THE GOSPEL SECURES THE PRACTICE OF HOLINESS
Romans 6:1-4. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
WE are told that “the Gospel was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness;” whilst to all who had an experience of it in their souls, it was both “the power of God, and the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.].” The grounds on which the Jews and Greeks so greatly inveighed against it were various: its apparent contrariety to the revelation given by Moses rendered it offensive to the one; and its proposing to us a Saviour, who appeared unable to save himself, rendered it contemptible to the other. But there was one ground of offence which exposed it equally to the reprobation of all; and that was, the unfavourable aspect which it had in relation to holiness. Men of every religion were ready to cry out against it in this view: and therefore the Apostle, having stated the plan of the Gospel salvation with all possible clearness, takes up this objection, and gives an answer to it;—such an answer, indeed, as neither Jews nor Gentiles could have anticipated; but such as must approve itself to all whom God enables to comprehend it.
From the words of my text, I will take occasion to shew,
I. The supposed tendency of the Gospel to encourage sin—
The Gospel certainly, when stated as St. Paul stated it, has, to a superficial observer, this aspect—
[It greatly magnifies the grace of God in the salvation of fallen man. It sets forth that grace, in all its freeness, and in all its fulness. It offers salvation freely, “without money and without price.” It offers salvation through the righteousness of another, even the righteousness of our incarnate God and Saviour. It offers salvation by faith alone, without works; saying, “To him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness [Note: Romans 4:5.].” Nor does it make its offers to the most righteous only; but to all, not excepting even the vilest of mankind; saying, “Where sin hath abounded, grace shall much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death, so shall grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 5:20-21.].”]
Hence men in every age have characterized it as licentious—
[In St. Paul’s day, many drew from his statements this inference, that, supposing his statements to be true, men might very safely “continue in sin, that so the grace of God,” in pardoning it, “might be the more abundantly displayed.” At this day also, wherever the Gospel is faithfully delivered, men bring the same objections against it. Because we offer salvation to the chief of sinners, saying, “All that believe shall be justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.],” we appear to them to make light of sin. And because we declare, that the good works of men make no part of a man’s justifying righteousness; and that the best work that ever we performed would, if relied upon in ever so small a degree, not only not add any thing to the work of Christ, but would invalidate and render void all that he ever did and suffered for us; we seem to make light of holiness; since we declare, that the evil we have committed shall never condemn, nor shall the good that we may do ever justify, the believing soul. Men cannot imagine what inducement we can have to practise good works, if they are not to justify us; or to abstain from sin, if it may so easily be blotted out by one simple exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the whole Gospel appears to them a strange, unintelligible, and licentious doctrine; calculated only to mislead the simple, and palatable only to hypocrites and fanatics.]
But, in answer to all such objections, I will shew,
II. The security it gives for the practice of universal holiness—
Doubtless, nothing but divine grace can secure the practice of holiness: and, to a man destitute of that sanctifying principle, all sentiments, of whatever kind, will be ineffectual for the purification of his soul. A man may profess the greatest regard for good works, yet not perform them; or he may profess the greatest regard for Christ, and not render to him the obedience of the heart: on the contrary, he may “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness [Note: Jude, ver. 4.].” But, so far as any principles can prevail, those of the Gospel, when embraced in their purity, will be found to produce holiness both of heart and life. So the Apostle declares, in answer to the objection before stated.
To enter fully into the Apostle’s argument, see what a man professes at his first entrance into the Church of Christ—
[He is “baptized into Christ:” into Christ, “as dying for his offences, and as raised again for his justification [Note: Romans 4:25.].” To the Saviour, so dying and so rising, he feels himself bound to be conformed; dying to sin, as He died for sin; and rising, like him, to a new and heavenly life [Note: ver. 8–11.]. His immersion, at the time of his baptism, represented this to him: and he, in submitting to it, pledged himself to seek the experience of this change in his soul, and never to rest till he shall have attained it. Christ, after his crucifixion, was buried: and in baptism the believer is “buried with Christ;” and engages to become as separate from all his former lusts, as Christ was from all the concerns of this perishing world. And the same power that wrought in Christ, to raise him from the dead, works effectually in his soul, to accomplish in him this wondrous renovation after the Divine image. “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father;” and by the same glorious power the believer is enabled to “walk in newness of life.”
Now, all this a man professes in his baptism: he then, in the sight of God and of the world, acknowledges these to be his most decided sentiments, and his unalterable obligations. He declares, before all, that he owes every thing to Christ, and is bound to employ every faculty of his soul for Christ; “living altogether for that Saviour who died for him and rose again [Note: Romans 14:7-8.].”]
Now mark what aspect this profession must have on all his future life—
[I grant, that he may be drawn aside from the path of duty, and go back to all the evil courses from which he professes to have been delivered [Note: 2 Peter 1:9; 2 Peter 2:20.]. But, in the midst of all he must say, ‘This course of life does not proceed from my principles; nor is it in accordance with them. No: it is altogether in opposition to my avowed sentiments, and is one continued violation of my most solemn engagements. The Gospel is not to be blamed for what I do, any more than it was for the sins of Judas or of Peter, of Ananias or of Demas, or of any other person that ever dishonoured his Christian calling.’ In a word, the man who has been baptized into the faith of Christ bears in the face of the whole world this unequivocal testimony: “The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teaches me, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, I should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world:” and, if it produce not this effect, the fault is in myself alone.
Now, I look upon this as a complete answer to the objection in my text. I admit that a person professing the principles of the Gospel may walk unworthy of them: but I utterly deny that the Gospel has any thing in it to encourage such a life: on the contrary, I assert, that a man’s entrance into the Church by baptism is an open acknowledgment that a very different life becomes him; and that he cannot depart from holiness without expressly contravening all his principles and all his obligations.]
1. Is there now any one present who entertains the objection here made against the Gospel?
[Alas! there are many who will represent the preachers of the Gospel as saying to their hearers, “Only believe; and you may live as you please.” But methinks there is not one, amongst all this host of objectors, that believes his own statement. For it is a notorious fact, that those very persons, who decry our ministry as encouraging licentiousness, will, with the very next breath, cry out against us, as making the way to heaven so strait, that none but a few enthusiasts can walk in it. But, supposing them to be sincere, they only betray their own ignorance. St. Paul says in my text, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?” No: they know nothing of the matter: they know nothing of the Christian’s principles; nor do they at all consider his obligations. The Christian never accounts himself free from the moral government of the law, though he knows himself free from its condemning sentence. On the contrary, he feels a thousand motives for obedience, which a mere self-righteous moralist has no idea of: and if a proposal were made to him to “sin, that grace might abound,” he would reply with indignation and abhorrence, “God forbid!” To you, then, I say, be diligent in your inquiries, and candid in your judgment. Where, amongst the self-righteous moralists, did you ever find such attainments in holiness as in the Apostle Paul? These attainments were the genuine fruit of his principles; as he himself has told us: “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.].” Only receive the Gospel as he preached it; and it shall operate in you as it did in the Churches which were planted by him.]
2. Is there any one here who, by his conduct, gives occasion for this objection?
[That there is not any avowed Antinomian amongst us, I can easily believe: but are there not those who, by their ungoverned tempers, or their covetous practices, or their unholy lives, “give occasion to the enemies of religion to blaspheme,” and to “speak evil of the truths” which Paul preached? Ah! brethren, if there be one such person in the midst of us, let him remember what our blessed Lord has said: “Woe unto the world because of offences; for it must needs be that offences will come: but woe unto him by whom they come: for it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the midst of the sea, than that he should offend one of God’s little ones [Note: Luke 17:1-2.].” It is a lamentable fact, that one man who dishonours the Gospel by an unholy conversation, does more injury to the souls of men, than ten holy men can do them good. Every one, however blind to the excellencies of the godly, has his eyes open to behold the faults of those who profess godliness; aye, and his mouth open too, to report and aggravate all the evil that he has either seen or heard: for it is by this that worldly men seek to justify themselves in their contempt of a religion which is so disgraced. I charge you then, my dear brethren, guard against every thing which can produce these fatal effects; and beg of God rather to cut you off from the earth at once, than to suffer you to become a stumbling-block to the world, and a scandal to his Church.]
3. I trust there are those present who bear in mind and exemplify their baptismal vows—
[Yes, I hope there are amongst us many who “walk worthy of their high calling,” and “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” by a holy and heavenly conversation. To such persons I would say, be steadfast in your course, and endeavour to “abound more and more.” And, that you may see what heights are to be attained, set the Lord Jesus Christ before you both in his death and resurrection; that, “being planted in the likeness of the one, ye may be also in the likeness of the other [Note: ver. 5.].” What had he to do with the cares or pleasures of this world, when he was “buried” in the grave? Or when has a moment’s intermission of his services to God occurred, since his resurrection from the dead? Let this, then, be your pattern, both in your death unto sin, and in your living unto righteousness: and, as you acknowledge yourselves to have “been bought with a price, seek and labour to glorify Him with your bodies and your spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN RISEN WITH CHRIST IN NEWNESS OF LIFE
Romans 6:8-11. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THE Gospel in every age, when freely and faithfully delivered, has been calumniated as injurious to morality. But St. Paul, though he well knew how his doctrines would be misrepresented, did not on that account mutilate the Gospel, or declare it less freely than it had been revealed to him: he proclaimed salvation altogether by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, without any works or deservings on our part: but at the same time he shewed that good works, though excluded from any share in justifying the soul, would of necessity be practised by every believer; because the believer, by his very profession, was, and could not but be, “dead unto sin, and alive unto righteousness.” He shewed, that there would of necessity be in the believer’s soul a conformity to his Lord and Saviour, since he bound himself to it in his baptismal engagements, or rather professed to have the actual experience of it before he was baptized; so that he must be a hypocrite, and no true believer, if he was not holy both in heart and life. To this effect he speaks in the whole of the preceding context [Note: ver. 1–7.]; — — — and in the words which we have just read, he confirms the idea, and founds upon it an animated exhortation.
To elucidate this difficult, but important subject, we shall consider,
I. The truth he assumes—
[He takes it for granted that the believer is “dead with Christ.” The believer, by virtue of his union with Christ, partakes in all that Christ either did or suffered for him. Was Christ crucified, dead, and buried? The believer also is crucified, dead, and buried: only Christ underwent this in his body; whereas the believer experiences it in his soul. The believer has what is called “the old man,” or “the body of sin:” and this it is which undergoes a change equivalent to that which Christ experienced in his mortal body. This old man is “crucified.” Crucifixion was a long protracted punishment: but though the death of the crucified person was slow and gradual, it was sure. It is in this way that “the old man,” or “the body of sin,” in the believer, is destroyed: is is not so instantly slain, as never to move again: but it is nailed to the cross: it is gradually weakened: and, in the purpose and intention and determination of the believer, it is as really dead, as if it were already altogether annihilated. The believer, at his baptism, considered this as solemnly engaged for on his part, and as shadowed forth, yea, and as pledged also to him on the part of God, in the rite itself: “he was baptized into Christ’s death, and buried, as it were, with Christ by baptism into death.” This was his profession; and this is his obligation: and wherever true and saving faith exists in the soul, this profession is realized, and this obligation performed. Hence it may be assumed as an universal truth, that, as a scion participates in the state of the stock into which it has been engrafted, so the believer, engrafted as he is into a crucified Saviour, “is planted together with him in the likeness of his death,” or, in other words, is “dead with Christ.”]
In close connexion with this is,
II. The persuasion he intimates—
“We believe,” says he, “that we shall also live with him.”
[It is not in his death only that the believer is conformed to Christ, but in his resurrection also. As the believer has an “old man,” which dies, so he has also “a new man,” which lives: and in the latter, no less than in the former, he resembles Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ, in his risen and ascended state, lives with God, and to God, employing for his God and Father all the power that has been committed to him. Thus the believer lives in a state of intimate fellowship with God, consecrating to him all his newly-acquired powers, and improving for him every faculty that he possesses. This is his privilege, no less than his duty: and therefore we may be fully persuaded that the weakest believer, if truly upright, shall attain this high and honourable employment.]
This persuasion is founded on a firm and solid basis—
[We “know that Christ dieth no more.” Those whom he raised to life, as Lazarus and others, were constrained at last to pay the debt which our nature owes, and to yield to the stroke of death: but “over Christ death hath no more dominion.” He so fully expiated sin, that none of its penal consequences attach to him any longer. But the life which he possesses has both perpetuity and perfection, being wholly and eternally devoted to the care of his people, and the honour of his heavenly Father. And here is the believer’s security: “Because Christ liveth, he shall live also [Note: John 14:19.].” The believer’s “life is hid with Christ in God;” yea, “Christ himself is his life:” and therefore we may be assured, that his believing people shall be preserved to “appear with him in glory [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.].” We do live in him: and therefore we shall live with him for evermore.]
From hence is deduced,
III. The duty he inculcates—
[“Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This should be a point fixed and settled in our minds: I am a Christian: I am dead to sin: I have no more to do with “my former lusts in my ignorance [Note: 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 4:2-3.],” than Christ himself has with the “sins which he once bore in his own body on the tree.” “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” have no more charms for me [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]: those “lords which once had dominion over me,” are now dead; and I am liberated from their yoke [Note: This is the precise idea contained in ver. 7.]. As a Christian, I possess a new and heavenly life: I am alive unto God, as Christ himself is; and must live unto God, as Christ himself does. There is not an act performed by Christ either in providence or grace, which has not respect to the glory of his Father: so, “whether I eat, or drink, or whatever I do, I must do all to the glory of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].” As for being satisfied with any lower standard, it is impossible: my Christian profession utterly forbids it. Those who seek to be justified by their works, may be satisfied with such a tale of bricks, as shall, in their apprehension, screen them from punishment; but I can be satisfied with nothing but a perfect conformity to Christ. My lusts that are crucified, shall never (God helping me) come down from the cross: there they are doomed to perish: and the sooner they die, the better. My new life shall be spent as Christ’s is, in executing the office assigned me, and in glorifying my God. Christians, this is the state to which you are to aspire; and if you rest in any thing short of this, you are not worthy of the Christian name.]
In this subject we may see,
1. The proper tendency of the Gospel—
[The proper tendency of the Gospel is, to “sanctify us wholly,” and to make us pure, as Christ himself is pure [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23. 1 John 3:3.], And let the enemies of the Gospel calumniate it ever so much as tending to licentiousness, they shew that they believe it to be a doctrine according to godliness, by the excessive offence which they take at the smallest inconsistency in the Christian’s conduct. If they did not know that his principles required, and tended to, the highest possible perfection, why are they so offended, and why do they exult so much, at the smallest imperfection? The proper tendency of the Gospel then is holiness, the enemies themselves being judges.]
2. The true criterion whereby to judge of our faith in Christ—
[We will not disparage other parts of Christian experience; but the only safe test whereby to try ourselves, is, the degree in which we are dead to sin, and alive to God — — — “The tree must be known by its fruits” — — —]
3. The connexion between our duty and our happiness—
[We have fixed the standard of Christian duty high. True: but does any one doubt, whether such a conformity to Christ be not also our truest happiness? Verily, heaven itself consists in this: “We shall be like him, when we shall see him as he is [Note: 1 John 3:2.].”]
A PROMISE OF VICTORY OVER SIN
Romans 6:14. Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
IT is often made a ground of objection against the Gospel, that it is unfavourable to morality. But the very reverse of this is true; for the Gospel not only inculcates moral duties as strictly as the law itself, but suggests far stronger motives for the performance of them, and even provides strength whereby we shall be enabled to perform them. A great part of this epistle was written on purpose to establish the doctrine of justification by faith: and yet here is one whole chapter devoted entirely to the enforcing of universal holiness, and to the removing of all ground for the objection before referred to: and in the text an express declaration is given, as from God himself, that sin shall never regain its ascendency over the hearts of his people. We shall consider,
I. The promise here given us—
The promise is express, and relates to our deliverance from sin, of whatever kind it be—
[Sin of almost every kind has dominion over the unregenerate man. All persons indeed are not addicted to the same lusts; nor do they gratify any one lust in the same degree: but the seeds of all evil are in the hearts of men; and if any person abstain from any particular act of sin, it is rather because he is not strongly tempted to commit it, than because he has not a propensity to commit it; and it is universally found, that the sins, which are peculiar to our age, our constitution, our situation and circumstances in life, do habitually get the dominion over us. But God promises, that it shall not be so with his people; that they shall be delivered from this ignominious bondage; and be enabled to resist the solicitations of appetite and passion.
We must not however imagine that this promise extends to absolute perfection: for, however desirable the attainment of perfection might be in some points of view, it is not the lot of any in this world. Even the most eminent of God’s saints have failed, and that too, in those very points wherein their peculiar eminence consisted: Abraham, Moses, Job, and all others, have proved sufficiently, “that there is not a just man on earth that liveth and sinneth not:” and that, “if any say they have no sin, they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them.” Nor does the Apostle mean that sin, even of a grosser kind, shall never, in any instance, be found in a child of God; for, as “in many things we all offend,” so, under the influence of strong temptation, we may act very unsuitably to our holy calling: Noah, Lot, David, Solomon, afford melancholy proofs of such weakness and depravity. But this is asserted in the text, and attested by the universal voice of Scripture, that no child of God shall ever give himself up to the wilful and habitual indulgence of any one sin whatever. No: every child of God will watch against sin in the heart, as well as in the act; and will pray and fight against it to the latest hour of his life — — — And the reason why he never can sin in the same wilful and habitual way that he did before, is, that he has the seed of God, or a living principle of grace, within him, that constantly impels him to hate and flee from all iniquity [Note: 1 John 3:9.]; and, “because he is Christ’s, he cannot but daily crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts” — — —]
The limiting of this promise to believers leads us to shew,
II. Its connexion with our new-covenant state—
Believers are “no longer under the law but under grace”—
[Once they were, like others, under a covenant, which cursed them for disobedience, but afforded them no hope of pardon for past offences, nor any means of resisting sin in future: but now they have embraced that better covenant, the covenant of grace, wherein God offers them a full remission of all their former sins, and assures them that he himself will give them grace sufficient in every time of need. On this promise they rely, knowing by bitter experience that they have not in themselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought, and that God alone can give them either to will or to do any good thing.]
It is on this very account that God guarantees to them, if we may so speak, the attainment of universal holiness—
[By embracing God’s covenant, they become his children, members of his family, and heirs of his glory. Now God’s honour is concerned that his own children shall not be left in bondage to the devil — — — Besides, after having made them heirs of his glory, he never will leave them under the power of a corrupt nature; because that would incapacitate them for the fruition of his glory, even if they were admitted to a participation of it: an unholy nature would utterly unfit them for the services and enjoyments of heaven — — — But there is yet another reason why God fulfils this promise to them; God has made it a part of his covenant, that he will cleanse his people from all their filthiness and all their idols [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27.]; and pledged his word that he will not only forgive all their sins, but cleanse them from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 1:9.] — — — Now this promise they rest upon, and plead as their only hope; and will God, who cannot lie, rescind it? No: he will fulfil it to them in the time and manner that he judges most conducive to his own glory.]
To improve this subject, let us observe that,
1. To lay bold on this covenant should be the first great object of our lives—
[Where else shall we find deliverance from the judgments denounced against us for our violations of the first covenant, or obtain strength for our obedience to God’s holy will? All efforts of our own will be utterly in vain; it is Christ alone that can effect either the one or the other of these things; and it is only by looking to him, and laying hold of his covenant, that we can obtain these blessings at his hands. But let us once obtain an interest in him, and all these things are ours; pardon, peace, holiness, glory, all are ours, the very instant we believe in him. What then can be put in competition with this? Verily all the things of time and sense sink into utter insignificance, when compared with this: and therefore let us regard this as the one thing needful, and make it the one object of our whole lives to be found in Christ, and to secure the blessings which he has purchased for us.]
2. None, however, can have any interest in the covenant of grace who do not experience deliverance from sin—
[Though no man is admitted into the covenant of grace on account of any holiness that there is in him, yet none are left unholy after that they have been admitted into it. “That very grace of God which bringeth us salvation, teaches us to deny every species and degree of ungodliness [Note: Titus 2:11-12.].” To fail in this would be to defeat a principal end of Christ’s death [Note: Titus 2:14.]. If there be any allowed sin in us, we deceive ourselves, and our religion is vain [Note: James 1:26.].]
3. But none have any reason to despair on account of the inveteracy of their lusts—
[Were it required of us to purify our hearts by any exertions of our own, we might well despair. But holiness is not only enjoined; it is promised; it is promised by Him, who is able also to perform. Let none then say, “My wound is incurable;” for with God all things are possible: and we, however weak in ourselves, shall be “able to do all things through Christ who strengthened] us.” If we were at this instant led captive by ten thousand lusts, no sin whatever should have dominion over us in future, provided only we took refuge in the covenant of grace — — —]
4. Nevertheless, this promise does not supersede the necessity of prayer and watchfulness on our part—
[God’s promises are free; “yet will he be inquired of by us before he will perform them.” Nor are we at liberty to run into temptation because he has promised to keep us; for that would be to tempt him: but, in the exercise of prayer and watchfulness, he will keep us. If Paul, that chosen vessel, was obliged to keep his body under, and to bring it into subjection, lest he himself should be a cast-away, surely the same care and diligence are necessary on our part. It is our comfort however, that, while we run, “we do not run as uncertainly;” and while “we fight, it is not as one who only beats the air [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:26.]:” for victory is secured for us, and God himself “will bruise Satan under our feet,” and preserve us blameless to his heavenly kingdom.]
CONVERSION A GROUND OF THANKSGIVING
Romans 6:17. God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
EXEMPTION from the punishment of sin is doubtless an inestimable blessing; but deliverance from its power is equally precious. The most advanced Christians greatly delight in this part of salvation. Hence St. Paul thanks God for bestowing this mercy on the Church at Rome. We shall consider from the text,
I. The character of all while in an unconverted state—
All are “servants of sin” till they receive converting grace—
[All indeed are not slaves to the same sin. Some are led captive by their lusts and passions: others are drawn away by the pleasures and vanities of the world: others are under the dominion of pride and self-righteousness; but all, without exception, are alienated from the life of God [Note: Ephesians 4:18.]: all are full of unbelief and self-sufficiency.]
This, however humiliating, is an indisputable truth—
[The Scriptures every where assert this respecting fallen man [Note: John 8:34. Romans 6:16. with the text.]. The most eminent saints confess it to have been their own case [Note: Titus 3:3.]: experience proves it with respect to ourselves. The very excuse which men offer in extenuation of their sins, viz. “that they cannot live as God requires,” establishes this truth.]
But it does not remain so in regenerate persons; as appears from,
II. The change they experience in conversion—
God instructs them in “the form of sound doctrine”—
[There is in Scripture a “form of sound doctrine.” This in all its parts is set before them. They are enlightened by the Spirit to understand it: they have it applied with divine efficacy to their souls.]
This form of doctrine they “obey from the heart”—
[They yet indeed feel a law of sin in their members; but “they no more serve sin” willingly as before: on the contrary, “they now delight in the law of God.” They obey it, not in appearance only or by constraint, but willingly and without reserve.]
They are now cast, as it were, into the mould of the Gospel—
[This is the force of the original; and is the marginal version [Note: εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον δίδαχῆς.]: this is also the case, wherever the Gospel takes effect [Note: Colossians 1:6.]. The wax has every lineament of the seal, and the coin of the die: so do they resemble God, who are renewed by the Gospel [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].]
The blessedness of this change will appear if we consider,
III. How great a cause of thankfulness such a conversion is—
The Apostle thanks God that they were no longer slaves of sin—
[Sin is at all times a ground of shame and sorrow [Note: Romans 6:21.]. Paul esteemed it so in his own particular case [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]: every saint of God views it in the same light: St. Paul therefore did not mean that their subjection to it was a ground of thankfulness; but the subject of his thanksgiving is, that the Romans, who once were slaves of sin, were now entirely devoted to God.]
This is a ground of unspeakable thankfulness on many accounts:
1. On account of the moral change in the persons themselves—
[What can be more deplorable than to be a slave of sin? What can be more truly blessed than to have all our actions and affections corresponding with the word of God? Surely this is a ground of thankfulness.]
2. On account of the effects of this change on society—
[How much better member of society must a child of God be than a slave of sin! How much happier would the world be, if such a change were general! On this account therefore it became the Apostle to be thankful.]
3. On account of the eternal consequences that must follow this change—
[They who die slaves of sin must suffer its punishment: they are now the children of the devil, and must soon be his companions in misery [Note: John 8:44.]; but the regenerate are children and heirs of God. Surely eternity will scarcely suffice to thank God for this.]
We shall conclude with a suitable address—
1. To the unregenerate—
[All who have not been freed from sin are of this number. Alas! the friends of such have little cause to thank God for them: they have rather reason to weep and mourn [Note: Jeremiah 13:17.]: they may indeed bless God that the stroke of vengeance has been delayed. O that all such persons might know the day of their visitation! Let all cry to God for his converting grace: nor let any rest in an external or partial change. Nothing but a cordial compliance with the Gospel, and a real conformity to it, will avail us in the day of judgment.]
2. To the regenerate—
[The foregoing marks have sufficiently characterized these persons. Such persons will do well to reflect on the mercy they have received: the recollection of their past guilt will serve to keep them humble. A consciousness of their remaining infirmities will make them watchful: a view of the change wrought in them will make them thankful. Let the regenerate then adopt the words of the Psalmist [Note: Psalms 103:1-3.]— let them beware of ever returning to their former ways [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21.]: let them press forward for higher degrees of holiness and glory [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.].]
3. To those who doubt to which class they belong—
[Many, from what has been wrought in them, have reason to hope; yet, from what still remains to be done, they find reason to fear. Hence they are long in painful suspense. But let such remember, that sin, if truly lamented and resisted, does not prove them unregenerate [Note: James 3:2.]: on the contrary, their hatred of it, and opposition to it, are hopeful signs that they are in part renewed: nevertheless, let them endeavour to put this matter beyond a doubt [Note: 2 Peter 1:10.]. Let them look to Christ as their almighty deliverer [Note: John 8:36.]: let them pray for, and depend upon, his promised aid [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].]
UNPROFITABLENESS AND FOLLY OF SIN
Romans 6:21. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
AS an appeal to the judgment of men is, when just, the most powerful mode of silencing the contentious, so an appeal to their conscience is the strongest possible method of convincing the ignorant, and of humbling the proud. With such kinds of argumentation the Scripture abounds. God himself appeals to his apostate people: “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and become vain?” “Have I been a wilderness to Israel [Note: Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 2:31.]?” Thus, in the passage before us, St. Paul, labouring to impress the Christians at Rome with a sense of the indispensable necessity of renouncing all their former ways, and devoting themselves wholly to the Lord, puts to them this pungent question; “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” To answer this question, no strength of intellect, no extent of information, is required: nothing is wanting but an honest and upright heart. The poor, as well as the rich, can tell whether they have been happy in the ways of sin: to the one therefore as well as to the other, we would address the language of our text; entreating every one to consult the records of his own conscience, and to answer to himself the question, as in the presence of his God.
The points respecting which we would make our appeal to all, are,
I. The unprofitableness of sin, as learned by experience—
Whether men have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure, or have followed their earthly inclinations with more measured steps, we would ask, in reference to all their former ways,
1. What fruit of them had ye at the time?
[Sin, previous to the commission of it, promises much: but what solid satisfaction has it ever afforded us? Suppose a man to have had all the means of gratification that ever Solomon possessed, and, like him, to have withheld his heart from no joy; still, we would ask him, Was your pleasure of any long duration? Was it without alloy? Is not that true which Solomon has said, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness [Note: Proverbs 14:13.]?” I doubt not but that every man who will faithfully relate his own experience, will “say of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it [Note: Ecclesiastes 2:2.]?”
A similar testimony must be given by those who have been the most sober and discreet. They have not, it is true, the same measure of guilt upon their consciences, as they would have had, if, like the others, they had “run into every excess of riot ∙” but if, as must he confessed by all, they have lived to themselves, and not unto the Lord, we must put the same question to them, Have you found real happiness in your ways? Have you not, in the midst of all your self-complacency, had a secret consciousness that you were not prepared for death and judgment? and did not that consciousness embitter your lives, so far at least, that you could not bear to think of the state of your souls, and the realities of the eternal world? — — — God had said, that “the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, which casteth up mire and dirt.” Whatever peace therefore you have felt has been a false peace, which in reality rendered you more miserable, in proportion as it hid your misery from your view. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.].”]
2. What fruit have ye in the retrospect?
[Supposing sin to have made us ever so happy at the time, how does it appear when we look back upon it? Is not that which was “rolled as a sweet morsel under the tongue become as gall in the stomach?” Would not the voluptuary be well pleased on the whole, that the criminal excesses of his former life had never been committed? Would he not be well satisfied to have lost the gratifications, if he could expunge from his conscience, and from the book of God’s remembrance, the guilt which they have entailed upon him? — — — And if the man who has sought his happiness in less criminal enjoyments, but has wasted in mere earthly pursuits the time that was given him to prepare for eternity, could recall his mispent hours, would he not rather that they should have been spent in seeking the things belonging to his peace? Though he may not look with complacency on a pious character who has given up himself unreservedly to God, does he not secretly reverence that man, and wish that his latter end might be like his? — — —]
3. What fruit have ye in the prospect of your great account?
[If ever we look forward to death and judgment, what do we think of a sensual or worldly life in reference to those seasons? Will it afford us any pleasure in a dying hour, to reflect, that we have, on such and such occasions, gratified our criminal desires, or indulged in revelling and excess? Or will a life of mere external decency afford us comfort, when we consider how we have neglected God and our own souls? Shall we not then wish that we had paid more attention to the Saviour, and lived under the influence of his blessed Spirit? Still more, when standing at the judgment-seat of Christ, will it be any joy to us, that, whilst in this world, we took so little pains to obtain mercy of the Lord, and to secure his favour? — — — Alas! alas! How will a carnal or worldly life then appear? Would to God, that we would view things now, as we shall surely view them in that day!]
Instructed by these lessons of experience, let us proceed to contemplate,
II. The folly of sin, as taught us by grace—
The very first effect of grace is to humble us before God. The more enlarged our views are of our past transgressions, the more shall we blush and be confounded in the remembrance of them. Of every true Christian it may with certainty be affirmed, that, like Job, he “abhors himself, and repents in dust and ashes.” He is “ashamed,”
1. That he has so requited the goodness of his God—
[In an unconverted state, men can receive innumerable blessings at the Lord’s hand, and never consider from whence they flow. Even the great work of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is not regarded as any sufficient incentive to love and serve him. But no sooner does grace enter into the soul, than all the wonders of God’s love and mercy are seen in their proper colours; and the man is amazed at his more than brutish ingratitude. How wonderful does it appear, that God should so love him as to give his only dear Son to die for him; and yet that he should live all his days in an utter contempt of that stupendous mystery, trampling on that precious blood that was shed to cleanse him from sin, and doing despite to that blessed Spirit, who strove to bring him to repentance! Verily, that expression of Agur is adopted by him, not as an hyperbole, but as a just representation of his case; “I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man [Note: Proverbs 30:2.].” The circumstance of his being forgiven is so far from obliterating this sense of his baseness, that it renders the feeling of it incomparably more poignant; according as the Prophet Ezekiel hath said, “Then shall ye lothe yourselves for all your iniquities, and for all your abominations, after that I am pacified towards you, saith the Lord.”]
2. That he has bartered for such trifles an immortal soul—
[The loss of the soul is scarcely thought of, when the fascinations of sin are strongly felt: but after a man is awakened to see, that “the end of these things is death,” what folly and madness does a life of sin appear! Even if the whole world could have been gained, it would be regarded as of no value in comparison of the soul: how empty then and vain do such trifles as he has obtained appear, when for the enjoyment of them his eternal interests have been sacrificed, and the everlasting wrath of God incurred! The folly of Esau in selling his birthright for a mess of pottage may be considered as wisdom in comparison of his, in selling heaven and his immortal soul for the transient pleasures of sin: and, if an irrevocable sentence of exclusion from the heavenly inheritance be passed upon him, he is ready to acknowledge the justice of it, or, like the man without the wedding garment, to confess by silence the equity of God’s judgments.]
1. Those who are yet seeking their happiness in the creature—
[We need not here discriminate between different degrees of guilt. It is sufficient for our condemnation that we have lived to ourselves rather than to God. Whatever we may have had recourse to for consolation, it has proved only like the husks with which the Prodigal sought to satisfy the cravings of nature: nothing but the bread that is in our Father’s house can ever satisfy an immortal soul. O let us think, What must be the consequence of living at a distance from God [Note: See Jeremiah 6:15-16.]? Speak not peace to yourselves in such a state! Well does St. Peter say, “What must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?” Only let the end of our course be kept in view, and we shall see the folly and madness of every pursuit that has not an immediate tendency to secure the blessedness of heaven.]
2. Those who are seeking their happiness in God—
[You have no reason to be ashamed of the fruit which you have gathered. At the time that you have been serving God, you have found “the work of righteousnees to be peace,” and, that “in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward.” In the retrospect of a life devoted to God there is the purest joy. “Our rejoicing,” says St. Paul, “is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world. And O! what comfort is there in the prospect of our great account! We know that “if we have our fruit unto holiness, our end will be everlasting life:” and if in our last hours we can say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” we may add with him, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me.” Go on then, brethren, “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” We congratulate you that you have learned to blush and to be ashamed of all your former ways: and we would, as we are specially instructed by God himself, urge you to a most careful observance of all the commandments of your God [Note: See Ezekiel 43:10 th verse to the first clause of the 12th.]. This is the way to preserve a good conscience before him; and so acting, “you will not be ashamed before him at his coming [Note: 1 John 2:28.].”]
MAN’S DESERT, AND GOD’S MERCY
Romans 6:23. The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THE distribution of rewards and punishments in the day of judgment will be in perfect agreement with the works of men; the righteous will be exalted to happiness; the wicked be doomed to misery. The Gospel makes no difference with respect to this: it provides relief for the penitent, but rather aggravates than removes the condemnation of the impenitent. But it opens to us an important fact: namely, that the punishment of the ungodly is the proper fruit and deserved recompence of their own works: whereas the reward bestowed upon the godly is a free unmerited gift of God for Christ’s sake. The Apostle has been shewing, throughout this whole chapter, that the Gospel increases, instead of relaxing, our obligation to good works; and that it will avail for the salvation of those only who “have their fruit unto holiness:” but in the text he assures us, that they who are saved will be saved by mere grace; whereas they who perish will perish utterly through their own demerit.
In the words before us, we have a short, but accurate, description of,
I. Man’s desert—
By “death,” we must understand everlasting misery—
[It is a truth that temporal death was introduced by sin: but that cannot be the whole that is meant by the Apostle in the text, because the “death” procured by sin stands in direct opposition to the “life” which is bestowed by God, which is expressly said to be “eternal.” By “death” therefore we understand an everlasting banishment from God’s presence, together with a “suffering of his vengeance in eternal fire.”]
This is the penalty that is due to sin—
[It is in vain that people endeavour to soften down the expressions of Scripture upon this subject, and to substitute annihilation for misery. Our blessed Lord, in his account of the judgment-day, declares that he himself, as the Judge of quick and dead, will doom the wicked to a participation of the misery inflicted on the fallen angels, and that their punishment shall be of the very same duration with the happiness of the righteous [Note: Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46. See also Mark 9:43-48.].
Nor is this more than the real desert of sin. The word we translate “wages,” means “provisions [Note: ὀψώνια.],” which in the earlier part of the Roman empire constituted the only pay of soldiers: and it must be confessed that a soldier’s pay, at the best, is but a very moderate compensation for the dangers and fatigues of war: his wages are certainly no higher than justice demands. Thus the penal evil of damnation is no more than a just recompence for the moral evil of sin: it is the “wages” due to sin.
It is worthy of remark also, that this awful doom is not spoken of as the penalty of many or of great sins, but of “sin,” of every sin, whether great or small. Every “transgression of God’s holy law is sin [Note: 1 John 3:4.];” and, though all sins are not of equal malignity, there is not any sin which does not deserve God’s wrath and fiery indignation, or against which an everlasting curse is not denounced [Note: Galatians 3:10.].
How terrible then is the desert of every man, of the more moral and decent, as well as of the immoral and profane! for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” and therefore all are obnoxious to the punishment of sin.]
Let us now turn our thoughts to a more pleasing subject, namely,
II. God’s mercy—
Notwithstanding our ill desert, God has tendered to us everlasting life—
[“He is not willing that any should perish, hut that all should come to repentance and live.” He has opened the gates of heaven, and invited sinners of every description to enter in. Nor has he required any thing to be done in order to purchase an admittance into it: he offers it freely, as a “gift” to all who will accept it. His invitation is to all who wish for it, to those also who have no money, to come and receive it at his hands “without money, and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].” In this he has strongly marked the different grounds of a sinner’s condemnation, and a saint’s acceptance. Misery is awarded to the one, as “wages” earned; and happiness is conferred upon the other, as a gift bestowed. Indeed our minds must be humbled: and we must be willing to accept salvation as a gift: for, if we carry any price whatever in our hands, we cut ourselves off from all hope of obtaining the desired blessing [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.].]
This gift however is bestowed only “through the Lord Jesus Christ”—
[All possibility of regaining happiness by the covenant of works was prevented by the very terms of that covenant: in token of which, the way to the tree of life was obstructed by a fiery sword [Note: Genesis 3:24.]. But another, and a better “way, is opened to it through the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we may have boldness, and access with confidence” into the presence of our God [Note: Hebrews 10:19-20.]. Through him, as a Mediator, God can exercise mercy towards us in perfect consistency with his own honour; and through him, as the appointed channel, God will convey to us all the blessings of grace and glory. But then he expects that we come to him through Christ, and receive his blessings from Christ: for, as there is no other way unto the Father but through the Son [Note: John 14:6.], so neither is there any way of obtaining from the Father, but by receiving out of the fulness which he has treasured up for us in Christ Jesus [Note: Colossians 1:19. John 1:16.].]
1. Those who are living in any allowed sin—
[We will suppose you are free from any gross immoralities; but that you are neglecting the great concerns of your souls, or attending to them with only a divided heart. Consider then, I beseech you, what you are doing: you are earning wages every day, every hour, every moment: whether you think of it or not, you are earning wages, and the day of reckoning is near at hand, when they shall be paid you by a just and holy God. Every act, every word, every thought is increasing the sum that shall be paid you: and who can calculate the amount of a debt which has been increasing with awful rapidity from the first moment that you began to act? Yes, you have been doing nothing throughout your whole lives, but earning wages that shall be paid you to the full, or, in other words, “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath [Note: Romans 2:5.].” Consider, if the desert of one sin is death, What must be your desert, whose sins are more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore? Reflect on this, while there is an opportunity of cancelling the debt, and while the mercy of God can be extended to you. But remember, that you must not attempt to discharge the smallest part of this debt yourselves: if you take but one single sin upon you, you must suffer death for ever. Go therefore to Christ, and through him unto the Father: go with the guilt of all your sins upon you; cast yourselves entirely upon the mercy of your God; plead nothing but the merits of his dear Son; and “look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life [Note: Jude, ver. 21.].”]
2. Those who have obtained mercy, and deliverance from sin—
[Numberless are the considerations which should excite your gratitude for the mercies you have received. Consider the greatness of the guilt that has been forgiven you; the riches of the glory which has been conferred upon you; the freeness with which it has been bestowed; and, above all, the means which have been used in order that you might be partakers of these benefits, even the appointment of God’s only-begotten Son to be your dying Saviour, and your living Head. Consider these things, I say, and then judge what ought to be the frame of your minds. What an abhorrence should you have of sin! What gratitude should you feel towards that God who exercised such mercy towards you, and towards that adorable Jesus, through whose mediation alone it could ever have been communicated! Stir up yourselves then to “render unto God according to these benefits;” and exert yourselves to the uttermost to “glorify him with your bodies and your spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 6". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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