8. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
8. Primum quidem gratias ago Deo meo per Iesum Christum super vobis omnibus, quia fides vestra Prædicatur in universo mundo.
9. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
9. Testis enim mihi Deus, quem colo in spiritu meo in Evangelio Filii ipsius, ut continenter memoriam vestri faciam;
10. Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
10. Semper in orationibus meis, rogans, si quomodo prosperum iter aliquando mihi, obtingat per voluntatem Dei, veniendi ad vos.
11. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
11. Desidero enim videre, vos, ut aliquod impertiar vobis donum spirituale ad vos confirmandos;
12. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
12. Hoc est. ad cohortationem mutuo percipiendam in vobis per Mutuam fidem, vestram atque meam.
8. I first indeed, etc. Here the beginning commences, altogether adapted to the occasion, as he seasonably prepares them for receiving instruction by reasons connected with himself as well as with them. What he states respecting them is, the celebrity of their faith; for he intimates that they being honored with the public approbation of the churches, could not reject an Apostle of the Lord, without disappointing the good opinion entertained of them by all; and such a thing would have been extremely uncourteous and in a manner bordering on perfidy. As then this testimony justly induced the Apostle, by affording him an assurance of their obedience, to undertake, according to his office, to teach and instruct the Romans; so it held them bound not to despise his authority. With regard to himself, he disposes them to a teachable spirit by testifying his love towards them: and there is nothing more effectual in gaining credit to an adviser, than the impression that he is cordially anxious to consult our wellbeing.
The first thing worthy of remark is, that he so commends their faith, that he implies that it had been received from God. We are here taught that faith is God's gift; for thanksgiving is an acknowledgment of a benefit. He who gives thanks to God for faith, confesses that it comes from him. And since we find that the Apostle ever begins his congratulations with thanksgiving, let us know that we are hereby reminded, that all our blessings are God's free gifts. It is also needful to become accustomed to such forms of speaking, that we may be led more fully to rouse ourselves in the duty of acknowledging God as the giver of all our blessings, and to stir up others to join us in the same acknowledgment. If it be right to do this in little things, how much more with regard to faith; Which is neither a small nor an indiscriminate (promiscua) gift of God. We have here besides an example, that thanks ought to be given through Christ, according to the Apostle's command in Hebrews 13:15; inasmuch as in his name we seek and obtain mercy from the Father. -- I observe in the last place, that he calls him his God. This is the faithful's special privilege, and on them alone God bestows this honor. There is indeed implied in this a mutual relationship, which is expressed in this promise,
|I will be to them a God;
they shall be to me a people.| (Jeremiah 30:22.)
I prefer at the same time to confine this to the character which Paul sustained, as an attestation of his obedience to the end in the work of preaching the gospel. So Hezekiah called God the God of Isaiah, when he desired him to give him the testimony of a true and faithful Prophet. (Isaiah 37:4.) So also he is called in an especial manner the God of Daniel. (Daniel 6:20.)
Through the whole world. The eulogy of faithful men was to Paul equal to that of the whole world, with regard to the faith of the Romans; for the unbelieving, who deemed it detestable, could not have given an impartial or a correct testimony respecting it. We then understood that it was by the mouths of the faithful that the faith of the Romans was proclaimed through the whole world; and that they were alone able to judge rightly of it, and to pronounce a correct opinion. That this small and despised handful of men were unknown as to their character to the ungodly, even at Rome, was a circumstance he regarded as nothing; for Paul made no account of their judgment.
9. For God is my witness, etc. He proves his love by its effects; for had he not greatly loved them, he would not have so anxiously commended them to the Lord, and especially he would not have so ardently desired to promote their welfare by his own labors. His anxiety then and his ardent desire were certain evidences of his love; for had they not sprung from it, they would never have existed. And as he knew it to be necessary for establishing confidence in his preaching, that the Romans should be fully persuaded of his sincerity, he added an oath -- a needful remedy, whenever a declaration, which ought to be received as true and indubitable vacillates through uncertainty. For since an oath is nothing else but an appeal to God as to the truth of what we declare, most foolish is it to deny that the Apostle used here an oath. He did not notwithstanding transgress the prohibition of Christ.
It hence appears that it was not Christ's design (as the superstitious Anabaptists dream) to abolish oaths altogether, but on the contrary to call attention to the due observance of the law; and the law, allowing an oath, only condemns perjury and needless swearing. If then we would use an oath aright, let us imitate the seriousness and the reverent manner exhibited by the Apostles; and that you may understand what it is, know that God is so called as a witness, that he is also appealed to as an avenger, in case we deceive; which Paul expresses elsewhere in these words,
|God is a witness to my soul.| (2 Corinthians 1:23.)
Whom I serve with my spirit, etc. It is usual with profane men, who trifle with God, to pretend his name, no less boldly than presumptuously; but the Apostle here speaks of his own piety, in order to gain credit; and those, in whom the fear of God and reverence for his name prevail, will dread to swear falsely. At the same time, he sets his own spirit in opposition to the outward mask of religion; for as many falsely pretend to be the worshippers of God, and outwardly appear to be so, he testifies that he, from the heart served, God. It may be also that he alluded to the ancient ceremonies, in which alone the Jews thought the worship of God consisted. He then intimates, that though he retained not observance of these, he was yet a sincere worshipper of God, according to what he says in Philippians 3:3,
|We are the true circumcision, who in spirit serve God, and glory not in the flesh.|
He then glories that he served God with sincere devotion of heart, which is true religion and approved worship.
But it was expedient, as I have said, in order that his oath might attain more credit, that Paul should declare his piety towards God; for perjury is a sport to the ungodly, while the pious dread it more than a thousand deaths; inasmuch as it cannot be, but that where there is a real fear of God, there must be also a reverence for his name. It is then the same thing, as though Paul had said, that he knew how much sacredness and sincerity belonged to an oath, and that he did not rashly appeal to God as a witness, as the profane are wont to do. And thus, by his own example, he teaches us, that whenever we swear, we ought to give such evidence of piety, that the name of God, which we use in our declarations, may retain its sacredness. And further, he gives a proof, even by his own ministry, that he worshipped not God feignedly; for it was the fullest evidence, that he was a man devoted to God's glory, when he denied himself, and hesitated not to undergo all the hardships of reproach, poverty, and hatred, and even the peril of death, in advancing the kingdom of God.
Some take this clause, as though Paul intended to recommend that worship which he said he rendered to God, on this account, -- because it corresponded with what the gospel prescribes. It is indeed certain that spiritual worship is enjoined on us in the gospel; but the former interpretation is far the most suitable, -- that he devoted his service to God in preaching the gospel. He, however, makes at the same time a difference between himself and hypocrites, who have something else in view rather than to serve God; for ambition, or some such thing, influences most men; and it is far from being the case, that all engage cordially and faithfully in this office. The meaning is, that Paul performed sincerely the office of teaching; for what he says of his own devotion he applies to this subject.
But we hence gather a profitable doctrine; for it ought to add no little encouragement to the ministers of the gospel, when they hear that, in preaching the gospel, they render an acceptable and a valuable service to God. What, indeed, is there to prevent them from regarding it an excellent service, when they know that their labor is pleasing to God, and is approved by him? Moreover, he calls it the gospel of the Son of God; for Christ is in it made known, who has been appointed by the Father for this end, -- that he, being glorified, should also glorify the Father.
That continually, etc. He still further sets forth the ardor of his love by his very constancy in praying for them. It was, indeed, a strong evidence, when he poured forth no prayers to the Lord without making mention of them. That the meaning may be clearer, I render pantote, |always;| as though it was said, |In all my prayers,| or, |whenever I address God in prayer, I join a mention of you.| Now he speaks not of every kind of calling on God, but of those prayers to which the saints, being at liberty, and laying aside all cares, apply their whole attention to the work; for he might have often expressed suddenly this or that wish, when the Romans did not come into his mind; but whenever he had previously intended, and, as it were, prepared himself to offer up prayers to God, among others he remembered them. He then speaks peculiarly of those prayers, for which the saints deliberately prepare themselves; as we find to have been the case with our Lord himself, who, for this purpose, sought retirement. He at the same time intimates how frequently, or rather, how unceasingly he was engaged in such prayers, since he says that he prayed continually.
10. Requesting, if by any means, etc. As it is not probable that we from the heart study his benefit, whom we are not ready to assist by our labors, he now adds, after having said that he was anxious for their welfare, that he showed by another proof his love to them, as before God, even by requesting that he might be able to advance their interest. That you may, therefore, perceive the full meaning, read the words as though the word also were inserted, requesting also, if by any means, etc. By saying, A prosperous journey by the will of God he shows, not only that he looked to the Lord's favor for success in his journey, but that he deemed his journey prosperous, if it was approved by the Lord. According to this model ought all our wishes to be formed.
11. For I greatly desire to see you He might, indeed, while absent, have confirmed their faith by his doctrine; but as advice is better taken from one present, he had a desire to be with them. But he explains what his object was, and shows that he wished to undertake the toil of a journey, not for his own, but for their advantage. -- Spiritual gifts he calls those which he possessed, being either those of doctrine, or of exhortation, or of prophesy which he knew had come to him through God's favor. He has here strikingly pointed out the use of gifts by the word, imparting: for different gifts are distributed to each individual, that all may in kindness mutually assist one another, and transfer to others what each one possesses. See Romans 12:3; and 1 Corinthians 12:11
To confirm you, etc. He modifies what he had said of imparting, lest he should seem to regard them such as were yet to be instructed in the first elements of religion, as though they were not hitherto rightly taught in Christ. He then says, that he wished so to lend his aid to them, that they who had for the most part made a proficiency, might be further assisted: for a confirmation is what we all want, until Christ be fully formed in us. (Ephesians 4:13.)
12. Being not satisfied with this modest statement, he qualifies it, and shows, that he did not so occupy the place of a teacher, but that he wished to learn also from them; as though he said, |I desire so to confirm you according to the measure of grace conferred on me, that your example may also add courage (alacritatem -- alacrity) to my faith, and that we may thus mutually benefit one another.|
See to what degree of modesty his pious heart submitted itself, so that he disdained not to seek confirmation from unexperienced beginners: nor did he speak dissemblingly, for there is no one so void of gifts in the Church of Christ, who is not able to contribute something to our benefit: but we are hindered by our envy and by our pride from gathering such fruit from one another. Such is our high-mindedness, such is the inebriety produced by vain reputation, that despising and disregarding others, every one thinks that he possesses what is abundantly sufficient for himself. I prefer to read with Bucer, exhortation (exhortationem -- encouragement) rather than consolatim; for it agrees better with the former part.