Romans 1: 8-17. St. Paul's Introduction.
The salutation is immediately followed by a passage in which St. Paul introduces himself specially to the Christians at Rome. He had a delicate task to perform. The Roman Christians had been gathered probably from many parts of the empire, because Rome was the centre of all the world's movements, and adherents of whatever was going on in the empire were sure by force of circumstances to find their way to Rome. Thus, though no apostle had yet preached at Rome, Christians had gathered there. Many of them had not seen St. Paul's face. But they had heard of him, no doubt, in Jewish circles as a very dangerous man who was upheaving and subverting established traditions and principles. He was a man to be looked at askance. He must introduce himself therefore carefully. It was of the greatest importance to him, the Apostle of the Gentiles, that he should gain full recognition among these Christians at Rome, the centre of the Gentile world. We observe then in this introduction what a gentleman, if I may say so, in the very deepest sense of the term, St. Paul shows himself to be. He speaks indeed with an admirable mixture of tact and candour. We can hardly conceive any better address in a delicate situation than this address of St. Paul with which he makes his approach to the Roman Christians.
He begins with what is pleasant for them to hear, namely, that the report of their faith throughout all the world is a good one. 'I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.' Then he goes on to add, as is usual in his introductions, that he continually prays for them. It was a remark of General Gordon's that it makes a great difference in our feeling towards a stranger if before we meet him we have prayed for him. And we may with equal truth say that it makes a great difference in the feelings of others towards us if they have reason to believe that we have prayed for them. St. Paul therefore gives himself this advantage. He says, 'God is my witness, whom I worship in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers.' Then he goes on to tell them that he not only prays for their welfare, but prays that he may have the advantage of seeing them face to face and knowing them. And here he puts his desire to see them on the true ground. He wants to visit them because he has something of the utmost value to give them — that he may 'impart to them some spiritual gift.'
Whatever may be the exact nature of the 'spiritual gift' St. Paul is thinking of, it is clearly something for which his bodily presence is necessary. There is some divine power which he as an apostle can communicate to them only when he comes among them. In this sense he means that 'when he comes to them he will come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ.' He implies that the Roman Christians needed him and must wait for him to supply their deficiencies. But we observe that with beautiful tact he at once balances this assertion of a divine power entrusted to him for their good, by representing his own need of them. He does not speak de haut en bas as if he had everything to give and nothing to receive. No: as the people depend on the apostle for spiritual gifts, so he depends on the people for spiritual encouragement. He must live by the experience of their spiritual growth. 'I desire,' he says, 'to come to you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end that you may be established' (built up and made strong in the faith). And then he interprets: — that is 'in order that I with you may be encouraged among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.'
Then he goes on to tell them why he in particular is bound to come to them, though until the point in time he had been hindered by circumstances. It is because he is 'a debtor.' St. Paul was the Apostle, not of the Jews, but of the Gentiles. Therefore he is in debt to all the Gentiles till he has given them the gospel, and more particularly to the centre of the Gentile world, to Rome. And he would owe no man anything. He would have no unsatisfied creditors. He will pay his debt therefore to the Roman Christians. 'I am a debtor,' he says, 'both to Greeks and to barbarians' — that is to all the Gentiles, whether they were of Greek race or not. And the Greeks were so identified with civilization or education that this leads him on to say, 'I am a debtor both to the educated and to the uneducated.' This general debt includes Rome. It was natural to include the dwellers at Rome under the head of Greeks, for it was through the medium of Greek that St. Paul made his appeal to them. And, in fact, the Christians at Rome were, for the first two hundred and fifty years or more of the Church's life, a Greek-speaking people — a Greek colony in the Latin city. Only towards the end of the third century did the Roman Church become latinized in language and spirit. St. Paul then is a debtor to these Greek-speaking dwellers at Rome. 'So as much as in me is I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.'
But the name of Rome was, as he thought of it, a name of awe. It brought in upon his mind the tremendous undertaking that lay before him and before the Christian Church as they found themselves confronted with this vast imperial organization, which might at any time lay its iron hand upon them to stop their progress. Therefore he adds that, even in view of Rome, he has courage in his heart: 'for I am not ashamed of the gospel,' even under the shadow of the mighty name, and though it was 'to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness.' And why? Because he knows what the gospel means. It is not mere words; it is a power. It is a 'power of God,' a divine force, which, like the wind, bloweth where it lists, and which nothing can stop. It is a power of God. It is a power of God 'to salvation,' a power that is to work men's deliverance, and that in the deepest sense. Roman emperors not very long after St. Paul's time are commemorated in public inscriptions as 'saviours of the world.' That is in the sense of maintaining peace and civil order. But Christ's salvation was of a deeper sort. It was salvation from the bondage of sin, a salvation which enabled people to be truly and eternally free. It is a power of God to salvation, and that 'to every one that believes,' on the mere basis of the simple willingness to take God at His word; 'to the Jew first and also to the Greek.' 'For' — and here St. Paul reaches the great text of his whole epistle — 'therein' (that is, in the gospel) 'is disclosed,' or revealed here and now in the world, 'a righteousness of God.' By this phrase it will appear that he means both a righteousness which is God's own, and also a righteousness which God gives to men; for the gift of God is real moral and spiritual fellowship with His own life. This is what is now offered to men. A righteousness of God is revealed, starting from faith and at every stage moving on upon the support of faith, 'a righteousness of God by faith to faith'; and that not in repudiation of the old covenant, but in fulfilment of its vital principle: 'as it is written.' For the words of Habakkuk may be interpreted to express the central spirit of the Old Testament — 'the righteous shall live by faith.'
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may be prospered by the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established; that is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come to you (and was hindered until the point in time), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles. I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God by faith to faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.
1. Origen's comment on the words 'through Jesus Christ' (at the beginning of this section) is very interesting. 'To give God thanks is to offer a sacrifice of praise, and therefore he adds "through Jesus Christ," as through the great high priest.' Indeed, the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, if it is not mentioned in St. Paul's own epistles, is implied there from the first.
2. St. Paul, we notice, expresses his intention to come to Rome with reserve, 'if by any means by the will of God' ... 'so much as lies in me.' And this reserve was no matter of mere words. He was going up to Jerusalem with an offering of money, about which he felt the greatest anxiety, and he knew not how he would be received, or what would befall him.
3. It is not possible to decide what sort of 'spiritual gift' St. Paul is thinking of. We know that as an apostle he was qualified to impart the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and that certain 'gifts' frequently accompanied His inward presence. Thus, 'when Paul had laid his hands upon some men at Ephesus, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.' We know, further, that the Corinthian Church, where St. Paul was writing this letter, was specially rich in 'spiritual gifts,' such as 'tongues and prophecy.' On the other hand, the Roman Christians had not yet received an apostolic visit and they may have been lacking in such endowments, while the reception of them would be calculated to encourage them and strengthen their faith.
It is possible, therefore, that he refers to a gift of this kind, and the exact language he uses certainly suggests some definite endowment, for the bestowal of which his bodily presence was necessary. The thought of the miraculous power working through him, 'the power of signs and wonders, the power of the Holy Ghost,' was not far from his mind when he wrote this epistle.
Origen's comment on this passage also is interesting. 'First of all we ought to learn that it is an apostolic work to long to see our brethren, but for no other reason than that we may confer on them something in the way of a spiritual gift if we can, and if we cannot, that we may receive in the same kind from them. Otherwise, the longing to go about among the brethren is not to be approved.'
We cannot doubt, I think, that when St. Paul's letter was read at Rome this introduction, so full of tact, would have given him access to many hearts inclined at starting to be prejudiced against him.
 Rom. xv. 29.
 'To encourage' and 'encouragement' are probably the best words to translate what in our Bible is rendered by 'comfort.'
 Hadrian and Trajan: see C.I.G. vol. ii. p. 1068, No. 2349 m.; vol. iii. p. 170, No. 4339, p. 191, No. 4380. These references I owe to Mr. H. W. B. Joseph, of New College.
 Hab. ii. 4; cf. app. note A on meanings of the word 'faith.'
 Rom. xv. 25 ff.; Acts xx. 22.
 Rom. xv. 19.
From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore
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