For I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you,
I. LOVE IS NOT SATISFIED WITHOUT A MEETING. Augustine would have liked to see Christ in the flesh, Paul in the pulpit, and Rome in its glory. The apostle thought little of the outward magnificence of the metropolis; his heart turned to the company of Christians there. Some were his kinsmen, others had been his fellow-workers and prisoners, yet all who were knit in Christian fellowship were dear to him, and he longed to see them face to face. The ties of attachment in the early Church may have been cemented by the cold wind of opposition and persecution, which drove the members closer together for warmth and sympathy. Still Christianity proves itself able to banish worldly distinctions to-day, breaking down barriers of race and caste and language. The friends of the Saviour can feel no jealousy, since his love is large enough to embrace all, and a regard for his honour impels his friends to increase the number of his adherents. Love to Christ is the antithesis of narrowness of spirit. We may form an opinion of our discipleship from observing the degree of our longing to "assemble ourselves together." "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." There is a natural desire to look upon the face and form of famous men, that names may become persons to us, and that our weak imaginations may henceforth be assisted in picturing their voice and gesture and appearance. And this yearning leaps up into a sacred hope of the consummation of our bliss, when we shall be permitted to behold the Saviour and "see him as he is." Christ is "with us" now, but at death we depart to be "with Christ" for ever. Proximity and affection are correlative ideas.
II. THE MEETING OF CHRISTIANS HAS EDIFICATION AS ITS OBJECT, Paul was supremely anxious to be the medium of spiritual benefit to the Christians at Rome. He believed that a spiritual gift was the most valuable present he could bestow or they could receive. It ranked higher than scientific communications or almsgiving. Hours of pleasant chat and recreation are not despicable, but if our societies set these in the foreground they miss their proper mark. The cross of Christ flashes solemn light upon a pleasure-loving age. To this touchstone we must bring our Church engagements and our individual plans of living. Let congregations rightly value the ministration of spiritual things. We may not suppose the apostle to care most about miraculous endowments, gifts of healing, and of tongues, but rather a growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, and in love, the pre-eminent attainment. Do parents always convey to their children the impression that they set greater store by their progress in the Divine life than by their success at the bar or in the senate, in the exchange or the fashionable world? Note the apostle's desire to confirm the faith of these Christians. To establish them, not to unsettle their opinions and practices, was his intent. It is no light matter wantonly to disturb men's convictions and tear them away from their old beliefs. "Men" are not to be "carried about by every wind of doctrine," but to feel their feet firm upon the unchanging rock. The Greek word in the text reminds us that "stereotyping" is good when we are dealing with the first principles of Christianity. The frequently shifted plant grows with difficulty. There is a hint here that oral would be more effective than written communications. In spite of recent assertions, pulpit and platform speech holds its own as the engine that moves the masses. Even "the weighty and powerful letters" of the apostle could not equal the effect of his personal presence. Only enemies would term the latter "weak and contemptible." The Scriptures depict the coming advent of Christ as giving a mighty impetus to the perfection and triumph of his Church. He "shall appear in his glory," and "build up Zion."
III. A MEETING ENABLES ALL TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMON GOOD. The apostle looked forward to a mutual benefit. He was not so self-opinionated or proud as to imagine none could enlighten him or comfort him. Ministers need the consolation of their flock. Recall the inspiriting exhortation of the Israelites to Joshua, "Only be thou strong and of a good courage: the Lord be with thee," etc. (Joshua 1:17, 18). Nor was the apostle so selfish as to wish to get all and to give nothing. Christian Churches are designed to be Mutual Improvement Societies. Some only inquire - What good will such a gathering do us? forgetting that their remarks or their attendance even may stimulate their brethren and aid in the success of the meeting. It cheers the weak and supports the wavering to witness the steadfast confidence of the strong. The faith spoken of implies visibility in order to its full effect. Secret disciples unconnected with any organization miss much comfort and work through their isolation. Come, join our Church ranks! Christians are like the stones of an arch, strengthened in position by their joint presence and pressure. Bunyan beautifully portrays this mutual comforting in Christian and Hopeful as they ford the river of death. What a testimony to the work of any man that his presence helps, not mars, the piety of his friends! Let not "brethren cause the heart of the people to melt"! (Joshua 14:8). We are responsible for the influence we exert. - S.R.A.
Making request, if by any means...I might have a prosperous journey.
I. WE SHOULD SEEK MORE AFFECTING AND ADMIRING VIEWS OF THE CREATOR, AS DISPLAYED IN HIS WORKS. When our minds are employed upon the works of nature, it is generally only to make them subservient to our worldly interest, or to administer to our earthly gratification; and not to warm our hearts by the contemplation of that infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, which appear in the formation of them. If such conduct at all times is inexcusable and ungrateful, it is doubly so in our journeys, in which the works of God are presented to us in rapid succession.
II. WE SHOULD ACQUIRE A MORE DEEP AND GRATEFUL SENSE OF THE GOODNESS AND CARE OF THAT PROVIDENCE ON WHICH WE DEPEND. Though in God "we live, and move, and have our being," yet the majority of mankind think but little of this guardian providence. And even Christians, when nothing occurs to interrupt the regular course of their lives, are too apt to forget their dependence; but surely in our journeys we must, from their unseen dangers, feel that we need each moment to be shielded by the power of God.
III. IT SHOULD DEEPEN OUR CONVICTION OF THE VALUE AND UNIFORMITY OF THE RELIGION OF JESUS. The various objects presented to him will be calculated to produce this conviction. Far from home we meet with the disciples of the Redeemer.
IV. WE SHOULD EMBRACE OPPORTUNITIES OF ACQUIRING AND DOING GOOD. Sometimes even believers, during their journeys, have found their graces withering, because they neglected these means of spiritual improvement. Carefully guard against this. Let the Word of God not be disregarded. Let nothing interfere with prayer, Sabbath duties, etc. Be not ashamed to avow your attachment to the blessed Saviour. A word spoken in season may be the means of saving a soul.
V. REMEMBER THAT OUR WHOLE LIFE IS A JOURNEY TOWARDS ETERNITY. Frequently think, when far from home, that you are only sojourners upon earth; that heaven is your country.
(S. Davies, D. D.)I. DEPENDS UPON THE WILL OF GOD.
II. SUPPOSES GOD'S CARE, DIRECTION, AND BLESSING.
III. CAN ONLY BE SECURED BY EARNEST PRAYER.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)in the will, etc. — Paul seemed to regard the will of God as a straight course, in which he was desirous of sailing; or as a circle, outside of whose radius he would not steer, through selfishness, impatience, and self-judgment. The track marked out on God's chart must be followed, for out of it were shoals and rocks, where he would founder and make shipwreck of his faith.
Prayer and the will of God: — There is nothing with which Christians should be more habitually impressed than that God is the disposer of events. They should look to His will in the smallest concerns of life, as well as in affairs of the greatest moment. Even a prosperous voyage is from the Lord. In this way they glorify God by acknowledging His providence in all things, and have the greatest confidence and happiness in walking before Him. Here we also learn that, while the will of God concerning any event is not ascertained, we have liberty to desire and pray for what we wish, provided our prayers and desires are conformed to His holiness. We also learn in this place that, since all events depend on the will of God, we ought to acquiesce in them, however contrary they may be to our wishes; and likewise that in those things in which the will of God is not apparent, we should always accompany our prayers and our desires with this condition if it be pleasing to God, and to be ready to renounce our desires as soon as they appear not to be conformed to His will. "O how sweet a thing," as one has well observed, "were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burthen, and making the Lord's will our law!"
For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift
I. THE LONGING OF AN EARNEST MIND FOR ENGAGEMENT IN CHRIST'S SERVICE. Paul wished to see them —
1. That he might impart some spiritual gift. Some suppose reference is made to those supernatural gifts in which the Church at Corinth was so rich, and were they still in the Church some would be tempted to say, "Give me this power," with a view to usefulness. But why do you not use those you already have? It is not that our Churches come behind in gifts, but that so many are unemployed. Everyone has some gift — use it. Some mistake their gifts and hinder. If you have no gift for public prayer, pray in silence. But all have the gift of tongues. Everyone can speak a word in season to them that are weary. Pray that they may be baptized with fire. That will purge from detraction, etc., and make meet for the Master's use.
2. That he and they might be comforted by the faith of each. There is a law pervading God's works by which the giver becomes the receiver. The seed comes back in the harvest; the ocean receives the rain it gives off in evaporation. Nothing is so injurious as selfishness; nothing so remunerative as benevolence. No prayer is so profitable as intercession for others; no Bible knowledge so rich as that derived from exposition to others. How many have been recompensed for efforts made to attend the prayer meeting!
II. THE DELAYS OFTEN MET WITH IN THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF OUR WORK. Do not suppose that because your motive is pure your end will be achieved at once. Paul planned long ago to visit Rome, but found his plans set aside by God. In all your undertakings do what he did — pray to, and then wait for, God to make the way plain. The opportunity will come in His, i.e., the best time.
III. OUR DESIRE FOR EMPLOYMENT IN CHRIST'S WORK MAY BE REALISED IN A WAY LEAST EXPECTED. The spirit, rather than the letter, of the prayer is answered. How little Paul thought that he would enter Rome a prisoner; but the sequel shows that God was right. What a rich experience Paul brought with him, and accumulated for the benefit of the Church of all ages. How invaluable is the record of his shipwreck! We could ill have spared the incidents of his history even for more sermons and epistles. Then he tells us how that all fell out for the furtherance of the end he had in view (Philippians 1).
IV. TO ACCOMPLISH CHRIST'S WORK WE MUST HAVE A POWERFUL CONVICTION —
1. Of our personal indebtedness.
2. Of the glory and power of the gospel.
(J. S. Pearsall.)I. ITS ADVANTAGES. It accomplishes more than a letter — hence reading the Word at home does not supersede the necessity of the living ministry.
II. ITS OBJECTS.
1. The communication of some spiritual good.
2. Mutual edification.
III. ITS ATTRACTIONS.
1. Mutual love.
2. Love to Christ.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)1. Supposes personal communication about Divine things.
2. Contributes to the development, increase, and communion of faith.
3. Secures mutual comfort — the minister needs it — can impart it.
4. Promotes unity of affection and effort.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. NOTICE THE MANLY EXPRESSION OF CHRISTIAN AFFECTION WHICH THE APOSTLE ALLOWS HIMSELF HERE. Very few Christian teachers could or should venture to talk so much about themselves as Paul did. The strong infusion of the personal element in all his letters is so transparently simple, so free from affectation or unctuous sentiment, that it attracts rather than repels. He had never been in Rome when he spoke these words; he had no personal relations with any of the believers there; but still his heart went out towards them, and he was not ashamed to show it. "I long to see you."
II. NOTE THE LOFTY CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE PURPOSE OF THEIR MEETING. The word he employs here, "gift," is never used in the New Testament for a thing that one man can give to another, but is always employed for the concrete results of the grace of God bestowed upon men. The very expression, then, shows that Paul thought of him self, not as the original giver, but simply as a channel through which was communicated what God had given. In the same direction points the adjective which accompanies the noun — a "spiritual gift" — which probably describes the origin of the gift as being the Spirit of God, rather than defines the seat of it when received as being the spirit of the receiver. Notice, too, as bearing on the limits of Paul's part in She gift, the delicacy of the language in his statement of the ultimate purpose of the gift. He does not say, "that I may strengthen you," which may have been too egotistical, but he says, "that ye may be strengthened," for the true strengthener is not Paul, but the Spirit of God. And now, what are the lessons that I take from this?
1. No Christian teacher has any business to open his mouth unless he is sure that he has got something to impart to men as a gift from the Divine Spirit. And no Christian organisation has any right to exist unless it recognises the communication and farther spreading of this spiritual gift as its great function. That is the one lesson, and the other one is this —
2. Have you received the gift that I have, under the limitations already spoken of, to bestow? That is, have you taken Christ, and have you faith in Him. The purpose of the Church, and the purpose of the ministry, is that spiritual gifts may be imparted. And if that purpose be not accomplished, all other purposes that are accomplished are worse than nothing.
III. NOTE THE LOWLY CONSCIOUSNESS THAT MUCH WAS TO BE RECEIVED AS WELL AS MUCH TO BE GIVEN. The apostle corrects himself after he has said, "that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift," by adding, "that is, that I may be comforted (or rather, encouraged) together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." If his language were not so transparently sincere, and springing from deep interest into the relationship between himself and these people, we should say it was exquisite courtesy and beautiful delicacy. But it moves in a region far more real than the region of courtesy, and it speaks the inmost truth about the conditions on which the Roman Christians should receive, viz., that they should also give. There is only one giver who is only a giver, and that is God. All other givers are also receivers. Paul's was a richly-complicated nature — firm as a rock in the will, tremulously sensitive in its sympathies; like some strongly rooted tree with its stable stem and a green cloud of fluttering foliage that moves in the lightest air. So his spirit rose and fell according to the reception that he met from his brethren, and the manifestation of their faith quickened and strengthened his. And he is but one instance of a universal law. All teachers, the more genuine they are, the more sympathetic they are, are the more sensitive of their environment. The hearer reacts on the speaker quite as much as the speaker does on the hearer. If you have got ice in the pews, that brings down the temperature up here. And the unbelief and low-toned religion of a congregation is always pulling down the faith and the fervour of their minister, if he be better and holier, as they expect him to be, than they are. On the other hand, the true encouragement to give a man when he is trying to do God's will, to preach Christ's gospel, is not to pat him on the back and say, "What a remarkable sermon that was of yours! What a genius; what an orator!" not to go about praising it; but to come and say, "Thy words have led me to Christ; and from these I have taken the gift of gifts."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
To the end ye may be established.I. THE OBJECT WHICH WE ALL SHOULD HAVE IN VIEW — "that we may be established."
1. In knowledge. This kind of knowledge Paul terms "the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God," etc. When we attain this, comprehend the gospel of Christ so completely that we see its adaptation to all our wants, it becomes its own evidence; doubt vanishes, the heart and the mind are both at rest.
2. In holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13) So that we get a fixed abhorrence of evil, and love good for its own sake, and be like God and those holy beings who minister to Him perpetually.
3. In all those external habits which flow from holiness. The holiness of the Christian's heart must be manifest in his daily habits and conduct, "in every good word and work."
II. THE MEANS WHICH MAY BE EMPLOYED TO FURTHER THAT OBJECT. God Himself is the source of the establishment of His people, but the Word of God is explicit as to the part which men should take in the same. While, therefore, it is frequently a prayer of the apostle that the Churches might be "established in the faith," this is no less the subject of exhortation (1 Corinthians 15:58). While we are using the prescribed means, we may look to Him for His needful blessing; the grace of God cooperates with the energy to which He brings His people. And among these means which God has provided are —
1. The ministry of the gospel. This is perhaps a less important means than it once was, because of the accessibility of the Word of God to all; and now each parent, each master, may become a minister of Christ in his own household. Yet still ministers have been appointed by Christ as instruments in the building up of their fellow Christians.
2. The summoning into activity all the individual powers. If you have any earnestness, decision, promptitude, courage, in prosecuting any common business, try the sincerity of your spirits by seeking whether they are manifest in seeking your spiritual progress daily.
(Baptist Noel, M. A.)
That I may be comforted together with you
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
By the mutual faith both of you and me
I. SUCCESSFUL ENTERPRISES NEED THE FAITH OF EVERY ONE OF US. The unbeliever is a weakness wherever he is. Do you believe that yourself? Masses are not strong in and of themselves. The unity of the spirit in the bond of faith — that is strength.
1. Men who are engaged on gospel enterprises can only do it in proportion as they believe in Christ, and in each other as true men in Christ.
2. If you are mated to another, take care your friend believes with you, or, young woman, you will regret it. You cannot row to heaven with one oar comfortably; both must row together. It is a terrible revelation to some. "I am yoked to an unbelievers."
3. The enterprises of home-life demand mutual faith.
II. THE BEST FAITH NEEDS REFRESHMENT. Even Paul gained strength by another's faith. The rivulet feeds the sea, as well as the mountain feeds the river! The little child feeds my faith — I cannot hear a child's prayer without being helped. The increase of faith is made up of quiet influences! When you went to the seaside out of health, you wonder how it was you got better. You breathed the pure oxygen; you looked up to the broad heavens and forgot meaner things; your nature was influenced by a million little touches along the nerves. So you may be in an atmosphere of faith; and Paul wanted to see them to be in such an atmosphere and to contribute to it.
III. FAITH BRINGS COMFORT. When we voyage to America, "Do you believe in the captain, too?" Then, when evening comes, "Good night," and we are all comforted. The vessel is safe in which we voyage to heaven. All believe in the same Divine Lord over the storm. You are going home without trepidation tonight, but if you had lived in some parts of Italy some time ago we might have asked, "Are you afraid of being stabbed tonight? Which way are you going? We will walk together!" We are comforted by mutual faith in each other. The same thing holds good in regard to religion. What a glorious triumph over fear the early Christians enjoyed.
IV. FAITH GIVES COURAGE. There were a few people inside Rome who believed in Jesus, and the apostle took courage from the thought that he should not be alone, but be surrounded by a loyal few. In the army everyone helps the other's courage. There is no talk about danger, but only of taking the battlements! So wherever you are, by the exercise of your faith you are sustaining that poor fellow there who has the same battle to fight as you have.
V. FAITH MEANS PRAYER. "Making request," etc. You cannot work yourself up into love or faith! It must be something that comes to you. Every good gift comes from God. What we want to make request for is faith, and if we have it as a possession, may God enlarge it.
(W. M. Statham.)
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