All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.
The throne of the Caesars was at this time occupied by Nero, a monster rather than a man. Certainly if ever there was an atmosphere uncongenial to Christianity it may be supposed to have been that of the court and palace of this bloody debauchee. Yet so true is it that gospel weapons are mighty to the casting down of strongholds that there were here Christians of the highest type willing to give their profession all publicity by sending greetings to Christians in distant cities.
I. THE AGENCY WHICH BROUGHT ROUND SO UNLIKELY A RESULT. The mind naturally turns to Paul's miraculous gifts, and remembers how with noble intrepidity Paul rose up before the sages of Greece, and that as he spoke to Felix, the slave of base lusts, the haughty Roman trembled. It is easy to imagine, therefore, Paul working some great miracle to command the attention of the emperor and the court, and then reasoning of temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come. But this fancy would be incorrect. Paul was now a prisoner, and could not go like Moses, rod in hand, and compel by his miracles the attention of the profligate king, and yet it was at this time of seeming impotence that the great victory was won. Nay, it appears actually to have been in consequence of his imprisonment. Philippians 1:12-14 shows the two ways in which his bonds gave enlargement to Christianity. His patience and meekness witnessed for the truth of the gospel for which he suffered, and nerved the Christians to greater energy.
II. WE HAVE HERE A LESSON AS TO GOD'S POWER OF OVERRULING EVIL FOR GOOD. We are apt to imagine when a man is withdrawn from active duty that his usefulness is gone. But a minister can preach from a sick bed as well as from a pulpit. The report which goes forth of his patience and fortitude will do as much and perhaps more towards overcoming resistance to the gospel than his active ministrations. The martyrs did most for God and truth when actually in the clutches of their persecutors. A true Christian is never laid by. The influence that he exerts when suffering or reduced to poverty is often greater than when he led a benevolent enterprise. Let no one then be discouraged.
III. A MAN CANNOT BE PLACED IN CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH PUT IT OUT OF HIS POWER TO GIVE HEED TO THE DUTIES OF RELIGION. The instance of saints in Caesar's household takes away the excuse that temptations, hindrances, opposition render piety impossible. Where are any so circumstanced as these people? It is true that more appears to be done for one man than for another, and that some circumstances are conducive and others hindering to religion. But under every possible disadvantage there may be a striving with evil and a following after good. The excuse assumes that God has put it out of some men's power to provide for their soul's safety, and to assume this is to contradict the Divine word, and to throw scorn on the Divine attributes. Take a case like the one before us, that of servants in an irreligious family. Their superiors set them a bad example, give them few opportunities for public or private devotion, and would frown on or ridicule any indication of piety. Let this be granted. Yet these difficulties would disappear before earnest resolve. They have but to begin and obstacles would be gradually lowered and strength would grow by exercise. The Spirit of the living God fails no man who is not false to himself.
IV. THESE SAINTS not only belonged to Caesar's household at the time of their conversion, but REMAINED AFTER THEIR CONVERSION. They did not feel it their duty to abandon their stations and seek others apparently more favourable to religion. So that it does not follow that a man is to withdraw from circumstances of danger and difficulty, and place himself where there is less temptation and opposition. It is true a converted man is not justified in seeking employment where it would be specially difficult to cultivate religion; but to desert it because it made religion difficult would be to declare that the grace which had converted him in spite of disadvantages would not suffice to establish him, and to mark distrust of God's Spirit. If the employment were sinful, there would be no room for debate; but if only dangerous, and simply required a greater amount of vigilance and boldness, to forsake it would prove timidity rather than prudence. For, e.g., a Christian nobleman in a corrupt court, or servant in an ungodly family, may find it unlawful to leave, inasmuch as distinct opportunity may be afforded of doing honour to God and promoting Christ's cause. They are placed by God as leaven in the midst of an unsound mass. Not that a servant has to travel beyond the duties of his station; he has simply to carry his Christianity into all his occupations, and to distinguish himself from others by closer attention to his master's interests, stricter adherence to truth, etc. Let an irreligious master perceive all this, and he will scarcely fail to receive an impression favourable to religion. There are families to which the preacher can gain no access. God forbid that pious domestics should hastily withdraw from such.
V. WHERESOEVER GOD MAKES IT A MAN'S DUTY, THERE HE WILL MAKE IT HIS INTEREST TO REMAIN. If He employ one of His servants in turning others from sin, He will cause the employment to conduce to that servant's holiness. Notice the "chiefly" of our text. Of all the Roman Christians the foremost in love were these saints who probably remained in Caesar's service for the express purpose of furthering the gospel. Nor need we feel any surprise at this. Absence of trial is not the most favourable thing to religious growth. Nero's palace may be a far better place for the development of personal piety than the cell of the monk; in the one the Christian has his graces put continually to the proof, and this serves both to discover and strengthen them; in the other there may be comparatively nothing to exercise them. And then the God of all grace, who has promised that His people shall not be tempted above that they are able, will bestow assistance proportioned to their wants.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.