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Romans xv. 1-13

THE large and searching treatment which the Apostle has already given to the right use of Christian Liberty, is yet not enough. He must pursue the same theme further; above all, that he may put it into more explicit contact with the Lord Himself.

We gather without doubt that the state of the Roman Mission, as it was reported to St Paul, gave special occasion for such fulness of discussion. It is more than likely, as we have seen from the first, that the bulk of the disciples were ex-pagans; probably of very various nationalities, many of them Orientals, and as such not more favourable to distinctive Jewish claims and tenets. It is also likely that they found amongst them, or beside them, many Christian Jews, or Christian Jewish proselytes, of a type more or less pronounced in their own direction; the school whose less worthy members supplied the men to whom St Paul, a few years later, writing from Rome to Philippi, refers as "preaching Christ of envy and strife" (Phil. i. 15). The temptation of a religious (as of a secular) majority is always to tyrannize, more or less, in matters of thought and practice. A dominant school, in any 394 age or region, too easily comes to talk and act as if all decided expression on the other side were an instance of "intolerance," while yet it allows itself in sufficiently severe and censorious courses of its own. At Rome, very probably, this mischief was in action. The "strong," with whose principle, in its true form, St Paul agreed, were disposed to domineer in spirit over the "weak," because the weak were comparatively the few. Thus they were guilty of a double fault; they were presenting a miserable parody of holy liberty, and they were acting off the line of that unselfish fairness which is essential in the Gospel character. For the sake not only of the peace of the great Mission Church, but of the honour of the Truth, and of the Lord, the Apostle therefore dwells on mutual duties, and returns to them again and again after apparent conclusions of his discourse. Let us listen as he now reverts to the subject, to set it more fully than ever in the light of Christ.

But (it is the "but" of resumption, and of new material) we are bound, we the able, οἱ δυνατοὶ (perhaps a sort of soubriquet for themselves among the school of "liberty," "the capables")—to bear the weaknesses of the unable, (again, possibly, a soubriquet, and in this case an unkindly one, for a school,) and not to please ourselves. Each one of us, let him please not himself but his neighbour, as regards what is good, with a view to edification.

"Please"; ἀρέσκειν, ἀρεσκέτω. The word is one often "soiled with ignoble use," in classical literature; it tends to mean the "pleasing" which fawns and flatters; the complaisance of the parasite. But it is lifted by Christian usage to a noble level. The cowardly and interested element drops out of it; the thought of willingness to do anything to please remains; only 395 limited by the law of right, and aimed only at the other's "good." Thus purified, it is used elsewhere of that holy "complaisance" in which the grateful disciple aims to "meet half way the wishes" of his Lord (see Col. i. 10). Here, it is the unselfish and watchful aim to meet half way, if possible, the thought and feeling of a fellow-disciple, to conciliate by sympathetic attentions, to be considerate in the smallest matters of opinion and conduct; a genuine exercise of inward liberty.144144Observe that St Paul utterly repudiates the thought of "pleasing" (ἀρέσκειν) where it means a servile and really compromising deference to human opinion (Gal. i. 10).

There is a gulph of difference between interested timidity and disinterested considerateness. In flight from the former, the ardent Christian sometimes breaks the rule of the latter. St Paul is at his hand to warn him not to forget the great law of love. And the Lord is at his hand too, with His own supreme Example.

For even our () Christ did not please Himself; but, as it stands written (Psal. lxix. 9), "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee, fell upon Me."

It is the first mention in the Epistle of the Lord's Example. His Person we have seen, and the Atoning Work, and the Resurrection Power, and the great Return. The holy Example can never take the place of any one of these facts of life eternal. But when they are secure, then the reverent study of the Example is not only in place; it is of urgent and immeasurable importance.

"He did not please Himself." "Not My will, but Thine, be done." Perhaps the thought of the Apostle is dwelling on the very hour when those words were spoken, from beneath the olives of the Garden, and out of a depth of inward conflict and surrender which 396 "it hath not entered into the heart of man"—except the heart of the Man of men Himself—"to conceive." Then indeed "He did not please Himself." From pain as pain, from grief as grief, all sentient existence naturally, necessarily, shrinks; it "pleases itself" in escape or in relief. The infinitely refined sentient Existence of the Son of Man was no exception to this law of universal nature; and now He was called to such pain, to such grief, as never before met upon one head. We read the record of Gethsemane, and its sacred horror is always new; the disciple passes in thought out of the Garden even to the cruel tribunal of the Priest with a sense of relief; his Lord has risen from the unfathomable to the fathomable depth of His woes—till He goes down again, at noon next day, upon the Cross. "He pleased not Himself." He who soon after, on the shore of the quiet water, said to Peter, in view of his glorious and God-glorifying end, "They shall carry thee whither thou wouldest not"—along a path from which all thy manhood shall shrink—He too, as to His Human sensibility, "would not" go to His own unknown agonies. But then, blessed be His Name, "He would go" to them, from that other side, the side of the infinite harmony of His purpose with the purpose of His Father, in His immeasurable desire of His Father's glory. So He "drank that cup," which shall never now pass on to His people. And then He went forth into the house of Caiaphas, to be "reproached," during some six or seven terrible hours, by men who, professing zeal for God, were all the while blaspheming Him by every act and word of malice and untruth against His Son; and from Caiaphas He went to Pilate, and to Herod, and to the Cross, "bearing that reproach."


"I'm not anxious to die easy, when He died hard!" So said, not long ago, in a London attic, lying crippled and comfortless, a little disciple of the Man of Sorrows. He had "seen the Lord," in a strangely unlikely conversion, and had found a way of serving Him; it was to drop written fragments of His Word from the window on to the pavement below. And for this silent mission he would have no liberty if he were moved, in his last weeks, to a comfortable "Home." So he would rather serve his beloved Redeemer thus, "pleasing not himself," than be soothed in body, and gladdened by surrounding kindness, but with less "fellowship of His sufferings." Illustrious confessor—sure to be remembered when "the Lord of the servants cometh"! And with what an a fortiori does his simple answer to a kindly visitor's offer bring home to us (for it is for us as much as for the Romans) this appeal of the Apostle's! We are called in these words not necessarily to any agony of body or spirit; not necessarily even to an act of severe moral courage; only to patience, largeness of heart, brotherly love. Shall we not answer Amen from the soul? Shall not even one thought of "the fellowship of His sufferings" annihilate in us the miserable "self-pleasing" which shews itself in religious bitterness, in the refusal to attend and to understand, in a censoriousness which has nothing to do with firmness, in a personal attitude exactly opposite to love?

He has cited Psalm lxix. as a Scripture which, with all the solemn problems gathered round its dark "minatory" paragraph, yet lives and moves with Christ, the Christ of love. And now—not to confirm his application of the Psalm, for he takes that for granted—but to affirm the positive Christian use of the 398 Old Scriptures as a whole, he goes on to speak at large of "the things fore-written." He does so with the special thought that the Old Testament is full of truth in point for the Roman Church just now; full of the bright, and uniting, "hope" of glory; full of examples as well as precepts for "patience," that is to say, holy perseverance under trial; full finally of the Lord's equally gracious relation to "the Nations" and to Israel.

For all the things fore-written, written in the Scriptures of the elder time, in the age that both preceded the Gospel and prepared for it, for our instruction were written—with an emphasis upon "our"—that through the patience and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might hold our (τὴν) hope, the hope "sure and steadfast" of glorification in the glory of our conquering Lord. That is to say, the true "Author behind the authors" of that mysterious Book watched, guided, effected its construction, from end to end, with the purpose full in His view of instructing for all time the developed Church of Christ. And in particular, He adjusted thus the Old Testament records and precepts of "patience," the patience which "suffers and is strong," suffers and goes forward,245245The noble word ὑπομονή, as we have remarked already, is rarely if ever merely passive in New Testament usage. and of "encouragement," παράκλησις, the word which is more than "consolation," while it includes it; for it means the voice of positive and enlivening appeal. Rich indeed are Pentateuch, and Prophets, and Hagiographa, alike in commands to persevere and be of good courage, and in examples of men who were made brave and patient by the power of God in them, as they took Him at His word. And all this, says the Apostle, was on purpose, 399 on God's purpose. That multifarious Book is indeed in this sense one. Not only is it, in its Author's intention, full of Christ; in the same intention it is full of Him for us. Immortal indeed is its preciousness, if this was His design. Confidently may we explore its pages, looking in them first for Christ, then for ourselves, in our need of peace, and strength, and hope.

Let us add one word, in view of the anxious controversy of our day, within the Church, over the structure and nature of those "divine Scriptures," as the Christian Fathers love to call them. The use of the Holy Book in the spirit of this verse, the persistent searching of it for the preceptive mind of God in it, with the belief that it was "written for our instruction," will be the surest and deepest means to give us "perseverance" and "encouragement" about the Book itself. The more we really know the Bible, at first hand, before God, with the knowledge both of acquaintance and reverent sympathy, the more shall we be able with intelligent spiritual conviction, to "persist" and "be of good cheer" in the conviction that it is indeed not of man, (though through man,) but of God. The more shall we use it as the Lord and the Apostles used it, as being not only of God, but of God for us; His Word, and for us. The more shall we make it our divine daily Manual for a life of patient and cheerful sympathies, holy fidelity, and "that blessed Hope"—which draws "nearer now than when we believed."

But may the God of the patience and the encouragement, He who is Author and Giver of the graces unfolded in His Word, He without whom even that Word is but a sound without significance in the soul, grant you, in His own sovereign way of acting on and in human wills and affections, to be of one 400> mind mutually (ἐν ἀλλήλοις), according to Christ Jesus; "Christwise," in His steps, in His temper, under His precepts; having towards one another, not necessarily an identity of opinion on all details, but a community of sympathetic kindness. No comment here is better than this same Writer's later words, from Rome (Phil. ii. 2-5); "Be of one mind; having the same love; nothing by strife, or vainglory; esteeming others better than yourselves; looking on the things of others; with the same mind which was also in Christ Jesus," when He humbled Himself for us. And all this, not only for the comfort of the community, but for the glory of God: that unanimously, with one mouth, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; turning from the sorrowful friction worked by self-will when it intrudes into the things of heaven, to an antidote, holy and effectual, found in adoring Him who is equally near to all His true people, in His Son.

Wherefore welcome one another into fellowship, even as our () Christ welcomed you,246246So read, not ἡμᾶς. The point of the mention here of "you" is manifest. all the individuals of your company, and all the groups of it, to our (τοῦ) God's glory. These last words may mean either that the Lord's welcome of "you" "glorified" His Father's grace; or that that grace will be "glorified" by the holy victory of love over prejudice among the Roman saints. Perhaps this latter explanation is to be preferred, as it echoes and enforces the last words of the previous verse. But why should not both references reside in the one phrase, where the actions of the Lord and His disciples are seen in their deep harmony? 401 For247247Reading γὰρ not δέ, and omitting Ἰησοῦν just afterwards. I say that Christ stands constituted248248Γεγενῆσθαι, the perfect. But perhaps read γενέσθαι. Servant (διάκονον) of the Circumcision, Minister of divine blessings to Israel, on behalf of God's truth, so as to ratify in act the promises belonging to the Fathers, so as to secure and vindicate their fulfilment, by His coming as Son of David, Son of Abraham; but (a "but" which, by its slight correction, reminds the Jew that the Promise, given wholly through him, was not given wholly for him) so that the Nations, on mercy's behalf, should glorify God, blessing and adoring Him on account of a salvation which, in their case, was less of "truth" than of "mercy," because it was less explicitly and immediately of covenant; as it stands written (Psal. xviii. 49), "For this I will confess to Thee, will own Thee, among the Nations, and will strike the harp (ψαλῶ) to Thy Name"; Messiah confessing His Eternal Father's glory in the midst of His redeemed Gentile subjects, who sing their "lower part" with Him. And again it, the Scripture, says, (Deut. xxxii. 43), "Be jubilant, Nations, with His people."249249In the received Hebrew Text the word את, "with," is absent, and the rendering may be, in paraphrase, either, "Ye Nations, congratulate His people," or "Rejoice ye Nations, who are His people." Either the great Rabbi-Apostle read את, or he gave the essence of the Mosaic words, not their form, (using the Lxx. rendering as his form,) to convey the thought of the loving sympathy, before God, of Israel and the Nations. And again (Psal. cxvii. 1), "Praise the Lord, all the Nations, and let all the peoples praise Him again" (ἐπαινεσάτωσαν). And again Isaiah says (xi. 10), "There shall come (literally, "shall be") the Root of Jesse, and He who rises up—"rises," in the present tense of the 402 divine decree—to rule (the) Nations; on Him (the) Nations shall hope;" with the hope which is in fact faith, looking from the sure present to the promised future. Now may the God of that hope, τῆς ἐλπίδος, "the Hope" just cited from the Prophet, the expectation of all blessing, up to its crown and flower in glory, on the basis of Messiah's work, fill you with all joy and peace in your (τῷ) believing, so that you may overflow in that (τῇ) hope, in the Holy Spirit's power; "in His power," clasped as it were within His divine embrace, and thus energized to look upward, heavenward, away from embittering and dividing temptations to the unifying as well as beatifying prospect of your Lord's Return.

He closes here his long, wise, tender appeal and counsel about the "unhappy divisions" of the Roman Mission. He has led his readers as it were all round the subject. With the utmost tact, and also candour, he has given them his own mind, "in the Lord," on the matter in dispute. He has pointed out to the party of scruple and restriction the fallacy of claiming the function of Christ, and asserting a divine rule where He has not imposed one. He has addressed the "strong," (with whom he agrees in a certain sense,) at much greater length, reminding them of the moral error of making more of any given application of their principle than of the law of love in which the principle was rooted. He has brought both parties to the feet of Jesus Christ as absolute Master. He has led them to gaze on Him as their blessed Example, in His infinite self-oblivion for the cause of God, and of love. He has poured out before them the prophecies, which tell at once the Christian Judaist and the ex-pagan convert 403 that in the eternal purpose Christ was given equally to both, in the line of "truth," in the line of "mercy." Now lastly he clasps them impartially to his own heart in this precious and pregnant benediction, beseeching for both sides, and for all their individuals, a wonderful fulness of those blessings in which most speedily and most surely the spirit of their strife would expire. Let that prayer be granted, in its pure depth and height, and how could "the weak brother" look with quite his old anxiety on the problems suggested by the dishes at a meal, and by the dates of the Rabbinic Calendar? And how could "the capable" bear any longer to lose his joy in God by an assertion, full of self, of his own insight and "liberty"? Profoundly happy and at rest in their Lord, whom they embraced by faith as their Righteousness and Life, and whom they anticipated in hope as their coming Glory; filled through their whole consciousness, by the indwelling Spirit, with a new insight into Christ; they would fall into each other's embrace, in Him. They would be much more ready, when they met, to speak "concerning the King" than to begin a new stage of their not very elevating discussion.

How many a Church controversy, now as then, would die of inanition, leaving room for a living truth, if the disputants could only gravitate, as to their always most beloved theme, to the praises and glories of their redeeming Lord Himself! It is at His feet, and in His arms, that we best understand both His truth, and the thoughts, rightful or mistaken, of our brethren. Meanwhile, let us take this benedictory prayer, as we may take it, from its instructive context, and carry it out with us into all the contexts of life. What the Apostle prayed for the Romans, in view of their controversies, 404 he prays for us, as for them, in view of everything. Let us "stand back and look at the picture." Here—conveyed in this strong petition—is St Paul's idea of the true Christian's true life, and the true life of the true Church. What are the elements, and what is the result?

It is a life lived in direct contact with God. "Now the God of hope fill you." He remits them here (as above, ver. 5) from even himself to the Living God. In a sense, he sends them even from "the things fore-written," to the Living God; not in the least to disparage the Scriptures, but because the great function of the divine Word, as of the divine Ordinances, is to guide the soul into an immediate intercourse with the Lord God in His Son, and to secure it therein. God is to deal direct with the Romans. He is to manipulate, He is to fill, their being.

It is a life not starved or straitened, but full. "The God of hope fill you." The disciple, and the Church, is not to live as if grace were like a stream "in the year of drought," now settled into an almost stagnant deep, then struggling with difficulty over the stones of the shallow. The man, and the Society, are to live and work in tranquil but moving strength, "rich" in the fruits of their Lord's "poverty" (2 Cor. viii. 9); filled out of His fulness; never, spiritually, at a loss for Him; never, practically, having to do or bear except in His large and gracious power.

It is a life bright and beautiful; "filled with all joy and peace." It is to shew a surface fair with the reflected sky of Christ, Christ present, Christ to come. A sacred while open happiness and a pure internal repose is to be there, born of "His presence, in which is fulness of joy," and of the sure prospect of His 405 Return, bringing with it "pleasures for evermore." Like that mysterious ether of which the natural philosopher tells us, this joy, this peace, found and maintained "in the Lord," is to pervade all the contents of the Christian life, its moving masses of duty or trial, its interspaces of rest or silence; not always demonstrative but always underlying, and always a living power.

It is a life of faith; "all joy and peace in your believing." That is to say, it is a life dependent for its all upon a Person and His promises. Its glad certainty of peace with God, of the possession of His Righteousness, is by means not of sensations and experiences, but of believing; it comes, and stays, by taking Christ at His word. Its power over temptation, its "victory and triumph against the devil, the world, and the flesh," is by the same means. The man, the Church, takes the Lord at His word;—"I am with you always"; "Through Me thou shalt do valiantly";—and faith, that is to say, Christ trusted in practice, is "more than conqueror."

It is a life overflowing with the heavenly hope; "that ye may abound in the hope." Sure of the past, and of the present, it is—what out of Christ no life can be—sure of the future. The golden age, for this happy life, is in front, and is no Utopia. "Now is our salvation nearer"; "We look for that blissful (μακαρίαν) hope, the appearing of our great God and Saviour"; "Them which sleep in Him God will bring with Him"; "We shall be caught up together with them; we shall ever be with the Lord"; "They shall see His face; thine eyes shall set the King in His beauty."

And all this it is as a life lived "in the power of the Holy Ghost." Not by enthusiasm, not by any stimulus 406 which self applies to self; not by resources for gladness and permanence found in independent reason or affection; but by the almighty, all-tender power of the Comforter. "The Lord, the Life-Giver," giving life by bringing us to the Son of God, and uniting us to Him, is the Giver and strong Sustainer of the faith, and so of the peace, the joy, the hope, of this blessed life.

"Now it was not written for their sakes only, but for us also," in our circumstances of personal and of common experience. Large and pregnant is the application of this one utterance to the problems perpetually raised by the divided state of organization, and of opinion, in modern Christendom. It gives us one secret, above and below all others, as the sure panacea, if it may but be allowed to work, for this multifarious malady which all who think deplore. That secret is "the secret of the Lord, which is with them that fear Him" (Psal. xxv. 14). It is a fuller life in the individual, and so in the community, of the peace and joy of believing; a larger abundance of "that blessed hope," given by that power for which numberless hearts are learning to thirst with a new intensity, "the power of the Holy Ghost."

It was in that direction above all that the Apostle gazed as he yearned for the unity, not only spiritual but practical, of the Roman saints. This great master of order, this man made for government, alive with all his large wisdom to the sacred importance, in its true place, of the external mechanism of Christianity, yet makes no mention of it here, nay, scarcely gives one allusion to it in the whole Epistle. The word "Church" is not heard till the final chapter; and then it is used only, or almost only, of the scattered mission-stations, or even mission-groups, in their individuality. 407 The ordered Ministry only twice, and in the most passing manner, comes into the long discourse; in the words (xii. 6-8) about prophecy, ministration, teaching, exhortation, leadership; and in the mention (xvi. 1) of Phœbe's relation to the Cenchrean Church. He is addressing the saints of that great City which was afterwards, in the tract of time, to develop into even terrific exaggerations the idea of Church Order. But he has practically nothing to say to them about unification and cohesion beyond this appeal to hold fast together by drawing nearer each and all to the Lord, and so filling each one his soul and life with Him.

Our modern problems must be met with attention, with firmness, with practical purpose, with due regard to history, and with submission to revealed truth. But if they are to be solved indeed they must be met outside the spirit of self, and in the communion of the Christian with Christ, by the power of the Spirit of God.

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