<451501> ROMANS 15:1-33
Ver. 1. – We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
WE then that are strong. — The Apostle continues here to treat of the subject of mutual forbearance among Christians, raking himself with those who are strong in the faith, and who know that under the new covenant there is no longer any distinction in the sight of God between different kinds of meat, or any sanctity in the feast days enjoined to be observed under the Jewish dispensation.
To know the mind of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, is to be strong; to be ignorant of it, is to be weak. It is not the man of the greatest intellectual vigor who is strong, nor the imbecile in understanding who is weak. Many of those who possess the greatest talents, and are most distinguished for mental acquirements, even although Christians, may be weak in respect to the things of God. And many who are of feeble intellect, may be strong in the knowledge of Divine things. Ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. — Mr. Stuart explains the word here used as signifying ‘to bear with, to endure patiently, to tolerate.’ The word, indeed, denotes both to bear and to bear with; but here it is evidently to be taken in the former signification. The allusion is to travelers assisting a weak companion, by taking a part of his burden and carrying it for him. The strong believer is to carry the weak believer’s burden, by acting as if he had the same weakness, and abstaining from whatever would cause the weak brother to sin. Strictly speaking, it is improper to speak of one believer bearing with, enduring, or tolerating the opinions of another, for over these he has no control. God only is the Lord of the conscience. The man who speaks of tolerating the belief of another speaks improperly. And not to please ourselves. — If there be not a spirit of love, there will be a proneness in men to bring forward, and to urge with vehemence anything in which they have received more light than their brethren. This is not for the good of their weak brethren, but to please themselves, and discover their own superior acquirements.
Let every one of us please his neighbor. — Though no part of the truth of God is to be sacrificed to peace, yet everything consistent with truth ought to be done to avoid giving offense, or stumbling weak brethren.
Some persons seem to value themselves on their setting at naught the opinion of their brethren; but this we see is far from the doctrine of the Apostle. We are not to gratify our own humor, but to do everything in our power, consistent with our duty, to please our brother. For his good. — Mr. Stuart renders this ‘ in respect to that which is good,’ or ‘so far as we may do so and do what is good.’ The common version is preferable, and conveys the true meaning. We are to please our brethren only for their good. It is for their good not to be urged to do what they cannot do with a good conscience; but it is not for their good to have any part of the will of God concealed from them. Besides, to abstain from meats is not a good in itself. To edification. — This is the way in which it is for their good to treat them in the manner recommended. It is for their edification. Such treatment will convince them of the love of those by whom they are so treated, and will be the surest way to lead them forward to clearer views in the points in which they are ignorant. To urge them forward with dictatorial zeal, would shut their eyes closer, and prevent them from perceiving the truth.
Ver. 3. — For even Christ pleased not Himself, but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me.
For even Christ pleased not Himself — The Apostle confirms his injunctions by the example of Christ. He did not please Himself, or look for the favor of men; but instead of this, voluntarily acted in such a way as to subject Himself to every inconvenience and evil for the good of His people. If, then, our Lord Himself acted in this manner, how does it condemn a contrary practice in His people, if they indulge their own humor at the expense of those for whom Christ died! But, as it is written. — Instead of directly referring to the history of the life of Christ, the Apostle refers to the Old Testament, which testified of Him.
The chief facts in the life of Christ were in one way or other predicted, and foreshown in the law and the Prophets. The manner in which they are quoted by the Apostle at once shows their bearing, and attests their application to the great Antitype. The actions of our Lord were ordered in such a manner as to fulfill what was written concerning Him. The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me. — The reproaches of those who reproached His Father fell upon His only-begotten Son when He was in the world. This imports that all the reproaches cast upon God’s people, on account of their obedience to God, are really directed against God Himself. It imports that all the opposition made to Christ was really opposition to His Father. The reason why Christ was so much hated and opposed was, because He revealed or manifested the Father. Had He avoided this, He would have been applauded by the world. Men, even the most wicked, approve of morality and acts of kindness to the human race. They hate Christ and Christians only because of their holding forth the character of God, which they dislike. Had Christ sought to please Himself, He would have avoided whatever excited the enmity of the multitude. When, therefore, the people reproached Him, because He pleased His Father and declared His will, it was His Father whom they reproached. The great aim of the intercourse of Jesus Christ with men, as it referred to them, was their good, and not His own pleasure. He bore the infirmities of the weak, accommodating His instructions to the capacities of those whom He addressed. But because of this condescension He was reproached by others. When He was found in company with the ignorant, to teach them, He was reproached as ‘a friend of publicans and sinners.’ This appears to be the meaning and application of this quotation, which at first sight does not seem clear.
Ver. 4. — For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning. — This observation appears to refer to the Apostle’s reason for making the preceding quotation. He might have referred, as already remarked, immediately to the history of the life of Christ; but instead of this, he quotes from a passage in the Psalm. Here he justifies his doing this, and makes an observation which applies generally to the Old Testament and shows us in what manner we ought to use it. Some persons have blasphemously said that the Old Testament is now out of date. But the writers of the New Testament give no such view of the Old. Instead of this, they refer to it as proof, and treat it as of constant use to the people of God. All that is therein written, whether history, types’ prophecies, precepts, or examples, although under another dispensation, is intended for the instruction of believers, to train them to patience, and to impart the consolation which the Scriptures provide for those that have hope in God. ‘take, my brethren,’ says James, ‘the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.’
The passage quoted in the preceding verse is not only useful to us, as applicable to Christ, but it is, as the Apostle shows, useful as an example.
If the reproaches of those who reproached God fell upon Christ, the people of God ought to live and act in such a manner as the Apostle elsewhere enjoins, when he says ‘Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.’ If Christ did not please Himself, neither ought His people to please themselves, but to please Him and His people for their edification. That we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures. — Mr. Stuart understands this of our patience, and translates the second word by admonition or exhortation: ‘That through patience, and by the exhortation of the Scriptures, we might obtain hope. But it is through the patience exhibited in example in the Scriptures that we are to have hope. And though the original word signifies exhortation as well as comfort, yet here the latter is to be preferred. In the next verse, with reference to this declaration, God is called the God of patience. Now God is the God of consolation, that is, the God who is the author of consolation to His people. But to call God the God of exhortation, would be an uncouth expression. Might have hope. — We ought to read the Scriptures with a view not to gratify our curiosity, but to increase and nourish our hope of future glory. This passage teaches that we should encourage ourselves by the example of those who, amidst similar temptations, have overcome. For this purpose, the conduct of those who obtained a good report through faith is set before us, that we may not be slothful, but followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.
Ver. 5. — Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus.
Now the God of patience and consolation. — The Apostle having in the preceding verse spoken of the patience and consolation which the Scriptures communicate, here designates God as the God of patience and consolation, and prays to Him, who is infinitely patient, and the source of all consolation, to grant that the believers at Rome might be like-minded.
God is called the God of patience and consolation, because He is the author of patience and consolation to His people. Patience is essential to a Christian, and so is consolation; but neither in himself nor from any other source, but from God, has he these graces. We cannot bear the evils of the cross without Divine support. The virtues, then, of the Christian character are as much the fruit of the Spirit of God as faith is His gift. Everything good in the man of God is of God: all his sins are his own. When, therefore, we are in straits, difficulties, or troubles, we ought to look to God for patience to bear what He may see good to lay upon us, and for consolation under the burden. The form of the expression, God of patience, shows not only that God gives patience to His people, but that He gives it abundantly, and that there is no other source of this gift. Grant you to be like-minded — Mr. Stuart understands the expression translated like-minded to relate to matters of belief. It is true that it has this signification, but it is equally true that it refers to the will and affections, and in this place, in accordance with the common version, it is to be so understood. There may be unity of sentiment in error, as well as in truth. Christians should labor to effect union of belief in all matters, because it is their duty to endeavor to know whatever God has revealed, and not merely for the purpose of union of sentiment, in order to walk together in church fellowship. It is true that union of belief in all things tends much to harmony; but it is likewise true that difference of sentiment in some things tends more to manifest the degree of advancement in the things of God. There may be harmony from perfect agreement in belief, when there is not only error, but little of the true principle of harmony; for the true principle of harmony is love to Christ’s people for Christ’s sake.
It is also true that if we look to the New Testament, we do not always find perfect agreement in sentiment among the brethren. Although, therefore, the thing is desirable, it is not always to be expected, and much less is it to be made a term of communion. Christians are to walk together in the things in which they are agreed, and to differ without condemning each other. This is quite consistent with every degree of zeal for the interest of every truth about which they may differ, Philippians 3:15,16. If there be any who think that union of sentiment among Christians is not highly desirable, they are certainly far mistaken, and not of the same mind with the Apostle, who shows such earnestness on that subject. For surely it is desirable that Christians should know all that God has revealed; and if they know this, they will have this unity. But a thing may be very desirable which is not essential to their fellowship, and, as a matter of fact, no two Christians have such an union of sentiment. There are among them babes, young men, and fathers, and they are of the same mind about Divine things, just as far as they are respectively taught by the Spirit. The faith of Christ is required absolutely in all who have a right to fellowship in a church of Christ; but fellowship is not to be refused to him whom we acknowledge that Christ has received According to Christ Jesus. — Mr. Stuart understands this as meaning ‘in accordance with the Spirit of Christ, or agreeably to what Christ or the Christian religion requires.’ It undoubtedly means, according to the example of Christ Jesus, and accords with the expression, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,’ Philippians 2:5. Dr.
Macknight understands it of the example of Christ, but he also includes the will of Christ. But these two meanings the phrase cannot have in the same place.
Ver. 6. — That ye may wish one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That ye may with one mind and one mouth. — With one mind means accordance in affection and heart. Union of affection is much more necessary to harmony in worship than perfect harmony in sentiment.
There may be harmony in the service of God among Christians who differ upon many things. But if any two of them are disaffected to one another, there is no harmony, though they should both have perfectly the same judgment in all matters. It is in this view that the Apostle charges Euodias and Syntyche that they should be of the same mind. Disaffection towards each other was the evil under which they labored, and not difference about any matter of belief. One mouth. — That is, this harmony should be as complete as if they all uttered their voice through one mouth. It is delightful to see a body of Christians all uniting in prayer and praise with one heart, while there may be a great variety in their attainments in the knowledge of Christ. On the other hand, there may be a professed union in everything, without having the mind that Christ here requires. The union of Christians in professed faith will not compensate for their want of union in Him. Glorify God. — God is glorified in the prayers and praises of His people.
This object, then, they should never forget. They should acknowledge Him and praise Him in every part of His character, however offensive it may be to the world. He is glorified by them literally with one mouth in prayer.
He who prays is to be considered as uttering the prayer of the whole multitude of disciples, and each of them should follow in spirit, praying with him as he utters the words. Even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. — God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of Christ as man, and He is the Father of Christ as God. The titles Father and Son, as applied to Christ and His heavenly Father, most evidently apply to relation in Godhead. Great efforts have been made by some to overturn this view; but their efforts have been without success, and they have been most mischievous in taking away one of the strongest proofs of the deity of Christ and one which the Scriptures most frequently use. The dignity of the character of Christ is most frequently asserted in calling Him the Son of God. But if He be the Son of God in a lower sense, or one corresponding with that in which it is applicable to every good man, no definite view of His character is given when He is called the Son of God.
Ver. 7. — Wherefore receive ye one another as Christ also received us to the glory of God . Wherefore. — That is, since Christians ought not to please themselves, but to act in everything for the edification of each other, they ought to receive one another, notwithstanding differences of sentiment among them. Receive. — Mr. Stuart understands this as signifying to show kindness.
But the word means only receive. It expresses nothing of kindness. It refers to the reception of each other as Christians to the fellowship of the Church. They ought, indeed, to manifest kindness with respect to all who are thus received, but the word does not express this. This method of giving, as is thought, a more emphatic meaning to words than usually belongs to them, is attended with the worst effects. Here it conceals a most important part of the will of God respecting the grounds or which Christians should receive each other to church fellowship. The command to receive into fellowship is turned into a command to show kindness. As Christ also received us. — The manner in which Christians are to receive one another to church fellowship is as Christ has received them. As, or according as. — Now Christ has received, and does receive, all who believe the truth even in the feeblest manner. He accepts those who have the lowest degree of faith in Him. Thus He received the afflicted father, who said, ‘Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.’ Christ receives those who are ignorant of many things — indeed of everything but faith in Himself. The most ungodly is saved by Him the moment he believes; and Christians are received by Him, and live upon Him by faith, while they are in error as to many parts of His will. If Christ receives His people, notwithstanding their ignorance of many parts of His will, ought they to reject those whom He hath received? To the glory of God. — Some understand this of the glory which God shall bestow upon His people. But this cannot be the meaning here, as we are not yet received to His glory; whereas the glory here spoken of is already manifested. The glory which God will confer upon His people is future. ‘By whom, also, we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,’ Romans 5:2. We have present access into the favor and grace of God, but we have now only the glory of God in hope. The glory of God, then, here means the glory that belongs to God’s character. It is to the glory of God that Christians are received and saved by His Son.
Ver. 8. — Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
Now I say. — The Apostle proceeds to reconcile the Jews and Gentiles to each other, by showing them the reason why Jesus Christ, who was equally the Lord of the Jews and the Gentiles, was born a Jew, as a minister of the circumcision. Jesus Christ was made under the law and ministered among the Jews; and though He gave some examples of His purpose of mercy to the Gentiles, yet He did not go out to preach to the nations. But this exclusive service among the Jews is not to be understood as indicating an exclusion of His mercy from the nations. It was for the truth of God. It was to fulfill the predictions and promises of Scripture, to confirm the promises made to the fathers. His ministry was the fulfillment of the promises that God had made to His ancient servants.
Ver. 9. — And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to Thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name.
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. — Though Christ’s personal ministry was limited to the Jews, yet the efficacy of His work was not confined to them. The Old Testament itself contains evidence that the Gentiles were to be interested in His redemption. It was the purpose of Christ’s work that Gentiles as well as Jews might glorify God on account of His mercy. The glory of God is therefore exhibited as the reason of Christ’s work. This is the highest object of all God’s works.
Salvation is also represented as mercy. There is nothing here or anywhere else in Scripture to encourage the presumption of men who suppose that they can merit salvation by their own works. Salvation is of mercy. In the preceding verse, Paul had spoken of the truth of God: here he speaks of His mercy. That which was truth to the Jews, having been promised to their fathers, was mercy to the Gentiles, who were admitted to participate in the blessings promised. This the Apostle proves by the different passages he quotes, which declare that the mercy of God was to be extended to all nations. Consequently both Jews and Gentiles had the strongest reasons thus presented to them neither to condemn nor to despise one another, but, on the contrary, to regard themselves united in Christ Jesus, as well as by the common sentiment of their obligations to Him, and the love He had shown them. ‘He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.’ As it is written. — Paul quotes a passage from the Old Testament to show that Christ was to be the Savior of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. For this cause, etc. — In the passage referred to, Christ is represented as confessing or acknowledging God among the Gentiles, and singing to the praise of His name. Christ did not appear personally among the Gentile nations. This prediction, then, must be fulfilled of Him in His people, as one with Him. Than this nothing more clearly proves the unity of Christ and His people. What He does for them, they do, as they are one with Him. It is thus that believers are saved in righteousness as well as in mercy. Christ’s righteousness is their righteousness, because they are one with Him. Those who repudiate the doctrine of imputation of Christ’s righteousness, as both Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart have done, and that in a manner the most explicit and unreserved, not merely corrupt, but utterly overthrow the Gospel, and entirely remove the grounds of the justice of the Divine procedure in the plan of redemption. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord. In the eighteenth Psalm David speaks of himself, and the things spoken are applicable to him; yet the Apostle here quotes the words as applicable to Christ. This shows most incontrovertibly that David was a type of Christ, and that what is spoken of the type is in its ultimate sense spoken of the Antitype.
And again He saith. — That is, God saith this, but it was Moses that said it, therefore what Moses here said was dictated by God. The words are the words both of God and of Moses. Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people. — This quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:43. The Gentiles are there called upon to rejoice in fellowship with the people of God. This implies that they were to be converted by the Gospel, and united with the Jews in the Church of Christ. Calvin says, ‘I do not agree with those who consider this quotation to be taken from the song of Moses; for the Jewish lawgiver intends, in that part of his writings, rather to strike terror into the adversaries of Israel, than to invite them to the participation of one common joy. I take it, therefore, from Psalm 67:3,4.’ But this is a very unsafe and presumptuous mode of reasoning. We must rest on Paul’s authority, rather than on the authority of Calvin, as to what was the intention of Moses in the passage quoted. Though Moses intended to strike terror into the enemies of Israel, there is no reason why Gentile believers should be terrified with this, or should not rejoice with the Jewish people of God in the victories of the Messiah over His enemies.
The perfect applicability of the quotation is clearly obvious. Besides, the passage alleged by Calvin as the quotation, namely, Psalm 67:3,4, cannot without violence be made to correspond with the words of Paul.
Why desert a passage where the words are easily found, and have recourse to a passage where the words are not found? Is this to be done on the strength of our own views of the words of Moses? Surely we ought implicitly to bow to the authority of Paul as a commentator on Moses. In fact, the quotation is as applicable to the Gentiles as to the Jews. In the typical sense of the passage, are not the Gentiles as much interested in the extension of salvation to the nations as the Jews? Are they not much more so? Is it not to them a matter of much greater joy? The Jews ought, indeed, to rejoice in the glory of God and the happiness of men in the extension of the Gospel. But the Gentiles, in addition to this, rejoice in it as their own salvation. Even in the literal sense, as applicable to the victories of Israel over their enemies, ought not believing Gentiles to have rejoiced in them?
Did not Rahab rejoice in the victories of Israel over their enemies?
This quotation is from <19B701> Psalm 117:1. It calls upon all the nations to praise God. This implies that salvation was to extend to all nations, for none can praise God without the knowledge of God. Such addresses to the Gentiles are very numerous in the Book of Psalm, and refute the opinion of those who think it wrong to call on sinners to praise God. It is true that none but believers can praise God. But sinners may be called on to perform every duty incumbent on men, and charged with guilt for neglecting it. They ought to praise God. But this praise ought to be in faith, as well as every other duty. To suppose that sinners are not bound to praise God, is to suppose that their neglect of this and any other duty is not criminal. There is no danger in calling on sinners to observe the whole law of God, if it be also kept in view that no obedience in any degree can be given to God except through faith in His Son. This is quite a different thing from making prayer and praise a preparatory process to conversion. ‘The original word,’ says Dr. Macknight, ‘signifies to praise by singing,’ Luke 2:13. This is unsound criticism, and proceeds on a false canon, namely, that a word designates everything to which it is applicable. Words may apply to many things which are not designed by them. This word applies to praise by signing, but it does not express singing, because it also applies to praise in any manner.
Ver. 12. — And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles trust.
And again, Esaias saith. — The Apostle has in this place given multiplied quotations from the Old Testament to prove the point in hand. One proof from Scripture, if applicable, is sufficient to prove anything, yet the Apostle gives us many. This shows that Divine truth ought to be exhibited to gainsayers in all its strength, with a display of all its evidence. In proportion as prejudice is opposed to any truth, it is necessary to fortify it with multiplied evidence. The Jews were greatly prejudiced against that part of the will of God which the Apostle now teaches, and he heaps scripture upon scripture to overcome their prejudices, although his own authority and his own declaration were as valid as those of the inspired writers whom he quoted. There shall be a root of Jesse. — Rather, there shall be the root of Jesse. It is a definite allusion to one particular person of the family of Jesse. Christ is called a branch in the same chapter, Isaiah 11; but He appears here to be called the root, or a particular shoot from the root, as He is elsewhere called a root out of a dry ground. This limits the origin of the human nature of the Messiah to the family of Jesse. And He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles. — This determines the Messiah to be the King of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. The passage quoted speaks of Him as a banner to the Gentiles. This the Apostle interprets as a rule r; because soldiers follow the banner of their captain. In Him shall the Gentiles trust. — This strictly asserts that the Gentiles would trust in the Messiah descended from Jesse.
Ver. 13. — Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Now the God of hope. — God is called the God of hope, because He is the author of all the well-grounded hope of His people. All hope of which He is not the author, in the heart of men, is false and delusive. The world in general may have hope, but it is false hope. All true hope with respect to the Divine favor is effected in the human heart by God Himself. Not only is God the author of all true hope, but He can create this hope out of the midst of despair. The most desponding are often raised by Him to a good hope through grace; and the most guilty are in a moment relieved, and made to hope in His mercy. How remarkably was this the case with the thief on the cross, and with the three thousand on the day of Pentecost! Fill you with all joy and peace. — The inward joy and peace of the Christian are the gifts of God, and not the natural effects of anything in the mind of man. All the promises and declarations of Scripture would fail in producing joy and peace in the mind of a sinner, were it not for the agency of the Spirit of God. If the Christian possesses joy and peace, he ought to ascribe it altogether to God. He ought to reflect that these blessings must be produced and continually maintained by Divine power, and not by any power of his own mind. It should always be kept in view that these fruits of the Spirit, first of joy, and next of peace, Galatians 5:22, cannot be produced except in connection with the other fruits of the Spirit, and in the way of obedience, and in carefully abstaining from grieving the Spirit.
David, when he had sinned, having lost his joy in God, utters this prayer: ‘Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit: then will I teach transgressors Thy ways’ Psalm 51:12. Here we may also observe that they who seek to teach transgressors the ways of God should first themselves have the experience of these ways. Fill you. — This implies that there are degrees of joy and peace in the minds of Christians. Some may have a measure of these graces who do not abound in them. It is a great blessing to be filled with them; and for this blessing the Apostle prays with respect to the Christians at Rome. If there be different degrees of joy and peace, how important is it to look earnestly to God for the fullest communication of these blessings! The Psalmist had more joy in his heart, bestowed by God, than worldly men have when their corn and wine most abound. In believing glory and peace, as well as all other spiritual blessings, are communicated by God through faith, and through faith only, and in proportion to faith. Faith, when spoken of without peculiar reference, means faith in Christ, and not, as Dr.
Macknight understands it, faith in any particular promise.. That ye may abound in hope. — The above blessings the Apostle prayed for to be bestowed on those whom he addressed, in order that they might abound in hope; and the more believers are filled with joy and peace the greater will be their hope. The people of God have high hopes, and it is their privilege to seek from their Lord an increase and abundance of hope — not that faint and common hope of possibility or probability but a certain hope. Such a hope springs from faith, — in effect, is one with it.
Faith rests upon the goodness and truth of Him who hath promised; and hope, raising itself upon faith so established, stands up and looks out to the future accomplishment of the promise. Through the power of the Holy Ghost. — Hope is produced in the mind by the agency and power of the Spirit of God. Here two persons of the Godhead are brought into view as each being the bestower of this gift. The Father gives hope — He is the God of hope; but He gives it through the Holy Ghost. In the economy of redemption, this is the province of the Holy Ghost. Hope is natural to the mind of man; and, in general, men have hope in the worst of times. But as to Divine things, hope is not natural to man: it is the fruit of the Spirit of God through faith in His Son.
The prayer contained in this verse reminds us that there is no blessing which does not come to us from God, James 1:17. He is called the God of love, of peace, of patience, of consolation, of hope, who fills His people with joy and peace. If, then, we desire to be filled with joy and peace, we must look to God. If we desire to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost, we must with confidence pray to obtain His sacred influences and Divine teaching. We must be careful not to grieve Him by our evil conduct and evil desires.
Ver. 14. — And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren. — The Apostle here intimates that the reason of his writing to the believers as he had done was, not that he considered them deficient in the Christian character, or uninstructed in the doctrines and duties of their profession; on the contrary, even he himself was persuaded concerning them that they were full of goodness. Mr. Stuart confines this to kindness. There is no reason why it should not be extended to goodness in general, of which kindness is a part. As we ought continually and prominently to maintain that there is naturally nothing good in men, we ought likewise to give equal prominence to the fact that all believers, being born of God and made new creatures, work the works of God, and in their minds possess those dispositions which are produced by the Spirit through the truth. In our flesh there is nothing good; but from the work of the Spirit on our hearts we may be full of goodness. The honor of this redounds to God as much as that of our faith. If faith is the gift of God, so ‘we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,’ to the praise of the glory of God. Filled with all knowledge. — Paul acknowledges that those to whom he wrote excelled in the knowledge of Divine things, though he wrote to them with respect both to truth and duty. The commendations bestowed by the Apostle on the attainments of this church show that there are comparative degrees in the knowledge of the Lord’s people, and also that it is proper, on fit occasions, to confer approbation and praise on those who excel in knowledge. It is mere worldly wisdom, not countenanced by Scripture doctrine and example, to withhold commendation when due, lest it should serve to puff up. Able also to admonish one another. — The word in the original signifies to put in mind of duty, especially when it is transgressed.
The Apostle undertook to admonish them; but this did not imply that he considered them as unfit to admonish one another.
Ver. 15. — Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God.
Nevertheless. — Though the Roman Christians were eminent in their attainments, yet the Apostle thought it necessary to write to them as he had done with respect to some things, as to which he trusted they were previously acquainted. Such things he judged it right to bring again to their remembrance. It is proper, then, in the pastors of a church to bring forward the truths and duties with which the brethren are already acquainted, as well as those with respect to which they may either be ignorant or deficient in knowledge. Because of the grace that is given to me of God. — This was the ground of his boldness. He spoke as an Apostle, and in all things advanced by him he was only the mouth of the Holy Ghost.
Ver. 16. — That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ. — The grace of the apostleship was given to Paul in order to his being a minister of Christ to the Gentiles. Ministering the Gospel of God — The original word for ministry signifies to labor in a sacred office. Our term ministry sufficiently represents it. Calvin blames Erasmus for at first translating it in this way, and prefers to translate it ‘consecrating the Gospel.’ But this is evidently an improper translation, for Paul did not consecrate the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s word, and needs no consecration. Erasmus afterwards translated it, ‘sacrificing the Gospel,’ which is still worse. It is not the Gospel which is here represented as a figurative sacrifice, but the Gentiles.
Behaviors are a sacrifice presented by the Apostle to God through the Gospel. The Gospel is the means by which the Gentiles are made a sacrifice. Mr. Stuart translates it, ‘performing the office of a priest in respect to the Gospel of God.’ But this is liable to the same objection. It is not in respect to the Gospel that Paul considers himself figuratively a priest. It is with respect to the sacrifice, namely, the believing Gentiles, who are fitted for presentation as a sacrifice by the Gospel. That the offering up of the Gentiles. — The Gentiles are the thing presented to God in this sacrifice. This, it is obvious, is a sacrifice only figuratively, just as prayer and praise are called sacrifices. There is now no sacrifice in the proper sense of the word, and the Apostles were not priests, except as all believers are priests.
Many of the errors of the Man of Sin arise from considering teachers under the New Testament as successors of the priests under the law. But there is now no priesthood, except in Christ, who abides a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. The priests under the law of Moses were His types. As He is come, and has engrossed the whole duties of the office to Himself, He alone possesses priesthood. There is no longer any need of a typical priesthood; and the great sacrifice has been already offered. When the Apostles are spoken of as doing any part of the priest’s office, it is in a figurative sense. It is in the same sense that the altar is spoken of. As there is no sacrifice now to be offered, there is now no altar. To give the Lord’s table the name of an altar is very erroneous. It is wonderful to consider how, from the figurative use of a few words in the New Testament and in early Church history, a number of the grossest and most superstitious doctrines and practices, as has been already observed, arose in the Church. The bread of the Lord’s table at length became the body of Christ in a literal sense; the table on which it lay became the altar; the teachers became the priests who offered the sacrifice of the mass; and the contributions of Christians became offerings. In all these things, and innumerable others, the figurative sense has been, by a gross imagination and the artifice of Satan, turned into a literal sense, to the utter subversion of truth. Might be acceptable. — The Gentiles became an acceptable sacrifice to God only through the faith of the Gospel. It is only by the blood of Christ that sinners can be washed from sin, and only through faith in Christ that any sinner obtains an interest in Christ’s blood, and only through the Gospel that faith in Christ is produced. All those who attempt to come to God in any other way are unacceptable to Him. This cuts off the hope of all self-righteous persons, and of all unbelievers. It takes away, also, the foundation from the doctrine of those who teach that Christ may be the Savior of what they call pious heathens who have not heard of Him.
According to the Apostle Paul, the offering of the Gentiles is acceptable only through the Gospel. Sanctified by the Holy Ghost. — As the sacrifices under the law were sanctified externally and typically, this figurative sacrifice is sanctified truly by the Holy Ghost. No person, then, can be acceptable to God who is not sanctified by His Spirit.
Ver. 17. — I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. l have therefore whereof I may glory. — Paul says on another occasion, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Is it not a contradiction, then, to say here, ‘I have whereof I may glory?’ There is no contradiction: The glorying which he disclaims respects his acceptance with God. The glorying which he here acknowledges respects his success in the preaching of the Gospel; and even this is not a glorying in himself, but a glorying in Christ Jesus. It was the signal favor of his Lord that gave him his office of apostleship, qualified him for its discharge, and made him successful. From all the Apostle’s writings, we learn that of this he had the most firm conviction.
He gives thanks to the Lord, who had counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry. But elsewhere he declares that he had ‘obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.’ In like manner all that he did in His service is ascribed to God. ‘Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.’ He had whereof to glory in the abundant and unmerited favor of God; but he always carefully avoids speaking of anything done by him that was not the work of Christ. In things that pertain to God. — That is, things that respect the service of God.
Ver. 18. — For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed.
For I will not dare. — Paul would not take to himself any portion of praise on account of the labors and success of others. He spoke only of the success which Christ had given him in his own work. This shows that although all success is of God, yet that it is an honor and a ground of praise to be successful in Christ’s work. Many have supposed that it is wrong to give any praise to the Lord’s servants on account of their labors, diligence, and success in His service. They have judged that this encourages a spirit of self-righteousness and of pride. But this wisdom is not from God. It is human wisdom, and tends to damp exertion in the service of Jesus Christ. All our success is in Christ Jesus, as well as our ability and disposition to labor. Yet God has given praise to His servants for their diligence and success in His work. It is a sinful refinement to blame what God approves. The Apostle speaks here of what Christ wrought by him. In other places he also speaks of what God wrought by him, Acts 14:27, 15:12. To make the Gentiles obedient. — The obedience of the Gentiles is their belief of the Gospel. To obey the Gospel is to receive it, for it commands belief. Now this obedience of the Gentiles to the Gospel was Christ’s work. Christ wrought it. — Faith is the gift of God. It is not to be ascribed either to him that preaches or to him that hears, but to Christ, who by His Spirit opens the heart to believe the truth. But the preacher is employed as an agent. Christ wrought this through the Apostle. No man is made a Christian by any power less than God’s, and by no other means than God’s word. Christ wrought the obedience of the Gentiles through Paul, but the instrumentality belongs to God’s word, as well as the agency to Himself. Some connect this with the word immediately preceding, and understand it of the profession and practice of the believing Gentiles.
Others understand it of the preaching, labors, and miracles of the Apostles. The next verse seems to determine for the latter sense.
Ver. 19. — Through mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ.
Through mighty signs and wonders. — Rather through, or by the power of, signs and miracles. These are the deeds through which, as well as by Paul’s preaching, the Lord made the Gentiles obedient. This includes all the miraculous works of the Apostle for the confirmation of the Gospel.
By the power of the Spirit of God. — Some understand this of the power by which the signs and wonders were performed; others, of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. The latter opinion appears to be the true meaning. So that from Jerusalem. — Some suppose that, as there is no mention in the Acts of the Apostles of Paul’s preaching in Illyricum, and as it is only said that he preached as far as Illyricum, he did not enter that country. But the silence of the Acts of the Apostles is no evidence of this, and verse 23rd seems to prove that he did preach in Illyricum, as well as in the intermediate countries between that province and Jerusalem. If there was no place in those parts for him to extend his labors on unoccupied ground, he must have preached in Illyricum also. Besides, that the Gospel had been preached, and that there were churches in Illyricum, appears from Titus going into Dalmatia. I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ, or fulfilled the Gospel. — The Gospel was to be preached to all nations. He filled all the countries with the glad tidings of salvation through Jesus Christ. Thus was it given to Paul, who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Ver. 20. — Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.
Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel. — The word translated strived literally signifies to love honor; and as the love of honor stimulates to earnest exertions, the word came to signify, in a secondary sense, to endeavor earnestly, to strive. In this place, however, the primary sense appears to be that of the Apostle. He is speaking of the honor which God had conferred on him in the labor and success of the Gospel; and consistently with this, he speaks of his ambition to occupy ground that had not been taken possession of by others. This is not indeed worldly ambition, but it is ambition which is lawful and commendable in Christians. Not where Christ was Named — That is, in places that had not previously even heard of Christ. Similar ambition has often stimulated modern missionaries, and by their labors the Gospel has been carried to countries that were previously strangers to the very name of Christ. This appears to show that when any are strongly inclined to have the honor of being the means of subjecting new countries to the authority of Christ, they ought to endeavor to accomplish their desire. It is through this means that God excites men to fulfill His purposes of mercy to the different nations of the earth. Lest I should build upon another man’s foundation — This determines the meaning of the word translated to strive in this place. The Apostle was desirous of laying the foundation of the building in as many countries as possible. This is more honorable than to go into countries where others have been successful. Dr. Macknight understands this reason to indicate reluctance to perform the office of a subordinate teacher. But he evidently mistakes Paul’s meaning. To teach believers converted by others is not necessarily to perform the office of a subordinate teacher. With respect to those of the church at some itself, Paul was not the first who taught them; and he doubtless preached in many places where Christ had been named.
This he did not avoid, though he was ambitious, as far as possible, to break up new ground, and have the honor of preaching to men who had not previously heard of Christ. Calvin well observes, ‘There is no foundation for perverting this passage by applying it to the pastoral office; for we know that the name of Christ must always continue to be preached in well-regulated and properly constituted churches, when the truth of the Gospel has been for a long period felt and acknowledged.’ He that lays the foundation has more honor than he that builds on it in the Christian’s edification, but the latter is not without his reward. All cannot have the honor, and therefore have not the ambition, to go as missionaries to heathen countries. He that waters shall have his own reward, as well as he that plants.
Ver. 21. — But as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see; and they that have not heard shall understand.
But as it is written. — This ambition of the Apostle was the means of fulfilling a prophecy with respect to the spread of the Gospel in heathen countries. Thus it is that God fulfills His predictions and His purposes.
He gives His people an earnest desire to be the means of accomplishing them at the moment when He designs their accomplishment. It will be thus that the Gospel will at last be effectually carried to every country under heaven. It is thus that modern missionaries have, in some measure, carried the Gospel to the heathen. And although the slothfulness of the people of God in former ages is not without blame, it is because the time to fulfill God’s predictions to the nations was not come, that a like ambition to that of Paul was not found more generally to animate Christians. Whenever the Lord has work to do, He raises up men with a heart to perform it. This, however, is no excuse at any particular time for indifference or want of effort to spread the Gospel. To whom He was not spoken of; Isaiah 52:15. — This intimates the preaching of the Gospel to the heathens, and it proves also that the Messiah was spoken of to the Jews. The law and the Prophets spoke of Him.
Paul’s ambition to carry the Gospel into countries where it had not been previously preached, had long prevented him from visiting Rome, where the Gospel had been preached by others. It is important to teach believers all things, whatsoever Jesus has commanded. But doubtless it is more important to convert sinners from the thralldom of Satan. The peculiar business of an Apostle and of missionaries is the latter, the former that of the pastor; though neither object is to be neglected by the one or the other.
Ver. 23. — But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; But now having no more place in these parts. — Paul could not advance farther in that direction. This seems to prove, as already asserted, that the Apostle had preached in Illyricum as well as in the intermediate places.
Had he not done so, there would still have been place for him in these parts. When an opportunity of serving Christ in one direction is shut up, we ought to turn to another. When there is no opportunity of preaching Christ to those who have not heard of Him, we ought to occupy ourselves in laboring among those by whom he is already known. Paul diligently employed his time to the greatest advantage. He was always in some way occupied in the service of his Master. Having a great desire these many years to come unto you. — This shows that the Lord’s servants, with respect to the field of their labors, may lawfully be influenced by their desires. Paul was no doubt always sent by God to the place where He would have him to be; but sometimes He sent him not by direct command, but by his own desire or providential circumstances, or the persecution of his enemies.
Ver. 24. — Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat, filled with your company.
Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you. — The commission of the Apostles extended to all countries, but they were not always immediately directed with respect to the scene of their labors.
Sometimes they proposed what they were unable to accomplish. This no doubt was always overruled by God for the fulfillment of His own purposes, and His sending them to the places in which He designed them to labor. Sometimes, however, they were immediately directed, and either enjoined to go to a certain place, or restrained from going. The intention of Jesus in allowing them in general to direct their own course, while He overruled it in every instance, was no doubt for an example to us, that in directing our labors we are to judge according to our own views and desires, and that we are not to expect miraculous or immediate directions.
Missionaries sometimes err on this point, and seem to look for miraculous interposition to direct them in going or not going to certain places. This is what the Apostles themselves had not at all times, and which is by no means necessary. The Gospel is to be preached to every creature; and if nothing in God’s providence prevent our going according to our views and desires, yet we ought to look for the Divine direction. This, however, should be sought by prayer, through the influence of the Holy Spirit on our minds, and in the providence of God, and not through any immediate impression or supernatural communication. The providence of Jesus, whose is the command to preach the Gospel, and who directs the course of all things, will either open the door or shut it according as it suits His sovereign pleasure.
It has been made a question whether Paul was ever in Spain. On the one side, some argue that, from his inspiration in writing this passage, he must have gone to that country, and others, for want of evidence that he was in Spain, argue that in writing these words he was not inspired. Both these opinions are wrong. Paul’s inspiration in announcing his purposes does not imply the necessity of his always fulfilling these purposes. He had fully determined to visit Spain, and this the Holy Spirit inspired him to declare. But he did not pledge the Divine power to accomplish this resolution. It was useful to declare the resolution, whether it was to be accomplished or not. His inspiration, then, is no evidence of his having visited Spain. But much less is the want of evidence of his being in Spain a proof that he was not inspired; for if the inspiration of this passage necessarily imported that he must have been in Spain, want of positive information that he was there, so far from furnishing contrary evidence, is not even an objection. There are thousands of facts of which there are no records. Dr. Macknight, then, reasons without attending to first principles, when he says, ‘This, among other instances, is a proof that in speaking of what he meant to do afterwards, the Apostle did not make known any determinations of God revealed to him by the Spirit, but his own resolutions and opinions only. For there is no evidence that he ever went to Spain.’ The want of such evidence is no proof that he did not fulfill his purpose. The writer proceeds upon a false first principle, namely, that a prediction or declaration cannot be accounted as being really fulfilled unless there are records of its fulfillment. There are, indeed, other instances which show that Paul was sometimes disappointed in his expectations and purposes; but this is not such an instance. The only reason why we should hesitate in believing that Paul was in Spain is, that this is not necessarily required by the inspiration of the passage. It is possible that he might not be able to fulfill the purpose which he was inspired to declare. If the inspiration of the passage required that Paul must visit Spain, then we have the fullest warrant to believe that he was there. Tradition affirms that Paul was in Spain; but this is not evidence. For I trust to see you in my journey. — This shows that Paul’s resolution was his own, and that its fulfillment was a matter of uncertain hope, not of absolute prediction. He planned, it would appear, his visits in such a manner as not unnecessarily to consume time. He purposed to visit Rome on his way to Spain. And to be brought on my way thitherward by you. — The original word translated ‘to be brought on my way,’ signifies to conduct, escort, or send forward. In the latter sense, as implying the defraying all the expenses of the journey, the word seems to be used here, and on some other occasions in the New Testament. The Lord could have miraculously provided a supply for the Apostles while they preached the Gospel, or He could have commanded for this purpose the treasures of the Roman empire; but He chose to do this by the contributions of His people. Filled with your company. — This shows the great delight that the Apostle had in the society of believers. Ought not Christians to delight in meeting one another from the remotest parts of the earth? What a hindrance to the cultivation of this principle are the divisions of Christians into sects and parties! Somewhat filled. — By this the Apostle intimates that, though their society for a short time would be highly gratifying to him, yet his delight in it could never be satiated. This is true Christian love. An introduction to the emperor and the great men of his council would not have gratified the Apostle so much as the society of the despised believers in Rome. Nothing should separate the mutual affection of those who are united in Christ. If the ignorance of the most ignorant of them does not shut the bowels of Christ with respect to them, should it do so with us?
We all know but in part.
The Apostle had proposed to visit Rome, the capital of the world, and to carry the Gospel into Spain, where it had not yet been preached. He had long been prevented from visiting the Roman Christians, and yet, instead of going thither now, he chooses to go to Jerusalem, carrying money for the relief of the poor. But was not the preaching of the Gospel a greater matter than serving tables? Could not others have been found to carry this money without burdening Paul? If Paul, in order to save time for the preaching of the Gospel, seldom baptized believers, why did he spend it in carrying this gift of the Gentiles to the Jewish brethren? The object must assuredly have been very important and doubtless it was that he might improve the opportunity of overcoming the prejudice of the Jews towards the Gentiles, by this evidence of their liberality and love. This would tend to knit the Jews and Gentiles more closely together. And it was for this purpose, no doubt, that the dearth was occasioned in Jerusalem. For a similar purpose, it appears that God, in all ages, places some of His people in circumstances where they require; to be assisted, while He renders others able to assist, because this mutually attaches them to each other, as well as tries them. We here also see that it is not merely to the wants of the brethren in the same church that His people should attend, but where it is necessary, they ought to contribute assistance to the wants of the brethren in the remotest parts of the earth. This contribution was sent from one quarter of the globe to another. Nothing can more clearly show the importance of this matter than that, in order to attend to it, Paul postponed the most important engagements.
Ver. 26. — For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia. — Or, Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased, or have thought good. The words Macedonia and Achaia are here used for the brethren or churches of Macedonia and Achaia. The places are put for those who live in them. Not, however, all the inhabitants of those places, but the churches of Christ only. This shows that the Scriptures employ the same figurative language that is familiar to other writings. This phraseology also justifies the manner in which we speak of the Epistles of the Apostles — the Epistle to the Romans, to the Corinthians, etc. By this we do not mean that the Epistles were addressed to the inhabitants of those cities universally — as Dr.
Macknight, with an ignorance of Scripture seldom exceeded, and of the character of the apostolic Epistles, has asserted in his note, ch. 1:7, respecting this Epistle — but to the believers who resided in them. It hath pleased. — This contribution was not absolutely prescribed to them by the Apostle, but was a free-will offering of their own. The support of the Lord’s poor is to proceed from the love of their brethren for Christ’s sake. To make a certain contribution. — It was a collection in which they shared individually. Each contributed his part. Poor saints, or the poor of the saints. The word saints is not only as proper a name of all the disciples of Christ as the word Christian itself, but it is one much more frequently used in the New Testament. Yet in after times the designation of Christian was extended to whole nations, while that of saints, as has been formerly remarked, was limited to a few escalated to that rank on account of supposititious piety, by the act of the Man of Sin.
Ver. 27. — It hath pleased them verily, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
It hath pleased them verily. — Paul repeats this expression, in order to show the grounds on which he used it. They thought it good to act so, and good reason they had for it. It was, indeed, a matter of their own free will; yet it was one to which they were called by the voice of duty. They were debtors to the Jews for the Gospel. Not only did the kingdom of God first originate with the Jews, but it was through the instrumentality of Jews that the Gentiles received it. They carried it to their doors, and besought them to receive the blessing. From this we may learn the extent of the obligation, and the unity of the body of Christ. The services of any one of the Lord’s people lays those who receive them under obligations to the whole family to which they belong. If the Gentiles were under obligation to the Jewish brethren on account of being made partakers of the Gospel through their means, how much more are converts under obligation to those who are personally the means of their conversion. Spiritual things. — This phrase denotes the blessings of the Gospel, and communion with God, and everything that concerns the soul and body in their future state, as distinguished from those things that concern the wants of the body, and relate only to this world, which are called carnal things.
Ver. 28. — When, therefore, I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. When, therefore, I have performed this. — That is, when I shall have finished what I have commenced as to the matter of the contribution. This would be when the poor of the saints at Jerusalem had received the gift of their brethren. And have sealed to them this fruit. — Several different interpretations are given of this; expression. The meaning appears to be this: fruit means fruit of the faith of the Gospel. The contribution of the Gentile churches was a fruit of their faith in Christ. As to the sealing of this fruit, it is to be remarked that a seal was used to stamp anything as genuine, and to distinguish it from a counterfeit. Now this fruit was a convincing evidence that their faith was real, and that the Gentiles had received the Gospel, not in name only, but in truth. The Apostle sealed this fruit, when he exhibited this evidence to the Jewish believers of the faith of their Gentile brethren. Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart, with others, understand this sealing as indicating the security, or making sure the contribution to those for whom it was destined. But this gives an unworthy view both of Paul and the Gentile churches. It represents him as personally undertaking the charge or conveyance of this contribution), in order that it might be more securely carried. But surely there were confidential persons in the churches who could have carried the money with as much security as the Apostle himself; and Paul would not indulge such an injurious jealousy with respect to the brethren. He had a higher object in conducting this mission of mercy to the Jewish brethren. By this means he would remove the doubts and disarm the jealousy of the Jews with respect to the Gentiles. No other object could be of sufficient importance to detain Paul from visiting Rome and Spain, but that paramount object of uniting the Jews and Gentiles. Union among Christians we here see even placed before the carrying of the Gospel to new countries. I will come by you into Spain. — What Paul had stated formerly as a matter of hope, he here states absolutely. An absolute statement, however, does not necessarily bind by promise, but is only a declaration of the full intention of the present moment. Men speak absolutely of their purposes when they are fully resolved to perform them. But sometimes these purposes it may not be possible to fulfill. A promise is a very different thing from an absolute declaration. Some persons act like mere caviling casuists in explaining duty with respect to this point. If a person once refuses the thing asked, it is looked on as a breach of truth if he afterwards yield. But there may be just reason to change his mind, and his absolute declaration in the negative was only the expression of his mind at the time of utterance. Some specialists have held that if a thing be matter of duty, gratitude is not due to the benefactor from him who receives the benefit, nor praise from others on account of it. This is false morality. To make this contribution was a duty as to the Gentiles, but it was the duty of the Jews to receive it with gratitude; and Paul, 2 Corinthians 9:2, praises the performance. ‘I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago.’ Some persons would be afraid to bestow a word of commendation on the most disinterested Christian conduct; but the Apostle does not scruple to boast of the conduct of Christians. We may here also notice the condemnation of the false morality of some casuists.
They hold it unscriptural, and contrary to the simplicity of the Gospel, to urge people to duty by any other motive than the love of God. But the Apostle urges forward the disciples by the zeal of other Christians. In fact, in Scripture, every motive belonging to human nature, as it is the work of God, is freely employed to urge to duty and deter from sin. The refinement which refuses any of the weapons that God has employed, is calculated not to promote but to injure the service of God.
Ver. 29. — And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.
And I am sure. — Dr. Macknight limits this knowledge to the Apostle’s experience. But this limitation is improper. If he knew this, he could know it only from God. Fullness of the blessing of the Gospel — Paul was sure that God would give success to the Gospel, and that he would come in the fullness of this blessing — that is, with the richest measure of this success.
This visit, then, would be fraught with the happiest results to the Romans.
How ought Christian churches to go about all their affairs, and undertake all their work for the spreading of the kingdom and truth of Christ, with the most earnest prayers for this blessing! And all who preach the Gospel ought to look for this as essentially necessary to their success. Dr.
Macknight expounds this, ‘I shall come empowered to bestow on you abundantly the gifts of the Spirit.’ This no doubt was included in the blessing, but it is far from exhausting it. Calvin’s view of the passage, which he mentions as the general one, cannot be approved. He prefers the interpretation that makes Paul express the conviction that he will find the Christians at Rome abounding in good works. The words have no appearance of expressing such a meaning. It is the Apostle himself who was to come in the fullness of this blessing. It is not said that when he should come he would find among them this blessing.
Ver. 30. — Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. — To do everything for the sake of Christ, implies that the thing is agreeable to Christ. It must show love or obedience to Him. We could not be properly required to do anything for Christ’s sake which was contrary, or rather which we did not know to be agreeable, to the will of Christ. To pray for one another in our mutual difficulties, is a thing most pleasing and honorable to Christ. But when we are called upon for Christ’s sake to assist in the promotion or maintenance of superstition or false religion or in any way to support or countenance it, we ought to resist and not comply. The votaries of the Romish apostasy have the love of God or of Christ in their mouth continually when they call for assistance in their superstitious works. But the disciples of Christ ought to testify loudly against them, instead of bidding them God speed with their aid. For Christ’s sake implies also that those addressed are the people of Christ.
They who are not such can do nothing for His sake. Love of the Spirit. — Some understand this of the love which the Spirit has for Christ’s people, and others of the love to one another which the Spirit works in them. The expression is capable in itself of either sense; and other considerations must determine the preference. Some unite both opinions, which is the most mischievous of all methods of interpretation, as it tends to encourage us in slothfulness with respect to the meaning of Scripture, and to a prostitution of Scripture as implying a sense which it does not truly bear. No passage unites two different senses at once. Yet those who, in interpreting Scripture, attach to it only one meaning, when, according to the best of their judgment, it is the true one, are often loudly accused of dogmatism.
The love of God may be either God’s love to us, or our love to God; and accordingly, in Scripture, it is sometimes used in the one sense, and sometimes in the other. But it never at the same time signifies both. It is always the connection and other circumstances that must determine the meaning. The love of the Spirit here is most probably the love which the Spirit works in His people, which disposes them to love one another.
Now, from this principle of pure love, Paul entreats their prayers for himself. Love is not the fruit of the natural heart of man. Men are by nature hateful and hating one another. When sinners believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit produces in their hearts love to one another. This phrase, also, whether it refers to the love which the Spirit produces in believers, or which He has for them, clearly implies His Godhead. That ye strive together with me in your prayers. — The word here employed signifies the strongest exertion, alluding to the struggle of wrestlers in the games. Prayer, then, is not a formal exercise. This shows the great importance at all times, to the Lord’s people, of an ardent spirit of prayer. It is through prayer that the Lord is usually pleased to bestow His favors. He requires to be asked, and asked repeatedly and earnestly, for the things which He has promised to bestow. ‘Thus saith the Lord God,’ — in promising to confer the greatest blessings, — ’I will yet for this be inquired of by the house Of Israel to do it for them,’ Ezekiel 36:37. To God, namely, the Father. — This verse refers to the whole Godhead — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and here the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost, His power and influence, are referred to, as in verses 13, 16, and 19. For me. — This shows the propriety and importance of prayer for one another. Even the Apostle Paul, with all his distinguishing privileges, deems it a matter of the greatest importance to himself. If Paul needed the prayers of his brethren, who were so far behind him, can they be unimportant to Christ’s people in general?
Ver. 31. — That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may be delivered. — What was the thing for which the Apostle requested the prayers of his fellow-Christians? It was to be delivered from death and danger in the discharge of his work. This shows that, how willing so ever we ought to be to sacrifice our lives for Christ’s sake, yet that, as far as possible, we ought to desire to preserve life. The Apostle is not ashamed to call on his brethren to unite in the most fervent supplications for his preservation from death, and from the hand of his enemies. How different is this from the language of Ignatius, who seemed rather to call for the prayers of his brethren that he might be honored with a crown of martyrdom, than to be preserved from his enemies. Christians ought to be willing to give their lives for Christ rather than deny Him or refuse to do any part of His known will. But it is not only lawful but dutiful to take every proper means for their deliverance out of danger. If even an Apostle, in the cause of Christ, was so desirous of preserving life, what shall we think of those who profess a spirit of indifference respecting it, which would wantonly throw it away? Them that do not believe in Judea. — Paul knew the danger of the visit to his countrymen. He was in greater danger in Jerusalem than in any of the most barbarous heathen countries; yet he did not decline his duty. This is true Christian courage. We ought to take every precaution to preserve our lives, but we ought not to decline duty to save them. We should go forward, and look to God to deliver us out of the hand of them who do not believe. Those who reject the Gospel will always be its enemies, and from such, therefore, the Apostle prays to be delivered. The Gospel declares not only salvation to those who believe, but damnation to all who reject it.
It must then be an object of hatred to all who do not believe. And it is remarkable that, while the most debasing superstitious are looked upon with indifference by the wise men of the world, the coolest and most philosophic of their number kindle into wrath against the Gospel. If, then, the Apostle foresaw the danger of this visit to Jerusalem, and if he so strongly desired to be delivered from it, his object of visiting his countrymen must have been exceedingly important. My service. — Paul was in the highest dignity of the Church of Christ on earth, yet he willingly undertook an office of the most dangerous service for the supply of the temporal wants of his brethren. For Jerusalem. — This is another instance of figurative language employed by inspiration.
Jerusalem is put for the saints in Jerusalem — the city for the inhabitants, and not all the inhabitants, but certain inhabitants well known to the reader. May be accepted. — This seems at first sight very strange What fear could there be that the supply of the wants of the distressed would not be acceptable to them? Yet Paul makes it a matter of the most earnest prayer for himself and his brethren to whom he writes, that the saints at Jerusalem might be disposed to receive the gift cordially. This, beyond all contradiction, shows how averse the Jews were to the Gentiles, and the reason why the Apostle urged this collection so strongly, and conducted the mission in his own person. Why shall we now expect perfection in knowledge or attainments among the people of God? In the apostolic churches we indeed see none recognized as members but such as were judged to be believers, but they were believers with every degree of weakness, both in knowledge and in character. Calvin understands Paul’s doubts with respect to the acceptableness of the gift of the Gentiles, to have reference to prejudice against himself on the part of the believing Jews. But this has no just foundation; and, had this been the fear, the danger could have been easily prevented without exposing Paul to the persecution of the unbelievers. Could not Paul have sent the money by the hands of others? This would have guarded against the supposed prejudice of the brethren in Jerusalem, and have prevented the danger of death with respect to Paul from the hands of unbelieving Jews.
That I may come unto you with joy. — Dr. Macknight, as well as Calvin, understands this as the result of the prayer, and not as one of the things prayed for. The result of the acceptable reception of the gift would be Paul’s joyful visit to Rome. But, most evidently, the words referred to are not the supposed result of the prayer, but are a part of the prayer itself, along with the other things before mentioned. The Apostle besought them not only to pray that the saints at Jerusalem might accept the gift, but, in addition to this, they were desired to pray that he might, after delivering the gift, come to them with joy. It would no doubt be a matter of joy for the Apostle that the gift of which he was the bearer might be well received.
But it is not to this solely that he refers, but to joy in general. Dr.
Macknight seems to be greatly mistaken when he says, ‘How much the Apostle was disappointed in his generous design, and in what disadvantageous circumstances he came to Rome, the history of the Acts informs us.’ There is every reason to believe that the gift was well received. He was indeed disappointed with respect to the manner of his coming to Rome, but he might not be disappointed in his joy when he arrived.
From this we may learn that if even on God’s errand we have need of prayer for success in our journey, how much more do we need prayer in our own daily business! So much does God encourage the exercise of prayer, that He wills us to pray for success when we do His own work.
The whole passage also, is the strongest refutation of the theory of those who suppose that prayer is useless, because of the unchangeable purposes of God. The express command of the Spirit of inspiration annihilates all the subtle speculations of men on this subject. We here see that it is not only lawful and proper to pray to the unchangeable God, but that it is our duty to pray to Him to prosper us even in His own work. How unlike is God’s book to human wisdom! — on every page there shines the evidence of its Divine origin. By the will of God. — This shows us that all events depend on God’s will.
Nothing happens without His appointment. All the efforts of his enemies, as well as all the exertions of His servants, only fulfill His irresistible purposes. Without His will, nothing takes place on earth more than in heaven. God not only permits everything that takes place on earth, as some are inclined in this way to soften down His sovereignty, but He wills and appoints it. Calvin well observes on this passage ‘The sentence, By the will of God, instructs us in the necessity of devoting ourselves to prayer, since God alone directs all our paths and all our steps by his gracious and unerring providence.’ And may with you be refreshed. — The word literally signifies to recline together in order to mutual rest, and, in a secondary sense, to be refreshed together after fatigue. Here it beautifully expresses that mutual comfort and refreshment which believers, amidst their toils, and dangers, and troubles in the world, enjoy in speaking together of the things of Christ.
To reflect on the word of God gives great refreshment, but to reflect on this in company with other Christians is the most heavenly exercise. Dr.
Macknight confines the refreshment to the subject of the reconciliation of the Jews with the Gentiles. But it refers to every consolation that might be the object of their conversation about the things of Christ. From this we see that the Apostle had, like other believers, the same need of refreshment from reflection on the word of God, and from intercourse with the brethren. Paul is not ashamed to speak of the refreshment which he expected from the company of the Roman Christians, as well as of that which they should receive from his company.
Now the God of peace be with you all. — In this manner the Apostle concludes this part of his Epistle to the believers at Rome, wishing them the presence and the blessing of the God of peace. This expression is used only by Paul in his Epistles, in which he employs it frequently. Peace, in scripture, signifies generally all kinds of good and prosperity; as it is said, Isaiah 45:7, ‘I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.’ To say, then, that God is the God of peace, is to say that He is the author of every blessing. The Spirit of God calls the good state of the conscience of the believer peace and prosperity, whatever may be his case regarding things external. His peace Jesus promised to His disciples: ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ But peace may be taken particularly for the love through which God has reconciled His people to Himself by Jesus Christ, thus expressing the goodness of God revealed in the Gospel In the Old Testament, God is called the Lord of Hosts; but in the New Testament, having made peace by the blood of the cross of His Son, He is pleased to call Himself the God of peace. It is this peace which the angel, with the heavenly host, celebrated in saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ The Apostles usually express this in their salutations, saying, ‘Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ uniformly, however, placing grace first, without which they could not have peace. Paul, in here employing this title, the God of peace, indicates the free access which His people have to God, and the assurance that their petitions shall be heard; for what shall they not obtain from Him who has laid aside all His wrath, and breathes towards them only grace and peace? We see, then, the efficacy of the peace of God, and what consolation believers should experience, and what confidence towards God in their prayers, when they consider that God is the God of peace.