First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.…
I. THE FACTS OF THE PASSAGE.
1. "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 16:19). The "world" here means, in the first place, the Roman Empire. But the term must be limited further to a particular class in the empire; though even at this time the general population were alive to some of the great Christian facts. The expression however, does not mean that the people in all parts of the empire were all talking about the "faith" of the Romans, because as you know there are twenty distinct worlds even in this London of ours. There are different classes that actually intermingle, but do not touch. There may be a world close to you that may have connections all over the nation and yet you know nothing abort it. Literary men have a world of their own, and they are known one to another all over the world; and there are religious teachers who are known all over their world, and yet they often know nothing of one another, So the meaning is that every city wherever Paul went, amongst the Christian people with whom he mingled, the faith and obedience of the Roman Christians was spoken of. And when I was in America I did not enter a single town but I met with some one or more persons who had been in this place. I was mingling with a certain class; they found me out and I found them out, because we had sympathies in common; but there are many millions of people who never heard either of them or me. Well now, three years after the apostle wrote that he got to Rome, and called a number of most respectable Jews, yet these men seemed to know nothing of the "faith" or "obedience" of the Christians at Rome; but only knew concerning the "sect" that it was "everywhere spoken against." Now these two accounts may at first seem rather startling, but they are perfectly in harmony, with each other if properly viewed; and the entire naturalness of the two convinces me of the truth of both statements. The Jews and the Christians at Rome lived in different worlds.
2. "God is my witness" (vers. 9-12).
(1) The two points in the passages are these — that the apostle was very earnest in his prayers that he might get to Rome, and have a prosperous journey. The other point is that he wished to impart some spiritual gift and to be comforted by mutual faith. I think he means not to confer any miraculous gift as an apostle, but that as an authoritative teacher by preaching the truth, they might be rooted and grounded in the faith. There is an exquisite delicacy of feeling here. Paul had been uttering a great thing about what he wished to get to Rome for. And then, as if he had uttered nothing that might imply apostolic authority and distinction, but as if he had simply placed himself on a level with the people, he says, "that is, that I," etc. (ver. 12).
(2) Now I very much doubt whether these things came to pass; and it may do us much good to learn that the prayers even of an apostle, and long continued, were not answered. We must always be ready for disappointments, and be prepared for a very different state of things from that for which we pray. Instead of getting to Rome "soon," it was three years (two of them in prison), then he was shipwrecked, and when he got to Rome he was a prisoner. You will find in chap. Romans 15 that he asked the people at Rome to join their prayers with his for the same thing. But their prayers were unanswered. And so with respect to the other point. The letters written from Rome contain some alarming statements about how things had gone. He says that there were some who preached the gospel out of envy and strife, wishing to add affliction to his bonds; and although the things that happened to him turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, yet those hopes which he had formerly cherished were disappointed.
3. The apostle goes on — "Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come to you (but was hindered), that I might have some fruit among you, even as among other Gentiles." He wanted to have men converted as well as to comfort and impart spiritual gifts to the Church. The apostle felt that he had "a dispensation committed to him." "I am called and commissioned, and, therefore, am a debtor to all men; I am, therefore, ready to preach the gospel to you at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel."
II. THE LESSONS.
1. In regard to the Christian life we perceive here its —
(1) Peculiar nature in opposition, generally, to philosophic theism, or anything else. "I thank my God through Jesus Christ," says Paul. That means God contemplated as revealed by Christ; and it is well known that the apostles and early Christians conducted their worship in the name of Christ, as a mediator and advocate.
(2) That it is habitually earnest and devotional; praying in everything; in everything giving thanks; committing everything to God, asking even for a prosperous journey, believing in the gracious presidency of God over human affairs; expecting answers, but being prepared for disappointments.
(3) Its peculiar sympathies, as becomes the children of the same father; an interchange of affection, fellowship and union, "and be comforted together by mutual faith."
2. In relation to the apostle.
(1) The union of prayer and preaching; and he did both with earnestness. He preached as if the conversion of the world depended upon it, and as if he was able to convert the world. But we find him equally earnest in prayer.
(2) He is always modest but manly. He says, I want to comfort and establish the Church, and I want to be comforted together with you by mutual faith.
(3) He served God in his spirit in the gospel of His Son, with earnestness, with sincerity, and with faith. Paul had a great idea of duty, and the word "debtor" comes from duty: that which is due to another is duty from me.
(4) He was not ashamed of the gospel because of the commission which he had received from on high.
Parallel VersesKJV: First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.