Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT. It would appear that she was a lady of some means. She devoted her means and her time to assisting the poor and the helpless. She had been "a succourer of many" (ver. 2). But whatever position she occupied, she bears the name of servant. Now, there is nothing to be ashamed of in the name of servant. Every one who is worth anything is a servant in some sense. The less service any one renders, the more useless he or she is in the world. The sovereign upon the throne, the judges and magistrates, lawyers, medical men, men of business, ministers of the gospel, all are the servants of others. Be faithful in your service. The maxim of many in our time seems to be to take all the pay they can and render as little service as possible. That is not honest. Nor is it honest to work only when the eyes of your employer are upon you. "Servants, be obedient to your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men." Be trustworthy. Regard what belongs to your master or your mistress with as much care as if it were your own. If your employer's children are committed to your care, how scrupulous you should be regarding them! Never let them hear from your lips a profane or evil word. If you are teaching them, seek to communicate to their youthful minds all the good principles that you can. Your work may be a quiet work, but if it is done faithfully it is a lasting work. You may not receive much notice or much thanks from your employer, but he that seeth in secret himself shall reward you openly.
II. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT OF GOD. That was the secret of her useful and honoured life. It is the highest thing that could be said of any one. Employers are beginning to find out that God-fearing men and God-fearing women are not the worst servants.
1. A servant of God will not be the servant of this world. Many young ladies who call themselves Christians seem to spend their life altogether in the service of selfish pleasure and worldly amusement.
2. A servant of God will not, keep the company of the godless. There is no subject on which young women in our towns and cities need to be more plainly warned than the choice of their companions of both sexes. How many happy and promising young lives have been blighted, how many hearts have been broken, by foolish companionships and too hasty intimacy! The casual knowledge obtained of any one at an evening party or a pleasure excursion is no basis on which to form an engagement on which depends the happiness of a lifetime.
"Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers, III. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT OF THE CHURCH. That is to say, she was a helper of God's people. She was a helper in Christian work. There are many young women whose lives are absolutely wasted, who are utterly wretched and miserable, for want of something to do. How many forms of useful service there are in which a young woman may engage I She may teach in the Sunday school; visit the aged and the sick, and minister unto them in spiritual things, and perhaps also to their bodily comfort and relief; she may invite the careless to the house of God. And a woman's influence is often powerful for good where even a Christian man would utterly fail to reach the hardened heart. - C.H.I.
III. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT OF THE CHURCH. That is to say, she was a helper of God's people. She was a helper in Christian work. There are many young women whose lives are absolutely wasted, who are utterly wretched and miserable, for want of something to do. How many forms of useful service there are in which a young woman may engage I She may teach in the Sunday school; visit the aged and the sick, and minister unto them in spiritual things, and perhaps also to their bodily comfort and relief; she may invite the careless to the house of God. And a woman's influence is often powerful for good where even a Christian man would utterly fail to reach the hardened heart. - C.H.I.
I. ATTENTION TO STRANGERS. Consideration for strangers was constantly impressed upon the Jewish people in ancient times. "Oppress not the stranger" (Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9, etc.); "The stranger that dwelleth among you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself" (Leviticus 19:34). And Malachi denounces judgments upon those "that turn aside the stranger from his right" (Malachi 3:5). So here Paul enjoins it upon the Church at Rome. "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister... that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you" (vers. 1, 2). There is much need for such an exhortation in the Christian Churches of today. Strangers go in and out of our Churches unnoticed and uncared for. False modesty or excessive etiquette prevents the members of the Church from speaking to them. Consider the possible effects of such neglect. A young man, far from home, exposed to many temptations and godless surroundings, enters a church. No one speaks to him. He drifts away. He knows that in the drinking-saloon, perhaps, he will find a welcome and a friendly shake of the hand. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Why should not Christians be as anxious to welcome the stranger to the house of God as the godless are to welcome him to their haunts of giddy pleasure and sin? Another, hovering on the verge of unbelief, unsettled by the silly popular literature of our day, enters a Christian church. He sees an element of unreality and of selfishness strongly marked. He too drifts away. Or some stranger enters a Christian church who is in trouble or in perplexity, and to whom a word of sympathy or guidance would be welcome. But from the self-absorbed and stand-off Christians no encouragement is received. Can we wonder that such persons are alienated from the Church, are often alienated from Christ? And what does Christ think of all this? Listen to his words on the great day: "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." And when those whom he shall thus address shall say, "Lord, when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee not in?" then shall he answer them, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me." Attention shown to the stranger is regarded by the Saviour as attention shown to himself. Such attention "becometh saints" (ver. 2). But however the Church may treat strangers, they need not remain strangers to Christ. He has a word and a welcome for all.
II. ATTENTION TO ONE ANOTHER. While we are to think of strangers we must not forget our own brethren.
"We have careful thought for the stranger, III. AVOIDANCE OF THE QUARRELSOME. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (ver. 17). And then he describes the character and motives of the quarrelsome. "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly" (ver. 18). That is to say, those who are quarrelsome in disposition are those who put their own ideas, their own comfort, their own selfish desires or feelings, in the forefront. Interfere with their plans, thwart their ambition, fail to respect their pride, and they are ready to take offence. The duty of the Christian is to avoid such persons. Such is the advice St. Paul gives here. Such advice he gave elsewhere. Speaking in his letter to Timothy of disputatious persons, he says, "From such withdraw thyself" (1 Timothy 6:5). Writing to the Thessalonias, he says, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The reason of this is obvious. If quarrelsome persons are left to themselves, they will soon have nobody to quarrel with. It is an old saying that it takes two to make a quarrel. It might be added that it takes three to keep it up. A third party often fans the flame. If the Christian is brought into contact with quarrels at all, it should only be as a reconciler. "It is an honour to a man to cease from strife;" "Blessed are the peace- makers: for they shall be called the children of God" - C.H.I.
III. AVOIDANCE OF THE QUARRELSOME. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (ver. 17). And then he describes the character and motives of the quarrelsome. "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly" (ver. 18). That is to say, those who are quarrelsome in disposition are those who put their own ideas, their own comfort, their own selfish desires or feelings, in the forefront. Interfere with their plans, thwart their ambition, fail to respect their pride, and they are ready to take offence. The duty of the Christian is to avoid such persons. Such is the advice St. Paul gives here. Such advice he gave elsewhere. Speaking in his letter to Timothy of disputatious persons, he says, "From such withdraw thyself" (1 Timothy 6:5). Writing to the Thessalonias, he says, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The reason of this is obvious. If quarrelsome persons are left to themselves, they will soon have nobody to quarrel with. It is an old saying that it takes two to make a quarrel. It might be added that it takes three to keep it up. A third party often fans the flame. If the Christian is brought into contact with quarrels at all, it should only be as a reconciler. "It is an honour to a man to cease from strife;" "Blessed are the peace- makers: for they shall be called the children of God" - C.H.I.
I. First, the letter-bearer is commended to their care. "Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church." The mere sisterhood in Christ should be enough, but she was one in honour, the honour that comes of loving service, being a "deaconess" of the Church. How many offices of mercy could be filled then, as now, by the ministrations of gentle women! Some such office she fulfilled - she had been "a succourer of many." Nay, even of Paul also, perhaps in some illness. Surely here was an additional reason why they should receive her, and assist her in whatsoever matter she might have need of them.
II. Next, many Christians at Rome whom he knew are saluted by name - such doubtless as had removed thither from scenes of his former work, and through some of whom, perhaps, the gospel had first been made known at Rome: Prisca and Aquila, those earnest workers, through whom also, in some great peril, his life had been spared at the peril of their own; Epaenetus the beloved; Mary, who in some way had wrought much for them; Andronicus and Junias, kinsmen, who had also shared his bonds, and were earlier than himself in the faith of Christ; Ampliatus the beloved in Christ; Urbanus the fellow-worker, and Stachys the beloved; Apelles, whose Christian faith had been sorely tested, but who had come forth approved from the fire; the household of Aristobulus, who himself perchance was not in Christ; Herodion, a kinsman; those of the household of Narcissus who were in the Lord; Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis the beloved, earnest workers in Christ; Rufus the elect, and his mother, who had also acted a mother's part to Paul; Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren among whom they worked; Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints with them. And also, to those whom he knew not, but who were in Christ, as well as to those mentioned, whom he knew, he would have the salutation given: "Salute one another." And not on his behalf alone, but on behalf of all amongst whom he had preached Christ, and who, knowing his intent to visit Rome, had charged him with their love.
III. Yet, again, there are special ones who join him more formally in these salutings: Timothy, his fellow-worker, joined expressly with him in some Epistles (see 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon), but not in this, an authoritative exposition of the gospel, for which he, under Christ, must be alone responsible; Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, kinsmen; Tertius, the writer, suffered, by Paul's exquisite delicacy, to give his salutation in his own name; Gains, the host of the Church; Erastus the treasurer; and brother Quartus. It was done. The interchange of love was made. An illustration was given of that like-mindedness of love which he wished to see characterize the Churches of God. It only remained now that he should commend them to the grace of God. - T.F.L.
I. CLAIMS TO THE REGARD OF A CHURCH.
1. As a fellow-believer, a "sister" in Christ. To the instinctive sympathy which nature fosters, grace adds a further reason in the reminder of the one communion to which all belong who have professed loyalty to the one Lord. "Work good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." This mark of distinction is of necessity more visible where the surroundings are not even nominally Christian, and where a confession of faith in the new doctrine is a signal for tribulation and persecution.
2. As an officer of a sister Church. She was a deaconess, a servant of the Church, set apart for special ministration to the female portion of the community. "Render honour to whom honour is due." Office is prima facie an indication of worth, of high estimation by the electing body. There are ranks and orders in the heavenly hierarchy, as on earth. 3. As one in need of hospitable succorer.
3. As one in need of hospitable succorer.Need is itself an argument for attention and aid. Other things being equal, the call of the necessitous is paramount. The prosperous can manage well enough, whereas the situation of the distressed is an opportunity for benevolence. Phoebe's errand to Rome implied difficulty and insufficiency, whether she sought redress in an imperial court of law, or the discovery of some lost relations, or the pursuit of some handicraft, or surgical assistance.
4. As having herself contributed to the relief of the suffering. This is the lex talionis in its benignant form. Who is such a proper recipient of charity as the man who has done good according to his means? With the merciful does God show himself merciful. "Give, and it shall be given unto you." The idle vagabonds are not the deserving poor. Charity organization can alone bestow alms without pauperizing.
5. As having ministered to the writer. Though Phoebe's privilege of tending the apostle in one of his sicknesses was also a duty, the grateful invalid by no means forgets her services. What is done to ourselves strikes us more forcibly than the aid we witness rendered to our neighbours. It is like a lantern whose rays are turned full upon our face; we perceive its brightness. Hence the impulse to Christian devotedness felt when with individual consciousness of indebtedness to Christ we say, not only, "He died to save sinners," but also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
II. THE RECEPTION BEFITTING THE CHURCH. This is an illustration of the general maxim insisted on in Romans 15:7.
1. A hearty welcome beseems the saints. Reserve and coldness melt away under the inspiring beams of kinship to the Saviour. The deeps of apathy are for ever broken up by the entrance of Christ into the heart. To receive a fellow-member "in the Lord" is to display some of the love and tenderness which Christ manifested towards his disciples. It is quite incompatible with that frigid etiquette which suspects new-comers, and resents as vulgar every outward token of emotion.
2. To render aid to the whole body of Christ is an essential part of every Church's functions. A Church exists, not for its own aggrandizement and glorification, but as an instrument for strengthening and enlarging the one kingdom of Christ. And every power at its command must be utilized as the very law of its life. Where a community or an individual wraps itself up in seclusion, indifferent to the welfare of others, there the process of decay and death has begun. And it is not in the mass, but by single persons, that the world is regenerated and service rendered. The recognition of the real brotherhood of Christians will usher in millennial days. Affection is the central fire of sainthood, burning up what is mean and selfish, and glowing like a coal from the altar of him whose incarnate love is our clearest revelation of Deity.
3. That is poor admiration of an apostle which is content with a grudging compliance with his bidding. Here was a chance presented to the Roman Christians at once to be generous to a visitor, and to fill the apostle's heart with thankfulness. And we today do best mark our reverence for apostolic authority and for the Master whose instructions are thus communicated by a whole-hearted endeavour to carry out the principles of New Testament liberality and beneficence. They have good security who lend unto the Lord.
4. To honour woman for her place and work is a sign of high civilization. It may not be true that only Christianity has treated woman with befitting dignity, but it is certain that Christ paid her signal respect, and that she has been foremost in the acceptance and promulgation of the faith. The prominence of woman in the primitive Church was succeeded by somewhat of obscurity and depreciation; but the Christian idea has again triumphed, and woman's special mission to soothe the aching head, and succour the weary, and to minister to distress as an angel of God, was never so fully discerned and so warmly appraised as now.
"Rise! woman, rise
I. THE DISTINGUISHED PLACE OCCUPIED IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH BY WOMEN. There are no less than nine women specially referred to in this list, and all are active in the Church. Some were deaconesses; for instance, Phoebe, Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, and Persis. Oriental society separates the sexes in a way we do not in the West; hence the need of such officials there, and in zenana mission work still. Why should they not exist? Many a work which the Church should undertake can be better done by women than by men. But notice briefly:
1. Phoebe. She was a deaconess of Cenchrea, the port of Corinth. It was she who carried the precious Epistle to Rome. Some business led her thither. She is the bearer of the finest Epistle ever written to a Christian Church, and in it she has a magnificent introduction.
2. Prisca. Called Priscilla, and mentioned before her husband Aquila. Perhaps she was the better Christian. At all events, they had a "Church in their house." They had been very kind to the apostle, and had prosecuted with him their tent-making trade.
3. Tryphena and Tryphosa. Their names suggest voluptuous living - but they had been transformed by grace into hard workers (cf. Godet, in loc.). 4. Persis. 5. Mother of Rufus.
4. Persis.Likely an aged deaconess. Her work is over. She had done much - had doubtless done what she could, and did not need to go to her work in company, like the preceding pair, but could face it alone.
5. Mother of Rufus.She seems to have been the widow of Simon the Cyrenian, as Mark 15:21 suggests. Paul had likely lodged with them when in Jerusalem, and received maternal sympathy from the good lady. Hence he speaks of her as his mother too.
II. NOTICE THE PARTICULAR KNOWLEDGE PAUL POSSESSES OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH IN ROME. This long list is a very particular one, and shows how the apostle has them all at his fingers' ends. He seems to have had that very enviable faculty for remembering names. And his particularity in the matter was from the love he bore them, as references in the words used over and over suggest.
III. THE SALUTATION WITH THE KISS OF HOLINESS. The arrangement was men kissed men, and women women, as is the Oriental fashion. It indicated a deeper interest in one another's welfare than we are inclined for in the West.
IV. THE ADVICE TO AVOID TROUBLES OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 17-20.) Prudence was necessary in the doing of good and a desire to avoid all pugnacity. On peaceful lines they might expect the victory over the evil one.
V. PAUL'S FELLOW-WORKERS AT CORINTH SEND GREETINGS TO THE CHURCH AT ROME. (Vers. 21-23.) The apostle had made good way at Corinth, from the greetings he was here enabled to send.
VI. THE DOXOLOGY. (Vers. 24-27.) He carries his praise and hope upwards, and lays all at the feet of God. So should it be always. - R.M.E. 8
I. THE BOND OF NATURAL KINSHIP IS IMMENSELY STRENGTHENED BY A COMMON RELIGIOUS FAITH. A philosophical Utopia which annuls special forms of alliance overlooks a fundamental element of our human constitution. A man's regard for his own family is the first fulfilment of the law to love his neighbour. From this starting-point affection may branch out in all directions. The apostle noted as one of the signs of a corrupt condition that men were "without natural affection." And though our Lord would not permit family claims to interfere with discipleship, he yet rebuked the Pharisees for encouraging gifts to the temple from men who left their own parents in want. 'The Saviour made provision for his mother's comfort even amid the agony of the cross. Christianity may divide some households like a sword and fire, but where the members all receive the gospel, their earthly love is cemented, transfigured, eternalized by loyalty to the same Lord, and participation in the same heavenly hopes and aims. Like Andrew, who brought his own brother to Christ, should our efforts first be directed to the salvation of our own relatives and countrymen.
II. THE SINCERITY OF OUR RELIGION IS PROVED BY FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING. Andronicus and Junias had shown, by sharing the imprisonment of the apostle, that they were more than fair-weather Christians. Their fortitude increased the apostle's affection and esteem. They had flinched not when trial came, but underwent shame and loss for Jesus Christ. The Church has always need of stout-hearted disciples, ready to face obloquy, ridicule, poverty, rather than sacrifice principle. We could envy these Christians their imprisonment with the apostle. Who could not wish to be Silas to join Paul in his hymns and prayers in the stocks? One of the inmates of Bunyan's jail was permitted to take the manuscript of the immortal ' Pilgrim's Progress ' and peruse it quietly in his own cell. Fancy being the first reader, permitted to pass judgment upon the work and to urge its publication! To suffer together in a righteous cause has ever bound men to each other in mutual respect and sympathy. Even the Peuinsular and the Crimean veterans have liked to commemorate their common deeds of prowess by annual celebrations. If the apostle was not oblivious of the endurance of these Christians, we may be sure that One on high has never forgotten them. No act of heroism is unregistered in heaven. "Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations."
III. IT WAS NO ORDINARY HONOUR TO BE OF HIGH REPUTE AMONG THE LEADERS OF THE CHURCH. From a passage in the Acts we learn that Paul had relatives at Jerusalem who were interested in him, and these mentioned in the text may have belonged to that family well known at the apostolic head-quarters. No true man is insensible to the good opinion of men of acknowledged worth. It was one of the qualifications of a bishop that he should "have a good report of them that are without." How easy is it to value the suffrages of worldly society more than the esteem of the followers of Jesus! Yet the applause of the world is an empty breath, the praise of the newspapers soon dies away, military glory is a "bubble reputation." The desire of fame is one of the strongest passions. Eratostratus burnt the temple at Ephesus to secure notoriety. The gospel does not scorn these natural forces, but utilizes them by refining and purifying our motives. It persuades us to approve ourselves to him who searches the heart and tries the reins, whose eyes are as a flame of fire. "I know thy works and thy charity, thy service, and faith, and patience." Voltaire lamented on his death-bed, "I have swallowed nothing but smoke; I have intoxicated myself with the incense that turned my head." "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."
IV. THEIR PROFESSION STOOD THE TEST OF YEARS. The apostle does not omit to notice their early conversion. They "were in Christ before" him. In any case disciple- stop signified a sharp struggle, and a wrench from old associations. One's real age is determined ethically, not physically. Seniority in Church-membership is not to take precedence of spiritual gifts, but demands courteous recognition. "Ye youngers submit yourselves unto the elder." Age is doubly venerable when like a mellow sunset it crowns a Christian day. We may well ask whether we have advanced in knowledge, spirituality, and usefulness, as others have who commenced with us the Christian race. Are we lagging behind, whilst they have marched to the front? That is a happy competition to be "first in Christ." There is room for all; there need be no disappointed competitors. To be "out of Christ" is to be hopeless and undone. Shall parents and friends press forward to the Master's feet while we remain irresolute, undecided? The law is, "He that asketh, receiveth." Paul outstripped many apostolic compeers. - S.R.A.
I. THE WARNING. The work of these false teachers is spoken of first in Acts 15:1, where we read, "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved:" "false brethren," the apostle calls them in Galatians 2:4," who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." And the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, and large part of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, were occupied in the endeavour to counteract their poisonous representations. Their aim was to make the Gentiles enter the Christian Church by the Jewish door, becoming indeed but an appendage of Judaic Christianity. A yet baser aim, as we learn here, and from 2 Corinthians 11:20 and Philippians 3:2, 19, was their own sensual aggrandizement: they served their own belly. They would come to Rome, for they possessed truly a missionary zeal, without missionary love; they would come to Rome, and "their smooth and fair speech" might easily "beguile the hearts of the innocent." That these presentiments were sadly fulfilled, we learn from Philippians 1:15-17, and over these false teachers he weeps, as he tells us, in Philippians 3:18, 19. What was to be the attitude and action of the Romans? The prescription was a simple one: they could tell from their observance of other Churches the fruit of their teaching, viz. "divisions and occasions of stumbling," and by their fruits they were to know them. And knowing them? to "turn from them." There was to be no parleying, no disputation; the bird was not to catch the glare of the serpent's eye, lest it be fascinated and drawn into the jaws of death! "Wise unto that which is good' they might be, using their powers of thought to advance themselves in all well-doing. But "simple unto that which is evil;" for any argumentation here is fatal, and a strong, sharp, unhesitating stroke is needed, that shall sunder us for ever from the deadly peril. Such was to be their act on. an absolute avoidance of him who was obviously, at first sight, Satan, but who, if they tarried to gaze and hearken, might soon be "transformed into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
II. THE PROMISE. What! was he against them? Yes, the great foe. They well might tremble. But there was a greater One for them, even God himself; and the ancient promise of Genesis 3:15 should be fulfilled to them, if they had faith in God. "The God of peace," who will conserve the harmony of his people, and the peace of the believer's heart, if there be faith in him; who can control all the confusions and malice of his foes, to work out his designs of good - he shall soon bruise Satan under them! The battle now may seem long, but when we look back from the heights of our triumph, it will be "but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Then
"Fight, nor think the battle long;
I. PERSONS TO BE SHUNNED. Those "who cause divisions and offences." True Christianity ever makes for peace. There may be rending and outcries whilst the former evil spirit is undergoing expulsion; there are often searchings of heart and a forsaking of old companions and practices; but when Christ is acknowledged as King, tranquillity reigns in the breast, and peace and love spread their pinions over Christian fellowship. To break up "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is a sure method of placing stumbling-blocks in the path of the unwary. More harm has proceeded from this source to the body of Christ than has ever resulted from outside attacks. Safety lies in withdrawal from those who walk disorderly, rudely disturbing the peace of the Church.
IX. WANTON PROMOTERS OF STRIFE HAVE A PERSONAL END TO GAIN. They "serve their own belly" Thus ruthlessly does the apostle analyze their motives, and he hesitates not to impute their action to a base desire for self-gratification. Perhaps they aim at notoriety, or they are jealous of the accepted leaders of religious life. The pugnacious see little chance of distinguishing themselves in seasons of serenity. The arm rebels against the governing head, and instead of counting it an honour to minister according to its functions, would rather force the rest of the frame to pander to its single indulgence. The simple are easily imposed on by specious professions and plausible protestations of a regard for the common weal.
III. JUDGE THE CONDUCT OF MEN BY THE STANDARD OF TRUTH. We are not left to our intuitive discernment. What is "contrary to the doctrine" of the apostles can never be allowed as a basis of division. Heavy is the responsibility those incur who initiate strife among Christians. Let them be certain first that what they bring forward as a test is truth, important fundamental truth. If it opposes the ethical rules or the elementary teachings on which the gospel is established, it carries its own condemnation. A speculative theory is not a sufficient reason for throwing a firebrand amongst the articles of faith. Such behaviour differs radically from a religious reformation like that of Luther, where it is a return to gospel simplicity that is contended for, and not an overlaying of sound words with superstition and ceremony. The apostle's warning applies, not to genuine seekers after truth, but to those who delight in making breaches in the Christian fortress. Discriminate between schismatics and dissenters!
IV. THE MAIN SECURITY AGAINST EVIL INFLUENCE AND THE CHIEF PRESERVATIVE OF HARMONY IS AN EARNEST DESIRE FOR THE GLORY OF CHRIST. "Serve our Lord Christ." As a wire introduced into a solution promotes crystallization, so really Christian thoughts and purposes and acts group themselves around the Person of the Saviour. Petty longings are subordinated to the one grand idea of doing the will of the Lord. The foe cares little about the damage inflicted on the kingdom; the servant grieves over every disruption of its peace and power. Even necessary departures from a corrupt Christian society have been deplored as evil in themselves by the good men who have felt constrained thus to prove their loyalty to conviction. - S.R.A.
I. THE CHURCH'S OBJECT. The Epistle ends with an ascription of glory to God (vers. 25-27). This was the great end the apostle had in view in writing his Epistle. And he would have his readers remember that this, too, is the great end for which a Church of Christ exists. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever." We should glorify the love of the Father. This is the potent influence to draw men's hearts from sin. "God so loved the world;" "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!" We should glorify the saving power of Jesus Christ the Son. This gives the sinner confidence to come to him. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;" "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish." We should glorify the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you;" "When he, the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all truth."
II. THE CHURCH'S STRENGTH. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (ver. 20); "Now to him that is of power to stablish you" (ver. 25). The Church's strength is not necessarily in its numbers. Gideon's army was at one time too numerous. "The People that are with thee are too many" (Judges 7:2, 4). Nor in its wealth. Wealth has often been the weakness rather than the strength of the Christian Church. Our strength is in having God in the midst of us, and in our living near to him. This truth is wonderfully verified in the history of the little Church of the Vandois. Through seven centuries of almost incessant persecution, that faithful and primitive little band - sometimes not exceeding a thousand in number - withstood the attacks of popes and princes, defied and defeated mighty armies, "out of weakness were made strong." Their strength was unquestionably in the presence of God with them, and in their unfaltering fidelity to the truth of the gospel. "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." - C.H.I.
Acts 20:32. But they will understand his meaning, without the utterance of the words, and he need but Point upwards, and say, "To him" etc Shall we reverently gaze on this prayer of an apostle's full heart? So we note - the power of God; the principles of the exercise of Gods Power; the glad committal to that wise power through Jesus Christ.
I. God was "able to stablish" them. Paul had expressed the desire in Romans 1:11 to impart to them some spiritual gift, that they might be established. He yet hopes to see them with that intent. And surely he may well trust that this letter, written in fulfilment of his mission from Christ, may have such result. But only God's Power can effect the result, when man has done his best. And God's power can accomplish all things; he is "able to stablish." The manifold stablishment: we need but glance along the line of the Epistle to determine that. In their faith, surely, in God's forgiving love, which was the basis of the new life; in their death to sin, and new life unto God, which such true faith in God's love through Christ must work; in their humility and love amongst one another as Christians; in their submission to the rightful Powers of the state, and their true, love-inspired justice towards their fellow-citizens; in their hope of the coming of God's perfect kingdom; and in their determined resistance of all incoming evil: in this God could stablish them, and God alone.
II. And, "according to my gospel." The reception of God's power was conditioned upon the reception of God's truth, for "the Power of God can act only in agreement with the thought of God" (Godet). If they would be firm in the faith, and in the new life of faith, they must intelligently believe the gospel of Christ. Yes, for Paul's gospel was Christ's gospel, and he preached not himself, but Christ Jesus. And this preaching of Christ was not according to his own skill and wisdom; it had been revealed from heaven (see Galatians 1:11, 12, 16). It had not been always revealed; a "mystery' once, "kept in silence through times eternal" hidden in the thought of God from the beginning, and through the earlier ages of the world's history. Oh, these blessed secrets of God, ready to burst upon us with a shock of surprise! This secret had broken on the world; the mystery was "manifested," and "made known unto all the nations," manifested to the apostles, pre-eminently to Paul, and made known by them. not as an absolutely new thing, but as hinted at in earlier prophecies; made known in their teaching and writing, that all the world might know. And the end, as before, "obedience of faith " - the yielding of the whole mind and heart to the message and grace of the eternal God, that so his power might work in them to their salvation and eternal stablishment.
III. To such a One he commends them, and to the word of his grace. He had taught them according to his best wisdom; should he see them, he will build them up according to his best power. But his wisdom and power are nothing apart from the power of God "only wise;" and when his wisdom and power have done their best, still God's wise power must work all. He may see them; he may not: but, in any case, the eternal God is their Refuge, and round and underneath are the everlasting arms! To him be the glory, through Christ! "For of him, and through him, and to him are all things. Amen." - T.F.L.