love of God in Christ had changed their hearts. And now they were his people (see Titus 2:14), and for his Name's sake they were living consecrated lives. For this is our only sainthood: "Whether we live," etc. (Romans 14:8).
3. And this by "obedience of faith." The spring of the new life, on the human side, even as God's love is the spring of life on the Divine side. We yield to Christ's claim, and live to God as saints, only in so far as we receive Christ into our hearts by faith, and believe the love God hath to us. And in all the manifold departments of the Christian life, we "live by faith." We receive, or more actively we grasp, the goodness of God and the life which is through Christ. And this "obedience of faith" is the end of all apostleship and ministry (John 6:29; 1 John 3:23).
III. THE MESSAGE.
1. "Grace." God's favour, and all the saving help which he gives because he loves us. A continuous and increasing realization.
2. "Peace." The abiding calmness of a conscience which has yielded to be justified by faith (Romans 5:1), accepting the grace of God's favour, rejoicing in the light; calmness of heart also, in view even of fierce conflict and trial, by reason of the voice which says, "My grace is sufficient for thee." "Grace and peace." So the old Gentile and Jewish salutings were transfigured by the gospel of Christ. In conclusion, the keynote is the "call." God calls you, calls you through Christ, calls you to be Christ's, calls you in your own minor apostleship to be servants of Christ. And the true response to this call is by obedience of faith; for, from first to last of the Christian life, "by grace are ye saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Oh, be it ours to respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth"! - T.F.L.
I. THE GOSPEL AS PROMISED.
1. He alleges as proof of the promise the Scripture prophecies. Note the phrase, "the holy writings," emphasizing the quantity and quality of the literature of the Old Testament.
2. Such a promise rebuts the charge of novelty. The Jews were conservative, and the only way to remove their prejudice against Christianity was by persuading them out of the Scriptures that it was no new- fangled doctrine which the apostles preached. The difficulty in controversies is to find a common court of appeal. The position of the Jews as custodians of the genuineness of the Old Testament has weight in argument today.
3. Shows the gospel to have been no after-thought in the mind of God. The Lamb was "slain from the foundation of the world." The plan of Providence is gradually unfolded as the centuries pass. Looking back, we can see how the beautiful petals of the mature flower were foretold by the markings of the bud.
4. The predictions which animated the breasts of men of old have their confirmatory value for modern faith. The patriarchs "died in faith." The prophets "searched diligently what time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify." And the fact that they were "heralds" proclaiming the advent of the King, prepares us to receive him with less fear of delusion. It is seemly that so grand a Monarch and kingdom should not be established without the pomp of previous notice. The battle of criticism rages most furiously at present around the Old Testament prefigurations of the new covenant, for men discern the impregnableness of Christianity unless the outworks of Jewish history and expectancy can first be stormed and demolished.
II. THE PROMISE REDEEMED.
1. In the Man Christ Jesus. In answer to the inquiry of Herod, the scribes were able to give the place where the Messiah should be born, and the royal house of which he should be a direct descendant. The genealogies of Matthew and of Luke alike accredit the claims of Jesus to be of the stock of David. At the birth of Jesus was there great "joy that a man was born into the world." Incarnation is more than temporary residence amongst men; it is "taking part of the children's flesh and blood." The Epistle to the Hebrews reasoned from the statement respecting the "seed of David" that the priesthood was intended to be transferred from the tribe of Levi to that of Judah, and therefore changed in character.
2. In the risen Son of God. Here is the true gospel, the Divine humanity of Christ, the conjunction of heaven and earth. Either apart would have no adaptation to our needs.
"'Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek (1) Power; viz. the mighty operation of God, who outshines the glory of his first creation in the wonders of the new. See the enthusiasm and boldness of the disciples after they realized the meaning of that event, and the force and possibilities opened up before them by the triumphing over death, and the authority granted to their once-despised, now exalted Master. The bands of the grave were like "the green withes" of Samson when Christ awoke from his slumber. He "made a show of adverse principalities and powers," the eclipse of immortality by death but preluding a far more effulgent splendour. (2) Holiness. The penalty of atonement was exhausted, or the Sin-bearer had never appeared again with lustre out of the wilderness of death. Christ tabernacled in "flesh," but his "spirit" was not fleshly. The Holy One could not see corruption, any more than gold perishes in the fire. The resurrection of Christ was a great object-lesson, teaching the immutableness of all who, like the "Ever-living One" (Revelation 1:18), are consumed by the zeal of God's house. Whatever in us is consecrated, God himself will preserve from the fatal touch of time. The future resurrection shall be the sealing testimony to the dignity of Christ. When his voice shall wake the dead, and the last enemy shall have been utterly abolished, then, in the fulfilment of his own declaration and the consequent array of trophies to his marvellous grace, shall he be universally adored as the "strong Son of God, immortal Love." May each rejoice in the consciousness of a personal relationship to this glorious gospel! - S.R.A.
(1) Power; viz. the mighty operation of God, who outshines the glory of his first creation in the wonders of the new. See the enthusiasm and boldness of the disciples after they realized the meaning of that event, and the force and possibilities opened up before them by the triumphing over death, and the authority granted to their once-despised, now exalted Master. The bands of the grave were like "the green withes" of Samson when Christ awoke from his slumber. He "made a show of adverse principalities and powers," the eclipse of immortality by death but preluding a far more effulgent splendour.
(2) Holiness. The penalty of atonement was exhausted, or the Sin-bearer had never appeared again with lustre out of the wilderness of death. Christ tabernacled in "flesh," but his "spirit" was not fleshly. The Holy One could not see corruption, any more than gold perishes in the fire. The resurrection of Christ was a great object-lesson, teaching the immutableness of all who, like the "Ever-living One" (Revelation 1:18), are consumed by the zeal of God's house. Whatever in us is consecrated, God himself will preserve from the fatal touch of time. The future resurrection shall be the sealing testimony to the dignity of Christ. When his voice shall wake the dead, and the last enemy shall have been utterly abolished, then, in the fulfilment of his own declaration and the consequent array of trophies to his marvellous grace, shall he be universally adored as the "strong Son of God, immortal Love." May each rejoice in the consciousness of a personal relationship to this glorious gospel! - S.R.A.
I. PAUL'S HISTORY BEFORE HIS CONVERSION. In these earlier days he did not go by the name of Paul, but by that of Saul. The change adopted betokens the cosmopolitan character which he contracted as apostle. It was the nearest Greek word to his original Hebrew name. While a fanatical Jew, he would have scorned any such accommodation to prevailing custom; but once he became "the apostle of the Gentiles," he was ready to sink the Jewish title and adopt what was nearest to it in the language which was more largely used. It was a beautiful concession to the spirit of the time. But now we must notice:
1. His birthplace. This was Tarsus, "no mean city," as he told the chief captain (Acts 21:39). It seems to have been a place of culture - what we should now call a "university" - which could almost enter the lists with Athens or Alexandria. He enjoyed, too, Roman citizenship through some accident of his birth in this proconsular city. low his parents had secured the privilege we know not, but the son made ample use of it afterwards.
2. His pure Jewish descent. As he said to the Philippians, he was "an Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5). Everything, therefore, which pure "breeding" implies would be his. The tribe of Benjamin had supplied the first king to Israel, and now it is supplying a more famous "king of men" in the person of this second Saul. His parents doubtless made him a "child of the Law" at the age of twelve, and later on provided for his education in the Jewish capital.
3. His training at the feet of Gamaliel. This meant the broadest culture of the capital, orthodoxy of the most prudential cast, as his master's conduct in the Sanhedrin seems to show (Acts 5:38). That Paul was an apt scholar his own testimony proves, not to speak of the testimony of his great career; for he speaks of "profiting in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation" (Galatians 1:14).
4. His enthusiasm as a man of action. It would appear that, setting aside the prudence of Gamaliel, he entered with all the ardour of youth into a crusade against the Christians. The Jewish authorities had perceived the vast capabilities of their instrument; and, from the subsidiary post of holding the clothes of those who stoned Stephen, he rose per saltum into the position of arch-persecutor, and the leader of the enterprise even unto strange cities. Not only was he, then, an orthodox, self-satisfied Pharisee, but also he became the chief man of action in connection with his party, the man of most abundant promise.
II. PAUL'S CONVERSION. Damascus was the goal to which he and his accomplices hastened, when lo! he is confronted, not far from the city, with an overpowering light, and hears a voice demanding, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" On asking the name of this brilliant and overpowering Person, he learns that it is Jesus, the risen and glorified Head of the people Saul is persecuting, who has thus appeared to confound and to convert him. Now, regarding this conversion let us notice:
1. The Lord's personal dealing with the sinner. The sinner feels himself in the hands of One whom he has wronged in his own Person and in the person of his people. Conviction of sin is just a sense of injury done to an innocent and loving Saviour. Paul imagined that Jesus had passed out of the category of living factors in this world, and now he is confronted by him with the charge of persecution.
2. Paul dies immediately out of all self-confidence. As Adolphe Monod has beautifully said, "Saul is converted from the day, from the hour, from the moment that, recognizing that he is in himself wicked, unworthy, lost, and for ever deprived of all righteousness before God, he substitutes the Name of Jesus Christ for his own in all his hopes of eternal life, and throws himself without reserve at the foot of the cross, as a poor sinner who has no other resource in the world but the blood of the Lamb of God." This is what we mean by his death out of self-confidence. He recognizes at once the hollowness of all his previous hopes, and puts Christ into the place once occupied by self.
3. Paul places himself under the command of Jesus. He cries out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Henceforth he is Christ's slave (δοῦλος), owned and ordered according to Christ's pleasure. This perfect surrender of self to the will of the Saviour is the practical outcome of conversion. It is a parallel to the surrender of Abraham, when he began to be a pilgrim with God. Paul has renounced the service of the chief priests and accepted service under the Nazarene they despised. And:
4. Paul receives from Jesus a new office. When he goes blind into Damascus and waits, he is at length told what he is to do. He is to be admitted by baptism into the Christian Church, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, and be apostle unto the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-18). His office is changed from that of Saul the persecutor to that of Paul the apostle. And what is it to be an apostle? It is to found the Church of God upon no other basis than that of the risen Jesus. It is to be a witness of Christ's resurrection, and of all which this cardinal fact and doctrine is to men. A mighty office, surely! And notice how singular and distinct Paul stands. The Jews receive twelve apostles, but the Gentiles only one; yet Paul is worth all the others put together so far as the world's conversion is concerned. Like David, he was worth ten thousand common soldiers.
III. PAUL'S SUBSEQUENT CAREER. He began preaching Christ at once, just to try his hand; but it was not intended he should pass at once from the publicity of persecution to the publicity of the apostolic office. He passes into the quiet of Arabia, and is for about seven years in an unobtrusive sphere of probation. It is not meant that he spent seven years in silence; doubtless, wherever he was, he made his neighbours feel his presence and know his doctrine. But he was preparing, by earnest meditation and communion with his Master, for his tremendous mission. To all in haste to enter the ministerial office, Paul's patient preparation is surely a significant lesson! But next we find him spending fourteen years m missionary labours. Into the details of his journeys we cannot here enter; but they were wise seizing of great centres, that from these the light of the gospel might go abroad. And lastly, Paul spent from five to seven years - we cannot be quite certain - in captivity at Cesarea and Rome, enjoying, perhaps, a short respite between the two Roman captivities, but ending his career by martyrdom. It is believed he was born about the year 7 of our era; was converted when thirty years of age; and died when about sixty. Now, it was as "apostle of the Gentiles" that he wrote this Epistle to the Romans. He wrote it, as is apparent from its contents, before he had visited the Church. He wrote it from Corinth, to lay before the Church occupying the metropolis of the world "the gospel of God." He was not ashamed of that gospel, notwithstanding the philosophy and culture of Greece or Rome. He knew the world's philosophy, and he felt that he had found in the gospel something finer far. But we must not anticipate. Meanwhile let Paul's conversion and apostleship speak to us of personal dealing with the Lord Jesus, and of personal labour for him. It has been said that the apostolic race is like a lost species. Yet have we not had, even in our own time, men of zeal who might even be named along with the apostles? David Livingstone, William Chalmers Burns, George Augustus Selwyn, John Patteson, and many others have exhibited the long-lost apostolic spirit. We want it to come again; and why should it not, in ourselves? Not that we would counsel one another to ambition, but, as Monod so well puts it, to fidelty. Let us humble ourselves, as Paul did on the way to Damascus, through a sense of sin and shortcoming; let us accept of pardon through the Lamb's precious blood; and let our cry be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and the Saviour will give each of us a mission, as he gave Paul, and own us as true servants in the accomplishment of his gracious designs. - R.M.E.
Luke 2:9-14); and Paul is rejoiced that he can strike this note of gladness. There might well be preludes to this burst of joy: so the words, "which he promised afore," etc. For all the indications of God's purposes of love, from Genesis 3. to Malachi, did but prepare the way for the completed announcement in "the fulness of the time." And so virtually they all were Divine promises of a fuller gospel. The two main thoughts - God's gospel; its contents.
I. GOD'S GOSPEL.
1. A gospel carries the implication of a want, and, it may be, of a sorrow and a loss. So do the good tidings of God to man assume that man has lost his God, and with God all things good.
(1) Man knew not, surely, the reality of his sin; was deceived by the tempter; but awoke from his dream to find that God was gone! And this is the great loss of the world. Tim voices cry, "Where is thy God?" And he? The Good One - the light, the joy, the song of his creation. So man has blotted out his own heavens, and the earth thereby has lost its lustre and its grace.
(2) But the estranged God is a condemning God. He may not abdicate his essential relationship to the world as God, and if the love be lost it is replaced by wrath! So man's conscience testifies: stricken, sore, and bleeding.
2. A gospel carries the implication of a desire to have the want supplied, the sorrow and the loss removed. So man's sin has not hopelessly ruined him, else there could be no salvation. Room for God to work, and God does work.
(1) The historical preparation: God teaching the world to desire salvation. The Jews by direct dealings, a positive discipline; the Gentiles by indirect, a negative discipline. So, "the desire of all nations."
(2) The individual preparation: God's Spirit in the heart. Only the grace of God can bring us to God. And now God's gospel means, in general, that the condemning God will pardon, and the estranged God be a Father and a Friend again; that the yearnings towards himself which he has called forth shall thus find their full satisfaction, which is nothing other than the peace of forgiveness and the joy of adopting love.
II. ITS CONTENTS. But this general message has special terms. God's love is manifested, proved, accomplished, in his Son.
1. "His Son." For it is God's own love, his other self, which stoops to save us. Let us hold fast to this, for herein is the supreme pledge of our salvation.
2. His Son becomes "Jesus Christ our Lord."
(1) By the assumption of human nature. "Born of the seed of David according to the flesh." That it may be one of ourselves who saves us. (a) A Man, making atonement to God for men; (b) a human High Priest and Captain of salvation, himself "perfect through sufferings," and therefore "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" - the oneness with human-kind necessary for both the Godward and the manward aspects of the redeeming work. A Son of David, according to mere historical lineage and local appearance: "for salvation is of the Jews." But, grander and more royal than this, a Son of man - the Son of man, in his true human fashioning and for his world-wide work (Hebrews 2:14).
(2) By the glorification of human nature. "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead." A Redeemer of men must assert their redemption in his own Person first. "We see not yet all things put under him [i.e. man]. But we see Jesus... crowned with glory and honour" (Hebrews 2:8, 9), the archetypal Man. His resurrection, which the apostle here links on to its world-wide correlative and consequence, "the resurrection of the dead," demonstrates the redemptive power of Jesus, who is therefore the Christ, our Lord, and therefore Son of God; for only he who has life in himself can give life to dying men - life from the death of sin, life from all death which sin has more indirectly wrought. Oh, let us hearken to such a gospel! God's good news to a dying world, spoken forth with all the power of One who was God's very Son, and with all the tender sympathy of One who is our very Brother. And for a proper hearkening to this good news may God, in his love, prepare our hearts! - T.F.L.
I. JEWS AND PROSELYTES FROM ROME WERE PRESENT AT THE PENTECOSTAL AFFUSION OF THE SPIRIT. This is expressly stated in Acts 2:10. Some of these, we may assume, received the truth as preached by Peter and the other apostles, and were converted to the new faith (Acts 2:41). If we further suppose that the proselytes, rather than the born Jews, became interested in Christianity, then we can understand how, in the composition of the Church at Rome, the Gentile element seems to have been stronger than the Jewish. The new converts, in returning to Rome, would have affinities with Gentiles more than with Jews, and so the faith would be propagated in the one direction more than in the other. We proceed to a second important fact.
II. GREEK NAMES PREDOMINATE IN THE SALUTATIONS OF THE LAST CHAPTER OF THIS EPISTLE. This throws clear light upon the composition of the Church when Paul wrote his Epistle. The Jewish element was in a minority, while the Gentile element abounded, Now, we can easily understand how populations gravitated from the provinces to Rome, and so converts would be going up from time to time from the Gentile Churches to the metropolis, and so swelling the Gentile element in the metropolitan Church. This seems indicated by salutations in ch. 16. addressed to some fellow-workers with Paul, who do not seem to have come from Rome, like Aquila and Priscilla, but to have emigrated to it. A third fact must be noted.
III. THE JEWS WERE EXPELLED FROM ROME BY THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS. Now, while this may not have affected in any great degree the numerical proportion in the little Christian Church, we know that it led to some Jewish Christians, e.g. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2), leaving the metropolis for other places. Upon this providence Paul's knowledge of the Church at Rome very largely depended. As he wrought with Aquila and Priscilla at tent-making, they would have many a long talk about the Church they had been connected with in Rome, and to which they subsequently returned.
IV. THE JEWS, WHEN PAUL AT LENGTH CAME TO ROME, SEEM TO HAVE HAD LITTLE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHRISTIANS. This is evident from Acts 28:22. If we remember the population of ancient Rome, also that the Christian congregation had not, as far as we know, any church edifice giving notoriety to them, but were meeting apparently in the house of Aquila (Romans 16:5), then we can understand the ignorance of Christianity the Jews possessed or pretended at Paul's advent. The little Christian conventicle would be easily hid in the great city. The Church at Rome, then, from the foregoing facts, seems to have been a congregation of believing Christians, occupying no very commanding position in the eye of the public, isolated in a large measure from other Churches, yet very influential through its existence in the metropolis. Its major portion was Gentile; and on this account it received the special attention of Paul as "the apostle of the Gentiles." Some, who went up from provincial Churches to the capital, seem to have carried Paul's teaching with them, so that he bad a kind of spiritual fatherhood towards at least some of them, and a brotherhood towards all. How in the Epistle he fortifies them against the errors by which they should be beset, will appear as we proceed. It was a lady, Phoebe, who carried up the precious document. She seems to have gone up on some business matters, and for her in these circumstances Paul seeks assistance and sympathy (Romans 16:1, 2).
V. LET US NOW NOTE THE SUBSTANCE OF HIS OPENING ADDRESS TO THIS CONGREGATION AT ROME. (Vers. 2-7.) And here we notice:
1. His gospel is that of the risen Saviour. This is God's "glad tidings" that his Son, who had been made of David's seed according to the flesh, and delivered in human nature unto death for us, had been declared to be his Son by the powerful, resistless demonstration of his resurrection from the dead. Paul and these Roman Christians were, therefore, in the hands of a living, holy Being, no less a Person than the Son of God, whom death and resurrection had denationalized and made Lord of all nations, who could and would dispose of them, Gentiles as well as Jews, as he pleased.
2. Paul declares that he had received from this risen Jesus grace and apostleship. We saw in our previous homily how he was first converted, and then was called to the apostolic office. Now, this apostleship contemplated the subjection of all nations to the faith of Christ. It was a mighty trust which was thus committed to Paul. This Epistle shows how anxiously he tried to discharge it.
3. These Roman Christians are also the called of Jesus Christ. For though there may not be such eclat connected with individual conversion, as in Paul's case on the way to Damascus, there is yet as real an interview between the risen Saviour and the sinner he would save. The words may not be audible as those addressed to Paul, but they are heard within and responded to. Like Abraham and like Saul of Tarsus, we must listen to the call to come out and follow Jesus, if we are to be Christians indeed.
4. Their privilege is the enjoyment of God's love, their duty the practice of holiness. "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." This is what we mean by Church-membership; it is, when real, an experience of Divine love, and a practice of holiness. And, indeed, we have here the whole plan of salvation. God's love comes forth first to us, and then we walk in holiness as his grateful people. It has been said somewhere by M. La Harpe that the doctrines of Christianity may be summed up in the words, "God has loved us," and its morals in the words, "Let us love God." Of course, God loves all men with the love of pity, and in consequence he sent his Son into the world to save us (John 3:16); but when we respond to his love, he proceeds to lavish on us a particular love - a love of complacency and of delight (John 14:21). These Christians at Rome were, therefore, the objects of this special love; and they manifested the benefit in holy lives.
5. Paul pronounces upon them a benediction. Now, when we analyze it, we find that "grace" is the favour of God, undeserved, and coming down in the shape of pardon. "Peace" is the precious effect produced in the heart which receives the grace. The Source from whom this benediction comes down is "God our Father," and the Medium of communication is "Jesus Christ" In pronouncing this benediction, the apostle desires that they should have the supply of the grace as they daily need it. The idea entertained by some, that we receive in conversion all the pardon we shall ever need, is refuted by this benediction pronounced over the Roman "saints." The following practical lessons surely suggest themselves:
(1) A risen and living Saviour has entered upon the government of the world. Paul's conversion and apostleship, the conversion of these Roman Christians, the conversion of men and women still, all go to prove this. We have not in Christianity a dead man's legacy, like Buddhism or Confucianism, or Islamism, but a living Saviour's wondrous work.
(2) its magnificent ambition is to bring all nations to the obedience of faith. It aims at world-wide empire; nothing less will content it.
(3) Our sympathy should enlarge itself accordingly. Paul did not restrict himself to Churches in the Orient, but in sympathy he embraced the Occident as well. Rome had claims upon him just as well as Corinth and Antioch. Let us be large-hearted too.
(4) Daily grace can alone sustain us in this sympathy. The closer we keep to the "throne of grace," the wider will our sympathies extend. There is wondrous power in waiting upon God. The work for him will best advance when we have waited on him for his grace and peace. - R.M.E.
I. A SPECIAL CLASS SINGLED OUT. The "all" in Rome are restricted by the subsequent designations. It is useless to ignore the New Testament line of distinction. Men are distinguished by their relationship to the gospel, not by their social standing or intellectual ability, but by their moral qualifications, as possessors of good hearts which have received the seed of the kingdom. To speak of Christians is to mark them off from all besides, as a straight stick differentiates crooked ones. Would Christ send his messengers to our houses as to those "who are worthy"? This distinction creates a bond of union. The superficial diversities amongst the followers of Christ are merged in the one great feature of similarity. All are "one" in Christ Jesus, whether they live in the East or the West End, in the great rooms of a palace or the attic of a lodging-house. And in the primitive Church, as to-day, the uniting power of the gospel was a striking proof of its Divine origin - that he who made the key to fit so many hearts was the same who first constructed those human wards. If Christ appeared to-day, it would be as when a magnet is introduced into a box of iron filings; the affinity of his people would be discovered by their instant attraction to him, and the closer they pressed to him the nearer they would draw to one another. Christianity is healthful socialism.
II. THEIR HAPPY CONDITION. "Beloved of God." The Almighty is good to all his creatures; he "is great, and despiseth not any;" his sunshine and rain benefit all indiscriminately. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem exemplified God's infinite pity towards rebellious subjects, sorrowing over their distresses and grieved at their sins. But the love of the text is that of complacency, where God can rest in his love with satisfaction, rejoicing in the renewed nature and the evidences of restored sonship. Love must bet strongest and most delightful when reciprocated by its object, as the mirror increases light by reflection. It is an animating designation; for men need love as plants need sunshine and warmth. The loneliest heart may be cheered by the assurance of the Divine paternal affection. It is an ennobling love. Many a man has risen through love to the height of his capacity; his powers have been stimulated and developed. How strong for noble deeds must those be who think of the mighty heart of God pulsating to the rhythm of their feeble souls! Stunted lives may blossom and grow fruitful under the "light of his countenance," seeking to live worthy of his wondrous love. It implies the well-being of those loved. Not necessarily exemption from hardship and trial, not miraculous interposition every day; but unfailing guidance and succour, and the certainty of a blessed issue to all events. Our God never intended us to dwell all our lives in suspense concerning our relationship to him, but to come out into the unclouded day by accepting his declarations, and we honour him when we arm our breasts with these magnificent truths as with triple steel against all vexation, and flood our dwelling with the benignant splendour of his promises.
III. THEIR DIGNIFIED VOCATION. "Called to be saints." The word "called" has become so theological that to enter into its meaning with any freshness we must strip it of its technical clothing. A man's calling is his occupation in life - that by which he earns his livelihood. The main business of the Christian is to cultivate holiness. He is set apart, like the priest, with anointing oil for the service of God. This aim is in no wise incompatible with the fulfilment of his ordinary worldly avocation. Every situation is adapted to the pursuit of holiness, disciplining the soul, calling for endurance or activity. The saint is separate from sinners, not by reason of bodily absence, but through his consecrated thought and endeavour and behaviour. The same action may be performed from higher motives and with a regard to vaster issues. The saints are furnished with all requisite aids to holiness. The written Word, the Spirit, the house of prayer, - these are all helps to a godly life. We are not set to make bricks without straw. The manner of our call enforces the obligation to sainthood. We have been called by Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, our Pattern and Power, who called the disciples by the sea-shore, and Matthew at the toll-bar; and his summons reaches us from his cross of anguish, and from his throne of victory on high. The title of "saints" is expressly assigned to the followers of Christ, and it behoves us to walk worthy of our high calling and of the name by which we are called. Mistrust disowns such high, grand titles; faith claims and justifies them. Will not some respond to Christ's call to-day? "Harden not your hearts, if ye should hear his voice." - S.R.A.
I. HIS PRAYERS. Does Paul for one moment here strike a happy comparison between his work and that of the priestly intercessor in the elder covenant? For the "service" of which he speaks now is the service as of a temple, and it is as though he said, "In the gospel, as under the Law, there is a holy of holies, and worshipful intercession there. The holy of holies is the shrine of the innermost spirit, where converse is held with God, and the priestly worship is the pleading for brethren in Christ, and concerning the things that touch the kingdom of God." Yes, he "serves" God "in his spirit in the gospel of his Son."
1. A thanksgiving. "That your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world." It was fitting that he should use such language as this, hyperbolical though it was, to those who lived in the world's metropolis. Wherever he went he heard of their good name, and he thanked God for it. He thanked God for it? Yes; for was he not spiritually identified with all who were identified with Christ his Lord?
(1) Doubtless the faith itself which was so eminent was the chief cause of gratitude. That there should be such a light shining in a dark place filled his heart with joy. They were alive unto God!
(2) That the faith of the gospel should have taken such hold on the world's central and imperial city was no small cause for joy. What visions of the future might not open up before his mind!
(3) The wide proclamation of their faith was gratifying, for if others were stimulated it would be for the furtherance of the gospel.
2. A longing. "To see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift," etc. The grace of God that was in him was to be operative towards others; he lived not unto himself. And was it not even so with them? A mutual duty, and a mutual blessing.
(1) The interaction of their common faith: intensity by contact.
(2) The special aspects of the common faith: "yours and mine;" "some spiritual gift." Thus their establishment. The fulfilment of what promised so well, and the supply of any lack.
3. A request. "If by any means now at length," etc. As Paul taught the Philippians afterwards (Philippians 4:6), so he practised now. And doubtless, with all the wrestlings of that impetuous spirit, there was peace. For God's will was gouvernant. "By any means." He learned in the issue (Acts 28.) that his ways are not as our ways. But it would still be "prosperity" (see ver. 10), if it were God's doing; so Romans 8:28.
II. HIS PURPOSE.
1. The great constraint of the gospel. "I am debtor." Nothing in the universe so free as the spirit of Christianity; nothing, on the other hand, which lays so commanding a grasp on love and life. A blessed yoke.
(1) All our possessions and powers are held in trust for the world; we all are "debtors," according to our several capacities and circumstances.
(2) In an eminent degree are we stewards as being entrusted with the gospel of God's grace. And the law - here, as in the former case - is, that being unused it ceases to be possessed.
2. The personal aim. "That I might have some fruit." Were the words of our Lord in mind, John 15:8? Or was he rather regarding the world as a great field, and himself as a sower? (see John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 3:7-9).
(2) Must not the central purpose, then, be the evangelization of the great metropolis of the Gentile world? Doubtless this filled his mind, and hence his intense interest in these Roman Christians. What visions! Realized in history. How? and how may it yet be? Let us realize our stewardship (1 Peter 4:10); and that the fulfilment of our stewardship may become a freedom and gladness, let us realize our oneness with Christ, and with Christ's people. T.F.L.
Church to which Paul directed this Epistle. We now pass to the policy he meant to pursue should he ever reach Rome; and which he embodies also in this Epistle. One or two preliminary matters, however, will prepare us for the climax in the paragraph before us. And -
I. PAUL LIFTS THE VEIL AND SHOWS HIMSELF AT HIS PRAYERS. It is a case of intercession. How noble and broad the views contracted at the throne of grace! The apostle becomes a statesman as he lies before the Lord.
1. He gives thanks for the world-wide reputation of the Roman Church. "First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of ['proclaimed,' Revised Version] throughout the whole world." Rome, as the metropolis, had many ways of communication with its provinces, and the Church at Rome had all the advantages of provincial publicity. In this Paul rejoiced before God. It led to much discussion of the new faith on the part of many who would not otherwise have heard of it. Believers are consequently to be witnesses; the world will sooner or later hear of their existence.
2. He presents ceaseless intercession for the Roman Church, that he may himself be sent on a mission to it. "For God is my Witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son," etc. (vers. 9-12). Now, this intercession is not only ceaseless, but self-denying. Oftentimes intercession simply commits others to the care of the great Father, without involving us in any personal mission. It is different when it contemplates such a personal inconvenience and sacrifice as a journey to Rome implied to the apostle. How genuine and sincere intercession proves when it involves us in arduous missions! And then this mission is with a distinctly spiritual purpose - that Paul may, as apostle, communicate some "spiritual gift" with a view to their establishment in the faith. How often are missions undertaken for minor and temporal objects, a look after Church organization and such-like, instead of having the revival and establishment of saints steadily in view!
3. Paul expects to get good as well as do good in visiting Rome. He says, "that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me ['that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine,' Revised Version]." Even an apostle with special gifts to convey expects reaction to follow his holy action; he gets benefit while giving it; it is the law of the kingdom. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
II. PAUL REVEALS HIS MISSIONARY ZEAL TOWARDS ROME AS A PURPOSE LONG CHERISHED, BUT HITHERTO HINDERED. "Now I would not have you ignorant, Brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (but was let hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles." It was a settled purpose pressing through long years for accomplishment, and the writing of this Epistle was an expedient adopted amid the continued hindrances. It surely shows how determinedly sacred work should be set about; not as the outcome of hasty impulse, but as the result of deliberate, prayerful conviction.
III. PAUL PRESENTS US WITH A WONDROUS SENSE OF HIS INDEBTEDNESS. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." Writing in Greek to these Christians at Rome, he doubtless, according to custom, included his correspondents in the term "Greeks," and not in the term "barbarians." This sense of universal indebtedness arose out of his commission as apostle to the Gentiles; but it is also a distinctively Christian conviction. The genius of Christianity makes us do good unto all men as we have opportunity, and especially to such as are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). No other system so lays the burden of the world's welfare on us. Besides, Paul did not choose a certain class to whom to minister. He took men as they came, "the unintelligent" (ἀνοήτοις) just as readily as "the philosophers" (σοφοῖς). It is noble to throw off selfishness so thoroughly as to feel through Christ a debtor unto all men.
IV. THE POLICY TO BE PURSUED WAS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL. "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also," etc. (vers. 15-17). And here we have to notice:
1. The method pursued always was preaching the gospel. It has been said, "Preaching is an institute peculiar to the gospel. It is an agency, previously unknown, which Christianity has created for itself to be its chosen mode of utterance. Jesus and his messengers are, therefore, the only preachers." This method of personal agency, this plan by the pulpit, not by the press, is most instructive. It secures a contact of mind with mind, and heart with heart, which no mechanical substitute can furnish. Even if the pulpit had lost its power, as is insinuated but not proved, the one remedy for this would be the revivifying of the instrumentality.
2. The subject-matter of the preaching is the gospel of Christ. It is an announcement of good news, of which Christ is at once Embodiment and Author. Not a newspaper, with startling intelligence of a personal nature, but a message with a personal application, constitutes the subject of preaching. The good news is this, that God, though justly offended with us because of our sins, is yet prepared for Christ's sake to receive us into his favour and fellowship, as if the estrangement had never been. Surely this is what each sinner needs. It suits the Roman and the Grecian and the barbarian. It is a message for the whole human race.
3. This gospel is "the Tower of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." God has many powers abroad. What destructive forces may we see around us! But here, in contrast, have we his energy manifested for saving purposes. Every one who believes the good news discovers that salvation is in it. The Jew got the offer first, and then was it given to the Greek; but Jew and Greek alike experienced salvation through simply believing it.
4. This gospel is in addition a revelation of God's righteousness from faith to faith. For the gospel is not a promise merely, but also an act of judgment. It is God declaring from his throne that he is prepared to pronounce the sinner righteous, and to accept him as if he had faithfully kept his Law, because of what Jesus has done and suffered in the sinner's room. It is the pronunciation of a reprieve and the utterance of an invitation to fellowship all in one. It is God's public way of burying our imperfect past and receiving us into immediate favour. It is only faith, of course, which can take such a revelation in. The condition of the soul in sin leads sight to suppose that God's righteousness must be always against the sinner; but the proclamation of the gospel leads faith to infer that God's righteousness is now for him; that God somehow can maintain his character for justice and at the same time be gracious to the sinner. The proclamation is, of course, based upon the satisfaction made by our blessed Saviour on our behalf. "God can be just" as we shall subsequently see, "and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus."
5. The sinner so justified lives by his faith. Here we have the grand consummation. The faith, which simply receives God's offer of justification, becomes the organ of life. We assure ourselves that we shall never perish out of the Father's hand, but continue through his mercy unto life eternal. Just as, under the old covenant, life was attached to obedience, so, under the new, life is attached to justification, which in its turn comes through faith. As Paul subsequently asserts, "Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:9, 10). The practical bearing of this subject is clear. Have we received the gracious message by simple faith, "the hand of the heart, or have we put it once more from us? May our reply be satisfactory! - R.M.E.
I. THE PROPRIETY OF INVOKING THE TESTIMONY OF GOD. Too frequently have public utterances and conversation been interlarded with the mention of the Divine Name, violating the third commandment and the Saviour's instructions. The tendency of modern legislation to restrict the occasions on which the taking of an oath is obligatory should be welcomed. It is allowable to call God to witness in solemn matters, befitting the dignity of the Most High. Especially in matters that lie within God's cognizance only, as here respecting the frequency of the apostle's petitions at the mercy-seat. The invocation of the Divine witness is seemliest from the lips of his servants. With what show of reason can others demand his presence to confirm their statements? Profane swearers convict themselves of inconsistency. Even a regard for others' feelings will sometimes lead men to abstain from trifling with the sacred Name of our Father and Friend.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Largeness of heart contributes much to the enjoyment and prevalence of our prayers. When we seem dull in respect of our own needs, the remembrance of another's wants may "unlock the scaled fountain." We may gauge our interest in our fellows by the regularity of our petitions on their behalf. If we pray not often for them, how can we be said to care for their welfare? Speak of them where it shall be of most avail.
"For what are men better than sheep or goats, III. THE QUALITIES THAT RENDER SERVICE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. It must be spiritual, that is, not formal or ceremonial, but an expression of the inner life; not rendered as a burdensome task, but according to "the spirit that giveth life rather than the letter which killeth." The apostle was constrained by love, for Christ had laid hold of his heart's affections and made him conscious of a new inward impulse, which transfigured obedience and made it liberty, and altered wearisome duty into gladsome service. It was the difference between the mechanical elevation and motion of a kite by the wind, and the soaring flight of the bird joying in its vital powers. Spiritual service is not blind, unreasoning devotion, but a ministration approved of by the noblest faculties of the soul. It is evangelical, arising from and moving in the sphere of the glorious revelation of the Son of God. Through Christ had the apostle "received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his Name's sake" (ver. 5). The knowledge and reception of the gospel imply privilege and responsibility. The true Christian life is filled with gospel motives and aims, nor is any condition inapt for gospel service, its priesthood and sacrifices. - S.R.A.
III. THE QUALITIES THAT RENDER SERVICE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. It must be spiritual, that is, not formal or ceremonial, but an expression of the inner life; not rendered as a burdensome task, but according to "the spirit that giveth life rather than the letter which killeth." The apostle was constrained by love, for Christ had laid hold of his heart's affections and made him conscious of a new inward impulse, which transfigured obedience and made it liberty, and altered wearisome duty into gladsome service. It was the difference between the mechanical elevation and motion of a kite by the wind, and the soaring flight of the bird joying in its vital powers. Spiritual service is not blind, unreasoning devotion, but a ministration approved of by the noblest faculties of the soul. It is evangelical, arising from and moving in the sphere of the glorious revelation of the Son of God. Through Christ had the apostle "received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his Name's sake" (ver. 5). The knowledge and reception of the gospel imply privilege and responsibility. The true Christian life is filled with gospel motives and aims, nor is any condition inapt for gospel service, its priesthood and sacrifices. - S.R.A.
I. LOVE IS NOT SATISFIED WITHOUT A MEETING. Augustine would have liked to see Christ in the flesh, Paul in the pulpit, and Rome in its glory. The apostle thought little of the outward magnificence of the metropolis; his heart turned to the company of Christians there. Some were his kinsmen, others had been his fellow-workers and prisoners, yet all who were knit in Christian fellowship were dear to him, and he longed to see them face to face. The ties of attachment in the early Church may have been cemented by the cold wind of opposition and persecution, which drove the members closer together for warmth and sympathy. Still Christianity proves itself able to banish worldly distinctions to-day, breaking down barriers of race and caste and language. The friends of the Saviour can feel no jealousy, since his love is large enough to embrace all, and a regard for his honour impels his friends to increase the number of his adherents. Love to Christ is the antithesis of narrowness of spirit. We may form an opinion of our discipleship from observing the degree of our longing to "assemble ourselves together." "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." There is a natural desire to look upon the face and form of famous men, that names may become persons to us, and that our weak imaginations may henceforth be assisted in picturing their voice and gesture and appearance. And this yearning leaps up into a sacred hope of the consummation of our bliss, when we shall be permitted to behold the Saviour and "see him as he is." Christ is "with us" now, but at death we depart to be "with Christ" for ever. Proximity and affection are correlative ideas.
II. THE MEETING OF CHRISTIANS HAS EDIFICATION AS ITS OBJECT, Paul was supremely anxious to be the medium of spiritual benefit to the Christians at Rome. He believed that a spiritual gift was the most valuable present he could bestow or they could receive. It ranked higher than scientific communications or almsgiving. Hours of pleasant chat and recreation are not despicable, but if our societies set these in the foreground they miss their proper mark. The cross of Christ flashes solemn light upon a pleasure-loving age. To this touchstone we must bring our Church engagements and our individual plans of living. Let congregations rightly value the ministration of spiritual things. We may not suppose the apostle to care most about miraculous endowments, gifts of healing, and of tongues, but rather a growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, and in love, the pre-eminent attainment. Do parents always convey to their children the impression that they set greater store by their progress in the Divine life than by their success at the bar or in the senate, in the exchange or the fashionable world? Note the apostle's desire to confirm the faith of these Christians. To establish them, not to unsettle their opinions and practices, was his intent. It is no light matter wantonly to disturb men's convictions and tear them away from their old beliefs. "Men" are not to be "carried about by every wind of doctrine," but to feel their feet firm upon the unchanging rock. The Greek word in the text reminds us that "stereotyping" is good when we are dealing with the first principles of Christianity. The frequently shifted plant grows with difficulty. There is a hint here that oral would be more effective than written communications. In spite of recent assertions, pulpit and platform speech holds its own as the engine that moves the masses. Even "the weighty and powerful letters" of the apostle could not equal the effect of his personal presence. Only enemies would term the latter "weak and contemptible." The Scriptures depict the coming advent of Christ as giving a mighty impetus to the perfection and triumph of his Church. He "shall appear in his glory," and "build up Zion."
III. A MEETING ENABLES ALL TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMON GOOD. The apostle looked forward to a mutual benefit. He was not so self-opinionated or proud as to imagine none could enlighten him or comfort him. Ministers need the consolation of their flock. Recall the inspiriting exhortation of the Israelites to Joshua, "Only be thou strong and of a good courage: the Lord be with thee," etc. (Joshua 1:17, 18). Nor was the apostle so selfish as to wish to get all and to give nothing. Christian Churches are designed to be Mutual Improvement Societies. Some only inquire - What good will such a gathering do us? forgetting that their remarks or their attendance even may stimulate their brethren and aid in the success of the meeting. It cheers the weak and supports the wavering to witness the steadfast confidence of the strong. The faith spoken of implies visibility in order to its full effect. Secret disciples unconnected with any organization miss much comfort and work through their isolation. Come, join our Church ranks! Christians are like the stones of an arch, strengthened in position by their joint presence and pressure. Bunyan beautifully portrays this mutual comforting in Christian and Hopeful as they ford the river of death. What a testimony to the work of any man that his presence helps, not mars, the piety of his friends! Let not "brethren cause the heart of the people to melt"! (Joshua 14:8). We are responsible for the influence we exert. - S.R.A.
they have no need of it. Amongst the very poor, on the other hand, you will often find the idea that religion may do very well for respectable people, but that it has nothing to do with them. Then, again, you will meet with a certain class of intellectual men - not always the most cultured or most thoughtful - who imagine that the gospel may do very well for commonplace, ordinary people, but that they have got far beyond such a childish belief. Even among Christian people what narrow views of the gospel and its scope! How slow the Christian Church has been in realizing its mission to the heathen world! There are many who still think that the heathen are well enough off; that there is no need to send the gospel to them. There are many who will tell us that there is "no use" in sending the gospel to the Mohammedan or the Jew. But the Apostle Paul took a very different view. In his view the gospel is a message for every one; and it is the work and duty of the Christian Church to bring it within the reach of every one.
I. A FACT STATED. "The gospel of Christ," says St. Paul, "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (ver. 16). This was the cause of his readiness to go and preach the gospel at Rome also (ver. 15), just as he had already preached it to bigoted and fanatical Jews, and to the cultured and sceptical Greeks. He knew no difference of nation or of language, of creed or class, so far as the need of the gospel and the power of it were concerned. His message was that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and he knew that he would find sinners everywhere.
1. The gospel is a message for the rich. It tells them of a treasure that is incorruptible, that fadeth not away. It shows them how to become rich toward God - first, by having Christ, and having him, we have all things; and then, by making a good use of the earthly possessions which God has given them.
2. The gospel is a message for the poor. It teaches them to be industrious and contented. It shows them in the earthly life of Jesus Christ himself, and in the lives of hundreds of his followers, how a peaceful and happy mind may exist, and how a useful life may be spent, even amid circumstances of outward poverty.
3. The gospel is a message for the men of intellect and learning. What sublime ideas it puts before us! with what pure and lofty motives it inspires us! and with what a glorious hope it cheers us on! Contrast the future to which the atheist or the agnostic looks forward, with the future which is the Christian's hope, an eternity of conscious enjoyment of what is noblest and best. The gospel has a claim upon the ignorant and poor because of its simplicity and its comforts. But it has just as strong a claim upon men of giant intellect and vigorous understanding. And observe how some of the foremost men in science, in literature, and in statesmanship have recognized that claim, and responded to it. What names in literature and science stand higher than those of Newton and Faraday, Thomas Chalmers and Hugh Miller, Sir John Herschel and Sir David Brewster, all humble believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? Or to take one case only from our British statesmen, that of the late Lord Cairns, Lord Chancellor of England. During the term of office of the last Conservative administration a Russian war was felt to be imminent, and much excitement prevailed both within and without the cabinet. One day the wife of a junior member of the cabinet inquired of Lady Cairns, "What is the secret of the lord chancellor's constant and unruffled calmness, which my husband tells me pervades the whole place so soon as Lord Cairns appears? "It is this," was the reply; "he never attends a cabinet meeting without spending half an hour immediately beforehand alone with his God." Upon young men of education and learning, upon young men of thoughtful minds, we would press home the claims of the gospel; yes, the personal claims of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel is a message for every one. It is a message for the sorrowing. It is a message to the sinner. It has melted the hardest heart; it has made the impure man pure, the intemperate man temperate, the dishonest man honest; and changed the proud and haughty man into a man of humble and gentle spirit. Over and over again it has proved itself to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
II. A REASON GIVEN AND AN OBLIGATION FELT,
1. St. Paul gives a reason why the gospel is a message for every one. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (ver. 17). A gospel that tees of a perfect righteousness is the universal need of the human heart. In the opening chapters of this Epistle the apostle enlarges on that idea more fully. He shows how the heathen needed a righteousness. Then he shows how the Jews needed a righteousness, condemned as they were by that holy Law whose requirements they failed to fulfil. And then, having shown the universal need - "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) - he speaks of the universal righteousness which is unto and upon all them that believe. There is no difference in the need. There is no difference in the gospel message.
2. We have here also an obligation felt. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise" (ver. 14). There are few statements so sublime as that from any human pen. The old Latin poet represents one of his characters as saying, "Homo sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" ("I am a man, and everything human has an interest for me"). This is a fine sentiment; but here, in the case of St. Paul, we have a man expressing his personal obligation to seek the spiritual good of every man whom he could reach. He, a Jew, counted himself under obligation to do something for the barbarians; he, a learned and intellectual man, counted himself under obligation to do something for the unwise and ignorant as well as for the wise and the cultured. We, too, need to think more of our own personal indebtedness to Christ. Then we too, like St. Paul, shall he anxious to carry the gospel to rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Gentile. - C.H.I.
The apostle assigns two reasons why he is not ashamed of the gospel. These are -
I. ITS PURPOSE. This is indicated by the words "unto salvation" The Greek preposition which is translated "unto' expresses purpose, or tendency, or aim. The purpose of the gospel is the salvation of all who will receive its message. To effect this purpose, the Son of God left the glory of the eternal, and descended into the misery and weariness of a life on earth. For this, he suffered the assaults of the tempter; for this, he passed through the agony of Gethsemane; for this, he bore with patience the lingering torments of the cross. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The purpose of the gospel is salvation. Let us understand fully the meaning of that great word. Salvation is indeed deliverance from guilt, deliverance from condemnation. But the purpose of the gospel is something more than this. It is to save us also from the power of sin in our hearts and lives. Many professing Christians forget this. They think that faith in Christ is simply to deliver them from punishment in the day of judgment, while they do not allow it to have present, practical influence upon their lives. Let us not deceive ourselves. There is no true salvation where there is not an evidence of present departure from sin and present following after holiness. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Faith, if it is real, will show itself. Salvation is a present thing. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin." The purpose of the gospel is to save us now There are many who long for some power that might save them from themselves, from some evil propensity or passion, from the influence of bad companionships. This salvation it is the purpose of the gospel to effect. "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. ITS POWER. The gospel, says the apostle, is "the power of God." Here is an encouragement for our faith. This is the second reason why St. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. Its purpose, no doubt, seemed a very difficult one, but the apostle had no fear for its success. Its earliest messengers were humble men. But the success of their message was in higher and mightier hands than theirs. That sin should be overcome, and men delivered from its power, was the purpose of the Almighty God, and his purpose never fails. In the history of nations we see the gospel proving itself to be the power of God. The moral miracles of Christianity, as Prebendary Row has shown, are the strongest evidence of its Divine origin and power. It has changed barbarism to civilization. It has emancipated the slaves. It has put an end to the cruel sacrifices performed in honour of the heathen gods. It has accomplished moral and social revolutions that to the human eye seemed utterly impossible. So also in the history of individuals. Men who have sunk so low beneath the power of degrading vice that their friends despaired of rescuing them, by the power of the gospel have been brought from death unto life. Jesus, and Jesus only, can cure men of sin's power. If we but touch his garment, we shall be made whole. No one has any reason to be ashamed of the gospel. Its purpose is a high and noble one, the highest and noblest mission ever undertaken. Its power is not the power of a feeble or a puny arm. It is the power of the living God. These are thoughts to inspire, and not to make ashamed. - C.H.I.
I. GOD'S POWER. Man plumes himself with pride on the possession of might, but how impotent he is in the grasp of the great God! So, too, the "great powers" of the world's history: Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's vision (Daniel 2:31 45). And "the powers that be are ordained of God." God's power is manifold. The governance of nature, the control of the affairs of men, the influence on the heart. And of this manifold power of God the gospel of Christ is a pre-eminent display.
1. Its aim. "Unto salvation." Life narrow restriction of this term; coextensive with the loss: the man, the life, the world. See ch. 8. for this wide meaning of the word. Man's very self: ignorant, enslaved, corrupt, and withal estranged from God, and under condemnation. The gospel of Christ works light and liberty and love; it brings pardon and God. Man's life-history: the gospel of the resurrection. Man's world: the gospel of the new creation. What splendid visions were these! and how, in comparison, the splendour of Rome's power paled!
2. Its condition. To him "that believeth."
(1) A reception of the power. Man's power of resisting God's grace, through sin; the humble acceptance of God's grace, through faith.
(2) A realization of the power. God's grace not merely accepted by the obedient will, but transfused through the whole consciousness.
3. Its range. "To every one;" "To the Jew first, and also to the Greek." God's large love, whether there had been privilege (the Jews) or non-privilege (the Gentiles), polity or non-polity (ver. 14), culture or non-culture (ver. 14). And all had been prepared of God. Oh, if he might but help towards making the potential into the actual! Rome's cosmopolitanism was as nothing to this. Was it not a "power of God" that he might be proud to preach?
II. GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. The imperial law of Rome. It could not command all the complexities of social intercourse, nor the governance of the man's self; much less could it lay its grasp on the heart. Nor can man himself make himself righteous; he lacks the heart and the power. But what an empire's laws can never do, what a man's own strength can never do, is done by the gospel of Christ: "For therein is revealed," etc.
1. The Divineness of the righteousness. "Of God."
(1) Divine in its origin. All true good from the Creator to the creature. Especially for recovery from a fall.
(2) Divine in its inspiration. Only as having God with us can we be right with God,
(3) Divine in its aim. God the supreme end of all thoughts, desires, purposes, and works.
2. The distinctions of the righteousness. To be brought out more fully in the sequel of the Epistle.
(1) A status: by the atonement of Christ's redemption. Objectively.
(2) A state: by the constraining love of the redemption. Subjectively. Man seeks to work out his righteousness in the reverse order; from a state to a status. Whole Epistle combats this false principle.
3. The reception of the righteousness. "By faith unto faith."
(1) Of the prerogative of righteousness through Christ: acceptance pure and simple.
(2) Of the power of righteousness through Christ: assiduous, increasing, strong. So all is of faith: the beginning, the progress, the perfecting. "As it is written, The righteous shall live by faith, by believing with all his heart in the saving love of God. Was it not a "righteousness of God that he might be proud to preach? What is God's gospel to us? A name? so many words? so many truths? Or a living power, already healing, and working towards the perfect life? "Not in word only, but in power" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Again, is it a veil, covering our deformity, and a cloak for our sins? Or a purifying power, making us right that it may make us righteous? "In power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Yes; a gospel of holy power, so shall it be a gospel of "much assurance;" and, as Paul was not ashamed to preach it, we also shall learn what those words mean, "Whosoever believeth shall not be ashamed" (Romans 9:33). - T.F.L.
I. AS OVERCOMING MEN WITH MORE THAN HUMAN MIGHT. The desire of power is innate in the breast, and an exhibition of it is eagerly witnessed. The apostle had the intense conviction of the power of the cross, which arose from its mastery over himself and the changes he had seen it effect in his converts everywhere. As the magicians said of old, "This is the finger of God," and as the Samaritans said of the sorcerer, "This man is the great power of God," so the apostle still more logically discerned in the peace of mind, the spiritual liberty and gladness, the lofty aspirations and renewed nature which came to Christians, the demonstration of a supernatural energy, a miraculous power whose source could only be Divine. Believing that Jesus Christ was God's lever for raising men from death to life, how could the apostle be ashamed of calling attention to this mighty instrument of human elevation? To speak and teach and live with this consciousness of wielding a Divine power is to lose faint-heartedness, and to let the ring of conviction in our tones beget acceptance in the listeners. The cure for many doubts is to note historically what Christianity has achieved. Then the very peculiarity of its introduction to the world, of its principle of operation and of its tenets, will the more strongly evidence its origin from above. It is at every point unlike the workmanship of man.
II. AS SECURING AN EMINENTLY DESIRABLE RESULT - the salvation of men. We may be terrified and disgusted at a force which threatens cruelty and oppression. But the might of the gospel of love is only beneficent in its design and effects. It aims at saving men from the wrath to come, at present deliverance from evil passions, at the development of all that is fairest and most lovely. Its triumph means the healing of the sin-sick soul, the entrance of light into the understanding, and holy joy into the heart. The Romans hated slavery, and proudly exulted in their freedom. They cultivated dignity of manner, and gloried in their world-wide empire and the privileges of their citizenship. Surely they too might perceive that the gospel promised and procured membership in a heavenly indissoluble kingdom, whose subjects were not only guarded from instability of happiness and the domination of mean desires in this life, but should also receive (what their favourite stoical philosophy never proposed) a blissful immortality radiant with honourable service under the King of kings.
III. AS OPERATING BY A METHOD UNIVERSALLY AVAILABLE, viz. by faith. It is essential to a panacea intended to bring help and strength to our race, that it should touch the plague-spot of universal disease and recognize the deepest need of man, however his customs, clothing, and language might differ. It is equally necessary that the remedy should assume such a form as to permit of its being received and applied by all, whether learned or uneducated, wealthy or poor, old or young, civilized or barbarous. To hear of the Saviour's life and death and resurrection as the revelation of Divine holiness seeking the reconciliation of man, to respond to the appeal by simple trust in the Redeemer, - this requires no more than the use of the common faculties with which all have been endowed. The news might be long in travelling from Jerusalem to Rome; pride, or gaiety, or intellectualism might stumble at the tidings; but, the Spirit showing the things of Christ to men, the responsibility rested with themselves if by unbelief they barred the heart against the truth. "To every one that believeth" does the gospel prove the spiritual "dynamite," not of destruction, but of salvation. Embrace it, own it, preach it! - S.R.A.
without excuse. He knew the laws of the feast; he knew that the wedding-garment was provided, and he neglected to put it on. So shall it be in the great day, of judgment with all those who had the opportunity to know God's will, but who neglected to do it. May we be enabled, in considering the inexcusableness of the heathen, to think of this solemn subject with reverence and with fairness.
I. LIGHT GRANTED. If God expects men to know him, we may be sure that he has given them the means of knowing him. God will judge every man according to the opportunities he has had. Paul's statement is definite and clear. They are without excuse, he says, "because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (ver. 21). They knew God, says the apostle. How, then, did they know him? And what did they know about him? They knew him by means of his works, and they knew at least two things about his character - that he was a Being of power, and that his power was more than human. It is inferred also that they knew themselves to be dependent upon his bountiful providence and care, else they could not have been accused of being ungrateful. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (vers. 19, 20). Here, then, it is clearly taught that it is possible to obtain a knowledge of God from his works, and that such knowledge the ancient heathen had. St. Paul knew very well what he was talking about when he said that the ancient heathen had a knowledge of God. He was well acquainted with the literature of ancient Greece. On Mars' Hill we find him quoting to the philosophers of Athens a statement from Aratus, one of their own poets. "As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." The light of nature - this is the light which was granted to the ancient heathen. Two things that light of nature taught them about God - his power and his Godhead. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Behind the stars and the sea, there must be some power that made and controls them all. The order of the seasons, the succession of day and night, the ebb and flow of the tides - all these things require a controlling force, and that force must not only have almighty power, but must have intelligence and reason and will. Such a being must be a Person. Such a Person is more than human - is Divine. The same light of nature is granted to us all. But how much more light has been granted to us! We have the light of God's written Word. What mysteries that Word opens up to us, concerning which the voice of nature is silent! What a light it gives us about the mercy of God, and the Saviour's redeeming love! What a light it gives us about immortality and heaven, after which the best of the ancient heathen were groping and searching in darkness! How thankful we should be, amid the darkness which sorrow brings, and as we look forward to the darkness of the grave, for the light which God in his Word has mercifully granted to us! But that great privilege, that unspeakable blessing, brings with it a solemn responsibility. We who have the Bible in our hands are without excuse if we live in godlessness or unbelief, if we reject the offer of salvation.
II. LIGHT REJECTED. "They are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (vers. 20, 21). And then, further on, the apostle says, "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (ver. 28). How often have nations acted thus - rejecting the light which was their best possession, their safety and their shield! The Jewish nation rejected the heavenly light, notwithstanding God's repeated warnings as to the consequences of doing so. France rejected the light when it expelled the Huguenots, the God-fearing portion of its population. Spain did the same when, by its Inquisition and its autos-da-fe, it exterminated all who dared to prefer the pure light of the Divine Word to the darkness and superstitions of Rome. Such nations were plainly without excuse, for they had the light, and deliberately rejected and quenched it when they could. So also we find rulers rejecting the light. That was the case with King Saul. He rejected the commandment of the Lord, and God rejected him from being king over Israel. Belshazzar, King of Babylon, had plenty of light given him in the career of Nebuchadnezzar his father about the power and justice of God. But, as Daniel reminded him, he had disregarded the solemn lesson; though he knew all this, he had not humbled himself, but had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven (Daniel 5:21, 22). And so on that night of revelry the fingers of a man's hand came forth and wrote upon the wall, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," He was without excuse. He had rejected the light which God had given him. Do we not see a similar infatuation in the case of the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots? Though she had faithful men of God in her capital and often heard the truth from the lips of John Knox, she chose rather to be guided by her own caprices and by the influence of her frivolous courtiers. She, too, rejected the light which God had placed within her reach. We are not to think that it makes no difference whether we accept the Divine light or not. There is a danger that we may become too liberal as to the attitude men take up regarding God's Holy Word. It is well to be broad - broad as the mercy and the love of God. But, on the other hand, we may be broader and more indulgent towards error than God's Word permits of. God deals with men as intelligent and rational and moral beings, with a free will, capable of free choice. He puts before them life and death. He tells them that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." He tells them that there is no other way of salvation except through Jesus Christ alone. Upon them rests the responsibility and the guilt if they reject his salvation. It is worse than a matter of indifference; it is a sin in the sight of God, it is a sin against their own soul's destiny, for men to reject or neglect the message which the great Creator has mercifully sent them. It may be done in the name of science. It may be done in the name of advanced thought. But it is moral guilt nevertheless. "They are without excuse."
III. WRATH REVEALED. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (ver. 18). And how could it be otherwise? If light has been granted to beings of intelligence and reason and conscience, and they have deliberately chosen to reject it, is it not fair and just that they should take the consequences? It is in the very nature of things that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A man cannot violate a natural law with impunity. The most liberal-minded scientific man will see no unfairness in a man suffering if he disregards or violates the well-known laws of nature. Fire will burn, water will drown, pitch will defile, bad air will poison. If a man acts in defiance of these natural and elementary laws, he suffers the consequence. No one sees any unfairness in it. Why should there be any more unfairness in suffering as the result of disregarding and defying moral laws? On the contrary, is it not of more importance that a moral law should be vindicated, that men should learn to obey a moral law, than that even a natural law should be vindicated? But here, at any rate, is the fact, written clearly in God's Word, written over and over again on the page of history - light rejected means wrath revealed. Was it not so with ancient Israel? Has it not been so with France and Spain? Was it not so with Saul and Belshazzar? It is a terrible thing when men so harden themselves against God's Word. so shut their eyes against the light of his commandments, yes, even against the light of the cross, that God says, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Let him alone! Light granted. Light rejected. Wrath revealed. "Without excuse." Such is St. Paul's description of the ancient heathen world. To a world in such a state Jesus came. He came to reveal the righteousness of God in contrast to the abominable deities of heathenism. He came also to reveal the mercy of God. The trumpet-note of judgment is loud and terrible. But the trumpet-note of mercy is equally loud. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - C.H.I.
I. MAN'S GUILT. Man's guilt, which is his obnoxious relation to the judgment of God, is established by reference to the well-known state of the Gentile world, branded by its own doings as "ungodly" and "unrighteous."
1. Ungodliness. The deepest root of man's corruption.
(1) A suppression of the truth of God (vers. 18, 21, 28). God may be known by man; this is man's high prerogative. Not comprehended, but apprehended; we comprehend nothing. This knowledge of God is conditioned on two facts - man's God-related nature (conscience), and God's self-revealing will. And God does universally reveal himself through his works; let us not minimize this fact. Again, the law of the knowledge of God is - "To him that hath shall be given." So γνῶσις may become ἐπίγνωσις. But the converse is equally true, and is illustrated in the history of the world. "Hold down the truth in unrighteousness."
(2) A conversion of the truth into a lie (vers. 23, 25). Man's God-related nature must work, even if inversely. The essence of idolatry - a self-submersion in the creature. The lie of idolatry - a deification of the lawless, the riotous, the sensual.
2. Unrighteousness. Cause and effect of ungodliness. Catalogued here so terribly that merely to read it is enough.
(1) The utter dishonour of their own nature (vers. 24, 26, 27).
(2) The extremest perversion of all social relations (vers. 29-31).
(3) The reprobate rejoicing in evil deeds (ver. 32). Such the sin which wrought guilt; guilt, because there was knowledge. And so, "without excuse."
II. GOD'S WRATH. This truth is burnt into the Bible, from first to last, that God is angry with sin, and with the sinner who identifies himself with sin. But it is burnt into the very history of sin itself, and that is the insistence of the apostle here.
1. Sin working folly. (Vers. 21, 22.) Man will not bow to what is above him; he therefore bows to what is beneath him. An effigy (Greece)! an eel (Egypt)! And this with all their wisdom: Greece, Rome, Egypt (ver. 22).
2. Sin working shame. (Vers. 24, 26, 27.) Man realizes his dignity when he realizes his God; loosing himself from God, he sinks into a degradation degraded beyond all words.
3. Sin working sin. (Vers. 28-32.) An utter reprobacy, so that the man becomes a devil! This the ultimate result of confirmed apostasy from God. Short of this, there is hope. What laws are these! Yes; God's laws. The revelation of his wrath. The heavens are speaking daily while we sin, and this is their voice: "Deeper, deeper, deeper! Folly, shame, sin!" And the thrice-told truth of it all (vers. 24, 26, 28) is, God gave them up." And all because they gave up God. So the ultimate punishment of the ultimate sin is, They reprobated God; God reprobated them" (ver. 28, literally). Let us learn, from these sad words, our danger: the suppression of the truth which is in us, its conversion into a lie - for all this is possible still; and the consequent wrath of God. And our safety: for as it is the loosing of ourselves from God which works folly, shame, and death; so it is the laying hold of God by faith in Christ that works wisdom, dignity, and life. - T.F.L.
Jews. As we have seen that the heathen element constituted the major part of the Church at Rome, and that the Epistle was likely to touch at its very centre the heathenism of the world, we can understand Paul's purpose in placing the discussion of the condition of the heathen in the foreground.
I. THE STATE OF HEATHEN RELIGION AS LAID BEFORE US HERE BY PAUL. (Vers. 21-23.) In these verses the apostle sketches in a very masterly manner the religious situation of heathendom. And here we remark:
1. The heathen deities are degradations. In some cases they are "corruptible men," as the polytheism of Greece and of Rome was the worship of man, and the apotheosis of his evil propensities. The inhabitants of Olympus and of the Pantheon were a "free-and-easy lot." In other cases, as in Egypt and the East, they worshipped animals of all sorts, - "birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
2. Every heathen religion has its rationale. The devotees imagined that they had the best of reasons for their worship. They professed to be wise in the arrangement, and would have repudiated all charge of folly. The lowest forms of fetichism can give some account of itself, and thinks that it rests on reason.
II. THE STATE OF MORALS IS DEGRADED IN PROPORTION TO THE DEGRADATION OF RELIGION. (Vers. 24-31.) It is a natural transition from the deification of human or animal passions to the practice of the most frightful immoralities. Hence in connection with these degraded religions we find:
1. Licentiousness made religious. Courtesans thronged the temples of Venus as her priestesses, just as the "nautch-girls" in India have their recognized connection with the Hindoo temples. The moment man begins to worship the man of genius and of passion, or begins to worship the lower creation, as if endowed with independent attributes, by a natural law he becomes lowered in the scale of being. "They that make them [i.e. 'idols'] are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them" (Psalm 115:8). They dishonour themselves through licentiousness after having dishonoured God by their ideas about divinities.
2. Sin tends still further to become unnatural. (Vers. 26, 27.) In one respect, indeed, all sin is unnatural; its ultimate issue is against nature. It becomes a mystery how minds get infatuated with it (Jeremiah 2:12, 13). But what Paul brings out here is the outrageous lengths to which unrestrained licentiousness will go. When the sinner takes rope enough, he goes, as the apostle here shows, to the most debasing and disgusting lengths, being worse in this matter of lust than the beasts that perish.
3. Sinners tend still further to be reprobate and reckless. (Vers. 28-31.) The point of the Greek is very beautiful in ver. 28. It might be rendered thus: "And even as they reprobated (οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν) the idea of having God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate (ἀδόκιμον) mind," etc. The judicial element in the reprobate condition is strictly retributive. Since they will have nothing to do with God even in idea, he must return their indignity and permit them to pass into the reprobate condition, i.e. the condition which he cannot approve of, but must loathe with his whole soul. The terrible catalogue need not be taken up in detail. It is headed by the generic term "unrighteousness" (ἀδικία), indicating that the spirit of injustice pervades the whole. Society is going morally to pieces. And there can be no doubt about the truth of the dark picture in Greece, in Rome, and in other heathen lands. But then the sinners become reckless as well as reprobate. Even with the fate of others staring them in the face, they continue their desperate game, and despise the consequences.
III. IN THIS DEGRADATION WE MAY RECOGNIZE A REVELATION OF DIVINE WRATH. This is the point of the passage. God is angry with the heathen who so degrade him in their thoughts, and all their inconvenient sin is his judgment against them. Paul does not assert the sufficiency or finality of present judgment, but simply asks us to recognize it as clearly from God. It comes about according to natural law, but it is not on that account any the less the sentence of the Lord who ordereth all. Sinners go from bad to worse. They are punished through their sins; these sins are not self-reformatory, but manifestly judicial. It is a vast subject, that of the Divine wrath; we do not understand it in its vast proportions doubtless; we may well exclaim with Moses, "Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" yet of its reality no impartial observer of man's sins and their consequences can be in doubt.
IV. THE HEATHEN DESERVE TO SUFFER THROUGH THEIR SINS BECAUSE OF THEIR MISUSE OF THE LIGHT OF NATURE. (Vers. 18-20.) Now, what does Paul mean by saying they are inexcusable? Not certainly that "the light of nature" is sufficient for salvation, if properly used. But simply that with "the light of nature" they have no excuse for such a degradation of God, and deserve to suffer for it. What, then, does nature teach us regarding God? Now, if you observe the accuracy of the apostle's position, you will find him dividing this revelation about God into two parts - the revelation in our own human nature (ver. 19), and the revelation in the natural world without (ver. 20). And he maintains that God has been speaking to us by both. Now, when I look within and analyze myself, I am conscious of the light of intelligence and of conscience. Human nature is certain of possessing these, if there is such a thing as certainty at all. When, then, human nature begins the study of nature, it expects to find in nature the expression of thoughts like its own. As it has been very accurately said, "God utters his mind in his works, and that mind is like our own. In fact, science would be impossible if it were not so. Science is the observation and interpretation of nature by man. Clearly the world's Maker and the world's observer must have something in common, if the observer is to understand the Maker's meaning. A world put together by a Being utterly unlike me, whose notions of truth, of utility, of purpose, of beauty, bore no manner of relation to mine at all, would be a world I could never understand, and could take no pleasure whatever in examining. It would be a chaos where I should fail to trace either method or meaning. But the real world we know, search it at what point you please, answers the intellectual demands of its human student; it satisfies the reason and it gratifies the taste of its human observer. In it a man detects with joy another mind at work similar in its great features to his own; and this is at bottom, I expect, the secret of its fascination." Let us, then, take up nature in this way, and we shall find it conveying to us clear evidence of God's "eternal power and Divinity." The world without and within witnesses to his power; it is an effect, and he is the first and eternal Cause. We also attribute to him those qualities by virtue of which he has become Creator of such a world; we grasp the idea of his Divinity (cf. Godet, in loc.). In degenerating into their polytheisms, therefore, the heathen were misusing ': the light of nature." Their degradation was quite inexcusable. They deserved the wrath to which God subjected them.
V. WE OUGHT TO CONSIDER OUR GREATER RESPONSIBILITY UNDER THE LIGHT OF OUR GREATER REVELATION. God has added to the light of nature. He has given us the Bible. Our conceptions of God should be correspondingly elevated. But oh! if, notwithstanding all this light, we degrade God in our thoughts and descend to real idolatry, the idolatry of money, of ambition, of success, our judgment must be intensified in comparison with that of the pagans. In particular, let us remember how God has assumed human form in the Person of Jesus Christ, and so enabled us to know him through the mild radiance of a perfect life. Let such a revelation have its full effect upon us, leading us to love God and worship him and serve him with our whole hearts. Jesus becomes the great Iconoclast, and before him every Dagon falls. - R.M.E.
I. A PARADOX - INVISIBLE THINGS CLEARLY SEEN. The possibility of such a seeming contradiction is allowed, when we distinguish between the outer vision of the body and the inner perception of the mind. Properly speaking, it is only the mind that ever sees. The mind arranges and digests what is carried to it by the optic nerve. Like a chemist, the brain has its laboratory, into which the senses convey the colours, sounds, impressions, facts, and figures of the world around us; and there in private it analyzes, synthetizes, manipulates, the products till they seem invested with new attributes. Think of our abstract conceptions, such as those of beauty, of time, of character; these have no sensible existence - they are qualities superadded by the mind which gazes. They may arise necessarily upon certain objects being presented to our view; they affect us powerfully, and, though unseen by the bodily eyes, become clear to the eyes of the soul.
II. THE PARADOX APPLIED TO THEOLOGY.
1. The works of nature manifest a mighty Power. This world, so wonderfully framed, exhibiting such unity in diversity, furnishes to the attentive mind abundant traces of a Force which has been at work other than ourselves. The declarations of past investigators, such as Buddha, Plato, Cicero, are amply confirmed by scientists to-day, who confess themselves in the presence of a glorious, awful Force, whose laws are to be ascertained and obeyed. The attempt is made to resolve demonstrably all phenomena into manifestations of the one indivisible force. Such thinkers we may claim as buttressing the declaration of the text that the invisible power of God is clearly seen, being understood through his works. Those regularities they call "laws" are his habits; those numerous analogies indicate the one mind influencing similarly all realms. Note especially that epic of natural theology, the Book of Job.
2. This Power discerned to be everlasting. There is the proper word in the text to denote "endless duration" - that which is always existent. The Power which originated the universe is needed to sustain it. Evolution is perpetual creation, whereby "things that are seen were not made of things that do appear." Man has from of old contrasted his brief life with the everlasting mountains, the perpetual hills. Astronomy is making us familiar with the countless millenniums of God's lifetime, and geology reveals the measureless ages through which his power has been working. The doctrine of the conservation of force, which Tyndall calls "the gift of science to the nineteenth century," echoes the same truth, that though the animals die, and even the hills crumble and decay, yet the Power which made them continues; they assume other shapes and do other work. Herbert Spencer writes of the "infinite and eternal energy whence all things proceed and by which they are sustained."
3. Such power reveals Divinity. The "Divinity" of the Revised Version is preferable, since here the apostle is speaking, not of the incommunicable essence of God, as in Colossians 2:9, but of his nature as distinguished from our mortal humanity. The works of God show that he can originate life; man can only propagate it. And reflection proves that this power of God acts in favour of righteousness and in punishment of wickedness. He stands forth as the Holy One. We do not forget the dark problems of life nor the abysses of creation, but we must beware lest we underrate the clearness with which he has written his autograph on the laws of nature, and on his chief product - man. Froude says, "This is the one lesson of history - the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity .... Justice and truth alone endure and live. Injustice and falsehood may be long-lived, but doomsday comes at last to them."
III. THE INEVITABLE CONCLUSION, THAT, MEN'S IRRELIGIOUS, SINFUL PRACTICES BEING INEXCUSABLE, THEY NEED JUST SUCH A GOSPEL AS CHRISTIANITY PROCLAIMS. Such a revelation ought to have prevented all ungodliness. A chief sin is to ignore God, as the greatest civil crime is treason against the ruler of the state. Not to worship and thank him is fiat rebellion at court. How clearly the apostle implies that darkened views of the Creator, degrading his attributes, lead men first to base ingratitude, and then to indulge, unchecked and unashamed, the worst fleshly desires! And these flames of ungodly passion, no longer subdued by the rains of heavenly pity, leap up into a fierce conflagration, by which the doomed are destroyed. Yet he who formed the world and placed man upon it, has remembered man's frailty - has provided an Advocate for the defenceless criminal, a city of refuge for the despairing murderer. It cannot be an escape through our own merits, or justification by works; but by a transcendent exhibition of Divine power in its noblest garb of love, stooping to bear our sins, and to make his righteousness ours, through our contrite, humble, joyful acceptance of his mercy and help. - S.R.A.
I. THE WORSHIP OF IMAGES ORIGINATES IN A NATURAL CRAVING FOR A SENSIBLE EMBODIMENT OF DEITY. Abstract ideas have little charm or power for men, and the worship of force or humanity can never attract the multitudes. The yearning for a visible God was answered in the Shechinah, and in the many appearances of the angel of Jehovah, and has received fullest recognition in the manifestation of God in Christ. The spirituality of Divine worship was to be preserved in Israel by the commandment not to rear graven images, and the ascension of Christ to heaven, withdrawing the Saviour from mortal eyes, is likewise intended to protect Christianity from the dangers liable to a system whose votaries should "walk by sight" rather than by faith. The Scriptures and universal history demonstrate the rapidity with which, as in the Roman Catholic Church to-day, men's homage and devotion are transferred from the Being represented, to the statue or figure which at first stood innocently enough as his symbol. There is a danger of modern literature seeking too much "to know Christ after the flesh," instead of relying upon the assistance furnished by the teaching of the Spirit, the invisible Christ dwelling in the heart.
II. THE TENDENCY OF IMAGE-WORSHIP IS TO DEGRADE RELIGION. The argument of Xenophanes, ridiculing the Homeric theology that if sheep and oxen were to picture a god, they would imagine him like one of themselves, only showed that natural religion, in framing a notion of Deity, rightly attributes to him the highest attributes of personality and intelligence conceivable. And the Apostle Paul accused the Athenians of unreasonableness in fancying that the great Father could be supposed to be less powerful and intelligent than his children. But without supernatural aid man sinks lower and lower in his conceptions; the direction of evolution in religion is downward, not upward, except where there is a manifest interposition of the Supreme Being. Note how strenuously the prophets had to combat the desire of Israel to ally themselves in worship with the abominable idolatries of the nations around. Man, selected as God's representative, becomes man in his lowest moods and merely animal existence; the transition is easy to the wise-looking owl and soaring eagle, then to the cow and the dog, and finally to the serpent and the fish. The unity of God is lost in the multiplicity of idols, and his power and righteousness swamped in bestial stupidity and depravity. Religious rites became scenes of licentiousness. "The light that was in men has turned to darkness, and how great is that darkness!"
III. THE WORSHIPPER GRADUALLY ASSIMILATES HIMSELF TO THE OBJECT WORSHIPPED. Man does not rise higher in thought and life than the Deity before whom he bows and to whom he submits himself; but he may, and too generally does, adopt the worst features of the character and conduct of his gods. What we constantly meditate upon transforms us into its own lineaments. Where the lower animals are deified, there the passions of the brutes are rampant, and a merely animal existence is lived. The lie substituted for the truth shunts man's behaviour on to another line, and a descending plane lands him in moral ruin. "They that make the gods are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them." The revelation God gives of himself in his Word operates reversely on a similar principle, so that "we beholding as in a glass the true glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image;" and, the image of God in man being restored, the likeness to God to which we are made to attain grows unto perfection, till "we shall be like him, when we shall see him as he is." - S.R.A.