Romans 15Observe here, 1. A great doctrine asserted, and a special duty declared, namely, that the strong, that is, such as do thoroughly understand their Christian liberty, should bear with the infirmities, the ignorance, frowardness, and scrupulousness of the weak, and also forbear the doing of that which may scandalize and hurt the souls of men who have not the same measures of knowledge with ourselves; The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.
Observe, 2. The universality of the duty: We, that is, not only all private Christians, but all church-governors. he puts himself into the number, that he may propose himself as a example of the following duty; we, that are the officers, the pastors, and governors of the church, like parents who bear with children in their waywardness, so must we bear, though not with heresies in doctrine, or enormities in practice, yet with such errors and mistakes in both as proceed from ignorance, or common infirmities.
Observe, 3. A further duty urged and enforced, namely, not to please ourselves, but others: Let every one of us not please ourselves, but our neighbour; that is, not please ourselves by insisting upon the use of our lawful liberty, but rather, for the sake of others, depart a little from our own right.
Yet observe, 4. The limitation and restriction of this duty: for his good to edification. It is not simply and absolutely said, "Let every one please his neighbour." The heretic, the drunkard, and others, would like that well, to have every one speak and act as they do: but the rule is, to please every man for his good to edification; thus far we may please them, but no farther. Edification is the rule, the scope, and boundary, of all our complacency in and compliance with others.
Observe, 5. How the apostle urges and enforces this duty, from the example of Jesus Christ: he pleased not himself, therefore such as profess faith in him must study to by as he was. Nothing was more remote from Christ when here on earth, than self-seeking and self-pleasing; he did not consult his own ease or satisfaction, but rather respected others' benefit than his own; yea, he was so far from pleasing of himself, that he did willingly expose himself to all the reproaches and insults of men, in obedience to his Father's will; and was so tender of God the Father's honour, that all the reproaches which fell upon the one affected and afflicted the other: The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
Now from the whole we note, That Christians ought to be very tender towards one another in the use of their lawful liberty; they must not do whatever they please in things of an indifferent nature, without showing any regard to others; much less should they please themselves in a proud reflecting upon their own knowledge, and in contemning those that have not so great a latitude and liberty as themselves. We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, &c.
The apostle here informs us what is the general use of the holy scriptures, and what is the particular reason for which they were written; namely, 1. For instruction, they were written for our learning; all the precepts, promises, threatening, rewards and punishments, recorded in the scriptures, are for our information, conviction, and direction.
2. They were written for our comfort and consolation also, that we through patience and comfort of them might have hope; that is, that we through patience in bearing the like censures and reproaches, which we find the scripture-saints have borne before us, might have hope of being rewarded as they were for it.
Learn hence, That the great end for which the holy scriptures were written, was the informing of our judgments, and the directing of our practice; that by the examples which we find there of the patience of holy men under sufferings, and of God's relieving and comforting them in their distresses, we might have hope, yea, confidence and assurance, that God will also comfort and relieve us, under the like pressures and burdens.
Observe here, 1. How the apostle concludes his foregoing exhortation, with votive supplications, and fervent prayer. The ministers of God must follow the word they deliver with prayer; they must not only wrestle with their people, but they must wrestle with God for and in behalf of their people, if they ever hope to overcome.
Observe, 2. The prayer and supplication itself; and that is, for concord and unity among Christians: That they may, with one mind and one mouth, glorify God: that in their Christian assemblies they may all worship God after the same manner, and not one this way, and another that. Unity among Christians in common conversation, but especially in church-communion, is a very desirable mercy, and much to be prayed for by the ministers of God.
Observe, 3. How the apostle addresses himself in prayer to God for his mercy under a double title, (1.) As a God of patience, The God of patience grant you to be like-minded; intimating what great need there is of patience, in order to maintain love and unity among Christians; and, that God must be applied to in prayer, who is the author of it, to produce and work this grace of patience, in order unto peace and unity among Christians: The God of patience grant you to be like-minded. The unity of the saints greatly depends upon the exercise of patience one towards another; and that they may attain it, he begs the God of patience to give it.
(2.) Our apostle joins with this another title, namely, The God of consolation; wherein he points them to that abundant comfort which would result to themselves from such a blessed unity, continued and maintained by the mutual exercise of patience and forbearance one towards another: The God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another.
Observe, 4. The pattern and example which he lays before them, to excite and quicken them to this duty, namely, the example of Christ himself: According to Christ Jesus, that is, according to the example of Christ Jesus; as if the apostle had said, "Let us consider how the Lord Jesus bears with us, how many thousand infirmities and failings doth he find in the best of us, yet is he pleased to maintain communion with us; and shall not we after his example do the like, that thereby God may be eminently glorified by us?"
Observe, 5. How God is called the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. As he begat him by an eternal and ineffable generation.
2. As he was man, so he created him, Luke 1:35.
3. As Mediator, so he appointed him to, and qualified him for, that office.
And eternally magnified be omnipotent love, that the comfort of this compellation of our Lord Jesus Christ, so he is in him our Father also, our merciful, our gracious, and loving Father. May we ever demean ourselves towards him as dutiful and obedient children!
Here our apostle concludes the argument which he had hitherto insisted upon, in this and the former chapter, namely, That all Christians, both strong and weak, should mutually forbear one another, and that both Jew and Gentile should receive each other into fellowship and communion, without contention about things of an indifferent nature: Wherefore receive ye one another.
And to enforce his exhortation, he propounds the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Receive one another as Christ also received us; that is, after the example of Christ, who puts no difference betwixt Jew and Gentile, but receives both, and bears with the infirmities of both; which action in Christ, and the imitation of it in us, will much redound to the glory of God; his declarative and manifestative glory being much promoted by this concord and union with and among all his members, of what denomination soever they are, whether believing Jews or Gentiles.
Learn hence, 1. That the Lord Jesus Christ has given full and ample demonstration of his great and wonderful love unto his church and people.
2. That this love of Christ toward all his children and people ought to be improved by them, as an argument to love one another; Receive one another, as Christ received us.
3. That Christians receiving, embracing, and loving one another, and bearing with one another's weaknesses and infirmities, according to Christ's example and command, will contribute exceedingly to the honour and glory of Almighty God, and to the abundant consolation and satisfaction of each other: Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
The apostle had, in the foregoing verse, propounded the example of Christ in receiving both Jew and Gentile to his grace and favour, as an argument to persuade all Christians to receive one another: now in the verses before us, he declares how and after what manner Christ received both Jews and Gentiles. As for the Jews, first, whom he calls the circumcision, the apostle telleth us, that Jesus was their minister; that is, he was circumcised like them, conversed generally with them, and exercised his ministry among them, according to the many promises which God had made to the Jewish patriarchs; and thus he showed his love and mercy towards the Jews in the days of his flesh.
Then, secondly, As to the Gentiles; he affirms, that according to the several prophecies and promises in the Old Testament, they were called and received to mercy by our Lord Jesus Christ, the partition-wall being by him broken down, and Jew and Gentile become one sheepfold under one Shepherd.
Now from the truth and faithfulness of Christ towards the Jews; and from his love and tenderness, mercy and compassion, towards the Gentiles; and from his divine indulgence towards both; the apostle very fitly draws this inference and conclusion, That all Christians, how differing soever from one another in their judgments and opinions as to lesser things, ought to receive one another into fellowship and Christian communion; and instead of biting and devouring one another, be once at length so wise and happy as to hold the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Observe here, 1. How the apostle closes his exhortation to brotherly concord and unity with a pithy and pathetic prayer; his example herein is instructive.
Observe, 2. The title or appellation which he gives unto God in prayer, The God of hope; sometimes he styles him the God of peace, sometimes the God of patience; here the God of hope; he being so objectively, the only object of our common hope, and also effectively, as he is the author and producer of hope in us.
Observe, 3. The mercies he prays for: 1. That they may be filled with all joy and peace in believing; that their hearts may overflow with peace from God and one towards another; and with all that joy which results from both.
2. That they may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost, where by hope understand the good hoped for, namely, heaven and eternal life, a firm expectation of which is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.
Learn, 1. That God is the object of a Christian's hope, and if so, the sin of despair is a most unreasonable sin; for why should any despair of his mercy who is the God of hope, who commands us to hope in his mercy, and takes pleasure in them that do so? Ps 147:11
Learn, 2. That the grace of hope, together with joy and peace in believing, are wrought in the Christian's heart through the power of the Holy Ghost, that is, through the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost enlightening the understanding, inclining the will, rectifying the affections, and reducing all the rebellious powers and faculties of the soul (in concurrence with our endeavours) under the government and dominion of reason and religion.
Our apostle being now about to conclude his epistle to the church at Rome, excuses himself that he had written so largely and with such freedom to them, believing that they abounded in grace and knowledge, and were very fit and able to instruct and direct one another; however, he thought fit to write unto them, having had the honour conferred upon him by Christ to be called to the apostolical office, and particularly to be the ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles; most passionately desiring that he might present and offer them up to God, as an acceptable sacrifice, through the power and assistance of the Holy Ghost; and that his success in the conversion of the Gentiles would be matter of abundant glory unto him.
Here observe, 1. How the apostle, in preparing the Gentiles for the obedience of the gospel, compares himself to a Levitical priest, conversant about his sacrifice, and fitting it to be offered up to God.
2. That the Gentiles, dedicated by the apostle's ministry to the service of God, were the apostle's sacrifice and oblation.
3. That the Holy Spirit is a libamen poured on this sacrifice; by which it is sanctified and rendered acceptable unto God.
4. That such an oblation, or offering up of a people in this manner unto God, is matter of rejoicing, yea, matter of glorying, to the ministers of Jesus Christ; I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ.
Observe here, 1. The indefatigable industry and pains of the holy apostle, in order to the conversion of the Gentiles: From Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum, he fully preached the gospel of Christ. This, according to Parcus's computation, was little less than a thousand miles. The industry of the apostles, in planting and propagating the gospel of Christ, was almost incredible.
Lord, what pains did they take; what difficulties did they contest and contend with, in that great work!
Observe, 2. That although their industry was great, yet their success was greater than their industry, and beyond all human expectation. This appears by the vast spreading of the gospel in so short a space; From Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum. Within thirty years after our Saviour's death, the gospel was not only diffused through the greatest part of the Roman empire, but had reached as far as Parthia and India.
Observe, 3. That the gospel or doctrine of Jesus had likewise a wonderful power and efficacy upon the lives and manners of men: the apostle tells us, that the Gentiles who were converted to Christianity, were obedient by word and deed: upon the change of their religion, followed the change of their conversation, and whole course of life.
The reason of all this wonderful success, which St. Paul and other apostles had in preaching the gospel; and that was the extraordinary power of the Holy Ghost, in enabling them to work miracles for the confirmation of the gospel, ver. 19. Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.
Such was the miraculous power of healing diseases, of casting out devils, of inflicting corporal punishment upon scandalous persons; all which did serve in general for the confirmation of the gospel, and did in particular support the honour and authority of the apostles, and supply the want of the magistrates' power, which the Christians could not expect whilst the Roman emperors continued heathen: not that all the miraculous powers were given to every one of the apostles, or that they which had them could exercise them at all times, or whenever they pleased; but only as was most expedient for the use and benefit of the church.
Observe, 5. That the apostle, in preaching the gospel, chose to go to such dark and blind places as never heard of the gospel before, rather than amongst them where Christ had been named, that so he might lay the foundation of Christianity himself, and not build upon another man's foundation: And likewise, that in his ministry the prophecy of Esaias might be fulfilled, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard, shall understand. Isa 52:15.
Our apostle having, in the former verses, excused himself for dealing so plainly in his writings with them, doth here apologize for his not coming amongst them, affirming, that the true reason why he did not visit Rome was this: he looked upon planting of churches as more necessary than watering of them, and the preaching of Christ where he had never been named, to be the most needful work. Now at Rome there had before been a church planted, and elders ordained to build upon that foundation; for this reason he had hitherto declined coming to Rome. But now, having no more place in these parts, that is, having no more churches to plant thereabouts, he signifies both his inclinations and fixed resolutions to visit them at Rome, as he took his journey into Spain, and to stay some time with them, that they might be mutually filled and satisfied with, and refreshed by, each other's company.
Here note, 1. That the Romans were very early converted and called to the Christian faith, soon after Christ's ascension; for the twentieth year after it did Paul write this epistle. But he had a desire of seeing the Romans many years before he wrote unto them, and therefore many years before, they were converted to the faith.
Note, 2. That our journeying form one place to another is not according to our purpose but God's disposal. The apostle, no doubt, intended to go into Spain when he wrote this; but God overruled the matter beyond the apostle's expectation. The travels of the apostles from place to place, in order to the planting and propagating of the Christian faith, were under the special influences and direction of the Holy Ghost. They assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. Acts 16:7.
Note, 3. The great end why the apostle was so desirous of the sight and enjoyment of the Christians at Rome; it was, that he might be refreshed, nay, filled with their company.
Lord, how desirable is the communion of saints, and how beneficial the society of sincere and serious Christians! Their company is filling, (not empty, vain, and frothy, as the company of most is, but) administering both grace and comfort to them that enjoy it: I desire to see you in my journey, that I may be filled with your company.
Here the apostle acquaints them with his present journey to Jerusalem, as also with the occasion of it; namely, to carry the charitable contributions of the Greek churches in Macedonia and Achaia, into Judea, and up to the poor saints at Jerusalem, whose necessities required it, and unto whom they were in a sort indebted for it; the Gentiles having been made partakers of their spiritual things, (receiving the gospel from Judea) they are obliged in gratitude to minister to them in carnal things.
He further assures them, that as soon as he had finished his journey, and performed this charitable office, he would come to them, and that in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of peace.
Note here, 1. The title given to the poor Christians at Jerusalem; they are called saints: I go to Jerusalem to administer to the saints' necessities. Saints they were by baptismal dedication, by visible profession, and many, yea most of them, it is to be hoped, by inward sanctification also.
Note, 2. That poverty and sanctity are not inconsistent: the saints at Jerusalem are poor, but God provided a purveyor for them; he stirs up the apostle, and the hearts of the Macedonians, to administer to the necessities of these poor saints.
Note, 3. How the saints in one church did succour and relieve the poor Christians in another: those in Macedonia and Achaia send relief into Judea, and to the poor saints which were at Jerusalem.
Teaching us, that it is our obliged duty to extend our charity to the churches abroad and beyond the seas, when their wants and necessities require it, and our capacities enable us unto it.
Note, 4. The nature of this charity declared: it was a free and cheerful contribution, performed with much pleasure. It pleased them to make a contribution; it was not extorted or squeezed from, but given with cheerfulness by them; contributions must not be compulsion, but voluntary oblations.
Note, 5. How this charity is called fruit: When I have sealed this fruit; because it was the fruit of their faith, liberality, and love: because as fruit it would redound both to the benefit of the giver and receiver. Charity and alms are fruit redounding to account in the great day of account.
Note, 6. The great integrity and fidelity of the apostle in securing of this charity: When I have sealed, or secured, unto them this fruit. the church's charity is a sealed treasure, not to be diminished and embezzled, but applied to the uses to which it is devoted.
Note lastly, The assurance which he gives them, that when he comes among them, he shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of peace unto them; that is, with a full impartment of spiritual gifts and gospel-blessings, much knowledge, grace, and comfort.
Here, in the close of the epistle, our apostle most affectionately recommends himself the the prayers of the Christian Romans unto whom he wrote: I beseech you, brethren, strive, &c.
Where observe, 1. The apostle's courteous compellation, brethren. There is a threefold brotherhood which the scripture takes notice of:
(1.) Betwixt Christ and believers, He is not ashamed to call them brethren. Heb 2:11.
(2.) Betwixt believers themselves, they are brethren by grace, Love the brotherhood, 1Pe 2:17; that is, the collective body of believers.
(3.) Betwixt the ministers of Christ and their beloved people there is also a brotherhood, I John your brother; Rev 1:9; teaching the ministers of the gospel to carry it towards their people with love and gentleness, and the people to make reciprocal returns of love and affection.
Observe, 2. The manner of the apostle's request: it is by way of supplication and entreaty; I beseech you, brethren. Though as an apostle he might have enjoined them, yet for love-sake he rather entreats them.
Observe, 3. The request itself, that they strive together in their prayers for him: the original word signifies to strive together as wrestlers do, who exert all their power and might in that bodily exercise.
Observe, 4. Our apostle's sincerity, and holy ingenuity in this request which he made unto them: he desires them to strive with him in their prayers to God for him. He doth not, with some, beg the prayers of others, and neglect to pray for himself, but is willing to draw with them in the same yoke.
Observe, 5. A double argument which the apostle makes use of, to enforce his supplication and request;
(1.) For the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, for the sake of him who is so dear both to you and me.
(2.) For the love of the Spirit: that is, if the grace of love be wrought in you by the Holy Spirit of God, show it by your fervent prayer for all saints in general, and for myself a minister of Jesus Christ in particular.
Observe, 6. The particulars concerning which he desires their supplications;
1. For preservation in his journey to Judea; that the unbelieving Jews, which were prejudiced against him, might have no power to hurt him.
2. That his person and his performance for the poor saints at Jerusalem, might find acceptance with the Christian Jews, to whom he was not over acceptable; he therefore begs their prayers, that the believing Jews at Jerusalem might be reconciled both to the believing Gentiles that sent this alms, and also to himself that brought it: That my service for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.
3. That he might have a prosperous journey to them by the will of God.
Where note, How much it is our duty always, and in all things, to refer ourselves, our intentions and actions, to the pleasure and providence, to the wisdom and will, of God.
And observe, lastly, the special reason why he was so desirous to visit and come unto them, that he might be refreshed with them, and by them; that the company and conversation of each other may be to their mutual refreshment and satisfaction: That I may come unto you with joy, by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
The apostle had desired their prayers for him: here he concludes with a fervent prayer for them.
In which observe, The title or attribute given unto God, The God of peace; the lover, the author, and giver of peace. The apostle having exhorted the believing Romans to be at peace among themselves, and not to contend about indifferent things, implores the dispenser of this grace to be with them, to dwell among them, and to pour out the great and invaluable blessings of peace and unity, of love and concord upon them: The God of peace be with you all. Amen. As we honour the God of peace, whom we serve; as we love the Prince of peace, in whom we believe; as we hope for the comfort of the Spirit of peace; and as we tender the success of the gospel of peace; let us preserve it where it is, and pursue it where it flies from us.
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