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These files are public domain.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ romans-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.
For there is no power but of God.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers
I. Every soul, or man (Exodus 12:4; Genesis 46:27).
1. Secular person.
2. Ecclesiastical or religious.
II. The object. “The higher powers,” or chief magistrates established in each nation.
1. To see that God be rightly worshipped (2 Chronicles 14:2; 2 Chronicles 14:4; 2 Chronicles 17:6; 2 Chronicles 17:9).
2. To preserve peace (1 Timothy 2:2; Psalms 72:7).
3. To execute justice (Psalms 72:2; Romans 13:4).
III. The act. “Be subject.” We owe them--
1. Prayers (1 Timothy 2:1).
2. Fear (Proverbs 24:21; 1 Peter 2:17).
3. Not to speak evil of him (Ecc 10:20; 2 Peter 2:10; Jude 1:8).
4. Dues (Romans 13:7).
5. Subjection and obedience (Titus 3:1).
(1) Otherwise the magistrates’ power is in vain.
(2) The public good depends upon our obedience.
(3) We are bound to obey for fear (Romans 13:2; Romans 13:5).
(4) For the Lord’s sake (Romans 13:5).
(5) He that resisteth, resisteth the ordinance of God.
IV. The reason of the command. “All power is of God.” This appears--
1. From Scripture.
(1) Every power is ordained of God (Romans 13:1-2).
(2) The magistrate is the minister of God, Λειτουργὸν (Romans 13:4).
(3) By God kings reign (Proverbs 7:15-16).
(4) They judge under Him (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).
(5) He sets up kings (Daniel 2:21; Daniel 2:37; Daniel 5:21).
(6) God first ordained the power of the sword in the hand of men (Genesis 9:6).
(7) God gave particular direction for choosing most of the kings of Israel; as Saul, David, Jehu: and so now.
2. From reason.
(1) He is the first cause of all things (John 19:11).
(2) All power depends on Him (Acts 17:28).
(3) As the stream from the fountain.
3. All power in men is God’s power in their hands (2 Chronicles 19:6).
4. Power is good and necessary: therefore from God (James 1:17).
5. It is part of the law of nature (Romans 2:14-15). (Bp. Beveridge.)
Subjection to the higher powers
I. The duty.
1. Respects all legitimately constituted authority.
2. Extends to all persons, without distinction.
3. Requires submission in all matters not affecting conscience.
II. Its foundation. Power is--
1. Derived from God.
2. Is an ordinance of God.
3. Is established by the providence of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Obedience to law
I. Subjection to the higher powers. Not abject subjection to governments, whatever their character; but intelligent, manly subordination to a divinely ordered arrangement--the social framework and the national dominion. Many are the corruptions and oppressions of rulers and the imperfections and perversions of constitutions. Nevertheless there is a Divine ordination, as of marriage and home, so of nationality. Per se, government is essential to the perfection of human life, and so far as it does not hinder our obedience to God as the direct Sovereign of our souls, we are properly obligated to obey it. Divine Providence may have so ordered our lives that we may be overshadowed by pagan authorities. While we approve not the perversions of depraved legislators--their intemperance, Sabbath desecration, profanity, luxury and ambition--we can, notwithstanding, hold ourselves in dignified yielding to normal law. When the corruptions or misapplications of government become glaring and intolerable, the right of revolution is rightly appealed to, and then may “God speed the right.”
II. Spiritual authority. Aside from references to political governments, the whole paragraph may have a truer application to spiritual authority. Rank pharisaic ecclesiasticism and Papal domination are extremely abhorrent to every soul whom the truth and grace of God have made free. But Church officers and institutions founded on the gospel are the reflex of the Lord’s own kingdom. These powers are “ordained of God”--apostles, deacons, elders; with regulations for Sabbath observance, public worship, evangelistic progress. That one or more persons should, therefore, in any community decry creeds, church association, ministerial functions and labours, etc., must be a grievous evil. Satan can quickly divide and scatter the fold by such disorganisers and malcontents if the least heed be paid them. At suitable public anniversaries we should look into the Magna Charta of our Christian rights and experiences. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The duty and obligations of civil obedience
I. The duty which we owe to civil governors.
1. Submission. This injunction is given to “every soul.” And with regard to its extent, Peter says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.” If anything, indeed, were enjoined on us inconsistent with God’s will, “we are to obey God rather than man,” as did the three Hebrew youths, Daniel, and Peter. For the commands of the greatest potentates in the world are of no weight against the paramount authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. When, however, they are not at variance with the law of God, the Scriptures expressly enjoin an unreserved obedience.
2. Support (verse 6, 7). Expenses must be incurred, both in carrying on affairs and in supporting the dignity and remunerating the labours of the officers of state. Hence there must be taxes, “tribute” and “custom.” Hence all shrinking from bearing our proportional weight of the public burdens is not only against the law of the land, but the Word of God. Christ Himself paid taxes from which He was properly exempt.
3. Respect. “Fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour,” i.e., reverential homage due to kings and principal rulers, and the respect due to all who are in authority. Here, then, is forbidden everything that is disrespectful either in manner or language. The blazoning abroad the faults of our rulers, so as to degrade them in the eyes of others, is an offence against God. When Korah, etc., gathered themselves together against Moses, you know how God expressed His indignation against these contemners of constituted authority. The Scriptures regard it as a daring thing to “speak evil of dignities, to despise dominion.”
II. The grounds on which our obligation rests.
1. The penalty which those incur who transgress. A law becomes a dead letter, unless its penalties are enforced: and it is the duty of such as are in authority to be “a terror to evil works,” and not to “bear the sword in vain,” for they are appointed “as the ministers of God, as revengers to execute wrath on him that doeth evil.” Yea, it is said that they that resist, “shall receive to themselves damnation.” We acknowledge this is a low motive. Still, low as it is, we fear, so great a lack of higher principle prevails amongst us, that, were it not employed, such a thing as obedience would hardly be known. Each would be an Ishmael.
2. The advantage we derive from civil government (verses 3, 4). So appalling is the evil of the want of a regular government, that the very worst government is better than no government at all (see Judges 18:1-31). We have so long enjoyed the blessings of an equitable government, in which even the king dare not, if he would, invade the rights of the beggar, and in which every crime is prosecuted, and, in consequence, we have been so long privileged to “sit each one under his vine and under his fig-tree, none daring to make us afraid,” that we seem almost to forget that we owe this happy security, not to any improvement in man himself, but to a well-ordered government. It might help us to realise these advantages if we were to suppose for a time, a suspension of the laws throughout the land; and that every one was left to follow the full bent of his own will, without fear.
3. The consideration of the authority wherewith they are invested (verse 1). This applies to all that hold legitimate authority. It is not necessary, in order to make any power the ordinance of God, that it should be nominated by God Himself: as Moses, and Saul, and David were, for instance. For the apostle is speaking of the Roman emperors, who were elected by the army. It is mutual consent and contract that makes two persons man and wife; and yet matrimony is God’s ordinance; and the subjection under which the wife is required to be unto her own husband in everything arises not just from mutual contract, but from God’s appointment. Again, one becomes master, and another servant, by consent and covenant: but the master’s authority over the servant is derived, not simply from the covenant entered into, but from the ordinance of God. Hence, when Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, Moses says to them, “Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.” And, moreover, when Israel rejected Samuel as their ruler God regarded it as a rejection of Himself. (J. Sandys, A.M.)
Christian duties towards civil rulers
These duties are enforced on two grounds--
I. That they are ordained of God, and therefore ought to be obeyed as a matter of conscience. This implies--
1. That it is according to God’s purpose that society should be organised into self-governing communities for--
(1) Protection against aggressions from without.
(2) For the restraint of wrong-doing and the promotion of prosperity within.
2. That government must assume some form. The administration cannot be left to chance. There must be a constitution, clearly defined, and generally known and approved. The first form of government was that of the family. But, as families multiplied, each having a variety of rights, out of which would arise differences not to be easily settled, some more general form became necessary. Government by patriarchy having fallen through, many other forms are possible, and have become actual. Which then is the one ordained of God? This does not concern the apostle. The general rule assumed seems to have been that, as every community is likely to secure for itself that form of government which is best suited to it, at any period of its development, so that form of government actually existing is the one which is of God’s ordination for that people at that time. For the apostle speaks not of what ought to be, but of “the powers that be.”
3. That there must be powers, i.e., living persons invested with both authority and power to administer government, and that to these the Christian must render conscientious obedience. But it does not follow that he is to take no part in insisting that the ruling powers exercise their proper functions legitimately. For the governors have no more right Divine to do wrong than have those who are governed. Only this was a matter in which Christians had at that time no special concern, and in respect to which it was no part of the apostle’s purpose to give instructions.
4. That, whatever the form of government, the real Divine purpose is for the punishment of evildoers, and for the good of them that do well. The government is made for the people, and not the people for the government. To the masses it matters little what form of government obtains, but it matters much indeed whether the government rules according to wise or unwise principles. Yet, after all, any government at all is better than none, and none is possible if no obedience is to be secured.
5. That each ought to be subject and to render respectful obedience out of conscience towards God. Of course, there are limits to obedience (Acts 4:17-19). When Rome required of the Christians to render homage to an idol, they were under imperative obligation not to obey. And so, while it is incumbent upon every one to render to all officials their due, we are not bound in conscience to render that which is not due. If any state functionary should oppressively demand illegal taxes or service for illegal purposes, the duty of obedience has no place. If, indeed, the service is not in itself immoral, it may be found to be a matter of prudence to submit; but a man is not morally bound thereto: his conscience leaves him free to refuse. But, with such obvious exceptions, the duty of submission is universal.
II. That they have the right power, and will to punish those who disobey. Obedient subjects have nothing to fear. The magistrate is the minister of God to them for good; and those who do good shall have protection and praise of the same. But he has been entrusted also with the sword, the right and power to punish, even unto death, those who disobey. That this motive of fear should be urged appears somewhat strange. Any who were disposed to refuse obedience must have known that they did it at the risk of punishment. But some may have been fanatic enough to persuade themselves that a heathen power could have no moral right to enforce obedience, and that God would hold them harmless for their disobedience. Such are reminded that God, under whom these very rulers were marshalled, was on their side, and would sustain them in the enforcement of subjection and obedience. Therefore, if you cannot be moved to obedience on any higher ground, yet do learn obedience through fear. Even of the wrath of God, who will sustain by His almighty arm the just authority of these powers which are of His own ordination and appointment. (W. Tyson.)
The Christian view of the State
What has our religion to say to our patriotism? What is the final meaning of our relation to the State under which we live?
I. To begin with, the Bible teaches us to take a far higher view of the nation than any we are accustomed to hear. In God’s Word, the State is not a mere machine for keeping order and peace. The nation is not profane, but sacred; not secular, but Divine. The government derives its sanctions not merely from expedience or convenience, but from the appointment of God. You know how elaborately this idea is wrought out in the Old Testament. Jehovah is the actual, almost visible King of the Hebrew commonwealth. He establishes His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He it is that leads the nation out of bondage into freedom. No matter who sits upon the throne, at Jerusalem, or in Samaria, whether it be David or Saul, an Ahab or a Hezekiah, still Jehovah is their true King. From Him cometh promotion; in His name prophets speak; by Him princes rule, and kings decree judgment. But some one says, all this may be true of Israel. It is easy enough to see God’s hand there. But here is our new nineteenth century, where nothing is sacred, how shall we recognise the Divine? In authorities, chosen as ours are, out of the seething cauldron of our practical politics, how can we feel that the powers that be are ordained of God? The man who does not see God’s hand in our nation’s past history has read its records to very small purpose. Upon every shining page rests the finger of God as truly, if not as visibly, as in Judaea. You may see, if you will, nothing but a happy combination of chances--a happy chance that placed the fairest portion of the Western Continent in the hands of the progressive AngloSaxon race; a happy chance that wafted to our shores the Pilgrims and the Cavaliers, the high-spirited Huguenot, and the thrifty German. “In the providence of God,” says Charles Sumner--and a truer student of history never lived--“there are no accidents.” He who sees God’s hand in history at all, must be blind indeed if he does not see His guiding in our nation’s story. “If the Lord Himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say, if the Lord Himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us, they had swallowed us up quick, when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.
II. Nor is it only a question of the past: God is now in the nation’s midst. God’s hand is still leading. Thus the state, in its own place, and for its own work, is as divine as the Church herself. Nor is this all. Just as individuals are sent into the world with a calling from God to do some great work, so nations may have a mission. Was not the Hebrew nation called of God to keep alive in the world the knowledge and the worship of the one true God? Was not the Greek nation sent by God to spread broadcast its golden wealth of culture and civilisation? Was not the Roman nation sent to impart its iron strength, its splendid instinct of law and order to the barbarian hordes of Central and Northern Europe? Was not the English people chosen to colonise and settle the new worlds, and to pave the way for this marvellous nineteenth century of ours? Such a mission, such a calling impose upon each of us a mighty responsibility--a responsibility which not a few of us are all too willing to shirk These earthly “powers” speak to us of a higher sovereignty which we must acknowledge. They point us to a “King, eternal, immortal, invisible,” to whom we all owe allegiance. There is one will that we wish to be done, on earth as in heaven, in the State as in the Church, in politics as in religion, and that is the will of Him who rules in righteousness. And now what is this again but to say that righteousness must rule? For the will of God is the supremely righteous will. Nor is this all. For our country’s sake, for our King’s sake, let us be good men and true. Thoreau well says, “It matters not half so much what kind of a vote you drop into the ballot-box once a year, as what kind of a man you drop out of bed into the street every morning.” (L. R. Dalrymple.)
Governors and subjects
I. With respect to governors. The apostle declares--
1. That they are ordained of God (verse 1); that their authority is the ordinance of God (verse 2); that they are the ministers of God (verse 4, 6). Not that these expressions signify that God had appointed one particular form of government, all deviations from which are unlawful. There is not the least ground for such an opinion from history, or the reason of the thing. Can any one imagine that Paul intended to declare that the Roman emperors, who manifestly usurped and maintained their authority by force of arms, had their commission immediately from God? or that he would not have said the same things had the republic continued?
2. That the sole business of all governing power is to consult the good of society by maintaining peace and virtue in it (verses 3, 4, 6). Governors are not persons exalted by Heaven to a height above their neighbours, to be arbitrators, at their own pleasures, of the lives and fortunes of their fellow-creatures, and to receive the servile homage of whole nations, but persons called by the providence of God to a laborious task; not to live in ease, but to watch day and night for the good of that society in which they preside. Their office, indeed, is a glorious office; but the glory of it doth not consist in the outward majesty of the governor, and the servility of the subject, but in the happiness derived from the labours of the supreme head to all the members of the body politic. And that governor who contradicts the character here laid down, who is not a terror to evil works but to good, is not the governor to whom Paul presses obedience. And much less if he manifestly act contrary to the only end of his institution. And this may serve to explain yet farther in what sense these higher powers are from God, viz., as they act agreeably to His will, which is, that they should promote the good of society, which St. Paul all along supposes them to do. And consequently, when they do the contrary they cannot be said to be from God, or to act by His authority.
II. With respect to subjects.
1. The duty of submission and non-resistance is laid down in such absolute terms, that many have been induced from hence to think that the Christian religion denies the subject all liberty of redressing grievances. And yet methinks if the apostle had done nothing but enforced the duty of obedience it would be reasonable to judge from the nature of the thing and the absurdities of the contrary, that he meant this only as a general rule rather than to imagine that he should absolutely conclude whole nations under misery without hopes of redress.
2. But the apostle so explains his own doctrine by the reasons he gives for this obedience, and the account he gives of the duty of governors, as to leave subjects all the liberty they can reasonably desire. For though he doth at first press upon them, in unlimited words, an obedience and non-resistance to the higher powers, yet he manifestly limits this obedience to such rulers as truly answer the end of their institution (verses 3-5). As far as they deflect from God’s will, so far they lose their title to these declarations, so far are they excluded from Paul’s argument. These persons are the ministers of God for the good of society; therefore they must be obeyed. But it will not follow from hence that obedience is due to them, if they ruin the happiness of society. And therefore to oppose them in such cases cannot be to oppose the authority of God. Nay, tamely to sit still and see the happiness of society entirely sacrificed to the irregular will of one man seems a greater contradiction to the will of God than any opposition can be. For it is a tacit consent to the misery of mankind. Whilst he commands submission, he puts no case of princes acting contrary to the purpose of their institution, much less of princes who make an express contract with their people and afterwards break it. Nor doth he mention anything of a passive submission in such cases, but plainly leaves nations to the dictates of common sense and the law of self-preservation. But some may say, Where, then, is the great virtue of submission to governors, if it is to be practised towards none but such as answer the ends of their institution? But it is easy to reply, That there is an indispensable duty upon all, subjects as well as others, to regard the public interest; and if their submission help to destroy and ruin that, their submission cannot be a virtue. The great objection against this is that it may give occasion to subjects to oppose their superiors. But a rule is not bad because men may mistake in the application of it to particular instances, or because evil men may satisfy their own passions under its supposed sanction. The contrary doctrine we know by an almost fatal experience may be very much abused. The truth ought not to be concealed, or to suffer in the opinions of men for the sake of accidental inconvenience. Conclusion: It is highly requisite that all in authority should--
1. Be happy in a public spirit, and a true regard to the public interest.
2. Have a deep sense of religion, of the great importance of virtue, and of the bad influence and malignity of vice and immorality.
3. Have a great love to justice, and regard to peace.
4. Show a blameless example. (Bp. Hoadley.)
I. That human magistracy of some kind or other Is of Divine appointment. Taking the word “ordained” in the sense of permit, all the governments of the world, good or bad, aye, all things, even the most sinful, are ordained of God (Daniel 4:32; Deuteronomy 2:21; John 19:11). But taking the word in the sense of decreed it means that the principle of civil government is of Divine appointment.
1. Man’s social tendencies indicate this. Some men are royal in their instincts and powers, and are evidently made to rule; others are servile, feeble in faculty, and made to obey. There is a vast gradation of instinct and power in human society, and it is an eternal principle in God’s government that the lesser shall serve the greater.
2. Man’s social exigencies indicate it. Every community, to be kept in order, must have a recognised head. Hence, man in his most savage state has a chief.
II. That the human magistracy which is of Divine appointment is that which promotes good and discourages evil. The Divinely appointed rulers of whom the apostle speaks are not “a terror” to good works, but to “the evil.” They are those who “praise “ the “good”; those that are “ministers of God for good.” To determine, therefore, what kind of civil government is really of Divine appointment, and that is to be obeyed, you must ascertain what is the “good” which it is to promote, and the “evil” which it is to discourage. What is “good”? Obedience to the Divine will. The standard of virtue is not the decree of an autocrat, nor public sentiment, even when organised into constitutional law; but the will of God. “Whether it be right in the sight of God,” etc. The civil government, therefore, that does not harmonise with this is not the government of which the apostle is speaking. We may infer--
1. That the infringement of human rights is not in accordance with the will of God, and therefore not “good.”
2. The promotion of injustice, impurity, and error, is not according to the will of God, and therefore not “good.” Opposition to governments is sometimes a duty. Daniel, etc.
III. That the human magistracy which promotes the “good” and discourages the “evil” is authorised to enforce obedience and support (verse 4). The magistrate is Divinely authorised to punish transgressors and rebels. But coercion has its rules and limitations.
1. The sword should never be used but from benevolent desires. “The new commandment” is the law of humanity; nothing can justify its violation. Punishment should not be inflicted for the sake of giving pain and gratifying revenge, but for the sake of doing good and serving the criminal.
2. The sword should not be used for the purpose of taking life. The advocates of capital punishment and war insist that the sword is used here as the emblem of destruction, whereas it is the emblem of righteous coercion.
IV. That such obedience and support are binding upon all classes of the community. Disobedience to such a government is--
1. Impious. To resist it is to resist “the ordinance of God.” Rebellion against a righteous human government is rebellion against God.
2. Self-injurious. A righteous ruler is “the minister of God to thee for good.” He aims at thy good. To resist him, therefore, is to wrong thyself. Conclusion: This passage does not teach that we are bound to obey laws that are not righteous, to honour persons that are not honour-worthy. If we are commanded to honour the king, the precept implies that the king’s character is worthy of his office. Some kings it is religious to despise. The obligation of obedience is ever-dependent upon the righteousness of the command. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
1. Government is a Divine institution for the preservation of society and the happiness of mankind. As to the substance,”the powers that be are ordained of God”; as to the form, they are left to the decision of each country and age, and are”ordinances of man”; but whether under the name of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, governments equally claim reverence as the depositaries of authority and the conservators of order.
2. In the duties enumerated in the previous chapter there is this--“He that ruleth (let him do it) with diligence.” By the British constitution the people are the ultimate despositaries of power. “Every ordinance of man” which is to be obeyed “for the Lord’s sake” is such as the people, by their representatives, make it. Every elector is, therefore, in some measure responsible for the framing of those ordinances, and should therefore labour “with diligence” that they be in accordance with truth and justice, for the good of men and the glory of God.
3. There cannot be a greater mistake than that on becoming Christians we escape from our obligations as citizens. Religion was designed to train us for heaven, not by unfitting us for the duties of earth, but by enabling us to perform them rightly. Religion would be an injury to the world if it withdrew the best men from it. True piety is nurtured and developed, not by avoiding any portion of our duties as men, but by diligently performing them.
4. Politics is the science and practice of legislation for the public good. Rightly to be political is the same thing as to promote the welfare of the people and the peace of the world. Christianity does indeed condemn the bitterness, the factious spirit, the selfish ambition which have too often disgraced political life; but Christianity, instead of, on this account, excusing its votaries from their duties as citizens, calls upon them all the more to sanctify politics by the nobler aspirations and purer motives of religious faith. What, then, is the duty of a Christian elector?
I. To ascertain who amongst the candidates are, on the whole, most suited for the office of representative. Not wealth, rank, personal friendship, nor any favour received or hoped for, should determine his choice, but fitness, both by character and opinions, to promote the public good.
II. To give effect to his conviction by endeavouring to bring his fellow-electors to the same opinion with himself. But in so doing he will avoid all unfairness in speech and conduct. As an employer, as a customer, it will never occur to him to urge his appeal. His only weapon will be rational persuasion. He will never become a mere partisan. Firmly holding his own opinions, he will do nothing opposed to the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
III. So quietly and seriously, but promptly and resolutely, tender his vote. He will not allow personal convenience, indolence, or fear to prevent the discharge of his duty to his country, and the exercise of that solemn function as one of “God’s ministers” to which he has been “ordained,” but the opportunity for which so seldom occurs. Conclusion: Let all of us, then, do our duty to our God and our country.
4. Prayerfully. (Newman Hall, D.D.)
I. Is derived.
II. Is limited.
1. To restrain evil.
2. To encourage good.
III. Is vested with the power of reward and punishment.
IV. Ministers to the general welfare.
V. Demands respect. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The Christian’s political relations
I. The origin and need of civil government. If “the powers that be” (civil government) “are ordained of God,” we infer that civil society itself is ordained of God. This will be manifest when we consider--
1. Man’s natural impulses for society. The instincts of our nature dispose us to live in society, and to seek sympathy and assistance from others. “Solitary confinement” is one of the most terrible punishments which can be inflicted.
2. Man’s natural position and circumstances. By means of society the race is preserved, and civilisation developed. If human beings were completely isolated, the race would degenerate and become extinct. Man needs the aid of civil authority to protect his life and property from the malice and power of the evilly-disposed.
II. The obligation of obedience to civil authority. In civil society laws are enacted and governments appointed to enforce the right and put down the wrong. And all rightly disposed persons willingly subject themselves to this authority. This must needs be--
1. As a matter of duty, not of fear only. The fear of punishment is a check upon evil-doers, and thus, in a measure, prevents lawlessness. With evildoers obedience is a matter of compulsion or of expediency. But there is another standard, that of duty, which some take who are not disposed to admit that “the powers that be are ordained of God.”
2. As a matter of conscience towards God. No human government is infallible. But the Christian, from love and conscience towards God, yields a cheerful obedience to “the powers that be,” so long as the civil laws do not conflict with the Divine.
III. The duty of reverence to official dignity.
1. As to our “dues” to the public revenue. The language implies that we are not to regard the levied rates as gifts to the government, but as debts.
2. As to our respect for official distinction. “Fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (2 Peter 2:10). In no society or government shall we find matters exactly agreeable. But we must remember that the basis of society is mutual forbearance and self-sacrifice for mutual benefit. Our dislikes, then, should not prevent us from rendering due reverence to official dignity, as well as to rank, talent, and all true worth. The whole of the apostle’s teaching shows that we are bound to render obedience on the ground that government is an “ordinance of God.” But this implies that the government shall not enact, nor its authorities seek to enforce anything that would require disobedience to the will of God. Hence we conclude--
1. That this precludes all illegal action against government on the part of Christians.
2. That it permits all legal means for the redress of any real injustice.
3. That the obligation of obedience is ever dependent on the righteousness of the command. (J. W. Kaye, M.A.)
The effect of religion on a nation’s grandeur
1. Religion secures subordination.
2. Subordination law.
3. Law freedom.
4. Freedom fame.
5. Fame respect and power. (G. Croby, LL.D.)
St. Paul’s respect for Roman law
The warmth with which the apostle speaks of the functions of civil governors may, at first sight, seem surprising, when we remember that a Helius was in the Praefecture, a Tigellinus in the Praetorium, a Gessius Florus in the provinces, and a Nero on the throne. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the Neronian persecution had not yet broken out; and that the iniquity of individual emperors and governors, while it had free rein in every question which affected their greed, ambition, or lust, had not as yet by any means destroyed the magnificent ideal of Roman law. If there were bad rulers, there were also good ones. A Cicero as well as a Verres had once been provincial governors; a Barea Soranus as well as a Felix. The Roman government, corrupt as it often was in special instances, was yet the one grand power which held in check the anarchic forces which but for its control were “nursing the impatient earthquake.” If now and then it broke down in minor matters, and more rarely on a large scale, yet the total area of legal prescriptions was kept unravaged by mischievous injustice. St. Paul had himself suffered from local tyranny at Philippi, but on the whole, up to this time, he had some reason to be grateful for the impartiality of Roman law. At Corinth he had been protected by the disdainful justice of Gallio, at Ephesus by the sensible appeal of the public secretary; and not long afterwards he owed his life to the soldier-like energy of Lysias, and the impartial protection of a Festus and even of a Felix. Nay, even at his first trial his undefended innocence prevailed not only over all the public authority that could be arrayed against him by Sadducean priests and a hostile Sanhedrin, but even over the secret influence of an Aliturus and a Poppaea. It is obvious, however, that St. Paul is here dealing with religious rather than political prejudices. The early Church was deeply affected by Essene and Ebinotic elements, and St. Paul’s enforcement of the truth that the civil power derives its authority from God, points to the antithesis that it was not the mere vassallage of the devil. It was not likely that at Rome there should be any of that fanaticism which held it unlawful for a few to recognise any other earthly ruler besides God, and looked on the payment of tribute as a sort of apostasy. It is far more likely that the apostle is striving to counteract the restless insubordination which might spring from regarding the civil governor as a spiritual enemy rather than a minister of God for good. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Obedience to legal authority
Whilst commanding the allied army in Portugal, the conduct of the native population did not seem to Wellington to be either becoming or dutiful. “We have enthusiasm in plenty,” he said, “and plenty of cries of ‘Viva.’ We have illuminations, patriotic songs, and fetes everywhere. But what we want is, that each in his own station should do his duty faithfully, and pay implicit obedience to legal authority.”
Law is the shadow of God’s justice
Law is a great and sacred thing. It is nothing less than a shadow upon earth of the justice of God. The forms which surround it, the rules which govern it, the dignity and honour which belong to its representatives are all the outworks of a thing in itself entitled to our reverence. But when the machinery of law is tampered with, as was now the case by Jezebel, when a false witness or a biassed judge contributes to a result which, if legal, is not also moral, then law is like an engine off the rails, its remaining force is the exact measure of its capacity for mischief and for wrong. Then, indeed, if ever, summum jus is summa injuria. (Canon Liddon.)
Reverence for law
So it is with loyalty, the reverence for order and law incarnated in a man, reverence for the king, as God’s vicegerent and visible symbol. With their politics I have no sympathy, but for the loyalty of the old Cavaliers to Charles I have intense admiration. He stood to them not merely as the man Charles Stuart, but as the embodiment of Law, Order, Divinity; hence they were willing to lay down all they had for his sake, to peril life and limb in defence of his rights. Who can read the tale of that heroic woman who, when the life of her beloved queen and mistress was sought, bravely made her own frail white arm a bolt across the door to guard her from danger, and held it there until the shattered bone refused longer to obey her will, without saying that she did this, not as friend for friend, but as subject for queen? If we are not loyal now, it is because loyalty lacks objects on which to bestow itself, not because the deep perennial feeling of the heart is less strong than it was of old. (George Dawson.)
Civil government an ordinance of God
It seems very plainly and explicitly taught here, that civil government is an ordinance of God, and that obedience to our lawful rulers is a Christian duty. We say again, God does not ordain any particular form of government, but He does ordain government. He does not say you must be ruled by an emperor, a king, a generalissimo, or a president. But He does say you must have a ruler and administrators of law. They must exist and administer in the form best adapted to secure the highest good of the people. God does not say you must have a king, and “the king can do no wrong.” But He says government must exist, and be respected and obeyed, so long as it subserves its true end--the general good. If it fails to do this, you must not run into anarchy and chaos, but wisely and firmly, in proper ways, reform or revolutionise, and establish a better system, or choose better men. The Protectorate under Cromwell was a revolutionary measure, but it was justifiable because the monarchy under Charles had failed to secure the true end of government--the good of the people. But it was only a temporary measure, and prepared the way for what came at last, an admirable system of constitutional government, under which England has steadily and increasingly prospered for two hundred years. (E. P. Rogers, D.D.)
For rulers are not a terror to good works.
The duties of rulers and subjects
I. Of rulers.
1. To protect the good.
2. To restrain the evil.
3. To reward merit.
II. Of subjects.
1. To respect authority.
2. To do good.
3. And thereby merit praise. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Do that which is good, and thou shall; have praise of the same.--
When the Emperor Nicholas was in England, in 1844, industry in Russia could hardly be said to exist, and the Czar was extremely anxious to introduce machinery of all sorts into his arsenals, so as to become independent of foreign makers. With this object he visited a number of large establishments in the Midland Counties and the North; and one Sunday morning Mr. James Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam hammer, and proprietor of large works at Patricroft, was much surprised at the appearance in his garden of an officer in a carriage and a gorgeous uniform, whose chasseur, still more gorgeous than his master, was sent up to disturb the old gentleman’s Sabbath rest by loudly announcing, “Prince K--.” The prince himself walked in, smoking a cigarette, and informed Mr. Nasmyth in good English that the Czar intended to honour the Patricroft works with a visit on that afternoon. “Indeed! “ replied their owner, “I regret that his majesty will not see much, as it is Sunday.” “But it would be easy,” rejoined the aide-de-camp, coolly helping himself to a bon-bon which his chasseur handed him out of a handsome box, “to start the works for a few hours. Mr. Nasmyth might be sure of his majesty’s favour.” “Sir,” replied Mr. Nasmyth, “the favour of my God is more important to me than that of your master. And if I were inclined to break the Sabbath for him, my men would not. “Would you not start the works for Queen Victoria on Sunday?” asked the astonished aide-de-camp. “Her Gracious Majesty,” replied the old Briton, “would never suggest such a thing.” The Czar did not visit Patricroft.
For he is a minister of God to thee for good.--
The ministry of civil rulers
The civil ruler is--
I. A minister of God.
1. Paul does not say he ought to be so, or it would be well if he would consent to be so, but that “he is.” It is not in his pleasure not to be so. He must be so, if he rebel against it ever so fiercely. Nero’s will might be devilish; every power which he wielded was Divine. He had been appointed to rule the world which he tormented by Him who loved that world.
2. How would such a doctrine affect the Roman Christians? They could not confound vital power with those outside accidents of it which our vulgar nature prompts us to admire when they recollected from whom it came, and they must have hated every wanton exercise of it. The effect of regarding Nero as a minister of God was, no doubt, to make them patient under his government, and afraid to engage in any mad schemes for subverting it. But this faith gave strength to their cries that the earth might be delivered from all her oppressors, assured them that those cries would not be in vain, and made them welcome their own sufferings as steps towards the redemption.
3. Those who attempt to find apologies for tyranny in Scripture, sometimes ask, “If Nero’s power was ordained by God, what subjects can pretend that the powers which are over them have some lower origin?” I answer, “Certainly none.” And subjects would be most unwise if they wished otherwise. For it imports that every power is a trust, and implies responsibility to a judge whom the greatest criminal cannot escape. Read Roman history in the light of St. Paul’s sentence. Every sting of conscience which visited Nero that night when he knew himself to be his mother’s murderer was a message to him, “Thou art God’s minister, and thou hast used His “sword against thy own flesh and blood.” The assassin by whom he fell at last was saying, “Thou art God’s minister; and so am I, guilty like thyself, but ordained to call thee to His judgment-seat.”
4. Surely, if rulers and people believed this, it would be something more than the notion that they may be brought to the bar of “public opinion.” But let those who confess the power of public opinion ask themselves whether it requires any more credulity to acknowledge the presence of a living, personal ruler?
II. A minister of God to thee.
1. A strange assertion! A minister of God to the Roman world the emperor might be, however little he fulfilled his ministry. But a minister of God to some individual member of the Roman Church, who must have counted it the best privilege of his obscurity that the emperor would never hear of him, never inquire after him, how could he be such to that man? In this way: When a man was taken into the Christian Church, he contracted affinities and obligations to Jew and Greek, barbarian and Scythian, bond and free. But he might easily forget these, and fancy that the Church was an isolated body. The fact of being under a common civil ruler deepened and expanded the doctrine. Nor was the benefit destroyed by the character of the ruler. If he was an oppressor, there was more necessity of falling back on the Source from which his authority proceeded, in prayer that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
2. But I am far more desirous to assert the truth in reference to those rulers who confess their calling and try to fulfil it. So far as they contribute to the health and growth of the body politic, so far they must be ministers of God to each one of us personally. For are they not quickening our hearts and hopes, and enabling us to enter more truly the kingdom of God? It is impossible that all true human rule should not be like the Divine rule in this, that it is most minute when it is most comprehensive; that it calls for the most personal loyalty when it is most generally even and just.
III. “A minister of God to thee for good.”
1. St. Paul writes this to men who might, in a short time, be lighting the city as torches to cover the guilt of him who set it on fire. Well! and was he not, and was not Charles IX in France, and Philip II in the Netherlands? Were they not ministers of God for good to those whom they sent beyond the reach of their crimes, to cry beneath the altar for the day when the earth should no more conceal her blood or cover her slain? And it will be known, some day, to how many men, governments the most accursed have been ministers of good, by leading them from trifling to earnestness, by changing them from reckless plotters into self-denying patriots, by turning their atheism or devil-worship into a grounded faith in the God of Truth. Many such, I fear, will rise up in judgment against those who live in happier circumstances.
2. But the apostle was enabled to proclaim this principle on other grounds. As he believed Christ to be the King of men, he could not help believing that all human society was organised according to the law which He embodied. “The Chief of all is the servant of all.” He could not doubt that if the emperor believed this he would be a blessing to the world; that he was a curse to it because he thought the world was to minister to him, and not he to it. He could not doubt that every Christian ought to maintain the truth which Nero set at naught, and that if he did, it would prove itself in his case--Nero would be a minister of God for good to him.
3. How did the faith that there is a constitution for nations, which kings did not create, work itself into the heart of modern Europe? When a mediator between God and man is rejected, you must have an absolute caliph or sultan, and a government carried on by mere officials; you cannot have the confession of a relationship between the sovereign and his subjects, involving mutual obligation. This is involved in the faith of a Son of God and a Son of Man. Whatever has suffocated that faith--be it ecclesiastical pretension, or revolt against that pretension, be it the worship of money, or the worship of a tyrant instead of a father--undermines constitutional liberty. To bring forth that faith in its fulness before the nations which nominally confess it, is to help them to break their political fetters. (F. D. Maurice, M.A.)
The functions of the ruler
I. To maintain law and order.
1. As the minister of God.
2. For the benefit of man.
II. To punish crime.
1. For this purpose he is invested with the power of life and death.
2. Must use it righteously.
3. As responsible to God.
4. For the suppression of evil. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The relative duties of rulers and subjects
I. The nature of civil government.
1. The events of the seventeenth century, which changed the form of government and placed its institutions on a new footing, naturally gave rise to searching inquiries into the origin of lawful authority.
(1) Filmer maintained that kings had a Divine hereditary right to their thrones in virtue of Adam’s absolute and arbitrary dominion over his offspring. But we read of no grant of any such dominion which, had it existed, would have rendered slavery coeval with the first human family, and would nullify the claims of all monarchs excepting the true heir of Adam, if he could be found.
(2) Sidney and Locke endeavoured to base the relation between rulers and subjects on the supposition that an agreement was originally entered into by the first founders of a state, which involved a tacit compact between all succeeding members of it. But we have no evidence of any such social compact having ever been made.
(3) It seems more satisfactory to regard government as arising from the nature of man, though still having its first elements in the relation between the head of a family and the children. The idea of authority on the one hand, and of submission on the other, thus gained, would easily prepare the way for the union of a number of families under one head.
2. Reason cannot fail to discern the importance cf civil government to save society from a disorder which must soon have issued in its dissolution, if not in the destruction of the very race itself. Accordingly, in the Scriptures, we find civil government very clearly recognised as a Divine institution; and the general obligation to obedience is enforced under penalty of the consequences of resisting an ordinance of God. But though God has given His own sanction to the institution we have no evidence that any one particular form has been prescribed, or even that uniformity in this respect would be a good. When it is said, “the powers that be are ordained of God,” the meaning is, that as government is designed for the security and happiness of society, every government, whatsoever its form, which in any particular country promotes this end, is agreeable to the will of God. Until Saul reigned, the human form of the theocratic government had been substantially a sort of republic. The monarchy, however, after it became established, received the Divine sanction.
II. The ties which severally attach to the governing power and the governed.
1. The duties of rulers.
(1) To remember their responsibility to God. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” When it is considered that the happiness of millions is entrusted to them, how deeply should they feel that they have a “Master in heaven!”
(2) To act exclusively for the public good. Not only does the text describe the civil ruler as a “minister of God for good,” but pagan sages; Aristotle defines a king as “one who governs for the good and profit of his people, and not for his own ends.” The doctrine that a ruler has a right to hold power merely for his own sake is a monstrous perversion of the useful principle of hereditary or vested right. Happily, this doctrine has been repudiated in our own country by the revolution of 1688. Memorable examples of the same principle have occurred in Trance and Belgium.
(3) To exercise their high function so as to make the civil government a moral power and influence. A military despotism may be obeyed because it cannot be resisted; a government which seeks to gain its ends chiefly by a system of espionage; bribing may be equally dreaded, but such governments will never be respected.
(4) To create the persuasion of general good and benevolent intention on their part. Rulers may often commit errors, but these will be viewed patiently if uprightness of intention is manifest; but not the most splendid talents nor even great services will compensate for the want of sincerity. Not, however, that a statesman may not modify his opinions from conviction; but how many pledges have been made on the hustings only to be broken when some prospect has dazzled the vision! Either let such pledges never be made, or let them be kept, or let those who cannot keep them retire from the scene. This uprightness of intention must be shown especially in appointments to places of trust and profit.
(5) To be well informed on the main topics with which they are called to deal. Want of enlarged views and ignorance of men and things may lead to reckless and sudden changes for which the mind of a nation is not prepared, and indeed has often produced revolutions.
(6) To see that the laws are impartial, and that they are impartially administered. It is the dictate, both of Scripture and of reason, that there should not be one law for the rich and another for the poor. The same principle of impartiality might be applied to the economy of trade, of education, and even of religion.
(7) To set a good example. If rulers are profligate, what readier way to the demoralisation of a people! The morals of the higher classes tend to become more and more an index to those of the people.
(8) To be patriotic. His country claims the statesman’s highest aims and best services. He should be, then, a man of peace. Of all the calamities that can befal nations, war is by far the greatest. Peace furnishes upright and wise rulers the opportunity of domestic improvement.
2. The duties of subjects.
(1) To obey the laws, or else the very design of civil government and the plain injunctions of Scripture go for nothing. Of course we ought to “obey God rather than men,” but we should remember that this was said by those who, as inspired men, could not mistake as to what is obedience to God. Before, therefore, we resist the ordinance of man, let us be sure that it really does clash with the plain ordinance of God. The supremacy of the law implies that the subject surrenders the right of redressing his private wrongs to the political society of which he is a member, otherwise offences would often not be punished at all, for the aggressor might be the stronger; or, if not, the aggressor might be punished from revenge. Besides, one retaliation would lead to another, and there would be no end to this reciprocal brute force, but in the destruction of one or both of the parties. Still it must be admitted that if a robber or a murderer were to attack us we should certainly be justified in repelling him, in self-defence, because we cannot at the moment command the protection of society.
(2) To honour his rulers, but not by insincere flattery, and servile fawning for the sake of advantage. To reverence the Sovereign, in whom the dignity and power of the state is embodied, is a natural sentiment as well as a religious duty; while “despising government” is strongly condemned (2 Peter 2:10). Still as it would be irrational to suppose that rulers are infallible, it cannot be wrong, on certain occasions, to find fault with their public acts. Our Saviour and the apostles did so, but censures should be tempered with the recollection that nothing is more easy than to sit in judgment on men’s motives only because we ourselves may be of a different opinion. Much more has been effected towards the removal of bad laws by sober and persevering remonstrance than by unmeasured abuse. The Christian law of courtesy has as much claim to operation here as in any of the other intercourses of life.
(3) To pray for them. In thus doing we are praying for the community at large, and for the whole world, the interests of which are affected by the international measures of rulers, and especially of our own, whose policy is felt over the globe.
(4) To pay the taxes. The machine of government must always, in a state of society like our own, be expensive; but the complaint respecting taxation has too often been well- grounded in consequence of the self-interest and extravagance of rulers themselves. Again; a tax may have a wrong object, or it may be so levied as to bear disproportionably on the relative means of those who have to pay it. But still, when it is imposed constitutionally, it must be submitted to.
(5) To do all in their power to exert a salutary influence over their rulers, so as to render the machine of government as perfect an instrument as possible for promoting the freedom and happiness of the governed. If rulers ever forget this high and religious destination and enact tyrannical laws, and if no milder measures avail to remedy intolerable oppressions, subjects are justified in resisting these encroachments. But usually the best and most direct means of exercising a salutary influence on public affairs is the election of such men for members of parliament as are likely, from their character and principles, to seek the general good. Hence it is one of the most incumbent duties of subjects to use uprightly and with an enlightened mind the elective franchise. Few notions have less foundation in reason, or in Scripture, than that “religion has nothing to do with politics.” That a passion for party politics may injure the spirit of religion is not to be doubted; but this only proves that what is even obligatory may be engaged in with a wrong state of mind, and thus become evil. (J. Hoppus, LL.D.)
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain--
Duty of the magistrate
I. We must place the sword and fasten it, too, in its proper place, the hand of the magistrate.
1. God giveth the power, the magistrate hath it: God lendeth the sword, the magistrate bears it. And though ambition hath presented this power under divers forms of popularity, aristocracy, and monarchy, yet the commission and seal is still the same. The king’s broad seal, what is it? The matter is wax; a small piece of money will buy a greater quantity: but having the image and superscription of my prince, it is either my pardon, or my liberty, or my charter, or my possessions. So the magistrate, what is he? My fellow, dust and ashes, nay, a sinful man. And yet, as “the minister of God,” he is sealed, and hath the image and superscription of the Deity.
2. But though God hath conveyed His power, yet He hath not done it to every man upon the same terms; not to Joab the captain as to David the king; not to Shaphan the chanceller as to Josiah on the throne; not to Gallio the deputy as to Caesar the emperor; not to the under-officers as to the judge; not to the judge as to the king. No private man may be a swordsman. If Peterer will be drawing to lop off an ear he must hear, “They that use the sword,” etc. (Matthew 26:52).
3. As God hath given the sword to the magistrate, so hath He fastened it to his hand. No discontent shall move it, no argument stir it, no murmuring sheath it; no time, no calling, no liberty free or privilege from the power of it. Behold St. Paul here, upholding that sword which he was to feel, adoring that power he sunk under, and bowing to majesty when the throne was Nero’s.
II. We must now place the “non frustra” upon the sword. “Wherefore the sword? wherefore authority?” “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2); that every man may sit under his own vine, and under his own fig-tree; that the poor man may keep his lamb, and the jawbone of the oppressor be broken; that peace may shadow the commonwealth and plenty crown it. Authority is not only “not in vain,” but “profitable” and necessary. God could have governed us without a sword, but it was not good for men to be so governed. We love and fear at a distance. And as the object is either nigh or remote, so it either affects or frights us. “We fear man more than God,” and the shaking of his whip than the scorpions of a Deity.
1. The magistrate, like God Himself, “governs us by that which is adverse to us,” curbeth the transgressor by the execution of penal laws.
2. No magistrate doth simply will the affliction of the offender, or punish only to show his authority, but for the amendment of the offender and the peace of the commonwealth. You who are invested with this power remember the end. Remember you were placed with a sword to pursue the wicked, to run after the oppressor, and take the prey out of his mouth. And in doing this you defend and safeguard the innocent. The death of one murderer may save a thousand lives. The neglect hereof heaps injury upon injury.
(1) The first lights upon God Himself, of whose Divine power this power is a very beam. By injustice men undervalue Him, and put Him below His vassal, as if His omnipotency were weaker than man, His honour cheaper than a fee, heaven at a lower price than a bribe, and Christ Himself not worth forty pieces of silver.
(2) From God the injury descends to the commonwealth. It brings in that which it should cast out. Sin unpunished makes a greater breach than sin committed. For adultery, murder, drunkenness, deceit, may give the blow, but injustice wounds.
(3) Many times the injury falls upon the offender, whose greatest punishment it is that he is so much wronged as to be befriended, and so much favoured as to be unpunished.
(4) But the wrong rests and dwells in the magistrate, who in a manner abjures his office, degrades himself by his connivance, and makes the sword less terrible by not using it; the not executing the law upon the greatest working a secret and reserved contempt thereof in the meanest. (A. Farindon, D.D.)
Mistaken clemency in courts of justice
Mirabeau once said, “We live in an age where wrong constantly triumphs over right, and where justice itself is a lie.” There can be no greater curse to a nation than a corrupt judge and a perjured juror, and the Bible distinctly declares that God will call all such to a terrible account. It has ever been the case that where wholesome and just laws have failed to be strictly administered lawlessness and crime have abounded. Mercy to a great criminal often means cruelty and injustice to the people. This mistaken clemency leads to serious evils.
1. It confuses the public conscience as to the distinction between right and wrong.
2. It undermines respect for law and rulers.
3. It tends to anarchy, mob, and lynch law.
4. It jeopardises the securities and rights of society, and is subversive of morality and order. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The sword the symbol of righteous authority
The sword is not only the breaker, it is more constantly the preserver of national peace. Physical force in quiescence is like a sentinel, guarding our liberties and our laws. The magistrate, as well as the soldier, bears not the sword in vain. Though it be seldom drawn from its sheath, it is the commanding symbol of righteous authority. (E. Johnson, M.A.)
Wherefore ye must needs be subject … for conscience’ sake.--
The Christian’s subjection to the civil authority is
I. Necessary. Because--
1. It is a Divine ordinance.
2. Essential to the general good.
1. Not only for wrath,
2. But conscience’ sake.
III. Complete. Because it is--
3. Conscientious. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Subjection for conscience’ sake
Our notions about public duty are low altogether, because we often look upon civil society either as a matter of mutual convenience only between man and man, or else as an injustice and encroachment made by the rich and powerful on the rights and welfare of others. But as Christ has ennobled and sanctified the dearest of our domestic relations, that of marriage, by comparing it to the tender and affectionate care with which He watches over those who are united in one body to Him as the Head, so are our public relations raised by being equally connected with the service of our Lord. Laws and governments are His ordinance, just as marriage is His ordinance, or the relations between parents and their children. They are His ordinance, because He knew that without them we should be in a state hardly better than that of beasts; because He willed that some image of His own just government, however faint, should exist in the world; some power that should put down the most violent forms of evil, even though it could not touch those which lurk within the heart, nor reward the virtue of the good. And hence “laws are entitled to our obedience, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake; that is, not only because we may incur a penalty if we disobey them, but because, whether we do or no, we are certainly, by disobeying them, doing that which is displeasing in the sight of God.” (T. Arnold, D.D.)
For this cause pay ye tribute also.
Why shall we pay taxes
1. Government must be supported.
2. The governor as well as the labourer is worthy of his hire.
3. The governor is God’s minister.
4. It is a conscientious duty. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Render therefore to all their dues.--We owe--
I. To god--
1. Fear (Matthew 10:28). By reason of--
(1) His sovereignty (Malachi 1:6).
(2) His justice.
(3) His power (Jeremiah 5:22).
2. Love (Deuteronomy 6:5); for--
(1) His excellency in Himself (Song of Solomon 5:16).
(2) His love to us (1 John 4:10-11).
3. Desires (Psalms 73:25). Because He is--
(1) The ocean of happiness in Himself (Matthew 19:17).
(2) The fountain of it to us (Psalms 36:9).
4. Faith in what He saith (1 John 5:10).
(1) Because of His own veracity (Hebrews 6:18).
(2) The certainty of the revelations confirmed by miracles (2 Peter 1:18-19).
5. Trust on what He promises (Proverbs 3:5; Romans 4:20). Because of--
(1) His freedom in making them.
(2) His faithfulness in keeping them (Deuteronomy 7:9).
6. Thankfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Because--
(1) We are unworthy of any mercy (Genesis 32:10).
(2) It is all we can return (Micah 6:8).
7. Obedience (1 Samuel 15:22).
(1) Which should be--
(a) Sincere (Romans 6:17).
(b) Universal (Luke 1:6; Psalms 119:6).
(c) Constant (Luke 1:75).
(2) This we owe, by reason of our--
(b) Preservation (Acts 17:28).
(c) Redemption (1 Corinthians 6:20).
(d) Vow in baptism.
(e) Our profession of the Christian religion (2 Timothy 2:19).
8. Honour and adoration (Malachi 1:6).
(1) Of His wisdom (Romans 11:33).
(2) Omniscience (Psalms 147:5).
(3). Omnipresence (Psalms 139:5; Psalms 139:7).
(4) Omnipotence (Matthew 19:26).
(5) Mercy (Exodus 34:6).
(7) Eternity (Exodus 3:14).
9. Then render unto God His dues. Consider--
(1) Otherwise you rob God (Malachi 3:8).
(2) You rob yourselves, your happiness consisting in obeying God. You rob yourselves--
(a) Of the comforts of a good conscience (2 Corinthians 1:12).
(b) Of joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).
(c) Of the favour of God (Isaiah 59:2).
(d) Of a blessing here (Deuteronomy 28:1).
(e) Of happiness hereafter (Hebrews 7:14).
(3) By paying Him His due you secure yourselves--
(a) From present curses (Malachi 2:2; chap. 8:28).
(b) Future torments (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
(4) He will call you to account (2 Corinthians 5:10).
(5) Render His due, and He will render to you His promise in heaven (Matthew 25:46).
II. To men.
1. Superiors, civil, ecclesiastical, economical.
(1) Subjection (Romans 5:1; Titus 3:1).
(2) Tribute (Matthew 17:24-27).
(a) We ought to have a care of the public good.
(b) It is a debt of gratitude for the benefits we receive from the magistrate.
(c) A debt of justice for his trouble in the management of public affairs (Romans 13:6).
(4) Fear (Proverbs 24:21).
(5) Honour (1 Peter 2:17).
(a) So as to acknowledge them to be ordained of God.
(b) Love them for their office sake.
(c) Be thankful for the benefits we receive from them.
(d) Fidelity and allegiance (2 Samuel 20:2).
(e) Entertain no ill thoughts of his person or actions (Ecclesiastes 10:20).
2. Inferiors (Job 31:13-15).
(1) Humility and respect (Philippians 2:3).
(2) Charity and relief (1 Timothy 6:17; Job 31:16-21). Consider--
(a) He that pities the poor, lends to God (Proverbs 19:17).
(b) This is the only way to lay up our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
III. To all.
1. Love (verse 8).
(1) This is Christ’s special command (John 13:34).
(2) Without this we have no love for God (1 John 4:20-21).
2. Honour (1 Peter 2:17). Because--
(1) None but excel us in some things (Philippians 2:3).
(2) All are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
(3) We are all professors of the Christian religion (Mark 9:41; 1 Peter 3:7).
3. Charitable thoughts (1 Corinthians 13:5).
(1) We know not others’ hearts (1 Corinthians 2:11).
(2) Nor God’s intentions towards them (James 4:12).
4. Do good to all (Galatians 6:10).
(1) Hereby we imitate God (Matthew 5:44-45).
(2) Give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).
5. Speak well of all (James 4:11).
6. Pray for all (1 Timothy 2:1; Matthew 5:44), for their--
(1) Temporal good.
(2) Spiritual (1 Timothy 2:4).
7. Be just and honest to all (Matthew 7:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:6); otherwise, if we defraud others, we can get no good by it (Proverbs 10:22), but much hurt (Haggai 1:6).
8. Render to all their dues. Consider--
(1) Unless we render them to men we cannot to God.
(2) Unless we do this we sin against the very light of nature.
(3) God will bring us into judgment for all unjust dealings. (Bp. Beveridge.)
It is one degree of thrift to bring our debts into as few hands as we can. Our debt here we cannot bring into fewer than these three:
I. Our debts to God. Consider them to be our sins, and we dare not come into reckoning with Him, but we discharge ourselves entirely on our Surety, Christ; but yet of that debt we must pay an acknowledgment, an interest, as it were, of praise for all we would have and prayer for all we would have.
II. Our debts to man. Our creditors are--
1. Persons above us. To these we owe in matter of substance, tribute, and custom; and in matter of ceremony, fear, and honour.
2. Persons below us to whom we owe counsel to direct them and relief in compassion of their sufferings.
III. Our debts to ourselves.
1. Some of these are to be tendered at noon, i.e., to be paid in our best strength and prosperity in the course of our lives.
2. Others are to be tendered at night at our deaths.
Conclusion: Render therefore to all their dues.
1. For your debt to God we bring you to Church. This is no place to arrest in, but yet the Spirit of God calls upon you for these debts. Praise Him in His holy place, and pray to Him in His house, which is the house of prayer.
2. For your debts to man we send you to court to pay those owing to superiors; to hospitals and prisons to pay those owing to inferiors. And though courts and prisons be illpaying places, yet pay your debts of substance and ceremony, of tribute and honour, at court; and your debts of counsel and relief to those who need them in the darkest corners.
3. For your debts to yourselves, make even with yourselves all the way in your lives, lest your payment prove too heavy, and you break, and your hearts break when you come to see that you cannot do that upon your death bed. (J. Donne, D.D.)
The rights of the ruler
1. As due.
2. As recognised by God.
3. As imperative on all Christians. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom.--
Tribute and custom
There is some difficulty about the distinctive signification of φόρος (tribute), and τέλος (custom). By some the former is regarded as a tax upon land; by others, as upon property generally, whether movable or immovable. Those critics who give to φόρος the wider signification, limit τέλος to a capitation tax; and those who confine φόρος to a tax upon land give τέλος a larger meaning, as signifying a tax upon merchandise as well as upon persons. Judging from the apostle’s use of the word, φόρος was the general term for all contributions, and was used in the same way that the word “taxes” is sometimes largely used; and in its limited sense it applies to all burdens upon landed or personal property; while τέλος was a capitation tax which Christ told Peter to pay for himself and his Lord. (J. Knight.)
Honour to whom honour.--
Honour to whom honour is due
Lord Dartmouth is the person to whom Newton’s Letters “in the Cardiphonia” to a Nobleman, are addressed, and to whom Cowper alludes, “And one that wears a coronet and prays.” It is said that after the prince came to the throne, on a public day Lord Dartmouth appeared at the levee, when one of the attendant noblemen said, “I’ll bet Dartmouth has been at prayer to-day.” “Yes, and please your majesty,” said Lord Dartmouth, “I thought it right first to pay my duty to my God and then to my king.” “Well said, Dartmouth,” replied his majesty, “and like yourself.” (Scottish Christian Herald.)
Owe no man anything.
Owe no man anything
This precept may signify either to leave not our debts unpaid, or never get into debt. It may be looked to as a repetition of “Render unto all their dues” (debitum, debt). Be in no man’s books. If he be an individual with whom you are dealing, pay when you buy. Or if it be the government, pay the tax when it becomes due. The injunction in this latter or more rigorous meaning of it is far from being generally adhered to. Perhaps it may not at all times suit the conveniences or even the possibilities of business, that each single transaction should be a ready-money transaction. Perhaps even in the matters of family expenditure it might save trouble to pay at certain terms. There can be no doubt, however, that in the first interpretation of it, it is a matter of absolute and universal obligation. Though we cannot just say that a man should never get into debt, we can feel no hesitation in saying that, once in, he should labour most strenuously to get out of it. For--
1. In the world of trade one cannot be insensible to the dire mischief that ensues from the spirit of unwarrantable speculation. The adventurer who trades beyond his means is often actuated by a passion as intense and as criminal as the gamester. But it is not the injury alone which is done to his own character that is to be deprecated, nor the ruin that bankruptcy brings upon his own family. Over and above these evils there is a far heavier disaster to the working classes, gathered in hundreds around the mushroom establishment, and then thrown adrift in utter destitution on society. This frenzy of men hasting to be rich, like fever in the body natural, is a truly sore distemper in the body politic.
2. If they who trade beyond their means thus fall to be denounced, they who spend beyond their means, and so run themselves into debt, merit the same condemnation. We can imagine nothing more glaringly unprincipled and selfish than the conduct of those who, to uphold their place in the fashionable world, build or adorn or entertain at the expense of tradesmen, whom they hurry on to beggary with themselves.
3. But there is another and more interesting application of this precept, one which, if fully carried out, would tell more beneficially than any other on the greatest happiness of the greatest number, viz., that men in humble life should learn to find their way from the pawn office to the savings bank--so that, instead of debtors to the one, they should become depositors in the other. That it is not so is far more due to the want of management than to the want of means; and it needs but the kindness and trouble of a few benevolent attentions to put many on the way of it. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
I. Is a common and serious evil.
1. It robs the creditor of his right, and often involves him in serious perplexity and trouble.
2. It robs the debtor of his independence, and not unfrequently of his moral principle.
II. Is, when voluntarily incurred, a breach of Christian consistency. It implies--
1. A defective morality.
2. A want of love to our neighbour.
3. A blinded conscience.
III. Should be carefully avoided.
1. By living within our income.
2. By cutting off all unnecessary expenses.
3. By incurring no liabilities which we have not a reasonable prospect of meeting.
4. By the utmost economy. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The guilt and folly of being in debt
I. The propriety of the direction in the text.
1. To be in debt will expose us to defraud others of their just due.
2. Is injurious to the general interests of society.
3. Involves whole families in suffering.
4. Subjects us to great sacrifices.
5. Is prejudicial to our improvement in useful knowledge.
6. Is unfavourable to religion.
7. Is in direct opposition to God’s command.
II. Some considerations to aid a strict compliance with it.
1. Debt, however long foreborne, will one day be required.
2. Remember the worth of time.
3. Avoid luxury.
4. Never exceed your income.
5. Never despise honest labour.
6. Avoid depending on speculation and artifice.
7. Never neglect the duties of religion. (J. W. Cannon, M.A.)
Owe no man anything
I. The most likely means of paying what we owe.
1. The first mean is diligence in business. Make no unnecessary delay, nor set about it with a slack or unskilful hand.
2. The second mean is frugality, or the avoiding of expense whenever it can properly be avoided.
3. A third mean is exactness. “Put all in writing,” says the son of Sirac, “that thou givest out or receivest in.” Punctual payment is material. The last effect of exactness is to ensure the payment of what we owe at death. It is the concluding evidence of an honest man to leave his affairs in order.
II. The sacrifices which must sometimes be made to justice.
1. One must sometimes bear the reproach of selfishness in order to pay debt or keep out of it.
2. Fashion must often be quitted for the sake of justice. In order to perceive and obey this call, consult your own understanding. What is the consequence of being unfashionable? I am censured, and ridiculed, and despised. But what is the consequence of being unjust? My own heart condemns me.
3. Vainglory must be checked for the sake of justice. The pleasure in sumptuous possessions is slight, “beholding them with the eye.” If they be unpaid, looking at them calls up the painful remembrance.
4. Generosity must be checked when it would encroach on justice. The parting with money inconsiderately, so far from being approved, is become a proverbial folly. Some make a flash of affected generosity who are not very scrupulous in paying what they owe, nor about fraudulent courses provided they be gainful.
5. Compassion must be bounded by justice. We are required to do justly and to love mercy. Let the love of mercy be cherished, and, when justice permits, let its dictates be obeyed. Still it is the part of a wise man to examine the claims that are made on his compassion. By rejecting false ones he can indulge compassion with more effect, and it partakes more of the nature of virtue.
6. Friendship may prompt a man to involve himself by loan or suretyship.
7. The dictates of natural affection must be checked when they encroach on justice. Let a man reveal to his family his real circumstances, and establish an order conformed to them.
8. Pleasures innocent in themselves may prove too costly. From that moment they cease to be innocent.
9. An immoderate desire of wealth leads to injustice. What is the consequence, for example, of adventuring in trade beyond what your capital admits of and justifies?
10. Sloth must be conquered. It is fatal to justice as well as to every other virtue. “The slothful is brother to him that is a great waster.” He is equally exposed to poverty, and to all the temptations the poor are under, to be unjust.
11. False shame must be combated.
12. Restitution is the last sacrifice to be made to justice. There are two cases, the case of things found, and of things acquired unjustly.
III. Such are the sacrifices to be made to justice. They are costly; but the blessings are in proportion great.
1. To be out of debt is accounted a part of happiness.
2. Peace at the latter end is the portion of the upright. The pleasures of iniquity are but for a moment. The splendour of extravagance fades. To live and die an honest man is a worthy object of ambition. (S. Charters.)
Avoidance of debt
Owe no man anything. Keep out of debt. Avoid it as you would avoid war, pestilence, and famine. Hate it with a perfect hatred. Dig potatoes, break stones, peddle in tinwares, do anything that is honest and useful, rather than run into debt. As you value comfort, quiet, and independence, keep out of debt. As you value good digestion, a healthy appetite, a placid temper, a smooth pillow, pleasant dreams and happy wakings, keep out of debt. Debt is the hardest of all taskmasters; the most cruel of all oppressors. It is as a millstone about the neck. It is an incumbus on the heart. It spreads a cloud over the whole firmament of man’s being. It eclipses the sun; it blots out the stars; it dims and defaces the beautiful blue sky. It breaks the harmony of nature, and turns to dissonance all the voices of its melody. Ii furrows the forehead with premature wrinkles; it plucks the eye of its light. It drags the nobleness and kindness out of the port and bearing of a man; it takes the soul out of his laugh, and all stateliness and freedom from his walk. Come not, then, under its crushing dominion. But to love one another.
Honesty and love
I. Honesty gives every one his due.
II. Love does more, it gives itself, and thus fulfils the whole law. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Honest dealing and mutual love
These two things are closer together than we are wont to imagine. Said a foremost physician not long ago, when asked how far the facility with which American constitutions break down was occasioned by overwork, “It is not overwork either on the part of the people who work with their brains, or with their hands. The most fruitful source of physical derangement and mental and nervous disorders are pecuniary embarrassments and family dissensions.” The two things lie close together. The father, crowded beyond endurance by the strain to maintain a scale of living long ago pitched too high, the mother consciously degraded by the domestic dishonesty that draws money for marketing and spends it for dress; the sons and daughters taught prodigality by example, and upbraided for it in speech--what can come to such a home but embittered feeling? How can love reign in a household where mutual confidence and sacrifices, where the traits that inspire respect and kindle affection are wanting? Not to pay one’s debts is as sure and as short a road as can be found to the extinction of confidence, the destruction of respect, and the death of love. Where now shall we look for a corrective? I answer, in a higher ideal of the true wealth and welfare of the nation, and so of the individuals who severally compose it. It was Epictetus who said, long ago, “You will confer the greatest benefit upon your city, not by raising the roofs, but by exalting the souls of your fellow-citizens, for it is better that great souls should live in small habitations than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses.” Let us then pay every debt but the debt which we can never wholly pay, whether to God or our neighbour, which is the debt of love. But let us gladly own that debt, and be busy every day of our lives in making at least some small payment in account. As we gather about the family board let us remember the homeless and unbefriended, and be sure that we have done something to make sunshine in their hearts, no matter what gloom may reign without. (Bp.H. C. Potter.)
The debt of Christian love
I. The affectionate exhortation. This calls upon us to endeavour to be always out of debt, while always in debt. Some, indeed, read the text as a doctrinal statement. “Ye owe no man anything but to love one another”; all that I would inculcate is reducible to this: obey the law of love to others, in all its branches, and then you will “render to all their dues.” But there is sufficient reason to interpret our text according to our present translation. Thus interpreted--
1. It does not mean--Ye sin if ye ever contract debt, or do not discharge it the moment it is contracted. On this principle, commerce would be almost annihilated; many a conscience would be continually fettered; and the precept itself would be found impracticable. But it insists on the punctual and conscientious payment of all lawful debts, which indeed is required by common honesty. “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again.” “Woe unto him,… that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.”
2. But it means more. Ye owe duties to every one, and these you are to fulfil. In every relationship of life you have dues to render, and all your various duties to man result from your supreme duty to God. You are a debtor first and above all to God Himself, owing Him ten thousand talents and more, and having nothing wherewith to pay. That debt Christ has paid for you. Believe ye this? Then God, for Christ’s sake, has freely forgiven you. From being His debtors as to guilt, ye become His debtors as to gratitude, and this debt He would have you pay in charity to all mankind. Would ye, then, be honest in the full Christian sense? “Owe no man anything.” Be ever discharging the obligations under which God has graciously laid you, to love Him, and to love your brother also.
3. And yet ye must ever be in debt. We can never do enough in serving God and benefiting man. When all pecuniary debts are paid, this debt of love to one another remains, and is still binding.
4. But whence our means of paying this great debt of love? By having the love of God continually shed abroad in the heart. The more we receive, the more we are in debt to God; and hence the more we do, the more we may do in carrying out love to God and man, in all the relationships of life.
II. The comprehensive motive. “For he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law.” “But we are not under the law, but under grace.” True, but for what object? “That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Thus is the believer not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. All whom the Spirit leads to Christ for pardon, He forgives freely, and then consigns them back to the training of the Holy Spirit, who writes the law of God upon the heart, and enables them to write it out in the life. And that law is love; “love is the fulfilling of the law.” None obey the law of God as those who look to Christ as “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (J. Hambleton, M.A.)
The debt of love to our neighbour
I. This is a debt which every man owes. There are relations in which men seem slow to recognise dues and obligations. They recognise the relation between the ordinary creditor and debtor, master and servant, as well as the obligations founded upon it. They forget that the very existence of certain relations involves a corresponding obligation, whether we have voluntarily assumed them or not. The child enters into relations with its parents without any act of its own; and yet the child is bound to render filial honour, obedience, and love. The highest relation man can have is to God. This exists before the act of any recognition on the part of the creature; but it imposes certain obligations which the creature is bound to meet. In the preceding verses Paul speaks of the relation of the subject to the ruler; the citizen to the state. Our birth introduces us to the rights of citizenship, but we are born to duties just as much as to rights; and as long as we remain under the protection of the State, we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, just as we are bound to render unto God the things that are God’s; and that, as Paul informs us, “for conscience’ sake.” The debts we owe the State are just as binding as any debts we voluntarily contract. And these dues (Romans 13:7) lead Paul to speak of that greatest debt, loving one another. Although you may say with a feeling of independence and superiority, “I do not owe a dollar to any man,”here is a debt you owe to every man. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God”; and the same spirit spoke through Cain--“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The atheist denies his relation to God and the obligation which it involves; the spirit of selfishness refuses to recognise its relation to its neighbour; but the Spirit of Christ teaches a different lesson. It is not left to my choice or caprices--it is a debt. I owe it not to a select number of men, but to every man, for every man is my neighbour. According to Paul this debt is love (Matthew 22:36-38).
II. What are we to do with this debt?
1. We must pay this debt as every other. The Lord is not satisfied with our recognition of the duty, for He says, “Thou shalt love.” We must pay it--
(1) By scrupulously abstaining from doing any evil to our neighbour, for “love worketh no ill to his neighbour.”
(2) By doing all the positive good to him we can.
2. And yet this is the one great debt which we are always to owe. Love is the inexhaustible fountain out of which all words and deeds of kindness flow. That fountain must ever remain open and full. Without such a fountain all the streamlets would fail. Let a man love, and he will strive to render unto all their dues, and to owe no man anything. The absence of love makes cruel creditors and unprincipled debtors. Love is indeed “the fulfilment of the law,” and the unfulfilled law everywhere reveals the absence of love. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and of this great sin, too, that we owe this great debt of love, and have become great debtors by not paying it. But the law is also “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” We shall never be able to pay this greatest of all debts until we have become the pardoned debtors of our Heavenly Father. The love of God begets our love. He alone can enable us to be diligent in paying a debt that can never be entirely paid off. (G. F. Krotel, D.D.)
The debt of love
1. As private persons, in your mutual traffic with one another, it will necessarily happen that, whatever your stations in life are, you must incur debts, and stand accountable to one another for certain goods and commodities received, for labour done, or for money borrowed. When St. Paul therefore directs you to owe no man anything, he only means that you are not to incur debts wantonly, nor keep in debt needlessly. But there is one debt which, he says, you can never discharge. This debt is the debt of Christian love.
2. Examine into the reasons on which it is founded, and why this exertion of Christian love is a debt of that kind, which can never be paid so fully as to absolve us from any further payment of it.
(1) The first reason is founded on the relation in which we stand to Almighty God. The innumerable benefits which we daily and hourly receive at His hands demand the constant tribute of love and gratitude; but we have no way of expressing this affection so effectually as by acts of kindness to our fellowcreatures.
(2) The force of the next reason depends on the frame and constitution of human nature, which is so replete with wants and weaknesses, consisting indeed of various kinds, yet distributed in pretty equal proportion among the species, that it is, morally speaking, impossible for us to be independent one of another.
(3) The last reason consists in the very nature of the principle itself, and of those intrinsic properties, without which it ceases to be the thing which we mean by the terms we use to define it. Now, were benevolence a passive principle that contented itself with being, what the word imports, only a well-wishing, not a well-doing quality, it might not be required to be in constant use and exertion. But when used to denote Christian love and charity, and to have the same meaning with these terms, it implies a strenuous and unwearied exercise of one of the most active faculties of the human soul, which is better, perhaps, expressed by the term beneficence. Our charity must therefore be commensurate with our life; it must act so long as we act, for if it ever faileth it ceaseth to be charity, because we see that the apostle tells us it is one of its essential properties never to fail or cease from acting.
3. On these three reasons we build this conclusion that the debt of charity or benevolence to our neighbour is a debt which we must take all opportunities of paying him, and of which we must only close the payment when death closes our eyes. May we not assure ourselves that a soul actuated by so Divine a principle here on earth, must, of all other things, be best prepared to participate the joys of heaven? (W. Mason, M.A.)
Heaven’s cure for the plagues of sin
I. The nature of love. There are two kinds of affection that have this title. One is an approbation and affection for a character that pleases us; the other is an ardent good-will towards beings capable of happiness. Both of these affections are exercises of the Divine mind. And both of them are enjoined upon man. God and angels and all holy beings we are obligated to look upon with complacency, and towards all men we are bound to exercise good-will. We may wish well to all men, and still be willing to see the convict imprisoned and executed. This the good of the civil community demands, and this benevolence assents to, nay, even requires.
II. How this affection will operate. Here the path of our thoughts is plain. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour. It will neither kill, nor steal, nor covet, nor defraud, nor witness falsely. It will lead to the discharge of every debt but one, and that one the debt of love; it will delight to owe and pay, and still owe for ever. Those whom we love we wish happy; and in proportion to the strength of that affection will be the energy exerted to accomplish that object. If to be calm and content will render them happy, we shall be reluctant to ruffle their temper or move their envy. If to be rich, and respected, and wise will make them happy, we shall wish their success in business, their increased respectability, and their advance in knowledge. If health, and ease, and long life, and domestic friendship will add to their enjoyments, we shall wish them all these; and what we wish for them we shall be willing, if in our power, to do for them. But if only the grace of God can make them blessed, it will be our strongest wish and our most ardent prayer that God would sanctify them.
III. The duty of benevolence. And here I would premise that the good-will which I urge is to be exercised toward friend and foe. It is a pure and disinterested affection, hence is the offspring of a heavenly temper. I would urge it upon myself and my fellow-men--
1. By the example of God. How constant and how varied are the operations of the Divine benevolence! Life and health, and food and raiment are His gifts, and are bestowed on His friends and His foes. Now the whole Bible just urges upon every man this same expanded benevolence. You are required to be a worker together with God.
2. We are urged to the same duty by the command of God. God does not exhibit His example before us, and leave it to our option whether we will do like Him. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And the Scriptures teach us what the effect of this love will be. It will lead to an affectionate deportment and a readiness to serve each other. It begets a spirit of forbearance, of truth, of unanimity, of self-denial, of meekness, and forgiveness.
3. Benevolence affords its possessor a permanent and high enjoyment. It is, in its nature, a sweet and calm affection, has its origin in heaven, and exerts a sanctifying influence upon every other exercise of the soul. If I know that I love my fellow-men, I am conscious that I feel as God does, and as He commands me to feel. I see, in that case, the image of my Creator in my heart. Hence it begets joy and hope. But this is not all; a benevolent heart makes all the happiness it sees its own, and thus widens, indefinitely, the sphere of its enjoyment. It has a real pleasure in another’s joy, and still does not diminish the good on which it feeds and thrives.
IV. The happiness it communicates to others. I would then urge all the believers and the unbelievers to love their fellow-men, from the fact that by putting forth this affection you can create a world of happiness. In the first place, look about you and see what need there is of more happiness than at present exists, what abundant opportunity there is for your exertion. You cannot be ignorant that you live in a ruined world, where, if you are disposed to be kind, you can find abundant employment. You can find misery in almost every shape and shade. Would it not be desirable to apply a remedy if you might to this complicated malady? Be willing, then, to practise the benevolence required, and the remedy is applied and the cure effected. Can you quit the world peaceably till what you can do has been done, to fertilise the moral waste over which you expect so soon to cast a lingering, dying look?
V. The dying love of Christ. It was in the cure of this very same distress that He came in the flesh and died on the tree. Enter, then, upon the work of making your fellow-men happy, and you are in the very vineyard where the Lord Jesus laboured. He has already rescued from the ruins of the apostasy a great multitude that no man can number. The work is going on, and He invites your co-operation. Remarks:
1. In the want of this benevolence, how strong is the proof we have that men are wholly depraved!
2. We see the necessity that men should be renewed. Place selfish hearts in heaven and they would there be as fruitful as elsewhere in misery.
3. How pleasant is the prospect of a millennium! Then the benevolence we contemplate will become general. Men will be employed in rendering each other happy. (D. A. Clark.)
Love a debt to our neighbour
I. Exceedingly great. Because--
1. The creditors are so many.
2. Its liabilities are so numerous.
3. It can never be fully discharged.
II. Unspeakably sweet. Because--
1. Not lightly incurred.
2. It helps us to discharge all others.
3. It harmonises with God’s love.
4. Every attempt to discharge it is a source of plea-sure. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Love a debt due to all men
I. A great debt.
1. As due to so many--all men.
2. Requiring so much to pay it--sometimes our life (1 John 3:16).
II. A lasting debt. Though always being paid, yet never discharged. The more that is paid the more is felt to be due. The principle is deepened and made more active by the practice.
III. A pleasant debt (Philippians 2:1). Every payment of it gladdens and enlarges the heart.
IV. An honourable debt.
1. Necessary to our moral nature.
2. It makes us Godlike and Christlike (Ephesians 4:32; Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 John 4:8). (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Thou shalt not commit adultery … and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this … Thou shalt love thy neighbout as thyself.
The comprehensiveness of love
I. The whole law.
II. The letter and the spirit.
III. Our neighbour as ourselves. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The love of our neighbour
I. The object of the affection. Love of our neighbour, or benevolence, seeks the good of others, and in its noblest form is the perfection of God.
II. Its proper extent. “As ourselves.” This implies--
1. That it is to be of the same kind. We have a common interest in others and in ourselves.
2. That it is to bear a certain proportion to our love for ourselves. What this proportion is to be is not easily decided, for affection is not easily measured; but as to actions, the expression of affection, the more others occupy our thoughts the better, provided we neglect not ourselves.
3. That it is to equal our love for ourselves, No ill consequences can ensue from this, for--
(1) Men have other affections for themselves not felt for others.
(2) They are specially interested in themselves.
(3) They have a particular perception of their own interest, so that there is no fear of self neglect.
III. Its influence on our general temper.
1. To produce all charitableness.
2. To fit men for every relation and duty.
3. To moderate party feeling.
4. To prevent or heal all strife.
IV. What it includes--all virtue. It prompts men--
1. To seek the greatest happiness of all, which is itself a discharge of all our obligations.
2. To the practice of all personal virtues--temperance, etc., and certainly a neglect of these virtues implies a deficiency of love to others. (Bp. Butler.)
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.
The working of love
I. Love is essentially an active principle.
II. Works no ill.
1. In deed.
2. In word.
3. In thought.
III. Must work good.
1. Wherever it has opportunity.
2. To the extent of its ability.
IV. Is therefore the fulfilling of the law.
2. Positively. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The work of low
The Arabian commentators of Mahomet attempted to make a law applicable to every relation in life. They published, it is said, a code containing seventy-five thousand rules; but cases soon arose to which none of these rules would apply. The New Testament adopts another method. It deals in broad and fundamental principles capable of universal application. It gives us in plain words a law of love. This suggests principles which are universal and eternal. It gives a life rather than a rule.
I. “love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” This is a broad truth. One’s neighbour is primarily the one near--the near dweller, any one with whom we have to do. Christ has for ever answered the question, “Who is my neighbour?”
1. The spirit of this statement strikes a blow at all kinds of business which injure one’s neighbour. It meets the servant and the master, the maid and her mistress; it enters the counting-house and the workshop; it confronts the lawyer and his client, the physician and his patient, the pastor and his people. It enters the social circle and hushes the voice of the slanderer. It stands like an incarnate conscience across the track of the vile wretch who would rob youth of purity and glory. It lifts a voice against the man who destroys his neighbour with strong drink. It thunders its condemnation in the ear of the gambler. It lifts before us the great white throne, and enables us to anticipate its final decisions.
2. This law of love also opposes all forms of bad example. The man who desecrates God’s day, disbelieves God’s book, and disobeys God’s Son, is an enemy to his neighbour. No man has a right to set a bad example before men. The man who misleads the young may blight the lives of coming generations.
3. This law reaches those who are only negatively good. No man has a right to remain in that position. Your good name, while you remain in that attitude to God, makes your influence the greater and your condemnation the heavier. Have you accepted Christ as your personal Saviour? Then come to the Church. For the sake of your neighbour come into the ranks. Confess Christ; march in line with His people. Thus will you work no ill to your neighbour.
II. But it is clearly implied that love works well to one’s neighbour. This is a step in advance. It cannot rest in the mere negative condition. Love does not simply do no ill; it does well. It understands that to withhold good when it might be done, is as truly sin as to devise evil. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.) shows that it is the principle without which all other gifts are worthless. The Corinthian chapter is the inspired commentary on the Roman text. What a world this would be if this love dominated all the actions of men! Social life would be regenerated; commercial life be consecrated; heaven would be begun on earth. (R. S. Macarthur, D.D.)
Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.--
Love the fulfilling of the law
I. The best expositor of the law. It teaches us to keep it--
1. Conscientiously as in the sight of God.
2. Sincerely with the whole heart.
3. Fully in every point.
4. Perfectly, not merely negatively.
II. The best keeper of the law. It fulfils it with--
2. All its strength.
3. Constancy. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. Reaches the full extent of the law.
1. It keeps the whole law; not only its prohibitions, but also its precepts.
2. Keeps it perfectly, not only with the hands, but with the heart.
3. Is never weary.
II. Makes its performance easy.
1. It draws help from a Divine source.
2. Supplies Divine strength.
3. Guarantees the Divinest reward. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Love is the fulfilling of the law
I. Teaches everything.
1. It unfolds the spirit of the law.
2. Strengthens the voice of conscience.
3. Resolves all difficult questions.
II. Does everything.
1. Is not contented with the appearance.
2. Does not stop short half-way.
3. Seeks not for reward.
III. Rewards everything.
1. The good intention.
2. The secret act.
3. The greatest sacrifice. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Love is the fulfilling of the law
Because the love of God and man is the soul of every outward duty, and a cause that will produce these as effects. (R. Baxter.)
Love fulfils law
A religion which can announce this as its distinctive principle needs bring no further credentials of its heavenly origin. Michael Angelo need not carve his name on his own statuary, nor Raphael write his on his pictures. The song tells you what is the bird which sings. And so our text is unlike the trees that spring out of merely human soil. Its fragrance and its fruit announce it to be a slip from the tree that grows in the midst of the Paradise of God, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
I. Love is the substance of the demands of the law; it is their very essence and quintessence.
1. A tree may have a thousand branches, and ten thousand leaves, all of them having a different direction and shape; but they all arise out of life. So all the commandments are but the outward forms of an inward spirit, and that spirit is love.
2. Law does not fall so pleasantly on the ear as love. It is like a spiked wall between us and tempting fruit; or like the warning guide-post, “No road this way,” precisely at the spot where the path seems to lose itself in the most enchanting scenery. But this is a false view of law. Love could not be the fulfilling of it if it were of this nature, but the abolishing of it. For what is law? A wanton restraint, a needless burden, the arbitrary exaction of a superior authority, and thus superfluous circumscription of our liberty, and wilful limitation of our pleasures? No! It is but such a limitation and restraint as secures for each man the largest sweep of liberty. It is true that if there were no human laws, certain individuals would be able to indulge their wills and passions over a much wider field; but what of the people generally? The man who can go beyond his just bounds of right, can only do so by invading the bounds of another. This is the essence of tyranny. Liberty can only live where law is the supremest thing. No man resents a just law, but he who is at heart an enemy to the righteous claims of his fellow-men. Law is a hedge; but no hedge is thorny and repulsive to a man who does not wish to break through and trample upon the sacred privileges of his neighbour.
3. Can you find a law of God which is in itself, and on all sides of it, a dark and repulsive thing? I know of no law of His which has not in its very heart this command, “Be happy.” This has ever been the view of good men. “Oh! how love! Thy law! it is daily my delight.” “Great peace have they that love Thy law.” “Of law,” Hooker has said, “there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power; both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in differing sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.”
II. Obedience is to arise from love.
1. There may be what men esteem the fulfilling of a law for which they have no respect. There is the fulfilling--
(1) Which arises from fear, and despots may feel flattered and feel safer as they see a population pale with terror at their power. But that power is always the safest which inspires love. The law of God can never be obeyed through terror. Only think of a man obeying God because he dreads Him. Think of him saying, “If God were not as powerful as He is, I would set my heel upon His laws; but I am no match for Him, and therefore I submit and obey.” Nay, you neither submit nor obey. You might do this in the case of an earthly king, whose laws are satisfied if they receive an external obedience. But God is a King and a Father, who says, “Thou shalt love”; not, “Thou shalt dread the Lord thy God.” He is a Monarch whose laws you cannot obey except by loving Him. He clearly discriminates between what seems obedience and what is. “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” You fathers know that it is not worth the name of obedience if your child serve you from dread of consequences.
(2) Which is prompted by a mere sense of interest. This is little better than that we have just considered. Of course obedience brings sooner or later its own reward. But there is a great difference between pursuing a course which is profitable, and pursuing it because it is profitable. A faithful servant of a monarch may be paid for his service; but if he serves only for his pay, he is not a faithful servant. Will it be said that this seems to strike against the promises of the joys and glories of Heaven? No, they are far more gracious gifts than wages. When Christ says, “I will make thee ruler over many things,” it is not because we have deserved it. And hence the saints in heaven cast their crowns at the feet of Him that sits upon the throne, saying, “Thou art worthy, O Lord,” etc. And the crowns are not given to those who have served for gain; they are given to those who have served from love. The fulfilling of the law from love creates now its own heaven within the man.
2. The law of service is the law of love. This was so with Christ. “I delight to do Thy will, O God.” And the service we render to Christ must be like that. “Lovest thou Me?” etc. And this truth applies equally to our relations to our fellow-men. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” There is far too much of the spirit, in these times, which regards men as so many competitors on the great arena of life, each one feeling that he loses what another gains, and that he must do the best for himself, leaving the weaker to go unpitied to the wall. But Christ came to teach us a holier and more blessed law, viz., that we are all brethren, brethren in nature, brethren in Him, because He partook our nature, and “is not ashamed to call us brethren.” (E. Mellor, D.D.)
Love the essence of obedience
I. The nature of true love. It is--
1. Universal, extending to being in general, or to God and all His creatures.
2. Impartial. It regards every proper object of benevolence according to its apparent worth and importance in the scale of being.
3. Disinterested. Mercenary love can never form a virtuous character.
II. True love is the fulfilling of the law.
1. It conforms the heart to God. God is love. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” If the moral perfection of man consists in conformity to the moral perfection of God, and the moral perfection of God consists in love, then love must be the fulfilling of the law.
2. It answers the full demand of the law. When a certain man asked our Saviour, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” He replied, “Thou shalt love,” etc. So Paul says, “The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart.” By this he declares that charity or true love fully answers the spirit and design of the law.
3. It makes us feel and act in every respect just as God requires. So far as we possess it, we shall both internally and externally obey every Divine command.
4. It restrains men from everything which God forbids. (N. Emmons, D.D.)
And, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.
I. To awake. Because--
1. It is high time.
2. The night of unbelief is past.
3. The day of salvation is at hand.
II. To duty.
1. To repentance--“Put off the works of darkness.”
2. To faith--“Put on the armour of light.”
3. To action--“Walk honestly,” etc.
4. To holiness--“Put on Christ”--the Source of new life. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Time closing in upon us
“The time is short,” or, as we might perhaps render it so as to give the full force of the metaphor, the time is pressed together. It is being squeezed into narrower compass, like a sponge in a strong hand. There is an old story of a prisoner in a cell with contractile walls. Day by day his space lessens--he saw the whole of that window yesterday, he sees only half of it to-day. Nearer and nearer the walls are drawn together, till they meet and crush him between them. So the walls of our home (which we have made our prison) are closing in upon us. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Knowledge of time
I. That knowledge of time which we should secure. We should know time in its--
II. The effects which it is calculated to promote.
1. Unfeigned gratitude to God.
2. Deep contrition of soul.
3. Fervent application to the throne of grace.
4. Sincere desires to live more fully unto the Lord. (Biblical Museum.)
Knowledge of time
We should know time in its--
I. Worth. Estimated at the value of--
1. Life. Time the measure of life of a being capable of thought, endowed with conscience, gifted with immortality.
2. What able to be done during its progress. Speaking of W. Wilberforce, Sir James Mackintosh said, “I am full of admiration that the short period of the life of one man, well and wisely directed, can do so much and exert such influence. How precious is time! How valuable and dignified human life, which in general appears so base and miserable!” Illustrate with Howard, Raikes, etc.
II. Responsibilities. Our relation to God. Knowledge of salvation. Duties in our sphere of life. Influence we exert. Ignatius when he heard the clock strike said, “Now I have one hour more to account for.”
III. Uncertainty. Commercial institutions and projects abundantly prove this, but he who counts on time presumes on probability that has even more impressively proved its questionableness (James 4:13-14).
IV. Brevity., The years of Jacob wore an hundred and thirty, yet he says, “Few and evil,” etc. Moses again, “Like the grass,” etc. When we look over the first chapters of Chronicles, to read which is like entering a great world-cemetery, how we are struck with the shortness of life at the best!
V. Powerlessness. It cannot destroy sin, or take away its guilt. It cannot act for us. It cannot destroy the soul, though it ends the life.
VI. Irrevocableness. The wave that washes at your feet may return. The waters of the river as they roll to the sea, caught up in mist, may again flow down the mountains into its channel, but an hour once gone in the roll of millenniums shall never return. We can recall a messenger, but not the last moment. One life here, only one, is given, how precious should it be! (G. McMichael, B.A.)
Time to awake
I. The exhortation. These words are appropriate to the first Sunday in the year. When the bells ring out the old year and ring in the new, they seem to chime, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep.”
1. St. Paul is speaking not to those who were asleep in sin, but to active Christians. And there are few things in Scripture more striking than the remonstrances addressed to such. Ordinarily little or no account seems taken of their progress, but they are dealt with as having yet much to do. The nominal Christian ought to be much struck with this. If he who has been long labouring is thus admonished, what must be the state of those who have not yet taken the first steps in Christianity?
2. But the real Christian may also find cause for alarm, notwithstanding the promises in his favour. And when we call to mind that in the parable all the virgins, the wise as well as the foolish, slumbered, we cannot but conclude that there is no privilege to godly men of dispensing with watchfulness. It is vigilance, not indolence, to which believers are elected. The best proof that a man is not elect, is his making election his pillow, and going to sleep upon his own predestination.
3. Our text, however, may be taken in comparative sense. The righteous may “not sleep as do others.” Yet you may find so vast a disproportion between the energy exerted and the energy demanded, that the actual wakefulness is practical listlessness. Spiritual slumber is not necessarily the folding up of every power and faculty, but the not developing them in the necessary degree. Some energy is still torpid, some affection is still spellbound, and thus the whole man is not spiritually roused. And over and above the slumber of certain faculties, those which are awake are but half awake. Where is that struggling which would result from the combination of an eye all faith and a heart all love?
II. The motive by which St. Paul strives to stir Christians from comparative indolence--“Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
1. This argument which is drawn from the greater nearness of death is not of equal urgency when applied to believer and unbeliever. In applying it to the latter, I just tell him that he has less time in which to escape, and therefore less likelihood of obtaining deliverance. He must do it before daybreak, and “the night is far spent.” But when I turn to the believer, there is by no means the same appearance of force in the motive. If a man be secure of salvation, to tell him that the end is at hand does not look like urging him to exertion. But here comes in that balancing of statements which is discernible through the whole of the Bible. The only Scriptural certainty that a man will be saved is the certainty that he will struggle. Struggling is incipient salvation. It is an intenser struggle which marks a fuller possession. If, then, a man would show that his salvation is nearer, he must also show that he is more wakeful, more in earnest.
2. There are two reasons why the consciousness of having less time to live should urge Christians to be increasingly earnest.
(1) There is much to strive for even if a man be secure of salvation. The degree of our happiness in the next life will be mainly determined by our attainments in holiness in this. We are here on a stage of probation, so that, having been once recovered from apostasy, we are candidates for a prize and wrestlers for a crown. Christianity does not allow the believer to imagine that everything is done when a title to the kingdom is obtained. And if one man become a ruler over ten cities, and another over five, and another over two, each receiving in exact proportion to his improvement of talents, then it is clear that our strivings will have a vast influence on our recompense. To tell the Christian, therefore, that his salvation is nearer than when he believed, is telling the wrestler that his glass is running out, and there is the garland not won; it is telling the warrior that the shadows are thickening and the victory is not complete. Is it a time to sleep when each moment’s slumber may take a pearl from the crown, a city from the sceptre?
(2) There remains less time in which to glorify God. If there were no connection between what we do in this life, and what we shall receive in the next, it would still be impossible for true Christians to be indolent. Forasmuch as faith makes us one with Christ, there must be community of interest. And it is a spectacle which should stir all the anxieties and sympathies of the believer--that the world which has been ransomed by Christ’s blood is nevertheless overspread with impiety. And over and above this dishonour to his Lord, there is the wretchedness which an ungodly race is weaving for its portion; and he cannot fail to long and to strive that he may be, in some degree, instrumental in the salvation of his fellow-men. Where, then, can you find a stronger motive to energy than is furnished by the shortness of the period during which we may resist the progress of iniquity and win souls for Christ? And what, then, is the text but an admonition that nerve and sinew, time and talent--all must be centred more fixedly than ever in the service of Christ, lest we are summoned to depart ere we have done the little which with all our strenuousness we might possibly effect for the Lord and His kingdom? (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Time to awake
I. The condition supposed. One of--
II. The admonition given. Awake to--
3. Diligent effort.
III. The motives suggested.
1. It is high time.
2. The crisis draws on.
3. You know it. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
High time to awake out of sleep
I. The state from which a change is desired. Sleep describes--
1. The state of unconverted men (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; 1 Corinthians 15:34). Sleep is a season of--
(1) Forgetfulness, and men by nature are forgetful of the ends of their being, of their true character--of the awful attributes of eternity, etc.
(2) Ignorance, and the unconverted man has no discernment as to spiritual things.
(3) Insensibility, and the natural man is unalarmed and secure amidst all the danger by which he is surrounded. A man may be awake as to all the things of time, and asleep as to all the concerns of eternity.
2. Of many who have made a profession of the gospel and felt its power. Once they were roused from the slumbers of spiritual death, but they are gone back. Their strong impressions have subsided, their souls have left their first love; they did run well, but they have been hindered. In the world there is a constant influence to produce this stupor. Worldly business, pleasure, honour and applause, become the means of bringing us into a state of declension. How dreadful when the child of the day thus goes back into darkness, and stretches out his form, asking for a little more sleep and a little more slumber!
II. The nature of the change by which this state is to be reversed.
1. It is a change which produces a complete reverse. It is awaking out of sleep. This change is called a being turned from darkness to light--a being quickened--becoming children of the light and of the day, etc. The expression signifies that the understanding receives a full impression of the reality of the world to come. The man acts as though he believed that the true end of life is to glorify God; and hence he seeks to obtain a change of heart and life--cultivates holy principles, practises holy actions, and has respect in all things to the recompense of the reward.
2. The only way by which this change can be effected is by the powerful operation of the Spirit on the mind. The slumber is so potent that none but He can awake from it. The anodyne is so powerful that none but the great Physician can apply a suitable remedy. Where He is not, there is dark midnight, or the light only of a phantom, or the pale beams of the moon shining upon snow, displaying the very dreariness and barrenness of nature!
3. Yet human instruments are employed. Those who are awakened to the sense of the danger of their fellow-men are sent out by God to awaken others.
III. The motives which should induce you to awake.
1. Enough of your time has passed in an unaroused, unawakened state already.
2. The difficulty of awakening grows with the progress of delay. The sleep of the body, indeed, becomes lighter as we approach the morning season. But this slumber becomes deeper and heavier, till the individual sleeps the sleep of death. Every time you hear in vain, you grow more sleepy, and the preacher’s voice becomes only as so much music to lull you. You have so long listened to the rolling of the thunder that your ears are now deaf to its sound. The Cross has so frequently been presented to you that its brightness has no longer any attraction.
3. The uncertainty and speedy termination of life. Who is there that knows how long he has to live? Can any of you say, “Go thy way for this time; when it is more convenient, I will attend to these things”? You know not that you will live till to-morrow. (J. Parsons.)
High time to awake
I. There is sometimes a tendency in Christians to sleep. How many settle down into dreamy stationariness. This state--
1. Follows upon the religious life losing its first freshness and novelty.
2. Is induced by a false conception of the atonement and the nature of salvation. Men have been taught to consider salvation bestowed in its completeness upon believing that Christ is the sacrifice for the world’s sin, and all that thereafter remains is heaven; whereas salvation simply begins then--nothing more.
3. Is encouraged by the worldly maxims and excitements, the spirit of mammonism, amidst which so many live. God and duty, and all spiritual realities seem often to fade away into mere phantoms in the clash and hurry of commerce. That only seems real which is visible and present. And the result is that the soul passes by almost imperceptible degrees into a state of moral slumber.
4. Comes through the growth of some moral weakness or sinful habit--covetousness, love of pleasure, passionateness--that has not been controlled or weeded out of the character at the beginning of the new life; or through the influence of companions of a worldly type; or from the mind becoming unsettled on some of the questions of theology and Biblical criticism. Many a man, tossed on a sea of doubt and uncertainty concerning creeds and theological systems, gradually loses his former spiritual intensity, and languidly suffers the work of salvation to remain stationary.
II. As a corrective of inaction and torpor, and to inspire once more with Holy enterprise any who sleep, there is a twofold incentive.
1. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” This points to--
(1) The fact of the Christian life having been begun. It is a great point gained to have made a definite beginning in a good work. After the first few stages there begins to be accumulated a fund of experience; the sense of strangeness goes, and the faculties begin to adapt themselves to the new mode of life, and the man soon begins to have a foretaste of some of the fruits of his labour. Past conquests lend a power for future triumphs. Attainment facilitates yet further attainment.
(2) The grand revelations of the other life, which are fast approaching. But the measure of every one’s heaven hereafter depends upon the spiritual meetness which has been developed in him here. And the time that remains to any of us for casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light is ceaselessly gliding away, whether we use it or no. The opportunities with which each year comes laden go into the grave of the past with it. The portals of the future are coming fast into sight, and soon they will open for you to pass through. There is no time to waste in dreamy indolence.
2. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” The present life is a time of shadow and obscurity. Purposes, duties, attainments, are often misinterpreted, and mis-valued. Now, in passing into the future we pass into the day. That is a world of light in which we shall both know ourselves and be known as we really are. Therefore, be ready for the time of revelation. Awake! put off the works of darkness; put on the armour of light. Each fresh day should see us awake and diligent. For the most Christ-like is never enough like Christ. (T. Hammond.)
Wake up! Wake Up!
I. Some professing Christians seem to be asleep with regard to others. Paul has been bidding us to pay attention to relative duties, and exhorting us to keep the law of love, which is the essence of law; and now he interjects this sentence. So he means that many Christians are in a sleepy state with reference to their obligations to others. True godliness makes a man look to himself, and feel his personal obligations and responsibilities. But there is a danger lest a man should say, “Other people must see to themselves, and I must see to myself.” The principle of individuality might be thus pushed to an unwarrantable extreme. No man can compass the ends of life by drawing a little line around himself upon the ground. There are outgoing lines of life that bind us not only with some men, but, in fact, with all humanity. We are placed, therefore, in a most solemn position; and it is with regard to this that it is high time that we should awake out of sleep.
1. Into what a deep slumber some professing Christians have fallen! How utterly insensible they are to the sins and sorrows of those around them. They say, “What is to be will be, and the Lord’s purpose will be fulfilled; there will be some saved and others lost,” as coolly as if they were talking of a wasp’s nest. As for those that are lost! They dare not injure their logic by indulging a little mournful emotion.
2. Others are prone to be overtaken with an oft-recurring sleep. I know a brother who often takes forty winks in the day-time: you may nudge him, and he will wake and listen to you, but he goes to sleep again in a few minutes if you let him alone. Who can blame the sleeper when it is a question of infirmity or sheer exhaustion? Well, without blaming any for the weakness of the flesh, I take this sleepy habit to be a fit illustration of the state of some Christians. They have fits and starts of wakefulness, and then off to sleep again. At that missionary meeting you woke up when you heard the cry of the perishing heathen; but have you cared much about China or India since then? You do at times get on fire with love for souls, but then after the sermon, or the week of special services has ended, you go to sleep again. Many Sunday-school teachers there are of that kind.
3. Others fall into a kind of somnambulistic state. If we judged them by their outward actions we should think they were wide awake, and they do what they do very well. Persons walk along giddy heights safely enough when fast asleep, where they would not venture when wide awake. And we have known professors going on very carefully, exactly where others have fallen, and have attributed it to the grace of God, whereas in part it has been attributable to the fact that they were spiritually asleep. It is possible to appear very devout, to sing hymns, to hear sermons, to teach in the Sunday School, to pay your religious contributions punctually, maintain the habit of prayer, and yet you may be a somnambulist.
4. A very large number of us are half asleep.
II. It is high time that they should awake. And why? Because--
1. What right have believers to be asleep at all? The Lord has saved us from the sleep which is the first cousin to death--from indifference, unbelief, hardheartedness.
2. A great many opportunities have already slipped away. You who have been converted, say these ten years, what have you done for Christ? You have been eating the fat and drinking the sweet, but have you fed the hungry? If you have been saved a week, and you have done nothing for Christ during that week, you have already wasted more than enough.
3. There were so many people that had a claim upon us, who are beyond our power now, even if we do wake! Have you ever felt the sadness of neglecting to visit a person who was ill until you heard that he was dead? Many are passing away from us and from the sphere of our influence. Your children, for instance. Parents, avail yourselves of your opportunities.
4. We have plenty of enemies that are awake if we are not. Protestantism may slumber, but Jesuitism never does. The prince of the power of the air keeps his servants well up to their work.
5. It is daylight. The sun has risen. We are getting far into the gospel dispensation. Can you sleep still?
6. Our Lord was awake. How did His eyes stream with tears over perishing Jerusalem! The zeal of God’s house consumed Him. Ought it not to consume us?
7. Our own day may be over within an hour or two. The preacher may be delivering his last sermon. You may go home to-night to offer the last prayer at the family altar which you will ever utter on earth. You may open shop to-morrow morning for the last time.
III. There is something worth waking for. Paul does not say, “If you do not wake you will be lost.” He speaks in a gospel tone, “Now is your salvation nearer than when you believed.”
1. It is nearer in order of time. How long is it since you believed? Ten years? You are ten years nearer heaven, then. Ought we not to be more awake? The farther we are off from heaven, the less we may feel its influence. Some of you are sixty years nearer to heaven than you were. Would you like to live those sixty years over again? Would you like to go back and clamber again the Hill Difficulty, and slide down again into the Valley of Humiliation, etc.? Rejoice that you are so much nearer heaven. Therefore, keep wide awake, and looking out for it.
2. In point of preparation. If we are getting more ready for heaven, we ought to be more awake, for sleepiness is not the state of heavenly spirits. If thou art more fit for heaven thou hast more love, more pity; then reach out both hands to bring another poor soul to Christ.
3. In point of clearness of realisation. If I can realise that in so short a time my eternal salvation shall be consummated, I cannot any longer neglect a single opportunity of serving my Master. Conclusion: Oh, ye unconverted men, must I read the text as it would have to run if it were written to yon? “It is high time that you should awake out of sleep, for now is your damnation nearer than when you first heard the gospel and rejected it.” God grant you grace to take heed and to believe in Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The wakeful Christian
I. The sleep. Sleep is a state which can only be declared of Christians. The unconverted are dead, and require not an awakening, but a resurrection. What does this injunction betoken? A state of--
1. Spiritual apathy. Sleep implies unconsciousness. There may be sublimities around the sleeper, but he sees them not; harmonies, but he hears them not; dangers, but he feels them not. So when Christians are asleep they are reduced to a state in which the religious senses are untouched.
2. Religious inactivity. There is a spot in the Atlantic called the Saragossa Sea, which is subject to long calms, and is covered with a thick, entangling seaweed; and nothing of all he has to encounter on the wide ocean fills the experienced mariner with more genuine dread than to be caught in the meshes of this region of dead calm and entangling weeds. The religious life has its Saragossa Sea, in which individuals and Churches too often lie becalmed and entangled in the weeds of conventional habits and formalism.
3. Dalliance with sin. The context shows a sad state of things, the reason for which was the recent conversion of the Roman Christians from heathenism, or the prevalence of Antinomianism. And while there is not now “the same excess of riot,” still there is considerable proneness to conform to the customs of irreligious people in pleasure.
II. The call to awake. This state of wakefulness is a condition the very opposite of the sleep referred to. It means, therefore--
1. Deep, intense religious consciousness.
2. Active, self-denying labour.
3. The mortifying of the flesh, and a clear, unmistakable protest against the evil ways of the world.
III. The reasons for wakefulness.
1. The nature of the Christian profession. “Let us put on the armour of light.” Here the Christian is presented to us as a soldier. One of the duties of his life, therefore, is to fight. A work demanding real, earnest care and watchfulness, and calculated to draw forth our utmost energies. A drowsy soldier is a contradiction. It follows, then, from this symbol, that the Christian should not be asleep. We are now in the midst of the fray; let us, then, be awake, “putting on the armour of light,” which alone will secure us the victory in the conflict with darkness.
2. The closeness of the end. “For now is our salvation nearer,” etc. As the days slip from our grasp, each remaining moment should become more intensely precious to us.
3. The character of the times. “Knowing the time.” Never did any age since the establishment of Christianity possess such claims upon the earnest, sober attention of the Church as the present. Our age is one eminent for--
(1) Its secular activities in the direction of commerce, science, and education. Shall the Church alone remain quiescent in the midst of this torrent of activity? It is here, as it often is with travellers by train, which, by its very swiftness, lulls to sleep, but as it slackens speed the sleeper wakens up and looks around. So the rate at which the train of secular pursuits hurries Christians along and lulls them into a state of obliviousness of spiritual things. Let us be as intrepid in the things of God as we are in those of our own.
(2) Its activity in the dissemination of error. The two grand errors of the age are priestism and scepticism--twin sisters, though not on very amicable terms with each other.
(3) Its abounding wickedness. Here, then, is a powerful reason for wakefulness. A living Church is the grand antidote to all the evils incidental to our civilisation. It is its duty pre-eminently to seek to leaven this civilisation. (A. J. Parry.)
The sleeper aroused
I. The sinner’s sleep. A state of--
3. Fancied security.
4. Fleshly delight.
II. The exhortation. It implies--
1. An altered view of things.
2. Voluntary effort.
4. Compliance with terms.
III. The reason.
1. Life is fleeting.
2. Judgment is near.
3. God is calling. (W. W. Wythe.)
And as it was with Jonah, so it is now with many a soul. In the midst of the waves and storms of life, with only a short step between them and the world to come, they are sleeping. They are wide awake as far as their temporal needs and pleasures are concerned, but they are asleep to all spiritual interests. When we are asleep we are--
I. In darkness. The fairest sights may be around us, but, so long as we are asleep, for us they do not exist. And so it is, sometimes, in spiritual sleep. This world in which we live is instinct with the life of God. There is not a hill or valley, a wind or storm, a bird or beast, a leaf or flower, but has something to say to us of God. And yet there are some who say, “There is no God”: they are sleeping the death of infidelity. Now, though it is not probable that any of you are sleeping this sleep of darkness, yet drowsiness generally comes before sleep. Take care, then, you do not give way to the drowsiness that precedes the slumber of infidelity. Do not encourage infidel thoughts. Beware of the beginnings of doubts. As often as doubt assails you, fly in prayer to God for the strengthening of your faith.
II. Doing nothing. A sleeping man is no better than a dead man, so far as present action is concerned. And if the soul’s activity is intercourse with God, and work for God, is not that soul asleep that does not care to speak to God, to work for God? Is it not wonderful that God bears with our indifference? He is not indifferent towards us. Shall we, then, dare any longer to sleep away our lives in inactivity?
III. Sometimes dream, and then we live amidst fancy forms. And it is possible to sleep spiritually the sleep of delusion.
1. Formalism is the sleep of delusion. If we fancy that by the punctual performance of the outward duties of religion we can save our souls, one day we shall wake up to find ourselves the victims of a delusion. There is only One who can save us--Christ; and unless we take Him to be our Saviour, Church ordinances avail us nothing.
2. Self righteousness is the sleep of delusion. How many fancy that it must be well with them, because once they were “converted.” To rely on anything short of present perseverance along the road which God has pointed out to us, is to trust to a delusion.
IV. Sometimes people are put to sleep, by means of some drug. This sleep, however, has not the restfulness of natural sleep. And it is possible to drug the soul to seeming sleep by deliberate perseverance in any known sin. The conscience becomes hardened, and all for a time seems peace. But it is not true peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” (J. Beeby.)
The peril of sleep
A short time ago a locomotive engine was speeding along the NorthWest line, whilst the two men who were in it lay fast asleep. A sharp-eyed signalman, from his look-out, was alert enough to see how matters stood, and without a moment’s delay telegraphed in advance to lay a fog-signal on the line, that the detonation might rouse the sleepers. Happily, it was done in time; and startled from what might have been a fatal slumber, the men shut off steam, reversed the engine, and averted a terrible calamity. It is no breach of charity to suspect that some of you are hasting on to destruction, but know it not, for your conscience is asleep; and I would lay a fog-signal on the line that, ere you pass another mile, the crashing sound may rouse you to your danger, as you hear the voice of eternal truth declaring, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die!” (T. Davidson.)
Beware of sleeping
John Bunyan tells us “that when Hopeful came to a certain country, he began to be very dull and heavy of sleep. Wherefore he said, ‘Let us lie down here and take one nap.’ ‘By no means,’ said the other, ‘lest sleeping, we wake no more.’ ‘Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the labouring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.’ ‘Do you not remember,’ said the other, ‘ that one of the shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping.’” “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” Slumbering and backsliding are closely allied.
The breaking day admonishes us--
1. To awake from sleep.
2. To contemplate the Sun of salvation.
3. To cleanse ourselves from the works of darkness.
4. To put on the clothing of light.
5. To betake ourselves to diligence and duty. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The dawn of the great day
St. Paul is here the watchman of the Church. Standing between night and day, he proclaims “the time,” and announces the end of darkness and the approach of light. His appeal regards the Church as being in a midway state between perfect night and perfect day. The words “pilgrims” of “the dawn” borrowed from St. Peter help us to understand Paul. Let us trace the effect of this keynote in the interpretation of the passage. The dawn proclaims the end of night; it is only the mingling of darkness and light; but it is the sure promise of a day that must reach its perfection, and upon which the shadows of evening shall never fall.
I. Knowing the time.
1. The word carries us back to our Lord’s proclamation of the hour when the night of death that had rested on mankind had ended, and the light cf eternal life began (John 5:25). Doubtless the darkness that preceded Christ’s advent was not perfect night. In the deepest midnight of heathenism some rays of truth and virtue struggled with the darkness, and over one favoured land the moon and the stars shone brightly. The earlier revelation was “a light shining in a dark place until the day should dawn.” But Christ was Himself the dawn and the morning star of His own coming day. And this day--the new era--is the time Christians know.
2. Knowing the time means experimental acquaintance with its privileges and responsibilities. This knowledge is attained (Ephesians 5:14) when the Great Awakener pours the light of conviction into the chambers where sinners sleep the sleep of death, and gives them the light of life.
(1) They sleep no more. They have been plunged into the waters of spiritual baptism which has awakened and invigorated them to the utmost, and there is an expectation in the morning air that keeps every thought alert, and inspires activity--viz., of Him who shall come in the broadening day.
(2) The guilty wakefulness of the night is also past. The morning reveals the hidden things of night and makes them hateful. They have “cast off the works of darkness,” detesting the habiliments of night in which they slept and sinned.
3. So far we have caught the appeal as expressing complete severance between night and day. The light is divided from the darkness absolutely. In the New Testament two states, and only two, are distinguished:there are “children of night” and “children of the day.” But the peculiarity of this passage is that it gives prominence to a certain interval of transition, which reality requires and the Scripture never denies. The Christian state is at the best, in many respects, no better than the dawn.
II. The night is only “far spent” and the day only “at hand.”
1. It might be supposed from the watchman’s cry that the whole band were slumbering, or at least only half awake. But the language is only general to find out the individual. There is from age to age a faithful succession of watchers and holy ones, and when the Bridegroom shall approach all will be wakeful enough; but till then the pilgrim company shall never lack those who move “like men that dream.” And it is the duty of all who know the time to echo the apostle’s cry. And here is the everlasting argument, “It is high time … walk honestly as in the day.”
2. There is danger inseparable from the dawn. And when the apostle says, “Put on the armour of light,” he suggests the whole mystery of evil that wars against the pilgrims of the dawn. The powers of darkness are awakened into more malignant activity by the morning light. Never did they so furiously rage as they did around Him who ended their reign. But He did not banish them, and so they haunt the travellers. They cannot retard the day, but they make its progress a perpetual contest, so unlike the progress of the natural day in which dawn glows into morning, and morning melts into midday, etc. Here the victory is the result of a desperate and unremitting warfare. That victory will be the perfect light of holiness; the “armour” that insures the victory is “light.”
3. It is characteristic of this midway state that the salvation,of the Christian company is regarded as incomplete. The perfect day will bring a full salvation, but that is only “nearer than when we believed.” The Church is only in the dawn of the day of redemption. That day will be perfect when Christ shall come “without sin unto salvation.”
III. The dawn is the promise of the coming day.
1. Knowing the time. The Church is appealed to as exercising a firm faith in the gradual consummation of the dawn into day. The words remind these early travellers of the great secret that the Lord is at hand, bringing with Him all that their hope can conceive. But His coming will be to His Church the regular and peaceful consummation of a day already begun. To the ungodly a catastrophe, to slumbering Christians a sore amazement, it will be to those who “wait for His appearing” what day is to the traveller who waits for the morning.
2. But knowing the time does not signify any precise knowledge of its future limits. We are shut up to faith, which must in all things rule until the vision of Christ shall begin the reign of sight. “All things continue as they were” is the cry of unbelief. “Lo here is the promise of His coming, or lo there” is the cry of impatient credulity. But simple faith waits on in hope that makes no calculation. Our Lord may brighten any hour--from cock-crowing to the third hour and the sixth--into perfect day.
3. This being the common prospect it is not wonderful that the Christian state is that of joyful hope. Nothing is more beautiful and more symbolical of eager expectation than the dawn. True the individual Christian has cares, conflicts, fears to moderate his joy. But he is to look over all these lower glooms to the brighter horizon into which these things merge. He must lose his particular sorrow in the general joy. He is one of the company that shall receive the Lord.
4. But the apostle reserves for the last his solemn exhortation to prepare. “The day is at hand,” and the pilgrims are bidden to anticipate it in the holy decorum of their lives, and to be clothed with the only garment worthy of the day, Christ Himself. (W. B. Pope, D.D.)
Desidia and Alacritas
It is a merciful arrangement that we live by days, and are able to begin afresh every twenty-four hours. The Christian life is an awaking--a dressing; and each morning’s waking and dressing may recall to us its nature. Look at these verses carefully and you will see the writer’s meaning, though, with a true delicacy, he only hints at it. When we rise from our beds we are dishevelled, unpresentable: we cannot get about the duties of the day until we have put off the dress of the night, until we have washed and combed ourselves, and put on a more suitable attire. Thus there is a surprising difference, in any nice and well-regulated person, between the night and the day appearance. The word “honestly” should rather be “decently,” for it just expresses this difference. Here are certain specimen words which describe that nocturnal condition of the soul. The question hits us hard when we attempt to interpret them fairly. First, revellings and drunkenness. This is not the boozing of the poor, who drink to forget their poverty and benumb their pain. It is the self-indulgence of the well-to-do, of good food, the hours spent over the pot or the decanter. It is the unhealthy occupation with gaieties which prevent us from putting on Christ Jesus. Then chamberings and wantonness. These are the thoughts of our chambers, the wanton imagination on our beds, the loose fancies, the rein flung on the neck of passion. They are more important to mention than the overt acts of vice, for they are the letting-out of waters. Given these, the rest will follow. These are “the provision of the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof”; they are the steps down to the gates of death. The last pair, strife and jealousy, are as fatal to the reclothing in the Divine garment, Christ Jesus--as truly the unseemly dress of the night--as those more scandalous faults which are called vices. These are poisons at the springs of life. They prohibit the indwelling of the Spirit. These three couplets of evil are but specimen-words--evil is manifold, ubiquitous--but they help us to answer the question, Have we put off this “garment spotted by the flesh”? It was this searching passage that proved the turning-point in the life of Augustine. By the grace of God it may fetch any of us off our unhallowed couch and clothe us in the raiment of the day. It was at Milan where the troubled spirit had come to seek help of the saintly Ambrose. He was with the brother Alypius in the garden. They had been reading the Epistles of Paul. Augustine rose in agitation and paced up and down, when he heard a clear child’s voice singing from a house in the vicinity, “Take and read, take and read.” As if commanded from heaven he hastened back to the seat, and took up the book which they had been reading together. There was this verse staring him in the face. The Latin is “Not in feasts and tipplings, not in chambers and immodesties, not in contention and emulation; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make provision for the flesh in concupiscence.” The entrance of the Word gave light. Presently, Alypius brought Augustine to Monica to tell her that the mother’s prayer was answered. But assuming that we are in the great cardinal sense awakened and reclothed, still there remains the daily renewal of it, the parable of our diurnal round. Christ is a perfect garment, but it is necessary to put Him on afresh, readjust, and with loving care fit Him on, as the mornings come round. But I can tell you better about this if I draw the portraits of two friends of mine. Their names are Desidia and Alacritas. The one dreams she is awake; the other is awake. Desidia is not at all uncomely, but for a certain lethargic look in her eye and a drag in her gait. She begins the day with a very ample attention to her person. The time she spends on her hair-dressing and her toilet would make three of her devotions, Sundays included. And her heart is in it, which I can hardly say about her devotions. Desidia has nothing particular to do, which is fortunate, for she never has time to do anything. I asked her once to undertake some work for her Saviour, which she refused so flatly that I ventured to inquire if He were her Saviour. Alacritas, on the other hand, always fills me with admiration; and I would gladly change my sex to be like her. She is never in a hurry, and yet is always moving. She has so much merriment and gaiety of heart, that grave, religious folk at first take exception to her, and question whether a true Christian could ever have so exchanged the spirit of heaviness for the garment of praise. But I chance to know that this sunshine comes from prayer, and it is like a good medicine in the house. I should have thought it would take twice as long to get oneself up so charmingly as Alacritas does, I mean as compared with the artificial fripperies of Desidia. Yet Alacritas gets a good hour for prayer before breakfast; she does a great deal of household work, she visits the poor, and her needle is busy for them; she never seems to miss a service at the church. And yet she reads more good literature in a month than Desidia does in a year. Desidia and others of her family pity Alacritas because she has little or nothing to do with plays and dances. How dull it must he for her, they say! (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
Dressing in the morning
It is a great mistake for a man not to know the times in which he lives, and how to act in them; and when he does not know the time as to the day of his own life, so as to apply his heart unto wisdom. What is the time of day with the Christian? It is no longer the dead of the night, “the day is at hand.” A little while ago the dense darkness of ignorance was about us; but the gospel has made us light in the Lord. The day-star is shining upon us, and we look for a perfect day. It is not as yet full day with us. The sun has risen, but it is not yet noon. Note--
I. The morning call.
1. Awake--“It is high time to awake out of sleep.”
(1) Arise from the sleep of inaction. Do not let your religion consist in receiving all and doing nothing.
(2) Leave also all lethargy behind you. At night a man may yawn and stretch himself; but when the morning comes he should be brisk, for the day will be none too long.
(3) Have done with dreaming. You who are not of the night must not dote on the world’s shadows, but look for eternal realities.
2. Cast off your night clothes. “Cast off the works of darkness.” The man who is just awakened shakes off his bed clothes and leaves them. The coverlet of night is not our covering by day. Sins and follies are to be cast off when we put on the garments of light. I have known a man profess to be converted, but he has merely put religion over his old character. This will never do: Christ has not come to save you in but from your sins.
3. Put on your morning dress. “Let us put on the armour of light.” Does not this warn us that a day of battle is coming? Be wise, then, and dress according to what you will meet with during the day. Young converts think that they have got to heaven, or very near it; but the time is not yet. You are in an enemy’s country: put on the armour of light. Perhaps before you get down to breakfast an arrow wilt be shot at you by the great enemy. Your foes may be found in your own household, and they may wound you at your own table. The Greek word, however, may be understood to signify not only armour, but such garments as are fitted and suitable for the day’s work. These should be put on at once, and our soul should be dressed for service. Some people are too fine to do real service for the Lord. When the Duke of Wellington asked one of our soldiers how he would like to be dressed if he had to fight the battle of Waterloo again, he answered that he should like to be in his shirt sleeves.
4. Walk forth and behave as in the light. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day,” let our demeanour be such as becomes daylight. How should a child of light conduct himself? “Honestly” may mean decently, with decorum and dignity. In the middle of the night, if you have to go about the house, you are not particular as to how you are dressed; but you do not go out to your business slip-shod, but arrayed according to your station. Let it be so with you spiritually: holiness is the highest decency, the most becoming apparel.
5. Renounce the deeds of darkness. If we have put on the garments of light, it behoves us to have done with the things that belong to the night.
(1) Sensuality, “rioting and drunkenness.” If a drinking bout is held it is usually at night.
(2) Impurity, “not in chambering and wantonness.” It is an awful thing when a man calls himself by the name of Christian, and yet can be unchaste in conversation, lascivious in spirit, wicked in life.
(3) Passion, “strife and envying.” Brawls are for the night.
II. The morning gospel. “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ there is--
1. Covering for nakedness. There is in Him a complete and suitable apparel for thy soul, by which every blemish and defilement shall be put out of sight.
2. A garment suitable for everyday work. All the power to be holy, forgiving, heroic, enthusiastic in the service of God, comes through Christ when we are in Him.
3. Apparel for dignity. God Himself asks no purer or more acceptable array. A seraph wears nothing but created brightness, but a child of God clothed in Christ wears uncreated splendour.
4. Armour for defence. The man that lives as Christ would live, is thereby made impervious to the shafts of the enemy.
5. Raiment for all emergencies. This garment will never wax old; it will last you all the desert through, and what is more, it is suitable for Canaan, and you shall keep it on forever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Present and future
I. Present state. Let us think how matters stand, and mend our ways.
1. We have time, i.e., season; a particular opportunity for preparation. Time is a wonderful idea. Compared with eternity it is but a speck in the heavens, a grain of sand on the shore, and yet it has given birth to creation, and its cycles have brought wondrous revelations. The battlefield of good and evil is here. Time reached its majority when the “fulness of time” came. “Millions of money for an inch of time,” cried Queen Elizabeth on her death-bed. The bid was too low. Like Cassandra, there was a warning in the voice. The woman in despair of her soul said, “Call back time again, then there may be a hope for me: but time is gone for ever!” “Take time by the forelock.”
2. We are too indifferent to the value of time. We turn the day into night by our inactivity, and we sleep when we ought to work. The night means our indifference to the illumination of the Word and Spirit. We see darkly through a glass. When the final day breaks, we shall wonder at the beauties we might have seen before. The boy who was born blind was cured. Some time after the operation he was led out of the dark room, and the shade lifted. He exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me that the earth was so beautiful?” When we see Jesus as He is, we shall put some such question. Sleep indicates inactivity to make our election sure. We are like somnambulists, walking among great realities without knowing it.
3. Nevertheless there are hopeful signs. Two words are used in contrast to the above--believed and nearer. There is faith, we have believed in Jesus. By prayer we have advanced some steps. Columbus and his men smelled the breeze before they saw the land. We have a good hope through grace.
II. Future expectation. That is “the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
1. Freedom from sin.
2. Beyond care and anxiety. Providence to-day has its dark days, but there perpetual light. No tears shall be shed, for no sorrow shall be felt.
3. In possession of immortality. Away with carelessness, and let us be earnest--“Work, for the night is coming,” etc. (Weekly Pulpit.)
Preparation for Christ’s coming
I. A solemn responsibility. “Knowing the time.” Ignorance is a cause of sin, and is sometimes a just excuse for it. A blind man may fall into a pit; a sleeper cannot be blamed for his sleep. But it is different with these spiritual slumberers. The watchman’s cry resounds (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). Taught from earliest infancy, instructed in schools, with God’s Word open and preached, what can we urge as an excuse for indifference?
II. A condition of danger. “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” This sleep--
1. Is an infatuation of Satan. He lulls the soul into false security.
2. Comes from the weakness of our nature. Persons in bad health often sleep much.
3. Arises from our own sloth. Like a person sleeping in a house on fire, unless the deadly charm is broken, we must be consumed.
III. An urgent duty. “To awake out of sleep.” The cry of the gospel trumpet is “Awake!” As the captain said to Jonah, “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” so the Holy Spirit says to the sinner. We have here--
1. Life depending on exertion. How many a man has saved his life, home, reputation, by energy! It is so with eternal life.
2. Exertion depending on self-determination. It is for us to wake, and to do so demands an effort.
IV. A solemn motive. “Now is our salvation nearer.” This may mean--
1. The advance toward final consummation. Every moment brings us closer to the approach of judgment--that day which to the believer is the day of salvation. Each throb of the heart and each beat of the pulse is the requiem of a departed moment.
2. The accumulation of privileges. When the apostle wrote, the good news had advanced. It was easier to awake and believe. And if religion had advanced in those early days, what is it now? Surely, salvation is nearer now; it is about us, in our midst. Will you not awake and enter into the glorious rest of the Son of God? (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The earthly and the heavenly state of the good
I. There is a vast contrast between the two.
1. Here salvation is in process, there in perfection. “Now is salvation nearer.”
2. Here existence, is night, there day. Life before death is night, suggestive of imperceptibility. The Christian sees “through a glass darkly” now. His life after death is “day.” Death opens the eyes on a bright universe.
II. The earthly state is rapidly expiring, the heavenly is about to dawn. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” Whilst this is true, even of the youngest Christian, it is pre-eminently true of those who are far advanced in life.
III. The expiring of the earthly, and the approach of the heavenly, are powerful argument for spiritual earnestness. “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.”
1. The work we have to do is most urgent.
(1) The renunciation of all evil. “Cast off the works of darkness.” Ignorance, crime, etc.
(2) The adoption of all good. “Put on the armour of light” (Ephesians 6:2-17).
2. The time for accomplishing it is rapidly contracting. Let us awake therefore. The lost years of your existence, the interests of truth, the value of souls calls on you to awake. Sleep not on the shore while the mighty billows of eternity are approaching. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The need of special exertion
1. The time.
2. Its claims.
3. Its duties.
4. Its incitements. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I have lately read in the newspaper--I am sure I do not know whether to believe that it is true--an account of a youth in France, twenty years of age, who has been lying sleeping for a fortnight, nourished only upon a little gruel given with a spoon, and that he was in the same state a year ago for nearly a month. Whether this has actually occurred to anybody or not, I have known many cases of Christians who have laid like that spiritually. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
The nearness of salvation a motive to vigilance
It is a charge which has been sometimes brought against religion that it cherishes an indolent spirit, and that the assurance of salvation which it gives tends to make men careless about further attainments in excellence. Accusations of this nature are easily repelled by exhibiting the spirit of the gospel, which is a spirit of active goodness, by a reference to many of its precepts, and by detailing the strenuous efforts of its genuine disciples to go on to perfection.
I. Let us attend to the view here given of the privilege of good men--“Now is their salvation nearer than when they believed.”
1. This expression intimates that, in the day of believing, the soul’s connection with salvation commences. It is at that happy season that a man is brought from a state of condemnation into a state of acceptance, and that a principle of holiness is implanted in the soul. Then the man begins that course which terminates in everlasting life. The distance between faith and complete salvation has been in some instances short. Quickly has the perfection of glory followed the formation of grace, but in other cases there are many years betwixt them. It belongs to Him to regulate this who is the Author and the Finisher of faith.
2. It is intimated that at death the believer’s salvation is completed.
3. Christians advanced in life are warranted to conclude that their salvation is very near. How happily is this consideration adapted to lighten the infirmities of old age! “Lift up your heads with joy, for your redemption draweth nigh.”
II. Let us attend to the view which is here given of the duty required of them.
1. It intimates that saints sometimes fall into a state of indolence and carelessness. How cold and stupid are the hearts of saints in such circumstances when they engage in prayer!
2. The text intimates that Christians ought to rouse themselves up to vigilance and activity. Meditation, casual and unsettled, must give place to eager and fixed contemplation; and with the feelings of a heart which regards Jesus Christ as all, we must follow hard after Him.
3. It intimates that the consideration of our present circumstances will show us the necessity of exciting ourselves to this vigilance and activity. It was peculiarly unsuitable in the Romans to slumber, since the gospel of salvation had so lately arisen on them with healing in its wings. Let it be considered, too, that the present is a time marked by the peculiar activity of some in the cause of Christ. Can you slumber while they thus hold forth the Word of life?
III. Let us now consider how you should be excited to this vigilance and activity by the nearness of your salvation.
1. Here the appeal may be made to your gratitude. Think what God hath done and what He still intends to do for you.
2. Consider how unsuitable sloth is to the prospects before you. You are soon to associate with those who serve God day and night in His temple; and shall you now slumber?
3. Consider how injurious to others your carelessness and sloth may be. If you, whose age and attainments show that your salvation is so near, slumber, it must damp the ardour of the young disciple.
4. Consider how detrimental indolence will be to your own interest and happiness. If you slumber with salvation so near, you will provoke God to awaken you by a shock dreadful and trying. There is another view which may be taken of this argument which may add to its influence. As the ship which is within a few hours’ sail of the haven has sometimes been driven out to sea to struggle for weeks with winds and waves, till the crew are exhausted with hunger, fear, and toil, so has the indolence of saints been punished by a prolonged stay in this scene of trouble, instead of having an entrance ministered to them abundantly into the kingdom of the Saviour.
1. How happy are they who have obtained precious faith through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ!
2. Let saints be exhorted to use every means of excitement to this holy activity.
3. Let the consideration of the nearness of salvation reconcile you to affliction and to death.
4. Let the young be exhorted to activity in goodness and piety.
5. Finally, how solemn are the lessons suggested by this subject to unconverted men! Salvation is far from the wicked; and what is most horrible, ye have put it from you, and judged everlasting life unworthy of your acceptance. (H. Belfrage, D.D.)
It is the characteristic and the privilege of man that he lives not only in the present, but is able to review the past, and anticipate the future. This faculty is connected with his moral responsibility, and is a sign of his immortal existence. That he very imperfectly employs it is a painful but unquestionable truth. Our contemplation is directed to--
I. An interesting period in the past--“when we believed.” There are few persons who must not cherish some interesting remembrances. Some, of course, derive more excitement from the past than others, but no remembrances can ever possess a charm to be named with this. He who can look back to when he believed, looks back upon a period of unparalleled moment and eternal influence. “When you believed.” Think of that event.
1. In the agency by which it was accomplished. Faith did not arise from the spontaneous influence of your own mind, or from the influence of others. It was the work of God wrought upon you by the ministry of His gospel, the private admonition of a friend, the perusal of His Word, or by affliction. But, whatever the instrumentality, faith is the gift of God.
2. In the influences by which it was attended. Then began feelings to which you were before strangers: then arose penitence, impelling you to mourn over your vileness: love, binding you in firm attachment to Him who died for you: hope, irradiating the otherwise darkened future: holiness, beginning the grand process by which it world refine every faculty by assimilating them to the Divine likeness. “When you believed,” old things passing away and all things becoming new.
3. In the privileges to which it introduced you--pardon and reconciliation with God; righteousness and full acceptance in the Beloved; liberty from the tyranny of sin and of Satan, adoption into the Divine family, etc.
II. An infinite blessing which is future. “Our salvation” of final reward and happiness. The apostle here--
1. Assumes that faith has an established connection with salvation. Revelation unites in one solemn and most conclusive pledge, that having through grace believed, and being by that grace in that faith preserved, we shall enjoy the delights which are treasured up in the everlasting kingdom. Faith is the first step in the pilgrimage which leads to the celestial rest; the first launch in the voyage which wafts to the celestial haven; the first stroke in the conflict which issues in celestial triumphs.
2. Summons Christians to meditate upon their salvation. As they have been directed to an exercise of memory, so they are directed to an exercise of anticipation. The more you commune with the time when you believed, the more also you will commune with the time when you shall be saved. Turn, then, as from the bud to the flower, from the root to the tree, from the babe to the man, from the faint outlines to the finished picture, from the first tremulous notes of the music to the sounding of the full harmony of the spheres, from the streaks of the early dawn to the splendour of the meridian day. Think of your coming victory over the last enemy, of the flight of your spirit to paradise, of the resurrection of the body, of your public recognition and welcome in your perfected nature by the Judge before the assembled universe, of your enjoyment in that perfected nature of heaven. This is your salvation, and will you not gladly retire from the vulgar objects of this perishing world, and ascending to the summit of the Delectable Mountains, look through the clear azure upon the fair and sublime inheritance which is reserved for you?
3. Urges Christians to recognise their own personal advance towards salvation. Some amongst you are very near to salvation indeed. Your conversion is far back in the distance. And as to those to whom the probabilities of prolonged life may seem strong, how can they tell but that at this very moment they may be on the verge? With every morning dawn, and evening shadow, there ought to be the renewed reflection, “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
III. The practical results which a Christian reference to the past and the future must legitimately secure. There ought to be--
1. The cultivation of Christian holiness. To secure and to advance in holiness was the apostle’s prominent object. “Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness,” etc. If there be any who imagine that the prospects indicated may lead to licentiousness, let them receive their final refutation. Those who are entitled to anticipate salvation must be holy.
(1) To evince the genuineness and reality of their faith. If faith does not purify, it is a fiction.
(2) That they may be morally fitted for the world they have finally to inherit. That world is consecrated to unsullied and universal holiness. Seeing ye look for such things, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?
2. The cultivation of Christian activity. “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” The wakefulness and diligence here summoned has respect not only to our own salvation, but also to the salvation of others. This must be, that the whole of Christian character may be developed, and that the whole of Christian duty may be performed. Earnest activity in this high vocation is urged by the nearness of our own salvation; and because of the nearness of our own salvation therefore our opportunities for usefulness are rapidly contracting. For this reason “it is high time to awake out of sleep.”
3. The cultivation of Christian gratitude. Gratitude does indeed become us when we consider the value of the blessings which are imparted, or the principle upon which those blessings are secured and bestowed. (J. Parsons.)
1. We commonly speak of “salvation” as the state into which the believer in Jesus is introduced when he passes from death unto life; but here it means eternal glory.
2. Observe the date from which the apostle begins to reckon. He does not say our salvation is nearer than when we were christened or confirmed, but than when we believed. What could ever come of what is before believing? It is all death, and not worth reckoning. But then we started on our voyage to heaven.
3. Between these two points we are now sailing; and at the close of the year it seems meet just to note where we are, and to congratulate my fellow believers that we are nearer the eternal port that when we first slipped our cable. In going to Australia it is the custom to toast “Friends behind,” till they get half way; and then it changes, “Friends ahead.” Note--
I. The things behind.
1. Recollect when you believed. Of all days that on which you first left shore was the brightest of all; and you know that those who go to dwell on the other side of the world look back with satisfaction at the day when they left.
2. Since then you have had a good number of storms. You have seen one washed overboard that you thought very dear. You have yourselves suffered loss; happy were you if by that you found peace and safety in Christ. You remember, too, when you had to sail slowly in the thick fog, and keep the whistle sounding. You have been nearly but not quite wrecked. Above all the billows Jehovah’s power has kept you.
3. You have had a great deal of fair weather, too, since you left port. We have sailed along with a favouring breeze. Life is not the dreary thing that some men say it is.
4. Behind us, too, how many opportunities of service have we left? Many other ships sailed with us, and some of these, alas! have been wrecked before our eyes; but we had opportunities of bringing some of the shipwrecked ones to safety. Did we always do it?
II. Things ahead.
1. More storms. It is not over yet; but they must be fewer than they were.
2. Fairer winds. Christ will be with us; our communion with Him shall be sweet. There are these Sabbaths ahead, the outpourings of the Spirit, covenant blessings, etc. Let us, then, be comforted, and pass on.
3. More opportunities--and you young people especially should be looking out. Do not let us waste any more.
4. But looking still further ahead, when we remember we are nearer our salvation think of what that salvation will be. First, we shall see Jesus. Oh, what a heaven to be with Him! Then, next to Jesus, we shall be with all the bright spirits who have gone before us. I do not think Rowland Hill was at all foolish when he said to an old woman upon her dying bed, “As you are going first, take my love to the four great Johns--John who leaned on Jesus’s bosom, and John Bunyan, and John Calvin, and John Knox, and tell them poor old Rowly will be coming by and by.” I cannot doubt but that the message was delivered. Conclusion: There are some of you who are not nearer your salvation than when you believed; because, first, you never did believe; and, secondly, that which you are nearer to is not salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Cause for spiritual rejoicing
The one reason here urged for spiritual activity and rejoicing is the near approach of the day of complete redemption to the believer. Under the image of “night,” the apostle represents the state of partial enlightenment and sanctification, and consequent fear and conflict with evil. But “the night is far spent, the day is at hand.” “Now,” Paul exclaims, in a transport of joy, “is our salvation nearer than when we believed”--nearer as to time and space--nearer as it respects completion and reward. Both time and the Spirit’s work have brought the great consummation nearer. And surely such a fact may well fill us with rejoicing, and spur us on to redoubled efforts to make our calling and election sure.
I. Salvation is nigh.
1. Actually nigh. “The night is far spent.” Life here is short at best--death is nigh, heaven but a little way off.
2. Relatively nigh.
(1) “Nearer than when we believed.”
(2) Nearer at the close of each year, each day. Every moment rolls on the gladsome time!
3. Nearer as to the preparation for it. “ Salvation” is a life, a work, a growth, a consummation, a progress from first principles to complete and glorious development and crowning. The Christian is put to school at conversion, and year by year he grows in grace and love and holiness, till his graduation day. His path is as “the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
II. What follows?
1. “The night is far spent.”
(1) The night of spiritual conflict.
(2) The night of mystery--seeing things as through a glass darkly--will soon see as we are seen, and know as we are known.
(3) The night of sin and suffering. The day that is coming will bring absolute deliverance from evil in every form.
2. “The day is at hand.” Not only will the darkness be gone for ever, but the day of perfect and eternal sunlight will have come. Not only will there be a deliverance, but a crowning. The salvation will be a salvation from death to life; from sin to holiness; from shame to glory, Divine and everlasting.
3. And this salvation is nearer the Christian’s grasp to-day than when he first believed. Revolving suns bring it continually nearer. Great promises have already been realised; great victories won; many a rough place passed over and many a weary footstep measured off; many a Sabbath day’s journey made: and already the “delectable hills” are in sight; angels are bending over the battlements of heaven to welcome the approaching pilgrim; and soon the conflict will cease, and glory immortal--so long contemplated by faith and longed for--will be a blessed realisation. So near to heaven! So soon to be done with earth and sin and evil and conflict! So soon to stand with the ransomed on the heights of glory and shout, “Thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Homiletic Monthly.)
The night is far spent, the day is at hand.
The night and the day
These words contain--
I. A representation of this life and of the life to come.
1. This life is the night. Our condition in this state is one of--
(1) Ignorance. What feeble conceptions have we of God! What mistakes do we make respecting the methods of Divine grace. He who knows most confesses “that we know in part, and prophesy in part.”
(2) Danger. In the night of this life “your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Nor is he a solitary agent. Besides, how many natural ills surround us!
2. The next life is day. Heaven will be a day of--
(1) Knowledge. Good men will there see things as they are, God as He is, and know even as they are known.
(3) Happiness (Revelation 7:15-17).
II. An admonition of the departure of the former, and of the approach of the latter. We are informed of this fact by--
1. Revolving periods of time.
2. The doctrines of the gospel. There is not one of them which does not terminate in heaven. Christians are justified and sanctified that they may be capacitated to enjoy heaven.
3. The ordinances of the gospel. Why do we unite in songs of praise, but in the hope of ere long uniting in the praises of heaven?
4. Surrounding objects, combined with our own bodily infirmities. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The night and the day
You have here a view of life opposite to the one taken by our Lord. Speaking of what is coming He says, “The night cometh,” and speaking of what now is, “Work while it is called day.” He looks upon us as labourers in the field, who, when the night comes, must leave their work done or undone, which must stand till the great light comes again to show exactly how it was left. Paul, however, regards us as soldiers in a campaign. The night is come, and we have encamped for the night; the uniform is laid off; some are sitting round the campfire, some are walking about, some are playing tricks, some are doing what they would not dare to do in the day. A voice is heard, “The night is far spent--put on your armour, be ready.”
I. The present darkness.
1. Suppose you are on a hill, say a mile from the Thames. It might be that you could neither see the river nor the objects on it, but that would not prove that they did not exist. The only fact is that they and you are in darkness. Light does not create things; it only makes them manifest. So we are dwelling in the midst of ten thousand grand and mysterious realities, but we do not see them because of the shadows that lie on our souls.
2. By misapprehension we are liable in the dark to take the distant for the near, the little for the great, the common for the valuable, and vice versa. As the armour is scattered in the night the breastplate looks no brighter than the trunk of a tree, the helmet than a stone, etc. And the things which are symbolised by these pieces of armour do not always seem to us of their proper value. There is the girdle of truth--of unutterable price and value; but in this dim world men think that an ingenious deception is better. The breastplate of righteousness--why, many a man thinks more of a royal or municipal decoration. The helmet of salvation--many a woman prefers a new bonnet to that.
3. The dark brings us false anticipations. “When a man walketh in the darkness he knoweth not whither he goeth.” A man looking into the dark forms an incorrect estimate of what is before him. He has no power to calculate where he will be after five steps or ten. This is pre-eminently the condition of the man who is going straight towards eternity.
4. Darkness is often the time of dreaming. The sleeping soldier dreams probably not of battlefields, but of sheepfolds, etc.; and in the midst of the dream bursts in the cry, “To arms!” So it may be that thy imagination is full of a life to be that never will be; with plans for this very year that will never be carried out.
II. The coming day. “The night is far spent.” I know not in your case how far. The reason why we are in the dark is that this part of the world is turned away from the sun, and we are sitting in the shadow of our own world. And so the reason why we do not see God and heaven is simply because we have turned away from that side of heaven. Absence from the Lord is night-time; the presence of the Lord is the break of day. All you know is by faith; but the time of sight is coming. The moment is fixed, but God will never tell it. But it is at hand! The Judge is at the door.
III. The duty to which we are called.
1. “Cast off the works of darkness”--everything that people will venture to do in the dark, but not in the light. Even here we have certain lamps--dim, it is true--but which cast light on our affairs. The lamp of--
(1) Civil law. Is there anything in your action that if brought out to a court of justice would be stamped as guilty?
(2) Commercial integrity. Many a thing that would escape the former lamp would, if brought to this, appear odious. Is there in your ways anything that, if subjected to the keen eye of half a dozen honourable men, would be pronounced mean and shabby?
(3) Domestic honour. Many a thing that will escape the other two would look very vile under this. Is there aught in thee which would appear shameful in the eyes of those who love thee?
(4) Church discipline. Is there anything that, if brought under the knowledge of your brethren, would compel them to say, “It is sin”? Cast them all off,
2. “Put on the armour of light.” Look at the man who has got the polished shield, breastplate, etc., etc. As long as it is night they look poor and common; but when the great sun begins to play, look at them, how they shine in the light! Everything beautiful welcomes the light; and righteousness, peace, truth, etc., are akin to the light. Don’t say, “There they are, I can find them when I seek them”; or, “I shall have time enough when the alarm is sounded”; or, “I know some one who will get them for me.” Put them on, so that when the day dawns you may be ready. “But the day has not broken yet.” No; if it had you would have had no time to put the armour on. “But I have no armour, no girdle of righteousness,” etc. Then “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”--there is all the armour you need. (W. Arthur, M.A.)
The departing night and coming day
I. The fact stated. The apostle reverses the sense in which our Lord uses these words (John 9:4). Jesus contrasts the present scene with the darkness of the grave, while the apostle contrasts it with the bright heaven that lies beyond it.
1. “The night” is a picture of the Christian’s present state. In comparison with other men, and with his own former condition, he is in broad day. But the apostle is not thinking of these things. As he contemplates eternity, he feels that believers are all still in darkness. And the figure accords with our own experience and feelings. Night is a season of cheerlessness, incertitude, perplexity, inaction, and danger. Who is there that does not feel his spiritual condition here to be the same? But it is our ignorance that this figure most forcibly represents. Night throws a veil over the face of things. The traveller may be passing through the most beautiful scenes, but he might almost as well be going over a desert. So with us. What do we know of the things we most wish to know? Ours, however, is not a night of total darkness. The stars shine above us, and something like the mild, steady rays of an unclouded moon reach us; but it is night still, and we long for the shadows to flee away.
2. “The day” signifies heaven. “There shall be no night there.” Nothing to endanger, impede, bewilder, or distress. Everything we wish done away with here shall be done away with there. And there shall all which we have so long wished to see come--sunshine, brightness, beauty, and happiness. Travel on a bright day through a beautiful country, with the glorious sun shining, and all nature exulting in his shining. Then transfer this scene to heaven. There shines in unclouded splendour the Sun of Righteousness. This glorious light is ever shining on the most glorious objects, and we shall behold these objects, and the same light on ourselves shall cause us to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father.” Now this day is near.
II. The advice given is grounded on the fact stated. “Let us cast off,” etc.
1. Before, however, we can do this, there is something else to be done. Paul has in his mind a man asleep, who must in the first instance awake. Like a fellow-traveller or a fellow-soldier who has risen before us, Paul announces the approaching morning, and bids us rise. Now all this supposes that Christians may sink into a state of spiritual negligence, sloth, and torpor. And it shows us that out of such a state we must be roused before we can obey this exhortation.
2. We are to “cast off the works of darkness,” so called, because they court secrecy, and because they are connected with the prince of darkness. It is impossible to fall into a state of spiritual indifference without getting some of these unclean things upon us. And they are to be got rid of in the first place. There is not a greater delusion than to think we can be clothed in the graces of Christ’s Spirit while we are holding fast any beloved sin. As to our bodies, we may put a clean garment over an unclean one, but we can never get our minds imbued with any one Christian grace as long as we are harbouring any one unchristian lust. Hence we are to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” in order to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”
3. The roused-up man is addressed as a warrior, and told to put on the “armour of light,”
(1) The source of this is Divine. Like the light, holiness is heaven-born. As evil desires and works proceed from Satan in his dark world, so all “holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works,” proceed from God in His bright world. This armour is a part of God’s own nature. He is Light--“glorious in holiness”; His purity gives Him His splendour. So when He communicates His holiness to us, He communicates with it a portion of His own glory. We look for safety and victory only from the armour He gives us, but that armour dignifies us as we go forth to the fight in it.
2. This holiness accords well with the heaven to which we are going. It is light, something harmonising with the splendid day which is soon to break on us. The expression intimates “meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.” (C. Bradley, M.A.)
Day at hand
I. The night--
1. Of time and mystery.
2. Of sin and sorrow.
3. Of individual experience.
II. The day--
1. Of eternity and revelation.
2. Of righteousness and salvation.
3. Of final decision.
III. The departure of one and the near approach of the other--
2. A call to activity. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Preparation for the day
I. What we are to cast off.
1. Works that consisted with a time of ignorance.
2. That will not bear the light.
3. That spring from darkness.
II. What are we to put on?
1. Armour, offensive, defensive.
2. Of light.
III. Why? “Because the night,” etc. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Preparation for the day
I. The fact asserted.
1. In reference to Rome and the heathen world at large, the night of Gentile ignorance and vice was far spent, and the day of gospel knowledge, grace, and blessing was at hand.
2. In reference to the Christian Church at Rome, the night of imperfect acquaintance with the gospel was far spent, and the clear day of spiritual light was at hand.
3. In reference to each individual Christian, whosoever and wheresoever he may be, the night of temptation, trial, and trouble is far spent, and the day of heavenly glory and bliss is at hand.
II. The exhortation founded on this fact.
1. From the practice of all sin. The dress to be “cast off” is “the works of darkness,” so called because--
(1) Their source is darkness.
(2) Their scene of action is darkness, as far as man can render it so.
(3) Their end is the “blackness of darkness for ever”! Sin must return to the place from whence it came; and woe to him who shall be found in its company at the time!
2. To the pursuit of all holiness. “Let us put on the armour of light.” In Ephesians 6:13-17 he enumerates the several particulars of the Christian armour.
But it is more briefly described in verse 14.
1. Make the example of Christ your pattern.
2. Seek for union with Christ as your strength. (J. Jowett, M.A.)
The whole time between His first coming and His second may be looked at as the dawn, the daybreak; light still struggling with darkness, the darkness only slowly receding, but yet ever receding--retreating step by step, and pierced through and through as it retreats by the glittering shafts of the true king of day. (Abp. Trench.)
Put on the armour of light.--
The armour of light is
1. Divine in its origin.
2. Excellent in its nature.
3. Essential in its adoption.
4. Invincible in its use. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The armour of light
Religion is the best armour a man can have, but the worst cloak. (Bunyan.)
The armour of light
It is a habit of the Apostle Paul to present almost everything in its dual aspect--e.g., the “flesh” fails and corrupts; the “spirit” quickens and nourishes; “sin” condemns and slays; “grace” justifies, purifies, saves; “death “ is swallowed up of “life.” Here is the same method in another of its applications. There is one who is told the night is almost gone; that the morning is coming, that it is time to put off all the works of darkness, and to stand waiting for the glow of the sunrise. And he wishes to do it. But how hard the work is! How difficult to distinguish! These “works of darkness” are not all wicked and horrible. They are things that may be helpful or inimical, according to circumstances. “And here I stand,” one has to think, “in the dark, to watch against evil, to put it away, to keep it away.” No! you would have little chance of coming out of it into morning in that way--in the way simply of resistance to evil by inward strength and wisdom. Our apostle never proposes action in that way. He had tried it, and knew what it ended in. “Try it,” saith he, “in this way.” “Put off”; and in the same act, “put on.” Put on what? Not “the works of light,” although he might have said that with propriety; but “the armour of light”--thus conveying to us the sentiment that Christian faith, in proportion as we live in it, and Christian virtues, in proportion as we put them on, become a soldier’s armour. Live the Christian life fully, and you will become like an armed man. Put on this armour, then. It can be done easily, quietly. Many a gentle soul is clad in it. Many a battle is fought and won without dust, or noise, or blood--by soul-confidence; by heart faith; by patient waiting; by looking to Christ; by longings for heaven. Courage! you who are striving, and you who are weary, and you who are longing for more than you can express. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
The armour of light
I. Its nature.
1. The military girdle, that which was intended to give support and firmness to the body: “Having your loins girt about with truth”--i.e., absolute sincerity in the consecration of ourselves to the service of Christ, our great Head.
2. “The breastplate of righteousness”: all holiness, inward and outward. And as the breastplate defended the vital parts, so whatever injuries we may sustain, they cannot reach the conscience while this breastplate is there. And when the conscience is kept pure, all is safe.
3. “Your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This refers to the greaves and shoes, which were designed to give a firm footing and to guard against hidden traps. No man is in a state of preparation for the Christian conflict but he who is at peace with God. But pardoning love and regenerating grace, having set the man free from sin, give him firm ground, and enable him, standing fast in the Lord and the power of His might, to beat down every enemy that assails him.
4. “The shield of faith,” the use of which is “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one”: in allusion to those firebrands which were sometimes shot along with the arrows, or to the arrows themselves, the iron heads of which had been previously heated, in order to inflict more intolerable pain. This shield quenches the fiery darts
(1) Of persecution.
(2) Of temptation and affliction.
5. “An helmet the hope of salvation.” It defends the head, the very vital part. Despair chills exertion.
6. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
(1) Our Lord Himself has given us an instance of its defensive power in His own temptation.
(2) But the Christian is to carry on an offensive warfare by zealously and consistently, on all proper occasions, proclaiming the truth of God.
II. Why it is called “the armour of light.”
1. With reference to its origin, which is heavenly. It is therefore well called the whole armour of God. Though it is true that sincerity, righteousness, faith, suppose acts of the will, and a certain state of the affections, yet, nevertheless, they are wrought in man by God, and are found only in the regenerate.
2. Because it is only found where Christianity exists and exerts its proper influence. No man is seen in the armour of light but a true Christian. We find no instance in which the philosophy of ancient times made a warrior such as the apostle describes, armed him with armour like this, and led him on to victory. St. Paul tried whether Pharisaism would do; so that, “touching the righteousness of the law,” he was “blameless.” Yet he was held in the bondage of pride, and prejudice, and anger. Take our modern infidel philosopher, with reason and virtue on his lips, and with pride, selfishness, and passion in his heart.
3. Because it corresponds with the character of our dispensation, which is a dispensation of light.
III. The motives which should induce us to array ourselves in this armour. Consider--
1. The degraded state of the man who is not invested with it.
2. The moral elevation which it gives to every one who is invested with it.
3. That you must either conquer or be conquered. (R. Watson.)
A luminous character
Humboldt tells us that, after bathing among the noctilucae in the phosphorescent water of the Pacific, his skin was luminous for hours after. In a spiritual sense, is it not true that when we bathe, so to speak, mind and heart in the truths and influences of Christianity, allowing, seeking their appropriate effect upon us, the whole character shines with a heaven-given light and beauty, that we can bear about with us into the common scenes and daily duties of life?
Let us walk honestly, as in the day.
Rules for walking in the day
I. In general. Walk honestly (Titus 2:12).
II. In particular.
1. Not in rioting and drunkenness (Isaiah 5:13).
(1) This deprives us of the use of reason.
(2) And so, for the present, blots out the image of God.
(3) Makes men unfit for duty (Luke 21:34; Hosea 4:11).
(4) Exposeth a man to all other sin.
(5) Hath a particular curse entailed upon it (Isaiah 5:11; Proverbs 23:29-30, etc.).
2. Not in chambering and wantonness (Hebrews 13:4). To avoid this--
(1) Be careful to keep a good conscience (Genesis 39:9).
(2) Watch over your spirits (Malachi 2:16).
(3) Pray against it (Psalms 119:37).
3. Strife and envying.
(1) They are signs of a carnal mind (1 Corinthians 3:3; Galatians 5:19-20; James 3:14-15).
(2) Proceed only from pride and ignorance (1 Timothy 6:4).
(3) Produce confusion and evil works (James 3:16-17).
4. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) By baptism (Galatians 3:27).
(2) By faith, we put on--
(a) His righteousness.
(i) Christ took our nature upon Him (John 1:14).
(ii) Suffered for our sins (Isaiah 53:5-6).
(iii) By this He expiated our sins, and purchased righteousness for us (1 John 2:2).
(iv) All believers are interested in all His sufferings and righteousness (Galatians 2:16).
(v) Hence their sins are hid, as it were, from the eyes of God (Romans 8:33-34; Philippians 3:8-9).
(b) His graces.
(i) Humility (1 Peter 5:5; Matthew 11:29).
(ii) Self-denial (Matthew 16:24).
(iii) Temperance (1 Corinthians 7:31).
(iv) Patience (Luke 21:19; James 1:3).
(v) Thankfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
(vi) Heavenly-mindedness (Philippians 3:20).
(vii) Charity (Acts 10:38; James 1:27).
(viii) Constancy and perseverance (Revelation 2:26).
1. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider--
(1) Your sins are many, and it is only by Him they can be pardoned (1 John 2:1).
(2) Your sins are strong, and only by Him subdued,
(3) God angry, only by Him appeased (Matthew 3:17).
(4) Your hearts corrupted, only by Him cleansed (1 Corinthians 1:2).
(5) Your souls are immortal, and it is only by Him that they can be saved (Acts 16:30-31). (Bp. Beveridge.)
How the Christian ought to walk
I. Consistently--as in the day.
III. Like Christ.
1. Denying himself.
2. Condemning sin in the flesh. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Standing near the remarkable spring at Ewell, in Surrey, and watching the uprising of the waters, one sees at the bottom of the pool innumerable circles with smaller circles within them, from which extremely fine sand is continually being upheaved by the force of the rising water. Tiny geysers upheave their little founts, and from a myriad openings bubble up with the clear crystal. The perpetual motion of the water and the leaping of the sand are most interesting. It is not like the spring-head in the field, where the cooling liquid pours forth perpetually from a spout, all unseen, till it plunges into its channel; nor like the river head where the stream weeps from a mass of mossy rock; but here are the fountains of earth’s hidden deeps all unveiled and laid bare, the very veins of nature opened to the public gaze. How would it amaze us if we could in this fashion peer into the springs of human character and see whence words and actions flow! What man would wish to have his designs and aims exposed to every onlooker? But why this aversion to being known and read of all men? The Christian’s motives and springs of action should be so honest and pure that he might safely defy inspection. He who has nothing to be ashamed of has nothing to conceal. Sincerity can afford, like our first parents in Paradise, to be naked and not ashamed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Put on Christ
I. There is a wonderful fitness in Christ’s character to meet the condition of sinners. Put on Christ as--
1. Your hope before God.
2. Your sanctification.
3. Your help.
4. Your exemplar.
II. There is this fitness in nothing else than Christ.
III. Therefore, if we would be happy, we must make use of Christ for ourselves. Put Him on in your--
4. Profession. (Matthew Wilks.)
How and why we are to put on Christ
I. What is intended by “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the East garments are of greater importance than with us. The finest were there accumulated, preserved with the greatest care, and constituted a considerable part of wealth. Hence more frequent allusions are made to this than we are accustomed to use. In the Bible, qualities of character are often represented by clothing. Job says, “I put on righteousness as a robe.” In Isaiah the Messiah is introduced as “clad with zeal as with a cloak.” Our Lord represents the accepted character of a believer by the wedding garment of a guest, and Peter exhorts us to be “clothed with humility,” etc. We put on Christ--
1. When we make an open profession of His name. It is not enough to believe. Latent faith can at the best only edify its possessor. But the Church is intended to be the light of the world. Whoever conceals his religion must accept the consequence. “Whoso is ashamed of Me,” etc.
2. By cultivating an acquaintance with the doctrines, imbuing our minds with the spirit and sentiments, of the gospel. All the doctrines of Christianity are intended to expel our native corruption, and raise us nearer to the character and will of God. We cannot then put on Christ, without the serious perusal of the Scriptures, and the devout contemplation of the Cross.
3. When we imitate His example. Other models are imperfect, and unsafe for universal imitation: but that challenges our entire pursuit. One great end of His obedience unto death was that He might leave us an example whose steps we might follow. In order to obey the will of God you cannot adopt any method so simple and sure as to inquire, “How can I this day act in a manner most consonant to the mind of Christ?”
II. Why are we to put on Christ?
1. That Christ may be glorified by us. If we love Him, we shall desire to glorify Him: but what can tend so much to His glory, as to let men see the efficacy of His doctrine on our character? Nothing can be so calculated to counteract infidelity and convince men that there is a Saviour.
2. That we may experience religious peace and joy, by making it clear to ourselves that we belong to Him. You never knew a person, however depressed by poverty or sickness, who, if he sincerely served the Lord, was not happy.
3. That we may best prepare for a dying hour, and for the solemn scenes beyond. This is to put on the wedding garment; the want of this, in the day when the King comes in to see the guests, will leave a man speechless! (Robert Hall, M.A.)
Putting on Christ
The Hebrew language one continual picture. Every fact and emotion rendered by an image. The truth, e.g., that Christ is life, and that apart from Christ is no life, is act forth most often by vivid metaphors. The general significance of the present metaphor is that the old sinful life is to be doffed like a soiled and sordid garment, and the new nature which Christ gives and inspires, is to be put on like a new and shining robe.
I. Try to be like Christ. Love what Christ loved, hate what Christ hated. The next clause helps to explain this part of the meaning, by giving us its opposite.
II. But perhaps you will say, “If that be all, any moralist might, in other language, tell us the same. We read something like it in every noble teacher. We know in our best moments that we arc mean, guilty creatures, but we do not know how to be otherwise. You bid us seek for nobler manners and purer tastes; you might as well bid the snared bird to fly, or the worm to throw off the rock which is crushing it to earth.” Well, the gospel of Christ has broken the snare, and rolled away the rock. To put on Christ is to share His might, to come into quickening electric personal contact with Him, to derive magnetic force from His personality, to live by His Spirit, and so to be born again and to become a new creature.
III. We look at our ruined selves, our corrupted hearts, our wasted lives, and “abhor ourselves in dust and ashes.” How can we ever stand before God, who chargeth even the angels with folly, and in whose sight the very heavens are not clean? Ah, but there is yet another and more blessed meaning of “putting on Christ,” and it is to be found in Him; not trusting in our own righteousness which is as filthy rags, but being clad in the white robe of His forgiving grace. How heart-broken have been the last utterances of even the greatest men! (Grotius. Bacon and Shakespeare in their wills.) Conclusion: Such, then, is the meaning of this Divine message. Break with your past self; come to Christ for strength, and by prayer to Him and earnestly seeking Him, be quickened and transformed. And as it means this hope for the future, and this strength in the present, so also it means forgiveness for the past. Say not, then, that the meaning is not clear; strive rather to make it yours by blessed experience. (Archdn. Farrar.)
Putting on Christ
I. What is implied in this? This is a figurative expression for an interest in Christ, union with Him, and conformity to Him.
1. As our wisdom, for our illumination.
(1) To give light to our understanding in the knowledge of the Scriptures.
(2) To correct and rectify our judgment on all points of necessary belief.
(3) To inform our conscience in all matters of practice.
(4) To guide our will, and influence our affections, in the subjects of our choice, desire, pursuit, and expectation.
2. As our righteousness, for our justification.
3. As the source of the Spirit, and of grace, for our sanctification.
4. As our example, for our direction and improvement in holiness. This is considered by interpreters as the chief thing meant. Chrysostom remarks, “It is a common phrase that a person has put him on, whom he imitates.” The kings of Persia, on their coronation-day, put on a robe which the first Cyrus wore before he was king, to remind them of imitating his exemplary temper and behaviour. Certainly one grand end of the appearance of Christ in our nature, was to set us an example of blamelessness, usefulness, holiness (John 12:26; Colossians 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). Hence, those that have put on Christ will conduct themselves as directed in the context. They will walk “honestly,” in a manner becoming their privileges.
II. Why we ought to do so.
1. That “being clothed, we may not be found naked,” destitute of the robe of righteousness, and garment of salvation.
2. For decency, it being a shame to be unclothed, especially garments being provided for us.
3. For defence against error, sin, misery, the wrath of God, an accusing conscience, and all the consequences of neglect.
4. For ornament; that we may not be without the wedding garment, and therefore be excluded from the marriage feast. (J. Benson.)
Putting on Christ
I. The duty enforced.
1. Toput on Christ is to endeavour to be like Him, to have Him on is to succeed in the attempt. It is the investment of the soul with the virtues which adorned His character, just as a man clothes his body with articles of dress. Many a man has so done this as to put others in mind of Christ; he was so Christlike; just as if one of His followers after His departure had put on the garments which Christ had worn. Does any one of us put others in mind of Jesus?
2. To put on Christ does not mean any mechanical attempts after mere external likeness, as clothes may be put on a lay figure, or a portrait wrought on canvas. What is meant is not so much a studied imitation of what in Him may have met the eye of observers, as the culture of a deep internal sympathy with His Spirit which manifested itself in words and deeds. You may put royal robes on a corpse, and in particular lights and distances it may seem alive. In the same way a mere simulated likeness to Christ may be put on a dead spiritual nature; but this, so far from representing Him, presents only an aggravated image of His worst enemies whom He denounced as “whited sepulchres.” Christ is not to be put on over the natural man, but the natural man becoming spiritual, a visible Christ comes out as an emanation from within; just as His inward essential glory came out on the Mount of Transfiguration.
3. To put on Christ is not synonymous with the being clothed with Christ’s justifying righteousness, and so hiding our sins from the sight of God; it rather refers to sanctification--a subjective participation of life through Christ, and the consequent outgrowth of conformity to Him. It comes after justification. “As many as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ,” etc.
4. The precept suggests the moral perfection of Christ. No caution is given, as if there were some things which were not to be put on. There is no fear of your being too much like Him. It would not do to speak thus of any one else, however distinguished. In every other character there is something to be excepted, e.g., Abraham’s duplicity, David’s bloodguiltiness, etc. Nevertheless
(1) There were things in Christ we cannot and must not imitate. Here we distinguish between an example and a pattern. The latter is to be literally traced, just as the engraver produces the facsimile of a painting; the former may be something whose form we cannot repeat, but whose principle we may imbibe and infuse into other acts different in form but of the same kind. Thus we cannot like Christ perform miracles, but we can cultivate the spirit of love which moved Him to do what He did. We shall not be tempted as He was; but the same parts of our nature will be assailed; and we can learn to resist as He resisted, with the sword of the Spirit. It might not be right for us to go into the company of sinners as He did, nor employ His terrible invectives; but we can cherish the spirit which led Him to seek the lost, and sympathise with His repugnance to evil. We have not Christ’s personal religion which had no repentance.
(2) There were many acts of personal holiness and relative virtue which our Lord could not exercise. He was not a merchant, magistrate, or head of a household. But He embodied the principle of universal obedience, and fulfilled every obligation arising from all the relations which He could or did sustain towards God and man. This is what we are to do, and to learn from Him to do.
II. To whom the duty appertains. The words are addressed to a Christian Church, who have received the gospel. Those who believe in Christ, and are reconciled to God by Him, are required to put Him on. But let no man go on sinning in the supposition that some day by Divine grace he may become converted and then put on Christ. This should be remembered by the children of Christian families particularly. Let their earliest lesson be to strive to be like Christ, and after many a failure they may gradually come to a sense of forgiving mercy which will not be lessened by their endeavours before they knew the precise nature cf their obligations to Him.
III. How it is to be carried out. To put on Christ there must be--
1. A thoroughly honest desire to be like Him. This needs deep consideration and prayer for the grace of the Holy Spirit.
2. A frequent and devout study of the character of Jesus in order to understand both its form and spirit.
3. A study of what Christ taught and required.
4. A deliberate and habitual effort to realise all this in personal character and life.
5. Seasons of special self-examination as to likeness or unlikeness to Christ.
6. Carefulness to guard against religious acts becoming formalities.
IV. The blessedness of fulfilling this duty.
1. It constitutes the most solid and satisfactory proof of inward religion. The spiritual processes of contrition, faith, forgiveness, dec., are all inward and secret, and so there is a necessity for the practical fruits of these in likeness to Christ, to be brought forth, so that the Christian and others may have full demonstration that he is born of God.
2. It is the only way of securing that peace and comfort which specifically belong to the religious life. The peace of the sinner flows into him entirely from without; the peace of a saint from purified affections and Godlikeness, and in proportion as he puts on Christ will this be secured to him in Christ’s companionship.
3. It is the great secret of spiritual strength, safety, and perseverance. The text gives us the meaning of “the armour of light.”
4. It is the best preparation for the day of His coming, when they only who are like Him will be able to see Him as He is. (T. Binney, LL.D.)
Christ’s character the soul’s true garment
The soul requires a garment as well as the body, and the true garment of the soul is the character of Christ. This is--
I. A most indispensable garment. Sin has stripped the soul of its true attire, and three things mark its history everywhere.
1. Moral shame. It shrinks from the eye of scrutiny.
2. Painful exposure. It is at the mercy of the elements around it.
3. Robing expedients. From the time that our first parents sewed their fig leaves, every, soul has been busy at some garment. The old Pagan world was full of such manufactures, nor is the modern religious world destitute of such self-made robes, but they are all “filthy rags.”
II. A most precious garment. The most valuable thing in the world is moral goodness, whose most perfect form is the character of Christ. This garment is--
1. Ever beautiful. “How great is His beauty.” “We beheld His glory,” etc. The highest beings in the universe admire this robe.
2. Ever enduring. The costly robes of princes shall rot, even the heavens themselves shall be folded up as a vesture, but the character of Christ shall last for ever.
III. A most available garment. We are constantly putting on the characters of others. This assimilation is a law of our social being. Our characters are formed on the principle of imitation. The character of Him is most easily attainable by us. He has the most--
1. Lovableness. He whom we love most we shall imitate most. Christ is infinitely lovable.
2. Accessibleness. He, if lovable, with whom we can have the most free, constant, and uninterrupted access, will impress us most easily with his characteristics. Christ is ever with us. “Our fellowship is indeed with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The garment of salvation
I. What is it to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? It implies the taking of--
1. His merit.
2. His spirit and temper.
3. His badge, and making a public profession of being His servants.
II. How are we to do this? By--
1. An internal application of Him. Thus we put on Christ before God, and make Him our only--
(2) Ground of justification.
(3) Hope of glory.
2. An external profession of Him, by works before men. (R. Cecil, M.A.)
The believer’s dress
cast every other in the shade.
I. Costly. It cost the King of Glory His life and death (Philippians 2:6-8).
II. Comfortable. It fills the soul with peace and joy (Romans 15:13).
III. Complete. It leaves not part of body or soul exposed (Colossians 2:10).
IV. Comely, in the eyes of God, angels, and men (Ezekiel 16:14).
V. Glorious (2 Corinthians 3:18).
VI. Durable (Hebrews 13:8).
VII. Divine (Jeremiah 23:6). (T. Robinson, D.D.)
The best dress
(Children’s Sermon):--It is--
I. A new dress.
1. It is not our natural dress.
2. It is of peculiar excellence.
II. A rich dress. To put on Christ is to put on--
1. Humility, as the tunic, always worn, fitting the body close.
2. Love, as the cloak, often taken off to cast round others.
3. Truth, as the girdle, making the wearer strong and ready for work.
4. Obedience, as the sandals.
III. A Church dress, because--
1. It is the best. It is right to wear the best dress in church.
2. It is sacred.
IV. A court dress. You will wear this dress in heaven. Keep it well, then; you are to see the King in it. (J. Edmond, D.D.)
The drama of life
The apostle meant, “Personify Christ; act His part” Never it is true, shall we be perfect as the Master was; but by patience, prayer, and effort we may come to resemble Him closely. A young artist may be twitted as he sits before his model with, “Are you vain enough to think that you can paint as well as Titian or Turner?” He will reply, “No, but I hope by industry to make fair copies of their pictures.”
1. Study your part well. No success without this. Alexander carried a copy of Homer with him in all his campaigns. Eminent orators have studied Demosthenes and Cicero. Lord Wolseley has made war his one study. How widely Dickens observed! So success in our line cannot be achieved without habitual regard to Christ. “Beholding as in a glass,” etc. A saint had a vision of Christ on which he gazed so long that he afterwards found in his own hands and feet the marks of the nails. A mere fable, but one with an impressive moral.
2. Attend to private preparation. Solitary discipline has ever preceded public proficiency in musicians, soldiers, etc. Communion with God will keep us right in our fellowship with man.
3. Be an enthusiast. He who has no higher ambition than to get through his part will never be a good actor. “How comes it,” asked a bishop of Garrick, “that I, in expounding Divine truths, produce so little effect, while you so easily rouse the deepest feelings of your audience by the representation of your fiction?” “Because,” said the actor, “I recite fiction as if it were truth, while you deliver truth as if it were fiction.”
1. You have a prompter--the Holy Ghost, “He shall bring all things to your remembrance,” etc. Napoleon III. wrote, “I always make my great uncle my model, his spirit accompanying me, and enabling me to succeed in the same.” We may make a higher boast than that.
2. Others have acted their part well.
3. Never mind though you act badly at first. When Kemble made his first appearance he was laughed down; so was Disraeli.
4. You will be applauded if you act your part well--by God and the good. (T. R. Stephenson.)
Persuasives and dissuasives
I. A persuasive to holiness--put on Christ.
1. His humility and self-denial.
2. His meekness and patience.
3. His purity and fervent zeal.
II. A dissuasive from sin.
1. Guard against its occasions.
2. Check the first desire.
3. Mortify its lusts. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ
There are two methods of moral improvement: first, acting from ourselves according to an abstract principle; and, secondly, living over again the example of actual excellence. It is the latter method to which the text points. It is certainly a very remarkable power which God has given us, of realising in ourselves a character different from our own. We cannot fail to see in such a constitution the Divine purpose, not only that we should enter into the feeling of others, but moreover that we should enrich our own nature; not be confined strictly to our native tendencies and original biases, but borrow others’ wisdom, copy others’ virtue, and incorporate into our own being a thousand exotic excellences. A consideration of some of the modes in which this representing, realising power operates may help us to understand it as a moral faculty, and consecrate it to the highest uses. Do we not see a very familiar display of it in the genius of the poet, by which he conceives of characters--creatures of his imagination, yet true to nature--distinguished from one another and from himself in their modes of thought and actuating passions, and, through all the variety of situations in which they may be placed, severally well sustained? Nothing is more common than this representation in the Bible itself. Sacred historian, psalmist, and prophet are continually figuring certain characters before our minds as examples or warnings. The parables of our Lord are commonly but portraitures to our spiritual fancy of diverse moral characters; and we can learn the lesson He intends only by a vigorous use of this representing and reproducing power. The exercises, too, of the human voice in recitation and oratory, only set before us in tones what the pen has first traced in simple words. From the child that is taught to speak the sentiments of some saint or martyr in his earliest declamations at school, to the grave debater in legislative halls; from the narrator at the fireside, to the lively rehearser of inspired pages of human composition, or the edifying reader of the sacred Word of God, what do we see throughout but this very endeavour of the soul to personate and put on the meaning and feeling of some other character, and, so far as it is understood and believed to be a noble character, to adopt, appropriate, and live over again its nobleness? Or, to illustrate the subject from more homely, universally known facts, the strong working of this assimilating power of the soul will not be doubted by any who have noticed how in daily life we continually fashion each other, and are fashioned by those we are with; who have observed the contagion of custom in a community, the transfer of manners, the mutual likeness often obtaining both of moral traits and visible expression between husband and wife, and more or less all the dwellers under a single roof, and, in short, the transforming force upon our own hearts from the scenes we enter, the presence we stand in, the books we read, the images we contemplate. This impersonation of the soul, in the use and actual bearing of every man, exceeds in subtlety and extent all the imaginations that poetry has ever expressed. Therefore is not the Divine wisdom toward us shown, when the Scripture fixes on this fundamental instinct as a moral power to be dedicated, for its main employment, to our spiritual growth? Like the painter who drew in a single likeness the transcript of what was best in each selected countenance, we shall be continually transferring from the vast galleries of Providence and Holy Writ, from the society of the present and the past, and from the face of those on earth or in heaven, the manifold moral beauty which is “every creature’s best,” and thus put that imitative and personating faculty, by which we pass into another’s heart, to its highest designed use. The justice we admire, the charity we love, the holy zeal and endurance we revere, the fervent adoration and self-devotion which makes our hearts burn--all these we possess and become. The whole gospel is preached and summed up in that single exhortation. “To put on Christ”; “to be found in Him, not having our own righteousness”; to be “clothed” with His meekness and humility; to have “His spirit,” and “the same mind in us that was also in Him”; to open our hearts for His “abode,” and have Him “formed within us, the hope of glory”--who but recognises at once, in this so controverted and abused language, the burden of the New Testament? And wherein is the sense of this language, if not in the appropriation of His worth to our nature, by the force of sympathy, and of a twofold spiritual consciousness operating to unite Him to ourselves? Thus the Divine graces of His character are not impressed in the way of mere commandment alone; but, as the beauty of the landscape and the fragrance of flowers possess our outward senses, so these finer influences sink into the deeper perceptions of the spirit. No poet’s imagination, no speaker’s expression, no artist’s fancy, no friendship’s experience, and no other character on the historic pages can work on us the elevating transformation which we feel in gazing on our Master as He appears in the artless evangelic accounts, till our whole thought becomes identified with the object of our regard, and He appears to us, not in human articles of theoretic belief, but shines with a living glory into our real knowledge and love. Neither can any simple self-culture, which has perhaps been too much our method, any laborious efforts of will, any works or merits of ours, suffice for our salvation, and lift us into the highest Divine frame, without this admiring absorption of mind into the model and mould of perfection, by which we “put on Jesus Christ.” (C. A. Bartol.)
Robed in Christ’s righteousness
The moment the man believes in Jesus Christ he is in the righteousness of Christ--perfectly righteous; he has put upon him the Saviour’s garments. You heard Mr. Weaver say on this platform--I thought it was a good illustration--that one day he met with a very poor man who was in rags. This man being a Christian, he wished to befriend him; he told him if he would go home with him, he would give him a suit of clothes. “So,” said Richard, “I went upstairs and took off my second best, and put on my Sunday best, for I did not want to give him my best. I sent the man upstairs, and told him he would find a suit which he could put on; it was my second best. So after he had put on the clothes, and left his rags behind, he came down and said, ‘Well, Mr. Weaver, what do you think of me?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I think you look very respectable.’ ‘Oh, yes, but, Mr. Weaver, it is not me; I am not respectable, it is your clothes that are respectable.’ And so,” added Mr. Weaver, “so is it with the Lord Jesus Christ; He meets us covered with the rags and filth of sin, and He tells us to go and put on not His second best, but the best robe of His perfect righteousness; and when we come down with that on, we say, ‘Lord, what dost Thou think of me?’ and He says, ‘Why, thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee.’ We answer, ‘No, it is not me, it is Thy righteousness; I am comely because Thou art comely; I am beautiful because Thou art beautiful.’” (C. H. Spurgeon.)