And I am sure that, when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
A great writer in her preface to a story of Florence pictures an inhabitant revisiting his city after four centuries. He notes many changes. The towers and walls are gone; different questions are mooted in trade, scholarships and politics; garments of altered texture and form are worn. But as the sunlight and shadows are the same, so the dawn still breaks upon rosy sleeping children and hardhanded labourers arising to their toil; the same chants are sung in the churches, and the faces of worshippers still turn to the same image of Divine anguish for a beneficent end. Like the river-courses which shape the lives of men, so those other currents which ebb and flow in human hearts have scarcely altered, pulsating to the same needs, the same great loves and terrors. The broad features of the moral landscape alter not. It is this essential sameness of the human lot which lends to the Bible perennial interest. We have the same battle to fight, the same need of divinely instructed wisdom and divinely furbished weapons. We are taking the same journey as ancient heroes, and share their perplexities and convictions.
I. AN INTENSE LONGING. The apostle frequently alluded to his desire to visit Rome and see the brethren there. Aquila and Priscilla must often have conversed with him respecting the famous city, and the vast influx of strangers to be witnessed there continually. The apostle had high hopes kindled in his breast, thoughts of the metropolis as the "pulpit of the world. The words of a speaker amid the seven hills would, like the faith of the disciples there, be trumpeted to every part of the globe. After some years the apostle resolved to carry his desire into effect (see Acts 19.). This Epistle offers explanations of the circumstances which had hitherto prevented the realization of the wish. Here is a lesson of patient submission to the guidance of God. Whilst doors of entrance and utterance were opening in the East, and the Gentiles were becoming obedient by word and deed, the Holy Spirit plainly signified that fields so ripe for the sickle must not be deserted. Let those impatient for another sphere of labour beware lest through some burning impulse they neglect the crops ready to the reaper's hands. The wider scope may be presented hereafter. We learn, too, the apostle's missionary method. He liked not to build on another's foundation. He chose of two regions the one most like fallow ground. He loved to evangelize rather than proselytize, and whilst unoccupied territory was near it did not seem right to visit a Church where Christ had been already proclaimed. It is matter for thankfulness that denominations and missionary societies are beginning to recognize the evil and sin of overlapping agencies and districts. Note the apostle's justification of his desire to see Rome. He intended to make it not his terminus, but a temporary resting-place, and a starting-point for further excursions. His eager vision beheld Churches rising in the furthest western limits of Europe, his ear caught the sounds of prayer and praise soon to ascend from countries debased by superstition and vice. The victories won over Satan in Asia Minor and Greece he hoped to repeat in Italy and Spain. He perhaps projected tours through France, for to this Christian warrior, as to Alexander of Macedon, there could be no rest as long as there were kingdoms, if not conquered, at least unassailed. Oh for more of this crusading spirit, this holy ambition!
II. AN UNCERTAINTY as to the time of the expected visit. When I come." There seemed no reason why Paul should not proceed to Rome immediately after the Pentecostal feast at Jerusalem. But he saw a cloud arising which contained the materials for a storm, though in what way it would burst, or whether it might not pass over, he could not foresee. He knew the vindictive watchfulness of "them that did not believe in Judaea," enemies who never forgave his desertion of their cause. The story in the Acts tells how his suspicions were confirmed by the predictions of Agabus, and how the apostle's yielding to the excessive caution of the saints furnished an occasion for the fury of the fanatical Jews. Imprisonment and shipwreck lay on the apostle's course, and when ultimately his wish to visit the metropolis was gratified, he entered as a prisoner with a prospect of a wearisome captivity. How strangely the hoped-for differed from the actual! Nor is it by any means rare to find the fruition of our hopes attended with far other than the bright-hued environment imagination forecasted. Plans are executed, the projected castles built, the rank secured, the home obtained, yet the accompaniments vary in toto from those anticipated. Sometimes we have asked selfishly, and the cup petitioned has held a bitter potion indeed. Yet the Christian may say confidently, "The will of the Lord be done." There are times when our Master leads his servants purposely through flood and flame. Then be it ours like Paul to accept the post of honour and bravely do our best.
III. A FULL ASSURANCE that his arrival would be fraught with good. "I know that I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ."
1. He would enter the city as a messenger of Christ. Not for purposes of pleasure and sight-seeing, but as the bearer of sacred tidings would he in any case approach Rome. Along the Appian Way had many a renowned general returned laden with the spoils of conflict, many an orator and philosopher had passed through the gates, but none more honoured by posterity than this servant of Christ. When seeking our own ends we may ever doubt of a celestial convoy, but when seeking the things of Christ, the ambassador of Christ shall be treated as such.
2. He could not conceive of the absence of that spiritual power which had thus far attended him. "Lo, I am with you alway," was the promise. Like Joseph in Potiphar's house, and the ark in the house of Obed-Edom, a true man of God brings a blessing where'er he sojourns. Who should separate the apostle from the love and equipment of his Lord? To rely on this is not presumption, but God-honouring confidence.
3. No scanty measure of spiritual gifts ever satisfied or was expected by this devoted labourer. He made little mention of tongues and healing, of priestly functions and intellectual displays; he looked to the blessing which maketh endlessly, joyously rich; that knowledge, proclamation, and practice of the gospel which bears fruit unto eternal life. Next to the presence of the Lord himself the advent of a faithful minister profits our gatherings. With what delight, like members of a family long separated, would these primitive Christians confer on the holy theme of the new faith! Let our anxiety be not to fritter away time in idle gossip, but to make each other wiser and better for the meeting. If we more often expected seasons when, like the river Jordan in harvest-time, our hearts should be filled to overflowing, the testimony would more frequently rejoice us: "It was good to be there." Prepare the vessels for the fulness of the blessing which alone can banish poverty and weakness of the spirit. This conviction did not preclude the apostle from requesting the prayers of the Church for the fulfilment of his beloved project. To our short-sighted reason it is unnecessary to pray to the Father who orders all things aright. But our conclusion is based on too narrow premisses; there are other ends subserved by prayer. It has respect to the plans of the Almighty and the character of his creatures. Prayer is one of the laws of the kingdom, and "effectual fervent prayer availeth much." - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.