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Mr. Seebohm, in The Oxford Reformers, tells us that when Dean Colet was expounding this chapter, he used to 'take down his Suetonius in order to ascertain the state of society at Rome and the special circumstances which made it needful for St. Paul so strongly to urge Roman Christians to be obedient to the higher powers and to pay tribute also'.
Meseemeth (if I may speake boldly) that it argueth a great self-love and presumption for a man to esteeme his opinions so far, that for to establish them a man must be faine to subvert a publike peace, and introduce so many inevitable mischiefes, and so horrible a corruption of manners as civill warres and alterations of a state bring with them, in matters of such consequence, and to bring them into his own countrie.... Christian religion hath all the markes of extreme justice and profit, but none more apparent than the exact commendation of obedience due unto magistrate, and manutention of policies: what wonderfull example hath divine wisdom left us, which, to establish the welfare of humane kinde, and to conduct this glorious victorie of here against death and sinne, would not do it but at the mercy of our politik order, and hath submitted the progresse of it, and the conduct of so high and worthie effect, to the blindenesse and injustice of our observations and customes?
References. XIII. 1. Bishop Potter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 24. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 283. John Watson, The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 239. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 91. XIII. 1-3. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxix. p. 85; see also The Guardian for 3rd February, 1911. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 106. XIII. 1-7. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 71, 261. XIII. 2. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 41.
Paul's 'craving for some closer bond with the Gentile world, for some affinity with the keen philosophical intellect of the Greeks, and the stately jurisprudence of Rome, is shown in a hundred passages,' especially in Acts 17:0 , 'and not less certainly in that earnest respect for Roman legislation, which made him inculcate on the Roman Church the Divine sanction of all secular government, and speak to them of rulers as ministers of God, not bearing the sword in vain '.
R. H. Hutton.
References. XIII. 4. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 81. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 137.
In Boswell's Johnson it is told how the Doctor, when in Wiltshire, 'attended some experiments that were made by a physician at Salisbury, on the new kinds of air. In the course of the experiments, frequent mention being made of Dr. Priestley, Dr. Johnson knit his brows, and in a stern manner inquired, "Why do we hear so much of Dr. Priestley?" He was very properly answered, "Sir, because we are indebted to him for these important discoveries". On this Dr. Johnson appeared well content; and replied, "Well, well, I believe we are; and let every man have the honour he has merited".'
References. XIII. 7. Bishop Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 401. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 125. H. W. Webb-Peploe, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 86. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 403.
Our Rights and Duties
I. Rights and duties spring up first in the family, and in the family the Commandments first treat of them. 'Honour' is the child's duty and the parents' right. Then from the family the Commandments pass on to lay down our duties and rights in the commonwealth. It is our God-ordained duty to respect the families of others, the lives of others, the reputation of others, the property of others. Thou shalt not kill, or commit adultery, or steal, or bear false witness, or covet; and as members of the commonwealth we obtain the same dues as we pay namely, the right to be shielded from the adulterer, the murderer, the thief or covetous man, and the false witness. In all civilised states these laws of God, set out in the second table of the Mosaic decalogue, have been made part of the law of the land. They stand as the firm basis of our civilisation. And because they are derived directly from the law of God we speak of them as 'sacred'; each of us, however humble or exalted, claims these sacred rights at our neighbours'hands, the right to life, the right to family honour, the right to preserve our character uninjured, the right to keep our own property.
II. Let us now go on to ask what difference the Christian religion has made to these rights and duties. In the first place, Christianity here, as always, goes beneath the external action to the motive from which it springs, and dares to lay its command upon the human will. 'A new Commandment I give unto you,' said Christ, 'that ye love one another.' It is your duty to love one another. The duties you have already learned not to steal, or murder, or lie are only particular instances of this one great principle. If you love you will fulfil them all, inevitably and instinctively. 'He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.' And then, secondly, Christianity supplies the reason for what would else have to be learned merely as a rule. Why should we love our parents or our neighbour? Because man is the child of God, and God is Love. By loving you are fulfilling the true law of your nature, and acting like your Father. You are made to love. And not only does Christianity give us the reason for this duty of loving, it supplies us also with its true measure. 'A new Commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye love one another.' The love we owe to each other is love like Christ's it cannot be fully paid till we are like Christ, and have the perfect love of God.
III. But the question will present itself, Is it not also true that our rights under Christianity increase, as well as our duties? Is not this universal debt of love owed by others to us as well as by us to others? May I not claim the love I pay? Certainly. And yet you will notice that the New Testament even more than the Old lays its stress upon our duties rather than our rights, and it gives us the reason for so doing that God loves whether He is loved or not; 'He is kind to the unthankful and evil'. And, therefore, 'it is more blessed to give than to receive,' more Godlike to do our duty than claim our right. And being more Divine, is it not also more successful? You think, perhaps, your child or your husband is ungrateful for all your care? You have a right to their affections. Indubitably; but will you extort them by rehearsing your sacrifices? Love on and love ever unselfishly, wisely, prayerfully in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, and you will have your reward. For true love begets true love in return.
IV. Let me turn once more from our rights to our duties. In the passage before us the Apostle speaks of our duty to the State of which we are members. He did not consider it the duty of the Christian Church in his day to upset the existing State and frame another on a new model and no one today who prefers a Socialistic State to that under which we at present live has a right to appeal to Christianity in support of his preference. I do not say he has not a right to his preference, but that he must not appeal to Christianity in support of it. The expression 'Christian Socialism,' though familiar enough, is as unmeaning as Christian individualism. But whatever our State is, the Apostle bids us render to all its members their dues. If we are under a foreign yoke, he bids us pay tribute; if we are self-governing, he bids us pay the customary taxes 'Tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom', And St. Paul is following here the express commandment of His Master. We cannot forget how in that last week of His life He finally alienated the people's goodwill, and changed their 'Hosannas' into cries of 'Crucify!' by the commandment to give tribute to Cæsar. Brethren, it is hard to enjoy paying taxes; we much prefer that other people should pay them. But it is not really harder than to pay with a glad heart and ready will the other duties we owe our fellow-citizens. I venture to say that no one can pay his taxes in a Christian spirit whose active duty towards his country is restricted to paying taxes, Our national duties, like our family and social duties, require for their right performance that spirit of love which looks not only to its own satisfaction and profit, but also to those of others; they require that touch of unselfish imagination which enables us to realise our kinship and common interests. Render therefore to all their dues; owe no man anything but the debt of love which, though you always pay it, you can never pay in full; and, in order that you may do this, put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil its selfish lusts.
H. C. Beeching, The Guardian, 17th February, 1911.
Reference. XIII. 7, 9. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi, p. 46.
Fulfilling the Law
The Apostle gives us brotherly love as the solution of all the problems of human life.
I. Christian Principle. In the Christian code 'Love one another' is seen to be a fundamental principle. It is no mere precept of morality. Love is the fountain-head of all the virtues. We recall to mind the Master's words, 'A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples.' No duty is plainer than this duty of brotherly love. Love is the spiritual nature of God Himself. Nothing could be simpler in theory. As a matter of abstract morality all this is plain sailing. As St. Paul says in the text, we owe each other one duty only, that of brotherly love. But it is a duty almost without limit: it is coextensive with the whole of humanity, and it is bounded only in duration by the length of our own earthly life.
II. Christian Practice. But here in this matter as in most others theory and practice are widely divergent. They do not run smoothly together. It is easy to learn that our Christian duty is to love our neighbour, but it is extremely difficult at times to do so. We find that individually the general run of our fellow-men have so many faults, so many objectionable features most of which we no doubt possess ourselves, although we are not conscious of the fact that we find it difficult to love them at all in any real sense. That is to say, without considering for one moment the defects of our own character, such as selfishness, which may make it for the time being almost impossible for us to love anything or anybody but ourselves, we find that our neighbour has so many objectionable traits that it is difficult to extend to him any true feeling of brotherly love.
III. The Example of Jesus Christ. From the point of view of the unsightly defects in others, we must turn to the teaching of Jesus Christ for inspiration and spiritual advice. What are His words on this point? He says, Love even your enemies, bless even them that curse you, do good even to them that hate you, and pray even for them that despitefully use you, that you may be children of your Father which is in heaven. Strong words indeed! God, we must remember, hates only the sin and loves the sinner. We must endeavour to draw the same distinction, remembering at the same time the words, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged'. We do not know what another man's temptations may be, nor how we might fare if we had them to face ourselves. But we do know that all men are tempted to sin, and that few indeed consciously and wilfully sin with deliberate intent. Let us therefore strive to see our fellow-men as God sees them. While hating their sins as we hate our own, let us learn to love them as precious souls, for whom the Lord of glory died.
'His economical maxims,' says Sir George Trevelyan of Lord Macaulay, 'were of the simplest: to treat official and literary gains as capital, and to pay all bills within the twenty-four hours. "I think," he says, "that prompt payment is a moral duty; knowing, as I do, how painful it is to have such things deferred."'
'Such is the charity of the Jesuits,' said Thomas Fuller, 'that they never owe any man any ill-will making frequent payment thereof.'
How little we pay our way in life! Although we have our purses continually in our hand, the better part of service goes still unrewarded.
R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage.
'Duty' and 'debt' are the same word differently written, and both mean that which is 'owed'. I ought' is the preterite of 'I owe'. The French devoir is applied to pecuniary debt and moral duty. In Greek ὀφείλω and ὀφείλημα show the same association of ideas. Now what do we mean by a sense of duty, except a recognition of the claims of others, of neighbours, family, society, or God? In no respect do men differ more than in this sense of duty.
J. Cotter Morison.
But though the two who looked down on the scene neither knew it nor thought of it, with them in their little hollow was a power mightier than any, the power that in its highest form does indeed make the world go round; the one power in the world that is above fortune, above death, above the creeds or shall we say, behind them? For with them was love in its highest form, the love that gives and does not ask, and being denied loves. In their clear moments men know that this love is the only real thing in the world; and a thousand times more substantial, more existent than the things we grasp and see.
Stanley Weyman, The Abbess of Vlaye, p. 208, describing Bonne and her crippled brother looking down upon the Peasants' Camp.
Let our one unceasing care be to better the love we offer to our fellows. One cup of this love that is drawn from the spring on the mountains is worth a hundred taken from the stagnant wells of ordinary charity.
Maeterlinck, in Wisdom and Destiny.
References. XIII. 8. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 36. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 72. XIII. 8-10. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 135.
At a time when the Divine Commandment, Thou shalt not steal, wherein truly, if well understood, is comprised the whole Hebrew Decalogue, with Solon's and Lycurgus's Constitutions, Justinian's Pandects, the Code Napoleon, and all codes, Catechisms, Divinities, and Moralities whatsoever, that man has hitherto devised (and enforced with Altar-fire and Gal low-ropes) for his social guidance; at a time, I say, when this Divine Commandment has all but faded away from the general remembrance; and, with little disguise, a new opposite commandment, Thou shalt steal, is everywhere promulgated it perhaps behoved, in this universal dotage and deliration, the sound portion of mankind to bestir themselves and rally.
Sartor Resartus, book ii. x.
References. XIII. 9. Bishop Butler, Human Nature and other Sermons, pp. 116, 139. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 277.
Bishop King of Lincoln, in his paper on Clerical Study, has the following passage on the development of natural gifts: 'I might give you an example of what I mean from the life of Von Moltke, one of the greatest characters, I venture to think, of this century. It was, if I remember rightly, from the oration delivered at his funeral that I got my information. The key to his mind, the preacher said, was an aptitude for topography; he had an eye for the lie of the ground; hills, rivers, woods, whatever was visible, he seemed to take them all in. This led him to practise sketching, and sketching accurately; this to studying surveying; while at Constantinople he made what we should call an ordnance survey of the country all round Constantinople for the Sultan; while at Rome, in attendance on one of the German Princes, he surveyed all the Campagna, and made maps and plans. This led him to notice any peculiar objects, an old tower or bridge, then he wanted to know who built it, where the people came from. This led him to read history and to consider the relation and connection of nations. This led him to study the languages of the different nations, of which he knew five, including Russian. Hence, when the French and German War broke out, Von Moltke knew the lie of the country, its resources, its history, the character of the people. And 1 cannot help reminding you how with all this accumulation of knowledge he preserved his magnificent simplicity and self-effacement, and tenderness of heart. On the wall of the little chapel, which he built in his grounds at Kreisau, over against his own coffin and the coffin of his dear wife, is a beautiful crucifix, and above it is the text, "Love is the fulfilling of the law". On the blank leaf at the end of his wife's German copy of the New Testament, which Von Moltke always kept on his dressing-table since his wife's death, he wrote his six favourite texts; the first and the sixth are the same, "My strength is made perfect in weakness!" Such was the inner tenderness of this outwardly iron man!'
The Love and Wisdom of God, pp. 341, 342.
References. XIII. 10. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, pp. 108, 122. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 250.
Knowing the Time
The Greek word here for knowing implies that it is not the knowing of intuition; it is the knowing of instruction. Knowing the time comes by the Word of God, as we read it in the Bible The one purpose for which this Bible is with us is just this, that we may see how seasons succeed seasons, until the final consummation, and so you will find, all through the Scriptures, references to the time. Learn this lesson, then, first of all.
I. The Time is kept in Heaven. God is watching. Things are not happening by chance. Everything is ordered, everything is prompt, and punctual, and exact. God's watch keeps strict time Time seems to go very slowly; it seems as though God's clock went very slowly. In the days before the first Advent, when religion was at its very ebb, and Roman cohorts were stationed on the very threshold of the Temple area, and faint-hearted people of God began to fear that God had forsaken His people and forgotten His promises, even then there were a few who knew the time. There were Simeon and Anna looking for the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel, the kingdom of God, and, though the clock seemed to go very slowly, when the hour struck, when the time was fulfilled, God sent forth His Son. That was the first Advent And perhaps the time seemed to go very quickly during the days of Israel's visitation. Keep your eye on the clock of heaven, as far as it is revealed to us, and know the time as God reckons it. So we are told the time.
II. The Night is far Past, the Day is at Hand. That is the time. Did you ever realise what a daring statement this was? It seems completely in contradiction to the Apostle's own teaching on other occasions, and the teaching of our blessed Lord. Compared with the old Jewish Covenant this is day and that was night, but a yet more glorious day is coming. If you think of that glorious day when we shall see His wonderful face, in comparison to the brightness of that day, this is only night. The day is coming. We see the day approaching. The streaks of dawn are in the sky. The absolutely new awakening of national life amongst the Jews, the marvellous swelling of missionary enterprise, the casting aside of denominational bonds, the longing to gather together in one all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, these are some of the rosy streaks of dawn. But there are heavy black shadows still on the horizon, reminding us that the night is not yet past. God has His eye upon the clock. When the fulness of time is reached and the hour strikes, we shall see that the delay, however trying, has not been wanton or unnecessary; we shall find the fulfilment is punctual and exact. And so I ask you to learn to know the time. The Lord has left this earth, He is coming again, He is very near, the day is approaching.
III. What is the Time?
a. For Satan and the host of darkness, it is the time of license.
b. For the Gentile nations it is a time of ascendency.
c. For the Church it is a time of testing.
d. For the world at large it is the accepted time.
By 'sleep,' in this passage, St. Paul means a state of insensibility to things as they really are in God's sight. When we are asleep, we are absent from this world's action, as if we were no longer concerned in it It goes on without us, or, if our rest be broken and we have some slight notion of people and occurrences about us, if we hear a voice or a sentence, and see a face, yet we are unable to catch these external objects justly and truly; we make them part of our dreams, and pervert them till they have scarce a resemblance to what they really are; and such is the state of man as regards religious truth.
J. H. Newman.
See Keble's Christian Year, on 'The First Sunday in Advent'.
References. XIII. 11. A. T. Pierson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 328. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 302. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 857, and vol. xxiv. No. 1445. J. C. Lees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 27. Penny Pulpit, No. 1642, p. 177. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 208. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 1. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 15. Bishop Creighton, University and other Sermons, p. 62. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 221. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 101. XIII. 11, 12. W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 948. XIII. 11-14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1614.
The Second Advent (For Advent Sunday)
The second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is set before us in these words. Observe, first, the practical character of the doctrine. It is sometimes said 'Of what practical use is this doctrine?' It is here, as everywhere, set before us as one of the most practical doctrines of God's Word: 'knowing the time'; 'the day is at hand'; 'therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, let us put on the armour of light; let us walk honestly as in the day'. Again, not only is it practical, but it is here put before us as a motive for holiness of life. If you knew the Lord would appear next week how would you spend the intermediate time? How holy, how prayerful, how watchful would you be! This is the view in which the Apostle sets this doctrine before us in these words. Again, it is clearly implied that we should inquire into and know the character of the days in which we live, and their bearing on the future: 'knowing the time'; 'for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed'.
I. What is the Night. The present time is called night, and for three principal reasons:
(a) We see so little now 'through a glass darkly'; there is mystery in everything. All our knowledge is a groping after light. All our helps in this direction are but dim tapers.
(b) All wickedness is done in the darkness. For this reason men 'love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil'. Because we have not light to discover men's evil deeds and motives, we wait for 'the day' to declare them.
(c) The influence of 'this present world' on the spiritual nature of man is to make him sleep, to distract his thoughts and affections from eternal things, and to fix them on what is unreal or transitory. The relation the present time bears to the future is the same as that of the night to the day. All wickedness, all uncertainty, all drowsiness, respecting Divine things, will end in the holiness, and clearness, and devotedness that will then characterise that time.
II. The Approach of the Day. The expression of the Apostle would also seem to show the nearness of the event 'it is high time to awake out of sleep'. The streaks of morning already skirt the dark horizon. Its language is that of a man already awake calling out to his fellow-man who is lying asleep next to him: 'Up, the morning sun is beginning to dawn!' What is the 'salvation'? There are two spoken of in Scripture continually. Salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by which a sinner is saved, is not the meaning here. This a true believer has already. But this passage speaks of a salvation coming, 'Now is our salvation nearer'. This is salvation from the presence of sin, as the other is salvation from the guilt and condemnation of sin.
The Armour of Light
The whole verse is suggestive of and intended as an incentive to transparency and sunny openness and candour. 'Let us walk honestly as in the day' facing the sunshine and fearing nothing 1 And accordingly the idea of the text would appear to be that in this same qualification or grace we shall find our best defence against many things. Perfect truthfulness, the Apostle seems to say, is the grand protection for the soul. On such armour, impalpable as it seems, what is hurtful strikes in vain.
I. In trying to illustrate this, let us begin at the centre of our life and work outwards. I believe then that it is a comparatively rare thing to find a man perfectly honest and true with himself. Anyone who wishes may find abundant examples of this in the ordinary life around him. How often, for instance, men contrive to misjudge themselves as to the work they should attempt and the place they should aspire to in the world. But it is even more important that we should notice how the tendency I am speaking of is too deep-seated in human nature to be confined to the ordinary life of men. It goes on with them into the life of faith as well too often to blight and mar everything there. By far the saddest instance is seen where men refuse altogether to be true to the light that is in them.
II. Turn now to our relations with other men. Here, too, of course a Christian is called to be true: and if he is so he may expect to find himself protected against various ills not otherwise to be avoided. This is one of the most obvious of duties, not to say Christian duties; and as for the man who can easily and wilfully lie, I suppose we all feel that he must be capable of anything. Short of such deliberate untruth, however, who does not know how marvellously easy it is to be untrue? Do you not often, for instance, find it very difficult to convey by words exactly what you intend? And sometimes, too, your very silence may be misconstrued. Add to this that there are natures which have the misfortune to be constitutionally unveracious. In the midst of all this, now, how the genuine Christian character should gleam out upon men clothed in the armour of light!
III. And this leads us, finally, to think of the highest of all our relations, that, namely, with God. Here also the armour of light is our sole defence against any ill and all the ill that otherwise might overtake us. Is it not clear that some sort of defence is necessary for any one who will venture into the presence of the Eternal Purity? The Father He is, but also He is a 'consuming fire'. How shall sinful men like you and me 'dwell with these everlasting burnings? By wearing always 'the armour of light' not otherwise.
A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 149.
'In order that passion may do us no harm,' says Pascal, 'we should act as though we had but a week to live.'
Reference. XIII. 12. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 1. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 21. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 114. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 1. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 249. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, pt. i. p. 1. XIII. 12-14. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 149.
In the tenth chapter of Eothen, Kinglake describes a visit he paid to the Franciscan Convent at Damascus. 'Very soon after my arrival I asked one of the monks to let me know something of the spots that deserved to be seen. I made my inquiry in reference to the associations with which the city had been hallowed by the sojourn and adventures of St. Paul. "There is nothing in all Damascus," said the aged man, "half so well worth seeing as our cellars;" and forthwith he invited me to go, see, and admire the long range of liquid treasure that he and his brethren had laid up for themselves on earth. And these, I soon found, were not as the treasures of the miser that lie in unprofitable disuse; for day by day and hour by hour, the golden juice ascended from the dark recesses of the cellar to the uppermost brains of the friars.'
Dr. Arnold of Rugby, says Dr. Stanley, used to point out to his boys the distinction 'between mere amusement and such as encroached on the next day's duties, when, as he said, it immediately becomes what St. Paul calls revelling'.
This was the passage which led to Augustine's conversion. In chapter 12 of the eighth book of his Confessions he describes himself as seated under a fig-tree in the garden, miserable and tearful, when the voice of a boy or girl was heard crying, 'Take and read, take and read!' Augustine interpreted this as 'a divine command to open the book' of Paul's Epistles which he had laid down not far away, 'and to read the first chapter I could find. I seized the book, opened it, and read in silence the first passage on which my eyes lighted. It was: Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. No further would I read, nor was ought else needed. At once, as it were, at the end of the sentence, my heart was flooded with the light of peace, and all the shades of doubt removed. Then, putting my finger in the place or some other mark, I shut the book and told Alypius quietly what had occurred. Whereupon he informed me of what had happened to himself, of which I was ignorant; and he did so as follows. Asking to see what I had read, he went past my passage which I showed him, to the following words: Him that is weak in faith, receive ye. This he applied to himself, and told me all.'
Putting on Christ
Dress and character being closely connected, it was inevitable that men should use the one metaphorically of the other, and speak of God being clothed with majesty,' or of clothing themselves with humility. When so used no one has any difficulty in apprehending what is meant. In the Early Church, when a heathen professed faith in Christ and desired baptism he laid aside his ordinary clothing to signify his 'putting off the old man,' and, having passed through the cleansing water of baptism, he assumed a white garment to symbolise his putting on the new man. His former friends, who had been accustomed to recognise him by his dress, might now have passed him by and taken him for a stranger; and so were they to be at a loss to recognise in this man, clothed with meekness and temperance, their former acquaintance who had been wont to wear a haughty look, and had 'suited' himself in intemperate habits. The obvious meaning, therefore, of the words, 'Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,' is, Assume the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. The putting on the new man is the counterpart of the putting off the old man, and what that is Paul explains when he says, 'that ye put off concerning the former conversation that is, concerning your former way of life the old man, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.' Our old ways and character are to be laid aside, and therefore to put on the new man is to assume a new character and new ways. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ is to make our own His character.
But is such a thing possible? Can a man alter the character with which he is born? Are we not as helpless as the clay in the hands of the potter; and the shape given us at our birth, must we not retain throughout life? Certainly there is much that seems to argue the impossibility of altering our nature; enough, at all events, to make it worth our while to look closely into the matter, lest we spend a vast amount of hope and effort on what is really unattainable.
I. And first of all it will at once be recognised that there is in every human being something that does not change. What we call the man's individuality abides unalterably his from first to last.
One man's natural qualities may be much higher and stronger than another man's, and religion does not bring these two men to an equality. The one remains of inferior quality, the other of superior, but each uses his nature for the best purposes. The one is clay, the other gold; and the material cannot be changed, although the form into which it is thrown may, and the use to which it is put. The clay may be fashioned into as exquisite a form, and it may be as serviceable in its own place, but clay it remains.
We know that bad men are changed. New motives and new aims present themselves to men; their whole character is altered by coming into contact with persons who influence them powerfully; they seem to derive a strength from these persons which was not theirs before, and they become to all intents and purposes new men. That men do thus change is matter of everyday observation, and they change by some new persons or ideas entering their life. And there is no influence of this kind comparable to that which Christ exerts upon us.
II. If, then, it is possible to assume a character different from our present or original character, how can we do so? How can we put on the Lord Jesus Christ? For experience tells us that mere imitation of Christ does not come to much. It must be an imitation rooted in conviction and prompted by love and hope.
The grand peculiarity of Christ is that He demands our personal allegiance. He does not throw out doctrine and let who will receive it; He does not utter His views of things and leave them to work in men's minds. He forms a society, He calls men to Himself, and invites their trust, their love, their service. And experience tells us that until we give Him this, we give Him too little; too little for our purposes as well as for His.
We all need to put on Christ: our own character is not sufficient; the character of Christ is sufficient Going into the world with our natural character uncorrected, we are unjust to God, to our fellows, and to ourselves. For a better thing is possible to us. What doth it profit a man though he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? And how do you lose your own soul? by making no effort to cleanse it. You lose your life by spending it on ends which prevent you from attaining the highest end. Other things you can afford to neglect: but be sure you are really gaining in likeness to Christ. That is the real prize of life. You do not know how much you miss by neglecting to cultivate some one grace; you do not know what new views of life you would have, what new strength for doing good, what new attachment to Christ, if only you set yourself resolutely to conform in every particular to the character of Christ Not without self-control and self-knowledge, not without pain, not without striving and sacrifice, can we make that character our own; but that character satisfies all the requirements of God and human life, and to be without it is to miss the chief end of our being.
Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 74.
References. XIII. 14. T. Binney, King's Weigh-Home Chapel Sermons (2nd Series), p. 166. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2132. H. Bushnell, Christ and his Salvation, p. 371. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 199. XIV. 4. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 137.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany