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Romans i. 1-7

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ. So the man opens his Lord's message with his own name. We may, if we please, leave it and pass on, for to the letter-writer of that day it was as much a matter of course to prefix the personal name to the letter as it is to us to append it. But then, as now, the name was not a mere word of routine; certainly not in the communications of a religious leader. It avowed responsibility; it put in evidence a person. In a letter of public destination it set the man in the light and glare of publicity, as truly as when he spoke in the Christian assembly, or on the Areopagus, or from the steps of the castle at Jerusalem. It tells us here, on the threshold, that the messages we are about to read are given to us as "truth through personality"; they come through the mental and spiritual being of this wonderful and most real man. If we read his character aright in his letters, we see in him a fineness and dignity of thought which would not make the publication of himself a light and easy thing. But his sensibilities, with all else he has, have been given to Christ (who never either slights or spoils such gifts, while He accepts them); and if it will the better 11 win attention to the Lord that the servant should stand out conspicuously, to point to Him, it shall be done.

For he is indeed "Jesus Christ's bondservant"; not His ally merely, or His subject, or His friend. Recently, writing to the Galatian converts, he has been vindicating the glorious liberty of the Christian, set free at once from "the curse of the law" and from the mastery of self. But there too, at the close (vi. 17), he has dwelt on his own sacred bondage; "the brand of his Master, Jesus." The liberty of the Gospel is the silver side of the same shield whose side of gold is an unconditional vassalage to the liberating Lord. Our freedom is "in the Lord" alone; and to be "in the Lord" is to belong to Him, as wholly as a healthy hand belongs, in its freedom, to the physical centre of life and will. To be a bondservant is terrible in the abstract. To be "Jesus Christ's bondservant" is Paradise, in the concrete. Self-surrender, taken alone, is a plunge into a cold void. When it is surrender to "the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. ii. 20), it is the bright home-coming of the soul to the seat and sphere of life and power.

This bondservant of His now before us, dictating, is called to be an Apostle. Such is his particular department of servitude in the "great house." It is a rare commission—to be a chosen witness of the Resurrection, a divinely authorized "bearer" of the holy Name, a first founder and guide of the universal Church, a legatus a latere of the Lord Himself. Yet the apostleship, to St Paul, is but a species of the one genus, bondservice. "To every man is his work," given by the one sovereign will. In a Roman household one slave would water the garden, another keep accounts, another 12 in the library would do skilled literary work; yet all equally would be "not their own, but bought with a price." So in the Gospel, then, and now. All functions of Christians are alike expressions of the one will of Him who has purchased, and who "calls."

Meanwhile, this bondservant-apostle, because "under authority," carries authority. His Master has spoken to him, that he may speak. He writes to the Romans as man, as friend, but also as the "vessel of choice, to bear the Name" (Acts ix. 15) of Jesus Christ.

Such is the sole essential work and purpose of his life. He is separated to the Gospel of God; isolated from all other ruling aims to this. In some respects he is the least isolated of men; he is in contact all round with human life. Yet he is "separated." In Christ, and for Christ, he lives apart from even the worthiest personal ambitions. Richer than ever, since he "was in Christ" (xvi. 7), in all that makes man's nature wealthy, in power to know, to will, to love, he uses all his riches always for "this one thing," to make men understand "the Gospel of God." Such isolation, behind a thousand contacts, is the Lord's call for His true followers still.

"The Gospel": word almost too familiar now, till the thing is too little understood. What is it? In its native meaning, its eternally proper meaning, it is the divine "Good Tidings." It is the announcement of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour of men, in whom God and man meet with joy. That announcement stands in living relation to a bright chain of precepts, and also to the sacred darkness of convictions and warnings; we shall see this amply illustrated in this Epistle. But neither precepts nor threatenings are properly the Gospel. The Gospel saves from sin, and 13 enables for holy conduct. But in itself it is the pure, mere message of redeeming Love.

It is "the Gospel of God"; that is, as the neighbouring sentences shew it, the Gospel of the blessed Father. Its origin is in the Father's love, the eternal hill whence runs the eternal stream of the work of the Son and the power of the Spirit. "God loved the world"; "The Father sent the Son." The stream leads us up to the mount. "Hereby perceive we the love of God." In the Gospel, and in it alone, we have that certainty, "God is Love."

Now he dilates a little in passing on this dear theme, the Gospel of God. He whom it reveals as eternal Love was true to Himself in the preparation as in the event; He promised His Gospel beforehand through His prophets in (the) holy Scriptures. The sunrise of Christ was no abrupt, insulated phenomenon, unintelligible because out of relation. "Since the world began" (Luke i. 70), from the dawn of human history, predictive word and manifold preparing work had gone before. To think now only of the prediction, more or less articulate, and not of the preparation through general divine dealings with man—such had the prophecy been that, as the pagan histories tell us, 44Percrebuerat Oriente toto vetus et constans opinio, esse in fatis ut eo tempore (cir. A.D. 70) profecti Judæa rerum potirentur.—Suetonius, Vesp., c. 4. Tacitus (Hist., v. 13) says the same, and that the hope was based on the antiqui sacerdotum libri. "the whole East" heaved with expectations of a Judæan world-rule about the time when, as a fact, Jesus came. He came, alike to disappoint every merely popular hope and to satisfy at once the concrete details and the spiritual significance of the long forecast. And He sent His messengers out to the world carrying as their text 14 and their voucher that old and multifold literature which is yet one Book; those "holy writings," (our own Old Testament, from end to end,) which were to them nothing less than the voice of the Holy Spirit. They always put the Lord, in their preaching, in contact with that prediction.

In this, as in other things, His glorious Figure is unique. There is no other personage in human history, himself a moral miracle, heralded by a verifiable foreshadowing in a complex literature of previous centuries.

"The hope of Israel" was, and is, a thing sui generis. Other preparations for the Coming were, as it were, sidelong and altogether by means of nature. In the Holy Scriptures the supernatural led directly and in its own way to the supreme supernatural Event; the Sacred Way to the Sanctuary.

What was the burthen of the vast prophecy, with its converging elements? It was concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Whatever the prophets themselves knew, or did not know, of the inmost import of their records and utterances, the import was this. The Lord and the Apostles do not commit us to believe that the old seers ever had a full conscious foresight, or even that in all they "wrote of Him" they knew that it was of Him they wrote; though they had insights above nature, and knew it, as when David "in the Spirit called Him Lord," and Abraham "saw His day." But they do amply commit us to believe, if we are indeed their disciples, that the whole revelation through Israel did, in a way quite of its own kind, "concern the Son of God." See this in such leading places as Luke xxiv. 25-27; John v. 39, 46; Acts iii. 21-25, x. 43, xxviii. 23.

A Mahometan in Southern India, not long ago, was 15 first drawn to faith in Jesus Christ by reading the genealogy with which St Matthew begins his narrative. Such a procession, he thought, must lead up a mighty name; and he approached with reverence the story of the Nativity. That genealogy is, in a certain sense, the prophecies in compendium. Its avenue is the miniature of theirs. Let us sometimes go back, as it were, and approach the Lord again through the ranks of His holy foretellers, to get a new impression of His majesty.

"Concerning His Son." Around that radiant word, full of light and heat, the cold mists of many speculations have rolled themselves, as man has tried to analyse a divine and boundless fact. For St Paul, and for us, the fact is everything, for peace and life. This Jesus Christ is true Man; that is certain. He is also, if we trust His life and word, true Son of God. He is on the one hand personally distinct from Him whom He calls Father, and whom He loves, and who loves Him with infinite love. On the other hand He is so related to Him that He fully possesses His Nature, while He has that Nature wholly from Him. This is the teaching of Gospels and Epistles; this is the Catholic Faith. Jesus Christ is God, is Divine, truly and fully. He is implicitly called by the incommunicable Name (compare John xii. 41 with Isa. vi. 7). He is openly called God in His own presence on earth (John xx. 28). But what is, if possible, even mere significant, because deeper below the surface—He is regarded as the eternally satisfying Object of man's trust and love (e.g. Phil. iii. 21, Eph. iii. 19). Yet Jesus Christ is always preached as related Son-wise to Another, so truly that the mutual love of the Two is freely adduced as type and motive for our love.

We can hardly make too much, in thought and 16 teaching, of this Divine Sonship, this Filial Godhead. It is the very "Secret of God" (Col. ii. 2), both as a light to guide our reason to the foot of the Throne, and as a power upon the heart. "He that hath the Son hath the Father"; "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father"; "He hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His Love."

Who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh. So the New Testament begins (Matt. i. 1); so it almost closes (Rev. xxii. 6). St Paul, in later years, recalls the Lord's human pedigree again (2 Tim. ii. 8): "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, is risen from the dead." The old Apostle in that last passage, has entered the shadow of death; he feels with one hand for the rock of history, with the other for the pulse of eternal love. Here was the rock; the Lord of life was the Child of history, Son and Heir of a historical king, and then, as such, the Child of prophecy too. And this, against all surface appearances beforehand. The Davidic "ground" (Isa. liii. 2) had seemed to be dry as dust for generations, when the Root of endless life sprang up in it.

"He was born" of David's seed. Literally, the Greek may be rendered, "He became, He came to be." Under either rendering we have the wonderful fact that He who in His higher Nature eternally is, above time and including it, did in His other Nature, by the door of becoming, enter time, and thus indeed "fill all things." This He did, and thus He is, "according to the flesh." "Flesh" is, indeed, but a part of Manhood. But a part can represent the whole; and "flesh" is the part most antithetical to the Divine Nature, with which here Manhood is collocated and in a sense contrasted. So it is again below, ix. 5.


And now, of this blessed Son of David, we hear further:—who was designated to be Son of God; literally, "defined as Son of God" betokened to be such by "infallible proof." Never for an hour had he ceased to be, in fact, Son of God. To the man healed of birth-blindness He had said (John ix. 35), "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" But there was an hour when He became openly and so to speak officially what He always is naturally; somewhat as a born king is "made" king by coronation. Historical act then affirmed independent fact, and as it were gathered it into a point for use. This affirmation took place in power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, as a result of resurrection from the dead. "Sown in weakness," Jesus was indeed "raised in" majestic, tranquil "power." Without an effort He stepped from out of the depth of death, from under the load of sin. It was no flickering life, crucified but not quite killed, creeping back in a convalescence mis-called resurrection; it was the rising of the sun. That it was indeed day-light, and not day-dream, was shown not only in His mastery of matter, but in the transfiguration of His followers. No moral change was ever at once more complete and more perfectly healthful than what His return wrought in that large and various group, when they learnt to say, "We have seen the Lord." The man who wrote this Epistle had "seen Him last of all" (1 Cor. xv. 8). That was indeed a sight "in power," and working a transfiguration.

So was the Son of the Father affirmed to be what He is; so was He "made" to be, for us His Church, the Son, in whom we are sons. And all this was, "according to the Spirit of holiness"; answerably to the foreshadowing and foretelling of that Holy Spirit who, in the 18 prophets, "testified of the sufferings destined for the Christ, and of the glories that should follow" (1 Pet. i. 11).

Now lastly, in the Greek of the sentence, as if pausing for a solemn entrance, comes in the whole blessed Name; even Jesus Christ our Lord. Word by word the Apostle dictates, and the scribe obeys. Jesus, the human Name; Christ, the mystic Title; our Lord, the term of royalty and loyalty which binds us to Him, and Him to us. Let those four words be ours for ever. If everything else falls in ruins from the memory, let this remain, "the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever."

Through whom, the Apostle's voice goes on, we received grace and apostleship. The Son was the Channel "through" which the Father's choice and call took effect. He "grasped" Paul (Phil. iii. 12), and, joined him to Himself, and in Himself to the Father; and now through that Union the motions of the Eternal will move Paul. They move him, to give him "grace and apostleship"; that is, in effect, grace for apostleship, and apostleship as grace; the boon of the Lord's presence in him for the work, and the Lord's work as a spiritual boon. He often thus links the word "grace" with his great mission; for example, in Gal. ii. 9, Eph. iii. 2, 8, and perhaps Phil. i. 7. Alike the enabling peace and power for service, and then the service itself, are to the Christian a free, loving, beatifying gift.

Unto obedience of faith among all the Nations. This "obedience of faith" is in fact faith in its aspect as submission. What is faith? It is personal trust, personal self-entrustment to a person. It "gives up the case" to the Lord, as the one only possible Giver of pardon and of purity. It is "submission to the righteousness of God" (ch. x. 3). Blessed the man who so 19 obeys, stretching out arms empty and submissive to receive, in the void between them, Jesus Christ.

"Among all the Nations," "all the Gentiles." The words read easy to us, and pass perhaps half unnoticed, as a phrase of routine. Not so to the ex-Pharisee who dictated them here. A few years before he would have held it highly "unlawful to keep company with, or come unto, one of another nation" (Acts x. 28). Now, in Christ, it is as if he had almost forgotten that it had been so. His whole heart, in Christ, is blent in personal love with hearts belonging to many nations; in spiritual affection he is ready for contact with all hearts. And now he, of all the Apostles, is the teacher who by life and word is to bring this glorious catholicity home for ever to all believing souls, our own included. It is St Paul pre-eminently who has taught man, as man, in Christ, to love man; who has made Hebrew, European, Hindoo, Chinese, Caffre, Esquimaux, actually one in the conscious brotherhood of eternal life.

For His Name's sake; for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed. The Name is the self-unfolded Person, known and understood. Paul had indeed come to know that Name, and to pass it on was now his very life. He existed only to win for it more insight, more adoration, more love. "The Name" deserved that great soul's entire devotion. Does it not deserve our equally entire devotion now? Our lives shall be transfigured, in their measure, by taking for their motto also, "For His Name's sake."

Now he speaks direct of his Roman friends. Among whom, among these multifarious "Nations," you too are Jesus Christ's called ones; men who belong to Him, because "called" by Him. And what is "called"? Compare the places where the word is used—or 20 where its kindred words are used—in the Epistles, and you will find a certain holy speciality of meaning. "Invited" is no adequate paraphrase. The "called" man is the man who has been invited and has come; who has obeyed the eternal welcome; to whom the voice of the Lord has been effectual. See the word in the opening paragraphs of 1 Corinthians. There the Gospel is heard, externally, by a host of indifferent or hostile hearts, who think it "folly," or "a stumbling block." But among them are those who hear, and understand, and believe indeed. To them "Christ is God's power, and God's wisdom." And they are "the called."

In the Gospels, the words "chosen" and "called" are in antithesis; the called are many, the chosen few; the external hearers are many, the hearers inwardly are few. In the Epistles a developed use shews the change indicated here, and it is consistently maintained.

To all who in Rome are God's beloved ones. Wonderful collocation, wonderful possibility! "Beloved ones of God," as close to the eternal heart as it is possible to be, because "in the Beloved"; that is one side. "In Rome," in the capital of universal paganism, material power, iron empire, immeasurable worldliness, flagrant and indescribable sin; that is the other side. "I know where thou dwellest," said the glorified Saviour to much tried disciples at a later day; "even where Satan has his throne" (Rev. ii. 13). That throne was conspicuously present in the Rome of Nero. Yet faith, hope, and love could breathe there, when the Lord "called." They could much more than breathe. This whole Epistle shows that a deep and developed faith, a glorious hope, and the mighty love of a holy life were matters of fact in men and women who every day of the year saw the world as it went 21 by in forum and basilica, in Suburra and Velabrum, in slave-chambers and in the halls of pleasure where they had to serve or to meet company. The atmosphere of heaven was carried down into that dark pool by the believing souls who were bidden to live there. They lived the heavenly life in Rome; as the creature of the air in our stagnant waters weaves and fills its silver diving-bell, and works and thrives in peace far down.

Read some vivid picture of Roman life, and think of this. See it as it is shown by Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial; or as modern hands, Becker's or Farrar's, have restored it from their materials. What a deadly air for the regenerate soul—deadly not only in its vice, but in its magnificence, and in its thought! But nothing is deadly to the Lord Jesus Christ. The soul's regeneration means not only new ideas and likings, but an eternal Presence, the indwelling of the Life itself. That Life could live at Rome; and therefore "God's beloved ones in Rome" could live there also, while it was His will they should be there. The argument comes a fortiori to ourselves.

(His) called holy ones; they were "called," in the sense we have seen, and now, by that effectual Voice, drawing them into Christ, they were constituted "holy ones," "saints." What does that word mean? Whatever its etymology may be, 55The linguistic root seems to point directly not to separation (as often said) but to worship, reverence. its usage gives us the thought of dedication to God, connexion with Him, separation to His service, His will. The saints are those who belong to Him, His personal property, for His ends. Thus it is used habitually in the Scriptures for all Christians, supposed to be true to their name. Not an inner circle, 22 but all, bear the title. It is not only a glorified aristocracy, but the believing commonalty; not the stars of the eternal sky but the flowers sown by the Lord in the common field; even in such a tract of that field as "Cæsar's household" was (Phil. iv. 22).

Habitually therefore the Apostle gives the term "saints" to whole communities; as if baptism always gave, or sealed, saintship. In a sense it did, and does. But then, this was, and is, on the assumption of the concurrence of possession with title. The title left the individual still bound to "examine himself, whether he was in the faith" (2 Cor. xiii. 5).

These happy residents at Rome are now greeted and blessed in their Father's and Saviour's Name; Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. "Grace"; what is it? Two ideas lie there together; favour and gratuity. The grace of God is His favouring will and work for us, and in us; gratuitous, utterly and to the end unearned. Put otherwise, (and with the remembrance that His great gifts are but modes of Himself, are in fact Himself in will and action,) grace is God for us, grace is God in us, sovereign, willing, kind. "Peace"; what is it? The holy repose within, and so around, which comes of the man's acceptance with God and abode in God; an "all is well" in the heart, and in the believer's contact with circumstances, as he rests in his Father and his Redeemer. "Peace, perfect peace"; under the sense of demerit, and amidst the crush of duties, and on the crossing currents of human joy and sorrow, and in the mystery of death; because of the God of Peace, who has made peace for us through the Cross of His Son, and is peace in us, "by the Spirit which He hath given us."

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