Romans 16The first person here mentioned is Phebe; who going upon some occasion to Rome, St. Paul is supposed to have sent this epistle to the Romans by her: "I commend, says he, to your care and affectionate regard, Phebe our sister in the faith, who serveth the church at Chenchrea," in the quality of deaconess, as some think; or, as others, who spent her time in receiving and harbouring poor Christians that were driven out of their own country, and who had been a succourer and supporter of the apostle himself. He exhorts them to receive her in the Lord; that is, with Christian love for the Lord's sake, and to be assistant and helpful to her in her outward affairs and business.
Learn hence, What honour God puts upon the female sex, in making use of some of them to be assistants to the apostles, and taking care that their offices of love and service for and towards the ministers and members of Christ should not be forgotten, but had and kept in everlasting remembrance. The services which Phebe did, are here recorded, to posterity transmitted, and to our imitation recommended.
The first persons at Rome whom St. Paul saluteth by name, are Priscilla and Aquila. The woman is named before her husband, and shows that they were all one in Christ Jesus, in whom is neither male nor female.
Here, by the way, it appears how weakly the Papists argue for St. Peter's primacy, because placed first in the catalogue of the apostles. By the same argument the woman is the head of the man, because here named before the man.
Observe, 2. The honourable title which St. Paul puts upon these two persons, Aquila and Priscilla; he calls them his helpers in Christ Jesus. They were his assistants in propagating the gospel by private instruction, though not by public preaching Acts 18:26.
Observe, 3. The Christian courage which was found with this holy woman Priscilla, and her husband Aquila: They laid down their own necks for the apostle; that is, exposed themselves to the hazard of their own lives for his preservation.
Observe, 4. The thankful remembrance which the apostle and all the churches of the Gentiles had of this their great and noble service, in hazarding their own lives for his; To whom I give thanks, and all the churches of the Gentiles. Because St. Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and his preservation redounded to the benefit of them all; therefore were the churches of the Gentiles so sensible of, and thankful for, the apostle's preservation.
Observe lastly, The salutation sent to the church that was in their house. By which some understand their household, their Christian family, which he calls a church, because of the pious order and religious worship which was there observed.
O happy houses! and thrice happy householders! whose families are little churches for piety and devotion. Others understand by the church in their house, the number of Christians which used there to assemble for religious worship. Be it the one or the other, our apostle forgets not to send kind and Christian salutations to them.
Three persons are here saluted by name;
the first, Epenetus, whom he calls the first-fruits of Achaia; that is, the first person that embraced Christianity, or the faith of Christ, in the region of Achaia:
the second is Mary, a common name, but the person here intended was of special note, having bestowed much pains upon, and done many good offices for, the preachers of the gospel:
the third is Andronicus, noted for his sufferings and services among the apostles, as also for his early embracing the Christian faith. He was in Christ before me; that is, converted to Christianity before myself.
Learn hence, 1. That seniority in grace is a very great honour; and to be in Christ before others, is a transcendent prerogative.
Learn, 2. That God will have the good works of all his saints, and the services especially which are done to his ministers and ambassadors by any of his people, to be applauded, valued, and recorded. Mary's labour bestowed on the apostle, is here mentioned with respect.
Here observe, 1. How the apostle salutes the Christians at Rome, not in general, but particularly and by name, that they might be convinced how particularly mindful he was of them. And as he mentions them by name in his salutations, it is not improbable but that he might mention them also by name in his supplications and private addresses to God. No doubt he bore them, and all converted by him, upon his heart, whenever he went in and out before the Lord. A spiritual father can never be forgetful of his spiritual children.
Observe, 2. The persons saluted by the apostle are not men of fame in Rome, noted for their dignity and greatness, or for their wealth and riches, but for their piety and goodness, for labouring in the Lord, and for labouring much in the Lord; for being in Christ, approved in Christ, and helpers in Christ; that is, assistants in propagating the gospel of Christ, and serviceable to those whose work and office it was so to do. 'Tis religion that renders persons renowned, and no persons deserve so well to be remembered by us, as those who are most persevering and laborious in their services for God.
Observe, 3. Here are several women as well as men remembered and saluted, and their services for Christ and his ministers recorded. God will have none of his faithful servants forgotten, or any of their good deeds buried in oblivion.
Observe, 4. That in all this roll of salutations there is no mention made of St. Peter's name. Had he now been at Rome, as the Papists will have him, and bishop of that see, it had been morally impossible for our apostle to have forgotten him in his salutations, when so many of his inferiors were remembered by him.
Observe here, How the apostle proceeds from greeting the saints at Rome himself, to persuade them to salute one another. There had been much dissension amongst them about meats and days; he therefore craves of them for the future to embrace each other with cordial love, and affectionate kindness, and, as a token and symbol of it, to salute one another with an holy kiss, the usual expression of friendship in those times.
The primitive Christians, at the end of their prayers, before the celebration of the sacrament, did salute one another with a kiss, and then the bread and cup was brought forth; and some observe, that it was done by the men apart, and the women apart. But this custom being afterwards abused, was generally laid aside. That which is lawful in its use, and innocent in its own nature, may and ought to be laid aside when it becomes matter of scandal and just offence.
Observe here, 1. How our apostle takes his leave and farewell of the Romans, with an admonition to them to take heed of persons that were erroneous in doctrine, and scandalous in practice. 'Tis probable he means either those Jews who pleaded the necessity of circumcision, and the observation of the Mosaic rites, as necessary to the salvation of the Gentiles; or the gnostics to whom the following characters do well agree. Whoever they were, they were dangerous seducers, and to be avoided.
Observe, 2. The character which our apostle gives of these persons; They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.
Note, That seducers are always self-seekers; they are designing men: they aim at themselves, under a pretence of acting for Christ and his glory. They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.
Observe, 3. The arts and methods which they use to delude and deceive: By good words and fair speeches, they deceive the hearts of the simple. Seducers have smooth and glossing tongues; and innocent, harmless men are misled by their fine pretences and fair speeches: and thus they impose upon the simple.
Observe, 4. The double advice which the apostle gives, in order to their being preserved and secured from the poison and contagion of these seducers: namely, to mark them, and avoid them.
(1.) To mark them: the word signifies such a marking as a watchman useth when he standeth upon a tower to descry an enemy; which is performed with great accuracy.
(2.) To avoid them as a sound person would shun him that has the plague upon him.
Where note, The apostle advises to mark them, in order to the declining of them, not destroying of them; to cut them off of excomminication, not to cut their throats, or burn their bodies for heresy: Mark them which cause divisions, and avoid them.
Observe, 5. The persons whom this exhortation concerns, who they are that should judge of the doctrines and seducers: they are the common people, the Romans, the saints or Christians at Rome, to whom he was now writing; to them the apostle allows a judgment of discretion, a power to try and examine the doctrines delivered by persons pretending to infallible inspiration: I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions, contrary to the doctrines which ye have learned.
Christians are by no means to be led by their teachers blindfold, but ought to see with their own eyes, to take nothing upon trust, but all upon trial; to examine the doctrines they are taught, and to observe and mark the teachers of them: I beseech you, says our apostle, mark them.
As if the apostle had said, "I do not accuse you, but advise and warn you only; I acknowledge that you the Christians at Rome are famous for your obedience to the apostolical doctrine, and that you walk in faith and love, in unity and concord, to the credit of the gospel, and the honour of your holy religion. But I would have you know, that you are not wholly out of danger of being infected by those judaizers; I wish you therefore wisdom to escape their snares. The Lord make you wise as well as zealous, that you may discern that which is good, and decline that which is evil."
Learn hence, That the holiest, best, and wisest of Christians, must not look upon themselves as secure from the snares of seducers, but stand in need of all the cautions and warnings, of all the advice and counsel, of their spiritual guides, in order to their principles, and the contagion of their example.
These words may be considered either relatively, or absolutely;
if relatively, or with relation to the context, then by Satan is to be understood seducers and false teachers, whom he had warned the Romans of in the preceding verses: Mark them which cause divisions, &c.
Learn hence, 1. That all corrupters of divine truths, and troublers of the church's peace, are Satan's instruments: God shall bruise Satan, that is, Satan in his instruments, under your feet.
Learn, 2. That divine evangelical truth shall be finally victorious: no weapon formed against it shall prosper; the head of error shall fall low at last at the feet of truth. Seducers may bluster for a time, but shall be bruised at last; the God of peace shall bruise Satan shortly.
Consider the words absolutely, and we have a victory proclaimed; the author of that victory declared, the God of peace; the enemy conquered, Satan; the conquest, or manner of conquering, by bruising; the time of the conquest, no presently, but shortly; The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
Learn, 1. That the reconciler of the world shall be the subduer of Satan: in subduing Satan, and in him all that belong unto him; as the fall of the general puts the whole army to the rout.
Learn, 2. That Almighty God, in his own time, will make believers complete conquerors over Satan, and all their spiritual enemies.
Note, That it is by virtue of Christ's conquest over Satan, that believers become conquerors; for the promise here refers to the original promise, Gen 3:15, That Christ, the seed of the woman, shall bruise the serpent's head. So then it is by virtue of the act of Jesus Christ, bruising the serpent's head, yea, breaking it, that Satan is bruised under our feet. As Christ bruised him under his own feet, so in his own time will he bruise him under our feet. The personal, as well as the representative seed of the woman, shall bruise the serpent's head.
Remember, poor tempted Christian, for thy comfort, the God of peace will tread Satan under our feet shortly; thou shalt set thy foot on the neck of thy enemy; and when once thy foot is over the threshold of glory, thou shalt cast back a smiling look, and say, "Now Satan, do thy worst; through grace I am where thou shalt never come."
Our apostle had, in the former part of the chapter, saluted divers persons himself; here he sends the salutations of those that were with him to the saints or Christians at Rome: hereby showing that mutual love and amity, that happy concord and unity, which is and ought to be between all the sincere disciples and followers of Jesus; when, though not in body, yet in mind, they should be present with one another, and, though distant in place, yet undivided in affection. The two principal persons here sending joint salutations with the apostle to these Romans, were Timothy and Gaius. The former St. Paul calls his work-fellow, or fellow-labourer; Timotheus my work-fellow.
Where note the great humility of the apostle, in dignifying so young a man as Timothy then was with this title: what greater dignity than to be a fellow-worker with the apostle, in planting and propagating the gospel of Jesus Christ? The latter was Gaius, whom the apostle calls his host, and the host of the whole church: that is, a person employed by the church of Corinth to entertain Christian strangers. To perform the meanest offices of love and service for the persecuted or distressed saints and servants of Jesus Christ, to entertain them in our houses, yea, to wash their feet, is an honourable and acceptable service.
Here again our apostle, from the abundance of his affectionate heart towards them, repeats his benediction to them, that the mercy, grace, and goodness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, may abide upon, and evermore continue with, them.
Where note, The fountain and original spring from whence all grace doth rise and flow; namely, from Jesus Christ: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is so called, because he purchased it for us, because he applies it to us.
Our apostle here concludes his excellent epistle with a solemn doxology or thanksgiving to God; in which he first describes God, and then ascribes eternal glory to him. He describes him both by his power and by his wisdom.
By his power first, To him that is able to establish you according to my gospel; that is, to establish you, in grace and truth, in faith and holiness, and to keep you from falling into sin and error. Such is our weakness and Satan's power, that unless God confirm and establish us, we shall soon run into sin and danger.
Observe farther, The instrumental means which God makes use of for his people's establishment; and that is, the gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the gospel which Christ and his apostle taught and delivered. This is called a mystery, kept secret since the world began, and now made manifest for the obedience of the faith; that is, that it may be believed and obeyed.
The second attribute in the description of God, is his wisdom: he is called the wise, the only wise God; not to exclude the Son and Holy Ghost, but the wisdom of the creature only. He is only wise originally, his wisdom is of himself: yea, his wisdom is himself: the wisdom of God is not a quality separable from himself, but is his very essence and nature.
He is only wise, because he is incomparably wise; there is none for wisdom can compare with him. He has wisdom in such a degree and eminency, that the very angels are chargeable with folly before him.
In a word, he is only wise, because all wisdom of angels and men is but a ray from his light, a drop from his ocean. And if so, then let the wisdom of God, in all his dealings with us and ours, be admired and adored by us; for all his works of providence are as orderly and perfect as his works of creation, though we perceive it not.
Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and ever. Amen.
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