Apostolic Labours an Evidence of Christian Truth
Romans 10:18-21
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes truly, their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.…

The general scope of the apostle is sufficiently plain. The Jew is taught his responsibilities in presence of the advancing gospel from the pages of his Hebrew Bible. He learns to contrast the religion of the synagogue with that of the Church, when viewed in its spirit, method, and end. And this, not from the lips of evangelists, but from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:6; Deuteronomy 30:12-14). Prophets like Isaiah and Joel successively announce to him the reward of faith in Christ, and the intimate and beneficent nearness of the Lord of all to all His true worshippers (Romans 10:11; Isaiah 28:16; Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32), and by consequence, the abolition of the Judaic nationalism, and the Catholicity of the religion which was succeeding it. And when the question is asked how there can be such true worship without faith in its object, or faith without a religious education, or this again without a message from heaven, and an authoritative commission to proclaim it, the reply is given in the words of the evangelical prophet (Isaiah 52:7), for whose entranced soul the intervening centuries have neither force nor meaning, and the distant and contingent future is a realised and present fact. Along with the messengers who announce to captive Israel the speedy return of peace and freedom, there mingle, in the prophet's vision, other forms of apostolic mien and greatness, and their footsteps fall on all the mountains of the world, as they carry forward the message which emancipates mankind, and which proclaims an alliance between earth and heaven. Yet more, this greatest of the prophets foresees the partial acceptance of the gospel as accurately as he foretells its universal promulgation (Romans 10:16; Isaiah 53:1): and prophecy closes around the Jew, who refuses belief to the report of the apostles, by describing not merely the truth which confronts him, but his own attitude towards it. That there may be no mistake as to the weight and pressure of the Jew's responsibility, the apostle asks in the text somewhat abruptly, whether the men of Israel have not heard the gospel-message. And he answers not by pointing to the literal fact, that already the messengers of Christ had penetrated far and wide into either of the great branches of the Dispersion, while Jerusalem itself was the home and focus of Christian doctrine; he quotes a psalmist who is singing of the heavenly bodies, and who tells how they speak for the glorious Creator in terms which all can understand, while from day to day and age to age they hand on their mighty tradition of the truth, which all the languages of man confess, and all the climes and regions of the earth have heard. The apostle reads the history of the Church in the light of his Master's words: "Go, teach all nations." The intervening centuries count for nothing; just as when we gaze at the fixed star, we do not ordinarily reflect upon that scintillation of the rays of its light through almost measureless space which science yet reveals to us in all its wonder with minute precision. And the apostle sees all at a single glance: he ignores the alternation of ebb and flow — the constant play of light and shade — which meet us in the actual history of the Church; we forget, as we read his words, that struggle for life, maintained for centuries, — maintained against overwhelming forces. We seem to be watching a process which has all the beauty and ease of a natural movement; we have before us what is less the history of an accomplished and hard-won triumph than it is the spectacle of a beneficent provision or law of the universe, in which there is no struggle, no effort, no resistance, and in which the Heavenly Wisdom already reaches from one end to another mightily, and smoothly and sweetly ordereth all things. "Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world." And here are two points that demand our consideration.

I. OUR LORD'S COMMAND AND THE PROPHECY OF HIS APOSTLE IMPLY FIRST OF ALL THAT THE GOSPEL WOULD STAND THE TEST OF TIME. Of all forms of power, as of all forms of thought that are merely human, time is the great enemy. No sooner has a doctrine or a system taken its place in the arena of human thought, than, like the ocean which imperceptibly fritters away the base of a mountain cliff, time forthwith begins its relentless work of progressive demolition. Again, time brings with it what we term in our ignorance chance; it brings combinations of circumstances, and of agencies to bear, upon which no genius can calculate, and against which no prudence can take its measures. Once more, the lapse of time involves the liability to internal decay: those who have reached power, betake themselves to its enjoyment; those who believe that they are securely masters of the world of thought, are not alive to the decomposition which awaits or preys upon their stagnant system. And, lastly, as the years pass over a doctrine or a system, they inevitably subject it to the decisive test of opposition. And this not necessarily because it has faults and failings, but because it exists, and by its existence invites hostile criticism, since it drains away something, however little, of the attention, and labour, and substance, which would but for the fact of its existence be bestowed elsewhere. Need I say that He who came from heaven to redeem and save us knew what was before Him. He foresaw the coolness which would succeed to a first fervour of welcome to His truth; He allowed for the unfavourable conjunctions of circumstance, and for the intimidation and the errors of those who might represent Him, and for the opposition which a gospel such as His (making, as it did, no terms with any human feeling or conviction that was inconsistent with the rights of God), could not but encounter in the passions of man. He predicted a time when the love of many would wax cold, etc. (Matthew 24:9, 11, 12, 24). He accepted, He set forth the idea of the intense hatred which His gospel must perforce encounter in the world, so energetically, that He, the Prince of Peace, described Himself as sending not peace, but a sword. Yet foreseeing these elements of destruction gathering around Him, He is calmly certain of the perpetuity of His doctrine (Mark 13:31). Surely the event has not falsified the prediction. Since the Incarnation, all else has changed; new races, new moulds of thought, new languages, new institutions, political and social, supplant others which once seemed destined to exist for ever, and which have passed away. But, reigning amid the ruins of the past, reigning amid the progress of the present towards the future, Jesus Christ is here. You may contend that here and there His work is marred or broken; you may insist on the desolating spread of the great heresies of the first ages, or on the loss of the Churches of the East and of the Church of and of — trampled as these are beneath the feet of the infidel. Now, as of old, He is crucified in weakness, while He reigns in power: He is, by the very pressure and fierceness of His foes, uniting friends who have long been sundered; His vast providences enlist the services even of men who know but fragments of His truth; He has more loyal hearts who trust and worship Him than in any previous age. For observe, that He does not merely hold His ground: He is extending His Empire. He is again laying siege to those citadels of superstitious yet of philosophical idolatry — the oriental religions — which have so long resisted Him; He is bidding the islands of the sea wait on His advancing foot-steps.

II. OBSERVE A SECOND FEATURE OF THE PREDICTED MISSIONARY ENERGY OF THE CHURCH, WHICH, NO LESS THAN THAT ALREADY MENTIONED, WOULD SEEM TO POSSESS AN EVIDENTIAL VALUE. For our Lord did not merely insure His religion against the triumph of those causes which, in the case of human institutions or opinions, must ultimately produce decay and dissolution. The stone which you throw loses force and swiftness as it obeys the impulse you gave to it; it buries itself, we will suppose, beneath the waters of a still lake, and again the ripple which radiates from the point of disturbance, becomes, moment by moment, less clear to the eye, as on this side and on that its widening circles approach the shore. So it is with human religions: they spend themselves while they gain the prestige of antiquity; and our Lord, as we have seen, reversed this law of exhaustion, in the case of His gospel. But He did more: He presumed upon, He appealed to, because He knew Himself able to create and command, an ever-youthful and active enthusiasm, which in the last ages of the faith, no less than in the first, would carry forward His doctrine into all the regions of the earth, and, at whatever risk, would press it closely in its perfectness and its power on the consciences of men. Look at the other great religions which have ruled, or which still rule, the thought or the heart of the human race. Where have ancient priesthoods, like the Egyptian, been missionary agencies? Where have philosophical speculations, like these of the Schools of Greece, been more than the luxury and the pride of the selfish few — where and when have they shown any capacity of becoming the inheritance of the heart and thought of the struggling many? Surely it were not unreasonable to surmise that if the Infinite and the Eternal God has spoken in very deed to us His creatures, He can only so have spoken, as at the first He can only have given us being, out of the free and pure love which He bare towards us. And thus along with the gift of truth would come the accompanying gift of love; and we should anticipate what is in fact the case, that He, our Incarnate Lord, whom we worship as the highest and absolute Truth, is also the most tender and indeed boundless Charity. It is by combining in Himself truth and love so perfectly that Jesus, from age to age; commands the most intelligent and the most heroic devotion of which man has ever been capable. Think not that true devotion to Christ our Lord is a luxury of the Primitive Church, which can find no lasting home in the midst of our modern civilisation. It may be true that mutilated creeds cannot provoke, and that coward hearts cannot understand, such devotion. But wherever the truth is taught in its integrity to hearts that are "honest and good," the same phenomena of absolute self-devotion will be found to repeat themselves which illustrated so gloriously the first ages and children of the faith. He has indeed made men love Himself; for around Him and His work there mantles such a robe of unfailing and ever-youthful beauty, that in His Divine Person, His human form, His words, His world-redeeming sacrifice, His ceaseless intercession, His gift of the Blessed Spirit, His oneness with His people through the sacraments of His Church, the soul finds that which answers to its highest imaginings no less than to its deepest needs. It finds in Him, as in none else, its rest.

(Canon Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

WEB: But I say, didn't they hear? Yes, most certainly, "Their sound went out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."

The Two Great Instruments Appointed for the Propagation of the Gospel
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