Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 21st, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
Romans 12

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-21

The Living Sacrifice

Romans 12:1

I. The Sacrifice God Requires.

'That ye present your bodies.' Our bodies, that is, the life of our bodies; for if we give our bodies as an offering, we give all that belongs to the body. The sacrifice God requires is that of the life. He demands a life devoted to Him.

(a) The life may be given to business, but this must be given to Him, and so the employment of our hands and minds made holy.

(b) The life may be given to science, but it must not be a Christless science.

(c) The life may be given to theology, but it must not be a theology with God left out He will have the life or nothing. All the powers of mind, memory, will, which work through the bodily organisation; all the power of muscle, nerve, and brain. As Chrysostom strikingly says: 'Let not the eye see evil, and it is become a sacrifice; let not the tongue speak what is shameful, and it is become profitable; let not the hand do a lawless deed, it is become a whole burnt-offering'.

II. The Sacrifice God Accepts. It must be

(a) A living sacrifice. By some an antithesis is here found to the offering of the slain bodies of animals. But animals were brought and laid on the altar alive and then slain. The real meaning is, that the whole body, with the vivifying soul in it, is to be constantly made a sacrifice to God and His service. Our bodies may be brought as dead offerings. The eyes may be cast down in an assumed humility, 'the pride that apes humility'; the hands may be folded in prayer, but the heart far from God; the lips may move and the heart be silent. Thus all our works may be dead works. The sacrifice we are to present must be instinct with the soul of true piety and love of God.

(b) A holy sacrifice. That which we bring to God we separate from all common and profane uses. In bringing our bodies as a sacrifice we engage ourselves to God's service, to obedience to His will and the furtherance of His honour. Heathens have offered their bodies to God in the most varied ways. The Fakirs in India think to do God an extraordinary service by depriving their bodies of proper care and nourishment, or covering themselves with mud, or crippling their limbs in an unnatural way. The Lord our God demands our body, but He is holy, and such our sacrifice must be. It must be unstained by wilful guilt This living, holy sacrifice is acceptable to God. Even heathen writers have had glimpses of the truth that the only sacrifice that can be well pleasing to God is the sacrifice of the heart, of the whole man, and that animal sacrifices were only acceptable as expressive of this higher spiritual offering.

(c) A spiritual sacrifice. The words, 'which is your reasonable service,' have been often taken to mean that whilst the offering of animals was with natural unwillingness on the part of the beasts that were forcibly brought, the Christian's offering is that of a voluntary, reasoning agent It has also been supposed that we are to understand that there is only sense and reason in the offering of our bodies, our own selves to God, and the offering of other things instead of our own persons is wanting in all reason. But the true idea seems to be that of Chrysostom. The expression has reference to the ceremonial character of the Jewish and heathen cultus . From the Christian is demanded an inner spiritual service in the place of the external character, the merely mechanical nature of the Jewish and heathen sacrifices. This is the sacrifice God requires, the sacrifice He accepts, and that to which the Apostle earnestly exhorts.

Some of the Fundamental Things

Romans 12:1

Here St Paul tells us in brief what he regarded as essential features of our holy faith; not all of them, but at least three grand cardinal simplicities, which are a thousand times more important than the things commonly wrangled about. The three things are these: the winsome voice of our religion, the great motive to which it appeals, and the reasonable service which it demands.

I. The winsomeness of its language. 'I beseech you' St. Paul struck the keynote there. It was his favourite word he loved to play on the gentler notes in presenting Christ to men. His preaching was predominantly persuasive, pleading, and tender predominantly. It did not leave out the severities. There was the voice of God's wrath in it sometimes, there were visions of the terrors of the Lord and of a judgment throne; but he was always most at home when he assumed the gentleness of a mother. 'I beseech you.' There is the sweet ring of that appeal in all his Epistles: 'I beseech you by the gentleness of Christ'; 'I beseech you by the compassions of Christ'; 'We beseech you, as in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God'; 'I might be bold to enjoin thee, but for love's sake, I rather beseech thee'. We are told that in preaching he lifted up his hand. We can almost see that raised hand. It is never a clenched fist; it is never shaken in the face of a congregation; it is stretched out as if it would lay hold of people and sweetly constrain them. It quivers with emotion, and there is the sound of tears in his voice 'I ceased not,' he says, 'day and night, for the space of three years, to warn every one of you with tears.'

II. We have in the word 'mercies 'the great actuating force and persuasive of Christianity. 'The mercies of God.' Our religion invites and provokes us to obedience and service, to pure and right living, in the name of all that has been done for us, and all that has been forgiven. We are to do the will of God, not for the sake of future reward, or for the escaping of future penalty, but because of the kindness, forbearance, immeasurable pity, and sacrificial love which have been bestowed upon us. 'I beseech you therefore,' says St. Paul. It is the conclusion of an argument; it is the consequence of certain thrilling antecedents. He has been narrating in the previous chapters that heart-moving story of Divine pity and condescension which is summed up in the words Incarnation and Redemption. He has caused to pass before us the whole drama, beginning with human guilt and helplessness, and leading up through the scenes of Calvary, to the victory over sin and death, to the manifestation of the sons of God and the assurance of life eternal. He has emphasised the cost in Divine love and suffering of our new liberty and strength, our joy and boundless hope And then upon the human heart-strings which he has set quivering with emotion and gratitude he plays this touching and subduing note: 'I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God'. And that is always the most powerful and constraining appeal of our religion. A Christian life is, above all things, the response of impassioned gratitude and obligation to God's sacrificial giving and forgiving.

Whatever other fundamentals there are, the greatest of them is here: 'I beseech you, by the mercies of God'.

III. And out of this come the nature and quality of the service which our religion demands of us. We are to give a 'reasonable 'service, a service which is the logical outcome of so much mercy and so much kindness. We are to offer a willing and a living sacrifice There is a sharp contrast suggested between the old Mosaic sacrifices and the new and better sacrifices which the regenerate soul lays at the Master's feet. In the one oxen and sheep were dragged and driven unwilling to the altar, and there slaughtered and presented as dead things. In the other there is the offering, not of a dead, unfeeling thing, but of a whole life, with all its affections and energies, doing the will of the Lord with the prompt obedience of love, and quivering in every nerve with the spirit of joy and willinghood. The mercies of God call for that one kind of service, and no other. It is the only service which could on any pretence be called reasonable. There has been so much willingness in the mercies that there must be willinghood in the poor return we make. Love must be answered by love, for any other answer only wounds it; any other answer is an insult.

If you only feel the inestimable value of Christ's redemption and the magnitude of the mercy that has saved you, your whole life will be baptized and fired with the spirit of glad obedience, with righteousness, purity, and love, and you will endeavour to serve the Lord in everything, and so offer to Him that reasonable offering a living sacrifice.

J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 17.

The Redemption of the Body

Romans 12:1

Fundamentally our Lord's sacrifice was a sacrifice of the will, but He allowed that will to execute its purpose through the body, and so our Lord does penance with His human body for all those sins that you and I sinned with our body as the instrument of the will within us. If we are to partake in full and have our share in the twofold work of redemption, we must be in touch with Him. There are many ways in which we have it in our power to do penance as He did.

I. There must be no Shirking of the Work of Repentance. It all brings us into closer touch with Him.

II. We must keep in Subjection this Body, chasten its desires, and check its longings for unholy gratification.

But is that the only way to glorify God with our bodies?

III. There must be a Dedicating of all our Powers of soul, and spirit, and of body in order that, recognising the claim which God has upon us, we may yield ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, to His service

Romans 12:1

Cromwell, in his first speech to the Little Parliament of 1653, speaks as follows: 'And truly the Apostle in the twelfth of the Romans, when he has summed up all the mercies of God, and the goodness of God; and discovered in the former chapters, of the foundation of the gospel he beseecheth them to "present their bodies a living sacrifice".... The Spirit is given for that use.'

Romans 12:1

Religion is a submission, not an aspiration; an obedience, not an ambition of the soul.


Religion is neither a theology not a theosophy; it is more than that; it is a discipline, a law, a yoke, an indissoluble engagement.


References. XII. 1. G. A. Sowter, From Heart to Heart, p. 176. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 18. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1709, p. 711. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 88. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 117. Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 117. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 20. H. H. Almond, Sermons by a Lay Head Master, p. 165. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, pp. 224, 233, 241. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 1. John Watson, The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 122. J. B. Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 139. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 42, 299. XII. 1-2. W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-7, p. 181.


Romans 12:2

The transformation here mentioned by the Apostle is a transformation all along the lines of the Christian daily life You will see in the second verse what is the aim of this transformation. It is that we may become like Christ. That was God's great design from the beginning.

I. Now in what does this special transformation into the image of Christ consist? 'I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice' a sacrifice the reality of which shall be carried out in your daily life. You must be transformed. And why? In order that you may prove the will of God, that you may understand what the will of God is; so that you may be transformed into proving God's will, the good, the perfect, the acceptable will of God. And you can only do this as your mind, your perception, is renewed. No man is a real man until he becomes Godlike, because as he becomes Godlike he will find that God's will calls into play all those powers which God gives to him.

II. How is this transformation to take place? 'We all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.' Just as a man looks at the customs of the world and meditates upon the maxims of the world, and such a man gradually becomes worldly; so a man that gazes with an open face, without prejudice, with unveiled face, upon the glory of the life which Jesus Christ lived, and sees what a glorious life it was, baling already been born again by the Holy Spirit, will gradually become more and more transformed into the image of Christ, into that glorious life, that life which is centred in God.

E. A. Stuart, The Divine Presence and other Sermons, vol. vi. p. 113.

Romans 12:2

When Horace Bushnell was on his death-bed, his wife repeated to him this text: 'The good and perfect and acceptable will of God'. 'Yes,' the dying man replied; 'acceptable and accepted.'

References. XII. 2. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 123. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 396. H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 63. Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 259. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 42. A. C. Tarbolton, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 337. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 212. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 134, 150. Bishop Percival, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 186. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 330. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 251. T. Vincent Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 115. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 145. J. S, Boone, Sermons, pp. 42, 61, 74. G. Matheson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 241. A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 168. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 161. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 187. A. G. Brooke, The Guardian, 13th January, 1911.

The Pre-eminent Christian Virtue

Romans 12:3

How may we followers of Christ learn humility?

I. In the first place, let me remind you, that humility is different to contrition. The man convinced of sin is contrite. But Christian humility is not of necessity connected with repentance and contrition. It is a habit of the mind as bravery is. It is a feature of character as generosity is. Humility thus understood is the secret of all beauty. It is also the secret of progress.

II. The man who would learn humility must think (1) of God whose creature he is, and (2) of the great social order the society of which he is a member, which is slowly growing after the pattern of Christ.

S. A. Barnett, C hurch Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 392.

Romans 12:3

Bushnell writes of his experiences in London, that his visit 'was just the thing I wanted. It does not crush me or anything like that, but it shows me what a speck I am. Anything that makes us know the world better, and our relations to it, the ways of reaching mankind, what popularity is worth, how large the world is, and how many things it takes to fill it with an influence anything which sets a man practically in his place is a mental good.'

References. XII. 3. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 385. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 376. Archbishop Benson, Living Theology, p. 149. XII. 3-5. Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 52. XII. 4, 5. Bishop Butler, Human Nature and other Sermons, p. 9. Archbishop Benson, Sermons Preached in Wellington College Chapel, p. 11.

Christian Imperialism

Romans 12:4-6

The ideals in which the Church must find its life are also the ideals in which every community, every city, every nation, and every empire must find their life. In proportion as a nation or an empire is converted into a Church will it attain to true national or imperial unity and power. For the empire as for the Church the conditions of true and permanent life and influence are those given in my text. This I venture to call the true Christian Imperialism, and from our text I desire to point out three things in relation to it, namely, its principle of unity, its law of relation, and its manifold opulence of power.

I. Its Principal of Unity. 'One body in Christ' The Apostle Paul declared that all things in heaven and in earth are gathered into one in Jesus Christ And Jesus Himself said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me'. The signal event toward which Christian purpose must move is, the transformation of the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Scarcely a greater task can be conceived than that of teaching this peerless community of free nations that their mission in the world's van depends, not upon material might, but upon allegiance to the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. England's greatness is upreared upon the faith that is in Christ, and if it lose that foundation, it will tumble to the ground like a house of cards.

II. A few words will suffice to set forth the Law of Relation which is here given. As the ideal unity is found in Christ, so the law of mutual relation is completely known and felt in Him. In seeking this unity, we are led to realise that we, all the constituent members of these far-stretching dominions, are severally members one of another. He is indeed deficient in Christian sense who cannot powerfully feel that in ministering the word of God to the colonies we are ministering to ourselves to our own body, as it is in the text. Of a truth we are debtors to all the world, but our first obligation is to animate with the one pulse of Christian faith all the great organised dominion to which we belong. This is our Jerusalem, which is our first charge in the kingdom of Christ. The world will gain by our doing first things first. Go ye into all the world beginning at Jerusalem.

III. From this diversity in spiritual unity flows Manifold Opulence of Power. 'All the members have not the same office.' 'Gifts differing accord ing to the grace that was given to us.' As God dowers His individual servants with diversity of gifts and graces and spiritual potencies, so does He dower His nations.

John Thomas, Concerning the King, p. 200.

Reference. XII. 4-6. John Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 299.

Romans 12:5

Speaking of the unparalleled hopefulness of humanity's prospects in Greece, during the years 470-445 B.C., when 'the tree of human life had burst suddenly into flower, into that exquisite and short-lived bloom which seems so disturbing among the ordinary processes of historical growth,' Professor G. G. Murray attributes this, among other tilings, to 'a circumstance that has rarely been repeated in history the fact that all the different advances appeared to help one another. The ideals of freedom, law, and progress; of truth and beauty; of knowledge and virtue; of humanity and religion; high things, the conlficts between which have caused most of the disruptions and despondencies of human societies, seemed for a generation or two at this time to lie all in one direction. In the main, all good things went hand in hand. The poets and the men of science, the moral teachers and the hardy speculators, the great traders and the political reformers all found their centre of life and aspiration in the same "School of Hellas," Athens.'

References. XII. 5. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 99. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 283. H. H. Almond, Sermons by a Lay Head Master, p. 227. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 379. XII. 6-8. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 257. XII. 7. Archbishop Benson, Living Theology, p. 35.

Romans 12:8

'I deliberately affirm,' writes Huxley in his autobiography, 'that the society I fell into at school was the worst I have ever known. We boys were average lads, with much the same inherent capacity for good and evil as any others; but the people who were set over us cared about as much for our intellectual and moral welfare as if they were baby-farmers. We were left to the operation of the struggle for existence among ourselves, and bullying was the least of the ill practices current among us.'

Romans 12:9

When we do speak or converse together, it is with the utmost civility even apparent cordiality on her part; but preserve me from such cordiality! It is like handling brier-roses and may-blossom bright enough to the eye, and outwardly soft to the touch, but you know there are thorns beneath, and every now and then you feel them too.

Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, xxxi.

References. XII. 9. H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 94. XII. 9-13. J. Bateman, Sermons Preached in Guernsey, p. 206. XII. 9-21. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 103.

Romans 12:10

'If I had my life to live over again,' said Horace Bushnell, in his old age, 'there is one thing I would not do I would not push.'

Romans 12:10

'I often wonder,' says Caroline Helstone in Shirley, 'whether most men resemble my uncle in their domestic relations; whether it is necessary to be new and unfamiliar to them, in order to seem agreeable or estimable in their eyes; and whether it is impossible to their natures to retain a constant interest and affection for those they see every day.'

References. XII. 10. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 170. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 226.

Christianity and Business

Romans 12:11

The word 'business' has a very wide application. It is literally almost synonymous with activity, but custom has gradually restricted it to activity in commercial affairs, until today it has a technical meaning. To be in business today is a phrase which is perfectly understood and equally definite. Moreover, it is an important word for this country. We have been called, you remember, a nation of shopkeepers, and the thought is not untrue to much of our national life. We have of necessity developed our business in all parts of the world. The growth of our Empire has been largely a matter of markets, the discovery of new and the protection of old. And this fact has been the secret of much of our most successful colonisation. Here is something, then, of the very essence of our national life, and it is of the very essence of Christianity that religion should have something to say to it It must have something to say. It claims the whole of life for its field. Therefore the two must be related.

I. Think of the Contrast between these two , business and religion. What can Christianity have in common with business? The essence of our faith is unselfishness; the essence of business is 'Number one'. The atmosphere of our faith is communion; the atmosphere of business is competition. The contrast is all the more marked because Christianity has a business of its own. It has a claim upon the activities of men, and if there is anyone in this church who does not recognise this claim and see that Christianity means a duty to do in his life, let him or her find such a duty at once. For a Christian who professes allegiance to Him who was the pattern of industry from His youth, and ever told men of arduous service; for a Christian who professes allegiance to that Christ never to find a duty at his hand which his Christianity calls him to do, is to acknowledge himself to be spurious. A Christian without a business is a contradiction in terms. Christianity, then, has activities, and, at first sight, they are in complete contradiction to the activities of today.

II. Moreover, the Apparent Hostility between Business and Religion is Accentuated by the Trend of Pulpit Teaching Today. On all sides denunciations of the evils of commerce greet you from the pulpit. It is a feature of modern Christianity that it concerns itself increasingly with commerce, and that it is largely hostile. God forbid that anyone should strive to justify that which is wrong. But there is another side. There are not few but many sterling qualities which may be learned and are in England today almost solely learned through business. And it has seemed to me that it might be well to compare this side of business with Christianity and to see what we Christians have got to learn today from those who follow their occupations in the world outside

III. Now Observe the Relationship between Business and Christianity.

(a) They are akin in complexity. A young man who is about to start on a business career may well be anxious. The problems of competition are always changing. The discovery of a new chemical, the invention of a new machine, may open two paths before a man. One leads to success and the other to failure, and the choice is difficult. The interaction of trades, one upon another, introduces new difficulties. No trade can be considered alone. We must look on each one for itself, but each one by the light of the big business concern the trade of the whole world. In all this, you see, is a strange analogy to Christianity. It is true that among Christians there is very little competition as to which would be the best. Competition here would be a boon to life. The man who asks, 'How can I be a good Christian?' and asks, 'How can I get on?' is met by the same kind of difficulty. The Christian, too, is in the midst of uncertainty. In that very moment that he thinketh he standeth he is warned to take heed lest he fall. He is also the victim of interaction. Brother reacts on brother, congregation on congregation, and church on church. And so in the body, too, our delicately planned abilities act and react on one another.

(b) Religion is akin to business again in its differing standards. Christianity is not a code of casuistry, a dictionary of deportment It is a rule of life which tells a man to govern his life on certain principles, but the man has got to choose. He will find the different standards, and God will give him the guide and the power, but with these two a man has got to win through by himself.

(c) And yet once more see how Christianity and business alike look at things from different standpoints. To one man his business is his life, but his next door neighbour regards his business as the veriest profession in the world. His partner does the work, but he would be very annoyed if you told him he was a lazy man. And the third man goes to business as to a disagreeable duty. So he slaves at it, a pathetic picture. Do you not see yourselves, religiously, somewhere there? Of all the points on which I have touched this one is pre-eminent, the keenness of the business man which ought to be reproduced in religion. But is it? Is the faith of Jesus Christ so real to us that if it were taken away it would be a sentence of death to us? If persecution came, should we care so much for Jesus Christ that we should stand it?

The Relation of the Spiritual to the Worldly Life

Romans 12:11

We take occasion from the text to maintain I. That the spiritual life is perfected through the worldly life. (1) When the Scriptures insist that the spiritual life is the real life, they do not imply that the worldly life is necessarily antagonistic to the spiritual. The Greek held that the aesthetic life was incompatible with vulgar toil. The Roman entertained much the same view of practical life; he considered it fatal to intellectual greatness and efficacy. Says Cicero: 'The occupations of all artisans are base, and the shop can have nothing of the respectable'. And this prejudice against trade and industry is even now far from being extinct. The Christian religion, on the contrary, breathes no word against manual and commercial callings. Christ gives no hint of asceticism; He lends no sanction to any merely ecclesiastical virtue. (2) On the contrary, so far from teaching that the spiritual life is antagonistic to the life of secular action, the New Testament teaches that the spiritual is directly related to the worldly life, and that the former is perfected by the latter. If we observe the intellectual life we see at once that men can never, except with extreme disadvantage, divorce themselves from tangible things. The painter who refuses to go to nature soon paints badly. This is true of the musician. He must not merely hear the note in his brain, he must exercise his senses and test his conceptions on string and pipe. It is thus, also, with the poet. He must cultivate close acquaintance with the actual world if his poetry is to be true and pure. All this is most true in relation to our spiritual life that life can grow only as it is elicited, exercised, conditioned by our worldly life.

II. The worldly life is perfected through the spiritual life. It is often argued that the spiritual life is injurious to the worldly life. Secularists profess that the two lives are mutually exclusive. They conclude that just as we are occupied with a higher world we become incapable of making the best of this. Can it then be justly said that it has that consequence? Multitudes of spiritual men, full of religious enthusiasm, play their part in the heart of the busy world and yet excel in practical life. The whole material life of society here and now is secured and perpetuated by this spirituality. It is only in the grace of Christ grace at once so simple and so complex that we are able to live this dual life, to solve this difficult problem.

W. L. Watkinson, The Blind Spot, p. 201.

Romans 12:11

Each of us has a little cleverness and a great deal of sluggish stupidity.... Modern education is a beginning of many things, and it is little more than a beginning.

P. G. Hamerton.

The parts of our wealth most intimately ours are those which are saturated with our labour.

Professor William James.

Romans 12:11

Man in this world is like a traveller who is always walking towards a colder region, and who is therefore obliged to be more active as he goes further north. The great malady of the soul is cold, and in order to counteract this formidable illness, he must keep up the activity of his mind not only by work, but by contact with his fellow-men and with the world.

De Tocqueville.

In every action of religion God expects such a warmth and a holy fire to go along, that it may be able to enkindle the wood upon the altar, and consume the sacrifice; but God hates an indifferent spirit. Earnestness and vivacity, quickness and delight, perfect choice of the service and a delight in the prosecution, is all that the spirit of a man can yield towards his religion.

Jeremy Taylor.

Edward Fitzgerald and Tennyson were one day looking at two busts of Dante and of Goethe. 'What is there wanting in Goethe,' said Fitzgerald, 'which the other one has? 'Tennyson at once replied: 'The Divine intensity'.

Religion (and indeed everything else) was no matter of indifference to him. It was θερμὸν τι πρᾶγμα , a certain fiery thing, as Aristotle calls love; it required and it got the very flower and vigour of the spirit the strength and sinews of the soul the prime and top of the affections this is that grace, that panting grace a flaming edge of the affection the ruddy complexion of the soul.


References. XII. 11. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 218. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 885. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 21. F. W. Farrar, Sin and its Conquerors, p. 38. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 62. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 187. J. C. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 108. H. C. Lees, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 799. J. W. Burgon, Servants of Scripture, p. 123. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 72.

Apostolic Optimism

Romans 12:12

That is a characteristic expression of the fine, genial optimism of the Apostle Paul. This apostolic optimism was not a thin and fleeting sentiment begotten of a cloudless summer day. It was not the creation of a season; it was the permanent pose of the spirit. This apostolic optimism was not born of sluggish thinking, or of idle and shallow observation.

I. Now what are the secrets of this courageous and energetic optimism? Pre-eminent above all other suggestions, I am impressed with his vivid sense of the reality of the redemptive work of Christ. Said an old villager to me concerning the air of his elevated hamlet: 'Aye, sir, it's a fine air is this westerly breeze; I like to think of it as having travelled from the distant fields of the Atlantic'. And here is the Apostle Paul, with the quickening wind of redemption blowing about him, and to him, in all his thinking; it had its birth in the distant fields of eternity.

II. I am profoundly impressed by his living sense of the reality and greatness of his present resources. His conception of life was amazingly rich in friendly dynamics! The Epistles abound in the recital of mystic ministries at work. The Holy Spirit worketh! Grace worketh! Faith worketh! Love worketh! Hope worketh! Prayer worketh! 'Tribulation worketh!' 'This light affliction worketh!' 'Godly sorrow worketh!'

III. And, finally, in searching for the springs of this man's optimism, I place alongside his sense of the reality of redemption and his wealthy consciousness of present resources, his impressive sense of the reality of future glory. I think we have lost immeasurably by the uprooting, in so many lives, of this plant of heavenly contemplation. I cannot think that Samuel Rutherford impoverished his spirit or deadened his affections, or diminished his labours by mental pilgrimages such as he counsels to Lady Cardoness: 'Go up beforehand and see your lodging. Look through all your Father's rooms in Heaven. Men take a sight of the lands ere they buy them. I know that Christ hath made the bargain already; but be kind to the house ye are going to, and see it often.'

J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 1.

Romans 12:12

The first thing that strikes me on hearing a misfortune having befallen another is this: Well, it cannot be helped. He will have the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit.


Why art thou troubled, when things succeed not as thou wouldest or desirest? Who is he that hath all things to his mind? Neither I nor thou, nor any man on earth. There is none in the world without some tribulation or perplexity, though he were Emperor or Pope. Who has the better lot? Surely he who is able to suffer something for God.

Thomas À Kempis.

References. XII. 12. C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p. 99. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 219. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 257. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1480. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 279. XII. 13. Ibid. vol. xi. p. 284.

Romans 12:14

See Whittier's lines on Barclay of Ury.

Romans 12:14

'Spinoza,' says Mr. Hale White, 'advises that every man should have certain sure maxims dogmata he calls them which should even be committed to memory, so that they may be ready whenever we need them: one of these dogmata is never to oppose hatred by hatred.'

Reference. XII. 14. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 46.

Romans 12:15

They who, deluded by no generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful knowledge, duped by no illustrious superstition, loving nothing on this earth, and cherishing no hopes beyond, yet keep aloof from sympathies with their kind, rejoicing neither in human joy nor mourning with human grief; these, and such as they, have their appointed curse. They languish, because none feel with them their common nature. They are morally dead.... Those who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.

Shelley, Preface to Alastor.

In the course of a letter written to a friend upon the choice of a profession, particularly that of a schoolmaster, Dr. Arnold of Rugby remarks: 'Another point to which I attach great importance is liveliness. This seems to me an essential condition of sympathy with creatures so lively as boys are naturally, and it is a great matter to make them understand that liveliness is not folly or thoughtlessness. Now I think the prevailing manner amongst many very valuable men at Oxford is the very opposite to liveliness; I think that this is the case partly with yourself; not at all from affectation, but from natural temper, encouraged perhaps, rather than checked, by a belief that is right and becoming. But this appears to me to be in point of manner the great difference between a clergyman with a parish and a schoolmaster. It is an illustration of St. Paul's rule: Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. A clergyman's intercourse is very much with the sick and the poor, where liveliness would be greatly misplaced; but a schoolmaster's is with the young, the strong, and the happy, and he cannot get on with them unless in animal spirits he can sympathise with them, and show them that his thoughtfulness is not connected with selfishness and weakness. At least this applies, I think, to a young man.'

Speaking of Japanese morality and manners, Professor Inazo Nitobe says: 'I cannot emphasise too strongly that manners and etiquette are valuable only as manifestations of a genuine culture of the soul, which pleases itself in imparting pleasure to others, and in avoiding giving pain. Politeness must conform to the precept to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, or rather to rejoice with those who rejoice, and not let others weep when you weep.'

Japan by the Japanese, pp. 274-275.

For one shall grasp and one resign,

One drink life's rue and one its wine,

And God shall make the balance good.


References. XII. 15. J. G. Bowran, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 83. Bishop Butler, Human Nature and other Sermons, pp. 71, 87. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 167. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 299.

Romans 12:16

In train on way to Westminster. To so many people nothing is 'worth while' not worth while telling, not worth while writing, and yet the incidents of life are pretty similar to all the same sort of people to see and meet, the same troubles and cares and fears. To most men life seems one dull round, out of which little can be extracted; and why? Chiefly because they have a low opinion of small things. They don't see the dignity of the little. A neighbour is nothing. A man must be Sir Garnet Wolseley or Captain Nares or Charles Dickens to make them care to see him. Not so did Dickens find Sloppy and Kit and Smike and little Nell.

James Smetham's Letters, p. 379.

Romans 12:16

If we will exercise the needful restraint, if we will curb our conceit, and watch our tongues, and keep aloof from temptations to controversy, we may still have some experience of that fellowship with the saints which is necessary for our daily sustenance in the life of faith.

T. H. Green.

Romans 12:16

In the evening and next morning I preached at Cardiff. Oh what a fair prospect was here some years ago! Surely this whole town would have known God, from the least even to the greatest, had it not been for men leaning to their own understanding, instead of the law and the testimony.

Wesley's Journal, 1749.

The next entry is: 'At twelve I preached at Lanmais to a loving, earnest people, who do not desire to be any wiser than God'.

Fifteen years later, during his visit to Scotland, he notes: 'There is seldom fear of wanting a congregation in Scotland. But the misfortune is, they know everything; so they learn nothing.' In 1869, during a debate on the Irish land laws, Mr. Gladstone observed sarcastically: 'I have this advantage for learning the Irish land question, that I do not set out with the belief that I know it already.'

Manning thus describes some members of the Vatican Council: 'The main characteristic of these men was vanity intellectual and literary. They had the inflation of German professors, and the ruthless talk of undergraduates.'

References. XII. 16. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 151. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 400. XII. 16, 17. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 208.

Romans 12:17

The dull world has got the wrong phrase; it is he who resents an affront who pockets it; he who takes no notice lets it lie in the dirt.

George Macdonald.

References. XII. 17. H. H. Henson, The Value of the Bible, p. 96; Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 149.

Peace Within and Without

Romans 12:18

Happy is he who enjoys the peace of God which passeth all understanding, won for us, and placed within the reach of every one of us, by the coming to the world of Jesus Christ But all Divine blessings have their earthward, as well as their heavenly side. The whole of life, not this or that part of it, is to be ruled by serenity.

I. Our first glance at this striking precept is enough to show us that, unlike many others in Scripture, it is not absolute, but conditional: it points out an ideal which we are constantly to keep before us, although its perfect attainment here is not always possible. Fidelity to truth in an environment of error, fidelity to holiness in a world of sin, cannot but lead to collision and conflict. But we are never to arouse anger or hatred by our tempers, or by our unwise methods of attempting to do God service. That is the meaning of the command before us, and of its qualifications. In fact, the life on earth even of the Prince of Peace was one of conflict. It is our duty to rouse men's thoughts and their consciences, when they would prefer being left alone; and that disturbs peace. Further, there are occasions when you are bound to resist evil, instead of quietly submitting to it.

II. Now let us see where it is needed, and how it may be displayed in the world, in the Church, and in the home. Like most good things, this temper is of slow growth, and needs more fostering in the Church itself than most people care to acknowledge. But the persistence of Christian teaching during all these centuries has not been without effect on society at large. (1) Think of our attitude towards war, for example. Little by little the old war-spirit is waning, and in the altered atmosphere of modern life it will still further diminish, just as the enormous calamities of the carboniferous period have dwindled down into the little mares'-tails of our ditches, because the atmosphere and environment of this country have become so changed. (2) Further, this message from God has its application to those of us who are seeking to advance truth and righteousness in the world. Above all others, we are to see that we are not provocative, but kindly and tactful. (3) There is another application which I wish to make of this principle, which is, in some respects, still more important, and is certainly more general, bringing responsibility on us all. I refer to the application of our text to life in the home-circle. Your home is your chief training-ground, where bad temper, snappishness, and disagreeableness, with other sins, are to be conquered, in God's strength; and where all the graces of the Holy Spirit, gentleness, goodness, patience, and meekness, are to be fostered and developed.

A. Rowland, The Burdens of Life, p. 105.

Reference. XII. 18. J. L. Davies, A Lent in London, p. 63.

Romans 12:19

Has thy heart's friend carelessly or cruelly stabbed into thy heart? Oh, forgive him! Think how, when thou art dead, he will punish himself.


'Brougham,' writes Macaulay to Ellis in 1838, is persecuting Napier, 'with the utmost malignity. I did not think it possible for human nature, in an educated, civilised man a man, too, of great intellect to have become so depraved. He writes to Napier in language of the most savage hatred, and of the most extravagant vaunting. The ministers, he says, have felt only his little finger. He will now put forth his red right hand. They shall have no rest.... He will make revenge on Empson the one business of the remaining years of his life. Empson says nothing so demoniacal was ever written in the world.'

Every religion that preaches vengeance for sin is the religion of the enemy and the avenger, and not of the forgiver of sin; and their god is Satan named by the Divine name.


References. XII. 19. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 406; ibid. p. 453; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 421. XII. 20. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 142.

The Invincible Strategy

Romans 12:21

Such is the method by which God Himself, alike in nature and in His government, seeks to vanquish evil. The text contains the philosophy of Jesus Christ. Christianity is reproached because it has brought little that is new into the sphere of morals. Quite a gratuitous impeachment Our Lord's method of dealing with evil, for instance, is startlingly new. Before He came the world knew no other way of treating evil than by reprisal and retribution; pains and penalties were the only remedies known to the rulers and judges of the earth. The Incarnation disclosed to the world a new and an amazing thought: for the mailed fist it substituted the pierced Hand. Henceforth error and unrighteousness were to be antagonised by knowledge, long-suffering, sympathy, and forgiveness.

I. In the treatment of personal evil we must follow the injunction of the text To overcome this or that failing, think of it as little as possible, and as much as you can about the corresponding virtue; weaken the bad side by strengthening the good. The thought of beauty leaves a stain of sweet colour on the soul: to think of greatness is to grow; to muse on purity is to suffer a sea change into the whiteness and preciousness of the pearl. In a word, the secret of perfect character is to look away from self to Him who is the supreme example and perfecter. A philosopher has said, 'Cultivate your defects in the shadow of your qualities'; which is, indeed, the very lesson we have sought to enforce, only to give the principle inculcated in this aphorism full expression and efficacy we must cultivate our defects in the shadow of Christ's qualities and grace.

II. In dealing with domestic evil, that which we witness and deplore in our immediate neighbourhood, the text must furnish guidance. It must not be forgotten that it is chiefly in the gentleness of Christ that we circumvent and overcome evil. Great is the efficacy of kindness! Love looks little less than absurd as she steps down into the arena of strife and rage, and essays to 'fetter madness with a silken thread'; yet are her victories many and glorious. Great is the efficacy of endurance. Great is the efficacy of humility. Great is the efficacy of sympathy. Great is the efficacy of clemency.

III. The effectual way to subdue public evil is the strategy of the text. (1) We do not really overcome evil by substituting one evil for another, or by setting one evil to drive out another. (2) We shall not overcome evil by the representation of it (3) We shall not overcome evil by legislation. (4) Evil is not overcome by denunciation. What this world awaits is personal, positive, constructive goodness.

W. L. Watkinson, The Supreme Conquest, p. 218.

The War Between Good and Evil

Romans 12:21

This injunction places evil and good in direct conflict. The enemy is to be destroyed; the man is to be saved. The two injunctions taken together, and acted out, with the whole of the moral requirements and higher elements of the chapter, the Christian profession would thereby be marvellously brightened and strengthened, and the whole world beautified with light and glory.

I. Notice the antagonism of the two great principles. There is no harmony whatsoever between them. They are as decided opposites as night and day, as hell and heaven, as Satan and God; consequently the antagonism between them is absolute and everlasting.

(1) It began ages ago; some affirm in heaven itself in the actual presence of the Holy One; others, that our world was its first theatre, as death, the consequence of sin, existed before creation in its present form. Without speculation or controversy, it demonstrated itself in the Garden of Eden as it had never done before.

(2) It has continued ever since. The conflict has not paused from the beginning, even during the twinkling of an eye.

(3) It has raged everywhere. There is not a place where the struggle has not been known not a son or daughter of Adam who has not had to face it.

(4) It is rampant now. Nay, the battle waxes hotter as the hour of final victory draws nigh.

II. What is the right action toward these two antagonistic principles?

(1) Evil is to be overcome. It is not irresistible, not invincible. God overcame it at the first by punishing the angels who kept not their first estate; and when creation was marred and cursed by it, He overcame it by setting Himself to redress the wrong inflicted by it. In love He sent His Son to make atonement And Jesus in His own life as well as in His own death overcame it. And all His redeemed ones are now achieving the same victory, and will continue to do so until the day shall come when evil will be utterly extinguished everywhere and in everything, except in hell and its people. It is our bounden duty, therefore, to act well our part in this greatest of all conflicts. We must be masters of evil, and not its slaves. And the sovereignty is attained when we bridle our natural passion, restrain malignant action, cherish no manner of unbelief, hold the truth firmly, and live holily in the sight of all men.

(2) Good is the principle by which evil is to be overcome. In fact, it is the only means by which it can be subjected; not by sin against sin, passion against passion, foe against foe; but by truth against error, blessing against curse, love against hatred, holiness against unrighteousness. See it triumphing thus in Eden, on Calvary, in the Bible, in the conversion of souls, in the purity of believers, in the salvation of the world.

Romans 12:21

Samuel Rutherford, in a letter to Marion M'Naught, writes thus: 'Put on love, and brotherly kindness, and long-suffering; wait as long upon the favour of and turned hearts of your enemies as your Christ waited upon you, and as dear Jesus stood at your soul's door, with dewy and rainy locks, the long, cold night. Be angry but sin not I persuade myself that holy unction within you, which teacheth you all things, is also saying, Overcome evil with good. If that had not spoken in your soul, at the tears of your aged pastor, you would not have agreed, and forgiven his foolish son who wronged you.'

References. XII. 21. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 276. Bishop Welldon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 116. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1317.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 12". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/romans-12.html. 1910.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile