DUTY TO CIVIL GOVERNORS
Romans 13:1-7. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
THE office of ministers is, to preach the Gospel of Christ. But whilst they preach the doctrines of the Gospel, they must not overlook its duties; nor, in stating its duties, must they pass by those which pertain to us as members of a civil community, any more than those which concern us in any other station or relation of life. On the contrary, St. Paul gave to Titus, and in him to all other ministers, this express injunction: “Put them (the professors of Christianity) in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates [Note: Titus 3:1.]. In this also St. Paul himself has set us an example; and that too with a fulness and minuteness far beyond what he had resorted to on any other branch of Christian morals. There was perhaps a reason for his doing this in his Epistle to the Romans, rather than in any other of his epistles. Rome was the seat of the imperial government; and there, for a very long period, the Jews had been in bad repute, as a rebellious people. Nor was this without reason: for the Jews had an idea that they ought not to submit to any other governor than one raised up from among their own brethren: and from hence they were frequently led to resist the civil magistrates; especially at those seasons when the revenue was collected [Note: Acts 5:37 and Luke 13:1.]. In these sentiments the Christians also were supposed to participate. It was desirable therefore that the Apostle should put them on their guard; because, if they should indeed be found enemies to the government under which they lived, they would furnish the heathen with an unanswerable argument against them, and would, in fact, arm all the civil powers for their destruction. On the other hand, if the Christians at Rome should shew themselves peaceable and obedient subjects, they would conciliate the regard of their governors, and recommend a similar conduct in all other places.
In the passage before us, the Apostle shews us,
I. In what light civil magistrates should be viewed—
By whatever name the ruling powers are designated among men, they are to be regarded as,
1. Governors for God—
[God is the Governor of all the earth: and, as all power is derived from him, so all power is delegated by him; the possessor of it being his representative and vicegerent. Even in heaven he has established different ranks and orders among the angels [Note: Ephesians 1:21. Jude, ver. 9.]: and on earth also he has seen fit that a similar order should be maintained. Nay, when there were yet but two people upon the earth, he ordained that one should rule the other [Note: Genesis 3:16.]. From that time the parents were the natural governors of their children: and, as successive families were formed, the rising generations continued under the same head, as branches from the same root. When these families became a tribe, the original parent was still the head of that tribe. Thus as mankind were multiplied upon the face of the earth, the different nations, too numerous and widely spread to be governed by one man, had their respective governors, some in one way, and some in another. Whatever shape the different governments assumed, monarchical, aristocratical, or democratical, still the power was God’s, in whomsoever it was vested: and, as his representatives, they possessed and exercised a portion of his authority: “There is no power, but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God:” “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s; and he hath set the world upon them [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.].”]
2. Benefactors from God—
[The office of magistrates is to do all in their power for the suppression of iniquity, and for the promotion of universal happiness. It is for these ends alone that power is put into their hands. They are to be “a terror to the workers of iniquity,” and “not to bear the sword in vain:” but to all others they are “ministers for good,” protecting them in the peaceful enjoyment of every earthly blessing. Would we conceive aright of the benefits we derive from our government, let us imagine such a state of things existing amongst us as occasionally existed in the land of Israel, when “there was no king in Israel, and every one did what was right in his own eyes [Note: Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25.]:” what enormities would be committed in every quarter of the land! If for the space of three days only all the functions of government were suspended, and all were left at liberty to perpetrate whatever came into their hearts, we should soon see how much we have been indebted to the legislature for enacting wholesome laws, and to the magistracy for enforcing them. To the government we owe it, that our persons are safe from injury, and our property from the depredation of lawless violence: and whilst “we sit, each under his own vine and fig-tree, none making us afraid,” we should feel our obligations to those, who, by God’s ordinance, have been, and continue day by day to be, the means and instruments of all our comfort. What Tertullus said in a way of flattery to Felix, we may, with the strictest truth, say respecting our governors, that “by them we enjoy great quietness, and by their providence very worthy deeds are done to our whole nation [Note: Acts 24:2.].”]
From this view of their character, we are prepared to hear,
II. What regard should be paid to them—
The relation of ruler and subject necessarily brings with it corresponding duties. Whilst they are caring and labouring for us, it is our duty,
1. To honour their persons—
[God says, respecting himself, “If I be a Father, where is my honour? if I be a master, where is my fear?” A portion of the same regard is due to magistrates also, as his representatives and vicegerents upon earth. Hence, in reference to them, it is said in our text, “Render unto all their dues; fear, to whom fear is due; and honour to whom honour.” To speak harshly or contemptuously of them is highly unbecoming. To “despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities,” are among the leading features of many who are a scandal to the Christian name [Note: Jude, ver. 8.]. We should consider, that they are necessitated to see with other eyes, and to hear with other ears, than their own: that, for what they do they may have many reasons, which we are not acquainted with: that, if in any thing they err, it may be with the best intentions. In a word, we should form the most favourable judgment of all that they do, and give them credit for their motives, where we cannot altogether approve their actions. If we cannot praise, we should at least abstain from uttering against them any complaints and murmurs, or from speaking of them in disrespectful terms. What shame did Paul take to himself for uttering a reproachful word against his unjust and persecuting judge! he confesses that in so doing he had violated an express command, which says, “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people [Note: Acts 23:2-5.].”
We should guard against an acrimonious sentiment arising in our hearts [Note: Ecclesiastes 10:20.]: and even when we are constrained to disapprove their conduct, instead of reviling them, we should cast a veil over their faults, as a duteous child would do over the faults of his parent.]
2. To submit to their authority—
[If a ruler enjoin any thing that is manifestly contrary to an express command of God, or forbid any thing which God has clearly enjoined, we are then to “obey God rather than man.” The Hebrew Youths did right in refusing to fall down before the golden idol; as did Daniel also in continuing to offer supplications before his God. The commands of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, though the greatest potentates on earth, were of no weight against the paramount authority of God. But where the laws that are enacted by human authority are not contrary to the revealed will of God, they must be obeyed; and that too, whether the authority that enforces them be subordinate or supreme: for thus says the Apostle Peter; “Submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well: for so is the will of God [Note: 1 Peter 2:13-15].” And this allegiance is due from all persons, whatever he their rank, or age, or occupation; “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers:” and, if any take upon themselves to “resist the power, they shall receive to themselves damnation;” they shall be condemned before an earthly tribunal for violating the established laws; and they shall be yet further visited with God’s indignation in another world, for having set at nought “his ordinances,” and opposed themselves to his authority [Note: See 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude, ver. 8, 13.]. We must therefore “be subject to the magistrate, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”]
3. To support his office—
[Where power is vested for the public good, there must also expense be, to defray the charges of the dignity attached to it. All the functions of government also must of necessity be attended with expense, which the public of course must support. Hence there must be taxes of different kinds, some stated, as “tribute,” and some occasional, as “custom,” upon articles of commerce. These are “due” to the civil magistrate, and must be paid with cheerfulness and punctuality. There must be no endeavour, no wish, to evade any tax whatever. To defraud the revenue, is to defraud not the government only, but every person that contributes to the support of government; since, if the imposts that are laid on, prove inadequate to the necessities of the state, other taxes must be levied to supply the deficiency; and thus the honest must be burthened to pay what has been withheld by the dishonest. This is thought by many to be a light matter: and persons who are well able to pay their quota to the public purse, are not ashamed to defraud the revenue; yea, they will even boast of it, when they might with as much propriety boast of the most disgraceful actions they could possibly commit. Our blessed Lord, when, strictly speaking, he was not bound to pay a tax that was levied, chose to pay it, and even wrought a miracle in order to pay it; because he would not offend the collectors, who would have been unable to appreciate the grounds whereon he might have claimed an exemption [Note: Matthew 17:24-27.]. Thus should we do: we should rather exceed on the side of liberality, than fall short through a want of integrity, or of zeal for the public service. To grudge such payments is most unreasonable and wicked. What would be thought of a man who should employ a watchman to protect his property, and then rob the watchman of his hire? Yet this is what we do, when by any means whatever we defraud the revenue: for rulers and magistrates are “ministers of God, attending continually upon this very thing:” their time is occupied in the discharge of their high office; and they have a claim upon us for whatever is necessary for the maintenance of their dignity, and the execution of their trust. We must therefore “render to all their dues; tribute, to whom tribute is due; and custom, to whom custom;” and, if in any respect or degree we withhold it from them, we differ but little from him who plunders their house, or robs them on the highway.]
We conclude with adding such advice as the occasion requires—
1. Be thankful for the constitution under which you live—
[It is generally agreed by those who have studied the constitution of Britain, that it is the most perfect of any upon earth. In no other state under heaven is there a greater measure of liberty combined with the same measure of security and strength. The extent of our civil and religious liberties is justly the boast of all who have the happiness to live in our favoured land. How different is our condition from that of the Roman empire in the time of Nero, the time when St. Paul wrote this epistle! How different also we may add from the situation of our own country in the days of Mary, when so many of the excellent of the earth were burnt to death, for worshipping God according to their conscience! In our happy land, the poorest man amongst us is as much protected in his person and property as the richest; nor can the king himself oppress him contrary to law. Let us then be thankful for these mercies; and Jet us rally round the Constitution, to support it against all the devices of the disaffected, and the conspiracies of wicked men [Note: Preached Feb. 9, 1817, on occasion of the assault made upon the Prince Regent, and of the proofs of conspiracies submitted to both the Houses of Parliament a few days before.]. If Christians under such a government as that of Nero were so strictly enjoined to approve themselves loyal and faithful, much more it is our duty to be so under such a government as ours.]
2. Walk worthy of that better kingdom of which you profess to be subjects—
[This improvement of our subject is suggested by our Lord himself; who, on a question being put to him respecting the payment of tribute to the Roman governor, answered, “Render unto C ζsar the things that are C ζar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s [Note: Matthew 22:17-21.].” God, as we have before said, is the great Governor of all the earth; and he has established a kingdom, even the kingdom of his dear Son, who is “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Now, as Christians, you profess to be the subjects of Christ; and you owe an unreserved obedience to all his commands. Under him you enjoy the most perfect liberty and protection, from sin and Satan, death and hell. For every act of fidelity towards him, you shall have an appropriate measure of “praise;” nor have you the smallest reason to fear his wrath, if you yield a prompt obedience to his commands. The approbation of earthly princes, and the rewards conferred by them, pertain to this life only; but those which our blessed Lord will confer, extend also to the life to come. “Be strong, therefore, and very courageous to observe and do all that he commands [Note: Joshua 1:7.].” Honour him in your hearts: labour to advance also his interests in the world: account no sacrifice painful that he requires at your hands: but “be ready, if need be, to lay down your lives for his sake.” “Be faithful unto death, and he will give you a crown of life.”]
THE NEARNESS OF SALVATION A MOTIVE TO DILIGENCE
Romans 13:11. Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
SO contracted are the views which many have of the Gospel, that they account nothing worthy of that name, except what relates primarily and expressly to the great subject of redemption. But the Gospel comprehends duties as well as privileges: nor can any minister preach it aright, if he do not guard his audience against every species of sin, and inculcate the performance of every kind of duty. Nor are any persons to be excepted from such pastoral charges. The Apostles themselves needed to be warned against hypocrisy [Note: Luke 12:1.] and a recurrence to corrupt habits [Note: Luke 21:34-36.]: and they also in their turn have transmitted similar warnings to the Christian world in all ages. It was to “believers” that St. Paul addressed the words before us: and I conceive myself to be discharging a most solemn duty whilst I call your attention to,
I. His injunction—
Every believer is prone to relapse into a state of stupor—
[The “wise virgins slumbered and slept,” no less than the foolish [Note: Matthew 25:5.]. The Church of Ephesus, too, amidst their many exalted virtues, needed to be reproved for having “left their first love [Note: Revelation 2:3-4.].” And who does not feel that the caution given to “the children of light” in the Thessalonian Church, is applicable to himself [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-7.]? — — — In truth, there are seasons, even with the best of men, when the divine life comparatively languishes within them, and when “the things which remain in them are in appearance at least ready to die [Note: Revelation 3:2.] — — —
This may arise from different causes: sometimes from “the cares of this world” pressing upon the mind; sometimes from “the deceitfulness of riches,” or the gratifications of sense beguiling the soul [Note: Matthew 13:22.]; and sometimes from “the abounding of iniquity in those around us [Note: Matthew 24:12.].” But from whatever it proceeds,]
“It is high time that we awake out of sleep”—
[With all of us much time has been lost: and how little remains, who can tell? At all events we have a great work to do; and no man should relax his labours, till he can say, “Father, I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work which thou hast given me to do [Note: John 17:4.].”
I call you then, my brethren, to arise, and “do your first works,” lest God abandon you to the power of your great adversary, and to the evils of your own hearts. If St. Paul felt the need of “keeping his body under and bringing it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others he himself should become a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.],” think not that such care and such fear are unsuitable to you. To the most stable amongst you I would say, “Beware, lest being led away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own steadfastness [Note: 2 Peter 3:17.]; and to the most confident amongst you all, “Be not high-minded, but fear [Note: Romans 11:20.].” Let every one of you look to himself, that he lose not the things which he has wrought, but that he receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].”]
To impress on your minds this admonition, let me call your attention to,
II. The consideration with which it is enforced—
“Salvation” is the prize held forth to all who believe in Christ: and who shall adequately express or conceive what is comprehended under this term? — — — Yet this, with all the blessedness attached to it, is daily hastening towards you.
You are daily “nearer” to,
1. The termination of all your conflicts—
[Whilst you are in this life, you must of necessity have trials of some kind to sustain. A corruptible crown is not gained without much exertion, much less is a heavenly crown: “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence; and the violent take it by force [Note: Matthew 11:12.].” But “there is a rest remaining for you [Note: Hebrews 4:9.];” and that rest is now very near at hand. Look then at the racer in his course: does not the thought of his having nearly finished his labours animate him to increased exertions? So then should you “forget the things that are behind, and press on to the goal for the prize of your high calling [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.];” and never think that you have attained any thing as long as any thing remains to be attained.]
2. The completion of all your hopes—
[Soon will God’s work of grace be perfected within you, and “a crown of glory be awarded to you as having been faithful unto death [Note: Revelation 2:10.].” And will you by listlessness and indifference endanger the loss of all the glory and felicity of heaven? Awake, I say, and “run with patience the race that is set before you, looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of your faith [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” Make more use of the great principles of the Gospel than ever you have yet done. “Look more to Christ [Note: Isaiah 45:22.]:” “live more entirely by faith upon him [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” Get his image more formed upon your hearts. Live only for him, and “to him [Note: Romans 14:7-8.]:” and speedily shall you be “seated with him upon his throne [Note: Revelation 3:21.],” and be a joint-heir with him of his inheritance [Note: Romans 8:17.].]
But let me not close without a few words to unbelievers—
[If believers need such an admonition as this, what, think ye, do ye need? What words can ever be too strong for you, who have never fled to Christ for refuge, or believed in him for the saving of your souls? Truly your end also is near: but “who can tell what that end shall be [Note: 1 Peter 4:17.]?” Alas! an inspired Apostle declares to you, that “your judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3.].” Surely then “it is high time for you to awake out of sleep;” for, if death find you unprepared to meet your God, your condition will be such, that it would be “better for you that you had never been born.”]
Romans 13:12. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
IT is the distinguished privilege of man that he is able to bring to his recollection things that are past, and to anticipate future events, so as to give them a kind of present existence in his mind. This power is of infinite use to him in the concerns of his soul. By means of it he can ascertain his state before God: he has only to compare the records of conscience with the declarations of God’s word, and he can foresee the issue of the final judgment; and derive to himself the strongest arguments for vigilance and zeal. In this view the exhortation before us deserves our deepest attention: and to impress it on our minds, we shall,
I. Confirm the truth of the Apostle’s assertion—
[Our Lord, in reference to the season afforded him for accomplishing his Father’s work, calls this present life, day, and the future, night [Note: John 9:4.]. The Apostle here uses the same metaphors, only reversing the application of them: the present life he designates by the name of “night;” and the future, by the appellation of “day”
The present life is called “night,” because it is a state of intellectual and moral darkness. The ungodly “world are altogether lying in wickedness,” and ignorant of all that it concerns them most to know. The regenerate themselves “see but as in a glass darkly;” and, though they be light as day in comparison of carnal men, yet have they but, as it were, the twinkling of the stars, just sufficient to direct their course, or at most but as the early dawn, in comparison of the meridian light which they will hereafter enjoy. Much of sin also yet remains within them: much they do, which they would not; and leave undone, which they would do: by means of which they too often walk in darkness, instead of enjoying the light of God’s countenance.
Our future state of existence is called “day,” because all, whether godly or ungodly, will behold every thing in its true light; and because the empire of sin will be eternally destroyed.
Now this “night is far spent, and the day is at hand.” Considering how short the time is that is allotted us on earth, this may be spoken in reference to those who are even in the bloom of life. Twenty or thirty years cut off from the short span of life, may well be thought a great portion of it: and if those years be doubled, we must say indeed, “The night is far spent.” But whatever be our age, we are equally liable to be called away, and to have our time of probation cut short by death. We ourselves may recollect many, who but a year or two since, appeared as strong and healthy as ourselves, who are now no more. And though we know not whose summons may arrive next, we are sure that, in a year or two more, many (perhaps one in twenty) of us will be fixed in our eternal state.]
But this truth being so clear, we may proceed to,
II. Enforce the exhortation grounded upon it—
[The idea which the Apostle’s language first suggests to the mind, is, that we are attacked in our camp, and summoned instantly to arise and fight.
The generality are at ease, involved in “works of darkness;” in works that proceed from the prince of darkness; in works that affect concealment; in works that lead to everlasting darkness and despair. From this state they have no desire to come forth. Even the godly have their “sins which most easily beset them,” and in which they are but too apt to indulge security. The wise virgins, as well as the foolish, were defective in vigilance. But, whatever be the works of darkness with which we are encompassed, we should “cast them off,” with a determination never more to sleep upon the post of danger.
In opposition to these, we are required to clothe ourselves with righteousness, which, as “light,” is heaven-born, and approves its own excellence to all who behold it. This, as “armour” to the soul, protects it from the fiery darts of Satan, and aids it in all its conquests. In this we are to be ever clad, that we may be ready for the battle, and not have to look for our armour, when the enemy is at the door [Note: Ephesians 6:13.]. Thus only shall we be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ;” but thus armed, we shall be “more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
Now the urgency of this duty appears strongly as it is connected with the foregoing assertion. For what is the work we have to do? it is no less than “putting off the works of darkness, and putting on the armour of light;” a work which none can perform, except he be strengthened by almighty power. Besides, much of the time allotted for the performing of it, is spent already; and that which remains must be short, and may be terminated in an hour. Is it not “high time then that we should awake out of sleep [Note: ver. 11.]?” Should we not begin without an hour’s delay, and “work with all our might?” Yes; let us all “gird on our armour, and fight the good fight of faith.”]
[Have we neglected our spiritual concerns? What have we gained that can compensate for the loss of our precious time? And who is there amongst us that, if his day were now come, would not wish that he had watched and laboured for the good of his soul? Ah! remember that present things, however pleasing, will soon have passed away “as a dream when one awaketh,” and nothing remain to you but the painful recollection, that you have lost the time which you should have improved for eternity.
Are we, on the contrary, attending to our spiritual concerns? Let us expect the present state to be a “night” of trial and affliction: but let us remember that the longest night has an end; and that “if sorrow endureth for a night, joy cometh in the morning.”]
PUTTING ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
Romans 13:14. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ; and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
IF too many reduce the whole of Christianity to a mere system of morals, it must be confessed, on the other hand, that there are not wanting many who almost exclude morals from the Christian code. That faith, provided it be pure and genuine, will have a sanctifying effect, is true: but it is not therefore true, that we should be satisfied with merely inculcating the necessity of faith, or encouraging its exercise. Its operations need to be strengthened by direct and vigorous calls to duty: and, if we imagine that there is any duty which we need not to enforce, or any iniquity against which we need not to guard the most exalted Christian, we greatly err. Our blessed Lord, when surrounded by an immense multitude of people who pressed upon him for instruction, began his discourse with a solemn warning to his more immediate Disciples, to “beware of hypocrisy [Note: Luke 12:1.].” And on another occasion he said to them, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness [Note: Luke 21:34.].” Such an exhortation, now addressed to a believer, would be deemed superfluous and legal: but experience too sadly proves, that such warnings are yet necessary in the Church of Christ: and, if the teachers of religion, from an idea of taking a sublimer course, omit to warn their people against intemperance, impurity, or any other sin, they must consider themselves as accountable to God for those enormities in the Church, which they have neglected to hold up to public reprobation. If it be thought that this, though suited to the infant state of the Church, was needless when Christianity was more fully revealed, and more completely established; what, I would ask, shall we say to that address of St. Paul to the Colossian Church? “Mortify your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” and again, “Lie not one to another [Note: Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:9.].” If, indeed no such things as these ever occurred amongst the professors of Christianity, we might, in our addresses to them at least, wave all notice of them: but, as this is not the case, we must still say to all without exception, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying:” and, as the only sure preventive of such excesses, we must add, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
In these words we have a most important admonition conveyed,
I. In a way of plain direction—
Some have understood the Apostle’s expression as inculcating faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; whose righteousness we ought to put on daily, as that robe wherein alone a sinner can stand in the presence of his God. But, though this is our duty, yet it is not the duty that is here inculcated. The meaning of the Apostle is, that we should put on the graces of the Lord Jesus Christ, so as in all respects to attain his character, and resemble him. His words are of the same import with what he elsewhere says, “Put off the old man with his deeds; and put on the new man [Note: Colossians 3:9-10.].”
Put ye on then, beloved,
1. His humility and self-denial—
[In these respects he is particularly proposed as an example to us: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant [Note: Philippians 2:5-8.].” Having assumed our nature, he submitted to all the privations of which our nature is capable; being more destitute than even the beasts of the field or the fowls of the air, and “not having so much as a place where he might lay his head [Note: Matthew 8:20.].” When the people would have taken him to make him a king, he withdrew himself from them; and chose rather the office of the meanest servant; condescending even to gird himself with a towel, and to wash his Disciples’ feet [Note: John 13:4-5.]. And this he did on purpose to shew us, that no office of love, however humiliating or self-denying, should be neglected by us [Note: John 13:14-15.].
Let us, then, address ourselves to our duty in this respect. Let us abound in every possible exercise of love; accounting nothing too great either to do or suffer, if by any means we may promote the welfare of man, and the honour of our God — — —]
2. His meekness and patience—
St. Paul, exhorting the Corinthians to an obediential respect for him, says, “I beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:1.].” And St. Peter informs us, that, in all that our blessed Lord endured, “he suffered for us; leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-23.].” Beloved brethren, set the Lord Jesus Christ before you in these respects. See what lamentable evils prevail, both in the Church and in the world, through the want of these heavenly dispositions. Verily, the different Churches of Christendom, yea, and almost every individual Church in Christendom, present us rather with one continued scene of “strife and envying,” whereby infidels are hardened in their prejudices against the Gospel, and the very name of God is blasphemed in the world. Surely the contentions of Christians are a scandal to Christianity itself. “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even is Christ forgave you, so also do ye [Note: Colossians 3:12-13.].”]
3. His entire devotedness to the service of his God—
[“His ear was bored;” and from his engagement he never receded, no, not for a moment. It was at all times “his meat and his drink to do the will of Him that sent him [Note: John 4:34.];” and never did he relax his exertions, till he could say, “It is finished.” Thus let your hearts “be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord:” and never cease to prosecute your heavenly calling, till you can say, with him, “Father, I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work which thou hast given me to do [Note: John 17:4.].” Account nothing done, whilst any thing remains to be done: but “forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before; and press on for the prize of your high calling [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.],” till you are acknowledged by God himself as having gained the victory, and are called to sit down with your victorious Lord upon his throne of glory [Note: Revelation 3:21.].]
The Apostle yet further urges his admonition,
II. In a way of salutary caution—
We must guard against every thing which may impede our progress—
[Every man has some “besetting sin,” which he ought most carefully to put away [Note: Hebrews 12:1.]. He should mark what his constitutional or acquired propensities are, and exert himself to the uttermost to mortify and subdue them. Instead of providing for the gratification of them, he should abstain from every thing which tends to foster his corruption, or to give scope for its exercise. When the priests went into the tabernacle of the congregation to minister before the Lord, they were to “drink no wine nor strong drink,” lest they should be in any respect unfitted for the holy service in which they were engaged [Note: Leviticus 10:8-10.]. In like manner, we, who are “a holy priesthood,” should abstain even from lawful things, if by an unrestrained indulgence we are likely to be ensnared. Our blessed Lord has taught us to “watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation;” and this he has done, because in an hour of temptation it is so difficult to stand. We should be on our guard, not only against evil itself, but against, the means and occasions of evil: the places and the company that are ensnaring to our souls, we should avoid; as Solomon has well admonished us: “Enter not into the path of the wicked; and go not in the path of evil men: avoid it; pass not by it; turn from it, and pass away [Note: Proverbs 4:14-15.].” Joseph found his safety in flight [Note: Genesis 39:12.]: and we, in like manner, must “keep our heart with all diligence [Note: Proverbs 4:23.];” and “make a covenant with all our senses [Note: Job 31:1.],” which may by any means prove inlets to temptation, and instruments for our destruction.]
It is in this way only that we can hope to be kept from the foulest sins—
[What is said of contention, may be said of sin in general, that “the beginnings of it are like the letting out of water.” In the first instance, the danger seems small: but soon the breach is widened, and defies all the efforts that may be made to stop it. Of this we have an awful instance in David, who little thought, when first his eye glanced upon Bathsheba, what evils would ensue. The Apostle’s primary object in our text was, to guard the Church against gross enormous evils. But how does he teach us to avoid them? He bids us to aspire after the highest possible attainments, even the “putting on of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and to be on our guard against the very smallest occasions of sin, and in no respect to make provision for the indulgence of it. And these two things must occupy our attention from day to day. O! “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall:” and let him “keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.]. If, for the obtaining of a prize in earthly contests, a long habit of laborious and self-denying discipline is necessary, much more is it in order to the ensuring of final success in our heavenly conflicts. To all, then, would I say, If you would not fall and perish by your indwelling corruptions, you must “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Galatians 5:24.],” and must “perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].”]
1. Those who are satisfied with their attainments—
[What! Have you, then, attained the perfection that was in Christ? Are you so “clothed with humility,” and all other graces, that the world may see in you the very image of Christ? Are you such “lights in a dark world,” that all who behold you may “know how they are to walk and to please God?” Never be satisfied with any thing short of this: but press forward to your dying hour, that you may, through the mighty working of the power of God upon your souls, “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].”]
2. Those who are striving after a more perfect conformity to their Lord and Saviour—
[It is well that you are endeavouring to “walk even as Christ walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].” But attempt it not in your own strength. You must be “strengthened with all might in your inward man, by the Spirit of the living God.” To your latest hour, as well as in the commencement of the Divine life, “your sufficiency must be of God” alone. But “He is able to make all grace abound towards you, that you, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work.” And “faithful is He that hath called you, who also will do it.”
“Now, to Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen”.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany