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BY MARK TUCKER, D.D., PROVIDENCE, R. I.
PAUL'S VISIT TO ROMD2.
Rom. xv. 29.—And I am sure that when I come unto you, I shall
come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
The labors of St. Paul in the ministry are a literal and striking fulfilment of the commission he received from his Lord at the time of his conversion and call to the apostleship. But rise and stand upon thy feet : for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I now send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Nor did he ever forget the charge ; the effect of this heavenly vision was never effaced from his mind. His labors were incessant. His great ruling principle was to do good ; -of this he never lost sight. He had often signified a strong desire to visit Rome, but had always been hindered - pursuing one steady purpose, preaching the gospel and establishing churches, a convenient opening had never been presented. Such were his convictions of duty, that he could not break off in the midst of his labors and make a journey merely to gratify a private feeling. Not till there was no more place for him in those parts, that is, not till his Vol. XIII. No. 10.
work as an apostle was finished, could he think of leaving there : and to show the multiplicity of his engagements, the weight of care that pressed upon him, he signified, that after he had visited Jerusalem, to carry the contributions he had received for the poor saints, he should spend a season in Rome, having in view at the same time a journey into Spain. Indefatigable laborer ! what successor of thine shall catch thy mantle and imbibe thy spirit ?
The same commission is given to every minister of Christ ; the same principle ought to govern every act. All may have the same object, though not the same opportunity.
The text contains a strong expression of faith in regard to the apostle's proposed visit. A similar sentiment is contained in the first part of this Epistle. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be estabtished. It is interesting to trace the operations of a great mind so richly imbued with the spirit of Christ as the apostle's.
Our object in this discourse is to dwell upon the design and assured effect of St. Paul's visit to Rome.
1. His design or object is thus expressed : I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
His object, it appears, was not to view the magnificence of the city : Rome at this time had reached her zenith of glory; immense stores of wealth had been collected and expended in erecting public buildings; her merchants were princes, and lived in splendid habitations; there were scattered through the eternal city the most costly edifices, temples of vast dimensions, structures and pillars of immense height, fountains of great beauty; strangers from all parts of the civilized world had come to survey its extent, and admire the specimens of architecture — the display of genius. And although Paul was not destitute of taste, was not insensible of the existence of many wonders both of nature and art the city contained, he did not feel himself at liberty to indulge even in innocent recreation while acting under his commission from the King of Zion.
What Foster so eloquently said of the devotedness of Howard the Philanthropist, may with still greater propriety be applied to Paul the Apostle : “I wonder what must have been the amount of that bribe in emolument or pleasure, that would have detained him from his great work. The law which carries water down a declivity, was not more unconquerable and invariable than the determination of his feelings towards the main object. The importance of this object held his feelings in a state of excitement which was too rigid to be affected by lighter interests, and on which therefore the beauties of nature and of art had no power. He had no leisure feeling which he could spare to be diverted among the innumerable varieties of the extensive scene which he traversed; all his subordinate feelings lost their separate existence and operation, by falling into the grand one. There have not been wanting trivial minds to mark this as a fault in his character. But the mere men of taste ought to be silent respecting such a man; he is above their sphere of judgment. The invisible spirits, who fulfil their commission of philanthropy among mortals, do not care about pictures, statues, and sumptuous buildings; and no more did he, when the time in which he must have inspected and admired them, would have been taken from the work to which he had consecrated his life.
The curiosity which he might feel, was reduced to wait till the hour should arrive, when its gratification should be presented by conscience, which kept a scrupulous charge of all his time, as the most sacred duty of that hour. He acted under a full conviction that he had one thing to do, and he who would do some great thing in this short life, must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces, as to idle spectators who live only to amuse themselves, looks like insanity."
Nor was it his object to become acquainted with her philosophers, her poets, or her orators. Although Paul admired genius and respected true greatness, and though Rome could then boast of a list of distinguished men, he had other objects in view. He went there not to gratify taste or curiosity, not to form acquaintances with the great and powerful, but to preach the gospel. This was his ambition, this his glory – For to me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. For I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified. God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was confident the same almighty efficacy would accompany his preaching at Rome that had been manifested at other places; therefore he says, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ ; he felt assured that a divine unction would accompany the truth — that he should be instrumental of the conversion of sinners.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle enumerates the blessings they had received through the preaching of the gospel. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The principal were, their election by grace, their holy vocation, predestination to the adoption of children, acceptance in Christ Jesus, and redemption through his blood; the revelation of the mystery of God's will, a title to the heavenly inheritance, the sanctifying and sealing influence of the Holy Spirit. To give any thing like a connected view of the nature of these blessings, as thus enumerated, would occupy several discourses. We remark in general, that his object was to impart the knowledge, grace, and consolations of the gospel.
Rome, though the metropolis of the world, the seat of science and the arts, the great emporium of the empire, the centre of power, was given up to idolatry; some faint rays of light began to pierce through the awful gloom; some adventurous martyr had found his way there, and lifted the pall from the world of moral death.
The apostle, filled with holy benevolence, longed to open a school of Christ in the midst of her overflowing population.
1. He desired to communicate the knowledge of the gospel. With all her wisdom, the imperial city knew not God. One design of his preaching would be to give them correct views of the character of God. For it is eternal life to know the true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent. Whom ye ignorantly worship, said the apostle to a heathen city; Him declare I unto you. He would aim to make them acquainted with God in all the relations he sustained as Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor; as possessed of natural and moral attributes, as worthy the love and service of all his intelligent offspring. He would explain to them the nature of God's moral government — the wisdom of its laws; its adaptation to the character and circumstances of his creatures, as calculated to bring out their reigning disposition, to illustrate his paternal regard, at the same time to secure their obedience. He would expound the law, show its spirituality and extent, assert its claims, and vindicate its sanctions. He would next give them a history of God's providence ; then present a view of man, his primitive purity, his ruin and recovery; he would then direct their attention to the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh: this would lead him to dwell upon the person of the Mediator, his divine and human natures, his vicarious sufferings, the sufficiency of his atonement, and the extent and perpetuity of his reign. He would speak of the covenant of grace, its provisions and stability; of the terms of salvation; the marks and evidences of Christian character, the works and victory of faith, and the retributions of the next world. As sound doctrinal knowledge lies at the foundation of Christian hope and holy obedience, the first object of the apostle would be to diffuse light, to publish the truth, to instruct them in the knowledge of God and divine things. This he would do in all plainness and fidelity.
2. He desired to impart not only the knowledge, but THE GRACE
OF THE GOSPEL.
He was always aware that the treasure of the gospel was committed to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might be of God. When therefore he spoke of any transforming influence exerted upon the heart, when he referred to renovation of mind or change of life, it was ascribed to God; when he alluded to any good done, he regarded himself as only an instrument. Still, he knew that the preaching of the gospel was the appointed means of spiritual blessings. He coveted success. He desired some seals of his ministry. As the word preached was the grand instrumentality of the conversion of sinners, he could be satisfied with nothing short of their turning to God. No state of outward prosperity in a church can satisfy a conscientious minister, if their spiritual interests decline. He knew that knowledge was important, but that grace was indispensable. He could not rest, therefore, in a mere discharge of duty; he desired to be instrumental in the conversion of men. He so aimed to present the truth, that his hearers would be convinced of sin, would feel their guilt in breaking the law of God, in with holding their hearts from him; when a spirit of inquiry was awa