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Romans 8:1. Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.—Wanting in oldest manuscripts. Supposed to be a mistake. A wise addition.
Romans 8:2.—Acquitted, all claim of sin is at an end.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:1
The natural and the spiritual man.—This admirable chapter has been called the chapter beginning with no condemnation and ending with no separation. Spener is reported to have said that, if Holy Scripture were a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans its precious stone, chap. 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel. Almost every verse in the chapter is a sparkling point; it dazzles with beauty from the beginning to the ending. The apostle seems to have been changed from the logician to the rhetorician. He leaves behind the dry process of reasoning, and gives scope to the workings of an enlightened and a spiritual imagination. He idealises, but his ideals are the outcome of true experience. Here are no pictures that do not represent that which is true in the spiritual realm, so that we may safely follow where our apostle leads. Here in the first verse is a true picture of the believer’s happy condition. It suggests the contrast between the natural and spiritual man.
I. The natural man.—He is:
1. In a state of condemnation. This is testified by the witness of nature, by the voice of conscience, and by the verdict of God’s word. In studying nature we ask, Why do discordant notes obtrude themselves amid the harmony? why do noisome weeds choke the flowers? why do earthquakes yawn, avalanches sweep, thunders roll, and pestilences destroy? We can only find one consistent explanation. The words of the old record strike our ears with new emphasis: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” Man’s conscience testifies to the fact of man’s guilt. Systems of idolatry are built upon the fact of man’s sense of condemnation and need of deliverance. The baskets of the Druids, the wheels of Juggernaut, the shrines where firstborns have been slain for the sin of the soul, testify that man’s conscience says that he is in a state of condemnation. Priests could not have made a successful trade of religion if man had been free from condemnation. The moral demand of man’s nature for a remedial scheme created the supply of false religions; but this demand can only be truly met in the gospel of Jesus. The word of God witnesses to man’s condemnation: “Now we know that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” Again the word says, “For that all have sinned.” The sentence is that of universal condemnation.
2. In a condition of alienation. The natural man is estranged from God, from truth, and from goodness. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” It does not like to entertain the thought of God. The natural man may profess to be a seeker after truth and an admirer of goodness; but he only seeks for the truth that he desires, and admires that kind of goodness which is not foreign to the depraved leanings of his nature.
3. In a position of danger. The sentence is passed, execution is delayed; but the decree is unalterable—“The wages of sin is death.” Unalterable, if sin be persistently pursued. Therefore hasten to escape from the consequences of sin by finding refuge in Jesus, sin’s destroyer.
II. The spiritual man.—He is:
1. Free from condemnation. God’s word has declared it, and that word must be true. The conscience of the spiritual man echoes the sweet declaration of God’s word, for it says there is peace instead of trouble, rest in the place of unrest. The bells of heaven have rung in the soul the gracious chimes that tell of sins forgiven. Angels minister heaven’s viands to the ransomed soul.
2. A state of friendship. Freedom from condemnation is not only acquittal, but introduction to divine friendship. Abraham was the friend of God, and thus he is the father of all the forgiven ones. What a privilege!—the friend of God.
3. A condition of safety. What harm can happen to him who is free from condemnation, and who is the friend of God? Omniscience is the spiritual man’s guide. Omnipotence is His protector. All things in heaven and in earth move to his final welfare. Let us try to enter into the broad meaning of the ancient words, “There shall no evil happen to the righteous.” Seeming evil there may be, but human seeming is not always divine reality.
III. The ground of the spiritual man’s privilege.—“There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” A familiar expression with St. Paul: “In Christ Jesus.” The spiritual man is “in Christ Jesus.”
1. As a substitute. If I am condemned to death and another suffers my sentence, I am in that substitute virtually. My crime is atoned for, my punishment is borne. Thus we are in Christ as our substitute. “By His stripes we are healed”; “He was wounded for our transgressions.”
2. As the ark of safety. Noah escaped condemnation and death. Might not others have entered the ark and have been saved? Surely, for God is always merciful. However, all may fly the devouring waters of condemnation, and find safety in the ark Jesus Christ.
3. As the pacifier. Jesus is the peace-bringer, but He only brings true peace to the soul that sails with Him in the boat that He guides. My soul has peace when it hears the soothing strains of infinite love.
4. As the harmoniser. There must be divine adjustments in the soul if there is to be freedom from condemnation and consequent peace. The sense of condemnation is not completely eliminated from the nature until every power is brought into harmony with divine plans and purposes.
5. As the perfecter. Our translators have fittingly added the words, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Christ must perfect and develop the upward tendencies of the renewed man. Every step taken according to the flesh leads to condemnation, but every step taken according to the motions of the life-giving Spirit tends to peace and untold blessedness.
IV. How do we get into Christ?—Through faith by grace. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.” The act of faith may be either definite or indefinite. Some people can point to a period when there was the conscious stretching forth of the hand of faith, laying hold of the hand of Jesus Christ. Others seem to grow up in the faith. They have been trained to look to Jesus as their Saviour. They are conscious of no startling spiritual changes; but they are conscious of faith in Jesus Christ, of love to His person, of devotion to His cause. They have peace. Jesus says to the man with the withered limb, Stretch forth thy hand. He says to all, Stretch forth thy hand of faith. It is powerless; well, obey the command, and strength will be imparted, and strength will increase. Christ seeks to lay hold of you. Do you then lay hold of Christ. If you feel your weakness, cast yourself into the arms of the powerful Saviour. Believe, and live.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:1
Sin not in the body.—Some philosophers have maintained that all sin has its seat in the body and originates from it, but that the soul is absolutely pure. Does the apostle mean that Christians live according to the principles of the soul, not the evil motions of the body? No; since our Lord teaches us the heart is the seat and foundation of moral evil, for out of it proceeds all that defiles the man. Therefore when exhorted to cleanse ourselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” it is not implied that any moral good or evil attaches to the material body, but that we ought to abstain from those sing of which the body is the instrument and subject, such as sensuality in its various forms, and from those of which the body is not necessarily the instrument, such as pride, malice, covetousness, and other sins of fiends who have no bodies. Christians live by the grace of God, not according to the flesh or their corrupt nature, but according to the spirit, or their regenerated nature. Their spiritual principles, motives, and aims give a character of spirituality to their secular as well as to their religious acts; for whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, they do all to the glory of God.—Parlane.
MAIN HOMILETIGS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:2
Perfect liberty.—The apostle carries out his parallelism. One part of this passage is set over against the other, and we are not therefore to be surprised as we read, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The ruling power in the natural man is “sin and death”; the ruling power in the spiritual man is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The law of the Spirit is the controlling power imposing itself on the will, guiding the understanding, regenerating the affections, and elevating the nature. The freedom we contemplate is perfect, but this perfection will not be reached till by death we are set free from all the enthralling forces. The Holy Spirit is the gift of Jesus Christ, the result to man of the Saviour’s mediatorial work. The Spirit is communicated to us through Christ. The gospel frees not by its own power, but by Christ. We must come to the great central truth that Jesus Christ is the true emancipator of the race. If we have any freedom it must be in, by, and through Jesus Christ. Let us seek then to follow out the wide teaching of the text, and ask in what senses Jesus Christ makes His people free.
I. Jesus Christ makes men free by discharging from prison.—It is impossible accurately to explain the precise nature of the bearing of the Redeemer’s sacrifice upon God’s moral government and man’s spiritual relations. Theologians may fail to give full satisfaction to the curious inquirer; nevertheless we may adhere to the truth that man was and is a sinner, and that Jesus Christ died in the penitent and believing sinner’s room and stead. Man had incurred a great debt by transgression, and had not wherewith to discharge the claim; for Jesus Christ teaches the prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Man is under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Men are guilty before God, for he that offends in one point is guilty of all. Guilty the man stands in the presence of almighty God, and is as a man in prison. When a man comes to feel his guilt, he longs to be set free. His cry is, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the bondage, who shall set my conscience free from the chains with which the law has bound? And the gracious answer comes: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Jesus takes away man’s guilt by becoming Himself as one guilty. “Jesus is laid in the borrowed tomb, indicative of the fact that He carried borrowed sins.” When the debt-bound man is set at liberty, the clouds are swept away, sweet sunshine enters the soul, the time of singing birds returns, the flowers give forth their fragrance, and all things are revived. So it is when the sinner believes that Christ Jesus has discharged every claim.
II. Christ Jesus makes men free by finding congenial employment.—When a man has been in prison for a term of years and is set at liberty, he finds it difficult to adapt himself to his new state of life. A man had been in prison so long that his hair had grown grey through the confinement, and his old friends did not know him, and now most of them had passed away from this world; the old familiar scenes of childhood looked strange and almost repulsive to him; he had forgotten the employments and the amusements in which he was accustomed to engage long, long ago, in what seemed to him another life. He came back to the prison doors, and with tears in his eyes begged to be readmitted, that he might end his days in his beloved cell. Better the confinement of the prison than the liberty of the man who does not know what to do with himself and who finds no sphere for the exercise of his powers. Now Jesus Christ introduces the freed to blessed companionships, to holy employments, to scenes and engagements where their natures will find satisfaction and their love repose. Christ Jesus makes men free by renewing the nature, and then by finding employment for that changed condition.
III. Christ Jesus makes men free by surrounding with wholesome restraints.—There are those who imagine that restraint and freedom are opposed; but so far from that being the case, restraint is the true conservator, the true sweetener, of liberty. Now Jesus Christ surrounds His people with wholesome restraints that conserve and promote Christian liberty, and that enable them to enjoy the blessings of divine freedom. He places them within the circle of truth and of duty, their satisfied desires have no longings to overleap the bounds of that circle, and there they enjoy highest freedom. The true law of the Christian life is liberty to do right and restraint in the direction of wrong doing. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Liberty in loving service. Slavery and freedom combined. Bondage compatible with liberty. The bird flies far and wide on the wings of love to provide for her young ones; but however large her circuit, however wide her flight, she is bound to the nest, and seeks not to loose herself from the invisible bond. The angels in heaven find loving service liberty. We shall never experience true freedom until we know how to serve in Christian love.
IV. Christ Jesus makes men free by binding them to Himself with the cords of love.—It is a burlesque on freedom to imagine that it consists in shaking oneself loose from all family, social, and national restraints. There is a gracious freedom in the loving heart which it alone can experience, and which it cannot explain to any other. The heart of man is full of trembling and uncertainty, till it be fixed in the beloved object, till it has returned unto God, the soul’s true rest. Away from the binding influences of the Saviour’s love, we may have the so-called freedom of the homeless wanderer who goes up and down the earth seeking rest and finding none, but gathered into that love we have the home feeling of those welcomed by dear ones. When the spirit is bound to God by faith and love, it soars in the highest regions; but when it breaks those bonds, its powers are curtailed, and it lies in wretchedness. If the Son makes free by binding to Himself with love, then are men free indeed.
V. Christ Jesus makes men free by causing them to love the pathway of of holiness.—The pathway of holiness is the way to freedom, and is itself freedom. It emancipates the spirit from selfishness as the rule of life, from those low passions which cramp the immortal nature, and leads upwards to those heights where the spirit revels in ever-expanding liberties. Christ Jesus is the world’s great liberator. Sin is the prison-house where Satan causes his victims to serve, and holiness is the bright sphere where Jesus leads His delighted followers. “But now being made free from sin, and become the servants of the living God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Liberated men must let the world see that sin has no mastery. It is as Christ Jesus is born in the heart that men are made free from sin. “Though Christ were born a thousand times in Bethlehem, and not in thee, thou remainest eternally a slave.” If the cross of Golgotha is not erected in thy heart, it cannot deliver from the evil one. Looking upon striking pictures of the Crucifixion will not save. Wearing gold or ivory crosses will not redeem. There must be loving attachment to the Saviour’s person; there must be believing recognition of the sacrificial nature of His death.
VI. Christ Jesus gives men a real freedom.—“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” These words denote the singular excellency and the certain nature of that freedom which Jesus imparts. The opponents of the reign of Jesus talk about those trammels which religion places on the persons of His followers. But the true outcome of Christ’s religion is liberty, progress, improvement. Wherever Christianity has existed in its purity, there has likewise existed the greatest liberty. Christianity and liberty are as cause and effect—the former must in the long-run produce the latter. No slavery can long exist in that atmosphere which has been permeated with Christianity. Where are our statues in honour of Jesus, the world’s greatest liberator? They are widely spread. Statues not in brass or in marble. Loving hearts in many climes set free by Jesus are the monuments of His glory. Enfranchisement of thought, freedom of utterance, and the liberty of the press all testify to the influence of the Christian religion. The onward march of improvement, the flourishing of every good and noble cause, the suppression of vice, and a large public practice of and still wider public sentiment in favour of virtue, speak to the blessedness of Jesus. Before the coming of Jesus Christ truth was bound by men’s blind traditions; but He spoke the all-powerful word, and truth stood forth in its native majesty and blessed the world with its benign influence. And thus Jesus is at once the world’s liberator both intellectually and spiritually. And it is as a spiritual liberator that He is now working and shall continue to work. He sets men free from sin and fear and guilt. He gives the glorious liberty of divine sonship. His people are no longer children of the bondwoman, but of the free. But the soul cannot taste the bliss of full freedom so long as it is trammelled with the body of this flesh, and it anticipates the period when it will be fully emancipated and fly away to that more perfect sphere where there will be uninterrupted freedom and unalloyed happiness.
“The law of the Spirit of life.”—The apostle, in the first verse, says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” In the seventh chapter he had given an account of his own experience, from his conviction of sin till he triumphs in the Lord Jesus. In the text he sums up the work of salvation. Consider:—
I. The law of sin.—Sin is not a single act, it is a principle. It takes possession of the transgressor the moment he violates the law of God. Sin is a tyrant, whom none can conquer but the Almighty. To know what sin is, and to be delivered from it, is heaven begun on earth.
II. Consider the law of God, and what sin does in opposition to it. The apostle Paul had learned the truth in his own heart. “Sin taking occasion of the commandment deceived me, and by it slew me.” This teaches us the awful truth that sin commands in exact proportion as we discover the holiness and purity of the law of God. Sin says, “Oppose it.” Its purity presents itself in new glories. Sin says, “Oppose it still, persevere against the Almighty in all the glories of His legislation; laugh at all His curses, and sin on.” Such is the monster which inhabits our own hearts. The secret of true religion is first in knowing ourselves as sinners. But this is not all that can be said of transgression. We should not be surprised that a criminal should curse the judge who consigns him to the gallows; but we should be surprised to find a criminal, to whom the king sends a reprieve, spurning it, and cursing the sovereign. It is not in hell that we behold sin in its deformity, it is on earth. When the gospel is proclaimed, unless the Holy Spirit change the heart, the tyrant issues his edict, “Curse God, despise His commands and invitations, laugh at heaven and hell.”
III. The law of death—that is, the punishment of sin; the curse due to the transgressor. Sin comprises its own punishment wherever found. In the presence of a God of justice every sin will have the punishment due to it. Neither the commands nor curses of God’s holy law emanate from the sovereignty of God, but from His essential holiness. The punishment of sin will be tremendous in the extreme, while the sinner will be his own executioner. Nothing is more absurd than to talk of the deliverance of devils and lost spirits, for it impeaches the law of God. Consider what the nature of sin is. It must live, not only as feelings in the bosom, but as principles. “The Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.”
IV. The law of the Spirit of life.—The gospel is called the law of the Spirit for two reasons:
1. Because God is a legislator as well as a sovereign in His mercy. The gospel, both in the Old and New Testaments, is called a law. “His delight is in the law of the Lord,” in the whole truth of God. “A law shall go forth out of Zion.” The Saviour is a king; and where is there a king without a law? To dream of sovereign blessings and to forget the legislative glories of the King of kings is a dangerous and delusive dream. It is impossible to save a ruined soul without meeting God as a legislator as well as a sovereign. He is both; and we are only to live as that we may die under the influence of this truth.
2. The Holy Spirit accompanies His own truth into the human heart. The gospel is the medium which is made use of by the Holy Spirit to make us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” Some preach parts and portions of the gospel, as if God were exclusively a sovereign; though it may be blessed to the salvation of some, yet it is pregnant with destruction to others. “The law of the Spirit of life.” Here is the triumphant consolation of the believer; he sometimes goes through painful discipline. It is a useful discipline to the believer to humble him, to drive him downward, as the cold winter does the sap. To destroy the tree? No; but to strengthen its roots and promote its growth under ground, where no human eye can witness it, that the sap may afterwards ascend to the branches, that they may bear not only leaves but rich fruit.
V. The blessing.—“Free from the law of sin and death”; free from the condemnation and dominion of sin; free from every curse; free from every charge; free from the holy law of God as a covenant; free as Messiah Himself. If this be not true, what the apostle says in the first verse could not be true. Was there any condemnation for the Saviour after He rose? No. Is there any for him who believes in the Saviour? No. In what consists the freedom of his humanity now? In his intense and delightful obedience to the will of God. There is no true freedom to be found but in the freedom of God, in obedience to His holy will True liberty is the freedom from the condemnation of sin, from its dominion, and from its tyranny. This freedom involves in it a state of warfare. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” It opposes itself to everything opposed to God, internally and externally. Are we thus free? Some are shocked when they hear any one say they are certain of being in heaven. I dare not dispute their testimony; but I would inquire, on what ground does it rest? If their religion correspond with St. Paul’s, I would say, “Triumph on, begin the song of heaven on earth.” True religion is freedom, and if so, a consciousness of safety must be so likewise. The liberty of true religion is the parent of every other liberty. Contrast this with the voluntary slavery of men. Man is the slave of a slave; because the slave of Satan by nature, led captive by him at his will.—Homilist.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:2
Contrast between Paul’s past and present.—The contrast of Paul’s past bondage and present liberty proves that he is not now condemned. He remembers the time when, in spite of his better judgment, he did the bidding of sin. He now does the bidding of the Spirit of God. He finds that he is free from the bondage of sin only as he follows the guidance of the Spirit, and therefore infers that the guidance of the Spirit has made him free. He knows that his liberation came through Christ’s death, and he enjoys it to-day by resting upon Christ. His freedom is therefore God’s gift, and a proof of God’s forgiveness. Just so a prisoner, whose prison doors have been opened by the king’s command, has in his past imprisonment and present freedom a proof of pardon. Whereas the freedom of a law-breaker who has never been apprehended is no such proof. There are thousands to-day to whom every doubt about their present salvation is banished by a remembrance of their former bondage to sin and fruitless efforts to do right. Since Paul’s liberation took place in Christ, he has a right to infer that all who are in Christ have been set free, and are therefore no longer condemned. Thus the law, by making us conscious of our bondage, not only drives us to Christ, but furnishes to those who believe an abiding proof of God’s favour.—Beet.
The gospel frees men from sin and death.—The world in general account it liberty to give loose to their passions; but such freedom is indeed the sorest bondage to sin and Satan. None possess true liberty but those who are freed by Christ. The state of the demoniacs when healed by Christ resembled theirs. Paul was made a glorious example of it to all ages. He was once under condemnation, both because he adhered to the covenant of works and was governed by his own impetuous will; he now rejoiced in a freedom from the sin that he had indulged, and from the curse to which he had subjected himself. “The law of,” etc. We shall first explain and then improve the text.
I. Explain it.—It is not needful to state the various interpretations given of the text. We shall adopt that which seems most easy and agreeable to the context. We will begin with explaining the terms. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is the gospel covenant as confirmed to us in Christ and revealed to us by the Spirit. “The law of sin and death” may be understood either of the covenant of works or of our indwelling corruption. We shall next explain the proposition contained in the terms. The proposition is, that “the gospel frees us from the curse of the law and from the dominion of sin.” This proposition is to be understood as extending to all believers. The text thus explained is capable of most useful improvement.
II. Improve it.—It is replete with very important instruction. It shows us the wretched state of every unregenerate man. It declares to us the only method of deliverance from that state. It affords also abundant matter of reproof. It reproves those who despond as though there were no hope for them. It reproves also those who speak against an assurance of faith. It may administer comfort also to many sincere Christians.—Simeon.
Difference between legal and evangelical.—It has been said that the difference between legal and evangelical doctrine appears from the relative position of two words. The doctrine of the legalist is, “Do, and live”; the doctrine of the evangelist is, “Live, and do.” It is surely as absurd to expect spiritual action without spiritual life as natural action without natural life. All Christians, therefore, are raised into life from death, into which they had fallen by sin, before they love and serve God. The apostle in this verse states the causes of life and death as consisting of two laws, and his emancipation from the one as being effected by the superior energy of the other.—Parlane.
Gospel sets believers free.—Albeit, the apostle himself (brought in here for example’s cause) and all true believers in Christ be by nature under “the law of sin and death,” or under the covenant of works (called “the law of sin and death” because it bindeth sin and death upon us till Christ set us free), yet the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” or the covenant of grace (so called because it doth enable and quicken a man to a spiritual life through Christ), doth set the apostle and all true believers free from the covenant of works, or “the law of sin and death,” so that every man may say with him, “the law of the Spirit of life,” or the covenant of grace, hath made me free from “the law of sin and death,” or covenant of works.—Westminster Divines.
The outward does not make a Christian.—There are two senses in which men are said to be Christians. In common speech they obtain this name when they merely belong to the outward fellowship of the Church of Christ; but in the more exact and appropriate use of the term, it denotes those who both belong to the communion of the Church and also manifest the dispositions and conduct which our Saviour requires in His followers. To the last of these is freedom from condemnation here restricted, as is expressly signified by the apostle’s words. For lest it should be supposed that all members of the visible Church are exempt from condemnation, he immediately adds this further limitation, “Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Thus there is a twofold qualification necessary in order to exempt men from condemnation. They must be “in Christ,” and they must “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” [Ritchie’s remarks are just, though the weight of manuscripts is against this second part of the passage. It is found in Romans 8:4.] Strictly speaking, indeed, this last qualification did not require to be stated in order to make up the meaning; for if we understand those who are “in Christ” to mean those who are His genuine disciples, their walking “not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” is implied. Without this qualification no man can be a sincere disciple of Christ. But the repetition shows the apostle’s sense of the importance of this qualification; and was probably intended to impress us with a conviction that, in order to be sincere Christians, we must not only avoid walking after the flesh, but actually walk after the Spirit—not only “cease to do evil,” but also “learn to do well.”—Ritchie.
Romans 8:2. Freedom in this life.—In the words, and those that go a little before, there are these three main fundamental points of religion: The misery and bondage of man; the deliverance of man; and his duty. Here you have his misery, he is under “sin and death.” Here is his deliverance: he is “free from this by Christ.” And for his duty, you have it in the last verse of the former chapter, speaking of his deliverance: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Then it follows, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thankfulness is due,—not verbal thankfulness only; indeed, the whole life of a Christian, after his deliverance, is a real thanksgiving. The fearfulness and odiousness of this condition, to be in prison and thraldom and bondage to all kind of sin, natural and actual, will appear further by this, that being in subjection to our base lusts, by consequence we are under the bondage of Satan; for he hath power over death by sin, because he draws us to sin, and then accuseth us and torments us for sin. By sin we come to be under his bondage. So that we are under the captivity of sin; for all the power that he hath over us it is by sin. He is but God’s executioner for sin. This is good news indeed to hear of freedom—good news to the Israelites to hear of freedom out of Egypt, and for the Jews to hear of Cyrus’s proclamation for their freedom out of Babylon. Freedom out of bondage is a sweet message. Here we have such a message of spiritual freedom from other manner of enemies than those were. The year of jubilee was a comfortable year to servants that were kept in and were much vexed with their bondage. When the year of jubilee came, they were all freed. Therefore there was great expectation of the year of jubilee. Here we have a spiritual jubilee, a manumission and freedom from the bondage we are in by nature. “The Spirit of life in Christ makes us free from the law of sin and death.” There can be no freedom without satisfaction to divine justice. Satisfaction must be with the glory of His justice, as well as of His mercy. His attributes must have full content. One must not be destroyed to satisfy another. He must so be merciful in freeing us as that content must be given to His justice, that it complain not of any loss. Now reconciliation alway supposeth satisfaction. It is founded upon it. Here it is said there is life in Christ. There is life in Christ as God-man, as mediator. Now this life is that life which is originally from the Godhead. Indeed, it is but the Godhead’s quickening and giving life to the manhood in Christ, the Spirit quickening and sanctifying the manhood. And we have no comfort by the life of God, as it is in God’s life alone severed; for, alas! what communion have we with God without a mediator? But our comfort is this, that God, who is the fountain of life, He became man, and having satisfied God’s justice, He conveys life to us. The Spirit of life in Christ, first of all, it did quicken and sanctify His human nature. And the Spirit of life that quickeneth and sanctifieth our nature in Christ did likewise ennoble our nature: also enriched it with all grace that our nature is capable of; for the nature of Christ had this double prerogative above ours: first of all, that blessed mass of flesh, it was knit to be one person with God; and then, that nature was enriched and ennobled with all graces above ours. And this the Spirit of life did to Christ Himself, to human nature that He took upon Him, that He might be a public person. A freedom in this life, in calling, in justification, in sanctification; and in the life to come a freedom of glory.—Sibbs.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:1. Saved by the union-jack.—When I was in Havana there was one evening a great row in the streets, and a man was killed. Every one ran away except an Englishman, who did not see why he should run off, but stopped to do what he could for the wounded man. The city was then, as it often is, under martial law, and in a few minutes a party of soldiers came up and walked the Englishman off. He was tried then and there by a sort of drum-head court-martial, and condemned to be shot the next morning at eight o’clock. He managed to get the news conveyed to the English consul, and at a quarter to eight o’clock next morning the consul appeared in his coach-and-four, uniform, cocked hat and sword, all his orders on, etc. The shooting party was drawn out, and the prisoner was there too. The consul walked up to the officer commanding the party, and demanded the life of his countryman. “Very sorry,” said the officer, “but I must carry out my orders”; and he showed the warrant signed by the governor. “Well,” said the consul, “at least you’ll allow me to shake hands with him before he dies.” “I can’t refuse that,” was the reply. On which the consul stepped up to the Englishman, put his hand into his breast-coat pocket, drew out a union-jack, unfolded it, threw it over the man, and then said, “There, now; fire if you dare!” The lieutenant was staggered, the matter was referred to the governor, and the Englishman was saved. The man covered with the union-jack was saved. In Christ Jesus we are free from condemnation. “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died.”
Romans 8:3.—The flesh of Christ alone is sinless. “Created in the likeness of sinful flesh,” that He might be in all points tempted as men are.
Romans 8:4.—Might be fulfilled, be accomplished or done in us.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:3-4
The method of law and the method of love.—The method of law has failed as a justifying and sanctifying force. Perhaps not failed in the divine plans; even human failure may be divine success. Law has failed “in that it was weak through the flesh.” Law could not overcome the obstructive forces of human passions, of a depraved moral nature. The method of love must now be tried; and if that fail—we may say it reverently—the divine resources are exhausted. But this method has not failed. Law cannot show one instance of success. Love can indicate many. If the method of love had triumphed in only one case, it would prove itself a success. But it can refer to multitudes. The method of love must be allowed to run the same lengthened course in human history which has been allotted to law before a verdict is pronounced; the method of love must be examined when the final roll is completed, when the vast multitude of the children of love are gathered to the home of love, and then God’s wisdom and power will be vindicated. The method of love is here exemplified and illustrated by and in:—
I. The act of sending.—“God sending His own Son”—emphasis on the words “His own.” God plucked the choice treasure from His bosom of love, and sent it forth on a strange errand; God plucked the sweetest flower from the eternal garden, and sent it forth to fill another world with its fragrance.
1. Thus the words point us to the fact of the Saviour’s pre-existence. Let us not deny the eternal existence of Christ because it is to us unknowable. Here let us rise from the known to the unknown, from a temporary to an eternal existence, and believe in that which we cannot comprehend. “In the beginning was the Word,” and this beginning is before the present system of things. It answers to that declaration in the old Testament where Wisdom, which is Christ personified, says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” Here is eternal existence declared—or at least an existence which goes far beyond our powers of understanding, for it was before God’s works of old. Jesus Christ in His divine nature was not then the work of God, for He existed before all the works of God; and if Jesus be merely human, then He existed before Himself, which is absurd. And again, according to Micah, Jesus came out of Bethlehem as to His human nature, but as to His divine nature His goings forth have been from the days of eternity, from the days of old—old to us who are of yesterday; neither old nor young to Him who is “the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.” We are of yesterday, and had no previous existence. The doctrine of the migration of souls is futile, for it does not enrich consciousness or enlarge experience. Is there no growth in this migration? Why do not the great souls of the past show themselves with increased capacities in other human beings? Jesus Christ was before His birth. And His life shows a richness and a vastness which speak of pre-existence. Here is to be noted the coincidence between the Old Testament and the New, which reveal the divine unity of the Bible as proceeding from one God; for Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father.” The personified Wisdom of the Old Testament and the incarnated Wisdom of the New are one. Jesus Christ was with the Father before His works of old. He came from the Father, from everlasting. Jesus Christ had a glory with the Father before the world was, the incomprehensible glory of an eternal existence, of being when there was no created being. Jesus Christ states the doctrine distinctly when He says, “Before Abraham was, I am”; or in other words, Before Abraham was I was. My existence is prior to the existence of him who gave tithes to Melchizedek. In this sense it was understood by the Jews when they took up stones to stone Him, as making Himself greater and older than Abraham. In this sense it must be understood by every intelligent student; and thus by this fact Melchizedek is a type of Christ, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. Therefore we say with St. Paul, “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist”; the universe subsists, keeps together, is held together in its present state, by the omnipotence of Jesus Christ. He is before all things, and thus had a prior existence, and is therefore divine. He is before all created things, and therefore uncreated. Our Saviour is glorious in the incomprehensibility of His eternal existence. He comes forth from eternity to save and rescue the sons of time, and with the treasures of eternity would enrich humanity. He comes forth from the sabbatic repose of eternity to the toils and anguish of time.
2. The words point us to the loving harmony which subsisted between the Father and the Son. It is to be observed that our Lord does not speak much of His own love to the Father, but rather lets it speak for itself, as all true love will. This agrees with His own utterance: “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do.” And the world, looking at the Saviour’s life, at His devotion to the Father’s will, at His loving determination through all pains, agonies, and self-sacrifices to accomplish the Father’s purpose, will come to the conclusion that His love to the Father was above and beyond all human comparison. Oh that bur love were one of deeds as well as of words! John the Baptist gives an emphatic utterance as to the Father’s love of the Son. John, in bearing witness to the glory of Christ, says, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hands.” This is a mysterious statement, and we cannot hope fully to understand its meaning, for we only “know in part and prophesy in part,” for “we now see through a glass, darkly,” a smoked glass, and nothing is clear to the vision. Our ideas are indistinct, and the words we use for their conveyance are inadequate. Human language is imperfect to express the thoughts which we have of the things seen; how much more must it be imperfect for converse about the things that are unseen! When we speak of God the Father and God the Son by means of our feeble language, we must remember that our terms and figures are bounded, and cannot express all that we think, far less all that may be thought, on such a sublime theme. Not only is our language poor, but our thought is feeble. The words “the Father loveth the Son” are familiar words enough. “Father” and “son” are primal words. They are as roots to the vast tree of humanity. Out of them spring families, tribes, nations, vast dynasties. And yet what are they in that connection? In what sense is God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son? The Father, and yet not superior to the Son? The Son, and yet equal to the Father? We cannot tell. Sublime mystery, and yet blessed thought, that our human relationships are employed to set forth divine relationships. And the love which exists between the divine Father and the Son must be something beyond the power of our intellects to comprehend. All our notions of love, gathered from earthly manifestations, must be far from doing justice to the bright flame which illumines the divine nature. Mostly in this world love is not a pure flame—too often it is but “fantasies’ hot fire, whose wishes soon as granted fly”; but God’s love is like Himself, free from all imperfections; and to change our figure, it flows from Himself a life-giving stream, filling heaven with joy and with glory, and then shaping for itself other channels along which to send its vast overflowings. And oh, how the love-stream went out towards the Son of God! The earthly father loves the son by virtue of the subsisting relationship. A magical influence is that which binds the father to the son, and we cannot analyse this subtle emotion. It is divinely implanted, and is the reflection of God’s love to the Son. That love refreshed the Son of God in a past eternity. Before time commenced its solemn march, in a far back eternity, God loved the Son; for Jesus was ever the Father’s delight, rejoicing always before Him. Through the power of this love we are to suppose them moving in harmony and dwelling together in sabbatic repose. For true love, then, there must be harmony of nature,—
“The secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which, heart to heart, and mind to mind,
In body and in soul can bind.”
Now it is almost impossible to secure this perfect oneness in human relationships. But between God the Father and God the Son there could be no disparity of either tastes or tendencies or years. They are one in nature, though two in person. Their perfect harmony is seen most strikingly in the scheme of human redemption. God the Father beheld human misery with divine compassion. When He was devising schemes whereby His banished ones might not be expelled from Him, God the Son said, I delight to do Thy will, O God. Here am I; send Me. I am ready to go, travelling in the greatness of My strength, mighty to save. We are not then to view the loving Father as a mere vindictive God, from whom the Son extracts salvation. The lovo of the Father as well as of the Son are equally manifest in the plan of redemption. There was perfect harmony in heaven, and this harmony between the Father and the Son is communicative and productive of harmony among the angelic hosts. In confirmation of this Jesus Christ says, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again.” In loving harmony they dwell together in eternity. And as we think of this loving harmony, we are induced to reflect how much is involved in the expression, “God sending His own Son.”
II. By the manner of sending.—“In the likeness of sinful flesh.” How great is Jesus Christ, and yet how He humbled Himself and took upon Himself the form of a servant! He assumed a true human nature. He was bone of Our hone and flesh of our flesh. In all things, sin excepted, He was made like unto His brethren. He was in the world identifying Himself with its deepest needs and highest interests. Ho had indeed infinite pity for the infinite pathos of human life. The tears of the world’s Creator are the world’s great boon. They crystallise themselves into jewels of undying hope for humanity. They mingle themselves with the world’s tears, and these lose more than half their bitterness. The Saviour’s tears flow on fields of mourning, and there spring up harvests of joy—on valleys of death, and they bloom with the sweet life of light and immortality. He did not shut Himself up in seclusion, but went about doing good. Christ was more concerned to show His divinity by the attribute of love than by the attribute of either omnipotence or omniscience. Omnipotence belonged unto Christ, but He ever kept it in check. He spake of His power, but seemed to speak of it as if to show to men how great was the restraining force of that love which could hold omnipotence in chains. Christ had power and love, and in the conflict love was allowed the victor’s place. Our Lord was omniscient, but He seldom used the attribute. Omnipotence was kept in abeyance; omniscience did not often appear; love never slept.
III. By the purpose of the sending.—“And for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”
1. He destroyed sin in the flesh by a holy life. It is said that the direction which Socrates gave to philosophical inquiry was expressed in the saying that he brought “philosophy down from heaven to earth.” But Jesus Christ did a greater work, for He brought goodness down from heaven to earth, embodied it in His own person, and manifested it in all His actions. Socrates dreamt philosophical visions; but Jesus worked out schemes of benevolence, showed Himself the rare and radiant vision of goodness incarnate. We by no means undervalue Socrates and his work, and yet we must feel that he stands at an immense distance behind that vision of goodness which gladdened our sphere when Jesus Christ moved, full of grace and of truth, a being too good for earth, whom earth neglected and rejected, and yet by whose presence earth has been highly blessed, and to whose action earth owes a more glorious aspect. Some are bold enough to place Jesus Christ on a level only with Socrates, and in doing this they forget the unchallenged purity of the Saviour’s life, and do not bear in mind the facts brought before us in the utterances of Jeremy Taylor: “The best and most excellent of the old lawgivers and philosophers among the Greeks had an alloy of viciousness, and could not be exemplary all over: some were noted for flatterers, as Plato and Aristippus; some for incontinency, as Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, Theognis, Plato, and Aristippus again; and Socrates, whom their oracle affirmed to be the wisest and most perfect man, yet was by Porphyry noted for extreme intemperance of anger, both in words and actions; and those Romans who were offered to them for examples, although they were great in reputation, yet they also had great vices; Brutus dipped his hand in the blood of Cæsar, his prince, and his father by love, endearments, and adoption; and Cato was but a wise man all day—at night he was used to drink wine too liberally; and both he and Socrates did give their wives unto their friends; the philosopher and the censor were procurers of their wives’ unchastity; and yet these were the best among the Gentiles.” These charges were made by writers who lived very close upon the time at which the men flourished of whom they wrote, and yet an attempt at refutation was not made. And yet we do not know of any attempt to convict Jesus Christ of immorality near to the time in which He flourished. The verdict which Pilate uttered, “I find no fault in Him,” was practically unchallenged by the chief priests, scribes, Sadducees, Pharisees, and angry Jews. It was a verdict which all felt to be just, and which brought conviction to every mind. If there had been but one spot on this Sun of righteousness, there were not wanting men of microscopic power to find it out. Plate’s wife referred to Jesus as a just man. The centurion and they that were with him said, “Truly this was the Son of God,” “Certainly this was a righteous man.” The centurion had the conception of a divine-human, holy being. He felt that Jesus was just in claiming to be the Son of God, and he confessed further that Jesus was holy, and none were present to contradict. The suborned blasphemers, the two false witnesses, could only declare, “This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.” Jesus Christ stood the trying test of His own time, of the envenomed spirits that sought His destruction, who, if there had been any discovery to make, would have succeeded in the attempt; but His moral glory was superior to the fangs of jealousy and of wickedness. Thus the sanctity and holiness of Jesus were glorious in these darknesses, “as a beauty, artificially covered with a thin cloud of Cyprus, transmits its excellency to the eye, made more greedy and apprehensive by that imperfect and weak restraint.” Thus were found confessors and admirers even in the midst of those despites which were done Him upon the opposing designs of malice and contradictory ambition. Eighteen hundred years have passed away, and it has been reserved for a modern French writer to draw sensual pictures of the lascivious dalliances of the holy Jesus with beautiful Jewish maidens. But the picture is a proof rather of the evil mind that gave it birth than of any reality in the case it is supposed to represent. If there had been anything of this kind, we may be sure that it would not have waited eighteen hundred years for the pen of a modern romancer to reveal. The opponents of Jesus, whether political, intellectual, or religious, must be crushed; while the adherents of Jesus shall live and flourish by the power of His undying life and by virtue of His ever-increasing justice. The Sun of Righteousness sails on in sublime tranquillity, shedding His beneficent beams in spite of telescopic glare, of the romancer’s daring, and of the sceptic’s bold denunciations. Yes, of all the great and good men who have walked this earth, dignified the race, and whose names have adorned the pages of history, Jesus Christ is by far the noblest, not only on account of His intellectual greatness, though here He was without rival, but on account of His pre-eminent goodness. His life was a thrilling record of goodness, shining through every feature, suggesting every thought, ennobling every action, clothing every utterance with beauty, and endowing Him with superhuman influence. So that we may indeed stand before Him and say, Thou art fairer than the sons of men,—fairer not in physical form, though thus He was comely; fairer not in mental capacity, though thus He was mighty; but fairer in holiness and in purity. So fair that, if we range the fields and gardens for types, we must gather the loveliest of flowers, for He is the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley; if we explore the mineral world, we must take the most precious, for He is the treasure hid in the field and the pearl of great price; if we ascend to the heavens and travel from star to star, we must fix upon the most brilliant, for He is the bright morning star; if we retrace our course and go back to Israel’s history, we must think of Israel’s noblest characters, for Moses the world’s greatest lawgiver, Aaron the head of the priesthood, and David the noblest of Israel’s kings and the world’s richest poet, are types of David’s greater Son. Earth can give but faint types of Christ’s moral beauty, and He will transcend all the glories of heaven.
2. He destroyed sin in the flesh by a painful death. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many,” as the climax of His self-sacrificing ministry. Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows, and yet He moved with sublime tranquillity along the highways of life, and thus He was the best helper the children of sorrows ever met as well as a welcome guest at the feast. It is true that in the final issue sorrow broke His heart. This sorrow, however, was not His sorrow as a man, but as a mediator. We can neither climb the heights nor fathom the depths of the Saviour’s sorrow in the period of His crucifixion. In that one fearful cup of sorrow was compressed the world’s sin. He suffered for others in a sense in which no other has suffered, and therefore the heart-breaking nature of that calamity. If He had appeared in this world but not as a mediator, sorrow would have touched and yet would not have destroyed. Love to the eternal Father and love to the race induced Jesus Christ to tread the course of the lonely sufferer. And the solitariness of Jesus brings to our view the greatness of His love most vividly. As in lonely prayer He agonises on the mountain’s side, His mighty love comes beaming from His person and clothes the barren mountain with celestial beauty. When in lonely grandeur He treads the billows, they gleam with the brightness of His ineffable love. When in His solitary struggles He sweats as it were great drops of blood, His love transforms for devout souls the bead-drops of sweat into pearls radiating divine colours of attractive brilliance. When He cries, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” that cry is but the sad yet gracious musical strain which indicates the wondrous force of His all-mastering passion. The heavens were darkened, the sun was eclipsed, the earth reeled in its steady course, as if in astonishment that love so vast should meet a doom so fearful. No wonder that all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, beholding love incarnate rejected, crucified, tortured, beholding the way in which men treat the embodied perfection of virtue, smote their breasts and returned sorrowing! No wonder that the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, as if to see if it were indeed true that love could find so ungrateful a return, and that none were found so enamoured of divine love’s charms as to rally round the Saviour in His defence and to His protection! The Saviour’s crucifixion is indeed calculated to give us an exalted view of the force of the Saviour’s love; but it is also calculated to give a depressing view of the degradation of our humanity. The darkness of earth’s sins and miseries and want of power to appreciate the highest goodness clouded over and eclipsed the light of heaven’s goodness. Earth has no darker sin, history has no blacker page, humanity has no fouler spot, than that of the Saviour’s crucifixion.
 “Les jeunes filles qui auraient peut-être consenti à l’aimer,” etc.
IV. By the gracious results of the sending.—Earth was darkened by the Saviour’s crucifixion, but through the darkness came ever-expanding streams of light. Thus Jesus was sin’s destroyer. Thus was opened up a way for the justification and sanctification of those who “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” We mourn that our sins crucified the Lord of light and of glory; but we rejoice that out of the sinless Sufferer’s offering arises the moral betterment and enrichment of mankind. Let us show our true gratitude by not crucifying the Son of God afresh, by triumphing over sin, by walking after the Spirit of light and of purity.
The coming of God’s own Son in the flesh.—The third verse may be read literally, and more intelligibly, by reversing the order of the clauses, thus: “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh—a thing which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” Without entering on many collateral controversies, ancient or modern, which these words may suggest, we observe that the great lesson conveyed is that there was something which the law could not do, and which the incarnation of the Son of God did. He sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Not in sinful flesh, but “in the likeness of it.” Does this mean that Christ’s nature was a mere likeness of humanity? Surely, to put this question is to answer it; if Christ’s manhood were not real, then there is no solid footing for faith, hope, and charity on this stricken earth. But let us mark the very words of Holy Writ. God sent His Son in the likeness—not of flesh, but—of sinful flesh. It was in its very essence humanity; but it was not in essence sinful humanity. But it never was stained with sin, and He could not know the bitterness of remorse. And yet He knew that hiding of the Father’s face, that darkness of desolation, which is for us the first, last, worst result of transgression. I believe that though He never sinned He was really tempted to sin; and that therefore there must have been something in the nature of the God-man upon which the evil one could lay hold; that the chords which bound the heart of holy Jesus to the Father’s bosom were not so screened from assault, but that the devil seized and strained them till they moaned as though they would break. Yet were they not broken. How this was we cannot tell; but I will admit all mysteries and take my stand on the Scriptures which tell us that He suffered in soul and body from the mighty tempter’s power; suffered, as the strong wrestler suffers ere he hurls his antagonist upon the ground, as the soldier suffers ere he can rest his reeking sword on the trampled sod where the dead foe is stretched. He came in the flesh, but only in the likeness of sinful flesh. His was a true, a tried, but not a sinful humanity. What, then, did this mission of God’s Son accomplish that was beyond the power of the law? We answer:—
I. It showed that human nature is not essentially or originally sinful.—Into our world, thus explaining away its iniquity and shortcoming, Christ has brought vivid picture of holiness in His own life, teaching us that the law of God is at once true to the nature of man and to the nature of God. For when men looked at Him as He fulfilled the law, and saw how good He was, how pure and sinless, the first thought was, “How true a man!” and the next, “How divine!” There were indeed times when the sense of His perfection was insupportable, and the cry of the stricken heart was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Yet even this very cry led up to the confident conviction which said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
II. But, further, the mission of God’s Son in the flesh also enabled us to see at once the hatefulness of sin and the loveliness of holiness.—We can now hardly realise what a change in the nature of religious profession Christ has made. We now look upon a world into which Christ’s life has been infused, upon men and women who know that He is at once their model and their strength. But this is the result of a revolution. There was nothing in the world when Christ came, nothing in known history, to attract men to what we now understand by “holiness,” and gentle words never heralded such a revolution as did that cry of the great Teacher, “Take up My yoke and learn of Me.”
III. But, further, the mission of God’s Son effected the severance of the sinner from his sin.—That, as we have already seen, was what the law could not effect. But Christ has brought it about in fact and in our consciousness. It is in this strange division between the sinner and his sin that the power of Christ’s cross is seen.
IV. The mission of God’s Son thus brings it to pass that “the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”—Although this be the result in the blessed experience of very many, it is a fact resting on a further mystery. And some who can go along with us in what has been already said may now stop in uncertainty. The present life of Christ is imparted to me. It is not only that my sins are forgiven, but that the power of sin is taken away. It is not only that if I were like Christ I should be happy, but it is that Christ comes into me, and by His Spirit renews me day by day. Life could never come by law, and therefore righteousness could never come by law; but now life comes to men by Christ, a new life,—a life of holy thoughts and pure desires; a life of love, joy, patience, peace; a life which is like Christ’s life, rather which is Christ’s life. What is it to you and me that Christ has come? Is it the power of a new life? Is your religion only in your Bible, or is it in your heart? Is your Saviour in heaven or in you?—A. H. Charteris.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:3-4
The presence of the Son proclaims the death of sin.—“Condemned sin”: proclaimed the doom of sin. Since sin has been represented as a ruler, its doom must be dethronement. “In the flesh.” By sending His own Son in a body of flesh like that in which sin had set up its throne, and by sending Him because of sin and to save us from sin, God proclaimed in the midst of the empire of sin that that empire will be overthrown. The birth of Christ was an invasion of a province which sin had seduced into revolt and brought under its own sway. When we see the King’s Son enter the revolted province without opposition, and know that He has come because of the revolt, we are sure that the King is both able and determined to overthrow the rule of the usurper. The presence of the King’s Son proclaims the usurper’s coming dethronement.—Beet.
The Son’s pre-existence.—The term “sending,” by itself, would not necessarily imply the pre-existence of Christ; for it may apply to the appearance of a mere man charged with a divine mission. But the notion of pre-existence necessarily follows from the relation of this verb to the expression “His own Son,” especially if we take account of the regimen: “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” It is evident that, in the view of one who speaks thus, the existence of this Son preceded His human existence. The expression “His own Son,” literally “the Son of Himself,” forbids us to give to the title “Son” either the meaning of “eminent man,” or “theocratic king,” or even “Messiah.” It necessarily refers to this Son’s personal relation to God, and indicates that Him whom God sends He takes from His own bosom. Paul marks the contrast between the nature of the envoy (the true Son of God) and the manner of His appearing here below: “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This expression “sinful flesh” (strictly, “flesh of sin”) has been understood by many, especially most recently by Holsten, as implying the idea that sin is inherent in the flesh—that is to say, in the bodily nature. It would follow therefrom—and this critic accepts the consequence—that Jesus Himself, according to Paul, was not exempt from the natural sin inseparable from the substance of the body. Only Holsten adds that this objective sin never controlled the will of Jesus, nor led Him to a positive transgression. The pre-existing divine Spirit of Christ constantly kept the flesh in obedience. We have already seen (Romans 6:6) that if the body is to the soul a cause of its fall, it is only so because the will itself is no longer in its normal state. If by union with God it were inwardly upright and firm, it would control the body completely; but being itself since the Fall controlled by selfishness, it seeks a means of satisfaction in the body, and the latter takes advantage therefrom to usurp a malignant dominion over it. Thus, and thus only, can Paul connect the notion of sin so closely with that of “body” or “flesh.” Otherwise he would be obliged to make God Himself, as the creator of the body, the author of sin. What proves in our very passage that he is not at all regarding sin as an attribute inseparable from the flesh is the expression he uses in speaking of Jesus: “in the likeness of a flesh of sin.” Had he meant to express the idea ascribed to him by Holsten, why speak of likeness? Why not say simply “in a flesh of sin”—that is to say, sinful like ours. While affirming similarity of substance between the flesh of Jesus and ours, the very thing the apostle wishes here is to set aside the idea of likeness in quality (in respect of sin). This is done clearly by the expression which he has chosen. Thus we understand the connection between the “condemned” of Romans 8:3 and the “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1). In His life He condemned that sin which, by remaining master of ours, would have brought into it condemnation. The relation between Romans 8:3-4 becomes also very simple. The condemnation of sin in Christ’s life is the means appointed by God to effect its destruction in ours.—Godet.
Romans 8:5.—The state is indicated in Romans 7:25, when the mind can serve the law of God, and only the flesh is subject to the law of sin.
Romans 8:6. Carnally minded (φρόνημα τῆς σαρκός).—Lust, a figurative expression, occasioned by what precedes.
Romans 8:10. But the spirit is life.—Neither spiritual life nor happiness, but a physico-moral life in the fullest sense.
Romans 8:11.—The Spirit the pledge of our fellowship with the risen One (Phil.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:5-13
Depression and elevation.—In this world we reckon up the human race by many gradations. In divine revelation the race is classified under two comprehensive terms. One class mind the things of the flesh, and the other mind the things of the Spirit. The one is carnally minded, and the other is spiritually minded. Godet speaks of the aspiration of the flesh. Surely the carnal mind does not aspire. It reaches out, not towards the higher, but towards the lower. The spiritual mind alone aspires in the true sense of that word. It reaches upwards towards the infinitely pure, good, and beautiful. The work of the carnal mind is depressing, for “to be carnally minded is death.” The result of the spiritual mind is elevation, for “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Men deem it important to secure the titles and honours of this world; but the highest title and honour is to be spiritually minded Let us seek for divine grace, for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that we may become spiritually minded, and have that more abundant life and ever-increasing peace which is the promised inheritance.
I. Define the two characters.—The carnally minded is not merely the glutton, the drunkard, and the sensualist. A man may be a respectable member of society, and yet be carnally minded; for his thoughts, cares, and aims are confined to this present world. The philosopher who exalts reason, the poet who revels in bright visions, the philanthropist who works from an earthly standpoint merely to ameliorate human woe, the orator who conveys thoughts that breathe in words that burn, the patriot who shows a love of fatherland, may be all carnally minded. They mind the things of the flesh, and their vision is bounded by the things of time and sense. There is no heavenward aspiration. They may be in a state of enmity against God, which is characteristic of the carnal mind. The carnal mind is enmity against the God of love and of wisdom. The creature is in a state of enmity against that Creator who has made the senses to be the avenues of pleasure, who has created a world of beauty to minister to their delight. The fallen creature is in a state of enmity against that Creator who has devised the mediatorial scheme for redemption and salvation. He may not be subject to the law of God. The carnal mind is proud, and will not bow in subjection to the Supreme. Outwardly the man may obey; inwardly he rebels. Divine subjections reach to human volitions. Human subjections are outward and material, while the divine are inward and moral. The carnal mind cannot please God. There is dissimilarity, which causes repulsion. Like attracted to like. The carnal mind cannot walk in fellowship with the spiritual mind of the Eternal. The depraved and the Holy cannot sweetly coalesce. The carnal man is in a condition of guilt. Conscience is uneasy. He cannot please, he does not attempt to please, and he is displeasing to the infinite Justice. The spiritually minded are those whose thoughts, cares, and aims are for the things of the Spirit. This is their general and prevailing characteristic. We are not thus born. The first birth introduces us carnally minded; the second birth constitutes us, in germ at least, spiritually minded. The spiritually-minded man is one whose sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who is an heir of heaven, who seeks so to pass through time as not to lose sight of the things of eternity, who seeks to use this world so as not to abuse. The spiritually minded is one in whom dwells the Spirit of Christ. The divine Spirit animates and elevates the human spirit. The divine Spirit impels to aspiration, and satisfies the upward longings of the yearning human spirit. The two spirits move in blissful union. This is so complete that they are as one spirit. The Spirit of Christ, loving, peaceful, and benign, has taken possession of the human spirit; all disturbers are driven forth, and a beautiful divine kosmos rises out of the repulsive chaos. The spiritually minded are those who please God. How wondrous the suggestion that humanity can touch divinity! How elevating the conception that human doings can affect divine pleasures! Away with the depressing suggestion that man is beneath the notice of the divine! In the beloved Son God is well pleased; and shall He not be pleased, for the Son’s sake and through His work, with all those in whom that Son’s Spirit dwells?
II. Depict the two results.—“Carnally minded is death.” “Spiritually minded is life and peace.” The carnal mind is death, for there is:
1. Paralysis of the powers. Physical sensation has not ceased; the emotional nature is not in a state of complete stupor. The carnally-minded man has his better impulses. Sometimes he is touched and moved by what appear to be divine instincts. But there is a paralysis of the God-apprehending powers of his nature. His soul does not aspire to the true soul-rest. He does not attempt to climb the sublime heights where divine visions are vouchsafed.
2. A creeping corruption. Physical death corrupts. Sin corrupts where it touches. Where sin reigns a corrupt force creeps. Sin spoils our pleasant palaces, defiles the throne, and plucks every jewel from the crown.
3. Cessation of the nobler affinities. Sin separated Adam from God. Guilty Adam did not discern the strains of fatherly love in the divine voice. Love has much work to break the spell of sin and win home the prodigal. Sin sends its victims to hiding-places in dark groves, to the far countries of want and wretchedness. Sin is death to all the home feelings. The carnally minded is dead in the finer emotions, the sweeter sensibilities, the divine affinities of his nature. The spiritually minded has:
1. A living peace. A state of quiescence may belong to the solid rock. The Stoic may have killed his emotions; the Fakeer may have reduced himself to the condition of a machine—withered and senseless. But the spiritual mind has a living peace. It is an inward force swaying and gently guiding.
2. A peaceful life. Outward, storms—inward, peace. A lighthouse rocked by the tempest in the rude cradle of the deep; the keepers calmly tending the light which is to cheer the mariner. Paul’s outward man touched and tossed by the rude tempest of persecution; the ego, the sublime personality, was calmly tending the eternal lights.
3. An ever-expanding life. “To be spiritually minded is life.” All other life is poor compared with this. This is more abundant life. This is eternal life. What do we know of life in this death-stricken world? A Samson appears once in the world’s history to give us some notion of physical life. A Solomon and, nearer our own times, a Milton and a Shakespeare tell of the largeness of intellectual life. Jesus Christ unfolds to our view the vast possibilities of the moral life. “To be spiritually minded is life.” It is a large word composed of four letters. Life from the Infinite permeating the finite. Life divine flowing through human valleys where death shadows darken.
4. An enlargement of view. He that raised up Christ from the dead shall quicken the mortal bodies of those who are spiritually minded. There must be greater significance in Paul’s words than we have hitherto comprehended. We read them with a materalistic bias. Can it be that he who allowed his body to be buffeted and torn by persecutors thould hold out as a great prize the doctrine of the resurrection of the mere material nature? Would St. Paul rejoice that a defective body which hampered the workings of a sublime soul was to be raised from the grave? We do not yet know all that is meant by the resurrection of the dead. And we take refuge in the declaration that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. One thing is certain, that there will be a wondrous quickening. Life will triumph over death in miraculous manner. Life in the righteous already triumphs over death. The clergy are good lives on the assurance tables. A smile passes over the countenance of the sceptic. Good living, freedom from care, are the ready explanations. Are they the only class placed under like conditions? They are the only class who seek as a whole, in some measure, to attain a spiritual condition, and in doing so they realise the blessing even of physical life. But what is physical life? How poor its sensations! What is intellectual life? What is spiritual life? The realm glows in beauty where spiritual life abounds.
“Mortifying the deeds of the body.”—We have been sent into this world to live out our lives on the highest level, do all that lies in us towards completing our duty, and also make the most of this present world. But the man has not yet lived who did not find it easier to go down than to rise, who did not discover that it was easier to be soiled with sin than to keep unspotted. There is a throne in every heart; but the heart has not yet throbbed in-which there has not been a battle for the mastery—Satan striving for the throne with God. The text points out at least one fact, that this must be exactly reversed. Satan must have no standing-ground, and God must be king in man’s living temple. We shall find this no easy task. There will be a sharp, painful struggle; an agony will be felt in the soul; and thus we speak of “mortifying the deeds of the body.”
I. What is it to “live after the flesh”?—
1. Some have delighted to call a man “a mass of corruption”—e.g., the Puritan fathers. But have not all men, in some sort or other, some redeeming quality? Say, a splendid morality. But, unhappily, the law of life to such men has come to them, not from the fountain-head direct, but through some vitiated, mud-filled channel. These highly moral men perhaps are positively indifferent about God—their morality is of human conception; and that in one sense is “living after the flesh.”
2. What we are of ourselves, good as it may be, does not make us what we ought to be. If we are all in all to ourselves, if we have our own guide and rule of life, if we have not called God in to our assistance, we are certain not to walk aright. Whenever we do what we like, we are trying to tread the pathway of the Infinite with only finite power to guide us. If that be so, we are bound to have false and inadequate conceptions of life and destiny; and such a course one might call “living after the flesh.”
3. Some are led on by impulse. The flesh is more than spirit, appetite more than reason; passions are more than obligation. Their bodies get more care than their souls. That is “living after the flesh.” In short, a man lives after the flesh who treats the body and bodily interests as everything, and minds not the things of the soul. The body is not the most important part of a man. Beauty no guarantee of goodness.
II. Mark the inevitable struggle for supremacy.—In man there is a continual struggle—flesh against spirit, temporal advancement as against growth in grace, a constant estimate of the value of things, temporal things laying claim to man’s best energies, religious principles too often being put into the background. These are the mistakes of worldly life. Take one special tendency of modern life—the undue exaltation of intellect. The cultivation of the mind a great boon to humanity. It helps the onward sweep of civilisation, lifts men out of serfdom and ignorance into the liberty that becomes a man. But if intellect be placed before true religion, this is “living after the flesh.” This is putting “smaller” before “larger,” making “princelet” wield the sceptre over “emperor.”
III. Mark the plain duty of man.—He must “mortify the deeds of the body.” Its parallel in the Ephesians, “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind,” etc. If we find we are not all we should be, our struggle must be to undergo a thorough change. We are to go over our lives as we should over a garden, carefully, searchingly, pulling the weeds out by the roots, leaving only the good behind. Slay the evil habits, abolish unsafe rules, snap chains that bind us as sin-captives, get out of old ruts and step boldly on the way of life, drive out devils of hypocrisy and expediency, selfish hard-heartedness, and in the spirit of true humility kneel at the cross and claim the merits of the Saviour’s dying love. All that is hard, but it is a part of the mortification.
IV. There is a wrong way of mortification.—
1. Sudden determinations, when arrived at in our strength only, leave us as unsafe as if we went into the thick of the enemy without armour—e.g., a drunkard’s resolution to be sober broken in a few days.
2. The aiming at suffering as a mode of producing a change of heart—e.g., the monkish method of torture for penance.
3. Beecher points to those who, having strayed from virtue, never forget their error, but check every smile with “You remember,” and let the gall from the old bitterness exude on every flower of pleasure. This is not God’s way. He forgets our transgressions. Having repented, and honestly sought forgiveness, forget “those things which are behind,” etc.
V. The right way of mortification.—We have too many pet methods for making peace with God. Mortification of sinful habits not accomplished solely or primarily by bodily penance, but by divine grace. The right way is to go straight to the Saviour, and leave ourselves in His hands, asking God’s help in the struggle. You want peace? Seek it without delay from Him who alone is able to give it, Christ Jesus. Tell Him you have read His compassionate invitation to the labouring and heavy-laden. “Seek Christ Himself, and do not stop short of personal dealings with Him.” He will help you to mortify the sins, and you will find peace.—Albert Lee.
Things of the flesh, good and bad.—“The things of the flesh” are the bodily appetites, sympathies, and propensities. These are its great forces moving its members and its organs.
I. Things of the flesh are good when they are subordinated to the interests of the soul. When they are controlled by a holy intelligence, they are blessed handmaids to the spirit.
II. Things of the flesh are bad when they are allowed to hold empire over the soul. This they do in all unrenewed natures; the curse of humanity is when the body rules the intellect and conscience too. “What shall we eat—what shall we drink?” etc.
Things of the spirit, good and bad.—The things of the spirit are its moral intuitions, rational dictates, intuitive longings, and varied powers of thought and sentiment.
I. These things of the spirit are good when they control the things of the flesh, when they hold the body in absolute subjection, use it as an instrument.
II. These things of the spirit are bad when they are devoted to the things of the flesh. They are often thus devoted; souls are everywhere prostituted to animalism.—Homilist.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:5-11
Carnal mind enmity against God.—Frequent thoughts discover rooted affections. Operations of the mind are the indexes, κριτήρια, of a regenerate or unregenerate estate. If about carnal [things], they evidence the bent of the heart to be turned that way, and that worldly objects are dearest to them. If about spiritual, they manifest spiritual objects to be the most grateful to the soul. Carnal thoughts are signs of a languishing and feeble frame, but spiritual discover a well-tempered and complexioned soul; the most refined and elevated thoughts, which have no other groundwork than nature; the highest flights of an unregenerate soul by the wings of the greatest reason. The wisdom and virtues of the heathen were enmity, therefore translated by some sapientia carnis, the wisdom of the flesh. A state of nature is a state of enmity against God. Man is naturally an enemy to the sovereignty and dominion of God. “Not subject to the law of God.” By law I mean not here the moral law only, but the whole will and rule of God, which is chiefly discovered in His law. Every profane man is a natural man, and consequently an enemy. Wicked words are demonstrative, demonstratively denials of God. “Sensual” and “having not the Spirit” are put together. Every unrenewed man, though never so richly endowed with morals, is a natural man. A ψυχικὸς ἄνθρωπος is one led by the rational dictates of his mind, and σαρκικός is a man led by his sensitive affections. Though you have not outwardly the impurity of the flesh, yet you may flow with a greater impurity of the spirit. Though the interest of particular sins may be contrary to one another, yet they all conspire in a joint league against God. Scelera dissident. Sins are in conflict with one another; covetousness and prodigality, covetousness and intemperance, cannot agree, but they are all in an amicable combination against the interest of God. In betraying Christ Judas was actuated by covetousness, the high priest by envy, Pilate by popularity; but they all shook hands together in the murdering of Christ. And those various iniquities were blended together to make up one lump of enmity. Here is alienation, which is aversion; and enmity, which is opposition; and both seated in the mind, though some expound alienation according to outward, enmity according to inward, estate. But the apostle declares hatred to be complete in those two, alienation and enmity, which is both in mind and works—mind as the seat, works as the issues of it. Enemies in disposition and action, principle, and execution. Sin being the summum malum, the greatest evil, is naturally most opposite to God, who is the summum bonum, the greatest good. We hate God as a sovereign; man cannot endure a superior; he would be uncontrollable. We hate God as a lawgiver, as He is peccati prohibitor. We hate God as a judge, as autor legis and ultor legis, as peccati prohibitor and pœnœ executor. Fear is often the cause of hatred. Guilt makes malefactors tremble at the report of a judge’s coming. When this fear rises high, they hate the very being of God. This rises so high that it aims at the very essence of God, as in Spira’s case, who wished that he could destroy Him. This enmity to God’s law will appear in these ten things:
1. Unwillingness to know the law of God, inquire into it, or think of it.
2. Unwillingness to be determined by any law of God.
3. The violence man offers to those laws which God doth strictly enjoin and which He doth most delight in the performance of.
4. Man hates his own conscience when it puts him in mind of the law of God.
5. Man sets up another law in him in opposition to the law of God.
6. In being at greater pains and charge to break God’s law than is necessary to keep it. Men would rather be sin’s drudges than God’s freemen.
7. In doing that which is just and righteous upon any other consideration rather than of obedience to God’s will, when men will indent with God, and obey Him so far as may comport with their own ends:
(1) out of respect to some human consideration;
(2) out of affection to some base Just, some cursed end;
(3) out of slavish fear.
8. In being more observant of the laws of men than of the law of God. The fear of man is a more powerful curb to retain men in their duty than the fear of God.
9. In man’s unwillingness to have God’s law observed by any. Man would not have God have a loyal subject in the world.
10. In the pleasure we take to see His laws broken by others. Enmity to the mercy of God. God is not wronged more in any attribute by devils and men than in His mercy. This enmity against Christ reflects upon God Himself. Christ tells us often He was sent by God: an affront to an ambassador is an injury to the majesty he represents. Despising the embassy of an angel is an act of enmity against God, much more the despising the embassy of His own Son. Possess your hearts with great admiration of the grace of God towards you, in wounding this enmity in your hearts and changing your state. Inflame thy love to God by all the considerations thou canst possibly muster up. Undo thy former disaffection by a greater ardency of love. Sincerely aim at His glory.—Charnock.
Life a satisfied existence.—“Life,” in Scripture, denotes a fully satisfied existence, in which all the faculties find their full exercise and their true occupation. Man’s spirit, become the abode and organ of the divine Spirit, realises this life with a growing perfection to eternal life. Peace is the inward feeling of tranquillity which accompanies such an existence; it shows itself particularly in the absence of all fear in regard to death and judgment (Romans 8:1). There is no changing the nature of these two states and walks (Romans 8:5), and no arresting the latter in its onward march (Romans 8:6). The way of salvation is to pass from the first to the second, and not to relapse thereafter from the second to the first.—Godet.
Carnal man hates God.—Consider the object of man’s enmity—God. A good man hates evil, all evil, and is the irreconcilable enemy of sin in every form; but as regards the creature of God and his fellow-creature, he hates no man. The carnal mind, which is the characteristic of every unregenerate man, hates not only good men, but the good, holy, and all-perfect God. Indeed, his hatred to good men arises from his enmity against God, which calls forth his dislike to them—his envious revilings, and murderous hatred, as in Cain, who hated and slew his brother: “Wherefore? because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Few men are willing to admit their enmity against God, however bitterly they vilify His people on account of bearing His image. “Ye shall,” says Jesus, “be hated of all men for My sake.” It is true that they disguise their enmity to Christ under the pretence of hatred to His people’s sins, and especially their hypocrisy. “You pretend,” says one, “to hate hypocrisy only; alas! what a scorn is it for profanity to hate hypocrisy.” Surely it is not because it is a sin, but for the very shadow of piety which it carries. You hate the thing itself so perfectly that you cannot bear the very picture of it. Do not deceive yourselves; the true quarrel is because they do not run to the same excess of riot with you. The principle of your hostility to them is the enmity which God hath put between the two families of Christ and Satan.—Parlane.
Sin the animating principle of the flesh.—Since all men are by nature fallen, all human flesh is by nature the dwelling-place of sin. Through the desires common to all flesh, the spirit of evil rules all men except those whom God has rescued. We cannot distinguish the influence of the flesh from the influence exerted through the flesh by the principle of sin. Hence sin may be looked upon as the animating principle of the flesh. The presence of this one spirit of evil in the many bodies of the unsaved gives additional unity to the idea of flesh. And since the influence of the flesh is always in the same direction, we may look upon the flesh as a living person cherishing always the one purpose of death. Many of the objects desired or disliked by the flesh can be obtained or avoided only by first obtaining other objects. Frequently all our mental and bodily powers are at work to get that which will preserve or indulge the body—e.g., efforts to make money are often put forth for this end. Such efforts really arise from the body; for they are prompted by the needs, desires, and dislikes of the body. I think we shall find that all sin arises thus. Hence the “works of the flesh” include every kind of sin.—Beet.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:12-13
Claims of the flesh.—I shall endeavour in the first place to settle the meaning of the terms “flesh” and “spirit” employed in the context, in order to a right conception of the import of the preposition; and in the second place compare and adjust the opposite claims of the flesh and of the spirit.
I. Flesh most properly denotes the body in contradistinction from the soul, the matter of which the corporeal structure is formed: “There is one flesh of men.” And—
II. As all men are possessed of this, it is by an easy figure of speech applied to denote human nature or mankind universally: “The end of all flesh is come before God.”
III. Because the fleshly or corporeal part of our nature may be perceived by the eye, it is sometimes used to denote that in religion which is merely outward and ceremonial. Thus St. Paul says, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye made perfect by the flesh?” Thus the same apostle speaks of carnal ordinances.
IV. On account of the deep and universal corruption of human nature, and this corruption displaying itself in a peculiar manner in producing an addictedness to the indulgence of bodily or fleshly appetites, the term “flesh” is frequently used to denote moral corruption or human nature considered as corrupt. It is manifest from the consideration of the context that this is the sense in which it is to be taken here. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”—that is, corrupt and sinful.
Secondly, we shall examine and adjust their respective claims, that we may discern to which the preference is due, and come then fully to acquiesce in the decision of the apostle: “Therefore we are debtors; not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” There is an ellipsis in the text which must be supplied from the train of thought in the context. Let us examine the claims of the flesh or of corrupt nature. We may conceive the flesh pleading ancient possession: the pleasures and freedom from restraint attending a compliance with her dictates; the general usage and course of the world which she reminds us has been such in every age.
I. Its claims are founded upon usurpation; they rest on no basis of equity.—It alienates the property from its lawful possessor; it interferes with a prior claim which nothing can fairly defeat. Sin considered as a master does not enter upon a property that is derelict or abandoned by its owner.
1. Let us consider that the Lord is our maker, and we the work of His hands. It is “He that created the heavens, and stretched them out; He that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; He that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.” The noble powers by which we are so highly distinguished from the inferior parts of the creation—the powers of thought and reason and conscience—are of His production; from Him they are derived, and by Him they are sustained. His right in us is consequently more extensive than it is possible for us to conceive in any other instance, because none else ever gave existence to the smallest particle of dust in the balance; it is incomparably more than that—to which it is compared—of the potter over the clay.
2. If we reflect on the powers with which we are endued, we cannot suppose that they are formed for no other end than the indulgence of carnal appetites, the amassing of riches, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or the procuring honours and distinctions from our fellow-worms. We shall be at no loss to perceive a strange disproportion between such powers and such pursuits, and that they cannot be confined to them without descending unspeakably beneath our level without a base forgetfulness of ourselves as well as of God, and a voluntary dereliction of our rank.
3. If God were disposed to relinquish His claim, the usurpation of another master might be yielded to with the more plausible pretence. But this is not the case. If we believe His word, He never means to part with His right over His creatures.
II. Let us next examine the claims of the flesh by what we have already derived from it.—Let us see whether it is such a master as deserves to be served any longer. Of the boasted pleasures it has afforded, say Christians, what remains but a painful and humiliating remembrance? “What fruit had ye in those things of which ye are now ashamed?” Has anything accrued to you from the service of sin which you would wish to renew? Though it might flatter your imagination with the appearance of gold, did it not afterwards “bite as a serpent and sting as an adder”? You were made to fancy that true religion was melancholy, that tenderness of conscience was needless scrupulosity, and that happiness was only to be found in the pleasures and pursuits of this world. It engaged you in the chase of innumerable vanities. You “followed after your lovers, but could not overtake them”; fled from one refuge to another till, to speak in the language of the prophet, “you were wearied in the multitude of your way.” In the meantime, to all pleasant and delightful intercourse with the Father of spirits, to the soothing accents of peace and pardon issuing from Christ, and to all the consolations of piety, you were utter strangers. The more we observe what passes around us with a serious mind, the more we shall be convinced how little men are indebted to the flesh. Look at that young man, the early victim of lewdness and intemperance, who, though in the bloom of life, has “his bones filled with the sins of his youth.” Survey his emaciated cheek, his infirm and withered frame, and his eyes sunk and devoid of lustre; the picture of misery and dejection. Hear his complaint, how he mourns at the last, how his flesh and his body are consumed. Behold that votary of the world, successful as he has been in the pursuit of it, and stained by no flagrant crime. Yet he has lived “without God in the world”; and now his days are drawing to a close he feels himself verging to the grave, and no hope animates, no pleasing reflection cheers him. The only consolation he receives, or rather the only relief of his anguish, is in grasping the treasures he must shortly quit.
III. We shall examine the claims of the flesh by the aspect they bear on our future interests.—Before we engage in the service of a master, it is reasonable to inquire into the advantages he stipulates and the prospects of futurity attendant upon his service. In the ordinary concerns of life we should consider the neglect of such an inquiry chargeable with the highest imprudence. Dreadful is it in this view to reflect on the consequences inseparably annexed to the service of corruption. “If ye live after the flesh,” says the apostle, “ye shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” The fruits of sin, when brought to maturity, are corruption; his most finished production is death, and the materials on which he works the fabric of that manufacture, if we may be allowed so to speak, consist in the elements of damnation. To such a master we can owe nothing but a decided rejection of his offers, a perpetual abhorrence, and an awful fear of ever being deceived by his stratagems or entangled in his snares.—Robert Hall.
The spirit and the flesh.—These words used, as opposed to each other, in three senses—viz.,
1. Flesh = material part of man; spirit = immaterial part.
2. Flesh = lower nature of man, desires that drag down to hell; spirit = higher nature of man, desires that lift him up towards heaven (not with, without Christ’s grace).
3. Flesh = human nature in its entirety; Spirit = God’s Holy Spirit and the graces inbreathed by Him.
In what senses contrasted here? Not in 1, but in 2 and in 3.
Their tendency: Encouragement of flesh = tendency to death—death here, death hereafter. Examples: Drunkenness, immorality, indolence.
Encouragement of spirit = tendency to life, here and hereafter. Examples: Men who have by God’s grace conquered sin—John Bunyan, John Newton.
Consideration: What is good for eternal life hereafter is, as a rule, productive of life—long, successful, happy, honoured, here.—Dr. Springett.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:12-13
The Christian has strength imparted.—We are no longer under any such subjection to the inferior propensities of our nature, as might oblige us to continue under their dominion. From any necessity of this kind we are relieved by the powerful motives to holiness and the effectual aids to acquiring of it which are supplied by the gospel. Had we continued under the law, with no other advantages but those which it furnishes, we must have been debtor to the flesh, as we should have wanted that moral strength which is necessary to free ourselves from its dominion—a strength which mere law cannot supply. But under the gospel this incapacity is removed. By the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us we are enabled to restrain the inordinate tendencies of our nature, and therefore we can no longer plead the weakness of our moral powers as an extenuation of our actual sins. From the Christian every pretence of this kind is taken away, and he is rendered a debtor to the Spirit. He is laid under a sacred obligation to live agreeably to the dictates of the spiritual part of his nature, and to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, by whom he is influenced. This also he must do if he would promote his own interest either in this life or in that which is to come.—Ritchie.
What do we understand by “flesh”?—Some by “flesh” understand the state under the law; others, more properly, “corrupted nature.” Ye shall die without hopes of a better life. But if you mortify the deeds of the body—the deeds of the body of sin, which is elsewhere called the body of death; the first motions to sin and passionate compliances with sin, which are the springs of corrupt actions (corrupt nature is called a body here, morally, not physically; it consisteth of divers vices, as a body of divers members)—“ye shall live”; ye shall live more spiritually and comfortably and eternally hereafter. In the words we may observe a threatening and a promise. In the promise there is the condition and the reward. In the condition, the act: mortify. The object: the deeds of the body. The cause: the body. The effects: the deeds. The agents: ye and the Spirit. The principal, the Spirit; the less principal, ye; both conjoined in the work: ye cannot do it without the Spirit, and the Spirit will not do it without your concurrence with Him and your industry in following His motions. Sin is active in the soul of an unregenerate man. His heart is sin’s territory; it is there as in its throne before the Spirit comes. Mortification supposes life before in the part mortified. Mortification must be universal; not one deed, but deeds, little and great, must fall under the edge—the brats must be dashed against the wall. Man must be an agent in this work. We have brought this rebel into our souls, and God would have us make, as it were, some recompense by endeavouring to cast it out; as in the law, the father was to fling the first stone against a blasphemous son. We must engage in the duel, but it is the strength of the Spirit only can render us victorious. The duty is ours, but the success is from God. Heaven is a place for conquerors only. The way to eternal life is through conflicts, inward with sin, outward with the world. There must be a combat before a victory, and a victory before a triumph. An unmortified frame is unsuitable to a state of glory. There must be a meetness for a state of glory before there be an entrance into it. Vessels of glory must be first seasoned with grace. Conformity to Christ is to fit us for heaven. Unmortified sin is against the whole design of the gospel and death of Christ, as though the death of Christ were intended to indulge us in sin, and not to redeem us from it. That sin should die was the end of Christ’s death; rather than sin should not die, Christ would die Himself. Implore the help of the Spirit. Listen to the convictions of the Holy Spirit. Plead the death of Christ. Let us often think of divine precepts. Let us be jealous of our own hearts.—Charnock.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:6. Dr. Carey and the merchant.—The soul of the Christian is at anchor; and so he is freed from the cares of fame, or of fortune, or of any other interest upon earth. And with a mind engrossed by that which is spiritual, and without room in it for the anxieties of what is seen and temporal, he in as far as these anxieties are concerned is at peace. This topic may be illustrated from a recorded conversation between Dr. Carey the missionary at Serampore and a wealthy merchant in Calcutta. One of his clerks had determined to give up all the prospects and emoluments of a lucrative situation, and henceforth devote himself to the work of evangelising the heathen. His employer, to whom this looked a very odd resolution, called on Dr. Carey, and inquired from him the terms and the advantages and the preferments of this new life to which a very favourite servant, whom he was exceedingly loath to part with, was now on the eve of betaking himself; and was very startled to understand that it was altogether a life of labour, and that there was no earthly remuneration whatever, that bevond those things which are needful for the body there was not an enjoyment within the power or purchase of money which any one of them thought of aspiring after, that with hearts set on their own eternity and the eternity of their fellow-creatures they had neither time nor space for the working of this world’s ambition. There is a very deep interest in such a dialogue between a devoted missionary and a busy, active, aspiring merchant; but the chief interest of it lay in the confession of the latter, who seems to have been visited with a glimpse of the secret of true happiness, and that after all he himself was not on the way to it; whose own experience told him that, prosperous as he was, there was a plague in his very prosperity that marred his enjoyment of it; that the thousand crosses and hazards and entanglements of mercantile adventure had kept him perpetually on the rack, and rifled his heart of all those substantial sweets by which alone it can be purely and permanently gladdened. And from him it was indeed an affecting testimony when, on contrasting his own life of turmoil and vexation and checkered variety with the simple but lofty aims and settled dependence and unencumbered, because wholly unambitious, hearts of these pious missionaries, he fetched a deep sigh, and said that it was indeed a most enticing cause.—Dr. Chalmers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:14
Marks of God’s sons.—Led, and not driven. Led as the scholar by his teacher, the traveller by his guide, the soldier by his captain. So the Son of God is led by the Spirit of God. The Son of God is not driven by brute force, not treated as a mere machine or as a beast of burden, but as a reasonable creature. As the man is led by patriotic feelings, by devotion to truth, by force of lofty and stirring thoughts, so and much more is the Son of God led. His soul is open to and receptive of divine influence. There is the inner world of his spiritual nature acted upon and moving in harmony with the outer force of the Spirit of God. Oh what a word led us in this connection!—led out of sin’s darkness and chaos into truth’s light and order, just as the new-made world was led; out of the hunger and wretchedness of guilty wanderings into the fulness and happiness of the Father’s house, just as the prodigal was led; out of the world’s trouble and tossing fevers into the rest of the Saviour’s, as Zacchæus was led; out of the darkness and blindness of self-love into the light and clear vision of Christ-love, as Saul was led,—led onwards and upwards along the pathway of ever-increasing knowledge of the love of God in Jesus,—led from the shifting scenes of earth, through the dark valley of death, to the paradise of God, as the redeemed through all ages have been and shall continue to be led to the very close of this dispensation. Oh to yield ourselves up to divine leading!
I. God’s sons have a family likeness.—In natural families there are likenesses. There are certain resemblances by which we know that they constitute part of the same family. The form of the features, the general build, tell us of a certain similarity. So in God’s great spiritual family there is a general likeness. The botanist, by a certain similarity, declares that the plant belongs to such an order. The geologist says that such a fossil belongs to a certain stratum. The physiologist declares in the same manner that such an animal belongs to such a species. And so by certain tokens we declare that the man belongs to God’s family. The one general feature by which we know the sons of God is this, that they “are led by the Spirit of God.” So that it is not an outward but an inward resemblance. Thus it sometimes happens in natural families. It is not always by the mere outward features, but by the inward tastes and feelings. God’s sons may be and often are outwardly different. They vary in outward form, in social circumstances, in gifts, faculties, and endowments. They may appear like Joseph, the second ruler in Egypt, swaying and managing the destinies of a mighty empire, or like the poor Jew Mordecai, sitting despised at the king’s gate. They may appear like Solomon arrayed in all his glory, surrounded with luxury and girded by power; or like Lazarus, clothed in rags, dying of starvation. They may appear like St. Paul, mighty in intellect, and capable of using the pen of eloquence; or like Moses, who was slow in speech. Still, through all differences there runs the common bond of likeness. They are influenced by the Holy Spirit of God. And this common likeness is only to be seen by the man of spiritual vision and spiritual enlightenment. Only the botanist can tell to what order the plant belongs. Only the man well acquainted with the family can tell when he meets a member. Only the spiritually enlightened can mark out one of God’s sons. He sees that the Son of God is led, not from beneath, but from above. He marks an unseen and yet most effective force shaping the whole of the man’s nature and destiny. As a strong under current may propel the vessel along the waters, so the strong current of the Holy Spirit guides the Son of God through the troubled waters of this world.
II. God’s sons have family greatness.—Man is highest in the scale of being. He possesses more powers and faculties than any other animal, and is capable of being acted upon in a way in which no other animal can be. Man, simply considered as a creature of this world, stands at a height far removed from all other beings. His nature stretches out and touches realms unknown to any other living force. The spiritual man—the Son of God, i.e.—stands still higher in the scale of being. He is acted upon by a force unknown to any other. The mere physical creature lives only in a material realm. It never rises above matter. The intellectual being lives in the realm of mind. He dwells in the region of thoughts and ideas. He is touched and moved by the thoughts of others. But the Son of God is touched and moved by the thoughts of God, He is pervaded and influenced by the Spirit of God, His soul is acted upon by the Unseen in a way which others are not, and is great in the highest sense. The greatness of God’s family is here brought out in another aspect. The members of God’s family are not mere children, but sons noble and stalwart. There was a time in which they were mere children, and requiring to be fed with milk, loving only childish things, and following childish sports and practices. In one sense God’s family on earth will always be children; requiring to be taught, corrected, guided, and disciplined like children. In the light of the eternal ideal of manhood we speak only and understand only as children. Still, in the view of the rest of humanity the members of God’s family are sons, noblest and grandest of the sons of men. Jesus Christ is by pre-eminence the Son of God, begotten before all time, “being the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” Christians are the sons of God next in order, and yet allied unto Jesus Christ the elder brother. Their greatness is plain from this connection. Sons of God, brothers of the one great Son of God. Sons of God, in whom dwells and works the Holy Spirit of God. Are we the sons of God? Do we feel and appreciate our greatness? Do we conduct ourselves as God’s sons?
III. God’s sons have a family heritage.—Great families have their possessions. There is for each one of them a heritage. They have their lands, their houses, their money, and their position. God’s family is a great family, and has its possessions. There is for each one a heritage. That blessed heritage is the precious one of the Holy Spirit to lead. The Holy Spirit leads aright. Human possession leads astray to misery and to destruction. Human reason is too often a blind guide. Boasted philosophy cannot lead the soul in the right path. The Holy Spirit of God alone can lead in a pathway of safety. How are we to know that we are being led by the Holy Spirit? We know this much, that the Spirit never leads contrary to the Bible. The Spirit never influences to go against truth, honesty, candour, uprightness, and goodness. The Holy Spirit leads to peace, to plenty, to joy, to spiritual prosperity. The Holy Spirit leads to bright realms of spiritual beauty and fulness on earth, and to the brightest land of all, even to the paradise of God. The Holy Spirit’s leading and indwelling is the type and pledge of our dwelling for ever in God’s blessed presence in heaven.
IV. God’s sons have a family bias.—They all incline in the same direction. Their tendency is upward and onward. The vessels at sea have the needle which points to the pole. Wherever the vessels sail, in whatever part of the world they may be, the needles all point to the pole, and centre there as it were. So the sons of God, wherever they may dwell on earth their hearts point to the city of God. The Holy Spirit within them the foretaste of heaven. Thus heaven is in them before they are in heaven. When slaves were escaping from slavery, their eyes were fixed on the north star as the guide to the land of freedom. The Holy Spirit within is better than the north star guiding to Jerusalem above, which is free, and which is the mother of us all. The hearts of God’s sons turn to the spiritual Jerusalem, to the city of the living God. They seek a city out of sight, and thus declare that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. By this we may know that we are being led—by this we may know that we are the sons of God, that we are earnestly and prayerfully seeking heaven through Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Romans 8:15. Led by the Spirit.—Every gift with the possibility of which man was endowed, and every noble quality which made him beautiful and good for the eyes of God to see, all came from that one and the selfsame Spirit, moving in man’s soul as He had moved from all ages in the laws of nature, and was still moving their divine uniformities. For God is the essence and source of all goodness and excellence whatsoever.
I. Degraded humanity.—We know, alas! only too well that through misuse of the gift of freewill we have encouraged that within us which loveth darkness better than light. Whole races have become so degraded that, even in the best members of them, the patient lamp of the omnipresent Spirit could shine with but a feeble flame. Clearly do our own hearts remind us what it is to have sinned, to feel that God has hidden His face from us, and to be almost ashamed to lift up our souls in prayer.
II. The Spirit in pagan philosophy.—But though the poor human creature had thus miserably come short of the glory of God, and the freshness and purity of the early light which had come with him from the divine Being who was “his home” had now faded into the “light of common day,” yet all the time God was not far from any of His children. Socrates said that there was a spirit in him, not himself, which guided him all the way of his life. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Thus did the Spirit work in the hearts and minds of men. “No man was ever great,” said Cicero, “without a divine afflatus.” “This I say,” wrote Seneca to his friend Lucilius, “that a Holy Spirit dwelleth within us, of our good and evil works the observer and the guardian. As we treat Him, so He treateth us; and no man is good except God be with him.” Do you not see Him in every page of history, making the virtues triumph? Do you not read Him in the general expectancy of the world at the time of the coming of the Saviour, that attitude of suspense and hope which Tacitus and Suetonius have described, of which one of Virgil’s most beautiful poems is an example, and which taught the Eastern sages to watch for the dawn of that great light which led them to the cradle of Bethlehem?
III. Jesus the Light.—For mankind was not to be left for ever to grope their way in the darkness for the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him. The star which led the patient Magi through the desert was the herald of a more glorious birth than when the sons of God shouted for joy on the first morning of the world. He came and returned that the Spirit of God might come in a way in which it had never been possible for Him to come before. Christ lifted up the veil, and from that time all who came unto Him were open to all the divine influences of the Holiest of holies. As soon as He came, even before the outpouring of the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given with abundant and startling effect. The kingdom of the Spirit was already begun when the Lord of life and glory was preaching and teaching.
IV. The purpose of the Spirit.—As Luther wrote: “He imposeth a limit and measure to the preaching of the Holy Ghost Himself: He is to preach nothing new, nothing other than Christ and His word, to the end that we might have a sure sign, a certain test, whereby to judge false spirits.” Thus the Spirit is conditioned by the Son, as the Son is by the Father. The office of the Spirit was to bring to remembrance, to interpret.
V. Transformation to Christ’s image.—The world may say it is content to be as Socrates was, that it desires not to rise above the aspirations of Plato, that it cares not to be juster than Aristides. Philosophic sceptics may pronounce that Christianity is only one of the many forms of this world’s religions, and that Buddhism is older, as interesting, and accepted by a far larger number of the human race. Others may say that they are content to follow the faith of Christ because it has achieved great things, because it is wrapped up in the history of England, because it has founded a higher morality, a nobler chivalry, a more complete virtue, than any other creed. But by such inadequate conceptions of the relation between God and the human soul they show that they see not the Spirit, neither know Him. They recognise, perhaps, that God made man in His own image and capable of partaking in His divine nature. They recognise that man, by seeking after God, brings himself nearer to Him. They do not recognise that by gazing at the glory of the only begotten Son we become transformed after His image; they have no idea that to know of the divine personality of the Holy Spirit of Christ and of the Father is to be able to address Him, to approach Him, to talk with Him as friend talks with friend.—Ven. W. Sinclair, D.D.
Sons of God.
I. The condition on which we are “sons of God.”—Not mere creatureship. The stars, the birds, the flowers, are God’s creatures. Not mere resemblance. Even fallen men are made in the image of God, and have a potential likeness to Him. But filial disposition. Men are the special creation of God; may have a special resemblance to Him; may have affection, not fear; may cry, “Abba, Father.”
II. The evidence that we are “sons of God.”—
1. There is the witness of God’s Spirit;
2. There is the testimony of the spirit of man.
III. The results of our being “sons of God.”—
1. We are “heirs of God”;
2. We are “joint-heirs with Christ.”—Dr. Thomas.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:14
Sonship a connection of relation and nature.—First, it is a connection of relation. God’s Spirit dwells not in any and leads none who are not His children by faith in Jesus Christ. Their guidance by the Spirit of God therefore manifests them to be His children. By an act of divine grace, which in all its aspects and gifts is marvellous and infinite, the sinner who believes is adopted by God and numbered among His children. He is separated from the family of Satan, and joined to the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty. This relation to God and His family begins with his faith, continues during life, and is perpetuated during eternity. It is also a connection of nature. I do not mean that they are partakers of God’s essence, but of the character or image of God, such as is competent to a creature. “Whereby,” says the apostle Peter, “are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” The connection between this new, regenerated, or divine nature, and heaven, is obvious. Without it none could enjoy heaven, though admitted to it; for it is a holy place, a holy society, and a holy inheritance. Finally, it is a connection of love. I speak not of your love of God, which is so weak and faint, derived from grace and dependent on grace, and accompanied with so many imperfections, further than to say that its sincerity is inseparably connected with grace and glory. But the love of God to you is the grand security of your eternal life—that love which is from everlasting, and has drawn you to Himself—that love which is to everlasting on them that fear Him—that love which is commended in giving and not in sparing His own Son for you when enemies, that you might be the children of God. Live more and more by faith on the Son of God. Follow more closely the guidance of the Spirit of God, and seek more earnestly His supplies. Thus live worthy of your name and prospects as the children of a King, as the children of God.—Parlane.
Romans 8:15.—The Chaldee and Greek words for “father” are used so as to affect both Jews and Gentiles. “Abba,” like “papa,” can be spoken with the mouth, and properly, therefore, characterises genuine childlike disposition and manner (Olshausen).
Romans 8:18. For I reckon.—As the result of deliberate calculation. On the one side suffering, on the other grace and glory. Season sets forth the transitory character. The glory which is about to be revealed in us, towards us, with regard to us, as Alford puts it.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:15-18
Romans 8:16-18. The inheritance of sonship.—The sin of the world is a false confidence; the fault and sorrow and weakness of the Church is a false diffidence. The true confidence, which is faith in Christ, and the true diffidence, which is utter distrust of myself, are identical. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit.” It is that there is one testimony which has a conjoint origin—the origin of the Spirit of God as true source, and the origin of my own soul as recipient and co-operant in that testimony. The substance, then, of the evidence on which a Christian has a right to conclude that he is a child of God does not bear directly on his own state or condition at all, but upon God’s feelings to him and God’s relation to him. Our own souls possess these emotions of love and tender desire going out unto God; our own spirits possess them, but our own spirits did not originate them. Your sense of fatherhood—that sense of fatherhood which is in the Christian’s heart, and becomes his cry—comes from God’s Spirit. This passage, and that in Galatians which is almost parallel, put this truth very forcibly, when taken in connection: “Ye have received,” says the text before us, “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” The heart with its love, the head with its understanding, the conscience with its quick response to the law of duty, the will with its resolutions—these are all, as sanctified by Him, the witness of His Spirit.
This divine witness in our spirits is subject to the ordinary influences which affect our spirits.—The Spirit’s witness comes from God—therefore it is veracious; but the Spirit’s witness from God is in man—therefore it may be wrongly read.
No inheritance without sonship.—In general terms, spiritual things can only be given to men who are in a certain spiritual condition. Even God cannot bestow certain blessings and gifts until there be in me a capacity or organ to receive them. No inheritance of heaven without sonship; just because all the blessings of that future life at last come down to this, they are of a spiritual character.
No sonship without a spiritual birth.—Fatherhood involves the communication of a life and the reciprocity of love; it involves a divine act and a human emotion; it involves that the Father and the child shall have kindred life. Drop that figure, and simply rest on this—the children of God, or the children of sin; sons because born again, or slaves and “enemies by wicked works.”
No spiritual birth without Christ.—He has carried in the golden urn of His humanity a new spirit and a new life which He has set down in the midst of the race; and the urn was broken on the cross of Calvary, and the water flowed out; and whithersover that water comes there is life, and whithersoever it comes not there is death.
No Christ without faith.—Unless we are wedded to Jesus Christ by the simple act of trust in His mercy and His power, Christ is nothing to us. Christ is everything to a man that trusts Him; Christ is nothing but a judge and a condemnation to a man that trusts Him not.
Then sonship with Christ necessarily involves suffering with Him.—We “suffer with Him”; not, He suffers with us. The death of Christ is a type of the Christian’s life. It is a dying to sin; it is a dying to self; it is a dying to an old world. That crucifying of the old manhood is to be repeated by the power of faith.
“Our sufferings are His.” “His sufferings are ours.” Oneness with Christ involves a fellowship and community on both sides, of suffering. This community of suffering is a preparation for the community of glory. It is not the discipline that fits; the thing that fits goes before the discipline, and the discipline only develops the fitness.
That inheritance is the necessary result of all suffering that has gone before.—The suffering results from our union with Christ. That union must needs culminate in glory. Trials have no meaning, unless they are means to an end. The end is the inheritance. What must be the end of that blessedness which is the counterpoise and consequence to the sorrow and pain of this lower world!—Maclaren.
Romans 8:16. The witness of the Spirit.—Take these words in whatever sense we may, they contain a truth of unspeakable importance. The moment we hear them we feel that we are dealing with a matter which concerns our soul’s life. And the two points requiring our attention are—first, who are the witnesses to be inquired of? and, secondly, what is the testimony to be elicited?
I. And first, in reference to this question of our spiritual sonship, let us see who are the witnesses who are to decide upon the matter.—There is evidently nothing in the text to favour a notion entertained by some, who would resolve the witness of the Spirit into some supernatural intimation from above—some mysterious whisper to the ear of the inner man, speaking to us, and addressing us as those who belong to the family of God. The text rather suggests to us that we are entering upon a calm, judicial process, in which the hoped-for verdict can be obtained only by the testimony of two distinct and agreeing witnesses—witnesses of tried competency to speak, and of proved faithfulness to be heard—namely, the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the consenting testimony of our own hearts. Chiefly, however, must our confidence stand in the first of these witnesses, the testimony of our own hearts being only derived and secondary, subscribing to that which has been given by the Spirit of God. And the importance of having this Holy Spirit as the chief witness will appear from the nature of the facts to be witnessed to—namely, that we are the children of God, are received into a state of adoption and grace, are at this moment reconciled to God, and know that He is reconciled to us. Our adoption is one of the things of God, and He must be of God, and in God, who shall bear witness of it to us. He must know when the act of grace went forth, and when the wandering spirit turned, and when the weak and subjugated heart surrendered, and when the signet ring was fixed to that covenant of mercy and forgiveness which made of the outcast rejoicing, and of the slave a friend and child. And these are things which must be known to the Holy Spirit, because of Him, and through Him, and by Him, are all these effects wrought.
II. How this important testimony is to be elicited—in what language does the Spirit speak, and in what signs does the heart make answer?—And in the general elucidation of this point the first ground to be taken is that the joint witness of the text, and consequently the scriptural evidence of sonship, is to be looked for in this—namely, an impression of inward peace arising from the discovery of certain tendencies and dispositions answerable to the state of sonship, and referred in Scripture to the agency of the Holy Spirit of God. And it is properly called a joint witness, because the same Spirit who forms these tendencies in us also manifests their existence to us. We can only know that we are adopted children when the Spirit of God reveals to our minds, with growing light and distinctness, the existence of those moral dispositions which prompt us to act as children act, and to feel as children feel. Do we inquire further, “How do the children of God act and feel?” the answer is, “We find these only in the written word.” But this still makes the Spirit of God the chief witness to us, because, until the Spirit shines upon the word, it is a sealed book to us, a dark and meaningless record, telling us nothing of our spiritual state, because the eyes of our understanding are not opened. But let the Spirit open our understanding, and we find that the entrance of God’s word giveth light—light to the promises, light to the threatenings, light to the rules of duty, light to the evidences of our hope. We understand better both the rule and that to which we are to apply the rule; and it is just the agreement between these two—the Scripture calling and the heart answering, the Spirit insisting on certain commanded feelings and our own spirits testifying that we have such feelings—that constitutes our double witness, that meets the judicial demands of a twofold testimony, that enables us to say, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”—P. Moore.
Romans 8:16. Concerning the witness of the Spirit.—This passage is something difficult, and commonly not rightly understood; for the clearing of which there are four things to be done:—
I. To show what is meant by the Spirit.
II. What is meant by the children of God.
III. What is meant by the Spirit’s bearing witness with our spirit.
IV. How, or in what sense, the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
By the Spirit here is undoubtedly meant that Holy Spirit which our Lord promised He would send upon His disciples after He was ascended into heaven, and which accordingly came upon them on the day of Pentecost, and which from thenceforth was to continue with the Church to the end of the world. This Spirit is here in the text called the Spirit itself, to represent Him as a person, because in the verse before the apostle had used this word “spirit” in another sense—viz., for a state and dispensation.
But, secondly, What is meant by being the children of God? To this I answer, that to be a child of God, in the Scripture phrase, is to be an heir of immortality, or to be an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven—that is to say, either in actual possession of it, or in a right title to it.
But, thirdly, What is meant by this expression of the Spirit’s bearing witness with our spirit? I conceive that which the apostle here meant is this: that the Holy Spirit by the visible, sensible operations which He wrought in and amongst Christians, that God owned them for His people, and as such would glorify them with His Son Jesus at the last day. First of all, I say, the Spirit gave an undeniable proof to Christians that they were the children of God in descending upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost. The fulness of the evidence we have for the truth of the matters of fact wrought by the Spirit in the ancient times for the confirmation of Christ’s doctrine, and the new arguments that the same Spirit hath given us since; we, at this day, have as much reason to say with St. Paul, as any in those days had, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God”—that we are Christians, in contradistinction to men of all other religions, are the very people of God, and heirs of eternal life, if we do not forfeit our title to it by a loose and wicked life. It ought to be a matter of unspeakable comfort and rejoicing to us that we have such an infallible witness as the Spirit of God to bear testimony to our minds that we are in a right and sure way to eternal happiness. The Spirit’s bearing witness to our minds thus effectually that we are the children of God should be an argument to us above all others that we should never depart from our Christian profession, but that we should hold it to our lives’ end without wavering—nay, and be zealous for it. For where can we have eternal life but in the faith of Jesus Christ? We are always to remember that, when the Spirit gave His witness to the Christians that they were the children of God, it was to the Christians as professing the true faith of Christ. Though it be here said of all Christians in general that the Spirit bears witness to them that they are the children of God, yet it is to be remembered that no benefit will hereby accrue to any particular person that professeth Christianity if he does not lead his life according to the precepts of it. Secondly, if it be asked what this private witness of the Spirit is to the minds of particular persons, that they are the children of God, or wherein it doth consist, I answer very briefly, as far as we can gather from the apostle’s discourse, both in this place and in others of his epistles, it consists in this—viz., in the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in the hearts of particular Christians, and enabling them to mortify their lusts, and to lead a holy life, in all sobriety, righteousness, and godliness. Now this indwelling of the Spirit, and these fruits therefore, wherever they are found, are to those that have them a seal of the Spirit of God upon their souls, “whereby they are sealed to the day of redemption,” as the apostle expresses it (Ephesians 4:30). They are an earnest or a pledge of their future happiness, as the same apostle in other places calls them (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). Lastly, they are a testimony or evidence to their spirits that they are the true sons of God, and shall be glorified with Jesus Christ in another world, which is the tenor of his expression in my text. Now that this is the true meaning of the Spirit’s witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God, so far as that witness concerns particular persons, will appear evidently from what goes before in this chapter. The main design that the apostle is pursuing is to encourage and animate the Christians of his time against the sufferings and persecutions they were likely to meet with in this world upon account of their religion; and this he doth chiefly from the consideration of the great rewards that were laid up for them in the other world. And to this purpose he tells them in the tenth verse, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10)—that is, your body is indeed obnoxious to all sorts of outward calamities, and even to death itself, which is entailed upon the sons of Adam, upon account of sin; but yet the Spirit of Christ, which He hath given to dwell in you, will procure you a glorious life in another world, upon account of that inward spiritual righteousness which He worketh in you.
And, first of all, from this account that has been given, we learn what the true marks are of a child of God, or upon what grounds any person can rationally assure himself that he is in God’s favour and shall go to heaven. For as the miraculous operations of the Spirit in the days of the apostles were the public testimony of the Holy Ghost that the Christian Church in general was the people of God and designed to everlasting happiness, so the Spirit’s dwelling in the souls of particular Christians is His private testimony to particular persons that they are effectually the children of God and shall be actually raised up to everlasting happiness. Since all the evidence we can give to ourselves that we in particular are the children of God is that the Holy Spirit dwelleth within us, how infinitely doth it concern us, both to endeavour that the Holy Ghost should take up His habitation in our hearts, and also, after He hath so done, to be careful that we do not by our ill treatment of Him give Him cause to depart from us! Would we invite and prevail with the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within us? The way is to forsake our sins and to devote ourselves entirely to God’s service, and to solicit Him most earnestly with our daily prayers that He would purify our hearts, that they may become a temple fit for Him to dwell in, and withal to encourage and improve every good motion and every opportunity that He puts into our hands of growing in virtue and goodness. By this means we shall allure the good Spirit of God to take up His lodging in our hearts. And when once it is our happiness to have received so illustrious a guest, oh, with what zeal should we endeavour to preserve Him!—Archbishop Sharpe.
Romans 8:17. Sons and heirs.—Law and gospel. There was a law: “This do, and ye shall live.” It tended to keep us in fear.
There is a covenant. In Christ we become adopted sons. It tends to keep us in peace. God is our Father. “Abba” term of affection = “dear Father.”
Sequence of thought. Sons? Sons are generally heirs. Are we heirs? To what? With whom?
We find that we are heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14); righteousness (Hebrews 11:7); a kingdom (James 2:5); everlasting life (Matthew 19:29); a blessing (1 Peter 3:9); all things (Revelation 21:7).
Roman law allowed equal division among sons. We are heirs equally with each other, and all with Christ. God is impartial; He loves and gives to all alike.
The Lord’s supper. When we meet as children at our Father’s table, with His Son presiding, most striking reminder of our sonship, our fellowship, and our heirship.—Dr. Springett.
Romans 8:15-16. The Spirit of adoption.—Let us consider first the respective offices of the two witnesses here mentioned—that is, the Spirit of God and our own spirit. Let us notice, then, the subject of their testimony. It is “that we are the children of God.” The Holy Spirit gives some witness to the great fact that our sins are forgiven, and that we, being reconciled to God, are now adopted into His family. The Spirit is the only witness who can give direct evidence of this. He is not only a competent witness, but the only competent witness. To this fact of our reconciliation to God, considered as a fact, our own spirits neither do nor can give testimony. Our own spirits have nothing to do with it. He alone can do this to whom it is perfectly known, and that is the Spirit of God. There are various ways, no doubt, by which the knowledge of this testimony is communicated to the soul, answering to the different modes of speech which we find in Scripture on the subject. There is the lifting up the light of the divine countenance upon the soul; the shedding the love of God abroad in our hearts; the crying, “Abba, Father”; the giving testimony to our spirits that we are the children of God; but all come from the Spirit and produce some persuasion and assurance that I am now a child of God, through His mercy in Christ. Next, we have the witness of our own spirits. Why is the testimony of our own spirit introduced and conjoined with that of the divine Spirit? Though there can be no delusion where the Spirit of God dwells and shines, yet there may be impressions not from Him, and which we may mistake for the sacred testimony which He bears. Against a delusion of this sort you must be most carefully guarded. Where the Spirit of God dwells as the Spirit of adoption, He dwells as the great Author of regeneration, as the source of all holy principles and feelings. Our justification and our sanctification are thus inseparable.
There are a few errors connected with this doctrine which ought to be noticed. The first is that there can be no certainty of our being now in a state of salvation; that, in fact, it is an unattainable blessing. If it be not attainable, the state of good men under the New Testament dispensation is far inferior to the state of good men under the Old. The first man of whom we have any record that he offered a sacrifice in faith obtained the testimony, the witness of his acceptance. And if ours be a dispensation much more glorious, and if we know that the Spirit of God has this particular office, we are not to conclude that we are placed in circumstances inferior, but superior to those of the saints of the Old Testament dispensation, with respect to the assurance of acceptance with God. This notion is contrary to all the words of Christ and the apostles. Here is the promise of Christ Himself, “I will give you rest”; and that rest is vouchsafed by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter who reveals to us the mercy of God in Christ, removes from our conscience the burden of guilt, and witnesses to us that we are no longer strangers but children and heirs. We notice another error, that this assurance and persuasion of our adoption is the privilege only of some eminent Christians. This blessing is as common as pardon; and the whole of this objection is grounded upon some secret idea of moral worth. None of these gifts are bestowed under any other character than as the purchase of the blood of Christ, and they are all parts of the great salvation held out to you, however unworthy, without money and without price. Some persons confound this assurance of present acceptance with an assurance of final salvation. The one is distinct from the other. I find no authority for the last in the Book of God. We are called upon to live in the assurance of this divine favour, and to rejoice in hope of the glory of God; but this conveys to us no certain assurance of final salvation. We are still to walk by the same rule and to mind the same things. The faith which brings us into this state must maintain us in it. We must still watch and pray, still lay aside every weight and easily besetting sin, still fight the good fight of faith, ever feeling that only to those who are faithful unto death shall the crown of life be given.—R. Watson.
Romans 8:12-17. From present life to future glory.
I. The argument starts from that practical influence of the Spirit of God upon daily conduct with which St. Paul has lately been dealing. This he describes as being “led” by the Spirit. The phrase is a short and easy one. It accurately describes, not simply the ideal of Christian life, but even in a fair degree its actual condition. For the word “led” must be admitted to suggest something more than spiritual direction as of a guide to duty who may or may not be followed. It is true enough that the Paraclete is given to shed light on the path of right conduct across the perplexing situations of life. But so outward and formal a conception fails to exhaust the functions of the indwelling Spirit. The word “led” implies that our Leader moves us along whither He would have us go, so that we yield ourselves to His reasonable and righteous impulses (ἄγονται, Romans 8:14). For this is His manner of leading. He is the inspirer as well as the suggester of conduct. He persuades and enables us to walk in the way, as well as points out where it lies. If we are “led” by the Spirit, that means that to some extent we are day by day amending our ways, exerting ourselves successfully to do right, and making substantial progress in virtue. Nor is it foreign even to the word itself, far less to the nature of the case, that I should speak thus of a Christian’s own exertion and active progress in spiritual life. Unquestionably the word “led” describes the attitude of the believer as in some sense or to some extent a passive one. It means that he lets himself be acted upon. He submits to the operation of a superhuman force. That is true; and without some such force from above, it is impossible to see how human beings are to be led aright. All the same the phrase hints that a man is not merely passive under the action of the Spirit. To be “led” is a state proper to a rational and self-determining creature. It is not to be pushed like a machine or driven like dumb cattle. God acts upon us as one moral agent who is mighty and the source of influence can act upon another moral agent who is feeble and open to influence—that is to say, by secretly instigating or persuading the will to choose freely what is good. No doubt, this cannot be said to exhaust the mysterious operations of the Spirit of life; since being our Maker and Re-Maker, He has His peculiar divine sphere of action behind conscious choice, among those hidden tendencies, powers, and aptitudes which constitute human nature itself. Of this we can say little to purpose. But, so soon as the life reveals itself in consciousness, it is obvious that the Spirit’s leading is so far from shutting out the man’s own activity or freedom that on the contrary it implies it. That the apostle recognised this active side of Christian experience is clear enough from the hortatory cast into which this first paragraph is thrown at its opening. He tells the Romans how they owed it to the blessed One who stooped to be their leader that they should “mortify the deeds of the body.” They were to this extent His “debtors,” as he puts it. Since God has in His grace approached and entered into man to be his guide to everlasting life, it is, so to say, the least thing man can do to give himself heartily up to such celestial guidance. The practical issue in every real Christian must be, as a matter of fact, open to observation, that his conduct does move on the whole along lines which are laid down by God in His word. Explain the mechanism how you please, here at least is the ascertainable result.
II. On the basis of this simple matter of fact, St. Paul moves forward to the second point in developing his transition from “life” to “glory.” It is this: wherever you find submission to divine guidance you have evidence of a divine birth. We have, in fact, no other mark of that sacred and lofty relationship, the noblest belonging to our nature, save character. With such sober, homely, and solemn teaching as this it is easy to see how the gospel erects a barrier against devout delusions such as may readily spring out of religious enthusiasm. It frequently occurs that persons persuade themselves they are the favourites or the children of God on the ground of some vivid experience they have undergone which they take to be “conversion,” or because they have been the subject of a surprising vision, a bright light beheld in prayer, or a sudden calm of mind which they feel certain could only have had a heavenly origin. Nothing can well prove more perilous to character than the security which arises from such a source. For a man to turn away from the severe moral test of obedience in duty in order to build his confidence on emotions, dreams, mental impressions, or any other non-ethical evidence of piety, is to desert the safe guidance of truth and run grievous risk of spiritual shipwreck. The shores of religious experience are strewn thick with the shattered reputations of men who perished on this sunken rock. On the other hand, when a devout person is actually walking closely in the steps of Christ, being led by His Spirit to maintain a godly and watchful temper in daily behaviour, there is a certain internal witness to his divine birth from which he may legitimately take comfort. Wherever such a persuasion as this is found within the breast it is a secret possession for him who has it. No stranger may intermeddle with it. No outsider can ever be made aware of it. It justifies itself only to the soul in which it dwells. It is the witness of God within the man; not the same thing as an inference of the judgment based on the evidence of conduct. True, it needs, as I said, to be sustained or corroborated by a most scrupulous behaviour, else what is called the “witness of the Spirit” may be nothing but a self-imposition. Still, where it is genuine, it is simply a matter of immediate personal consciousness. It is the heart of the son becoming conscious of itself and of its Father as united in one act of mutual trust and love. From a heart so near to God, so open to Him, so humbly bold in its access to Him, so reverently affectionate in its embrace of Him, why may not words of childlike familiarity well out with a happy unconsciousness of their own daring? To its lips may there not come without blame a spontaneous cry like the “Abba!” of Jesus Himself?
III. If on solid grounds a believer has made sure Paul’s second arch in this brief bridge which spiritual logic builds from earth to heaven, then he is prepared to go on to the third and last: “If sons, then heirs.” There is no need to institute any curious inquiry here about either the Hebrew or the Roman law of inheritance, as if the apostle’s argument turned upon such niceties. A lawful and beloved son shares his father’s estate all the world over. He who belongs to God’s family may with safety leave the question of his future inheritance in the hands of a parent who is too generous and too opulent to leave any child without a portion.—Dr. Dykes.
I. Then the Christian is going to a rich home and a glorious future.—Therefore he ought not to be too much elated or depressed by the pleasures or privations of the journey. An eye to the rest and glory at the end should keep him from getting weary of the way.
II. Then the Christian should not debase himself by an undue attachment to the things of time.—How unreasonable to see an “heir of God” so swallowed up in the world that he has neither taste nor time to pray, or make suitable efforts to get ready for his heavenly inheritance!
III. Then no man should speak of having made sacrifices in becoming a Christian.—Any person making such a declaration should blush to the roots of his hair, and ask God to forgive him for an utterance so untrue.
IV. Then an heir of God should be made “meet for his inheritance.”—Without a meetness for it, the inheritance would be a burden rather than a blessing. Our business here is to cultivate the manners, to learn the language, and acquire the tempers of our future abode. May we not forget our errand!
V. Then, in securing this meetness, the Christian may confidently expect divine aid.—As soon doubt the rising of the sun as that God would fail to aid and bless the man who is struggling to be pure and Christlike.—T. Kelly, D.D.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:15-17
All may be heard.—This is much for their comfort, that from whomsoever and whatsoever corner of the world prayers come up to Him, they cannot want acceptance. All languages, all countries, all places, are sanctified by Jesus Christ, that whosoever calls on the name of the Lord from the ends of the earth shall be saved. And truly it is a sweet meditation to think that from the ends of the earth the cries of souls are heard, and that the end is as near heaven as the middle, and the wilderness as a paradise, and that they who understand not one another have one living and loving Father that understands all their meanings. And as the different dialects of this body make no confusion, no Babel, but meet together, the crysent up by the Catholic Church, which is here scattered on the earth, ascends as one perfume or incense.—Binning.
Proof of sonship is holiness.—From these verses we may remark that the only infallible test of our being genuine disciples of Christ is our having that mind in us which was also in Him, and that the proof of our being “sons of God” consists in our living habitually under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in studying to discharge conscientiously all the duties to which we are called, and to avoid every sin against which we are warned in the Holy Scriptures. This we are enabled to accomplish by means of the aids of the Holy Ghost; for “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” It may be observed further that the dispositions with which the gospel calls us to worship God do not imply a slavish dread of His displeasure, but that filial reverence and confiding thankfulness with which the unspeakable mercy of the great Father of the universe ought to inspire all who are permitted to draw near to Him through the one Mediator between God and man.—Ritchie.
Concurrence of two witnesses.—How do the Spirit of God and your conscience bear witness together that you are the children of God? I reply, first, by the harmony of the dictates of conscience in the soul with the dictates of the Spirit in the Bible. It was enacted in the law of Moses that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. It is evident that in the case before us a single witness would be insufficient to prove you the children of God, and that a concurrence of the two is indispensably necessary. The concurrence of those two witnesses appears in the harmony of the dictates of conscience with the fruits or work of the Spirit in the soul. Now as the fruits of the Spirit are His witnesses—for by His fruits ye know Him—so conscience, discerning these fruits in itself and in all the faculties and affections of the soul, bears witness with the Spirit that you “in whom these fruits appear” are the children of God. The concurrence of these two witnesses appears in the harmony of the dictates of conscience with the dictates of the Spirit as living witnesses. The language of the text conveys the idea of living personality in the Spirit of God as well as in our own spirit. It is not a mere indirect or passive testimony that is given by conscience, as of Abel’s faith or sacrifice, “by which he being dead yet speaketh,” but the direct testimony of a living witness.—Parlane.
Miraculous interceptions not now to be expected.—But it may be asked, Was the witness of the Spirit limited to that age? and have Christians in the present period no reason to look for it? To these questions we cannot hesitate in replying that the witness of the Spirit is common to all ages. But it must appear somewhat presumptuous to expect, in the present state of the world, those visible and miraculous communications of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which were necessary for promoting the first establishment of the Christian religion. The witness which we are now entitled to look for is therefore so far different from what it then was, that, generally speaking, it does not consist in a special revelation to individuals, intimating their adoption into the family of Christ; nor in Such sensible communications as were common in the apostolic age, and which were perfectly intelligible and obvious to others, as well as to the persons receiving them. But it consists in the inward and unseen co-operation of the divine Spirit, which manifests itself by its effects, producing the filial temper, or what, in the preceding verse, the apostle calls “the Spirit of adoption.” We presume not indeed to limit the operation of the Spirit, or to maintain that this is now the only method in which His influence is imparted; but we are entitled to think that miraculous interpositions for satisfying the minds of individuals do not constitute the usual way in which God deals with mankind, and that those silent and unostentatious influences which promote the sanctification of our nature, without abridging our free agency, are the common methods by which “the Spirit now beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”—Ritchie.
God’s sons have emanations of God’s love.—The communication of God Himself, not that we shall ever acquire God’s infinite attributes, or that He will cease to be God alone, but such emanations of His love and wisdom and glory will flow into our souls as to fill us with the fulness of God, or with Godlike wisdom, holiness, love, and blessedness. “What comes nearer to a communication of Himself into us or to our having a portion in the divinity than our being made like unto Him? It would look as if the circumstances of our seeing Him led, by a sort of causal or influential energy, to the circumstance of our being assimilated to Him—as if we gathered, by a sort of radiation from His glory, the reflection of a kindred glory upon our own persons—as if His excellences passed unto us when ushered into His visible presence, and became ours by sympathy, or ours by transmission. He does not part with His character; but He multiplies His character by the diffusion of it through all the members of the blest household that is above; and they may be most significantly called heirs of God—may be most significantly said to have God for their portion, God for their inheritance, when not only admitted to the full and immediate sight of Him, but when the efficacy of that sight is to actuate and inspire them with His very affections, to cover and adorn them with His very spiritual glories.”—John Howe.
“For the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”—Here the apostle shows the ground of our union and communion with Christ, because, having His Spirit, we are of necessity His. What ties and makes one things far asunder but the same Spirit of life in both? So that Spirit which is in Him, a full, running-over fountain, dropping down, and being also infused, unites us unto Him; yea, that Spirit doth tie me as fast unto Christ as any joint ties member to member, and so makes Christ dwell in mine heart. So that now by this means we are inseparably united unto Him. For, I pray you, what is it that makes a member to be a member to another? Not the nearness of joining, but the same quickening spirit and life which is in both and which causeth a like motion. By the same Spirit I know I am conveyed into Christ and united unto Him. “The testimony of our spirit” I conceive to be when a man hath taken a survey of those excellent things belonging unto justification and sanctification, when according to the substantial truths which I know in the word belonging thereunto I observe and follow as fast as I may what is there commanded. This is the groundwork of the witness of our spirit. If a man be in the faith, and do believe the word, and if in this case the Spirit come and fill the heart with joy, then all is sure and well.—Sibbes.
A real participation.—It is a real participation. It is not a picture, but a nature: it is divine. God doth not busy Himself about apparitions. It is a likeness, not only in actions, but in nature. God communicates to the creature a singular participation of the divine vision and divine love: why may He not also give some excellent participation of His nature? There is a nature, for there is something whereby we are constituted the children of God. A bare affection to God doth not seem to do this. Love constitutes a man a friend, not a son and heir by generation. The apostle argues, “If children, then heirs.” He could not argue in a natural way, If friends, then heirs. And the Scripture speaks of believers being the children of God by a spiritual generation as well as by adoption. So that grace, which doth constitute one a child of God, is another form whereby a divine nature is communicated. Generation is the production of one living thing by another in the likeness of its nature, not only in the likeness of love; so is regeneration. Were not a real likeness attainable, why should those exhortations be, of being holy as God is holy, pure as He is pure? The new creature receives the image of God: not as a glass receives the image of a man, which is only an appearance, no real existence, and though it be like the person, yet hath no communion with its nature; but as wax receives the image of the seal, which though it receive nothing of the substance, yet receives exactly the stamp, and answers it in every part. So the Scripture represents it: “Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). Something of God’s perfections are in the new creature by way of quality which are in God by way of essence. In a word, it is as real a likeness to God as the creature is capable of—laid in the first draughts of it in regeneration, and completed in the highest measures in glory.—Charnock.
Spirit of adoption.—The Spirit received is more than the spirit of mere freedom: it is the spirit of “adoption”—the dearest, the most intimate, the most delightful of all kinds of freedom, that of a child under a kindly indulgent, a loved and loving father. This the Spirit imparts by means of the truth—making known to our minds the character of God as it appears in the gospel, as the God of love, “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” “delighting in mercy.” It is by leading the mind into this view of the divine character and relation to the guilty that the Spirit overcomes the enmity of the carnal mind, and fills the soul with love to God, with desire after, with joy and confidence in Him. It is thus that “by the Spirit we cry, Abba, Father”—not merely using the words, but being inspired with the dispositions and tempers of mind that belong to the endearing relation. It is the language of affection, of liberty of conscience, of confident expectation, of filial intimacy, of happiness unfelt before. The words are nothing. Alas! how many have hundreds of times used the form of address whose hearts have been strangers to the spirit which the use of it implies! How often has the invocation of the Lord’s prayer been used, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” while there has been nothing but the moving of the lips from the power of habit and of association with time and place—nothing of the heart of a loving, confiding, expecting child! In using both the Syro-Chaldaic word and the Greek for the same relation the apostle probably meant to convey the idea of the union of Jew-and Gentile under the gospel, in addressing the same God by the same endearing appellation. Or else he uses the Syriac, and simply explains it by the Greek—“We cry Abba[which is] Father.”—Dr. Wardlaw.
Gratitude to the divine Spirit.—We owe much, in one sense we owe everything, to the Spirit’s influences. To Him we owe our regeneration. To Him we owe our perseverance in faith and holiness. To Him we owe all the present joys and all the future hopes, as they exist and are experienced in our hearts, of God’s salvation. The spiritual life in its first elements, and in all its variety of subsequent exercises and enjoyments, is His work. He commences it. He maintains, and forwards, and perfects it. We are too apt to confine our gratitude to the Father and the Son, probably from two causes:—The work of Christ in assuming our nature, and suffering and dying for us, and as commissioned by the Father so to do, has in it something more external and palpable, something on which the mind can more readily realise to its conceptions, than the work of the Spirit, which, in as far as regards the personal application of that work, is inward and spiritual; imperceptible except in its effects, and frequently undistinguishable in our consciousness from the ordinary operations of mind. This is the case with the manner in which He helps our infirmities in prayer, and with all His other operations in the soul. We see it not, we hear it not. It does not even in imagination embody itself to any of our senses; and even when most conscious of the effect we are not sensible of the influence which produces it. And, moreover, we justly regard the Spirit as the gift of the Father and the Son, and are in danger of forgetting the personality and the perfect voluntariness of the Spirit Himself in the whole of His part in the work of our redemption. It is to the work of Christ we are instructed to look for a sense of pardon, for peace and hope and joy and all spiritual excitement; and while that is the object of our contemplation, we are in danger of forgetting the necessity of the Spirit’s influence to our deriving from it any saving benefit. The Father sent and gave the Son; the Son came and gave Himself; the Spirit, though sent by the Father and the Son, performs His part, as regenerator and sanctifier, with the same personal delight and satisfaction. Let us cherish gratitude to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—ONE GOD.—Dr. Wardlaw.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:16. Confidence.—The celebrated Philip de Morney, prime minister of Henry IV. of France, one of the greatest statesmen and the most exemplary Christian of his age, being asked, a little before his death, if he still retained the same assured hope of future bliss which he had so comfortably enjoyed during his illness, he made this memorable reply: “I am as confident of it, from the incontestable evidence of the Spirit of God, as I ever was of any mathematical truth from all the demonstrations of Euclid.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:18
Is life worth living?—Question much asked by present-day philosophers. What is real answer? Prayer Book says Yes: “We thank Thee for our creation.” Does Bible say so? Our passage gives answer Yes or No—depends upon belief in future life as revealed in Scripture.
Apart from future life, no, for large majority of human beings. In most lives painful sensations predominate over pleasant. Many sufferings. Atheist poet, who knew much of world, says:—
“Cast up the cares thy life has seen,
Cast up the years from sorrow free,
And know, whatever thou hast been,
’Twere something better not to be.”
If Bible revelation be true, yes. Life is not pain, but school; not happiness, but preparation for happiness; not glory, but way to glory, if lived with Christ.
Universal rule—glory of any kind slowly, painfully gained: manhood, success, fame, conquest, even redemption of man.
We can understand men doubting the future life; we cannot understand their telling us that we shall be happier if we do not anticipate it. Without it we sail in unpiloted ship on shoreless ocean, over seas on which sun never shines. With it we look up and onward in spirit of our text. Thank God.—Dr. Springett.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:18
Suffering Christians have the true prosperity.—Prosperity is to be measured by the amount of peace. It is a better treasure than either gold or silver. What trouble there is to get wealth, and when gotten what trouble for fear we lose the hoarded treasure! Peace is the true wealth—soul wealth, heart wealth. It is a treasure which makes happy. Call not that man happy and prosperous who with the increase of wealth has the increase of care and sorrow. Call that man happy and prosperous whose soul is kept in perfect peace amid the storms and hurricanes of time. Sweet home of refreshment and delight is the strong tower of perfect peace. Great peace have they that love and keep God’s law. Prosperity is to be measured by the amount of true happiness. Do we call that man prosperous who sits a miserable wretch amid his treasures and asks for what can never be given, the neglected prosperity of former days? Do we call that man prosperous whose head aches with the oppressive weight of a crown and whose soul is troubled and fever-stricken with “the fierce light that beats upon a throne”? We call that man prosperous who enjoys as much happiness as is given to mortals here below. That man is prosperous who can sing in a cell, while that man is not prosperous who weeps on a throne. The question has been sceptically asked, Happiness—what is it? A word. Where found? Our reply would be that the truest happiness to be found in this world, the most solid good, is to be obtained while walking in the pathway of duty and of godliness, for religion’s ways are indeed ways of pleasantness and her paths are peace. Let us look round upon modern society, and we shall find that its most prosperous and happiest members are those who wisely and joyously keep God’s commandments. Prosperity is to be considered in relation to the end. The psalmist was troubled, like other people, at the prosperity of the wicked. It was to him a perplexing problem. How is it consistent with the moral government of Him who is said to reign in righteousness? “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for the righteous are plagued and chastened, while the ungodly prosper in the world, and increase in riches.” He saw no way out of the bewildering maze until he went into the sanctuary of God, and understood their end. At the last, the dreadful last, desolation seized upon them as its lawful prey. They are utterly consumed with terrors. Come not my soul into the secrets of their dying horrors. Prosperous is the man who can sing, “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” Paul looked forward, and saw a bright light piercing the dark cloud of sorrow. The sufferings of the present are great. The sufferings of the persecuted how great we can scarcely understand, and yet they are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. Amid the shame of the present look onward to the revealing glory. Bring down the light of heaven to cheer the murkiness of earth. Let the eternal sunlight scatter the thick mists of time.
Romans 8:19. Expectation.—In the original a highly figurative word. Hope stands with head erect, and with eyes fixed towards the point from which the blessing is expected to come. Waiteth.—To receive something from the hands of one who extends it to you from afar. Of the creature.—In Romans 8:22 “whole creation.” Some eminent expositors understand all the world except mankind. But it would be remarkable if the phrase excluded man, who is surely the head of this lower creation.
Romans 8:20.—The Rabbins said, “With man’s fall fell also nature into a state of corruption.” For the creation was made subject to vanity.—Pressed down by some yoke, which made it the victim of unrealised hopes (Dr. Clemance). Creation to be delivered from the bondage of corruption to glorious liberty. A renovation of this globe, but not necessarily the restoration of every individual to light and glory.
Romans 8:21.—Rabbins: “Whatever God has smitten in this world, He will heal in that which is to come in the days of the Messiah.”
Romans 8:22.—Rabbins speak of the pangs of the Messiah, or the sufferings and birth-throes with which His kingdom is to be introduced. Nature is awaiting the footsteps of her Liberator; and when He steps on the scene her sighs will be turned to songs (Dr. Clemance).
Romans 8:23.—The lower creation craves for emancipation, and man yearns for adoption. Christ is the wave-sheaf which prefigured and sanctified the universal harvest (Olshausen).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:19-23
Universal groaning and redemption.—A pleasant picture is that of a renovated world, one in which shall be found neither physical nor moral evil, a universe of light, of order, and of beauty. In the Zend books it is said that after the renovation of the earth there shall be no night, no cold or hot wind, no corruption, no fear of death, no evil caused by wicked spirits; and then the fiend, the ambitious prince, shall exalt himself no more; further, that a dignified personage named Oschandabega (the man of the world) shall appear in the last time, and adorn the world with religion and righteousness, and restore the ancient order of things, when rest and peace shall prevail, all dissensions cease, and all grievances be done away. Large-souled men look to a good time coming, to a world restored to primeval glory. Paradise Lost has in it sublimer strains than Paradise Regained, but the latter is the inspiring hope of a true humanity. No wonder if St. Paul personified nature and represented it as rising up out of its groaning and looking forward to deliverance.
I. Universal groaning.—When sitting in the pleasant landscape, the soul entranced with nature’s glories, the ears charmed with her harmonies, the sense of smell regaled with her fragrances, and the vision gladdened with her beauties, we ask, Where is the groaning of nature? She is pleasant enough. Nature presents herself according to the receptive mind. Ah! there is nature’s laughter; but there are nature’s tears. The song of the bird is the prelude to her wail of sorrow; the beauty of the flower makes its decay more distressing; the splendour of the landscape is dashed by the thought of lurking dangers. Bright nature groans that her fair face should be seamed with so many scars. Nature’s fairest spots are marked with darkest blots—the earthquake yawns, the volcano belches, the avalanche sweeps, the thunder peals, the fatal disease lurks amid the flowers. Nature groans. Nature’s lord groans. Who could stand the wail if all the groanings of the human race were concentrated—the death groanings of the slaughtered Abels, the remorseful groanings of the slaughtering Cains, the groanings of the wounded on earth’s battle fields, the groanings of the conquerors as they look at the awful price of victory, the groanings of the oppressed and of the oppressors? Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. Instruments of music play their pleasant tunes to beguile the pathway along which the great human army marches; but the groanings are not silenced. Even good men, those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan. They feel the ruin and the disorders, and sigh for deliverance. They groan over abounding sin and over prevailing sorrow. They groan that efforts to overcome seem to be so ineffectual.
II. Universal expectation.—The great soul of inanimate nature feels that she has not been fashioned for vanity, that her beauties are the prophetic intimations of all abounding beauty, that her harmonies are the minor chords which shall usher in the glorious diapason which shall celebrate nature’s deliverance from every discordant sound. What poetry in the apostle’s mind! Personified nature, struggling and groaning with and beneath her fetters, is looking forward to the period when all tokens of bondage shall be removed, and there shall be a glad, triumphant entrance into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Through all time great men have had their hopeful expectations. Many of them have even rejoiced in the anticipation of the day when the powerful Liberator should appear. Gladness has entered their souls, though they have only seen the day by faith in the distant future. Good men have been men of hopeful expectancies. Their expectation has been so real, so true and earnest, that they have worked and prayed to bring into joyous fulfilment their own bright visions. They have worked for spiritual redemption, believing that along this line material redemption shall be accomplished. Creation was for redemption, and redemption shall answer back, and be in its better turn for creation. Action and reaction are equal; but the reaction of redemptive processes shall surpass the action of creation’s downfall, for divine wisdom and power and love are combined in the redemptive purposes. The sons of God expect a glorious redemption. Their expectation is founded on the immutable purposes of a loving God.
III. Universal redemption.—Would God’s vindication of His omnipotence be complete if this planet, small as it may be among the other worlds, were left in its ruined condition, a miserable trophy of the victory achieved by the enemy of all beauty and goodness? In the final disposition of all things, will it be permitted to the evil one to point to the earth-planet, and say, I have been too strong for infinite goodness; I saw God create the world, I heard Him pronounce it “very good,” and I have spoiled His workmanship; a blasted earth-planet is the proof of my malignant power, and God could only undo the work by consigning that planet to destruction? Surely no; the good must triumph over the evil, and this it will not do if evil is to work permanent damage even in material spheres. Christ’s kingdom is to include all kingdoms; and shall the material kingdom, in which His mediatorial work and reign commenced, be excluded? Shall Jerusalem receive only the Saviour’s tears, and not be favoured with His renovating smiles? Shall Calvary hear only His cries of anguish, and not be allowed to listen to the strains which clothe with beauty? Shall not the sepulchres of earth be turned into palaces, and angels clothed in white sit where the weepers stood and mourned? The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption; and much more, the creature’s master by divine appointment. Man shall be delivered. The universal redemption must come. All things make for the reign of righteousness. We see it not now, but we shall see it and know it hereafter. Let us wait in hope amid the discrepancies and disorders of the present. Let us not abate either heart or patience amid the discouragements that may surround, the seeming drawbacks that may be presented. Let us work and pray for the removal of all obstructions and for the advancement of the kingdom of truth and righteousness.
Romans 8:21. The redemption of the creature.—Meaning of terms employed: “Sons of God” = human race, in so far as redeemed to God. Creation (κτίσις) = rest of animate creation. A rational division = man, though marked off by stray dividing lines, only the highest link in a chain of creation. Connection of “sons” with “creation” twofold: man’s sin brought suffering on “creation”; man’s redemption will bring happiness to “creation.”
Origin of man’s connection with creation (Genesis 1:26). As being in “God’s image,” he had “dominion.” What he does affects all creatures round him. Examples: In animal life, degradation of the ass; in vegetable life, desolation of parts of Syria, Babylon, Palestine. On other side, elevation of the dog; improvement of natural state of Britain or United States. Inference: Man degraded, degrades nature; man redeemed will redeem nature.
Points to notice—viz.,
1. Our evil doing affects not only men but all creation around us.
2. Any anomalies in the lower world are accounted for by anomalies in man.
3. Redemption of man means the “restitution of all things,” alluded to in Isaiah 11:0 and Acts 3:21. Jewish rabbis said, “All creation will rise again, and paradise will be restored.”
4. All this through redemptive work of Christ.—Dr. Springett.
Romans 8:19-23. Fallen and redeemed.—This passage has given rise to much controversy. But the general meaning is plain enough. The apostle is speaking of the future glory of believers, and what he says is that one element in that glory will be the inheritance of a renovated creation. As set over against this burden of glory, present suffering may well seem light. While spiritual deliverance will be man’s noblest possession, it will be enhanced by new bodies not subject to corruption and a new earth purged from the curse of the Fall. The teaching of the passage may be expressed in two leading thoughts:—
I. Nature was affected by the fall of man.—In what respect and to what extent?
1. It was subjected to an alien principle. “The creature was made subject to vanity.” The principle of corruption entered. Taking creature here to mean nature in its material sense, as including everything on earth that God has made, except the spirit of man, we are in unison with the teaching of Scripture in saying that when man rebelled a blight fell on the divine handiwork (Genesis 3:17-18; Isaiah 55:12-13). Milton says: “Nature through all her works gave signs of woe that all was lost.” Whether nature would have shone in perennial beauty, had man not sinned, it would be idle to speculate. Enough to know that the “ground was cursed for man’s sake.” The principle of death reigned universal throughout the Creator’s works.
2. It was not a willing subjection. “Not willingly, but by reason of Him who subjected the same.” Nature had no choice in the matter. The bondage was enforced. The blight was inflicted on man’s account. Nature was passive, being dragged down in the ruin. When the soul of man became tainted with sin, the earthly home of man became the abode of corruption and full of wickedness. The tenant polluted the tenement.
3. The subjection is not final. There is “hope that the creature will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.” The subjection was in accordance with the will of God, and we can only surmise the divine purpose by picturing the final goal, “the end to which the whole creation moves.” The result will doubtless be a richer splendour. A cloud of mystery hangs over the subject, but we may be sure that man and nature will both emerge from the discipline in garments of white.
II. Nature will share in the redemption of man.—As nature was dragged down in the fall of man, it is natural to suppose that it will be benefited by the rise of man. But we are not left to supposition.
1. It is proved by direct statement in this passage: “The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Nature is here personified. She feels the misery and degradation of her present condition and longs for deliverance. This longing is prophetic. The fulfilment may yet be far off, but the sun gilds the mountain tops. The revelation of the sons of God is drawing on, and nature will share in the glory to be revealed. This revelation will be at the appearing of the Lord Jesus, who will subdue all things unto Himself (Philippians 3:21). All God’s works will be brought into harmony with the renovated moral world. The blight with which the ground was smitten will be removed, the longing of the creature fulfilled, and all things reconciled, things in heaven and things in earth.
2. This truth is expressed in other passages of Scripture. In Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13, we read of new heavens and a new earth, from which we may, without straining, infer the establishment of a new order of things after the earth has been purged of sin. In Isaiah 55:12-13, it is said, “Ye shall go out with joy,” etc. Underlying this imagery may we not discern the truth, that when men emerge from sinful bondage into the glorious liberty which God offers, nature will in some sense share in the emancipation, for the mountains shall sing and the hills clap their hands? Can this mean anything less than that Christ’s redemptive forces will be felt all over the creation? We may well believe that all things, in some way unknown to us, come under the redeeming plan, that the shadow which meanwhile clouds the creature will one day be lifted.
3. This truth is involved in the redemption of the body. The body is indeed part of the material creation; and if one part is to be freed from sin, the redemption of the other will surely follow. The redemption of the body is a neglected tenet of the Christian faith. The believer longs for it (Romans 8:23) as the goal of his hopes. It comes only in one way—viz., through Christ. When He rose from the grave, He snapped the fetters that kept the “creature” under the bondage of corruption. One body having thus risen incorruptible, have we not in this the earnest of the redemption of all bodies of the saints? A portion of the material creation being thus redeemed from the curse, is there not herein a pledge that every creature or the whole creation will yet be emancipated? There is indeed a universal expectancy. The creature itself longs for it. They who have the firstfruits of the Spirit wait for it.
1. Are we waiting for this glorious emancipation?
2. Will the renovated earth be the abode of redeemed man?
3. If so, what manner of persons ought we to be?—D. Merson, B.D.
The history of sonship.—“The manifestation of the sons of God.”
I. Their past eternity.—They had a history ere they were born; not conscious to themselves, but truly in the eye and purpose of God (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Revelation 17:8). In these passages the history of each saint and of the Church of God is traced to that eternity in which God only existed.
II. Their unregenerate life on earth.—They were born no better than others; shapen in iniquity; children of wrath.
III. Their adoption.—
1. They are begotten again (1 Peter 1:3). They are born of the Spirit (John 3:3), born from above.
2. They believe (Galatians 3:26). They pass out of the region of unbelief into that of faith.
3. They receive Christ (John 1:12).
4. They get the name of sons (1 John 3:1). They are now “called” sons of God.
5. They receive the Spirit of adoption (Galatians 4:5-6).
6. They are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).
7. They are chastened (Hebrews 12:7). Discipline is their lot.
8. They are brought to glory (Hebrews 2:10). To this are they redeemed and called. “Whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
9. They are made like Christ Himself (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2).
IV. Their time of obscurity.—For a season they are hidden; men’s eyes are holden so that they do not recognise them; they are in disguise. Their life is hid with Christ in God. It doth not yet appear what they shall be.
V. The manifestation.—The obscurity does not last always—nay, not long. The day is coming when the disguise shall drop off, and their royal robes display themselves; when He who is their life shall appear, they shall appear with Him.
1. What this manifestation is. The word is the same as in 1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:13. It is revelation, or outshining, or transfiguration. They are in this conformed to their Lord.
2. When shall the manifestation be? In the day of Christ’s appearing; not in the day of death.
3. How long shall the manifestation be? For ever. A whole eternity of glory. Let us walk worthy of our prospects; content with present obscurity and shame; “passing the time of our sojourning here in fear.”—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:19-23
Man the soul of the world.—Schelling said: “On the loveliest spring day, while nature is displaying all her charms, does not the heart, when drinking in admiration, imbibe a poison of gnawing melancholy?” There is a third point on which science seems to us to harmonise readily with St. Paul’s view; I mean the close solidarity which exists between man and the whole of nature. The physiologist is forced to see in the human body the intended goal and masterpiece of animal organisation, which appears as nothing else than a long effort to reach this consummation. As the breaking of the bud renders sterile the branch which bore it, so the fall of man involved that of the world. As Schelling said in one of his admirable lectures on the philosophy of revelation: “Nature, with its melancholy charm, resembles a bride who, at the very moment when she was fully attired for marriage, saw the bridegroom to whom she was to be united die on the very day fixed for the marriage. She still stands with her fresh crown and in her bridal dress, but her eyes are full of tears.” The soul of the poet-philosopher here meets that of the apostle. The ancient thinkers spoke much of a soul of the world. The idea was not a vain dream. The soul of the world is man. The whole Bible, and this important passage in particular, rests on this profound idea.—Godet.
Yearnings in creation.
It was not then a poet’s dream,
An idle vaunt of song,
Such as beneath the moon’s soft beam
On vacant fancies throng,
Which bids us see in heaven and earth,
In all fair things around,
Strong yearnings for a blest new birth,
With sinless glories crowned.—Keble.
If we judge by the numerous and diversified interpretations of this passage, it is one of the most difficult of solution in the Bible, and is probably included in “some things hard to be understood” which the apostle Peter says are in his beloved brother Paul’s epistles. A late critic has enumerated no less than eleven different views of the word “creature,” which, indeed, is the key of the whole passage. I shall not dwell on such opinions, as that it signifies angels, the souls of the planetary world, Adam and Eve, or the souls or bodies of men. It cannot mean the Gentiles, the unconverted, or the human race in general, because many of them look to eternity with fear, not hope. Were Romans 8:19-21 to be literally understood, they can apply only to Christians, or to the new nature of Christians, which is called a “new creation.” But as the creation is mentioned in the twenty-second verse (although the same original word rendered “creation” there is translated “creature” in the preceding verse), the creature in the nineteenth verse means creation or nature. The most satisfactory view of the passage, or what seems attended with fewest difficulties, is that it is a bold and noble figure in which the apostle personifies nature, and represents it as longing and expecting a blessed change from its present vanity or perversion, into order, beauty, and happiness.—Parlane.
A bold personification.
All true, all faultless, all in tune
Creation’s wondrous choir,
Opened in mystic unison
To last till time expire.
Man only mars the sweet accord,
O’erpowering with “harsh din”
The music of Thy works and words,
Ill matched with grief and sin.
Sin is with man at morning break,
And through the livelong day
Deafens the ear that fain would wake
To nature’s simple lay.—Keble.
The figure of speech called prosopopœia, by which irrational beings are represented as persons endowed with the qualities of rational creatures, and speaking, hearing, suffering, and rejoicing like them, is common in sacred as well as in profane writings. You find in the Bible such expressions as these: “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!” “Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth!” The trees said to the olive, the fig tree, the vine, and the bramble, Reign thou over us. No one is deceived by such personification, which is designed and fitted to convey truth in a more interesting and impressive manner. What more graphically exposes the ingratitude, the obduracy, of impenitent men, who refuse to hear God, than His appeal to the material creation, “Be astonished, O ye heavens; give ear, O earth; and be ye horribly afraid: for My people have been guilty of two great evils?” Stones are represented as hearing and witnessing God’s covenant with His people, and their vows, and the earth as mourning under the sin of man, and as rejoicing in his temporal and spiritual joy. “Because of swearing, the land mourneth. The little hills rejoice on every side. Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it! Shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains! O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.” The passage before us, as we have seen, is a bold personification of nature. “For the creature,” or creation, etc. The present condition of nature, or visible creation, its cause, and its temporary duration, are the topics presented in the text.
Nature to be set free.—“Bondage of corruption.” Nature is prevented from putting forth its powers, from manifesting its real grandeur, and from attaining its original destiny. It is therefore bound. And its bondage is caused by the necessary decay of its products. All that nature brings forth is doomed to die. And nature is compelled to slay its own offspring. The lightning flash destroys the stately oak. The winter’s cold kills the songsters of the summer. Animals devour other animals to maintain life. And this universal destruction limits the achievements of nature. Instead of constant growth, nature’s beauty and strength fade away. The powers of the material creation are bound by fetters of decay. “The freedom of,” etc., with which the “children of God” will be made free in the day when their glory will be revealed—this freedom creation will share. The bondage of corruption was designed to last only for a time. It was imposed when man fell, and will be removed when man’s redemption is complete. Paul carries on his personification by saying that when nature was made to share “the bondage” which resulted from man’s sin, a hope was given to it of sharing the liberty which will follow man’s deliverance. Romans 8:22. Proof, from an admitted fact, that nature will be made free. “Groans together.” The entire creation joins in one cry of sorrow and in one great anguish. Every voice in nature which reminds us of its bondage to corruption Paul conceives to be a cry of sorrow. The storm which wreaks destruction and the roar of the hungry lion tell that the original purpose of the Creator has been perverted, and that nature is not what He designed it to be. “The whole … until now.” This cry is universal and unceasing. And Paul remembers that nature’s sorrow is the result of man’s sin. He therefore infers that it will not continue for ever; that the confusion and destruction around, so inconsistent with the character and purpose of the Creator, will give way to liberty and order. In other words, he can account for the present anomalous state of nature only by supposing it to be temporary, to be preparatory to something more consistent with nature’s original destiny. “In travail.” The agonies of nature are but the pangs, soon and suddenly to cease, at the birth of a new earth and heaven.—Beet.
Creature denotes the whole of the race.—The most probable interpretation of the term “creature” therefore seems to be that which considers it as denoting the whole human race. This is the view taken of the passage by many eminent interpreters. All mankind from the beginning have felt the evils of the present system of things. Many of them looked for an amelioration of the human condition in the present life, and, generally speaking, they believed in a future state, and hoped to share in its advantages. Now the earnest waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God may include both the expected improvement of the human condition on earth and the glory that shall be manifested at the resurrection. Mankind in general had indeed no knowledge of the nature of this glory. That the word “creature” as here employed denotes all mankind is rendered probable also by the use of the term in other parts of the New Testament, where it often has this meaning. “Go ye into all the world,” said out blessed Saviour to His disciples immediately before His ascension into heaven, “and preach the gospel to every creature.” Here “every creature” can mean nothing but all mankind. In the same sense St. Paul uses the word: “The gospel which was preached to every creature which is under heaven,” meaning obviously every human creature. This therefore is the meaning of the term, which is most consistent with the use of it in other parts of the New Testament, and the meaning which enables us most easily to explain the passage, and therefore it is probable that this is the meaning which the apostle intended.—Ritchie.
Romans 8:24.—The salvation which we now enjoy is by the exercise of hope as well as faith.
Romans 8:25.—The duty of waiting with patient endurance is argued from salvation being yet a matter of hope. It enables all who possess it to wait in patience.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:24-25
The sustaining grace.—The sustaining grace is hope, for we consider it in this passage subjectively and objectively. We look forward in hope to its object, which is the perfected adoption and redemption of the believer. We may be allowed to consider hope in its bearing upon the whole of the Christian character. Perhaps we may extend the apostolic idea in this passage, as we observe:—
I. Hope appropriates the blessings purchased by Jesus Christ.—We are saved by hope, and thus it is the instrumental cause of salvation. “Thy faith hath saved thee.” It is the hand which lays hold upon the hand of Jesus, who leads out of the pit. Hope does not save apart from its object—Jesus Christ as mediator. Hope must rest on the foundation-stone laid by God in Zion. All other hope is baseless.
II. Hope is the “helmet of salvation.”—The head the most important part of the human frame, for therein resides the brain. Man of all animals has the largest brain and a weak defence. Reason and the inventive faculty enable him to provide against attacks. The helmet is the artificial safeguard for the human brain. The Christian soldier is crowned with the best helmet, the hope of salvation. In ancient warfare a strong arm would make the sword cleave the helmet and slay the man. No arm is sufficiently strong, no sword sufficiently well-tempered, to cleave the Christian’s helmet of hope. We are saved by a strong hope.
III. Hope holds the Christian’s head above water.—Hope is like the cork to a net—the lead upon the bottom of the net would sink it, but the cork bears it up; our troubles would sink us, the testimony of our external senses would sink us, but hope sustains. Hope is the life-buoy for the mariner. The ships of earth may sink; the billows may rise mountainous; but hope enables the man to swim in roughest seas. The tempest only makes sweet music in his soul. He rides calmly like the sea-bird on the swelling and rolling waters.
IV. Hope is the pleasant pilot.—The pilot takes complete control of the vessel, and conducts into the harbour. He may bring pleasant news from shore. Hope guides the soul, and tells sweet stories of succeeding joys. Amid the gloom that death’s shadows cast over the dying Christian hope brings gracious rays of heavenly light to cheer. Lightsome is life, less stern is death, when hope pleasantly pilots the soul.
V. Hope is not daunted by inscrutable purposes.—There are mysteries in life, dark providences in human proceedings. Hope brightens the dark design; hope contentedly waits for the solution of all mysteries. Dr. Payson was once asked if he saw any special reasons for some particular dispensation of providence. “No,” was his reply; “but I am as well satisfied as if I saw the design.” God’s will is the very perfection of reason. Hope teaches satisfaction. Philosophy kicks against the unknowable, and is in a state of unrest. Hope accepts the unknowable and also the knowable divine wisdom and goodness, and is in a state of delicious repose.
VI. Hope waits the Father’s time.—“Then do we with patience wait for it.” Time is a human word. Of course all words are human, but by the expression “time is a human word” we mean that men are subject to time conditions; and in what sense the word may be applied to the divine we cannot tell. God’s time is not measured by human dial-plates. The eternal clocks are made on larger scale than the clocks of time. A child measures time by fitful fancies. A man measures time by prolonged efforts. We are all children with our fitful fancies. God’s time must be measured by mighty purposes which require ages for their unfolding. Hope calmly waits at the post of duty, while God’s great time is moving onward to the development of His benevolent designs.
VII. Hope sees the unseen.—“Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Hope ceases when its object is realised. Perfect redemption is unseen, but we live in hope. Heaven is unseen, but hope is so strong that it brings heaven down to earth. Let a man’s citizenship be in heaven—let his thoughts travel amongst the holy angels—let his spirit thirst for the joys of the upper temple—let his longings be towards the presence of the Lamb, who is without blemish and without spot, and that man must rise out of a low state of manhood into a condition that shall be sublimely glorious. With such a process carried on to perfection, he will appear as one let down from the upper sphere to this lower world. Blessed hope enables sorrowing disciples to rejoice in days of darkness, and martyrs to sing in the very hour of their martyrdom. It brings rich grapes from heaven with which to refresh the parched lips, and pours healing oil into wounded hearts. It scatters the darkness of death, chases away the gloom of the grave, by throwing around it the divine light of a glorious resurrection, and opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Let us then no longer dissipate our lives in a series of trifles; but let us recall ourselves to-day from fugitive events, and strike a nobler aim, and seek a more enduring interest, and cast a further anticipation on the futurity which lies before us, and on that blessed hope the realisation of which will fill our souls with joy unspeakable.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:24-25
How to know hope.—Thou shalt know hope by three things, whether thou hast it or not.
1. By the mother of it, which is faith: he that hopeth believeth, for faith is the ground of things hoped for.
2. By the daughter of it, which is patience: thus do we with patience wait for it. Merchants in hope of gain endure the water, martyrs in hope of recompense endure the fire; where there is no patience there is no hope.
3. By the companion of it, which is love: he that hath this hope purifieth himself. If then thou hast a true and lively hope of salvation, remember to increase in faith, patience, and love, which is the fulfilling of the law. Thus we suppress the rising sigh, thus we bow with submission to the will of God which afflicts us, thus we show to ourselves and others that we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. But we wait for the victor’s crown; we have not actually attained or come to the realisation of that for which we hope: that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive,” and therefore we patiently wait until the hour of glorious liberty, the deliverance from the bondage of corruption.—Adams.
Hope and despair.—Despair throws over the soul an oppressive gloom, paralyses the energies, benumbs the powers, and throws the man a wasted wreck on the sands of time; while hope fills the soul with light, braces up the man with strength, and sends him walking through God’s creation, a being endowed with powers of endurance. Despair is the result of sin’s working in this world, while Christian hope is the gift of God. He has given us a good hope through grace. God might have shut us up to the darkness of despair; but in the midst of our moral darkness mercy appeared and hope spanned the world in its many colours like a rainbow of divine promise.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:24-25. Sir Walter Scott.—There is pleasure in abiding amid the storm when the anchor of a good hope fastens to the immovable throne of Him in whom is everlasting strength. When Sir Walter Scott was a little boy, he was found sitting on a knoll in a great and terrific thunderstorm. He was lying on his back, listening to the thunder, looking at the lightning, clapping his hands at each successive flash, and exclaiming with glee, “Bonnie, bonnie!” When Christian hope is in lively exercise, elements of delight may be found in the very storm which causes fear.
Romans 8:24-25. The steadfast boy.—A gentleman in London, having some business one morning to transact at the India House, took with him his son, then only six or seven years of age. The boy was left at one of the outer doors, with instructions to wait until his father came for him. Having been detained within for some time, the father, under the pressure of his engagements, forgot his son, and left by another door. When he reached home in the evening, the first inquiry of the wife was about the missing child, and then the father recollected all. He at once returned to the India House, and found the obedient boy waiting at his post, where he had waited the livelong day. The eternal Father never forgets, but sometimes to our shortsightedness He may appear to forget, and then hope comes to our assistance and teaches us to wait in patience the Father’s time. Wait through the longest day; wait through the darkest night. The shadows will flee away; the morning of perfect explanation will appear. Sorrow may endure for the night; joy will come in the morning of divine revelations.
Romans 8:24-25. Bedridden for twenty years.—A friend once told us that when visiting a woman who had been bedridden for twenty or thirty years, she said to him, “What a useless creature I am, lying here doing nothing, just a burden to others, and everybody around me actively employed! I wonder how it is that God keeps me so long in the world?” And yet the fact was, as our friend told us, that she was the wonder of all who knew her. They could not think or say enough of her patient, cheerful resignation, her self-forgetfulness, her interest in everything and everyone she saw or heard of, her sweetness of temper, her heavenly, Christlike spirit. Her lowly estimate of herself added a charm to her character and life. Her beautiful exemplification of the passive virtues rendered her one of the most useful creatures in the whole parish.
Romans 8:26. The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us.—The divine Spirit works in the human spirit. ἐντυγχάνω, to light upon, to meet with a person. Then to go to meet a person for supplication. Hence to entreat, to pray; ὑπέρ, with genitive of person, to make intercession for any one.
Romans 8:27.—Though the prayer be, as some interpret the words, indistinct and inarticulate groanings, yet the divine Spirit can interpret every prayer which is inspired by Him.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:26-27
The spirit temple.—We are exhorted to remember St. Chrysostom’s celebrated saying with reference to the Shekinah, or ark of testimony, the visible representation of God among the Hebrews, “The true Shekinah is man”; the essence of our being is a breath of heaven, the highest being reveals itself in man. The highest being reveals itself in the spiritual man, for the divine Spirit helps our general weakness, suggests and leads our devotions. A radiancy of glory illuminates that human temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.
I. Man is still a temple, but in ruins.—On the front of the human temple might once be read the inscription, “Here God dwells.” But the glory has departed; the lamps are extinct; the altar is overturned; the golden candlesticks are displaced; sweet incense is exchanged for poisonous vapour; homely order is turned into confusion; the house of prayer has become a den of thieves; Ichabod may be read on the ruins. The divine Spirit must purify the courts, restore the ruins, beautify the desolate places, and make a temple where incense and a pure offering shall arise to the Lord God of hosts.
II. Believing man is a temple restored.—It is sad to walk among the ruins of a deserted temple. It is pleasant to see that temple being reconstructed and rising out of its ruins even more beautiful than before. A saved man is a reconstructed temple. The broken carved work is so repaired that it surpasses in beauty the primeval glory; the altar is re-erected; the lamps glow with divine light; the golden candlesticks gleam with heavenly lustre; sweet incense floats through the aisles; gracious strains of music rise and swell to the lofty dome.
III. The believing man is a temple glorified.—We visit some earthly temples because they enshrine the sacred dust of departed heroes. They are like chapels of the dead. The temple of a believing man enshrines the living. The Holy Spirit glorifies the human spirit by His indwelling and His co-operating agency. We are to be the living temples of a living and indwelling Spirit. The essence of the spiritual man’s life is, not a mere breath from heaven, but an abiding and a life-giving influence.
IV. The believing man is a temple supported.—Our stone temples are supported by external buttresses. The weakness is repaired by outward appliances. The temples of spiritual humanity are supported by inward appliances. The Holy Spirit is the directing agent. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity, helps our general weakness, and makes us divinely strong. Hope is a sustaining grace. The Holy Spirit is a sustaining influence; likewise the spirit also. The human and the divine conjoin to subserve the gracious needs of a spiritual man groaning, sighing, and waiting for the infinite good.
V. The believing man is a temple inspired.—We cannot breathe into temples of stone divine yearnings. The Holy Spirit breathes into the temple of the spiritual man glorious aspirations. Our sighings after the infinite good are not our own; they are produced in us by One greater than our hearts. The groanings of the divine Spirit’s productions are not the groanings of a creation subject to bondage, vanity, and corruption, but the sighings of a renewed soul for a vaster and a higher life. These groanings tell of the kingdom of God within a man. The poet’s song sometimes tells of saddest thought; these groanings sing the poem of God’s kingdom established.
VI. The believing man is a temple where true worship is offered.—The earthly temple is not built and set apart to be admired as a piece of architecture. The Christian man is not set apart to be the lifeless monument of divine grace. Here true prayer is offered,—no Gregorian chants; no pealing anthems; no angel-voiced boys sweetly warbling words they do not feel; no elaborate prayers either read, extempore or memoriter, for the prayer is unformulated, unexpressed, What a strange worship! Groanings and sighings are heard in the temple—heard not by human ears, but by the divine mind. The divine Spirit in the human spirit maketh intercession. The temple is thus blessedly consecrated.
VII. The believing man is a temple where divine interpretations are given.—Our interpretations are often no interpretations. Misleading words are sometimes used to conceal our ignorance. The Spirit’s interpretations are real. “He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit.” He knoweth also the true mind of the yearning nature.
VIII. The believing man is a temple where divine harmonies prevail.—Here are harmonies not heard by human ears. The human will is made submissive to the divine will. Intercessions are going on within us and above us according to the will of God. A life according to the divine plan is a life of harmony. Temple service conducted by the Holy Spirit has not one discordant element. Let us learn the condescension of God and the true dignity of man. God by His Spirit dwells with and in men upon the earth. The true dignity of man consists in being the habitation of God by His Holy Spirit. Let the lamps of light and of love be ever trim, the one shining with heavenly brightness and the other burning with pious fervour. Let the beauties of holiness adorn the temple. In prayer let us seek to catch the tones of the still, small voice of the indwelling Spirit. Let man open the door of his heart-temple to the divine Seeker. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” Can man let Him wait? Behold the desolation, and behold the true Repairer. Behold the discords, and behold the true Harmoniser. Surely man will say, Come in, Thou heavenly Restorer; take full possession of my nature; let my human spirit be the temple, unworthy though it be, for the divine Spirit!
Unutterable groans.—“Groanings that cannot be uttered.” It is with the Holy Spirit that we are here brought face to face, or set side by side. As Christ does the whole work for us, so the Holy Spirit does the whole work in us. He is not visible, nor audible, nor palpable; but not on that account the less real and personal. Here, it is His way of dealing with us and our infirmities that it is particularly referred to. We are described as feeble men, bearing on our shoulders a burden too heavy to be borne; He comes up to us, not exactly to take away the burden, nor to strengthen us under it, but to put His own almighty shoulder under it, in the room of (ἀντι) and along with (συν) ours; thus lightening the load, though not changing it; and bearing the heavier part of it with His own almightiness. Thus it is that He “helpeth” (συναντιλαμβάνεται) our infirmities; making us to feel both the burden and the infirmity all the while that He helps; nay, giving us such a kind and mode of help as will keep us constantly sensible of both. This is especially true in regard to our prayers. Here it is that His “help” comes in so effectually and so opportunely; so that we are made to “pray in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 1:20), to “pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). Let us, then, learn:—
I. True prayer is from the indwelling Spirit.—It is He that wakes up prayer in us, both as to its matter and its manner. We knew not what or how to pray.
II. True prayer takes the form of a divine intercession.—We have Christ in heaven on the throne, and the Spirit on earth in our hearts, interceding; Christ pleading for us as if we were one with Him, the Spirit pleading in us as if we were one with Him and He with us.
III. True prayer often takes the form of groans.—The longings produced in us by the indwelling Spirit are such as cannot give vent to themselves in words. Our hearts are too full; our voice is choked; articulation is stifled; we can only groan. But the groan is true prayer. Man could not interpret it; we ourselves do not fully understand it. But God does. “He knows the meaning of the Spirit’s ‘groans’ ” (Baxter). For thus we groan with the rest of a groaning creation; and all these groans are at length to be heard and fully answered.
1. Put yourself into the hands of the Spirit, for prayer and everything else.
2. Grieve not the Spirit. He is willing to come to you, and take up your case; but beware of grieving Him.
3. Pray much. Pray in the Spirit. Delight in prayer. Cherish the Spirit’s groans.—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:26-27
Prayer.—True prayer is not pestering the throne with passionate entreaties that a certain method of deliverance which seems best to us should be forthwith effected; but is a calm utterance of need, and a patient, submissive expectance of fitting help, of which we dare not define the manner or the time. They are wisest, most trustful, and reverent who do not seek to impose their notions or wills on the clearer wisdom and deeper love to which they betake themselves, but are satisfied with leaving all to His arbitrament. True prayer is the bending of our own wills to the divine, not the urging of ours on it. When Hezekiah received the insolent letter from the invader, he took it and “spread it before the Lord,” asking God to read it, leaving all else to Him to determine, as if he had said, Behold, Lord, this boastful page. I bring it to Thee’ and now it is Thine affair more than mine. The burden which we roll on God lies lightly on our own shoulders; and if we do roll it thither, we need not trouble ourselves with the question of how He will deal with it.—Maclaren.
The Spirit helps in our groaning.—The Holy Spirit, by means of the gospel which explains the meaning of the death of Christ, makes us conscious of God’s love; and thus gives us the confidence of children, and elicits the cry, My Father God. Since this cry is the result of the Spirit’s presence in our heart, it is the cry both of our own spirit and of the Spirit of God. It is uttered amid weariness and sorrow. Our present circumstances are utterly at variance with our true dignity as revealed by the Spirit. The contrast makes the present life a burden, and compels us to look forward eagerly to the day when we shall take our proper place as the sons of God. Our dissatisfaction with present surroundings, and our yearning for something better, give rise to inward groanings which words cannot express. Since these are a result of the filial confidence with which the Spirit by His own presence fills our hearts, they are the groans both of our own spirit and of the Spirit of God. Whatever is at variance with our dignity as sons is at variance with His purpose touching us. Whatever hinders the full development of our sonship hinders His work in us. Hence our yearning is the expression of His mind concerning us. Therefore by moving us to yearn He groans and yearns within us. By so doing He helps us in a way in which we specially need help. Left to ourselves, we should desire and long for that which is not good. But now we are sure that our longings are according to God’s will, for they are wrought in us by His Spirit. Again, since our longings express the purpose of the Spirit, they plead with God for their own fulfilment. To gratify our yearnings is to accomplish the purpose of His own Spirit—i.e., of Himself. Therefore by filling our hearts with His own desires and purposes concerning us the Spirit within us cries to the Father above us. This cry the Father cannot refuse to answer. That the voice is inaudible does not lessen its efficacy; for God hears the silent wish of the heart. He knows the purpose for which the Spirit has come to dwell within us—knows it to be in accordance with His own will, and to be a purpose of blessing for men whom God has made specially His own. In short, our own yearnings, resulting as they do from the presence of the Spirit, are themselves a pledge of their own realisation.—Beet.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:26. Gray’s teleautograph.—“The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us.” Through Christ the Holy Spirit communicates our desires to God and God’s grace to us. He speaks our particular wants to God Professor Gray’s teleantograph enables one to transmit his own handwriting by wire to a great distance. What is written in Chicago is reproduced in facsimile in a distant city. It is especially adapted for commercial purposes and the practical work of business men. So God’s Spirit reproduces our desires, words, and deeds; and we have a witness in heaven and a record on high: all is spoken in heaven.—Benignitas.
Romans 8:28. All things.—Without exception—all things visible and invisible, our troubles, even our sins.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:28
Consoling knowledge.—St. Paul was keenly alive to suffering. He sympathised with a suffering creation. And yet, as he stands amid suffering and desolation, a divine joy lights his countenance. Confidence sustains his soul. Whence this joy and confidence? The answer is found in the text. Amid the pains and perplexities of life we must trust in the unfailing wisdom and goodness of God. We must keep alive the consoling knowledge “that all things,” etc.
I. What is man’s highest good?—What is the highest good, not for man as a physical being, as a mere resident of earth, but for man in the greatness of his nature, in the importance of his destiny? The highest good for man is to love God, to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, to be beloved of God. The degree of man’s perfection is the measure of his loving God. The highest good is not material, but spiritual; the highest good is being developed both in the time-life and in the eternal existence.
II. The dispensations of God promote the highest good.—Man must work longer and more carefully in erecting a structure which is to endure than in making one which is soon to be taken down. The highest good has reference to the future, and the work to be done in the present must have reference to that future. The mystery of death-bed repentances must be left; the greatest lives on earth have been trained in rough schools and have tasted long experiences. God will harmonise the short Christian life of the dying thief on earth and the rough, long pathway of an apostle. Most have many experiences in the Christian course. Crosses and losses are not unknown. But true to their work, and work only for our good, are the cross providences of God. The temple of the human soul is to be built up to a glorious perfection, and the builders are the trials, sufferings, and afflictions with which God’s children are visited. Winter’s storm as well as summer’s sunshine tempers the oak; the snow that means death to the unwary traveller fertilises the land; the hurricane that shatters the building scatters the noxious vapours; the ocean that entombs brave men and fair women sends its bracing ozone on to the land. Thus all things, fair and foul, smooth and rough, prosperous and adverse, joyous and painful, are working to the greater perfection of those that truly love God.
III. The twofold guarantee.—This is found in the words “to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Our love to God is the outcome of His love to us. The human love is responsive to the divine love. True love to God will bring to light the good that may be concealed by the repulsive drapery of adversity. True love from God will evoke good out of seeming evil. The love of God broods over a groaning universe, and will turn the groans into hymns of praise. And surely the love of God specially watches over the beloved. God’s love can pierce the prison wall, and give glad songs to the prisoners for the truth’s sake. God’s love can visit the chamber of suffering, and smooth the pillow for the aching head and give heaven’s light in nature’s darkness. Love called, and love obeyed. Love called the human soul to divine heights. Shall love, backed by wisdom and power, leave the beloved to be destroyed by the strokes of adversity? Shall unchangeable love call, and then forsake? The purpose of divine love is that the beloved walk in the realm of perfect love; and this purpose cannot fail. Heaven and earth may fail, but divine purpose must stand. This knowledge is consoling. This confidence is sweet. “We know,” and by the sustaining power of that knowledge Paul showed himself the world’s great hero. Not-knowledge may be the boasted creed of some. Paul’s knowledge has in it divine consolations. We know, and we walk calmly and peacefully through the unknowable. We know that all things are working together for our good, and we work joyfully towards the infinite good and repose on the infinite love.
Romans 8:28. The discipline of sufferings.—Sufferings are either the result of our own folly or such as could not have been foreseen by us.
Why does God allow latter to happen? These answers have been suggested: God ignores man’s affairs (Hinduism); God only cares for a few men (Eclecticism); God is not quite almighty (Dualism). None of these can be Christian’s answer. His answer is to be gathered from this passage.
Bible nowhere says that our comfort or our pleasure is God’s chief care; but it does teach that our good is. (Be careful not to confuse these things.) God wishes our happiness, our holiness—not comfort or pleasure.
The good of pain, privation, suffering, bereavement. They correct evil, prevent evil, develop character (merchant, soldier), produce sympathy, promote brotherliness, promote enterprise (severe climates have energetic people), prepare for eternity. Example: David is at his best amid adversities, at his worst amid comforts.
A reservation in the statement “to them that love God.” Notice: No sorrow leaves us where it found us; it drives us from God, or brings us nearer to Him. Examples: The remorse of Judas; the remorse of Peter.
Resolution: To look on every trouble as a test and turning-point.—Dr. Springett.
Romans 8:28. All things working for good.—St. Paul believes that there is a purpose, that there is an end, towards which events are tending. It looks at first sight like a faith rather than the conclusion of an argument. Reason alone might arrive at an opposite conclusion. How can we see a providential guidance, a divine plan of any kind, in the bloody game which chiefly makes up what we call history? How in those failures of great causes, in the enervation and degradation of civilised peoples, which make philosophers like Rousseau look back with fondness to the age of barbaric simplicity? It is true enough that the purpose of God in human history is traversed, that it is obscured, by causes to which the apostles of human despair may point very effectively; and yet here, as ever, we Christians dare to say that we walk by faith where sight fails us, as elsewhere, and we see enough to resist so depressing a conclusion as that before us—to know that the course of events is not thus fatal, thus desperate. We believe in a future; we believe that all moves forward, through whatever failures, through whatever entanglements, to a predestined end, and that each race, each generation, each particular class in each society, does its part, whether we can accurately estimate that part or not, towards promoting that end.
“All things work together for good.” For what kind of good? The glory of the Master and Ruler of all? No doubt they do. As nothing exists without His permission, so the very forces of evil itself will have, against their own bias and bent, to do His will and secure His triumph. He would not be God if it could be otherwise. But this is not what the apostle here says, nor does he go so far as to say that all things actually work together for the good of all human beings; for clearly our experience tells us that they do not. Who would say that his wealth was for the good of the debauchee, that his power is good for the selfish despot? It may be true enough that in the original design all things, all circumstances, were strictly designed to work together for the good of all; but man must be something else to what he generally is if he is in this sense to inherit all things, if nothing that happens is to harm him, if he is to find in all around him sources of blessedness and strength. “All things work … that love God.” Not God’s glory merely, but the good of those that love Him, is the object of His providence. Surely the child is not guilty of outrageous pride when it turns to its mother with an instinctive confidence that she will nourish and protect it; and it is the childlike that is one of the highest moral instincts in us, which leads us to believe that “like as a father … that we are but dust.” Our Lord was careful to assure His followers that in the world they would have tribulation, and to proclaim the blessedness that would attend temporal failures. What is the “good” of which the apostle speaks? It is real, absolute—it is eternal good. It is the good of the soul rather than the body, the good of the eternal world rather than the present world. Why is it that all things are said to “work … that love God”? Because such love, and it only, can transform all circumstances into blessings. No life is made up of such commonplaces that each cannot be made, by this love, to sparkle with the highest moral interest. No misfortunes are so great that they cannot be built into the steps of the staircase by which souls mount to heaven. The soul which loves the imperishable can never be doomed to a real disappointment. Social or political trouble may teach us unselfishness. Religious controversy or the advance of unbelief may teach us earnestness. Probably they touch some of us far less nearly than the joys and sorrows of our private lives.
Much may be done in an hour which will last for ever. “If a thousand years are as one day before the eternal God, so surely one day may be a very eternity to the soul of man. Spiritual revolutions within the soul, the deepest changes for good or for evil, have no appreciable relation to time. Intensity, not duration, is the measure of their importance.” God grant us to pray with all our hearts that, as He has prepared for them that love Him such good things as pass our understanding, so He will pour into our hearts such love towards Himself that we, loving Him above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord!—Canon Liddon.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:28
All things for the best.—The first point to be spoken of is the excellent privilege of God’s children, that all things shall work together for the best; both good and evil shall turn to their happiness. The reason stands thus: All things shall work together for the best to them that love God. Therefore all afflictions, crosses, and vexations whatsoever that betide such persons shall work together for their good; and for this cause all God’s servants must learn patiently to bear and cheerfully to undergo poverty or riches, honour or dishonour, in this world. The first sin of all, which hath gone over whole mankind and is spread abroad in every one of us, this by God’s mercy and our repentance proves to all believers a transcendent good, for the fall and sin of the first Adam caused the birth and death of the Second Adam, Christ Jesus, who, notwithstanding He was God, took upon Him the nature of man, and hath made us by His coming far more happy than if we had never fallen. Neither would God have suffered Adam to have fallen but for His own further glory in the manifestation of His justice and mercy and for the greater felicity of His servants in Christ their mediator. And it is good we should have something within us to make us weary of the world, else when we have run out our race we be unwilling to depart hence. Now our bondage to this natural corruption serves exceedingly to make us mourn for our sinful disposition and hunger after our God, to be joined with Him, as we see in St. Paul’s example (Romans 7:24), where, finding the rebellion of his nature and the strife that was in him, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, he cries out, saying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” and seeketh to God in Christ for mercy straight. For the evils of body, such as sickness and diseases of all sorts, which daily attend our houses of clay, God by means hereof acquaints His children with their frail condition, and shows them what a little time they have to provide for eternity, thereby driving them to search their evidences and to make all straight betwixt Him and them. Outward weaknesses are oft a means to restrain men from inward evils. God usually sanctifies the pains and griefs of His servants to make them better. The time of sickness is a time of purging from that defilement we gathered in our health. We should not be cast down so much for any bodily distemper as for sin that procures and envenoms the same. That is a good sickness which tends to the health of the soul. Now the causes why all things do work together for the best to them that love God are these—viz., It is God’s decree, manner of working, and blessed covenant. It is the foundation of the covenant of Christ Jesus. The second cause why all works together for the best to believers is the manner of God working in things, which is by contraries. He bringeth light out of darkness, glory out of shame, and life out of death. We fell by pride to hell and destruction, and must be restored by humiliation to life and salvation. Christ humbled Himself, being God, to become man for us, and by His death restored us to life. When our sins had brought us to greatest extremities, even then were we nearest to eternal happiness. There is nothing in the world that to God’s servants is absolutely evil, because nothing is so ill but some good may be raised out of it; not as it is an evil, but as it is governed and mastered by a supreme cause. Sin is of all evils the greatest, and yet sinful actions may produce gracious effects through God’s ordering and guiding the same. A child of God is truly happy in the midst of all misery.—Sibbes.
God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill declared.—The “calling” here and elsewhere spoken of by the apostle is the working in men of “the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation” (Art. XVII. of the Church of England). To specify the various ways in which this calling has been understood would far exceed the limits of a general commentary. It may suffice to say that on the one hand Scripture bears constant testimony to the fact that all believers are chosen and called by God, their whole spiritual life in its origin, progress, and completion being from Him; while on the other hand its testimony is no less precise that He willeth all to be saved, and that none shall perish except by wilful rejection of the truth. So that on the one side God’s sovereignty, on the other man’s freewill, is plainly declared to us. To receive, believe, and act on both these is our duty and our wisdom. They belong, as truths, no less to natural than to revealed religion, and every one who believes in a God must acknowledge both. But all attempts to bridge over the gulf between the two are futile in the present imperfect condition of man. The very reasonings used for this purpose are clothed in language framed on the analogies of this lower world, and wholly inadequate to describe God regarded as He is in Himself. Hence arise confusion, misapprehension of God, and unbelief. I have therefore simply, in this commentary, endeavoured to enter into the full meaning of the sacred text whenever one or other of these great truths is brought forward, not explaining either of them away on account of possible difficulties arising from the recognition of the other, but recognising as fully the elective and predestinating decree of God where it is treated of, as I have done in other places the freewill of man. If there be an inconsistency in this course, it is at least one in which the nature of things, the conditions of human thought, and Scripture itself, participate, and from which no commentator that I have seen, however anxious to avoid it by extreme views one way or the other, has been able to escape.—Alford.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:28. Blessings in disguise.—In every burden of sorrow there is a blessing sent from God which we ought not to thrust away. In one of the battles of the Crimea a cannon-ball struck inside a fort, gashing the earth, and sadly marring the garden beauty of the place. But from the ugly chasm there burst forth a spring of water, which flowed on thereafter a living fountain. So the strokes of sorrow gash our hearts, leaving ofttimes wounds and scars, but they open for us fountains of rich blessing and of new life. Our pain and sorrow, endured with sweet trust and submission, leave us with life purified and enriched, and more of Christ in us. In every burden that God lays upon us there is always a blessing for us, if only we will take it.
“Then Sorrow whispered gently: Take
This burden up. Be not afraid;
An hour is short. Thou scarce wilt wake
To consciousness that I have laid
My hand upon thee, when the hour
Shall all have passed; and gladder then
For the brief pain’s uplifting power,
Thou shalt but pity griefless men.”
Romans 8:28. The happiness of suffering.—Dr. Richard Rothe, the eminent German theologian, once said, “There are people who, after experiencing in their youth the happiness of joy, come in their old age to enjoy the happiness of suffering.” To superficial thinkers this remark may seem perplexing. But sufficient study of it will reveal a profound meaning in it. Certainly to the Christian there is a happiness which is the outgrowth of suffering as of nothing else, and it is a very real and precious sort of happiness.—N. F. Boakes.
Romans 8:28. Persuasions and persuasion.—There are many “persuasions” amongst men—there is but one that is of value in the sight of God. A “persuasion” amongst men, when the word is used in a religious sense, means, What denomination in the Church do you belong to?—are you a Baptist, or a Congregationalist, or a Churchman? And a man may belong to any of these, or of the many other denominations or persuasions, and yet not be connected with the great and the right persuasion after all. In terrible agony a soldier lay dying in one of the American hospitals. A visitor asked him, “What Church are you of?” “Of the Church of Christ,” he replied. “I mean, of what persuasion are you?” “Persuasion?” said the dying man, as his eyes looked heavenward, beaming with love to the Saviour; “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Church membership may exist without Christ membership: the first may be without any life or peace; in the latter there are both.
Romans 8:28. The great dome of God’s providence.—In the baptistery of the cathedral at Pisa is a wonderful dome. Spacious, symmetrical, composed of the choicest marble, it is a delight to stand beneath and gaze upon its beauties. Thus I stood one sunny April day, when suddenly the air became instinct with melody. The great dome seemed full of harmony. The waves of music vibrated to and fro, loudly beating against the walls, swelling into full chords like the roll of a grand organ, and then dying away into soft, long-drawn, far-receding echoes, melting in the distance into silence. It was only my guide, who, lingering behind me a moment, had softly murmured a triple chord. But beneath that magic roof every sound resolved into a symphony. No discord can reach the summit of that dome and live. Every noise made in the building—the slamming of the seats, the tramping of feet, all the murmur and bustle of the crowd—is caught up, softened, harmonised, blended, and echoed back in music. So it seems to me that over our life hangs the great dome of God’s providence. Standing as we do beneath it, no act in the divine administration towards us, no affliction, no grief, no loss which our heavenly Father sends, however hard to bear it may be, but will come back at last softened and blended into harmony, with the overarching dome of His wisdom, mercy, and power, till to our corrected sense it shall be the sweetest music of heaven.—J. D. Steele.
Romans 8:29.—Foreknowledge communicates the strength of grace to those to whom it refers.
Romans 8:30. Called.—The cause of it God’s love, the act of calling; the effect, bestowal of blessings.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:29-31
The unseen and the seen.—The believer who has fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before him has strong consolation. St. Paul looks both before and behind: he looks behind to a past eternity, and before to a coming eternity, if to the word may be applied before and after and behind. Eternity and time are conjoined in the believer’s welfare. He is thus a creature of large surroundings. St. Paul seeks to inspire all believers with holy confidence. This confidence is begotten by a contemplation of:—
I. The things that are unseen.—“Foreknow,” foreordained. Accurately speaking, the words “before” and “behind” cannot be applied to Him who is from everlasting to everlasting, who dwells in one eternal now. What it is for a God to foreknow we cannot tell. Can time words and time processes be applied to eternal conditions? Thus are suggested the limitation of human thought and the inadequacy of human language. How glibly we speak and write about divine foreknowledge and foreordination; and yet with what humble reverence should we tread the sacred ground! We can only tunnel through the mountains and find ourselves in darkness. Our rushlights cannot reveal the rich treasures and glorious mysteries. Whatever the words mean, they must mean a richness of divine love and wisdom beyond our conception. Let the words thus speak to our inmost hearts and beget sweet confidence.
II. The things that are unseen working in the seen.—Foreknowledge and foreordination are the precedents. Calling, justification, glorification, are the consequents. The precedents are unseen, unknown; the consequents are seen, are known. With the inner eye we see the divine processes working in the human soul. We are not called upon to stand in a past eternity and read the divine decrees. Paul’s wisdom is vaster than ours, and he leaves the fores in a sweet vagueness. Are we called? Are we justified? Are the processes of life plainly tending to our glorification? Then let us have holy confidence; let us rejoice in the mercy and leave the mystery.
III. The revealed purpose.—That Christ might have a position of dignity; that all God’s redeemed might have outward and inward grandeur. The position of dignity the firstborn of many noble brethren. These conformed to the moral image. If with the freedom of some we applied human words to the divine, we may say that God had a lofty ideal for humanity. That ideal was the human-divine Man who for a short space glorified Palestine. In Christ’s earthly life, in its moral purity and glory, we read the divine ideal set forth in the revealed purpose of God. Christ begets confidence and inspires manhood.
IV. The revealed purpose fulfilled in part.—The actuals have not reached the ideal; but there have been some wonderful accomplishments. How marvellously near St. Paul himself came to the perfect image of God’s Son! In the modern Church how marvellously near was the sainted Fletcher of Madeley! Many Christlikenesses are walking the earth to-day, but our vision is so imperfect that we cannot see the close resemblances. Are we being transformed and conformed? Are Christlike lineaments being drawn in our moral natures? Is the evil being eliminated? Is the good getting universally prevalent? Is the divine hand shaping our moral nature? Is there the foretaste and pledge of glorification? Then the triumphant challenge, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” What a large if! It rises beyond the bounds of the material universe; it touches Omnipotence. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Who can wage successful war against the Omnipotent? Who can confute Omniscience? If we did not know better, we might suppose that some moderns were the omniscients, while God was only in mental darkness. Creatures of a day presume to teach Him who inhabits eternity. The irony of the position! Do angels smile at human folly? Angelic pity checks the tendency. But why should we start and tremble for the ark of God? There should be no nervous worry about him who can sing, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
True conformity.—By the “image” of Christ is here meant the “moral character” of Christ. And what a character was that! Goethe says, “I esteem the four gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendour of a sublimity proceeding from the person of Christ, and of as divine a kind as was ever manifested upon earth.” Rousseau confesses, “If again the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God.” And, to quote only the words of a more recent witness, who can be charged neither with intellectual deficiency nor with excess of religious sympathy—the late Mr. Mill—“Whatever else may be taken from us by rational criticism, Christ is still left a unique figure, not more unlike all His precursors than all His followers—a divine person, a standard of excellence and a-model for imitation, available even to the absolute unbeliever, and can never be lost to humanity.” In the entire conformity to the character of Christ there is;—
I. The complete satisfaction of the human soul.—In all moral existences there is an ideal character; a felt disagreement to this ideal is moral misery—agreement is alone moral satisfaction. The cause of all the moral misery in human souls is conscious discordance with this ideal. The character of Christ is this ideal. Souls can conceive of nothing higher, can desire nothing higher. They feel that if they live up to it, they shall be filled with all joy and peace. Only as men approximate to this ideal they grow in power, rise in dignity, and abound in satisfaction. Thank God that we have this ideal so exquisitely and fully wrought out in the life of Jesus Christ. He was incarnate virtue.
II. Harmony with the human race.—The human race is sadly divided; it is severed into numerous contending sections. The human house is divided against itself and cannot stand. The human body has not only its limbs amputated, but they are rattling one against another, and all against itself. It writhes with anguish. A reunion is essential to its health and peace and vigour. But what can unite men together? Universal conformity to rituals or doctrines, to political and ecclesiastical standards? Such conformity would be no union. Universal conformity to the image of Christ would unite the race. Let all men be Christlike, and all men will love one another. When all men become Christlike, and not before then, will hostile passions cease to flow, bloody wars terminate, all contentions cease, all men embrace each other as brethren and be “gathered together” in Christ as members to one body directed by one will. If you would divide men, preach doctrines and policies and ceremonies. If you would unite them, preach Christ and the moral grandeur of His character.
III. The grand purpose of the gospel.—What is the grand aim of the gospel? To give men theological knowledge and material civilisation? No; it does this, but does something infinitely grander—it gives men the character of Christ. It is to create us anew in Christ Jesus in good works. It is to inspire us with the Spirit of Christ, without which we are none of His. “Follow thou Me.” This is the burden of the whole gospel. Where the gospel does not do this for man, it does nothing of any lasting value; where it does this, it does everything. Are we like Christ? This is the testing question.
IV. The supreme duty of life.—What is our supreme duty? Assimilation to Christ. This, the grandest duty, is the most practical.
1. We are made by imitation.
2. Christ is the most imitable of all examples.
(1) The most admirable;
(2) the most transparent;
(3) the most unchanging;
(4) the most intimate. He is always with us—in the lives of good men, in the writings of true books, in the records of the evangelists, in the pulsations of conscience, in the influences of Providence.—Homilist.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:29-31
God for us.—“If God be for us, who can be against us?” Here is first a ground laid, and then a comfort built upon it. The ground that is laid is, “If God be with us.” When he saith, “If God be with us,” he doth not put the case, but lays it as a ground. “If God be with us,” as indeed He is with all His, in electing them, in calling them, in working all for their good, in glorifying them after, etc.—“if God be with us,” as He is, then this comfort is built upon this ground: “Who shall or can be against us?” For the first the ground that is laid is, that God is with His children. Indeed, He is with the whole world—He is everywhere; but He is with His Church and children in a more peculiar manner. The soul is spread in the whole body, but it is in the brain after another manner, as it understands and reasons. God is everywhere; but He is not everywhere comforting and directing and sanctifying, nor everywhere giving a sweet and blessed issue. God gives Himself variety of names, as there are variety of our distresses. Are we in misery? God is a rock, a shield, a tower of defence, a buckler—He is all that can be said for comfort. He is with us in His attributes and sweet relations, and all sweet terms that may support our faith, that whatsoever we see comfortable in the creature we may rise more comfortably to God, and say, God is my rock and shield, and my light and defence. And then God is with us in every condition and in every place whatsoever. He is not only a God of the mountains and not of the valleys, or a God of the valleys and not of the mountains, as those foolish people thought (1 Kings 20:28), but He is in all places and at all times with His. If they be in prison, He goes with them (Acts 16:22, seq.); he made the prison a kind of paradise, a heaven. In all our affairs whatsoever God is with us. “Fear not,” Joshua; “fear not,” Moses. What was the ground of their comfort? “I will be with thee.” He was with St. Paul in all conditions; therefore He bids him “fear not.” The ground of all is His free love in Christ. Christ was God with us first. God, that He might be with us, ordained that Christ should be God with us—“Emmanuel,” that He should take our nature into unity of person with Himself. Christ being God with us, that He might satisfy the just wrath of God for our sins, and so reconcile God and us together, He hath made God and us friends. So that this, that God is with us, it is grounded upon an excellent and sound bottom—upon the incarnation of our blessed Saviour. “Who shall be against us?” It is not a question of doubting, or inquisition to learn anything, but it is a question of triumph. He doth, as it were, cast a bank, and bid defiance to all enemies whatsoever. “Who shall be against us?” Let them stand out, Satan and the world, and all Satan’s supports; let them do their worst. There is a strange confidence which is seated in the hearts of God’s children that they dare thus dare hell and earth and all infernal; they set God so high in their hearts that they dare say, with a spirit of confidence, “Who shall be against us?” First of all you see, then, that the state of a Christian in this world is an impregnable state and a glorious condition. Here is glory upon glory, from this clause to the end of the chapter: “If God be with us, who shall be against us?” If God gave His Son for us, shall He not with Him give us all things else? There is another glorious speech: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s people?” Another glorious, triumphant speech: “Who shall separate us from the love of God” founded in Christ? He loves Christ first and us in Christ as members; and as He loves Him eternally, so He loves us eternally too. Therefore, you see, every way the state of a Christian is a glorious condition. Here is a ground likewise of all contentment in any condition in the world. What can be sufficient to him that God cannot suffice? God, all-sufficient, is with thee; thou canst want nothing that is for thy good. Thou mayst want this and that, but it is for thy good that wantest it: those that fear God shall want nothing that is good. God is fitted for us, and we for Him. He can fill up every corner of the soul; He is larger than our souls: therefore let us be content in what condition soever we are in. God is with us.—Sibbes.
Prescience extendeth unto all things, but causeth nothing.—Predestination to life, although it be infinitely ancientor than the actual work of creation, doth notwithstanding presuppose the purpose of creation; because, in the order of our consideration and knowledge, it must first have being that shall have a happy being Whatsoever the purpose of creation therefore doth establish, the same by the purpose of predestination may be perfected, but in no case disannulled and taken away. Seeing, then, the natural freedom of man’s will was contained in the purpose of creating man (for this freedom is a part of man’s nature), grace contained under the purpose of predestinating man may perfect and doth, but cannot possibly destroy, the liberty of man’s will. That which hath wounded and overthrown the liberty wherein man was created as able to do good as evil is only our original sin, which God did not predestinate, but He foresaw it, and predestinated grace to serve as a remedy. Freedom of operation we have by nature, but the ability of virtuous operation by grace, because through sin our nature hath taken that disease and weakness whereby of itself it inclineth only unto evil. The natural powers and faculties therefore of man’s mind are, through our native corruption, so weakened, and of themselves so averse from God, that without the influence of His special grace they bring forth nothing in His sight acceptable; no, not the blossoms or least buds that tend to the fruit of eternal life. Which powers and faculties notwithstanding retain still their natural manner of operation, although their original perfection be gone; man hath still a reasonable understanding, and a will thereby framable to good things, but is not thereunto now able to frame himself. Therefore God hath ordained grace to countervail this our imbecility, and to serve as His hand, that thereby we, which cannot move ourselves, may be drawn, but amiably drawn. If the grace of God did enforce men to goodness, nothing would be more unpleasant unto man than virtue; whereas contrariwise there is nothing so full of joy and consolation as the conscience of well-doing.—Hooker.
Object of predestination.—The object of predestination is glory: I see thee believing; I will therefore that thou be glorified like My Son. Such is the meaning of the decree. The predestination of which Paul speaks is not a predestination to faith, but a predestination to glory, founded on the prevision of faith. Faith is in a sense the work of God; but it contains a factor, in virtue of which it reacts on God, as an object reacts on the mind which takes cognisance of it—this is the free adherence of man to the solicitation of God. Here is the element which distinguishes the act of foreknowledge from that of predestination, and because of which the former logically precedes the latter.—Godet.
Christ the firstborn.—God set up Christ as the great standard or standing copy, according to which all believers should be framed and wrought just like Him: “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” To the image of His Son; not to the image of the most glorious man that ever was in the world. Not to Enoch, that signal walker with God; nor Noah, the only loyal preacher of righteousness in his time; nor Abraham, God’s friend and the believer’s father; but His own Son, who was free from all taint of sin. As His perfect purity made Him fit to be a sacrifice to take away sin (1 John 3:5); to be an advocate to plead against sin, “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1),—so also to be the idea according to which all believers should be framed. Now the weakest habitual grace is an inchoative conformity to Christ as well as the strongest, and as well as that which is perfected in heaven, and hath in its own nature all the parts of that grace which is in Christ—as an infant in his body hath the lineaments of his father, as well as the grown son.—Charnock.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:31. Luther’s faith.—And for the time to come let us trust in God, that God will be with us if we be with Him, and stick to Him. Who then shall be against us? Let the devil, and Rome, and hell be all against us if God be with us. Bellarmine goes about to prove Luther a false prophet. Luther, as he was a courageous man and had a great and mighty spirit of faith and prayer, so his expressions were suitable to his spirit. What saith he? The cause that I defend is Christ’s and God’s cause, and all the world shall not stand against it. It shall prevail. If there be a counsel in earth, there is a counsel in heaven that will disappoint all. God laughs in heaven at His enemies; and shall we weep? And things are in a good way if we can go on and help the cause of God with our prayers and faith that God will go on, and with our cheerfulness and joy that God may delight to go on with His own cause. We may encourage ourselves; though perhaps we shall not see the issue of these things, yet posterity shall see it.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:32
Love resolving, performing, and revealing.—The argument employed by St. Paul in this verse is one from the greater to the less. It is a self-evident principle that the greater implies and includes the less. The greater gift is that of the well-beloved Son; the less is the “all things” which are included. If all things are given into the Saviour’s hands, then it must be true that believers are in possession of those things which are placed in the Saviour’s hands for their spiritual well-being. Christians have many fears and doubts by the way, but they are groundless, for Jesus Christ is surely the pledge of a Father’s love and watchful care. Jesus Christ is the gift which proclaims that every other needful blessing will be bestowed. Yes, Jesus is the name fraught with joy and comfort to every child of God. Let us, then, no longer doubt that infinite Goodness which gave the unspeakable gift. Let us no more dream that there can be poverty in the divine bestowals, for God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”
I. Love resolving.—When did divine Love resolve not to spare the Well-beloved? Before the mighty rocks, which count their formative processes not by years but by centuries, began their solidifying methods—before time commenced its solemn march—in the vast æon of the eternal past did divine Love consider man’s ruined condition, and resolve not to spare the greatest gift which either time could know or eternity could produce. Here it may not be improper to contemplate divine Love pausing between love for the Son and pity for the fallen sons of men. What a momentous pause! What a solemn hiatus! What an important crisis! When the owner of the vineyard sent servant after servant to the husbandmen, and they slighted the opportunities of regaining a forfeited position, and boat the servants, and sent them away empty, it would have been natural for the lord of the vineyard to have said to himself, What shall I do? Shall I at once destroy those wicked husbandmen, or shall I venture among them my son and heir? God saw the people in ruin and in rebellion—saw with forevision. The interests of His moral government required the sacrifice of the well-beloved Son if a way of escape were to be devised for the rebellious. God loves the race, and yet He loves the Son. Between these conflicting loves, which shall prove victorious? Will God spare the Son, and not spare the race? Will God spare the race, and not spare the Son? What a solemn pause in the considerations of infinite Love! What will divine Love resolve? The pause, if there were a pause, was not of long continuance. What marvellous love to mankind is here revealed!—a love stretching, not only over the long centuries of time, but through the æons of eternity—a love anticipating the vast need before it had arisen! Infinite Love resolves to give up the dearest object of love to promote the welfare of guilty creatures. God has many sons both on earth and in heaven. Some are God’s sons by creation, and some in a higher sense by obedience to the divine commands, by submission to the righteous will of the Eternal, by the possession and manifestation of God-like qualities. The patriarchs are God’s eldest sons in time, who with giant-like mien walked the green carpet of the newly made earth—holy men of old who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Patriarchs, seers, prophets, kings, priests, apostles, reformers, and martyrs are God’s noble sons; but none of the noblest born and most highly gifted of earth would be adequate to the requirements of eternal righteousness. Angels and archangels are the sons of God. We cannot tell the period of their birth. They came forth in a manner inexplicable to our finite understandings. But they reflect the glory of the Eternal, partake in the highest degree of the divine nature, are clothed in light, are all good and pure. Here surely may be found a messenger who could become incarnate and conduct the race out of sin’s darkness into the dazzling light of eternal righteousness. No. All are willing, but not one is fully qualified. God resolves to give neither the noblest of earth’s great sons nor the brightest seraph who dwells with unshrinking spirit and calm delight near the eternal light, but His own well-beloved Son.
II. Love performing.—Divine resolution is coincident with divine performance. There may be an interval, but no hesitation. There is neither time nor space to the Infinite, so that the word “coincident” has a wider and different meaning in the divine vocabulary from what it has in the human. There is cause and effect in human affairs; but can the same be predicated of divine affairs? What are the words “antecedent” and “consequent” to Him unto whom all things, past, present, and future, are present as in one group! Oh, how inadequate is human language when we discuss divine movements! We must content ourselves with the remark that with God to resolve is with Him to perform. God delivered up His Son to become incarnate. Divinity enshrined itself in the temple of our humanity. How great an act of love to the human race was that when God gave up His Son to become a man amongst men!—not merely a man amongst the richest, wisest, and noblest of mankind, though He was noblest of all—not a man to be fondled on the lap of luxury, to be crowned with the laurels of fame, to wield the sceptre of power, to revel in the light region of fancy where glowing visions entrance the soul, to glide sweetly down the pearly waters amid enchanting landscapes and gentle gales that waft to the senses richest music—but a man despised and rejected, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” God delivered up His Son so completely that He seemed to leave Him in solitude and sickness of heart, in weariness, thirstings, and hungerings. God is the father of the clouds, and yet He permitted Him to thirst who came to remove the moral thirst of mankind; God clothes the valleys with corn and feeds the young ravens when they cry, and yet He left Him to hunger who came to be bread from heaven for starving men. How complete the deliverance we gather from that mournful scene on Calvary when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” How mysterious a revelation of divine love to the race have we in the crucifixion of the Son of God! This is indeed a profound mystery that God should seem to love His people so well as to forsake His only begotten Son. There is in the mediatorial scheme a combination of loves. We see both the love of God and the love of Jesus working and uniting in the great scheme of redemption. God “spared not His Son,” and how the words impress themselves on the mind! God “delivered Him up for us all,” and what a deliverance we had in that solemn hour—the world’s one hour amid the almost countless hours of time—when the heavens gathered blackness and the stable earth reeled in sympathy with the divine Sufferer! These words do not set before us the act of an unfeeling father, but the deed of One whose name and whose nature is love. God “spared not.” What do the words import? The word “spare” in this connection acquires new and untold significance. God did not refuse to deliver up His Son. What an appalling deliverance! Is a God capable of sacrifice in our sense of the word? If so, what a sacrifice when He delivered up His Son! Is a God capable of grief? If so, a burst of grief must have disturbed the divine repose when the Saviour’s cry on the cross pierced the heavens and reached the heart of infinite Love. If ever the music of heaven were hushed, if ever a cloud were brought over and darkened the joy of the celestials, if ever there were an oppressive silence around the throne of the Infinite, it was when Jesus trod alone the winepress of His last earthly suffering.
III. Love revealing.—It may seem strange that God, who is sovereign Lord of all, should have a feeling to spare and yet should overcome the emotion. If in this mysterious work of human redemption it may be declared that even Christ pleased not Himself, so we say with becoming reverence that God pleased not Himself in delivering up His Son, except in so far as He desired to show His great love unto rebellious men, and thus win them back from sin and uphold the interests of His moral government. Here in the passage we have the unlimited nature of divine love revealed. The gift of Jesus Christ Himself is a clear demonstration of the vastness of divine love; but we may understand it more perfectly and feel it more vividly by expanding the apostle’s thought that God’s great gift of Jesus implies the gift of all things. How boundless are those words! Imagine, if we can, a limit to all things, and then may we hope to comprehend the overpowering vastness of divine love. Grasp, if we can, the mighty range expressed in the simple words “all things”; let us travel, if we can, where all things terminate—let us soar on eagles’ wings and scale the heights, fathom the depths, and get below their influence; and then may we trust to be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height of that love which passeth knowledge. Science has not yet found out all the things which are even in the visible creation, and which are waiting the time of their discovery; and of those things which have been already revealed it is scarcely too much to say that one human mind cannot tell them all by name; and as yet they are not all arranged in satisfactory scientific order. All the things of science, philosophy, politics, religion, nature, revelation, the past, the present, and the future—all the things in this world of ours, and all the things, if need be, of those myriad worlds which are but guessed at by the imagination of man—are for our spiritual welfare. There can be no greater charter than this. It surpasses every other charter of blessings. We can stand nowhere out of the reach of God’s blessed “all things.” The atmosphere appears to be an all-pervading force, and almost everywhere are we surrounded by its beneficial agency; but God’s “all things” go even further, and are more enduring. Friends may depart, relatives may become indifferent, even my father and my mother may forsake, riches may take to themselves wings and fly away, a good name may be blighted, earthly prospects may be withered and dead, health may decline, sickness may shatter and death destroy, but God’s “all things” abide to the Christian amid every change and in the midst of every disaster. We may fancy that sickness and trouble take us out of the sphere of God’s “all things,” but they are a more blessed part than we now believe of God’s “all things.” We may suppose that, when struggling alone in the valley of temptation, we are far from God’s “all things,” but let us be assured that even the feeling of desolateness which has overwhelmed and chilled may be God’s way of blessing. We may imagine, when on the bed of death and the devil tries and we experience divine hidings, that God has forsaken us; but God is there in the darkness though we see Him not. God giveth all things with the gift of His Son. What shall we more say? “For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” What more could we have? Who would not be a Christian, if he be a man of such large possessions as those indicated by St. Paul? “All things are yours.” We are rich beyond the power of human estimation. There are no title-deeds in this world which map out such extensive possessions.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:32
“How shall He not,” etc.—Looking back at the cross, Paul triumphantly asks, If God has already bestowed the one gift, compared with which all other gifts are nothing, how can we conceive Him to withhold any other gift? The words “all things” are limited only by God’s wisdom and love. Whatever God withholds He withholds for our good. And the reasons which now prompt Him to withhold some pleasant things will soon pass away. The time is coming when these words will be fulfilled in their widest sense. “Also with Him.” The gift of all things is pledged by the gift of His Son; and therefore the other gifts are inseparably linked with the one gift. “Give by His grace”: as in Romans 1:11, Romans 5:15. “All things”. recalls the same words in Romans 8:28. When we sec God giving up to shame and death His Son, that we may surround that Son in everlasting glory, we are sure that God will keep back from us no good thing, and that the ills of life, which result from the withholding of things commonly supposed to be good, are really blessings in disguise.—Beet.
The best being given, the least will not be denied.—It was a greater act to be in Christ reconciling the world than to be in Christ giving out the mercies He hath purchased. If He hath overcome the greatest bank that stopped the tide of mercy, shall little ones hinder the current of it? Justice and the honour of the law were the great mountains which stood in the way. Since those are removed by a miraculous wisdom and grace, what pebbles can stop the flood to believing souls? If God be the author of the greatest blessings, will He not be of the least? If He hath not spared His best treasure, shall the less be denied? It is the apostle’s arguing, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” He cannot but be as free in the least as He was in the greatest; there were more arguments to dissuade Him from that than there can be to stop His hands in other things. If anything you desire be refused by God, know it is your Saviour’s mind you shall not have it; for God would deny Him nothing of His purchase. Oh, how little do we live in the sense of those truths! how doth our impatience give God the lie, and tell Him He is a deadly enemy, notwithstanding His reconciling grace!—Charnock.
God given His best.—“What shall we then say to these things?” Having spoken of the love of God, such a sea of love came upon Him as overcame Him. And what follows? “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Do but consider the words a little. “He spared not His Son”; the word implies that God was sensible enough what it was to give such a Son, it implies the greatest tenderness; He felt every blow, yet He gave the blows Himself. Even as when of loving parents it is said they do not spare their children, when out of the greatest tenderness they do correct them. And He is said not to “spare His own Son,” who is more His own Son than our sons can be, which are differing from ourselves, but Christ of the same substance with Himself. And the truth is, none knows how to value the gift but God Himself that gave Him, and Christ Himself that was given. And He did do it freely too: the word that is used, χαρίσεται, imports it; with Him He shall graciously give us; He gives Christ, and all things else freely with Him; therefore it implies that He gave Him up freely also. Abraham gave his son, but he was commanded to do it; but God gave His Son freely, and it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. And to show that this was the greatest gift that God could give, or had to give, what follows? Now He had given us His Son, Take all things else, saith He. I do not value heaven now I have given My Son for you; therefore take that. I do not value grace, nor comfort, nor creatures: take all freely, even as you had My Son. “If He spared not His Son,” saith He, “how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” He hath given the greatest pawn of His love, in giving us His Son, that ever was.—Goodwin.
Romans 8:34.—Justification opposed to accusation, defence and advocacy to condemnation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:33-34
Christ’s intercessory work.
Christian faith teaches;
1. Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand;
2. Christ’s session at God’s right hand. “Right hand” =place for the nearest to the king, place for the dearest to the king (1 Kings 2:19).
What is He doing there?—
1. Ruling His people. The Father rules universe; the Son rules human race, whom He redeemed, until, after final judgment, He resigns that rule to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
2. Helping His people. Cases in point: St. Stephen (Acts 7:55-56); St. Paul (Acts 18:9-11); St. John (Revelation 1:9-17).
3. Interceding for His people (Hebrews 7:25). “Ever.” Examples: In “stony ways” of trouble; in “tangled paths” of perplexity; in “sandy wastes” of spiritual weariness; in “flowery glades” of comfort and ease; on “steep precipices” of great temptation; on “slippery paths” of human praise. Illustrate by various stages in ascent of a Swiss mountain.
What is He doing for you now?—E.g., if steadfast; if doubting; if sinning; if tempted; if sorrowful for sin.—Dr. Springett.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:33-34
Election a prominent principle.—Let me say at once that I am not so vain as to suppose that I can clear up the mystery of this profound subject, which has exercised the ablest minds of Christendom in all ages; I can but offer some thoughts to my readers which may help to remove some difficulties in their minds, as they have in my own. Election, whatever it may mean, is a very plain doctrine of Scripture, and a very broad, clear fact in nature and in history. Let me know God’s decrees, and I joyfully accept them as my standards and rules of judgment. But I do not feel the same reverence for man’s version of God’s decrees. Let us consider, first, that something like election is a very prominent principle in all God’s acts and ways. It looks out on us from every page of Scripture; it is the key to the order of nature and of human history. What does it mean, this election unto eternal life? It is stated distinctly in Scripture that certain of the human race are “God’s elect,” and are what they are in character, privilege, and destiny in virtue of this sovereign, ordaining will of God. They were elect, but not unto themselves, or for the sake of their own future; but rather for the sake of the work which their position of privilege would enable them to do for mankind: elect to a great ministry, a noble leadership—to the front rank in the field, to the high place in the strain, to all that may purge a man of narrow, partial, and selfish imaginations, and make him understand that “God’s elect” must catch the Spirit of the elect One, who came into this world, “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” It will readily be conceded that the question of election would present an entirely different aspect if any human being had prevailed to look into the book of the divine decrees. There are difficult and apparently conflicting statements in Scripture on this profound subject, arising from the fact that the whole sphere of it is beyond the grasp of our thought. The doctrine of a personal election must, in the very nature of things, have a mystery in the heart of it. God’s foresight, foreordering of the course of human affairs, and man’s freedom, conflict with each other in a way which puzzles the understanding. God had His eye on the great human mass, when He selected and separated a people, a people to be called by His name and live to His praise; and His chief interest in that elect people, we gather from prophetic scriptures, was the hope, of which they were the children, that through them the great human world would be blessed and gathered into the everlasting kingdom of the Lord. The fundamental principle—I should rather say the radical vital force—in all the higher developments of the spiritual life in man is the movement of the divine Spirit on the springs of our thought and will. The divine life in the soul is that in which the divine will and the human are one. Marriage, the marriage of souls, is the highest, the divinest ordinance of God in the sphere of this life. The elect are elect to live this life, which standeth in the knowledge of the eternal God—elect as Israel was elect to a very lofty level of life, to a high strong strain of duty, to live like Him the symbol of whose life was the cross. The apostolic epistles are full of “election.” Why? Because the men to whom and of whom they were written were full of the life. Wonder not that such “saints” as these clung sternly to their election. Wonder not that it was to an elect host that the trumpet note rang from the apostle’s lips. It meant for them that God was with them against a world which would else inevitably crush them—that God would uphold their lives and their ministry till the world which hated and trampled them beneath its grinding heel should break forth in praises to the Lord. These elect ones are just the front rank in the army, those in whom the divine call to the post of toil and peril has found an eager response. The election standeth in the manifestation of a life. To draw the world to Christ is the mission of the elect soul.—Baldwin Brown.
Romans 8:36. We are being killed.—To express the intensely present.
Romans 8:37.—Are triumphantly victorious. Have superabundant strength.
Romans 8:38. For I am persuaded, etc.—To be induced to believe, to yield to, is πείθειν (Pass. and Midd.). θάνατος violent death, often threatened.
Romans 8:39.—High and low places from which the Christians suffered.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 8:33-39
Christian certainties.—St. Paul observed due proportion. He could treat of high themes, and make them bear upon the practical aspects of the Christian life. His contemplation of unutterable things never leads him away from the plain way of practical duties. Such is the perversity, such the onesidedness of our nature, that we fall into error and mischief by the contemplation of certain aspects of truth. Much damage has been done by the doctrine of election, or perhaps rather by our handling of the doctrine. Let us seek rightly to divide the truth, and make life harmonious. God’s elect moved in the realm of Christian certainties, and were the world’s true heroes. A certain grasp of and belief in divine truth, divine love, Christ love, will support in life’s trials and perplexities. The man who knows nothing, who is not certain about anything, will never possess the martyr spirit, will never be noted for his heroism. Amongst this list of St. Paul’s certainties let us note:—
I. A good answer.—“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” The answer is unanswerable. God, as moral governor, alone has a right to justify; and if He justify, then all counter-charges are vain. Who shall come between God and the redeemed soul? God has not delegated the prerogatives of His moral government to any other being in any realm whatever. If the criminal be acquitted in the earthly court, the same charge cannot be repeated. If the earthly judge have justified, who can lay a charge? God has justified, and the believer is for ever acquitted.
II. A good plea.—“It is Christ that died,” etc. The voice of Calvary hushes the voice of condemnation to the believer. If that be not sufficient, a chorus of voices silences any reproving voice. The voice of rejoicing angels as they welcome the triumphant Mediator declares that there is no condemnation to those who are justified in consequence of Christ’s finished work. The voice of the eternal Father, as He commands the pearly gates to open wide so that the King of glory may enter, proclaims that there is a way of justification. The sweet voice of an interceding Mediator at the right hand of God speaks perfect peace to the heart that fully receives the divine method of justification by faith. The evil one may condemn by laying a charge. Conscience may condemn by marshalling sins in dread array. An over-sensitive nature may condemn by saying, I am too bad to be forgiven. The plea is not our goodness. We admit our badness, and plead the counteracting goodness of the Saviour. If our badness crucified Christ, should not that crucifixion remove our badness? Shall Christ die to redeem us and then leave us in slavery, if we are willing to be ransomed? The dying Christ, the risen Christ, the interceding Christ, must remove every sentence of condemnation.
III. A good force.—Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Love is power. Human love is a mighty force, in many cases stronger than death. While love reigns man cannot successfully assert the mere materialism of human nature. Love is a force not generated by material molecules. Protoplasm as the root and love as the product is a growth too marvellous for our narrow creed. If human love be strong, what about Christ’s love? Christ’s love to the Christlike and the love of the Christlike to Christ is a good force that must prove more than conqueror, victorious in the conflict, and yet, notwithstanding the severity of the struggle, showing a large reserve of power. A good force is that which overcomes attacks in all conceivable forms. Love triumphs in the conflict; the conqueror love must be crowned with the tokens of universal empire.
IV. A good persuasion.—What a sweep does Paul’s persuasion take! He takes an immense survey. He stands upon a pinnacle higher than that to which Satan took Jesus. And from that sublime height Paul marshals before his mind all possible opposing powers, and yet possesses the strong persuasion that they shall all be vanquished. Neither material nor moral forces, neither seen nor unseen powers, neither the enacted past nor the unenacted future, shall triumph over the love of God. Above the heights it soars. Beneath the depths it shines. In the play and march of present events it guides. All that can be imagined in the future cannot be outside the range of its controlling agency. Death with its terrors and its mysteries, life with its modern complications, with interests and obstructing forces that are beyond the conception of the far-reaching mind of a Paul, shall not be able to hinder the triumphant course and purposes of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. There centres the love of God; and to that centre all must radiate. Kingdoms shall flourish and decay, nations rise and fall, philosophies babble and be silenced, asserting sciences succeed one another in each succeeding age, religious systems triumph and then succumb to other religious systems, but divine love will hold on its course and be the universal victor. The hope of the world is the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is our holy apostle’s favourite refrain. So ends another glorious strain of his heavenly music; so ends that burst of eloquence that even heathens admired; so ends that mine of celestial treasure, the eighth of Romans.
Romans 8:37. “More than conquerors.”—Christians are more than conquerors. In patiently bearing trials they are not only conquerors, but more than conquerors—that is, triumphers. Those are more than conquerors that conquer with little loss. Many conquests are dearly bought; but what do the suffering saints lose? Why, they lose that which the gold loses in the furnace, nothing but the dross. It is no great loss to lose things which are not—a body that is of the earth earthy. Those are more than conquerors that conquer with great gain. The spoils are exceedingly rich: glory, honour, and peace, a crown of righteousness that fades not away. In this the suffering saints have triumphed; not only have not been separated from the love of Christ, but have been taken into the most sensible endearments and embraces of it. As afflictions abound, consolations much more abound. There is one more than a conqueror when pressed above measure. He that embraced the stake and said, “Welcome the cross of Christ, welcome everlasting life”; he that dated his letter from the delectable orchard of the Leonine prison; he that said, “In these flames I feel no more pain than if I were upon a bed of down”; she who, a little before her martyrdom, being asked how she did, said, “Well and merry, and going to heaven”; those that have gone smiling to the stake, and stood singing in the flames,—these were more than conquerors (Matthew Henry).
I. Christians are more than conquerors of the evolutionist school.—We do not object to evolution as the mere act or process of unfolding or developing. But we must ever be against the baseless theory that generation is the separate development of a pre-existent germ—not only the separate development, but the self-development, as if the pre-existent germ were a creative agent, and produced from itself far more than itself contained. The conjurer would have us believe that his hat contained all that he brings forth to the amazement of his audience. The evolutionist conjurer makes his pre-existent germ marvellously potential and productive. The conjurer’s hat requires the presence of an intelligent and manipulating agent. The modern conjurer, if he is to be abreast with the times, must let his marvellous hat work on the theory of self-development. How the hat came there and was produced is a question not yet settled. Perhaps the hatter might give us some information. How the pre-existent germ came into existence the evolutionist does not yet accurately declare. He has produced the germ from the depths of his own inner consciousness, and his imaginative faculty has invested it with more than miraculous powers. The evolutionist of this kind is a conqueror whose conquests are a very doubtful gain. We still hold that the man is a conqueror, more and better far than such conquerors, who believes in an unseen and intelligent and all-powerful Creator who produced all pre-existent germs, and who works in and through and by all developing processes. It gives to the man the power to be more than the mere earth conqueror to believe that there is a God, that there is a divine Being, not only making for righteousness, but possessing righteousness, being Himself righteous. The human son becomes divinely strong in the sweet thought and inspiration of the divine fatherhood. The believer is in so far made more than a conqueror from the fact that he can still rejoice in this world as God’s world, that on every side he gladly beholds the traces of a Father’s hand. How much strength is obtained when the man can consider the heavens in their beauty, the moon and the stars in their midnight glory, the green earth with its sights and sounds of sweetness, the towering mountains, solemn and silent, watching like huge sentinels, the booming ocean with its mighty tones that speak of infinite power, and can say, My Father made them all! The footsteps of an infinite Worker have left clear footprints. The voice of the greatest Creator may be everywhere heard.
II. Christians are more than conquerors of the pessimistic school.—The pessimist is a creature to be pitied, and it is difficult to suppose that he will make a conqueror of any kind. Take the life of faith and hope out of a man, and he will be soon cast a wasted wreck on the sands of time. He is a poor creature who regards the present system or constitution of things as radically bad. We are not blind to the badness of things. There is a great deal which we would desire altered; and yet, at the same time, we must feel that there is much to please, to delight, and to encourage. In spite of the pessimist’s gloomy views, notwithstanding the presence in this world of much that makes us think of a groaning creation, we can rejoice in the mere material beauty of God’s world. God has not made this planet a mere working world. If He had intended this planet to be a sphere where no pleasures were to be tasted, then the flowers need not have bloomed with beauty or exhaled their fragrance—perhaps no need of flowers at all; the birds need not have been dressed in beautiful plumage, nor have trilled forth their liquid music; no need for the richness of the fig tree, the refreshing influences of the vine, the sweetness of the olive, the strength and the beauty of the cattle in the fields and the folds, or the supplies given by the flocks and the herds. God provides us with senses by which we may drink in pleasure, and He adopts outward things to minister to such pleasure. The outward world of nature and the inward world of thought and feeling declare that we are to accept with thankfulness God’s material blessings, and take hopeful views. We can rejoice in the moral forces at work in God’s world. We have had, and still have, our hours of gloom. The pessimist’s mood is not altogether foreign to our natures. We have groaned over abounding evil, and sorrowed over the prosperity of the wicked. Still, though cast down, we are not destroyed. We see hope for humanity. The moral forces at work are travelling on towards the final goal of the emancipation of the race from all moral evil, and the elevation of the race to a true plane of righteousness—a plane where healthy breezes blow, where the celestial sunlight quivers, where stalwart natures show a divine strength and dignity, where transfigured creatures stand forth in glory and hold sublime converse, and where all things and beings glisten with the sunlight of heaven.
III. Christians are more than conquerors of the optimistic school.—By all means let us take a hopeful view of things; but do not let us fall into the error of believing that the present system of things is the best possible or conceivable. We can conceive much that might be improved. We can travel back in thought to a world where no sin reigned, where no disorder triumphed. That man will not be a true conqueror who does not take large and correct views of the universe and of man. The beauty of the world may inspire with joy. The sorrows of the world may prevent us being intoxicated with joy. Yes, there is much to sadden—much in a materialistic aspect. The beauty of the flower will fade—its fragrance will give place to offensive odour. The enchanting song of the bird will be silenced; the fig tree will cease to bloom; the vine will not give its fruit; the sweetness of the olive will fail; the flocks will be cut off from the fold. There will be no herd in the stalls; a silence will reign where once was heard the lowing of the oxen; the war-horse may tread the golden grain beneath his feet; the shattering cannon may blow to pieces our goodly structures; fire may lick up our treasures; floods may desolate our lands If there be no room for pessimism, there is no room for optimism with reference to the material or moral aspect of the universe. The natural outcome of the optimistic creed is to rest in things as they are, and thus he cannot make a moral conqueror. The natural outcome of a correct creed is to see things and persons as they are, and work on and pray on towards improvement. He that conquers in the moral sphere is the best conqueror.
IV. Christians are more than conquerors of the stoical school.—A man who is indifferent to either pleasure or pain cannot pretend to be a conqueror in the moral sphere, which is being more than a conqueror in the material sphere. The man who feels and yet does not succumb to his sorrowful feelings is the man to make a more than conqueror. Some people are rendered hard and callous by the wear and tear of time. But a poor fakir, reduced to an almost senseless block of slightly animated flesh and bones, is not a conqueror to command admiration or provoke emulation.
V. Christians are more than conquerors of the despairing school.—The old warrior wept as he stood amid the ruins. Alexander is said to have wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. The old saint will not weep amid the ruins, but will lift up the triumphant shout, “We are more than conquerors.” It is a glorious sight to see a good man struggling with adversity, and endeavouring to bear patiently the ills of life; but surely it is a more glorious sight to see a good man rejoicing in adversity, and making difficulties minister to highest delights and greatest perfectness. As we rise to the mountain top to obtain a more extended view of the surrounding and far-stretching beauties of the landscape, we rise by means of those old vegetable and animal forms of which that mountain is composed; so let the believer rise even by means of the wreck and ruin of his earthly good things to obtain a better view of moral and spiritual beauties. Thus may we become “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” If we are to be more than conquerors, God must be our abiding portion, Christ must be our lasting possession. Love from Christ and love to Christ must be the sustaining force. The Lord is an abiding portion for an ever-enduring soul. When the pulse has given its last throb, when the eyes have taken the last fond look, when earthly things fail to affect, then the soul may rejoice in the Lord in sweeter realms. God, in His threefold nature, is ours now, and ours when all earthly shapes are wrapped in eternal gloom—when the sun’s brilliant face is hidden in the last darkness, when the stars have rushed from the vault of night, and when all things are under a collapse prefiguring the blessed change and final glorification. Oh to feel that the Lord is ours at this present time, ours by adoption and grace, ours by participation of the divine nature, ours by the sweet might of an indwelling love!
Romans 8:34. “Who is he that condemneth?”—These are bold words; but they are not the words of presumption or excited feeling. The apostle is arguing for the believer’s eternal security, and he draws arguments from God’s eternal purpose, God’s unchanging love, God’s omnipotent power, and from the believer’s justification. The challenge is thrown down after a process of sound reasoning. And, moreover, it is backed up by four arguments based on the mediatorial work of Christ. Who can condemn? No one can, first because Christ has died, second because Christ has risen, third because Christ reigns, fourth because Christ intercedes. Four arguments why the believer cannot be condemned.
I. Christ’s death.—Might be viewed as an act of love or a confirmation of His doctrine; but it is only as an atonement for sin that it becomes a plea for the removal of condemnation. It is the great fundamental fact of Christianity, the basis of reconciliation between God and man, the ground on which sin is remitted. But Christ, by dying, not only made satisfaction for sin and established a new relation between God and man, but He purifies His people from sin by the cleansing efficacy of His blood. Faith in the atoning sacrifice sets free from condemnation, and washing in the cleansing fountain frees the soul from the stains and pollution of sin, while the indwelling of the Spirit secures complete sanctification.
II. Christ’s resurrection.—This is a further and even more decisive security against condemnation. “Yea, rather.” As if he had said, Why refer to death? It is a sign of impotence rather than strength; and if death had been the last act of Christ, the believer’s prospects would have been bounded by the grave. But Christ, by rising from the grave, proves that death has no power over Him or His. He opened up a vista beyond the grave, and gave assurance of a life hereafter. His resurrection was necessary to complete the work of His redemption. If He had not risen, what hope for us? The grave would have held us; death would have been master. But now death is swallowed up in victory. There is life for the soul of man in a risen Saviour; and there is life for the body, for as surely as Christ rose, so shall we. Ours is not the gospel of a dead Christ, but of a living Saviour; and as He lives to die no more, so shall we.
III. Christ’s exaltation.—“Who is even at the right hand of God.” He is exalted to that position that He might consummate the work of redemption. All power is His, and that power He uses to promote the work He has begun. From His throne He rules in every realm, and all who take refuge beneath His throne are safe. With such an almighty Saviour the redeemed may well exclaim, Who is he that condemneth? If the King of kings be for us, who can be against us? Why fear condemnation when an omnipotent Saviour rules the world? “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise in judgment against thee thou shalt condemn.” “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
IV. Christ’s intercession.—“Who also maketh intercession for us.” The crowning security against condemnation. This part of His mediation has special reference to the sanctification of His people, and He prays that their faith fail not. In the absence of any plea founded on their own works or character, He presents to God the merits of His own finished work. This, as a plea, is all-powerful with God. No advocate ever had a stronger plea, and no advocate ever pled with more success; for every cause He undertakes He will carry successfully through. It is a blessed thought—before the throne we have One to plead for us. Into the holiest He has entered; but He will come forth again. Our present Intercessor will be our future Judge. Give Him your cause to plead now; and when He comes the second time, you will lift up your head in joy, because your redemption draweth nigh. All accusers will be silent then. No condemnation. No separation. “Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?”—D. Merson, B.D.
Romans 8:38-39. Life and death as antagonists of love.—An able and ingenious critic proposes to read the sentence thus: “I am persuaded that neither death, nor even life, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We all admit that, in a certain sense, both life and death are antagonists of love; but if we were asked, Which is the greater antagonist of the two? most of us would answer, Death, not life; whereas it is life, not death, which is the more fatal to love. Life is often the death of love; whereas death commonly gives love new life. Indeed, our whole conception of death is in much unchristian. We do not realise that for us death means life and immortality, a nearer access to God, a clearer vision of His glory, a more perfect participation of His grace and peace. We have so little faith in God and in His wise ordering of the universe that we can hardly rise to the level of Schiller’s fine saying: “Death happens to all, and cannot therefore be an evil.” We persist in taking it as an evil, although we know, or might know, it to be a good. Death is an antagonist of love; for it takes from us those whom we have learned to love; it separates us from them; we can no longer see them, and serve them, and lavish on them the tokens and proofs of our regard. But though death severs us and them, does it sever love? does it extinguish, or even lessen, our affection for them? Does it not rather enlarge, refine, consecrate, our love for them? They take a special dearness and sanctity in our thoughts. We forget what was lacking or imperfect in them. We think only of their better qualities, of how good they were, how staunch, how kind. There never was a true love yet which did not conquer death, which death did not hallow and deepen and make perfect. But does life always elevate love and enlarge and sanctify it? And as with human love, so with love divine. Death cannot detach our love from God; for it brings us closer to Him; it shows Him to us more nearly as He is, and thus constrains us to a more profound, a more constant and perfect love for Him. But life, with its anxieties and toils, its trials and temptations, is for ever calling our thoughts away from Him, moving us to forget or to distrust Him, inspiring us with motives, affections, aims, alien and opposed to His will. If we have any true spiritual life in us, is not this the very burden of our confessions and prayers, that we do not love Him as we ought and would, that we are not like Him, that while He is righteous we are unrighteous, while He is kind we are unkind? The more we consider and know ourselves the more welcome to us grows St. Paul’s persuasion, that neither death, nor even life itself, is able to separate us from the love of God—that, if our love for Him be cordial and sincere, however imperfect it may be, it will nevertheless conquer all the opposing forces of life no less than all the powers of death. And God has none of those defects of character which alienate us from men and women whom once we held dear. To love Him is to love righteousness, truth, goodness, gentleness, peace. He is at once the ideal and the incarnation of all excellence. We shall never, as we grow wiser and more experienced, discover anything in Him to lessen our love and reverence. Weak and inconstant as we are, we may at least hope that He will not suffer even life itself to separate us from Him. Our love to God depends on His love for us. If His love can be shaken, our love will not abide. And therefore we may be sure that—somewhere in the passage, perhaps throughout it—St. Paul meant to speak of God’s love for us as well as of our love for Him. And of His love for us we need have no doubt, whatever becomes of ours for Him. Even at our best we may only be able to hope that our love will not change; but we may know beyond all question that, even if our love should change, God’s will not. The dead live to Him; to Him the living die. We are the offspring of His love; for if He did not love us and design our good, why should He have made us? And those He once loves, He loves for ever. He is love; He cannot deny Himself. God’s love cannot change, however we may change. We shall want God’s love when we die and when we pass through death into the unknown region which lies beyond its farther bourn; but how can we hope to have it then and to delight in it, if we put it from us now and shrink even from thinking too much about it? If we are sensual, sordid, selfish here, how can we hope all at once to relish that which is spiritual, noble, unselfish, divine? Before we can be persuaded that nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God, and can rest and delight in that persuasion, we must be made partakers of the divine nature. If we ask, But how is this, divine character to be attained? how are we to rise into this better self, and to mortify that in us which is base and sordid and selfish? St. Paul replies, You must have the love of God shed abroad in your hearts. Now many of these New Testament phrases about “love” have sunk into so mere a cant, that possibly St. Paul’s answer is no answer to many of us, simply because it conveys no clear thought to our minds. But if we consider it for ourselves, if we shake it free from the cant that has stuck to it, we shall find it a very clear and pertinent answer. Does any other passion change and elevate and hallow character like this, and make a man a new and a better man? When it is not a mere craving of the senses, nor even a mere longing for sympathy, nor both combined—i.e., when it is true, genuine love—does it not conquer the baser and selfish instincts of the soul? has it not again and again drawn men from their vices, lifted them out of the mire of self-indulgence, and infused into them a power which has transfigured their whole nature and raised them into a pure and noble life? But if love for man or woman can thus change and elevate the character, why not love for God? He is fair and kind, He is tender and true, He is wise and strong, beyond our farthest reach of thought. If we have any love of excellence, we cannot but love Him so soon as we really know Him. If we would know God and love Him, we must find Him in Christ, in that perfect Man—so strong and yet so gentle, so true, yet so tender—who moves before us in the gospels.—S. Cox.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 8:33-39
The Judge makes the judged righteous.—“As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Here, most evidently, “justification” imports “a judicial clearing from the imputation of guilt,” in the precise sense and degree in which “condemnation” imports “a judicial ascertaining of guilt.” The same appears in Romans 8:33-34 : “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” Here is the idea of a judicial process, a tribunal, a person arraigned. Now if by the condemnation spoken of we may understand an act of the Judge making the accused guilty by the infusion of unrighteousness, then also by the justification spoken of we may understand an act of the Judge making the accused righteous by an infusion of righteousness, and so justifying him. But if this would be absurd in the former case, so must it be in the latter.—M‘Ilvaine.
“Justified” means “accounted righteous.”—It is evident that the Holy Ghost useth this word “justification” to signify “a man’s being accounted or declared not guilty of the faults he is charged with”; but in that respect a good and righteous person, and that too before some judge, who in our case is the supreme Judge of the world. And this is plainly the sense wherein our Church also useth the word in her Articles, for the title of the Eleventh Article runs thus: “We are accounted righteous before God,” etc., which clearly shows that in her sense to be “justified” is the same with being “accounted” righteous before God; which I therefore observe, that you may not be mistaken in the sense of the word as it is used by the Church and by the Holy Ghost Himself in the Holy Scriptures, like those who confound “justification” and “sanctification” together as if they were one and the same thing, although the Scriptures plainly distinguish them; “sanctification” being “God’s act in us whereby we are made righteous in ourselves,” but “justification” is “God’s act in Himself whereby we are accounted righteous by Him and shall be declared so at the judgment of the great day.”—Beveridge.
“Justify” to pronounce just.—The word “justify” doth not signify in this place to make just by infusing a perfect righteousness into our natures (that comes under the head of “sanctification begun here in this life,” which, being finished, is “glorification in heaven”), but here the word signifieth to pronounce “just, to quit and to discharge from guilt and punishment,” and so it is a judicial sentence opposed to condemnation. “Who shall lay anything,” saith Paul, “to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who shall condemn?” Now, as to “condemn” is not “the putting any evil into the nature of the party condemned,” but “the pronouncing of his person guilty and the binding him over unto punishment,” so “justifying” is “the judge’s pronouncing the law to be satisfied and the man discharged and quitted from guilt and judgment.” Thus God, imputing the righteousness of Christ to a sinner, doth not account his sins unto him, but interests him in a state of as full and perfect freedom and acceptance as if he had never sinned or had himself fully satisfied. For though there is a power purging the corruption of sin, which followeth upon justification, yet it is carefully to be distinguished from it, as we shall further show hereafter. “This for the name of ‘justification’; but now for the thing itself, which is the matter first of our justification.” “The matter of justification, or that righteousness whereby a sinner stands justified in God’s sight, is not any righteousness inherent in his own person and performed by him, but a perfect righteousness inherent in Christ and performed for Him.”—Ussher.
Paul’s assurance of persevering.—As there is a typical resemblance between that good land which was promised to the Jews and that better country which is reserved for us in heaven, so is there a striking resemblance between those, whether Jews or Christians, who have looked forward to the accomplishment of the promises. We see Moses while he was yet on the other side of Jordan, and Joshua soon after he had arrived on the borders of Canaan, appointing the boundaries of the twelve tribes, settling everything with respect to the distribution of the land, and ordering various things to be observed, just as if they were already in full possession of the whole country without one enemy to oppose them. This appears at first sight presumptuous, but they knew that God had given them the land, and therefore, notwithstanding the battles which were yet to be fought, they doubted not in the least but that they should obtain the promised inheritance. Thus also the apostle, in the passage before us, speaks in the language of triumph on behalf of himself and of all the Christians at Rome, and that too even while they were surrounded with enemies and conflicting on the field of battle. It will be profitable to consider:
1. The point of which the apostle was persuaded. This confidence being so extraordinary, let us consider:
2. The grounds of his persuasion. These were twofold—general as relating to others, and particular as relating to himself; the former creating in him an assurance of faith, the latter an assurance of hope. We notice the general grounds. These are such as are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and are common to all believers. The stability of the covenant which God has made with us in Christ Jesus warrants an assurance that all who are interested in it shall endure to the end. The immutability of God is another ground of assured faith and hope. The offices of Christ may also be considered as justifying an assured hope of final perseverance. For our Lord did not assume the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices merely to put us into a capacity to save ourselves, but that His work might be effectual for the salvation of all whom the Father had given to Him; and at the last day He will be able to say, as He did in the days of His flesh, “Of those whom Thou hast given Me, I have lost none.” If He is ever living on purpose to make intercession for them, and is constituted head over all things to the Church on purpose to save them, then He will keep them; none shall ever pluck them out of His hands, nor shall anything ever separate them from the love of God. The particular grounds. A humble, contrite person that is living by faith on the Son of God and maintaining a suitable conversation in all his spirit and conduct, he may conclude himself to be in the love of God, and be persuaded firmly that nothing shall be able to separate him from it. He then stands in the very situation of the apostle as far as respects his own personal experience, and therefore may indulge the same joyful hope and persuasion that he shall endure unto the end. Nor need he be at all discouraged on account of his own weakness, since the more weak he feels himself to be the stronger he is in reality, inasmuch as he is made more dependent on his God. In a word, an assurance of faith respecting the accomplishment of God’s promises to believers should be maintained by all, since His word can never fail; but an assurance of hope respecting our own personal interest in those promises should rise or fall according to the evidences we have of our own sincerity. Address those who know nothing of this joyful persuasion, and those whose persuasion accords with that of the apostle.—Simeon.
A double righteousness.—In the Scripture there is a double righteousness set down, both in the Old and in the New Testament. In the Old, and in the very first place that righteousness is named in the Bible: “Abraham believed, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” A righteousness accounted! And again (in the very next line), it is mentioned, “Abraham will teach his house to do righteousness.” A righteousness done! In the New Testament likewise. The former in one chapter (Romans 4:0.) no fewer than eleven times: Reputatum est illiad justitiam—“It is accounted to him for righteousness.” A reputed righteousness! The latter in St. John: “He that doeth righteousness, is righteous.” A righteousness done! Of these, the latter philosophers themselves conceived and acknowledged; the former was proper to Christians only, and altogether unknown in philosophy. The one is a quality of the party; the other an act of the judge declaring or pronouncing righteous. The one, ours by influence or infusion; the other, by account or imputation. That both these there are, there is no question.—Andrewes.
Works do not justify.—Truth it is, that our works do not justify us, to speak properly of our justification: that is to say, our works do not merit or deserve remission of our sins, and make us, unjust, just before God; but God of His mere mercy, through the only merits and deservings of His Son Jesus Christ, doth justify us. Nevertheless, because faith doth directly send us to Christ for remission of our sins, and that by faith given us of God, we embrace the promise of God’s mercy, and of the remission of our sins—which things none other of our virtues or works properly doth, therefore the Scripture useth to say, that faith without works doth justify. And forasmuch as it is all one sentence in effect to say, Faith without works, and only faith, doth justify us; therefore the old ancient Fathers of the Church, from time to time, have uttered our justification with this speech, “Only faith justifieth us”; meaning no other than St. Paul meant, when he said, “Faith without works justifieth us.” The right and true Christian faith is, not only to believe that Holy Scripture, and all the aforesaid articles of our faith, are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence in God’s merciful promises, to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ; whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey His commandments. And this true Christian faith neither any devil hath, nor yet any man, which in the outward profession of his mouth, and in his outward receiving of the Sacraments, in coming to the church, and in all other outward appearances, seemeth to be a Christian man, and yet in his living and deeds showeth the contrary.—Homily of Salvation.
Imputation of righteousness.—Imputation of righteousness hath covered the sins of every soul which believeth; God by pardoning our sin hath taken it away: so that now although our transgressions be multiplied above the hairs of our head, yet being justified, we are as free and as clear as if there were no spot or stain of any uncleanness in us. For it is God that justifieth; “And who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s chosen?” saith the apostle. Now, sin being taken away, we are made the righteousness of God in Christ; for David, speaking of this righteousness, saith, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven.” No man is blessed, but in the righteousness of God; every man whose sin is taken away is blessed: therefore every man whose sin is covered is made the righteousness of God in Christ. This righteousness doth make us to appear most holy, most pure, most unblamable before Him. This then is the sum of that which I say: Faith doth justify; justification washeth away sin; sin removed, we are clothed with the righteousness which is of God; the righteousness of God maketh us most holy. Every one of these I have proved by the testimony of God’s own mouth; therefore I conclude, that faith is that which maketh us most holy, in consideration whereof it is called in this place our most holy faith.—Hooker.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Romans 8:37. The last words of Ignatius.—Ignatius, who was martyred A.D. 107, said: “Let fire and the cross, let wild beasts, let all the malice of the devil come upon me, only may I enjoy Jesus Christ. It is better for me to die for Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth. Stand firm,” he added, “as an anvil when it is beaten upon. It is part of a brave combatant to be wounded and yet to overcome.” In losing life he found it.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25