Romans 15
Expositor's Bible Commentary
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Chapter 30


Romans 15:1-13THE large and searching treatment which the Apostle has already given to the right use of Christian Liberty, is yet not enough. He must pursue the same theme further; above all, that he may put it into more explicit contact with the Lord Himself.

We gather without doubt that the state of the Roman Mission, as it was reported to St. Paul, gave special occasion for such fulness of discussion. It is more than likely, as we have seen from the first, that the bulk of the disciples were ex-pagans; probably of very various nationalities, many of them Orientals, and as such not more favourable to distinctive Jewish claims and tenets. It is also likely that they found amongst them, or beside them, many Christian Jews, or Christian Jewish proselytes, of a type more or less pronounced in their own direction; the school whose less worthy members supplied the men to whom St. Paul, a few years later, writing from Rome to Philippi, refers as "preaching Christ of envy and strife." {Php 1:15} The temptation of a religious (as of a secular) majority is always to tyrannise, more or less, in matters of thought and practice. A dominant school, in any age or region, too easily comes to talk and act as if all decided expression on the other side were an instance of "intolerance," while yet it allows itself sufficiently severe and censorious courses of its own. At Rome, very probably, this mischief was in action. The "strong," with whose principle, in its true form, St. Paul agreed, were disposed to domineer in spirit over the "weak," because the weak were comparatively the few. Thus they were guilty of a double fault; they were presenting a miserable parody of holy liberty, and they were acting off the line of that unselfish fairness which is essential in the Gospel character. For the sake not only of the peace of the great Mission Church, but of the honour of the Truth, and of the Lord, the Apostle therefore dwells on mutual duties, and returns to them again and again after apparent conclusions of his discourse. Let us listen as he now reverts to the subject, to set it more fully than ever in the light of Christ.

But (it is the "but" of resumption, and of new material) we are bound, we the able, οίδυνατοί (perhaps a sort of soubriquet for themselves among the school of "liberty," "the capables")-to bear the weaknesses of the unable, (again, possibly, a soubriquet, and in this case an unkindly one for a school,) and not to please ourselves. Each one of us, let him please not himself, but his neighbour, as regards what is good, with a view to edification.

"Please"; άρέσκειν άρεσκέτω. The word is one often "soiled with ignoble use," in classical literature; it tends to mean the "pleasing" which fawns and flatters; the complaisance of the parasite. But it is lifted by Christian usage to a noble level. The cowardly and interested element drops out of it; the thought of willingness to do anything to please remains; only limited by the law of right, and aimed only at the other’s "good." Thus purified, it is used elsewhere of that holy "complaisance" in which the grateful disciple aims to "meet halfway the wishes" of his Lord. {see Colossians 1:10} Here, it is the unselfish and watchful aim to meet halfway, if possible, the thought and feeling of a fellow disciple, to conciliate by sympathetic attentions, to be considerate in the smallest matters of opinion and conduct; a genuine exercise of inward liberty.

There is a gulf of difference between interested timidity and disinterested considerateness. In flight from the former, the ardent Christian sometimes breaks the rule of the latter. St. Paul is at his hand to warn him not to forget the great law of love. And the Lord is at his hand too, with His own supreme Example.

For even our Christ did not please Himself; but, as it stands written, {Psalm 69:9} "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee, fell upon Me."

It is the first mention in the Epistle of the Lord’s Example. His Person we have seen, and the Atoning Work, and the Resurrection Power, and the great Return. The holy Example can never take the place of anyone of these facts of life eternal. But when they are secure, then the reverent study of the Example is not only in place; it is of urgent and immeasurable importance.

"He did not please Himself." "Not My will, but Thine, be done." Perhaps the thought of the Apostle is dwelling on the very hour when those words were spoken, from beneath the olives of the Garden, and out of a depth of inward conflict and surrender which "it hath not entered into the heart of man"-except the heart of the Man of men Himself-"to conceive." Then indeed "He did not please Himself." From pain as pain, from grief as grief, all sentient existence naturally, necessarily, shrinks; it "pleases itself" in escape or in relief. The infinitely refined sentient Existence of the Son of Man was no exception to this law of universal nature; and now He was called to such pain, to such grief, as never before met upon one head. We read the record of Gethsemane, and its sacred horror is always new; the disciple passes in thought out of the Garden even to the cruel tribunal of the Priest with a sense of relief; his Lord has risen from the unfathomable to the fathomable depth of His woes-till He goes down again, at noon next day, upon the Cross. "He pleased not Himself." He who soon after, on the shore of the quiet water, said to Peter, in view of his glorious and God-glorifying end, "They shall carry thee whither thou wouldest not"-along a path from which all thy manhood shall shrink-He too, as to His Human sensibility, "would not" go to His own unknown agonies. But then, blessed be His Name, "He would go" to them, from that other side, the side of the infinite harmony of His purpose with the purpose of His Father, in His immeasurable desire of His Father’s glory. So He "drank that cup," which shall never now pass on to His people. And then He went forth into the house of Caiaphas, to be "reproached," during some six or seven terrible hours, by men who, professing zeal for God, were all the while blaspheming Him by every act and word of malice and untruth against His Son; and from Caiaphas He went to Pilate, and to Herod, and to the Cross, "bearing that reproach."

"I’m not anxious to die easy, when He died hard!" So said, not long ago, in a London attic, lying crippled and comfortless, a little disciple of the Man of Sorrows. He had "seen the Lord," in a strangely unlikely conversion, and had found a way of serving Him; it was to drop written fragments of His Word from the window on to the pavement below. And for this silent mission he would have no liberty if he were moved, in his last weeks, to a comfortable "Home." So he would rather serve his beloved Redeemer thus, "pleasing not himself," than be soothed in body, and gladdened by surrounding kindness, but with less "fellowship of His sufferings." Illustrious confessor-sure to be remembered when "the Lord of the servants cometh"! And with what an-a fortiori does his simple answer to a kindly visitor’s offer bring home to us (for it is for us as much as for the Romans) this appeal of the Apostle’s! We are called in these words not necessarily to any agony of body or spirit; not necessarily even to an act of severe moral courage; only to patience, largeness of heart, brotherly love. Shall we not answer Amen from the soul? Shall not even one thought of "the fellowship of His sufferings" annihilate in us the miserable "self pleasing" which shows itself in religious bitterness, in the refusal to attend and to understand, in a censoriousness which has nothing to do with firmness, in a personal attitude exactly opposite to love?

He has cited Psalm 69:1-36 as a Scripture which, with all the solemn problems gathered round its dark "minatory" paragraph, yet lives and moves with Christ, the Christ of love. And now-not to confirm his application of the Psalm, for he takes that for granted-but to affirm the positive Christian use of the Old Scriptures as a whole, he goes on to speak at large of "the things forewritten." He does so with the special thought that the Old Testament is full of truth in point for the Roman Church just now; full of the bright, and uniting, "hope" of glory; full of examples as well as precepts for "patience," that is to say, holy perseverance under trial; full finally of the Lord’s equally gracious relation to "the Nations" and to Israel.

For all the things forewritten, written in the Scriptures of the elder time, in the age that both preceded the Gospel and prepared for it, for our instruction were written-with an emphasis upon "our"-that through the patience and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might hold our hope, the hope "sure and steadfast" of glorification in the glory of our conquering Lord. That is to say, the true "Author behind the authors" of that mysterious Book watched, guided, effected its construction, from end to end, with the purpose full in His view of instructing for all time the developed Church of Christ. And in particular, He adjusted thus the Old Testament records and precepts of "patience," the patience which "suffers and is strong," suffers and goes forward, and of "encouragement," παράκλησις, the word which is more than "consolation," while it includes it; for it means the voice of positive and enlivening appeal. Rich indeed are Pentateuch, and Prophets, and Hagiographa, alike in commands to persevere and be of good courage, and in examples of men who were made brave and patient by the power of God in them, as they took Him at His word. And all this, says the Apostle, was on purpose, on God’s purpose. That multifarious Book is indeed in this sense one. Not only is it, in its Author’s intention, full of Christ; in the same intention it is full of Him for us. Immortal indeed is its preciousness, if this was His design. Confidently may we explore its pages, looking in them first for Christ, then for ourselves, in our need of peace, and strength, and hope. Let us add one word, in view of the anxious controversy of our day, within the Church, over the structure and nature of those "divine Scriptures," as the Christian Fathers love to call them. The use of the Holy Book in the spirit of this verse, the persistent searching of it for the preceptive mind of God in it, with the belief that it was "written for our instruction," will be the surest and deepest means to give us "perseverance" and "encouragement" about the Book itself. The more we really know the Bible, at first hand, before God, with the knowledge both of acquaintance and reverent sympathy, the more shall we be able with intelligent spiritual conviction, to "persist" and "be of good cheer" in the conviction that it is indeed not of man (though through man), but of God. The more shall we use it as the Lord and the Apostles used it, as being not only of God, but of God for us; His Word, and for us. The more shall we make it our divine daily Manual for a life of patient and cheerful sympathies, holy fidelity, and "that blessed Hope"-which draws "nearer now than when we believed." But may the God of the patience and the encouragement. He who is Author and Giver of the graces unfolded in His Word, He without whom even that Word is but a sound without significance in the soul, grant you, in His own sovereign way of acting on and in human wills and affections, to be of one mind mutually, according to Christ Jesus; "Christwise," in His steps, in His temper, under His precepts; having towards one another, not necessarily an identity of opinion on all details, but a community of sympathetic kindness. No comment here is better than this same Writer’s later words, from Rome; {Php 2:2-5} "Be of one mind; having the same love; nothing by strife, or vainglory; esteeming others better than yourselves; looking on the things of others; with the same mind which was also in Christ Jesus," when He humbled Himself for us. And all this, not only for the comfort of the community, but for the glory of God: that unanimously, with one mouth, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; turning from the sorrowful friction worked by self-will when it intrudes into the things of heaven, to an antidote, holy and effectual, found in adoring Him who is equally near to all His true people, in His Son. Wherefore welcome one another into fellowship, even as our Christ welcomed you, all the individuals of your company, and all the groups of it, to our God’s glory. These last words may mean either that the Lord’s welcome of "you glorified" His Father’s grace; or that that grace will he "glorified" by the holy victory of love over prejudice among the Roman saints. Perhaps this latter explanation is to be preferred, as it echoes and enforces the last words of the previous verse. But why should not both references reside in the one phrase, where the actions of the Lord and His disciples are seen in their deep harmony? For I say that Christ stands constituted Servant of the Circumcision, Minister of divine blessings to Israel, on behalf of God’s truth, so as to ratify in act the promises belonging to the Fathers, so as to secure and vindicate their fulfilment, by His coming as Son of David, Son of Abraham, but (a "but" which, by its slight correction, reminds the Jew that the Promise, given wholly through him, was not given wholly for him) so that the Nations, on mercy’s behalf, should glorify God, blessing and adoring Him on account of a salvation which, in their case, was less of "truth" than of "mercy," because it was less explicitly and immediately of covenant; as it stands written, {Psalm 18:49} "For this I will confess to Thee, will own Thee, among the Nations, and will strike the harp to Thy Name"; Messiah confessing His Eternal Father’s glory in the midst of His redeemed Gentile subjects, who sing their "lower part" with Him. And again it, the Scripture, says, {Deuteronomy 32:43} "Be jubilant, Nations, with His people." And again, {Psalm 117:1} "Praise the Lord, all the Nations, and let all the peoples praise Him again." And again Isaiah, {Isaiah 11:10} "There shall come (literally, "shall be") the Root of Jesse, and He who rises up-"rises," in the present tense of the divine decree to rule [the] Nations; on Him [the] Nations shall hope" with the hope which is in fact faith, looking from the sure present to the promised future. Now may the God of that hope, "the Hope" just cited from the Prophet, the expectation of all blessing, up to its crown and flower in glory, on the basis of Messiah’s work, fill you with all joy and peace in your believing, so that you may overflow in that hope, in the Holy Spirit’s power: "in His power," clasped as it were within His divine embrace, and thus energised to look upward, heavenward, away from embittering and dividing temptations to the unifying as well as beatifying prospect of your Lord’s Return.

He closes here his long, wise, tender appeal and counsel about the "unhappy divisions" of the Roman Mission. He has led his readers as it were all round the subject. With the utmost tact, and also candour, he has given them his own mind, "in the Lord," on the matter in dispute. He has pointed out to the party of scruple and restriction the fallacy of claiming the function of Christ, and asserting a divine rule where He has not imposed one. He has addressed the "strong" (with whom he agrees in a certain sense), at much greater length, reminding them of the moral error of making more of any given application of their principle than of the law of love in which the principle was rooted. He has brought both parties to the feet of Jesus Christ as absolute Master. He has led them to gaze on Him as their blessed Example, in His infinite self-oblivion for the cause of God, and of love. He has poured out before them the prophecies, which tell at once the Christian Judaist and the ex-pagan convert that in the eternal purpose Christ was given equally to both, in the line of "truth," in the line of "mercy." Now lastly he clasps them impartially to his own heart in this precious and pregnant benediction, beseeching for both sides, and for all their individuals, a wonderful fulness of those blessings in which most speedily and most surely the spirit of their strife would expire. Let that prayer be granted, in its pure depth and height, and how could "the weak brother" look with quite his old anxiety on the problems suggested by the dishes at a meal, and by the dates of the Rabbinic Calendar? And how could "the capable" bear any longer to lose his joy in God by an assertion, full of self, of his own insight and "liberty"? Profoundly happy and at rest in their Lord, whom they embraced by faith as their Righteousness and Life, and whom they anticipated in hope as their coming Glory; filled through their whole consciousness, by the indwelling Spirit, with a new insight into Christ; they would fall into each other’s embrace, in Him. They would be much more ready, when they met, to speak "concerning the King" than to begin a new stage of their not very elevating discussion.

How many a Church controversy, now as then, would die of inanition, leaving room for a living truth, if the disputants could only gravitate, as to their always most beloved theme, to the praises and glories of their redeeming Lord Himself! It is at His feet, and in His arms, that we best understand both His truth, and the thoughts, rightful or mistaken, of our brethren.

Meanwhile, let us take this benedictory prayer, as we may take it, from its instructive context, and carry it out with us into all the contexts of life. What the Apostle prayed for the Romans, in view of their controversies, he prays for us, as for them, in view of everything. Let us "stand back and look at the picture." Here-conveyed in this strong petition-is St. Paul’s idea of the true Christian’s true life, and the true life of the true Church. What are the elements, and what is the result?

It is a life lived in direct contact with God. "Now the God of hope fill you." He remits them here (as above, ver. 5) {Romans 15:5} from even himself to the Living God. In a sense, he sends them even from "the things forewritten," to the Living God; not in the least to disparage the Scriptures, but because the great function of the divine Word, as of the divine Ordinances, is to guide the soul into an immediate intercourse with the Lord God in His Son, and to secure it therein. God is to deal direct with the Romans. He is to manipulate, He is to fill, their being.

It is a life not starved or straitened, but full. "The God of hope fill you." The disciple, and the Church, is not to live as if grace were like a stream "in the year of drought," now settled into an almost stagnant deep, then struggling with difficulty over the stones of the shallow. The man, and the Society, are to live and work in tranquil but moving strength, "rich" in the fruits of their Lord’s "poverty"; {2 Corinthians 8:9} filled out of His fulness; never, spiritually, at a loss for Him; never, practically, having to do or bear except in His large and gracious power.

It is a life bright and beautiful; "filled with all joy and peace." It is to show a surface fair with the reflected sky of Christ, Christ present, Christ to come. A sacred while open happiness and a pure internal repose are to be there, born of "His presence, in which is fulness of joy," and of the sure prospect of His Return, bringing with it "pleasures for evermore." Like that mysterious ether of which the natural philosopher tells us, this joy, this peace, found and maintained "in the Lord," is to pervade all the contents of the Christian life, its moving masses of duty or trial, its interspaces of rest or silence; not. always demonstrative, but always underlying, and always a living power.

It is a life of faith; "all joy and peace in your believing." That is to say, it is a life dependent for its all upon a Person and His promises. Its glad certainty of peace with God, of the possession of His Righteousness, is by means not of sensations and experiences, but of believing; it comes, and stays, by taking Christ at His word. Its power over temptation, its "victory and triumph against the devil, the world, and the flesh," is by the same means. The man, the Church, takes the Lord at His word; -"I am with you always"; "Through Me thou shalt do valiantly"; -and faith, that is to say, Christ trusted in practice, is "more than conqueror."

It is a life overflowing with the heavenly hope; "that ye may abound in the hope." Sure of the past, and of the present, it is-what out of Christ no life can be-sure of the future. The golden age, for this happy life, is in front, and is no Utopia. "Now is our salvation nearer"; "We look for that blissful (μακαρίαν) hope, the appearing of our great God and Saviour"; "Them which sleep in Him God will bring with Him"; "We shall be caught up together with them; we shall ever be with the Lord"; "They shall see His face; thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty."

And all this it is as a life lived "in the power of the Holy Ghost." Not by enthusiasm, not by any stimulus which self applies to self; not by resources for gladness and permanence found in independent reason or affection; but by the almighty, all-tender power of the Comforter. "The Lord, the Life Giver," giving life by bringing us to the Son of God, and uniting us to Him, is the Giver and strong Sustainer of the faith, and so of the peace, the joy, the hope, of this blessed life.

"Now it was not written for their sakes only, but for us also," in our circumstances of personal and of common experience. Large and pregnant is the application of this one utterance to the problems perpetually raised by the divided state of organisation, and of opinion, in modern Christendom. It gives us one secret, above and below all others, as the sure panacea, if it may but be allowed to work, for this multifarious malady which all who think deplore. That secret is "the secret of the Lord, which is with them that fear Him". {Psalm 25:14} It is a fuller life in the individual, and so in the community, of the peace and joy of believing; a larger abundance of "that blessed hope," given by that power for which numberless hearts are learning to thirst with a new intensity, "the power of the Holy Ghost."

It was in that direction above all that the Apostle gazed as he yearned for the unity, not only spiritual, but practical, of the Roman saints. This great master of order, this man made for government, alive with all his large wisdom to the sacred importance, in its, true place, of the external mechanism of Christianity, yet makes no mention of it here, nay, scarcely gives one allusion to it in the whole Epistle. The word "Church" is not heard till the final chapter; and then it is used only, or almost only, of the scattered mission stations, or even mission groups, in their individuality. The ordered Ministry only twice, and in the most passing manner, comes into the long discourse; in the words {Romans 12:6-8} about prophecy, ministration, teaching, exhortation, leadership; and in the mention {Romans 16:1} of Phoebe’s relation to the Cenchrean Church. He is addressing the saints of that great City which was afterwards, in the tract of time, to develop into even terrific exaggerations the idea of Church Order. But he has practically nothing to say to them about unification and cohesion beyond this appeal to hold fast together by drawing nearer each and all to the Lord, and so filling each one his soul and life with Him.

Our modern problems must be met with attention, with firmness, with practical purpose, with due regard to history, and with submission to revealed truth. But if they are to be solved indeed they must be met outside the spirit of self, and in the communion of the Christian with Christ, by the power of the Spirit of God.

Chapter 31


Romans 15:14-33THE Epistle hastens to its close. As to its instructions, doctrinal or moral, they are now practically written. The Way of Salvation lies extended, in its radiant outline, before the Romans, and ourselves. The Way of Obedience, in some of its main tracks, has been drawn firmly on the field of life. Little remains but the Missionary’s last words about persons and plans, and then the great task is done.

He will say a warm, gracious word about the spiritual state of the Roman believers. He will justify, with a noble courtesy, his own authoritative attitude as their counsellor. He will talk a little of his hoped for and now seemingly approaching visit, and matters in connection with it. He will greet the individuals whom he knows, and commend the bearer of the Letter, and add last messages from his friends. Then Phoebe may receive her charge, and go on her way.

But I am sure, my brethren, quite on my own part, about you, that you are, yourselves, irrespective of my influence, brimming with goodness, with high Christian qualities in general, filled with all knowledge, competent in fact to admonish one another. Is this flattery, interested and insincere? Is it weakness, easily persuaded into a false optimism? Surely not; for the speaker here is the man who has spoken straight to the souls of these same people about sin, and judgment, and holiness; about the holiness of these everyday charities which some of them (so he has said plainly enough) had been violating. But a truly great heart always loves to praise where it can, and discerningly, to think and say the best. He who is Truth itself said of His imperfect, His disappointing followers, as He spoke of them in their hearing to His Father, "They have kept Thy word"; "I am glorified in them." {John 17:6; John 17:10} So here his Servant does not indeed give the Romans a formal certificate of perfection, but he does rejoice to know, and to say, that their community is Christian in a high degree, and that in a certain sense they have not needed information about Justification by Faith, nor about principles of love and liberty in their intercourse. In essence, all has been in their cognisance already; an assurance which could not have been entertained in regard of every Mission, certainly. He has written not as to children, giving them an alphabet, but as to men, developing facts into science.

But with a certain boldness I have written to you, here and there, just as reminding you; because of the grace, the free gift of his commission and of the equipment for it, given me by our God, given in order to my being Christ Jesus’ minister sent to the Nations, doing priest work with the Gospel of God, that the oblation of the Nations, the oblation which is in fact the Nations self-laid upon the spiritual altar, may be acceptable, consecrated in the Holy Spirit. It is a startling and splendid passage of metaphor. Here once, in all the range of his writings (unless we except the few and affecting words of Php 2:17,) the Apostle presents himself to his converts as a sacrificial ministrant, a "priest" in the sense which usage (not etymology) has so long stamped on that English word as its more special sense. Never do the great Founders of the Church, and never does He who is its foundation, use the term ίερεύς, sacrificing, mediating, priest, as a term to designate the Christian minister in any of his orders; never, if this passage is not to be reckoned in, with its ίερουργειν, its "priest work," as we have ventured to translate the Greek. In the distinctively sacerdotal Epistle, the Hebrews, the word ίερεύς comes indeed into the foreground. But there it is absorbed into the Lord. It is appropriated altogether to Him in His self-sacrificial Work once done, and in His heavenly Work now always doing, the work of mediatorial impartation, from His throne, of the blessings which His great Offering won. One other Christian application of the sacrificial title we have in the Epistles: "Ye are a holy priesthood," "a royal priesthood". {1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9} But who are "ye"? Not the consecrated pastorate, but the consecrated Christian company altogether. And what are the altar sacrifices of that company? "Sacrifices spiritual"; "the praises of Him who called them into His wonderful light". {1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9} In the Christian Church, the pre-Levitical ideal of the old Israel reappears in its sacred reality. He who offered to the Church of Moses {Exodus 19:6} to be one great priesthood, "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation," found His favoured nation unready for the privilege, and so Levi representatively took the place alone. But now, in His new Israel, as all are sons in the Son, so all are priests in the Priest. And the sacred Ministry of that Israel, the Ministry which is His own divine institution, the gift {Ephesians 4:11} of the ascended Lord to His Church, is never once designated, as such, by the term which would have marked it as the analogue to Levi, or to Aaron.

Is this passage in any degree an exception? No; for it contains its own full inner evidence of its metaphorical cast. The "priest working" here has regard, we find, not to a ritual, but to "the Gospel." "The oblation" is-the Nations. The hallowing Element, shed as it were upon the victims, is the Holy Ghost. Not in a material temple, and serving at no tangible altar, the Apostle brings his multitudinous converts as his holocaust to the Lord. The Spirit, at his preaching and on their believing, descends upon them; and they lay themselves "a living sacrifice" where the fire of love shall consume them, to His glory.

I have therefore my right to exultation, in Christ Jesus, as His member and implement, as to what regards God; not in any respect as regards myself, apart from Him. And then he proceeds as if about to say, in evidence of that assertion, that he always declines to intrude on a brother Apostle’s ground, and to claim as his own experience what was in the least degree another’s; but that indeed through him, in sovereign grace, God has done great things, far and wide. This he expresses thus, in energetic compressions of diction:

For I will not dare to talk at all of things which Christ did not work out through me (there is an emphasis on "me") to effect obedience of [the] Nations to His Gospel, by word and deed, in power of signs and wonders, in power of God’s Spirit; a reference, strangely impressive by its very passingness, to the exercise of miracle-working gifts by the writer. This man, so strong in thought, so practical in counsel, so extremely unlikely to have been under an illusion about a large factor in his adult and intensely conscious experience, speaks direct from himself of his wonder works. And the allusion, thus dropped by the way and left behind, is itself an evidence to the perfect mental balance of the witness; this was no enthusiast, intoxicated with ambitious spiritual visions, but a man put in trust with a mysterious yet sober treasure. So that from Jerusalem, and round about it, {Acts 26:20} as far as the Illyrian region, the highland seaboard which looks across the Adriatic to the long eastern side of Italy, I have fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, carried it practically everywhere, satisfied the idea of so distributing it that it shall be accessible everywhere to the native races.

But this I have done with this ambition, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another man’s foundation; but to act on the divine word, as it stands written, {Isaiah 52:15} "They to whom no news was carried about Him, shall see; and those who have not heard, shall understand." Here was an "ambition" as far-sighted as it was noble. Would that the principle of it could have been better remembered in the history of Christendom, and not least in our own age; a wasteful overlapping of effort on effort, system on system, would not need now to be so much deplored. Thus as a fact I was hindered for the most part-hindrances were the rule, signals of opportunity the exception-in coming to you; you, whose City is no untrodden ground to messengers of Christ, and therefore not the ground which had a first claim on me. But now, as no longer having place in these regions, eastern Roman Europe yielding him no longer an unattempted and accessible district to enter, and having a homesick feeling for coming to yon, these many years-whenever I may be journeying to Spain, [I will come to you]. For I hope, on my journey through, to see the sight of you (as if the view of so important a Church would be a spectacle indeed), and by you to be escorted there, if first I may have my fill of you, however imperfectly.

As always, in the fine courtesy of pastoral love, he says more, and thinks more, of his own expected gain of refreshment and encouragement from them, than even of what he may have to impart to them. So he had thought, and so spoken, in his opening page; {Romans 1:11-12} it is the same heart throughout.

How little did he realise the line and details of the destined fulfilment of that "homesick feeling!" He was indeed to "see Rome," and for no passing "sight of the scene." For two long years of sorrows and joys, restraints and wonderful occasions, innumerable colloquies, and the writing of great Scriptures, he was to "dwell in his own hired lodgings" there. But he did not see what lay between.

For St. Paul ordinarily, as always for us, it was true that "we know not what awaits us." For us, as for him, it is better "to walk with God in the dark, than to go alone in the light."

Did he ultimately visit Spain? We shall never know until perhaps we are permitted to ask him hereafter. It is not at all impossible that, released from his Roman prison, he first went westward and then-as at some time he certainly did-travelled to the Levant. But no tradition, however faint, connects St. Paul with the great Peninsula which glories in her legend of St. James. Is it irrelevant to remember that in his Gospel he has notably visited Spain in later ages? It was the Gospel of St. Paul, the simple grandeur of his exposition of Justification by Faith, which in the sixteenth century laid hold on multitudes of the noblest of Spanish hearts, till it seemed as if not Germany, not England, bid fairer to become again a land of "truth in the light." The terrible Inquisition utterly crushed the springing harvest, at Valladolid, at Seville, and in that ghastly Quemadero at Madrid, which, five-and-twenty years ago, was excavated by accident, to reveal its deep strata of ashes, and charred bones, and all the debris of the Autos. But now again, in the mercy of God and in happier hours, the New Testament is read in the towns of Spain, and in her highland villages, and churches are gathering around the holy light, spiritual descendants of the true, the primeval, Church of Rome. May "the God of hope fill them with all peace and joy in believing."

But now I am journeying to Jerusalem, the journey whose course we know so well from Acts 20:1-38; Acts 21:1-40, ministering to the saints, serving the poor converts of the holy City as the collector and conveyer of alms for their necessities. For Macedonia and Achaia, the northern and southern Provinces of Roman Greece, finely personified in this vivid passage, thought good to make something of a communication, a certain gift to be "shared" among the recipients, for the poor of the saints who live at Jerusalem; the place where poverty seemed specially, for whatever reason, to beset the converts. "For they thought good!"-yes; but there is a different side to the matter. Macedonia and Achaia are generous friends, but they have an obligation too: And debtors they are to them, to these poor people of the old City. For if in their spiritual things the Nations shared, they, these Nations, are in debt, as a fact, in things carnal, things belonging to our "life in the flesh," to minister to them; to do them public and religious service.

When I have finished this then, and sealed this fruit to them, put them into ratified ownership of this "proceed" of Christian love, I will come away by your road to Spain. (He means, "if the Lord will"; it is instructive to note that even St. Paul does not make it a duty, with an almost superstitious iteration, always to say so). Now I know that, coming to you, in the fulness of Christ’s benediction I shall come. He will come with his Lord’s "benediction" on him, as His messenger to the Roman disciples; Christ will send him charged with heavenly messages, and attended with His own prospering presence. And this will be "in fulness"; with a rich overflow of saving truth, and heavenly power, and blissful fellowship.

Here he pauses, to ask them for that boon of which he is so covetous-intercessory prayer. He has been speaking with a kind and even sprightly pleasantry (there is no irreverence in the recognition) of those Personages, Macedonia, and Achaia, and their gift, which is also their debt. He has spoken also of what we know from elsewhere {1 Corinthians 16:1-4} to have been his own scrupulous purpose not only to collect the alms but to see them punctually delivered, above all suspicion of misuse. He has talked with cheerful confidence of "the road by Rome to Spain." But now he realises what the visit to Jerusalem involves for himself. He has tasted in many places, and at many times, the bitter hatred felt for him in unbelieving Israel; a hatred the more bitter, probably, the more his astonishing activity and influence were felt in region after region. Now he is going to the central focus of the enmity; to the City of the Sanhedrin, and of the Zealots. And St. Paul is no Stoic, indifferent to fear, lifted in an unnatural exaltation above circumstances, though he is ready to walk through them in the power of Christ. His heart anticipates the experiences of outrage and revilings, and the possible breaking up of all his missionary plans. He thinks too of prejudice within the Church, as well as of hatred from without; he is not at all sure that his cherished collection will not be coldly received, or even rejected, by the Judaists of the mother church; whom yet he must and will call "saints." So he tells all to the Romans, with a generous and winning confidence in their sympathy, and begs their prayers, and above all sets them praying that he may not be disappointed of his longed for visit to them.

All was granted. He was welcomed by the Church. He was delivered from the fanatics, by the strong arm of the Empire. He did reach Rome, and he had holy joy there. Only, the Lord took His own way, a way they knew not, to answer Paul and his friends.

But I appeal to you, brethren, -the "but" carries an implication that something lay in the way of the happy prospect just mentioned, - by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, by that holy family affection inspired by the Holy One into the hearts which He has regenerated, to wrestle along with me in your prayers on my behalf to our God; that I may be rescued from those who disobey the Gospel in Judaea, and that my ministration which takes me to Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints, may be taken by the Christians there without prejudice, and in love; that I may with joy come to you, through the will of God, and may share refreshing rest with you, the rest of holy fellowship where the tension of discussion and opposition is intermitted, and the two parties perfectly "understand one another" in their Lord. But the God of our peace be with you all. Yes, so be it, whether or no the longed for "joy" and "refreshing rest" is granted in His providence to the Apostle. With his beloved Romans, anywise, let there be "peace"; peace in their community, and in their souls; peace with God, and peace in Him. And so it will be, whether their human friend is or is not permitted to see them, if only the Eternal Friend is there.

There is a deep and attractive tenderness, as we have seen above, in this paragraph, where the writer’s heart tells the readers quite freely of its personal misgivings and longings. One of the most pathetic, sometimes one of the most beautiful, phenomena of human life is the strong man in his weak hour, or rather in his feeling hour, when he is glad of the support of those who may be so much his weaker. There is a sort of strength which prides itself upon never showing such symptoms: to which it is a point of honour to act and speak always as if the man were self-contained and self-sufficient. But this is a narrow type of strength, not a great one. The strong man truly great is not afraid, in season, to "let himself go"; he is well able to recover. An underlying power leaves him at leisure to show upon the surface very much of what he feels. The largeness of his insight puts him into manifold contact with others, and keeps him open to their sympathies, however humble and inadequate these sympathies may be. The Lord Himself, "mighty to save," cared more than we can fully know for human fellow feeling. "Will ye also go away?" "Ye are they that have continued with Me in My temptations"; "Tarry ye here, and watch with Me"; "Lovest thou Me?"

No false spiritual pride suggests it to St. Paul to conceal his anxieties from the Romans. It is a temptation sometimes to those who have been called to help and strengthen other men, to affect for themselves a strength which perhaps they do not quite feel. It is well meant. The man is afraid that if he owns to a burthen he may. seem to belie the Gospel of "perfect peace"; that if he even lets it be suspected that he is not always in the ideal Christian frame, his warmest exhortations and testimonies may lose their power. But at all possible hazards let him, about such things as about all others, tell the truth. It is a sacred duty in itself; the heavenly Gospel has no corner in it for the maneuvers of spiritual prevarication. And he will find assuredly that truthfulness, transparent candour, will not really discount his witness to the promises of his Lord. It may humiliate him, but it will not discredit Jesus Christ. It will indicate the imperfection of the recipient, but not any defect in the thing received. And the fact that the witness has been found quite candid against himself, where there is occasion, will give a double weight to his every direct testimony to the possibility of a life lived in the hourly peace of God.

It is no part of our Christian duty to feel doubts and fears! And the more we act upon our Lord’s promises as they stand, the more we shall rejoice to find that misgivings tend to vanish where once they were always thickening upon us. Only, it is our duty always to be transparently honest.

However, we must not treat this theme here too much as if St. Paul had given us an unmistakable text for it. His words now before us express no "carking care" about his intended visit to Jerusalem. They only indicate a deep sense of the gravity of the prospect, and of its dangers. And we know from elsewhere {see especially Acts 21:13} that that sense did sometimes amount to an agony of feeling, in the course of the very journey which he now contemplates. And we see him here quite without the wish to conceal his heart in the matter.

In closing we note, "for our learning," his example as he is a man who craves to be prayed for. Prayer, that great mystery, that blessed fact and power, was indeed vital to St. Paul. He is always praying himself; he is always asking other people to pray for him. He "has seen Jesus Christ our Lord"; he is his Lord’s inspired Minister and Delegate; he has been "caught up into the third heaven"; he has had a thousand proofs that "all things," infallibly, "work together for his good." But he is left by this as certain as ever, with a persuasion as simple as a child’s, and also as deep as his own life-worn spirit, that it is immensely well worth his while to secure the intercessory prayers of those who know the way to God in Christ.

The Expositor's Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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Romans 14
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