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Romans 14:1. Him that is weak in the faith.—Defective in the faith, in the general doctrine, and thus an observer of externals. Alford and De Wette refer to the weak in faith as one who wants broad and independent principles, and is in consequent bondage to prejudices. διαλογισμοί, opinions, views, thoughts. Often much disputing among the Rabbins on receiving proselytes on account of some supposed disqualification. The subject of the former chapter was submission; the subject of this is toleration.
Romans 14:2.—The weak thought that he would be more tolerated by abstaining, not only from swine’s flesh, but all flesh (Theoph.).
Romans 14:3.—Applies to both parties; evident from their being enlightened with the knowledge of God (Calvin, Stuart).
Romans 14:4. For God is able to make him stand.—Here we have both power and will, and the passage indicates God’s merciful disposition.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:1-45.14.4
The weak and the strong.—St. Paul’s knowledge of human nature comes out from time to time in his writings. The preacher should be a man conversant with both men and things. He should have eyes behind and before, and be able to search into the hidden mysteries of human nature. Thus St. Paul is an example to the preacher. By graphic strokes of the pen Paul touches the weakness of the strong as well as the weakness of the weak. Both require words of direction; none must be neglected by the faithful minister. St. Paul looks all round, and strives to produce a well-ordered Christian community.
I. The weak and the strong have their faults.—Sometimes the strong are found weaker than the weak; their very strength is an occasion of stumbling. Strength may beget an overweening self-confidence, which leads to destruction; weakness may induce carefulness, which tends to safety. The creaking gate hangs long. The weak ones linger; the strong are cut down suddenly when sickness attacks. The strong may err on the side of liberty, the weak on the side of restraint. The strong may have a contemptuous spirit and mien; he may become impatient of the weak, and treat him with disdain. The weak may have a censorious spirit, and charge the strong with being guilty of gluttony and drunkenness. The weak said of the strong Christ, “Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” The strong may be too tolerant except of weakness, while the weak may be intolerant. Our danger in these days is that of the ambition of being men of strength, which means men of broad views—men with no crotchets, which means too often men of no principles. Men with crotchets are strong; the strongest part of the plank is that where the knot is found.
II. The weak and the strong are levelled.—They are levelled, or ought to be, by the consciousness of common weaknesses. Strong men are but men at the best. A Samson may be bound captive and led blind to the scene of merriment; a Solomon may be overthrown by lust; a Peter may be frightened by a maid’s thoughtless speech. How short the distance between the strong and the weak! There is but a step between us and death. That step taken, and the strong man falls. A little vessel bursts, and the strong intellect loses its power; a wrong word is spoken, and the voice of the orator is not allowed to charm; a false step is taken, and the warrior is banished; the brother of high degree is overtaken in a fault, and is brought low. How wholesome the exhortation, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye”! In your strength consider your weakness, and let your hearts and your arms be always open to welcome and to receive the weak. Strong and weak are levelled when brought within the sweep of Omnipotence. Can there be any appreciable difference between the weak who lifts a few ounces and the strong who lifts many pounds to Him who weighs the mountains in scales and holds the immense waters in the hollow of His hands? If the strong God receive the weak children of men, those who dwell in houses made of clay, shall not weak men, who call themselves strong, and who are strong by comparison, receive the children of weakness? If the strong God receive us to divine consolations, to sublime communion, shall we not receive our brethren in the same spirit, and lay aside all doubtful disputations, all harsh thoughts, all deprecating views? How strong was He who came travelling in His greatness of His strength, mighty to save! By common consent of Christians and of unbelievers Jesus Christ has been assigned the foremost place amongst the strong ones of earth’s stalwart sons. And yet with tender tones of welcome, with gentle caresses of love, He received the weak. He took the children in His arms; He was the friend of publicans and sinners. We are ambitious to be Christ’s for strength; let us be ambitious to be Christ’s for gentleness to the weak and erring. Let us not break, but seek to mend, the bruised reeds of our maimed humanity; let us not quench, but seek to fan into a spiritual flame, the smoking flax of the expiring heaven fires in human nature.
III. The weak and the strong are mutually needful.—A place for every man, and every man in his place. A law both for the world and the Church; but selfishness prevents its right working. A place for every man! And yet how many men out of places! Selfishness says, The weakest must go to the wall; Christian benevolence says, The weakest must be received and nurtured into greater strength by the strongest. Christian benevolence has wiser methods than cynical selfishness. The weak as well as the strong are needful; the weak gather strength by contact with the strong, and the strong get more strength by helping the weak. We are all needful to one another. Let, then, the strong receive the weak; and let the weak gladly accept the help of the strong.
IV. The weak and the strong are servants of the divine Master.—God has had patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, amongst His servants. Giant-like men have done His bidding; eagle-eyed heroes have watched His purposes; stalwart men with strong and swift pinions have done His bidding. Wisdom and eloquence have been at the divine command; but weak ones have been of service. She who could only show her love by tears, and she who could only tell the wealth of her devotion by giving two mites, stood high in the estimation of the divine Master. The strong may be ready to smile at the weakness of the brother who is almost afraid to eat lest he should offend God. But surely there is a fine spirit in that over-sensitive nature, and God appreciates the exquisite tenderness. In this tolerant age, when the Church sets the lead in fashion, in creed rejects but in practice accepts the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye, and mostly the pride of life, we require the weak to teach us the need of a little more sensitiveness of conscience, of a greater tenderness of moral nature.
V. The weak and the strong must be alike holden up by immortal strength.—God is able to make the weak stand. His ability has been proved from time to time in the records of the human race. Weak women have been made to stand, and have shamed mighty men by their exhibition of unwonted courage. Those who have been so fastidious in non-essentials as to provoke the contempt of the strong by divine power have been made to stand gloriously in the day of battle. The strongest likewise must be made to stand by God’s imparted strength. The encircling strength of God embraces and empowers the weak and the strong. In ourselves we are all weak; in God’s grace, by the Spirit’s might, we are infinitely strong.
Romans 14:1. The strong helping the weak.—The words very remarkable, considering that they fell from the lips of a Jew. By birth, education, and interest he was as exclusive as could be. He would naturally have the national fault of “self-exalting opinion”—the false notion that God’s highest blessings were only for Jews. He had to conquer his Jewish prejudices, and fight his way through that narrow spirit of isolation that encircled him. The story of Paul’s life and his teachings shows how thoroughly he did this. We have suggested here:—
I. The remarkable effect of Christianity on men.—It almost amounts to miracle. Examples in history numerous. Note the contrasts between pagans and Christians in the matter of the strong dealing with the weak. Paganism, e.g., said that modesty in a woman was a presumption of ugliness. It is one of the strong points of Christianity. Slavery never put down except where Christianity was in force. Before Christianity makes itself felt anywhere there is an awful waste of human life—e.g., in Dahomey three thousand victims when the mother of the king of Ashantee died! Christianity always insisted that human life was sacred. Each soul for whom Christ died could say, My life is precious in the sight of God. Such a fact has led to modern charities; and all due to the work of the great burden-bearer, Christ Jesus. And Christians are to imitate Him.
II. The text indicates that Christianity is catholic.—Broad in its sympathies and influence. Christianity is not national and exclusive, not the heritage of English-speaking people. Christianity cares nothing about nationality, but for the salvation of all men everywhere. This is unwelcome news to some. They want to be within the select circle. Paul is ruthless in dealing with such narrowness. You who are strong, he seems to say, go and help your weaker brethren; show them your light; tell them it is for them also, because for them also Christ died.
III. The text suggests the neighbourliness of Christianity.—This neighbourliness exactly fits in with our natural feelings. May we not look upon a recluse as a freak of nature? Men, take them in the mass, cannot separate themselves from the outward world without a pang. The old monks “mortified” themselves by going into the gloomy monastery. Loneliness is a source of misery to the average individual. Possibly in the earliest days men tried isolation, but could not stand it. Therefore they formed themselves into communities; built villages, towns, cities, that they might come into touch with each other. Where Christianity exerts its influence men will not be satisfied with mere community. The theories that hold people together have practical expression. They must help one another—the strong help the weak.
IV. Imitation of Christ leaves no alternative but to be helpful.—To be hard-hearted is to be unlike Christ; and he who is unlike Christ cannot be Christ’s disciple. Christ was emphatically a burden-bearer. Where He saw men strong and stalwart He passed on. “They that be whole,” He said, “need not,” etc. To help one who is capable of helping himself is a waste of energy, and likely to encourage idleness; but to help the needy is to exercise the soul in a noble calling. “We ought to bear the weak, and carry them along with us as we go.” There is a kind of unconscious Christianity—namely, the little helps as we pass on life’s way.
V. The world is poorer than it might have been for want of the spirit of helpfulness.—Some of us who are strong have much to answer for—to answer for the pang of dismay in the weak one when a cheery word would have been so helpful. It would almost be a blessing if we had a bit of smart suffering to remind us of the value of a little help. Then we should be less critical, more considerate, less self-absorbed, especially any of us who are spiritually strong.
VI. Helpfulness is a duty.—“We that are strong ought,” etc. Think of the multitude of calls for such help: the sick, the poor, the ignorant, etc. We need of course to be discriminating in our helpfulness. There is a poverty, e.g., the result of vice, a laziness that leads to rags and tatters. But what of deserving poverty? There you dare not be indifferent We can all be Christians in the world. Do not pass any by, for Christ never did that to any poor soul. He bare our sorrows. If you would be Christlike, so must you be a sorrow-bearer. Do you say, Yes; but the cost! Think, then, of the cost to Jesus. “He came in flesh, in poverty, in homelessness, in tears, with shudderings of nameless agony, that He might drink up our sorrow in the vastness of His own, and that He might open springs of everlasting consolation to all the children of trouble.” Should any one find that Christians forget their duty, let him go to Christ. You have but to take your trouble to Him, and He, so strong in sympathy, will give you help. It is He who says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour,” etc.—Albert Lee.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 14:1-45.14.4
Christian casuistry.—There is a kind of minuter casuistry which it is extremely difficult to handle from the mere want of something very distinct or tangible to hold by, and about which there is the greatest degree of indecision, and that just from the loss at which we feel to get any decisive principle of unquestioned evidence and authority to bear upon it. And so it is that even the Christian mind fluetuates thereanent, and exhibits itself upon this subject in a state both of vacillation and variety. For while one class of the professors is heard to declaim and to dogmatise and most strenuously to asseverate with all the readiness of minds that are thoroughly made up on the matters alluded to, there is another class of them who cannot assume this certainty without cause being shown, who must have something more to allege for the vindication of their peculiarities than the mere conventional shibboleth of a party, and who wait till a clear reason approve itself to their judgments ere they can utter with their mouths a clear and confident deliverance. Some may have already guessed what the questions are to which we are now adverting. They relate to the degree of our conformity with the world, and to the share which it were lawful to take in its companies and amusements. You must be aware on this topic of a certain unsettledness of opinion; while we know of none that wakens a more anxious degree of interest and speculation among those who are honestly aspiring after the right, and are most fearfully sensitive of the wrong in all their conversation. And if to tenderness of conscience they add a certain force of intelligence, they will not be satisfied with a mere oracular response from those who seem to be somewhat, and who speak as if from the vantage ground of their long initiation into higher mysteries. They are prepared for every surrender, and are in readiness to follow fully wherever the light of Scripture or of argument may carry them; but this light is the very thing they want and are in quest of. It is their demand for the rationale of this matter, with the difficulty they feel in reaching it, that has thrown them into a kind of harassment about the whole affair from which they long to be extricated. And neither in the magisterial but improved dictation of one set of Christians, nor in the yet unstable practice of another set of Christians, who are hovering about the margin that separates the Church from the world, and ever tremulously veering between the sides of accommodation and nonconformity therewith. From neither of these parties in the great professing public of our day can they find repose to their spirits, because from neither they have found effectual relief to the painful ambiguity under which they are labouring. What has now drawn our attention more especially to this subject is its strong identity in regard to principle with that question of Sabbath observation which we have recently attempted to elucidate. The elements of Christian liberty and expediency and charity appear to be similarly involved in both, so as that we may avail ourselves of the same guidance as before from the manner in which the apostle hath cleared and discriminated his way through the controversy that arose in his time about meats and days and ceremonies. It is, indeed, a very possible thing that Christianity may be made to wear another aspect than that in which she smiles so benignantly upon us from the New Testament—that, instead of a religion of freedom, because her only control is that of heavenly and high-born principle wherewith she rules, and by moral ascendency alone, over her willing and delighted votaries, she may be transformed into a narrow system of bigotry, whose oppressive mandates of “touch not and taste not and handle not” bear no relation whatever to the spiritual department of our nature—only galling and subordinating the outer man, while they leave the inner man as remote, both in principle and affection, from the likeness of God or the character of godliness as before. Better surely to impregnate the man’s heart, first with the taste and spirit of our religion, and then, if this should supersede the taste and affection he before had for the frivolities of life, it impresses a far nobler character of freeness and greatness on the change of habit that has taken place, when thus made to emanate from a change of heart, than when it appears in the light of a reluctant compliance with a rigid exaction of intolerance, the rationality and rightness of which are at the same time not very distinctly apprehended. Let the reformation in question, if reformation it be, come forth upon the habit of the man in this way—as the final upshot of a process by which the heart has been reformed, as the fruit of an internal change that has taken place on the taste and on the affections, through the power of the truth that is in Jesus, and whereby all old things have passed away and all things have become new. Better thus than by a mandate on the subject issued from the chair of authority. But it is now time to have done with this long excursion among the details and the difficulties of a casuistry by which the Christian mind has oft been exercised. For let it never be forgotten that a heart with rightly set affections and desires is, after all, the best of casuists. If the heart in its various regards be as it ought, this is our securest guarantee that the history in its various manifestations will be as it ought. The best way of restoring to light and to liberty the conscience of man is to enthrone love in his bosom.—Dr. Chalmers.
The effects of Christianity.—Raphael Aben-Ezra, an Alexandrian cynic, was won over to Christianity by the example of a Christian Roman centurion and his children. “I have watched you,” he said, “for many a day, and not in vain. When I saw you, an experienced officer, encumber your flight with wounded men, I was only surprised. But since I have seen you and your daughter, and, strangest of all, your gay Alcibiades of a son, starving yourselves to feed these poor ruffians, performing for them day and night the offices of menial slaves, comforting them as no man ever comforted me, blaming no one but yourselves, caring for every one but yourselves, sacrificing nothing but yourselves, and all this without hope of fame or reward, or dream of appeasing the wrath of any god or goddess, but simply because you thought it right,—when I saw that, sir, and more which I have seen; and when, reading in this book here, I found most unexpectedly those very grand moral rules which you were practising, seeming to spring unconsciously, as natural results, from the great thoughts, true or false, which had preceded them; then, sir, I began to suspect that the creed which could produce such deeds as I have watched within the last few days might have on its side, not merely a slight preponderance of probabilities, but what we Jews used once to call, when we believed in it—or in anything—the mighty power of God.”—Kingsley’s “Hypatia.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:1-45.14.4. Weak faith encouraged.—How many “stretch lame hands of faith, and grope and gather dust and chaff”! To be weak is to be miserable; and how often it means to be despised! The revivalist says, “Hope will not do; we must be certain of our salvation. I am as sure of heaven as if I were there.” But St. Paul says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.” The revivalist rejects weak faith. Christ will neither break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. The former He repairs until it sings sweetly of mercy; the latter He fans until it becomes a shining flame. A weak Christian is better than a boasting Pharisee.
“I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar stairs
That slope through darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.”
Romans 14:4-45.14.5. No one to be despised.—An Englishman, a native of Yorkshire, going to reside at Kingston, in Jamaica, was reduced from a state of affluence to very great distress; so much so, that in the time of sickness he was destitute of home, money, medicine, food, and friends. Just in this time of need an old Christian negro offered his assistance, which being gladly accepted, this “neighbour to him” bought medicine, and administered it himself, furnished nourishment, sat up three nights, and, in short, acted the part of doctor, nurse, and host. Through the blessing of God the old negro’s efforts were rendered successful in the recovery of the sick man, who then inquired what expenses he had been at, and promised remuneration as soon as possible. The generous old Christian replied, “Massa, you owe me nothing; me owe you much still.” “How do you make that out?” said the restored man. “Why, massa, me never able to pay you, because you taught me to read de word of God!” This reply so affected the man that he resolved from that time to seek the Lord.
Romans 14:5.—Here the seventh day, Sabbath, is included, but not the Christian Sunday, which was of apostolic authority, and has plainly divine sanction, and is a continuation of the Adamic Sabbath. Let every man be fully persuaded, act with full persuasion, that what he does is right. Let him have conviction founded on examination. Every man is bound to obey his conscience, but let conscience be properly enlightened and prompted by love to the Lord of the Sabbath. In the words κρίνει πᾶσαν ἡμέραν, says Olshausen, is expressed the original apostolic view, which did not distinguish particular festivals, because to it the whole life of Christ had become a festival. As, however, the season of the Church’s prime passed away, the necessity could not but at the same time have again made itself felt of giving prominence to points of festival light in the general current of every-day life.
Romans 14:6.—Each must seek to do what he conscientiously believes to be the Lord’s will.
MAIN HOMILETIC S OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:5-45.14.6
Variety of opinion, unity of spirit.—There may be no direct allusion to the Christian Sunday in this passage, and there may be no pronouncement either for or against the observance of a fixed day, as there is no declaration against either eating or not eating. Why the apostle did not say it is good to keep the Christian Sunday when he said, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth,” we cannot tell. But we find that he lays down a principle which should lead every right mind to the religious observance of one day in seven. He allows variety of opinion; he enforces unity of spirit, and that spirit is that all is to be done unto the Lord. If anything be left undone, it is thus left because the omission will work more truly to God’s glory. Can it be truly said and successfully maintained that the abrogation of Sunday observance will tend to the glory of God? Do our Sunday pleasure-takers and our Sunday business men either enter the excursion train, indulge in their pleasures, or pursue their secular avocations “unto the Lord”?
I. The spirit of consecration asks for full persuasion.—
1. Now full persuasion cannot be obtained without serious examination. And that process cannot be called serious examination which comes to the consideration of the divine word with preconceived views. People who work on these lines say they are willing to be enlightened. Their willinghood is doubtful, for they never find any teachers skilful enough to enlighten. Has a man given serious examination to this passage who says, That is all right; St. Paul advocates all days alike. No rigid sabbatarianism for me. Let me have liberty of opinion? Is not this man treated ironically by St. Paul? How can a man discern every day? There is no longer any distinction when all are distinguished. To set apart every day as holy is no longer to sanctify any one specially. To consecrate all our substance unto the Lord, and to refuse to “render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” is a plain contradiction. Would an income-tax collector allow a man to escape on the plea that all his income is consecrated to the Queen? The tribute of days as well as the tribute of money should be consecrated unto the Lord.
2. Serious examination cannot be conducted without consideration of all the evidence. It would not be admissible in the court of law that evidence should not be adduced, and it must not be admitted in the court of conscience. We must carefully consider the cases of those who distinguish one day in seven and those who distinguish all days, and ask which class shows more emphatically that they are ruled and actuated by the spirit of consecration unto the Lord. The inner spirit is known by the outer life. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The inner spirit of consecrating all our days is shown by the outer life of consecrating unto the Lord one day in seven. The inner spirit of love is shown by the outer deed of love. It breaks the alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious, and pours it on the head of the predestined victim. It might have been sold and given to the poor, says selfishness. Love says, No; it must be consecrated to this highest service. Selfishness says, The true spirit is to consecrate all days to noble endeavours. Let there be no empty sentiment; let there be no waste of time according to priestly ordering. Love says, No; one day in seven must be consecrated to the service of the All-loving, that so all days may be ennobled, that so in the recurring days the loving heart may pour itself out in an unrestrained stream of devotion. The love of some men rises above their creed. They advocate all days alike, and yet they sacredly keep their Sundays.
II. The spirit of consecration is fully persuaded of the wisdom of observing fixed days.—Lest the Sabbatarian may be said to come to the consideration of the divine word and of the divine ordinances with preconceived views, it may be needful to show that such views are not hastily formed. All the evidence which can be adduced goes to prove that Sunday is indispensable to the establishment and propagation of Christianity in the world. Let us then bring forward some of the advantages of a fixed day of rest to both the individual and the community. We doubt not that there have evils arisen from the observance of Sunday as a day of rest. But where are we to find the unmixed good? The tares and the wheat will grow together, farm we never so carefully. Shall we give up growing wheat because we cannot prevent the springing up of tares? Shall we cease the work of trying to join good men in Christian communities because hypocrites will appear? Nay, verily. The abuse of a custom does not nullify its wise use. The perversion of an institution does not abrogate its authority and its necessity. Our Sunday must abide, though it may have attendant evils; and yet the evils are few and fanciful. They are the evils of depraved human nature rather than the evils of the day of rest; while the blessings are real and manifold.
1. A fixed, day of rest and of religious observance fences humanity, at least that part of humanity that does not break through the Sabbath hedge; and such violators place themselves in the dangerous position of being exposed to the bite of the serpents that lurk on the outside of the sacred enclosure. Still the Sunday fence is more extended than we sometimes think. It has warded off much evil even from the heads of those who flout its protective qualities. Those who make merry at the expense of the righteous, and try to show that more evil happens to the Sabbath observer than to the Sabbath breaker, should bear in mind that the latter is moving under the protecting shield of the former. In this world the wicked even are benefited by the sufferings and the virtue of the righteous. Ten righteous would have saved a cityful, but there were not ten to be found. The true Sunday observers form a small proportion of the nation, but they are its protection. The sound stones in the national fabric may be few, but they prevent a national collapse. The Sunday fence encloses and benefits even the perverse; and much more does it benefit the faithful and the obedient. The Sunday observer is forced from the intrusion of business, from the calls of secular life, and from the attacks of so-called pleasure.
2. A day of rest and religious observance helps human weakness. It is a strange feature of our nature that it should be averse to religion and yet cannot get away from it. Even in regenerate men there are adverse forces at work, and when they would do good evil is present. Two opposite forces are at work in the soul, one set drawing to religion and to goodness, and the other drawing in an opposite direction. What a constant strife rages in the town of Man-soul! The world within a man, even of a good man, is not all on the side of good. And the world outside the man is not engaged to help him forward to moral victory. The powers of evil and good are continually striving for the mastery, and we often fear that the good will be worsted in the encounter; yea, we too often find that evil conquers and the man is dethroned. This being so we cannot wisely dispense with any help which may be available to render the contest successful. A fixed day of rest is a valuable help by the way which cannot be ignored. And we may regard it not as a mere secondary but as a primary help. It is the source of much precious assistance. It brings more vividly before the mind the feeling of our personal responsibility and our immortal destiny. In the secular days we are apt to be of the earth earthy; while the manifest tendency of the Sunday is to raise above the earth, and thus we are strengthened for further conflict. Ask any good man to give up his Sunday. The request would be absurd. As well ask the soldier to give up his weapons of defence in the day of battle, the sailor to abandon the life-buoy when battling with the waves. The Sunday provides invisible weapons of defence, and is a sustaining force amid life’s dark billows and howling tempests. It is helpful to the weak, and the strongest require its gracious aids.
3. A day of rest and religious worship furthers noble endeavour. The language of the good man is, “I will endeavour.” He is not either vain-glorious or insanely self-reliant. When despair rests upon the human soul, one little ray of hope piercing the darkness will do a world of good. “I will endeavour” is apostolic language, and is a suitable motto for the man struggling to the upward heights. Sunday refreshes and recruits the weary spirit of the endeavouring man. He has made many endeavours, and has failed; but Sunday teaches that what are called failures in the moral battle are not all failures if we are still found in the pathway of endeavour. It can give higher motives for perseverance, encourages to further action, and assures final victory to the faithful.
4. A fixed day of rest and religious worship provides a blessed outlook. It opens a large prospect which must be invigorating. The pilgrims in their journey went up the Delectable Mountains to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water. There they drank and washed themselves, and did freely eat of the vineyards. Then the shepherds had the pilgrims to the top of a high hill called Clear, from which could be seen the gates of the celestial city. Sundays are as the Delectable Mountains, where are gardens and orchards, vineyards and fountains of water. Here weary pilgrims can drink and freely eat and be refreshed. Amongst these mountains is many a hill Clear, from which, if we have the skill and the glass of faith, we may see the gates of the celestial city. Sunday is the high hill Clear towering above all other days. Even when the hands shake as the glass is held by reason of our remembrance of life’s perplexities, we may see farther than on any other day. We cannot do without our hills and mountains; they impress with a sense of the sublime. Much less can we part with our Sundays, the Delectable Mountains of time; they often show us the opened gates of heaven. We look in through those pearly gates, and behold the city shines like the sun; the streets also are paved with gold; and in them walk many men with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises withal.
III. The spirit of consecration is persuaded that the Christian Sunday is the substance which glorifies the shadow.—The shadow often consists of dim and imperfect outlines. The sketch is a rough draft of the perfect picture which is to appear, and much work, skill, and patience will be required before the production is completed. Now the Sabbath of Eden and of Sinai is regarded by some as a rude sketch; though we consider that it is something more than a mere cloudy and disproportioned shadow, we may still consider it as a shadow, and remark that the Sabbath of the Old Testament is glorified by the Christian Sunday.
1. The substance glorifies the shadow by intensifying its beneficent aspect. The careful reading of the fourth commandment shows what a beneficent precept it is. It enjoins benevolent considerateness for all within the range of our influence. It treats for the physical and moral welfare of the human creature, and touches the brute creature with kind and gentle hand. And the divine Founder of Christianity intensifies this beneficent aspect. Those watchwords of the sabbatic controversy, “The Sabbath was made for man,” unfold the Saviour’s idea. Some of the most remarkable of His miracles were performed on this day. Wherever the Christian Sunday has been properly worked it has been a beneficent force. The physical evils of modern society are still many, but the amelioration of those evils has been due to the advance of Christian principles stimulating the movements of a true science. Sunday is one of the great means of keeping those principles before the world. It is a beneficent institution which has either directly or indirectly promoted and nurtured most of our modern benevolent enterprises.
2. The substance glorifies the shadow by giving to it a rich spiritual tone. Some read the fourth commandment as if it were a mere regimen of physical rest for those who felt no need of and had no desire for spiritual rest. This, however, is to read the commandment superficially. The seventh day is to be kept holy, and this cannot be done by mere idleness. The true refreshing repose for body and soul is to be found in spiritual employments. The highest repose is enjoyed by the angels, and yet they rest not day nor night. Jesus Christ, by reproving the unauthorised sabbatic restrictions of the Jews, declares the spiritual nature of the Sabbath. It is a day to be observed spiritually, and was thus observed by the apostles and first founders of the Christian Church. St. John gives emphasis to this idea when he says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” This may mean a special spiritual influence, a pneumatic condition, when great disclosures were made. Nevertheless every Christian seeking to keep the Lord’s day aright will in his measure come under spiritual influence and have his divine manifestations to the soul. Here it may be noted that the expiassions “the Lord’s day” and “the first day of the week” indicate that this first day was one of public social worship amongst Christians in the apostolic age. The appellation “Lord’s day” occurs nowhere in the New Testament except in this passage. But it occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius, who calls it “the Lord’s day—the queen and prince of days.” Chrysostom says, “It was called the Lord’s day because the Lord arose from the dead on that day.” Eusebius in his commentary on the Psalms says: “The Word (Christ) by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light, and gave us the symbol of true rest—viz., the saving Lord’s day, the first day of the light in which the Saviour obtained the victory over death. On this day, which is the first day of the light and the true sun, we assemble after an interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbath; even all nations assemble redeemed by Him throughout the world, and do those things according to the spiritual laws which were decided by the priests to do on the Sabbath. All things whatever it was the duty to do on the Jewish Sabbath we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appropriately belonging to it, because it has a precedence and is first in rank and more honourable than the Jewish Sabbath. It is delivered to us that we should meet together on this day, and it is ordered that we should do those things announced in Psalms 92:0.” Dr. Whewell in his Elements of Morality says: “In points on which the evidence of apostolic and catholic usage is complete, a Christian or a body of Christians has no liberty to alter the mode of observance. As an example of this, it appears to be inconsistent with Christian duty for any community to alter the day of religious observance from the first to any other day of the week, as Calvin is said to have suggested to the city of Geneva to do, in order that they might show their Christian liberty in regard to ordinances. If to do this were within the limits of Christian liberty, it would likewise be so to alter the period of the recurrence of the day and to observe every fifth day or every tenth, as was appointed in France when Christianity was rejected.”
3. The substance glorifies the shadow by showing that ceremonies do not avail without spiritual life. Here substance and shadow coincide, for Isaiah says: “The new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” And why? Because the oblations were vain, the hands spread out in prayer were full of blood. We must cease to do evil and learn to do well before we can keep acceptable feasts. We must, in fact, seek to be more spiritual. However, let us not cry, Away with forms and ceremonies! “Of what use are forms, seeing that at times they are empty? Of the same use as barrels, which at times are empty too.” They must be permeated with the spirit of Christ. Now Christianity does not permeate evil with good, for it cannot turn wickedness into righteousness and transform sin into holiness. It can permeate our evil nature by driving out sin and introducing holiness. Its motive power stimulates to action; its aim is to overcome evil by good through the destruction or banishment of evil and by the supremacy of good. It desires to transfuse the peaceful and refreshing spirit of the day of rest into all other days; but this cannot be done by its practical destruction. It does not call other days evil because it makes Sunday a special day. Christianity does not attribute moral qualities to days. In this sense every day may be alike. However, moral qualities may be brought to the observance of days, and in this manner certain days may be rendered sacred. It is observable that in the book of Exodus it is said, “And God blessed the Sabbath day,” not, as in our Prayer Book, the seventh day; and thus God dedicates a day of rest. Let us bless our Sabbath day by bringing to its observance our highest powers, our best spiritual endeavours, our earnest prayerful preparation, and thus it will be to us a blessing. In blessing Sunday we bless ourselves and bless our kind. In praising Sunday we praise and exalt Sunday’s Lord, and angels join to swell our chorus of praise.
IV. The spirit of consecration says that Christ is the master.—“For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord.” What, then, is the force of these words? “It means,” saith St. Chrysostom, “that we are not free; we have a Master who would have us live, and willeth not that we die, and to whom both of these are of more interest than to us. For by what is here said He shows that He hath a greater concern for us than we have for ourselves, and considereth more than we do, as well our life to be wealth as our death to be a loss. For we do not die to ourselves alone, but to our Master also, if we do die.” Christ, the kind master, has watched over the Church, and has preserved to us the day of rest. We are not free to destroy the sacred treasure. His concern for our spiritual welfare is so great that He has made the institution of Sunday the one institution that should be strikingly prominent and should exert a miraculous influence. We are Christ’s property, redeemed by His precious blood. We are under all circumstances, living or dying, eating or abstaining, observing days or not observing them, Christ’s—His redeemed people. Let us joyfully keep Sunday, and seek to make it a bright and happy day, and thus cause it to be regarded with favour by all the true-hearted.
Romans 14:6. A bright and happy day.—The Sabbatarian regards the Sunday as a day unto the Lord as well as from the Lord. To make of the Lord’s day a merely ecclesiastical institution is to deprive it of its highest sanction and divest it of universal and binding authority amongst a free people. The presence of the fourth commandment in the Decalogue, the recognition of the obligation to keep the Sabbath by our Lord, as well as a true conception of the relation of the law to the Christian dispensation, is against the sweeping view that the institution is only binding upon us from considerations of humanity and religious expediency, and by the rules of that branch of the Church in which Providence has placed us. We regard Sunday as from the Lord, and keep it as unto the Lord, and believe that He intended it to be a day of true peace, joy, and refreshment. Sunday, then, should be a bright and happy day; for—
I. Gladness is contemplated in divine arrangements.—The Almighty is the God of love, and cannot therefore be the cause of sorrow. Doubtless sadness is a blessing, not in itself, but in its effects under divine guidance. The arrangements of the material world indicate that originally this earth was intended to be a pleasant dwelling-place. It is sin which has brought about the sad change. The final arrangement of the moral world is the dispensation of the gospel; and one of its designs was to give “the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Neither science, nor philosophy, nor cold morality has ever healed the broken in heart; while this has been done by the gospel. And Sunday is the glad day on which many of these good results have been effected. Only the Sabbath of eternity will unfold the blessedness to God’s redeemed which has sprung from the Sabbaths of time.
II. It interrupts the monotony of life.—Life is dull to many, and Sundays come as bright and welcome interruptions. The numbers who practically do without a Sunday, and do not appreciate its high joys and solemnities, rob existence of a great boon. Sunday changes the very quality of the life stream. We drink at secular streams and thirst again, while those who drink at the sacred stream are for ever refreshed.
III. It provides a quiet resting-place.—What the country home does for the city business man each night, that and more may the Sunday do each seventh day—that is, each recurring seventh day. It should shut out business cares and toils, and secure a quiet resting-place amid wearing activities. Sunday rest may confer a benefit which is not at all times properly appreciated, because all the circumstances of the case are not duly considered. Our thoughts are turned into new channels and our energies in fresh directions. Sunday should be a recruiting period from the battle, a quiet resting-place from the struggles, of modern existence.
IV. It promotes enlargement of nature.—Humboldt has well observed that an introduction to new and grand objects of nature enlarges the human mind. Now Sunday should introduce to new and grand objects of nature and supernature. It opens out all worlds. We may study both the natural and the spiritual. Sunday is a high peak on the level landscape of time from which we may view eternal vastnesses. It enables us to rise out of our narrow sphere and look beyond our narrow surroundings. It may teach how little are the thoughts and pursuits of men, and how infinitely vast are the thoughts of God. Without its help we are dwarfed, while by its kindly processes we are enlarged. Its visions of glory and its sounds of sweetness make glad.
V. It furthers the greater compactness of society.—In these days we hear from some quarters a good deal about the solidarity of the race, by which is understood a union of interests, of sympathies, and of pursuits. Now the only lasting unions for human societies are the outcome of the working of divine institutions. Sunday is the appointment of divine benevolence, and one of its gracious purposes is the reconstruction of the human race, so as to bind it together in one family bond under the guidance and protection of one all-loving and beneficent Father. Sunday’s legitimate working is not towards the destruction of distinctions in society, but towards the blending of such distinctions, so that society may move along harmoniously. As this day gives completeness to the week, so it gives compactness to society.
VI. It furnishes stated times for public religious worship.—Man is a creature made to worship, and must have a God. “Religion,” says Emerson, “is as inexpugnable as the use of lamps, or of wells, or of chimneys. We must have days, and temples, and teachers.” Infidelity may reign for a time; still it cannot long hold against the instincts and cravings for worship found in human nature. So far infidelity has not gained a widespread dominion. There is a demand for religion, and the heart of man cries out for the living God. There is a demand for worship which can only be stifled by sensuality and wickedness. Where these are not allowed to gain the mastery, where there is any spiritual development, there is both a desire for and a great pleasure in public religious worship. It must be so, for man is also a social being, and this arrangement helps to satisfy the social instincts of his nature. We miss the glad design and blessing of the Sunday if we do not engage in religious worship. They that thus honour the Lord’s day will be amply rewarded.
VII. Many have found Sunday a happy day for Christian work.—The Christian’s secular work should be done in a spiritual fashion and to the glory of God; but the Christian welcomes Sunday because it furnishes opportunities of more directly promoting the moral welfare of mankind. He is benevolent, and Sunday must be a bright and happy day because it provides channels through which the waters of benevolence can freely flow. How happy the home where the Christian Sunday cheers and where the Christian father seeks to gladden! When sorrow darkens the home, Sunday brightness gilds the sorrow-cloud with beautiful colours formed by ray-lights from heaven.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 14:5-45.14.6
Discrimination of days means setting apart one day.—It has been concluded from these sayings of Paul that the obligation to observe Sunday as a day divinely instituted was not compatible with Christian spirituality, as this was understood by St. Paul. The context does not allow us to draw such a conclusion. The believer who observes Sunday does not in the least do so under the thought of ascribing to this day a superior holiness to that of other days. To him all days are, as the apostle thinks, equal in holy consecration. As rest is not holier than work, no more is Sunday holier than other days. It is another form of consecration, the periodical return of which, like the alternations of sleep and waking, arises from the conditions of our physico-psychical existence. The Christian does not cease to be a man by becoming a spiritual man. And as one day of rest in seven was divinely instituted at the creation on behalf of natural humanity, one does not see why the believer should not require this periodical rest as well as the unregenerate man. “The Sabbath was made for man.” So long as the Christian preserves his earthly nature, this saying applies to him, and should turn not to the detriment but to the profit of his spiritual life. The keeping of Sunday thus understood has nothing in common with the sabbatical observance which divides life into two parts, the one holy, the other profane. It is this legal distinction which Paul excludes in our Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:0.—Godet.
Economists laud the Sunday.—Whatever may be men’s theories about the Sunday, it is a remarkable fact, and to us conclusive, that those who are the purest and noblest cling tenaciously to the Sunday. The Christian’s decalogue would not be complete if the fourth commandment were erased. The Christian’s sky would be darkened if Sunday were eclipsed. His days would be gloomy, his passage through lifo as if one were going through an underground tunnel where darkness and malodours prevailed, if the sacred light of the day of rest were extinguished. The Christian has a loving interest in the preservation of Christ’s great day, the Church’s great day. His loving interest is not selfish, for he knows that national prosperity and greatness are identified with the English Sunday. He is not surprised to find that foreigners can see the priceless value of our Sundays. Dr. D’Aubigné says, “Order and obedience, morality and power, are all in Britain connected with the observance of the Sabbath.” La Presse says, “England owes much of her energy and character to the religious keeping of Sunday.” Why cannot France follow her, as the Sabbath was made for all men, and we need its blessing? He is not surprised to hear the great political economist declare that the Sabbath as a political institution is of inestimable value, independently of its claim to divine authority. Sunday is a royal day and makes its adherents kingly. We must both know and do. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Knowledge is good, but doing is better. Doing right is the bright pathway to truest prosperity and divine kingship.
Sunday a spiritual blessing.—Now though it be true that man was not made for the Sabbath, yet let it never be forgotten that the Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made to move in a precise orbit of times and seasons; yet times and seasons may be arranged so as to subserve his use, and be the ministers of good both to his natural and moral ceremony. Were the keeping of the Sabbath a mere servitude of the body which left the heart no better than before, it would be a frivolous ceremonial, and ought to be exploded. But if it be true that he who sanctifies the Sabbath sanctifies his own soul, then does the Sabbath assume a spiritual importance, because an expedient of spiritual cultivation. The suspension on this day of the labour or business of the world, its scrupulous retirement from the converse or the festivities of common intercourse, its solemn congregations and its evening solitudes—these singly and in themselves may not be esteemed as moralites, and yet be entitled to a high pre-eminence among them from the impulse they give to that living fountain of piety out of which the various moralities of life ever comeforth in purest and most plenteous emanation. It is not that the virtue of man consists in these things, but that these things are devices of best and surest efficacy for upholding the virtue of man. Were it not for this subserviency, the Sabbath might well be swept away; but because of this subserviency, it not only takes its place among the other obligations of Christianity, but is entitled to that reverence which is due, if not to the parent, at least to the foster-mother of them all. If the Sabbath of any one of the primitive Churches obtained not this homage from the apostle, it must have been because it was a Sabbath of ceremonial drudgery and not of spiritual exercise. And you have only to compute the worth and the celestial character of all those graces which have been sheltered and fed and reared to maturity in the bosom of this institution that you may own the high bearing and dignity which belong to it. And the maxim that what may be done at any time is never done applies with peculiar emphasis to every work against which there is a strong constitutional bias, where there is a reluctance to begin it, and the pitching of a strenuous effort to overcome that reluctance, and the pleasant deception all the while that it will just do as well after a little more postponement—a deception which, as it overspreads the whole life, will lead us to put off indefinitely, and this in the vast majority of instances is tantamount to the habit of putting off irrecoverably and for ever. Now this would just be the work of religion when shorn of its Sabbath—a work to embark upon which nature has to arrest her strongest currents, and to shake her out of her lethargies, and to suspend those pursuits to which by all the desires of her existence she is led most tenaciously to cleave, and to struggle for the ascendency of faith over sight, and of a love to the unseen God whom the mind with all the aids of solitude and prayer so dimly apprehendeth, over the love of those things that are in the world, and whose power and whose presence are so constantly and so importunately bearing upon us And will any say that in these circumstances the cause of religion is not bettered by the Sabbath, that weekly visitor coming to our door, and sounding the retreat of every seventh day from the heat and the hurry and the onset of such manifold temptations?—Dr. Chalmers.
A cuneiform inscription.—The Lord’s day, though for us, is not ours, but the Lord’s. We have no right to give it away, or to look on unmoved while it is being taken away. The Sabbath is not simply a Mosaic institution; the very word is found in the oldest cuneiform inscriptions, taking us back to a time before Moses was born. Tablets are in existence which show that thus early, in Ur of the Chaldees, the rest-day of the heart, as it was termed, was kept sacred. Sabbath observance is not a duty so much as a privilege. The Epistle of Barnabas states, “We keep the eighth day for rejoicing, because it is the day on which the Lord rose from the dead.” And that ancient manual The Teaching of the. Twelve Apostles says, “On the Lord’s own day we gather to break bread and give thanks, first confessing our sins, that the sacrifice may be pure.” There is a difference between the rest-day, the preservation of which is the business of the State, and the Lord’s day, which it is the duty of the Church of Christ to protect and to secure.—Canon Girdlestone.
Son of man Lord of the Sabbath day.—Jesus Christ exercised His lordship over the Sabbath day in order that love’s outflow might be unchecked. Those who watched the Saviour’s miracles of healing on the Sabbath day might have learnt how He took them far back to love’s primeval purpose when it created a Sabbath for man. It teaches and enforces the lesson that there is liberty to do right and restraint in the direction of wrong-doing. Jesus Christ moved through this world as love incarnate, and the Sabbath was the blessed shrine in which He made love’s richest display.
I. The Sabbath was created for man, created at the very commencement of human history, and for universal man’s moral and spiritual well-being.—The world was created by the Saviour for humanity’s dwelling-place; and the Sabbath for humanity’s temple. The Sabbath was created for man as the sun was made for man that he might enjoy light, heat, and productiveness; as the sweet interchange of day and night and the revolving seasons were ordained for man to find this earth a pleasant dwelling-place; as the Bible was given for man’s improvement and enrichment; and as heaven is provided for the redeemed as a joyful eternal home after life’s cares, storms, and turmoils. The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit, and it is at his peril that he either trifles with the boon, or presumes to lord it over the beneficent institution. The Son of man, then, is Lord of the Sabbath day, because He is the Son of God and the Creator. Our patriotism and our philanthropy as well as our zeal for the glory of God should impel us to put forth effort for the preservation of our English Sunday.
II. The Sabbath should be honoured in the sweet sacredness of the home.—English domestic life is one of the secrets of England’s greatness, and Sunday is its great upholder and promoter. The scattered members of the family are drawn and bound together by the weekly recurrence of God’s day. If the austere Sabbath keeping of the home has rendered some perverted natures averse to religion, it has had a far different effect on large numbers. Occasionally we are presented with thrilling pictures of clergymen’s sons driven to courses of wickedness by the austerities of Sabbath-keeping houses, but these are the painful exceptions, and the rule is that clergymen’s families thank God for the hallowed sweetness of the parsonage home. And it is to us a cause of deep regret and of grave concern that in our cities the home is only a misnomer as applied to many of the abodes where human beings herd. God’s day rightly regarded and honoured in our homes would produce a most salutary change in the community. The sabbatic haven leavening the whole man would produce an aspect of spiritual beauty which would transform earth and even gladden heaven.
III. The Sabbath should be honoured in the devotional sacredness of the temple.—It is one of the blessings of our land that houses for prayer are erected in our cities, towns, villages, hamlets, and in remote mountain districts where the inhabitants and the excitements are few, and where life would otherwise move along in a dull round and on a low level. Thus our people have nowhere any excuse for dishonouring Sunday by neglecting public worship. The temple of nature is grand and imposing in many parts, but nowhere can it be found to be a substitute for the religious temple. The advocates of worship in the temple of nature have too often much talk and no worship of nature’s Creator. And we miss the great design and blessing of the Sunday if we do not engage in religious worship. They that thus honour the Lord’s day are amply rewarded. They may be raised above the worries of life, and forget for a season their earthly anxieties. And on the Sunday we must go to the temple if we are truly to honour the day and realise its richest experiences and taste its highest blessedness.
IV. The Sabbath is to be honoured in the wholesome sacredness of Christian activities.—It is not our purpose to define the work and to summon the workers to the Lord’s vineyard. Suffice to say that there is plenty of moral work to be done; that the command is issued to every Christian, “Son, go work to-day in My vineyard.” The fields are white unto the harvest, and the cry still is for more labourers. There would not be so much moral dyspepsia, no need to utter vain jeremiads about Sunday’s wasted opportunities, if there were more moral energy. Christians should give out as well as seek to take in on Sunday, and they would receive more if they would seek to impart more. There is that giveth and yet increaseth. The law of spiritual increase is that we do as well as hear. Happy are ye if ye do these things. Thus by a pleasing variety will the Christian Sunday be spent and the Christian be improved.
Sabbath springe from the necessity of religion.—“The Jews gave a reason why man was created in the evening of the Sabbath, because he should begin his being in the worship of His Maker. As soon as ever he found himself to be a creature, his first solemn act should be a particular respect to his Creator. To fear God and keep His commandment is the whole of man, or, as it is in the Hebrew, whole man; he is not a man, but a beast, without observance of God. Religion is as requisite as reason to complete a man. He were not reasonable if he were not religious, because by neglecting religion he neglects the chief dictates of reason. Either God framed the world with so much order, elegance, and variety to no purpose, or this was His end at least, that reasonable creatures should admire Him in it and honour Him for it. The notion of God was not stamped upon man. The shadows of God did not appear in the creatures to be the subject of an idle contemplation, but the motive of a due homage to God. He created the world for His glory, a people for Himself, that He might have the honour of His works. It was the condemnation of the heathen world that, when they knew there was a God, they did not give Him the glory due to Him.” Let us give glory to Him to whom all glory belongs. Let us join the beasts who were full of eyes within, so great their intelligence, who “rest not day nor night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come; and the four-and-twenty elders who fell down before Him that sat on the throne, and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Christians unanimously observed the Lord’s day.—Those that thought themselves under some kind of obligation by the ceremonial law, esteemed one day above another, kept up a respect of the times of the Passover, Pentecost, New Moons, and Feast of Tabernacles, thought those days better than other days, and solemnised them accordingly with particular observances, binding themselves to some religious rest and exercise on those days; those who knew all these things were abolished and done away by Christ’s coming, every day alike. We must understand it with an exception of the Lord’s day, which all Christians unanimously observed; but they made no account, took no notice, of these antiquated festivals of the Jews.—Hewes.
Let each act from conviction.—“Let him be fully persuaded in his own mind.” The Jewish convert might keep his Jewish Sabbath and the Gentile Christian might keep his own Christian Sabbath, the one might keep the seventh day and the other might keep the first day of the week, and both be blameless. St. Paul still keeps to the same subject, and what he means is about this: the thing is not concerned about fundamentals, for the thing requisite is, if this person and the other are acting for God’s sake, the thing requisite is, if both terminate in thanksgiving; for, indeed, both this man and that give thanks to God. If, then, both do give thanks to God, the difference is no great one. But let me draw your notice to the way in which here also he aims a blow at the Judaizers; for if the thing required be this, the giving of thanks, it is plain enough that he which eateth it is that giveth thanks, and not he which eateth not; for how should he while he still holds to the law? As, then, he told the Galatians, “As many of you as are justified by the law, are fallen from grace,” so here he hints it only, but does not uphold it so much, for as yet it was not time to do so. But for the present he bears with it; but by what follows he gives it a further opening.—St. Chrysostom.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:5-45.14.6. Vessel anchored in a bay.—We have seen a vessel lying at anchor in a well-sheltered harbour while the storm raged furiously in the open sea. The vessel was fenced and protected. What portion of the storm entered the little bay only served to give a gentle motion to the ship, and make mournful music as the wind swept through the cordage. Sunday should be as the fenced-in and protected harbour for the vessel of a good man’s soul. There may be storms without; there should be comparative peace within. The man is anchored within the Sunday bay, and nothing will tempt him to withdraw the anchor and try the ocean of secular life until he is further strengthened and refitted for the tempest by the recruiting influences of a full Sunday. Well is it if he can feel that both himself and his Sunday are fenced by the protecting arms of Him whose love is everlasting. Secular life is full of cares. All life has its deep sorrows. But Sunday should shut out our worldly cares, and fence us in with the love of God. What a consoling message the Sunday carries! It proclaims the gracious truth, He careth for you. The Infinite cares for the finite. We who dwell in houses made of clay are cared for by Him who inhabits the praises of eternity. We who are but insignificant atoms amid the vast systems of worlds have a place in the mindful regards of Him who rolls the stars along and speaks all the promises. Sunday has its sweet voices and its rich music, and within its sacred enclosure we hear the sweet voice of infinite love’s mouth and the rich music of heaven. Welcome, sweet day of rest that enfolds us in its loving arms, that gives rest when we are weary, drink when we are thirsty, and healing balm for aching heads and hearts!
Romans 14:5-45.14.6. Lord Salisbury and the Shah.—The Westminster Review would destroy the sacredness of our English Sunday, but the Westminster statesman seeks to maintain that sacredness. “The Shah was grievously disappointed because Lord Salisbury would not allow a dance on Sunday night, and he entirely failed to appreciate the Anglican prejudice against Sunday diversions.” All honour to Lord Salisbury; but what shall we say of him who speaks of an Anglican prejudice? Is he infected with the false notions propounded by the writer of an article named “A rational use of Sunday”? Surely the writer of this article will not commend himself or herself to an enlightened reason. For “A rational use of Sunday” ought to have no statements which might shock a rational nature. And what shall be said to this; “There is indeed a pretty general consensus of opinion among theologians that, to use their own expression, ‘The Sabbath began with Moses and ended with Christ’ ”? We are not aware of such “a general consensus.” A few names on that side might be counted on the fingers. There are many treatises written on the opposite side, while the literature on the side of the “general consens us of opinion” is scanty. If, indeed, there be such a general consensus, it is remarkable that the English Sunday maintains its divine pre-eminence.
Romans 14:6. Wait till reckoning time.—A good old man was much annoyed by the conduct of some of his neighbours who persisted in working on Sundays. On one occasion, as he was going to church, his Sabbath-breaking neighbours called out to him sneeringly from the hayfield, “Well, father, we have cheated the Lord out of two Sundays, any way.” “I don’t know that,” replied the old gentleman,—“I don’t know. The account is not settled yet.”
Romans 14:6. Good hands at an excuse.—I have often wondered at the cleverness with which people make excuses for neglecting heavenly things. A poor woman was explaining to me why her husband did not attend church. “You see poor working folks nowadays are so holden down and wearied out that they are glad to rest a day in the house when Sabbath comes.” An unopened letter was lying on the table, which she asked me to read, believing that it was from her sick mother. It was a notice to her husband that the football team, of which he was captain, was to meet on Saturday at 3 p.m., and that, like a good fellow, he must be forward in good time. And that was the man for whom my pity was asked, as being so worn out with his work that he could hardly creep up to the church! Another woman admitted to me that she never read her Bible, but pleaded that she was too busy and had too many cares. My eye caught a great bundle of journals above the clock. She confessed that these were novels, on which she spent twopence-halfpenny every Saturday, and that she read them on the Sabbath. If you wish an excuse, the smallest thing will give you stuff enough for the weaving of it.—J. Wells.
Romans 14:6. Six parasangs.—Krummacher tells of an Israelite named Boin, a resident of Mesopotamia, whom the Lord called to make a pilgrimage to the land of his fathers. Taking his family, he started westward, through the wilderness. When he was weary with a journey of six parasangs, he came upon a tent by the way, and a man said to him, “Rest here.” When rested the man guided him forth. At the end of six parasangs more he found another tent with refreshments; and so on to the end of his journey in the promised land. The life of man is a pilgrimage. Six parasangs are six days; the seventh is the day of rest, the tent of refreshment by the way. The fool passes by the tent, and perishes in the wilderness; but the wise man rests there, and reaches the land of promise. For a number of years a flour-mill was worked seven days in the week. In making a change of superintendents, it was ordered that the works should be stopped at eleven o’clock on Saturday night, and to start none of them till one o’clock on Monday morning. The same men, during the year, ground many thousands of bushels more than had ever been ground in a single year in that establishment; and the men, having time for rest and Sabbath duties, were more healthy, punctual, and diligent.
Romans 14:7.—We are not to follow our own pleasure, nor obey our own inclinations. In life and death we, Christians, are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:8.—Christians are Christ’s property, and they must live, not to themselves, but to one another.
Romans 14:9.—Christ having died and risen again to make believers His property, will He not take care of His own?
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:7-45.14.9
Life and death harmonised.—In the opinion of most life and death are antagonistic. Death is the privation of life. The one is a something to be desired and cherished, while the other is to be dreaded and shunned. Life is the sphere of activities, while death is regarded as their cessation. We mourn when the good workman dies, as if work for him were over. But St. Paul teaches a larger view. Life and death are raised to one great level; they are spheres for a noble ministry. Both life and death are for the Lord, and it is in that light that we get to understand the greater importance of life and the sweet significance of death.
I. Christ by His life and death lifts death out of its darkness and gives a new meaning to life.—What a meaningless, monotonous round are the life days which are lived by the majority! Their souls are moved by no great purposes; their spirits are not touched by ennobling motives. To such life is hardly worth living. Christ gives to life a new meaning, a fresh force and vigour. Christ died and rose again that He might make life noble. Christ is the light of life, illuminating with glory, lifting out of its dulness, and showing the pathway to true greatness. Death is the shadow feared by man; its very approach casts darkness over the frame. Death loses much of its darkness and its terror when we view it in the light of Christ’s claim. Death introduces to new and wider spheres. Death and life belong unto Him who by death conquered death.
II. Christ by His death and risen life made both spheres His own.—He made this earthly life His own by entering into all its trials, joys, and perplexities. He made the risen life His own by rising from the tomb. Life belonged unto Christ before His incarnation. Shall we be wrong in asserting that life in fuller measure belonged unto Christ after His resurrection? The keys of all life were delivered into His hands. In Him was a largeness of life not embraced in the prophetic vision. Death in all its solemn mystery belongs unto Him who has the keys of Hades and of death. Christ is sovereign over life and over death. If life and death belong unto Christ and the Christian be joined to Christ, then the Christian’s life and the Christian’s death belong unto the Lord. Life with all its possibilities, death with all its mysteries, are the Lord’s. Let us so act as to show that whether living or dying we are the Lord’s.
III. Christ by His death and life leads His people out of death into life.—This is specially true of the period which we call conversion. The believer is at this crisis led out of the death of sin, ignorance, and guilt into the life of holiness, knowledge, forgiveness, and the peace of God which passeth understanding. But here we contemplate a still higher leading—a leading which is progressive and continuous. Christ leads His people out of the death of selfishness into the life of love. Selfishness makes self the centre of life, the object and aim of existence; love makes Christ the centre of life, the alpha and omega of existence and of that which we regard as non-existence. But there is not such a thing as non-existence in the estimation of a Christ-loving nature. Life and death are crowned and glorified by love. And Christ will lead His people through death to the life of perfect love and of undying service.
1. The dignity of the Christian life. It may be passed in lowly spheres as earth spirits estimate, but it acquires dignity as it is a Christ-owned life. Ownership imparts dignity. Royalty seems to overshadow with its greatness all its surroundings. The royalty of heaven’s eternal King imparts dignity to the life of him who moves as in the loving taskmaster’s sight.
2. The sublimity of the Christian service. It is one of love. It is one for life and for death. It is one in an ever-widening sphere. Self-service is contracting; love-service is expanding. The Christian lives for God, for Christ, for the promotion of all good and true ends.
3. The interminable nature of the Christian’s view. Death does not bound his prophetic vision. The narrow tomb does not form a barrier to his wide-looking soul. He sees the unseen. Death opens up a larger life and shows divine service. Whether living or dying he is the Lord’s.
Romans 14:7. Loving self-abnegation.—These words would come with a startling sound to the ears of the world to which St. Paul wrote. There might be a time when none were for a party and all for the state; but the time had passed, if it evertruly existed, and the decline of the nation had begun, and national decline is marked by the increase of selfishness. But the words may come to us likewise with startling emphasis. This is a so-called Christian country. Our Christian preachers and teachers are multitudinous. Christianity has had a fairly long reign and a fairly successful course in our island; and yet have we reached the ideal set forth in the words, “None of us liveth to himself”? As we look at society in some of its aspects and in certain of our moods, the words sound to us like an ironical utterance. “None of us liveth to himself.” Is not the modern doctrine, “Every man for himself”? Is it not the ripe conclusion of our modern evolutionary philosophy that the weakest must go to the wall? The man with a weak will, without push and tact, without iron nerves, must be crushed, and is often crushed, by his stronger fellow. Alas that we will not look facts in the face! We are closed up in selfishness, we pamper our selfish fancies, we foster our selfish likings and prejudices, and we are very much shocked if any plain preacher tells us that we are selfish. We require still to be told that the true theory of life is that we must not live to ourselves, but unto Christ, to His Church, and for the good of humanity.
I. In the world self strives for prominence.—This statement requires no proof; it is almost axiomatic and self-evident. The poet sings, “Love rules the camp, the court, the grove.” If the poet mean self-love, he is not far from the truth. But Jove in the higher and diviner sense does not rule. Do the strikes of the present day speak of loving forbearance between men and masters? What does the interest of capital mean but the interest of self? What do the claim and rights of labour mean but the claim and rights of self? What do the ten thousand wrongs, anomalies, oppressions, and in too many cases cruelties of our social system declare? They proclaim that self is striving for the prominence. This strife is everywhere,—in the remote hamlet and on the crowded exchange flags; in some of our syndicates, in our cotton corners, in our many fraudulent bubble schemes, and in our lying advertisements. Ah, self! thou unholy and rapacious monster: thou dost obtrude thy ungainly form in all departments of life; thou hast been known to wear the guise of philanthropy, to assume the garb of sanctity; thou hast not scrupled to profane the priest’s sacred vestments and to sully a bishop’s lawn!
II. This self-strife leads to individual dissatisfaction and to social undoing.—This is evident to every casual observer of society. Where self is thought about more than society and the general welfare, there is sure to be social undoing. Revolutions may have been necessary, and may have done good; but some revolutions have been influenced by a selfish spirit and have been fraught with evil. All revolutions promoted by selfishness are injurious, and can only become beneficial as the great Worker educes good out of evil. Certainly most harmful to the individual is the effort to make self prominent and supreme. The more we give to self, the more it craves; the more it gets, the more it wants. Its riches may increase, but they tend only to greater poverty. The most discontented of mortals have been those who have had ample means for the pampering of self.
III. Self-hood, however, is subjected.—So that it becomes true in a wider sense than we sometimes think that none of us liveth to himself. In will and purpose we live to ourselves, but in tendency and effect we live for others. The idler and the pleasure-seeker may find themselves conquered in the conflict. If they do nothing better, they serve as warnings and beacon lights to the sensible. They live to themselves, but their wasted lives tell us to shun the shifting sands of folly in which they were engulfed. It is plain that the worker cannot altogether live to himself. According to the political economists he is a productive labourer, and thus while increasing his own wealth he increa the wealth of the nation. Society cannot allow us to live for ourselves; for ourselves are firmly bound to and with other selves. The nation is made up of individual selves, as a building is erected by means of separate stones. As stone is bound by and to its fellow-stone, so my self is bound by and to the other self. The not-self is essential to the welfare of the self; the not-self and the self are bound together and have interests in common.
I. In the Church there is loving self-abnegation.—The objector says that he cannot see it. We go into the Church, and find that modern Christians are essentially selfish. Of course we cannot see it; for it is not to be seen, and a man does not see that which he does not want to see, and which is outside his range of things. He does not see that self-will is dethroned and bowing in loving submission to the divine will. In the Christian self-hood rises against the Christlike spirit. Self-hood rises, but it falls conquered by the Christian manhood. The general aim, purpose, and desire of the Christian is upward to Christ. The Christlike soul dethrones selfishness and exalts the Prince of life. Christ and not self is the centre of the Christian nature. He loves himself, but he loves himself in and for Christ, the beloved of all true men. A mere observer cannot see that which is going on in the nature of another, The conquest over self is gained in secret; the battle is bloodless and without noise. Christ-love conquers self-love; but we cannot see Christ-love riding in any triumphal car or wielding any sceptre of authority. The Christian does not live to himself. There is in him a motive power which the world does not see. And this inward life works outwardly in many beneficial ways. He must be blind indeed who does not see that many Christians have shown that they live to and for Christ, and thus in the highest sense live to and for the good of their kind. Christianity has been the most beneficial agency which has found a home and a sphere in this planet.
II. The Christian finds in self-abnegation the widest contentment.—When self is allowed to gain the upper hand, then there is the reign of misrule, then there is dissatisfaction. But when the life stream flows with Christ treading the waters every storm is hushed, and the course of the waters produces sweetest music. Contentment in the soul is the effect of the Christ presence and supremacy.
III. The Christian in loving consecration obtains truest riches.—Not that which is of any account at the bankers; but shall we still esteem soul wealth as of no avail? Self works for riches, but is crushed by the weight. If he would confess it, the man is oft richer in poverty than in wealth. Love works for Christ and obtains soul wealth—riches here and riches hereafter.
IV. The Christian in loving consecration secures extensive productiveness.—Life is regarded by many as the only sphere for production. Wo believe in annihilation to a much larger extent than may be supposed. However, there is no annihilation. We live when we are dead. Tombs have a voice. “The memory of the just is blessed.” We die to the Lord, and He is the good husbandman who will not allow the dying grain to be wasted. Over the graves of His beloved He makes the golden harvest to wave. Let us seek to show that we live unto the Lord. If we have the inward life of consecration, the blessed fruits will appear. The light of love within will shine on the world’s dark pathway. Let us be comforted in seeming life failure that we live unto the Lord, for He can turn the seeming failure into success. Let us not fear death, for in the dark valley we are Christ’s. He will guide safely through to the tearless, deathless land of infinite love and blessedness.
Romans 14:7-45.14.8. Living and dying unto the Lord.—Let us investigate the principle here laid down: that both the life of the Christian and the death of the Christian have a special place and use in the divine purposes; that there is something which every man is sent into this world for, and which it were to contravene the ends of his creation if he were to leave unfulfilled.
I. Let us consider first the negative statement of the apostle in relation to this great principle.—“None of us liveth to himself.” None of us. Who are the “us” here spoken of? Manifestly they are the true Christians, as opposed to men of the world; those who place themselves at the disposal of Christ, as opposed to those who care only to live to their own selfish ends; in a word, those who have made a voluntary choice of the divine service and are urged onward in the path of godliness by the power of a new affection and a new hope. The text, however, may be taken in the largest sense, as the expression of a general fact in the divine government, and plainly implying that, living as we do under an economy of mutually dependent ministries—man linked with man, and class bound up with class—not only none of us ought to live to himself, but none of us can five to himself if we would. I say none of us ought to live to himself; for it is clear that God has an original and antecedent claim upon the service of every one of us—upon our time, upon our substance, upon our talents, upon our affection. We are His by every consideration which could be binding on an intelligent spirit—by the right of creation, by the mercy of continued being, by the mystery of redemption, by the derivation from Him of a spiritual nature, by gifts and covenants and revelations and hopes of heaven. “What have we that we have not received?” And what have we received which in strict justice might not have been withheld? Surely we must all feel that “every good gift is from above,”—our table, if it be spread; our cup, if it be full; the medicine, if it heal our sickness; the voice of joy and health, if it be heard in our dwellings; the sweet sense of security, if there be none to make us afraid. All secondary agencies—chance, skill, judgment, friends, influence—are but the servants of the great Benefactor bringing our blessings to us. They are the bearers of the cup, not the fillers of the cup. The Lord stands by the well, giving to every man as it pleaseth Him. Hast thou riches? “The Lord thy God, it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Hast thou understanding and gifts? It is the Lord that “maketh thee to differ from another,” and endued thee with “a wise, understanding heart.” Reputation and credit had not been thine if the Lord had not “hidden thee from the scourge of tongues”; and if the tranquillities of domestic life are thine, “He maketh peace in thy borders, strengthening the bars of thy gates, and blessing thy children within thee.” What, then, follows from this but that we live to Him who gives us all the means to live; that we lay upon the altar of our obedience a living and loving sacrifice—our heart’s cheerfulest, our mind’s noblest, our soul’s best?
II. But there is an affirmative view of our principle to be taken.—Besides saying our life cannot be inoperative, cannot be resultless, cannot be barren both of good and evil, the text specifies a positive designation of this life to a place among great agencies, intimates that out of it God would get honours to Himself, and so teaches us that there is no man so useless and helpless in the world as not to be able to do some good if he would. “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord.” This expression may be taken first as implying the possession of a principle of internal and spiritual religion—a life derived from Christ, centred in Christ, devoted to Christ. A man must live before he acts—must be in a state of reconciliation to God before he devotes himself to His service. Religion is a choice—the choice of Christ as a Saviour, of God as a portion, of the ways of wisdom as the ways of pleasantness, of the hope of heaven as our exceeding great reward. All this supposes activity, energy, devotedness—body, soul, and spirit consecrated and given up to God; and nothing dead about us but the love of the world and self and sin. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But, again, there is in this part of the text the assertion of a great rule of duty—a declaration that our life is to be consecrated to the great ends of moral usefulness. We “live unto the Lord” when we live for the good of His people, for the honour of His cause, for the extension of His Church, for the glory of His name. And the consciousness that we are so living, and must so live, is one of the first indications of a renewed mind.
III. But to this declaration the text adds another, that “when he dies, he dies unto the Lord.”—He who does not live to himself shall not die to himself. Christians can neither live useless lives nor die useless deaths. God has a purpose in both and a property in both; “so that, whether they live or die, they are the Lord’s.”—D. Moore.
Romans 14:7-45.14.8. Christian devotedness.—This sentiment is strikingly characteristic of Christianity, and marks it with features so noble and benevolent that, whilst it is a key to its design, it offers one of the greatest motives by which its discipline and influence are recommended.
I. No man liveth to himself.—This is not only characteristic of the true Christian, but is essentially so; for a man who liveth to himself, by the sentence of the text, is not a Christian. It indicates:
1. That the Christian regards the great end of his being. Human existence must have an object. God acts not in anything without design. Nature is full of this. Every star, animal, plant, has some object. That this atom of the rock is in this place rather than that is determined by some purpose. Is man, then, exempt from this law? There is an end of life, a purpose of creation and preservation, and of the still more wondrous dispensation of redemption. It becomes us to inquire what that end is, and steadily to pursue it.
2. No Christian man liveth to himself: this indicates the respect which he habitually has to the approbation of God. Here, again, appears the distinction between the Christian and the man who lives to himself. The man who lives to himself cultivates that principle and this passion, does this and avoids the other; but the motive is not God, but his own self. The Christian sets God at his right hand, seeks His approbation, and to Him his heart is always open.
3. No Christian liveth to himself: this indicates the interest he feels in the cause of Christ. To live unto the Lord by living for His cause and to live for ourselves is impossible. The extension of the work of Christ in every age goes upon the same principle. The principle of selfishness and that of usefulness are distinct and contrary. The principle of one is contraction; of the other, expansion.
4. No Christian liveth to himself: this indicates a benevolent concern to alleviate the temporal miseries of his suffering fellow-men. Spiritual charities are the most important, but they are not our duties exclusively. He who lives to the Lord will have His example in view; and in that he is seen going about doing good.
II. No Christian man dieth to himself; he dieth to the Lord.—As a reward for not living to himself, he is not suffered to die unto himself.
1. It may be in judgment to others. It may be in judgment to families who have refused admonition and to unfaithful Churches when a Barnabas or an Apollos or a Boanerges is called away.
2. It may be hastened in mercy to him. Good men are often removed to heaven before scenes of wretchedness and misery are presented.
3. It is prolonged in mercy to others. He is not always taken away from the evil to come. He is sometimes to endure it, and private feelings give way to public good. (Jeremiah and St. Paul.)
4. No Christian man dieth to himself, for his death is that by which Christ may be glorified. Let us not be extreme in our anxieties about death, let us be anxious to glorify God in our death, and He will take care of all the rest.
III. The man who lives and dies, not to himself, but to the Lord, is the Lord’s in life and death.—To be bound to Him, but to yield ourselves to His service and glory. The Christian is the Lord’s in life. Life includes our earthly blessings; life includes our afflictions; life is the period in which we are trained for the maturity of holiness. And the Christian is the Lord’s in death. The body is laid down in hope; the grave has been sanctified by the body of Christ, and the key is in His hands.
1. It is founded on justice. To live to ourselves is unjust. Our obligations to God are absolute.
2. It is founded on benevolence. God might have rendered men much less dependent on others than they are.
3. This is a principle founded on the ministerial character. A minister living to himself is the most pitiable object on which the eye can fall. To him was committed the cause of Christ, and he has been indifferent to the general movement, if his department has been enough to grind him his daily bread.
4. Let us see the great end of life. It is to live to please God; to live as Christ lived on earth—soberly, righteously, godly, benevolently. As Christians we employ talents which will be rewarded in another state. We thus prepare for death; and in that awful moment what a heaven it will be to know that, we die to Him, and that, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”!—R. Watson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 14:7-45.14.9
Is the Lord our Lord?—Is the Lord of dead and living in any real sense our Lord? Has He that conquered the grave conquered the worldly part in me? Are covetousness, ambition, impurity, indolence, thoroughly put down? Questions such as these are painful to propose, and hard to answer. If we are immersed wholly in the present world, the fashion of which passeth away, if Christ be dead in vain so far as we are concerned, the thoughts that belong to this day may help to awaken us. The mountain on the horizon seems small and dim, but towards it we are travelling, and it grows daily bigger: it is the mountain of heaven that we must scale, and there is a dark and silent valley, invisible at present, through which we must pass before we reach it. Compare the great realities that we have been looking at to-day with the all-engrossing business that draws our attention off them. The subtlest tongue will be silent before long; the most eager strife will cease; the wisest decision will be quoted no longer at most than the kind of right it relates to shall subsist. But we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; and at that bar the issue that is decided is for eternity. May He that judges us plead our cause also! And because we shall have acknowledged from our hearts that He is the Lord of the dead and the living, may He wash out our sins with His blood, and say, “Thou hast been faithful unto death; I will give thee a crown of life”!—Archbishop Thomson.
The Redeemer’s dominion.—The Redeemer’s dominion over men is forcibly declared to have been the end of His ministry on earth. The apostle’s words are very express and emphatic. “To this end that” signifies, in language as strong as could be used to note design, that the purpose of the Passion was the attainment of universal dominion over the human race in time and in eternity. To this end, and no other; for this purpose, and nothing short of it; with this design, embracing and consummating all other designs. But we must view it under two aspects: it was a purpose aimed at before the death; in the Resurrection it was a purpose reached. He died that He might have the dominion; He lived that He might exercise. Now, of this mighty realm of the risen Christ, the dead constitute the vast majority. “What, in comparison of the uncounted hosts, numbered only by the infinite Mind, are the few hundreds of millions that any moment are called the living? It is in the realm of the shades that we contemplate our great family in its vastest dimensions, as it has from the first generation been gaining on the numbers of the living and swelling onwards to the stupendous whole bound up in the federal headship of the first and second Adam.” Now, in all this vast domain, there is but one rightful Lord of the conscience; there may be other lords with dominion, and they may be many, but in the realm of conscience there is only one Lord, and He is the risen Saviour!—Pope and Saurin.
Christ our Master.—As he always exists, as a Christian, in and by his Master, so he always exists for his Master. He has, in the reality of the matter, no dissociated and independent interest. Not only in preaching and teaching, and bearing articulate witness to Jesus Christ, does he, if his life is true to its ideal and its secret, “live not unto himself”; not with aims which terminate for one moment in his own credit, for example, or his own comfort. Equally in the engagements of domestic life, of business life, of public affairs; equally (to look towards the humbler walks of duty) in the day’s work of the Christian servant or peasant or artisan; “whether he lives, he lives unto the Master, or whether he dies, he dies unto the Master”; whether he wakes or sleeps, whether he toils or rests, whether it be the term or the vacation of life, “whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does,” he is the Master’s property for the Master’s use.
“Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in anything
To do it as to Thee.
“A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and th’ action fine.”
A threefold cord binds to Christ.—Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, and Christ’s intercession—a threefold cord, which cannot be broken—bind you indissolubly in the “bundle of life” with Him. I may be faint and weary, but my God cannot. I may fluctuate and alter as to my frames and feelings, but, my Redeemer is unchangeably the same. I should utterly fail and come to nothing if left to myself; but I cannot be left to myself, for the Spirit of truth has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” He will renew my strength by enduing me with His own power. He is wise to foresee and provide for all my dangers. He is rich to relieve and succour me in all my wants. He is faithful to perfect and perform all His promises. He is blessed and immortal to enrich my poor desponding soul with blessedness and immortality. Oh, what a great and glorious Saviour for such a mean and worthless sinner! Oh, what a bountiful and indulgent Friend for such a base and insignificant rebel! What, what am I, when I compare myself, and all I am myself, with what I can conceive of my God, and of what He hath kindly promised to me? What a mystery I am to myself and to men! A denizen of earth to become a star of heaven! A corruptible sinner made an incorruptible saint! A rebel made a child! an outlaw an heir! A deserver of hell made an inheritor of heaven! A stronghold of the devil changed into a temple of the living God! An enemy and a beggar exalted to a throne, united in friendship with Jehovah, made one with Christ, a possessor of His Spirit, and a sharer of all this honour, happiness, and glory for evermore! Oh! what manner, what matter of love is this? Lord, take my heart, my soul, my all. I can render Thee no more; I could render Thee no less. It is indeed a poor return. My body and my soul are but as “two mites”; end yet—glory to Thy great name!—Thou who didst esteem those of the poor widow wilt not despise these of mine. Lord, they are Thine own, and I can only give Thee what is Thine. I melt with gratitude; and even this gratitude is Thy gift. Oh, take it, and accept both it and me in Thyself, who art all my salvation and all my desire, for ever and for ever.—Ambrose Serle.
Christ and the Christian.—Have I overdrawn the claims of Jesus Christ upon the Christian? I cannot present them in all the amplitude and depth, and at the same time the minuteness and precision, with which you will find them set forth in the New Testament as a whole. There Christ is indeed all things in all His followers. There the Christian is a being whose true reason and true life is altogether and always in Jesus Christ. He is slave, and his Redeemer is absolute owner. He is branch, and his Redeemer is root. He is limb, and his Redeemer is head. He is vessel, and the great Master of the house is always to have full and free use of Him for any purposes of His own. He has no rights and can set up no claims as against his Lord: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”—H. C. G. Moule.
Surrender to Christ.—To surrender at discretion to Jesus Christ, who is not a code but a master, is so far forth to put your being into right relations with itself through right relations with Him. It is to gravitate at last upon your centre, and to be in gear. It is to be possessed, spiritually possessed; but by whom? By the Lord of archetypal order; by the Prince of peace; by the Prince of life; by Him in whom, according to one profound scripture, all this complex universe itself “consists,” is held together, holds together. The more of His presence and dominion, the less of fret and friction. The less resistance to Him, the more genuine and glad and fruitful action—as it were a sphere-music of the moving microcosmos of the soul.—H. C. G. Moule.
Christ’s threefold right.—Now, if we examine, we shall find that Christ has every kind of claim and right to us. He has a right derived from His creative power. If “all things were made by Him,” He made us, and not we ourselves. In consequence of this He has a propriety in us, not only such as no man can have in a fellow-creature, but such as even no father has in his own children. They are his in a subordinate and limited degree; but we are the Lord’s absolutely and entirely. Suppose we were to return to Him all that we received from Him, what would be left as our own? He has a right derived from His providential care. He has not only given us life and favour, but His visitation hath preserved our spirits. Whose are we but His in whom we live, move, and have our being? How mean to enjoy the light of His sun, to breathe His air, to eat constantly at His table, to be clothed from His wardrobe, and not own and acknowledge our obligations to Him! He has a right derived from His redeeming mercy. We are not our own, but bought with a price, and He paid it. To feel the force of this claim it will be necessary for us to weigh three things:
1. The mighty evils from which He has delivered us: sin, the power of darkness, the present evil world, death, and the wrath to come.
2. The state to which He has advanced us. Even the beginnings of it here, its earnests and foretastes, are indescribable and inconceivable; even now the joy is unspeakable and full of glory, and the peace passeth all understanding.
3. The way in which He has thus ransomed us. All comes free to us; but what did it cost Him? Owing to our slight views of the evil of sin and the holiness of God, we are too little struck with the greatness of redemption and the difficulties attending it. It was easy to destroy man; but to restore him, in a way that should magnify the law which had been broken, and display God as the just as well as the justifier, was a work to which the Lord Jesus only was adequate; and what does it require even of Him? Not a mere volition, not a mere exertion, as when He delivered the Jews from Egypt, and spake the world into being. He must assume flesh and blood. He dwelt among us. For thirty-three years He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Let us go over His history; let us survey His sufferings; let us meditate on His agony in the garden, His shame on the cross, His abasement in the lowest parts of the earth; and all this for enemies, and all not only without our desert, but without our desire—till we feel we are drawn and bound with the cords of a man and the bands of love—a love that passeth knowledge. Hence He has a right, derived, not only from what He has done, but from what we have done—a right derived from our dedication. If Christians, we have ratified His claims, and have actually surrendered ourselves to Him, renouncing every other owner, and saying, Lord, I am Thine; save me. Other lords beside Thee have had dominion over me; but henceforth by Thee only will I make mention of Thy name. And having opened your mouth unto the Lord, you cannot go back.—W. Jay.
Christian citizenship.—It is scarcely surprising that men sometimes charge Christianity with having enfeebled the civic virtues. Patriotism, they tell us, and public spirit, burned with a deeper, steadier glow in ancient Athens or Rome than in any modern city. And yet there is something of paradox in the thought that such a result can be spoken of as following upon the teaching of Jesus; for the spirit of His teaching is, as some of our modern writers would phrase it, essentially altruistic: it is inherently and fundamentally social; its starting-point is self-abandonment, its root principles are love and sacrifice, and its natural fruits in every Christian character should have been social enthusiasm. While the apparatus of social life was still pagan, the Christian was of course bound to think of himself as a member of a separate community; but the thought of citizenship or membership of a community was none the less his guiding and inspiring thought, as it should be ours, if our life is to be worthy of the privileges we inherit and the hope that is set before us in Christ Jesus. In this matter, as in all else that concerns our social and religious life, we derive useful and clear guidance from the language and the spirit of St. Paul. See how his mind was filled with thoughts of citizenship. To the Philippians he writes, “Do your duty worthily as citizens of the gospel kingdom.” The Ephesians are addressed by him as “fellow-citizens with the saints.” In describing his own life the thought is still the same. “In all good conscience,” he says, “I have lived as a good citizen unto God.” Everywhere, in fact, his language implies this fundamental thought, as the inspiring purpose of his life, that no man liveth to himself, but that we are members one of another, because we are Christ’s and our life is hid with Christ in God. And if we turn from his language to the plan and conduct of his life, we see in him the very type and pattern of a true Christian patriot, working at his trade, self-supporting, independent, not forgetting his position or his rights as a Roman citizen, devoted to his own people with a devotion surpassing the power of words to express, and yet never engrossed with any earthly occupation or by any earthly ambition, and absolutely free from that enervating spirit of self-indulgence which makes such havoc of all higher purposes in the life of men. It is good for us thus to think of him for a moment apart from his great name as an inspired apostle, for thus we may hope to catch the infection of his keen and fervid interest in all the relations of our common life, and to be ourselves uplifted as we see how he uplifts and purifies all he touches with the fire of his spiritual earnestness. See how he takes these phrases about citizenship, shaming by his use of them those who care nothing for the thing itself—how he takes them up and enlists them in the service of the new kingdom; thus consecrating, so to speak, and transfiguring the citizen spirit. As we linger over all this—Paul, the Roman citizen—Paul, the Jewish patriot—Paul, the apostle of a new citizenship in the New Jerusalem, where there is neither bond nor free, neither Jew nor Gentile, no national antipathies, no class antagonisms, no party bitterness, no mean and petty rivalries, where all are brethren in Christ, and called to mutual service—the question must come up in our thoughts, What do we make of our citizenship? We live in crowded communities. What is our life in regard to this citizen spirit? Is the spirit strong in us? or is it weak? Does it inspire and direct our life? and is it of the Pauline type? Does it save us from the canker of pride and prejudice, and the spirit of isolation? Does it destroy the root of selfishness in us? and does it make us revolt from all forms of self-indulgence, sensuality, animalism? Or does it somehow leave these things to grow in all their strength in our community, and to propagate themselves after their kind, as if it were no concern of ours? If so, it has to be confessed that the Holy Spirit has not yet enfranchised us, and our citizenship is not such as becometh the gospel of Christ.—J. Percival.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:7. Erasmus and Bilney.—Thousands of men are influenced by persons whom they never saw. The Reformation began at Cambridge University very early in the sixteenth century by Bilney, a solitary student, reading a Greek Testament with Latin translations and notes which Erasmus had published. Bilney had never seen Erasmus, but the quiet work of Erasmus was the means of bringing Bilney to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. Bilney, again, influenced Latimer, who was one of the fathers of the English Reformation, and who suffered martyrdom for the truth. Thus the Reformation in England may be largely traced to the quiet work of Erasmus as he sat at his desk, and used his vast learning and intellect to make the word of God more familiar to the people of his time. Buchanan and Judson.—A young American student more than seventy years ago happened to read a printed sermon which had fallen into his hands. The sermon was entitled “The Star in the East,” by Dr. Claudius Buchanan, and described the progress of the gospel in India and the evidence there afforded of the divine power. That sermon, by a man whom he had never seen, fell into the young student’s soul like a spark into tinder, and in six months Adoniram Judson resolved to become a missionary to the heathen. That little printed sermon, preached in England perhaps with no apparent fruit, became through God’s blessing the beginning of the great work of American foreign missions. You may not be an Erasmus or a Claudius Buchanan; but God may have as great a work for you to do as He had for them. What an influence for good Christian parents may exercise upon their children with far-reaching results to the world! The faithful Sabbath-school teacher may leaven with gospel truth young minds that may yet control the destinies of a nation. Young women, by the power of their own Christian character, may change for the better the muddy current of many a godless life. The great matter is for every one of us to live near to God, to cultivate a Christ-like character, and then our life is sure to be a blessing. You must walk with God if you would have weight with men. Personal holiness is the key to personal influence for good.—C. H. J., in “Pulpit Commentary.”
Romans 14:8. Death in the Lord is sweet.—Balaam exclaimed, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Life in the Lord is the bright way to death in the Lord, and death in the Lord is the pleasant cypress avenue to eternal glory.
“So live that, when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His character in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
Romans 14:10.—Being accountable to Christ, we cannot be accountable in the highest sense to any other.
Romans 14:11.—The phrase indicates the act of those who shall worship and acknowledge God. The knee may bend and the heart not engaged. Let us praise the Lord’s mercy and justice.
Romans 14:13.—Rabbins said, “When I enter the school to expound the law, I pray that no occasion of stumbling may arise through me to any.” Jewish Christians guilty by imposing Judaism, Gentile Christians by repelling scrupulous Jews.
Romans 14:14.—Nothing is unclean of itself.—Call nothing common or unclean. A thing may become evil if done against conscience, if the doing cause offence, if it make us leave some important work undone.
Romans 14:15. Because of meat.—Purposely selected as something contemptible. Eternal perdition not meant here. Destroy by causing him to act against his conscience, and so commit sin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:10-45.14.15
Self-judgment the paramount duty.—There is a certain morbid state of nature which leads men and women to spend too much time in judging themselves. There is also a censorious spirit which spends too much time in judging others. Both courses of conduct may be morally injurious. Nevertheless, we must judge ourselves, and if we do so aright we shall be the more disposed to walk charitably towards those who consider this or that not lawful.
I. We must judge ourselves, for we have our weaknesses.—We should not be human if we had not our weaknesses. A depraved nature suggests that we may have sins as well as weaknesses. The man who properly knows himself will make large allowance for others. If the Pharisee had known himself, had seen how contemptible was his sanctimonious and sinful pride in the view of the All-holy, he would not have directed a scornful look at the publican. There may be a littleness and a weakness about the man who prides himself upon his elevation above materialism, as there is a littleness about the man who has not learnt that the material is secondary to the spiritual. Why dost thou set at naught thy brother? Brethren have a family likeness and family failings. The strong brother of the family is not far removed from the weak. The good, stay-at-home brother did not show himself nearer heaven than the broken-down, prodigal brother who returned with tears of repentance.
II. We must judge ourselves, for we are individually responsible.—“We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ,” but each one must give account of himself to God. The strong brother will not have to give an account of the weak, but of himself. Solemn thought! How hast thou used thy strength? Has it been employed rather for self-glorification than for the helping of the weak? Thou hast gloried in thy strength; and yet what small moral use has it been to humanity! Thou hast condemned thy brother’s punctiliousness; and yet the weak brother may have helped to invest material things with spiritual significances.
III. We must judge ourselves, lest we hinder others.—A strong man is a pleasant sight; but strength is harmful if it become a stumbling-block so as to wound the weak brother, or an obstacle against which the weak brother stumbles and falls. Is it not likely to be true that more moral damage has been done to the world by the strong than by the weak? The Samsons of time have slain their thousands. Napoleons have done damage which long years only can repair. The Byrons of song have polluted the world’s ears with their melodies. Strong men, in their impatience of restraints, have engendered heresies of a pestilential character.
IV. We must judge ourselves in the light of divine teaching.—Material things have no moral qualities. A piece of meat has no conscience, and cannot be unclean of itself. A small square of bread cannot be incorporated with spiritual vitality. Bread of itself cannot give physical life, much less spiritual life. Still, if my weak brother esteemeth the bread supernaturally endowed, then as a strong brother I must walk charitably. The strong must not produce any painful and bitter feeling in the heart of the weak by the spectacle of free and bold eating, by the aspect of seeming irreverence with reference to sacred things. However, we must take care lest, while we vaunt our charity, we are only using another name for indifference. Charity suffereth long. Divine love suffers long. God is love, and yet God hates evil. St. John was the apostle of love, and yet he could say, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Modern so-called charity would scout the exhortation, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
V. We must judge ourselves, lest we obstruct the Saviour’s purposes.—“Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” Let us not stay to inquire how man, weak at his best, can obstruct the purposes of the strong Christ. Let us seek to move in harmony with the merciful purpose of the loving Mediator. He came to save the weak as well as the strong. The mission of every Christlike soul should be a mission of salvation. Divine salvation is vaster than human. The latter is too often an affair of the letter; the former is of the spirit. Faith, hope, and love are the great words of spiritual salvation—faith in Christ, hope built upon faith, love the outcome of faith and hope. Let us work so that faith may be stronger, hope brighter, and love more far-reaching.
Romans 14:10. The coming judgment.—It is well said that he who judges arrogates to himself Christ’s office; he who bears in mind that Christ will judge us all will no more condemn. What must we think of the prisoner awaiting trial who presumes to pronounce sentence upon his fellow-prisoners? It is a course of conduct we might not naturally expect; but the unexpected happens; and we know from observation that the worst sinners are not the most lenient in their judgments. It is often the case that the purer the life, the more charitable the judgment. Who was purer than Christ, and who gentler in judgment? If He were severe, it was only to the vile pretenders. He was gentleness itself to publicans and harlots. The thought of a coming judgment should lead to gentleness and forbearance in dealing with our fellow-sinners. Alas! the thought of a coming judgment seems often eliminated from modern life. Let us consider the awe-inspiring fact.
I. There are declarations of a coming judgment.—The declarations of the inspired word of God tell us of a judgment to come. Our blessed Lord, by striking and terrible imagery, places before the minds of men the fact of such an event taking place in the moral government of God. Our Lord had no reason to deceive. The almost universal verdict of humanity is that Christ was the essence of goodness, and He could not be that if He were capable of deception. Can we for one moment entertain the idea of deception upon such an awful and momentous topic of consideration? We may not be able either to understand or to explain all His imagery, but the plain truth abides that there will be a general judgment. He speaks with authority, not only as being absolutely pure, but as coming forth from eternity and being intimately acquainted with all the counsels and designs of the Infinite.
II. There are premonitions of a coming judgment.—An appeal to the Bible is with many out of date. The preacher is not now asked to quote chapter and verse. A sentence from Shakespeare or Tennyson or Ruskin is often more welcome and more thought about than a sentence from the Bible. But we believe that in this case the declarations of the Bible are strongly supported by the premonitions of the human soul. Why speak we of premonitions? Why talk we of a coming judgment? Why, when there is a judgment here and now? Christ has His judgment-seat in the human conscience. The process is going on day by day—the process, we mean, of moral reckoning. The doctrine of moral accountability to the human being is not quite destroyed. In this enlightened age men are not to be frightened into being religious, and we quite admit that the religion of terror only is a base sort of thing. But even now men have their doubts and fears, and these are not the product of a cunning priestcraft. They spring from the constitution of the human soul. It is fatuous to talk of introducing the alien principle or faculty of conscience into the human creature if there be no place for it among our moral faculties—if there be no combination of faculties out of which such a faculty as conscience could be developed; that is, if we proceed on the false principle that conscience is not original, but derived. The doubts and fears with which the mind is tossed and harassed, the writhings of a guilty conscience, are the dread premonitions of a coming judgment. Conscience could not make us cowards if there were no moral Governor, if there were no judgment to come, if we did not fear that somewhere and somehow there would be a judgment. There is no need to lessen the vital importance of the question by materialising the thought. St. Paul must speak in human language. “We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ” sets before us a solemn fact. We know not where the judgment-seat will be. We may in vain try to fancy the myriads upon myriads of our species that have lived on the earth, from the first man who saw creation’s prime to the last man who sees its final collapse, standing before the judgment-seat; but we cannot get away from our own oppressive thought that somehow there will be a judgment of the just and the unjust.
III. There are the certainties of a coming judgment.—These certainties are founded upon the declarations of the Bible and upon the premonitions of mankind—upon the testimony of conscience, which asserts, sometimes unwillingly, the equity and necessity of a final judgment. We speak of a religion of love and scout the idea of a religion of fear. But, after all, fear or misgiving of some kind or another has more to do with our religion than we are at all times prepared to allow. Vague fears are the foundation of all the religions, true or false, that have appeared. It is all very fine for philosophers to bid us shake ourselves free from fear and break loose from the miserable trammels of old world superstitions and traditions. They might as well tell us to shake ourselves free from ourselves; for these fears, these premonitions, these stirrings of conscience, are woven into the very texture of our nature. The coming judgment is not a mere probability; it is a certainty. If it be contended that it is only a probability, we affirm that such probabilities amount to certainties. We say it is probable that the sun will rise to-morrow because he has risen every day for so many ages. Probable, but not certain; and yet the business man and the farmer, in fact every sensible man, proceed as if it were a certainty that the sun will rise as aforetime. Let us for the moment admit that the judgment to come is only a probable event, then as sensible men it becomes us to proceed in life as if that probability were a certainty. But if we look carefully into the workings of our own moral natures, if we hear the dread warnings of conscience, the dark whisperings of the Infinite, if we listen to the words of divine wisdom, we shall assent to the statement that a coming judgment is a certainty, a crisis which we must all meet. We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ—all—judges and judged, conquerors and conquered, righteous Pharisees and sinful publicans, Cæsars and their subjects, czars and their serfs, philosophers and fools, bishops and their flocks, inquisitors and their victims—there is no exception: we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
IV. There is a preparation for the coming judgment.—Preparation for ondemnation and preparation for acquittal. Preparation for condemnation there may be, though the man does not set himself in the way of fitting himself for the awful event. The man is practically preparing himself for a felon’s doom who is adopting a felon’s course of conduct. Condemnation is what the sinner has earned. He has prepared the way for the sentence of death to be pronounced. “The wages of sin is death.” What is our life? Are we preparing for condemnation? Are we sowing to the wind that by-and-by we may reap the dire whirlwind of righteous indignation? Is there any escape? Yes; there is a way of escape. Penitent and believing sinners have a powerful advocate in the Judge Himself. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from sin. “There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
V. There is a twofold feeling with reference to the judgment to come.—Not necessarily in the same individual, but in different sections of the human race. The one feeling is that of sadness, of vague fears, sometimes of positive horror; the other feeling is that of gladness, of quiet confidence, of sweet assurance. What is our state of feeling? We too often come short of the gladness as we think of the judgment. We have our moments of confidence, and then we are tossed with fears. Happy man who can look forward to the judgment and feel no terrors in connection with that great day! Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven, who tastes the sweets of pardon; he can see the Lord coming in dreadful majesty, and feel no alarm; he can perceive the earth quaking, and experience no terror; the stars may withdraw their light, nature may wrap herself in funereal darkness, but in the soul of the true believer is a light that shines through all glooms, is a gladness which overtops all sorrows, is a confidence which overmasters all fears.
Romans 14:10. The great assize.—Consider:
1. The chief circumstances which will precede our standing before the judgment-seat of Christ;
2. The judgment itself;
3. Circumstances which will follow it;
4. Application to the hearer.—John Wesley.
Romans 14:12. Individual responsibility.—Here is a solemn truth which must, we think, have at once lifted the thoughts of the apostle’s Roman readers above the little controversies in which they were engaged into a higher and a serener atmosphere. Whatever food they ate or did not eat, whatever days they did or did not privately observe, one thing was certain—they would have to give an account of this particular act or omission, as of everything else in their whole lives. “Every one shall give account of himself to God.” My duty is that which, as a man, as a Christian, I have to do. My responsibility recalls the account which I must render for what I do and what I leave undone. Duty looks to the present, responsibility to the present and the future. Duty may seem at first to represent the most disinterested of the two ideas. Responsibility, human nature being what it is, is the more practically vigorous. Responsibility goes hand in hand with power—with power of choice. No man is responsible for the size of his body, or for the colour of his hair, or for the number of his sisters and brothers. His responsibility begins exactly where his power of choice begins. It varies with that power, and upon the use he makes of it will depend the kind of account which, sooner or later, he will have to give. It stands to reason that an account must be given, if given at all, to some person. Responsibility implies a person to whom responsible man is responsible. All human society is based on this law of responsibility to persons. The strongest of all the motives that can change a man’s life, both within and without, for his lasting good, is the love of God. If we could love God quite sincerely for twenty-four hours we should be other men, capable, spiritually speaking, almost of anything. But if this be so, the next motive in the order of efficiency is, beyond all doubt, the remembrance of the inevitable last account which we must each of us give before the judgment-seat of Christ. St. Augustine says, “Nothing has contributed more powerfully to wean me from all that held me down to earth than the thought constantly dwelt on of death and of the last account.” This resolution to give thought to the last account would prove a useful stimulus. It is like the old Jewish law—it is a schoolmaster to bring the soul to the feet of Jesus Christ; for the thought of that account does force us to think over our lives here—not once or twice, but often—not superficially, but with a determination to see ourselves as we are. To think of ourselves thus is to anticipate its result as far as we are conerned. It is to act on St. Paul’s advice—that if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. We can do all things through Christ that strengthened us; and so with His cross before our eyes, with His gracious presence and blessing within our souls, we look forward to our account with trembling joy.—Canon Liddon.
Joy and peace in believing.—“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” It will be good to take this apostolic prayer to pieces, and mark each separate part and truth.
I. The hope.—It is of the things hoped for that the apostle is speaking. It is not to “hope,” or to “a hope,” but to “the hope,” that he is poinring. It is not that thing called “hope,” as springing up in our breasts, that he would have us dwell upon; it is the glory to be revealed, the hops which is laid up for us in heaven. This is the bright star on which he fixes our eye.
II. The God of the hope.—Of that hope He is the beginning, the middle, and the end; the centre and the circumference; its root and stem and branches; its seed, its blossom, and its fruit. There is not one of these “things hoped for” but is to be t aced to Him as its sole fountain-head.
III. Fill you with all joy and peace.—There is joy, “joy unspeakable and full of glory”; but it is nor, of earth. It comes down from heaven. There is peace, the peace which passeth all understanding; but its fountain is above. It is God who gives these; and He does so as “the God of the hope.”
IV. In believing.—This joy and peace, though heavenly in their origin and nature, were not miraculous. They did not gush up into the soul like water springing from the sand by some supernatural touch. They found their way into the soul by a very natural, very simple, but very effectual channel—the belief of God’s good news about His only begotten Son. They were not the reward of believing; they were not purchased by believing; nor did they come in after believing: they were obtained in believing.
V. That we may abound in the hope.—The hope not only fills, but overflows, as the word “abound” might be rendered. It comes in and lights up the soul with its heavenly brightness; but it does more. It is so glorious and so boundless that the soul cannot contain it.
VI. Through the power of the Holy Ghost.—He comes in and dwells in us; thus working in us from within, not from without. He comes in as the Spirit of power and love and of a sound mind. He con es in as the earnest of the inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. He comes in, not in feebleness, but in power, in almighty power, to work a work in us and for us which but for Him must remain unaccomplished for ever.—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 14:10-45.14.15
AII shall be manifest.—All the wickedness that men have brooded on and hatched in the darkest vaults of their own hearts, or acted in the obscurest secrecy, shall be then made as manifest as if they were every one of them written on their foreheads with the point of a sunbeam. Here on earth none know so much of us—neither would we that they should—as our own consciences; and yet those great secretaries, our own consciences, through ignorance or searedness, overlook many sins which we commit. But our own consciences shall not know more of us than all the world shall, for all that has been done shall be brought into public notice.—Bishop Hopkins.
Another’s fault may be ours.—It matters not that Christ warned us to “judge not, that we be not judged” (Matthew 7:1), for men still hold up each other’s faults, real or suspected, and inspect and dissect them, and pronounce judgment, as if they fear to find a worthy man, lost their own meanness should stand out in dark contrast. There are modifying facts of which all men are ignorant concerning every action. It therefore requires much knowledge and wisdom to render right judgment. How is it, then, that we dishonour God’s command, and call fellow-beings before the bar of our illegal court for rash and presumptuous sentences? Do not, then, hold the characters of others up for dissection; do not talk much about people in any way: turn your conversation into more intellectual, less dangerous, and more profitable lines. Do not judge. The fault which you detect in another, even though radical and unmistakable, is no worse than some other evil, or often the selfsame evil, in yourself. Nay, look well to it that you have not weaknesses even more shameful and grievous; for the censor is often worse than his victim. Robert Westly Peach.
It is a true proverb, “Though two do the same thing, it is not really the same thing”; for not the form of the deed, but the sense of the doer, decides as to whether anything is unclean or holy, or contrary to faith and love (Romans 14:14).—Besser.
Dangerous to increase restrictions.—It is always dangerous to multiply restrictions and requirements beyond what is essential—because men, feeling themselves hemmed in, break the artificial barrier; but, breaking it with a sense of guilt, thereby become hardened in conscience, and prepared for transgressions against commandments which are divine and of eternal obligation. Hence it is that the criminal has so often in his confessions traced his deterioration in crime to the first step of breaking the Sabbath day; and no doubt with accurate truth. If God have judgments in store for England, it is because we are selfish men—because we prefer pleasure to duty, party to our Church, and ourselves to everything else.—F. W. Robertson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:10. Judgments, kind.—Jesus arrived one evening at the gates of a certain city, and He sent His disciples forward to prepare supper, while He Himself, intent on doing good, walked through the streets into the market-place. And He saw at the corner of the market some people gathered together, looking at an object ou the ground; and He drew near to see what it might be. It was a dead dog with a halter round its neck, by which it appeared to have been dragged through the dirt; and a viler, a more abject, a more unclean thing never met the eyes of man. “Faugh!” said one, stopping his nose; “it pollutes the air.” “How long,” said another, “shall this foul beast offend our sight?” “Look at its torn hide,” said a third; “one could not even cut a shoe out of it.” “And its ears,” said a fourth, “all draggled and bleeding.” “No doubt,” said a fifth, “it has been hanged for thieving.” And Jesus heard them, and looking down compassionately on the dead creature, He said, “Pearls are not equal to the whiteness of its teeth.” Then the people turned towards Him with amazement, and said among themselves, “Who is this? This must be Jesus of Nazareth, for only He could find something to pity and approve even in a dead dog.” And being ashamed, they bowed their heads before Him, and went each on his way.—Persian Fable.
Romans 14:10-45.14.15. The cadi and the king.—One of the Moorish kings of Spain wished to build a pavilion on a field near his garden, and offered to purchase it of the woman to whom it belonged, but she would not consent to part with the inheritance of her fathers. The field, however, was seized, and the building was erected. The poor woman complained to a cadi, who promised to do all in his power to serve her. One day, while the king was in the field, the cadi came with an empty sack, and asked permission to fill it with the earth on which he was treading. He obtained leave, and when the sack was filled he requested the king to complete his kindness by assisting him to load his ass with it. The monarch laughed, and tried to lift it, but soon let it fall, complaining of its enormous weight. “It is, however,” said the cadi, “only a small part of the ground which thou ast wrested from one of thy subjects; how then wilt thou bear the weight of the whole field when thou shalt appear before the great Judge laden with this iniquity?” The king thanked him for his reproof, and not only restored the field to its owner, but gave her the building which he had erected and all the wealth which it contained.
Romans 14:14-45.14.15. Charitable judgments.—Those of us who have read classic history may remember an incident in the history of the Macedonian emperor. A painter was commanded to sketch the monarch. In one of his great battles he had been struck with a sword upon the forehead, and a very large scar had been left on the right temple. The painter, who was a master-hand in his art, sketched him leaning on his elbow with his finger covering the scar on his forehead; and so the likeness of the king was taken, but without the scar. Let us put the finger of charity upon the scar of the Christian as we look at him, whatever it may be—the finger of a tender and forbearing charity—and see, in spite of it and under it, the image of Christ notwithstanding.—Dr. Cumming.
Romans 14:16. Let not your good be evil spoken of.—Let not Christian liberty be abused by offence given to the weak.
Romans 14:17. The kingdom of God.—What commends us to God is not the outward but the inward, only the outward must be in conformity with the inward. Peace, in opposition to discord among brethren; a peaceful and gentle demeanour.
Romans 14:18. Acceptable to God.—The things being required of Him. Approved of men, is profitable to them. Saying of the Rabbins: “He who conscientiously observes the law is acceptable to God and approved of men.”
MAIN HOMILETIC S OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:16-45.14.18
A new kind of kingdom.—We cannot prevent our good being evil spoken of, for evil men will both think and speak evil. St. Paul himself did not prevent it. Jesus Christ, the best of men, was numbered among the transgressors both in His death and in His life. We cannot hope to escape slaneer, but we must strive so to live that the slanderous tale may be baseless. We must conduct our lives according to the laws of God’s spiritual kingdom, and thus we may move in peace amid the strife of evil torgues. “Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Here we have a new kind of kingdom set up in the world—new, doubtless, in the apostle’s day. If not new in these times, certainly far different from the kingdoms set up by men. Let us examine and compare the constituent elements of this kingdom. This is a kingdom in which:—
I. Material forces do not reckon.—Take any kingdom of human device and material forces are placed in the ascendant. The kingdom of the state of course depends upon material forces. The commercial kingdom is mainly materialistic. The modern intellectual kingdom is tending in the same direction. What about our moral kingdoms—our kingdoms for social reform? There is a constant appeal for funds; there is a large number of secretaries; there is extensive organisation. He who said the kingdom of God is not meat and drink stood almost alone, and yet he effected the greatest moral and social reformation the world has seen.
II. External pomp does not count.—The modern conception of a kingdom is that of one in which there shall be effective display. This is the day for advertisements. A kingdom without external pomp is not our modern notion. A kingdom without its banquets! A kingdom without either meats or drinks does not suit an earthborn and earthbound nature. Complexity and not simplicity is too much the modern idea of a kingdom, whether commercial, social, or ecclesiastical.
III. Vague yearnings are not sufficient.—George Eliot says: “Justice is like the kingdom of God: it is not without us as a fact; it is within us as a great yearning.” The reputation of George Eliot is such that to say the sentence looks to us meaningless might be to provoke the smile of contempt. Is then justice a yearning? Is the just man one who has a yearning after an abstraction defined as justice? Suppose justice to mean rectitude in dealing—would it satisfy any one if a man pleased himself with wronging his neighbour and indulging in yearnings after justice? Whatever may be said of the definition of justice, we are quite sure that the definition of God’s kingdom is not correct. The kingdom of God is both within us and without us. It is within us as a sanctifying force, making us righteous, producing peace, inspiring joy; it is without us, for it is seen in righteous conduct, in holy lives. It is not enough to yearn after righteousness. Vapid sentimentalism is not adequate. We must strive after righteousness. Christ’s righteousness must be both imputed and imparted. Great yearnings tell of the dignity of human nature; but great yearnings, earnest desires, without corresponding efforts tell of human littleness.
IV. The territory cannot be measured.—“The kingdom of God is not meat and drink.” Viewed from the standpoint of the political economist, it is a non-productive realm, and the members are supposed to be non-producers, and therefore not valuable as citizens of earth. But the members of this kingdom do always increase the material wealth of any kingdom. They own no lands, it may be, but all lands are better for their presence. The political economist has not the word “righteousness” in his vocabulary, but he shows how much is lost to the community by the dishonesty of men, by the need of overlookers, etc., so that the righteous man is indirectly a producer of material wealth. The territory of this kingdom cannot be measured. It is unseen, but extensive.
V. The possessions cannot be either weighed or calculated.—They are of little account at the bank; and yet how much gold many a man would give for peace of mind, for joy in the Holy Ghost, if he only understood the priceless nature of the blessing! The small footrules of time cannot be applied to the righteousness of God. We can measure the great mountains on the surface of our planet, but the great mountain of God’s righteousness is of infinite height. The righteousness also of the true member of God’s kingdom rises high above scales of human measurement. The scales of time can be so adjusted as to be sensitive to the slightest air motion, but they cannot weigh righteousness, peace, and joy. Blessed possessions above all price! More to be valued than fine gold! Better far than rubies or diamonds!
I. This is a kingdom in which all the subjects are kings.—They are kingly, not by their first but. their second birth. They are kingly, not in outward seeming always, but in inward worth and nobility of character. They are kingly, not in knowing earthly love, but in knowing the love of heaven. They are kingly, not in being able at state etiquette, able in court graces, able in senate or in war, but as being able in heaven’s graces, in overcoming the great enemies of humanity, in loving and serving the eternal Righteousness.
II. This is an ecclesiastical kingdom in which all are priests.—No sphere for priestly ambition, for priestly assumptions, for sacerdotal claims, in this realm, for all the members of this kingdom are priests. They offer themselves living sacrifices; they wear the splendid vestments of righteousness. There floats around them the sacred incense of peace. They walk through earth’s aisles chanting hymns of praise, for the joy of the Holy Ghost inspires and gladdens their nature.
III. This is a kingdom in which all are successful.—No blanks in this kingdom; no disappointments; no working for honours and dying of broken hearts. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men. St. Paul was not approved of men—that is, not of all men: approved of men who worthily bear the name, who show the nobility of manhood. Let us then in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost serve Christ, and we shall meet with highest approvals. Heaven’s plaudits will amply compensate for every loss, for every effort, in the cause of truth and righteousness.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 14:16-45.14.18
“Let not then your good be evil spoken of.”—
1. We are to inquire what we are to understand the apostle to mean by our good. And here we may meet with different opinions: some, by our good, understand our religion, which is indeed every Christian’s chief good; and according to this sense of the words the apostle must be understood to exhort us to have a regard to the honour of the gospel in all our actions, to administer no occasion to the enemies of our religion either to deride or despise our holy calling. And thus the text amounts to an argument or exhortation to move us to a simplicity of manners and an inoffensive behaviour, for fear lest we bring a reproach upon our profession. But the apostle seems to aim at something further: his business here is, not to deter us from the practice of evil, but to direct us in the use and practice of that which is good, that our virtue may be without offence, and secured from calumny and reproach; and our good, mentioned in the text, is not the topic from which the apostle draws an argument or exhortation, but is the subject-matter concerning which he is giving directions. According to this interpretation of the words the text may be thus paraphrased: Be not content with merely doing that which is in itself good and commendable, but look forward to the consequences which are likely to attend it, and endeavour to prevent any mischief that may grow out of it to yourself or others, that your good may be inoffensive and irreproachable. In this sense it is that I propose to consider the text, and shall now proceed:
2. To show that our good is often exposed to be evil spoken of through our own indiscretion, and consequently that it is often in our own power to prevent it. This is one way by which men expose their good to be evil spoken of. Their mistake lies in not rightly distinguishing between a servile compliance with the world and a prudent behaviour towards it; and yet there is as much difference between them as between virtue and vice: one is the way which men who sacrifice honour and conscience to their interest make use of; the other is the method which wise and good men take to recommend the practice of virtue and religion. And what a wide difference is this! In the first case to comply with the world you must be like it, you must conform yourself to it; in the other you treat the world civilly, that it may the more easily become like you—that you may gain upon and instil the principles of virtue, which may be infused by gentle degrees, but cannot be obtruded by noise and violence. Sometimes men expose their good to be evil spoken of out of pure pride and haughtiness of temper: this is the case when men have such a contempt for the world as not to think it worth their while to guard against the misapprehensions of those about them. They reckon it below their dignity to render any account of what they do, and a mark of guilt to descend so low as to justify their actions. But surely, if we estimate the thing fairly, it is betraying of that which is good to reproach, and laying of stumbling-blocks in the way of the blind.
3. That as it is often in our power to prevent our good from being evil spoken of, so in many cases it is our duty. This duty may, I think, be deduced from these principles: the honour of God and of truth, the charity that is owing to our brethren, and the justice that is due to ourselves.—Sherlock.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:18. Livingstone’s answer to the charge of neglecting his work.—When Livingstone was charged with neglecting missionary work, he boldly answered: “My views of missionary duty are not so contracted as those whose only ideal is a man with a Bible under his arm. I have laboured in bricks and mortar, and at the forge, and at the carpenter’s bench, and in medical practice as well as in preaching. I am serving Christ when I shoot a buffalo for my men, or take an astronomical observation, or write to one of His children who forgot during the little moment of penning a note that charity which is eulogised as ‘thinking no evil.’ ”
Romans 14:20.—The work of God is the faith of a fellow-Christian.
Romans 14:21.—Three forms of spiritual damage, corresponding with the three blessings in Romans 14:17, which are prejudiced by them.
Romans 14:22.—κρίνω, to judge, question, doubt, condemn; and δοκιμάζω, to approve, finely express in their combination the doubting conscience.
Romans 14:23. He that doubteth is damned.—Condemned by his conscience, his brethren, and God. We must submit undoubtingly to the recognised will of God. The man eats sinfully who eats doubtfully. Happy the man who has faith and an approving conscience.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 14:19-45.14.23
Pursuit and retreat.—In Christian warfare it is well to know when to pursue and when to retreat. We must not endanger success by any rash methods. We must consider, not only our own welfare, but the well-being of the whole Christian community. We must remember that we are parts of a whole, and must consider the proper ordering of the parts, so as to promote the successful edification of the whole. Let us then inquire:—
I. What are we to follow?—The answer to this question is to be given not from a worldly but a Christian standpoint—that is, the standpoint of an enlightened Christian, of one who is not for self, for self’s party, for self’s little sect, but for the Christian state in its widest aspect. Peace is to be followed. Not peace at any price, not peace at the sacrifice of principle. The follower of the little sect says, Just so; but how often are his principles mere crotchets? Externals are not unimportant, but peace is supreme. Edification is to be pursued. The temple will not rise if the workmen spend their time and energies in quarrelling over the shape and position of the stones. Mutual edification is too often sacrificed at the bidding of self-glorification. A man gets hold of some side aspect of the truth, or rather it gets hold of him, and he pursues it to the damage of the spiritual building. Selfish workers cannot succeed in the edification of Christ’s great temple.
II. What are we to avoid?—The answer to this question has to do, not with the Christian’s relation to the moral law, to his fellow-men as citizens of earth, but to his fellow-men as members of the invisible Church, though there are many things to be avoided which even strong faith may allow, from the consideration that their adopt on may do harm to the though less and inconsiderate. It may be good and expedient to abstain from intoxicating beverages, to withdraw from certain modern amusements, to refuse complicity with many modern customs and practices, so as to raise the general moral tone. It is certainly good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, if by doing so the Christian brother is either offended or made to stumble.
III. What does the strong Christian treasure in secret?—His mighty faith, which does not mean either his articles of belief or his personal hold on the things and beings invisible. It may mean his large and enlightened view. This is the day of so-called large and enlightened views, and men parade their shop windows, which are well dressed sometimes, while the shop is poor and scanty. Intolerant men make a noise about tolerance. We want more reserve on some things and more openness on other things. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Art thou above the shibboleth of parties? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. This freedom from condemnation is not always rightly founded. It springs sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from indifference, and sometimes from carelessness as to the rights of others. Happy is the man who enjoys freedom from condemnation which is rightly originated.
IV. What must all Christians shun?—The one great answer is sin—a word of large significance. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” What the enlightened conscience does not approve is sin. “Whatsoever is not of faith.” Grounded on convictions. But are all convictions infallible? Certainly not. Convictions must be formed in the light of divine truth. Let the converging rays of all light centres bear upon my mind, so that I may form right views. It I doubt, I must refrain from the doubtful course; if I am fully and rightly persuaded, then I must steadfastly and joyfully walk along the appointed pathway. Let us avoid the appearance of evil. Let the strong be tender towards the weak, while the weak do not carp at the strong. Let the desire for peace be strong. Let all thoughts and energies be devoted to the edification of God’s great spiritual temple, which shall overtop and outlast the gorgeous temples of time.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Romans 14:19. Sir Thomas Burnet thinking of the things which make for peace.—Sir Thomas Burnet, the third son of Bishop Burnet, led at one time a dissipated life. At last he took a serious turn, and one evening his father observing him to be very thoughtful asked what he was meditating. “A greater work,” replied he, “than your lordship’s History of the Reformation.” “Ay,” said his lordship, “what is that?” “The reformation of myself,” said the young man. He fulfilled his promise, and he afterwards became one of the best lawyers of his time, and in 1741 one of the judges in the Court of Common Pleas.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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