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23

CHAPTER III

GOOD REPORT OF THE ROMAN CHURCH: PAUL NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

Romans i. 8-17

HE has blessed the Roman Christians in the name of the Lord. Now he hastens to tell them how he blesses God for them, and how full his heart is of them. The Gospel is warm all through with life and love; this great message of doctrine and precept is poured from a fountain full of personal affection.

Now first I thank my God, through Jesus Christ, about you all. It is his delight to give thanks for all the good he knows of in his brethren. Seven of his Epistles open with such thanksgivings, which at once convey the commendations which love rejoices to give, wherever possible, and trace all spiritual virtue straight to its Source, the Lord. Nor only here to "the Lord," but to "my God"; a phrase used, in the New Testament, only by St Paul, except that one utterance of Eli, Eli, by his dying Saviour. It is the expression of an indescribable appropriation and reverent intimacy. The believer grudges his God to none; he rejoices with great joy over every soul that finds its wealth in Him. But at the centre of all joy and love is this—"my God"; "Christ Jesus my Lord"; "who loved me and gave Himself for me." 24 Is it selfish? Nay, it is the language of a personality where Christ has dethroned self in His own favour, but in which therefore reigns now the highest happiness, the happiness which animates and maintains a self-forgetful love of all. And this holy intimacy, with its action in thanks and petition, is all the while "through Jesus Christ" the Mediator and Brother. The man knows God as "my God," and deals with Him as such, never out of that Beloved Son who is equally One with the believer and with the Father, no alien medium, but the living point of unity.

What moves his thanksgivings? Because your faith is spoken of, more literally, is carried as tidings, over the whole world. Go where he will, in Asia, in Macedonia, in Achaia, in Illyricum, he meets believing "strangers from Rome," with spiritual news from the Capital, announcing, with a glad solemnity, that at the great Centre of this world the things eternal are proving their power, and that the Roman mission is remarkable for its strength and simplicity of "faith," its humble reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ, and loving allegiance to Him. Such news, wafted from point to point of that early Christendom, was frequent then; we see another beautiful example of it where he tells the Thessalonians (1 Thess. i. 8-10) how everywhere in his Greek tour he found the news of their conversion running in advance of him, to greet him at each arrival. What special importance would such intelligence bear when it was good news from Rome!

Still in our day over the world of Missions similar tidings travel. Only a few years ago "the saints" of Indian Tinnevelly heard of the distress of their brethren of African Uganda, and sent with loving eagerness "to their necessity." Only last year (1892) an English 25 visitor to the Missions of Labrador found the disciples of the Moravian Brethren there full of the wonders of grace manifested in those same African believers.

This constant good tidings from the City makes him the more glad because of its correspondence with his incessant thought, prayer, and yearning over them.

For God is my record, my witness, 66The word "record" in this sense came into English from Old French. (Skeat: Etymological Dictionary.) of this; the God whom I serve, at once, so the Greek (λατρεύω) implies, with adoration and obedience, in my spirit, in the Gospel of His Son. The "for" gives the connexion we have just indicated; he rejoices to hear of their faith, for the Lord knows how much they are in his prayers. The divine Witness is the more instinctively appealed to, because these thoughts and prayers are for a mission-Church, and the relations between St Paul and his God are above all missionary relations. He "serves Him in the Gospel of His Son" the Gospel of the God who is known and believed in His Christ. He "serves Him in the Gospel"; that is, in the propagation of it. So he often means, where he speaks of "the Gospel"; take for example ver. 1 above; xv. 16, 19 below; Phil. i. 5, 12; ii. 22. "He serves Him," in that great branch of ministry, "in his spirit" with his whole love, will, and mind, working in communion with his Lord. And now to this eternal Friend and Witness he appeals to seal his assurance of incessant intercessions for them; how without ceasing, as a habit constantly in action, I make mention of you, calling them up by name, specifying before the Father Rome, and Aquila, and Andronicus, and Junias, and Persis, and Mary, and the whole circle, personally known or not, in my prayers; literally, on occasion of 26 my prayers; whenever he found himself at prayer, statedly or as it were casually remembering and beseeching.

The prayers of St Paul are a study by themselves. See his own accounts of them, to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, the Thessalonians, and Philemon. Observe their topic; it is almost always the growth of grace in the saints, to their Master's glory. Observe now still more their manner; the frequency, the diligence, the resolution which grapples, wrestles, with the difficulties of prayer, so that in Col. ii. 1 he calls his prayer simply "a great wrestling." Learn here how to deal with God for those for whom you work, shepherd of souls, messenger of the Word, Christian man or woman who in any way are called to help other hearts in Christ.

In this case his prayers have a very definite direction; he is requesting, if somehow, now at length, my way shall be opened, in the will of God, to come to you. It is a quite simple, quite natural petition. His inward harmony with the Lord's will never excludes the formation and expression of such requests, with the reverent "if" of submissive reserve. The "indifference" of mystic pietism, which at least discourages articulate contingent petitions, is unknown to the Apostles; "in everything, with thanksgiving, they make their requests known unto God." And they find such expression harmonized, in a holy experience, with a profound rest "within this will," this "sweet beloved will of God." Little did he here foresee how his way would be opened; that it would lie through the tumult in the Temple, the prisons of Jerusalem and Cæsarea, and the cyclone of the Adrian sea. He had in view a missionary journey to Spain, in which Rome was to be taken by the way.

27 "So God grants prayer, but in His love
Makes ways and times His own."

His heart yearns for this Roman visit. We may almost render the Greek of the next clause, For I am homesick for a sight of you; he uses the word by which elsewhere he describes Philippian Epaphroditus' longing to be back at Philippi (Phil. ii. 26), and again his own longing to see the son of his heart, Timotheus (2 Tim. i. 4). Such is the Gospel, that its family affection throws the light of home on even unknown regions where dwell "the brethren." In this case the longing love however has a purpose most practical; that I may impart to you some spiritual gift of grace, with a view to your establishment. The word rendered "gift of grace" (χάρισμα) is used in some places (see especially 1 Cor. xii. 4, 9, 28, 30, 31) with a certain special reference to the mysterious "Tongues," "Interpretations," and "Prophecies," given in the primeval Churches. And we gather from the Acts and the Epistles that these grants were not ordinarily made where an Apostle was not there to lay on his hands. But it is not likely that this is the import of this present passage. Elsewhere in the Epistle 77See verses 15, 16, 23, xi. 29. xii. 6 is the only passage which at all looks the other way, and that passage implies that the Romans already possessed the wonder-working gifts. the word charisma is used with its largest and deepest reference; God's gift of blessing in Christ. Here then, so we take it, he means that he pines to convey to them, as his Lord's messenger, some new development of spiritual light and joy; to expound "the Way" to them more perfectly; to open up 28 to them such fuller and deeper insights into the riches of Christ that they, better using their possession of the Lord, might as it were gain new possessions in Him, and might stand more boldly on the glorious certainties they held. And this was to be done ministerially, not magisterially. For he goes on to say that the longed-for visit would be his gain as well as theirs; that is, with a view to my concurrent encouragement among you, by our mutual faith, yours and mine together. Shall we call this a sentence of fine tact; beautifully conciliatory and endearing? Yes, but it is also perfectly sincere. True tact is only the skill of sympathetic love, not the less genuine in its thought because that thought seeks to please and win. He is glad to shew himself as his disciples' brotherly friend; but then he first is such, and enjoys the character, and has continually found and felt his own soul made glad and strong by the witness to the Lord which far less gifted believers bore, as he and they talked together. Does not every true teacher know this in his own experience? If we are not merely lecturers on Christianity but witnesses for Christ, we know what it is to hail with deep thanksgivings the "encouragement" we have had from the lips of those who perhaps believed long after we did, and have been far less advantaged outwardly than we have been. We have known and blessed the "encouragement" carried to us by little believing children, and young men in their first faith, and poor old people on their comfortless beds, ignorant in this world, illuminated in the Lord. "Mutual faith," the pregnant phrase of the Apostle, faith residing in each of both parties, and owned by 29 each to the other, is a mighty power for Christian "encouragement" still.88The word "comfort" in the English Version here, as commonly elsewhere, represents παρακαλεῖν, παράκλησις, which commonly denote not so much the consolation of grief as the encouragement which banishes depression.

But I would not have you ignorant, brethren. This is a characteristic term of expression with him.99xi. 25; 1 Cor. x. 1, xii. 1; 2 Cor. i. 8; 1 Thess. iv. 13. He delights in confidence and information, and not least about his own plans bearing on his friends. That often I purposed (or better, in our English idiom, have purposed) to come to you, (but I have been hindered up till now,) that I might have some fruit among you too, as actually among the other Nations. He cannot help giving more and yet more intimation of his loving gravitation towards them; nor yet of his gracious avarice for "fruit," result, harvest and vintage for Christ, in the way of helping on Romans, as well as Asiatics, and Macedonians, and Achaians, to live a fuller life in Him. This, we may infer from the whole Epistle, would be the chief kind of "fruit" in his view at Rome; but not this only. For we shall see him at once go on to anticipate an evangelistic work at Rome, a speaking of the Gospel message where there would be a temptation to be "ashamed" of it. Edification of believers may be his main aim. But conversion of pagan souls to God cannot possibly be dissociated from it.

In passing we see, with instruction, that St Paul made many plans which came to nothing; he tells us this here without apology or misgiving. He claims accordingly no such practical omniscience, actual or possible, as would make his resolutions and forecasts infallible. Tacitly, at least, he wrote "If the Lord 30 will," across them all, unless indeed there came a case where, as when he was guided out of Asia to Macedonia (Acts xvi. 6-10), direct intimation was given him, abnormal, supernatural, quite ab extra, that such and not such was to be his path.

But now, he is not only "homesick" for Rome, with a yearning love; he feels his obligation to Rome, with a wakeful conscience. Alike to Greeks and to Barbarians, to wise men and to unthinking, I am in debt. Mankind is on his heart, in the sorts and differences of its culture. On the one hand were "the Greeks"; that is to say, in the then popular meaning of the word, the peoples possessed of what we now call "classical" civilization, Greek and Roman; an inner circle of these were "the wise," the literati, the readers, writers, thinkers, in the curriculum of those literatures and philosophies. On the other hand were "the Barbarians," the tongues and tribes outside the Hellenic pale, Pisidian, Pamphylian, Galatian, Illyrian, and we know not who besides; and then, among them, or anywhere, "the unthinking," the numberless masses whom the educated would despise or forget as utterly untrained in the schools, unversed in the great topics of man and the world; the people of the field, the market, and the kitchen. To the Apostle, because to his Lord, all these were now impartially his claimants, his creditors; he "owed them" the Gospel which had been trusted to him for them. Naturally, his will might be repelled alike by the frown or smile of the Greek, and by the coarse earthliness of the Barbarian. But supernaturally, in Christ, he loved both, and scrupulously remembered his duty to both. Such is the true missionary spirit still, in whatever region, under whatever conditions. The Christian 31 man, and the Christian Church, delivered from the world, is yet its debtor. "Woe is to him, to it, if" that debt is not paid, if that Gospel is "hidden in a napkin."

Thus he is ready, and more than ready, to pay his debt to Rome. So (to render literally) what relates to me is eager, to you too, to the men in Rome, to preach the Gospel. "What relates to me"; there is an emphasis on "me," as if to say that the hindrance, whatever it is, is not in him, but around him. The doors have been shut, but the man stands behind them, in act to pass in when he may.

His eagerness is no light-heartedness, no carelessness of when or where. This wonderful missionary is too sensitive to facts and ideas, too rich in imagination, not to feel the peculiar, nay the awful greatness, of a summons to Rome. He understands culture too well not to feel its possible obstacles. He has seen too much of both the real grandeur and the harsh force of the imperial power in its extension not to feel a genuine awe as he thinks of meeting that power at its gigantic Centre. There is that in him which fears Rome. But he is therefore the very man to go there, for he understands the magnitude of the occasion, and he will the more deeply retire upon his Lord for peace and power.

Thus with a pointed fitness he tells himself and his friends, just here, that he is "not ashamed of the Gospel." For I am not ashamed; I am ready even for Rome, for this terrible Rome. I have a message which, though Rome looks as if she must despise it, I know is not to be despised. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel; 1010The words "of Christ" must be omitted from the text here. for it is God's power to salvation, for 32 every one who believes, alike for Jew, (first,) and for Greek. For God's righteousness is in it unveiled, from faith on to faith; as it stands written, But the just man on faith shall live.

These words give out the great theme of the Epistle. The Epistle, therefore, is infinitely the best commentary on them, as we follow out its argument and hear its message. Here it shall suffice us to note only a point or two, and so pass on.

First, we recollect that this Gospel, this Glad Tidings, is, in its essence, Jesus Christ. It is, supremely, "He, not it"; Person, not theory. Or rather, it is authentic and eternal theory in vital and eternal connexion everywhere with a Person. As such it is truly "power," in a sense as profoundly natural as it is divine. It is power, not only in the cogency of perfect principle, but in the energy of an eternal Life, an almighty Will, an infinite Love.

Then, we observe that this message of power, which is, in its burthen, the Christ of God, unfolds first, at its foundation, in its front, "the Righteousness of God"; not first His Love, but "His Righteousness." Seven times elsewhere in the Epistle comes this phrase; 1111iii. 5, 21, 22, 23, 26; x. 3 twice. rich materials for ascertaining its meaning in the spiritual dialect of St Paul. Out of these passages, iii. 26 gives us the key. There "the righteousness of God," seen as it were in action, ascertained by its effects, is that which secures "that He shall be just, and the Justifier of the man who belongs to faith in Jesus." It is that which makes wonderfully possible the mighty paradox that the Holy One, eternally truthful, eternally rightful, infinitely "law-abiding" in His jealousy for that Law which is 33 in fact His Nature expressing itself in precept, nevertheless can and does say to man, in his guilt and forfeit, "I, thy Judge, lawfully acquit thee, lawfully accept thee, lawfully embrace thee." In such a context we need not fear to explain this great phrase, in this its first occurrence, to mean the Acceptance accorded by the Holy Judge to sinful man. Thus it stands practically equivalent to—God's way of justifying the ungodly, His method for liberating His love while He magnifies His law. In effect, not as a translation but as an explanation, God's Righteousness is God's Justification.

Then again, we note the emphasis and the repetition here of the thought of faith. "To every one that believeth"; "From faith on to faith"; "The just man on faith shall live." Here, if anywhere, we shall find ample commentary in the Epistle. Only let us remember from the first that in the Roman Epistle, as everywhere in the New Testament, we shall see "faith" used in its natural and human sense; we shall find that it means personal reliance. Fides est fiducia, "Faith is trust," say the masters of Reformation theology. Refellitur inanis hæreticorum fiducia, "We refute the heretics' empty 'trust,'" says the Council of Trent 1212Session VI., ch. ix. against them; but in vain. Faith is trust. It is in this sense that our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Gospels, invariably uses the word. For this is its human sense, its sense in the street and market; and the Lord, the Man of men, uses the dialect of His race. Faith, infinitely wonderful and mysterious from some points of view, is the simplest thing in the world from others. That sinners, conscious of their guilt, should be brought so to see their Judge's 34 heart as to take His word of peace to mean what it says, is miracle. But that they should trust His word, having seen His heart, is nature, illuminated and led by grace, but nature still. The "faith" of Jesus Christ and the Apostles is trust. It is not a faculty for mystical intuitions. It is our taking the Trustworthy at His word. It is the opening of a mendicant hand to receive the gold of Heaven; the opening of dying lips to receive the water of life. It is that which makes a void place for Jesus Christ to fill, that He may be man's Merit, man's Peace, and man's Power.

Hence the overwhelming prominence of faith in the Gospel. It is the correlative of the overwhelming, the absolute, prominence of Jesus Christ. Christ is all. Faith is man's acceptance of Him as such. "Justification by Faith" is not acceptance because faith is a valuable thing, a merit, a recommendation, a virtue. 1313See this admirably explained by Hooker, Discourse of Justification, § 31. It is acceptance because of Jesus Christ, whom man, dropping all other hopes, receives. It is, let us repeat it, the sinner's empty hand and parted lips. It has absolutely nothing to do with earning the gift of God, the water and the bread of God; it has all to do with taking it. This we shall see open out before us as we proceed.

So the Gospel "unveils God's righteousness"; it draws the curtains from His glorious secret. And as each fold is lifted, the glad beholder looks on "from faith to faith." He finds that this reliance is to be his part; first, last, midst, and without end. He takes Jesus Christ by faith; he holds Him by faith; he uses Him by faith; he lives, he dies, in Him by faith; that 34 is to say, always by Him, by Him received, held, used.

Then lastly, we mark the quotation from the Prophet, who, for the Apostle, is the organ of the Holy Ghost. What Habakkuk wrote is, for Paul, what God says, God's Word. The Prophet, as we refer to his brief pages, manifestly finds his occasion and his first significance in the then state of his country and his people. If we please, we may explain the words as a patriot's contribution to the politics of Jerusalem, and pass on. But if so, we pass on upon a road unknown to our Lord and His Apostles. To Him, to them, the prophecies had more in them than the Prophets knew; and Habakkuk's appeal to Judah to retain the Lord Jehovah among them in all His peace and power, by trusting Him, is known by St Paul to be for all time an oracle about the work of faith. So he sees it in a message straight to the soul which asks how, if Christ is God's Righteousness, shall I, a sinner, win Christ for me. "Wouldst thou indeed be just with God, right with Him as Judge, accepted by the Holy One? Take His Son in the empty arms of mere trust, and He is thine for this need, and for all."

"I am not ashamed of the Gospel." So the Apostle affirms, as he looks toward Rome. What is it about this Gospel of God, and of His Son, which gives occasion for such a word? Why do we find, not here only, but elsewhere in the New Testament, this contemplated possibility that the Christian may be ashamed of his creed, and of his Lord? "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed" (Luke ix. 26); "Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord"; "Nevertheless, I am not ashamed" (2 Tim. i. 8, 12). This 36 is paradoxical, as we come to think upon it. There is much about the purity of the Gospel which might occasion, and does too often occasion, an awe and dread of it, seemingly reasonable. There is much about its attendant mysteries which might seem to excuse an attitude, however mistaken, of reverent suspense. But what is there about this revelation of the heart of Eternal Love, this record of a Life equally divine and human, of a Death as majestic as it is infinitely pathetic, and then of a Resurrection out of death, to occasion shame? Why, in view of this, should man be shy to avow his faith, and to let it be known that this is all in all to him, his life, his peace, his strength, his surpassing interest and occupation?

More than one analysis of the phenomenon, which we all know to be fact, may be suggested. But for our part we believe that the true solution lies near the words sin, pardon, self-surrender. The Gospel reveals the eternal Love, but under conditions which remind man that he has done his worst to forfeit it. It tells him of a peace and strength sublime and heavenly; but it asks him, in order to receive them, to kneel down in the dust and take them, unmerited, for nothing. And it reminds them that he, thus delivered and endowed, is by the same act the property of his Deliverer; that not only the highest benefit of his nature is secured by his giving himself over to God, but the most inexorable obligation lies on him to do so. He is not his own, but bought with a price.

Such views of the actual relation between man and God, even when attended, as they are in the Gospel, with such indications of man's true greatness as are found nowhere else, are deeply repellent to the soul that has not yet seen itself and God in the light of 37 truth. And the human being who has got that sight, and has submitted himself indeed, yet, the moment he looks outside the blessed shrine of his own union with his Lord, is tempted to be reticent about a creed which he knows once repelled and angered him. Well did Paul remember his old hatred and contempt; and he felt the temptations of that memory, when he presented Christ either to the Pharisee or to the Stoic, and now particularly when he thought of "bearing witness of Him at Rome" (Acts xxiii. 11), imperial, overwhelming Rome. But then he looked again from them to Jesus Christ, and the temptation was beneath his feet, and the Gospel, everywhere, was upon his lips.


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