Warm-hearted, hopeful, exultant servant of the Lord Jesus Christ that he was! He could anticipate no defeat, nor view things apart from the triumphant and super-abounding grace of God.
“I know,” he wrote to the Romans, that when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ”—the fullness of it.
Fullness of blessing was his own personal and constant enjoyment. He had to complain of no leanness, nor sterility, nor lack of the dews of heaven. In him the spring of water within sprang up to everlasting life, and flowed out of a heart filled to the full. He reckoned on that overflow spreading itself to others wherever he went.
Thus he was persuaded that Rome should share in the blessing. This was no problem in his mind. It was a settled certainty with him, that, as surely as he preached Christ so surely would the blessing flow.
To him it was a matter of impossibility that the word of God should return void of blessing. The opposite was inconceivable. It had done so much for himself, and was so surpassingly sweet to his own soul, that, granted only that he were in Rome, he would be in the full power of that blessing.
This is the proper spirit for every servant of the same Master, no matter where he goes in this thrice holy and most precious service. If the spring within is in vigour the result will be felt.
But, was his optimism not misplaced? Did he enter the imperial city as a Dictator?
No, he came thither bound hand and foot—a prisoner! Did circumstances so untoward and unexpected damp his ardour or depress his spirit? Though bound was he without divine help?
Was God above these fetters? He was!
Prisons are no hindrance to the grace of God, and prisoners of Christ have been His choice and chosen liberators. Witness Bunyan of Bedford, and Rutherford of Aberdeen. Indeed the only occasion on which we read that Paul himself sang was when in the jail of Philippi! Wonderful victory! Then did not Paul preach in Rome? Well, he did so. He preached for a whole day from morning to evening, as we read in the close of the Acts. The result of this essay was disappointing, no doubt, because unbelief, alas, prevailed in the hearts of the greater part of his hearers. But what of that? Not even an apostle can convert others to God, for that sacred work is His. All that man can do is faithfully to preach the word in the hope of divine operation; but the breath of life is that of the Spirit of God.
Then, wherein was the optimism of the Apostle justified?
In these “prison-epistles,” as they are called—these wonderful letters to Ephesus, Philippi, and Colosse, which have fed the church of God, beyond all measure, for these two thousand years of her chequered history.
They contain the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (R.V.) not simply “of the gospel,” as meeting the spiritual need of the sinner, but of Christ Himself, in the highest glory of His person, and the infinite value of His work.
In Ephesians there is given us the mystery of Christ and the church; in Philippians the display of a life which has Christ for its perfect pattern; and in Colossians the personal glory of Him in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
No marvel that, possessing such a treasure, and being charged with such a ministry, he should be full of the highest optimism, and count unhesitatingly on living and glorious effects through his service.