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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ romans-12.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Romans 12:1.—St. Paul sums up the argument of the foregoing part of the epistle with plain rules for Christian living, and advisedly calls religion a reasonable service. Pythagoras required intelligent worship; and much more does the great Spirit demand worship in spirit. The soul stands as the priest; the body is the offering to be consecrated by the High Priest.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:1
The importance of our bodies.—If a man have a true feeling of spiritual relationship, he will not be able to refrain himself. The thought of the divine connection will rise above all the seemings of the present. He will say in effect: God is my father; I must love and serve as a son. God is my creator, and I must give that which is due. God made me in every part, redeemed me in body as well as soul, crowned with continuing mercies, and I must yield every part to His service. I offer myself not in mere sentiment. I give not some vague notion called “self,” but my body—the living, acting frame, the organ and instrument of the soul’s working—in evidence of the fact that my design to offer is sincere.
I. Our bodies are important.—The shape and fashion of man’s physical frame testify to its divine origin, but we here refer to its importance as enforcing the exhortation that it be presented on God’s altar as a living sacrifice. The body is important as an offering, for it is:
1. The avenue of sin. There may be sin committed in the secret chambers of the soul, while the body seems to move in the sphere of outward moral respectability. The fallen angels had no bodies, and yet sinned. A soul free from a physical nature might sin; but a soul fettered with physical entanglements has great difficulty in preserving moral purity. Soul and body are in constant warfare. Our physical sensations are the avenues along which the tempter travels. Surely it were easier to keep from sin if there were no body; the eye would not engender lust; the ear would not enthral with siren sounds; appetite would not dethrone man’s reason. And yet the soul might not be so noble. Let us ask, not to be set free from the body of this flesh, but to have grace given, so that we may present the body a living sacrifice. Let the soul do priestly work.
2. The soul’s instrument. St. Paul indirectly draws a distinction between “you” and “your bodies.” They are not the “you,” though mysteriously joined. The body is the instrument by which the man works and expresses himself. You are to “present your bodies.” You must stand as kings having power over your bodies. The soul finds its outlet and touches the external world by means of the body. There may be such a thing as soul touching soul—the unseen “you” coming into contact with another unseen “you”—but for the most part we influence and are influenced by the help of material organisations. Thought works by means of brain currents and by the method of language. The spiritual life force works through and in a measure by the material frame. Where there is high spiritual surrender in the soul, it will show itself in a beautified physical nature. The body is ennobled by being presented a living sacrifice.
3. The sure signs. Offered bodies are signs of the completeness of the offering. The soul throws open the temple of the body for the use of heaven’s King, and thus gives a token that the man is willing to serve God and to promote His glory. It is the token of a full surrender. It is an ample dedication. God lays siege to us with the sweet train of His abounding mercies. We yield to the besieging force, and give our bodies as signs of the fact that we have no reserve, that all which we call ours is God’s now and for evermore.
4. The proof of a right view, which is that the gospel has to do with man’s material and moral nature. The spiritual life is a divine force shaping our thoughts and pulsating through our bodies. Soul and body must be consecrated upon God’s altar; and it must be an ever-recurring dedication. We are priests standing daily and offering up our own bodies. The richest thoughts must be embalmed in material forms. The spiritual life expresses itself to others in outward actions. Goodness dwelling in the soul will irradiate the body.
II. God’s claim is important.—God demands, but it is put in the form of entreaty. He woos the offering as lover might beg some token of love’s return. God made the body, not only to toil on the farm, to grind in the mill, to be tossed on the ocean, to groan on the battle-field, to feel the rush of commercial strife, or to be pampered in the lap of luxury, but to be presented on His altar as a living sacrifice. Human bodies are of small account in the world’s metropolis. London is the slaughter-house of humanity. The centre of Christendom is untrue to Christianity’s great lesson that the physical nature has a noble aspect being made by God and being claimed as an offering. Thus low views are not to be taken of man’s physical nature. By our bodies we are connected with the earth, and yet even by our bodies we are connected with heaven. The body governed by the soul may minister in highest service.
III. God’s mercies are important.—Let us not ignore the mercies of God, for they are important factors in the life of man. They are still evident to observant natures. Nature still smiles through storms and tempests. Our bodies are touched by God’s mercies—charmed by sweet music, refreshed by welcome odours, nourished by many products. God’s mercy shown in redemption. The Saviour’s redemptive work had for its object the welfare of the body as well as of the soul. He spent more time in healing than in teaching. His miracles are more than His sermons. Rich as was the stream of mingled water and blood that flowed from the Saviour’s side, richer still was the stream of mercies that flowed from heaven. Jesus gave His body an atoning sacrifice; let us give our bodies a living sacrifice. Let our bodies be responsive. As they answer to outward, so let them answer to inward influences. Let them respond to the soul’s voice, to God’s voice. If the soul be strong, then the body will yield. The body, through the soul, will answer to the high voice of the divine mercies. If God have poured Himself out in mercies, shall we not answer in living sacrifices?
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:1
A servant of Christ truly reigns.—Very touching is the incident related in the Old Testament story when Joseph’s brethren stood before him and he could no longer refrain himself. His brethren were before him, and they silently but effectually called forth Joseph’s deeper feelings, and he could no longer feign himself the foreign despot. If a man have genuine faith, true love to God, the inward feeling of spiritual relationship, he will not be able to refrain himself. His soul will rise upward to the supreme good; he will present himself a living sacrifice. Here is noble work for the soul. Sin’s power is lessened if I stand as a priest at God’s altar and am there continually offering up the body a living sacrifice acceptable to God. Egerius the Roman asked of the conquered people, “Are you the ambassadors sent by the people of Collatia that you may yield up yourselves and the Collatine people?” And it was answered, “We are.” And it was again asked, “Are the Collatine people in their own power?” And answered, “They are.” It was further inquired, “Do you deliver up yourselves, the people of Collatia, your city, your fields vour water, your hounds, your temples, your utensils, all things that are yours, both divine and human, into mine and the people of Rome’s power?” They answer, “We deliver up all.” And he replies, “So I receive you.” Thus when a man presents his body a living sacrifice, it is a sign, unspoken but certain, that he delivers up all unto the service of God. He treats us as free agents, for we are morally free, and asks for our gifts and our services. Seneca, the heathen philosopher, declared that to serve God is to reign; and surely we can feel this as he could not. We are told that a prince abandoned the pleasures and splendours of his own court, then retired and assumed the name of Christodulus—a servant of Christ—accounting the glory of that name did outshine, not only that of other illustrious titles, but of the imperial diadem itself. A servant of Christ is he who serves with body as well as soul. A servant of Christ is he who truly reigns. Better than all titles is the title “servant of Christ.” Æschines the philosopher, out of his admiration to Socrates, when divers presented him with other gifts, made a tender to him of himself. Can man have such noble thoughts of his fellow man, and can we raise no lofty thoughts to God? Shall we not give ourselves to God? Let body as well as soul be consecrated to this divine service.
In every sacrifice a death.—It has been said there is in every sacrifice a death, and in this sacrifice a death unto sin, out of which there arises a new life of righteousness unto God. Thus the living sacrifice is that in which, though the natural life is not lost, a new life of holiness is gained.
The moral instruction the pendant of the doctrinal.—This moral instruction is therefore the pendant of the doctrinal instruction. It is its necessary complement, the two taken together from the apostle’s complete catechism. It is because the rational relation between the different sections of this part has not been understood that it has been possible for the connection of this whole second part with the first to be so completely mistaken. The practical part which we are beginning corresponds to the second kind of sacrifice, which was the symbol of consecration after pardon had been received (the holocaust in which the victim was entirely burned), and of the communion re-established between Jehovah and the believer (the peace offering followed by a feast in the court of the temple). The sacrifice of expiation offered by God in the passion of His Son should now find its response in the believer in the sacrifice of complete consecration and intimate communion. Is it not this promise which explains the choice of the word, λογικήν, “reasonable,” of which undoubtedly the true meaning is this—the service which rationally corresponds to the moral premisses contained in the faith which you profess? (Godet.) The word rendered “reasonable” is variously explained. The simplest interpretation is that which takes the word in its natural sense—namely, pertaining to the mind; it is mental or spiritual service in opposition to ceremonial and external observances.—Hodge.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Romans 12:1. Indian gives himself.—A missionary tells of an Indian chief who came to him and offered his belt of wampum that he might please God. “No,” said the missionary; “Christ cannot accept such a sacrifice.” The Indian departed, but soon returned, offering his rifle and the skins he had taken in hunting. “No,” was the reply; “Christ cannot accept such a sacrifice.” Again the Indian went away, but soon returned once more with a troubled conscience, and offered his wigwam, wife, child, everything, for peace and pardon. “No,” was still the reply; “Christ cannot accept such a sacrifice.” The chief seemed surprised for a moment; then lifting up tearful eyes to the face of the missionary, he feelingly cried out, “Here, Lord, take poor Indian too.” That present was accepted, and the chief went home full of joy.
Romans 12:2. And be not conformed.—Be not configured to this world, but rather as Christ was transfigured on the mount. Be not like the men of this world whose all is in the present. Live for eternity.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:2
Nonconformity to the world.—We must be careful not to fall into the error of disparaging this world. The habit of holding many secular things in abhorrence is nonsense, bigotry. We need to look on all questions apart from prejudice, and be perfectly ready to take them on their merits. We are to repudiate the method of the devil in life, but not necessarily repudiate the world. Jesus is witness to the fact that this is wrong; for His treatment and His reception of this world, His recognition of the great and beautiful world of nature, wherein He spake of ravens, lilies, cornfields—light touches of nature, everywhere recognising beauty, shaped and glorified at the hands of God—all this is enough to answer those who are wilfully blind to what the Lord of earth and heaven was glad to see: a world on which the Creator looked and saw that it was good.
I. “This world”: what is meant by it?—
1. Not the beautiful world of nature, nor the social world merely, nor the world of intellect, nor the world of commerce.
2. “It is fallen human nature, acting itself out in the human family, fashioning the framework of human society in accordance with its own tendencies.” It is the reign of the “carnal mind.”
3. It is also everything that is in antagonism with God. A. difficulty lies in the fact of the changeability of “this world.” What is “world” to me is not “world” to another. A business man’s temptations differ from a professional man’s, and so on. Further, according to a man’s constitution, so is this “world” good or bad, safe or dangerous, to him. Thus text acts as a caution.
II. Christ’s estimate of the world.—
1. No attempt made by Him at depreciation. He recognised political life and social claims. Notice His treatment of commerce. He castigated, not commerce as commerce, but fraudulent commerce. He sought to show that we are not to be absorbed in this world’s engagements to the forgetfulness of nobler thoughts.
2. It differed from Solomon’s estimate. He was a jaded worldling when he said all was “vanity and vexation.” Christ rather taught men to use the world, but not to abuse it. Glory in it, mingle in it, work in it, rejoice and prosper in it, but do not allow it to have such a hold upon you as to master you and fashion your soul according to its will.
III. The influence of our environment.—“A man is known by the company he keeps.” Given the character of a man’s surroundings, and we can gauge the force of his temptations and difficulties. “Physically, man is moulded by climate, by food, by occupation. Mentally, he is moulded by institutions, by government, by inherited beliefs and tendencies.” So, religiously, a man’s environment has the same and even more forcible effect upon him. Recognising this, the key of the text is: whatever tends to wean our soul from God; whatever tends to vitiate our moral environment, to bring us down or keep us low, preventing our uprising, that is an evil world to us, striving to fashion us in anything but Godlike shape of our Lord and Master, whose mind we must have if we would be of God.
IV. A Christian’s attitude towards the world.—
1. He must breathe the spirit of nonconformity: not here speaking of denominational differences, but of the spirit of nonconformity to anything that curtails our reverence or spoils our service Godward, or robs us of Christ’s likeness.
2. There is an inward nonconformity: the soul lives in the world without being absorbed in its evil.
3. There is an outward nonconformity: it will not appear to agree with the world’s evil, but will resolutely stand against it.
4. This attitude is a difficult one. Hard not to be fashioned by the world. But this nonconformity can be attained by the help of God. Any who feel a sense of weakness, let them cast their whole care on the divine Helper. He who conquered death will not let death conquer you.—Albert Lee.
True nonconformity.—“The word translated ‘world’ here is not cosmos, which in the New Testament sometimes means the material world, sometimes the existing generation of men, and sometimes the unrenewed portion of humanity, but aion, which is used to represent the course and current of this world’s affairs, especially in a bad sense (Romans 12:2; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:2); all that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims at any time current in the world, and which it is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale; all this is included in the aion, which is, as Bengel expressed it, the subtle informing spirit of the cosmos or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God” (Bayley). Now in the text we are exhorted not “to be conformed” to this state of things, not to be shaped and figured by the prevalent immorality of a passing generation. The exhortation includes at least three things:—
I. Be practical theists.—The world, the existing generation of mankind, is mainly “without God.” God is not in all its thoughts. If He appear in the horizon, it is only as a fleeting vision, a passing phantom. He is not the great object filling up the horizon and causing all other objects to dwindle into shadows. Theoretical theism is somewhat prevalent. It talks and prays and sings and preaches throughout Christendom. But practical theism is rare and unworldly. Mere theoretical theism is a hypocrisy, a crime, and a curse. Practical theism alone is honest, virtuous, and beneficent. Practical theism is nonconformity to the world.
II. Be practically spiritual.—The world, the existing generation, is essentially materialistic; the body rules the spirit. “What shall we eat? what shall we drink? wherewithal shall we be clothed?” This is the all-pervading, all-animating aspiration. Men everywhere judge after the flash, walk after the flesh, live after the flesh; they are of the earth earthy. Nonconformity to the world is the opposite to this. Spirit is the dominating power. Intellect governs the body; conscience governs the intellect; moral rectitude governs the conscience. The things of the spirit are everything to them: they walk after the spirit; they live to the spirit. The soul is regal.
III. Be practically unselfish.—The great body of existing generations is selfish. Each man lives to himself and for himself. Self is the centre and circumference of his activities. The commerce, the governments, and even the Churches of the world, are mainly conducted on selfish principles. Each man is in quest of his own interest, his own aggrandisement, his own happiness. Nonconformity to the world means the opposite of this. It means that supreme sympathy with God, that brotherly love for the race, that absorbs the ego, that buries self, that is in truth the spirit of Christ, the spirit of self-sacrificing benevolence. “Let no man,” says Paul, “seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”
Conclusion: What is true nonconformity?—Not a mere dissent from this Church or that Church, this creed or that creed, but a dissent from that spirit of moral wrong which pervades and animates the generation. This was the nonconformity which Christ exhibited and He implored on behalf of His disciples. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Let us cultivate this nonconformity, knowing that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and that if any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.—W. Thomas.
Conformity sinful compliance.—As for the conformity to the world that is here forbidden, I believe nobody thinks there is any more intended by this prohibition than only a sinful compliance with the customs of the world, a framing of our lives and manners after the impious practices and examples that we see frequently represented before us, an indulging ourselves in such bad courses as the men of the world do too often give themselves liberty in.
Taking, now, this to be the true notion of being conformed to the world, then the being transformed by the renewing of our minds, which is put in opposition to it, must denote our being actuated with more heavenly and divine principles, and framing our conversation in such a way as is suitable to the profession of Christianity which we have taken upon ourselves. It must denote such a holy disposition and frame of soul as doth effectually produce a conformity of all the outward actions to the law of the gospel, to which the law of sin and the course of the world are opposite.
There are these two inconveniences in multiplying the signs and marks of regeneration: one is, that oftentimes such marks are given of it as that a man may be a very good Christian, and, without doubt, a regenerate person, and not find them in himself. Another inconveniency is this: that such marks are likewise given that even a bad man may experience them in himself, though some good men cannot.
The truest mark is that of our Saviour: the tree is known by its fruits. If a man be baptised, and, heartily believing the Christian religion, doth sincerely endeavour to live up to it; if his faith in Jesus Christ be so strong that, by virtue thereof, he overcomes the world and the evil customs thereof; if, knowing the laws of our Saviour, he so endeavours to conform himself to them that he doth not live in any known wilful transgression of them, but in the general course of his life walks honestly and piously, and endeavours, in holy conversation, to keep a good conscience both towards God and man,—such a man, however he came into this state, and with whatever infirmities it may be attended—of which infirmities yet he is deeply sensible, and fails not both to pray and strive against them—yet he is a good man, and gives a true evidence of his regeneration, though he have not all the marks and qualifications that he may meet with in books. And such a man, if he persevere in the course he is in, will without doubt at last be justified before God and find an admission into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Archbishop Sharpe.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Romans 12:2. What stopped the saw-mill.—In one of the older States of America resided an infidel, the owner of a saw-mill, situate by the side of a highway, over which a large portion of the community passed every Sabbath to and from the church. This infidel, having no regard for the Sabbath, was as busy, and his mill was as noisy, on that holy day as any other. Before long it was observed, however, that a certain time before service the mill would stop, remain silent and appear to be deserted for a few minutes, when its noise and clatter would recommence, and continue till about the close of the service, when for a short time it again ceased. It was soon noticed that one of the deacons of the church passed the mill to the place of worship during the silent interval; and so punctual was he to the hour that the infidel knew just when to stop the mill, so that it should be silent while the deacon was passing, although he paid no regard to the passing of the others. On being asked why he paid this mark of respect to the deacon, he replied, “The deacon professes just what the rest of you do, but he lives, also, such a life that it makes me feel bad here” (putting his hand upon his heart) “to run my mill while he is passing.” “Let your light so shine before men.”—Ellen Preston.
Romans 12:3.—Those who possess special gifts must be humble and seek a sober mind.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:3
Self-glorified and God-dishonoured.—Self-help is a very good book, well written, containing useful information, and inculcating wise lessons; but it is to be read with caution. The very title may mislead. Self-help must not be divorced from divine help. Self-dependence and self-confidence are needful if the battle of modern existence is to be successfully fought, if prizes are to be won and trophies gathered in the closely contested arena of modern days. And yet self-dependence must not override God-dependence; self-confidence must be the wholesome product of confidence in the Creator; self-confidence must not degenerate into presumption. A man must think soberly and justly of himself, and not place an undue estimate on his faculties and his achievements.
I. An undue self-estimate is a source of atheism.—Samosatenus is reported to have put down the hymns which were sung for the glory of God, and caused songs to be sung in the temple to his own honour. Professedly a theist, practically an atheist. We sing “Let the Creator’s praise arise” with our mouths, but in our hearts we sing, Let our own praises be celebrated! While we think of the atheists who do not worship our God, let us also think of the practical atheism of which we are too often guilty. The atheist exalts the creature above the Creator, and continues the process until the Creator is supposed to be non-existent. The creature exalted is really self. Every atheist is indeed one who is given to an exaggerated self-importance. His thoughts run out pleasantly upon the track of his own perfections. The thought of his own greatness minifies the thought of any other greatness; he brings himself to such a pass that he cannot brook the idea of a superior. Self-importance leads to self-deception and to general deception, and he vainly fancies that God will cease to exist if he thinks of Him as non-existent, if he arrays shallow syllogisms to prove that there is no God.
II. An undue self-estimate is a source of scepticism—The sceptic should be one who looks about; but it is to be feared that the sceptic, as we now employ the word, is one whose external looking about is dimmed by the gaze being turned inward. The vision is introspective instead of latospective, if we may coin a word, though we should be as careful of coining words as of coining money. The sceptic is too often a vain-glorious person; latusut in Circo spatiere, that you may stalk proudly along. He professes to examine, but prejudice and self-importance conduct and colour the examination. He is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason. Ajax in Sophocles says: “Others think to overcome with the assistance of the gods, but I hope to gain honour without them.” How many hope to gain honour by boasting of their scepticism, agnosticism, and their difficulty of believing and receiving time-worn creeds! They are wiser than the ancients, and their greater wisdom is shown in their no-knowledge and no certain beliefs. The ancients were constructive; the moderns are destructive. Surely the work of construction is nobler than that of destruction. The moderns destroy, and leave only unsightly ruins to tell of their greatness and their wisdom.
III. An undue self-estimate is a source of bigotry.—The narrow-minded man is in all ages the bigot. And the man must be narrow whose views are bounded by that little circle of which self is both the centre and the circumference. The man who considers only self has no patience with the different views of other people. His doxy is orthodoxy, and all other and different doxy is heterodoxy. We rail against papal infallibility, but there is a pope in every man’s nature. The errors of Roman Catholicism are the outcome of the errors of humanity. The inquisition is not destroyed. Bigotry stalks abroad with disdainful mien and fattens on self-esteem. The Christian bigot denounces the unchristian sceptic, and the latter in turn denounces the former. But bigotry treads the hall of science as well as kneels in the temple of religion. Whenever a man is found who thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think, there is the bigot either in embryo or in full development.
IV. An undue self-estimate is a source of God-dishonouring and of Christ-degrading.—All sin is a dishonour done to God, and an undue estimate of self is sin and is the prolific source of other sins. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylon are typical. We all have our Babylons. They are just as baneful, though they are only ideal. The material Babylon was harmful because of the ideal Babylon. It was the mind-building which led to the boasting king’s downfall. He was his own architect and mason, and built a house which proclaimed his folly and procured his disaster. Self dishonours God and degrades Christ, at least strives to dishonour and degrade. Whence the offence of the cross? Self is the stumbling-stone and the true rock of offence. Self crucifies Christ afresh. Self must be dethroned before Christ can be enthroned. The dethronement of self is its true enthronement and enrichment.
V. An undue self-estimate is a source of modern display.—We too often desire to excel in order that we may be glorified. Display is our word. Show, pomp, and glitter are our ambitions. Even art, science, and literature are prostituted to the desire of making a sensation. Envy takes possession, if other selves are exalted above our own selves. Impatience is shown if our purposes are crossed and our projects defeated. Let self have its proper place and sphere, but let it not blot all the glory and nobility out of existence. Think soberly and wisely, and then life will flow evenly and sweetly along like some clear stream through a charming landscape.
Romans 12:5.—We are knit together in Christ, as the head in the organic life.
Romans 12:6.—Prophesying is both foretelling and forthtelling. Hence preaching and expounding make the prophet. We must expound according to the rule of faith. Pleasant doctrines must not have undue prominence. We must take the word of God as a whole, and thus avoid heresies.
Romans 12:9. Cleave to that which is good.—κόλλα, glue. Keeping yourselves glued to the good. Hold firmly to the true.
Romans 12:10.—Strive to anticipate each other. Set the example of honour. When a man knows that his neighbour is accustomed to salute him, let him be the first to give the salutation. φιλόστοργοι, tenderly loving, perhaps towards one’s kindred, in New Testament towards Christian brethren. Word only used in this verse.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:4-10
Love cements unity.—The organisation of the human body should be an example to the believer to make him perceive the necessity of limiting himself to the function assigned him. Not only, indeed, is there a plurality of members in one body, but these members also possess special functions. So in the Church there is not only a multiplicity of members, but also a diversity of functions, every believer having a particular gift whereby he ought to become the auxiliary of all the rest, their member. Hence it follows that every one should remain in his function: on the one hand, that he may be able to render to the rest the help which he owes them; on the other, that he may not disturb those in the exercise of their gifts (Godet).
I. Love makes unity.—Life unites together the several members of the human body. There may be contact, but not true unity, where there is no life. There must be love sincere in the Church if there is to be unity. Some Churches seem to have outward coherence and no inward unity. Love does not unite the whole body. We cannot be one body in Christ without love. Faith and love make us members of the mystical body.
II. Discriminating love recognises diversity in unity.—The human body is one; its members are many. Nature is one; its parts are various. The Bible is one; its records stretch over the centuries: there are manifest proofs of different writers. The ocean is one; its separate waves constitute its unity. The Church is divided, and yet united: diversities of gifts and of modes of operation. Love may overlook seeming discrepancies and recognise the Church as a glorious unity.
III. Sincere love cements unity.—
1. It removes envy. The minister does not envy the prophet; the intellectual preacher does not spurn the emotional; while the emotional preacher does not envy the high gifts of the intellectual. He that is ruled does not treat with contempt the authority of the ruler.
2. It makes each man seek to fit into his place. Every man a place from God, and every man seeking to fill his place.
3. It imparts diligence and cheerfulness. Our teachers should be both diligent and cheerful. A cheerful voice is a blessed tonic. Amid the sad voices of a weary humanity we need the joyful voices of messengers from the land of blessedness. Songs of hope should be sung in a despairing world. Diligence and cheerfulness are specially needed in these days, when scepticism is so diligent, when the press is so diligent, when a pessimistic tone is pervading society. If one man cannot be both diligent and cheerful, let two men unite their forces. “He that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Pompous and hard-hearted beadles are not sent by St. Paul on errands of mercy. They are to be cheerful messengers, taking good cheer to sad hearts and homes. Giving is to be done with simplicity. Love, and not the stately banquet, not the eloquent speech, not the prospect of an advertisement, must elicit and give the subscription. The prophet and the humblest teacher, the ruler and the ruled, the giver of alms and the receiver, meet on the one blessed plane of brotherhood.
IV. Love beautifies unity.—
1. Love to the Church prompts to the gracious spirit of detesting that which is evil and cleaving to that which is good. What a beautiful aspect the Church would present if each member were glued to that which is good! Modern glue is poor stuff; it fastens to the good, but the fastening is weak. The prospect of gain or fame makes the glue wither and lose its hold. Is there any modern glue to stand the heat of persecution? Ah! there may be faithful ones in modern as in ancient times.
2. Love to the Church generates kind affections. “Be kindly affectioned one to another.” Sweetly smooth words for rough times. There may be a need for a modern enforcement. Be kindly affectioned. How about the modern cynic? How about the morose ecclesiastic? How about the dignified official? How about the purse-proud man who condescends to say, ’Ow do? These all need the lesson taught by St. Paul of being kindly affectioned one to another.
3. Love to the Church provokes holy emulation. “In honour preferring one another.” The emulation of love is to show the brightest example of kindness; the ambition of loving Christians is to excel each other in all acts of mutual kindness and respect. What a beautiful society! Will earth ever witness such a social paradise? Is this ecclesiastical ideal the utopia of a vain dreamer? Will earth ever thus taste the bliss of heaven? Let us not despair. Diligence and cheerfulness will accomplish much. Let each seek to do his or her duty in the allotted sphere; let us live in the love of Christ; let us love, and the grace will grow by gracious and consistent exercise.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:4-10
Explanation of terms.—In the Epistle to Titus there occurs the expression προϊστάσθαι καλῶν ἔργων,” to be occupied with good works”; whence the term προστάσος, patroness, protectress, benefactress, used in our epistle to express what Phœbe had been to many believers, and to Paul himself. Think of the numerous works of private charity which believers then had to found and maintain! Pagan society had neither hospitals nor orphanages, free schools nor refuges, like those of our day. The Church, impelled by the instinct of Christian charity, had to introduce all these institutions into the world; hence, no doubt, in every community spontaneous gatherings of devout men and women who, like our present Christian committees, took up one or other of these needful objects, and had of course at their head directors charged with the responsibility of the work. Such are the persons certainly whom the apostle had in view in our passage. Thus is explained the position of this term between the preceding “he that giveth” and the following “he that showeth mercy.” The same explanation applies to the following regimen ἐν σπουδῇ, “with zeal.” This recommendation would hardly be suitable for one presiding over an assembly. How many presidents, on the contrary, would require to have the call addressed to them, “Only no zeal”! But the recommendation is perfectly suitable to one who is directing a Christian work, and who ought to engage in it with a sort of exclusiveness, to personify it after a manner in himself. The last term ὁ ἐλεῶν, “he that showeth mercy,” denotes the believer who feels called to devote himself to the visiting of the sick and afflicted. There is a gift of sympathy which particularly fits for this sort of work, and which is, as it were, the key to open the heart of the sufferer. The regimen ἐν ἱλαρότητι, literally, “with hilarity,” denotes the joyful eagerness, the amiable grace, the affability going the length of gaiety, which make the visitor, whether man or woman, a sunbeam penetrating into the sick-chamber and to the heart of the afflicted.—Godet.
Abhorrence of evil.—It is the peculiarity of the Christian religion that while its aim is to exclude all sin from the heart, it does not dismember the soul by severing from it any faculty that is natural to it. Religion is a revolution, but its effect is only to suppress and exclude evil and establish the sovereignty of God to the heart of man. Hatred is a faculty given to us by the Creator for good. It is difficult at first, perhaps, to see its place in religion, because we see in it so plainly the evidence of man’s fall Hatred in men ordinarily is hateful, because it is vile passion, impulse, or impatience of contradiction, and is directed mainly against me, and not evil principles, evil habits, and evil things. It is a faculty liable to abuse, and the Christian man requires great grace to use it well. It has its place, however, in the Christian system, and rightly used is a potent instrument in the suppression of evil. Let us consider the direction of the text.
I. What is evil?—Now and then “a case of conscience” may occur in which the casuist’s skill is indispensable to obtain relief from perplexity, but for the most part the knowledge of good and evil is found in every human breast. There is at work in society what may be termed an educational agency, that is teaching men in various ways what is evil and what is good. The preaching of the word and teaching of the Bible and prayer as it deprecates evil; the opposition to and exposure of evil by good men; an enlightened public opinion; the administration of the law in connection with crime; the godly training of children and conscience,—these and other influences are pervading human society, so that none can plead ignorance of the vital question before us. But for the sake of clearness let us now briefly define the term “evil.” Evil is twofold,—existing as a hidden power in the soul, like the poison in the berry, the deadly forked lightning hid in the thundercloud, the dagger in its sheath; and as it assumes a concrete form in the world of men and things—evil books, institutions, principles, habits, language, etc. In other words, evil appears in character and conduct, answering to the theological terms of guilt and pollution. The sinner has a corrupt heart and guilty life. Or again, evil may be regarded as vice and crime, and its essential characteristic is lawlessness in principle and passion. “The energetic use of faculties created for God alone.” Vice is personal; crime has reference to others, to society in its organised state.
“Of every malice that wins hate in heaven
Injury is the end; and all such end,
Either by force or fraud, afflicteth others.”
All men are vicious, few in proportion criminal; but vice is the root of crime, and all in whose hearts evil is to be found may become “guilty of deadly sin.” “Crimes sometimes shock us too much; vices almost always too little.” “God hath concluded all under sin,”—“there is none righteous, no, not one.” What an appalling fact!—evil has established itself in every soul; all are under its curse, and need deliverance.
II. What is to “abhor” evil?—Dislike, repugnance, abhorrence, hatred. To abhor evil is not only to cast it out of our own bosom, but also to strive against it until it is chased out of the world. To abhor is the opposite of to love. Love seeks, first of all, to possess the object loved, and then to perpetuate it; abhorrence, on the contrary, first separates, and then seeks to destroy. This, then, is the position we take up when we are “changed from nature to grace.”
“The thing my God doth hate, that I no more may do,
Thy creature, Lord, again create, and all my soul renew;
My soul shall then, like Thine, abhor the thing unclean,
And, sanctided by love divine, for ever cease from sin.”
III. The reasons why we should hate evil.—
1. This is the very “end” for which Christ died, that He might “destroy in us the works of the devil.”
2. It is implied in sanctification, separation to God, and therefore separation from evil in thought, affection, purpose, and practice.
3. Your personal safety lies along that line. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
4. God employs the hatred of good men to sin as an instrument for its suppression in others. You are called upon to speak against it, to frown upon it, to expose and condemn it, and thus help to drive it out of men’s hearts.
5. Again let us inquire if there is any alternative course that may be adopted.
(1) May we compromise evil? But this would be to confuse and confound all moral distinctions, and would constitute you the basest of all evil characters—a hypocrite.
(2) Can we utilise evil? In one sense we may, if we make it a stimulus to prayer and activity, if it stir us up to watchfulness and caution, if we strive to “overcome evil with good,” and so develop our spiritual strength as “not to be overcome with evil.” But it belongs to God alone to overrule evil for good in the world. The lightning that blinds and terrifies, the ethereal light, can be utilised by science; but a map may as well try to harness an untamed tiger out of the jungle, to silence the thunder, and stop the roar of the ocean, as try to control his evil passions or govern his impulses unassisted by divine grace. The sinner is ever the victim of evil against his will and conscience.
(3) Is it possible so to control evil in the soul as to be able to silence it at pleasure, to have it in abeyance? No; for evil thoughts spring up within us involuntarily, and often in spite of the strongest resolutions and the most sacred vows; malign spirits suggest evil in a mysterious manner to us; evil associations hold many in thrall; and it is impulse that leads to the commission of the most violent and shocking crimes.
(4) Shall we then yield to this power? Then you will be unhappy, impure, degraded, forsaken, and ruined for ever. A gentleman who had resided many years in Egypt once showed me a dagger of Syrian manufacture whose blade was of poisoned steel, and he assured me that it could deal a wound which never could be healed. It is evil that can destroy “both body and soul in hell,” “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.” “Abhor that which is evil.”
IV. Difficulties and dangers.—This course is not easy when:
1. Evil is associated with fine qualities. Don Juan and Hebrew Lyrics bound together in the same volume. There are paintings in the first style of art which would be best seen at midnight and without a light. Burke once said, “Vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.” But refined and cultivated evil is the same in principle with evil in its most revolting forms, and will end as wretchedly.
2. Spurious charity. Ignorance, weakness, may be used as a shield and pleaded as an excuse.
3. Social connections.
5. Temperament is sometimes a difficulty. The violent and hasty put a plea of extenuation in the mouth of the guilty; the easy and indolent pass over a fault; the sympathetic and charitable are too ready to condone evil.
6. Timidity which shrinks from the consequences of active strife against sin.
7. Familiarity with evil.
8. We are secretly in love with evil, and nothing but the regenerating, sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God can remove the love of sin. There is salvation in Jesus. “His blood cleanseth from all sin.” “Our Father which art in heaven … deliver us from evil.”—William Bell.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Romans 12:4. “Members one of another.”—That is a touching story which Dickens tells of two London ’busmen, who passed each other every day for years on the same road. They never spoke, and their only recognition was a slight elevation of their whips, when they met, by way of a salute. At length one of the coachmen disappeared, and the other, upon making inquiries, heard that he was dead. The survivor began to fret, and at last became so miserable that he actually pined to death. He could not live without the silent sympathy of his friend. Is not this an illustration of the enormous power which silent sympathy has in helping fellow-travellers over the dry, dusty, and commonplace stretches of life’s journey? Comforting, encouraging words in times of sorrow, need, sickness, and other kinds of distress, have perhaps a greater influence than those who speak them know; but sometimes greatest of all is the influence for good of little acts of sympathy of the silent sort, the hand-pressure, the look that shows you understand, the encouraging smile. This is to give the cup of cold water of which our Lord speaks; this is the little service which shall be rewarded.—Elsie Croydon.
Romans 12:11.—In your haste be not idle, in your business be not lazy. As to your zeal, being not indolent; fervent in spirit, taking advantage of opportunity. The Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, and all the Greek scholiasts, read “serving the Lord.” The other reading, “serving the time,” mentioned by Ambrose, St. Jerome, and Ruffinus, seems to have had its rise from the abbreviation of the word in the manuscripts. Though it may have a good sense “by accommodating yourselves to present things, if tolerance be not unlawful.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:11
Fervent in spirit.—As to zeal, being not indolent; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord, or taking advantage of opportunity. The Epistle to the Romans is a doctrinal book, and at the same time eminently practical. There is no book which contains passages more practical than those in these concluding chapters. So long as we read these practical teachings, so well adapted to all times, we are indifferent to the utterance of those who say that the Bible is a worn-out book. The Bible is no worn-out book for the true and the good. Its teachings adapted to all. Its soothing tones are welcome to the weary, worn, troubled, and distressed. Its stimulating utterances move to energy and to fervency of spirit.
I. A work to be done.—The work is that of serving the Lord in every department of life, and it is thus that in the best possible manner we take advantage of opportunity. It seems more reasonable to suppose that St. Paul should write “serving the Lord” than “serving the time.” The former includes the latter. Serving the Lord is the best way of serving the time. The man who serves the Lord faithfully is the one to take a wise and holy advantage of every opportunity. There can be no sublimer work than that of serving the Creator. This is the work to call forth man’s noblest energies. Other service calls forth only part of man’s nature, but this claims every power and faculty. Other service is only for a short period, and short as is the period the service palls upon the taste; but this service is for life, and for a life beyond this life; and it never loses its attractiveness to the spiritual man. It will ever show new beauties, expand fresh powers, and introduce varied pleasures to the soul. We are all called to this service. The command is to all, “Son, go work to-day in My vineyard.”
II. The manner in which the work is to be done.—By “fervent in spirit” is meant the active and energetic exercise of all those powers which distinguish man as an intellectual and a moral creature. It does not imply confusion or agitation. There must not be half-heartedness in this service. Fervency of spirit is not compatible with double service. It implies unity of heart. “Unite my heart to fear Thy name, to serve the Lord.” This fervency of spirit is illustrated by St. Paul himself when he says, “This one thing I do.” When a man is fervent in spirit about the accomplishment of any work, he becomes a man of one idea. Have we this fervency? Are our souls possessed of one idea? Let us seek to serve the Lord, and thus to serve our time to the best of our ability.
III. Fervency of spirit is enjoined upon us by:
1. Positive precept.—“Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” Fervency of spirit is required from him who is to serve God by the combination of every power and faculty of the nature. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” This fear and trembling does not lead to depression and paralysis of the powers, but to energy, to fervency of spirit. The kingdom of God is a strife and a battle, and the fervent in spirit overcomes in the conflict.
2. By implied directions. We are enjoined to be zealous of good works—zealously affected in a good thing. The zealous man is fervent in spirit, ardent in the pursuit of an object. How ardent should the Christian be who is pressing forward to apprehend that for which he is apprehended in Christ Jesus! The man who feels within himself the consuming force of a great principle is ardent, is fervent in spirit. The Christian should be a man on fire. The light glows within and radiates the circle he fills. Let us be more concerned about being ardent than about showing ourselves ardent. Let the ambition be, not to blaze, but to give light and heat—though the blazing man gains the world’s applause, while the true light-giving man treads the obscure pathway to heaven’s immortality.
3. By illustrious examples. We have the examples of Paul, of John, and of Peter. Consuming energy possessed their souls. In the whole range of the world’s history there are not found men so wonderfully earnest and fervent. Their intense zeal was such that we declare they were superhumanly endowed. The very reading of their lives stirs to greater fervency of spirit. Jesus left us an example that in all things we should follow His steps. His earthly life was marked by fervency of spirit. It was so great that He could say, “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up.” Here was intense zeal in the pursuit of God’s glory which became a consuming fire. The strong nature of Jesus was being eaten up by His zeal. My little nature is scarcely warmed by the feeble spark of my zeal. This was so strong in Jesus that He forgot to take necessary food. Sublime forgetfulness! Divine memory of divine service producing consuming ardency!
4. By the difficulties of the course. Vigorous plants only can survive severe winters; vigorous Christians only can survive the rigours of time. Fervency of spirit will be a protection against the withering blasts of earth’s winters. There must be fervency of spirit if we are to outlive those unfavourable influences by which we are often surrounded.
5. By the blessings on the way and to follow. Great are the blessings on the way, and yet there are more to follow. Bright are the Christian’s privileges on the way, and yet there are brighter to follow. Gladsome are the songs which the Christian can sing on the way, and yet there are gladder to follow. Sweet are the viands which the Christian finds on the way, and yet there are sweeter to follow. Rich are the prospects on the way, and yet there are richer to follow. Dazzling crowns on the way, but a crown of unsullied and imperishable beauty to follow. The thoughts of present bestowals and of future glory should produce fervency of spirit.
The Christian spirit in business.—Christians must give themselves up to God, body and soul. To listen to doctrine is both good and necessary; but the listening is of no avail unless that doctrine and all the preaching about it lead to something practical. Men are but shabby specimens of the Christian life unless they prove experimentally how far they give themselves up to the perfect will of God. St. Paul sets forth many exhortations to godliness—e.g., a Christian must have genuine humility, or rather a right estimate of himself. He must also love truly; he must also abhor evil, have it in moral detestation. Like ivy clinging to the wall, he must cleave to the good; and so on. But a Christian also must be not slothful in business. A better rendering of this is: not so much in business, but in diligence, in zeal, in earnestness, we are not to be slothful. The whole verse suggests that the Christian life has two sides—the sacred and the secular. Some men are so thoroughly one-sided that they miss the very mark at which they aim. They need to learn that the Christian life has two sides, and that Christ demands of every Christian diligence in both.
I. Whence shall we get the true measure of a Christian’s life in this world?—From the Founder of Christianity. “The whole lesson of Christ’s life, the whole burden of His teaching, was that the common concerns of this life—its buying and its selling, its gaining and its losing, its working and its rest—shall be in like manner, by the unchanging purpose of a pure Christian spirit, a true son of God, ennobled with the essential qualities that make a heaven of heaven.” Public life got its guinea-stamp from Jesus. Cæsar must have his due. In all Christ’s teaching it was a question of right things in right places—e.g., commerce: bad in God’s house; commendable in the world.
II. The question of worldly duty.—The most secular duties may be performed in a way that is pleasing to God. Men have often gone wrong on the question of worldly duty. Too much discrimination between godliness and worldliness. Consequently we have too narrow standards. The extreme notions that are held are hard to reconcile with Christ’s words to Christians: “Ye are the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” Worldly men, on the other hand, have narrow notions of religion. It is a mistake to say that business, and all kinds of world-life and energy, have ever been pronounced as opposed to godliness.
III. The great secret of true world-life depends on the motive that lies behind it.—There may be business, backed by good motive, and it may be more acceptable in God’s sight than a religion splendid to look upon, but having no special motive, or a very bad one. Business done on godly principles—though curtailed thereby—far better than great gains made by questionable practices. What we want is to have our lives set squarely upon a sound basis. Christ gave us the standard for daily living, and therein we find that purity of spirit is one of its leading features.
IV. The sound basis of all worldly occupation is Christ.—Base every method of your lives upon Him who became man, not only to go through that final agony that won the world’s redemption, but also that He might show us how to live. A man who copies Him is the Lord’s freeman. If we would live aright, we must seek to be in right relations or harmony with all truths, all facts, and all realities in this world, as well as the world to come—otherwise there is no possibility of hearing the “Well done.”—Albert Lee.
Religion and business.—It is said of the divine Founder of our religion that He knew what was in man, and no better proof of the assertion could be furnished than is supplied by the religion itself. For it addresses itself to man as he is—that is, not as a spiritual being merely, not as a perfect being at all, nor yet as a being who has got into some wrong world, and who should be only too anxious to get out of it again; but it rather addresses itself to him as one who has work in the world to do, and duties towards the world to discharge, and faculties, both of body, soul, and spirit, which in the world are to find their proper employment and exercise.
I. In the command that we are to be “not slothful in business” we seem to have a recognition of the principle that a life of ardent labour is an almost universal necessity belonging to our present state.—And it is so; it is part of our fallen heritage. The wisdom of the appointment is seen in many ways. Continued employment keeps the soul from much evil. Active engagements give a healthy tone to the mind; they strengthen the moral energy of the will; they prevent a good deal of the listlessness and inconstancy and utter feebleness of character, so often found in those who, having no stated occupation, and having nothing to compel prompt action, will do and undo, resolve and alter their resolve, continually a prey to the first ascendant influence, the sport of every wind that blows.
II. There is nothing in the business of life, as such, which is incompatible with the claim of godliness.—There is to be no room for the charge against us of slothfulness in business, and yet it is to be rightly said of us that we are serving the Lord. Religion consists, not so much in the superaddition of certain acts of worship to the duties of common life, as in leavening the duties of common life with the spirit of religious worship. It is worship in the husbandman when he tills the ground with a thankful heart; it is worship in the merchant when for all successes he gives God the glory; the servant who in all good fidelity discharges the duties of his trust is offering unto God a continual sacrifice; and to walk humbly and obediently in the calling to which He hath called us is to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
III. So far from the active duties of life presenting any barrier to our proficiency in personal religion, they are the very field in which its highest graces are to be exercised and its noblest triumphs achieved. The hindrance to our spiritual proficiency is not in our occupation, but in ourselves.—D. Moore.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:11
“Secular and spiritual.”—There is no such thing as “secular and sacred” in the whole realm of a good man’s life. The “secular” is “spiritual” when a “spiritual” man touches it; the “spiritual” is “secular” when the “secular” man seizes it. All good work well done is sacred. The counting-house ought to be as holy as the pulpit—and often is. Professor Stuart is right: “Religion is not a thing of the stars, it is a thing of the streets.”—Aked.
Business needful.—In the light of all I know of Jesus, I am constrained to lay down this axiom, that business is a good thing. Jesus never gainsays that. It is said of Him, that the light is too rich and clear upon the life of Christ to-day for any man to tell us that in order to be holy we must go away in dens and caves, and avoid the emporiums of the world, and not live the world’s life. That is not true. “It was not the world, but its spirit, that Christ hated. He forswore not men, not markets, not commerce. No; but the spirit which filled men as they engaged in all these. It was not the world’s work, the world’s ambitions, that He hated. I say it was the spirit in which these were realised that Christ utterly abjured. He did not condemn money-changing and merchandise; but He burned with the still fires of unimpassioned anger when men did these things in His Father’s house. The spirit was base, not the act; the purpose was ignoble, not the thing.”
The most secular duties may be performed in a way that is pleasing to God. And by duties I mean those which radiate in all directions—God-ward, manward, heavenward, earthward. Duty merges in heaven and earth. It is like the middle point of day; one knows not whether it belongs more to daybreak or to sunset. As a rule men have discriminated between heaven and earth, godliness and worldliness; but they have never caught the idea that God has joined the two, and that it is wrong to divorce them.
Dr. Parker says that he infers from Christ’s treatment of the scribes and Pharisees that it is possible for men to deceive themselves on religious methods—to suppose that they are in the kingdom of God when they are thousands of miles away from it. Is it possible that any of us can have fallen under the power of that delusion? I fear it may be so! What is your Christianity? A letter, a written creed, a small placard that can be published, containing a few so called fundamental points and lines? Is it an affair of words and phrases and sentences following one another in regulated and approved succession? If so, it is a little intellectual conceit. Christianity is life, love, nobleness,—it is sympathy with God.—Albert Lee.
MAIN HOMILETIC S OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:12
Three needful mental conditions.—A book which is to be a guide for all must not be of such an elaborate character as to task the energies of its readers. A sailor’s chart must not be a scientific, geographical, and historical work. The Bible is a book for mankind, and must be both brief and comprehensive. If a man truly desire to live right, he will have no practical difficulty. In this twelfth chapter are rules of life precise and yet sufficiently comprehensive. Here are three rules: in hope be joyful; in sufferings be steadfast; in prayer be unwearied. Here are three states in which the Christian may be found, and three conditions proper to those states. It is a wise conception to place tribulation between hope and prayer. Tribulation is calculated to depress, but hope energises and gives courage. Tribulation drives to prayer, and finds in the exercise sustaining power. The man supported in tribulation on two sides, by hope and prayer, will come off conqueror in every trial.
I. The state of hope and the joyful mental condition.—Hope is a great sustainer. The human mind is ever forecasting the to-morrows. Man never is but always to be blest. The darkest day, live till to-morrow, will have passed away. The schoolboy, the apprentice, the business man, all hope. A dreary world if hope were banished from hearts and homes. When old age creeps on apace, when the bright visions of time have vanished, when the backward glance is disappointing and the onward earthly look is darkening, it is sweet to look by hope to the bright sphere where all true hopes will be realised. “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Faith in Christ the foundation of hope which will not disappoint. He is both the giver and sustainer of hope. It is a blessed thing to possess a good hope through grace. The man who possesses this hope can rejoice more than one who has found great spoil. He goes rejoicing all the day, and he can even sing songs in the night-time of his earthly pilgrimage. “Rejoicing in hope.” He encourages great joy, for he has great expectations.
II. The state of tribulation and the patient mental condition.—Tribulation is a process through which the Christian must pass. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. It is the narrow doorway and the rugged pathway to every high throne. No kingship here or hereafter without tribulation. No royalty of nature without suffering. No nobility of character without the tribulation. A Straitened way, a compressed course, for the sons moved by high ambitions. One in his parable describes the way to instruction much in the same way as our Lord describes the way to heaven. “Do you not see,” says the old man, “a little door, and beyond the door a way which is not much crowded, but very few are going along it, as seemingly difficult of ascent, rough and stony?” “Yes,” answers the stranger. “And does there not seem,” continues the old man, “to be a high hill, and a road up it very narrow, with precipices on each side? That is the way leading to true instruction.” “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it.” The way to all heavens is the way of tribulation. It separates the chaff from the wheat in character. It prepares for divine uses. It fits for noble employments and for highest positions. Patience is the needful mental condition, the enduring power of great souls. The patience of God’s heroic saints is marvellous. What do I see in my vision? A long cloud of witnesses pressing through the highways of life whose patience is crowned by the inheritance of the promises.
III. The state of prayer and the unwearied mental condition.—“Continuing instant in prayer.” We still repeat the old questions, What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? and what profit shall we have if we pray unto Him? God anticipated the modern sceptic. Is there anything new under the sun? We question, but we continue to pray. In tribulation the soul of man rises up above its scepticism and gives itself to prayer. How strange that prayer cannot be banished from the world! Philosophy cannot hush the voice of prayer. Strange, yet not strange, for prayer is the upward look of humanity, and the human must look to the divine, as the flowers seek the sun, as the climbing plant stretches out for support. Let us show what profit continuing instant in prayer will produce:
1. Continuing instant in prayer is the way to gain strength. If it be true that prayer is the life of the Christian, if by this exercise we gain supplies from heaven, then it must be by prayer that we put on strength. There is a method of invigoration at the believer’s disposal. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” The promise is definite. Though science so called tries to reason us away from the exercise, though scepticism hurls its shafts of ridicule, and though many hurry past to try other means of gaining strength, we will wait upon the Lord until weakness departs and the strength of moral manhood is obtained—until with eagles’ pinions we may soar above the earth, mists, and clouds, where undisturbed we may catch the many voices that sound their sublime anthems across the heavenly plains—until running in the Christian course does not weary, and we can walk with those mighty men of old who had power to walk with God on earth, and then were translated to walk unabashed amid angels and archangels, with cherubim and seraphim, and all those who walk in the light ineffable. The praying man must be strong, for thus he moves into the life-giving sunlight. “The Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory”—the grace to overcome weakness and to grow in strength, the glory of a mighty warrior who triumphs over every foe. We must place ourselves in the sunlight by prayer. God promises, “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” By this figure is denoted the genial influences, vigour, and strength which God will impart unto His people. There must be certain conditions of the plant in relation to the surrounding atmosphere if the pearly dewdrop is to be formed on its surface and is to exert its reviving force. The certain conditions which God requires for the fulfilment of His gracious promise are a heart open to receive, a spirit of prayer and of supplication. The man becomes strong into whose soul God distils the dew of His reviving influences. By prayer we must go to the Fountain of living waters, and be refreshed; by prayer and meditation we must feed upon the Bread of life, and thus put on strength. We need the baptism of a praying spirit. We have all kinds of men—scientific, scholarly, rhetorical, oratorical, energetic. We have men of business-like capacity, men great in books and mighty in speech; but have we a sufficient number of the men of prayer, who plead earnestly in their closets, who by intercessory prayer put the God of Jacob to the test? Oh for prayers the expression of hearts inhabited by the eternal Spirit,—prayers that witness to an overflowing plenitude of spiritual life; prayers manifesting themselves in nobleness of character, in kindness of nature, in benevolence of disposition, and in a cheering beneficence as its outcome! If we had this true prayer, what spiritual vigour would pervade the Church, and how she would move on in a career of ever-expanding conquest!
2. Continuing instant in prayer is the way to experience its efficacy. What would be St. Paul’s answer to those who talk about the folly of supposing that the order of nature is to be disturbed by the force of prayer, that inevitable law is to give place to the cries and necessities of an insignificant creature, that the movements of worlds are to be checked by the voice of one who is but as an atom and whose removal would soon be forgotten? His answer is continuance in prayer. Let gnostics and agnostics, let scientists and evolutionists, let sceptics and philosophers, write, reason, and refute, but we will give ourselves to prayer. The workings of natural laws may be guessed at; but the workings of God’s spiritual laws are along high pathways which no scientist knoweth and which the keenest eye has not yet seen. However, we will give ourselves to prayer, for we have felt its power and preciousness, and so felt as not to be disturbed by clever opponents. When confined to prison, prayer is our only support and comfort; prayer only can give us songs in the night.
3. Continuing instant in prayer is the way to surmount temptation. Introspection is not always productive of peaceful results even when good men carry on the process. Looking inward may ofttimes fail, but looking upward and Godward should never fail. God looks to the heart, and He will not fail to help His suffering sons. Faith in God, continuing instant in prayer, will strike the good old song, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present and an ever-present help in trouble.” The face of the dying Stephen was glorified because he saw a divine Helper in heaven; the stoned was far happier than the stoners. The mighty God helped and cheered. Prayer endows with patience in tribulation, gives songs in the prison cell, turns the dreary dungeon into a palace beautiful, transforms the sluggish streams of earth into the fashion of the river of bliss that flows o’er Elysian flowers hard by the throne of God, through landscapes of perpetual beauty. Prayer paints the rainbow of hope on the tears of tribulation; prayer brings the sunlight of heaven behind our darkest clouds, and makes them glorious with their exquisite tinting and drapery of purple and of gold; prayer shapes the lava which the volcano of earthly disaster has sent forth in molten streams into beautiful and glorified forms. Out of the ashes of our earth fires arise eternal riches. If men be not made spiritually strong by prayer, there is no other known method by which strength can be obtained. But they have been and may be so again. Joyfulness in hope, patience in tribulation, have been the result of continuing instant in prayer. Let us still pray in faith and in constancy, and we shall find that prayer has power, that prayer has beneficial influences, that prayer has wondrous results.
Pray on, and pray fervently.—“Continuing instant in prayer.” Prayer takes for granted that God is full, and we are empty. The creature is finite, alike in evil and in good. Our poverty and want must ever be a mere nothing in comparison with the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. Prayer takes for granted that there is a connection between this fulness and our emptiness. The fulness is not inaccessible. It is not too high for us to reach, or for it to stoop. Prayer takes for granted that we are entitled to use this channel, this medium; and that, in using it, there will be a sure inflow of the fulness into us. “Every one that asketh receiveth.” Prayer takes for granted expectation on our part. If, then, we examine our prayers, and strip them of all that is not prayer, how little remains! Let us mark such things as the following in reference to this kind of prayer:
1. The irksomeness of non-expecting prayer. Sometimes there may be such an amount of natural feeling as may make what is called “devotion” pleasant. But in the long run it becomes irksome, if not accompanied with expectation, sure expectation.
2. The uselessness of non-expecting prayer. It bears no fruit; it brings no answer; it draws down no blessing.
3. The sinfulness of non-expecting prayer. The utterance of petitions is nothing to God; it does not recommend the petitioner.—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:12
Constant prayer.—Cornelius prayed to God alway. The stated devotions were not wanting, but the life itself was a prayer in action. He was a man seeking God not in words only, but in all that he did. And in our busy, practical times we can only hope to pray to God always in that sense. Pressing duties encroach on meditation; their urgency engenders habits foreign to meditation. Too fast for our sight flash the thousand wheels of the great social machine, on which we are whirled round as a small part. Those constrained faces knit with anxiety that haunt you in the streets, those lips whispering busily to themselves in the crowded thoroughfare—those thousand vehicles locked in confusion at the confluence of streets, with all the occupants goaded to impatience by the words “too late”—they all remind us of the impetuous age in which we live. Who can pray to God always amidst such dire confusion? Do not despair even of that. Amidst the money-changers’ tables you cannot pray as in the precincts of the temple. But there is a kind of work that becomes a prayer: Laborare est orare. From the most active life in this great city may be daily floating up, for aught we know, to the throne of the Most High an incense of worship more pure than any that issues from the quiet chamber of the pious recluse. I do not speak of acts of mercy and almsgiving only; that there is a prayer in these all would admit. They are an imitation of, and therefore a longing after, the loving Son of God, who is our example. For amongst men, and in aiding men, or in striving with them, do we, the disciples, find our education, as our Master made the scene of His ministry in the midst of the men whom He would serve. The soul in retirement has often grown sickly with over-consciousness of itself, and invented needs and called for help against phantoms of its own creation. But the trials that surround us in our daily duties are those which God has made for us; and to Him we turn for strength to surmount them. Turn, then, to Him; make frequent approaches to His throne, at any time, in any place; ask His help for any undertaking; and if it be one which you dare not bring before Him, abandon it. Such a practice, to use the words of Bishop Taylor, “reconciles Martha’s employment with Mary’s devotion, charity, and religion—reconciles the necessities of our calling and the employments of devotion. For thus in the midst of business you may retire into your chapel—your heart—and converse with God by frequent addresses and returns.” And the fruits of this practice will be justice and uprightness in action, forbearance towards others, kindness towards the helpless, love towards all.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Romans 12:11. Prescott’s perseverance.—Some years ago a student in college lost one of his eyes by a missile thrown by a classmate. His other eye became so affected by sympathy that its sight was endangered. The best oculists could not relieve him. He was sent to Europe for medical treatment and change of climate, and tarried there three years, when he returned with only part of an eye, just enough vision to serve him in travelling about, but too little for reading. His father was an eminent jurist, and designed his son for the bar, but this calamity quenched his aspirations in that direction. He resolved to devote himself to authorship in the department of historical literature. He spent tea years in laborious systematic study of the standard authors before he even selected his theme. Then he spent another ten years in searching archives, exploring masses of manuscripts, official documents and correspondence, consulting old chronicles, reading quantities of miscellaneous books, and taking notes—all through the eyes of others—before his first work was ready for the press—Ferdinand and Isabella. Prescott was forty years of age when he gave this remarkable history to the public. Then followed his Mexico, Peru, and Philip the Second, works that have earned for him the reputation of a profound historian on both sides of the Atlantic. Noble work for any man with two good eyes! Noble work for a man with none!
Romans 12:12. Prayer, a necessity of Christian life.—There is a class of animals, neither fish nor sea-fowl, that inhabit the deep. It is their home; they never leave it for the shore; yet, though swimming beneath its waves and sounding its darkest depths, they have ever and anon to rise to the surface that they may breathe the air. Without that those monarchs of the deep could not live in that dense element in which they move and have their being. And something like what they do through a physical necessity the Christian has to do by a spiritual one. It is by ever and anon ascending to God, by soaring up in prayer into a loftier, purer region for supplies of grace, that he maintains his spiritual life. Prevent these animals from rising to the surface, and they die for want of breath prevent him from rising to God, and he dies for want of prayer.—Dr. Guthrie.
Romans 12:12. Spirit of prayer.—During the blizzard a few years ago in America, many of the telegraph wires were prostrated, and messages were sent to Chicago by the way of Liverpool, England; and the answer, after a while, came round by another circuit. And so the prayer we offer may come back in a way we never imagined; and if we ask to have our faith increased, although it may come by a widely different process to that which we expected, our confidence will surely be augmented.
Romans 12:12. Patient in tribulation.—θλίψις, a pressing together, pressure, from θλίβω, to press. So in Mark 3:9, “lest they should throng Him.”
Romans 12:13.—Partaking of your good things with the needy. You give money; they give faith in God. Hospitality essential in those times to the spread of Christianity.
Romans 12:16.—Mutually mind the same thing. Let there be unity of sentiment. Do not affect the high things of this world. Let not your wisdom be the vain fancy of self-conceit.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:13-16
Christian communism and not monastic separation.—The monastic idea might have in it a germ of goodness; but there was in it a selfish spirit going contrary to the divine order, and tending to the dwarfing of human nature. Monastic institutions breed corruption. However pure and well-meaning at first, they decline, and are likely to become hotbeds of immorality. Surely man was not made to be a monk. Alone, man perishes. If he do not perish physically, he perishes intellectually and morally. Monasteries can never produce the highest type of men. If there have been great men in monasteries—and we must admit their presence—the greatness arose not by virtue of the system. If the countenance be an iudex of the man, then the pictures of monks do not speak favourably of the monastic institution as a school for the development of manhood. By separation we are belittled; by true communism we are enlarged. God has set us in families, and there we have a communistic idea. The tribe is an enlarged family; the Church is a divine family; the Church of the firstborn in heaven is a vast family. In the family and in the Church there may be differences, but there should be oneness. Sympathy, feeling together with, binds the family. This should unite the Church; this should bless and glorify the world.
I. Christian communism expresses itself in benevolent deeds.—Christian communism does not declare that there is to be no individual or separate right in property. The Christian Church in its youthful ardour tried the principle and proved it a failure, and did not repeat the experiment. St. Peter did not advocate common rights. Whilst it remained, was it not their own? After it was sold, was it not in their own power? Christian communism means, as we understand it, that one brother is not to spend money in useless extravagance while other brethren are dying of starvation. Can that man be called a Christian who pampers his dogs and his horses, who creates for himself a thousand unnecessary wants, while Lazarus, for whom Christ died, for whom a glorious heaven waits, lies at the gate, full of sores, unfed, untended, and unhoused? The man who does not want to do good can easily raise objections. He can say, If I distribute to the necessity of saints, I may encourage imposture, I may pauperise and prevent the working of self-help. Eleemosynary aid increases the number of voluntary paupers, and is harmful to society. But the man who sincerely desires to be helpful will not create objections. He will find out the saints and minister to their necessities. If the saint turn out a sinner, the benevolent man may comfort himself with the thought that the sinner helped may feel that there is some good in the world. Sometimes we read thrilling tales of the fabulous wealth made by beggars and impostors. Would the writers of those tales exchange places even if the impostors’ proceedings were legitimate? Is the begging profession likely to become overcrowded? We want more practicalness, less selfishness, and more benevolence. “Distributing to the necessities of saints, given to hospitality,” contains a lesson which modern Christianised society has not properly learnt. In connection with the precept let us ask, Is it true that so much as a thousand pounds has been paid for flowers for one night’s entertainment at the houses of certain leaders of London society? Can it be true that a dinner-party given by an American millionairess in London cost no less than four thousand five hundred pounds? Can it be true that, at the same time, thousands upon thousands in London are pinched and drag on a miserable existence? Is it a probable story that the owner of an estate derived an annual income of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds from the property, and had not time to consider the claims of those who helped to make the wealth and who sought redress? The claimants might be mistaken; their course might be wrong; some of their proceedings excite loathing rather than compassion. But surely there might have been consideration. In the interests of humanity we may hope that the story is a fiction. As we look upon starving women and children we may well ask, As for these poor sheep, what have they done? Surely the children are God’s saints, and their necessities ought to be relieved. Recent commotions teach us one sad lesson at least, and it is that Christianity has not leavened the whole of society.
II. Christian communism has a hard lesson for the oppressed.—“Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not.” These words lose their primitive significance. The religious persecutor is now harmless; so that we may be allowed to say, No need for soldiers and policemen if this precept were obeyed. No good end is served by cursing persecutors, by maiming overlookers, by burning property. The man who curses does himself and his cause great damage. If agitation be needful, the ruthless destruction of property. can serve no good end. If agitation be needful, why can it not be conducted on peaceful lines? The primitive Church acted on the principle of blessing the persecutors, and it became victorious.
III. Christian communism teaches sympathetic projection.—“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” The man who has true sympathy throws himself into the position of others. He projects himself, or part of himself, into the position of the other self. This state is reached by the few, for our own sorrows are greater than the sorrows of others. Tears flow freely at the graveside of our loved ones. How often we can talk, and even laugh, as we follow other loved ones to the burial! Poetry can touch us as it sings “Somebody’s darling lies there”; but how callous we often are as some-body’s darling, not being our darling, is being let down into the tomb! If we cannot weep with the weepers, we often find it more difficult to laugh with the laughers. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice.” Rejoice that my defeat leads to the victory of somebody else. I have tried for years to produce a good painting, to write a taking book, to compose popular sermons. I have failed; and can I rejoice when I learn that my friend has a painting hung in the gallery, or that the publishers have paid him handsomely for his work, or that the crowds are listening to his eloquence every Sunday? “Rejoice with them that do rejoice.” I can laugh with the laughers, if the laughter have no reflection on my failure; I can rejoice with the joyful, if there be no reason for the working of envy. Thus I often find it easier to rejoice with the joyful who live ten miles away than to rejoice with the joyful who is my next-door neighbour. Laughter is contagious. Alas that sincere rejoicing with others is not always contagious! We can only sincerely “rejoice with those that do rejoice” as we are “of the same mind one toward another.” Mind-sameness is not intellectual monotony. “The same mind” does not preclude the idea of different mental proclivities. The working man, the business man, the professional man, the scientific man, may all “be of the same mind one toward another.” “The same mind” refers to the emotional rather than the intellectual side of man’s nature. The same mind pervading the community would produce glorious harmony; the same mind stretching through all ranks and classes of men would bind all together.
IV. Christian communism looks downward.—“Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” The communism of the world is the opposite of this. It minds high things if they can be made subservient to its own enrichment. The man of low estate becomes a communist, a socialist, a member of the Fabian Society. Then he sets to work to level down the high things, and to level up with those high things himself, a man of low estate. If St. Paul were to rise from the dead, and were to say in a London drawing-room, where the crush is great to get in touch with the high things of modern society, “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate,” he would be regarded as a very objectionable character; and if he cared, would pass a very unpleasant evening, if indeed no worse fate were awarded him “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” Humanity’s high things are often enough divinity’s low things. Men of low estate were the Pauls and the Peters; men of high things were the wretched Neros. Time has strange reversals; and what is great and noble in our time may be little and ignoble in some after-time. What a conclusion! “Be not wise in your own conceits.” It is good to be wise; it is bad to be conceited. The truly wise will consider the position and claims of others. The self-conceited and self-opinionated see little beyond their own small spheres. These are the people to be shut up in monastic seclusion.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:16-17
Our duty to equals.—Hooker’s great principle may perhaps be applied to the moral as well as the ceremonial question—that the omission of a point in Scripture does not decide against it, but only throws us upon the law of reason in the matter. We cannot judge from the comparative omission of this or that class of duties in Scripture, that therefore anything is decided as to its importance. Thus the New Testament says comparatively little about duties to equals, and enlarges upon duties to inferiors. But we may not infer from this that duties to equals do not rank as high and are not as trying a class of duties as those to inferiors or to sufferers. What may be called the condescending life was comparatively a new branch of morals; it therefore demanded a prominent place. This is not a subject altogether without a special interest in the present period of our Church, during which this branch of Christian work has been so largely developed.… It is impossible not to see that numbers who never would have been happy in any other way have been made happy and satisfied by the habitual exercise of compassion.… Montaigne says there is a spice of cruelty in compassion, because it requires pain to gratify its own special nature. There being, however, this peculiar affection in us, which was obviously of such immense practical power for dealing with this world as we find it, … how was it that the old world so entirely over-looked this wonderful practical instrument?… And we may remark how paganism has blunted and suppressed even the natural virtues.… Many have fled from the bitterness of active life to seek repose in the ministration to inferiors. They have fled to the realm of compassion for peace. A great man gone is contemplated in all the softening light of pity, which, as we are told, is akin to love. And yet we know if the man were to rise to life again, immediately every old jar would come back. Life would rob him at once of the refining hue; it would lower; it would vulgarise again. The condescending life is a devoted life, but it is at the same time a protected life. The hardest trial of humility must not be towards a person to whom you are superior, but towards a person with whom you are on equal footing of competition. Generosity is more tried by an equal than by an inferior. To leave the realm of compassion for that of equality is to leave the realm of peace for that of war. Compassion is a state of peace.—Mozley.
Romans 12:17.—Provide things honest, handsome, beautiful, useful, profitable, in the sight of men. Remove every reasonable ground of suspicion. Wear the white flower of a blameless life.
Romans 12:18. Live peaceably with all men.—If commotions arise, let there be no real fault on your side. Offences will come, but see that no offence spring from unwise ordering of life.
Romans 12:19. Give place unto wrath.—Do not interfere with the movements of God’s righteous indignation. Let not your own wrath break forth. Give place to the wrath of your enemy. These interpretations are given. Instead of trying to settle the exact meaning, we may wisely seek to combine all the interpretations and work them out.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:17-19
Peace with honour.—“Peace with honour” was the statement of one of our great statesmen at the conclusion of a certain treaty. It is a very desirable conclusion. Peace among nations, in societies, in the Church, in the individual. There may be some who are never so much at peace as when they are at war; but most love and desire peace. With the best intentions in the world, we may produce discord when we intended peace. It cannot always be secured in this disordered world. We must do our best, and leave results with the sovereign Disposer of all events. To do our best is to do in accordance with divine precepts.
I. Peace is not always possible.—Jesus Christ was the great peace-maker, and yet He was the cause of much disturbance; perhaps not the cause, but the occasion for the true cause was the wickedness of human nature. St. Paul was the apostle of peace, and yet how much commotion in and around his pathway! The preachers of peace have often been the producers of disturbance “If it be possible, live peaceably with all men.” Is it possible for the pure to live peaceably with the impure? Purity is an offence to the impure; it pricks the conscience; it produces disquiet, rebellion, and sometimes anger. Is it possible to reprove and to live peaceably with the reproved? It may be so to some, but others find it impossible. Masters of tactics move along smoothly; but are men of tact always men of stern principle?
II. The impossibility of peace must not arise from the believer.—“As much as lieth in you.” There must be examination and close watchfulness of self. “As much as lieth in you.” Let purity be maintained without offensive parade; let reproof be administered in the spirit of love and of meekness; let there be love to the person, while there is intense disapproval of the false practice.
III. The possibility of peace is increased by:
1. A negative courte. “Recompense to no man evil for evil”: a large precept largely neglected. The evil of being duped and cheated naturally stirs the soul of the upright; it is difficult not to retaliate. Other cases may be noted; but we must obey the precept, for that will bring peace at the last—peace to the obedient at all events.
2. A positive course. Be preoccupied with the comely and the honourable in the sight of men. Let this preoccupation be an antidote against those sombre thoughts and hostile projects which are cherished under the influence of resentment; let noble ideals lead the spirit out of and above the torturing thoughts produced by actual or fancied offences. A soul moving in high realms is peaceful, though the lower sphere has in it disturbing elements. On the mountain ranges of high pursuits we often find peace and joy which the world cannot understand and of which it cannot deprive.
3. A self-restraining course. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath.” A word of difficulty is prefaced by a word of sweetness. The apostle knew that to fallen nature revenge is sweet. He gives the sweetness of “dearly beloved” to induce the rejection of the sweetness of revenge. Sinful nature says, Revenge is sweet; a higher nature says, Forgiveness is divine. Do not revenge yourselves by taking the law into your own hands. Do not revenge yourselves by saying, God will punish; He can punish better and more severely than I can, so I will give rcom for the working of the wrath of justice, and my offenders will not escape. Leave revenge alone, and strive after the love which speaks words of blessing and lives in the atmosphere of forgiveness.
4. A submissive course. “For it is written” must be our check. What is written has little authority with too many in these days. What is written for amusement, for guidance to earthly success, and so on, they regard; but what is written for moral guidance they ignore. “It is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” He is both a just and merciful revenger; therefore let us leave all in His hands; do not let us presume to sit in the seat of the supreme Judge. Let wilful offenders tremble, “for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” Peace with honour in this dark world of sin; if not peace with glory, with infinite joy in the bright world of unsullied light.
Romans 12:19. The proper treatment of wrath.—Bishop Sanderson says, “I ever held it a kind of spiritual thrift where there are two senses given of one place, both agreeable to the analogy of faith and manners, to make use of both.” It is objected that the practice of this spiritual thrift may lead to spiritual wealth, but seems to tend to exegetical poverty. There is surely no need to be alarmed by the objection here raised, for spiritual wealth must be greater than exegetical richness and accuracy. We do not by any means underrate the value of the latter, but it is not needful to the salvation of the soul. If it be, then the great majority must be unsaved. Exegetical correctness can only be the possession of the learned few, while spiritual wealth may be the possession of the many, whether learned or unlearned. Masters of exegesis are not always spiritually rich. Three interpretations of the expression “Give place unto wrath” have been given by eminent expositors; and not attempting to decide which is the true interpretation, we may, for the purposes of spiritual thrift, make use of all. Let us take, first, the most doubtful of the interpretations:—
I. Restrain your own wrath.—In this case the personality must be over-mastered. If our wrath be allowed to work and maintain the ascendency, we cannot conduct ourselves aright with reference to the outward world and with respect to the divine government of the universe. Our own personality may seem to us, and is in a sense, important, but we must ever remember that there are other personalities to be considered. There is the personality of every member of the human race, and of every member with whom we have dealings. There is the divine personality, and we must not by personal feelings venture to interfere with divine prerogatives; we must in the truest sense restrain our own wrath before we can properly and fully acknowledge the solemn truth that vengeance belongs alone unto the Lord. The judge must be raised above personal feelings and the influence of passion, prejudice, and vindictiveness. Thus our judges are placed in positions of almost undisputed authority, and are removed from the sphere of party feelings. It is wise to restrain our own wrath. We may be unjustly indignant; we know not all the bearings of the case; offence may be taken when no offence was intended. Wrath may be unjust; it must be harmful. Revenge may be sweet, but it produces and fosters bitterness of soul; its motions in the spirit are not helpful to that holy calm where divine graces flourish. The spirit of revenge and the Spirit of God cannot harmoniously dwell in the same sphere.
II. Give place to the wrath of your enemy.—Meyer objects that this would only be a prudential measure. What is religion but a system that enjoins and fosters prudence? The prudent man is one who is careful of consequences. We cannot ourselves follow the high pathway marked out by the moralists who tell us to follow virtue for its own sake, that virtue is its own sufficient reward, that to consider consequences is a mere selfish principle of guidance in morals. Self-love is different from selfishness, which is fallen self-love. Self-love is surely not condemned by Him who asks, “What shall it profit a man?” We are allowed, then, to consider self and the final profit and advantage of the steps we take. Let it also be remembered that the intensely selfish man is not always prudent. He does not look to the ultimate working out of the spirit of selfishness. In seeking personal happiness he may be finding personal misery. As then a mere prudential measure, on this low ground, if we deem it low, give place to the wrath of your enemy. By opposing you may make it worse, you may fan the flame to a great heat. Look at nations. What is war but the engendering of further warfare and the necessity of maintaining large numbers of armed men, armed vessels, and powerful batteries? In the present state of society war may be a necessary evil, out of which good may arise. What good can arise from war between individual men? Has the duel ever been productive of good? Give place to the wrath of your enemy. Get out of his way, if need be. Allow it time to cool down. Do not let your heat be joined to his heat, and thus avoid increasing the caloric intensity of the moral sphere.
III. Make way for divine wrath.—Our wrath arises too often from personal feeling. We are offended, we are injured either by word or by deed—in mind, body, or estate—and we become angry. But God’s wrath cannot arise in any such way. His wrath arises from the sense of injury done to His moral government. If God’s anger have in it anything of what we may call the personal, it arises from the love and sympathy of His nature. God is a supreme judge who is raised above all prejudice and all personal feelings in meting out judgment, and therefore we may safely leave vengeance in the hands of God. He will vindicate His own rightful method of government; He will show Himself the special defender of His people. Learn, then, that man’s true wisdom is to remember that vengeance is only safe in the hands of a holy God—that inquisitors are not only cruel, but presumptuously wicked. They are striving to take God’s place and assert divine prerogatives. We may believe that most of the victims of the foul inquisition have been in the right; but even if they were wrong, the inquisitor has no right to come between a man and his conscience. The foulest blot on what some are pleased to call the Christian religion is the accursed inquisition; and the wonder is that enlightened men can look calmly on a Church capable of such diabolical cruelty. There is no parallel between the random persecutions made by some Protestants and the systematised, heartrending tortures, cruel maiming of harmless and holy men and women by the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, let us not be in our turn inquisitors. Make way for divine wrath. If self-wrath were restrained, surely bigotry would cease, and persecution would be banished from the earth.
Romans 12:20.—Here are figurative expressions for the general duties of benevolence.
Romans 12:21.—He is conquered by evil who wishes another to sin. He has sinned himself who strives to make another sin. Love is the conqueror. We cannot always tell where it prevails. If it do not seem to succeed in this world, it shall triumph in the world to come. How the early Church triumphed! Justin Martyr says: “That we who have given our names to Jesus do not draw back our profession while we are beheaded, crucified, exposed to wild beasts, and tortured by hooks, fire, and all kinds of torture, is sufficiently manifest; and the more that such tortures are exercised upon us, so much the more do others become believers and worshippers of the true religion through the name of Jesus.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 12:20-21
Remedial punishment.—In this section, which treats of Christian morals, St. Paul refers three times to the book of Proverbs—another example of his respect, in every point, for the Old Testament. In Romans 12:20 we find an almost verbal repetition of Solomon’s advice: “If thine enemy hunger, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward thee.” The corrupt precept of the Jews was, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.” The Lord gave a new commandment: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that persecute you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” That which Jesus taught He practised.
I. A method of punishment which is novel.—To return good for good is human; to return evil for evil is carnal; to return evil for good is devilish; to return good for evil is divine. This last is peculiar to Christianity,—peculiar, we should say, to a small portion of Christendom; so peculiar that when it is practised it strikes the world with astonishment. Too often we try to kill our enemies with shells and grape-shot, and not with sweet loaves and refreshing drinks. Too often our highest pitch of goodness is to make an effort to be kind to our enemies. We shake hands, but the hand wants the loving grasp; we utter words, but there is in them no heart and little love.
II. A method of punishment which is severe.—The figure “coals of fire” is common among the Arabs and Hebrews to denote a vehement pain. If there be any sensitiveness left in the enemy, he will be severely punished by deeds of kindness. In the highest sense the enemy is not punished whose physical nature merely is tortured. The enemy is punished when the moral nature is made ashamed and sees the enormity of his hostile attacks.
III. A method of punishment which is remedial.—Human methods of punishment are for the most part repressive and not remedial; divine methods are intended to be remedial. Meyer observes that in the expression “coals of fire” there is no allusion whatever to the idea of softening or melting the object. Some of our commentators are very dogmatic. Dogma is good when it furnishes satisfactory reasons for its position. Surely Meyer’s interpretation opens out the way for an ingenious method of revenge. Once we saw the picture of the inquisitor who killed the man by hope; here is the Christian feeding the man in order to kill him. We cannot believe that punishment without a remedial purpose is part of the divine teaching. These “coals of fire” must both punish and soften. Whether Meyer be correct or not, we are sure that this kind of punishment is likely to lead to repentance and salvation. Divine justice is preventive; divine love is remedial and reforming. The stripes of the cat-o’-nine-tails hurt and degrade; the stripes of love hurt and reform and ennoble. The coals of fire which revengeful disciples invoke would consume; the coals of fire which Christ pours forth consume the evil and develop the good.
IV. A method of punishment which has a beneficial reflex action.—The man who tries to do good, even though his effort may fail, gets good. When we seek to do harm to our enemies, we do great harm to ourselves. On earth’s battle-fields, in a moral sense at least, victory is not differenced from defeat; fiendish passions rage through the embattled hosts; there is no difference. He that overcomes evil with good overcomes three enemies at once—the devil, his adversary, and himself. The self-conqueror is the noblest and mightiest. The very effort to kindle coals of fire is beneficial. All effort is beneficial which has a noble purpose. We want love’s fires glowing in this frozen world—coals of fire, not from beneath, but from above. Earth’s colliers may refuse coals of fire when anger is provoked, when bad passions are in the ascendant; heaven’s workmen toil the harder to produce coals of fire when the world is cold, when enmity is great. Love’s coals of fire blazing from every mountain top, burning in every valley, shining in every home, warming every heart, would make a world over which angels would raise their gladdest songs.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 12:20-21
Treating an enemy kindly is beneficial.—This method of treating an enemy is prescribed, not merely because it is abstractly right in principle, but also as the best practical means of a specific beneficial result. Do him good in return for evil, for thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. The idea of a furnace is introduced here with reference to the smelting and moulding of ore, and not to the torture of living creatures. The coals of fire suggest, not the pain of punishment to the guilty, but the benefit of getting his heart softened and the dross removed from his character. Love poured out in return for hatred will be what the burning coals are to the ore—it will melt and purify. In the smelting of metals, whether on a large or small scale, it is necessary that the burning coals should be above the ore as well as beneath it. The melting fuel and the rude stones are mingled together, and brought into contact particle by particle throughout the mass. It is thus that the resistance of the stubborn material is overcome and the precious separated from the vile. The analogy gives the expressive view both of the injurer’s hardness and the power of the forgiver’s love. Christians meet much obdurate evil in the world. It is not their part either peevishly to fret or proudly to plan revenge. The Lord has in this matter distinctly traced the path for His disciples, and hedged it in. It is their business to render good for evil; to pile forgiveness over injuries, layer upon layer, as diligently and patiently as those swarthy labourers heave loads of coal over the iron ore within the furnace, and not merely in conformity with the abstract idea of transcendental virtue, but with the object as directly utilitarian as that which the miner pursues. The Christian’s aim, like the miner’s, is to melt, and so make valuable the substance which in its present state is hard in itself and hurtful to those it touches. The Americans have on this subject a tract entitled The Man who killed his Neighbour. It contains, in the form of a narrative, many practical suggestions on the act of overcoming evil with good. It is with kindness—modest, thoughtful, generous, unwearied kindness—that the benevolent countryman kills his churlish neighbour; and it is only the old evil man he kills, leaving a new man to lead a very different life in the same village after the dross has been purged away. If any one desire to try this work, he must bring to it at least these two qualifications—modesty and patience. If he proceed with the air of superiority and the consciousness of his own virtue, he will never make one step of progress. The subject will day by day grow harder in his hands. But even though the successive acts of kindness should be genuine, the operator must lay his account with a tedious process and with many disappointments. Many instances of good rendered for evil may seem to have been thrown away, and no symptom of penitence appear in the countenance or conduct of the evildoer; but be not weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not. Although your enemy have resisted your deeds of kindness even unto seventy times seven, it does not follow that all or that any part of this has been lost. At last the enmity will suddenly give way and flow down in penitence at some single act, perhaps not greater than any of those which preceded it, but every one that preceded contributed to the great result.—Arnot.
The conquest of evil.—Among sacred writers St. Paul is especially remarkable for his great gift of sympathy with human nature and human thought. In the case before us he has been inculcating a long list of difficult duties as belonging to a serious Christian life. Do not the difficulties which lie in the way of them appear to such as you and I to be almost insurmountable? This is the undercurrent of our thoughts, and St. Paul meets it by his closing words, which are not, mark you, so much an additional precept as a summing up of all the precepts that have gone before by a practical appeal to a general principle “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now here are implied two things about evil—first, its aggressive strength, and, next, our capacity for not merely resisting but subduing it. Evil is the creature repudiating the law of its being by turning away its desire from Him who is the source, the centre, the end of its existence. If it be urged that God, in making a man free, must have foreseen that man would thus abuse his freedom, it must be replied that God’s horizons are wider than ours, and that we may not unreasonably believe that He foresaw, in the very cure of evil, a good which would more than compensate for its existence—that, if sin abounded, grace would much more abound. If one thing be more wonderful than another amid the many mysteries which surround the presence of evil in the world of the good and gracious God, it is the enthusiasm with which it is propagated. It has at this hour in this great city its earnest missionaries and apostles. It creates and disseminates whole literatures: here reasoning, refining, in every sense presentable; there passionate, blasphemous, revolting. It makes its converts, and then in turn it adroitly enlists them in the work of conversion. It retreats—when for the moment it does retreat—only that it presently may advance the better. Everywhere it gives a thinking man the impression, not of being simply an inert obstacle to goodness, but of being the energetic, intelligent, onward movement of some personal activity. “Be not overcome of evil.” It is not, then, a resistless invader; it is not invincible, for it is not the work of an eternal being or principle. Strong as it is, it is strictly a product of created wills. If the Oriental belief in a second principle be true, we might resign ourselves to evil as inevitable; if the pantheistic belief in the identification of God with all created activity, we might learn to regard it with complacency. As Christians we know evil to be both hateful and not invincible. It is our duty to abhor it; yet it is also our duty and within our power to overcome it. True it often beleaguers the soul like an investing force, which, besides cutting off supplies of strength from without, has its allies too truly in our weakness and passions within, and ever and anon makes an assault which might even prove fatal. But, for all that, it is not our master. It may be conquered, not by its own weapons, but by weapons of another kind—as the apostle says, “with good.” Good, like evil, is not a mere abstraction; it is at bottom a living person. If evil be personified in Satan, good is personified in the divine Christ; and Satan, if conquered, must be conquered by the aid of his living, personal Antagonist. Christ and His cleansing blood, Christ and the grace of His Spirit, Christ and the virtues which Christ creates in man, are more than a match for evil, whether in our own heart or in society around us. His patience is stronger than human violence, His gentleness than the brutal rudeness of man, His humility than the world’s lofty scorn, His divine charity than its cruelty and hatred.—Canon Liddon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Romans 12:20. Revenge.—During the American revolutionary war there was living in Pennsylvania Peter Miller, pastor of a little Baptist church. Near the church lived a man who secured an unenviable notoriety by his abuse of Miller and the Baptists. He was also guilty of treason, and was for this sentenced to death. No sooner was the sentence pronounced than Peter Miller set out on foot to visit General Washington at Philadelphia to intercede for the man’s life. He was told that his prayer for his friend could not be granted. “My friend!” exclaimed Miller, “I have not a worse enemy living than that man.” “What!” rejoined Washington; “you have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That in my judgment puts the matter in a different light. I will grant you his pardon.” The pardon was at once made out, and Miller at once proceeded on foot to a place fifteen miles distant, where the execution was to take place on the afternoon of the same day. He arrived just as the man was being carried to the scaffold, who, seeing Miller in the crowd, remarked, “There is old Peter Miller. He has walked all the way from Ephrata to have his revenge gratified to-day by seeing me hung.” These words were scarcely spoken before Miller gave him his pardon, and his life was spared.
Romans 12:21. Forgiveness.—The Caliph Hassan, son of Hali, being at table, a slave accidentally dropped a dish of meat, which, being very hot, severely burnt him. The slave, affrighted, instantly fell on his knees before his lord, and repeated these words of the Alcoran: “Paradise is for those who restrain their anger.” “I am not angry with thee,” replied the caliph. “And for those who forgive offences,” continued the slave. “I forgive thee,” added the caliph. “But above all for those who return good for evil,” said the slave. “I set thee at liberty,” rejoined the caliph, “and give thee ten dinaras.” Shall we say we have not seen so great charity, no, not in Christendom? We remember with satisfaction a Cranmer of whom it was affirmed, “Do that man an ill-turn, and you will make him your friend for ever.”
Romans 12:21. Tikhon, the poor man’s friend.—We know not that we have read a finer instance of the overcoming of evil with good, and of wrath and pride with humility and love, than in the following incident related of Tikhon bishop of Varonej, in Russia. Tikhon, a very holy man, promoted many reforms among clergy and laity. He was pre-eminently the poor man’s friend, and was among the first, if not the first of all, who wrote in favour of the serfs, and who urged that emancipation of them which some time after (about sixty years after his death) was actually accomplished. “As a friend of serfs,” relates Mr. Hepworth Dixon, “he one day went to the house of a prince, in the district of Varonej, to point out some wrong which they were suffering on his estate, and to beg him, for the sake of Jesus, to be tender with the poor. The prince got angry with his guest for putting the thing so plainly into words, and in the midst of some sharp speech between them struck him in the face. Tikhon rose up and left the house; but when he had walked some time he began to see that he, no less than his host, was in the wrong. ‘This man,’ he said to himself, ‘has done a deed of which, on cooling down, he will feel ashamed. Who has caused him to do that wrong? It was my doing,’ sighed the reformer, turning on his heel and going straight back into the house. Falling at the prince’s feet, Tikhon craved his pardon for having stirred him into wrath and caused him to commit a sin. The prince was so astonished that he knelt down by the good man, and, kissing his hands, implored his forgiveness and benediction. From that hour, it is said, the prince was another man, noticeable through all the province of Varonej for his kindness to the serfs.” Which of us, in daily life, will do as Tikhon did, and overcome by humility?