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Phoebe the Deaconess, Carrying the Epistle, Earnestly Commended to Roman Christians. Verses 1, 2.
Loving Salutations to Particular Saints and Assemblies in Rome. Verses 3 to 16.
Warnings against Those Causing Divisions and Stumbling. Verses 17 to 20.
Salutations from Paul’s Fellow-workers. Verses 21 to 23.
Ascription of Praise through Jesus Christ to God only Wise: Who is Revealing through Paul’s Establishing Gospel the Mystery Heretofore Concealed. Verses 25 to 27.
1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a deaconess of the church that is at Cenchreae: 2 that ye receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever matter she may have need of you: for she herself also hath been a helper of many, and of mine own self.
THIS SIXTEENTH CHAPTER is neglected by many to their own loss. It is by far the most extensive, intimate and particular of all the words of loving greeting in Paul’s marvelous letters. No one can afford to miss this wonderful out pouring of the heart of our apostle toward the saints whom he so loved—which means all the real Church of God!
Verses 1, 2: Phoebe, a deaconess of the assembly, in the town of Cenchreae, the eastern seaport of Corinth, (about nine miles distant from that important city) is to carry to Rome this great Epistle! She had business in Rome,—probably legal or official business. (See Conybeare’s note here.) She was evidently a devoted and prominent Christian,—a deaconess of the Cenchrean assembly. This, together with her evident business ability (for she is traveling to the world metropolis in connection with her affairs), made this entrustment to her of this great Epistle to the Romans humanly safe;—and through the Apostle’s prayers and those of the saints at Corinth (where Paul is writing the Roman Epistle) absolutely safe. She is commended to the saints at Rome,—with all which that beautiful word “commended” contains (cf. Rom. 5:8 and II Cor. 10:18); and the saints are not only to receive her in the Lord, worthily of saints (for the saints should be devoted to receiving one another!) but they are asked to assist her in her affairs in any way that they may find her needing help; for, says Paul, she herself hath been a helper of many and of mine own self. Let us also mark those who, like Phoebe, are “helpers,” and give ourselves to assisting them, both by prayer and by personal service; for the Lord will approve this, in His Day!
As to Phoebe’s being called a deaconess (diakonon) of the Cenchrean
assembly,281281 Why both the King James and the Revised Versions should translate
the same word deacon when it applies it to men (I Tim. 3:8, 10),
and servant or minister when applied to women, let others explain.
3:11 describes women-deacons evidently. As William Kelly (Romans: p.
274) says, “We know from elsewhere that elderly females held a position in which
they rendered official or quasi-official service in the assembly where they lived.
Phoebe was one of these of the port of Corinth, Cenchreae.”
In our indignant rejection of papal pretenses and ecclesiastical man-made officialdom, we are apt to swing the pendulum too far, and refuse to recognize those whom God raises up as elders, deacons, and deaconesses. To claim that Timothy and Titus “have no successors” as direct apostolic delegates with authority “to appoint elders in every city,” and that therefore eldership is no longer possible, is to ignore two great facts: first, that it is the Holy Spirit Himself Who makes men elders (Acts 20:17, 28), and second, that the Lord gave to Paul to write public letters describing the qualifications of both bishops (that is, elders), and also deacons (I Tim. 3; Titus 1). If the ministry of Timothy and Titus as “apostolic delegates” was purely personal and ended with them, then the instructions would have been in private, and not have been left to the Church at large! For what profit would instructions about the selection of elders, deacons, and deaconesses be, if there were to be none such, after Timothy and Titus?
We accept fully all those directions concerning women given by Paul. Women are not to be arbiters of doctrine, nor to usurp authority over men. This, however, does not hinder their praying publicly, and testifying (prophesying), if they have their heads obediently covered; nor does it hinder their being recognized,—as was Phoebe, as deaconesses. And it should humble the pride of some of us to find Phoebe, a woman, carrying this mighty fundamental Epistle of the gospel of God—more important than the Law of Moses!—to the center of the Gentile world! note that she was recognized by that church as designated of the Lord to her ministry, and was called by the name “deaconess.” Let us not shun Scripture terms. Dorcas, in Acts 9:36, was “full of good works which she did,” yet she is not called a deaconess. It is plain that both deacons and deaconesses were known in the early Church. (Elders, who would “rule,”—I Timothy 5:17—were, always, of course, men.)
3 Salute Prisca and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom i not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 and [salute] the church that is in their house. Salute Epaenetus my beloved, who is the first fruits of Asia unto Christ. 6 Salute Mary, who bestowed much labor on you. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me. 8 Salute Ampliatus my beloved in the Lord. 9 Salute Urbanus our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Salute Apelles, the approved in Christ. Salute them that are of the [household] of Aristobulus. 11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Salute them of the [household] of Narcissus, that are in the Lord. 12 Salute Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute Persis the beloved, who labored much in the Lord. 13Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren that are with them. 15 Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints that are with them. 16 Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you!
Verses 3, 4: Prisca (Latin name of which Priscilla is the diminutive), who, with her husband Aquila (Acts 18:1-3) had toiled with Paul, had, at some time untold, laid down their own necks, risking their lives in such fashion as to call forth the thanks, not only of Paul, but of all the assemblies of the Gentiles.
Verse 5: There was also an assembly of saints [which
gathered] in their house. We see here, in God’s naming Priscilla first, that she
was probably superior in spiritual intelligence and activity to her husband. Of
course Aquila is recognized as the head of his house, as we see from Acts
18:2: “A certain Jew, named Aquila, with his wife Priscilla.” But in
Acts 18:26, when they are inviting eloquent, poorly-instructed Apollos
to their home, it is Priscilla whose humble discernment and gospel earnestness seem
to be foremost: “When Priscilla282282For this order, see Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford,
and R. V. and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them,
and expounded unto him the Way of God more accurately.” Compare
II Timothy 4:19: “Salute Prisca and Aquila,”—personal salutations.
But where the assembly is concerned, as in
I Corinthians 16:19
(for this devoted pair had their house open in Ephesus, also, for an assembly of
the saints), Aquila, as head of the house, is named first. The position and ministry
of sisters in Christ is not at all unrecognized or suppressed in Paul’s Epistles!283283 The ministry of women in the early Church is strikingly brought
out in this 16th Chapter. The list includes Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphæna, Tryphosa,
Persis, Rufus’ mother, and Julia. We read that they labored “in the Lord”— “labored
much in the Lord,” facing dangers generously, and were intrusted (as Phoebe) with
the deaconess’ office.
Now in what did their “labor” consist? Certainly not merely in getting chicken dinners for preachers! It is a spiritual activity here spoken of! As Paul says of Euodia and Syntyche, in Philippians 4:2, 3, “Help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Just so Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8, 9). They did so, of course, with covered heads, according to I Corinthians 11:4, 5, where the distinct direction to women is, not to refrain from the exercise of the gift of prophesying, or praying, but to prophesy with covered head. To claim that these women took public part only in meetings of women, is a pitiful recourse to which many have resorted. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost.
In these matters three evils have sprung up, (1) The suppression of woman’s voice entirely in the assembly of the saints. (2) The expression of women’s earnest desire to serve the Lord, in the forming of independent women’s organizations not controlled by the assembly. (3) Where men were fearful in faith, or ungifted, the bold pushing of individual women out to the front into leadership and government, even as “pastors” of assemblies,—leaders of “movements” which have swept into their ranks many untaught souls, to their great harm.
Now concerning the first, let any unbiased man study I Corinthians 11:4 and 5, and he must see that the gift of “prophecy,”—speaking unto others unto “edification, and comfort, and consolation,” was shared alike by men and women. And to claim that it was exercised by women only before other women, is a twisting of Scripture worthy of a modernist! For when Paul in I Corinthians 14:34 says, “Let the women keep silence in the assemblies: for it is not permitted unto them to speak,” the word for “speak” is not didasko, which means to teach authoritatively, involving dominion over men (I Tim. 2:11, 12); but the word is to “talk,” to “talk out,”—Greek, laleo, which would indicate a woman’s requesting publicly an answer to some personal inquiry: “If she would learn anything,” etc. It does not have to do with that participation in the operation of the Spirit which prophesying and praying do. In I Timothy 2:8-10, also, it is evident, as in I Corinthians 11:4, 5, that women engaged in prayer in the assemblies. The words “in like manner,” of I Timothy 2:9, are connected with the words, “that the men pray”; while the women, as instructed in I Corinthians, are to adorn themselves modestly in their praying.
I have often wondered how an “exclusive brother” would have felt when the woman of Luke 8:43 to 48, after touching the Lord and being healed, and shrinking back, was called out by the Lord Himself to “declare in the presence of all the people for what cause she touched Him, and how she was healed immediately.” I once asked certain of them about this. The reply was,—“The Church had not yet begun!” Aye, but these very “exclusives” are very ready to bring in the Law (“as also saith the Law”) when they are seeking to suppress woman’s laboring in the gospel, by a passage which refers to keeping order in the assemblies. And what temerity to say that our Lord would have called out that woman of Luke 8 to testify in public—if her testifying had been contrary to that order in creation which the Church was to set forth!
No one has, I think, greater horror than we, of woman’s breaking loose from the place of quietness to the place of publicity and even, alas, to the rulership of men. Isaiah cried concerning the apostate state of Israel, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them!” That is the state in the world today, and the devil ever seeks to bring it about in the assembly of God. But because some, even many, cast to the winds Paul’s distinct direction that a woman take not the place of authoritative teaching or dominion over a man, but remain in quietness,—far be it from us because of these excesses, to shut our eyes to the operation of the Holy Spirit in women, whether it be in testimony or in prayer, and that in the assembly of the saints.
There was a wonderful old saint in St. Louis, Mother Gray, humble, teachable, earnest, and mightily filled with the Holy Spirit. When she rose, with her back bowed with many, many years of physical and spiritual labor, and her reverent head covered with her little black bonnet, and began to testify, to exhort, or to pray, every one was moved, and even the Plymouth Brethren (my best helpers not only in St. Louis, but generally, — wherever it has been my privilege to preach), said to me, “Mother Gray seems an exception!”
No, she was not an exception, any more than was dear old “Auntie” Cook, in Chicago, who with another sister prayed unceasingly for D. L. Moody till he was mightily anointed with the Spirit of God.
And there was “Holy Ann,” in Toronto, her little, feeble frame bent with years, but filled with the Spirit of God. Standing up to testify in the great Cooke’s Church one afternoon, being very short, she gave her hand to be lifted, and stood on the pew! And we shall never forget her exhortation, for God was in it!
“The letter killeth, the Spirit giveth life.” Ministry in the Spirit by a woman is different altogether from her taking over authority, or infringing upon the order of the assembly of God:
“The Lord giveth the Word: The women that publish the tidings are a great Host” (Ps. 68:11 R. V.).
The general secretary of a well-known faithful missionary society told us recently that they had 20 women volunteers for missionary work, to one man! These are indeed days of terrible declension, or the proportion would not be such!
Salute Epaenetus my beloved . . . the first-fruits of Asia unto Christ—probably converted in Paul’s great three years’ mission in Ephesus, the capital of proconsular Asia, which is here referred to. We always specially treasure first converts!
Verse 6: Salute Mary,—for she bestowed much labor on you. Mary is a Jewish name, from Miriam. “Much labor” means great spiritual toil on behalf of all the saints and assemblies.
Verse 7: Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, . . . such ones as (hoitines) are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. From verse 21, we learn that three others of Paul’s kinsmen were with him at Corinth when he wrote Romans. It is precious to note how, like our Lord Himself, he won his relatives! (See Acts 23:16-22.) But here we have two kinsmen converted before Paul! but who had, however, shared his hardships. Having the apostolic gift (though not among the twelve,) they were “of note” in it. Bishop Moule remarks, “Not improbably these two early converts helped to ‘goad’ (Acts 26:14) the conscience of their still persecuting kinsman, and to prepare the way of Christ in his heart.”
Verse 8: Salute Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord: Probably a convert of Paul’s own, dear to him.
Verse 9: Salute Urbanus our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. How wonderfully does the heart of this apostle retain personal names and maintain special love!
Verse 10: Salute Apelles the approved in Christ. Here is a tried and true saint—well known of all men: “the Lord knows, not we, the tests he stood.” Salute them that are of the household of Aristobulus. Bishop Lightfoot holds that this Aristobulus was the grandson of Herod the Great, brother of Herod Agrippa of Judea; “his household,” therefore, would be his retainers and servants, who would still, after his death, hold their master’s name. This may be true also of the household of Narcissus, in verse 11. The word “household” does not appear in the Greek, but only “those from” or “of” Aristobulus and Narcissus. It should be noted, also, that in Philippians 4:22, where “the household of Caesar” is mentioned, the word for household (oikia) is expressed in the Greek. So that Aristobulus and Narcissus may have been prominent Christians, with numerous families connected with them,—children, relatives, retainers, servants. God loves to save whole households!
Verse 11: From his name some think Herodion, Paul’s kinsman, would be connected with the Herodian retainers (see above).
Verse 12: Salute Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute Persis the beloved, who labored much in the Lord. Not all of God’s saints are real laborers in His vineyard. Persis was one whom the saints especially loved, and who gave them much service in her Lord. Note that Paul speaks of the men to whom he is especially attached, (like Stachys in verse 9), as “my beloved,” and of a woman as “the beloved.” He is careful in these matters.
Tryphæna and Tryphosa were, perhaps, sisters; and “almost certainly, by the type of their names, female slaves”; but Paul would send them a special greeting. For in the Church of God, as James says, “the brother of low degree glories in his high estate; and the rich that he is made low”: both which things are impossible for the world!
Verse 13: Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine—Perhaps the Rufus of Mark 15:21, the son of Simon of Cyrene, who bore our Lord’s cross! “And his mother—and mine.” How great the privilege this unnamed woman had that she should be regarded by this great apostle as a mother to him! And Paul, having left all for Christ, has a “mother” in this saint! See Mark 10:30. Let Christian mothers find here a great field for that wonderful heart of instinctive loving care given by God to mothers,—that they extend their maternal care beyond their own family circle, to all Christians, and especially to all laborers for Christ. The Lord will remember it at His coming!
Verse 14: Here we have five brethren greeted by name, and also the brethren who are with them: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas. This is the second of the three gatherings of saints in Rome here mentioned. For we must remember that in the early days of the Church believers gathered in great simplicity, according to our Lord’s word: “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). It is fast coming to this, in these last days, also, where the Laodicean spirit claims the property and ecclesiastical importance in this world, of that which is known as “the Christian religion”; while humble saints, finding themselves unfed and very often unwanted in the great “establishments,” are gathering more and more as the early Christians did,—in homes, in Bible Conferences—wherever Christ and His Word and real fellowship in the Spirit are the only drawing powers (and how sufficient!).
Verse 15: Next comes another such assembly: all the saints that are with Philologus and Julia—a precious couple!—and Nereus and his sister. It is a growing wonder that Paul in his multitude of burdens, his “care for all the churches,” remembers, each and all, these beloved individuals!
Verse 16: Salute one another with a holy kiss. It is remarkable that this direction should be repeated five times: here; in I Thessalonians 5:26; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; I Peter 5:14. In the first four, the word “holy” is used, and in the passage in I Peter, “a kiss of love.” Sanday declares, “The earliest references to the kiss of peace as a regular part of the Liturgy is in Justin Martyr; then mentioned by Tertullian and others.”
The simplicity and warmth of early Christian devotion cannot be brushed aside as an “Orientalism” by the colder hearts and more formal and “reserved” manners of our day. “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” was the constant remark in the early days. The word beloved is used four times by Paul in these few verses.
All the churches in Christ salute you. Paul knew these assemblies; the burden of all of them he says pressed upon him daily (II Cor. 11:28). He was familiar with their feelings toward the saints in the great world center, and in their name he sends the Christians in Rome their greetings of love. How beautiful, how good and pleasant, were those early days of first love! The mustard seed was yet little—“least of all seeds”; later it was to grow in outward form into the “great tree,” where “the fowls of the air” (Satan’s very own) were to find lodging (Matt. 13:31, 32, 4, 19). Would it not be wonderful in our eyes to come upon some community today where the saints were all one! loving one another and thus fulfilling our Lord’s great prayer in John 17? Surely the world has much to stumble at in our divisions and lack of tenderness one toward another.
And now, as Bishop Moule beautifully writes in his tender remarks on this Chapter; “The roll of names is over, with its music, that subtle characteristic of such recitations of human personalities, and with its moving charm for the heart due almost equally to our glimpses of information about one here and one there, and to our total ignorance about others; an ignorance of everything about them, but that they were at Rome, and that they were in Christ. We seem, by an effort of imagination, to see as through a bright cloud, the faces of the company, and to catch the far-off voices; but the dream ‘dissolves in wrecks’; we do not know them, we do not know their distant world. But we do know Him in whom they were, and are; and that they have been ‘with Him, which is far better,’ for now so long a time of rest and glory. So we watch this unknown but well-beloved company with a sense of fellowship and expectation impossible out of Christ. This page is no mere relic of the past; it is a list of friendships to be made hereafter, and to be possessed forever in the endless life where personality indeed shall be eternal, but where also the union of personalities in Christ shall be beyond our utmost present thought.”
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned; and turn away from them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. 19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I rejoice therefore over you: but I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil. 20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Verses 17, 18: Already, at Rome, we find men willing to bring about divisions among the saints and to become occasions of stumbling. Alas that such an unearthly wonder of beauty as the love and unity of the saints in Christ should be hated and attacked by deadly foes! But so it is, and Paul must write, I beseech you, brethren, mark such ones! And there is the ever present danger of our very Christian charity making us unwilling to deal with righteous sternness toward others who are doing deadly work. If any one was known to be causing selfish divisions, or had become an occasion for others’ falling, contrary to the doctrine which they had learned of Paul, their only path was to turn away from them. Compare II Thessalonians 3:6, Titus 3:10, II John 10. Such evil workers were not serving our Lord Christ, but their own belly. What an unutterably fearful spiritual state!—to be amongst those filled with holy love toward the Lord Jesus Christ, and toward one another as fellow members of His Body, and yet be bent on altogether selfish business! Concerning many professors of Christianity John Bunyan said, “A man will go far for his own belly’s sake.” Compare Philippians 3:18, 19, 20:
“Many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things: for our citizenship is in Heaven.”
Just as in Eden God did not prevent the serpent from tempting Eve,—“beguiling her in his craftiness”; so God does not forcibly prevent false teachers, division-makers, evil workers, stumbling producers, from coming among His saints. But He warns His saints, and expects them to exercise both their discernment and their holy hatred of evil in turning away from such. Also, they “have an Anointing from the Holy One,”— these saints of God; and this Anointing “teacheth them concerning all things.” The saints do not have to depend on their own understanding, but to consult constantly God’s Word, and trust the indwelling Spirit. God warns concerning these evil workers that by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. Beautiful testimony of an all-seeing God to the blessed “innocence” of His own children toward the subtle wickedness of evil doers!
Verse 19: Indeed, Paul declares of these Roman Christians, whose obedience was come abroad unto all men: I rejoice, therefore, over you! Everywhere throughout the Roman world, the simple wholehearted faith and love of the Christians at Rome was talked of (See Chapter 1:8). But Paul expresses his concern in the remarkable words, I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil. Here is a Divinely safe path for the believer! “Wise unto that which is good,” will include: the constant study of God’s Word of truth, and careful observation and valuing what is good in the lives about us, and of those whose lives and works we read. Paul sums it up to the Philippians (4:8):
“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are reverend, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report (concerning anything or any person); if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, take account of these things.”
Oh, for such a habit of mind—to be constantly “wise unto that which is good!”
But the other side, “simple unto that which is evil,” must accompany wisdom toward the good. “Simple” here literally means unmixed,—used of wine or metals: pure; and so, “free from guile,” “like a little child.” We are in the midst of a world of evil, but the Spirit of God will bring us into an attitude of a babe’s simplicity toward it all,—as Paul says in I Corinthians 14:20: “in malice, be ye babes.” That whole verse reads, “Brethren, be not children in mind: yet in malice, be ye babes; but in mind be of full age.” You see it is wholly possible to grow up from spiritual infancy (in which were the Corinthians, for instance: I Cor. 3:1), into spiritual adulthood, without becoming mixed up at all with the “deep things of Satan, as they say” (Rev. 2:24). Indeed, Paul distinctly warns us against a “knowing” spirit as to worldly things: “If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise, for the wisdom of this age is foolishness with God.” “Sophisticated” is what many young people today so desire to be considered: but it is a horrible term, implying experimental knowledge of the unclean things of this world, with all its evil ways. Malice, along with pride, are valued by the world, as exhibiting what they call “spirit”! Let us remember, therefore, that Paul would have us “simple” unto that which is evil. He says in I Corinthians 13, “Love thinketh no evil,”—literally, “taketh not account of evil.” Evil is all about one, but the believer, abiding in Christ, is kept in sweet simplicity toward it.284284“Satan has deceived some good preachers into “personally investigating evil people and conditions,” in order to “preach against them”; but God says “The things that are done of them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of.” Preach the Word; therein will be found abundant discoveries of evil and denunciations thereof; but, being the Word of God, it is holy, and may safely be used in exposing evil. It is like the sunshine that lights up the foulest alley without being itself defiled! Don’t go down the alley “personally,” lifting the lids of their garbage-cans; or you will smell of it!
There has been much conjecture as to the character of these early evil workers (of verses 17, 18) at Rome: some regarding them as evil teachers, probably of a Jewish character (Sanday); others as early Gnostics, which insidious Satanic philosophy developed itself fully later (Moule). It is not, however, as necessary to know their historic setting, as to take the moral lesson here, and to discern such characters, whatever they be, in our own day among the saints; and turn away from them. The inability to turn resolutely and holily away from false teachers and evil workers, is a mark of spiritual ill-health, decadence, and possibly of the state of spiritual death itself!
Mad dogs are shot; infectious diseases are quarantined; but evil teachers who would divide to their destruction and draw away the saints with teaching contrary to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles are everywhere tolerated! How ghastly and ruinous is this false toleration! Let us take heed lest we “partake in the evil deeds” of such evil workers! Remember II John 9, 10, 11.
“Whosoever goeth onward [lit., ‘taketh the lead’—into such ‘progressiveness’ as Modernism, Theosophy, New Thought], and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works.”
Verse 20: The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The same word here translated “bruise” is used of Christ’s breaking the nations at His second coming (Rev. 2:27). Note that it is the God of peace who will do this blessed delivering! And it is Satan, the great dragon of Revelation Twelve, against whom Michael and his angels go forth to war, that shall be bruised. Note further that it will be under the feet of His saints that God will do this bruising; and note finally that it is to be done shortly. This corresponds to the “quickly” of “Behold, I come,”— in Revelation 22:7, 12, 20; and is the very phrase used in Revelation 1:1! This is to be held fast by our faith, despite all seeming delays and apparent Satanic victories. Meanwhile, let it astonish us and fill us with exultant joy that the great foe of God, who will have the hardihood to war against Michael and his angels, flees before the saints on earth today who, in heart-subjection to God, “resist” him “steadfast in their faith”! (James 4:7; I Pet. 5:9.)
How glorious the prospect of the complete overthrow of Satan, whose unlimited, pride will be abased, and that under the very feet of those he now despises, hates, and seeks to overthrow!
Satan’s ruin began (as traced in Ezekiel 28) in heaven, where he was the “anointed cherub,” walking up and down in the midst of “the stones of fire,”—perhaps leading all others in worship. But his heart became lifted up by very reason of his beauty; he corrupted his wisdom by the very reason of his brightness, and he was “cast as profane out of the Mountain of God”—that is from the heavenly council-place of Divine Majesty. Now, though he still has ability to accuse the saints before God (Rev. 12:10), and with his host is in “the heavenlies” (Eph. 6:12)—that is, not confined to earth, but still permitted the freedom of certain heavenly regions as a heavenly being—yet he will be cast down (after the Church’s Rapture, or taking up,) to this earth. And in his rage, therefore, he will inaugurate the Great Tribulation to obliterate God’s nation Israel from the earth.
Upon Christ’s coming down to earth with His saints and angels, Satan will be cast into the abyss at the center of the earth for a thousand years—The Millennium, (Rev. 20). At the end of that he will be released for a little season and lead the last great warfare against God and His people. Thence he is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented forever (Rev. 20:10). Every believer should be familiar with these facts concerning his great enemy. Shortly, he will be “bruised” by Christ; according to the first prophecy and promise in the Bible: Genesis 3:15: “He” [the seed of the Woman] “shall bruise thy head” (the Serpent’s, Satan’s). This is a heartening promise, indeed! Further, there will be no peace, no truce, until it is done. The word “shortly” should fall on our hearts with constant hope, as it did on Paul’s.
Then comes the “benediction,” as we call it, pronouncing, promising, to the Saints: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. In the last verse of II Corinthians (13:14)) Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all”; but seven times “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is pronounced on the saints in the Epistles! Even in the verse from Corinthians quoted above, when the three persons of the Godhead are mentioned, it is still “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”! Now the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is defined in II Corinthians 8:9:
“Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich.”
It is as the Head, from whom all the Body is supported and nourished, that Christ thus constantly supplies grace to all believers: For “God gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church”—the Assembly of God. It may be said that grace has God the Father as its Source; with Christ as its Bestower; and the Holy Spirit as its Communicator.
21 Timothy my fellow-worker saluteth you; and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I Tertius, who write the epistle, salute you in the Lord. 23 Gaius my host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the treasurer of the city saluteth you, and Quartus the brother.
Verse 21: Now come the salutations to the Christians at Rome from Paul’s fellow-workers, from his gracious host, and others. Bishop Moule with his fervid imagination pictures the Epistle to the Romans as written in Gaius’ house in one day! “They began at morning on the themes of sin, righteousness, and glory of the present and the future of Israel, of the duties of the Christian life, of the special problems of the Roman Mission; carried their hours along to noon, to afternoon . . . But before he bids his willing and wonderful secretary, Tertius, rest from his labor, he has to discharge his own heart and affections which have already lain in it all the while! And now Paul and Tertius are no longer alone—other brethren have found their way to the chamber—Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius himself, Quartus, and no less a magistrate than Erastus, Treasurer of Corinth. A page of personal messages yet to be dictated from St. Paul and his friends.”
Now while we cannot agree that the Epistle was written in one day, the words above bring vividly to our mind the closing scene.
Timothy, my fellow-worker, saluteth you. “I have no man likeminded,” wrote Paul to the Phippians (2:19-22), “who will truly care for your state. Ye know that as a child serveth a father, so he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel.” I can think of no higher honor than to be counted by Paul a “fellow-worker.” Although Paul’s name alone must stand at the beginning of this Epistle to the Romans, as it sets forth the foundation of Christian doctrines as the Lord committed them to him, yet here at the end is Timothy, his “true yokefellow,” faithful from the beginning on. Then we have Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, kinsmen of Paul’s. Lucius was perhaps, even probably, the “Lucius of Cyrene” of Acts 13:1; and Jason that Jason who had received Paul in Acts 17:5-9; while Sosipater is in all likelihood Sosipater, the son of Pyrrhus, of Berea. These last three, being relatives of Paul’s, were, doubtless, Jewish Christians.
Verse 22: Then we have a direct word from Tertius, who transcribed the Epistle for Paul: I, Tertius, who am writing the Epistle, salute you in the Lord!
Next that gracious and generous hearted believer, who kept open house for the whole Church of God, and was at present entertaining Paul, gives his greeting: Gaius, my host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. This doubtless is the Gaius of the very next chapter of the New Testament I Corinthians 1 (verse 14)), whom Paul himself had baptized,—as a man prominent and well known. God gave Solomon “largeness of heart as the sand upon the sea shore,” and here is a brother whose hospitality welcomes all the saints. Brother, if you have a longing to be helpful to God’s saints, be a Gaius! Count not the things you have as your own, but as belonging to Christ; and, therefore, to be used freely by Christ’s own. Our Lord, “while on earth, found one home,—that at Bethany, thus open fully to Him, and He said to His disciples, “He that receiveth you, receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me.”
Verse 23: Erastus, the City Treasurer, saluteth you. Sanday thinks that Paul mentions Erastus because of his being “the most influential member of the community.” But that would not be like Paul! And the salutation of Erastus is just as genuine as that of Gaius, or of the saint next mentioned here as simply Quartus the brother. Quartus was not a city official, nor prominent, but along go his warm greetings to the Christians at Rome, with Paul’s and all the rest!
These tender salutations, both to the Christians at Rome, and from the Christians gathered about Paul in Corinth where he writes, arouse both joy and grief in our hearts today,—joy that in that early day there existed such unity of consciousness in Christ) such brotherly solicitude, such friendly, loving greetings, between those who knew themselves one company, one Body, one band of pilgrims through the dark and dreary desert of this world! and grief that our own day sees such sad divisions, jealousies, contentions, such earthly-mindedness; such loss of the mighty truths of this great Epistle to the Romans,—that our sin has been put away forever by the one sacrifice of Christ, that we died with Him and have been raised into newness of life with Him, and are no longer of this world! Not only grief at the awful Babylonish ecclesiastical structure, worse than paganism, which Satan has built, beginning at this very city of Rome; but deeper grief at the indifference and unconcern at increasing Romish abominations of those calling themselves “Protestants”; at their willingness to be divided—their even glorying in it; at the lack of that burning love so evident in Paul and those with him, and at the loss of separation from this world that crucified our Lord!
25 Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the heralding of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, 26 but now is manifested, and [now] by prophetic Scriptures, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith; 27 to God alone wise, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory unto the ages. Amen!
Verses 25 to 27: All agree that the Epistle to the Romans is the foundational Epistle. Consequently the great doctrines of Christianity appear there. But it is not generally recognized that in verses 25 to 27 preparation is made by the Apostle Paul for the unfolding in his further epistles of that great secret of God called “The Mystery,—kept in silence through the times of ages”; the Special revelator of which Paul is. It is necessary to see clearly that in the words to establish you of verse 25, Paul refers to truth beyond that which the Romans already knew. He says in Chapter One he “longs to see them . . . that they might through his teaching, ministry, and fellowship, be established.” Those to whom Paul writes in this Epistle had believed; they had become “obedient from the heart to that pattern of doctrine whereunto they were delivered” (6:17). Therefore when Paul speaks to them of my gospel and of the heralding of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, he cannot be referring to that revelation of God’s righteousness which had been “witnessed by the Law and the prophets” (3:21). Furthermore, these two expressions, my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, seem to be two coördinate terms, or possibly we should say, the second characterized the first: for we know that to some (like the Corinthians), who were babes, not full grown, Paul preached only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Whereas he himself tells us, as we have before observed, of higher, heavenly truth, connected with Christ Jesus and Him glorified, which he preached to “fullgrown” believers.
The Greek word translated establish is used about ten times in the New Testament concerning a settled, stable spiritual condition. We find this first in our Lord’s words to Peter: “When once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). It includes not only a knowledge of the truth, and a settled persuasion in Christ of that truth; but also obedience in the power of the Spirit, to the truth: “to the end He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (I Thess. 3:13); and it also involves our testimony: “establish your hearts in every good word and work” (II Thess. 2:17).
We shall find the Greek construction of the great doxology of verses 25 to 27, involved and difficult, unless we place ourselves in the position of Paul himself. He has been writing with the hand of the Spirit upon him, those stupendous truths which we find in this great, fundamental Epistle: the glory, holiness, and righteousness, of the infinite, eternal God; the awful guilt and helplessness of man; the story of the astonishing intervention of a Grace that not only pardoned and justified, but made believing sinners partakers in Christ of the very glory of God Himself; the absolute consistency of all this with God’s promises to His earthly nation, Israel; the openness of all Heaven now to all nations, and that on the simplest possible condition—Faith alone! And the Apostle has God in view as the Giver, Christ in view as the means, and the saints in view as the receivers of this mighty bounty!
Therefore this great passage becomes both a doxology, and a commendation with a doxology, of praise to this great God, and a commendation of the saints unto Him. Paul thus commended the saints in Ephesus (Acts 20:32) : “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace.” Therefore, if we must seek for grammatical regularity (which we do not need to do in such an overwhelming passage as this!) We may read: Now I commend you to Him that is able to establish you . . . To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ: to whom be the glory unto the ages!
The last words, to whom be the glory unto the ages must, it seems, be taken, in view of all other Scriptures, to refer to God. It is to Him the glory comes, through Jesus Christ. This is the constant voice of Scripture. Furthermore, Paul at the beginning declares this gospel to be the Gospel of God concerning His Son, and as we have noted throughout the Epistle, God is the Actor—setting forth Christ as a propitiation. He is the God, “not of Jews only, but of Gentiles also,— seeing that God is One.” “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “It is God that justifieth,” and “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” and “We present our bodies living sacrifices to God.” Right through the Epistle goes the message of the gospel of God concerning His Son.
Also the double mention of God, first (verse 25), to Him that is able to establish you; and second (verse 27): to the only wise God, draws our minds irresistibly to God the Father as the Source of all this grace and blessing—to whom the ascription of praise goes up.
We notice also that it is God who establishes us according to the preaching of Jesus Christ (verse 25); that the message concerning the mystery is brought forth according to the commandment of the eternal God (verse 26); and that the glory goes up to God through Jesus Christ (verse 27), much as the King James Versions reads: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever.
Our blessed Lord Himself insisted beyond all others that the Father be glorified in and through the Son! and thus we find it in Romans285285Yet while we feel sure that we should read in verse 27: “Glory to God, through Jesus Christ”; let us never forget that Christ is God the Son: as we read in Chapter 9:5: “Christ—who is over all, God blessed forever!” The question in the last verse of Romans is not at all concerning the deity of Christ, but of the Divine order—both of blessing to us, and of thanksgiving by us.
“THE MYSTERY WHICH HAD BEEN KEPT IN SILENCE”
God had a sovereign purpose to take certain creatures into His own glory, to share in that Glory. And He desired also that these should know Him in His nature as Love, and be with Him, before Him, in that blissful atmosphere of pure love, forever.
These happy creatures were not to be taken from among the “elect angels,”—holy, blessed beings that these are.
It was God’s purpose to manifest Himself, all that He is,— not in holiness and righteousness and truth only; but in His infinite Love, Grace, Mercy, Tenderness, Gentleness, and Patience.
God therefore sent His Son, and lo! God was manifest in the flesh! Christ declared God—all God was: which had not ever been done before, to any of His creatures!
But, after revealing God’s love, mercy, and gracious tenderness toward sinners, the Son of God goes to the cross. And there is revealed the eternal unchangeable holiness of God in hatred of sin, together with that love capable of giving the Son of His delight to bear sin for a world that rejected, despised His Son!
But the mystery of which Paul speaks was not yet revealed. Was it not prophesied in the Psalms and prophets, and witnessed in the types of all the offerings, that the Son of God, the Messiah, would suffer, and that for human sin? “Thus it is written in the law, the prophets and the psalms, that Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day,” our Risen Lord said to His disciples in Luke 24:44-46. And “the mystery” had been “hid in God who created all things,”—hid “from the ages and from the generations.”
What then, is the mystery?
It is wrapped up, (though not revealed) in our Lord’s words in His great heavenly prayer of John 17: For here we find Him praying for a company given Him by the Father out of the world.286286Our Lord asks five things for them in John 17: (1) That they may be kept—in the Father’s name, and from the evil one (Verses 11-15); (2) That they might be sanctified—as not of the world, first in the truth, and second by our Lord’s identification with them—“For their sake I sanctify Myself” (set Myself apart to the cross) (Verses 16-19); (3) That they may be “one,” “perfected into one,” and that in a wondrous union only to be defined “as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they may be in Us” (Verses 21-23); (4) That these may be with Him—and that forever, where He is, to behold His glory into which He would enter upon His ascension (Verses 5,24).
Now in verse 22, our Lord Jesus says plainly: “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them.” So that this glory into which Christ was to enter was to be shared with these whom the Father had given Him.
This, then, is the foundation for the revelation of “the Mystery.” Certain were to be brought, in Christ, into the Divine glory! They were to be “manifested with Him in glory,” at His appearing. But that would be because they had entered into a glory never before given creatures! It was not given to angels, seraphim, or cherubim, but to blood-bought sinners as members of Christ! Nor was such a union proposed to earthly Israel. Saved Israel will, indeed “see the glory of God”; “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty,” is promised to that beloved, restored nation (Isa. 33:17): and also that over restored Jerusalem “the glory shall be spread a covering” (Isa. 4:2-6). But there was never a hint in the Old Testament that there would be a heavenly calling,—a company who would enter into that glory—be glorified with this glorious One!
This, is the secret, the mystery, “kept in silence through times of ages,” the unfolding of which Paul declares will establish the saints!
For it must involve the revelation to us that we were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world”! That we were foreknown, and foreordained to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son, that He might be “The First-born among many brethren”!
That we, having a sinful history in Adam the first, would not only have our sins put away, in God’s grace, by the blood of Christ; but would be so identified with Him, by God’s astonishing act, as to be cut off from all connection with the first Adam and be created in His Son, now risen from the dead!
That we would not only be enlifed with Him, but be raised up with Him, and made to sit with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus! Thus passing out of earthly connections, and becoming citizens of heaven!
That thus, our hearts being as a “mirror,” we would behold the glory of the Lord, and be transformed into His image, “from glory to glory,” here below (II Cor. 3:18).
That, at our Lord’s second coming, our bodies would be in an instant redeemed, (I Cor. 15:51-53); so that “these bodies of our humiliation,” would be, by Christ’s “fashioning them anew,” be at once “conformed to the body of His glory”; so that “we should be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is”!—which not even Paul has yet done! (Phil. 3:20, 21; I John 3:3).
That, in “the ages to come,” God will “show the exceeding riches of His grace, in kindness to us, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
And that, as Eve shared with the first Adam the dominion given him, being one with him (she having been taken out of his side and “builded into” a woman) and even sharing with him his name Adam (Gen. 1:28; 2:21-23; 5:1, 2): just so the Church, the wife of the Lamb, as one with Christ, having been created in Him and sharing with Him His name! (I Cor. 12:12) will share His dominion! See, reverently, Ephesians 1:23; 2:10; I Cor. 12:12, 13. That thus Christ and His Bride, the Church, shall be forever: “That they may be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me; and the glory which Thou Hast given Me I have given unto them.”
Creatures—only creatures we, and forever will be, but given the highest place which the Word of God gives to creatures: “For we are members of Christ’s Body”! and, “We rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God.”
Now although on the Day of Pentecost, God baptized into Christ in glory those in the upper room and all true believers thereafter; and although it is true that God thus in their experience made known to “His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” “this mystery of Christ which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men”; yet He chose Paul to open out before God’s saints the doctrine of this heavenly mystery or secret; and to write in “all his Epistles” these things for us. All the apostles knew, for example, on that Day of Pentecost that Christ had been glorified in heaven and that they were in the boundless joy of the revelation of this glorious Christ to their souls. They had all entered into the enjoyment of the blessedness belonging to this great thing concealed by God from all creatures before that moment. But it was Paul to whom the Lord revealed the whole doctrine of the mystery; and we firmly believe he thus became the revelator to all men of these glorious things connected with this mystery.
Not that God subjected James, Cephas and John, the apostles of the circumcision, to Paul in their ministry. In their spheres of ministry, Paul went to the Gentiles and they to the circumcision. But as to the unfolding of the great facts of the mystery, the Lord chose Paul,—who writes himself down (and that by an inspired pen), as “less than the least of all saints”; so that “by the grace of God” Paul himself said, “I am what I am.” And we give all glory, therefore, to God.
Now no one is able to read, understand, believe and meditate, upon this, God’s great secret, of our heavenly calling, our connection with Christ Himself and with the glory that shall be revealed, without becoming himself heavenly minded!
So that the heralding of Jesus Christ according to the unfolding of the mystery is the preaching by which God establishes His heavenly saints. For if indeed we are heavenly; if our “citizenship” is in heaven; if our worship is by the Spirit; if through Christ by that Spirit we have “our access to the Father”—unto God in heaven; how utterly unable is any “religious” earthly system to establish us! Nay, says Paul; “We are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh!” (Phil. 3:3).
We recognize fully that the “mystery” is not developed in Romans, though set forth and implied in Chapter 12:5: “We who are many are one Body in Christ.” Paul is here speaking as if the Roman Christians were expected to understand the expression, or were at least to expect Paul to reveal and fully explain it to them when he should get to Rome. Inasmuch, therefore, as some of our readers may not have access to those writings Scripturally setting forth what the mystery is and our participation in it, or may even neglect to read the other remarkable Scriptures which open it out, we have thought it best to speak briefly upon the mystery, even in a work on Romans.
And we would remind the reader that unless this “revelation of the mystery” becomes indeed revelation to his own soul, he must fall short entirely of understanding what the present dispensation is; and what is the Church’s (or Assembly’s) real character, calling, destiny, and present walk. As the prayer of Paul for us is realized in us: “That you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Eph. 1:18, 19, ff), these things will be brought to pass in you and me:
1. We shall see and realize that our history in the first Adam was ended at the cross.
2. We shall see that the Christ with Whom God has now connected us is wholly a heavenly Christ, and that neither Christ nor those in Him have anything to do with Israel after the flesh, to whom the Law was given, and to whom the Messiah came.
3. We shall see ourselves vitally connected with, joined to, this heavenly Christ, so that we have been received in Christ as belonging to heaven, “even as He”; that we are “the righteousness of God in Him”; that we are loved even as He; and that our citizenship is in heaven. Our hearts must be convinced that these things are facts, not figures of speech, or things to be realized in some far future. We wait, indeed, for the redemption of our bodies, but we ourselves are already in the new creation, and for us old things (all earthly things, “religious” or worldly), have passed away.
4. We shall see that blindness has befallen Israel; that the mystery of lawlessness is working; that the earthly testimony of the Church has failed; that iniquity will abound and “evil men and seducers wax worse and worse” in professing Christendom— of all these things we shall be certain: but knowing” them beforehand, and understanding that the course of things on earth has nothing to do with our heavenly calling, we shall continue steadfast in faith.
5. An ever-deepening humility will be wrought in us by the knowledge that we have been called into this Divine union, so that there is fulfilled in us what our Lord prayed for: “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us”: as Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “The assembly of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
6. Not only humility, but hope—the true hope of the instructed Christian, will rise and well up in our hearts: “Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
7. Thus the believer walks consciously justified from all things, and in newness of life (Romans); as a new creature in Christ (II Corinthians); as made alive together with Christ, raised up in Him, and made to sit with Him in the heavenlies (Ephesians); thus with Paul as the example, he runs His course toward Christ Himself (Philippians); as walking through many dangers on this earth, yet “holding fast the Head,” in Whom is all fulness, and in Whom, in constant appropriation of His fulness, the believer is being made full (Colossians); and thus with ever-absorbing hope he expects the day when Christ shall appear, and he become “in a moment” “like Him,”—seeing Him as He is (Thessalonians).
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