PRACTICAL WISDOM RECOMMENDED
Romans 16:19-20. I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
WHOEVER knows the perverseness of the human mind, must see that it is in vain to hope that any Church under heaven should be long free from the influence of error and contention. What St. Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, when he parted with them at Miletus, must sooner or later be addressed to all who have been long favoured with the ministry of the Gospel, that “grievous wolves will enter in among them, not sparing the flock; and that even of their ownselves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them [Note: Acts 20:29-30.].” The Church at Rome was as free from this spirit as any in the apostolic age. Their faith [Note: Romans 1:8.], and love [Note: Romans 15:14.], and obedience [Note: ver. 19.], were such as to render them famous through the whole Christian world, insomuch that St. Paul rejoiced greatly on their account [Note: ver. 19.]: yet he judged it necessary to caution them against “those who wished to cause divisions and offences among them [Note: ver. 17.].” In prosecution of his purpose he tells them what he wished for in their behalf, namely, that they should be wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
In discoursing on these words, we shall point out—
I. The state of mind we should cultivate—
Nothing is more desirable than to have our minds well regulated in reference to the concerns of religion; since by error in judgment, and indiscretion in conduct, we may do incalculable injury to others, and subject ourselves also to many calamities. We should make it our daily study to be,
1. “Wise unto that which is good”—
[It requires no little wisdom to discern in some cases what is good; for good and evil, though totally opposed to each other in matters that are clear and obvious, are sometimes so diversified in their shapes, and so doubtful in their appearances, that they may easily be mistaken for each other. Peter’s concern for the welfare of his Master, had the appearance of friendship, whilst in reality it was a preferring of his Master’s present welfare to the eternal welfare of the whole world; and in that view was reproved by our Lord as a demoniacal suggestion [Note: Matthew 16:22-23.]. There is not any error, either in doctrine or in practice, which may not assume the semblance of truth: and to divest it of all its false colourings, requires much calm and dispassionate investigation.
In addition to the close affinity which there may be between points that are essentially different, and the consequent danger of mistaking their true qualities, there is within ourselves a propensity to lean rather to the side of error by reason of the corruption of our own hearts. There is in our fallen nature a bias towards evil, so that, however fairly we may promise in the outset, we cannot go far without feeling a drawing on one side or other from the straight line of perfect rectitude: either passion or interest is apt to creep in, and to give an undue inclination to our judgment: under their influence we take but a partial view of things, or see them in a distorted shape: in a word, we want “a single eye, which alone can cause the body to be full of light.”
But a still further source of error is, that our fellow-creatures are almost universally on the side of error, and, by the countenance which they afford it, render it extremely difficult to be discovered. The spirit of the world is altogether contrary to the Spirit which is of God, so that our minds are blinded by it, and we cannot discern clearly what is of God, and what is not [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:12.]. Besides, “there are many vain-talkers and deceivers [Note: Titus 1:10.],’ who “lie in wait on purpose to deceive [Note: Ephesians 4:14.],” and who actually do “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [Note: ver. 18.],” even so far as to “subvert whole houses [Note: Titus 1:11.].” Against such persons it is extremely difficult to guard: and in order to withstand their influence, we need to have from God himself “a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and to be made quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 11:2-3.].”]
2. “Simple concerning evil”—
[The word “simple” may be understood either as opposed to a mixture in our principles, or to an offensiveness in our conduct; both of which we should with great diligence avoid.
We must indulge then no evil in ourselves: we should have no sinister ends in view, no selfish dispositions to gratify, no personal interests to promote: there should be no allowed guile within us: we should guard to the uttermost against any mixture of principle: we should hate sin as sin, irrespective of its consequences; and determine through grace to mortify it, whatever carnal advantages such conduct may deprive us of, or whatever pains it may entail upon us.
We must be careful also to give no encouragement to evil in others. In no respect whatever should we encourage sin. We should not only “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but should rather reprove them:” for if we countenance sinners in any of their ways, we “make ourselves partakers of their evil deeds [Note: 2 John, ver. 11.].” This is particularly inculcated in the words before our text. We should “mark those who cause divisions and offences, and should avoid them.” In another place the Apostle says, we should “withdraw ourselves from them, and have no company with them, that they may be ashamed [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14.].” In truth, if we would “mark” the spirit of such persons, we should soon see how erroneous their ways must be: for they shew by their pride and conceit, their boldness and forwardness, and the constant tendency of their exertions to advance either their own interests or the interests of their party, that “they serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.” Thus the uniform endeavour of our lives should be, as our Lord has taught us, to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves [Note: Matthew 10:16.].”]
That we may the more earnestly cultivate this spirit, let us consider,
II. Our encouragement to live in the exercise of it—
The evils against which we would guard you arise in great measure from the agency of Satan—
[It was Satan who “beguiled Eve” in Paradise: and from that time has he been incessantly occupied in deceiving the children of men. The bad are wholly under his influence: he inspired the four hundred prophets of Baal to deceive Ahab to his ruin [Note: 1 Kings 22:19-23.]: and both Judas and Ananias were actuated by him to perpetrate the crimes which they respectively committed. But even good men are also wrought upon by him on some occasions, as has already appeared in the case of Peter, and as is intimated in the cautions given by St. Paul both to the Corinthian and Thessalonian Churches [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3. 2 Thessalonians 3:5.]. Satan can easily assume the appearance of an angel of light, and can enable “his ministers to appear as ministers of righteousness [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.].” Hence arises a necessity to be always on our guard against his devices.]
But his influence shall soon be destroyed—
[It was foretold in the very first promise, that the “Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” And this has been fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ, who, even whilst he was yet alive, declared, that, “the prince of this world was judged,” and “cast out;” and who “by death overcame him utterly,” and whilst yet upon the cross “spoiled all the principalities and powers of darkness.” Afterwards, in his resurrection, he completed his triumph over Satan, “leading captivity itself captive.” And as he has thus vanquished him for us, so will he also overcome him in us, enabling us to “resist him till he flees from us,” and finally to “bruise him under our feet.” Soon shall he cease to harass us. We have but a little time more to conflict with him. The victory is assured to us; and his doom is sealed. The time is near at hand, when all the judgments which he seeks to bring on us shall fall upon his own head; and we whom he now labours to devour shall sit in judgment upon him, and, as assessors with the Lord Jesus Christ, shall declare and confirm the sentence that shall be executed upon him to all eternity [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:3.].]
And this is a great encouragement to us to maintain the conflict in the way before prescribed—
[Were the contest to be of any long duration, we might be discouraged, just as the Israelites in the wilderness were, at the length of the way [Note: Numbers 21:4.]. But “it is but a little time, and He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry [Note: Hebrews 10:37.].” Methinks, already has Satan received his death wound, so that we have but to follow up the victory already gained. Already is he, like the five kings of the Amorites when shut up in the cave, doomed to certain death: and soon, like them, shall he be brought forth for execution, and the feet of all the children of Israel be put upon his neck. Yes, he is already a vanquished enemy; and in a little time shall our conflicts be followed with, complete success. Like the redeemed Israelites, we shall see all the enemies that affrighted us, dead upon the sea-shore.]
Are any of you unconscious of the difficulty of stemming the torrent?
[It only shews that you are carried down with the stream. The generality are “wise to do evil, but to do good have no knowledge [Note: Jeremiah 4:22.].” To become the very reverse of this is no easy matter: and if ever you be brought to a truly Christian state, you shall know the difference between floating with the stream and swimming against it.]
Are any of you discouraged by reason of the difficulties which you have to contend with?
[“Encourage yourselves in the Lord your God.” Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. He has pledged himself, that “neither angels nor principalities nor powers shall ever separate you from his love;” and “what he hath promised he is able also to perform.” Millions who were once as weak as you have already triumphed over Satan and all his hosts, having “overcome him by the blood of the Lamb.” That same blood shall prevail for you: and ere long shall you also bear the palm of victory, and sing for ever the triumphs of redeeming love.]
VICTORY OVER SATAN
Romans 16:20. The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
IN order to get forward in our Christian course, we must unite a strenuous exertion of our own powers with an humble dependence on the Divine aid. We cannot work without God; and God will not work without us: but if we look to him for assistance, and yet labour in a diligent and prudent way, he will succour us with his almighty power, and “perfect that which concerneth us.” St. Paul, cautioning the Christians at Rome against those who caused divisions and offences, exhorts them to cultivate that wisdom of the serpent and that harmlessness of the dove, which would serve to counteract their efforts: yet for their final success he directs their eyes to God, through whose co-operation alone they could maintain their integrity, and in whose strength they should eventually overcome. In discoursing on his words, we shall consider,
I. The promise which God has here given to the Church—
Satan is an active and powerful adversary to God’s people—
[His exertions are directed against the Church at large, and against every individual member of it. Indefatigable are his exertions in causing dissensions and divisions among the various societies of Christians, embittering them one against another, or sowing discord among themselves. And though these feuds may be considered as arising from the turbulence and pride of men, yet must they also be referred to Satan as their original author; since it is he who instigates the professors of religion, as well as others, to the commission of sin [Note: This is intimated in the context. Compare ver. 17, 20.]. Much of carnal contention prevailed in the Church of Corinth; and that the Apostle repeatedly ascribes to Satan: he calls the authors of it “his ministers,” and puts the members of that Church on their guard, “lest the serpent, who beguiled Eve through his subtlety, should corrupt them from the simplicity of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Corinthians 11:15.].” He tells them how ready Satan was to take advantage of them in the matter of the incestuous man [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:11.]; and in general, whatever evils occur in the Church, he traces them up to Satan’s temptations as their proper source [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:5.]. Nor is there any individual among the Lord’s people, whom that wicked one does not endeavour to harass and destroy. It was he who stirred up David to number the people [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:1.]: it was he who influenced Peter to deny his Lord with oaths and curses [Note: Luke 22:31.]: and, who can tell to what straits he would have reduced the Apostle Paul by his buffetings, if that holy man had not obtained timely succour from his Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.]? Indeed, if he had the effrontery and the malice to assault even our Lord himself, and if he repeatedly reduced even him to such a state as that he needed to be strengthened by an angel from heaven [Note: Matthew 4:11 and Luke 22:43.], well may we suppose that he will not suffer us to pass unmolested and unassailed.]
But God has promised to “bruise him under our feet”—
[God is “the God of peace” primarily as being reconciled to us through the death of his Son: but he has this name assigned to him in our text chiefly as delighting in the social order and the personal happiness of his people. In this view he enters the lists against our great adversary, and undertakes to subdue him for us. Already has he given us an earnest of our triumph in enabling his Son to “bruise that serpent’s head” upon the cross [Note: Genesis 3:15 and Colossians 2:15.]; and it is a very short time that that wicked one shall retain the present remnant of his power. Though permitted to fight against us, his rage is overruled for the benefit of the saints and the glory of God: and, as when he possessed the bodies of men, his malice always terminated in his own confusion, so, in every instance, shall he be foiled in his endeavours to destroy the souls that belong to Christ. He is even now a vanquished enemy [Note: John 12:31.]; and soon shall the very weakest believer trample on him, as Joshua trampled on the necks of the kings of Canaan [Note: Joshua 10:24.].]
If we desire this mercy at the hands of God, we shall be glad to know,
II. The way in which we may expect him to accomplish it—
However various his dealings may be with different persons in some minute particulars, there are general rules which he will observe towards all:
1. He will increase the triumphs of his people over Satan in this world—
[Satan gains great advantage over young Christians by means of their unsubdued corruptions, and their inexperience in the spiritual warfare. To defeat his malignant efforts, God increases the strength of his people, and gives them a deeper insight into the devices of their enemy. He clothes them with divine armour, and teaches them how to use the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith [Note: Ephesians 6:13-17.]. By exercise he renders them expert soldiers, and enables them to “war a good warfare.” Instead of exposing themselves needlessly to danger, they are now taught to “watch and be sober;” instead of indulging a vain conceit of their own purity and strength, they are led to suspect the treachery of their own hearts, and to depend more simply on the grace of Christ. Thus they learn to fight a good fight; and, though sometimes wounded by his fiery darts, they “resist their enemy till he flees from them [Note: James 4:7.].”]
2. He will give them a complete and everlasting victory over him in the world to come—
[While they are in the flesh Satan will renew his assaults upon them. There is no place so sacred, but he will intrude into it; nor any person so holy, but he will seek to destroy him. When the sons of Job were assembled before the Lord, Satan came also in the midst of them [Note: Job 2:1.]: and when Joshua stood in the Divine presence, the same wicked fiend stood at his right hand to resist him [Note: Zechariah 3:1.]: nor will he suspend his attacks even when we are bowing our knees at the throne of grace, or assembled around the table of the Lord. But into heaven he can never enter: there we shall be lodged in perfect safety: thence we may deride his impotent attempts, and rejoice over him as a captive foe.
But it may be said, That we rather escape from him, than triumph over him: for that he still continues master of the field. We answer, No: for he shall in due time be dragged in chains of darkness into our very presence; and, as assessors with Christ in judgment, we shall judge him and all his angels [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:2-3.]. We shall confirm the sentence passed upon him; and add our hearty Amen to the curse that dooms him to eternal fire.]
1. How great and precious are the promises of God!—
[To those who know nothing of the Christian warfare, this promise will afford but little satisfaction: but to those who have been long conflicting with the powers of darkness, it will be a ground of inexpressible joy and thankfulness. Such an assurance of victory will revive their drooping spirits, and reanimate them for the combat: nor will they be averse to maintain the contest as long as God shall see fit to try their faith and patience: having this word, they want no more: “they know in whom they have believed;” and that, though now their hands hang down and their hearts are faint, they shall soon make heaven itself to echo with their shouts of victory [Note: Here might be a personal address to those who are assaulted with temptations of any kind, urging them to combine holy vigilance with a steadfast faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9.]. O that all might have an interest in this promise, and experience its completion in the realms of bliss!]
2. How much are we concerned to obtain peace with God!—
[It is to those only who are reconciled to God that the promise in the text is made. If we have never yet obtained mercy at his hands through the blood of Jesus, we shall in vain hope to conquer this cruel adversary. God, so far from interposing for us, will give us into his hands; and, instead of fighting for us as a friend, will himself be our enemy. Miserable indeed shall we then be; for, if we cannot contend with Satan, how shall we be able to withstand Jehovah? “Will our hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with us, or can we thunder with a voice like his?” Let us then seek reconciliation with him; — — — so shall he be a “God of peace” to us, and secure us victory in the day of battle.]
END OF VOL. XV.
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 16". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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