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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    ROMANS 15

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    CHAPTER XV.

    The strong should bear the infirmities of the weak, and each strive to please, not himself, but his neighbour, after the example of Christ, 1-3. Whatsoever was written in old times was written for our learning, 4. We should be of one mind, that we might with one mouth glorify God, 5, 6. We should accept each other as Christ has accepted us, 7. Scriptural proofs that Jesus Christ was not only the minister of the circumcision, but came also for the salvation of the Gentiles, 8-12. The God of hope can fill us with all peace and joy in believing, 13. Character of the Church of Rome, 14. The reason why the apostle wrote so boldly to the Church in that city-what God had wrought by him, and what he purposed to do, 15-24. He tells them of his intended journey to Jerusalem, with a contribution to the poor saints-a sketch of this journey, 25-29. He commends himself to their prayers, 30-33.

    NOTES ON CHAP. XV.

    Verse 1. "We then that are strong" - The sense of this verse is supposed to be the following: We, Gentile Christians, who perfectly understand the nature of our Gospel liberty, not only lawfully may, but are bound in duty to bear any inconveniences that may arise from the scruples of the weaker brethren, and to ease their consciences by prudently abstaining from such indifferent things as may offend and trouble them; and not take advantage from our superior knowledge to make them submit to our judgment.

    Verse 2. "Let every one of us please his neighbour" - For it should be a maxim with each of us to do all in our power to please our brethren; and especially in those things in which their spiritual edification is concerned.

    Though we should not indulge men in mere whims and caprices, yet we should bear with their ignorance and their weakness, knowing that others had much to bear with from us before we came to our present advanced state of religious knowledge.

    Verse 3. "For even Christ pleased not himself" - Christ never acted as one who sought his own ease or profit; he not only bore with the weakness, but with the insults, of his creatures; as it is written in Psa. lxix. i10: The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me-I not only bore their insults, but bore the punishment due to them for their vicious and abominable conduct. That this Psalm refers to the Messiah and his sufferings for mankind is evident, not only from the quotation here, but also from John xix. 28, 29, when our Lord's receiving the vinegar during his expiatory suffering is said to be a fulfilling of the scripture, viz. of verse 21 of this very Psalm; and his cleansing the temple, John ii. 15-17, is said to be a fulfillment of Psa. lxix. i10: For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up, the former part of which verse the apostle quotes here.

    Verse 4. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime" - This refers not only to the quotation from the 69th Psalm, but to all the Old Testament scriptures; for it can be to no other scriptures that the apostle alludes.

    And, from what he says here of them, we learn that God had not intended them merely for those generations in which they were first delivered, but for the instruction of all the succeeding generations of mankind. That we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures-that we, through those remarkable examples of patience exhibited by the saints and followers of God, whose history is given in those scriptures, and the comfort which they derived from God in their patient endurance of sufferings brought upon them through their faithful attachment to truth and righteousness, might have hope that we shall be upheld and blessed as they were, and our sufferings become the means of our greater advances in faith and holiness, and consequently our hope of eternal glory be the more confirmed. Some think that the word paraklhsiv, which we translate comfort, should be rendered exhortation; but there is certainly no need here to leave the usual acceptation of the term, as the word comfort makes a regular and consistent sense with the rest of the verse.

    Verse 5. "Now the God of patience and consolation" - May that God who endued them with patience, and gave them the consolation that supported them in all their trials and afflictions, grant you to be like-minded-give you the same mode of thinking, and the same power of acting towards each other, according to the example of Christ.

    Verse 6. "That ye-Jews and Gentiles-may with one mind" - Thinking the same things, and bearing with each other, after the example of Christ; and one mouth, in all your religious assemblies, without jarring or contentions, glorify God for calling you into such a state of salvation, and showing himself to be your loving compassionate Father, as he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    It is very likely that the apostle refers here to religious acts in public worship, which might have been greatly interrupted by the dissensions between the converted Jews and the converted Gentiles; these differences he labours to compose; and, after having done all that was necessary in the way of instruction and exhortation, he now pours out his soul to God, who alone could rule and manage the heart, that he would enable them to think the same things, to be of the same judgment, and that all, feeling their obligation to him, might join in the sweetest harmony in every act of religious worship.

    Verse 7. "Wherefore receive ye one another" - proslambanesqe? Have the most affectionate regard for each other, and acknowledge each other as the servants and children of God Almighty.

    "As Christ also received us" - kaqwv kai o cristov proselabeto hmav? In the same manner, and with the same cordial affection, as Christ has received us into communion with himself, and has made us partakers of such inestimable blessings, condescending to be present in all our assemblies. And as Christ has received us thus to the glory of God, so should we, Jews and Gentiles, cordially receive each other, that God's glory may be promoted by our harmony and brotherly love.

    Verse 8. "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision" - To show the Gentiles the propriety of bearing with the scrupulous Jews, he shows them here that they were under the greatest obligations to this people; to whom, in the days of his flesh, Jesus Christ confined his ministry; giving the world to see that he allowed the claim of the Jews as having the first right to the blessings of the Gospel. And he confined his ministry thus to the Jews, to confirm the truth of God, contained in the promises made unto the patriarchs; for God had declared that thus it should be; and Jesus Christ, by coming according to the promise, has fulfilled this truth, by making good the promises: therefore, salvation is of the Jews, as a kind of right conveyed to them through the promises made to their fathers. But this salvation was not exclusively designed for the Jewish people; as God by his prophets had repeatedly declared.

    Verse 9. "And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" - As the Jews were to glorify God for his truth, so the Gentiles were to glorify God for his mercy. The Jews received the blessings of the Gospel by right of promise, which promise God had most punctually and circumstantially fulfilled. The Gentiles had received the same Gospel as an effect of God's mere mercy, having no right in consequence of any promise or engagement made with any of their ancestors, though they were originally included in the covenant made with Abraham; and the prophets had repeatedly declared that they should be made equal partakers of those blessings with the Jews themselves; as the apostle proceeds to prove.

    "I will confess to thee among the Gentiles" - This quotation is taken from Psa. xviii. 49, and shows that the Gentiles had a right to glorify God for his mercy to them; and we shall see the strength of this saying farther, when we consider a maxim of the Jews delivered in Megillah, fol. 14: "From the time that the children of Israel entered into the promised land, no Gentile had any right to sing a hymn of praise to God. But after that the Israelites were led into captivity, then the Gentiles began to have a right to glorify God." Thus the Jews themselves confess that the Gentiles have a right to glorify God; and this on account of being made partakers of his grace and mercy. And if, says Schoettgen, we have a right to glorify God, then it follows that our worship must be pleasing to him; and if it be pleasing to him, then it follows that this worship must be good, otherwise God could not be pleased with it.

    Dr. Taylor gives a good paraphrase of this and the three following verses: As you Jews glorify God for his truth, so the Gentiles have a right to join with you in glorifying God for his mercy. And you have Scripture authority for admitting them to such fellowship; for instance, David says, Psa. xviii. 49, Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises unto thy name. And again, Moses himself says, Deuteronomy xxxii. 43, Rejoice, O ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, it is evident, from Psa. cxvii. 1, 2, that praise to God is not to be confined to the Jews only, but that all people, as they all share in his goodness, should also join in thanks to their common benefactor: O praise the Lord, all ye nations, (Gentiles,) praise him all ye people; for his merciful kindness is great towards us; and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Again the Prophet Isaiah expressly and clearly declares, Isa. xi. 10, There shall be a root of Jesse, (that is, the Messiah,) and he shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, and in him shall the Gentiles hope: elpiousin? And thus the apostle proves, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles, who were probably unwilling to join with each other in religious fellowship, that they had both an equal right to glorify God, being equally interested in his mercy, goodness, and truth; and that, from the evidence of the above scriptures, the Gentiles had as much right to hope in Christ, for the full enjoyment of his kingdom, as the Jews had: and, taking occasion from the last word hope, elpiousin, which we improperly translate trust, he pours out his heart in the following affectionate prayer.

    Verse 13. "Now the God of hope, &c." - o de qeov thv elpidov, May the God of this hope-that God who caused both Jews and Gentiles to hope that the gracious promises which he made to them should be fulfilled; and who, accordingly, has fulfilled them in the most punctual and circumstantial manner; Fill you with all joy] Give you true spiritual happiness; peace in your own hearts, and unity among yourselves; in believing not only the promises which he has given you, but believing in Christ Jesus, in whom all the promises are yea and amen.

    "That ye may abound in hope" - That ye may be excited to take more enlarged views of the salvation which God has provided for you, and have all your expectations fulfilled by the power of the Holy Ghost, enabling you to hope and believe; and then sealing the fulfillment of the promises upon your hearts.

    Verse 14. "And I-am persuaded of you" - This is supposed to be an address to the Gentiles; and it is managed with great delicacy: he seems to apologize for the freedom he had used in writing to them; which he gives them to understand proceeded from the authority he had received by his apostolical office, the exercise of which office respected them particularly.

    So they could not be offended when they found themselves so particularly distinguished.

    "Ye-are full of goodness" - Instead of agaqwsunhv, goodness, some MSS.

    of good repute have agaphv, love. In this connection both words seem to mean nearly the same thing. They were so full of goodness and love that they were disposed, of themselves, to follow any plan that might be devised, in order to bring about the most perfect understanding between them and their Jewish brethren.

    "Filled with all knowledge" - So completely instructed in the mind and design of God, relative to their calling, and the fruit which they were to bring forth to the glory of God, that they were well qualified to give one another suitable exhortations on every important point.

    Instead of allhlouv, one another, several MSS. have allouv, others, which gives a clearer sense: for, if they were all filled with knowledge, there was little occasion for them to admonish one another; but by this they were well qualified to admonish others-to impart the wisdom they had to those who were less instructed.

    Verse 15. "Nevertheless-I have written" - Not withstanding I have this conviction of your extensive knowledge in the things of God, I have made bold to write to you in some sort, apo merouv, to a party among you, as some learned men translate the words, who stand more in need of such instructions than the others; and I do this, because of the grace, dia thn carin-because of the office which I have received from God, namely, to be the apostle of the Gentiles. This authority gave him full right to say, advise, or enjoin any thing which he judged to be of importance to their spiritual interests. This subject he pursues farther in the following verse.

    Verse 16. "Ministering the Gospel of God" - ierourgounta, Acting as a priest. Here is a plain allusion, says Dr. Whitby, to the Jewish sacrifices offered by the priest, and sanctified or made acceptable by the libamen offered with them; for he compares himself, in preaching the Gospel, to the priest performing his sacred functions-preparing his sacrifice to be offered. The Gentiles, converted by him and dedicated to the service of God, are his sacrifices and oblation. The Holy Spirit is the libamen poured upon this sacrifice, by which it was sanctified and rendered acceptable to God. The words of Isaiah, Isa. lxvi. 20, And they shall bring all your brethren for an OFFERING unto the Lord, out of all NATIONS, might have suggested the above idea to the mind of the apostle.

    Verse 17. "I here therefore whereof I may glory" - Being sent of God on this most honourable and important errand, I have matter of great exultation, not only in the honour which he has conferred upon me, but in the great success with which he has crowned my ministry.

    Verse 18. "For I will not dare to speak" - If the thing were not as I have stated it, I would not dare to arrogate to myself honours which did not belong to me. But God has made me the apostle of the Gentiles; and the conversion of the Gentiles is the fruit of my ministry, Christ having wrought by me for this purpose.

    "By word and deed" - logw kai ergw? These words may refer to the doctrines which he taught and to the miracles which he wrought among them. So they became obedient to the doctrines, on the evidence of the miracles with which they were accompanied.

    Verse 19. "Through mighty signs and wonders" - This more fully explains the preceding clause: through the power of the Holy Ghost he was enabled to work among the Gentiles mighty signs and wonders; so that they were fully convinced that both his doctrine and mission were Divine; and therefore they cheerfully received the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

    "Round about unto Illyricum" - Among ancient writers this place has gone by a great variety of names, Illyria, Illyrica, Illyricum, Illyris, and Illyrium.

    It is a country of Europe, extending from the Adriatic gulf to Pannonia: according to Pliny, it extended from the river Arsia to the river Drinius, thus including Liburnia on the west, and Dalmatia on the east. Its precise limits have not been determined by either ancient or modern geographers.

    It seems, according to an inscription in Gruter, to have been divided by Augustus into two provinces, the upper and lower. It now forms part of Croatia, Bosnia, Istria, and Slavonia. When the apostle says that he preached the Gospel from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum, he intends his land journeys chiefly; and, by looking at the map annexed to the Acts of the Apostles, the reader will see that from Jerusalem the apostle went round the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and that he passed through Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Pontus, Paphlagonia, Phrygia, Troas, Asia, Caria, Lycia, lonia, Lydia, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia; besides the isles of Cyprus and Crete. And no doubt he visited many other places which are not mentioned in the New Testament.

    "I have fully preached the Gospel" - peplhrwkenai to euaggelion, I have successfully preached-I have not only proclaimed the word, but made converts and founded Churches. See the note on Matt. v. 17, where this sense of the word plhroun is noticed; for it signifies not only fully or perfectly, but also to teach with prosperity and success.

    Verse 20. "So have I strived to preach the Gospel" - outw de filotimoumenon? For I have considered it my honour to preach the Gospel where that Gospel was before unknown. This is the proper import of the word filotimeisqai; from filov, a friend, and timh, honour. As I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, so I esteem it an honour to preach it, and especially to proclaim it among the heathen; not building on another man's foundation-not watering what another apostle had planted; but cheerfully exposing myself to all kinds of dangers and hardships, in order to found new Churches.

    Verse 21. "But as it is written" - These words, quoted from Isaiah lii. 15, the apostle applies to his own conduct; not that the words themselves predicted what Paul had done, but that he endeavoured to fulfill such a declaration by his manner of preaching the Gospel to the heathen.

    Verse 22. "For which cause, &c." - My considering it a point of honour to build on no other man's foundation; and, finding that the Gospel has been long ago planted at Rome, I have been prevented from going thither, purposing rather to spend my time and strength in preaching where Christ has not, as yet, been proclaimed.

    Verse 23. "But-having no more place in these parts" - Having nothing farther at present that I can do-for topon ecein signifies not merely to have a place of residence, or the like, but convenience, opportunity; which is a frequent meaning of the phrase among the best Greek writers-having no large place or city, where Christianity has not yet been planted, in which I can introduce the Gospel. The apostle was then at Corinth; and having evangelized all those parts, he had no opportunity of breaking up any new ground.

    Verse 24. "Whensoever I take my journey into Spain" - Where it is very likely the Gospel had not yet been planted; though legendary tales inform us that St. James had planted the Gospel there long before this time, and had founded many bishoprics! But this is as unfounded as it is ridiculous and absurd; for nothing like what is now termed a bishopric, nor even a parish, was founded for many years after this. An itinerant preacher, might, with more propriety, say travelling circuits were formed, rather than bishoprics. Whether the apostle ever fulfilled his design of going to Spain is unknown; but there is no evidence whatever that he did, and the presumption is that he did not undertake this voyage. Antiquity affords no proof that he fulfilled his intention.

    "I will come to you" - eleuso maiprov umav. These words are wanting in almost every MS. of note, and in the Syriac of Erpen, Coptic, Vulgate, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Itala. If the first clause of this verse be read in connection with the latter clause of the preceding, it will fully appear that this rejected clause is useless. Having a great desire, these many years to come unto you whensoever I take my journey into Spain: for I trust to see you in my journey, &c.

    "Somewhat filled with your company." - The word emplhsqw, which we translate filled, would be better rendered gratified; for emplhsqhnai signifies to be satisfied, to be gratified, and to enjoy. AELIAN., Hist. Anim., lib. v., c. 21, speaking of the peacock spreading out his beautiful plumage, says: ea gar emplhsqhnai thv qeov ton parestwta? "He readily permits the spectator to gratify himself by viewing him." And MAXIMUS TYRIUS, Dissert. 41, page 413: "That he may behold the heavens, kai emplhsqh lamprou fwtov, and be gratified with the splendour of the light." HOMER uses the word in the same sense:- h d emh oude per uiov eniplhsqhnai akoitiv ofqalmoisin ease. Odyss., lib. xi., ver. 451.

    "But my wife never suffered my eyes to be delighted with my son." The apostle, though he had not the honour of having planted the Church at Rome, yet expected much gratification from the visit which he intended to pay them.

    Verse 25. "Now I go unto Jerusalem" - From this and the two following verses we learn that the object of his journey to Jerusalem was, to carry a contribution made among the Gentile Christians of Macedonia and Achaia for the relief of the poor Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. About this affair he had taken great pains, as appears from 1 Cor. xvi. 1-4; 2 Corinthians 8, and 9. His design in this affair is very evident from 2 Cor. ix. 12, 13, where he says: The administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; whiles, by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them and unto all men. The apostle was in hopes that this liberal contribution, sent by the Gentile Christians who had been converted by St. Paul's ministry, would engage the affections of the Jewish Christians, who had been much prejudiced against the reception of the Gentiles into the Church, without being previously obliged to submit to the yoke of the law. He wished to establish a coalition between the converted Jews and Gentiles, being sensible of its great importance to the spread of the Gospel; and his procuring this contribution was one laudable device to accomplish this good end. And this shows why he so earnestly requests the prayers of the Christians at Rome, that his service which he had for Jerusalem might be accepted of the saints. See Dr. Taylor.

    Verse 27. "For if the Gentiles have been made partakers, &c." - It was through and by means of the Jews that the Gentiles were brought to the knowledge of God and the Gospel of Christ. These were the spiritual things which they had received; and the pecuniary contribution was the carnal things which the Gentiles were now returning.

    Verse 28. "When, therefore, I have performed this" - Service, and have sealed-faithfully delivered up, to them this fruit, of the success of my ministry and of your conversion to God, I will come by you into Spain: this was in his desire; he had fully purposed it, if God should see meet to permit him; but it does not appear that he ever went. See ver. 24.

    Verse 29. "In the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ." - The words tou euaggeliou tou, of the Gospel, are wanting in almost every MS. of importance. Griesbach has left them out of the text. There is no doubt they should be omitted. The fullness of the blessing of Christ is really more than the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. He hoped to come to them not only with the blessing of the Gospel, but endued with the gifts and graces of the Lord Jesus himself; which he was now a constant instrument, in the hand of God, to dispense among those who were converted to the Christian faith.

    Verse 30. "For the love of the Spirit" - By that love of God which the Holy Spirit sheds abroad in your hearts.

    "That ye strive together" - sunagwnisasqai That ye agonize with me. He felt that much depended on the success of his present mission to the Christians at Jerusalem, and their acceptance of the charitable contribution which he was bringing with him, in order to conciliate them to the reception of the Gentiles into the Church of God without obliging them to submit to circumcision.

    Verse 31. "That I may be delivered from them that do not believe" - He knew that his countrymen, who had not received the Gospel, lay in wait for his life; and, no doubt, they thought they should do God service by destroying him, not only as an apostate, in their apprehension, from the Jewish religion, but as one who was labouring to subvert and entirely destroy it.

    "And that my service" - diakonia. But several eminent MSS. read dwroforia, the gift which I bear. This probably was a gloss, which in many MSS. subverted the word in the text; for diakonia, service, in its connection here, could refer to nothing else but the contribution which he was carrying to the poor saints at Jerusalem.

    Verse 32. "That I may come unto you with joy" - That his apprehensions of ill usage were not groundless, and the danger to which his life was exposed, real, we have already seen in the account given of this visit, Acts 21, 22, 23, and 24; and that he had such intimations from the Holy Spirit himself appears from Acts xx. 23; xxi. 11; xx. 38. Should his journey to Jerusalem be prosperous, and his service accepted, so that the converted Jews and Gentiles should come to a better understanding, he hoped to see them at Rome with great joy: and if he got his wishes gratified through their prayers, it would be the full proof that this whole business had been conducted according to the will of God.

    Verse 33. "The God of peace be with you" - The whole object of the epistle is to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles, and to show them their mutual obligations, and the infinite mercy of God to both; and now he concludes with praying that the God of peace-he from whom it comes, and by whom it is preserved-may be for ever with them.

    The word Amen, at the end, does not appear to have been written by the apostle: it is wanting in some of the most ancient MSS.

    1. IN the preceding chapters the apostle enjoins a very hard, but a very important and necessary, duty-that of bearing with each other, and endeavouring to think and let think, in those religious matters which are confessedly not essential to the salvation of the soul. Most of the disputes among Christians have been concerning non-essential points. Rites and ceremonies, even in the simple religion of Christ, have contributed their part in promoting those animosities by which Christians have been divided. Forms in worship and sacerdotal garments have not been without their influence in this general disturbance. Each side has been ready to take out of the 14th and 15th chapters of this epistle such expressions as seemed suitable to their own case; but few have been found who have taken up the whole. You believe that a person who holds such and such opinions is wrong: pity him and set him right, lovingly, if possible. He believes you to be wrong because you do not hold those points; he must bear with you. Both of you stand precisely on the same ground, and are mutually indebted to mutual forbearance.

    2. Beware of contentions in religion, if you dispute concerning any of its doctrines, let it be to find out truth; not to support a preconceived and pre-established opinion. Avoid all polemical heat and rancour; these prove the absence of the religion of Christ. Whatever does not lead you to love God and man more, is most assuredly from beneath. The God of peace is the author of Christianity; and the Prince of peace, the priest and sacrifice of it: therefore love one another, and leave off contention before it be meddled with. On this subject the advice of the pious Mr. Herbert is good:-

    Be calm in arguing; for fierceness makes Error a fault, and truth discourtesy.

    Why should I feel another man's mistakes More than his sickness or his poverty? In love I should; but anger is not love; Nor wisdom neither:-therefore g-e-n-t-l-y m-o-v-e.

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