We may here observe,
I. His thanksgivings for them (Rom. 1:8): First, I thank my God. It is good to begin every thing with blessing God, to make that the alpha and omega of every song, in every thing to give thanks.—My God. He speaks this with delight and triumph. In all our thanksgivings, it is good for us to eye God as our God; this makes every mercy sweet, when we can say of God, “He is mine in covenant.”—Through Jesus Christ. All our duties and performances are pleasing to God only through Jesus Christ, praises as well as prayers.—For you all. We must express our love to our friends, not only by praying for them, but by praising God for them. God must have the glory of all the comfort we have in our friends; for every creature is that to us, and no more, which God makes it to be. Many of these Romans Paul had no personal acquaintance with, and yet he could heartily rejoice in their gifts and graces. When some of the Roman Christians met him (Acts 28:15), he thanked God for them, and took courage; but here his true catholic love extends itself further, and he thanks God for them all; not only for those among them that were his helpers in Christ, and that bestowed much labour upon him (of whom he speaks Rom. 16:3, 6), but for them all.—That your faith is spoken of. Paul travelled up and down from place to place, and, wherever he came, he heard great commendations of the Christians at Rome, which he mentions, not to make them proud, but to quicken them to answer the general character people gave of them, and the general expectation people had from them. The greater reputation a man hath for religion, the more careful he should be to preserve it, because a little folly spoils him that is in reputation, Eccl. 10:1.—Throughout the whole world, that is, the Roman empire, into which the Roman Christians, upon Claudius’s edict to banish all the Jews from Rome, were scattered abroad, but had now returned, and, it seems, left a very good report behind them, wherever they had been, in all the churches. There was this good effect of their sufferings: if they had not been persecuted, they had not been famous. This was indeed a good name, a name for good things with God and good people. As the elders of old, so these Romans, obtained a good report through faith, Heb. 11:2. It is a desirable thing to be famous for faith. The faith of the Roman Christians came to be thus talked of, not only because it was excelling in itself, but because it was eminent and observable in its circumstances. Rome was a city upon a hill, every one took notice of what was done there. Thus those who have many eyes upon them have need to walk circumspectly, for what they do, good or bad, will be spoken of. The church of Rome was then a flourishing church; but since that time how is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! Rome is not what it was. She was then espoused a chaste virgin to Christ, and excelled in beauty; but she has since degenerated, dealt treacherously, and embraced the bosom of a stranger; so that (as that good old book, the Practice of Piety, makes appear in no less than twenty-six instances) even the epistle to the Romans is now an epistle against the Romans; little reason has she therefore to boast of her former credit.
II. His prayer for them, Rom. 1:9. Though a famous flourishing church, yet they had need to be prayed for; they had not yet attained. Paul mentions this as an instance of his love to them. One of the greatest kindnesses we can do our friends, and sometimes the only kindness that is in the power of our hands, is, by prayer to recommend them to the loving-kindness of God. From Paul’s example here we may learn, 1. Constancy in prayer: Always without ceasing. He did himself observe the same rules he gave to others, Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17. Not that Paul did nothing else but pray, but he kept up stated times for the solemn performance of that duty, and those very frequent, and observed without fail. 2. Charity in prayer: I make mention of you. Though he had not particular acquaintance with them, nor interest in them, yet he prayed for them; not only for all saints in general, but he made express mention of them. It is not unfit sometimes to be express in our prayers for particular churches and places; not to inform God, but to affect ourselves. We are likely to have the most comfort in those friends that we pray most for. Concerning this he makes a solemn appeal to the searcher of hearts: For God is my witness. It was in a weighty matter, and in a thing known only to God and his own heart, that he used this asseveration. It is very comfortable to be able to call God to witness to our sincerity and constancy in the discharge of a duty. God is particularly a witness to our secret prayers, the matter of them, the manner of the performance; then our Father sees in secret, Matt. 6:6. God, whom I serve with my spirit. Those that serve God with their spirits may, with a humble confidence, appeal to him; hypocrites who rest in bodily exercise cannot. His particular prayer, among many other petitions he put up for them, was that he might have an opportunity of paying them a visit (Rom. 1:10): Making request, if by any means, etc. Whatever comfort we desire to find in any creature, we must have recourse to God for it by prayer; for our times are in his hand, and all our ways at his disposal. The expressions here used intimate that he was very desirous of such an opportunity: if by any means; that he had long and often been disappointed: now at length; and yet that he submitted it to the divine Providence: a prosperous journey by the will of God. As in our purposes, so in our desires, we must still remember to insert this, if the Lord will, Jas. 4:15. Our journeys are prosperous or otherwise according to the will of God, comfortable or not as he pleases.
III. His great desire to see them, with the reasons of it, Rom. 1:11-15. He had heard so much of them that he had a great desire to be better acquainted with them. Fruitful Christians are as much the joy as barren professors are the grief of faithful ministers. Accordingly, he often purposed to come, but was let hitherto (Rom. 1:13), for man purposeth, but God disposeth. He was hindered by other business that took him off, by his care of other churches, whose affairs were pressing; and Paul was for doing that first, not which was most pleasant (then he would have gone to Rome), but which was most needful—a good example to ministers, who must not consult their own inclinations so much as the necessity of their people’s souls. Paul desired to visit these Romans,
1. That they might be edified (Rom. 1:11): That I may impart unto you. He received, that he might communicate. Never were full breasts so desirous to be drawn out to the sucking infant as Paul’s head and heart were to be imparting spiritual gifts, that is, preaching to them. A good sermon is a good gift, so much the better for being a spiritual gift.—To the end you may be established. Having commended their flourishing he here expresses his desire of their establishment, that as they grew upward in the branches they might grow downward in the root. The best saints, while they are in such a shaking world as this, have need to be more and more established; and spiritual gifts are of special use for our establishment.
2. That he might be comforted, Rom. 1:12. What he heard of their flourishing in grace was so much a joy to him that it must needs be much more so to behold it. Paul could take comfort in the fruit of the labours of other ministers.—By the mutual faith both of you and me, that is, our mutual faithfulness and fidelity. It is very comfortable when there is a mutual confidence between minister and people, they confiding in him as a faithful minister, and he in them as a faithful people. Or, the mutual work of faith, which is love; they rejoiced in the expressions of one another’s love, or communicating their faith one to another. It is very refreshing to Christians to compare notes about their spiritual concerns; thus are they sharpened, as iron sharpens iron.—That I might have some fruit, Rom. 1:13. Their edification would be his advantage, it would be fruit abounding to a good account. Paul minded his work, as one that believed the more good he did the greater would his reward be.
3. That he might discharge his trust as the apostle of the Gentiles (Rom. 1:14): I am a debtor. (1.) His receivings made him a debtor; for they were talents he was entrusted with to trade for his Master’s honour. We should think of this when we covet great things, that all our receivings put us in debt; we are but stewards of our Lord’s goods. (2.) His office made him a debtor. He was a debtor as he was an apostle; he was called and sent to work, and had engaged to mind it. Paul had improved his talent, and laboured in his work, and done as much good as ever any man did, and yet, in reflection upon it, he still writes himself debtor; for, when we have done all, we are but unprofitable servants.—Debtor to the Greeks, and to the barbarians, that is, as the following words explain it, to the wise and to the unwise. The Greeks fancied themselves to have the monopoly of wisdom, and looked upon all the rest of the world as barbarians, comparatively so; not cultivated with learning and arts as they were. Now Paul was a debtor to both, looked upon himself as obliged to do all the good he could both to the one and to the other. Accordingly, we find him paying his debt, both in his preaching and in his writing, doing good both to Greeks and barbarians, and suiting his discourse to the capacity of each. You may observe a difference between his sermon at Lystra among the plain Lycaonians (Acts 14:15) and his sermon at Athens among the polite philosophers, Acts 17:22 He delivered both as debtor to each, giving to each their portion. Though a plain preacher, yet, as debtor to the wise, he speaks wisdom among those that are perfect, 1 Cor. 2:6. For these reasons he was ready, if he had an opportunity, to preach the gospel at Rome, Rom. 1:15. Though a public place, though a perilous place, where Christianity met with a great deal of opposition, yet Paul was ready to run the risk at Rome, if called to it: I am ready—prothymon. It denotes a great readiness of mind, and that he was very forward to it. What he did was not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. It is an excellent thing to be ready to meet every opportunity of doing or getting good.