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Personal Conscience Toward God
In Romans 12:1-21 we have seen instruction in many details of moral conduct. In such cases conscience has no liberty to take any stand but that of truth and honor. Just so in Romans 13:1-14, where questions of government are involved. For conscience sake I must be subject. If conscience requires my disobedience to authorities in order that I might obey God, it is a different matter; but I cannot plead that conscience allows me to disobey authorities simply because I see no evil in disobeying. I have no right to have so careless a conscience. Conscience is not to be the judge in such cases, but is rather to be subject to the Word of God.
Romans 14:1-23 however, shows fully the need of exercise of every individual's conscience before the Lord, and for the consideration of the consciences of others. Various indeed are the conditions of conscience in various saints of God - much no doubt depending upon understanding and growth in grace. If one were to claim that conscience allows him to do what he knows the Word of God condemns, that is not conscience at all, but gross self-will. It is of utmost importance that we have consciences exercised and formed by the Word of God.
But there are many matters in the affairs of life that have in themselves no serious moral or spiritual significance. Examples of these are the eating of meat, drinking of wine, or abstaining from it, and the observance of days. Doubtless this was most pronounced at the beginning of Christianity - Jewish believers particularly being loathe to forget their special religious days and formal ordinances. Yet there is doubtless much that answers to these things in our own day - consciences somewhat in bondage to conceptions of early training, and not easily laying such things aside even after conversion.
If a soul were thus weak in the faith, this is not the slightest reason for disputing with him. Let us rather discern where a man's heart is as regards the Person of the Lord: the other is of no real consequence. By experience and learning more of the blessed Word of God, much that is unnecessary will drop off. The subject in Romans is not reception to the breaking of bread, though the truth here does without doubt have bearing upon this. "Receiving" is showing fellowship as a Christian to a Christian. Nothing is more unseemly than argument on points of no importance when Christians meet face to face.
If one then eats freely with a good conscience, let him not dare to despise one who feels bound to a vegetarian diet - nor indeed let not the latter judge the former. It would be shameless to make a show before the other, or to seek to put one another in a wrong light. Certainly one must not be allowed to impose his conscience on the other.
"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand." To make one or another of these points a regulation as regards fellowship would be the most miserable sectarianism. Thank God He cares perfectly for all His saints, and has tenderest concern for the proper exercise of their consciences. He is the Master, and the upholder of His own.
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The reason for regarding special days can easily be seen in Judaism. God had established them in that system of things - certainly only as typical of better things to come, and not in themselves of any spiritual value. Yet if souls still clung in measure to the observance of those days as something that conscience requires of them, let no issue be raised on this account. Nor on the other hand are they to be allowed to require it of others.
The observance of the Lord's Day is a far different matter. This was never imposed upon man, never in the least degree regarded as a commandment in Scripture, but rather indicated as a privilege graciously given by God in intimate connection with the free grace that the Gospel brings. Consequently it is a matter for the discernment of the heart as in the presence of God - a matter to be understood and appreciated only by those who understand and appreciate Divine grace. The disciples gathered together to break bread on the first day of the week. Their hearts overflowed with thanksgiving. The exacting demands of the sabbath day had nothing to do with this. It was a willing-hearted people who took advantage of this day of the Lord's resurrection to seek in some special measure to please and honor Him.
What Christian could dare to say that he had a conscience against such service as this?Indeed, a thankful Christian heart rejoices to think of being able to have one day a week specially set aside in which he can refrain from all secular employments and pursuits in order to wholeheartedly devote the day to the Lord's pleasure. Will any Christian claim that he has a right to use this time for his own selfish objects and interests? Sad, shameful exposure of where the man's heart is!
Certainly no law requires him to give this time to the Lord: this is plain; but let us remember that no law required our blessed Lord to give Himself for us. Pure love was the motive of His heart. Can it be that there is no response of love in our own hearts? Not so much that we would even seek one day out of seven to quietly sit down to learn seriously of Himself? "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" is a word of blessed example for us, - not impelled by law, but "in the Spirit."
If, on the other hand, a man feels that the Lord's authority is in the scrupulous observance of other days, let him not ignore his conscience. Let every man be fully assured in his own mind as the Lord's authority over him, and gladly seek to own that authority in practice. Whether he eats or refrains from eating, let it be with a heart that can freely give God thanks.
For in living or in dying, man is no independent creature, answerable only to himself. This principle of course has strongest application to the believer, for he acknowledges the Lordship of Christ. "We live unto the Lord," - "we die unto the Lord" - "we are the Lord's." Yet this Lordship is not only over believers. He is Lord of all. To this end He both died and now lives, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Thus we are plainly not to judge or belittle our brother in regard to these personal matters of conscience. For we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ as well as he. In spite of the fact that he may have been mistaken in his thoughts, and we correct, yet he may receive more approval than we because he sought honestly to obey the Lord - sought to maintain a good conscience - while we in effect trampled upon his conscience. Solemn consideration for our souls!
The Word had long before recorded that every knee would bow to the Lord, and every tongue confess to God. Let us not then think that our brother must bow to us. The more pre-eminence any man seeks here, the more keenly will he feel his humbling then: he will bow and confess. "Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God." None then can answer for his brother: all will be solemnly personal. How necessary then that we learn now to stand upon our own feet, our consciences individually exercised to discern both good and evil.
Thus we see that the soul must first of all be governed by the authority of the Lord. From verse 13 to the end of the chapter a further motive is set before us - that is, the love toward a brother that cares for his welfare. It is possible for one to boast that he is subject to the Lord, when he shows no proper concern for the blessing of the saints of God. This is hollow sham. If anyone says he loves God, let him love his brother also.
Knowledge is not given to us for the purpose of judging one who has not the same knowledge. A proper knowledge of God would "judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."
Knowledge then is spoken of in verse 13, and Paul shows clearly that in his own mind there is no shadow of doubt as to it - "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself." As regards the creation of God, a soul taught of God can discern that these things do not in themselves have any moral character of evil. The evil is of course in the heart of man who corrupts these things. But if a Christian does not have this discernment such as Paul had, then whatever he regards as unclean is unclean to him. If he indulges in it, his conscience cannot but be defiled.
Hence, I must not make a show of my liberty before such an one. It would be no Christian courtesy to invite him to a meal that included meat or anything else that he considered unclean - nor to eat it coolly before him. Such measures to seek to break down his resistance are a shameful disregard for his soul's prosperity: love is not in it.
"Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." The attitude of disregard for a brother's conscience is the very principle of destroying him. But Christ died for him! - how great a contrast. He sacrificed His life to save him from destruction. Shall we sacrifice nothing for the sake of the blessing of saints of God? Let not our callous actions bring disrepute on that which in itself we know to be good - for men are quick to attribute to our doctrine any wrong ways we may be guilty of.
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." How many minor points men will occupy themselves with! And how unwilling it seems we are to forego our own privileges for the sake of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Are these things not precious and real to us when we willingly deny ourselves for the sake of other saints?
This is truly serving Christ. It is a poor thing to be mere slaves of our convictions. True convictions should make us bondservants of Christ. If in these things it is really Him we are serving, we shall be acceptable to God and approved of men - not of course all men, but all right-minded men.
This is certainly no matter of giving up truth. Truth is not ours to dare to sell at any price: it is a trust given us of our Master, and we must be faithful to Him in it. But mere personal privileges I may and indeed ought to give up for the sake of others. It is an essential principle if we are going to "follow after the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another." There is no real service without the willing spirit of self-sacrifice. If the saints of God insist on their own rights, will they be at peace? will they edify one another?
"For meat destroy not the work of God." Let us act on this, that God's work is far more important than our own selfish appetites. "All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense."
Since this is so, then "it is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." While such "creatures of God" are "good" in themselves, as 1 Timothy 4:4 teaches us, yet it is also good to quietly leave them alone rather than to embolden a brother to partake against his conscience. This consideration is but the normal grace of Christianity.
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God." Faith must be an intensely personal thing. To press my faith on another would be virtually to do away with his exercise of faith. If I am before God, then let each individual saint be also before God. I cannot expect to be happy if I am judged in the thing that I allow. He that doubts is judged if he eats because it is not with the full liberty of personal faith that he eats. If we have any real concern for our brother we shall wholeheartedly seek to have him act only in faith. "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin." It is a solemn, sweeping statement. Sin is not merely in the outward acts of men, but in everything in which faith does not have part. Shall we dare thus to virtually make our brother sin?
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 14". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34