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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Romans 14


Romans 14:1-6 Directions to treat a weak brother kindly, and not to despise or censure one another in matters of indifference.

Romans 14:6-9 Christ’s right to our best services, whether we live or die.

Romans 14:10-12 We must all be answerable for our respective conduct at his judgment-seat.

Romans 14:13-23 We must be careful not to use our Christian liberty to the hurt or offence of tender consciences.

Verse 1

In this chapter and part of the next, the apostle treats of some lesser matters of religion, about which there were great contentions in the church of Rome. Some of the Jews, though they embraced the gospel, did stiffly adhere still to the Mosaical ceremonies; and though a difference in meats and days should be conscientiously observed, yet they were ready to censure those that were contrary-minded, as profane persons, and contemners of the law of God. On the other side, the believing Gentiles, being better instructed about their Christiall liberty, when they saw the Jews insisting upon such things as these, that had never any real goodness in them, and were now abrogated by Christ, they were ready to despise them as ignorant and superstitious, and to deny communion with them. The apostle therefore doth seasonably endeavour to arbitrate this matter, and make peace amongst them.

Him that is weak in the faith; that is, wavering and unsettled in some lesser points of faith, particularly in the doctrine of Christian liberty, and freedom from the ceremonial law: he means, the scrupulous and erroneous Judaizer, though yet, in proportion, it may be applied to other scrupulous and doubting Christians.

Receive ye; or, receive him to you, take him into your bosoms, admit him to communion with you, bear with his weakness, better instruct him with the spirit of meekness: see Romans 15:1; Philippians 3:15,Philippians 3:16. Bucer received all, though differing from him in some opinions, in whom he found, aliquid Christi, any thing of Christ.

But not to doubtful disputations: q.d. Do not entertain him with disputes and vain janglings, which will not edify, but perplex and prejudice him. Do not make him question sick, as it is in 1 Timothy 6:4. This passage may be expounded by Titus 3:9. The marginal reading would make this to be the sense, that a scrupulous Christian should be received unto communion; yet not so as to encourage him to judge and condemn the thoughts of those that differ from him.

Verse 2

One believeth that he may eat all things; i.e. one that is informed aright of his Christian liberty, is fully persuaded, and that upon good grounds, that he may eat any thing that is wholesome, though forbidden by the ceremonial law; that there is now no difference of clean and unclean meats: see Matthew 15:11; Acts 10:12-15.

Another, who is weak, eateth herbs; i.e. he that (as before) is weak in faith, and not so well informed, such a one, for fear of offending God by eating any thing that is forbidden, will rather content himself with the meanest diet. The meaning is not, as if any, in those times, thought it lawful only to eat herbs, and so abstained altogether from other meats; but they would rather satisfy themselves with herbs, and other fruits of the earth, in which the law of Moses made no difference, than eat meats that were forbidden, or not cleansed from blood, or offered to idols, &c.: see Daniel 1:8.

Verse 3

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; i.e. Let not him that makes use of his liberty in eating any thing indifferently, vilify or contemn him that is of a contrary mind, as one that is ignorant and over scrupulous; and let not him that forbears such meats as were of old forbidden, judge and condemn him that is contrary-minded, as profane and over-venturous; notwithstanding such little difference in opinion, let one Christian love and communicate with another.

For God hath received him: it is disputed, whether this be meant of the weak or strong Christian; the word judge, which immediately goes before and follows after, carries it rather for the latter. But some think it is meant of both. He that eateth, and he that eateth not, is received by God into his church and family, and indiffercnlly accepted with him, uponanother and a higher account.

Verse 4

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth: a sharp reprehension of the forementioned evil. You have the like: James 4:12. q.d. This phrase is repugnant not only to the law of God, but to the very law of nature, which tells us, that one man must not condemn the servant of another, over whom he hath no right or power; much less may any man condemn him that is the Lord’s servant. Every Christian hath Christ alone for his own or his proper Master; and it is his judgment by which he must abide; it is to him that he standeth or falleth, that he doth well or ill.

Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand: q.d. If (as thou thinkest) he be fallen or falling, he shall be upheld and supported;

for God is able, & c. But how doth this follow, because God can make him stand, therefore he shall be holden up?

Answer. It is a rule in divinity, that in all God’s promises, his power is joined with his will; so that where the latter is once revealed, there is no question of the former: now of the word of God in this matter, there was no doubt; for he had said, Romans 14:3, that God had received him. You had the like way of arguing, Romans 11:23, where the apostle proves the calling of the Jews by an argument taken from the power of God, because he is able to graft them in again: see Romans 4:21; Hebrews 10:23.

Verse 5

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike: there were differences in the church of Rome about the observation of days, as well as the choice of meats; and in this he endeavours an accommodation as well as in the other. The converted Jew was of opinion, that the festival days appointed in Moses’s law, were holier than other days, and that they should still be observed: see Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16. On the other side, the believing Gentile was of opinion, that the difference in days under the Old Testament was now ceased, and he (the text says) esteemed or approved of all days. The word alike is not in the original, but it is aptly supplied by our translators.

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind; i.e. Let every man be satisfied as to the grounds of his practice; let him act by his own and not another man’s, judgment and conscience; let him be so fully assured in his own mind of the lawfulness of what he doth, as to find no doubting or scrupulous hesitations in the doing of it; let him be able to say as the apostle himself doth, Romans 14:14. The reason of this counsel you have, Romans 14:23. He that doth what he thinks is a sin, is an offender against God, whether it be a sin or no. And yet a man may sin in that wherein he is fully persuaded he sinneth not. A full persuasion must be had, but it is not sufficient to make an action good or lawful.

Verse 6

In this verse you have a reason why Christians should not censure one another, upon an account of different opinions and practices, because they have all the same end and scope, which is the pleasing and glorifying of God. It is with regard to him that they eat, or eat not; that they observe those festival days, or observe them not; and so far they are on both sides to be commended; for that indeed should be our end, in all our actions, to glorify and please the Lord: see 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17.

He giveth God thanks; i.e. he is thankful unto God for the bountiful and free use of his creatures. Some would ground that laudable practice of giving thanks at meals upon this text, but it hath a clearer warrant from Matthew 14:19; Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:26; Acts 27:35.

He eateth not, and giveth God thanks; because he hath meat enough besides, which he is not forbidden, 1 Corinthians 10:28.

Verses 7-8

Here he proves what he had before asserted, that Christians have regard to God and his glory in their particular actions; and that from their general end and design, which is to devote themselves, and their whole life, and death, to God. He tells them first, in the negative, that

none of us, i.e. that none of us Christians and believers, do live or die to ourselves; we are not our own lords, nor at our own disposal: and then, in the affirmative, he shows, that we live or die to the Lord; we spend our lives in his service, and part with them at his appointment. His glory is the white, at which we aim, living or dying: he is the centre, in which all the lines in the whole circumference of our lives do meet, 2 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 1:21.

Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s: this is an inference from what he had said before: q.d. At all times, and in all estates, whether of health or sickness, abundance or poverty, life or death, we are the Lord’s property, and at his disposal; he hath an absolute dominion over us, living or dying; in this world, or in the next.

Verse 9

To this end Christ both died, and rose: q.d. This is the fruit that accrues to Christ, by his death and resurrection, that he might, & c.

And revived: the Vulgar Latin leaves out this word. Chrysostom left out the former word, he arose. Ambrose inverts the order of the words, and reads them thus: To this end he lived, and died, and rose again. Some think the preter tense is here put for the present tense: he revived, i.e. he still lives, to intercede for us, and to exercise dominion over us. Others think that Christ’s reviving here doth denote that new state of life which he had after his resurrection.

That he might be Lord both of the dead and living; or, that he may govern and lord it (ινα κυριευση) over all his, whether dead or alive; that he might obtain dominion, or rather the exercise of his dominion, over them. As God, he hath a universal dominion over all; but as Mediator, he hath a more special dominion over all the Father gave to him: this dominion he purchased at his death, and he had the full exercise of it when he rose again, Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9,Philippians 2:10.

Verse 10

He goes on to persuade them to a mutual forbearance, to dehort them from condemning or contemning one another about indifferent things. He suggests two arguments against it in this verse; one (which is more implied) is taken from the relation they bore one to another; they were brethren, not by natural generation, but by regeneration and adoption; they had the same Father, even God. The second argument is more plainly expressed; and it is taken from the consideration of the day of judgment, when all shall stand before Christ’s judgment seat; see 2 Corinthians 5:10; all, both the strong and the weak; and then he will determine who hath done well or ill. In the mean while, who art thou that darest to usurp his place or office? The interrogation hath the force of a strong denial; q.d. Have you no more grace, charity, or wisdom, than so to do.

Verse 11

This verse proves what was before asserted, that all must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. The proof is from Isaiah 45:23. The prophet speaks only of God’s swearing; the apostle sets down the form of his oath; which form is frequently mentioned in Scripture: see Numbers 14:21,Numbers 14:28; Jeremiah 22:24; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16,Ezekiel 14:18; Ezekiel 20:3. And instead of every tongue shall swear; the apostle, following the Seventy, saith, every tongue shall confess; and we are told, Philippians 2:2, what it shall confess, viz. that Jesus Christ is Lord. That which is generally spoken of Jehovah being here in a peculiar manner applied to Christ, it evidently showeth, that he is supreme Judge, and sovereign Lord, unto whom all knees must bow in token of subjection; and before whose tribunal all persons, will they, or will they not, must appear.

Verse 12

Here you have the end of our standing before the judgment-seat of Christ, which is to give account: see Matthew 12:36; 1 Peter 4:5. He saith:

Every one of us shall give account, whether he be great or small, strong or weak; and that he shall give account of himself; i.e. of his own actions, and not another’s. He shall give account of himself in his natural capacity, as a man; and in his capacity, as a rich or great man; and in his religious capacity, as one that hath enjoyed such education, such means of grace, &c.

Objection. Pastors must give account for their flock, Hebrews 13:17.

Answer. Pastors shall give account of their negligence, and want of care, whereby they suffered their sheep or flock to miscarry; but every particular sheep also shall give account of his own personal wanderings.

Verse 13

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: q.d. Seeing all must be judged by Christ, let us no more judge one another, but mend this fault for time to come.

But judge this rather: hitherto his counsel was more general, respecting both the strong and the weak. Here he begins, in a more particular manner, to apply himself to the more strong and knowing Christians; counselling them to take heed, lest, by the abuse of their Christian liberty, they should be an offence to them that were weak and more ignorant. He entereth upon this with an elegant transition, making use of the same word in a different sense; for he doth not speak contraries, when he says, judge not, but judge; for the word in the former part of the verse signifies, to condemn and censure; but here, in the following part, to deliberate or consider: q.d. Instead of judging others, let us look upon this as a rule for ourselves, and our own deportment, that we put no stumblingblock, &c.

That no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way: q.d. Take heed of offending your brethren in any kind; do not, by an unseasonable use of your liberty, either drive them from their Christian profession, or provoke them to imitate you, and so to sin against their consciences. You have a parallel text, 1 Corinthians 8:9. There he speaks only of a stumblingblock; here he adds an occasion of falling, or, as it is in the original, a scandal. Though these two words do differ in their etymologies, yet they have one and the same signification. The latter word, as Stephanus observes, is peculiar to Holy Scripture, and seldom, if ever, used in any common author: it signifieth, properly, the bridge in a trap, which, by its falling down, catcheth a creature in a snare, and so occasions its ruin; and from thence it is used to denote any thing which is an occasion to others of stumbling or falling; any thing whereby we so offend another, as that he is hindered from good, drawn into or confirmed in evil. Scandal, or offence, is either passive or active. Passive scandal is, when that which is good is, by reason of man’s corruption, an occasion of fillling to him. So Christ himself, and his doctrine, was a scandal to the Jews: see 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:8. Active scandal is, when any thing is done or said which gives occasion of offence to others, when it is an occasion of grief, or of sin to them, Romans 14:15,Romans 14:21. This occasion may be administered, either by evil counsel, Matthew 16:23; Revelation 2:14; or by evil example, Isaiah 9:16; Matthew 15:14; or by the abuse of Christian liberty in things indifferent, 1 Corinthians 8:9.

Verse 14

Here he obviates an objection. Some might say, they were thoroughly persuaded, that no meat was unclean in itself, and therefore they might, and would, use their liberty in eating any thing that was before them. To this the apostle answers, first, by way of concession; he grants what they say is true, and tells them, that for his own part he knew it full well, and was himself assured of it; and that he had this assurance from

the Lord Jesus; i.e. that he was instructed therein by his word and Spirit.

That there is nothing unclean of itself; i.e. that no meat was unclean in itself; it was not so in its own nature: see Genesis 1:31; Genesis 9:3. Some creatures might be unwholesome, but none were in themselves unclean: to the Jews they were not unclean by nature, but by a positive law, which law was now antiquated and out of doors: see Colossians 2:16,Colossians 2:17; 1 Timothy 4:3,1 Timothy 4:4.

But to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean: this he adds by way of restriction, that though no meat was unclean in itself, yet it was so to him that thought it to be unclean. If a man shall believe that there is yet a difference in meats, that some are still unclean, and that by virtue of God’s prohibition, it would be evil in him to eat such meats, because he therein acts against his conscience, and doth that which he himself thinks to be a sin: see Romans 14:23.

Verse 15

In this verse you have two reasons to induce the strong not to offend the weak: First, it is contrary to charity; to grieve a brother upon the score of meats, is to walk uncharitably; it is a violation of the royal law of love, which is against the grieving or offending others, 1 Corinthians 13:4. Two ways are weak Christians grieved, when others do unseasonably use their liberty.

1. They think such do offend God in eating that which he hath forbidden; and this is matter of grief to those that fear God, to see others transgress his laws.

2. They may be drawn by their example to do the like, against their own light and conscience; and this afterwards causeth grief and trouble; their consciences hereby are galled and wounded, 1 Corinthians 8:12.

Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died: this is the second reason why Christians should not use their liberty to the offence of others; it may occasion their ruin and destruction: q.d. Hereby, as much as in you lies, you take a course to destroy them for whom Christ died. You will alienate and estrange them from the Christian religion, or you will draw them into sin, and induce them (as before) to act against their consciences, and so hazard their salvation. See a parallel place, 1 Corinthians 8:11. Here a question may arise, whether any can perish for whom Christ died? The answer is, They cannot; and for this the Scripture is express, in John 10:28. See also Matthew 24:24; John 6:39; 1 Peter 1:5. How then is this text to be understood? The apostle doth not speak of those for whom Christ indeed did die, but of such as, in the judgment of charity, are held to be of that number. We must account all those who confess the faith of Christ, for such as he hath redeemed by his death.

Verse 16

Here is another argument against offences; it will cause our good to be blasphemed, or evil spoken of. Some, by good here, would understand the Christian faith, or the gospel in general; but others do rather understand it of our Christian liberty in particular: q.d. Give none occasion for this great privilege of your Christian liberty to be traduced; use it so, as that neither the weak Christian nor the infidel may reproach or accuse you as licentious or contentious: see 1 Corinthians 10:29,1 Corinthians 10:30.

Verse 17

This verse contains a new argument to persuade Christians not to strive about meats, or such like things; and that is, that the kingdom of God doth not consist in these, but in weightier matters. By the kingdom of God, you may understand the gospel, or true religion and godliness; that kingdom which God erects in the hearts of men, Luke 17:21; 1 Corinthians 4:20. When he saith, the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, he means, that it doth not stand or consist therein.

Meat and drink are put by a synecdoche for all things of an indifferent or middle nature; such things as, the apostle elsewhere says, commend us not to God, 1 Corinthians 8:8; they are no part of his worship and service; the kingdom of God, or godliness, is not promoted, either by the use or the forbearance thereof: see Galatians 5:6; 1 Timothy 4:8.

But righteousness, and peace, and joy: here he tells you positively wherein the kingdom of God consisteth; not in outward observations, but in inward graces and gracious dispositions. He doth not reckon up all, but contents himself with these three, righteousness, peace, and joy. By righteousness, some understand that which is imputed, of which you read, Romans 4:1-25; others, rather, that which is implanted and inherent; it is the same with holiness, both the habit of it in the heart, and the exercise of it in the life. By peace, some think, he means peace with God, or peace of conscience; others, that he rather means peace with men; or, if you will, peaceableness, or Christian concord and unity. This suits best with what follows, Romans 14:19, and it is often commended to us in Scripture. By joy may be understood that spiritual comfort. which ariseth from a present feeling of the favour of God, or from a well grounded hope of future salvation; as also, the comfort and delight which Chrisiians take in the good alld welfare of each other. He that loveth his brother, rejoiceth in his welfare, 1 Corinthians 13:6; and therefore will not offend, or occasion him to sin.

In the Holy Ghost; this is added, to show the efficient cause of these graces, which is the Spirit of God; and to distinguish this righteousness, peace, and joy, from that which is merely civil and carnal.

Verse 18

This proves the foregoing assertion, that the kingdom of God consisteth in righteousness, peace, and joy, because he that serveth Christ in and by these things, is accepted of God, and approved of men; this cannot be affirmed of meat and drink, &c. When he says that the serving of Christ in these things is approved of men, he means of such as are godly, and of sound judgment; for of others they are often hated and reviled for the exercise of these very graces: and yet righteousness and peaceableness have oftentimes their praise from the wicked themselves: see 1 Samuel 2:26; Proverbs 3:4; Luke 2:52; Acts 2:47.

Verse 19

This verse is the application of the foregoing discourse, in which you have an exhortation to the practice of two great duties. The one is peace, or peaceableness; the other is mutual edification. He had persuaded before to peace with all men, Romans 12:18; and here he speaks more especially of peace and concord amongst brethren: see 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Hebrews 12:14. This peace is very necessary, and Christians should endeavour all things that will promote it, and avoid all things that will obstruct it. And they must not only live peaceably, but profitably one with another. They should build one another up in grace and knowledge.

Verse 20

For meat destroy not the work of God: here you have a further argument against scandals: q.d. For so inconsiderable a matter as eating a little meat, or for the use of an indifferent thing, do not destroy the work of God. By

the work of God, some understand the soul of a brother; that is styled God’s work by way of eminency: it was one of the chiefest works of the creation, and made, as it were, with the consultation of the whole Trinity; the image of God, after a sort, was engraven therein: and if this be the sense, it is a repetition of the argument in Romans 14:15. But by

the work of God, in this place, other things may be understood; e.g. the unity and peace which God worketh amongst believers of different persuasions in in different things; or else the work of grace, or faith, which God hath wrought by his mighty power in the hearts of men: see John 6:29; 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

The work of God, in either of these senses, may be disturbed or hindered by the abuse of Christian liberty; and he that scandalizeth his brother, goes about, as much as in him lieth, to dissolve and demolish that which hath God alone for its author and worker.

All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence: here you have a concession and an exception: he granteth, that all things are pure and clean; i.e. in themselves, or in their own nature; see Romans 14:14; 1 Corinthians 6:12; Titus 1:15; but then he addeth, that it is evil for, or to, that man who eateth with offence, or that offends another with his eating: it is not evil simply in itself, but accidentally, by reason of scandal.

Verse 21

The apostle proceedeth to enlarge his doctrine touching this particular, beyond the controversy that occasioned this his discourse; for he showeth, that to avoid the scandal or offence of our brethren, we are to abstain, not only from things prohibited by the law, but also from things that are not prohibited thereby; as from flesh or wine, or any indifferent thing whatsoever. These words, any thing, are not in the original, but they are understood, and well supplied in our translation. Thus to do, he says, is good, as the contrary, in the foregoing verse, was said to be evil: it is good in regard of God, to whom it is acceptable and pleasing; and in regard of our brethren, to whom it is profitable and advantageous; the positive (it may be) is pnt for the comparative; it is good, for it is better: so Matthew 18:8,Matthew 18:9.

Whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak: some distinguish these three words, stumbleth, is offended, made weak, making the first to be the greater, and the last the lesser injury: others will have the first to be the lesser, and the last the greater injury. But there are those that think they all three do signify the same thing; and the Syriac interpreter renders them all by one word, viz. is offended: and the same thing may be expressed by divers words, to insinuate the great care we should take, that we do not put a stumblingblock (as it is Romans 14:13) or an occasion of falling into our brother’s way. The apostle seems to practise what he here prescribeth, in 1 Corinthians 8:13.

Verse 22

Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God: some read the first clause without an interrogation, thou hast faith; either way the sense is the same. The apostle here anticipates an objection. The stronger Christian might be ready to say, as it is in Romans 14:14;

I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; I firmly believe, that now, under the gospel, all meats are lawful, and that I have liberty to use or eat what I please; and is it not fit that my practice should be agreeable to my belief, that I should act according to my judgment? To this he answereth, that if a man hath such a faith or persuasion, he should not unseasonably discover it to the offence of his brother, but rather conceal it. He doth not speak of faith in the fundamentals of religion, this must be professed and acknowledged, let who will be offended; but of faith in indifferent things (which are the subject matter he is treating of): our belief or persuasion therein is not to be unseasonably uttered or declared, so as to occasion scandal or contention.

Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth; an excellent aphorism respecting all, especially the stronger and more knowing Christian: the sense is: He is a happy man, that, when he knoweth a thing to be lawful, he doth so manage the practice of it, that he hath therein no reason to accuse or condemn himself: or else, that doth not inwardly condemn himself, for doing that against his conscience. which he openly alloweth or practiseth: such a one is happy in this respect, because he is free from those terrors that torment those who act against their consciences.

Verse 23

In this verse is another aphorism, respecting especially the weaker Christian.

He that doubteth of the lawfullness of any meat, whether he may or may not eat it,

is damned if he eat, i.e. His own conscience condemns him, or he makes himself liable to damnation,

because he eateth not of faith. The word eateth is not in the original, but it is aptly inserted by our translators. What a man doth doubtingly, he doth sinfully: he showeth a wicked heart, that is not afraid of sin, but in great readiness to commit it.

For whatsoever is not of faith is sin; this is a confirmation of the foregoing assertion. By faith here is meant knowledge, or full persuasion, as Romans 14:22; q.d. Whatever a man doth with a wavering mind, without being persuaded that it is pleasing to God, and warranted by his word, he sinneth in the doing of it. Though we may not nourish doubts and scruples, yet we must not act against them. An erring conscience binds us to act nothing contrary to it: he sins that doth any thing against it, though the fact or thing done should not be sinful. Nature itself teacheth as much: that is a known saying of Cicero: Quod dubitas, aequum sit an iniquum, ne feceris: If thou doubtest whether a thing be lawful, or not lawful, thou shalt not do it. See Hebrews 11:6.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Romans 14". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.