NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXVII)
Several early church scholars have input on this verse about suffering and reward. For instance, in a Word of Wisdom spoken by a member of a late 2nd century movement in the church: the One who gave us the indwelling Spirit will also carry out the effects. It is for this reason the Spirit is considered as a pledge of the glory which will be revealed to us.1 In other words, the Spirit was given as security deposit on the glory to be received by those who suffer for the cause. Then Origen observes that there is nothing in this life which is worthy of comparison to the life to come. For him, how can we compare that which is mortal to that which is immortal, that which is visible to that which is invisible, that which is temporal to that which is eternal, or that which is perishable to that which is everlasting?2
Also, one early church bishop, who suffered martyrdom, asked a question before he died: Why would any believer not do all they could to reach the highest level of spirituality as a friend of God in order to rejoice with Christ at the moment they receive the divine rewards after earthly hardships and misunderstandings are over?3 And in another place, this same Bishop was also heard to say: It is fitting for all of us, when meditating on the glory of the coming splendor, to endure all afflictions and persecutions. Although the afflictions of the righteous may be many, yet those who keep their trust in God will be delivered from them all4.5
Then early church scholar Ambrosiaster felt inspired to write that Paul’s exhortation relates to what he said earlier in which he demonstrated that the things which we might endure at the hands of those who reject our faith and our God are tiny in comparison with the huge reward which awaits us in the next life. Ambrosiaster then encourages everyone to be prepared in the event they come under persecution because the promised rewards are so great that our mind will have peace during any tribulation and increase in hope.6
We then turn to early church preacher Chrysostom who noted that whatever sufferings we may go through, are restricted to this life, but the blessings we will receive for being faithful will stretch out into eternity. Paul had no way of giving a detailed description of those blessings or explaining them in full. But he gives them a name which is used of things we especially desire and calls it “glory.”7 In another sermon Chrysostom declared that even if each day we were put to death for our faith, something nature could not comprehend even if we are asked to put mind over matter, still that would not compare to the blessings we are destined to receive or the glory due to be revealed in us.8
Then we look at what Pelagius meant when he wrote that Paul wants to recommend our hope in future glory so that we are prepared and committed to endure any present afflictions with greater assurance. It is impossible to think that God would ask any believer to suffer through anything that compares to the heavenly glory that awaits them. This is not a matter of bargaining with God. But whatever we might suffer that brings death, it is far less than what Jesus suffered for our sins. Through His passion in the past our sins were forgiven so that in the future we are granted eternal life. And in that eternal abode we will enjoy the company of angels, the splendor of God’s throne, the beauty of heaven, and other things which have been promised those who endure unto the end.9 Pelagius cites what Paul said about this to the Colossians: “At the moment, though, this future glory is hidden with Christ in God.”10 He also notes what the Apostle John had to say: “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we do know we will be like Him.11”12
Martin Luther expresses what we would call today, “No pain, no gain.” Or as I like to say, “Suffering is nothing, if it achieves something.” Fellow reformer John Calvin agrees that to some it would seem odd to require believers to pass through various afflictions to enter celestial glory, unless we agree that when compared to the suffering that will quickly pass away, with the greatness of the glory that will last forever, it makes sense. Calvin goes on to point a finger at the Roman Catholic seminary professors of his day. He does not feel that they have taken the time to really study and understand what Paul is saying here. Instead, they have come up with an alternate reality. They have replaced, “what works for the believer” with “what the believer works for.” The Apostle Paul is not trying to compare our grief with our glory. Instead, he wants to help believers see that one day they will lay down their cross in exchange for a crown. By doing this he hopes to confirm in the minds of the faithful the value of patience.13
George Bull (1634-1710), Lord Bishop of St. David’s church in England, confirms what Calvin said by pointing out that this horrid doctrine of good works bringing us glory should not be sanctioned by the church Christ established. The idea that any merit gained by good works can be transformed into heavenly glory is totally unscriptural. Such transformation cannot be found even among angels, let alone the children of fallen and sinful Adam.14 But it was the Apostle Paul who put this in perspective in verse 28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Robert Haldane has an enlightening way of explaining how our present sufferings pale by comparison to our future glory when he says that the Apostle Paul was reminding those in Rome that all the suffering they endured for Christ’s sake was God’s way of bringing them to even greater glory. That’s why he encourages them to endure affliction with courage and class because there is no comparison with what they will enjoy in glory. Haldane points out that in order to inspire the Israelites to face whatever difficulties they run into with resolve God had spies bring out delicious fruit from the Promised Land while they were still in the desert. By the same token, our blessed Lord permitted some of His disciples to witness His transfiguration, when His face lit up like the sun, and His raiment turned brilliant white. This was intended to inspire them with a burning desire to see the coming heavenly glory with their own eyes, something they only saw at a glance on the mountain with Christ. They were also invited to see our Lord’s transfiguration to instill in them greater patience when going through troubles and trials. Haldane sees a similarity in how God acts towards His people when they suffer in this world. He lets them have a little taste of heaven by allowing them to enjoy a measure of that peace which passes all understanding,15 This is just a foretaste of the glory that is yet to be revealed.16
Charles Hodge continues this same theme in his commentary. He writes that since the glory promised us so outweighs our suffering, that the idea of merit, whether earned or given, shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. It is altogether foreign to the context. For it is not the ground on which eternal life is bestowed, but the greatness of the glory that the saints are to inherit which the Apostle desires to illustrate.17 Preacher Charles Spurgeon says that Paul saw there was no real symmetry between the sufferings of the present with the glory of the future. For him, the sufferings down here seemed to be but like a single raindrop, while the glory up there is a boundless ocean.
Spurgeon then goes on to point out the glory that awaits us has not yet been fully revealed in us, but it has been revealed to us. We can read the revealed glory yet to come in Scripture, but how grand will be the glory when it is revealed in us! We shall be full of glory. Right now we see it only in part, but when it is revealed in His people, it will be to His praise forever and ever! But God has promised that this will also lead to our eternal joy. So if we are suffering now, then let us stand strong as we await something better that is yet to come. Furthermore, don’t become impatient in the meantime? Why not? Because we wait with patience and bear our appointed burden until the time comes for us to lay it all down? It’s because we not only wait patiently but with hope. Just as a woman endures the discomfort of carrying a child in her womb, so we too must realize that once these pain and pangs which precede birth are over, what a glorious day that will be when all of God’s glory is revealed!18
Frédéric Godet says that Paul does not say that he was persuaded about this by someone else, nor does he say that it just dawned on him one day. Rather, Paul uses the Greek word logizomai, which basically means: logic to explain how it came to him. Throughout the NT this word is variously translated into English as, “impute,” “reckon,” “count,” “reasoned,” etc. In other words, Paul used reason and made a calculation that led to his conclusion that whatever suffering believers must go through, it pales in comparison to the glory God will reveal in them. As Godet see it, the Apostle Paul is trying to get the point across that when he compares the miseries he was going through down here with the glory awaiting him in the future, when they are put on the scale of reasoning, the glory far outweighed the misery.19 Godet goes on to say that although this glory is yet to be revealed, it already exists not only in the plan of God decreed to us, but also in the glorious person of Christ, whose appearing will be visibly displayed for us to see with our own eyes.
I like how Puritan preacher Charles Simeon expresses it. He challenges us that when people complain that trials are heavy and they are ready to faint, just show them what they have to gain or lose. First, explain the good they not only lose down here by giving up but the good they lose in the future. Then compare the troubles they have down here with the troubles they will not have over there. How can the joy they expect to have in this world even compare with the joy in the world-to-come? What good is it to live for a short time without God down here and forfeit living with God forever up there? None of it makes any sense. Why trade any short misery here on earth for the endless rejoicing heaven? The one idea is man-made, the other is God-made. So let’s put an end to murmuring, and be willing to bear our present afflictions in expectation of the benefit that will result in the end.20 At the same time, it is foolish for anyone to believe they can make themselves suffer in order to gain greater glory with God.
1 Montanist Oracle: Testimonia
2 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Cyprian: Exhortation to Martyrdom, To Fortunatus 13
4 See Psalm 34:19
5 Ibid., Letter 6.2
6 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Chrysostom: On Romans 14
8 Ibid., Homilies on Genesis 25:23
9 See Daniel 12:2-3; Matthew 13:41-43; Revelation 7:9-17
10 Colossians 3:3
11 1 John 3:2
12 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 The Works of George Bull: Oxford, at the Clarendon Press, 1827, Vol. I, Sermon IX, p. 220
15 Philippians 4:7
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 369
17 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 416
18 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.