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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Romans 14

Verses 1-23

Romans 14:5

'Do consider the immense strength of that single verse, Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,' writes Dr. Arnold of Rugby. 'I am myself so much inclined to the idea of a strong social bond that I ought not to be suspected of any tendency to anarchy; yet I am beginning to think that the idea may be over-strained, that this attempt to merge the soul and will of the individual man in the general body is, when fully developed, contrary to the very essence of Christianity. Indeed,' he continues, 'so strong is the language of some parts of the New Testament in this direction, as to be an actual perplexity to me. St Paul's language concerning it, I think, may be explained, but the refusal of our Lord to comply with some of the indifferent customs, such as washing before meals, is, when I come to consider it, so startling that I feel that there is something in it which I do not fully understand.'

References. XIV. 5. H. E. Ryle, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 363. T. Arnold, Christian Life: its Hopes, p. 23. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 279; ibid. vol. xii. p. 270.

The Power of Association

Romans 14:7

Man is by his natural genius a social being. From the beginning of things it was ordained by God that he should not live alone. The story of Eve's creation from one of the ribs of Adam has this everlasting spiritual truth underlying it. It is thus that the one is very closely bound up and intimately connected with the other. Man cannot live without his fellow-man, and, further, he cannot come into this world and live in this world without being first of all touched by or touching somebody else. I want to speak of the power of association as represented by the sense of touch.

I. The General Principle. The power of association dominates the whole of human life.

(a) In our troubles and sorrows is it not to the power of association that we make our appeal? We go to somebody and look for sympathy. Have some of you never experienced that wonderful sense of relief and ease and spiritual refreshment when you unburden some terrible trouble you have upon you into the ears of love and sympathy? It is so true that 'one touch of nature makes the whole world kin'.

(b) In our joys. To what do we attribute our happiness? Is it not to the power of association that power which unites like with like, that mutual resolve of souls to stand by one another in fair weather or in foul? In all this there is the power of association, complete and beautiful. No man has yet lived who has found complete satisfaction in a self-centred life. True joy is to be found only in the power of association, and particularly in the gift of genuine and ennobling friendship.

(c) In worship. The power of association is clear and unmistakable. Look at the elaborate ritual of the Jewish Church. All religion in the old worship of God appealed directly, materially, to the sense of touch. There is the catalogue of things clean or unclean to be used or abstained from, eaten or left alone; the elaborate rules for the cleansing of things and of people. In all these injunctions we find that everything needed to be without blemish, perfect, whole everything appealing to the sense of touch. What is the spiritual teaching of that? Simply this: that we must not give to God anything that is imperfect, only that which is whole. So also all the ritual of the Christian Church appeals to the power of association to touch and to quicken our spirits, to remind us where we are and what we are doing.

II. Its Individual Application. If that be true of life generally, how does it apply to the individual soul? What are we as individuals doing to influence others by the exercise of this power of association? We feel the force of it upon ourselves. Do we appreciate the fact that we can exercise the same force upon other people? I want to remind you of the unconscious influence which every single soul here is possessed of, and which is working for weal or for woe in the world in which we live.

(a) There is the unconscious influence of religious attitude that is to say, the way we look at our religion. It has a wonderful effect on other people. There are some people who mean the very best in the world, but somehow or other they go about the world so sadly, as if religion were a dreadful penance to them. Their most cordial greeting has a nip of the east wind about it. That is absolutely unchristian.

(b) There is the unconscious influence of goodness of heart. How often little things are indicative of a man's character. Some small attention when we least expect it, some kind word in the midst of trouble, some generous thought anticipating a need, some manly shake of the hand these things influence many lives in a way undreamed of by those who have so acted. Hinges are but small things compared with the great doors that hang upon them, but it is upon the hinges that the door depends for the opening and closing thereof. A drop of oil may make all the difference to a great locomotive engine Is not this so, too, with the gigantic piece of mechanism called human society? We can all be lubricators of the wheels of life. Yes, voluntary influence does not always indicate what a man is, but involuntary influence always does. Our involuntary influence is as much the outcome of our character as the scent is the outcome of a plant's life. It cannot be imprisoned.

Romans 14:7

Whittier, in his introduction to Woolman's Journal, calls attention to the fact that 'in his lifelong testimony against wrong,' the Quaker 'never lost sight of the oneness of humanity, its common responsibility, its fellowship of suffering, and communion of sin. Few have ever had so profound a conviction of the truth of the Apostle's declaration that no man liveth and no man dieth to himself. Sin was not to him an isolated fact, the responsibility of which began and ended with the individual transgressor; he saw it as a part of a vast network and entanglement, and traced the lines of influence converging upon it in the underworld of causation.'

References. XIV. 7. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 190. XIV. 7, 8. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 92. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 136. XIV. 7-9. H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 212. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 44. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 235.

Unto the Lord

Romans 14:8

The text describes two complementary movements: the one of man towards the Lord, the other of the Lord towards men. 'Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord;' that is man's movement towards God. 'Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's,' that is God's movement towards man. The two movements together constitute what we call spiritual communion.

I. Let us look at the movement of man towards God. A practical controversy was tearing the Apostolic Church. How far could a Christian believer retain the customs of his old life? The Apostle enunciates no petty regulation. He gives a large principle which the individual judgment must apply to every problem in the eternal life. What is the principle? Let us begin the statement of it in this way: Every act creates a certain trend. Every act contributes its quota in the determining of destiny. Now in many people, perhaps even in the majority, this final trend of action is unconsidered. And such limitation of views issues in what we call 'drift'. Now, in face of this peril here is the Apostle's counsel: Choose your drift. That is to say, intelligently and deliberately choose your end, and consistently hold to it. Let that end be 'the Lord'. And then choose your acts in relation to this end. We must live 'unto the Lord'. That is the Christian conception of life. And if this end dominates the life it will also dominate death.

II. And now, look at the movement of God towards man. 'Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.' That is the complementary conception of Christian communion. 'We are the Lord's,' not merely labelled property; it is a father's possession of a child. It is, therefore, not an inert and passive possession; it surely suggests the outgoing of personality in yearning and protective regard. For what are the implications of the great word? They are to be found in the entire life and teachings of our Saviour. If we are the Lord's, then the Lord sees us. There is individual recognition of the individual life. Frederic Harrison laughs at the suggestion that the Almighty Ruler, who inhabits the awful and abysmal depths of stellar space, will have any discernment of me. I thought that a man's real greatness was to be estimated by his discernment of the least, and by the large use he makes of it. That certainly is the teaching of our Lord. 'He that is faithful in that which is least is great!' Our Lord has made it perfectly clear that the individual is not lost in the race, and that we all have personal recognition in His love. 'He calleth His own sheep by name.' And He not only sees me, He communicates with me. We live unto the Lord, and the Lord lives unto us. There is a holy commerce proceeding on the mystic highway between Him and me.

J. H. Jowett, The British Congregationalist, 23rd July, 1908, p. 82.

Romans 14:8

These were the last words that could be made out amid the dying ejaculations of Edward Irving: 'If I die,' he murmured, 'I die unto the Lord. Amen.'

References. XIV. 8. T. T. Munger, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 104. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 559. XIV. 8, 9. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 225.

Easter-tide

Romans 14:9

Jesus Christ died on Friday and rose again on what we call the Sunday, and we have by the providence of God, ever good and large, gathered around an empty tomb, and then around a risen Lord. It would be beautiful, if in the hands of a true artist, to compare the Friday and the Sunday. They belong to one another; the Sunday would not be half so bright but for the Friday. Your joy would not be so exquisite if there were not an historic background of tears and sorrow and speaking silence.

I. Now there is some great fight being fought this Friday. They have nailed His hands, and they have nailed His feet, and they have pierced His side, and the environment seems to vindicate and justify their villainy. It is all over; Job would withdraw his faith, and David would cease his song. Rest awhile, pause for a day or two; never hasten God; never try to force your own destiny; be great by being quiet. Now comes the day on which everything will be silent It must be so, because this is the third day that the Malefactor Himself indicated. He was always so bold. He did not say, I will rise in three centuries, when you will all be dead and no man will be here who could charge Me with My own words; He said, On the third day I will rise again. It was a fair challenge, square, complete. When was Jesus timid, cowardly, uncertain? When did He, if not prevaricate, yet seem to handle words with such tricks of magic as to perplex and bewilder those who heard them? Never. He said before the Friday, The Friday is coming, my friends, I warn you of it; I go to Jerusalem to suffer many things of the scribes and the elders and of the chief priests, and I go to be killed, and on the third day He knew that the hearts were breaking that loved Him, and that the third day was about as long as they could keep up at all even in solitude and secrecy and even under the apparent abandonment of their own faith in His personality and purpose. But on the third day they will give way. The soul can only hold on for a given time: if the next post but one does not bring that letter I shall die. 'As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.' He did not keep them long waiting on that day, 'it began to dawn'; it is not said that it fully dawned, it predawned, it sent forth itself in a kind of mimic dawning; it would require the eye of an expert look-out on one of life's ships to see that dawning. But it is always so in Christianity, it is always after its fullest noonday beginning to dawn; it never exhausts its hope, its trumpet has always another bold tune in it. It seems sometimes as if the faith were overthrown, but 'it began to dawn toward' there was a great silent wondrous onward movement Enough! where God begins He continues, He completes. So there was that morning a hailing. Hail! It was one of the last words His own ears had heard but a few hours ago: 'Hail, King of the Jews! hail!' and He said, All hail! stop, stand still! this is a great day in Israel and in the world.

II. So we meet on Resurrection morning. We know that Christ died, we may as certainly know that Christ rose. This is part of a great evolution, part of a great demonstration of Divine energy which no man can comprehend and which no man can arrest We can do nothing against the truth, but God hath been pleased to permit us to do something for the truth. What can man do? He can kill every minister of truth, but he cannot kill the ministry. When will we look at the right points? Is the missionary dead? Yes, but missions are still going on, and nothing can hinder their advance. Is not that the blood of a head that has been clubbed to death by Rarotongan savages? Yes, that is the blood of the martyr of Erromango. Is mission work therefore done? No, it is beginning to dawn toward You can kill the minister, but not the ministry. When I was but a boy I was preaching in a little village, and whilst I was talking, I have no doubt with great energy and possibly with some incoherency, a drunken brawling man shouted, 'We will stone you out of the town!' And I, at eighteen, said, 'You can easily stone me out of the town, but you cannot stone the truth out of the town'. You can kill the man, but not his work; you can crush the minister, but not the ministry; you can destroy the instrument, but not the music; you can cut off all the branches, but the root remains. Ay, but we can go down to the root too. Yes, to that root, but I am speaking about the root metaphysical, the Root of roots, the Thing, the Force, that cannot be got at, that no axe can find, and no digger can sink ground enough to discover the roots and all their fibres. So there is a root not to be touched, and out of that root there shall bud a stem more beautiful than flowers, more majestic than oaks and proudest cedars.

III. 'Christ both died, and rose, and revived.' That word 'revived' comes in like a freshet into a channel that has been waiting for the rising of the river. All the channel has been so droughty, so barren, and all the land round about has suffered from it, but there is a freshet rising, and that freshet represents true revival, relifeing. And so Christ said before the Friday, 'I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,' like wave on wave, billow chasing billow, until death was ashamed and overthrown, was lost, was swallowed up in victory.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 156.

Romans 14:10

Paul does not mean that God will punish him, and that we may rest satisfied that our enemy will be turned into hell-fire. Rather does he mean, what we too feel, that, reflecting upon the great idea of God and on all that it involves, our animosities are softened, and our heat against our brother is cooled. From Mark Rutherford's Deliverance.

References. XIV. 10. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 200. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 112. XIV. 10-12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1601. XIV. 11. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 137. XIV. 12. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 306. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 10. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 184. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 164. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 246. XIV. 13, 14. W. J. Hocking, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 108. XIV. 14-21. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 71.

Romans 14:17

Using the language of accommodation to the ideas current amongst His hearers, Jesus talked of drinking wine and sitting on thrones in the kingdom of God; and texts of this kind are what popular religion promptly seized and built upon. But other pro-founder texts meanwhile there were, which remained, one may say, in shadow. This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. These deeper texts will gradually come more and more into notice and prominence and use.

From Matthew Arnold's Preface to the popular edition of Literature and Dogma.

References. XIV. 17. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 76. R. B. Douglas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 97. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 201; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 154; ibid. vol. x. p. 100. XIV. 17-19. W. Walsh, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 260. XIV. 18. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 428; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 276. XIV. 19. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 4. XIV. 21. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 287. Penny Pulpit, No. 1487, p. 33, and No. 1548, p. 19.

Romans 14:22

Whenever conscience speaks with a divided, uncertain, and disputed voice, it is not yet the voice of God. Descend still deeper into yourself, until you hear nothing but a clear and undivided voice, a voice which does away with doubts and brings with it persuasion, light, and serenity. Happy, says the Apostle, are they who are at peace with themselves, and whose heart condemneth them not in the part they take. This inner identity, this unity of conviction, is all the more difficult the more the mind analyses, discriminates, and foresees.

Amiel.

References. XIV. 22. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Paul's, p. 99. XIV. 27. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 119. XIV. 31. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 261.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/romans-14.html. 1910.