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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Romans 8

 

 

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Verse 1

NO CONDEMNATION

‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’

Romans 8:1

No condemnation! What a strange, sweeping statement! And we naturally ask, to whom can it apply? To all Christians, or only to some? The answer is, it applies to all—yes, all. If any one will read this chapter through as a whole, he will see that it is entirely devoted to one great subject, and that we may describe that subject in one word as being ‘the footing on which Christian people stand towards God.’ These words are the standing-point—the foundation—of his whole discussion: ‘No condemnation for those who are in Christ.’ And then when he has gone through his exposition, then, towards the end of the chapter, he comes back to his starting-point, and amplifies it, and works it out, and repeats it over and over again. ‘Who is there to lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ He asks, ‘Who is there to condemn?’ And then he breaks out into a kind of Psalm upon this glorious theme: ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

I. This doctrine is the basis and standing-ground of our whole position towards God as Christians.—We cannot be too clear upon this. St. Paul is careful to draw his lines very sharply. It is this or nothing. ‘Ye are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.’ And again, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’ St. Paul does not mean by this that either we or the people he was writing to were perfect, or that they were of exceptional holiness, or that they had unusual knowledge of Divine things. On the contrary, he goes on to speak of their infirmities.

II. No indifference to sin.—Do these words mean that God is indifferent to sin in Christian people? By no means. Especially when you remember that the very end and object of Christianity is to destroy sin. But how is sin to be destroyed? There is one way, and one way only. And that is by our actually living with God, Who is the fountain of holiness and the source of the strength and power to do right and to avoid evil. By our living with Him—for this is what is meant by the Scripture phrases about ‘Communion with God’—by our living in fellowship with Him, by doing all that we have to do, and going through all our daily duties as in His presence, and in reliance on His aid, and so, by this continual communion of our hearts with God, deriving continually increasing communications of Divine power into our hearts and of Divine influence into our characters. This has been the description of all God’s saints.

III. Nothing should keep us back from God.—God says to us, Let the past be past. Only come to Me. Come and take your place before Me as My child. Your sin shall be no barrier. It is your sin that I want to cure. Only come. If you come, if you will dwell constantly in the sense of My presence, ever keeping up the true Christian converse with Me, your Father and your Friend—then every day that you live sin will be growing less and less powerful within you, the cure of evil will be every day progressing in completeness, My spirit shall be more powerful within you day by day. You will be daily growing more meet for My unveiled presence in heaven; and your sins shall never be remembered against you. It is thus, in effect, that God speaks to the Christian soul. Thus is it that there is ‘no condemnation for them that are in Christ’—nothing in our sins that ought to keep us back from God—everything that ought to drive us to God, not that we may be condemned, but that we may be healed. And the basis of the whole is this—that God does forgive and has forgiven us, forgiven us that we may have courage to come boldly to Him for the cure of those very sins which make us afraid to approach Him at all. So that these words, ‘No condemnation’ do in very truth express the footing on which, in the Christian covenant, we do actually stand towards God.


Verse 8

ON PLEASING GOD

‘They that are in the flesh cannot please God.’

Romans 8:8

In the second collect for Evening Prayer we ask that ‘our hearts may be set to obey’ God’s commandments. It is a thoroughly scriptural petition. To please God we must obey Him.

I. This obedience must be rooted in reverence.—‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ There is very little godly fear in this flippant and shallow age.

II. This obedience must be inspired by love.—It must be ‘doing the will of God from the heart.’ ‘The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.’ And love is the only ingredient that weighs in the scales of heaven.

III. This obedience must be sustained by prayer.—It should be steadfast and unceasing. Not by fits and starts, but with ‘hearts set to obey.’

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Illustration

‘Some think that the tendencies to evil can be eliminated without dealing with the question of guilt and punishment, or propitiation and pardon. But it is not so. Love is the only expulsive power that can eliminate sin. And love cannot dwell in an unforgiven soul. “He that is forgiven much, will love much.” He that despises the need of forgiveness, despises the Love that has been sinned against, and so closes his heart against that Love. And the forgiveness must be both just and free. It must be based on righteous grounds, or it will not restore a good conscience in the forgiven soul; it must be “without money and without price,” or it will not be great. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” for true obedience must be inspired by love.’


Verse 9

HEART-SEARCHING WORDS

‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’

Romans 8:9

What heart-searching words! Whatever else man may have, if the Spirit be absent Christ pronounces against Him. Consider—

I. The necessity of the indwelling of the Spirit.—He is needed (a) to secure our dependence upon Christ for salvation (Ephesians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 6:17); (b) for discernment as to true nature of the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:11-12); (c) for our deliverance from sin (Romans 8—‘the inventory of the believer’s treasures’); and (d) for direction. Next consider—

II. The nature of this indwelling of the Spirit.—It is (a) personal; (b) privileged; (c) progressive. Not enough to be born of Spirit; a further work needed (Ephesians 3:16-17). Finally, consider—

III. The results of this indwelling.—Romans 8 enumerates them, but see especially life for the spirit and resurrection for the body.

IV. Have you the Spirit of Christ?

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘The acutest and subtlest minds cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto them, neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Many will remember the story of the late Mr. William Wilberforce, who took the then Prime Minister of England, the famous William Pitt, to hear Mr. Richard Cecil, a spiritually-minded preacher of that day, earnestly hoping to interest him in the things of God. Mr. Cecil preached one of his most spiritual and powerful discourses, and at the close of the service Mr. Wilberforce anxiously asked his friend what he thought of the sermon. Mr. Pitt replied, “I can assure you I gave him my very best attention, but was wholly unable to understand his drift.” It was foolishness unto him, though his was probably the greatest intellect of his time.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE WORK AND SPHERE OF THE HOLY GHOST

The coming of the Holy Ghost was the completion of God’s revelation of Himself to man. God’s revelation of Himself was progressive. The revelation of the Holy Spirit is not a separate thing by itself, but rather is it the centre and the consummation of the Incarnation. It is also the beginning of a new epoch, but it could not come about until our Lord was glorified. Why? It was not, of course, because the Holy Spirit did not exist before, it was not that he was beginning for the first time to work in the world and upon men. On the contrary, we know that at the beginning of everything, at the creation of the world, the Holy ‘Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ He strove with men again and again. Every excellence of character displayed by the Old Testament saints was due to Him. He ‘spake,’ we say in the creed, ‘by the prophets.’ Nor was it different during our Lord’s earthly life and ministry. The Holy Spirit was still working.

I. What was the difference of the mission of the Holy Spirit since the ascension of our Lord?—The answer is this, that the gift of the Holy Ghost which was promised by Jesus Christ, and the gift which came on the day of Pentecost, is to be regarded as the gift of the Holy Spirit not so much in His eternal existence in the Divine Being, but as the Spirit of God made the Spirit of Man in Christ Jesus. The Holy Ghost is chiefly revealed to us as the Spirit of the Incarnate Christ. And in so many portions of Holy Scripture—our text for instance—the Spirit of God is spoken of as the Spirit of Christ. In other words, the coming of the Holy Ghost is not to take the place of Christ, but to be the means of bringing about this lasting presence of Christ which is to continue all the days until the end of the world.

II. The work of the Holy Ghost.—The work of the Holy Spirit within us is nothing unless to form the living Christ within each individual soul. It is the agent through Whom you and I are separately and individually united to the glorified human nature of Jesus Christ. In speaking or thinking of the work of the Holy Spirit we must never for one moment separate it from the mediatorial work of Christ. The presence of the Spirit of Christ is not a substitute for our Lord Himself, but is the method by which our Lord is present. To have the Spirit of Christ is to have Christ.

III. The sphere of the Holy Ghost.—When you and I say, as we do, in the creed, ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost,’ we are really expressing our belief in a supernatural world in which the Spirit of God moves and works, and it is a very good thing for us in the present day to remember that the Christian religion is essentially a spiritual and a supernatural religion. The religion of the Spirit is not in local places but in living persons which we call the Church, and it is a spiritual and a supernatural sphere. This presence of Jesus Christ in the Church is not merely a personal power or influence, but is realised by the whole Church. We say, ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost,’ ‘Who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God.’ The Holy Spirit is making you and me holy to-day in so far as we are allowing Him to do so. Do we realise this? Do we ever think of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us? Do we attempt to realise that we ourselves are the temples of the Holy Ghost, little churches that are dedicated to the worship of God? And are we trying to respond to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit? We are reminded in our text of this great truth, that ‘if any man have not the Spirit of Christ He is none of His.’ To have the Spirit of Christ, as we have seen, is to have Christ Himself.

Let us resolve to give ourselves up to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and realise that He is dwelling within us, that He is the Spirit of Christ Who is more really present with us now than when Christ walked upon the earth in human form.

Illustration

‘Some of us know that at the present day there is a great demand in some quarters for a natural Christianity, a Christianity which has no dogma, no miracles, a Christianity which does not appeal, as we believe the true Christianity does appeal, from the visible to the invisible. There is a demand in some quarters for a purely human Christ, for a Christ of human history as opposed, as we know, to a living Christ—not merely a past recollection of one who had lived, but a living Christ Who, in His glorified Nature, is now living and reigning at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Or the Church is regarded to-day by a great many people as merely a department of the State, whose business is good works and philanthropy, instead of a spiritual society which contains, in the whole body, the indwelling Spirit of Christ.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST

In this chapter we are taught much about the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2). By His help we mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13). He leads the sons of God (Romans 8:14). He is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). He bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16). He helps us to pray (Romans 8:26).

I. The Holy Spirit is compared to wind.—We cannot see the wind, but we can see the effects of the wind. So we can see the effects of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He can subdue the proud will, and melt the stony heart, and give a new heart and a new spirit.

II. The Holy Spirit is compared to a dove.—In the beginning the Spirit of God moved on the face of the deep and brought order and harmony out of confusion, so when the Holy Spirit comes to human hearts He brings peace and love. The dove is the emblem of peace, and meekness, and gentleness. An old writer says, ‘Unquietness is the greatest evil that can come into the soul except sin.’

III. The Holy Spirit is compared to oil.—He can give the oil of joy for mourning. He can change despair into hope and sorrow into singing.

IV. The Holy Spirit is compared to a seal (Ephesians 1:13).—A considerable trade in timber was carried on at Ephesus. The merchant selected his timber, paid for it, and stamped it with his own signet just as timber-merchants put the initial letter of their names on their timber now. So God’s children are sealed by His Spirit, and by that seal He knows them that are His.

V. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire.—‘The worst disease of the soul,’ said a great Frenchman, ‘is cold.’ What we need is not money or worldly influence. Our great need is a baptism of the Spirit and the tongue of fire. In a certain battle there was a wounded soldier who cried, ‘Roll me out of the way, and go on with the gun!’ We should have a like enthusiasm in Christ’s cause if the miracle of Pentecost were repeated.

—Rev. F. Harper.

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

PERSONAL EXAMINATION

We must examine ourselves to see whether we have the Spirit of Christ, whether the same mind is in us as was in the Lord Jesus.

I. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of unselfishness.—‘Even Jesus Christ pleased not Himself,’ and yet no one had a better right to do so. Now let us look at ourselves, and apply this test to our religion. Have we this spirit of unselfishness? I know that you and I are often selfish. But we must not rest content with knowing this, we must try to get the better of this sin. The world says to us, ‘Every man for himself’; but God says, ‘Look not only on your own things, but on the things of others.’ He has given us all that we have—our souls, our bodies, our home, our children, our friends, our money—in trust, to be used for the glory of God, not as offerings on the shrine of self.

II. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of gentleness and forbearance.—The Lion of the tribe of Judah, He Who has the keys of hell and of death, the Conqueror, the Mighty Lord, was on earth known as the Lamb of God, and as a sheep dumb before her shearers. How gentle was His life! Again let us look at ourselves. Is there much of this spirit of gentleness and forbearance abroad in the world? I trow not. A man who is more gentle and patient than his neighbour is pushed aside in the race of life, and is called mean-spirited and cowardly. I wonder how many among us when they are reviled revile not again, and instead of railing for railing give contrariwise blessing. I wonder how many among us ever prayed for our enemies. We are mostly too eager to speak hardly of enemies, and even of friends, and the grievous words are ever more ready than the soft answer which turneth away wrath.

III. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of endurance.—There is a world of meaning in those words, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions.’ Not only in the Judgment Hall, and on the Cross, but all through His earthly life Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. Have we this spirit of endurance? Does that promise bring comfort to us—‘He that endureth to the end shall be “saved”’? Have we learned to look on our sorrows and trials as relics of the true Cross, and to know that we must be made ‘perfect through sufferings’? If so, we shall find that every thorny crown of sorrows, sharp though it be, is gilded with the light of heaven, and transfigured into a crown of glory. If any of us lack moral courage to bear insult or contempt for Christ’s sake, if we are tempted to hide our religion away when we are in the company of the ungodly, then let our prayer be that God would grant us the Spirit of Christ, the spirit of endurance.

IV. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of prayer.—Our Lord prayed at all times and in all places, not only at set services in the synagogue. Is this the spirit in which we pray? Is it out of the abundance of the heart that our mouth speaks in prayer? Is it our refuge and comfort at all times, in the season of our well-being, and in all our troubles and adversities whensoever they oppress us?

V. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of work.—As there was no selfishness in His life, so there was no idleness, which is but selfishness under another name. He went about doing good. He had come, not to do His own will, but the will of His Father. Does the Spirit of Christ pervade our work? We live in busy times when a man, if he would eat, must work also. Ours is an age of overwork, of life at high pressure, and we run a great risk of discovering that our work is but lost labour, because we know not of what manner of spirit we are. Too many of us are labouring only for wealth, or position, or ease, or power—all of which shall one day vanish away as a dream when one awaketh. Too many have forgotten to make their work God’s work by consecrating it to Him, and striving to perform it in the Spirit of Christ. Are we trying to do good in our generation; to be about our Father’s business, and to finish the work which He has given us to do?

Illustration

‘We all profess and call ourselves Christians, we are baptized into Christ’s Holy Church and hold her Creeds, but these things alone are not enough. We may be diligent students of the Bible, but what avails our knowledge if we do not practise what we know? We may be particular in our observance of the outward forms of religion, but they are worthless if they are forms only. We may be regular in our attendance at church, but this will not excuse our ungodliness at home. A religion which can be put on and off at the church-door is worse than useless. Our faith, if it be real, our religion, if it be true, will be as strong and as earnest amid the busy working world of Monday as they were in the solemn calm and “the dim religious light” of the sanctuary.’


Verse 11

EASTER THOUGHTS

‘If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.’

Romans 8:11

It is very hard to say on Easter Day whether the surprise of it, the triumph of it, or the hope in it most predominate.

I. Easter surprise.—We must never get accustomed to the surprise of it; it is one of the many advantages of keeping Lent, as the Church directs that the sudden change from the gloom of Lent, and the darkness of Good Friday to the white flowers and the ringing hymns of Easter keeps alive in us the glad sense of surprise. ‘Ye have a watch, make it as sure as you can,’ has a grim irony in the light of what had happened on Easter Day, and yet all evidence and all probability was on the side of those who thought that they had seen the last of Jesus Christ.

II. Easter triumph.—But if the shock of glad surprise is the first emotion at Easter, the next is a sense of glorious triumph; the more unselfishly we entered into our Lord’s sufferings on Good Friday, with the more completeness do we fling ourselves into His triumph on Easter Day. It seems at first almost too good to be true; every foe is not merely defeated, but annihilated. With death broken to pieces and sin beaten from its stronghold, what wonder if the mere human agents were forgotten, and that the old hymn of triumph is repeated as one of the Easter Lessons—‘Sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider hath He cast into the sea!’

III. Easter hope.—But if surprise and triumph burst out in every hymn and culminate in the great Eucharist which we celebrate to-day, we must not forget the hope. This is your answer, all you who ask questions about God’s power to save, God’s power to redeem, God’s power to raise from the dead—‘Easter, Easter, Easter’ is our answer. ‘If the Spirit Which raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, then He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit which dwelleth in you.’

IV. Easter assurance.—And notice how beautifully this Easter message follows upon and crowns the message of Lent. ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.’

(a) Has the Holy Spirit convicted of sin? Has He led us on from step to step, from penitence to confession, from confession to absolution, from absolution to service, from service to power? Has He dwelt in us and made our bodies temples of the Holy Ghost? Has He shown Himself the Comforter?—and all these things we have seen that He does—then stand still to-day and see His final triumph, and His pledge of all that final triumph means. If it was ‘through the Eternal Spirit’ that Christ offered Himself without spot to God, so also that same Eternal Spirit crowned His glorious work on Easter Day, by some share which we dare not attempt to define, in raising Him from the dead. While we rightly think most of Christ Himself on Easter Day, we must not forget that the ‘Lord and Giver of Life,’ the Spirit of Life from God which entered into the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation, that same loving, unselfish, glorious Spirit, shared with the Father and the Son the triumph of Easter Day.

(b) Then notice what an answer it gives to you who ‘through fear of death spend all your lifetime subject to bondage.’ Lift up your heads, ye dying; you cannot really die, for ‘if the Spirit of Him Which raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, then He Which raised up Christ Jesus shall also quicken your mortal bodies.’ He has given what St. Paul calls the ‘earnest of the Spirit’ in your hearts, and the presence of the Spirit in your hearts is an earnest that when your natural bodies die they shall be quickened into spiritual bodies. Let no difficult speculations, no haunting doubts, no attempts to be wise above that which is written, move you from this solid certainty of Easter Day—that when your time comes to die, and that tired body—which perhaps now contains in it the seed of the disease which shall one day lay it low—lies still in death, then the Holy Spirit into which you were baptized, by Whom you were confirmed, Who has disciplined you, and taught you, and empowered you, and led you all your lifelong unto that day, has yet one more loving office to discharge for that body which has been His temple so long—He will raise it from the dead.

(c) And if the dying are to lift up their heads, then lift up your heads, ye mourners. ‘What has happened to your dead?’ you ask this morning. ‘They were here with you last Easter,’ you say, ‘joining in the Easter hymns, and looking with you at the Easter flowers.’ What has happened to them? A beautiful thing! ‘The loving Spirit has led them forth into the land of righteousness.’ It was just what they had prayed for in the Psalms time after time: ‘May Thy loving Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness.’ And He took them at their word, and escorted them forth to be with Christ for ever.

(d) But most of all is Easter a happy day for the contrite and the humble. There are many who have found out their sinfulness and confessed their sins this Lent, but ‘can they preserve? can they go on from strength to strength?’ That is their terrible doubt, and the Easter message rings back to them with marvellous comfort, ‘He that raised up Jesus from the dead shall raise you also up by Jesus to newness of life’; ‘He that hath begun a good work in you shall perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’

I plead, then, with one and all of you here, enter fully into the glad surprise, the triumph, and the hope of Easter Day. We are dying men and women, it is true; we are chastened, it is true, by pain and suffering; we are sorrowful often as we lose our dear ones; we are poor, and often have a struggle to make our living; we have nothing in ourselves to encourage us to hope, but we have the Spirit; we have the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead, and that makes all the difference.

Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.


Verse 12

THE CHRISTIAN’S INDEBTEDNESS

‘Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.’

Romans 8:12

The love of Christ is the true philosopher’s stone. It turns everything to gold. To be a slave in St. Paul’s day meant utter bondage and drudgery, and yet the Apostle delighted to call himself the slave of Christ. The condition of a debtor was full of hardship, but St. Paul rings out in joyous triumph, ‘I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians’; ‘Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.’ This indebtedness is not degrading but ennobling, not disheartening but inspiring. It makes the debtor’s heart glow with thankfulness and honest pride to see the grace, the love, the gentle patient fellowship of the Spirit which make him such a debtor.

Of this indebtedness to God let me say three things:—

I. It commences with the enjoyment of free and perfect pardon through Christ.

II. It increases when we receive the full endowment of the Holy Ghost.

III. It is intensified when we look out with the eyes of Christ upon the poverty of a Christless world.

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Illustration

‘The call for active service is louder than ever. Here at home we have to deplore the inordinate pleasure-seeking, the impious Sabbath-breaking, the widespread betting and gambling, the unrestrained licentiousness and immorality. The old fear of God, and the old godly habits of family worship and the teaching of children by their parents, are being left behind. The forces of evil are very great. The age demands a crusade. We are bound to readjust our whole manner of life in view of the present distress. Even young ladies, the daughters of Shallum, turned bricklayers when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The breaches that sin has made in the national character and in the homes of old England will not be repaired until every Christian realises his responsibility and sets to work with both hands.’


Verse 14

FAITH IN THE HOLY GHOST

‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.’

Romans 8:14

The miracles of nature prepare for the miracles of grace. The miracle of the human spirit prepares for the miracle (or is the beginning of the miracle) of the Spirit of God in man. No wonder that the Church which has learnt this truth from the Spirit Himself, and teaches it to her children, lifts her voice high in praise. But let us see how it speaks to our lives.

I. There is no power like this for conquering what is base and mean and fleshy in us.—‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.’ The spirit of man, helped by the Spirit of God, gains the victory in that conflict. ‘Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?’ No other words can speak as those do for soberness and purity. Ye are not your own. The love of God could not claim you more effectually than by putting the Life of His own Spirit into you. Faith in such love towards us makes the true faith in ourself, which is not pride but reverence, and which gives strong mastery over those temptations which, under the plea of nature, invite us to be as the beasts. ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit.’

II. But besides standing firm and treading down the evil, we have to move and walk.—We ought to go forward, and we need guidance. The light to guide us must be that of conscience. ‘The spirit of man is the Candle of the Lord!’ But the Spirit of the Lord gives to the wavering light that is in us strength and steadiness. That He should be our guide is Christ’s promise. Look more and more confidently for guidance, through your own heart and conscience, from God Himself, whose Spirit is in you. This is the secret of that real wisdom which belongs to men who are taught of God, and of that true growth of character and life which comes to those who are humble enough and ready enough to listen for God’s voice, and to give Him opportunity to lift them from grace to grace. In matters of conduct this is our wisdom: in matters of faith it is this only which can create in us real belief. It takes Divine teaching to believe in God. ‘No man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.’

III. So we think of the Spirit as the Light and Guide and Strength of each heart that receives Him.—But one presence in many hearts or lives must needs draw those hearts and lives nearer to each other. It is only by being in tune with God that we can be in harmony with one another. The things that make quarrels are the lusts that war in our members, and are of earth. The faiths that keep men apart, even when they professedly agree, are the faiths which are formal and mechanical; the faiths which draw together men who even deeply differ are the faiths which are living and spiritual.

—Bishop E. S. Talbot.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE CHRISTIAN BIRTHRIGHT

The baptized and confirmed too frequently cannot stand the Apostle’s test: ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God.’ Too frequently those in whom this consciousness ought to dwell are wholly unconscious of their birthright. Their spirit does not witness to them that they are sons of God. They know nothing of the confirming voice of the Holy Spirit teaching them to cry, ‘Abba Father.’

My object is either to awaken or to restore this consciousness as the case may be.

I. A joint witness.—I appeal to the facts of your own consciousness. There is the register if you choose to test it, which must speak to you more convincingly than any argument, more forcibly than any emotional appeal.

(a) I would appeal to your dissatisfaction in your better moments with yourself.

(b) I appeal to the startling and yet most true fact that you are never quite alone.

II. What does the Christ of Revelation add to these facts of our consciousness?

(a) He reveals the true Man. It is the note which you will find in all that is recorded of Him. ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’

(b) Christ adds the interpretation of that Presence which His Cross has revealed. He Who is so near to you when you are most alone, is God, and God is your Father.

—Bishop E. A. Knox.

Illustration

‘Your Baptism, your Confirmation, your Communion are not idle ceremonies. They are historical assurances that your faith is not vain, and means whereby God is pleased, if you use them rightly, to quicken your consciousness of His nearness and love, and to pour out upon you riches, and still richer measures of His adopting Spirit.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

How does the Holy Spirit lead?

I. He leads by stirring up a desire for better things.—It may be only a fluttering desire at first, but it is the beginning of an effort to be a better man or a better woman.

II. The Holy Spirit leads us on by the example and by the influence of those whom we love and trust on earth.—There is many a sister pleading with her brother, and she is a minister and vehicle of the Holy Ghost to him. There is many an older man who is trying unselfishly to warn a boy about the bad ways into which he is falling; through him the Holy Spirit is speaking. There is many a mother who is sending up earnest prayers, perhaps in some far country village, for the boy who has come to the town to work.

III. The Holy Spirit leads us by making holiness attractive, by showing the difference between the life of Jesus Christ and the life of the selfish, ungenerous man of the world; by pointing out how much more beautiful it is to be like Christ at home, like Christ in the city, like Christ among our friends, than the selfish, lustful, passionate man who is not led by the Spirit at all. Are you beginning to see that? Is it beginning to dawn upon you that this beautiful life of Jesus Christ, lived out in the city, lived out in the home, is the most winning thing in the world, and that you would like to be like that; you would like to be unselfish, generous, and chivalrous to the weak as Christ was? That is the Holy Spirit, Who is drawing you on by talking of Christ and showing Him to you and making you feel you would like, however far off to-day, to be more like Jesus Christ. Do let Him lead you on!

IV. He leads us on in our prayers.—So many lately are disheartened about their prayers and their meditations; they think they are cold and dry; they used to like religion and be fervent and warm in their prayers, but they feel fervent and warm no more. What are they to do? Give up? No; let the Holy Spirit lead them in prayer, and what a blessed promise it is! The Holy Spirit will pray in us, not for us, ‘with groanings that cannot be uttered.’ He will enable us to pray according to the Will of God.

V. He leads us in our lives.—We may be led by the Spirit all our lives. ‘Am I to work here in this place?’ ‘Am I to go to that shop?’ ‘Am I to stay or not to stay at that factory?’ ‘Am I to take this or that line in life?’ The Holy Spirit is waiting all the time to show us whether or not; to lead us; to guide us, if we will, into the right course. The loving Spirit will lead us forth into the land of righteousness wherever we are.

Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Here is an old-world story of a village which had in it a clump of thick trees, and in the midst of this clump of trees there dwelt a dove. It was the custom of the village, when they went out to fight, or when some young man was starting on his career, or some little child was in trouble, having perhaps broken the pitcher in bringing it from the well, they would all go to the clump of trees and listen to the voice of the dove. And all was happy and well in that village for years. But at last a bad phase came over the village. It took to drink; evil-speaking, quarrels, and clamouring filled the little place. The voice of the dove became fainter and fainter, and at last a little child came running out from the clump of trees crying, and said the dove had gone. And then great misfortune came upon that village; they were defeated in their local fights; worse and worse the little place became. Sadly they went and consulted an old hermit who lived hard by, and asked him what they were to do; and he said, “There is only one thing to do. Lay aside all this by which you have degraded your village life and driven your dove away. Perchance if you fast and pray that dove will come back into the middle of your village.” They took his advice, and one spring morning a child ran out brightly from the grove and said the dove had come back. The dove had not gone, it turned out, but had only been silent among the trees. If you are feeling a sort of gentle flutter, the soft voice of some one speaking in your heart, it is the Holy Dove of God. It is the Holy Dove Who is trying to win you back from your selfishness to better things. It is the first leading of the Spirit. For God’s sake do not silence the Spirit of God again!’

(2) ‘I remember so well’ (says the Bishop of London) ‘talking to a clergyman years ago about a very difficult parish for which I wanted a man. There was nothing whatever to attract him about it. He was a well-to-do man, and could go anywhere he liked. Here was a parish which he knew nothing about. The credit of the Church was ship-wrecked in it in ways I need not describe, and after my talk I thought he would not go. I went into St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Sunday afternoon sermon, and forgot for the moment all about my friend with whom I had been speaking, and preached—if I remember right—a sermon on this very text, “Led by the Spirit.” I got a letter in the evening: “Dear Bishop, I am led by the Spirit to go.” That was all. How I did thank God that night on my knees that the Holy Spirit had spoken to him. He did go. He did five years’ magnificent work. Having gone from the right motive he was helped by the right power. He built up again the credit of that Church; he gathered round him a large band of workers; he converted the chief opponent of the Church in that district to be what he is now, an enthusiastic and powerful churchworker. He certainly was led by the Spirit to go.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

BY WHOM ARE WE LED?

The Apostle takes our mind back to the Lord’s Baptism and Temptation. On His Baptism He was declared ‘The Son of God.’ He was ‘then’ tempted. Mark the connection.

I. There is a theory that God, before Creation, revealed to angels His purpose to enter Creation. Lucifer hoped that he might be the Instrument of the Incarnation. Disappointed, he rebelled and was cast out. When, therefore, the first man was born, Satan tempted him and succeeded. When our Lord was born, Satan again watched his chance. At our Lord’s Baptism Satan heard the voice: ‘This is My beloved Son.’ He, therefore, at once tempted the Lord and—failed.

II. Every Christian life has this history. At baptism the infant is declared to be a ‘child of God.’ Satan, standing by, says, ‘I will see.’ The child is led into the wilderness of the world, and is tempted. It is a psychological fact that man’s will must be guided.

III. We are led either by the Spirit of God or by the spirit of evil.—Which is it? Upon the answer depends our sonship.

Rev. A. G. Mortimer.

Illustration

‘Lead me, Almighty Father, Spirit, Son;

Whither Thou wilt, I follow, no delay;

My will is Thine, and even had I none,

Grudging obedience, still I will obey;

Faint-hearted, fearful, doubtful if I be;

Gladly or sadly I will follow Thee.

Into the land of righteousness I go,

The footsteps thither Thine and not my own.

Jesus, Thyself the way, alone I know,

Thy will be mine, for other have I none.

Unprofitable servant though I be,

Gladly or sadly let me follow Thee.’

(FIFTH OUTLINE)

THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

The power of the Gospel itself is the same now as in the apostolic age, but our hearts seem harder and our ears more dull of hearing. We listen to the same unchanging message of God’s love to fallen man, of Christ’s Redemption, of the means of grace, of faith, of Christian duty, but these things sound to many as ‘idle tales.’ They cease to stir the ground of men’s hearts.

I. Only the true Christian can dare to apply to himself that blessed language in which St. Paul and John describe the strength of the believer, the privileges of the regenerate, the comforts of the justified, the liberty of the redeemed, the assurance of the elect. ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’ Can a man be ‘led’ by the Spirit of God, who is a drunkard, a profane swearer; who desecrates the Lord’s Day; who is envious, only hasting to get rich, proud, imperious, selfish, or impatient; who turns his back on God’s ordinances; who, as the prophet says, has ‘snuffed at’ the Table of the Lord; and who, in no part of his conduct, keeps the fear of God, as an abiding restraint, before his eyes?

II. The Holy Spirit will not abide in a defiled or a neglected temple.—He will go and seek another home, if He be not welcomed in ours. He will only abide in a holy place, ‘with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’ He cannot put up with ‘proud looks and a high stomach,’ with men who say, ‘We are they that ought to speak; who is lord over us?’ It must be a pure and upright heart, a heart weaned from the world, with ‘affections set on things above.’

III. The Presence of that Holy Spirit is revealed by His fruits: ‘Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’ ‘Against these there is no law’; indeed, they render all law superfluous. Their animating motive is not fear, but love—the love of Him ‘Who first loved us’; an obedience issuing from the pure devotion of the heart towards a kind Benefactor, a Divine Being, Who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. These fruits must be manifested in each one of us: ‘We have received the Spirit of adoption,’ been made the sons of God, chosen out of the world, that we should ‘show forth the praises of Him Who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.’

If you have not found Him ‘a very present help in trouble,’ it is because you have sought after other comforters. If He bears not ‘His witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,’ it is because worldliness and disobedience have made us strangers to the feeling, as well as forfeited the title of ‘sons.’

Bishop Fraser.

(SIXTH OUTLINE)

A PROVISION AND A TEST

I want to bring before you what is, perhaps, the most difficult subject which we oft-times have to deal with in our practical Christian life—namely, the guiding of God’s Holy Spirit. There is no extravagance which fanatical men will not perpetrate and yet make excuses for themselves by saying that they have been led by the Spirit to do it. And therefore we are not surprised sober-minded Christians feel great difficulty in dealing with the subject. But is it at all probable that our God should have left us without some infallible guide in the midst of this trackless wilderness? He Who guided the children of Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire is not likely to leave His own children when they are constantly praying Him, ‘Lead us, Heavenly Father, lead us.’ The Guide, Who has been provided for us by God, is the Holy Ghost.

Now, in our text, you will see not only a provision, but a test. ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of of God.’ How will He guide them?

I. He will guide them downhill.—He will lead them downhill because He will lead them into a deeper humility, a humility with regard to themselves. He will convict of sin. It is His first work.

II. He will lead uphill to the hill of Calvary.—The Holy Spirit will lead the man to think very much of Jesus Christ. ‘He shall glorify Me.’ That doctrine which belittles Christ, that doctrine which would rob Christ of His glory, cannot be of the Holy Spirit.

III. He will lead the man alongside the river bank, beside the still waters, He will lead him there in the paths of peace, He will lead him into satisfaction, into joy. Having led him down into humility, and up there to look, with the eye of penitence and faith, on the Crucified, now peace will join herself to the man.

IV. He will lead him along the King’s highway, He will lead him in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake, to do that which is right in the sight of God, for the glory of Christ’s Name.

V. The Holy Spirit will lead him both with regard to his faith and to his practice.—He will lead him with regard to his faith. ‘He will guide you into all truth.’ And the Holy Spirit will guide the man into apprehension of the Divine truth. His sheep hear His voice, and they know His voice, and they follow Him.

VI. It is the Holy Spirit Who fits us for service.—The first question which is asked of the ordained is this, ‘Dost thou believe that thou art inwardly called by God the Holy Ghost to this office of ministry?’ Now the whole of one’s ministerial life depends upon the truthfulness of the answer to that question. The bishop may ordain, but it is only the Holy Spirit which can make a true minister of God’s Holy Word.

So you will find that this leading of the Holy Spirit is a grand reality.

—Rev. Canon E. A. Stuart.

(SEVENTH OUTLINE)

WHOM THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL GUIDE

Note some tempers of the mind which it is necessary to cultivate in order to have an interest in the promised guidance of the Spirit of God.

I. There is spiritual humility, self-distrust, the fear, in any matter, of going anywhere without our Guide. God loves the timidity which will trust in nothing, believe in nothing but Himself; which leads us to suspect our motives, that they may be wrong; our steadfastness, that it may falter; our views of duty, that they may be biased; our faith, that in the hour of temptation it may fail (see Exodus 33:14-15). Let us, then, realise constantly this habit of self-distrust. We are safe only while we fear.

II. There is the spirit of self-subjection; a will disciplined to instant obedience; the power of postponing all choices to the faintest indication of the Mind of God. Perhaps we are under a strong impression that we ought to do a particular thing. We do not like it; but conscience, or Scripture, or an unknown voice has whispered audibly that such is the Will of God. If, then, we yield to hesitation; if, before deciding, there be a conference with flesh and blood; a debating about expedience, and possible consequences, we are not led by the Spirit of God; but if these intimations of the Divine Will are followed by a simple unquestioning obedience, we are so led (see illustrations of those opposite tempers in 2 King Romans 5:12; John 9:7). A willing and obedient mind, that is the way to have the Spirit of God.

III. There is the necessity of habitual prayer for His guidance. A watchful outlook upon Divine signs, prayer for a right interpretation of them, are ever precautions against a wrong step. Wherefore in all things be it ours to seek and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we journey through the wilderness of life, let us look out that we may behold our Divine Guide always ahead of us, His pillar of cloud directing our course by day, and His pillar of fire enlightening us in the darkest night.

Prebendary D. Moore.


Verse 15

THE FAMILY OF GOD

‘For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’

Romans 8:15

We are learning much at the present time about unity, and yet we must remember that the unity which Christ prayed for was unity of a very solemn kind, a unity which was real, and which would be lasting because it was real. We may unite on a false basis, on an artificial basis, on a basis which will dissolve under the distress of the first storm. But if we believe that this world was designed to be God’s family, if we believe that this conception was damaged by the Fall, and is now further injured by man’s selfishness, let us aim at making real once more the purpose of God. If once we can realise the conception of the family knit together by love of the great Father, unity will come as a matter of course.

I. Let us labour, then, first of all, to restore the sense of God’s Fatherhood in the world.—There never, I suppose, has been a time when man has felt the plenitude of his powers so completely as he does now, but at the same time we cannot but feel that material prosperity may tend, if we are not careful, to make us forget the purpose of God in the adjustment of this world to man as his proper environment. Look, for instance, at the growth of luxury, and the unrestrained accumulation of wealth. Is God’s world being made better, more completely His, by the luxurious selfishness of inglorious ease which turns the things that should have been to our wealth into an occasion of falling? Here, too, we see the desire for unity; it is one of the loudest cries of the time; that there should be a greater unity of distribution as between the wealthy and the poor, if necessary by force. But the purpose of God must come before unity. As we read God’s Word, can we say that this is the purpose for which He placed man in his material environment, that he should find in this world the best possible place, stored with good things in which every one should have an equal share? The rich spirit, which is all that matters, the spirit of possession which heralds the selfishness which dethrones God, can exist just as much with three acres and a cow of an equally distributed materialism, as it can in the fruitless millions of the rich fool. We need to watch anxiously lest we miss the purpose of God in placing us where we are, lest we rob Him of His seat as Father of this world, which He has made for man, to help man on his journey towards the heavenly city, an inn as the old Latin writer tells us, on the pilgrim road for our refreshment, not a dwelling-place for our settled life.

II. The purpose of God assumes a more settled aspect still in the provision which He has made for our souls.—God, as the Father of the prodigal, has devised means to help those whom He knew must needs suffer from the contact of a rough and hostile world. Here God’s purpose seems so clear that we almost wonder that any doubt could exist concerning it. And yet what do we find? From the earliest days men who called themselves His followers have wrangled and fought as to the details of His scheme of salvation. How tempting it is to sacrifice anything and everything to unity! Here is one who objects to episcopacy. Very well, let us by all means cast it away. Let us cast away anything to do with bishops, if that will make for unity. Here is one who objects to the priesthood; very well, by all means let us cast away sacerdotalism. Here is one who objects to the sacramental system; let us cast it away upon the denominational rubbish heap; it is unimportant. If a creed will satisfy you, by all means take it; if the Old Testament is a stumbling-block, remove it. It is not unity that we need so much—that can be secured at any time under the name of absorption; but it is unity in the truth. Unity, that is, which is secured by seeking out the purpose of God and working for its realisation. There are thousands who have tested, by a long life of earnest obedience, the purpose of God in giving them this wonderful and unique privilege; it cannot be given up in sacrifice to a passing sentiment by those who feel that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him, and knowing our needs has left us the Catholic Church.

III. But, after all, this purpose of God touches us more closely, in the realisation of His Fatherhood in our inmost life.—Surely we need here, too, a greater unity, a unity of purpose in carrying out the will of God, not the fitful impulses which are shaken by the gusts of uncontrolled passion, nor the feeble dictates of an irresolute will imperfectly obeyed, nor the glimmers of a reason which sin has obscured, nor the pleadings of the spirit through a dishonoured and vacillating conscience. The child of God who can say ‘Abba, Father,’ is a splendid conception, which, alas! we do but imperfectly realise. The term ‘Father’ is full of tenderness and love, but it is also a term full of seriousness and even severity. ‘Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.’ Can we feel that we correspond to this description of the child of God?

Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Illustration

‘Surely we must feel that a great deal of the alienation which has taken place has arisen from taking things at their worst, or as realised in their corruption, and by condemning by reason of a manifest abuse the real use and purpose of that which is God’s ordinance. The Church, for instance, need not be for ever identified with a privileged Establishment which receives imaginary honour from the State. The Church is an institution which is just as much part of our Lord’s plan as was His Atonement. Certainly let us give up all arrogant pretensions, and rest solely on the privileges of that wonderful position which Christ has given us. But if we believe the Church to be God’s purpose for the salvation of man, we cannot give it up, in the mistaken idea of thus promoting unity. Holy Baptism is no indifferent matter, but closely connected with one of the most pressing problems of life—heredity. Confirmation is not a negligible ceremony, but once more an ordinance which is intimately bound up with the problem of environment; when men and women are failing all around us to realise the ideal of humanity to which they were meant to attain, we cannot think that we are justified in substituting a symbolical ceremony for an effectual sacramental sign. Episcopacy does not mean prelacy, nor the priesthood sacerdotalism, nor sacraments a mechanical religion.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE INDIVIDUAL POWER OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

The influence of Christianity has been enormous. Yet to thousands who are called Christians, Christianity is only an abstract idea, it is not a fact which has changed their lives. There are crowds of people who are living to-day who believe in Christianity, who believe in the teaching of Christ, but who do not believe in the individual power of the Christian life.

I. The fatherhood of God.—We know that every one of the services of our Church is based upon the prayer which our Lord taught His disciples, the Lord’s Prayer; in Latin it is called the Pater Noster—Our Father. All our prayers are directed to God Who, through Christ, is our Father. But again, thousands repeat that prayer, yet they can no more truly pray this prayer than a heathen who has never heard it and who has never heard of Christ.

II. Real sonship.—Do we realise that we are God’s sons? Do we feel that we have that Divine nature in us by which we may call ourselves the sons of God? Real sonship of God lies deeper than realising that God is the Creator, the Father. Yea, it lies even deeper than believing that God sent His Son, and that He was the son of the Eternal Father. The fatherhood of God is the golden thread on which all the precious pearls are strung. Take away that fatherhood from our religion and we feel sure that our whole Christian life becomes disconnected. We feel that it is the one spring by which we are able to change our lives. And so we come to ask ourselves, in what way can we draw nearer to that Father? Does it help us if we begin to realise the brotherhood of mankind? There are many people among us who deny that Christ was the Son of God, and yet they say that if there is a brotherhood of mankind it must be maintained. But a brotherhood without a fatherhood is no help to any one. Let us look at our own lives and ask if we realise the brotherhood of mankind in our own lives. Do we really feel, speak, act, and live as brethren with those whom we meet? Do we love those with whom we come in contact? Strive as we may, we cannot live as sons of God as long as we are alone. But we know that at the redemption which Christ brought He fulfilled His pledge. When He ascended up into heaven and went to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent His Holy Spirit down upon us. God’s gifts and blessings come to us through the Holy Spirit, and through that Spirit we are made sons of God, and by that Spirit we are taught to say, ‘Abba, Father.’

III. The spirit of adoption.—And so we find that there is indeed a Father above—God our Creator, God Almighty, and we see that there is the Son Jesus Christ; and there is One Who is among us now—the Holy Ghost Who constantly speaks to us, constantly moves us, constantly directs us to Him Who is the Fountain of Life. There are many gifts and blessings which we receive from the Holy Ghost, but there is one which is nearer and dearer than any to those who enjoy it, and that is, that we are able to speak to God above as to our Father. As we receive the Spirit of God we begin to feel the truth of St. Paul’s words, and as we receive that power we are brought to Him, we are brought into the circle of the Divine Family.

St. Paul says that all who believe are the sons of God, and he adds that, although we do not realise it, the Spirit is constantly interceding for us. Shall we not pray for a manifestation of Christ’s Spirit amongst us? We know that He is speaking to-day to many a soul. Do let us open our hearts to Him. All things will become new if we obey the voice of the Spirit. ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,’ and all of us who have received that Spirit are able to cry, ‘Abba, Father.’

Rev. M. M. Vischer.

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION

Let me examine what a ‘spirit of adoption’ is. But, first, let us look at what it is not.

I. It is not a spirit of doubt and anxiety; in which many of us are living. It is not like this: ‘Does God really love me? Am I forgiven? Shall I be kept all through this year unto the end? How shall I overcome all my difficulties?’ That is not what a little child ever feels, if he has got an affectionate father. He never asks questions. It is not, ‘Does my father love me? And why does my father love me?’ But that love is a great fact, which lies down silent and at rest in his bosom.

II. It is all hope. It always sees bright futures.—Hence, prayer becomes a very bold thing where there is the ‘spirit of adoption.’ The ‘spirit of adoption’ cries—cries ‘Abba.’ A child does not ask a father as a stranger asks him. He goes as one who has a right—as one who has never been refused all his life, and never can be refused to all eternity. If a son finds his father’s door for a moment closed, see how he knocks. ‘That door must open to me.’ And life grows very earnest in that spirit; and that spirit is all real. ‘I was a stranger once, and now I am a child. My Father’s work must be done, and I am the one to do it. I have got the privilege of doing my Father’s work.’ He does not want wages; but he receives rewards. He does not want them; he works for another motive; and yet, he does not know that he has another motive, for he never stops even to ask what his motive is. ‘Of course I love.’

III. That ‘spirit’ has a present possession in the whole universe.—All creation is his Father’s house, and he can say, ‘Everything in it,—everything that is great and everything that is little—everything that is happy and everything that is unhappy—every cloud and every sun-ray—it is mine, on to death itself.’

IV. The ‘spirit of adoption’ longs to go home.—He knows very well what those ever-present words mean, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ For, if the love of an unseen Father has been so sweet, what will it be to look in His face?

There is nothing which I desire for you so much as that you should take child-like, loving, trusting views of your Father in heaven. Do you say, ‘But perhaps I am not His child?’ I answer, the act of believing that He is your Father makes you His child. Cherish the Holy Spirit in your heart. Every obeyed impulse of the conscience will confirm and ratify your ‘adoption.’


Verse 16

THE WITNESS WITHIN

‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’

Romans 8:16

Let us look at the facts to which the spirit of a child of God bears witness proving his adoption.

I. The first great fact which the spirit of every converted man will bear witness to is simply the fact of a change, for the spirit of a Christian man will be able always to see more that condemns him than that acquits him.

II. Another thing a Christian’s conscience witnesses to, that he often longs now for some higher power; he wishes to bear the image of God; his affections reach out to something higher than that attained by a worldling. His conscience also tells him that there is a struggle now, where he used to sleep quietly, that if he is not settled in grace he cannot rest in his sins.

III. Then there is the literal witnessing of the Holy Spirit within, and some of us know that his testimony has seemed at times more plain and palpable than at other times, for we have felt as it were the very eye of God upon us, and must confess that the Spirit’s testimony is clearest when belief is greatest. But I suppose, generally, no person who is in the life of grace but has been made sensible of certain strong, surprising convictions of the mind, which he has felt at the time to be the hand of God.

It is a fact, and we cannot escape from it, that in every child of God ‘the Spirit of God beareth witness’ that he is ‘a child of God.’

Now, how do you stand?

Illustration

‘Recently there came under my ministerial care a man of culture, education, refinement, who had been restored to liberty after a period of penal servitude. He told me that in his youth he had been converted, the affirmation of sonship had stirred within him, and that he had never been able to silence its witness. He said that when he began to wander from the path of right he strove with the whole power of his intellect to become an unbeliever; that he came to London and placed himself under the training of Mr. Bradlaugh, in the eager desire to prove his religion to be a lie, but in vain. Out of the lowest depths the Spirit ever bore tormenting witness to him that he was a child of God.’


Verse 17

SUFFERING THE PRELUDE TO GLORY

‘If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.’

Romans 8:17

These words had a special meaning and application for the days of the Apostles. But they have a meaning for ourselves too. We have need of help as much as the people of the Early Church, though not exactly in the same ways, and we can get our help in remembering the unseen, as they did.

How shall we learn to be quiet and content knowing that if we suffer then we shall be glorified? Let us turn to the help.

I. The help of Christ. Of course our first and greatest help is in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.—As we remember His life and sufferings, and as we claim our membership with Him, we learn His love and power, and help comes. This is a very familiar thought, some know its truth well. But, after all, this too is a matter of faith, and faith is not always strong; faith does not always seem able to lay hold on these things.

Let me speak to you of another way of help, perhaps not quite so much thought of, a way in which we may strengthen even faith itself.

II. The help of our own past experiences.—Now, it is quite true that we have not had the experiences of St. Paul. We have never been blessed with the vision of heaven. We have never been made happy by a sense of the presence of angels, and the holy beings of the unseen world.

But yet we may have had experiences which have helped us, and from which we may now draw courage, strength, and hope.

(a) First in the matter of pain. Think of some one who has suffered much and endeavoured to bear the pain well. He has not said much about it, but has rather tried to be silent.

(b) So also with poverty. It may bring with it a great sense of loss. If all has been borne quietly, making the best of what there was, submitting to the will of God when a thing could not be done, waiting in hope of better times to come, may not the man, the real man, be the better and the stronger for it?

(c) Very much the same may be said of sorrow. Murmuring, fretting, temptations, even doubts of God, may easily make sorrow much harder to bear. The man who will not let these things be found in him, who keeps his sorrow to himself, not going about asking sympathy from all he meets; the man who recognises the many little things that may come, that do come, in the way of comfort, that show that God has not forgotten, has not left him alone, and is grateful for them; does not such a man become stronger in self-restraint and faith in God?

(d) Or think of temptation. To any self-respecting man, any man of honour, much more to any man who knows what his life should be before God, temptation is a real suffering. But if he watches against it, if he overcomes it, and though he may be very near falling, yet is able to say, ‘No, I did not do it, I am thankful to say’; is not such an one a better man for it? Does it not add something to his life?

(e) The same thing is true of persecution. If a true man is persecuted for doing what is right he gains a firmer hold on the right itself. He studies it more, and so becomes more sure of his duty to uphold it, to stand by it, and so if need be to suffer for it.

We may find that far more than we knew at the time, the life of Christ has been our life, and that we have power, and have gained something in that to which we hope to come, ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,’ and think what will it be when we are perfected! Think what will be the glory when the suffering is ended!

—Bishop E. W. Osborne.


Verse 18

SUFFERINGS AND GLORY

‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’

Romans 8:18

‘I reckon,’ spoken by one who knew what sufferings meant.

I. The sufferings of this life.

(a) The sufferings of the early Christians of St. Paul’s time.

(b) The sufferings of ordinary Christians in peaceful times—(1) in mind, (2) in body, (3) in estate.

II. The glory which issues from sufferings.

(a) The sufferings must be rightly endured as coming from God for the purpose of discipline, and then—

(b) They work out glory—(1) the glory of humility, (2) the glory of patience, (3) the glory of holiness, (4) the glory of all these perfected in heaven.

Illustration

‘How blissful an employment will it be hereafter, in the mansions of the kingdom, to place the past sufferings and the present glory side by side, when at every stage of the comparison we are constrained to break out into astonishment and delight, “Who would have imagined such an issue? How little now do my trials appear! Who would not have passed through fifty times as much of sorrow to reach this blessed land? Ah, that illness; that disappointment; that loss: I see now wherefore it was sent: all was mercy. How could I ever be so impatient and disquieted! How little I knew its fruit! Hallelujah! for the sorrows, as for the joys of my pilgrimage, again I say, Hallelujah.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

PREPARATION FOR GLORY

We are all passing, as many of us as are Christians, through the processes which are essential to the formation of the development of our final condition. You may call it, if you like, the school-time, which is preparatory to maturity; or, with some of us, still more strictly, it is the furnace, melting the material, making it capable of receiving the impression of its influence. And, if once we admit that thought, then immediately we hold a chain of reasoning, which justifies, nay, which reproves, nay, which rejoices in every sorrow; and which establishes a proportion between the degree of ‘the sufferings,’ and the degree of ‘the glory’ (for there are ‘degrees of glory’) which will more than reconcile every sufferer to the weight of his afflictions, however great.

I. The thought of the consummation, to which it is all preparatory, ought to be sufficient to swallow up all the pain of this present world.

(a) What, if the body ‘groans, being burdened’ with its infirmities, rent with its pangs, prostrate with its weaknesses—what, when it is all ‘but for a moment’—what, when it is leading on to that painlessness, when this body shall be capable of serving continually, with the most exquisite sense of delight? What are years spent upon a sick bed, when we think of an eternity of rapturous ministrations?

(b) Or, what is the anguish of this little life, which is being made shorter, by its own sufferings, to the rest which shall be for ever and ever, when we shall rest upon the bosom of God?

(c) And does not it become a very little matter to be very poor, for a few brief fast-flowing years, to him that can say, ‘Lo, I inherit all things’?

(d) Or, what if you be separated, for a season, from those who have made the very joy of life to you—do not you know that they are taken away for this very purpose, that, being made subjects of faith for a while, you may presently hold them again by a surer tenure, in an unclouded union? And may you not well look across the little valley of the separation, to that sweet fellowship of the soul, which is waiting for you, now, upon the mountain of light?

(e) And all the unkindnesses of this harsh world—its little sympathy, its hard judgments—will you not appreciate more the name, the sweet fellowship of the Church, breathing only love?

II. The problem solved.—St. Paul seems to say, ‘I have added up both sides, and I have struck the difference. I have counted the sufferings and the glory, and I have balanced them together, and I find them so wide asunder in their measure, one with another, that they are not even commensurate. I have gone through the problem in all its process, and “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”’

Illustration

‘St. Francis de Sales was sent for to a labouring man, who greatly desired to receive his bishop’s blessing before his death. Francis found the sick man almost dying, but quite clear in mind. He was delighted to see his bishop, and said, “I thank God for the happiness of receiving your blessing before I die.” He then asked, “Sir, do you think I am dying?” Francis thought that some natural fear had come over the sick man, and he answered tenderly, that he had seen men quite as ill recover, but that the best thing was to put one’s whole trust in God, for life or death. “Oh, but, sir, do you think I am dying?” “My friend,” answered the bishop, “a doctor would be better able to tell you that than I am, but I am able to say that I think you well prepared to die, and possibly at a future time you might be less prepared to go hence. Your best course is to leave God to work out His will, which is sure to be the best and happiest thing for you.” “Oh, sir,” the man exclaimed, “I do not ask you this because I am afraid to die, but because of all things I am afraid of getting well.” Francis asked the sick man why he feared to live, a fear which is so contrary to nature. “Sir,” he answered, “this life is so worthless, I cannot think why men cling to it, and if I did not know that God wills us to abide here till He calls us, I should not be here now.” Such indifference to life surprised the bishop, who inquired if the old man had any hidden sorrow. “Far from it,” was the reply; “I am seventy, and so far I have had the blessing of perfect health, and I have never felt the sting of poverty; my home is happy, and if I have any regret in leaving this world, it is the parting with my wife and children.” “Whence then, brother, your longing to die?” Francis asked. “Sir,” the peasant answered, “every sermon I have ever heard has taught me so much concerning the joys of Paradise, that this world has gradually grown to look like a mere prison.”’


Verse 19

THE WAITING CHURCH

‘The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.’

Romans 8:19

What is it that this passage teaches?

I. It teaches that the creature, that is to say all creation, lies under a blight, that a cloud has crept between the light of God and His creation. He, at the beginning, made all things very good, but very good now they are not, they are marred.

II. It teaches that this blight will be taken off, imperfection will be removed, the shadow swept away; that there will be a re-creation, and that in this new creation all once more will be very good.

III. It teaches that this restoration depends on the restoration of man, the manifestation of the sons of God, and that is in the future.

IV. It teaches that the glorification of the saints does not take place immediately after death, but in the future, at the redemption, not of the soul, but of the body.

—Rev. S. Baring-Gould.

Illustration

‘If the hope that is set before us be the resurrection of the dead, which is the only hope we profess in the Creeds to have, then surely our risen bodies will have to live on a risen, renovated earth, that earth being in heaven, in that God is in and around and above it; and I venture to think that we have very sure testimony in Scripture that this risen and glorified creation will be the place of our residence hereafter. It will be the fashion of this world which will pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31). St. Peter, indeed, speaks of the way in which the fashion will change, “The heavens and the earth, which are now … are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.… The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” And again, “The day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.” And then at once he adds, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3).’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

OUR RELATION TO THE ANIMAL WORLD

St. Paul regards this life as a life of suffering and imperfection. Man is involved in its evil, and the rest of creation is involved therein too. The Apostle evidently looks upon the animal world, as we call it, as involved in the fall of man, but he looks forward to the coming of a better day, and the establishment of a brighter and happier order of things. When will this be? This will be at the appearing of the Lord to inaugurate His glorious kingdom. We are to look forward and do all we can to prepare for that great and glorious time. St. Paul identifies it with the manifestation of the sons of God; the day, that is, when it will be clearly shown who are faithful to the Lord, and they will receive their due honour from Him. And all nature is represented as unconsciously waiting and crying out for the same event.

I. The animal world.—A subject which has its own degree of importance, and has also its place assigned to it in God’s Holy Word, is the suffering and pain in what is generally known as the animal world. Of the numerous precepts and enactments of the Law of Moses, we come upon a merciful provision for the benefit of animals, besides the commandment we read every Sunday which provides that cattle as well as human kind shall have their day of rest. St. Paul quotes those words, and, in his anxiety to find out the deep, underlying spirit of the letter of the Law, he asks, Doth God care for oxen? The answer, of course, is that God does care for oxen, though, comparatively speaking, He cares less for them than He does for His own people, the sons of men. Again, we read in the Law, ‘Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.’ We might almost think this a sentimental provision, but it appears to be a question of not despising the relationship between the mother and its offspring. If you must boil the kid in milk, at any rate let it not be in its mother’s. And, again, ‘If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way in any tree or on the ground,’ if it is necessary to remove it, as it may be—there is no question of mere wantonness here—let it be done as kindly as possible; let the mother-bird go if you have to take the nest and eggs. All this speaks of God’s loving care and thought for His creatures; and I need only remind you of what our Lord says of our Heavenly Father’s care for the birds.

II. Animals claim kindness at our hands.—We should be very particular to show every possible care and kindness for animals, and to teach young people, who often act without knowing the pain they give, to do the same. As it is, animals have to suffer much. What we can do now is at least not in any way to aggravate the sufferings of God’s creatures, but let them, as far as possible, enjoy unmolested their little day, the day which God has given them to enjoy their short period of happiness. We should not countenance, for instance, cruel forms of sport or methods of preparing food; nor even wear the plumage of the bird, as women often do, not once reflecting on the needless death which has been inflicted in order to procure it; nor kill insects which are harmless and often beneficial, as we have to kill pests which do harm. We should also oppose any avoidable infliction of pain upon animals for scientific purposes. I do not enter into this question now, and all I say is that we should try as we have the opportunity to see that this practice is safeguarded in every way.

III. The friends and companions of man.—There are animals which may be called the friends and companions of man—the horse and dog. There are additional reasons for treating them with kindness, because of their willingness to serve man, and because of their admirable qualities, and especially in the case of the dog, their wonderful faithfulness. These reasons, besides their helplessness, give them an abundant claim upon man’s patience and affection, a claim to which we must be careful to respond.

Any exercise of love on our part not only forwards and hastens the coming of Christ’s kingdom of love, but makes us more like to Him Whose nature and name is love. Love must be shown not only to our fellow-men, not only to our angelic guardians, but to those other creatures upon whom our life is largely dependent, and whom God has put so much in our power, and who are waiting for the day when they shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of God.

Rev. H. A. Cumberledge.

Illustration

‘There is a true story of a dog which refused to leave its master’s grave in the Grayfriars’ Churchyard, Edinburgh. Do what they could to coax it away, it remained there for years, and then died. Now a marble fountain has been erected at the place, with an inscription in bronze recording its fidelity.’


Verse 20

THE VANITY OF CREATION

‘For the creature was made subject to vanity.’

Romans 8:20

It is hardly necessary to say that the creature is creation, as indeed the Revised Version puts it—this world in which man lives out his little life; and when St. Paul says the creation was made subject to vanity, he implies that to the reverent mind or heart there is in creation a certain element of failure, there is a streak of evil in the face of the good.

I. It is just that sense of failure, of something which might have been, and yet is not, that creates for man his peculiar relation to the world in which he is situated. For indeed it might have happened that man would not be conscious of anything which binds him to the world at large. He might not have found outside in the world any reflection of the character which he discerns in himself, and yet the very expressions which we use of nature and of life are witnesses to the essential sympathy which is itself, we may reverently suppose, the evidence of the one Divine authorship. There is in life the brightness and the shadow, the calm and the storm, as there is in nature. The life of man, as the life of natural objects, passes from birth to maturity, to decay and death. The seasons of the natural world—spring, summer, autumn, winter—find their correspondence in the experiences of human life, but all these would not of themselves, as I think, create that peculiar sympathy of which the highest minds and the best are conscious in their relations to nature. There is in nature something which St. Paul calls vanity, something of failure, something of falling below the ideal which seems set before it.

II. ‘So good and so bad.’—What is strange in human nature is not that it is so good or so bad, but that it is so good and so bad, capable of an elevation so sublime and a degradation so abject. Nature seems to speak, however silently, of something which has defeated her natural God-given object. The reason why the discords of creation touch us so powerfully is, that we feel them to be images of our moral condition. A great theologian of our own time has said that when he looks upon human nature in its height and in its depth he feels just as if he saw a boy of noble ancestry being brought up in surroundings which lowered him far below his natural level. Something has gone wrong with that boy. There is a flaw which has occurred in his life’s story, and the flaw and that defect are the inherent sympathy between man and his environment. So St. Paul uses the very same language about human nature and the natural world. But it all is waiting for the restitution of all things, for the redemption which shall unite it to the sons of God.

III. Is it not a fact that the meanest of mankind exercises wellnigh unlimited sovereignty over the noblest of the animals, and yet the wisest of men have seemed to come hardly nearer to them in understanding of their nature than the veriest child. What do we know of their language, their means of communication, so much stronger than is ordinarily recognised; what of their conscience, for the germ of conscience beyond doubt lies within them; what of their future, whether they, like ourselves, shall be inheritors of the immortality which God reserves for His creatures? There is no doubt we owe them a vast responsibility. There is hardly any higher test of the dignity, the elevation of a people, than its attitude towards the animal creation.

IV. It is the safe and sacred rule of life, as far as may be, ‘Never to blend our pleasure or our pride with sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.’ I think it is strange that the men who have realised, as was never realised before, the nearness of man’s relation to the animal world, have not always been distinguished by the most loving and penetrating sympathy with those animals themselves. After all, the view of nature which sanctifies the relation of man to his own environment is that it is all the work of God. For some reason, mysterious indeed, it is subject now to vanity, but it is reserved to a glorious future. The teaching of St. Paul (and St. Paul saw further into life and destiny than most of his interpreters) looks forward to the time when the whole creation, animate and inanimate, shall be redeemed by the efficacious sacrifice of the Son of God. In this faith we shall go our way. We shall not be guilty of any of that want of thought which does more harm than deliberate evil purpose if we realise that all nature is the expression of the Divine Almighty Mind.

Bishop Welldon.


Verse 20-21

THE HOPE OF CREATION

‘For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’

Romans 8:20-21

In this wonderful passage St. Paul has been casting his eyes over the whole universe, and has seen upon it all two unmistakable marks. The first is the mark of vanity, that is to say, imperfection, transitoriness, decay, aspirations thwarted, efforts ineffective, time and chance apparently the lords of life. But he has seen also another mark on the face of things, equally all pervading and unmistakable and characteristic—the mark of hope. The Church is the body of those in whose hearts the Spirit of Christ has aroused the spirit of sonship.

Let me suggest one or two practical conclusions.

I. We are waiting and working for the complete fulfilment of the hope of the world—the manifestation everywhere of the sons of God. But we find the task very difficult; and the Church needs at the present time all its hopefulness, if it is to push its frontiers in the modern world.

In regard to what some people are calling the hopeless task of spreading Christianity in our great cities, there are two practical rules to be borne in mind:—

(a) To see that all our secular work in the world is in line with God’s purposes of righteousness and peace; that our words and deeds are swords of the Spirit of God, fighting on His side in the battle.

(b) To see that all our religious work, consciously undertaken, is as wise as it is energetic. Christian work is often so amateurish. But the Church is an army which needs wise leadership and common counsel if it is to succeed in its campaign.

II. A second thought concerns our theology.—Here we may bear in mind that we still have our spiritual treasure in earthen vessels, and the earthen vessel is still subject to decay. The creature was made subject to vanity; and there clings to our human thought, even about the divinest things, some of the mortality from which in this world we cannot escape. But this vanity is not unmixed with hope, because it is a sign of growth. If the Holy Spirit of Christ, by being more richly and bountifully spread in our hearts, make it impossible for us to assent to all the opinions of our forefathers, and express our faith simply in their words, we need not lament. For the deepening and broadening of the spirit of sonship, the more whole-hearted knowledge and love of God, is one part of the manifestation of sonship for which we wait and long. As yet, even in the twentieth century, we have but the earnest of the knowledge of the Father that shall one day be ours, when the full Spirit of the only-begotten Son is perfected in us, and we know God as we are known.

III. Finally, let us not ignore our relations with the lower creatures of God.—St. Paul tells us that when we attain to our full redemption as God’s children, then the whole creation also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and share the liberty and glory of the children of God. What in literal fact that promise prefigures we cannot even guess, for a world not subject to decay and death is to us inconceivable. But we have the promise that the new earth will not be subject to vanity, or, as John puts it, ‘There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain.’

Rev. Canon Beeching.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

This passage is one which appeals more strongly to us than it can have done to any earlier age. We have learned far more about the wonderful world in which we live than our forefathers knew; we have come to believe, as if it were an established truth, that all nature is one, and obeys one law; and, moreover, we find in the notion of development a most valuable guide to the understanding of history and nature. These ideas are clearly expressed in the passage before us. No; St. Paul is expressing a hope—a confident hope, but not based on any special knowledge. He felt that since all creation is the work of God, it must be precious in His sight, and that it cannot be destined to any mean or irrational fate. Moreover, he felt most strongly that when the Son of God was made flesh, He thereby ennobled and consecrated not human nature only, but in a less degree the whole world also, which, ‘since Christ hath died, ennobled is and glorified.’

This is the thought on which I wish to say a few words. It is capable of many applications.

I. One of the most obvious is the duty of kindness to animals, not simply for our own sakes, but because they are our fellow-creatures, sharers with us in many of God’s good gifts, and, I venture to say, with certain rights of their own. This is a duty which is better recognised in our country than in any other part of Europe, and its recognition is largely due to the labours of our naturalists, which in this field have borne good fruit.

II. There is another way in which we may apply these verses of St. Paul.—The whole world is part of one scheme, and the study of the beauties of nature, or of the wonders of science, may teach us a great deal about God. The beautiful hymn, ‘There is a book, who runs may read,’ gives us a good example of the religious use of nature. This is a thing which appeals to some people very strongly, to others hardly at all; but St. Paul shows that those who can use it may derive great benefit from it.

III. There is a third use which may be made of these verses. St. Paul, we see, feels a strong hopefulness about the ultimate destiny of all things.—He is no shallow optimist, who thinks that all is for the best in this best of worlds. On the contrary, he sees all nature groaning and travailing in pain together. He does not shut his eyes to the apparent cruelty and wastefulness of nature’s methods. But just because they are so cruel and wasteful, he feels that there must be something higher and better behind them. It seems reasonable to believe as St. Paul did, that in some way quite unknown to us, not in space and time, but in some higher order, not only our souls, but all the good and beautiful things which have existed in this world, ‘will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’

IV. St. Paul means us to attach great importance to the consecration of the bodily life and all its surroundings, by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.—This side of Christian dogma was a great stumbling-block to the Greeks, as he says himself. The Greek philosophers believed in the immortality of the soul. They liked to fancy the soul rising above the vain shadows of this deceptive world, and returning to the world of spirits, the heart’s true home. Why, they asked, drag in a body where it is not wanted? We want to leave matter behind altogether. We like to picture the soul as a figure which has its head in the clouds, and only its feet in the mud of earth. This muddy vesture of decay, they thought, is a mere hindrance to our hearing celestial harmonies. But Christianity has always held firmly to the doctrine of the resurrection, which means that body, soul, and spirit are one man, and that the world is not to be despised. The difference between the two views soon shows itself in matters of conduct.

Rev. Professor Inge.

Illustration

‘There is no better example of loving interest in animal life than in St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most Christlike of all the saints. His biographies are full of stories of his gentle solicitude for all living creatures. His sentiment for nature, we are told, “was a mixture of admiration and tenderness for the universal life which gives being to the blade of grass and to humanity alike.” His was no mere sentimental sympathy. He was interested that the plant should have its sun, the bird its nest—that the humblest manifestations of creative force should have the happiness to which they are entitled. He used to thank God for “my brother the sun,” and “my little sisters the birds,” and in his quaint half-serious fashion talked of trying to convert a wolf who was doing a great deal of damage.’


Verse 22

THE SACRING OF PAIN

‘The whole creation … travaileth in pain.’

Romans 8:22

It is held that pain came in with sin; and will go out with sin. This, however, is to be taken with certain reservations.

I. The relationship between sin and suffering is a general one.—We are deterred by the language of our Lord Himself from tracing the links between particular sufferings and individual sins.

II. The fact of pre-Adamite death being revealed, revealed also is pre-Adamite decay; and it is hard to accept this fact without considering that it includes the presence of physical pain: hence we appear forced to hold, that pain was in the world before sin; and consequently that it became a natural consequence of man sharing in the mortality which was before and around him, that he should also share in the pain physically inseparable from mortality.

III. Vicarious pain.—A shallow divinity has attacked the doctrine of the Cross, on the ground that it is an exhibition of injustice. If it be, then all terrestrial life is a wider exhibition of injustice, for it starts from vicarious pain, and is sustained by it. Wherever we turn, we encounter the working of this great law of sacrifice. The Cross, instead of colliding with the natural order, is but the culmination of the vicarious suffering of which the world is full. If, then, we cannot live this life save through the loss, the pain, of others, it is at least in harmony with this fact that we cannot attain to the next save by the same means.

IV. Whatever Jesus Christ touched or utilised, He consecrated.—He has consecrated life by accepting it. He has consecrated death by dying. He has consecrated tears by shedding them. He has consecrated burdens by bearing them. And pain, too, has been consecrated, for He has felt it—felt it in its extremest forms; and none may think their own has not been embraced within the compass of His. The sufferers of earth’s suffering family have something of sacredness about them. If in nothing else, they have fellowship with the Man of Sorrows through theirs; the pinched face of want, the drawn face of physical anguish, the furrowed face of care, have something of a halo round them; and an angel’s eye may see the nimbus though we may not.

—Bishop A. Pearson.

Illustration

‘Pain is a worker, pleasure an idler, in God’s universe. As one has said: “The pleasures of each generation evaporate in air; it is their pains that increase the spiritual momentum of the world.”’


Verse 25

PATIENT WAITING

‘If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.’

Romans 8:25

We are living in a transition time, by which we mean that ours is an age of change. This is true of mankind everywhere, because change is a law of life. But change is no proof of advance or progress. By a transition time we mean a definite passage, a going over from the old to a new order of things. In a higher sense we Christians, in spiritual matters, are in a transition state; a state of change from a definite past to a no less definite future, and therefore our life is a struggle.

A great truth dawned upon the world in the Advent of Him Who is the Truth of God—a truth far too great as yet for our little understandings to realise. But it is of the earlier period of which I want to speak—the time when Christ was expected only, when some in earnest longing ‘against hope, believed in hope.’ ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.’

I. What can we learn from those who lived before Christ came in the flesh?—We have seen clearly what they saw but from afar, and we only wait for the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Would to God it were so, and that in our day the Advent of Christ were a living, acting reality. But we know that it is not so. I speak not of the light and careless ones, but of the many earnest souls thirsting for a religion which they cannot grasp, wrestling with doubt and despair, oppressed by things they cannot understand. ‘Why does God send this trial! If He is a God of Love, how can evil exist as it does, and slay its thousands? Why does not God declare Himself, that men cannot doubt?’ To these questions they can return no answer, and the difficulty must influence the life for ill. What shall we say to these? Shall we tell them that because they have not seen as clearly as we have seen, therefore their faith is not ours? God forbid. I believe Christ is teaching these earnest ones to see Himself. He has touched their eyes, but as yet they ‘see men as trees walking’; they must wait still for the Saviour’s hand. But it is just that waiting which is so hard. ‘If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.’ That is, and must be, the guiding principle of all religious waiting for Christ. If we are to advance in holiness and likeness to Christ, it must be by the leading of His Spirit, and we must wait for that as patiently as the patriarchs who waited for the day when He should reveal Himself.

II. And in this waiting two things are necessary:—

(a) All through, if you look back to history, you will find that the great men are the onlooking men, who absolutely refused to believe that perfection and truth could not be reached, or that they had reached it. These greater souls are usually the laughing-stock of inferior men; they are people who believe without evidence. Yes, and herein lies the secret of their greatness. They are hoping for that they see not; while the everyday world, like contented swine, has not a thought beyond what it can touch, and taste, and handle. And yet it is a mere platitude to say that the very first condition of that progress of which we are so proud is the throwing one’s self forward into an unknown future, the hoping against hope; often belief in defiance of present evidence, which has created the man of science, the politician, the discoverer, the saint of God.

(b) But then the second condition of patient waiting for Christ’s Coming seems to introduce a distinction between the natural and the spiritual. We say patience means, in the spiritual sphere, the allowing God to reveal Himself. In the search for scientific or philosophic discovery and truth man must not be content to sit still and wait; he must wrest Nature’s secret from her. Yet this is true only in part; for it is a canon of scientific discovery that we must put aside preconceived notions of our own. The moment these are allowed to dominate our reasonings, our facts become one-sided, our conclusions not true. Is not that exactly the same in the spiritual sphere? We forget the power of a dominant idea to distort facts, to blind the eyes. Christ came, and the Pharisees, learned in the law and the prophets, put Him to death; Simeon, who waited for the salvation of Israel, had grace to say,’ Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.’ The remedy is to rest and wait, to take God at His word till He reveal the hidden harmony of His mysterious works. Whether you can find a reason or not for such things as sickness and trial: ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently’ till Christ comes near to you. It is a half-faith that trusts God for the end, but cannot leave to Him the means. For though it is true that Christ is come, His coming to the soul is a continuous thing.

—Rev. Canon Aubrey L. Moore.


Verse 26

THE HOLY SPIRIT OF HELP

‘And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity.’

Romans 8:26 (R.V.)

Our Lord taught His disciples to pray, and promised another Advocate. So the Holy Ghost, as our Lord did, teaches us to pray, and is Himself, in a sense, our Advocate. But the mode of assistance is different. We humbly now inquire as to this mode.

I. Let us seek to obtain a deeper realisation of the purport of that phrase: ‘We know not how to pray as we ought.’ Heathen philosophers gave as a reason why men ought not to pray, ‘You know not what to pray for, therefore prayer is useless.’ Miserable comforters were they all! Our very ignorance and weakness are what most commend us to the All-wise Almighty Father. What child in the family circle demands most of its parents’ care and attention? The little helpless babe ‘with no language but a cry.’ We must feel our nothingness before receiving God’s fullness—our blindness before apprehending Christ as Light. We must know we cannot of ourselves know how to pray or for what.

II. But ‘likewise,’ or ‘in like manner the Spirit helpeth.’—This links the text with what goes before. The Apostle is speaking of burdens resting upon (1) creation (Romans 8:22), (2) upon the soul of believers (Romans 8:23), and (3) upon the Holy Ghost (Romans 8:26), which burdens are expressed by groanings in each instance. Thus, by a mystic system of spiritual evolution, an unutterable and intolerable burden is carried, as it were, from the realm of the material to the spiritual world, the Divine Being Himself not being exempted from a share. It is difficult to understand, but the meaning seems to be that the Holy Ghost excites in us desires which we cannot utter in prayer. All true Christians are conscious of these vague longings, and have a Divine thirst of the soul. Our nebulous but very real desires cannot shape themselves into words. We can only ‘wait for the redemption.’ Then comes the Holy Ghost to help our infirmities. The word literally means ‘to take hold of one thing with another.’ Like a powerful friend coming to help one with a weight he cannot carry himself. How effectual such help is!

III. Consider why it is that this praying in and through the Spirit is effectual.

(a) He that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit. Who is it we find in Revelation 2:23? It is the Alpha and Omega, ‘All the Churches shall know that I am He which searcheth,’ etc. We know not what to pray for; but God knows, and Christ is God.

(b) Such prayers are sure to be answered. They cannot fail, because they are prompted by God Himself, and the intercession is according to the will of God. ‘And this is the confidence that we have in Him,’ etc. (1 John 5:14-15).

IV. We conclude with two solemn considerations.

(a) How infinitely important it is that we should have the Spirit of God, for we cannot pray in a Spirit which we do not possess.

(b) How important always to pray in the Spirit. Wait in silence before God for His Holy Spirit to prompt, and then accept the prayer. Never mind if you do not find many words definite enough to express your meaning. The Spirit intercedeth within you, and interprets all to Court above.

—Rev. J. Trotter.


Verse 37

‘MORE THAN CONQUERORS’

‘We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.’

Romans 8:37

Here is a glorious vision indeed. St. Paul is so confident that he speaks of the future as if it were present (cf. Romans 8:30). His lips are touched with the power and the sweetness of the eternal song. He dreams a golden dream that he is home at last, and his feet are standing within the gates of the New Jerusalem.

I. Who are the victors?—By nature they were far off, lost in the dust and slime of the great city of Rome, but they were ‘beloved of God, called to be saints,’ saved by grace. St. Paul is sure that neither tribulation, nor anguish, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword shall separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

II. Who are the enemies?—The angels in Romans 8:38 are evil angels. Matthew Arnold said the modern Christian had too little conflict with the devil. It seemed strange for him to say so, but he was perfectly right (cf. Ephesians 6:12).

III. Why the victors overcame.—It was ‘through Him that loved us.’

IV. Learn these two things:—

(a) How very dear Christ’s people are to Him (Ephesians 1:18).

(b) That it is most desirable to be numbered among them.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘In a certain crisis in the battle of Marengo it was the presence of Napoleon that turned a certain defeat into a glorious victory. So it is the Presence of Christ and the Blood of Christ that gives the victory in the holy war. It has been well said that “the Apostle always put Christ first, and not the Bible, or the miracles, or the creeds.”’


Verse 38-39

NO SEPARATION

‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Romans 8:38-39

The love of God! Nothing shall separate us from the love of God! These are the two thoughts that I give you this evening. Some of us believe in God; some of us do not. When I say that we do not believe I mean this, that we only give God a half-hearted faith. Some of us, on the other hand, believe in Him with all our heart and soul and strength. But whether we believe in Him in a half-hearted or a whole-hearted manner, the great thing we need to know is this, that God loves each one with an intensity and reality which the human mind cannot comprehend.

I. The greatest thing in the world.—The greatest thing in the world is the love of God. Take the love of God away and the world ceases to be what it is, for the love of God is the controlling factor in the world. But you say, ‘How do I know that the controlling factor in this world is the love of God?’ Every flower that grows in our garden, every flower that grows under the hedgerow, is but an expression of the goodness and beauty behind it that reign everywhere. The light that we all glory in, what does it tell us? That somewhere is living and reigning the great sun. I think of the beauty and goodness Divine as I take up the Gospels and Epistles, and they speak to me of the great and eternal love of Jesus Christ. How can I help seeing, unless I am absolutely blind, that Jesus Christ is the greatest revelation of the love of God to man?

II. No separation.—‘Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.’ St. Paul gives us a long list, but may I ignore that and take something a little closer? I think, first of all, of the guilt of sin. There is some one man and some one woman in this church feeling as they have never felt before—the pressure, the awfulness, the tremendousness of sin. Yet God will put away that sin. Sin separates man from God, but when that sin is put away by the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, there is no separation—nothing between. Some have come into the church feeling that sin is too much for them. They struggle and they struggle, and they begin to believe that God cannot save them. They know He has saved them from their sin, but they do not know whether He can keep them from sin. ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.’ God means us to realise the intensity and reality of the love of Christ for us as we have never done before.

—Rev. F. W. Metcalfe.

Illustrations

(1) ‘There is a story told of a certain officer who went into the military hospital where a man was dying, and said, “You are very, very bad!” “I know, sir.” “To what Church do you belong?” “The Church of Christ.” “I do not mean that—I mean what persuasion?” The man replied: “My persuasion is this, ‘I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ In this persuasion, sir, I neither fear life nor do I fear death.”’

(2) ‘A preacher who had preached upon Christ’s redemption came down the pulpit steps and went into the vestry. Then there came a plain working-man to him and said, “Did you say all you wanted to say?” “I think I did—I think I said all I intended.” “I do not think you did. Some years ago I think I lived as bad a life as it was possible for any one to live. I found my way to the Cross and there I laid my burden at the foot of the Cross, and I came away feeling that my sins were all forgiven. I felt it. But next day the old temptation—that old passion, that old lust, that old desire—came upon me, and I met it on the battlefield, and I fell. I did try—God knows how I tried again and again, and I fell and fell again and again. I felt there was no chance for me whatever, and I began to despise myself, and then, one day, suddenly, something came to me and I lifted up my hands and said, ‘Oh Lord, I claim Thy promise. I claim Thy power,’ and for the last five years God has helped me. The old temptation has come but I have not given way. When you preach again say this, that Jesus Christ saves to the very uttermost, because we rely on Christ, not on our own strength, but on Him Who loves us.”’

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Romans 8:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/romans-8.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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