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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Romans 14



Other Authors


There appears to have been a party in the Church at Rome which had adopted certain ascetic practices over and above the common rule of Christianity. We gather that they abstained altogether from flesh and wine, and that they (or possibly some other persons in the same church) also made a point of observing certain days with peculiar sanctity. When we ask what was the origin and affinities of this party, the answer is not quite obvious. It can hardly have been a branch of the Judaising party, such as it was met with in the Churches of Galatia, for then more stress would have been laid on the duty of circumcision, and their antagonism to St. Paul would probably have been more pronounced. Besides, if they had taken their stand upon the law of Moses, that law only forbade certain meats and drinks, and not all flesh and wine. A more plausible theory would be that which connects the party in question with the scruples mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13. The avoidance of meat offered to idols might easily be extended so as to cover all meat whatsoever. It would be difficult to ensure the complete absence of such pollution as was involved in the idol sacrifices, and a scrupulous person may have thought that the only safe measure was a total abstinence from animal food. And in like manner, as regards wine, which was liable to be used in heathen libations. The objection to this view is, that there is no allusion to the idol sacrifices, and as the Apostle enters into the subject so minutely in 1 Corinthians 8, he might naturally be expected not to pass it over without some allusion here. It seems best, therefore, to regard the practices referred to in the Roman Church as a natural development of ascetic or purist elements within the Church itself. These would be supplied by those who had come over to Christianity from the sect of the Essenes, with the tenets of which sect the allusions in this chapter would quite sufficiently agree. It would appear to have been a further development of the same doctrines which, at a later date, vexed the Church at Coloss

Verse 1

(1) Weak in the faith . . .—The presence of a single strong master-motive is apt to silence petty scruples. Where the “eye is single”—where all the powers and faculties of the man are concentrated upon one object, and that object the highest that can engage human thought or affection—there will naturally be a certain largeness of view. The opposite of this is to be “weak in the faith.” There may be a sincere desire to lead a religious life, and yet the mind is taken up with petty details, each of which is painfully judged by itself, and not by reference to a central principle.

Receive ye.—Take to yourselves, stretch out the hand of friendship to him.

Doubtful disputations.—The marginal rendering is more exact, “to judge his doubtful thoughts,” or “to criticise his scruples.” The strong are to deal tenderly with the weak, and not engage them in casuistical discussions.

Verse 2

(2) Believeth that he may . . .—Rather, perhaps, hath confidence to eat all things. His faith is strong enough to prevent his conscience from becoming uneasy.

Verse 3

(3) Let not him that eateth.—The two classes of men are exposed to two opposite faults. The strong despise the weak; the weak judge the strong. In the one case there is contempt for what is thought to be narrowness and pedantry. In the other case censorious judgments are passed on what is regarded as levity and irreligion. Human nature alters very little.

God hath received him.—Strictly, received him, admitted him into His Church when he was baptised, and so took him for His own.

Verse 4

(4) Who art thou?—This is addressed to the weak. The Apostle indignantly challenges his right to judge. That right belongs to another tribunal, before which the conduct of the stronger Christian will not be condemned but approved and upheld.

He standeth or falleth.—It seems most in accordance with what precedes to take this of judicial condemnation or approval from the Master whom he serves—i.e., Christ.

Holden up.—The same word as that in the clause following, and similar to that in the clause preceding—“Made to stand.”

God is able to make him stand.—The true reading here is “the Lord”—i.e., Christ; the word is the same as “his Master” above. “Make him stand” seems to be still judicial. “Secure his acquittal,” but with reference to his previous course of conduct on which that acquittal is grounded. The trial is not necessarily reserved for the last day, but is rather the judgment which Christ may be supposed at any moment to pass upon His servants. If they can sustain this judgment, it is only because His grace has enabled them so to act as not to be condemned by it.

Verse 5

(5) One man esteemeth.—For the observance of days and seasons, compare Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16. From these passages, taken together, it is clear that the observance of special days has no absolute sanction, but is purely a question of religious expediency. That, however, is sufficient ground on which to rest it, and experience seems in favour of some such system as that adopted by our own Church.

Verse 6

(6) Regardeth.—Much as we might say, “he who minds the day,” or directs his thoughts and feelings to it.

He that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.—This clause is omitted by the best MSS. and editors.

For he giveth God thanks.—By the saying of grace at meat, the meal, whatever it may be, is consecrated to God, and he who partakes of it shows that he does so in no irreverent spirit.

Verse 7

(7) Dieth to himself.—Even in the act of death the Christian is conscious of his relation to Christ; he dies “in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

Verses 7-9

(7-9) The larger principle holds good, and therefore much more the smaller. It is not only his food that the Christian consecrates to God (or rather, immediately, to Christ, and through Christ to God), but his whole life, to its very last moments.

Verse 9

(9) And rose, and revived.—For these words the best MSS. substitute simply “and lived.” The Received text is a gloss upon this. It was through the resurrection that Christ was finally enthroned at His Father’s right hand, and that universal dominion was given to Him.

Verse 10

(10) Judgment seat of Christ.—The true reading is, of God.

Verses 10-12

(10-12) Such being our relations to Christ, and such the judgment to which we look forward, there is no room for any human judgment. Censoriousness is thus condemned.

Verse 11

(11) As I live.—The original has, “I have sworn by Myself,” for which St. Paul, quoting from memory, substitutes another common Hebrew formula—“As I live,” or, “by my life.”

Shall confess . . .—The Greek word is capable of two renderings—“confess” and “praise:” Most commentators prefer the latter, but it is not quite clear that the English version is wrong. That the word can bear this meaning is, especially in view of James 5:16, unquestionable, and the sense seems to agree better with the next verse.

Verse 12

Our Accountability

So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.—Romans 14:12

1. When St. Paul says that “each one of us shall give account of himself to God,” he makes one of the most solemn statements that are to be found even in his Epistles. He is led into making it quite incidentally. He wants to lay down a principle, which would check the rash judgments that were common among Christians at Rome in his day regarding the private religious observances of their Christian neighbours. Some of the Roman Christians, it seems, were vegetarians; others ate anything that came in their way. Some of them observed private anniversaries; to others all days were pretty much alike. As yet the Church had not laid down any rule about these matters for Christians; and no individual Christian might challenge another’s liberty or judge another’s conduct. “Why,” asks the Apostle, “dost thou judge thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Here is a solemn truth, which must have at once lifted the thoughts of the Apostle’s Roman readers above the controversies in which they were engaged, into a higher and serener atmosphere. Whatever food they ate or did not eat, whatever days they did or did not observe, one thing was certain—they would have to give an account of the act or the omission, as of everything else in their lives. “Each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

2. The words are more than an assurance that there will be a Day of Judgment, and that at that Day of Judgment each one of us must be present. The Apostle seems to be suggesting that example, education, surroundings of life, holding the principles and opinions we do, and being what we are, must be taken into consideration before an accurate judgment can be arrived at. He, therefore, warns us to judge ourselves, about whom we may know everything, and to refrain from judging others about whom our knowledge must be imperfect. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.”

The text tells us four things about our Accountability:—

I. It is Universal. “Each one of us.”

II. It is Inevitable. “Each one of us shall give.”

III. It is Personal. “Account of himself.”

IV. It is Supreme. “To God.”


It is Universal

“Each one of us shall give account.”

There will come a judgment for all classes of persons, there will be a judgment for the strong brother who with his knowledge of Christian liberty went perhaps further than he ought to have gone. He judged himself to be right in the matter, but he must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ about it. There will also be a judgment for the weak brother. He who was so scrupulous and precise ought not to be censuring the other man who felt free in his conscience, for he will himself stand before the judgment-seat of God. No elevation in piety will exclude us from that last solemn test, and no weakness will serve as an excuse. What a motley throng will gather at that assize, of all nations and peoples and tongues! Kings and princes will be there to give in their weighty account, and senators and judges to answer to their Judge; and then the multitude of the poor and needy, and those that live neglecting God, and forgetful of their souls,—they must all be there. It is a universal judgment.

1. Peer and peasant must give account. You may argue, “It cannot be a great matter to me what is said in the Bible about the day of account; I am but a poor man, and have but few things committed to my care; I have neither houses nor lands, nor riches, nor worldly goods; I have no great talents to misuse; no opportunities of doing good to neglect; why, then, should I be afraid of the final reckoning? Surely the just God will not look for a harvest where He has sown no seed. Surely He will not require at my hands an account like that which may well be asked of the wealthy and the great.” The argument is out of place and useless. Poor, humble, obscure as you are, you must give account.

“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the chief captains and the mighty men,” must see the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne. The Apostle Paul himself is “one of us.” Of all men the manliest, among philosophers claiming recognition beyond the multitude, of rhetoricians not the least, in grand revelation the peer of every apostle and of all seers, in character most strong, most confiding, pure, and powerful—the Apostle Paul, standing far above the people in that which constitutes true stature, yet confesses himself to be one of us—“Each one of us.”

Louis xv. had always the kingliest abhorrence of Death.… He would not suffer Death to be spoken of; avoided the sight of churchyards, funereal monuments, and whatsoever could bring it to mind. It is the resource of the Ostrich; who, hard hunted, sticks his foolish head in the ground, and would fain forget that his foolish unseeing body is not unseen too. Or sometimes, with a spasmodic antagonism, significant of the same thing, and of more, he would go; or stopping his court carriages, would send into churchyards, and ask “how many new graves there were to-day,” though it gave his poor Pompadour the disagreeablest qualms. We can figure the thought of Louis that day, when, all royally caparisoned for hunting, he met at some sudden turning in the Wood of Senart, a ragged peasant with a coffin: “For whom?”—It was for a poor brother slave, whom Majesty had sometimes noticed slaving in those quarters. “What did he die of?”—“Of hunger”:—the King gave his steed the spur. But figure his thought, when Death is now clutching at his own heart-strings; unlooked for, inexorable! Yes, poor Louis, Death has found thee. No palace walls or life-guards, gorgeous tapestries or gilt buckram of stiffest ceremonial could keep him out; but he is here, here at thy very life-breath, and will extinguish it. Thou whose whole existence hitherto was a chimera and scenic show, at length becomest a reality; sumptuous Versailles bursts asunder, like a dream, into void Immensity; Time is done, and all the scaffolding of Time falls wrecked with hideous clangour round thy soul; the pale Kingdoms yawn open; there must thou enter, naked, all unking’d, and await what is appointed thee!

And yet let no meanest man lay nattering unction to his soul. Louis was a Ruler; but art not thou also one? His wide France, look at it from the Fixed Stars (themselves not yet Infinitude), is no wider than thy narrow brickfield, where thou too didst faithfully, or didst unfaithfully.1 [Note: Carlyle, French Revolution, i. 17.]

2. The religious and irreligious alike must give account. As Christians we must give account. “The lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matthew 25:19). They have been justified by faith. They have been united to their glorious Head. They “shall be saved” (1 Corinthians 3:15), whatever be the fate of their “work.” But what will their Lord say of their work? What have they done for Him, in labour, in witness, and above all in character? He will tell them what He thinks. He will be infinitely kind; but He will not flatter.

The irreligious, the careless, and inconsiderate, must give account—those who say to themselves “To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” Too many go on always, nearly all do so at times, as if they were not really accountable. They just take the pleasure or the profit of the moment, and think no more of it; it is to them no more than throwing a stone into the water, which comes together again, and all seems as before.

3. Neither our heredity nor our circumstances will excuse us. The physiologist comes and he tells me that I inherit in my very blood, in the very structure of my brain, in the vigorous or feeble fibre of my nervous organization, the results of the vices and the virtues of a long line of ancestors. No doubt; but what do you mean by vices and virtues, the results of which I inherit? Are these names of honour and of dishonour, names of praise and condemnation? If there was vice in my ancestors, there may be vice in me. If there was virtue in them, there may be virtue in me. But where there is necessity there is neither virtue nor vice. This doctrine of heredity is no new discovery. It is true that the whole conditions of my life have been determined for me by my ancestors. My strength of muscle, the soundness of my heart and lungs, the limits of my intellectual capacity, have all been settled for me by my birth. And as the result of the moral character of my ancestors my moral life is one of comparative ease or of severe difficulty. But though the conditions of life have been determined for me, my life itself is my own, and that has not been determined for me. The material with which I should work has been given; the way in which I should treat it has not been given.

You tell me that there are great masses of men who have never had a chance of moral goodness. They have to give account of themselves without their chance, if that be so. God knows how large their chance was, and how small. Do not resent by anticipation the justice of the Eternal. He will deal with them according to their conditions. “Virtue is impossible to them,” you say. Yes, yours. And there are others who, as they look upon you, say “Virtue is impossible to you.” Their virtue is. And yet you and I, under the hard conditions of our life, can choose the better path, however feebly we may walk in it; and who but God can tell what glimmerings of light reach those who seem to sit in outer darkness?1 [Note: R. W. Dale.]

I suppose it does not altogether depend upon a man whether he will be a skilful workman or a clumsy workman. Some men are born with a flexibility and a strength of muscle, a keenness of eye, a delicacy of taste—or rather, with the possibility of achieving these things—of which other men are naturally destitute, and to which they can never attain. But every man can do his best, whatever that best may be. It does not lie in our choice what language we shall speak, but it does lie in our choice whether we will speak the truth or whether we will be indifferent to the claims of truthfulness; whether our language shall be profane or devout, whether it shall be pure or impure. We had no choice into what kind of family we should be born,—whether our parents, our brothers, our sisters, should be rough or gentle, just or unjust; but it lies with us—whether they are rough or gentle, whether they are just or unjust—to treat them with justice and with kindness. The limits of our physical health and vigour are determined for us by the circumstances in which we were born, but it lies with ourselves to determine whether we will be sober or drunkards, whether we will be gluttonous or temperate.

When William Ellery Channing was a very little boy, his schoolmaster said to one of his school-fellows, “Why are you not a good child like William Channing?” “Oh,” replied the boy, “it is so easy for William Channing to be good.” We, perhaps, have looked round upon friends of ours to whom the conflict we have to maintain is altogether unnecessary. The foes we have to fight with they never meet. The victories which we have to win for ourselves were won for them generations ago by the ancestors whose blood is in their veins. Shall we complain? God forbid. Let us do for posterity what their ancestors have done for them, taking the rough conditions of our actual life, making the best of them, winning no praise from men for what we accomplish—for they know not the difficulty of the work—rejoicing in this humbly and reverently, that we have to give account of ourselves to God.1 [Note: B. W. Dale.]

He fixed thee mid this dance

Of plastic circumstance,

This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:

Machinery just meant

To give thy soul its bent,

Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.2 [Note: Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra.]


It is Inevitable

“Each one of us shall give account”

1. Every man must give account of himself to God. We will not render our account by our fears, or our sensitiveness, or our bad memories, or our dulness of conscience, or our false and artificial views of truth and duty. We shall give it; and yet He will receive or exact it in utter independence of us, He will read us off as being what we are, as being all that already He knows us to be. All the veils which hide us from each other, or from ourselves, will drop away before the glance of His eye. Even now “there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Even now, all that each of us owes to God—what graces He has given to us, what dangers and sufferings He has spared us—He knows, and as yet He alone knows. But when we come to give in our account, we shall know too. A flood of light will be poured from His throne across the whole course of our lives, and into every crevice of our souls and characters.

From the outside standpoint judgment is the result of conduct: from the inner standpoint it is the result of character. Conduct is character unfolding itself; and character is the way a man thinks. From the one standpoint judgment is the fruit of men’s deeds; from the other it is the fruit of their thoughts. Isaiah puts the same message thus: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” Jeremiah’s statement is the same, only carried a little deeper to its source. Our destiny is the fruit of our doings and the reward of our hands; and our doing is the fruit of our thoughts. The common feature of both messages is that judgment is not something superimposed on life, a sentence arbitrarily passed on a man. Punishment is not retribution exacted from a man by a superior power outside him; it is the necessary and inevitable consequence flowing from the condition. When will we learn that judgment is not arbitrary or incidental or capricious? It is self-registering, automatic, the harvest of our life. Conduct is the outgrowth of character; and character conditions destiny. The wages of being good is not some recompense added on like a perquisite to a salary. Its highest wages is goodness itself. The recompense of being holy is holiness; the reward of being pure is purity. The punishment of sin is itself, its own loathly, deadly self. The harvest of the flesh is itself, corruption. The penalty of a depraved mind is depravity. The retribution of an impure heart is impurity. Who will deliver us from the body of this death?1 [Note: Hugh Black.]

2. Whatever God’s verdict upon us may be, our consciences will have to affirm its justice. We shall see ourselves by His light, as He sees us, as we have never seen ourselves before. We shall know as never before what He meant us to be, what we might have been, what we are. All the illusions of our present life, all the fabrics of self-satisfaction built up by the kind words of friends or by the insincerities of flatterers, all the atmosphere of twilight which here encompasses our spiritual state, will have rolled away; we shall stand out in the light before the Eternal Judge and before ourselves, and we shall be ready to make full confession.

It is not that God is going to judge us some day. That is not the awful thing. It is that God knows us now. If I stop an instant and know that God knows me through all these misconceptions and blunders of my brethren, that God knows me—that is the awful thing. The future judgment shall but tell it. It is here, here upon my conscience, now.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Addresses, 19.]

O Great Mercy of God, I beseech Thee deliver me from the Bonds of Satan. I have no Refuge in any Thing, but only in Thy Holy Wounds and Death. Into Thee I sink down in the Anguish of my Conscience, do with me what Thou wilt. In Thee I will now live or die as pleaseth Thee, let me but die and perish in Thy Death; do but bury me into Thy Death, that the Anguish of Hell may not touch me. How can I excuse myself before Thee, that knowest my Heart and Reins, and settest my Sins before mine Eyes? I am guilty of them, and yield myself unto Thy Judgment; accomplish Thy Judgment upon me, through the Death of my Redeemer Jesus Christ.2 [Note: Jacob Behmen.]

3. Confession is inevitable whenever we come into the presence of God. When we draw near to God and behold the light of His countenance the sense of our imperfection must be the instant emotion stirred in the mind, and the first act—the expression of this emotion—must be confession. For confession is not making something known to God. It is God making something known to us; it is God revealing us to ourselves, and our cry of pain at the discovery. It comes from the shock of contrast. To know ourselves we need the help of contrast. To know and see ourselves truly we need a much more searching light than that which comes from moral mediocrity. We need the highest light attainable, and that is the light of God’s countenance. Then the sombre recesses of the soul, and all they contain, reveal themselves; and so do its secret bypaths, where the unclean spirits have left their footprints. Confession must be the instant spontaneous product of the vision of God.

Are you ready with your account which you will have to render to God; have you kept one at all? Sometimes when men appear before a court they plead that they have no books, and it is always a bad sign. You know what the judge thinks of them. Can you dare to examine yourself, and answer questions? Can you give an account of your stewardship? Have you kept it correctly, or have you credited yourself with large things where you ought to have debited yourself? Your fraud will be discovered, for the great Accountant will read it through, and will detect an error in a single moment. Is your account kept correctly, and are you ready to render it at this moment?1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fatal lightning of His terrible swift sword;

His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel!

Since God is marching on.”

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;

Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born, across the sea,

With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.2 [Note: Julia Ward Howe, Battle-Hymn of the Republic.]


It is Personal

“Each one of us shall give account. of himself.”

1. It would not be difficult for many of us to give an account, more or less exhaustive, of others. We spend our time in thinking them over, talking them over, discussing them. We know, it may be, some true things about them; we suspect a great deal which is not true but utterly false. To some of us, it may be, this discussion of others presents itself as at once an amusement and a relief. It is an amusement, for it costs us nothing to dwell on their failings; and human nature, when we have no immediate stake in it, is always amusing. And it is a relief. To talk about others keeps us at the circumference of our own life; far, very far away from the centre; we do not wish to be with ourselves, within ourselves, alone with ourselves. There are wounds beneath the surface which we would not or dare not probe; there are memories from which we fly, if we can manage it, to something outside and beyond them. Yet, after all, it is of ourselves that we shall have to give account. Others will come into that account only so far as they depend on us; so far as we may have wronged or injured or otherwise affected them. Their shortcomings may now take that place in our thoughts which ought to be given to our own. But a day will come when this will be impracticable. We shall be isolated before the Eternal Judge. We shall form part of a countless multitude, but He will deal with each one of us as if we stood alone before Him and all the rays of His Infinite Wisdom and Justice were concentrated on our case.

When things go wrong, when others provoke us, then the notion is ready enough at hand that they have sinned, that their account will be heavy; but we are very slow to comprehend the same thing as it concerns ourselves.1 [Note: J. Keble.]

Do not philosophic doctors tell us that we are unable to discern so much as a tree except by an unconscious cunning which combines many past and separate sensations; that no one sense is independent of another, so that in the dark we can hardly taste a fricassee, or tell whether our pipe is alight or not, and the most intelligent boy, if accommodated with claws or hoofs instead of fingers, would be likely to remain on the lowest form? If so, it is easy to understand that our discernment of men’s motives must depend on the completeness of the elements we can bring from our own susceptibility and our own experience. See to it, friend, before you pronounce a too hasty judgment, that your own moral sensibilities are not of a hoofed or clawed character. The keenest eye will not serve, unless you have the delicate fingers, with their subtle nerve filaments, which elude scientific lenses, and lose themselves in the invisible world of human sensations.1 [Note: George Eliot, Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story.]

2. We shall have to give an account each of his own actions, of his own thought, of his own words, of his own intention; and, more than all these, of himself. We shall each of us have to give account of the state of our heart, of the condition of our mind before God, whether we repented, whether we believed, whether we loved God, whether we were zealous, whether we were truthful, whether we were faithful. If it dealt only with actions, words, and thoughts, the account would be solemn enough, but we must each one give an account of himself, of what he was as well as of what he did, of what was in his heart as well as of what came out of it in his deeds.

A mute companion at my side

Paces and plods, the whole day long,

Accepts the measure of my stride,

Yet gives no cheer by word or song.

More close than any doggish friend,

Not ranging far and wide, like him,

He goes where’er my footsteps tend,

Nor shrinks for fear of life or limb.

I do not know when we first met,

But till each day’s bright hours are done

This grave and speechless silhouette

Keeps me betwixt him and the sun.

They say he knew me when a child;

Born with my birth, he dies with me;

Not once from his long task beguiled,

Though sin or shame bid others flee.

What if, when all this world of men

Shall melt and fade and pass away,

This deathless sprite should rise again

And be himself my Judgment Day?1 [Note: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, To my Shadow.]

Daniel Webster was once asked, “What is the most important thought you ever entertained?” He replied, after a moment’s reflection, “The most important thought I ever had was my individual responsibility to God.”


It is Supreme

“Each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

1. Responsibility implies a person, to whom the responsible man is responsible. All human society is based on and kept together by this law of responsibility to persons. We all know that servants are responsible to their masters, and children to their parents and teachers, and soldiers to their commanding officers, and the clerks in a great business house to the partners, and those who are dependent on others to those on whom they depend. The higher you mount the greater the responsibility, because responsibility implies power and grows with power, so that where there is most power there is most responsibility. In reality masters are more responsible than servants, and parents than children, and officers than the soldiers whom they command, and the heads of a great firm than the clerks in their employment, and employers and superiors generally than those whom they employ and who depend on them. But to whom do those highly placed people, more responsible because invested with more power, owe their debt of responsibility? Responsibility is the law of human society; and yet there are always certain members of society who seem to escape it, to be somehow responsible to no one. Wealthy people, with no relations, who as they say, “can do as they like” with their money; idle people, with no duties or engagements, who have, as they put it, to kill time; clever writers or speakers, with no clear sense of truth or duty, who think that they may write or say, without let or hindrance, just what occurs to them;—if these men are really responsible, to whom are they responsible? So far as this world is concerned, they seem to go through it without having to answer to anybody. To whom is the highest of all, the king, or head of the government, responsible? Assuredly there is One Being to whom all must give account of themselves, sooner or later—both those who have to give account to their fellow-men, and those who seem in this life to escape all real responsibility whatever. One such Being there is to whom we are all responsible—the Holy and Eternal God.

Frightful to all men is Death; from of old named King of Terrors. Our little compact home of an Existence, where we dwelt complaining, yet as in a home, is passing, in dark agonies, into an Unknown of Separation, Foreignness, unconditioned Possibility. The Heathen Emperor asks of his soul: Into what places art thou now departing? The Catholic King must answer: To the Judgment-bar of the Most High God! Yes, it is a summing-up of Life; a final settling, and giving-in the “account of the deeds done in the body”; they are done now; and lie there unalterable, and do bear their fruits, long as Eternity shall last.1 [Note: Carlyle, French Revolution, i. 17.]

For none a ransom can be paid,

A suretyship be made:

I, bent by mine own burden, must

Enter my house of dust;

I, rated to the full amount,

Must render mine account.

When earth and sea shall empty all

Their graves of great and small;

When earth wrapt in a fiery flood

Shall no more hide her blood;

When mysteries shall be revealed;

All secrets be unsealed;

When things of night, when things of shame,

Shall find at last a name,

Pealed for a hissing and a curse

Throughout the universe:

Then Awful Judge, most Awful God,

Then cause to bud Thy rod,

To bloom with blossoms, and to give

Almonds; yea, bid us live.

I plead Thyself with Thee, I plead

Thee in our utter need:

Jesus, most Merciful of Men,

Show mercy on us then;

Lord God of Mercy and of men,

Show mercy on us then.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

2. “To God.” We are not under a rigid law. We are under personal authority, acting in harmony with eternal principles of law; and we have to meet a personal judgment, whose decision will be determined by the eternal principles of law. But this is the supreme thing, that only a living person who knows us altogether can appreciate the true conditions under which our moral life has been lived, the heights we ought to have reached, and the grounds on which we may be forgiven for not having reached heights which were easily accessible to others. We have to give account, each one of himself, to God; and it is this conception of the relations between man and God, and this alone, which relieves human life of its awful gloom and confusion, and contains the promise of a Divine order. For to God some of the noblest forms of moral life may be found where to our eyes there is the least dignity and grace. You were born under felicitous circumstances; but to reach the virtue which you attained without effort, another man may have to exert incessant energy. His dearly bought excellence, though inferior to that which you have easily achieved, is to God infinitely nobler and more precious than the goodness which you, without effort, have accomplished. Each man has to “give account of himself to God.”

One man is placed under conditions—conditions not of his own choice, conditions to which he was destined—which make it impossible for him to do very much beyond getting the rough ore of goodness out of the black and gloomy mine. He has got it with the sweat of his brow, with pain, with peril. To him God will say, “Well done!” Another man has the ore at his feet to start with. It is not enough for him to bring that to God. For him there is a different task. In the fires of self-discipline he has to liberate the ore from its dross, and to produce the pure metal. It is enough that one man should bring the rough ore to God; this man must bring pure metal extracted from it. And a third has the metal to begin with. He fails, and fails disastrously unless he works it up into forms of noble usefulness and gracious beauty. Each man will have to “give account of himself to God,” and only God can judge of the worth of each man’s work, because only God knows the conditions under which each man’s work is being carried on.1 [Note: R. W. Dale.]

Not on the vulgar mass

Called “work,” must sentence pass,

Things done, that took the eye and had the price;

O’er which, from level stand,

The low world laid its hand,

Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

But all, the world’s coarse thumb

And finger failed to plumb,

So passed in making up the main account;

All instincts immature,

All purposes unsure,

That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man’s amount

Thoughts hardly to be packed

Into a narrow act,

Fancies that broke through language and escaped;

All I could never be,

All, men ignored in me,

This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.2 [Note: Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra.]

Our Accountability


Black (H.), University Sermons, 311.

Dale (R. W.), Epistle of James, 245.

Harris (H.), Short Sermons, 217.

Hodgson (A. P.), Thoughts for the King’s Children, 11.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year (Advent to Christmas Eve), 164.

Lee (R.), Sermons, 122.

Liddon (H. P.), Advent in St. Paul’s, 282.

Palmer (J. R.), Burden-Bearing, 50.

Rawnsley (R. D. B.), Village Sermons, i. 96.

Roberts (W. P.), Conformity and Conscience, 66.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxvii. (1881), No. 1601.

Tyng (S. H.), in Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times,” viii. 245.

Wordsworth (C.), Christian Boyhood at a Public School, ii.

American Pulpit of the Day, ii. 641.

Christian World Pulpit, xxvi. 4 (Beecher); xxxv. 198 (Dale).

Church Pulpit Year Book, v. (1908), 148.

Homiletic Review, xxxi. 239 (Ireland).

Verse 13

(13) Judge this rather.—The word “judge” forms the connecting-link between what follows and what has gone before. If any judgment is to be formed at all, let it be rather as a principle to guide our own action, and not in the shape of a criticism upon others. This principle, in the case of those who are themselves liberal and large-minded, should be not to put temptation in the way of their weaker brethren.

Stumblingblock or an occasion to fall.—The same words that occur in Romans 9:33. That translated “occasion to fall,” is the origin of our word “scandal.” It is properly a trap or snare. Both the idea and the word are found in Matthew 18:6 (= Mark 9:42), where it is disguised by the translation “offend,” in the sense of “cause to stumble.” The same translation appears frequently elsewhere. One of the special characteristics of Christianity is its tenderness for the weak

Verse 14

(14) I know, and am persuaded.—The Apostle clearly identifies himself with the less scrupulous party. For one of his intense penetration and grasp on the realities of things, any other position was impossible. But while these essential features in the Apostle’s character find the noblest expression, we cannot but note his attitude of gentle forbearance towards those whose faith is less deep and less robust than his own. This comes out especially in that pathetic and pregnant appeal, “Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

By the Lord Jesus.—Rather, in the Lord Jesus. A solemn form of asseveration. The Apostle is speaking from the very depths of his Christian consciousness as one who knows that he has himself put on the Spirit of Christ.

To him that esteemeth.—This would mean, in philosophical language, that the quality of uncleanness was not an objective property in the thing itself, but a subjective quality in the mind of the person regarding it as such. Still, this subjective quality is for the individual a real one, and should be treated as real. (Comp. Mark 7:15.)

Verse 15

(15) But.—The true reading is undoubtedly For, the connection of which is somewhat difficult to trace. It appears to leap over Romans 14:14, and go back to Romans 14:13. We may suppose that the substance of this verse recurs to the Apostle’s mind after the parenthetical statement just inserted, and though he does not repeat it in words, he connects on to it the sequence of his thought. “The Christian should not put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way. Not, indeed, that there is anything unclean in itself, but relatively to the person who so regards it. it is unclean. [Therefore the Christian should be careful as to what he does.] For to cause distress to another about a mere matter of food is to be uncharitable.”

Two stages are noted in the words “grieved” and “destroy.” When one man sees another do that which his own conscience condemns, it causes him pain, but when he is further led on from this to do himself what his conscience condemns, he is in danger of a worse fate; he is morally ruined and undone. The work of redemption that Christ has wrought for him is cancelled, and all that great and beneficent scheme is hindered of its operation by an act of thoughtlessness or want of consideration on the part of a fellow Christian.

With thy meat.—Rather, because of meat, on a mere question of meat.

Verse 16

(16) Your good.—That blessing of Christian liberty which you enjoy. This is not to be used so as to give rise to reproaches and recriminations which will make a bad impression on the outside world.

Verse 17

(17) Meat and drink.—Strictly, eating and drinking.

Righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.—By “righteousness and peace” is not here meant imputed righteousness, or justification and reconciliation with God, but rather the moral condition of righteousness in the Christian himself, and concord with his fellow-men. These are crowned in the confirmed Christian by that feeling of subdued and chastened exultation which is wrought in Him by the presence in his heart or constant influence of the Holy Spirit.

It is remarkable how, with all the wide difference in terminology between the writings of St. Paul and the Gospels, they yet come round to the very same point. The “kingdom of God,” as here described, is exactly what we should gather from the fuller and more detailed sayings of our Lord. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man;” “The kingdom of God is within you;” “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation;” “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light;” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness;” “Blessed are the peacemakers;” “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.”

It has not been beyond the power of heathen or even Christian philosophers, such, e.g., as Marcus Aurelius, to arrive at the conception of righteousness and peaceableness as duties to be observed and striven after. The peculiarity of Christianity consists in the unity which it gives to these attributes as naturally flowing from a spring of deep religious emotion, and from the finish and perfection which it adds to them by the introduction of that third term, “joy in the Holy Ghost.” Many individuals have shown, and still show, with greater or less approximation, what the Christian type should be, but the great and only perfect Exemplar is Jesus Himself, and that less, perhaps, in the later portion of His career, when He was fulfilling that other side of His mission, to “bear the sins of many” as the Saviour of mankind, than in the earlier untroubled phase which finds expression in the Sermon on the Mount. This is in closest contact with the normal life of men.

Verse 18

(18) In these things.—The more correct reading is, in this (way). The meaning, however, is the same.

Serveth Christ.—Here the principle of unity which holds together different sides and manifestations of the Christian character is indicated.

Approved of men.—So that He will not be “evil spoken of,” as the uncompromising legalist or anti-legalist is apt to be.

Verse 19

(19) Let us therefore follow.—The best MSS. have the indicative mood, “so then we follow.” There is, however, some good support for the Received text, especially in the patristic quotations and versions; and mistakes of this kind were peculiarly liable to be made.

Edify.—The word has unfortunately lost its freshness of meaning, but we have no other single equivalent for it in English. It is the “upbuilding,” or mutual help and assistance in the spiritual life which Christians receive from their intercourse with each other.

Verse 20

(20) Destroy not.—A different word from that employed in Romans 14:15. It is the correlative and opposite of “edify,” and means to “unbuild” or “pull down.”

The work of God.—The fabric which the grace of God has begun, and which the edification of Christians by each other may help to raise in the soul; the gradual formation of a truly Christian character, both spiritual and moral.

For that man who eateth with offence.—It seems, on the whole, best (though the other view is taken) to refer the “eating” here to the strong in faith, and the “offence” to that which his eating causes to the weaker brethren. The force of the preposition is that his eating is attended with offence.

Verse 21

(21) It is good neither to eat flesh.—These direct, clear, incisive sentences are as characteristic of the style of the Apostle (when he is dealing with moral questions of present urgency, and not with the abstract problems of theology) as the generous impulse which prompts them is of his heart.

Any thing—i.e., to do anything; all three words have to be supplied.

Or is offended, or is made weak.—There is a remarkable division of authority for the omission or retention of these words, the Sinaitic and Alexandrine MSS. with the Paris rescript being on the one side, and the Vatican, with the Græco-Latin Codices, on the other; and the versions pretty nearly divided. Here internal evidence comes in, and decides us to omit the words as most probably a gloss.

Verse 22

(22) Hast thou faith?—It is with some reluctance that in deference to the union of the four best MSS. we give up the Received text here, and substitute (by the insertion of the relative) “The faith which thou hast, have to thyself before God,” i.e., reserve the exhibition of it to the privacy of your own direct communion with God, and do not display it ostentatiously in public where it may do harm. “It is indeed”—the Apostle continues—“a happy thing to have no self-condemnatory scruples of conscience, but, on the other hand, it is fatal to have scruples and to disregard them.”

In that thing which he alloweth.—In the acts which he permits himself. He is a happy man who can eat what he pleases, and drink what he pleases, without any qualms of conscience to condemn him while he does so.

Verse 23

(23) And he that doubteth.—The one thing which justifies a man in neglecting such nice and punctilious distinctions is a faith so strong that it can afford to make light of them. Where faith is not strong enough for this, and where the conscience deliberately approves one course, and the other course is chosen, this alone stamps the act as wrong. “He who hesitates as to what he ought to do is condemned, or does wrong, if he eats (in opposition to his conscience), for he has not the one faculty which can overrule the decisions of conscience, and give them a different direction.”

Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.—This is intended as a general principle, but only as a general principle covering this particular kind of case. Where the conscience is in doubt, faith alone can make it right to choose the side against which conscience inclines. Nothing is said about those cases in which conscience is either not appealed to at all, or approves what is done. Hence St. Augustine was wrong in arguing from this passage that even good actions, when done by unbelievers, were of the nature of sin.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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