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Romans 16:17-20

17. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

17. Obsecro autem vos fratres, ut observetis eos qui dissidia et offensiones contra doctrinam, quam vos didicistis, excitant; et ut declinetis ab illis.

18. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

18. Qui enim tales sunt, Christo Domino non serviunt, sed suo ventri; ac per blandiloquentiam et assentationem decipiunt corda simplicium.

19. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

19. Vestra quidem obedientia ad omnes permanavit: gaudeo igitur de vobis; sed volo vos sapientes esse ad bonum, simplices vero ad malum.

20. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

20. Deus autem pacis conteret brevi Satanam sub pedibus vestris. Gratia Domini nostri Iesu Christi sit vobiscum. Amen.

17. And I beseech you, etc. He now adds an exhortation, by which all Churches have often need of being stirred up; for the ministers of Satan are ever ready to take occasion to disturb the kingdom of Christ: and they attempt to make disturbances in two ways; for they either sow discord, by which the minds of men are drawn away from the unity of truth, or they occasion offenses, by which men are alienated from the love of the gospel. 480480     The two words are διχοστασίαι and σκάνδαλα, divisions and offenses, or hindrances. He had, no doubt, in view, what he noticed in chapter 14, about eating and observing of days; and according to his usual manner he mentions first the effect — “divisions,” and then the cause — “offenses.” The Gentile Christians, by eating, gave offense to the believing Jews, and this offense led to a division or separation. The evils which he had previously attempted to correct were doubtless those referred to here. “Serving their own belly,” in the next verse, has in this respect an emphatic meaning. Instead of denying themselves in the use of meats for the sake of Christ, and for the peace of his Church, they preferred to gratify their own appetites. And being led away by their lust, they covered their real motive by kindly or plausibly addressing (χρηστολογία) and eulogizing (εὐλογία) those who joined them, imitating in this respect the arts of all false professors and zealots, whatever be the false principle by which they may be guided. — Ed. The former evil is done when the truth of God is mixed with new dogmas devised by men; and the latter takes place, when by various arts it is made odious and contemptible. He therefore bids all, who did either of these two things, to be observed, lest they should deceive and catch the unwary; and also to be shunned, for they were injurious. Nor was it without reason that he required this attention from the faithful; for it often happens through our neglect or want of care, that such wicked men do great harm to the Church, before they are opposed; and they also creep in, with astonishing subtlety, for the purpose of doing mischief, except they be carefully watched.

But observe, that he speaks of those who had been taught the pure truth of God. It is indeed an impious and sacrilegious attempt to divide those who agree in the truth of Christ: but yet it is a shameful sophistry to defend, under the pretext of peace and unity, a union in lies and impious doctrines. There is therefore no ground for the Papists to seek countenance from this passage, in order to raise ill-will against us; for we do not impugn and tear asunder the gospel of Christ, but the falsehoods of the devil, by which it has been hitherto obscured: nay, Paul clearly shows, that he did not condemn all kinds of discords, but those which destroyed consent in the orthodox faith; for the force of the passage is in the words, which ye have learnt; for it was the duty of the Romans, before they were rightly taught, to depart from the habits of their fathers and the institutions of their ancestors.

18. For they who are such, etc. He mentions an unvarying mark, by which false prophets are to be distinguished from the servants of Christ; for they have no care for the glory of Christ, but seek the benefit of their stomach. As, however, they deceitfully crept in, and by assuming another character, concealed their own wickedness, he at the same time pointed out, in order that no one might be deceived, the arts which they adopted — that they ingratiated themselves by a bland address. The preachers of the gospel have also their courtesy and their pleasing manner, but joined with honesty, so that they neither soothe men with vain praises, nor flatter their vices: but impostors allure men by flattery, and spare and indulge their vices, that they may keep them attached to themselves. He calls those simple who are not cautious enough to avoid deceptions.

19. Your obedience, 481481     This he calls “faith” in Romans 1:8: so that obedience to the gospel is faith in what it declares. To believe is the special command of the gospel: hence to believe is the special act of obedience that is required; and he who believes is he who shall be saved. But this faith is that of the heart, and not of the lips; and a faith which works by love and overcomes the world, the mighty power of which we learn from Hebrew 11. — Ed. etc. This is said to anticipate an objection; for he shows that he did not warn them, as though he thought unfavorably of them, but because a fall in their case was such as might have easily happened; as if he had said, — “Your obedience is indeed commended everywhere, and for this reason I rejoice on your account: yet since it often happens, that a fall occurs through simplicity, I would have you to be harmless and simple as to the doing of evil; but in doing good, to be most prudent, whenever it may be necessary, so that you may preserve your integrity.”

We here see what that simplicity is which is commended in Christians; so that they have no reason to claim this distinction, who at this day count as a high virtue their stupid ignorance of the word of God. For though he approves in the Romans, that they were obedient and teachable, yet he would have them to exercise wisdom and judgment, lest their readiness to believe exposed them to impositions. So then he congratulates them, because they were free from a wicked disposition; he yet wished them to be wise, so as to exercise caution. 482482     “Good” and “evil” in this clause, is beneficence and mischief. To be wise as to good, is to be wise in acts of kindness, in promoting good, as Beza seems to take it; and to be harmless or guileless, or simple as to evil, is to exercise no arts, by plausible speeches and flatteries, as was done by those referred to in Romans 16:17, in order to do mischief, to create divisions. The Apostle’s object throughout seems to have been to produce unanimity between the Jews and Gentiles. Hence in the next verse he speaks of God as “the God of peace,” the author of peace among his people; and he says that this God of peace would soon tread down Satan, the author of discord, the promoter of divisions and offenses; or, as most consider the passage, he prays that God would do this; for the future, after the manner of the Hebrew, is sometimes used by the Apostle as an optative. And indeed the verb is found in some copies in this mood (συντρίψαι) and in the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Vulgate versions. — Ed.

20. What follows, God shall bruise Satan, etc., is a promise to confirm them, rather than a prayer. He indeed exhorts them to fight manfully against Satan, and promises that they should shortly be victorious. He was indeed once conquered by Christ, but not in such a way but that he renews the war continually. He then promises ultimate defeat, which does not appear in the midst of the contest. At the same time he does not speak only of the last day, when Satan shall be completely bruised; but as Satan was then confounding all things, raging, as it were, with loose or broken reins, he promises that the Lord would shortly subdue him, and cause him to be trodden, as it were, under foot. Immediately a prayer follows, — that the grace of Christ would be with them, that is, that they might enjoy all the blessings which had been procured for them by Christ.


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