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We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves.
The weak and the strong
This noble aphorism contains the highest philosophy and the purest religion. We have here--
I. The principle of association. How much has this come to the fore! We have Life, Fire, and Co-operative “Associations.” Men begin to see the advantages of these things, and we should not forget that it was Christianity which gave the key-note to their existence. But Paul goes further. He would have the whole world one vast co-operative association--men and women associating in all things, and remembering that they are members of one great family, and acting as such.
II. The law of assistance. This would be a poor world if we were not to lend a helping hand one to another; the strong man is to bear the infirmities of the weak. He is to do so by advice, by bestowing alms, by giving encouragement, by kindly help. How highly does our Lord praise those who helped others (see parable of Good Samaritan), and Himself set us the example.
III. The law of equalisation. The inhabitants of this world are diverse; they differ in character, appearance, and position. The law of our text teaches the rich to help the poor, the strong the weak, and so adjust the inequalities of life. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The duty of the strong to the weak
The context suggests--
1. That conscientiousness has respect often to very unimportant matters. Some Christians in Rome had a conscientious belief concerning diet. There have always been men in the Church who have made a conscience of trifles.
2. That the conscientiousness of one man is no rule for the conduct of another. Because one man in the Church exalts trifles, whilst respecting his sincerity, I am not bound to follow his example.
3. That conscientiousness directed to unimportant matters indicates great weakness of character. Men who attach importance to trifles Paul regards as “weak” men. Now what is the duty of strong men to such? Not to despise and denounce them; to force them to renounce their trivialities nor to grant them a mere toleration; but to bear their infirmities. This is a duty--
I. Not very pleasant to self. The language seems to imply that it would be more pleasant to detach one’s self altogether from such. Nothing is more irritating to strong men than the twaddlings of little souls. But Paul says, notwithstanding the disagreeableness of it, you must come down to their little world, and be loving and magnanimous. Don’t kick at their toys, but show them something better. The most painful thing is that they regard themselves as strong, and that in proportion to their very feebleness is their insolence. If they confessed their weakness there would be some pleasure in “bearing their infirmities.”
II. Truly gratifying to the weak (Romans 15:2).
1. The weak man, by this treatment, is gratified by the reception of “good.” The breath of a nobler spirit upon him has dispersed in some measure the fumes about his soul, broadened his horizon, and touched him into a fresher life. He is pleased because his moral circulation is quickened, and he feels himself a stronger man.
2. The “good” he has received is through his “edification.” Not through flattering his prejudices, but by indoctrinating his soul with higher truths.
III. Pre-eminently Christlike (Romans 15:3). To “bear the infirmities” of others Christ sacrificed Himself. How Christ bore with His disciples (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The duty of the strong to the weak
Christians are a band of pilgrims from the city of Destruction to the Jerusalem above. Though none are in perfect health--none without some burden, yet some are comparatively healthy, strong and unencumbered; others are weak and sickly, and very heavy laden. The former class are not to form themselves into a separate band, and push forward, regardless of what may become of their less fortunate brethren, leaving them to follow as they may. No, they are to remain what the Lord of the pilgrims made them, one society--a band of brothers. The strong and unencumbered are to help forward the weak and burdened. They are not, indeed, in order that the whole company may appear alike, to pretend that they also are weak and heavy laden; still less, if possible, are they voluntarily to reduce themselves in these respects to a level with their brethren; but they are patiently to submit to such inconveniences as arise out of their connection with such companions, and while using every means to have their diseases cured, and their strength increased, and their burdens removed or lessened, they must not at present attempt to make them move faster than they are able, as that would be likely to produce stumbling and falling. How happy would it have been, how happy would it be, if all the weak were treated by the strong as Feeblemind in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” says he was treated by his brethren: “Indeed, I have found much relief from pilgrims, though none was willing to go so softly as I am forced to do; yet still as they came on, they bid me be of good cheer, and said that it was the will of the Lord that comfort should be given to the feeble minded, and so went on their own pace.” (J. Brown, D.D.)
The strong to bear with the weak
I. There are three stages of development in human life and society.
(1) That in which men regulate their life by rules. Such things you may do, and such things you may not do.
(2) The higher life of principle, when men open up a consideration of the reasons of the why you shall do so or not do so.
(3) The higher development is reached when to rules and principles is added intuition, the flash by which men discover right and wrong by their harmony or their discord with their own moral faculties.
2. As men go up, along the scale, they change gradually; and men that during all the early part of their life have been subject to rules, begin to substitute their own intelligence for them. A little child is told, “No, you must not go there.” When, however, the child comes to be fourteen or fifteen years of age, we no longer say, “You shall not do this or that thing”; but “You must study the peace of the family”; or, “You must see to it that you do nothing to interfere with health.” Instead of having practical rules, he begins to have principles by which to guide himself. Note--
I. The dangers incident to this development.
1. Christians who are on the lower plane--where they act from rules--are strongly inclined to believe that those who go higher and act from principles are acting from lawlessness, because they are not acting from considerations once in force. Hence, religious development may seem deterioration. A conscientious idolator, e.g., cannot dissociate religion from the use of superstitious observances; and if a native near to such an one forsakes the god of his father, and turns to Jehovah, the convert may seem as if he was abandoning all religion. He is abandoning the only religion that this heathen man knows anything about. And I can understand how to an honest Romanist, when one neither will tell his beads, nor respect holy hours, nor accept the voice of the priest, it should seem as if he abandoned all religion.
2. On the other hand, while there are dangers of this kind to those who are left behind, there are many dangers incident to those who go up; and it was to those especially that the apostle wrote. And this is not so strange after all.
(1) We know that sudden changes, e.g., from barbarism to civilisation do not prove beneficial to adults. If you take a Chinaman, twenty-five or thirty years old, and bring him into New York, he becomes a kind of neuter. He is neither a good Chinaman nor a good American. As a tree transplanted, and shorn of roots below, and of branches above, is slow to regain itself, and perhaps never will make its old top again, so it is with human transplantation.
(2) Among civilised men sudden violent changes, e.g., from great poverty to great wealth, are not beneficial.
(3) Sudden and violent moral changes carry their dangers, too. There are men who have trained their consciences all their life long to believe that right or wrong consisted in the performance of certain duties. But by and by it was made known to them that being a Christian depends on love, and not on a certain routine; and that the law is the law of freedom. And this is a new liberty; and new liberty stands very close on to old license. And men who begin to feel their freedom are like birds that have been long in a cage, and do not know what they can do with their wings, and fly to where they are quickly seized by the hawk. With this sense of intoxication comes a certain contempt for the old state. When a bean comes up it brings up its first two leaves with it--great thick covers, full of nutriment, to supply the stem until it begins to develop other leaves, and to supply itself. Now suppose the bean, looking down, should say contemptuously, “What a great clumsy stiff leaf that is down there! See how fine, how delicate the blossoms are that I am having up here”--why the whole of this up here came from that down there. And yet, how many persons, as they are developing into a higher religious life, feel, as the first-fruits of their spiritual liberty, contempt for their past selves, and for other people who are in that state from which they have just emerged! Then comes almost spontaneously the air of superiority; and then the judging men, not by comparing their conduct with their views of duty, but by comparing their conduct with your views of duty--which is the unfairest thing you can do to a man. In other words, dictation and despotism are very apt to go, with arrogant natures, from a lower stage to a higher one.
II. The apostle’s prescription for this state. Superiority, he tells us, gives no right to arrogate authority. Because I am an architect, or a statesman, or in any direction God has given me eminent gifts, and culture to develop them, I have no right of authority over others. Leadership does not go with these relative superior-tries; but responsibility does. “We, then, that are strong ought … not to please ourselves”--which is generally considered the supreme business of a man! When a man has acquired money and education, he makes it his business to render himself happy. He fills his mansion with luxuries, that he may not be mixed up with the noisy affairs of life. But, says the apostle, ye that are strong have no right to do any such thing. You ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. All human trouble ought to roll itself on to the broadest, not on the feeblest, shoulders. Rich men are to bear the infirmities of the poor. If a rough and coarse man meets a fine man, and the question between them is as to which shall give preference to the other, the man that is highest up is to be the servant of the man that is lowest down. Everywhere this is the law. “Let every one please his neighbour.” What! are we to be mere pleasure-mongers? No; “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification”--please him in that sense which shall make a better man of him. As a watchmaker never can see a watch that is out of order that he does not feel instinctively impelled to take hold of it and put it in order, so I feel like putting my hand on a man that is too small, and making him large. Paul says that you must not do it rudely, authoritatively, but that you must please him. And there is more--“For even Christ pleased not Himself,” etc. Well, that is a hard task; and therefore the apostle adds, “Now the God of patience,” etc.
1. If this seems impossible to any of you, if it even seems romantic and fanciful, I reply that you see it every day. Not in business or in politics. But go where father and mother have a little commonwealth of their own, and where the children are, and see if the wisest and the strongest and the best are not absolutely the servants of the poorest and the weakest. Now, if you can do it in the family, you can do it out of the family.
2. If this be so, we see the application of it to those who are set free, by larger thinking, from the narrow dogmas of the past. What is the evidence of your superiority? Every change of latitude, as you pass towards the equator from the poles, is marked, not by the thermometer, but by the garden and the orchard; and I know that I am going toward the equator, not so much by what the navigator tells me as by what the sun tells me. The evidence of going up in the moral scale is not that you dissent from your old dogmas, and have rejected your ordinances, and given wide berth to your Churches. If you have gone higher up, let us see that development in you of a true Christian life which shall show that you are higher. What use is your freedom of thought, if with that freedom you do not get half as many virtues as men who have not the freedom of thought?
3. Those who have risen above others are not at liberty to divide themselves from those with whom they are not in sympathy. To bring the matter right home, you are frugal, and your brother is a spendthrift. You take the air of superiority, and talk about him, and say, “William is a sorry dog. He never could keep anything.” And the implication of it is, “I am different.” But the apostle says, “Are you superior to him because you are frugal? Then you are to bear with his spendthriftness.” I put on you the responsibility of taking care of him. You are to bear with him; and you are to do it not for your own pleasure, nor for his mere pleasure, but for his pleasure to edification, that Christ may save his soul. Here is a man that says of his neighbour, “He is an exacting, arrogant, brute creature.” Yes, but Christ died for him, as He died for you; that hard man is your brother; and you are to seek his pleasure to edification. If there is either that ought to serve the other, it is the good man. That is what you do. Good men pay the taxes of bad men. Patriotic men pay the war bills of unpatriotic men. The good bear up the bad, and are their subjects.
4. There is an application, also, to the various sects. A Church is nothing but a multitude of families. All you want is, that those that are purest, those that are “orthodox,” shall bear with those that are not orthodox. You must go down and serve those that have a poor worship. The higher must serve the lower. (H. W. Beecher.)
The conduct of the strong towards the weak
1. We must bear with their infirmities.
2. This will require the sacrifice of our own will to please others.
3. But the end is their edification.
1. By the example of Christ.
2. Who sacrificed Himself.
3. And bore our infirmities. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Bearing the infirmities of the weak
Not very long ago a valued friend requested me to visit a young woman, lodging in an alley in Holborn, who was dying of the most painful of all diseases. The small room was delicately clean and neat; and on the little table stood a jar adorned with a few country flowers, the offering of an early friend. By the bedside stood a pale young woman, with a gentle and sympathising countenance, smoothing the sufferer’s pillow. It was scarcely whiter than her face; the mouth and chin of which were covered by a cambric handkerchief, to veil the ravages which her terrible disease had made. After a few inquiries of the nurse, I spoke a little to the sufferer; and then remembering that it must seem so easy for one in comparative health to speak to her of the goodness of God, but how much harder it must be for her to believe it, lying there, hour after hour, in anguish, which suffered her scarcely to sleep by night or by day, increasing during the thirteen months past, and leaving no hope of alleviation in the future but by death, I thought it best to tell her all that was passing in my mind. And then I added, “If you can believe that the blessed Saviour, who, when He was on earth, healed all manner of disease with a touch or a word, and who has the same healing power now, yet withholds it from you, does so from some infinitely wise and loving reason, it would do me good to know it. If it be so, will you just lift up your finger in assent?” She raised her pale, transparent hand, and waved it over her head with an expression in her sunken eyes which almost glorified her face. I could not help saying to her, when I could command my voice enough to speak, “I believe that one wave of your hand gives more honour to your Saviour in the sight of all the angels of heaven, than whole years of any little services which He might permit me to render Him, in comparative health and ease; because your faith is so much more severely tried.” It seemed a new and delightful thought to her, that patience having its perfect work, would glorify her Saviour. She had just meekly borne, because it was His will. The tears gathered in her eyes, and she made sign for her slate, and wrote upon it, “This makes me so happy. How wonderful and how kind, if He will make glory for Himself out of such a poor creature as me!” Soon after she added, “He has taught me to say of Him, My Beloved is mine, and I am His. He has forgiven all my sins. He loves me freely. He fills me with peace and joy in believing.” When her companion came downstairs, I asked her if she tried to go out for a little fresh air sometimes, and had any one to relieve her occasionally of the nursing by night. She said, “I take a turn in the alley to get a little fresh air now and then; but I should not like to leave her for many minutes, nor to be sleeping much, while she is suffering.” “Is she your sister?” I inquired. “No, ma’am, we are no relations,” was her answer; “we were fellow-servants together at an hotel in the West End. And once, when I was ill, she nursed me very kindly; so when this terrible illness came on her, I could not let her leave her place alone to go among strangers--for she’s an orphan; so I left with her.” “And may I venture to ask, how are you both supported?” “She had saved a good bit, which lasted some time; and now I have still some left of my own savings whilst I was a housemaid.” “A housemaid! a queen!” I thought to myself, and could have laid down my hand for her to walk over, and felt it honoured by her touch. That woman of a royal heart sent me through London that day feeling the whole world better, because I had met with such an instance of disinterested, self-sacrificing love. One word revealed its inner secret. “We are as good as sisters,” she said; “we both know that our Saviour loves us, and we love Him, and want to love Him better.” (English Hearts and English Hands.)
Bearing the infirmities of the weak
1. In the grouping of nature dissimilar things are brought together, and by serving each other’s wants and furnishing the complement to each other’s beauty, present a whole more perfect than the sum of all the parts. The several kingdoms of nature are not like our political empires, enclosed with jealous boundaries. They form an indissoluble economy; the mineral sub-doing itself with a basis for the organic, the vegetable supporting the animal, the vital culminating in the spiritual; weak things clinging to the strong, as moss to the oak’s trunk, and the insect to its leaf; death acting as the purveyor of life and life playing the sexton to death. Mutual service in endless gradation is clearly the world’s great law.
2. In the natural grouping of human life the same rule is found. A family is a combination of opposites; the woman depending on the man, whose very strength, however, exists only by her weakness; the child hanging on the parent, whose power were no blessing were it not compelled to stoop in gentleness; the brother protecting the sister, whose affections would have but half their wealth, were they not brought to lean upon him in trustful pride; and even among seeming equals, the impetuous quieted by the thoughtful, and the timid finding shelter with the brave.
3. This principle distinguishes natural society from artificial association. The assortment of civilisation unites all elements that are alike and separates the unlike. Instead of throwing men into harmonious groups it analyses them into distinct classes. Life is passed in the presence not of unequals but of equals. Only those who of the same sect, rank, or party and are found in the same society. Not that this is entirely evil. To live among our equals teaches self-reliance and self-restraint, and enforces a respect for other’s rights, and a vigilant guardianship of our own. But while it invigorates the energies of purpose it is apt to blight the higher graces of the mind; and in confirming the moralities of the will to impair the devoutness of the affections. A man among his equals is like a schoolboy at his play, whose eager voice, disputatious claim, defiance of wrong, and derision of the feeble, betray that self-will is wide awake and pity lulled to sleep. But see the same child in his home, and the deferential look, the hand of generous help, show how with beings above and beneath him he can forget himself in gentle thoughts and quiet reference. And so it is with us all. The world is not given to us as a playground or a school alone, where we may learn to fight our way upon our own level; but as a domestic system, surrounding us with weaker souls for our hand to succour, and stronger ones for our hearts to serve.
4. The faith of Christ throws together the unlike ingredients which civilisation had sifted out from one another. Every true Church represents the unity which the world had dissolved. The moment a man becomes a disciple his exclusive self-reliance vanishes. He trusts another than himself; he loves a better spirit than his own; and while living in what is human aspires to what is Divine. And in this new opening of a world above him a fresh light comes down upon the world beneath him. Aspiration and pity rush into his heart from opposite directions. If there were no ranks of souls within our view; if all were upon a platform of republican equality, no royalty of goodness and no slavery of sin; if nothing great subdued us to allegiance, and nothing sad and shameful roused us to compassion, I believe that all Divine truth would remain inaccessible and our existence be reduced to that of intelligent and amiable animals.
5. A great Roman poet and philosopher was fond of defining religion as a reverence for inferior beings: and if this does not express its nature it designates one of its effects. True there could be no reverence for lower natures were there not to begin with the recognition of a Supreme Mind; but from that moment we certainly look on all beneath with a different eye. It becomes an object, not of pity and protection only, but of sacred respect; and our sympathy, which had been that of a humane fellow-creature, is converted into the deferential help of a devout worker of God’s will. And so the loving service of the weak and wanting is an essential part of the discipline of the Christian life. Some habitual association with the poor, the dependent, the sorrowful, is an indispensable source of the highest elements of character. If we are faithful to the obligations which such contact with infirmity must bring, it will make us descend into healthful depths of sorrowful affection which else we should never reach. Yea, and if we are unfaithful to our trust; if sorrows fall on some poor dependent charge, from which it was our broken purpose to shield his head, still it is good that we have known him. Had we hurt a superior, we should have expected punishment; had we offended an equal, we should have looked for his displeasure; and these things once endured the crisis would have been past. But to have injured the weak, who must be dumb before us, and look up with only the lines of grief which we have traced, this strikes an awful anguish into our hearts. For the weak, the child, the outcast, they that have none to help them, raise up an Infinite Protector on their side, and by their very wretchedness sustain the faith of justice ever on the throne. (J. Martineau, LL.D.)
The survival of the weak
The text is a curt statement of one of those revolutionary principles which lean back upon the example and teaching of Christ. No rule of living is more familiar than that we must be ready to deny ourselves in a lesser to gain some greater good. But the rule of the text, in many quarters, came upon the world as an utter novelty. In some languages the very word “unselfishness” is wanting, and philanthropy in its deeper channels is unknown, even among the most cultivated classes who know not Christ.
I. This is not law in the brute creation.
1. Beneath man all life is engaged in a fierce struggle for existence. Each is bent on his own profit. The strong look out for themselves. The weak go to the wall. If the fittest do not always survive, the most cunning and the strongest do. The infirm are preyed upon or left mercilessly to perish.
2. An exception is found in the generous instinct of motherhood, but for which most animal races would become extinct. Another exception is afforded by the domestic animals. The dog will risk his life in his master’s service, and die of a broken heart when he is dead. But once left to roam, these animals also seem to abandon themselves to the brute principle of utter selfishness.
II. The law of the brute creation predominates largely among men where the power of the gospel is not felt.
1. Human life is also a struggle for existence. Man, too, like the brute, is forced to be continually at work to keep off hunger, disease, and death. In the rush for fame and success the strong trample upon the feeling of the weak and increase their own strength by preying upon their infirmities.
2. Out of this root have come all despotisms, servitudes, and inhumanities. It is the human way to enforce the brutal principle of surviving by the sufferings and humiliations of the weak. Wars have for the most part grown out of the determination to exalt one’s self by the losses of another. If a nation was weak, a stronger one would do in about the same way what the fierce king of the forest does with the passing gazelle. All slavery was for the most part in the first instance the outcome of the principle which the text tears to shreds. It is not so long ago that tortures were applied to the weak on rack and in cell, which could yield no profit except to the morbid appetite of the strong.
3. The spirit is not extinct. The refinement of the methods by which strength makes merchandise of the weaknesses of the infirm may cover up the brutality of the instinct, but does not change it.
III. The gospel has announced another law of life for man. Here love and not force is supreme. Here no man liveth unto himself.
1. The struggle for self-existence goes on. The effort to survive is pressed. “Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure.” “Work out your own salvation.” “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence,” etc. The obligation to help ourselves loses none of its emphasis. But with self-care is coupled concern for others, and those two draw the chariot of a regenerated life to the highest attainment and to the approval of God. The Christian law summons each to afford to others the most opportunity for the development of their faculties.
2. The world utters often a motto which is good as far as it goes. It is a great advance upon brutehood--“Live and let live.” But behind this half-truth selfishness may hide itself. “Live and help others to live” is the motto of the gospel. “Look out for Number One” is a favourite maxim of the street, which, pushed alone, is the brutal principle in full sway. “Do good unto all men” is a maxim coming from a different atmosphere.
3. A chief test of Christian civilisation is the consideration with which the strong regard the infirmities of the weak. The home for the aged, the hospital, the refuge, etc., are the glory of our civilisation, as the brothels, the gambling dens, the saloons, etc., are its disgrace, but not its despair; for so long as the Cross lifts high its spectacle of mercy, the principle that the “strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” will go among men like a stream of waters, pure as crystal. Our literature bears witness to the infusion of this human principle. The “Song of the Shirt” has a large circle of sympathetic readers. Lowell’s “Sir Launfal” and a thousand other poems have their interest from the Christly spirit of regard for the weaknesses of others which they magnify. We read, as indicative of a great heart, the incident of Luther, who, instead of joining in the chase, caught the hunted hare and hid it under his cloak, because the chase reminded him of the way in which Satan hunts for souls. And we step aside from his widely known deeds to the incident in Mr. Lincoln’s life when, on his way with other lawyers to the court, he stopped to replace two young birds who had been blown out of their nest, saying, “I could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother.” It was a most noble thing, when Naples was suffering from the ravages of cholera, for King Humbert to turn aside from the races, where he had made appointment to be, and to hasten to the relief of his people. For the motto, “The fittest survive,” the gospel substitutes the watchword, “The lost must be saved.”
IV. In Christ we have the full embodiment of the lofty rule. Who had better right to please Himself than the Son of God? But of Him it is said, “Even Christ pleased not Himself.” He humbled Himself unto the death of the Cross, that He might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. (P. S. Schaff, D.D.)
Bearing the infirmities of the weak
A reporter called to a little bootblack near the City Hall to give him a shine. The little fellow came rather slowly for one of that lively guild, and planted his box down under the reporter’s foot. Before he could get his brushes out another large boy ran up, and calmly pushing the little one aside, said: “Here, you go sit down, Jimmy.” The reporter at once became indignant at what he took to be a piece of outrageous bullying, and sharply told the new-comer to clear out. “Oh, dot’s all right, boss,” was the reply; “I’m only going to do it fur him. You see he’s been sick in the hospital for mor’n a month, and can’t do much work yet, so us boys all turn in and give him a lift when we can. Savy?” “Is that so, Jimmy,” asked the reporter, turning to the smaller boy. “Yes, sir,” wearily replied the boy; and, as he looked up, the pallid, pinched face could be discerned even through the grime that covered it. “He does it fur me, if you’ll let him.” “Certainly, go ahead!” and as the bootblack plied the brush the reporter plied him with questions. “You say all the boys help him in this way?” “Yes, sir. When they ain’t got no job themselves, and Jimmy gets one, they turns in and helps him, ‘cause he ain’t very strong yet, ye see.” “What percentage do you charge him on a job?” “Hey?” queried the youngster. “I don’t know what you mean.” “I mean, what part of the money do you give Jimmy, and how much do you keep out of it?” “You bet your life I don’t keep none. I ain’t no such sneak as that.” “ So you give it all to him, do you?” “Yes, I do. All the boys give up what they gets on his job. I’d like to catch any fellow sneaking it on a sick boy--I would.” The shine being completed, the reporter handed the urchin a quarter, saying, “I guess you’re a pretty good fellow, so you keep ten cents and give the rest to Jimmy.” “Can’t do it, sir; it’s his customer. Here, Jim!” He threw him the coin, and was off like a shot after a customer for himself, a veritable rough diamond. In this big city there are many such lads with warm and generous hearts under their ragged coats. (N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.)
Imperfections; why permitted
Imperfections have been Divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be effort, and the law of human judgment mercy. (T. H. Leary, D.C.L.)
I. Whence does it arise? From the secret feeling in man that--
1. His own views are the most correct.
2. His own plans the best.
3. His own words the wisest.
4. His own doings the most excellent. In a word, that he is superior to all others.
II. What are its exhibitions?
1. A harsh judgment of others.
III. How must it be overcome?
1. By bearing the infirmities of the weak.
2. By endeavouring to please others for their good.
3. By a believing contemplation of the character of Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. We ought not to please ourselves. “We,” i.e., strong Christians. Among Christians there are the strong and the weak, and always will be. You notice that the apostle has no corresponding exhortation to the weak, one reason for which may be that very few are willing to regard themselves as such.
1. As to self-pleasing, it never is good.
(1) In its first and lowest form it is pure animality. The tiger pleases himself when he seizes the fawn; and the fox when he carries the fowl away to his den. ‘Tis no sin in either; it is their instinct and necessity. And if a man will do the like he has no pre-eminence above the beast.
(2) It is of the essence of sin which in one form is just the enormous exaggeration of the self. It is the little unit trying to take itself out of all relations and beyond laws. It is the plant repudiating the soil that feeds it, insulting the air and light on which it lives. It is the figure one presenting itself as an epitome of the whole science of numbers. If self-pleasing were to get into the heart of the physical world there would be no growth; for growth is secured by one part allowing nourishment to flow through it to another, and in the joint combination of all organs to provide for the nourishment of the whole. And it is in such a world that man stands up and says, “I live to please myself”--man who was made to show the greatness of service, made in the image of the God who serves all.
(3) It always tends to meanness of character. It is clean against magnanimity, patriotism, and the charities of life.
(4) It tends to corruption, just as anything must rot when it ceases to give and take; just as stagnant water becomes unfit for use.
(5) It always inflicts injury and misery upon others.
(6) It is so enormously difficult to the self that is always seeking to be pleased, as to be ultimately quite impossible of realisation. More, and yet more, must be had of this, and that, until more is not to be had.
2. So much for self-pleasing in general. But here is a peculiar form of it--the Christian form of an unchristian thing.
(1) The beginning of Christianity in a human soul and life is the death of self begun. But the process of dying is a lingering one--it is a crucifixion. Many and many a time self says, “I will not die.”
(2) Christian people, then, ought to be constantly on their guard against this thing. There is no one whom it will not beset. The vivacious will have it presented to them in forms of excitement, which will draw them away from the duties of daily life and of Christian service. The modest and retiring will think that it can injure no one that they should take their rest. In fact, all the vices are but different dresses which the old self puts on as it goes up and down the world murmuring, “We ought to please ourselves!” Please the higher self and welcome--your conscience, love, the powers of the Christian life--and then, not you alone, but angels and God Himself will be pleased. But as to pleasing that other self, all danger and all soul-death lie that way. “Let that man be crucified.” Put fresh nails into the hands and the feet.
(3) But “the strong”--why should they, at least, not please themselves? “The strong” here are the advanced men in the Christian community, the men of higher intelligence and clearer faith who have come out into an ampler liberty. Surely it were better that such men should have their way. Strength is a beautiful thing both in the region of thought and of action. Yes, but it is beautiful no longer when it becomes intolerant of anything that is not as strong as itself. So, then, we who are strong ought not to drive when we find we cannot lead; nor wax impatient of delays which are inevitable; nor lose temper--for that will show that we ourselves are growing weaker; nor even to think ungenerous thoughts, but rather seek to settle our strength in this--in the universal charity which “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” and then, as the result, achieveth all things.
II. If not ourselves, then whom? Our “neighbour.”
1. “Every one of us!” Not one can be exempted. ‘Tis no use to plead peculiarity in temperament or circumstance. You have a neighbour, and you must please him.
2. But here comes a difficulty. If the neighbour is to be pleased by me why should not he please in return? If there be an obligation it must surely be mutual. And so we shall end in self-pleasing after all. Besides, how do I know that to please him will profit him? He may be self-willed, or luxurious, or cowardly; and if I please him I may very likely nourish in him these bad qualities. But here is the safeguard, “I am to please my neighbour for his good to edification.” It is not that one is to yield to another simply because he wishes it. That would be childishness, and would produce very bad fruit. And there is no room for concession in matters of vital importance. It would be a cruel kindness to a fellow-Christian to yield to him in any matter affecting saving truth or duty. The whole question is about things less than vital. This way may seem best to me; may be best for me. Yet it may not be the best for all. Or it may be abstractly the best for all, and yet it is not to be forced on them.
3. For good to edification. Why, what is that but pleasing the new, the better self in the man, just as I seek to please it in my own breast?
III. Was not this just the behaviour of Christ Himself? “Even Christ,” “who was with God,” “who was God,” pleased not Himself by retaining that condition, when a great need arose, and when, by a change in His state, He could supply the need, “He was rich, and for our sakes He became poor,” etc. And when He was here He never spared Himself. He never chose the easier way. Shall I then please myself, and say that I am following Him? Shall I not rather gaze anew at this great sight--a holy, happy being denying Himself, and suffering for others through life and death? (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
The warning against selfishness
I. An ugly thing. One thing that helps to make our bodies look beautiful is when the different parts are all of a proper size or shape. But suppose we should see a boy or girl with a head as big as a bushel, and with feet as large as an elephant’s! And when we give way to wrong feelings one part of the soul becomes larger than it ought to be. There is nothing that makes a person look so ugly as selfishness.
1. Anne Dawson was a little girl, lying in bed with a fever. In the same room was her brother, busily engaged in making a boat. The noise was very distressing, and his sister begged him to stop. But he still went on. Presently she said, “Robbie dear, please get me a glass of cold water? My throat is very dry, and my head aches terribly.” But Robbie paid no attention till she asked a second time, when he called out sharply: “Wait awhile, Anne, I am too busy now.” Again his sister pleaded for a drink. Then he hastily poured out some water from a pitcher which had been standing all day in the sun. “Oh I not that water, brother,” said Anne, in a gentle tone, “please bring me some fresh and cool from the spring.” “Don’t bother me so, Anne. You see how busy I am. I’m sure this water is good enough.” And the selfish boy went on. “Oh, my poor head!” said Anne, as she sipped a little of the warm water, and then lay back on her pillow. That was her last movement. She died that night. For thousands of gold and silver I would not have had Robert’s feelings when he stood by the grave of his sister and thought of all this. We cannot imagine anything more ugly than this makes him appear.
2. But sometimes we can understand a thing better by contrasting it with its opposite. Some time ago an accident occurred in a coal mine. Two boys managed to get hold of a chain, and had the hope of being saved if they could hold on till help came. Very soon a man was lowered down, and he first came to a boy named Daniel Harding, who said: “Don’t mind me. I can hold on a little longer; but there is Joe Brown just below nearly exhausted. Save him first.” Joe Brown was Saved, and so was his unselfish friend. How beautiful his unselfishness makes him appear!
II. A disagreeable thing. When the things about us mind the laws which God has made to govern them, then they are all agreeable. The light is pleasant to see; the wind is pleasant to hear; and the fragrance of flowers is pleasant to smell, just because the sun, wind, and flowers act according to the laws which God has made for them. And God’s law for us is, that “we ought not to please ourselves.” If we mind this law it will make us unselfish, and then we shall always be agreeable. But if we do not mind this law, this will make us disagreeable.
1. A Christian lady talking to her class, said, “When I was a little girl, my grandma, who was dangerously ill when I was playing with my doll, asked me to bring her a glass of water. I did not mind her at first, but when she called me again, I carried the water to her in a very unkind way. She said, ‘ Thank you, my dear child; but it would have given me so much more pleasure if you had only brought the water willingly.’ She never asked me to do anything for her again, for soon after she died. It is forty years ago to-day since this took place; and yet there is a sore spot in my heart which it left there, and which I must carry with me as long as I live.”
2. And now we may take some illustrations in the way of contrast. Two little girls nestling together in bed one night were talking about their Aunt Bessie, who happened to be passing at that moment. So she listened and heard Minnie say, “Do you know what it is that makes my Aunt Bessie’s forehead so smooth?” “Why, yes, she isn’t old enough to have wrinkles.” “Oh! she is, though; but her forehead is smooth because she is so unselfish, and never frets. I always like to hear her read the Bible, for she lives just like the Bible. She’s just as sweet, and kind, and unselfish as it tells us to be. And this is what makes Aunt Bessie so pleasant.” Our next story is about Turner, the great landscape painter, who was a member of the committee which arranges about hanging up the pictures in the Royal Academy. On one occasion when they were just finishing their work, Turner’s attention was called to a picture by an unknown artist who had no friend in the Academy to watch over his interest. “That is an excellent picture,” said Mr. Turner. “It must be hung up somewhere for exhibition.” “That is impossible,” said the other members of the committee. “There is no room left.” Whereupon the generous artist deliberately took down one of his own pictures, and put the painting of this unknown artist in its place. In what an interesting light his unselfishness presents him to our view!
III. A sinful thing. When we commit sin in most other ways we only break one of God’s commandments at a time. But when we give way to selfishness we break six of God’s commandments all at once. How? Well, when Jesus was explaining the ten commandments, He said that the substance of the six on the second table was, that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. But, if we are selfish we cannot love our neighbours. Selfishness is the root out of which any sin may grow. It is like carrying powder about us in a place where sparks are flying all the time. A dreadful explosion may take place at any moment. Many years ago there lived in Egypt an old man named Amin. A great famine came upon the land just as it once did in the days of Joseph. Amin had a great store of wheat in his granaries. When bread began to get scarce his neighbours came to him to buy grain. But he refused, saying that he was going to keep his stock till all the rest of the grain in the land was gone, because then he would be able to get a higher price for it. Many died of starvation, and yet this selfish man still kept his stores locked up. At last the hungry people were willing to give him any price he asked, and then with a cruel, selfish smile he took the iron key of his great granary. He opened the door and went in. But in a moment all his hopes of great gain faded away like a dream. Worms had entered and destroyed all his grain. Hungry as the people were they yet raised a great shout of gladness for what happened to that wretched man. They saw that it was God’s judgment which had come down upon him for his selfishness, and that it served him right. But such was the effect of his disappointment upon the old man himself, that he fell down dead at the door of the granary. His selfishness killed him. (R. Newton, D.D.)
The strong helping the weak
Coleridge tells of a midshipman in his fourteenth year going into action for the first time, knees tottering, courage failing, and a fit of fainting hastening on, when Sir Alexander Ball saw him, touched him, and said, “Courage, my dear boy! you will recover in a minute or so. I was just the same when I first went out in this way.” It was as if an angel spoke to him. “From that moment I was as the oldest of the boat’s crew.” You can help one another, and you should for your own sake.
Bearing the infirmities of the weak
We must not, however, despise them, not in heart, word, or carriage. We must rather deny ourselves than offend them. We must support them, bear them as pillars bear the house, as the shoulders a burden, as the walls the vine, as parents their children, as the oak the ivy; and this because they are brethren, (P. Henry.)
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
The character of Christian courtesy
The great aim of the gospel is to raise our views and desires above this life, and furnish us with pure and powerful principles in the direction of our words and actions, far above the will of fallen man. But while it invites us to lay up our treasure in heaven, it instructs us in everything that may best contribute to bless the life of man on earth.
I. The duty here enjoined.
1. You are not to make the pleasing of men the reason or rule of your conduct in any case, for the sake of their praise, or of any reward from them. That would, indeed, be to please them rather than God, and instead of God. But you are to study, if possible, to please your neighbour as a duty which God requires, and which you must continue to do whether men praise you for it or not.
2. This pleasing our neighbour is not, in any respect, to be placed in opposition to the pleasing of God, or to be followed in anything that would be displeasing in His sight. We are not allowed to put their good, or their good-will, in place of the glory of God, but only in place of our own gratification; “not to please ourselves, but every one to please his neighbour.”
3. We are called to sacrifice our own pleasure to his, whenever our doing so would tend to his good, or to the edification of others; but, when it would not be for good, we must refuse to please any of our fellow-creatures, however much it might expose us to their dislike.
4. Keeping these points in view, you will be better able to guard against two very opposite errors on this subject, which require to be considered.
(1) There is a pleasing of others which many study merely as an art, and to which young persons are trained by certain forms, as a branch of their education. This is only a seeming preference of others, which is far from real humility. This is a preference of others also only in trifles, while they would refuse to do much for the real good of those whom they seem so desirous to please. It is in itself, in short, as far as it is the invention of men, a mere tissue of hypocrisy, which the children of this world cast around them, rather for the purpose of hiding their selfish and malignant feelings than of expressing their benevolent dispositions.
(2) There is a disposition in some persons, on the other hand, not only to neglect the pleasing of others as an art, but also to despise it as a duty. They think it sufficient that they give no just cause of offence to any one; but take little care to guard against the appearance of disregarding them. They will do much for men’s real welfare, but will show no indulgence to their weaknesses. The clearer your knowledge, the sounder your judgment, the stronger your faith, the more may be expected from you, in bearing the infirmities, and even the censures of others, in denying yourselves in many things for their sake, and in doing whatever you lawfully may to please them for their good.
II. The reason assigned for this duty. “Even Christ pleased not Himself.”
1. Observe the force of the expression, “even Christ.” The act of submission was lower, the degree of the sacrifice was greater in His case, than it ever possibly can be in ours; how shall we refuse to serve those with whom we must rank in His sight as fellow-creatures?
2. But let us contemplate more particularly the character of our Lord in the respect here specified by the apostle, namely, that “He pleased not Himself.” In one sense, indeed, it may be said that He always pleased Himself, inasmuch as He never had one wish or feeling that was contrary to what He knew to be right, and conducive to the good of others. But let us consider with how much reason He might have insisted that others should please and honour Him in every iota, instead of His yielding any point to satisfy their prejudices or serve their infirmities. (J. Brewster.)
Pleasing oar neighbour for good
The gospel does not come down in its requirements to the level of our imperfections. Its plan of perfection is no treadmill. It is ever ahead of us.
I. Who is my neighbour?
1. He that dwells, near me.
2. He that is my countryman.
3. He that is my fellow-man.
4. He that is a follower of Christ.
II. The social duty here commended and commanded.
4. To be more ready to speak good of him than evil.
III. The object to be held in view.
1. To please him for his good.
2. To please him for his edification, that his character may be built up in truth and righteousness.
IV. Some reasons for this.
1. The example of Christ. He pleased not Himself, but gave Himself for us all.
2. The imitation of Christ. Be ye followers of Me.
1. In this Epistle we have eleven chapters devoted to the exposition of doctrines, and five to some chief social duties.
2. Were we to realise these social duties, earth would become a place more like heaven, and make it sweeter and easier for us all to live. (L. O. Thompson.)
On pleasing men
Some men seek to build up their fellow-men remotely, e.g., by education, political economy, the application of natural laws. But, except as the administrators of such forces, they have no personal relation to the work. They have no sympathy for individuals. Their pleasure is left out of the question. Then there are others who seek to do good, but without any idea of the relation of this good to the character to be formed in men. There are persons that relieve suffering without asking how the relief can build up the sufferer into permanent goodness. There are others who seek to give the most transient pleasure without any concern either for good or for edification. They please men without any consideration of whether the means which they employ are right or wrong.
2. Now, the apostle joins all three together. You are to please men; and you are to please them so that you shall do them good. But all this in such a way as to effect a permanent building of character. One man may go through a farm only to glean flowers and fruit, to find pleasure there, and to give pleasure transiently. Another may find pleasure, to be sure, and he may also here and them strive to do a little good. He may destroy some vermin, pluck up some weeds, and plant and rear a few flowers. A third may unite all these things with a comprehensive culture that shall deepen the soil, augment its crops, and develop its resources of beauty, pleasure, and profit at the same time. This is the right way, and we are to cultivate each other in the same way.
I. Men are benefited simply by being pleased. Of course men would not be profited by having only pleasure in this world. That is provided for, however. Men need trouble, and they will have it. But men need pleasing as well. And the art of pleasing is an important element in moral culture. For when men are in a state of pleasedness they are more inclined to good influences than when they are not pleased. Dr. Kane said that there was no nautical skill that was so important, while wintering in the North, as one man among the crew that could play the fiddle. Why? Because it is indispensable, under such circumstances, that the men should be kept in a cheerful state of mind. And this same element of cheerfulness is necessary in all the various situations in life. It may be better to strike at deeper results; but it is not best to despise those which be near the surface. It may be that a miner, by sinking a shaft, will find more gold in the veins; but it is not best for him to despise the specks of gold that are thrown up with the soil in the process.
II. The habit of pleasing men is quite as indispensable for our own sake as for theirs. It keeps the mind and heart on the side of benevolence. It gradually frames your character into the Divine. And a man may be earnest and conscientious; and yet, if he carries himself in such a way that the pleasing of others is no part of his daily conduct, he cannot be thought to be a perfect man.
III. The human mind has been endowed with faculties whose very end seems to be the ministration of pleasure. People seem to think that God must be a great utilitarian, and that He always makes things for uses. But wherever you see that God has walked in the world, you see that He has had an eye to beauty. There is something on the globe besides what men can eat, drink, and wear. God made the earth beautiful that the higher feelings might be fed. We are organised for something more than the mere practical duties of life.
1. The human mind is made to act with cheerfulness. You know the difference between a rusty and a polished piece of iron. The rusty piece reflects nothing. Polish it, and how every one delights to look at it! Now, the difference between polished and rusty iron is the difference between cheerfulness and no cheerfulness. A cheerful doctor gives his medicine the moment he steps inside the room. Those sepulchral doctors--I wonder that anybody gets well under their care. A clergyman whose face glows with health, hope, and cheer has looked consolation into his friend before he has spoken a word. But a minister, whose face says, “Hark! from the tomb a doleful sound,” I marvel how he should be twice sent for, unless it might be on the ground of the benefits of affliction! And in all relations of life the same is true.
2. The tendency to please is still more powerful where cheerfulness is joined to good-nature. I sometimes preach better under the influence of the flowers that stand on the desk before me. They do not know that they are helping me, whether I do or not. There are persons that are pleasant when they come into your presence, that are pleasant while they stay, and their memory is sweet when they are gone. There are other persons whom you know to be good, and who you feel assured want to do you good, but whose presence is painful to you.
3. When God put wit and humour into the human soul, He put them there to be to the soul what the hearth is to the family, whose burning wood snaps and sends up sparks, and throws light into all parts of the room, and chases darkness, and imparts pleasure to all within the reach of its influence. But such is the heathenism of public opinion, that where a man uses his conscience to urge truth, and his reason to enforce it, people think that is all right; but that where a man uses mirthfulness to illustrate it and make it acceptable, people think it is not right.
4. The same is true of imagination. You cannot conceive that the imagination should be given a man except for pleasure. The imagination is what vines and mosses are that cover hard places, and beautify things that are not lovely in their own nature.
IV. We now see the mistake of making moral qualities unpleasing, as though it was a necessity that they should be so. Men seeing that cheerfulness, fancy, etc., are concomitants of unlawful pleasure, suppose them to be wicked, and steer away from them because they see bad men employ them. But because Cleopatra wore roses, must a virtuous woman not wear one? Because orgies are carried on with music, is music defiled? Things are not defiled because they are used for bad purposes. There is an impression that moral attributes have a certain hard and rugged nature of their own, and that they are genuine in proportion as they are unlovely. Many persons want a man to speak the truth very much as a bull-dog speaks. But throughout the New Testament moral qualities are enjoined to be exercised graciously and attractively. “Let your light so shine,” etc. Hence bluntness, coarseness, are not to be preferred. A disagreeable piety is impious by so much as it is disagreeable. Virtue is lovely, and you are not to slander it by acting as though to be pious was necessarily to be void of everything that is pleasure-giving.
V. This view will present a much higher idea of good manners than is often presented. We are usually taught good manners, because they are important to our making our way in the world; but good manners stand on a Christian ground. A man is bound so to conduct himself in all the thousand usages of society, as that his presence shall be a pleasant and not a disagreeable thing, or a burden to his fellow-men. There are persons in society who diffuse an element of comfort and joy wherever they go. We say of some persons, “They are well-bred.”
VI. This view will give a moral sanction to all those minor usages of society which tend to make men more pleasant. Many persons say, “What is the use of salutations? Why should I raise my hat to a lady, or say ‘Good morning’ when we meet, or ‘Goodbye’ when we part?” Well, for my part, I think that even good folks, without such little ceremonies, are like grapes packed for market without leaves between them. They will crush, and come in mashed. Even good folks need to have little courtesies Between them to keep them from attrition. And to take society and divest it of all these little civilities, would be to deteriorate it and carry it toward the savage state. And if you think that these things are of no use, it is because you never put your heart into them. When you want to manage men, do as beekeepers do. Here are two. One goes to the hive, thrusts his hand rudely into the midst of them, and very soon he has his bees all over him, and he moves himself very rapidly! Another man gets a bowl of sugar and water and washes his hands all over, and goes with the utmost quietness and serenity, and opens the hive and puts his hand in gently, and the bees find everything sweet, and they will not sting him or fly away. And people say, “Wonderful! that man has a real magnetic power with bees.” So he has, when he has sugar and water on his hands. Now, when you want to manage men, wash your hands with sugar and water! Conclusion: If you carry these thoughts home, I think you will find there a great sphere for the reformation of minor morals. In the family the law of pleasing ought to extend from the highest to the lowest. You are bound to please your children, and your children each other; and you are bound to please your servants, if you expect them to please you. Some men are pleasant in the household, and nowhere else. But the opposite is apt to be the case. We expend all our politeness in places where it will be profitable--where it will bring silver and gold. My friends, our kindness should begin at home. It should not stay there; but there it should begin, and there it should be nourished. (H. W. Beecher.)
On pleasing all men
1. Undoubtedly this duty is incumbent on all--“every man”; neighbour, too, means every other man. Only as Paul says elsewhere, “If it be possible as much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men,” so we are to please all men if possible. But strictly speaking it is not; but if we use our utmost diligence, let the event be what it may, we have done our duty.
2. The apostle limits this direction, otherwise it would be attended with mischievous consequences. We are to please them for their good; not barely for the sake of pleasing them or ourselves, much less to their hurt; nor for their temporal good merely, but for their edification, so as to conduce to their spiritual and eternal good. We may do this--
I. By removing hindrances. We must avoid everything which tends to displease wise and good men.
1. Now cruelty, hatred, malice, etc., are displeasing, and so is that temper so prevalent in common life--ill-nature. We must, then, avoid these, and whatever resembles them, as sourness, sternness, sullenness on the one hand; peevishness and fretfulness on the other.
2. Next to these nothing is more disgustful than pride and haughtiness issuing in an assuming, arrogant, overbearing behaviour. Even great learning and shining talents will not make amends for this.
3. Almost as disgustful is a passionate temper and behaviour. Hence passionate men have seldom many friends.
4. We must “put away all lying.” Addison said, “Of all vices this has never found an apologist”; but he wrote before Lord Chesterfield, whose apology for it is the best that could be made for so bad a cause. As lying can never be commendable, so neither can it be pleasing.
5. But is not flattery a species of lying, and has it not been regarded in all ages as a means of pleasing? Yes, flattery is pleasing for a while, but when the mask drops off we are pleased no longer. If a man continues to flatter after his insincerity is discovered it is disgusting.
6. Dissimulation is displeasing, and guile, subtlety, cunning, and the whole art of deceiving. Even those who practise it most are not pleased with it in others, nor fond of conversing with those who practise it on themselves.
II. By using the means that directly tend to this end. Only remember that there are those whom we cannot expect to please. It is now as when our Lord said, “The men of this generation are like unto children sitting in the market-place,” etc. But leaving these froward ones to themselves, we may hope to please others in the following way.
1. Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant temper of your soul. Let it pant in your heart, sparkle in your eyes, shine on all your actions, and speak with your tongue.
2. Study to be lowly in heart. “Be clothed with humility.” Reject the favourite maxim of the old heathen, “The more you value yourself the more others will value you.” Not So, Both God and man “resist the proud.”
3. Pray that you may be meek. Labour to be of a calm, dispassionate temper; gentle to all men, pitiful, generous.
4. Be courteous to all, high or low, good or bad. Addison’s definition of politeness is “a constant desire of pleasing all men, appearing through the whole conversation.” I have seen as real courtesy in an Irish cabin as could be found in St. James’s or the Louvre.
5. What is the root of that desire to please which we call courtesy? The same apostle that teaches it teaches us to honour all men, and the Master teaches us to love all men. Join all these together, and what will be the effect? When a poor wretch cries to me for an alms, I look and see him covered in rags. But through these I see an immortal spirit redeemed by Christ’s blood. The courtesy, therefore, which I feel and show toward him is a mixture of the honour and love which I bear to the offspring of God, the purchase of Christ, the candidate for immortality.
6. Take all proper opportunities of declaring to others the affection you really feel for them. This may be done in such a manner as is not liable to the imputation of flattery; and experience shows that honest men are pleased by this.
7. Speak to all men the very truth in your heart. In all company and on all occasions be a man of veracity. “In simplicity and godly sincerity,” etc.--“an Israelite indeed.”
8. To sum up all: if you would please men, please God. (John Wesley, M.A.)
1. How far may we do this?
2. What should be our motive?
3. What are the best means of doing it? (J. Lyth, D.D.)
There is such a thing as pleasing another by flattery, and encouraging him in his prejudices. Hence the restrictive phrase “for his good.” We are not to be men-pleasers (1 Corinthians 10:33; Galatians 1:10), unworthy trimmers, and religious weathercocks. Nor are we to try to gain popularity by pandering to the weakness or follies of others. We are, however, to lay ourselves out to please our neighbour in the manner indicated. No one ever succeeds in an undertaking unless he make it a matter of business. We must be professionals, not amateurs, in the holy practice of advancing the spiritual interests of others. (C. Neil, M.A.)
The duty of pleasing others
I. Founded in the law of christian love.
II. Limited by what tends to edification.
III. Fulfilled by--
1. Bearing with their infirmities.
2. Acknowledging their excellencies.
3. Seeking their good. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Christ not pleasing Himself: Christian and social tolerance
I. The rule of forbearance as laid down by the apostle.
1. There were two classes in the Roman Church who refused liberty to others. There were the men of despotic conscience, and the men of despotic intellect; and, that we may cover the whole ground of character, we may add there are men of despotic will. To one or other of these classes belongs almost every case of undue interference with Christian and social liberty. In all these cases there may be much that is good, but there is a subtle form of self-gratification at the root of it, a mistaken self-assertion, which does not leave room for other natures to develop themselves in freedom.
2. It may be asked if, in no case, we are warranted to interfere with our fellow-men. Most certainly we cannot remain indifferent to what they do and are, if we have any regard for God’s truth and their welfare. But we should be very sure that it is regard to God’s truth and another’s welfare that actuates us, and not the mere wilfulness thai seeks its own way. We have to learn that, within the limits of what is not positively wrong, every one has the right to be himself. It is frequently very hard to allow this, especially when there are close relationships. Husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, find it most difficult of all to make allowance for each other’s variety of nature, and to remain side by side without undue interference with one another’s peculiarities.
3. It is here that the further principle of this passage comes in, that we are not merely to refrain from constraining others into our way, but, as far as we can, we are to meet them in theirs. If there be a separation of taste, instead of compelling them to surrender, we are to forbear, and if the thing be harmless for us, and it will gratify them, we are to take part in their pursuits. But is there no limit to this surrender? Yes. We are to please our neighbour “for his good to edification.” This is the end, and the end prescribes the limit. Such a principle saves Christian compliance from sycophancy or characterlessness. But within two limits--the indulgence of our fellow-men in sin, and the compromise of our own true nature--there is ample scope for the exercise of endless charity and compliance. The tree that has its firm-fixed root and upright stem has also its spreading branches and thousand waving twigs, which yield to the breeze and salute the gentlest movement of the surrounding air. How beautiful strength is, when it thus melts away at its extremities into kindliness and courtesy!
II. This forbearance is illustrated by Christ’s example (verse 3).
1. The quotation is from Psalms 69:1-36, in which the speaker is David; but the apostle takes the words as completed in Christ, which this manner of dealing with the Psalms gives us a light to read the Psalms in. Wherever a man is uttering a breathing of the Divine life, it is not merely Christ that he is implicitly looking forward to, but it is Christ that is breathing and speaking in him.
2. To prove the disinterested forbearance of Christ, he cites a passage that shows his self-devotion to God. Right action toward man flows naturally from right feeling toward God. If self-pleasing has been sacrificed on the Divine altar, it has received its death-blow in every other form. We have to show that this was a characteristic of Christ in His intercourse with men--forbearance and freedom. He presented the Divine will, and pressed it on men as the rule of all life, but He refrained carefully from crushing their nature in its flee development.
(1) We see this in the variety of character which His earthly life drew around it. His disciples represent the extremes of temperament. He is careful never to stamp on them a hard uniformity, but leaves them to their own natural development, and aids them in it. Then, outside this circle, we have groups of all possible colours. How different from founders of human systems, who cannot be satisfied unless their formulas are repeated, and their minutest features reflected, by all their scholars.
(2) Christ not merely refrained from interfering with free growth Himself, but He interposed to defend others when they were interfered with. What a lesson there is to contending, narrow-minded religionists, in Luke 9:49! What an admonition to those who would impose their own way of work upon every other, when Martha’s complaint is so gently but firmly met! (John 12:7).
(3) Turn now from His earthly life to the work He carries on by His Spirit, which is to enter into each nature by itself, and unfold it from its own germ and centre. It is for wise reasons that a visible Head is removed from the Christian Church. We can perceive how the disciples started up into stronger, broader men, under this new influence, and how their characters struck out on all sides into more marked individuality. How different are the apostles and the epistles of the same apostle, caused by the variety of development in the churches to which they were addressed! And Christ is still teaching us to look with an approving eye on every honest effort to do good and to take pleasure in the wide variety of human character and Christian grace.
III. Some of the advantages that would result from acting on this principle.
1. If, in Christian or social intercourse, we wish to deliver any man from what we think error, we must do so by putting him in the way of convincing himself. To beat him down by unreasoning opposition, or even by an irresistible argument, may please us, but is not likely to gain him. To respect a man’s freedom, never to press him so hard as to humiliate him, to give him the clue that may help him to guide himself to the right, is according to the Divine model, and would aid us in serving at the same time both our fellow-men and the truth.
2. Take the family circle. Authority must exist, but when authority makes itself felt at every turn, freedom is gone, and influence vanishes with it. Constitutional government here, as elsewhere, is the great thing to be aimed at--that is, firm law on certain great essentials, but freedom within this to grow up according to taste and temperament. If we wish those we are influencing to become valuable for anything, it must be by permitting them to be themselves. They will do very little if they turn out dead transcripts of us.
3. In pursuing such a course we shall best succeed in elevating and broadening our own nature. If we could bring all around us into our own mould, we should only have narrowed ourselves in the process of constraining others. But, if we enter into sympathy with their pursuits, we not merely grow in unselfishness, but add something to our intellectual nature which was not there before. Conclusion: In all this work there are needed two great qualities, love and wisdom. Neither will suffice alone. Love in its earnestness is often too narrow, and wisdom in its breadth may be too cold. They are the light and heat of the moral world which must go together. (J. Ker, D.D.)
Making others happy
1. A man’s soul is like a garden belonging to an old neglected mansion. It is full of excellent things running to waste. Now a garden has no right to be dilapidated. It is made on purpose to confer pleasure and profit. So the soul of man is full of good dispositions and kind impulses; but besides these it is full of the stinging nettles of pride, and vanities flaunting coarse colours. A soul’s power to produce pleasure or pain in another is very great. We are commanded, therefore, to produce pleasure. It is not left optional with us whether men shall be made happier by our going among them. And not occasionally by a gleam and a smile. It is to enter into the whole carriage of our lives.
2. This is neither a small nor an unimportant business. The making others happy is one of the best manifestations of the Christian disposition, and the closest imitation of Christ’s example. Our duty as Christians is not simply to go out after men outside of morality. All about us society is full of men whose lives average but very little sweetness. And it is for us to seek to make them happier. Some men move through life as a band of music, flinging out pleasure to every one, far and near. Some men fill the air with their sweetness as orchards, in October clays, fill the air with the perfume of ripe fruit. Some women cling to their own houses like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, fill all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. How great a bounty and a blessing is it so to hold the royal gifts of the soul that they shall be music to some, and fragrance to others, and life to all! It would be no unworthy thing to live for to fill the atmosphere with a brightness which others cannot create for themselves.
3. Men neglect frequently these very simple and very obvious truths, because there is still a remnant of asceticism among good men. “Oh,” say they, “make men better, and then their happiness will take care of itself.” But much of men’s selfishness and sin springs from their own unhappiness. And whatever shall take that away will tend to make them better. Again, men say, “My business is to be honest, and just, and not to make people laugh.” Yet you have no business to be just and honest in such a way that those who stand next to you shall be less happy by your way of being so. No one has a better right to be a hedgehog than a hedgehog; but is he a good neighbour? A thistle belongs to the ordained economy of nature; and yet is it the model of a man? How many men there are who, rude of speech, go thrusting here, and piercing there, and treading down sensitiveness on every side, with no other excuse except this: “Well, 1 believe in a straight, out-and-out kind of man. Jack Blunt is my model!” Undoubtedly, and a very bad model very well imitated, too!
4. We are not at liberty to please by pandering to the bad elements in men’s characters. We must move upon the right feelings in men, and not stir up the wrong ones, nor the evil ones. In order to this there must be a discipline in ourselves. In the free intercourse of human life you carry to men the faculties that are active in you, and tend to excite in them precisely the same feelings. If you are irritable, you tend to produce irritation. If you are proud, you tend to excite the resistance of pride. And these feelings never, in you nor in any other person, ministered to cheer. They are sand in the teeth. No man can be happy himself, or promote happiness in other men, until he has learned to put to sleep these malign faculties every day. The whole machinery of life, then, needs a great deal of oiling in you in order that you may minister to the wants of others.
5. We are not simply to carry happiness to those that are around about us. In the olden time it was thought that we should love our friends and hate our enemies. In the modern time it has been thought that we should love our own denomination, and hate those that are heretical. Therefore there has been felt to be a solemn duty incumbent on the Catholic to hate Protestants, and there has been felt to be a corresponding duty on the other side. Now, it is my business as a Protestant Christian man so to treat all Catholics that I shall please them, for their good, to edification. For a thousand years the experiment has been tried of bombarding men into love and faith; and with what luck? Is it not time to see if we cannot please men into unity; if we cannot drop the things that are disagreeable, and insist upon the things that are pleasing, for good, to edification? As it is in religious matters, so should it be in civil. There are times when men must stand in politics for principles, and at such times men cannot avoid giving pain. But this furnishes no criterion for the average of cases. Ordinarily, men who come together knowing that they are on different sides in philosophy, or in politics, or in business, if they be Christian men, should bear in mind that they are to “please one another for good to edification,” and not irritate and chafe and hurt each other.
6. If these views are correct, then there is a new element of personal piety that should enter into the conception of every one. We ask men whether they are willing to leave off every known sin, etc., but how seldom do we question men as to beneficence of disposition! When, then, we are bringing men into the kingdom of God we should inspire them with heroic enterprise in doing good; but there are thousands of men who are attempting to do good, who never had it enter their minds that they were to make happiness. If I were to carry home this subject to the household, are there not many families that would bear some reformation? On the other hand, how many households are there that call themselves Christians, and have a right to, because all daylong each one is shining on the others; because each one is removing obstructions, taking away attritions, smoothing asperities, and seeking to make all amiable and all happy? When, after the long, loathsome voyage, I entered the channel, and saw, dim upon the horizon, the blue line of shore, and smelled the strange odour in the air, I said to the captain, “What is this smell?” “Bless your heart!” said he, “it is the land-smell.” All the smells of the sea put together were never so sweet as that. There are persons so lovely that you cannot go near to them without perceiving that they exhale gladness and cheer and happiness. Blessed are such! I believe in revivals; but I have never known any revivals that did not need to have ether revivals in them. I have known men revived from intemperance and from wickedness, who went into churches and into neighbourhoods where they set themselves up on their orthodoxy and their propriety, and carried themselves so unsocially, so offensively, that they exerted no happiness-producing power. No person has drunk in the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who does not make other persons happier when he comes to them. (H. W. Beecher.)
Making sunshine in shady places
1. Life is a big bundle of littles, intended to be tied together by love. Life’s joy depends on what cords bind you and what hand ties them. Bound together we must be, either by cords of silk or by iron fetters. How much our happiness is placed in the power of others! The thoughts, looks, words, and actions of others can in a moment fill us with joy or sorrow. The sensorium of our life seems sometimes like a great and beautiful spider’s web, in which every thread is sensitive, we at the centre giving out and receiving back again a thousand pulsations of joy and sorrow. To change the figure, our hearts are a telephonic centre, from which we send out varied messages, and get them back, too. Messages of tenderness and of scorn, of healing and mischief. Who of us can live to ourselves?
2. How much we each have it in our power to make others happy! Surely here is a realm of Christian duty little regarded by us, and I fear less practised. How many persons in this age of keen competition, when life is a race, have pondered Christ’s words about loving their neighbour as themselves? Even in family and social life how many need to ponder the sin of being constant misery-makers! If one person kills another in passion, we call that murder. But if a hard, selfish nature frets another and a loving nature to death, what do we call that? We find in our text--
I. A centre. No man can please his neighbour who does not please himself. We cannot give what we have not got. Without a fixed centre there can be no circle. Now, if a Christian man is to please himself, he needs that three features shall be prominent in his experience.
1. Let him make up his mind as to what is life’s true idea, and lovingly pursue it. Much of our joy in life depends on what we expect. If I expect a large gift and get a little one, or nothing, I am vexed and disappointed; but if I expect little and get much, then I am easily pleased. If I have made up my mind that the world is a workshop to make men; that God and men are the workers, circumstances the tools; each day an opportunity for new effort and new knowledge; failure only a revelation of the ideal and another chance for progress; if I have settled that love is life’s one great end and prize, then, with a noble discontent, which rests ever and yet never, I may be happy in myself.
2. But this happiness will only be secure as my motive is right and my helper is ever near. To live to push myself to the front, or even to please men, will never give full pleasure to the heart. He who commands and inspires me must himself be perfect, or his imperfection will in turn become mine. Christ must be the keynote of life’s song and the singer’s inspiration. To please Him is to lead self to its highest ideal and aspiration and joy. Would we please self, our motto must be, “For me to live is Christ.” Self lost in Christ is life’s full gain.
3. Yet one thing more is needed. Every day and hour brings me a heap of failures. What am I to do with these? Carry them hourly to Christ for His loving forgiveness, which deepens penitence, heartens trust, and inspires to new and nobler service.
II. The circumference of our text is--that no man can truly please himself unless he seeks to please his neighbour.
1. Selfish joy is a paradox. A great thinker has said, “No man has a right to all his rights”; the measure in which he determines to have them is the measure of his meanness--the measure of his willinghood to forego them is the measure of his manhood and nobleness. Where to-day men are too selfish to labour for the common weal, politics become degraded, the national conscience debased, and the poor trampled upon.
2. But what language can fully describe the holy gladness of being permitted to help and bless one’s fellow-men? What a royal gift it is to carry sunshine about with you; to be like the flowers, making people happy without knowing it; to light your neighbour’s candle by your own, thus losing nothing and giving much. If we could doom each man to live and labour merely for himself, then, whatever has lent any virtue to work, whatever has prompted courage and self-sacrifice, the very beauty of home life itself, must perish. I am told if you play a flute beneath a great church bell, too large for you to stir, and listen close till the right note flows forth a silver rivulet of melody, that mass of metal will respond with a myriad waves of sound in low, soft unison. So, if a man will live like Christ lived--not to please himself--then not only will he most truly please himself, but a thousand hearts will vibrate to the melody of that man’s self-sacrificing love.
III. The conclusion of our text is--that no man can either truly please his neighbour or himself who does not seek to please both for a worthy reason. We must seek to please for the permanent building up of character.
1. All can please if they only try. True, some have dispositions naturally winsome and agreeable, and others as naturally acid and disagreeable; but, not the less, every man has this command laid upon him.
2. Merely to give pleasure may, unless guarded, be a snare. We may seek to please only to find opportunity for display, or to secure men’s applause. We may want the partnership of others in gaiety or dissipation, and we may please them only for the sake of keeping us company. These methods, and many others, pull men down and never build them up. Our work is to build men up for good and for God.
3. All our life would be lifted to a level of nobility if our pleasure were to seek to do men good in a glad spirit. It was a noble resolve of the blacksmith who said, whatever others do, “I have resolved not to undersell but excel my neighbours.” Yet all secondary efforts to either please or bless men, however laudable they may be--and they are--yet concerts, entertainments, lectures, all of them will bring us much disappointment; but the one work which will give us largest pleasure and noblest fruit is to sing to men the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
4. Nothing is more important than that men who do seek to build up others for good should do it in a pleasing way. I have no patience with good people representing God or His service in any unlovely light. Scolding seldom builds men much higher; silence is best when we cannot praise. To tell men what God has done for them, and wants to do for and in them, and to show them how glad and restful His service makes us--this is the best service we can render the truth and our fellow-men. Conclusion: Love is the great river that flows through and sweetens human life. Let us each one take care what we put into that river of love. Some carelessly throw in the broken potsherds of strife and ill-will. Some poison the stream with the miserable ambition of getting rich at any cost. Others foul the stream with grossnesses and impurity. Every man should feel that he is responsible for the fulness, and purity, and beauty of life’s river of love. (R. H. Lovell.)
1. The apostle makes a special application of this principle to the conduct of the strong towards the weak. Taken by itself, it is the injunction of the comprehensive duty of courtesy. The etymology and frequent usage of the word would confine it to what is outward, i.e., polished manners. Court, courtier, courtesy, are nearly allied. But the word has a higher meaning. To court is to endeavour to please; courtesy is the desire and effort to please arising from a good motive and directed to a right end. The sycophant desires to please, but not for edification. He acts from a selfish motive for a selfish object. Every Christian, so far as his Christianity moulds and controls his character, is courteous.
2. The sum of Christian wisdom is to be Christlike (verse 3). Nothing can exceed the courtesy of Christ and His condescension, kindness, and tenderness to the humble, poor, suffering, and penitent. “Woman, hath no man condemned thee?” etc. Many of the earlier Christians wished to expunge that paragraph. But no purer, brighter ray shines upon the life of our Lord than that which fell upon Him when He uttered these words.
I. Courtesy has a negative side. It is manifested by avoiding to give pain--
1. By impressing others with their inferiority, their position, knowledge, talents, force in argument, liberality. The strong among the Romans despised the narrowness and weakness of their scrupulous brethren.
2. By in any way hurting their feelings.
II. The positive of this virtue is the endeavour to please, to heal wounded feelings, to inspire confidence and affection. (C. Hodge, D.D.)
I. Its necessity. All need it.
1. Some have yet to be built. Children, e.g., have unformed characters which require to be formed.
2. Some are built awry. Many young men have characters malformed, and the task is to get them into form.
3. Some have tumbled down. There are those whose character is a wreck, and the work in their case is one of reformation.
II. Its means. The builder must conform to law. The great principles on which successful building depends must be “pleased.” Outrage the laws of gravitation, proportion, etc., and the builder will labour in vain.
1. For the want of “pleasing” them--
(1) Some are never built at all. With the best of intentions, abundant materials, and assiduous efforts, a builder may erect a heap instead of an edifice. How much advice, instruction, etc., are expended on a child, only to be thrown away because expended in a repulsive form 1
(2) Others are pulled down. When a man has gone wrong, instead of trying to put him straight in the proper way, his “friends” often take him to pieces.
(3) When character has been ruined, instead of collecting and re-building the ruins, how often is it that they are scattered beyond recovery! Harsh sensures, cutting sarcasms, so-called “plain truths” never yet succeeded in reforming a broken character.
2. In each case the one thing needful is to give pleasure. Put a child, a youth, a man in good humour, give him hope, persuade him that duty is delightful, and the work of construction or reconstruction is almost half accomplished.
The application is--
1. To parents.
2. To preachers.
3. To teachers. (J. W. Burn.)
In the process of building a material edifice four things are necessary. They are equally essential in the edification of character.
I. A stable foundation--Christ, the Rock of Ages.
II. Sound materials--faith, hope, love, zeal, etc.
III. The combination of utility and grace in the structure. The Christian is to be beautiful as well as useful.
IV. Perfection at the finish. The Christian is to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus. (J. W. Burn)
Edification and pleasure
When Handel’s oratorio of the “Messiah” had won the admiration of many of the great, Lord Kinnoul took occasion to pay him some compliments on the noble entertainment which he had lately given the town. “My lord,” said Handel, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wish to make them better.” It is to be feared that many speechmakers at public meetings could not say as much; and yet how dare any of us waste the time of our fellow immortals in mere amusing talk! If we have nothing to speak to edification, how much better to hold our tongue! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Seeking to edify
A fine example of a word fitly spoken is found in Dr. Bushnell’s biography. An intelligent but not religious young lady, after spending a social evening with the good doctor’s family, was escorted home by her courteous host. On their way the brilliant starlight led them to talk of astronomy. The doctor spoke of the law of harmony which held each little star in its appointed place, and then turning to the bright-minded girl, with a winning smile, he said, “Sarah, I want to see you in your place.” This was all he said that was personal, but the thought thrilled her young soul as if it had dropped upon her from the skies. Its effect was to win her to discipleship. “A word spoken in season, how good it is!”
For even Christ pleased not Himself.
The self-denial of Christ
I. Its exemplification.
1. He had the right to please Himself.
2. He ceded it.
(1) Seeking not His own case.
(2) Bearing the reproach of others.
3. For the benefit of mankind.
II. Its design.
1. For faith.
2. For imitation.
3. For motive. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Imitation of Christ
makes a trifle the highest virtue. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Amongst the Roman Christians there was a great strife about a very small matter. Might a Christian eat meat, or must he live on herbs? And we maybe certain that there would be the loud assertion of individual rights, and everywhere self would be very conspicuous. It must have grieved the apostle to be compelled to take part in any such strife. He must have been conscious of a deep descent when he came down from the heights of chap. 8 into the arena where professed Christians were engaged in such a dispute. But he brought the power of the Cross to bear upon it, and instantly lifted it into a higher region. He showed the contending men that in connection with their very differences there were glorious possibilities of maintaining Christ’s own spirit and growing up into Christ’s own likeness (Romans 8:1-3). Note--
I. The spirit of Christ. The motto of selfish human nature is “Every man for himself, and God for us all”; and there are some of us who would change the latter part of the motto, and whose joy would be greater if they could believe that God is a great deal more for them than He is for others. The spirit of Christ was the very reverse of this. With Him thoughts of others were first, thoughts of self were last. He came into this world of which He had been the Creator, and of which He was the rightful ruler, “not to be ministered unto,” etc. Wherever He was found He was there for the good of others.
1. Look at His miracles. Who can fail to discern there a care for others that never sleeps? In connection with this it is very significant that our Lord’s first temptation was to work His first miracle for His own relief. A little while afterwards the Jews were in the wilderness. They had not fasted forty hours, and we do not read that any of them complained of hunger. But Christ made a feast for five thousand who would not turn one stone into bread for Himself. He that came to minister, etc., must not strike the wrong keynote of His life by making His first miracle a miracle for His own personal relief. In our Lord’s triumph over the next temptation you can see the same thoughtful love for the good of others. He could have cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, and no doubt it would have brought Him great applause, but whose tears would it have wiped away? So He kept His Divine resources in all their virgin freshness and fulness till presently the lepers crossed His path and He could cleanse them. We remember where the glory first broke forth. He who the other day would not turn stones into bread to appease His own hunger turned the water into wine to relieve His friends from embarrassment. Put the first temptation and the first miracle side by side, and how there flames out this ever blessed truth, “Even Christ pleased not Himself.”
2. After His first journey of mercy He went back again to Nazareth. He had gone to Capernaum, etc., and had conferred many blessings; but He returned as poor as He had left it. The people had heard what He had done: He knew what was in their hearts. He said, “Ye will say to Me, Physician, heal Thyself.” Why did not He who had done so much for others better His own circumstances? We must not be astonished at their incredulity. Here was a new thing in the earth. Here was a man unspeakably rich in resources, unspeakably lavish in His gifts; and He lived and died in deepest poverty.
3. As in life, so in death Christ pleased not Himself. When His burden of woe was becoming so heavy that His heart was like to break, the soldiers led by Judas went to seize Him; He put forth His power and they fell to the ground. He soon made it manifest that the deed of gentle violence had not been wrought for His own deliverance, but for the deliverance of others. “Take Me and let My disciples go their way.” The daughters of Jerusalem dropped their tears upon His way of grief. He bade them stay their tears, not because He spurned their sympathy, but because He would have them keep their energies for their own sorrow. How many more instances there are in that crucifixion that one might cite to the same purport! The cup of sorrows was held up to Him. Many and diverse were the elements in that cup. Judas put into it all the poison of his treachery, Peter the bitterness of his denial, the people the foul stream of their ingratitude, the soldiers their cruelty, the priests and Pharisees their deadly malignity, Herod his mockery, Pilate his unrighteousness, and the crowd, aided by the malefactor, their brutal and blasphemous revilings. And there were other bitter elements there, the reality and terribleness of which are testified to by Scripture. Yet He drank that cup that sinners might live.
II. The duty of the disciple. Lay stress on the word “even.”
1. Surely if any one could have done it wisely, and safely, and beneficially, He could have done it. He had no thought but what was wise, no will but what was good, no fear but what was sinless, no desire but what was honourable, and yet He hesitated not to take His thoughts, desires, and will, and bind them with cords for sacrifice, and lay them upon the altar. If Christ could deny Himself, what passion of ours is too noble, what pleasure too precious, what desire too honourable, what prejudice and prepossession too precious to be fastened to the Cross for ever, if the will of God and the claims of brotherly kindness and charity demand the sacrifice?
2. A Christ without self-denying love could not have saved the world. A church without self-denying love cannot carry on the work of Christ.
(1) And if our selfishness give birth to uselessness He will visit it with the punishment of perpetual uselessness. The man that did not use his talent, that did not employ his power for doing good, was punished in part by having the capacity for doing good taken away.
(2) On the other hand, if our generous love give birth to usefulness, our usefulness shall be rewarded by greater capacity and wider sphere for service. The man that had turned his talent into six talents, he was not welcomed into rest, he was welcomed into wider work. (C. Vince.)
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.
The Holy Scriptures
I. What were the scriptures given us for?
1. “Our learning.” They are God’s gift of light to a dark world when it had lost its way and was groping for the wall like the blind.
(1) As an intellectual boon alone we should prize them. They answer man’s inquiries as to the origin and history of the world, etc., in a way which meets the anticipations of a reasoning and reflective mind.
(2) For our learning also on great moral subjects; how, e.g., it comes that there are found in man such strange contrarieties of good and evil; and how, even while hedged in by influences which bind him to the present world, he is conscious of unextinguishable aspirations after a higher and unseen life.
(3) For our learning, as respects God Himself. “The world by wisdom knew not God.” My mind pants for information about Him in the relations of parent, benefactor, judge. But all this must come from Himself alone. Neither nature, nor reason, nor observation, nor conscience could ever have helped us to it.
2. That through the patience and comfort which these Scriptures afford to the troubled soul we might have hope. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God; that is, of the glory which shall be revealed hereafter--the mighty developments of the world unseen. And this hope comes to us, is strengthened and kept alive by patience and comfort of the Word. The Word is our hope, especially in all times of affliction. Over and over again, in the 119th Psalm, does David back up his petitions for all good with the argument, “according to Thy Word,” and he well knew his warrant. The Scriptures were given for that very end.
II. The feelings with which we should approach the study of the Scriptures.
1. Deep reverence. God will have His name hallowed, for it is holy; but His Word He seems to make holier still--“Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy name.” We are to receive it, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God.
2. Diligence, earnest effort, a high appreciation of its worth. “I rejoice at Thy Word as one that findeth great spoil,” says David. As in prayer, we have not, because we are not; so in our Scripture reading, it is to be feared, we find not because we seek not. Is there any human science in which proficiency would ever be obtained if its first principles were to be studied with no more of concentration and of thought than most men give to the study of the Bible? If we will not be at the pains to learn, we can have no claim either to the comfort or the hope.
3. Strong faith, large expectations, a deep persuasion of the sufficiency of Scripture for all its ordained and appointed ends. A book is commonly nothing more than just an assemblage of words which move not, neither do they speak; but the Word of God has all the properties of the most active and powerful agents in the universe. It is a spirit, and can breathe; it is a fire, and can consume; it is a hammer, and can crush; it is a sword, and can cleave; it is a rain, and can soften; it is leaven, and can spread; it has a vitality which can be claimed by nothing else. The only limit which can be put to its power is that imposed by our own unbelief. If not restrained by this, every promise becomes endorsed with a yea and amen. (D. Moore, M.A.)
The connection between the different parts of the text is this: First, the apostle lays down a Christian’s duty (Romans 15:1-2). After that he brings forward, as the sanction of that duty, the spirit of the life of Christ (Romans 15:3). Next he adds an illustration of that principle by a quotation from Psalms 69:1-36. Lastly, he explains and defends that application (verse 4). So we have the principle upon which the apostles used the Old Testament, and we are enabled to understand their view of inspiration. This is the deepest question of our day. In the text we find two principles.
I. That Scripture is of universal application.
1. This passage quoted was evidently spoken by David of himself. Nevertheless, Paul applies it to Christ. Nay, more, he uses it as belonging to all Christians (verse 4). “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” Had the Psalm applied only to David, then it would have been of private interpretation; instead of which, it belongs to humanity. Take, again, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. That seemed limited to Jerusalem; but had it ended there, then you would have had a prophecy of private--i.e., peculiar, limited--interpretation: whereas our Redeemer’s principle was this: that this doom pronounced on Jerusalem was but a specimen of God’s judgments. The judgment coming of the Son of Man takes place wherever there is evil grown ripe, whenever corruption is complete.
2. Promises and threatenings are made to individuals, because they are in a particular state of character; but they belong to all who are in that state, for “God is no respecter of persons.”
(1) Take an instance of the state of blessing. There was blessing pronounced to Abraham; but the whole argument in this Epistle is, that it was made, not to his person, but to his faith. “They who are of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
(2) Take the case of threatening. Jonah went through Nineveh, proclaiming its destruction; but that prophecy was true only while it remained in its evil state; and therefore, as they repented, and their state was thus changed, the prophecy was left unfulfilled. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-33 the apostle tells of the state of the Jews in the wilderness, and shows that whosoever shall imitate them, the same judgments must fall upon them. “All these things happened unto them for ensamples.” “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.”
(3) Take a case, applied not to nations,but to individuals. Hebrews 13:1-25 quotes from the Old Testament, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”; and the apostle’s inference is, that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper,” etc. Now this was a promise made to Jacob; but the apostle does not hesitate to appropriate it to all Christians; for it was made, not to Jacob as a person, but to the state in which Jacob was; to all who, like Jacob, are wanderers and pilgrims in the world. The promises made to the meek belong to meekness; the promises made to the humble belong to humility.
3. And this it is which makes this Bible our Book. The teachers, the psalmists, the prophets, and the lawgivers of this despised nation spoke out truths that have struck the key-note of the heart of man; and this not because they were of Jewish, but just because they were of universal application. The orator holds a thousand men for half an hour breathless; but this Word of God has held a thousand nations for thrice a thousand years spell-bound; held them by an abiding power, even the universality of its truth; and we feel it to be no more a collection of books, but the Book.
II. That all Scripture bears towards Jesus Christ.
1. St. Paul quotes these Jewish words as fulfilled in Christ. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” We must often have been perplexed at the way in which the apostles quote passages in reference to Christ, which originally had no reference to Him. In our text, e.g., David speaks only of himself; and yet St. Paul refers it to Christ. Promises belong to persons only so far as they are what they are taken to be; and, consequently, all unlimited promises made to individuals can only be true of One in whom that is fulfilled which was unfulfilled in them. Take the magnificent destinies Balaam promised to the people whom he was called to curse. Those promises have never been fulfilled, nor does it seem likely that they ever will be fulfilled in their literal sense. To whom, then, are they made? To Israel? Yes; so far as they developed God’s own conception. Balaam says, “God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.” Is this the character of Israel, an idolatrous and rebellious nation? Jesus is that pure and spotless One. Christ is perfectly all that every saint was partially. Consequently St. Paul would not read the Psalm he quotes as spoken only of David. The promises are to the Christ within David; therefore they are applied to the Christ when He comes.
2. Now, let us extract from that this application. Scripture is full of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation everything breathes of Him--not every letter of every sentence, but the spirit of every chapter. Get the habit of referring all to Christ. How did He feel?--think?--act? So then must I feel, and think, and act. Observe how Christ was a living reality in St. Paul’s mind. “Should I please myself?” “For even Christ pleased not Himself.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
Scripture the birthright of all
I. The argument for the universal study of the Scriptures.
1. There are different modes in which God might be pleased to reveal Himself to mankind.
(1) In creation God hath disclosed His power, wisdom, and love. This is an open Volume, which all men may read.
(2) God has revealed Himself in Providence. And here, too, the revelation is plainly intended for all. This Book, so far as it goes, is unsealed.
2. Observe at this point, however, that neither volume discloses what it is most essential for a human being, such as man actually is, to be informed of. And therefore it was quite to be expected beforehand that God should make some clear revelation of His will and design respecting our race. This revelation we have in His Word.
(1) Now, would it not be an anomalous thing if, unlike the other and less perfect disclosures, this were to be stamped with exclusiveness?
(2) If the Scriptures were intended for only partial perusal, we might surely expect that this limitation would be clearly defined in the Scriptures themselves.
(a) The Scriptures have been in use from the earliest times by the people, as well as by the priesthood (Deuteronomy 31:11; Deuteronomy 31:11, etc.).
(b) The people were commended for studying them, and sometimes rebuked for the neglect of them. How repeatedly Christ, in addressing the people, presupposes them to have read the records of inspiration! “Have ye not read?” or, “Have ye never read?” The New Testament Scriptures contain not one single intimation to any other effect than that they were to be universally studied. In the Acts we find the Bereans commended for the study of them. When St. Paul “charges” the Thessalonians, “by the Lord, that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren,” and tells the Colossians, “when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the Epistle from Laodicea.” The Revelation opens with, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.”
II. The objections that are alleged against the universal study of the Scriptures.
1. The best that Rome has to allege is, “the evil which has in some instances arisen, and may again arise, from the indiscreet use of God’s Word.” We freely admit that many have drawn from the Scriptures doctrines opposed to God’s truth, and pernicious to man’s welfare. But what if some few have perverted a blessing into a curse? Is that any reason for withholding the blessing from others? Who made the Romish Church the guardian to step in and prevent the Scriptures from working injury? We know that in support of this objection the Romanists will appeal to the assertion of St. Peter, that in Paul’s Epistles “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” But this proves that in Peter’s time the Scriptures were in free use, or how could the abuse of them have arisen? But if they are “unlearned and unstable” persons who wrest the Scriptures, surely it were a strange mode of rectifying the mischief to keep them still in a state of ignorance. And the apostle does not throw out the shadow of a hint that the Scriptures were not to be used.
2. But the objection referred to is not the real secret of Romish opposition to the free use of the Bible. That Church dares not let her doctrines and her practices be brought to the standard of Scripture. She knows that if people are allowed to read the Holy Scriptures otherwise than by the permission of, and under colour of the interpretation of the priest, they will find the doctrine of justification stated very differently from the way in which it is put forth in her teaching. They will find far less made of outward means, and a vast deal more of the inward and spiritual grace; far less of human, and a vast deal more of a Saviour’s merits. (Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
Dispositions for reading the Scripture
The book of nature obscured by the Fall. Philosophy from it could not find out God. The Scriptures given to reveal Him. Let us consider--
I. The grand design of the Scripture.
1. For the communication of knowledge of
(3) The invisible world.
2. For our comfort in every state of mind and condition of life.
3. For our hope. The hope of eternal life, founded on true faith as a solid foundation. Knowledge, consolation, and hope constitute the things for which we should look.
II. The dispositions with which we should read them.
(1) The mind should be free from vain and worldly thoughts and disordered passions.
(2) The most convenient seasons should be chosen to answer this end.
(3) To secure attention, we should consider it is God who speaks.
(4) Read with deliberation.
(5) Not read too long a time. Historical books an exception.
2. Frequently, regularly, and diligently, they should be read. This will--
(1) Give familiarity.
(2) Enable us to meditate on them.
(3) Increase our relish for them.
(4) Enlarge and confirm our knowledge.
Thus, as we take food for nourishment every day, so shall the soul receive its proper aliment which will nourish it unto life eternal.
3. With judgment and discrimination.
(1) Distinguish what is God’s Word. Malachi quotes a speech of the wicked, “It is in vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinances?” St. Paul quotes the Epicureans, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Job’s friends were wrong, and “God was wroth with them because they had not spoken the thing that was right.”
(2) Put no forced construction on any part that will contradict other portions. As--“The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” “Christ has delivered us from the law.” “No man liveth and sinneth not.” “By the deeds of the law no flesh living can be justified.’’ “God cannot tempt any man” to evil. “We are under the law to Christ.” “He that is born of God doth not commit sin.” Faith must produce the fruit of good works.
(3) Consider the speaker; the characters spoken to; the occasion; the allusion; the end; the connection; the meaning in similar passages. Instance of mistake, St. Paul’s advice against marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, whereas he only speaks in reference to a peculiar time of persecution (verse 26).
(4) Above all, the improvement must be observed. “These things are written that ye might believe.” Also St. James, “If any man be a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like unto a man,” etc.
4. We must read them with faith and submission.
(1) Receive them as if we saw everything with our eyes, or heard God speak.
(2) Avoid vain reasonings, needless curiosity, and rash inquiries, which often terminate in doubt and infidelity.
(3) We must receive precepts and promises, commands and threatenings, however contrary to our passions.
5. We must read them with piety and prayer.
(1) Pious intention, a love of truth, a disposition to believe and obey. “An honest and good heart, which hears the word and keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience.”
(2) Prayer before reading, accompanying it, and ending. This disposition will make us attentive, diligent, discriminating, thoughtful, and faithful. (D. Macafee.)
That we, through, patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.--
The twofold genealogy of hope
There is a river in Switzerland fed by two uniting streams, bearing the same name, one of them called the “white,” one of them the “grey,” or dark. One comes down from the glaciers, and bears the half-melted snow in its white ripple; the other flows through a lovely valley, and is discoloured by its earth. They unite in one common current. So in these two verses (4 and 13) we have two streams, a white and a black, and they both blend together and flow out into a common hope. So both halves of the possible human experience are meant to end in, the same blessed result.
I. We have, first of all, the hope that is the child of the night, and born in the dark. “Whatsoever things,” says the apostle, “were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we, through patience”--or rather the brave perseverance--“and consolation”--or rather, perhaps, encouragement--“of the Scriptures might have hope.” The written word is conceived for the source of patient endurance which acts as well as suffers. This grace Scripture works in us through the encouragement which it ministers in manifold ways, and the result of both is hope. So, you see, our sorrows and difficulties are not connected with, nor do they issue in, bright hopefulness, except by reason of this connecting link. We cannot pass from the black frowning cliffs on one side of the gorge to the sunny tablelands on the other without a bridge--and the bridge for a poor soul from the blackness of sorrow to the smiling pastures of hope, with all their half-open blossoms, is builded in that book, which tells us the meaning and purpose of them all, and is full of the histories of those who have overcome, have hoped and not been ashamed. Scripture is given, among other reasons, that it may encourage us:, and so may produce in us this great grace of active patience, if we may call it so. The first thing to notice, then, is how Scripture gives encouragement--for such, rather than consolation, is the meaning of the word. It seeks to make us strong and brave to face and to master our sorrows, and to infuse into us a high-hearted courage. It would be a poor aim to comfort only; but to encourage--to make strong in heart, resolved in will, and incapable of being crushed in spirit by any sorrows--that is a purpose worthy of the Book, and of the God who speaks through it. This purpose, we may say, is effected by Scripture in two ways. It encourages us by its records, and by its revelation of principles. Who can tell how many struggling souls have taken heart again as they pondered over the sweet stories of sorrow subdued which stud its pages, like stars in its firmament? We are all enough of children to be more affected by the living examples than by dissertations however true. But Scripture has another method of ministering encouragement to our often fainting heart. It cuts down through all the complications of human affairs, and lays bare the innermost motive power. It not only shows us in its narratives the working of sorrow and the power of faith, but it distinctly lays down the source and the purpose, the whence and the whither of all suffering. They all come from my Father, and they all come for my good. With that double certitude clear before us, we can face anything. The slings and arrows that strike are no more flung blindly by an “outrageous fortune,” but each bear an inscription, like the fabled bolts, which tells what hand drew the bow, and they come with His love. Then, further, the courage thus born of the Scriptures produces another grand thing--patience, or rather perseverance. It is something to endure, and even while the heart is breaking, to submit unmurmuring; but, transcendent as it is, it is but half of the lesson which we have to learn and to put in practice. For if all our sorrows have a disciplinary purpose, we shall not have received them aright unless we have tried to make that purpose effectual by appropriating whatsoever spiritual teaching: they each have for us. Nor does our duty stop there. It is that dogged persistence in plain duty, that tenacious continuance in our course, which is here set forth as the result of the encouragement which Scripture gives. Many of us have all our strength exhausted in mere endurance, and have let obvious duties slip from our hands, as if we had done all that we could do when we had forced ourselves to submit. Submission would come easier if you took up some of those neglected duties, and you would be stronger for patience if you used more of your strength for service. Take the encouragement which Scripture gives, that it may animate you to bate no jot of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer right onward. And let the Scripture directly minister to you perseverance as well as indirectly supply it through the encouragement which it gives. It teaches us a solemn scorn of ills. It summons us to diligence by the visions of the prize, and glimpses of the dread fate of the slothful, by all that is blessed in hope and terrible in foreboding, by appeals to an enlightened self-regard, and by authoritative commands to conscience, by the pattern of the Master, and by the tender motives of love to Him to which He Himself has given voice. All these call on us to be followers of them who, through faith and perseverance, inherit the promises. But we have yet another step to take. These two, the encouragement and perseverance produced by the right use of Scripture, will lead to hope. The lion once slain houses a swarm of bees, who lay up honey in its carcase. If we can look back and say, “Thou hast been with me in six troubles,” it is good logic to look forward and say, “and in seven Thou wilt not forsake me.”
II. So much then for the genealogy of one form of the Christian hope. But we have also a hope that is born of the day, the child of sunshine and gladness. “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.” So then “the darkness and the light are both alike” to our hope, in so far as each may become the occasion for its exercise. We have seen that the bridge by which sorrow led to hope was perseverance and courage; in this second analysis of the origin of hope, joy and peace are the bridge by which faith passes over into it. Paul has found, and if we only put it to the proof we shall also find, that the simple exercise of simple faith fills the soul with “all joy and peace.” Gladness in all its variety, and in full measure, calm repose in every kind, and abundant in its still depth, will pour into my heart as water does into a vessel, on condition of my taking away the barrier and opening my heart through faith. “Trust and thou shalt be glad.” In the measure of thy trust shall be the measure of thy joy and peace. Notice, further, how indissolubly connected the present exercise of faith is with the present experience of joy and peace. It is only while we are looking to Jesus that we can expect to have joy and peace. There is no flashing light on the surface of the mirror, but when it is turned full to the sun. Any interruption in the electric current is registered accurately by an interruption in the continuous line, perforated on the telegraph-ribbon; and so every diversion of heart and faith from Jesus Christ is recorded by the fading of the sunshine out of the heart, and the silencing of all the song-birds. Always believe and you will always be glad and calm. Observe, again, how accurately the apostle defines for us the conditions on which Christian experience would be joyful and tranquil. It is “in believing,” not in certain other exercises of mind, that these blessings are to be realised. And the forgetfulness of that plain fact leads to many good people’s religion being very much more gloomy and disturbed than God meant it to be. For a large part of it consists in sadly proving their spiritual state, and gazing at their failures and imperfections. There is nothing cheerful and tranquillising in grubbing among the evils of your own heart, and it is quite possible to do that too much and too exclusively. Then, the second step in this tracing of the origin of the hope which has the brighter source, is the consideration that the joy and peace which spring from faith, in their turn produce that confident anticipation of future and progressive good. Herein lies the distinguishing blessedness of the Christian joy and peace, and that they carry in themselves the pledge of their own eternity. It is not true of this gladness that “Hereof cometh in the end despondency and madness,” but its destiny is to “remain” as long as the soul in which it unfolds shall exist, and “to be full” as long as the source from which it flows does not run dry. So that the more we experience the present blessedness, which faith in Christ brings us, the more shall we be sure that nothing in the future, either in or beyond time, can put an end to it; and hence a hope that looks with confident eyes across the gorge of death to the “shining tablelands” on the other side, and is as calm as certitude, shall be ours. I saw, not long since, in a wood a mass of blue wild hyacinths, that looked like a little bit of heaven dropped down upon earth. You and I may have such a tiny bit of heaven itself lying amidst all the tangle of our lives, if only we put our trust in Christ, and so get into our hearts some little portion of that joy that is unspeakable, and that peace that passeth understanding. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Patience, comfort, and hope from the Scriptures
1. This is the text from which old Hugh Latimer was wont to preach continually in his latter days. Certainly it gave him plenty of sea room.
2. The apostle declares that the Old Testament Scriptures are meant to teach New Testament believers. Things written aforetime were written for our time. The Old Testament is not outworn; apostles learned from it. Nor has its authority ceased; it still teaches with certainty. Nor has its Divine power departed; for it works the graces of the Spirit in those who receive it--patience, comfort, hope.
3. In this verse the Holy Ghost sets His seal upon the Old Testament, and for ever enters His protest against all undervaluing of that sacred volume.
4. The Holy Scriptures produce and ripen the noblest graces. Let us carefully consider--
I. The patience of the Scriptures.
1. Such as they inculcate. Patience--
(1) Under every appointment of the Divine will.
(2) Under human persecution and satanic opposition.
(3) Under brotherly burdens (Galatians 6:2).
(4) In waiting for Divine promises to be fulfilled.
2. Such as they exhibit in examples.
(1) Job under divers afflictions triumphantly patient.
(2) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob patiently waiting as sojourners with God, embracing the covenant promise in a strange land.
(3) Joseph patiently forgiving the unkindness of his brethren, and bearing the false accusation of his master.
(4) David, in many trials and under many reproaches, patiently waiting for the crown, and refusing to injure his persecutor.
(5) Our Saviour patient under all the many forms of trial.
3. Such as they produce by their influence.
(1) By calling us to the holiness which involves trial.
(2) By revealing the design of God in our tribulations, and so sustaining the soul in steadfast resolve.
(3) By declaring to us promises as to the future which make us cheerfully endure present griefs.
II. The comfort of the Scriptures.
1. Such as they inculcate.
(1) They bid us rise above fear (Psalms 46:1-3).
(2) They urge us to think little of all transient things.
(3) They command us to find our joy in God.
(4) They stimulate us to rejoice under tribulations, because they make us like the prophets of old.
2. Such as they exhibit.
(1) Enoch walking with God.
(2) Abraham finding God his shield and exceeding great reward.
(3) David strengthening himself in God.
(4) Hezekiah spreading his letter before the Lord. Many other cases are recorded, and these stimulate our courage.
3. Such as they produce.
(1) The Holy Spirit, as the Comforter, uses them to that end.
(2) Their own character adapts them to that end.
(3) They comfort us by their gentleness, certainty, fulness, graciousness, adaptation, personality, etc.
(4) Our joyous experience is the best testimony to the consoling power of the Holy Scriptures.
III. The hope of the Scriptures. Scripture is intended to work in us a good hope. A people with a hope will purify themselves, and will in many other ways rise to a high and noble character. By the hope of the Scriptures we understand--
1. Such a hope as they hold forth.
(1) The hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
(2) “The blessed hope, and the appearing of “our Lord” (Titus 2:13).
(3) The hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6).
(4) The hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). There is a good hope, a lively hope, the hope set before us in the gospel.
2. Such a hope as they exhibit in the lives of saints. A whole martyrology will be found in Hebrews 11:1-40.
3. Such a hope as they produce.
(1) We see what God has done for His people, and therefore hope.
(2) We believe the promises through the Word, and therefore hope.
(3) We enjoy present blessing, and therefore hope.
Let us hold constant fellowship with the God of patience and Consolation, who is also the God of hope; and let us rise from stage to stage of joy as the order of the words suggests. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Holy Scriptures a source of comfort
There is much in this text as to the Scriptures.
1. Written for our learning.
2. Help to patience.
3. Full of comfort.
4. Support of hope.
Let us take one branch--the “comfort of the Scriptures.” Whatever are our burdens, there is comfort here.
I. Are we burdened under a sense of sin? Many are so, like David (Psalms 51:1-19). The Bible does not make light of this, but rather reveals the greatness and number of our sins. Yet it is full of comfort, telling of the way of forgiveness, pointing to the fountain opened. It is a proclamation of mercy, a message--yea, many messages--from a loving Father.
II. Are we troubled by difficulties of christian life and conflict? There is “comfort in the Scriptures.”
1. The Bible tells of “grace sufficient for thee.”
2. It points to One who can be touched in our behalf, who is our Captain and Deliverer.
3. It gives bright examples, too, of many who “out of weakness were made strong.”
III. Are we anxious about temporal affairs? How many words of direction and encouragement meet us! Promises in the sermon on the mount, and lessons from the lilies and the fowls. Invitations to cast every care on Him who careth for us in the Scriptures also the veil over the future is uplifted, and the better and enduring inheritance exhibited.
IV. Are we suffering from bereavement? With our Bible in hand we suffer not as others who have no hope. Our minds are diverted from second causes to “It is the Lord.” We read the eleventh chapter of John, and are soothed by the sympathy there manifested.
V. Are we burdened with fear of death? There is still comfort in the Scriptures. Only let us come to Him in whom is salvation, and then the last enemy is destroyed. They promise victory (1 Corinthians 15:1-58.); a house not made with hands (2 Corinthians 5:1-21.); a prepared place (John 14:1-31). No evil to be feared (Psalms 23:1-6), and from the Apocalypse gleams of glory to be seen. (J. Lancaster, M.A.)
The Scriptures the foundation of Christian hope, and patience a means of it
These words in their connection show us that Christ and the great truths of Christianity are to be found where a superficial observer would not expect to find them. The preceding verse, quoted from Psalms 69:9, would appear to be meant only of David; and yet the apostle was taught to consider them as also referring to Christ, of whom David was a type. We have similar instances in Psalms 102:25-26; Psalms 102:25-26. Indeed, our Lord Himself intimates that He is the great subject of the Old Testament (John 5:39).
I. What is the “hope” of which the apostle speaks, and how it appears that it is of importance we should possess it.
1. It will be readily allowed that spiritual and eternal, not carnal and temporal, things are the objects of a Christian’s hope--viz., God and His salvation (Lamentations 3:26), or the privileges and blessings of the gospel.
2. But as the subjects of this hope are already believers in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-7; Colossians 1:13), the attainment of these things is not properly the object of their hope, for these are already possessed; but a continuance of these blessings, together with guidance, protection, succour, and consolation in all difficulties and trials, timely deliverance from them, perfect holiness and meetness for heaven (Galatians 5:5), perseverance in grace, and, especially, eternal life (Titus 1:2), or the glory of God (1 Chronicles 5:2).
3. The Christian hope is an earnest desire after this, in consequence of a discovery of its great excellency, by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). Thus the first Christians (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:4-8), and even pious Jews, expressed their desire (Psalms 17:15; Psalms 73:24).
4. It is, moreover, a well-grounded and lively expectation of it, arising from our being entitled to it--
(1) As justified (Titus 3:7).
(2) As being children and heirs (Romans 8:17).
(3) As being, in a measure at least, prepared for it, in proportion to our sanctification and recovery of God’s image (Colossians 1:12).
(4) As having an earnest of it (Ephesians 1:14), and being in the way to it.
5. The fruits of this hope are joy (Romans 5:1-2), gratitude (1 Peter 1:3), humility, and patience (1 Thessalonians 1:3), not being weary of well-doing (Galatians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58), aspiring after complete purity (1 John 3:3).
6. Hence we learn the vast importance of this hope; it is closely connected with the whole of religion.
(1) The Christian life is a voyage, and hope an anchor (Hebrews 6:19), which we may not seem to want when wind and tide are for us; but when they are against us, it will be necessary to preserve us from losing the way we have made, from getting aground on the sand-banks of this world, from being dashed on the rocks of pride and self-confidence, or swallowed up in the whirlpools of despondency.
(2) Christianity is a warfare: if righteousness be a breastplate, etc., hope is a helmet; it defends the head, where any injury received would be peculiarly dangerous.
II. The provision God has made for our attaining this hope in giving us the Scriptures.
1. The Scriptures reveal the great object of this hope, and bring life and immortality to light, which neither the light of nature nor any other religion can do.
2. They discover the foundation on which we must build it--the death and resurrection of Christ.
(1) These seal the doctrine which informs us about, eternal life and the way to it, and so remove the first great hindrance to our hope--our ignorance, and unbelief.
(2) They expiate sin and procure our forgiveness, and so remove the second hindrance--our guilt and condemnation.
(3) They procure for us the Holy Spirit, which removes the third hindrance--our depravity.
(4) Christ, as “the first-fruits of them that sleep,” is our forerunner, giving us an example of immortality being destined for man.
3. They furnish the seed and ground, as of faith, so of hope, in their doctrines, precepts, and promises, laying a foundation for faith, the root of hope, and showing us the way in which we may arrive at the object of it.
4. They furnish us with many and very bright examples (Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 11:26).
III. The means through which we may retain as well as attain it. “Through patience,” etc.
1. In one point of view patience is the effect of hope; in another it is a cause. An appetite for food is an effect of health, and yet a cause of it; an inclination and ability to use exercise and be active is an effect of health, and yet a cause thereof. And thus may we say of patience. Thus it is mentioned as a fruit of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3) and as a cause of it (Romans 5:2).
2. As to the respects in which patience is necessary, there must be--
(1) A patient investigation and study of the Scriptures.
(2) A patient progress through the various parts of Christian experience; we cannot step at once from our first awakening into glory.
(3) A patient exercise of all our Christian graces as occasions call them forth.
(4) A patient performance of all Christian duties (Romans 2:7; Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:9; Revelation 22:14).
(5) Above all, a patient endurance of afflictions, which are chastisements of our faults, trials of our grace, purifying fires; in this respect especially we have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36).
(6) But the word here used also means enduring, persevering to the end. In all these respects patience must minister to hope, and be a cause of an increase and confirmation of it.
3. But how shall this “patience have its perfect work” in us? Through the consolation of the Scriptures. They must be the medicine and food, the strength and refreshment of our souls. (J. Benson.)
The Bible is
1. A lesson book of instruction.
2. A school of patience.
3. A well-spring of comfort.
4. A solid foundation of hope. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. We converse with the past--acquiring lessons of--
II. We finn comfort for the present.
III. We derive hope for the future. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The value and use of the Bible
I. The Bible comes to us with three great powers, each of which is a guarantee of its truth, and should cause us to value it above all other books. It comes to us with the power of--
1. Tradition. Sayings that are handed on byword of mouth become altered; and so doubtless it would have been with God’s words had He not caused them to be written, and then to be delivered to appointed guardians, charged to keep them inviolate. We should thank God, then, that He has given us His holy Church, Jewish and Christian, to be--“a witness and keeper” of His Word, thereby enabling us to know that, in believing it, we are not following “cunningly devised fables.”
2. Prophecy. The Bible contains the history not only of the past and present, but also of the future. And we feel sure that all that is predicted will be fulfilled, just because all that was prophesied concerning the Jews, and Jerusalem, and Christ has been fulfilled. And then, if the prophecies of the Bible are true, all else which it contains, we may be sure, is true.
3. Edification. Parts of the Bible may be hard to understand, but none, however unlearned, ever yet studied it, prayerfully and humbly, without finding that it built them up in faith and love. Did ever you find any other book like it in this respect?
II. How, then, should we use the Bible so as to prove that we really value it?
1. We should read it every day. Although we talk much about the blessing of an “open Bible,” yet to a large number the Bible is kept like some rare treasure to be looked at, not used. It is a very good thing to read the Bible through continuously, endeavouring to grasp the teaching as a whole. But it is a good thing also every day to read a few verses, that all day long we may have in our minds some word of God to rest upon. And if we can commit them to memory, so much the better. Then, in time, we should have our minds stored with holy thoughts, and when Satan approached, “the sword of the Spirit” would be ready to our hand.
2. We should read with the definite desire of hearing God’s voice. And this implies that we must read in a humble and teachable spirit; not approaching the Bible with our minds prejudiced, or that we may find some confirmation for our own theories and practices, but saying simply, “Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?”
3. In order that, in the reading of the Bible, we may thus listen for and respond to the voice of God, we must prepare our hearts and minds by earnest prayer.
4. As the Bible is the best book of private devotions, use it as such.
5. Do not be perplexed because there are some things in the Bible which you cannot understand. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”
6. Try to see Jesus there, and to realise the work that He accomplished and the example that He set. (J. Beeby.)
The Old Testament: its trustworthiness, value, and purpose
The apostle’s purpose in making the quotation of verse 3 was to bring about a more brotherly feeling between the two great divisions of the Roman Church (verse 1). He might have illustrated his point by referring to many acts in our Lord’s life, but he refers to a passage in Psalms 69:1-36. instead. But although David in it is describing his own troubles, a Jewish Christian would not have been surprised at St. Paul’s applying the words to our Lord, for he would have known that some Jewish books already understood these words of the promised Messiah; but a convert from heathenism would have had many difficulties to get over in accepting this. “Why should a psalm written by David, and referring to David’s circumstances more than a thousand years before, be thus used to pourtray the life and character of Jesus?” This difficulty Paul meets by laying down a broad principle which includes a great deal else besides. “Whatsoever things,” etc. Consider some of the truths which this statement seems to imply.
I. The trustworthiness of the Old Testament.
1. Unless a book or a man be trustworthy, it is impossible to feel confidence in it or in him, and confidence is the very first condition of receiving instruction to any good purpose. Just as wilful sin is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul, so inveracity is incompatible with the claim of a book to have been inspired by the Author of all truth. Thus in the Book of Deuteronomy, long addresses are ascribed to Moses, and Moses describes a series of events of which he claims to have been an eyewitness. If, then, these addresses and narratives were composed by some Jew, who lived many centuries after Moses, and imposed the book upon the conscience of the Jewish people as the work of Moses himself, such a representation is irreconcilable with the veracity of the book. Or if a striking prediction in Daniel 8:1-27 about Antiochus Epiphanes was really written after the event, the book in which it occurs is not a trustworthy book. Unless there be such a thing as inspiration of inveracity we must choose between the authority of some of our modern critics and any belief in inspiration--nay, more, any belief in the permanent value of the Scriptures as source of Christian instruction. Nobody now expects to be instructed by the false Decretals. Certainly every trustworthy book is not inspired; but a book claiming inspiration ought at least to be trustworthy, and a literature which is said to be inspired for the instruction cf the world must not fall below the level which is required for the ordinary purposes of human intercourse.
2. For Christians it will be enough to know that our Lord has set the seal of His infallible sanction on the whole of the Old Testament. He found the Hebrew canon just as we have it, and He treated it as an authority which was above discussion. Nay, more, He went out of His way to sanction not a few portions of it which our modern scepticism too eagerly rejects. When He would warn His hearers against the dangers of spiritual relapse, He bade them remember Lot’s wife; when He would point out how worldly engagements might blind the soul to the coming judgment, He reminds them how men ate and drank, etc., until the day that Noah entered the Ark; when He would put His finger on that fact in past Jewish history which, by its admitted reality, would warrant belief in His own coming resurrection, He points to Jonah three days and nights in the whale’s belly; when standing on the Mount of Olives with the Holy City at His feet, He would quote that prophecy, the fulfilment of which would mark for His followers that this impending doom had at last arrived, He desires them to flee to the mountains, when they shall see “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the Holy Place.” The trustworthiness of the Old Testament is inseparable from the trustworthiness of our Lord.
II. That the Jewish Scriptures have a world-wide and enduring value. Some instruction, no doubt, is to be gathered from the literature of every people, but on the other hand, there is a great deal in the very finest uninspired literature that cannot be described as permanently or universally instructing; and, therefore, when the apostle says of a great collection of books of various characters and dates, and on various subjects, that whatsoever was contained in them had been set down for the instruction of men of another faith and a later age, we think it an astonishing assertion. Clearly, if the apostle is to be believed, these books cannot be like any other similar collections of national laws, records, poems, and proverbs. There must be in them some quality or qualities which warrant this lofty estimate. And here we may observe that as books rise in the scale of excellence, they tend towards exhibiting a permanence and universality of interest. They rise above the local and personal incidents of their production; they show qualities which address themselves to the minds and heart of the human race. This is the case within limits of our own Shakespeare. And yet by what an interval is Shakespeare parted from the books of the Hebrew Scriptures! His great dramatic creations we feel are only the workmanship of a very shrewd human observer, with the limitation of a human polar of view, and with the restrictive moral authority which is all that the highest human genius can claim. But here is a Book which provides for human nature as a whole, which makes this profession with aa insight and faithfulness that does not belong to the most gifted. Could any moral human author ever have stood the test which the Old Testament has stood? For what has it been to the Jewish people through the tragic vicissitudes of their wonderful history--to Christendom for nineteen centuries? It has formed the larger part of the religious note-book of the Christian Church, it has shaped Christian hopes, largely governed Christian legislation, supplied the language for Christian prayer and praise; the noblest and the saintliest souls have fed their souls on it. Throughout the Christian centuries the Old Testament has been a mine constantly worked, and far to-day from being exhausted. Its genealogies, apparently so long and so dry, may remind us when we examine the names attentively of the awful responsibility which attaches to the transmission of the gift of life, of a type of character which we had ourselves perchance modified, to another, and, perhaps, a distant generation; or sometimes they suggest the care with which all that bears upon the human ancestry of our Lord and Saviour was treasured up in the records of the people of revelation. Those minute ritual directions of the law should bring before us first one and then another aspect of that to which assuredly they point--the redeeming worth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
III. That a second or deeper sense of Scripture constantly underlies the primary literal, superficial sense.
1. Nobody, of course, would ever expect to find the second sense in an uninspired book, however well written. In Macaulay’s History, e.g., we read what he has to say about the events which he describes, and there is an end to it. But this is not true of the Old Testament Scriptures. In the account in Genesis of Abraham’s relations with Hagar, Sara, Ishmael, and Isaac, the apostle bids us see the Jewish and the Christian Covenants, and the spiritual slaves of the Mosaic law, and the enfranchised sons of the mother of us all. And in like manner St. Paul teaches the Corinthians in his First Epistle to see in the Exodus and in the events which followed it, not a bare series of historical occurrences, but the fellowship of Christian privileges and of Christian failings.
2. The neglect of this secondary and spiritual sense of Scripture has sometimes led Christians to mis-apply the Old Testament very seriously. Thus, for instance, both the soldiers of Raymond of Toulouse and the Puritans appealed to the early wars of the Israelites as a sanction for indiscriminate slaughter. Dwelling on the letter of the narrative they missed its true and lasting but deeper import, the eternal witness that it bears to God’s hatred of moral evil, and the duty of making war upon those passions which too easily erect their Jericho or their Ai within the Christian soul itself, and are only conquered by resolute perseverance and courage.
3. This second sense of Scripture is especially instructive as a guide to the knowledge and love of Christ, who is the end as of the law, so of the whole of the Old Testament, to every one that believeth. Prophecies such as Isaiah’s of the virginal birth, and of the Man of Sorrows, or of Psalms 110:1-7; Psalms 110:1-7, can properly be referred to no one else. But there is much which has a primary reference to some saint, or hero, or event of the day, which yet in its deeper significance points on to Him. All this great deliverance from Egypt and Babylonia, foreshadowed a greater deliverance beyond; all these elaborate rights of purification and sacrifice, which have no meaning apart from the one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that succession of saints and heroes who, with all their imperfections, point onwards and upwards to One who dignifies their feebler and broken lives by making them in not a few respects anticipations of His glorious self. (Canon Liddon.)
The Bible meets life’s deepest necessities
The psalmists never hesitated to say that the Bible, as they had it, met all life’s deepest necessities: “This is my comfort in my affliction, for Thy word hath quickened me” (Psalms 119:50); “I remember Thy judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself “ (Psalms 119:52); “Unless Thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in my affliction” (Psalms 119:92); “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet Thy commandments are my delights” (Psalms 119:143). A book of which all this can be said the world will not willingly let die. Whatever is held by the heart is held longest. The friend that will sit up all night when we are in pain and weariness is not a friend we can easily cast off. Many a summer-holiday acquaintance we can well dismiss; but the friend that knows us, that sticketh closer than a brother, that is the same in winter and in summer, that is tenderer in affliction even than in joy, is a friend whose name will stand at the top, and will survive the going away of many whose affection was superficial, and whose relation to us, though ostentatious, was flimsy. If the psalmists could say all this, what can we say? If the dawn was so beautiful, what of the mid-day? If the spring was so trim, what of the harvest? (J. Parker, D.D.)
Comfort of the Scriptures
The best commentary upon the Bible is experience. The man who can stand up and say, “I have been in affliction, sorrow, darkness, weakness, poverty, and the Bible has proved itself to be a counsellor and light and guide and friend,” is one of the best annotators the Bible ever had. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Patience, comfort, hope
Among the manifold changes and chances of this mortal life, there are three things which we all need, and which, the more we have, the happier we shall be. These are patience, comfort, and hope. The three are closely connected. Hope produces patience, and in the patience of hope there is comfort amid all the trials of life. All these three are to be sought from God.
1. Patience. How much need we all have of it! How it sweetens life and lessens its ills! On the other hand, what mischief impatience does! Patience finds difficulties in God’s Word, mysteries too deep for human intellect. Impatience turns away in a rage from these and takes refuge in the dreary darkness of unbelief. But patience waits in quiet trust upon God for mysteries to be unfolded. Patience is not blind to the many dark problems in the history of the world and in human nature. It sees them. It grieves over the slow progress of good, the seeming triumph of evil. But impatience scoffingly denies that there can be a God and a superintending Providence.
2. Comfort. Ah, what a rich store of that is to be found in the Scriptures of God! There the soul that is weighed down by the burden of its sin, the heart that is broken learns how though its sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow. There the afflicted learn that they are not suffering under the strokes of an angry God, but that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” They see the Captain of their salvation made perfect through sufferings.
3. Hope. Ah, how richly hope is sustained by the glorious promises of which the Scriptures are full! (J. E. Vernon.)
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded.
The God of patience
When we say God is patient four things are implied.
I. Provocation. Where there is nothing to try the temper there can be no patience. Humanity provokes God. The provocation is great, universal, constant. Measure His patience by the provocation.
II. Sensibility. Where there is no tenderness or susceptibility of feeling, there may be obduracy and stoicism, but no patience. Patience implies feeling. God is infinitely sensitive. “Oh, do not this abominable thing,” etc.
III. Knowledge. Where the provocation is not known, however great, and however sensitive the being against whom it is directed, there can be no patience. God knows all the provocations.
IV. Power. Where a being has not the power to resent aa insult or to punish a provocation though he may feel it and know it, his forbearing is not patience, it is simply weakness. He is bound by the infirmity of his nature to be passive. God is all powerful. He could damn all His enemies in one breath. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Patience of God
(text and Nahum 1:3):--
I. The nature of this patience, or slowness to anger.
1. It is a modification of the Divine goodness. While goodness respects all creatures, patience has as its object only the sinner.
2. This patience is not the result of ignorance. Every transgression is in full view of Him who is one Eternal Now. And yet the Lord delays His thunders!
3. This perfection does not result from impotence (chap. 9:22; Numbers 14:17).
4. Neither does it result from a connivance at sin, or a resolution to suffer it with impunity.
5. It is grounded on the everlasting covenant, and the blood of Jesus. Why was not patience exercised to the fallen angels? Because Jesus had not engaged to atone for them, as He had engaged to become the surety of man.
II. Some of the most illustrious manifestations of it.
1. When our first parents sinned, patience held them in being, gave them an opportunity of securing a better Eden, and pointed them to that Messiah who should repair the ruins of the fall.
2. When the old world had corrupted its way before God, for 120 years He bore with its enormities, sent His Spirit to strive with them, and His messengers to warn them.
3. When the Canaanites indulged in every abomination, He delayed for four hundred years to inflict on them the punishments they deserved.
4. When the Gentile nations, instead of adoring the God of heaven, had placed the vilest passions and the grossest vices in the seat of the Divinity, the Lord “left not Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17).
5. When the Israelites, notwithstanding His numberless miracles and amazing mercies, rebelled against Him, did He not bear with them? But why do I mention particular examples? There is not a spot on our globe, there is not an instant that has elapsed, there is not a human being that has existed, that does not prove the forbearance of our God. Consider the number, the greatness, and the continuance of the provocations against Him by His creatures whom He hath surrounded with blessings, for whose redemption He gave His Son.
6. Consider the conduct of God towards those whom He is compelled ultimately to punish. Before the judgment He solemnly and affectionately warns them. If they are still obstinate, He delays, gives new mercies, that their souls at last may be touched. If He must punish, He does it by degrees (Psalms 78:38). If at last He must pour out His vengeance upon the incorrigible sinner, He does it with reluctance. “Why wilt thou die?” “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?”
III. The reasons why he exercises such long-suffering. Lovely as is this attribute, its exercise has often appeared mysterious to the pious, and has been abused by the sinner. Yet a little reflection would have convinced them that in this, as in all the other proceedings of His providence, the manifold wisdom of God is shown. He is patient--
1. From His nature (Lamentations 3:33).
2. That this perfection may be glorified. There can be no exercise of it in heaven, since there will be nothing to require it; none in hell, since there will be nothing but wrath (Isaiah 48:9).
3. In consequence of the prayers of pious ancestors, and of the promises made to them and their offspring after them. Ah! careless children of pious parents, you know not how much you are indebted to them.
4. From the mixture of the wicked with the pious, and the near relations subsisting between them. From love to His dear children, He spares His enemies (2 Kings 22:18; 2 Kings 22:20).
5. Because the number of His elect is not yet completed, and because many of the descendants of these wicked men shall be trophies of His grace. Had a wicked Ahaz been cut off at once, a pious Hezekiah would never have lived and pleaded the cause of God.
6. Because the measure of their sins is not yet filled up (Zechariah 5:6, etc.).
7. That sinners may be brought to repentance (2 Peter 3:15).
8. That sinners who continue impenitent may at last be without excuse.
9. That God’s power may be displayed; the greatness of His protection and providence be manifested in preserving the Church in the midst of her enemies.
10. That He may exercise the trust of His servants in Him, and the “patience of His saints”; that He may call forth the graces of the righteous, and try their sincerity.
IV. Inferences. Is God infinitely patient?
1. With what love to Him should the consideration of this attribute inspire us?
2. What a motive to the deepest repentance (Romans 2:4).
3. Let us imitate Him in this perfection of His nature.
4. What a source of comfort is this to believers.
5. Then how patient should we be in all the afflictions with which He visits us?
6. Who, then, will not grieve at the reproaches and insults that are cast upon him? (H. Kollock, D.D.)
The grace of patience
“It takes a brave soul to bear all this so grandly,” said a tender-hearted doctor, stooping over his suffering patient. She lifted her heavy eyelids, and looking into the doctor’s face, replied, “It is not the brave soul at all; God does it all for me.”
I. The title he gives to God. “The God of patience and consolation,” i.e., a God that--
1. Bears with us.
2. Gives us patience and comfort.
II. The mercy he begs of God.
1. The foundation of Christian love and peace is laid in likemindedness.
2. This likemindedness must be according to Christ.
3. It is the gift of God.
III. The end of his desire. That God may be glorified--
1. By Christian unity.
2. As the Father of Christ. (M. Henry.)
I. Its nature. “Likeminded.”
II. Its motives.
1. The character of God.
2. The mind and will of Christ.
III. Its source. God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1. Flows from the God of patience and consolation.
2. Is conformable to the mind and will of Christ.
3. Finds expression in the united praises of God, even the Father of Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
According to Christ Jesus.--
Jesus’ view of life
How did the Christ look upon the lives of men? We may be sure that He saw all the strange minglings of comedies and tragedies which so confuse and exhaust us. If we feel at times the myriad multiplicity and infinite confusions of life, and wonder what it all means and is worth, we may be perfectly sure that the most sensitive and receptive soul that ever was found in fashion as a man felt life as we never have. He measured in His own experience our temptations, and His life took in Cana of Galilee, a sick room in Capernaum, the market-place before the temple, the streets of the city, the country towns by the sea, the Master in Israel, the multitude of the people, the whole world of His day and of all days--our world-age and God’s eternity. Remembering thus that Jesus lived as never poet, philosopher, or novelist has lived, in the real world of human motives and hearts, with our real human life a daily transparency before His eye, open now these Gospels and see if you can find there in Jesus’ view of our life, in His thought of us, any such sense of the emptiness, vanity, strangeness of life, as we have often felt resting like a shadow over our thoughts. Did not He look upon things as contradictory to goodness and God as anything we have ever seen under the sun? And with purer eyes? Did not He feel with larger sympathy and warmer heart the broken, tangled, bleeding lives of men? Did not He bear the sin of the world? Where, then, is our human word of doubt among His words? Where is the echo of man’s despair among the sayings of our Lord? He could weep with those who mourned; but He spake and thought of life and the resurrection before the grave of Lazarus. You cannot say that He did not understand our sense of life’s mystery and brokenness. He saw it all in Mary’s tears. He read it in the thoughts of disciples’ hearts. Why, then, did He never reproduce our common human weariness and doubt in His thought of life? It is not an endless wonder to Him. He sees our life surrounded by the living God. He sees, beneath our world, undergirding it, God’s mighty purpose. He sees above the righteous Father. He sees the calm of eternity. And knowing life better than you or I do, knowing such things as you may have heard yesterday or may experience tomorrow--enough sometimes to make men wonder whether there be a God, or truth, or anything of worth--Jesus Christ, in full, open view of all life, said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye believe in God; believe also in Me.” We begin to come now in sight of the conclusion to which I wish to lead. The evangelists could not possibly have omitted this common human characteristic if the character of Jesus had been the creation of their own imaginations. You will find shadow after shadow of our human questioning crossing the path of Buddha, and lingering upon the heights of human genius, but not the shadow of a passing doubt or fear over all Jesus’ conversation with men. How could the Son of man look thus in the joy and triumph of a God upon such a strange thing as our life is? It was because He saw the coming order and the all-sufficient grace for life. It was because He knew that He was Lord of the creation from before the foundation of the world, and the world sooner or later is to be according to Christi According to Christi This is the keyword for the interpretation of the creation. Everything comes right, as it takes form and being according to Christ. Everything in life or death shall be well, as it ends in accordance with Christ. This is the keynote for the final harmony--According to Christ! We shall understand life at last, we shall find all its shadows turned to light by and by, if we take up our lives and seek to live them day by day according to Christ. Every man who can read the New Testament can begin, if he chooses, to order his life according to Christ. He may not understand the doctrines. But when he goes down to his office or store, and looks his brother-man in the face, he may know what things are honest and of good report according to Jesus Christ. When he goes to his home he may know what manner of life there is according to Christ. Yes, and when trouble comes, or sickness, or we near “the end, then we may know how we need not fear, nor be troubled, according to Christ. In our churches, too, we may be of many minds on many subjects, but we ought to know also how to be of the same mind, if we are willing to think and to judge all things by this one infallible rule--According to Christ. (Newman Smyth, D.D.)
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God.
The elements of unity
1. One God and Father.
2. One Lord and Saviour.
3. One heart and mind.
4. One mouth and language.
5. One object and aim. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
With our mind we must think the same things, ere with our mouth we can speak the same things. Were we then more slow to speak of the things on which we differ, and more ready to speak of the things on which we agree, it would mightily conduce to the peace and unity of the visible Church. The members of the Church at Rome differed in regard both to meats and days; and Paul as good as enjoined silence about these, when he bade, them receive each other, but not to doubtful disputations. But, on the other hand, he bids them join with one mouth, as well as one mind, in giving glory to God. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Christians and the glory of God
In explanation of the command to glorify God--it may seem strange and presumptuous to speak of such poor, sinful, worthless beings as we are, as glorifying, or as capable of glorifying God. But the perfect Christian may be compared to a perfect mirror, which, though dark and opaque of itself, being placed before the sun reflects his whole image, and may be said to increase his glory by increasing and scattering his light. In this view, we may regard heaven, where God is perfectly glorified in His saints, as the firmament, studded with ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of mirrors, every one of them reflecting a perfect image o,f God, the sun in the centre, and filling the universe with the blaze of His glory. (H. G. Salter.)
The glory of God the end of man’s creation
I have a clock on my parlour mantelpiece. A very pretty little clock it is, with a gilt frame, and a glass case to cover it. Almost every one who sees it, says, “What a pretty clock!” But it has one great defect--it will not run; and therefore, as a clock, it is perfectly useless. Though it is very pretty, it is a bad clock, because it never tells what time it is. Now, my bad clock is like a great many persons in the world. Just as my clock does not answer the purpose for which it was made--that is, to keep time--so, many persons do not answer the purpose for which they were made. What did God make us for? “Why,” you will say, “He made us that we might love Him and serve Him.” Well, then, if we do not love God and serve Him, we d o not answer the purpose for which He made us: we may be, like the clock, very p retry, and be very kind, and very obliging; but if we do not answer the purpose for which God made us, we are just like the clock--bad. Those of my readers who live in the country, and have seen an apple-tree in full blossom, know what a beautiful sight it is. But suppose it only bore blossoms, and did not produce fruit, you would say it is a bad apple-tree. And so it is. Everything is bad, and every person is bad, and every boy and girl is bad, if they do not answer the purpose for which God made them. God did not make us only to play and amuse ourselves, but also that we might do His will.
The time when Venn passed from the state of nature into the state of grace seems to have been, not when he threw away his cricket bat, but when, in the exercise of his ministerial function, he was arrested by an expression in the Form of Prayer, which he had been accustomed to employ, without, however, apprehending its true import. “That I may live to the glory of Thy name,” was the expression. As he read it, the thought forcibly struck him, “What is it to live to the glory of God’s name? Do I live as I pray? What course of life ought I to pursue to glorify God?” The prosecution of the inquiries thus suggested led to a juster conception of “the chief end of man,” which, with characteristic conscientious energy, he straightway followed out by a corresponding change in his mode of life. We can imagine with what depth of sympathy and interest this circumstance would be listened to by Lady Glenorchy, who, at a later period of his life, was Venn’s intimate friend, and whose religious life, like his, was dated from her serious attention to the noble answer given to the question which stands first in the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”
Wherefore receive ye one another as Christ also received us.--
Mutual conciliation enforced by the example of Christ
I. How Christ received us.
1. When we were weak and guilty.
2. Freely and heartily.
3. To fellowship in glory.
II. How we should receive one another.
1. Kindly, overlooking all infirmities and differences of opinion.
2. Sincerely, with the heart.
3. Into brotherly fellowship, as heirs together of the grace of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. The reasonableness of this practice, whereby it will appear to be the duty of those who profess the religion of Christ to agree together, and form themselves into particular societies.
1. Without such an agreement to unite together in the practice of Christianity, there can be no such thing as public worship regularly maintained among Christians, nor public honours paid to God in the name of Jesus.
2. Without an agreement to keep up such societies for worship, the doctrines of Christ and His gospel could not be so constantly and extensively held forth to the world, and there would be no rational hope of the continuance or increase of Christianity among men.
II. The advantages of such an agreement for Christian fellowship.
1. It gives courage to every Christian to profess and practise his religion when many persons are engaged by mutual agreement in the same profession and practice.
2. It is more for the particular edification of Christians that such societies should be formed, where the Word of Christ is constantly preached, where the ordinances of Christ are administered, and the religion of Christ is held forth in a social and honourable manner to the world.
3. Such a holy fellowship and agreement to walk together in the ways of Christ is a happy guard against backsliding and apostacy, it is a defence against the temptations of the world and the defilements of a sinful age.
4. Christians thus united together by mutual acquaintance and agreement can give each other better assistance in everything that relates to religion, whether public or private.
III. The persons who should thus receive one another in the Lord, or join together in Christian fellowship. All that Christ has receipted to partake of His salvation (Romans 14:1-3; Romans 14:17-18). This is the general rule: but it must be; confessed that there are some Christians whose sentiments are so directly contrary to others in matters of discipline or doctrine, that it is hardly possible they should unite in public worship. But let every person take heed that he does not too much enlarge, nor too much narrow the principles of Christianity, that he does not make any article of faith or practice more or less necessary than Scripture has made it, and that he does not raise needless scruples in his own breast, nor in the hearts of others, by too great a separation from such as our common Lord has received.
IV. The duties which plainly arise from such an agreement of Christians to walk and worship together for the support of their religion.
1. All the duties which the disciples of Christ owe to their fellow Christians throughout; the world are more particularly incumbent upon those who are united by their own consent in the same religious society (Galatians 6:10).
2. Those who are united by such an agreement ought to attend on the public assemblies and ministrations of that Church, where it can be done with reasonable convenience; for we have joined ourselves in society for this very purpose.
3. It is the duty cf persons thus united to maintain their Church or society by receiving in new members amongst them by a general consent.
4. In order to keep the Church pure from sin and scandal, they should separate themselves from those that walk disorderly, who are guilty of gross and known sins (2 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 5:13).
5. It is necessary that officers be chosen by the Church to fulfil several offices in it and for it.
6. It is the duty of those whose circumstances will afford it, to contribute of their earthly substance toward the common expenses of the society. And each one should give according to his ability: this is but a piece of common justice.
7. Everything of Church affairs ought to be managed with decency and order, with harmony and peace (1 Corinthians 14:40; 1 Corinthians 16:14).
1. How beautiful is the order of the gospel and the fellowship of a Christian Church. How strong and plain are the foundations and the ground of it. It is built on eternal reason and the relations of things, as well as on the Word of God.
2. How little do they value the true interests of Christian religion, the public honour of Christ and His gospel, or the edification and comfort of their own souls, who neglect this holy communion.
3. How criminal are those persons who break the beautiful order and harmony of a Church of Christ for trifles.
4. When we behold a society of Christians flourishing in holiness, and honourably maintaining the beauty of this sacred fellowship, let us raise our thoughts to the heavenly world, to the Church of the first-born, who are assembled on high, where everlasting beauty, order, peace, and holiness are maintained in the presence of Jesus our common Lord. And when we meet with little inconveniences, uneasiness, and contest, in any Church of Christ on earth, let us point our thoughts and our hopes still upward to that Divine fellowship of the saints and the spirits of the just made perfect, where contention and disorder have no place. (I. Watts, D.D.)
Now … Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision.
Christ a minister of the Old Testament
I. He ministered under it.
1. As a Jew.
2. In conformity with the law.
3. To the Jews.
II. Unfolded its meaning. As the truth of God.
III. Confirmed its promises, (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Christ the bond of union between
1. Old and New Testaments.
2. Jew and Gentile.
3. God and man. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
What is Christ?
I. To the jew.
1. The example of perfect righteousness.
2. The witness of the truth of God.
3. The Fulfiller of the Old Testament.
II. To the gentile.
1. The personal manifestation of God’s mercy.
2. The reconciler of Jew and Gentile in one brotherhood.
3. The Mediator of the New Covenant.
III. To all mankind.
1. The source of hope.
2. The Prince of joy and peace.
3. The dispenser of the Holy Ghost. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
That the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.
God’s mercy to the Gentiles
1. Part of God’s original purpose.
2. Predicted by the prophets.
3. Accomplished in Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Wherein it consists.
II. For whom it is designed.
III. How must it be made known?
IV. What is its effect?
1. Glory to God.
2. Joy among men. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The praises of the Gentiles
1. Respect the mercy of God.
2. Are elicited by its proclamation.
3. Shall be universal--rising from many hearts--in many tongues.
4. Are especially due to Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people.--
“Rejoice, ye Gentiles”
In certain circumstances it is necessary to commit particular privileges to the custody of the few, in order that when the fulness of time shall have come such advantages may be the heritage of the many. It is not in human nature, however, to desire to share great blessings with the multitude. The spirit of monopoly is more or less natural to us all. It is one of the many ugly forms of selfishness showing itself wherever there is an advantage, say--power, territory, wealth, position, fame, knowledge--which the hand of man can grasp. Now, the extraordinary privileges which the children of Abraham possessed during many centuries made them selfish and exclusive. They did not desire that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs. It was reserved to the Son of God to make that common which had been exclusive and that universal which had been local. Referring to this the apostle saith in our text, quoting from one of the prophets, “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people.” The day upon which the angels sang, “Peace on earth and goodwill amongst men,” the day upon which God’s Son said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” the day on which He charged the apostles to go into all the world, the day when Philip met the eunuch, and Peter visited Cornelius, and Paul turned his steps towards the Gentiles, were as early spring days in the history of the nations, giving promise that the dark and barren times of ignorance were well nigh gone, and that the desert should rejoice and blossom as the rose.
I. The duty of Christian exaltation’. What are our characteristic advantages as Christians?
1. To live under no ban or system of exclusion, as far as God’s providence is concerned, is cause for rejoicing. Jerusalem is no longer the place where men ought to worship. Palestine is no longer the chosen land. All the earth is hallowed ground.
2. To be turned from idols to the one true and living God is cause for rejoicing. He who worships the God who is Light becomes light. He who worships the Holy becomes holy. He who worships the God who is Love becomes love.
3. To have God speaking to us is cause for rejoicing. And God doth speak to us, Christians, by His Holy Spirit and by His Word.
4. To have a sin-offering which we may appropriate as for our sins is also cause for rejoicing.
5. To have God not only permit our worship, but seek it, is also cause for joy.
6. Moreover, not less should we rejoice in this, that Gentiles as well as Jews have become the people of God.
II. This position involves certain obligations. What are they? All men need the power and the riches of the Christian dispensation. No man is above the need of Christianity. No man is below its reach. Civilisation cannot take the place of the Christian dispensation. No being can make the Gentile rejoice but Jesus Christ. It strikes me that before we can pray more, give more, do more, we must rejoice more in our own privileges. Our advantages, as Christians, must be more real to us. There is great danger, not only of our underrating our own Christian advantages, but of our selfishly resting in the enjoyment of our privileges. Oh! exorcise the Jewish exclusive spirit. Exclusiveness and Christianity are as inconsistent as any two things can be. Say to others, “Rejoice with me.” (S. Martin.)
And again Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse … in Him shall the Gentiles trust.--
Jesus Christ the proper object of trust to the Gentiles
The Messiah, in prophecy, was to have dominion over the whole earth. In the preceding sentences the apostle quotes several passages relative to the admission of the Gentiles, with a view to conciliate the Jews. God, as he had previously argued, is the God, not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also; and Isaiah had distinctly predicted the Messiah as “a root of Jesse,” which, though it might appear as “a root in a dry ground,” spoiled of its branches, and without appearance of its vegetating, should yet “stand for an ensign to the people.” “He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles trust.” Consider--
I. The principle of trust.
1. This is necessary to the existence of society. The evidence of character is not the cause of our confidence in others: the first instance of trust cannot be accounted for, but as the result of Divinely implanted instinct. Children instinctively confide in their parents. All our information concerning external objects is matter of trust. The patient trusts his physician, the subject his governor; all are always trusting each other. Nothing can be more anti-social or mischievous than the violation of trust.
2. Trust supposes our own inferiority. We trust, for instruction or protection, in one whom we regard as our superior in respect to each: our reliance on him is the measure of our self-distrust.
3. What, then, is it for which the Gentiles trust the Messiah? Not for any present interest, but for our eternal destiny: it is that we may escape an evil and attain a good, not otherwise possible.
II. The qualifications that justify our trust. Three things are required as the basis of our confidence in any being: his voluntary engagement? his probity and goodness; and his ability to fulfil the promised undertaking. Each of these exists perfect in Christ.
1. He has entered into a voluntary engagement; He has held Himself forth as the object of our trust. “I give unto My sheep,” He says, “eternal life.” “Every one that believeth in Me, I will raise him up at the last day.”
2. His probity and goodness cannot be questioned. He bears all the marks of perfect ingenuousness; as when we find Him entreating His hearers to count the cost of becoming His disciples; or when He says, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” He looked upon our race with a Divine compassion, put on our flesh, toiled, agonised, bled, and died. He was free to have left such a work alone; but He engaged in it that God might be just and sinners justified. We cannot question His sincerity or benignity.
3. Nor can we distrust His power. Can He who calmed the winds, walked the waves, raised the dead, etc., be supposed insufficient here? He who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, the sufferings of His people, the triumph of His cause, must Himself be King of kings and Lord of lords. By rising from the dead, He proves that He has all power in earth and heaven.
III. Some leading properties of this trust in Jesus. To be valid and saving it must be--
1. A solemn, deliberate act; the effect of “seeing the Son,” recognising in Him those qualities which justify unlimited confidence. You should “know whom you have believed,” etc.
2. Exclusive, centred in Christ alone (Jeremiah 17:5). Trust not in any qualities or works of your own. He will never divide His glory with another. It was the ruin of the Jews, that they went about to establish their own righteousness, while the Gentiles, ignorant of the whole business, found Him whom they sought not.
3. Humble and penitential. We must acknowledge and feel our utter unworthiness; otherwise we contradict our profession. Humility and confidence dwell together in perfect harmony.
4. Submissive and obedient. They are the foremost to fulfil the law of Christ, who place their entire affiance in Him: constrained by His love, which constrained Him to die for them, they bind His precepts on their hearts. It is a practical trust, that sets in motion all the springs of action, purifies all the powers and affections: for Christ saves by His merit those only whom He rules by His authority. (R. Hall, M.A.)
The world trusting in Christ
I. The grand tendency of the races. To trust.
1. What creature is more dependent on nature than man? Birds, beasts, and fishes can do without him, but he is dependent upon them.
2. What creature is more dependent upon his own species? Man comes into the world the most helpless of all creatures. For years he lives by the help of others. No one is independent of his fellow.
3. What creature is more dependent on God? All live in and by Him; but man requires more from Him than any other creature, viz., spiritual illumination, strength, salvation. No wonder, then, that a being so dependent should crave for objects on which to rely. This tendency to trust explains--
(1) The reign of imposture. The power of Mahomet, Confucius, the Pope, and priestcraft is begotten and nourished by man’s tendency to trust.
(2) The prevalence of disappointments. Why otherwise is every heart the grave of so many frustrated hopes, broken plans, and wrecked friendships? The great need of the world, therefore, is a trustworthy object.
II. The evangelic provision for the race.
1. What attributes ought He to have to make all happy who trust in Him?
(1) He should be all perfect in excellence. If we trust our being and destiny to the keeping of one in whom we discover moral imperfections, we shall soon grow wretched in the exercise of such trust.
(2) He should be all-sufficient in resources. If we trust unboundingly in one who is not capable of taking care of us, our trust will end in agony.
(3) He should be unalterable in being, character, and capacity. If we trust one who is given to change, there will be constant misgiving.
2. Now, where is the being who answers these conditions? Only in the gospel.
(1) Is not Christ all-perfect, the incarnation of virtue itself?
(2) Has He not all-sufficient resources? He is all-wise to guide, all-powerful to guard, all-good to bless. He is able to do “exceedingly abundant,” etc.
(3) Is He not unchangeable, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”?
III. The blessed future of the race. “In Him shall the Gentiles trust.” This prediction has been partially fulfilled. Since Peter’s sermon in the house of Cornelius down to this hour Gentiles have been trusting in Him. The partial fulfilment is a pledge that all men shall trust in Him. What harvests have already sprung from the one grain. When all men trust in Him, three things will be secured.
1. Spiritual peace. “He will keep them in perfect peace,” etc.
2. Social unity. All men will be united to each other by being thus united to Christ. No more domestic broils, social animosities, national conflicts, or ecclesiastical strifes.
3. Moral elevation. All men being thus vitally connected with Christ, will become more and more assimilated to His moral attributes.
1. The world’s need of the gospel. If men’s destiny depends upon the object of their trust and Christ is the only object of trust that can render them happy, then is not the gospel a necessity?
2. The way to preach the gospel. It is to hold Him forth, not yourself, nor your notions and theologies, hut Christ as the object of the world’s trust. The hungry world does not want your analysis of bread, but the “bread of life” itself. Humanity does not want our speculation about Christ, but Christ Himself. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Trusting in Christ
1. Man must have an object of trust.
2. Christ is the only ground of trust.
3. Shall become the trust of the world. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Now the God of hope.
The blessing given to the Church at Rome
I. A benediction pronounced. “Filled”--
1. With what? “joy and peace in believing.”
2. By whom? “the God of hope.”
3. To what end? “that ye may abound,” etc.
II. A fact stated.
1. The high estimate in which Paul held the Roman converts.
2. The reminder that was needed by them, so that they should not forget God’s grace.
III. A great progress in Christian knowledge implied (Romans 15:14). The Romans were--
1. Filled with knowledge.
2. Able to admonish their erring fellow Christians. (J. Hanson.)
I. The privileges of true Christians.
II. The method of securing them.
1. God the source.
2. Faith in Christ the means.
3. The Holy Ghost the agent. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
A round of delights
1. The apostle desired for the Romans the most delightful state of mind. See the value of prayer, for if Paul longs to see his friends attain the highest possible condition, he prays for them.
2. Paul’s making this state a subject of prayer implies that it is possible for it to be attained. There is no reason why we should hang our heads and live in perpetual doubt. We may not only be somewhat comforted, but we may be full of joy, etc.
3. The fact that the happy condition described is sought by prayer is a plain evidence that the blessing comes from a Divine source. Notice concerning this state:--
I. Whence. It comes. From “the God of hope.” The connection is instructive.
1. To know joy and peace through believing we must begin by knowing what is to be believed from Holy Scripture (verse 4). Where He is revealed as the God of hope. Unless God had revealed Himself we could have guessed at hope, but the Scriptures are windows of hope to us, and reveal the God of hope to inspire us with hope. Faith deals with the Scriptures and with the God of hope as therein revealed, and out of these it draws its fulness of joy and peace. At least three of the apostle’s quotations call us to joy (verses 10-12).
2. The apostle leads us through the Scriptures to God Himself, who is personally to fill us with joy and peace; i.e., He is to become the great object of our joy. Our God is a blessed God, so that to believe in Him is to find happiness and rest. When you think of God, the just One, apart from Christ, you might well tremble, but when you see Him in Jesus, His very justice becomes precious to you. The holiness of God which aforetime awed you becomes supremely attractive when you see it revealed in the person of Jesus. How charming is “the glory of God in the face of Christ.” His power, which was once so terrible, now becomes delightful.
3. God is, moreover, called the God of hope because He worketh hope and joy in us. Peace without God is stupefaction, joy madness, and hope presumption. This blessed name of “God of hope” belongs to the New Testament, and is a truly gospel title. The Romans had a god of hope, but the temple was struck by lightning, and afterwards burned to the ground. Exceedingly typical this of whatever of hope can come to nations which worship gods of their own making. The hope which God excites is a hope worthy of Him. It is a Godlike hope--a hope which helps us to purify ourselves. He who graspeth this hope hath a soul-satisfying portion. It is a hope which only God would have contrived for man, and a hope which God alone can inspire in men.
II. What it is.
1. It is a state of mind--
(1) Most pleasant, for to be filled with joy is a rare delight, reminding one of heaven.
(2) Safe, for the man who has a joy which God gives him may be quite easy in the enjoyment of it.
(3) Abiding. We may drink our full of it without surfeit.
(4) Most profitable, for the more a man has of this joy the better man he will be. The more happy we can be in our God the more thoroughly will the will of Christ be fulfilled in us, for He desired that our joy might be full.
(5) Which has varieties in it. It is joy and peace; and it may be either. Peace is joy resting, and joy is peace dancing. Joy cries hosanna before the Well-beloved, but peace leans her head on His bosom. We work with joy and rest with peace.
(6) Which is also a compound, for we are bidden at one and the same time to receive both wine and milk--wine exhilarating with joy, and milk satisfying with peace. “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace.” You shall lie down in the green pastures of delight, and be led by the still waters of quietness.
2. The joy and peace here spoken of are through believing. You come to know the God of hope through the Scriptures, which reveal Him; by this you are led to believe in Him, and it is through that believing that you become filled with joy and peace. It is not by working nor by feeling.
3. This joy and peace are of a superlative character, “Fill you with all joy.” He means with the best and highest degree of joy, with as much of it as you can hold.
4. Notice the comprehensiveness of his prayer.
(1) “All joy”; that is joy in the Father’s love, the Son’s redeeming blood, the Holy Ghost’s indwelling; joy in the covenant of grace, in the promises, in the doctrines, in the precepts, in everything which cometh from God.
(2) All peace--with God, of conscience, with one another, even with the outside world, as far as peace may be.
5. Observe the degree of joy and peace which he wishes for them--“that ye may be filled.” God alone knows our capacity and where the vacuum lies which most needs filling. As the sun fills the world with light, even so the God of hope by His presence lights up every part of our nature with the golden light of joyous peace.
III. What it leads to. “Lead to? What more is wanted?” When a man brings you into a chamber vaulted with diamonds, walled with gold, and floored with silver, we should be astonished if he said, “This is a passage to something richer still.” Yet the apostle directs us to this fulness of joy and peace that we may by its means reach to something else--“that you may abound in hope,” etc. How often do great things in the Bible, like the perpetual cycles of nature, begin where they end and end where they begin. If we begin with the God of hope, we are wound up into holy joy and peace, that we may come back to hope again, and to abounding in it by the power of the Holy Ghost.
1. The hope here mentioned, arises, not out of believing, but out of the joy created in us by our having believed. This hope drinks its life at the fountain of personal experience.
2. The text speaks of an abounding hope. Much hope must arise to a Christian out of his spiritual joy. Grace enjoyed is a pledge of glory. Acceptance with God to-day creates a blessed hope of acceptance for ever.
3. “By the power of the Holy Ghost,” is partially mentioned by way of caution, because we must discriminate between the fallacious hope of nature and the certain hope of grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The blessings derived.
II. The source whence they flow--the God of hope.
III. The measure in which they may be enjoyed.
IV. The means by which they are attained.
V. The power by which they are effected. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The unbounded beneficence of God in the history of a Christian
This is seen in:--
I. The character He assumes towards them “God of hope.” In this chapter the apostle speaks of Him as the God of patience, and the God of peace. Patience implies something to provoke, viz., sin. The history of the Almighty towards us and our race is a history of patience. Peace implies benevolence, rectitude, and freedom from all anger, remorse, fear, the necessary elements of inward commotion and outward war. God is peaceful in Himself. The storms of all the hells in His great universe ruffle not the infinite tranquility of His nature. He is peaceful in His aim. The constitution of the universe, the principles of moral law, the mediation of Christ, and the work of the Spirit show, that He desires to diffuse peace throughout this stormy world. He is peaceful in His working. How quietly does He move in accomplishing His sublime decrees. But in the text He is styled, God of hope; an appellation more significant than either of the other two, and more interesting to us as sinners. It does not mean that God is the subject of hope. God is infinitely above hope; Satan is infinitely below it; this is the glory of the one, it is the degradation of the other.
1. God is the object of hope. What is hope? Is it expectation? No. We expect sorrow and death. Is it desire? No. A poor man may desire to live in a mansion, a lost spirit to dwell in heaven. But put these two things together. Hope is the expectation of the desirable--God--His favour, society, friendship. Now that God should thus reveal Himself is a wonderful exhibition of love. The mind never points its hopes to a being that it has offended; it always looks to those that it has pleased. But here is God, whom the world has injured, revealing Himself as the object of its hope.
2. God is the author of hope. Before man can possess real Christian hope he must have--
(1) Ground to expect it. What reason have we to expect that the God of inflexible justice and immaculate purity will be favourable to us? Thanks be to Him, He has given us firm ground in the atonement of His Son.
(2) Appetite to desire it. The reason that there is so little real Christian hope is because men do not want God. This appetite is produced by the Spirit of God.
II. The blessings He imparts to them.
1. The nature of the enjoyment. “Joy and peace,” i.e., complete happiness. How delightful is the calm of nature after a thunderstorm! How still more precious is the peace of the empire after a long war! But how infinitely more so is the peace “that passeth all understanding!” The great causes of all mental distress are--
(1) Remorse. God removes this by the application of the sacrifice of Christ. As oil smooths the troubled waters, so the atonement of Christ calms the agitated breast. “Being justified by faith,” etc.
(2) Anger. God takes this away, and fills the heart with love.
(3) Apprehension. God removes this by assuring us of His constant presence and guardianship. “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace,” etc.
2. The plenitude of the enjoyment. “Fill you,” etc. Not a mere taste, a transient thrill, but a fulness of deep spiritual happiness. Have you ever seen a person filled with delight? The tender mother that clasps in her arms a beloved child, etc. Now God wishes His people always to be filled with all joy--intellectual, social, religious: to have as much joy as their vessels can hold in this world. Christians have not lived up to this, and in consequence have led the world to associate the idea of sadness with that religion whose “ways are ways of pleasantness,” etc. It is our duty to have joy. “Rejoice evermere,” etc.
3. The condition of the enjoyment. What is this? Painful penances? Great attainments? Difficult labours? No. “Believing.” An act that can be performed at any time in any place.
4. The design of the enjoyment. That we may “abound in hope,” etc. This is very remarkable. God wishes us to be filled with happiness, that we may expect the more. The more favours we receive from an individual the less we have to expect; but the reverse is the case with God. God’s disposition to bestow is infinite, “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all,” etc. Let us come to God with enlarged expectations. We can never weary Him, for it is His delight to give. We can never exhaust His fulness, for it is infinite. What a view does this give us of heaven! We shall be always anticipating; and the more we receive the more we shall anticipate.
III. The agency which He employs for them. “Through the power of the Holy Ghost.” What an exhibition of mercy is this! Had God employed the greatest, the oldest, or the noblest spirit for this purpose, it would have been wonderful mercy; but He employs His Holy Spirit who is equal with Himself. We are not sufficiently impressed with the value of this Infinite gift. We profess to estimate the gift of His Son to bleed and die for us. True, the world could never be saved without that; but it is equally true that the world could never be saved without the operations of the Spirit. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Prayer to the God of hope
All men desire to be happy; but very few obtain the happiness which they covet. All happiness, except that of the Christian, is but counterfeit. It is like the morning cloud and early dew. Yet even the true Christian often falls short of the blessedness which he might enjoy.
I. The encouraging character here given of God. This manner of speaking expresses somewhat more than if Paul had called God the Author or the Giver of Hope. It is meant to teach us that this is His distinguishing characteristic, that hope springs from Him.
1. Even if we had no revelation of His gracious purposes, the probability would be that there is hope from Him; for we, His guilty creatures, are not yet finally lost--“He hath not dealt with us after our sins.”
2. This probability is, however, increased to certainty by the gospel. The great design is to encourage our hope. It reveals God’s unspeakable gift to make reconciliation for iniquities. It exhibits God as a present Father and Friend, and assures an eternity of blessedness in Christ.
II. The blessings which may be sought from Him
1. Joy. This may be thought by the penitent too great a blessing to be expected; yet thy Lord allows thee to expect it. Nay, thou art even commanded to rejoice in the Lord. This, however, like all other duties, is hard to fulfil. We are often unfaithful; this unfaithfulness begets distrust; and this interrupts our joy in the Lord. We have, therefore, cause to pray that God would bestow on us, and preserve to us, this inestimable blessing.
2. Peace. This is a gift more common, perhaps, than the other; a gift, also, of a more uniform and abiding nature. The continuance of joy depends in some measure on bodily constitution; but the soul may enjoy peace under the greatest trials. This was, in fact, the dying bequest of Jesus--“Peace I leave with you.” It is a holy calmness and tranquility, springing from faith in the promises of God. Let the apostle’s example encourage you in this prayer, both for yourselves and for those whom you love.
3. Hope. Joy and peace are present blessings; but hope has respect to things future. We have already seen that the character of God is calculated to raise our expectation of these future mercies. Now, then, we must pray for strength to hope for them. We are too apt to rest satisfied with the present enjoyments; and, even when we look forward to the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him, this is too often done with a cold heart and a languid eye. This is our infirmity and our sin. We ought rather to forget the things which are behind, etc.
4. The prayer of the apostle implies that we should set no bounds to our requests for these blessings. It is no scanty measure of joy, and peace, and hope, which he prays for. Hath He not said, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it”? If, then, our joy, our peace, or hope be defective, we are not straitened in Him; but we are straitened in our own bowels.
III. The way in which we may expect these blessings to be communicated.
1. On our part, Faith is the instrument. It is faith in His Word, which alone can make known to us the existence of such gifts. When, however, the discovery is made, true faith leads a man one step further, constraining him to say, “Here is all my salvation and all my desire.”
2. On God’s part, the power of the Holy Ghost is promised, for the communication of His gracious gifts. Faith is, indeed, the band which grasps the gift; but all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally, in such kind and in such proportion, as He will. (J. Jowett, M.A.)
The God of hope
I. What is implied in this title.
1. The expression is peculiar: He is termed the God of peace (verse 33), of grace (1 Peter 5:10), of love and peace (2 Corinthians 13:11), of patience (verse 5), and the meaning is not only that He is the Author of these graces in us, but also that they exist in Him. But the case is different with respect to hope: this cannot exist in God, as He has every good in possession, and has nothing for which to hope. In this, and in this chiefly, the Creator differs from all His creatures.
II. The reasons why God has this title.
1. There is in Him the most stable foundation for the most glorious Lopes to all His rational creatures. The most solid ground for hope is offered--
(1) In His nature and attributes, e.g., His self-existence, supremacy, eternity; His infinite power, wisdom, love and mercy, and even His justice, Christ having died.
(2) In the relations in which He stands to us. What may not His offspring expect from such a Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer; His subjects from such a King; His servants from such a Master? What may not we, His children, hope for from such a Parent?
(3) In what He has already done. He has given His Son for the redemption of mankind, and His Spirit’s influence. And He, who withheld not His own Son, what gift can He deny?
(4) In what He has promised still further to do: to receive us to be with Jesus, to raise our bodies, to give us the vision and enjoyment of Himself, and the society of saints and angels for ever!
2. He is the great object of our hope. The main thing we hope for is, the vision, love, and enjoyment of Him (Psalms 73:24).
3. He is also the Author of our hope. By freely justifying us, and by giving us peace with Him; by adopting us into His family; regenerating us by His grace; constituting us His heirs, and giving us an earnest of our future inheritance in our hearts (1 Peter 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
III. Application and improvement.
1. What an antidote against--
(1) Distress, on account of all present troubles (chap. 8:16, 17; Hebrews 11:13-16).
(2) Doubt, fear, despondency, and despair.
2. What a deathblow to the carnal expecters of a Mohammedan paradise I God Himself is the true object of hope. And what a help to spiritual-mindedness? How necessary the question, Are we “begotten again to a lively hope”? (J. Benson.)
This prayer is closely connected with the preceding (verses 5, 6), and the more obvious link between them is “In Him shall the Gentiles hope”; but the note of hope had been struck before (verse 4). The apostle, however, loses sight of the connection and gives us his solitary petition for this grace in a manner perfectly independent. Let us study the prayer in regard to--
I. The God to whom it is addressed. Who derives many of His names from the gospel which manifests His glory. As that gospel rests on an accomplished propitiation, He is “the God of grace,” “the Father of mercies”; as it displays its present effects in the soul, He is “the God of peace,” and His name of names is love; as it reserves its blessedness for the future, He is “the God of hope,” i.e., the Fountain of the entire Christian salvation as it is not yet revealed. This includes--
1. A wide range: there is hardly an aspect of the redeeming work which “the God of hope” does not preside over. His Son is “Jesus Christ which is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1); the gospel is the foundation of a great hope (Colossians 1:23); the Christian vocation is summed up in hope (Ephesians 1:18); salvation is our comprehensive hope (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
2. An interminable perspective. The future is a glorious sequence of revelations which the God of hope has yet to disclose (Romans 8:20; Romans 8:24). There is the hope of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour (Titus 2:3), the hope of the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13), the hope of final deliverance from every evil (1 Thessalonians 5:8), the hope of eternal life (Romans 7:20), the hope of glory (Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7); and it would be easy to show that every one of these forms of the one great gospel blessing is referred to God as its Author (Colossians 1:27; Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 3:12).
II. The fulness of the blessing which it asks. Though other terms are found here, they all pay tribute to this grace. Faith is the root of hope; the peace and joy which are the fruits of faith are the nourishment of hope; and the abundance of hope is made the perfection of the Christian life as a state of probation.
1. Faith and hope are so inseparable that their only scriptural definition makes them all but identical (Hebrews 11:1); and they are one in this that their objects are invisible (Romans 8:25). But they differ in this, that faith has to do with the present, but hope with the future; or faith brings the past and hope the future into the reality of the present moment. Faith rests upon the “It is finished” already spoken; hope rejoices in the assurance of another “It is finished” which the creation waits to hear. But faith must have the pre-eminence as the parent of hope; for while we can conceive of a faith without hope, we cannot conceive of a hope that does not believe in its object. Hence the apostle here utters his prayer in a circuitous manner, and takes faith on the way.
2. There is an evident connection in Paul’s mind between the fruits of faith and the abounding in hope. He borrows from the previous chapter (verse 17). Peace is the blessed settlement of the controversy between God and the sinner as respects the past; while joy is the present good cheer of the soul as encompassed by mercies, but feeling the present rather than thinking of the past or future. Now these two demand a third to fill up the measure of the Christian estate; peace touching the guilty past, and joy in the fruitful present, do not so much cry out for as naturally produce good hope for the unknown future.
3. But of all these there may be measures and degrees. Nothing is more characteristic of St. Paul than his insistance on the increase even unto perfection of every grace. The notion of fulness enters into every department of his practical theology. Here we have set before us the abundance of peace, joy and hope as the result of the abounding power in us of the Holy Ghost. But the term reluctantly submits to exposition. It is chiefly to be defined by negatives, though they are positive enough for man’s desire. To be filled with peace is to be dispossessed of the last residue of a servile dread before God, and to have risen beyond the possibility of unholy resentments towards man; to be filled with joy is to have vanquished the sorrow of the world, to find elements of rejoicing even in tribulation, and to possess a serene contentment that finds nothing wrong in nature, providence, or grace; to abound in hope is expressed by another word that rather brings the answer of the prayer down into the region of our own endeavour. The God of hope bestows its increase rather as the fruit of our patience and fortitude. Hence the marked allusion to the “power of the Holy Ghost.” Hope is strengthened by the habits of endurance and resistance. While all graces demand His in working, these demand His power.
4. Abounding in hope is prayed for as the end and result of the fulness of joy and peace. This indicates that these more tranquil graces are instruments for the attainment of that more strenuous grace. Joy and peace minister to hope. The assurance of reconciliation cannot rest in itself, but must muse on that which is to come; how can it but encourage the expectation of all the fruits of a justified estate? The soul, no longer weighed down under the burden of sin, by a holy necessity springs upward. Peace is not hope, but it sets hope free. So also joy, by an equally Divine necessity, encourages endurance and fortitude, and the hopeful expectation of the great release. Hope in this case ministers as it is ministered unto (Romans 5:2). Conclusion: Hope is in some sense the highest of the probationary graces. It is the servant of many of them, but is itself served by all. What would everything else be without this? The mere imagination of the withdrawal of hope withers the rest, and wraps all in darkness. Charity, of course, has the pre-eminence by every right; but as the grace of our stern probation--hope has its own peculiar pre-eminence. It imparts its strength to all other graces, so that they without it cannot be made perfect. It divides the triumphs of faith, and enters largely into the self-denials and labours of love. As it respects the present life hope is in some sense the abiding grace. Then comes a supreme moment when hope, or faith working by hope, is the only anchor of the soul; and when it has endured its final strain it will be glorified for ever. With all its fruition it will have its everlasting anticipation of glories not yet revealed. (W. B. Pope, D.D.)
The secret of joy and of hope
Joy, peace, hope: a fair triad which all men seek, and few find and retain. They are, for the most of us, like bright-winged, sweet-voiced birds that dart and gleam about us, and we hear their voices, but nets and cages are hard to find. This prayer opens up the way to find joy, peace, and hope. Notice that the text begins with “the God of peace fill you with” these things, and it ends with “through the power of the Holy Ghost.” So, then, there are here three stages. There is, first, the Divine gift, which underlies everything. Then there is the human condition of making that gift our own; and then there is the triumphant hope which crowns joy and peace, and is their result. I ask you, then, to look at these three things with me this morning.
1. The only source of true joy and peace is God Himself. The only way by which God can give any man joy and peace is by giving him Himself. No gifts of His hand, apart from Him; no mere judicial act of pardon, and removal from a state of condemnation, are of themselves enough to fill a human heart with calm gladness. And if there is ever to be tranquillity in this disturbed being of mine, if the conflict between duty and inclination, between passion and principle, between present and future, between flesh and spirit, is ever to be hushed, it must be because God dwells in us. Notice the bold emphasis of the apostle’s prayer. “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.” So then, where God comes and is welcomed by humble obedience and-trustful love, there is fulness of these precious gifts. So as that a man has as much gladness and peace as he can hold. There is the difference between Christian joy and all other. In all others there is always some part of the nature lacking its satisfaction. Only when we put the colouring matter in at the fountain-head will it tinge every little ripple as it runs. Only when we have God for the joy of our hearts and the peace of our else troubled spirits will the joy be full. Otherwise, however abundant the flood, there will always be some gaunt, barren peak lifting itself parched above the rejoicing waters. No man was ever glad up to the height of his possibility who found his joy anywhere else than in God. And, then, mark that other word, too, “all joy and peace.” From this one gift comes an infinite variety of forms and phases of gladness and peace. And so it is wise, in the highest regions, to have all our investments in one security; to have all our joy contingent upon one possession. One pearl of great price is worth a million of little ones. One sun in the heavens outshines a million stars; and all their lustres gathered together only illuminate the night, while its rising makes the day. So if we want joy and peace, let us learn that we are too great and too miserable for any but God to give it us.
II. And now the human condition of this Divine gift of full and manifold joy and peace. “Fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Believing what? He does not think it necessary to say, partly because all his readers knew who was the object of faith, and partly because there was more prominent in his mind at the moment the act of faith itself than the object on which it rests. They who thus trust in Jesus Christ are they to whom, on condition of, and at the moment of their trust or faith, God gives this fulness of joy and peace. Altogether apart from any consideration of the thing which a man’s faith grasps, the very act of trust has in itself a natural tendency to bring joy and peace. When I can shift the responsibility off my shoulders on to another’s, my heart is lightened; and there comes a great calm. Christian faith does not wriggle out of the responsibilities that attach to a human life, but it does bring in the thought of a mighty hand that guides and protects; and that itself brings calm and gladness. You fathers have got far more anxious faces than your little children have, because they trust, and you are responsible for them. Trust God, and it cannot be misplaced, and the vessel can never be swept out of the centre of rest into the hurtling rage of the revolving storm around. Nor need I do more than just remind you of how, in the object that the faith grasps, there is ample provision for all manner of calm and of gladness, seeing that we lay hold upon Christ, infinite in wisdom, gentleness, brotherliness, strength. Oh, if only we keep hold of Him there can be but little in any future to alarm, and little in any present to disturb or to sadden. But note how the communication from God of joy and peace, in their fulness and variety, is strictly contemporaneous with the actual exercise of our faith. Our belief is the condition of God’s bestowal, and that is no arbitrary condition. It is because my faith makes it possible for God to give me Himself that He only gives Himself on condition of my faith. You open the door, and the daylight will come in. You remove the hermetical sealing, and the air will rush into the vacuum. Only mark this, as tong as you and I keep up the continuity of our believing, so long, and not one moment longer, does God keep up the continuity of His giving. Because there are such spasmodic and interrupted acts of faith on our part, we possess such transient and imperfect gifts of joy and peace. Let me drop one more word. Their are other kinds of religion and religious exercise than that of trust. There is no promise of peace and joy to them. “Fill you with all joy and peace” in poking into your own hearts to see whether you are a Christian or not. That is not the promise. “Fill you with all joy and peace” in painfully trying, to acquire certain qualities, and to do certain duties. That is not the promise.
III. And so, lastly, the issue of this God-given joy and peace is hope. The apostle did not tell us what was the object of the faith that he enjoined. He does not tell us what is the object of the hope either; and I suppose that is because he is not thinking so much about the object as about the thing. And this is the teaching here, that if a man, trusting in God in Jesus Christ, has all this flood of sunny gladness lying quiet in his heart, there will be nothing in any future that can alarm. For the peace and joy that God gives bear witness in themselves to their own immortality. Ah, there is a difference between all earth’s gladnesses and the joys that Christian people may possess. In all earthly blessedness there blends ever the unwelcome consciousness of its transiency. Therefore the best demonstration of a heaven of blessedness is the present possession of “joy and peace in believing.” These are like the floating timber and seeds that Columbus saw the day before he sighted land. But, brother, is there any reason to suppose that you will find a heaven of blessedness beyond the grave, in close contact with the things that you do not like to be in contact with now? We must begin here. We must here exercise the faith. We must here experience the peace and the joy, and then we may have the hope. Then, rich and blessed with such gifts from such a Giver, we may venture to say, “To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,” and that hope shall not be put to shame. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Comes from God.
1. Worldly hope rests upon favouring circumstances--our own powers. It hangs often upon a slender thread. “Hope centred in that child.” How often parents with broken hearts have said that.
2. Few are atheists in theory, but many are such in their feelings. They are hopeless because they are godless. On the other hand, the Christian is first of all a believer in God as revealed in Christ. God therefore is the giver and the foundation of his hope.
II. Comes “through joy and peace in believing.”
1. It comes not to a heart that is without faith. It comes not from a creed repeated, or held merely intellectually. It comes from a faith that yields the affections, the will, the whole life to God. Are there “Christians” without faith? Then they are also without hope. Are they without “joy and peace”? Then they are also without hope.
2. Peace and joy in believing make God known. This is the logic of the heart. “Such joy and such peace can come only from God.” The joy of pardon and cleansing is the faith that only God can pardon and cleanse.
3. “Peace and joy in believing” are the firstfruits of Heaven. They are like the two faithful spies who came back loaded with the rich clusters of the promised inheritance. Larger faith, permanent faith, mean larger and more permanent hope. Being “justified by faith,” our tribulations work patience, our patience experience, our experience hope.
4. And this hope is for others as well as for ourselves. The man whose hope is confined to his individual interests is not a Christian. Under the stimulus of “joy and peace in believing” we argue: “The God who has pardoned my sins can pardon others.”
III. Is by the power of the “Holy Ghost.”
1. Like all other elements of the Christian life, hope is inspired. It is not a natural impulse. The lack of hope argues, then, a lack of spiritual life. Do we find persons professing faith in Christ, and yet living drearily? It may mean enfeebled health, or overtaxed nerves. It may mean also that they have not “received the Holy Ghost.” And when we remember this saintly apostle who writes of hope, yet has an enfeebled body, and nerves constantly taxed by toils and perils, we can conclude what the lack of despondent Christians most commonly is.
2. Our hope is not for the sanguine only, but for persons of every shade of temperament.
1. Our hope is not a selfish emotion. God never inspires mortals with any sort of selfishness, not even with religious selfishness. The hope we cherish, if it reflects the spirit of Christ, will be large-hearted. It will rest upon “the God of Hope,” as the God who rules over all the world.
2. It is an exclusively Christian possession. Such is the unavoidable inference from the text. Men who are not Christians are “without God and without hope.” (E. McChesney, Ph.D.)
Joy and peace in believing.--
Joy and peace in believing
I. The source of this desired good. God sometimes permits the use of titles descriptive of what He is in Himself, and sometimes of names denoting His relation to His creatures. In the former sense we apply such designations as”the God of mercy,” “the God of love,” “the God of truth.” Examples of the latter are “the God of peace,” “the God of patience,” “the God of all consolation.” In the text He is “the God of hope,” because--
1. He is the Fountain from which all hope must flow. Hope, like its sister Faith, is one of those “good and perfect gifts” which, pass through what intermediate channels it may, must come down to us “from the Father of lights.” And this hope, which God begets in us, is “a lively hope” that is, God invests spiritual objects with a new attractiveness, and creates within us longing desires after their attainment.
2. He is the object on which all hope must terminate. God can never raise an expectation in His creatures for the mere purpose of disappointing them. It might be optional whether He should give to us a ground of hope or not; but having given us cause to hope, it is no longer an option whether such a hope shall be fulfilled. “God cannot deny Himself.” And although God may and will take His own time, we must not, as in the case of human promises, allow the heart to sicken at hope deferred. Delays with God are but invisible means of hastening mercy. “He that believeth” must “not make haste.” “In due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
II. The particular blessings.
1. Joy is one of those early fruits of the Spirit which flow from a sense of our interest in the promises--a well-grounded persuasion of our having a part in the great propitiation. It is a joy with which “a stranger intermeddleth not,” and of which even adversity depriveth us not. Hence this joy is to be distinguished from every other as having God for its object. It is not in riches, which have wings--not in honours, which may fail--not in health, which may languish, etc.; but it is Isaiah’s joy when he said, “My soul shall be joyful in my God.” It is the Virgin’s joy when she said, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” It is the apostle’s joy when he said to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” And this may serve to explain the paradox, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” For the Christian has meat to eat that the world knows not of.
(1) The peace of reconciliation with a God offended.
(2) The peace of conscience for a law infringed.
(3) The peace of an assured conscience.
The apostle would have us filled with peace--the true peace--the peace which was the Father’s token, the Son’s legacy, the Spirit’s seal and earnest unto the day of a complete redemption. This is a “peace which the world cannot give.”
3. “In believing.” We might have expected “after ye have believed,” as if joy and peace were net to be looked for at the outset of our Christian course, but the recompense of an advanced and established faith. But no; you should expect the blessing as you believe, and because you believe. Faith is the hand which takes the blessing at God’s hand.
III. The fruit.
1. In verse 4 and here the respective functions of the Word and the Spirit in our salvation are beautifully brought together. Perfectly distinct as these agencies are, yet their joint operation issues in the same result. The reason is, that one is the agent and the other the instrument in this great work. The Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit”; it is that by which He works. The Word cannot convert without the Spirit; and, as a rule, the Spirit does not convert without the Word. And here the Word and the Spirit join together to make us “abound in hope.”
2. What is the hope in which we are to rejoice and abound? Why, we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God”; we “rejoice in hope of the glory” that shall be revealed. We “abound in hope” of entering a world without sin, suffering, and death. (D. Moore, M.A.)
The present happiness of believers
I. Faith naturally tends to fill the soul with the most pleasant and delightful fulness, pleasure, and hope.
II. Though faith naturally tends to fill the soul with the most pleasant and delightful feelings, yet even true Christians do not always fully enjoy them.
III. We must labour to remove the obstacles which prevent our full enjoyment of this spiritual happiness. (D. Savile, M.A.)
Joy and peace in believing
There are a large number of persons who profess to have believed in Christ, but who assert that they have no joy and peace in consequence. Now I shall suppose that these are not raising this difficulty by way of cavil, and that they are not labouring under any bodily sickness such as might bring on hypochondriacal feelings. We begin with two observations--
1. That joy and peace are exceedingly desirable for your own sakes and for the sake of your acquaintances, who set down your despondency to your religion.
2. Do not overestimate them; for, though eminently desirable, they are not infallible evidences of safety. Many have them who are not saved, for their joy springs from a mistake, and their peace rests upon the sand of their own imaginations. It is a good sign that the spring is come, that the weather is warm; but there are mild days in winter. A man may be in the lifeboat, but be exceedingly ill, and think himself to be still in peril. It is not his sense of safety that makes him safe. Joy and peace are the element of a Christian, but he is sometimes out of his element. The leaves on the tree prove that the tree is alive, but the absence of leaves will not prove that the tree is dead. True joy and peace may be very satisfactory evidences, but their absence, during certain seasons, can often be accounted for on some other hypothesis than that of the absence of faith.
3. Do not seek them as the first and main thing. Let your prayer be, “Lord, give me comfort, but give me safety first.” Be anxious to be happy, but be more anxious to be holy.
I. The text may be used to correct two common and dangerous errors.
1. That there is a way of joy and peace through self. Some look for them through good works. Now if we had never sinned, joy and peace would have been the consequences of perfect holiness; but since we have broken God’s law any rational joy and peace are impossible under the covenant of works. You have broken the alabaster vase; you may preserve the fragments, but you cannot make it whole again. Many who are conscious of this say, “Then I will do my best.” Yes; but a man who is drowning may say that, but it is no solace to him as the billows close over him. Some try the plan of scrupulous observance of all religious ceremonies. These things may be good in themselves; but to rest in them will be your ruin.
2. That of turning the text upside down. There is such a thing as joy and peace in believing, and some therefore infer that there is such a thing as believing in joy and peace. You will get peace just as the florist gets his flower from the bulb; but you will never get the bulb from the flower. To trust Christ because you just feel happy is--
(1) Irrational. Suppose a man should say during a panic, “I feel sure that my bank is safe, because I feel so easy about my money”; you would say to him, “That is no reason.” Suppose he said, “I feel sure that my money is safe, because I believe the bank is safe.” That is good reasoning. But here you put the effect in the place of the cause. If a man should say, “I have got a large estate in India, because I feel so happy in thinking about it,” that is no proof whatever. But if he says, “I feel very happy, because I have got an estate in India,” that may be right enough.
(2) Irreverent. You say to God, “Thou tellest me to trust Christ and I shall be saved. Well, I cannot trust Christ, but I can trust my own feeling, and if I felt very happy I could believe that He would save me.
(3) Egotistical. Here is “a person who has the Divine promise--He that believeth on Him is not condemned”; and instead of confiding in this, he says, “No, I shall believe nothing which I do not feel.”
II. The great truth of the text is, that believing in Christ is the true ground for joy and peace. Believing in Christ is trusting Christ, “But what sort of a Christ is this I am to confide in? Is He worthy of my trust?” The reply is this, “We have trusted Christ”--
1. Because of the wonderful union of His natures. He is God, and whatever God undertakes He is able to accomplish. But He is man, and has the requisite tenderness to deal with sinners.
2. Because of the evident truthfulness of His character. Could we suspect the Saviour we should find it difficult to trust Him; but as we cannot imagine a cause for suspecting Him, we feel shut up to believing Him. Millions of spirits boar witness to the trustworthiness of Christ. He did not fail one of them.
3. Because He was sent of God on purpose to save. Now if this be so, and Christ comes into the world and says, “Trust, and I will save you,” He has God to back Him, and the honour of the Trinity is pledged to every soul that comes to Christ.
4. Because the merit of His sufferings must be great enough to save us.
5. Because He rose again from the dead, and now He ever liveth to make intercession for us. Wherefore, “He is able to save to the uttermost.”
III. The principle of the text is of constant application : joy and peace always come through believing. We do not always have joy and peace, but still, in the main, joy and peace are the result of believing. E.g.
1. As soon as a person is saved, one of the earliest evidences of spiritual life is a great battle within. Some have the notion that as soon as they are saved they shall never have to fight. Why, it is then that you begin the campaign. But you shall have joy and peace while the fighting is going on.
2. Remember that even after you are secure in Christ, and accepted before God, you may sometimes get despondent. Christian men may have a bad liver, or some trial, and then they get depressed. But what then? Why then you can get joy and peace through believing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Joy has been considered by Christian people very largely as an exceptional state; whereas sobriety--by which is meant severity of mind, or a non-enjoying state of mind--is supposed to be the normal condition. I knew a Roman Catholic priest that was as upright and conscientious a man as I ever met, who said he did not dare to be happy; he was afraid that he should lose his soul if he was; and he subjected himself to every possible mortification, saying, “‘It is not for me to be happy here; I must take it out when I get to heaven. There I expect to be happy.” That was in accordance with his view of Christianity. Now, it is of the utmost importance that it should be understood that health of soul and joyfulness are one and the same thing. You cannot be healthy in soul and not be happy. The true idea of religion is one that makes men happy by making them happiable; that brings them into that soul-knowledge, and into that concord of soul, out of which comes happiness. Remember that the state of suffering, if you must suffer, is the abnormal state, and that a true Christian is a man who is a happy Christian. You may say, “I cannot be happy.” Very well, then you cannot be an ideal of true Christianity. You are not able to reach the highest condition of which the human soul is capable. It does not follow because a man has one leg shorter than the other, and is obliged to limp, that limping is a part of the best state of man. The man whose legs are lithe, and who can run like a roe, is a true man physically, in so far as that is concerned; and the man who is maimed, and cannot do this, is physically so much less than a true man as he falls short of the possibility of it. (H. W. Beecher.)
A cheerful hope
A hopeless life is a bitter life. Surely the heart is broken when hope is gone. Thank God, this is a rare thing. You tread upon the wild flower in the field, and for a time it is crushed; but ere the next morning comes, when the dew is on the grass, it stands erect again. And when deep trouble comes the heart may be crushed for a time, but it is generally only for a time. It is wonderful how people will recover and see there is still something left. Here is a bankrupt: his plans are frustrated, his heart is bruised. For a time he droops his head despondently, but he is soon ready to make another start. He adapts himself to his circumstances, and finds hope rising within him. “I may yet be in comfortable circumstances,” he says, and again he can work with a will. It is beautiful, though sometimes very sad, to see how the poor consumptive patient will retain hope to the last. “It is only a little cold,” she says; “I shall soon be strong again.” “We are saved by hope,” says Paul, and there is a depth of meaning in his words. People often say, “While there is life there is hope”; but would it not be truer still to say, “While there is hope there is life”? This cheerful hope is the Christian’s. All things are his, not in possession, but in prospect. The heart can cherish no desire which is not abundantly spread out before him. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what things God hath prepared for those who love Him.” (J. Matthews.)
Through the power of the Holy Ghost.--
The power of the Holy Ghost
Power is the peculiar prerogative of God. “Twice have I heard this,” etc. If He delegates a portion of it to His creatures, yet still it is His power. This prerogative is to be found in each of the three persons of the Trinity. We shall look at the power of the Holy Ghost in--
I. The outward and visible displays of it.
1. In creation works (Job 26:13; Psalms 104:29; Genesis 1:2). But there was one instance of creation in which the Spirit was more especially concerned, viz., the formation of the body of Christ. “The power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee,” etc.
2. In the resurrection of Christ. Sometimes this is ascribed to Himself, sometimes to God the Father. He was raised by the Father, who said, “Loose the Prisoner--let Him go. Justice is satisfied.” He was raised by His own majesty and power because He had a right to come out. But He was raised by the Spirit as to the energy which His mortal frame received (Romans 8:11; 1 Peter 3:18).
3. In works of witnessing. When Jesus went into Jordan the Spirit proclaimed Him God’s beloved Son. And when afterwards Jesus raised the dead, healed the leper, etc., it was done by the power of the Spirit, who dwelt in Him without measure. And when Jesus was gone the master attestation of the Spirit was when He came like a rushing mighty wind, and cloven tongues. And all through the apostle’s ministry “mighty signs and wonders were clone by the Holy Ghost, and many believed thereby.”
4. The works of grace. Under the power of the Holy Ghost the uncivilised become civilised, the savage polite, the drunkard sober, etc.
II. The inward and spiritual manifestation. The former may be seen, this must be felt. The Holy Ghost has a power over--
1. Men’s hearts. Now these are very hard to affect. If you want to get at them for any worldly object you can do it. But there is not a minister breathing who can win man’s heart himself. He can win his ears, his eyes, his attention; but he cannot reach the heart. The Holy Spirit can. He can “Speak with that voice which wakes the dead.”
2. The will. This, especially in some men, is a very stubborn thing. I can bring you all to the water, and a great many more; but I cannot make you drink; and I don’t think a hundred ministers could. But the Spirit of God can make us willing in the day of His power.
3. The imagination. Those who have a fair share of imagination know what a difficult thing it is to control. It will sometimes fly up to God with such a power that eagles’ wings cannot match it; but it is also potent the other way, for my imagination has taken me down to the vilest kennels and sewers of earth. Can you chain your imagination? No; but the power of the Holy Ghost can.
III. Its future and desired effects. He has--
1. To perfect us in holiness. The Christian needs two kinds of perfection-of justification in the person of Jesus, of sanctification by the Holy Spirit. At present corruption still rests even in the breasts of the regenerate, but the day is coming when God shall finish the work which He has begun.
2. To bring on the latter-day glory.
3. To raise the dead. That same power which raised Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies.
1. The Spirit is very powerful, Christian!
(1) Then you never need distrust the power of God to carry you to heaven.
(2) Why should you doubt anything?
2. Sinners, there is some hope for you. I cannot save you, but I know my Master can. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our urgent need of the Holy Spirit
(text, and verse 19):--
1. The Spirit of God is necessary to the Church for its own internal growth in grace. Hence verse 13, where the apostle attributes the power to be filled with joy and peace in believing, and to abound in hope, to the Holy Ghost. But the power of the Church outside, to be aggressive, is this same energy (verse 19). If the Church is to be happy and holy within herself, and if she is to conquer the world for Christ, she must have the power of the Holy Ghost.
2. The power of the Church for external work will be proportionate to the power within.
(1) There are two cottages in winter. From the roof of one the snow has disappeared, while the other is still covered with it. The reason is that there is a fire burning inside the one, but the other is untenanted. So where worldliness and formalism lie thick upon Churches there is not the warmth of Christian life within; but where hearts are warm with Divine love through the Spirit of God, evils vanish and beneficial consequences follow.
(2) Here is a trouble arising between different nations. Everybody knows that one of the hopes of peace lies in the bankrupt condition of the nation which is likely to go to war. Thus is it in the great battle of truth. The strength or weakness of a nation’s exchequer affects its army in its every march, and in like manner its measure of grace influences the Church of God in all its actions.
(3) The rising of the Nile depends upon those far-off lakes in the centre of Africa. If there be a scanty supply in the higher reservoirs, there cannot be much overflow in the course of the river through Egypt. So if the upper lakes of fellowship with God are not well-filled the Nile of practical Christian service will never rise to the flood. You cannot get out of the Church what is not in it. We must ourselves drink of the living water till we are full, and then out of the midst of us shall flow rivers of living water. Out of an empty basket you cannot distribute loaves and fishes, however hungry the crowd may be. The power of the Holy Ghost is manifested in--
I. The quickening of souls to spiritual life.
1. All the spiritual life which exists in this world is the creation of the Holy Spirit. Every growth of spiritual life, from the first tender shoot until now, has also been His work. You will never have more life, except as the Holy Ghost bestows it upon you.
2. The Holy Spirit is absolutely needful to make everything that we do to be alive. We are sowers, but if we take dead seed in our seed-basket there will never be a harvest. How much there is of Church work which is nothing better than the movement of a galvanised corpse. How much of religion is done as if it were performed by an automaton, or ground off by machinery.
3. As the Spirit is a quickener to make us and our work alive, so must He specially be with us to make those alive with whom we have to deal for Jesus. As well may you try to calm the tempest with poetry or stay the hurricane with rhetoric as to bless a soul by mere learning and eloquence. We are utterly dependent here, and I rejoice in this. If I could have a stock of power all my own apart from the Spirit, I cannot suppose a greater temptation to pride and to living a distance from God.
II. The enlightenment of His people.
1. This He has done by giving us His Word; but the Book, inspired though it be, is never spiritually understood by any man apart from His personal teaching. The letter you may know, but no man knows the things of God save he to whom the Spirit of God has revealed them.
2. If professors be not taught of the Spirit their ignorance will breed conceit, pride, unbelief. Sorrow too comes of ignorance. Hadst thou known the doctrines of grace thou hadst not been so long a time in bondage! Half of the heresy in the Church of God is not wilful error, but error which springs of not submitting the mind to the light of the Holy Ghost. If He will but enlighten the Church thoroughly there will be an end of divisions. Practical unity will exist in proportion to the unity of men’s minds in the truth of God.
3. We find in this gracious operation our strength for the instruction of others; for how shall those teach who have never been taught? “Son of man, eat this roll”; for until thou hast eaten it thyself thy lips can never tell it out to others. It is the law of Christ’s vineyard that none shall work therein till first of all they know the flavour of the fruits which grow in the sacred enclosure. An ignorant Christian is disqualified for great usefulness; but he who is taught of God will teach transgressors God’s ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Christ.
III. The creation in believers of the spirit of adoption.
1. We are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and so receive the nature of children; and that nature He develops and matures. This is of very great importance, for sometimes the spirit of slaves creeps over us.
2. This will have a great effect upon the outside world. A body of professors performing religion as a task can have but small effect upon the sinners around them. But bring me a Church made up of men who know they are accepted and beloved, and are perfectly content with the great Father’s will; put them down in the midst of ungodly ones, and they will begin to envy them their peace and joy.
1. Holiness is the entirety of our manhood fully consecrated to the Lord and moulded to His will. This is the thing which the Church of God must have, but it can never have it apart from the Sanctifier, for there is no holiness but what is of His operation.
2. And if a Church be destitute of holiness what effect can it have upon the world? Scoffers utterly despise professors whose lives contradict their testimonies.
1. The strength of a Church may pretty accurately be gauged by her prayerfulness. But all acceptable supplication is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost.
2. Furthermore, when we come to deal with sinners we know that they must pray. “Behold he prayeth” is one of the earliest signs of the new birth. But can we make the sinner pray?
1. In the apostolic benediction we pray that we may receive the communion of the Holy Ghost. He gives us fellowship with God Himself. Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. So, too, our fellowship with one another is always produced by the Spirit.
2. If you are to tell upon the world you must be united as one living body. A. divided Church has long been the scorn of Antichrist.
VII. In His office of paraclete.
1. The Holy Spirit is our friend and Comforter. Many a heart would break if the Spirit of God had not comforted it. This is a very necessary work, for if believers become unhappy they become weak for service.
2. He is the Advocate of the Church--not with God, for there Christ is our sole Advocate, but with man. The grandest plea that the Church has against the world is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. All the evidences of the truth of Christianity which can be gathered from analogy, history, and external facts, are nothing whatever compared with the operations of the Spirit of God. If we have the Spirit of God amongst us, and conversions are constantly being wrought, the Holy Spirit is thus fulfilling His advocacy, and refuting all accusers. (C. H. Spurgeon)
And I myself also am persuaded of you.
Paul’s testimony to the Church in Rome
I. Its substance. Fall of--
3. Sanctified ability.
II. Its value.
3. Kind. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. Praises, but does not flatter.
II. Humbles, but does not demean himself.
III. Magnifies his office, but not himself. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Attributes of Christian character
Paul’s characteristic delicacy is seen in “I myself am persuaded,” etc., which corresponds with Romans 1:8. It was no flattering compliment, but a just commendation. Exhortations are to be accompanied with courtesy (1 Peter 3:8). Christian gifts and graces are to be duly commended. Love esteems a brother above rather than below his work (Romans 12:10). The Romans were commended for their--
1. Moral excellence in general (Ephesians 5:9).
2. Kindness to one another in particular (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
II. Knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is a believer’s privilege. It is the Spirit’s office to impart it (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). Such knowledge is to be greatly desired (Philippians 1:9; Colossians 2:2). All treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid in Christ (Colossians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30). This knowledge is necessary to comfort, holiness, and usefulness, and embraces all the subjects of revealed truth, doctrines, duties, dispensations, etc. The deep things cf God; things freely given us of God (1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:12). Goodness and knowledge rarely combined in the world, but both are given in and with Christ. These are the heart and the head of the new man (Ephesians 4:24), and are to be taken in their fulness (Isaiah 55:3; Luke 1:53). Paul’s large hearted love is seen in the terms he employs. He delights to point to the fulness believers enjoy in Christ. They should grow in grace and knowledge.
III. Ability to admonish one another--to put each other in mind of duty as to matter by knowledge, as to manner by goodness. This may be done either publicly or privately (Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:25; Colossians 3:16). (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Essential qualifications of a Christian minister
I. He must discharge his functions with wisdom and humility.
1. Recognising good where it already exists.
2. Humbly putting those who have believed in mind of common duties and privileges.
3. Seeking the salvation of the unconverted--in the name and for the glory of God.
II. He must have a special call.
1. Attested by the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost.
2. Approved first of all in a narrower sphere of labour.
3. Directed especially to the ignorant and unconverted. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The publication of the gospel
I. Its objects.
1. To confirm those who believe in grace (verses 14, 15).
2. To save and sanctify the unbelieving (verse 16).
3. To promote the cause of God (verse 17).
II. Its success.
1. Proceeds from the power of the Spirit of Christ (verses 18, 19).
2. Reaches all who learn the knowledge of His name (verses 20, 21). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
“Of his extreme humility, I experienced an instance which at once astonished and embarrassed me. One day, in conversation, Mr. Wilberforce kindly gave me some advice. I expressed my thanks, and said how much I should feel indebted if, in conversation or correspondence, he would at all times be my counsellor, and, if necessary, correct me, and point out my faults. He suddenly stopped (for we were walking together), and replied, ‘I will; but you must promise me one thing.’ ‘With pleasure,’ I answered, little thinking what it was. ‘Well, then,’ continued Mr. Wilberforce, ‘in all your conversation and correspondence with me, be candid and open, and point out my faults.’” (Memoir of Wilberforce.)
Reproof should be judicious
Reprove mildly and sweetly, in the calmest manner, in the gentlest terms, not in a haughty or imperious way, not hastily or fiercely; not with sour looks, or in bitter language, for these ways do beget all the evil, and hinder the best efforts of reproof; they do certainly inflame and disturb the person reproved; they breed wrath, disdain, and hatred against the reprover; but do not so well enlighten the man to see his error, or affect him with a kindly sense of his miscarriage, or dispose him to correct his fault. Such reproofs look rather like the wounds and persecutions of enmity than as remedies ministered by a friendly hand; they harden men with rage, and scorn to mend upon such occasion. If reproof doth not savour of humanity it signifieth nothing; it must be like a bitter pill wrapped in gold, and tempered with sugar, otherwise it will not go down, or work effectually. (L Barrow.)
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly.
St. Paul’s ministry
I. Its general nature.
1. Paul was “the minister of Jesus Christ.” The word is compounded of two words, signifying a work and that which belongs to the public; the character described, therefore, is that of one devoted to the public welfare--one called of God out of a private into a public station, who therefore became public property, and who could not, without manifest impropriety, make his own ease, or influence, or aggrandisement, the objects of his pursuit.
2. Paul was employed in this ministry for “the offering up of the Gentiles to God,” in which there is an allusion to the priestly office. He evidently considered himself an evangelical priest; one who was to be the mouth of God to the people, and the mouth of the people to God.
(1) He points out his duty, which was to offer the Gentiles to God.
(2) He relates his experience of success--the reward of his labour, viz., the presenting to God those who were saved through his instrumentality.
3. The means by which he was thus enabled to prepare and to present to God such an acceptable oblation: by the preaching of the gospel of Christ fully. The gospel is called the gospel of God, and of Christ, both in reference to its Divine authority, and in reference to its subject: it is of God, and it speaks concerning God.
II. Its sphere.
1. “Where Christ was not named.” Such a people--
(1) Were, of course, ignorant of Christ, of His character, relations, salvation.
(2) Could not, therefore, believe in Christ. Hence they derived no spiritual benefit from His mediation; they had no hope of being with Him for ever.
(3) Could not, of course, be happy. All that Christians enjoy or hope for is through Christ alone. Through Him they are justified, renewed, sanctified, consoled, strengthened, etc. Without Christ is misery. Yet such is the miserable, the awful condition of countless millions. Christ is not named among them. They have no Bibles; no gospel ministry; no Christian Sabbaths.
2. The apostle preached “from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum”; places about one thousand miles from each other. “Round about,” i.e., diverging into all the neighbouring places, and still pushing onwards till he had filled the country with his doctrine. This statement should be improved by us--
(1) In reference to our own country. Let those who, after mature deliberation and earnest prayer, feel it to be their duty to confine themselves to domestic labours, be careful to cultivate a missionary spirit. Let them not rest till in every town and village they have “fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Negligence in this respect will be criminally inexcusable in such a country as this, where no impediment is presented by the existing government, but where every facility is afforded.
(2) And chiefly in reference to heathen lands. We must take care of home, but we must not overlook other places. The gospel must be planted in place after place, till its influence has spread over the whole earth.
III. The testimony of God by which it was accompanied. Through “mighty signs and wonders,” and “by the power of the Spirit of God”; without which all else would have been vain. Miracles are not absolutely necessary to the success of the Christian ministry, and never were the direct causes of conversion. The faithful record of the miracles wrought in attestation of the truth in the days of the apostles, answers every purpose of miracles themselves. If the apostles had the auxiliary of miracles, we have the auxiliary of Bibles gradually translating into every language. We have the advantage of patronising governments, e.g., the Spirit of God can and does convert without miracles. The larger outpourings of this Spirit must be sought in fervent, persevering prayer.
IV. Its effects. The Gentiles--
1. Were made obedient. Theirs was the obedience of faith, of profession, of practice. They were Christians doctrinally, experimentally, and practically.
2. Were offered to God. The preachers made no improper use of their influence; their only aim was to bring men to know, love, and serve God. The true missionary spirit is not a sectarian spirit, and it is injured whenever it becomes so.
3. Were an acceptable offering to God.
V. The privilege, happiness, and honour realised by Paul in being permitted to exercise this missionary vocation. He speaks of it as “grace given to him of God.” He accounted it--
1. A privilege. He does not talk of the burden, danger, or expense, but the favour to be so employed. No Christian will account it a burden to support missions, or to engage in actual service, if it be clearly his duty. The missionary has no right to talk of making sacrifices, he is but doing his duty; he is honoured by God in being allowed so to labour. Mean is that man who accounts the labours of a missionary to be mean.
2. An honour. “I have whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ.”
3. A happiness. “I glory”; I exult--I rejoice greatly. Let Christians consider that a share in all this privilege, honour and happiness is offered to their acceptance. Let ministers beware how they keep back from such work. And let all Christians see to it that they promote the cause by their contributions, their influence, and their prayers. (J. Bunting, D.D.)
That I should be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.--
The ministerial office
I. Its functions.
1. To serve Christ.
2. To offer spiritual sacrifices.
3. To preach the gospel.
II. Its acceptableness.
1. In its power.
2. In its fruits. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The Christian ministry
I. Its nature.
1. The word “minister” imports any one who transacts the affairs consigned to his charge, whether they be religious or civil. It is therefore used in relation to--
(1) The Jewish priesthood. “Every high priest standeth daily ministering.”
(2) Christ, the antitype of that priesthood, who hath “obtained a more excellent ministry.”
(3) Angels. “Are they not all ministering spirits?”
(4) Civil magistrates, who “are God’s ministers.”
(5) Persons who perform acts of kindness. “If the Gentiles have been made partakers of your spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to you in carnal things.” “Epaphroditus … ministered to my wants.”
2. The office to which the apostle refers was emphatically a sacred office, partly peculiar and temporal, consisting in the exercise of agencies which were strictly miraculous; and partly general and spiritual, consisting in the proclamation of certain truths relating to eternal interests. The former department passed away with a single generation, but the latter is to be exercised till the end of time.
3. The office is connected with “Jesus Christ.” The mode in which Paul received it, as recorded by himself, is one of the most wondrous events recorded in the annals of mankind. Thenceforth, renovated by that grace of which he speaks in verse 15, he lived as a devoted servant of Him whose cause he once laboured to destroy. It is from Christ alone that all ministers derive their existence and authority. Every one of us hath received grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Nothing can save men from the guilt of blasphemous intrusion into this office, except their introduction to it by a power which is itself Divine. Intellect, imagination, eloquence, are nothing if they be not consecrated by the Spirit of the Holy One, nothing but the trappings of the traitor.
II. Its direction. “To the Gentiles,” i.e., all nations who were not numbered amongst the family of Israel. The Christian economy was expressly constituted that it might be applied to the race generally. This fact had been declared in prophecy, and by the Lord Himself.
1. This commission was directed to the Gentiles with a marked and peculiar emphasis. “Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” Hence he exclaims, “Inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office.” The ministers of Christ must be always ministers of the Gentiles until the fulness of the Gentiles be brought in. When, therefore, Christian men carry forth throughout the nations the instrumentalities and energies of Christ’s religion, they are doing nothing more than carrying out the essential principles of that religion.
2. This commission was needed at this period. The Gentiles were idolaters, and their hands, in consequence, were rife with the very foulest abominations. The same spiritual need still spreads over the vast track of the Gentile nations; God’s power has indeed been felt over not a few. Yet, what are these among so many? Regard the existing state of a large proportion of our own population; regard those who own the influence of a superstition, bearing the name of Christ only to blaspheme it; regard the state of those who own the power of the false prophet of Mecca; and then regard the state of those over whom there still hangs the unbroken cloud of idolatry, and what a fatal mass of need and destitution is here, pleading tenderly and powerfully that with apostolic zeal there should go forth a ministry to the Gentiles!
III. Its theme. “The gospel”; a system which, as its chosen name imports, was glad tidings, and one which confers on man all the blessings which are identified with the happiness of his immortal nature. Note--
1. Its precise adaptation to the state and the wants of those to whom it comes. It is adapted
(1) To the ignorance of the Gentiles, unfolding the light of the knowledge of the Divine truth.
(2) To their guilt, setting forth the all-sufficient propitiation for sin.
(3) To their pollution, purifying and refining the heart.
(4) To their debasement, lifting up the fallen spirit so that man appears but a little lower than the angels.
(5) To their misery, instilling the peace which passeth understanding.
2. This gospel has a certain mode of administration. It ought to be administered--
(1) Faithfully. Every one of its facts and principles should be announced in the precise proportion in which we find them in the Word of God.
(2) Freely. Its glad tidings must be proclaimed to all men everywhere, regarding all men as equal and inviting all to buy the great provision without money and without price.
(3) Zealously. The famine is in the land, and it is for us to distribute the bread of heaven; the plague is in the city, and it is for us to apply the medicine; the wreck is upon the breakers, and it is for us to go and snatch the perishing from the billows. Where is the chilling and heartless argument that would forbid?
IV. Its results. The labours of the apostle were exercised in the express expectation that multitudes would embrace the gospel. Contemplating this result, he presents those in whom it must be accomplished under a very interesting figure--that of an oblation to God. Further, he states, this offering so presented to be “acceptable,” being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, whose agency, working through the ministry, accomplished the transformation and renewal of the Gentiles--being likened unto the fire, which, under the Levitical dispensation, purified the oblation, and was at once the instrument and the token of its acceptance with God. The language before us shows--
1. That the success of the Christian ministry is always to be ascribed to the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is owned in the words before us, and in verses 18, 19. Nothing is more manifest throughout the gospel than that the Word is nothing but the instrument of the Spirit; that by the Spirit the Word is rendered effectual to renovate and to redeem. “Not by power, nor by might,” etc.
2. That this success shall be of vast and delightful extent, The apostle clearly anticipates that the Gentiles should receive the gospel generally, and that it should establish a redeeming empire over all the nations. Take the series of prophecies, the heads of which he quotes in preceding verses (Psalms 18:1-50; Deuteronomy 32:1-52.; Psalms 111:1-10.; Isaiah 11:1-16), the application made of which by the apostle rebukes the unauthorised application made of them by theorists of our own day to the personal reign of Christ. But passing this by, they tell us of a period which is to come, by the instrumentality and agency we have described, when the reign of peace and of blessedness shall be universal (see specially Isaiah 11:1-16).
3. That this success is to redound in one mighty ascription to God. The presentation of the Gentiles as a sacrifice means that in their conversion God is to be honoured, that all the glory may be to Him.
(1) Ministers, who are the instruments of this conversion, must ever render such a tribute, renouncing all pretensions; and when the sacrifice is laid upon the altar, exclaiming, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,” etc.
(2) Men, who are the subjects of this conversion, must ever render such a tribute, acknowledging grace in all its sovereignty and freeness, and in each instance transforming the statement of doctrine into the song of praise--“Of His own mercy He has saved us,” etc. (J. Parsons.)
The Christian missionary
I. His work. To preach the gospel to the heathen with--
1. Priestly consecration.
II. His aim. That they may become--
1. An offering to God.
3. Holy. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I have therefore whereof I may glory.--
Of what may a Christian glory
I. Of fellowship with Christ.
1. By faith.
2. In the service of God.
II. Of the success which God gives him, because his labour--
1. Is acknowledged by God.
2. Brings glory to God.
III. Of the power of God which is in him.
1. Accomplishing what is beyond the ability of man.
2. Inspiring unselfish zeal.
3. Constraining abounding charity. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The Christian glories
I. In Christ, as--
1. The foundation of his hope.
2. The object of his love and imitation. The Head of his profession.
II. In the service of christ as most--
III. In the things of God as most--
3. Enduring. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient.
I. Its extent.
1. Matter of notoriety.
2. Needed no attempt on the part of the apostle to exaggerate it.
II. The means.
III. The power.
2. Exerted through the Holy Spirit.
3. Displayed in signs and wonders. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The work of missions
I. Its object. To make the Gentiles obedient to the gospel.
II. Its agencies and means.
1. Christ, the Supreme Director, who works in us to will and to do.
2. Converted men, the instruments by word and deed.
3. The Spirit of God, the efficient power displayed in signs and wonders.
III. Its sphere.
1. Commencing at Jerusalem.
2. Embracing the Gentile world.
3. Throughout which the gospel must be fully preached. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
One of Satan’s artifices is to induce men to attempt to reduce the gospel to a mere system within the reach of human intellect; and in this attempt they have gone far to deny and reject everything supernatural. But so long as we have the Book of God in our hands, and the power of the Spirit of God to accompany its hallowed truths, we shall dare to insist upon thee gospel being “the power of God unto the salvation of every one that believeth.” Paul always advocated the old-fashioned doctrine, “It is not by might or by power,” etc. Note--
I. The success of Paul’s preaching the gospel
1. “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19). Then it was a pure gospel (Galatians 1:8-9). He did not mix law and gospel together (Romans 3:20; Ephesians 2:8). In his preaching I mark four things prominent: and a man does not preach a pure gospel who does not preach all four.
(1) Principles (1 Corinthians 3:11). What principles? They are summed up in “By grace are ye saved” (Ephesians 2:8). Well, then, there is nothing for works, as he urges elsewhere (Romans 11:6).
(2) Privileges (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:16).
(3) Promises. Paul dwelt on these with delight, but he never set them forth as dependent upon creature doings, or as subject to contingencies (2 Corinthians 1:20).
(4) Precepts. In his Epistles, which he commences with doctrine, and proceeds with experimental godliness; but he always closes with the most pressing exhortations to “every good word and work.”
2. His success in the pure preaching of the gospel. He talks about “mighty signs and wonders” and names one in the preceding verse, viz., that the Gentiles should be made “obedient by word and deed.” It is one of the greatest miracles when God brings a poor ruined sinner down to obedience to the sceptre of Christ. Paul’s success lay in--
(1) The rescuing of Satan’s slaves.
(2) Refreshing and establishing the Churches of the living God, so that they were “built up in their most holy faith.”
(3) Thus the glorifying of Jesus’ name.
II. Its efficiency. It was by the power of the Spirit of God--and truly such “mighty signs and wonders” are never accomplished by any other power. This power--
1. Is invincible--it is sure to conquer, and accomplish that for which it was designed. Every other power is found to be conquerable! The power of the Holy Ghost is so invincible, that the most stubborn hearts must yield, and the most confirmed habits of idolatry, or of licentiousness, are vanquished.
2. Defies all hostility.
3. Is new creating. All creation, in a spiritual point of view, is a chaos under the fall, until the Spirit calls to a new state of existence the souls that were destitute of it.
III. Paul’s triumph concerning his success.
1. The wonders of God’s grace, the miracles accomplished, the triumphs of the Cross, and the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, made Paul rejoice. Here is a criterion by which we are to judge of every faithful minister of Christ.
2. Moreover, in all his exultations he took care to neutralise and give the negative to the boastings of proud free will. (J. Irons.)
The power of the gospel
I. Its source, God.
II. Its medium, the Spirit of God.
III. Its evidence, “Signs and wonders”--miraculous, moral and spiritual. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
So that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.--
The preaching of the gospel
I. In what light is the gospel to be preached by its ministers. Surely in the same in which it was preached by the apostle, viz.
1. As it reveals the ground of a sinner’s acceptance with God.
2. As it furnishes the only perfect rule of moral conduct, and the only efficient motive, love.
3. As it unveils the mysteries of a future state.
II. How the apostle preached the gospel.
1. Fully. He shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God; he instructed, exhorted, and warned that they might grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ (Acts 20:20). The gospel should be thus fully preached.
(1) Because it is connected with the spiritual and eternal interests of the hearers. A physician would be considered in the last degree criminal who trifled with his patient; but the gospel minister is charged with the cure of souls.
(2) Because failure here will contract awful guilt upon the preacher (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
2. Extensively. Paul carried it from Jerusalem to Illyricum. He was not weary in well-doing, but continued active and diligent to the end. “The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” But how many places are there yet destitute of sufficient means of grace! This, then, is a call upon our zealous exertions.
1. That natural and acquired talents may be efficiently employed in promoting the cause of religion. This is well illustrated in the case of Paul. What are the talents God has entrusted to you? Wealth? Influence? Zeal? Use them all for God.
2. The gospel is worthy of all acceptation. (D. Jones.)
The evangelisation of the world a practicable work
I. Let us estimate Paul’s missionary work. Note--
1. The length of time during which it was done. He began very shortly after his conversion, and carried it on till his martyrdom; a period of about thirty years. From those thirty years the time spent in Arabia and in prison has to be deducted.
2. The helps by which the work was done.
(1) His strong faith that the gospel was the power of God to every one who believed.
(2) His fervent love to Christ.
(3) His great love to mankind.
(4) His good natural capacity and education.
(5) The gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon him so largely.
(6) His companions.
(7) His Roman citizenship.
3. His hindrances.
(1) He was a Jew, and the great contempt in which the Jewish race was held by the Gentiles must have been an immense hindrance to the apostle as he went about preaching salvation through a crucified Jew.
(2) He was by no means a strong man physically. He suffered much through infirmity of the flesh.
(3) His speech was not acceptable to some. Not only did the unconverted Athenians ask, “What will this babbler say?” but there were Christians at Corinth who pronounced his speech “contemptible.”
(4) His ungenerous critics did acknowledge that his writings were weighty and powerful; but in regard to them he laboured under a very great disadvantage. The art of printing had not been invented, and if he wrote an epistle intended for more Churches than one, well, then, it was slowly passed from one to another. And not only so; those who had the charge of Churches did not always like to read Paul's epistles to the people (1Th 10:27). Here in the apostolic age is the germ of the evil practice of withholding the Word of God from the laity.
(5) Travelling in those days was very slow, difficult and dangerous, whether by land or sea.
(6) The apostle chose to labour for his own support at his trade as a tent-maker.
(7) He was hindered by Jews and Judaisers wherever he met with them.
(8) The other apostles were not very much in sympathy with him.
4. The extent of his work. To say nothing of his preaching at Damascus and neighbourhood, from Jerusalem, substantially through Asia Minor together with Macedonia and Achaia, westward to the shores of the Adriatic, the apostle preached the gospel of Christ. “And not only so” he could say, “I have fully preached it.” This work was by no means of a superficial character. As to the results, they were various; sometimes very few were converted, sometimes very many. The power of the gospel was acknowledged by enemies of Christ at Thessalonica and Ephesus. Therefore the apostle really did so evangelise that large tract of country, and if the Churches planted in those regions had done their duty, most certainly all the inhabitants would have been brought to Christ.
II. From this summary of the apostle’s work we may learn that the evangelisation of the world is really a practicable thing. This is not universally acknowledged. Of course, a very large proportion of those who do not believe the gospel, utterly deny it, and there are Christian people who do not seem to be very strongly convinced of it, for if they were, surely they would think of it, pray for it, and give towards it more.
1. Here was a great work done through God’s grace by this one man in a space of thirty years. Sixty periods of thirty years have passed by since. Now, supposing that, during these periods, there had been in each--that is in each generation--just one man like Paul, the world would have been more nearly evangelised than it is.
2. Compare--Paul’s helps with our own.
3. Whatever Paul’s helps might be, his hindrances were greater than ours. Conclusion: Then the evangelisation of the world has not proceeded just because Christians have not done their duty. But for the apathy of our forefathers we should not be held accountable. Let us cheer ourselves with the thought that the work is really practicable. And certainly the results of Christian missionary effort in modern times are such as to encourage the most sanguine hope. The evangelisation of the whole world is quite within the reach of practical religion. It can be done: it ought to be done: let it be done! (H. Stowell Brown.)
I have strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation.
St. Paul’s method of procedure
St. Paul “strived,” even made it a point of honour--matter of holy ambition to preach Christ in Christless regions, and not where his brethren had been before. Christian love is always tender of the rights of others. The truest ambition is to serve God in the best and most devoted manner. Worldly ambition is the perversion of a right principle. The objects worthiest of man’s ambition and effort are--
1. To bring the greatest glory to God and to Christ.
2. To impart the greatest amount of happiness to men.
3. To act with the greatest uprightness and courtesy to all.
Paul’s ambition the principle in every true missionary, e.g., Morrison, Carey, Martyn, Judson, Williams, Moffatt. He and they sought new fields of labour. Such fields are more difficult to cultivate. More rich and abundant in the return. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
St. Paul’s evangelistic methods
I. Observe the apostle’s methods.
1. He went to those who needed him most.
2. Encountered the difficulties of untried ground.
3. Was ambitious to build on an independent foundation.
II. Inquire how far they are worthy of imitation.
1. Circumstances are now much altered; others have laboured, and we must enter upon their labours.
2. Yet neglected neighbourhoods deserve special attention.
3. Difficulties are not to be shunned.
4. Every Christian labourer, while he respects the rights of others, should aim at leaving the distinct impression of his own efforts somewhere. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1. The converse is 1 Corinthians 3:10. When Paul was converted he stood high among his own people for knowledge and executive talent. He took the lead in putting down Christianity. One would suppose that such a man, being converted, would have gone to Jerusalem, and put himself at the head of the Christian movement. But instead of this, he secretly went to Arabia, returning thence to Damascus. Then he went to Jerusalem; but he stayed there only a fortnight, and departed into Asia Minor, where he laboured for fourteen years. When he went back to Jerusalem, it was but for a brief stay; and he declares that he, by preference, preached the gospel in places where nobody had been before him. He was not after a settlement or a good salary. Paul’s feeling was “I will take foundation-work. Let other men have the building upon that.”
2. Now, foundation-work is always the hardest, as the figure, namely, the rearing of a structure here implies. Look at those immense stores that are going up in great cities; in proportion as they go up, they must preliminarily go down; and the consequence is that the laying of foundations is no small business. It is the most awkward, difficult, and unrequiting; when you have worked your best, your work is all hidden out of your sight, and nobody thanks you for it.
3. Now, that a man should like to do that work is scarcely possible. Offer a man a job, and ask him which part he would prefer. “The frescoing” says the man, “so that people, when they come in, should say ‘What a genius!’ I should like to have my name somewhere up there to show who did it.” But if a genius should come and say, “Why, let me dig, and clear away, and lay the foundations, other men may build the superstructure,” people would say, “There are thousands who can do that, but there is not one in a thousand who is able to do what you can do.” And that is true. But is there no way in which the great mass of men can labour at foundation-work so as to be happy? This has been the problem of ages. I see streaming from Paul’s example light upon it. Note--
I. The motives by which Paul was actuated.
1. Christian pride.
(1) He never tired of declaring that he was not one whit behind the chiefest of the apostles, not for the sake of praise, but because he would not have his message discredited. His temperament was such as would make him feel himself quite as much as he was. So he says, “I am not behind any man. I am a match for anybody.”
(2) Then such a man ought to do work that nobody else can do as well as he. He ought to say, “My business is to work where nobody else will work,” which is in keeping with the Master’s saying, “He that would be chief, let him be a servant.” Thousands of men want something to do. Oh! that the spirit of Paul was among young scholars, preachers, operatives. Then they would say, not, Who will show me a good parish?” not, “Who will show me a remunerative, or honourable place?” but “Where is the place that other men do not want to go to? That is the place for me, because I am a man, and a Christian man.” Such is the ideal of pride. People preach against pride; but the proper way to deal with it is to set it to work.
2. The feeling he never got over--that he had persecuted the Church. Most persons would have said, “Don’t feel so bad about this matter, all you had to do was to turn when you saw your mistake, and quit it.” That, however, did not satisfy him. Oh, to have persecuted Jesus! The more he thought of it, the worse he felt; and he, as it were, put upon himself tasks which no other man would take by way of making amends for that wrong. That is the kind of penance which one may well glory in. The humility of his fall was as magnificent as his pride.
3. Heroic, enthusiastic love of Christ. This filled his whole soul. And he felt, “There is nothing that love cannot do.” The deeper the love, the more it glorifies in sacrifice. “God commendeth His love toward us,” etc. And so Paul said, “Give me the hardest work, for the hardest work will show the greatest love.”
4. The feeling that in doing foundation-work he was making a contribution to the happiness of his kind. This he intimates in 1 Corinthians 3:10. Elsewhere he repeatedly speaks of sowing and not reaping, the others may reap where he has sown. He felt that he was making the way easier for somebody else; that he was bearing pain that others might not have pain to bear.
II. The lessons that Paul’s example teaches.
1. That there is to be a consecration of men’s pride in work. Every true man should feel, “I bring to my work the worth that is in it, no matter how low it is. I am doing this work.” False pride says to a man, “Why are you bothering yourself with these trifles? This is not becoming to you. You are a man that ought to come up higher.” If, 1800 years ago you had gone to Jerusalem, who would have been the man the least to be envied there? He who was about to be led out to crucifixion. But go to Jerusalem to-day, and find a place where He put His foot, and a million pilgrims from every nation crowd thither, willing to bow down and kiss that place. Why, what did He give to it? Himself. It was the manliness and divinity of the Man, it was the soul-element which He brought to it, that consecrated the place, and made it a shrine for the eternities. When men consecrate themselves to their labour, that labour is no more ignominious. The trouble with men who labour at disagreeable work is that while the work is mean, the workman is meaner.
2. That there should be a spirit of benevolence connected with one’s work. Men who are doing low work are working for their fellow-men. Do you suppose the builder of Eddystone Lighthouse, working through winter and summer to lay the foundations of that magnificent structure, never thought, “how many ships coming home from foreign lands and bringing the husband, the son, the lover, will run safely into harbour by reason of this work that I am now doing? Let men who are working in life think, for their encouragement, how many will probably be blessed by their work. When the cook raises the bread and bakes it, and it comes out of the oven, should she think, “Oh, those dear little hungry children! how happy it will make them all!” or should she think, “Well, now, my mistress cannot say but that I am the smartest cook in the kitchen”?
3. That men, as Christians, should recognise that there is a providence that supervises all human affairs. If they reflect upon what Christ said--“Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s notice”--they will derive a comfort from that source which they can obtain from no other. Take that faith into your disagreeable work, and say, “I am serving my Lord and Christ, and His providence is ordaining my work.” “Lord, wilt Thou receive this mixed labour of mine?” Then He will say “Yes; inasmuch as you do the least and the lowest of these duties, I accept them.” Then it becomes a question of allegiance--of love. Where there is love, it can transmute everything and make it radiant.
4. That immortality should be taken into account. Reflect “I am working but for a little time here. Ere long I shall be translated, and then the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Dives was seen far down, and the beggar was seen in Abraham’s bosom. There will be a redistribution.” Why is it that in circumstances of peril a poor ignorant woman, giving her life for others, doing what others would not do, becomes immortal? Grace Darling, who has saved so many lives at the risk of her own--what was it that gave her a name? It was that she heroically performed an unrequited service which was not demanded of her. Now, in this great world of unrewarded service, do you suppose God forgets? (H. W. Beecher.)
But as It is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see.
Prophecy and the means of its fulfilment
This ambition of the apostle was the means of fulfilling a prophecy with respect to the spread of the gospel in heathen countries. Thus it is that God fulfils His predictions and His purposes. He gives His people an earnest desire to be the means of accomplishing them at the moment when He designs their accomplishment. It will be thus that the gospel will at last be effectually carried to every country under heaven. It is thus that modern missionaries have, in some measure, carried the gospel to the heathen, and although the slothfulness of the people of God in former ages is not without blame, it is because the time to fulfil God’s predictions to the nations was not come that a like ambition to that of Paul was not found more generally to animate Christians. Whenever the Lord has work to do, He raises up men with a heart to perform it. This, however, is no excuse at any particular time for indifference or want of effort to spread the gospel. (R. Haldane.)
I. Its difficulties.
1. Untried ground.
2. A foundation must be laid.
3. Particular obstacles removed, etc.
II. Its encouragements.
1. The nature of the gospel.
2. Its actual successes.
3. The faithful promise of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. The object of missionary zeal. To speak of Christ, and to make Christ known. If a heathen could say, “I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me,” how much more should our hearts burn, when we are told that the knowledge of Christ is at present limited to one-third of the human race! Surely this is an object sufficient to justify missionary efforts.
II. The character of missionary labours. To go forth and to preach the gospel of Christ. Leaving it to Mahomet to draw the sword and enforce obedience, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, our appeal is not to secular authority, for the religion of Christ made its way against that authority.
III. The promises of missionary success. We can appeal to “It is written,” and I should like to know what nineteen centuries have done to invalidate Paul’s testimony.
IV. The extent of missionary claims. If Jesus looked beyond His conflicts and trials, and saw of the travail of His soul, can we be indifferent to that on which His heart was set now He is in heaven? If He anticipated much as the reward of His labours, can we be satisfied that He should receive but little? Did He say, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me”? Shall not we aim to lift Him up by the preaching of the gospel, and say to perishing men, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world”? (R. C. Dillon, D.D.)
The claims of missions
1. There are millions still who have not heard the gospel.
2. The gospel is not only adapted to their case, but intended for them.
3. The obligation rests on us to send it.
4. The successful result is certain--predicted--exemplified. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
For which cause I have been much hindered from coming to you.
Paul’s desire to visit the Roman Church
The apostle had mentioned in the beginning of his letter this desire which he had long cherished (Romans 1:9-13). He here repeats it. The cause which had frustrated its accomplishment was the principle mentioned in Romans 15:20-21. New openings had presented themselves in succession, for a long period, “in these parts”--Macedonia, Achaia, and the surrounding districts, and while there remained a spot of earth which had not been visited by the gospel, he could not be satisfied. On the principle of preaching “where Christ was not yet known,” it is likely he would not have thought of Rome had there been no “region beyond” into which he might be the first to carry the truth. Even Rome, the metropolis of the world, is not here his primary object. It is only secondary and by the way. He would “make his journey into Spain,” and take Italy in passing (Romans 15:24). Here is--
I. Open honesty. He does not pretend that Rome was the immediate, far less the sole, object of his proposed journey. He does not, for the sake of ingratiating himself, make more of the believers at Rome than the truth warranted. There is often great danger of insincerity arising from this cause. We wish to impress those to whom we speak or write with their holding a prominent place in our regards; and we tacitly leave them to think that we have come, or purpose coming, to see them, when the real object of our visit is different. There is too much of this kind of hypocritical courtesy even amongst Christians. When we cannot be courteous but at the expense of truth, it is better to say nothing at all.
II. Real affection, accompanied with genuine politeness--the politeness of honest feeling. It appears--
1. In his confidence in their kindness to himself. He does not hesitate to express his assurance that they would help him forward. This confidence is always one of the marks of true friendship. Whenever we feel it necessary to make many apologies for presuming to request or to expect a favour, it is a proof that friendly confidence does not exist. There is, however, a tact and propriety in such matters. There are persons who have a knack of availing themselves of the slightest acquaintance for taxing others with trouble and expense. But still, where there is true friendship, there will be mutual freedom, and the fullest confidence that it will be a pleasure to our friend to serve and to help us. Then Paul had friends at Rome to whom he could have said as he does to Philemon (verse 19), and with regard to them all, he confided in the interest they felt about the cause in which he was engaged. This is a ground of confidence on which ministers of the gospel may often have to presume in prosecuting their work (3 John 1:5-8).
2. In the pleasure with which he anticipates their company, and his desire to be with them for as long a time as his ulterior objects and engagements would permit. But he does not speak of being fully satisfied, or even simply of being satisfied with their company: he speaks in the terms of heartfelt love, and yet of the most unexceptionable courtesy--“if first I be somewhat filled.” He knew he might not have it in his power to stay so long as his inclination might dictate; but he hoped to be able to spend some short time with them. In many cases, there is little pleasure, and less profit, in merely seeing individuals for an hour or for a day. The most valuable characteristics require time to elicit. The superficial are soonest known, because there is least to know. If, on the other hand, they are well-known friends, the fondness of true friendship always produces a lingering reluctance to part. But duty ought to dictate against inclination. When an important object demands our presence elsewhere, however fascinating or improving the company of our friends, it must not be allowed to detain us; nor should we, in such cases, attempt to detain those whom we might even like to keep permanently. Conclusion: The apostle did see Rome. But it was in another way than he thought of. He went thither as “a prisoner in bonds.” It was the way in which it pleased the Lord to send him: and he himself found that it contributed to the benefit of his cause (Philippians 1:12-14). Let us, in all our schemes, while we trust in God for their fulfilment, trust with submission, leaving everything in His hands as the Infinitely Wise. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Paul’s desire to visit Rome
I. Its occasion.
1. Not curiosity.
2. But because Rome was to him--
(1) A new sphere of Christian effort.
(2) An important centre of Christian influence.
II. Its intensity. It survives hindrances, time, etc.
III. Its regulation: By other claims and duties.
IV. Its anticipated accomplishment was--
1. Associated with wider schemes of Christian enterprise.
2. Brightened with the hope of profitable Christian intercourse.
3. Overruled by Providence. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
A good purpose
I. May be long hindered by many causes, even by success.
II. Must not be relinquished.
III. Ought to re carried out as soon as providence opens the way. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
My brethren, we might well pause here to observe a feature of our common human nature. The impulsive force in life is not thought, not will, but desire. Thought sees its object, will gives orders with a view to attaining it; but without desire thought is powerless, and will, in the operative sense, does not exist. Desire is to the human soul what gravitation is to the heavenly bodies. Ascertain the object of a man’s desire, and you know the direction in which his soul is moving. Ascertain the strength of a man’s desire, and you know the rapidity of the soul’s movement. In the memorable words of St. Augustine, “Whithersoever I am carried forward, it is desire that carries me.” (Canon Liddon.)
The unwearying zeal of the Apostle Paul
I. Its evidences.
1. In the foundation and direction of so many Christian Churches.
2. In sacrificing his private wishes to his great work.
3. In imperilling his own life in ministering to the saints.
II. Its supports. The consciousness--
1. That his labours were successful.
2. That he was sustained by the prayers of others.
3. That he could commend himself and others to the care of the God of peace. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
True missionary zeal
1. It survives hindrances.
2. Desires ever to extend its sphere of operation.
II. Prudent. It--
1. Proceeds cautiously.
2. First discharging those duties which are most imperative.
1. It does not overlook nearer claims in its desire to meet those which are more distant.
2. Paul’s zeal reached to Spain, the boundary of the then known world--but he would not pass by Rome.
IV. Comprehensive. He does not forget the mother Church, but makes his new spheres of labour subservient to its prosperity--
1. By proofs that its efforts have not been unsuccessful.
2. By material help in time of need.
3. By the happy effect which the examples of the converted heathen might have upon the careless at home. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
Paul’s present mission
Paul is now at the end of his second journey to Greece, and at Corinth (Romans 16:1; Romans 16:23). When writing to Corinth, his Jerusalem journey uncertain (1 Corinthians 16:4). Romans, therefore, was written after Corinthians. Duty now called Paul to take money to Jerusalem rather than the gospel to Rome. There is a time for every work, and everything is beautiful in its season. To be faithful in littles is to be faithful in all. Obedience to every call of duty learned in the school of Christ. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem was fraught with danger, yet was of the deepest importance, viz., to overcome the prejudices of Jewish against Gentile believers, and to unite both more closely in Christian love. Christian union to be promoted before evangelising new countries as essential to success. This mission was in accordance with the recommendation of the council of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10). Ministering to the poor not beneath an apostle, as it was not beneath the apostle’s Master. Often the best way to the heart is to help with the hand, and the cost of sympathy is the best proof of its sincerity. What Paul could not give himself, he moved others to give. A double benefit is conferred in exciting the liberality of others. The giver and the receiver are both blessed (Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:10-14). (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Liberality to the poor
1. Is a Christian duty.
2. Should be a pleasure.
3. May be a debt of justice.
4. Is always a blessing. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
True Christian zeal
1. To go anywhere.
2. To engage in every good work. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
To dispense our wealth liberally is the best way to preserve it and to continue masters thereof; what we give is not thrown away but saved from danger; while we detain it at home (as it seems to us) it really is abroad and at adventures; it is out at sea, sailing perilously in storms, near rocks and shelves, amongst pirates; nor can it ever be safe till it is brought into this port or insured this way; when we have bestowed it on the poor, then we have lodged it in unquestionable safety, in a place where no rapine, no deceit, no mishap, no corruption can ever by any means come at it. All our doors and bars, all our forces and guards, all the circumspection and vigilancy we can use, are no defence or security at all in comparison to this disposal thereof: the poor man’s stomach is a granary for our corn which never can be exhausted; the poor man’s back is a wardrobe for our clothes which never can be pillaged; the poor man’s pocket is a bank for our money which never can disappoint or deceive us; all the rich traders in the world may decay and break, but the poor man can never fail except God Himself turn bankrupt; for what we give to the poor, we deliver and intrust in His hands, out of which no force can wring it, no craft can filch; it is laid up in heaven, whither no thief can climb; where no moth or rust doth abide. In despite of all the fortune, of all the might, of all the malice in the world, the liberal man will ever be rich, for God’s providence is his estate, God’s wisdom and power are his defence; God’s love and favour are his reward; God’s Word is his assurance, who hath said it, that “he which giveth to the poor, shall not lack”; no vicissitude of things therefore can surprise or find him unfurnished; no disaster can impoverish him, no adversity can overwhelm him; he hath a certain reserve against all times and occasions: he that “deviseth liberal things, by Liberal things shall he stand,” saith the prophet. (L Barrow.)
Liberality and its opposite
The great ocean is in a constant state of evaporation. It gives back what it receives, and sends its waters into mists, to gather into clouds, and so there is rain in the fields, and storm on the mountain, and beauty everywhere. But there are men who do not believe in evaporation. They get all they can, and keep all they get, and so are not fertilisers, but only miasmatic pools.
Consecration of carnal things
A missionary of the China Inland Mission says, “There is one gentleman down in the southern part of my province, a man of wealth among the Chinese, a man of landed property, but one who considers the whole of his time and influence and means must, as a matter of course, be at the feet of the Lord Jesus. We never told him that. He said, ‘Why, the Lord has redeemed me; He shed His blood, He spared nothing in working out my redemption; therefore I consider that granary of mine, full of rice, is for the use of the brothers and sisters if they need it.’” (China’s Millions.)
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints.--
Collections in the Church
I. How they ought to be regarded.
1. As a service due on account of spiritual benefits received.
2. Or as an expression of Christian love to the needy.
II. How ought they to de supported?
1. Not of necessity, or by constraint.
(1) As a pleasure.
(2) As a fruit of grace acceptable to God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Collections for the poor
After the breaking up of the Christian community at Jerusalem on the martyrdom of Stephen, those who remained were much persecuted, and became poor. The apostle was much concerned about them, and exhorted the Churches at Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica, and Philippi to make a collection in their behalf, which might be sent by the hand of trustworthy persons, he also promising to accompany them. It was when on that mission he was apprehended. The collection--
I. Was a duty (verse 27). The gospel came through a Jewish channel, and from Jerusalem. We cannot say of what service the Christian poor have been to the cause of truth and to ourselves. God has heard their prayers, blessed their labours in former days, and we are their debtors. Let not our alms be made in the spirit of mere pity, but under a sense of obligation. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.”
II. Was to be systematically made (1 Corinthians 16:1-24.). It was some time after the contribution was sent to Jerusalem, but the Churches stored weekly. Sunday was the day of thanksgiving for the resurrection of Christ, and it was meet that each Christian should honour the day by consecrating his gift to the Lord. This is the only scriptural method of giving. The portion is thoughtfully laid aside for the service of God, and brings a blessing on the giver.
III. Was to be liberally and cheerfully made. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” No gift is acceptable in the sight of God except it comes from the heart. To give from custom or from shame is not an act of worship. Our compassion for those in want excites the heart to give largely and lovingly.
IV. Was to be made for the glory of God (2 Corinthians 9:1-15.). The thanksgiving of the poor saints at Jerusalem was twofold--for relief in their poverty, but principally because the gospel was bearing fruit in other lands.
V. Was to bear the stamp of Jesus. He, though rich, became poor for our sakes. As He, so we must endeavour to enrich others. (Weekly Pulpit.)
The claims of poor saints
1. Founded in the ordinations of Providence.
2. Strengthened by the ties of Christian brotherhood.
3. Stronger than national prejudice.
4. Should be met with pleasure. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The poor stand in the place of Christ
Macaulay, in his essay on Milton, says--“Ariosto tells a story of a fairy who, by some mysterious law of her nature, was condemned to appear at certain seasons in the form of a foul, poisonous snake. Those who injured her during the period of her disguise were for ever excluded from participation in the blessings which she bestowed. But to those who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied and protected her, she afterward revealed herself in the beautiful and celestial form which was natural to her, accompanied their steps, granted all their wishes, filled their houses with wealth, made them happy in love and victorious in war.” So what is done to Christ in His disguised and lowly form, of the poor and sick of earth, is a test of our character and our love, and will be rewarded by Him when He comes in His glory.
Retrenchment must not begin at the house of God
A Christian who had made heavy losses asked his pastor about the missionary collection. He said, “I have made it already; but, knowing that you had been a great loser this year, I did not think it proper to call upon you for your usual donation.”--“My dear sir,” replied the gentleman, “it is very true that I have suffered great losses, and must be prudent in my expenditures; but retrenchment must not begin at the house of God.”
If the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
Our obligations to the Jews
I. Our obligations to the Jews. We have received “of their spiritual things.”
1. With the patriarch Abraham was made that covenant, on the footing of which every blessing that we hope for, in time or eternity, is secured to us. But Abraham has further conferred a mass of obligations upon us, in that he illustrated the life of faith in his conduct. Who doubts what is the duty of the Christian, when he sees what the father of the faithful did?
2. From Moses we had the law, that law which shows us our need of the covenant, and shuts us up to it. When we come to God and lay hold of this covenant, the same law, which is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, becomes a light to our feet, and a lamp to our paths.
3. Take the prophets, and see what they have given us, in the shape of promises of Christ and spiritual blessings.
4. Who reads the Psalms and does not feel a sense of obligation to David, that he ever unfolded so all the workings of his own heart for our edification and for our comfort?
5. Remember the apostles, who exhibited the Saviour, and laid down their lives that we might know Him, and enjoy all the blessings of the gospel. Now the text says that we have received their spiritual things, and that, consequently, we are their debtors. Perhaps you will say, they were far distant; we were indebted to them, but what have the Jews of the present day done unto us? But God blessed the Jewish nation in spite of all their rebellion, for Abraham’s sake, and preserved a light unto Judah for a thousand years for David’s sake! Well, then, if He, at the distance of so many centuries regarded Abraham, and David, and vouchsafed to the most unworthy persons blessings for their sakes, surely let not us talk of the unworthiness of the existing generation, but remember our obligations to the generations that are past. But we are expressly told that the Jews are beloved of God for their fathers’ sake; shall they not, then, be beloved by us for their fathers’ sake?
II. The return we should render to them.
1. To seek for ourselves those blessings which they have transmitted to us (Hebrews 2:3-4). In embracing the Saviour, and giving ourselves up to Him as Abraham did in a life of faith, and as all the patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles did.
2. To make them partakers of the blessings which you yourselves have received. If the apostles were debtors to the Gentiles, much more are we debtors to the Jews. The Gentiles had done nothing for them; the Jews have done everything for us (Romans 11:30-31).
1. Now, suppose there were famine, and every one of you had given to his steward a large sum of money, to supply the wants of the sick and dying, and instead he wasted the money on himself, who would not be filled with indignation? Oh, let conscience speak, and it will show you that you are much bound to strive for the salvation of the Jews, as well as for your own; and if you do not you are a robber.
2. But some, perhaps, may say, the time is not come. Where has God told you that? What have you to do with the times and seasons? Did not the apostles search and seek them out at the peril of their lives?
3. But they won’t receive it; they are hardened. Pray, tell me what you yourselves were? And whose fault is it? Ours, who have treated them with such contempt. What would you have been if they had treated you as you have treated them?
4. Do you ask, How shall I do it? In any way you can--by prayer, by sending them instruction, by giving them the Bible. (C. Simeon, M.A.)
Ministration to the need of those who have contributed to our spiritual benefit not an act of generosity but of debt
I. The benefits received.
1. Spiritual things.
2. Of infinite value.
3. Of enduring importance.
II. The payment required.
1. Carnal things.
2. Worthless in comparison, and perishable in their nature.
III. The duty implied. A duty of--
IV. The spirit in which it should be performed. With pleasure as the expression of grateful feeling to man and God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The duty of spiritual and carnal beneficence
This comparison between spiritual and carnal things is still more distinctly made in 1 Corinthians 9:11 --where the apostle speaks of the right which he and Barnabas had earned to a maintenance from their hands. In this matter, too, there is great room for the condemnation of professing Christians--because of their gross practical insensibility to the rule of equity here laid down. It is in virtue of this that the instructors even of large and opulent congregations, have often so parsimonious an allowance doled out to them; and if so wretched a proportion of their own carnal be given in return for spiritual things to themselves, we are not to wonder at the still more paltry and inadequate contributions which are made by them for the spiritual things of others. The expense of all missionary schemes and enterprises put together, a mere scantling of the wealth of all Christendom, argues it to be still a day of exceeding small things--a lesson still more forcibly held out to us by the thousands and tens of thousands at our own doors who are perishing for lack of knowledge. There is a carnal as well as a spiritual benevolence. That the carnal benevolence makes some respectable head against the carnal selfishness of our nature, is evinced by the fact that so very few are ever known to die of actual starvation. That the spiritual benevolence falls miserably behind the other, is evinced by the fact of those millions more in our empire, who, purely from want of the churches which ought to be built, and of ministers who ought to be maintained for them, are left to wander all their days beyond the pale of gospel ordinances--and so to live in guilt and die in utter darkness. Verily in such a contemplation it might well be said even of this professing age--Are ye not yet altogether carnal? (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
The fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ
Separation is one of the evil fruits of sin. God loves union. When He created Adam He bound together the whole family of man in one common link. Hence it is one great end of the gospel to restore this union, which was one leading subject in the Saviour’s intercessory prayer (John 17:1-26.). Christianity imparts to us the love of one common God and Saviour, and infuses into all one common spirit. St. Paul had imbibed largely of this spirit. He knew what it was to feel communion of spirit even in the absence of all personal knowledge. Such was the case with regard to the Church at Rome (Romans 1:8; Romans 15:22; Romans 15:29). Note--
I. The subject of the apostle’s confidence. To carry the glad tidings of salvation to those who are altogether ignorant of them--this might seem to be one sense in which the minister of Christ might be said to “come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Nor, perhaps, is this application wholly to be excluded. If he chiefly refers here to his ministry within the Church, he yet might include the blessing of adding to its numbers from without. And certainly the conversion of sinners must be one great blessing for which we are to look as the end of our work. Yet it is of the ministry to the saints that Paul more expressly speaks. Hence, observe that this expectation will be realised--
1. If Christ should become more precious to the flock. “To you that believe He is precious.” All you want is treasured up in Him. We come, then, “in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ,” if the fruit of our ministry be to make Him to dwell in our thoughts and hearts--if it be to set Him always before us in all things, and to do all things in His name.
2. If the Holy Ghost in all His operations should be more honoured by us. We are placed under the dispensation of the Spirit. He is our teacher, sanctifier, preserver; and our progress must be in proportion as we are taught by and made submissive to Him. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”; and then we “shall come in the fulness,” etc.
3. If the ordinances of the Church, as such, should be more valued by us, Jesus Christ, as the head of His Church, has provided for its edification. It is by submitting to His ways, and not walking in our own, that we may hope to be built up in holy things. If we come to them not as mere forms, but as filled with the Spirit of the living God, then shall we have just cause to adopt the language of the text.
4. If Christ shall be more magnified by us. This will be in proportion as we are transformed into the image of Christ, and are able to manifest His holy character. To have the mind that was in Christ, to make Him the centre around which we move, is included in “the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”
II. The grounds on which he rests his confidence.
1. Not any power or wisdom in himself. These weapons he knew well are too weak to be employed in so great a warfare.
2. Something personal, however, might have had to do with it--e.g.,
(1) His own conviction of the great truths which he ministered. He could say, “I know whom I have believed,” etc. Now, this must unquestionably tend to engender confidence as to the success of the ministry, when we can speak of those things which we know of a truth in our own souls.
(2) His consciousness of sincerity, and purity of intention (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:7). It inspires confidence to feel that it is at no partial exhibition of God’s truth we aim; no favourite doctrine, no select portions, but the whole of God’s revealed counsel so far as He teaches it to us.
3. These, however, after all, may be termed rather auxiliaries of the apostle’s confidence than its foundation; the foundation of it is doubtless to be found primarily, in the promised blessing of God, and the presence of Christ in all His ordinances. “Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God giveth the increase.” (W. Dodsworth, A. M.)
The fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ
I. The nature of these blessings--
3. Blessings of peace.
II. Their abunbance in their--
3. Sufficiency for all, in this life and the next.
III. Their free dispensation.
1. To saints.
2. To sinners. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The fulness of gospel blessing
That was a privileged man who could say this. Did he do so in the confidence of apostolic power, in the strength of some special Divine mission? I think not. There are many who carry with them their own atmosphere, radiators of holiness, overflowing with affection and full of heaven, whom you cannot be near and not feel that “a virtue goes out of them”; their very presence is a benediction. And those are the same men who are lowly enough to confess the power, not their own, but Christ’s. But who are they? Those who live so near to God that they are always breathing in the Divine; and such was Paul. Observe these words in their series and their climax.
I. Christ. And in His holy anointing is all which you can ever want for time or for eternity. A ransom paid, a life hidden, a friend at the throne, a brother at the side; all love, and all loveliness.
II. The gospel. For you, poor miserable sinner, He died. He has “loved you with an everlasting love,”--between you and heaven, between you and God, there is no barrier.
III. The blessing of the gospel of Christ.
1. You are at peace. You know it in your heart’s deep secret places that you are safe.
2. You shall serve Him, see Him, be like Him, enjoy Him for ever,
3. And your forgiveness shall become your holiness. He is in you, and you in Him, by living union. Therefore “as He is, so shall you be in this world.”
4. You shall be blessed and be a blessing.
IV. The fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. It is all done. No fact in history more sure, more complete. The heavens are not complete; the angels are not perfect. But His work and His people are. An eternity of happiness--of usefulness, and of God. Conclusion:
1. Do not be afraid of a full, free gospel. It will neither make you presumptuous nor indolent. Nothing humbles like being loved. And how shall a man conquer his sins, and do good works, if he have not a motive? What motive is strong enough but the love of God?
2. Therefore, let me take care to preach, and you to receive, a full gospel. Not half fear and half hope; not half self and half Christ; not a partial pardon; not a change which is to come; not a possible heaven.
3. Now, when we meet, we are to come together with this “blessing.” Woe to me if I do not so preach as to bring “this fulness of the blessing” to you! And woe to you if you do not so pray as to bring it to me! Very great is my privilege to preach it, and very large will be your loss, if, from prejudice, or fear, or unbelief, or Satan’s wiles, or men’s false teaching, you refuse it, or add to it conditions which God has never placed--or abate one iota from it.
4. And to one another you are to be a “blessing.” When you go to a man, and try to speak faithfully to him, when you are teaching your child, when you engage in some work of mercy, or in each day’s common converse, or recognise the promise. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The fulness of the blessing
A doctor may come with healing or with failure, because his remedies are fallible. A statesman may come with progress or retrogression, because his measures are only fallible; but a servant of Christ comes with nothing but blessing. Indeed, the house of God is the one place on earth where blessing abounds always. The home may be miserable; business disappointing; the Senate House the scene of turmoil; but in the house of God there broods unruffled peace. Blessedness is the watermark of Christianity, and just as you know a five-pound note by the watermarks upon it, so you will know the message, as to whether it is Divine, by this: it makes men blessed. Its morality is the high road to blessedness. The life of its Founder is the blessed life. His death leads to man’s reconciliation with God. His resurrection tells us that man’s last enemy is destroyed. Its message is well called a gospel.
I. It is a certain blessing.
1. Because the messenger is sent of God. God can make all things sure; not man, but God. Paul had often said to God, “O Lord, let me preach the gospel at Rome,” and God at length heard his prayers; but what a strange answer it was! But all through life he had been led to see that the God who had called him to that work of the ministry would also show him when and where he was to carry on the ministry. Now that--
(1) Helps the hearer. There is a communication from heaven; it comes through the man--very imperfect, but the trappings of the messenger must never make us forget his Divine message.
(2) It helps the speaker. He is taken away from man; he breaks through the ensnaring influences of the sense, and he sees nothing, feels nothing but God and the souls of men.
2. When the people are prepared to receive the message. There is a vital difference between a prepared and an unprepared people. You may have the best seed in the world, but unless you choose carefully the best soil you will not get the best fruit. There is a mysterious power of self-choosing in every one, which enables men to resist all appeals. Vain, then, are all our reasonings and pleadings. They are showers on a rock, sunlight on a barren desert.
II. A full blessing. There is--
1. The fulness of giving that comes from the Divine love to us. To all things else there is a limit, and it is very difficult for us to rise to the conception of a Being whose power is illimitable. We see suggestions of it in the sky, the rolling prairie, and the immense sea. Now, the same God rules in grace as in Nature; and in His dealings with the spirits of men we may expect He will exercise the same largeness. And we are not disappointed. Indeed, the greatness of the gospel baffles many. They measure the Infinite Reason, love, and plans by the littleness of their own; and when they find themselves confronted by the incarnation, deity, atonement, and resurrection of Christ, they find the greatness and the glory too much for their faith. But so it should not be with us. It is said that the Highlanders who dwell among the rocky fastnesses get a strength and heroism which do not come out of the plain. It is so in spiritual things. Here the air is keen. The mountain solitudes of truth are trodden by few; but when once we have stood on those glorious heights we know God as we have never known Him before. But just as in the mountain regions there will be here and there a little chalet where the sun rests in quiet and cheering warmth, so the truth of God subdivides itself, and rests on every converted heart.
2. The fulness of the human reception. On the Divine side there is love given to us; on the human side there is faith receiving God’s gifts. “Not the hearer only of the Word.” Oh, how often we stop here! We think that a ministry is successful when numbers of attentive hearers are drawn to hear the word; and this is so far a great gain. But pews may be full, and yet hearts may be empty. What we must pray for is not that these seats may be full only, but our souls also. The whole question of our having a full blessing or of having half or none hangs upon our faith. It is not faith in our minister, in one another, in this building, and in these outward services. These, no doubt, are all helpful gifts, but our great need is a full faith in Christ. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
The fulness of the gospel
I. In what it consists. In--
1. A full Christ for empty sinners.
2. A full salvation for lost sinners.
3. A full assurance for doubting sinners.
4. A full restoration for fallen sinners.
5. A full comfort for sorrowful sinners.
6. Fulness of food for hungry sinners.
7. Fulness of love, joy, hope, peace for all.
II. What we are to do with it.
1. Believe it.
2. Receive it.
3. Enjoy it.
4. Live it.
5. Impart it.
6. Die with it in our hearts and on our tongues. (Bp. Villiers.)
The blessings of the gospel
I. The gospel originates from a source of supreme elevation.
1. Men form their opinions of existing systems by referring to the character of their founders. The absence, e.g., of dignity and worth in the founders of systems, is always converted into an argument against the principles they have propounded; and vice versa. This mode of reasoning is, of course, liable to abuse, but if it be applied aright to the gospel and its Founder, it will be discovered as possessing every claim on reverence, admiration, and love. To Christ the gospel is indebted for its existence; and hence in the text the association of His name. Christ unfolded its promises and principles, established its laws, performed its confirmatory miracles, bestowed its efficacy, and constituted those arrangements by which it was to be propagated in the world.
2. There are truths with regard to Him which render Him a character of matchless elevation.
(1) He was without sin.
(2) His human nature was invested with an especial appointment from God the Father.
(3) He was essentially and eternally Divine.
(4) Besides these dignifying truths with regard to Christ, there are His resurrection, ascension, and session as the triumphant Mediator at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Wonder, then, at the amazing dignity which the gospel receives in consequence of its association with such a Being, and measure the imperious claim which the gospel possesses on the reverence, faith, and obedience of mankind.
II. The gospel is fraught with abundant blessings to the world. The very term “gospel” verifies this proposition, Note--
1. The nature of the blessings which the gospel is able to impart. When we speak of these we seem as though we stood at the entrance of a beauteous garden, within whose limits we cannot stir a step without plucking flowers, and beholding fruits on the trees of life, whose “leaves are for the healing of the nations.” The gospel imparts to man
(l) A knowledge of God and of all spiritual truth (Romans 16:25; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Timothy 1:9-10). The communication of this knowledge is essential to all real dignity, to all moral worth, and to the introduction of man into that state where “we shall know even as also we are known.”
(2) A deliverance from the guilt and the power of sin (Romans 3:23-26; Ephesians 2:12-17). Will anyone compare the difference between a state of condemnation and of justification, of pollution, and of holiness, and not at once perceive that here are given blessings so vast that no intellect can compute them, and no fancy conceive them?
(3) Abundant consolation and support amidst all sorrow (2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
2. The extent to which these blessings are to be diffused. A great portion of the value of the blessing depends upon its extent. Now, if the gospel had possessed but a restricted constitution, so as by implication to pass a sentence of outlawry on any portion of the human family, there would be a vast subtraction from its value. But its expansiveness was indicated in prophecy, by Christ’s parables, instructions, and example, and by those series of commissions which He gave to His apostles. Its operations truly have been as yet imperfect, yet there is to arrive an era when the gospel shall become the property of our race. “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth,” etc. And so replete shall be the then weight of blessing, when the groanings of creation shall have been hushed, when its travailing shall have been terminated, and when peace and liberty and joy shall have become the charter of our free and emancipated race, that then shall be totally verified the title of the gospel, “the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of Christ.”
III. The ministry is the appointed instrument for conveying the blessings of the gospel to mankind. The apostle is speaking as one engaged in the exercise of the ministry of the Word. It must be clear that there is here a connection instituted between the ministry and the efficacy of the gospel (Romans 10:13-17; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). There is a solemn call on us--
1. To acquire a perfect knowledge of its contents, and freely and faithfully to declare it to our fellow-men.
2. To honour the ministry by giving “earnest heed” to the things which you hear, remembering that he that despiseth us despiseth not man, but God.
In conclusion, let me remind you--
1. Of the awful danger that will be incurred on your part by the rejection of the gospel.
2. Of your duty to assist in its propagation. (J. Parsons.)
Now I beseech you … that ye strive together with me in your prayers.
Paul’s request for prayer
I. The apostle’s request--that they would pray for him. Especially for--
1. His protection.
2. The success of his mission.
II. The arguments he uses.
1. For Christ’s sake; for the love of Christ, that His cause might be promoted, etc.
2. For the love of the Spirit, wrought in us, exhibited to us.
III. The anticipated result.
1. A prosperous journey to Rome.
2. The mutual joy and edification of all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Pleading for prayer
The apostle of the Gentiles held a very useful and glorious office; but when we consider his struggles, we do not wonder that he was sometimes in great sorrow of heart. He was so now. So he wrote to his brethren to pray for him. Does it astonish you that a man so rich in grace should do so? It need not; for such always feel most their dependence upon God’s people. The larger a man’s trade, the more he is dependent upon those around him. The apostle did a great business for his Lord, and he felt that he could not carry it on unless he had the co-operation of many helpers. “He did not want what are called “hands” to work for him, but hearts to plead for him. In a great battle the general’s name is mentioned; but what could he have done without the common soldiers? Wellington will always be associated with Waterloo; but, after all, it was a soldiers’ battle. Every minister is in much the same condition as Paul. In the text there is--
I. Prayer asked for. Here is--
1. A request to the people of God for prayer in general.
(1) He asks it for himself. It reminds us of Carey, who says, when he goes to India, “I will go down into the pit, but brother Fuller and the rest of you must hold the rope.” A man cannot be charged with egotism if he begs for personal support when he is labouring for others.
(2) He asks it of his “brethren.” He seems to say, “Shew this token of your brotherhood. You cannot go up with me to Jerusalem, and share my danger, but you can by your prayers surround me with Divine protection.”
(3) He asks them to “agonise”--that is the word, a reminder of the great agony in Gethsemane. The apostle felt that an agony alone was too bitter for him, and he therefore cries, “I beseech you,” etc. Now, as the disciples ought to have sympathised with the Saviour, but did not, I trust that the unfaithfulness to the Master will not be repeated upon His servants. “When the uplifted hands of Moses are known to bring a blessing, Aaron and Hur must stay them up when they are seen to grow weary.
(4) He asks, “for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.” What an argument! As you cannot repay what you owe to Christ personally, repay it to His servant by your prayers. But he adds another argument. “For the love of the Spirit.” If the Spirit of God has indeed loved you and proved it by quickening and sanctifying you; if He has created a love in you, which is stronger than mere natural affection, then pray for me. Why do you think the apostle at that special time asked these brethren to pray for him so?
(a) He was going up to Jerusalem, and the Jews would seek to slay him; but he believed that God could overrule all things. We believe this; therefore let us pray that all opposition to His gospel may be overcome.
(b) He was afraid that the Jewish believers would be cold to him, and therefore prays that the Spirit may warm their hearts, so that the offerings from the Grecian Churches might foster a sense of hearty fellowship. Do you not also believe that there is not only a Providence that shapes our ends, but a secret influence which moulds men’s hearts? Therefore we urge you to plead with God that we also may have acceptance with His people.
2. A statement of the apostle’s desires in detail. We should pray for something distinctly. Some prayers fail from want of precision. It is as if a regiment of soldiers should all fire off their guns anyhow. Paul gives his friends three things to pray for:
(1) That he might be delivered from them that did not believe in Judaea. He was delivered, but not in the manner he hoped for. Against all oppositions from without let us pray.
(2) That his service which he had for Jerusalem might be accepted of the saints. This also was granted.
(3) That he might come unto them with joy by the will of God; and might, with them, be refreshed. This petition also was heard, but not as Paul might have desired. He did come to them according to-the will of God, and may have been on his way to Spain, but certainly he was on his way to prison, as he had not purposed. Therefore pray for a blessing, and leave the way of its coming to the good Lord who knoweth all things.
II. The blessing given.
1. Paul, with all his anxiety to gain the prayers of his friends, cannot finish without a benediction upon them.
(1) “Now the God of peace.” What a blessed name! In the Old Testament He s the “Lord of Hosts”; but that is never the style in the New Testament.
(2) “Be with you,” not only “peace be with you,” but, better far, the source and fountain of peace. When “the God of peace” makes peace with Himself, and so keeps our minds at peace within, He also creates peace with one another.
(3) “With you all,” not with some of you, with Priscilla and Aquila, but with Mary, Amplias, etc. Unless all are at peace, none can be perfectly quiet. One brother who is quarrelsome can keep a whole Church in trouble.
2. Paul seems to imply that this will be the result of their prayer. If you will but strive together with me in your prayers, then the God of peace will be with you. We may view it as the reward of such prayer, or as a necessary condition and cause of true prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prayer besought for the ministry
I. The object of the apostle’s request--the prayers of the people. Observe the importunity of his spirit, and the fervency of his manner. Ministers need the prayers of their people, if we consider them--
1. As men. They are men of like passions with ourselves, and are surrounded by manifold temptations.
2. As Christians. They want refreshing with the same water, and stand in need of the same heavenly food as you do.
3. As officers of the Church--as stewards of the mysteries of God.
4. Their work--to negotiate matters with others on behalf of God.
5. Their danger. They are on a hill, and far more the objects of observation than others. A failure in an ordinary member is a serious matter, and is often attended with distress; but a failure in a minister is attended with more serious consequences.
6. Their responsibility.
II. The pleasing emergency on which he founds it.
1. “For the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.” The honour of Christ is bound up with the success of the ministry of the gospel. So the apostle appealed for prayer, not for his own sake, though he might have put it upon that ground, but for his Master’s.
2. “For the love of the Spirit.”
(1) The love which the Spirit has wrought in us. Love to God, to ministers, to souls, is but a feeling which has been wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.
(2) The love which the Spirit has to us. We are in the habit of underrating this love. We dwell on that of the Father, and the Son; but we seldom dwell on the love of the Spirit. And yet that love is most manifest. He strives with us, bears with us, checks us in our wanderings, and creates us anew.
III. The specific end which he had in view.
1. Mutual joy. Ministers sometimes come in fear and in sorrow.
2. Mutual improvement. “That I with you may be refreshed.” (J. Beaumont, M.A.)
The love of the Spirit.--
The love of the Spirit:--Consider
I. The import of the expression here used. It may mean either the love, of which the Spirit is the author in the heart of the believer; or the love of which the Spirit is Himself the object; or most probably, the love which the Spirit bears to them that believe.
II. “the love of the Spirit” as a motive to Christian obedience. The Spirit shows love, as much as the Father or the Son; and the love of the Spirit is as much a motive to duty as the grace of Christ itself. As the love of Christ is displayed chiefly in an external work, so the love of the Spirit is exhibited in His internal operation on the soul. In order to illustrate this love; consider--
1. The absence of anything on our part fitted to attract that Holy Agent. “Not of works, but of His mercy, He saves us by the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” That the Spirit of God should dwell in a holy mind may be well believed; but what manner of love was this which impelled the Spirit to inhabit such a mind as that of the natural man!
2. The fruits of the Spirit; “love, joy, peace,” etc., of what high value are these!
3. The happiness imparted by the Spirit. The word of promise has no power to comfort until it is applied by the Spirit of promise. If we abound in hope, it is through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is emphatically the Comforter; no true joy without His influence; and He is the grand and only preparation for eternal happiness.
4. This love is displayed in His continual operation on the heart, amidst so much opposition, and so much ingratitude.
III. Improvement. Surely we should--
1. Show returns of love to this Spirit of love.
2. Show ourselves meek and docile to such a Teacher and Guide, and prize His influence.
3. Vindicate His character from all low notions of His person, dignity, power and importance.
4. Pray in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, war after the Spirit. (R. Hall, M.A.)
The love of the Spirit
I. In the forms of its evidence.
1. The dictation of the Holy Scriptures. “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Had His influences been withholden, there would have been no Bible; and without the Bible think of the hopeless wretchedness in which we should have been plunged.
2. His teachings. For however incomparable the blessed Book may be of itself, yet in the spirituality of its particular meanings, it can only be understood and realised through the same power that produced it. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
3. His work in relation to the Saviour who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, anointed by Him and filled with Him without measure.
4. His offices which He fills, and the provisions which He makes for us, answering to the spiritual necessities of our nature. Convincing of sin, converting, witnessing, sanctifying, comforting, etc.
II. Its object. Not that His own happiness may be advanced by it, nor that it was forced into exercise by any worthiness of ours. No; as it sprung spontaneously out of the law of His own nature--for “God is love”--so it disinterestedly devoted itself to the promotion of our present and immortal good.
III. The effects it should produce.
1. Love begets love; and surely we should do Him all the honour we can.
2. A humble and unreserved dependence upon Him.
3. An excitement to our prayers.
4. A sincere purpose, an energetic endeavour, to avoid all that will vex and grieve the Holy Spirit.
5. A full display of the graces of the Spirit in our lives. (T. J. Judkin, M. A.)
The love of the Spirit
The Bible is emphatically a revelation, and not an argument; its teachings are dogmatic and absolute. You look in vain in the Bible for anything like an elaborate argumentation to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. The inspired writers everywhere take it for granted. Deny it, and there are profound mysteries which perplex us all. A truth also equally clear in the Scriptures is this, that the Three Persons of the Godhead are equally interested in the great scheme of human redemption.
I. His restraining love. All men are everywhere wicked in heart and life, tyrannised over by the sin which dwells within them. They might be worse; men feel that they are not left to the uncontrolled power of the evil passions; they are conscious of an opposite power. Even savages and cannibals--the most degraded and ignorant of our race--testify that they are conscious of some power beside an evil one acting upon them. And hence the idea obtains in a large portion of the heathen world that there must be two divinities--a bad and a good divinity; and this is the only way in which they can account for the great truth of which they are conscious. It is not the mere fruit of fancy. And this is also true of ourselves. How many evils have been averted, how many bad passions have been restrained, how many schemes of wickedness have been overthrown by the direct action of the Holy Ghost on men’s minds, no man can possibly tell. A gigantic scheme of wickedness is concocted by half-a-dozen persons; but previous to its consummation, one of the company has a strange sense of uneasiness which he cannot help, and he is restless by day and night. His wife or his nearest friend observes there is something on his mind. But the restlessness grows upon him, the man is miserable. Now, what ails the man? Who has caused him to stagger in his fiendish enterprise? No human voice reasoned with him; it is the Holy Ghost in love that acted directly without any human agency upon that man’s conscience and heart. A man is studying to commit murder. The would-be murderer lies under the shadow of the tree waiting for his intended victim. By and by he hears the sounds of human footsteps--a strange irresolution paralyses him--and instead of springing forward to execute his purpose, he falls back powerless. Again I say, what ails the man? What has acted upon his mind? No human being has reasoned with him; but he is so acted upon by the direct agency of the Holy Ghost. Oh! just think for a moment what would have been the state of the world now if all the evil passions of men had been carried out to the utmost.
II. The love of the spirit convicting. The provisions of redemption are ample, and there is no want that we can feel, but what is filled by Christ Jesus. But there are difficulties that stand in the way. Man does not feel his need of these provisions, man is not conscious that he requires a Saviour, he does not entertain the same views of sin that God does, and he thinks he can do without redemption. “Oh!” he says, “sin is only a harmless gratification of human passions, over which I am not responsible, which were born with me into the world.” And so men do not see any grandeur and reality in the scheme of redemption. Man plays gaily and foolishly on the verge of an awful precipice in a blindfolded condition, and knows not the terrible death under his feet. If you would make him watchful, and to turn away from the verge of that danger, you must convince him there is danger. Man will never seek liberty until he is convinced of his bondage; he will never seek or appreciate the remedy until he is made conscious of his disease. Who is to awake his mind and give him this sight, and thus prepare him for the reception of mercy? It is the Holy Ghost, and He, out of love to us, has made suitable provision for bringing home to individual consciences the sense of sin and danger. He has embodied for us God’s thoughts, which man could never have discovered, and has raised up men to commit these thoughts to writing, and has raised up a succession of men to apply these truths. He does not, for instance, convince the drunkard of drunkenness, or the blasphemer of blasphemy. That is not the mode in which the Spirit operates on human consciences. But He convinces men of the sinfulness of their nature, that sin is in them; generally speaking, the light is shed inwardly, and the man sees himself, not his life, and he is horrified. If the Holy Ghost awakens within you a sense of sinfulness, He does not rest there, but reveals to you at the same time a remedy, and that you must perish, not because you have sinned, but because you reject the only Saviour from sin. It is a rough process, and God has rough mercies as well as tender mercies. But there is another difficulty in the way. Even when man is convinced of his sin and danger, Jesus is not the first remedy that he repairs to, as a rule. There is something so humiliating in being saved by another, that a man will try a variety of ways before he submits to God’s way. He will give up a bad habit, hope to reform himself, and thus divide the glory of salvation with Jesus by doing a little for himself; and it is the Holy Ghost who follows the sinner in his wanderings, drives him out of these false refuges. It is the love of the Holy Ghost, as though driving a man into the only path which will lead him into immortality and blessedness.
III. There is the forbearing love of the Spirit. A mother displays a vast amount towards her child, when she watches the sickly infant by day and by night. No doubt that is a high manifestation of love, because it is shown while the child is not capable of appreciating that affection, but it is not the highest. That child grows up to youth and manhood, and he becomes a profligate, and, not only neglectful, but positively cruel. She cannot cast him out of her heart, she yearns for him still, and nothing would rejoice the mother more than to see the lad return. And such is the love of the Holy Ghost. It is a love which survives ingratitude, insult, rebellion, blasphemy. He presents Himself to you again and again, not for the purpose of asking a gift, but of conferring one. If you were in a condition of temporal distress, and a neighbour heard of it who knew nothing about you, and out of pure benevolence offered to alleviate your sorrow, you would feel you were not capable of saying--“I will not accept his offer, but prefer to remain in my condition.” And if you did refuse his offer of assistance, the benefactor would not be very likely to offer himself another time. No, humanity would say, “such a wretch as that deserves no relief; let him alone.” And this is the conduct of some of you towards the Holy Ghost. His forbearance is Divine, but it has limits.
IV. His condescending love. Now the work of Christ has relation to the Lawgiver; the work of the Spirit has relation to the law breaker. Jesus Christ had to offer a demand to the satisfaction of the Lawgiver, but the Holy Spirit has to come and make the sinner willing to accept of the provision. The blessed Saviour had no difficulty in persuading the Father to accept of His substitution on behalf of humanity. But here lies a sad truth. When the Holy Ghost comes to man, He finds it difficult to persuade man to accept of the provisions of Christ, and yet He condescends to repeat His visit. You admire the condescension of a man like Howard, who penetrated distant countries, and exposed himself to rude insults, who entered hospitals and prisons, and visited the guilty and degraded. But what shall we say of the condescending love of the Holy Ghost, when we remember the theatre He has selected for His signal action, for His most powerful operations. It is a stupendous exhibition of the condescending love for that Spirit to come down and live for hundreds and thousands of years in the vilest place in the universe--the heart of humanity. (R. Roberts.)
That I may be delivered.
The propriety of prayer for temporal deliverance
How different is this from the language of Ignatius, who seemed rather to call for the prayers of his brethren, that he might be honoured with a crown of martyrdom, than to be preserved from his enemies. Christians ought to be willing to give their lives for Christ rather than deny Him or refuse to do any part of His known will. But it is not only lawful but dutiful to take every proper means for their deliverance out of danger. If even an apostle, in the cause of Christ, was so desirous of preserving life, what shall we think of those who profess a spirit of indifference respecting it, which would wantonly throw it away? (R. Haldane.)
Two important elements of ministerial comfort and success
I. Deliverance from them that believe not. Because--
1. They hate the truth.
2. Interpose difficulties.
3. Prevent success.
II. Acceptance with the Church. Because--
1. It encourages zeal.
2. Makes labour delightful.
3. Insures prosperity. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.--
The pastor’s incoming
I. On what grounds? I have come--“by the will of God.”
1. In planning his own movements, Paul exercised Christian common-sense. Thus his work was distinguished from that of Peter, etc. (Galatians 2:9). Thus he abstained from Jerusalem and Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:23), and varied his plans. But he ever consulted the will of God, and found it sometimes identical with his own, and sometimes not (2 Corinthians 1:17; Acts 16:7). He was sure he ought to see Rome (Acts 19:20), and long desired it (Romans 15:23), and prayed for it (Romans 1:10; Romans 15:30). Yet he found that God’s will was different from his as to time and manner.
2. The will of God is that which He sees best to be done, or to be, for all creatures. Every star that shines is an embodied will of God. But there is a higher region of intelligence and love. Nature is blindly obedient. Far above it are the hosts that are little miniatures of God. Christ could ask for nothing more than that, as in heaven, so on earth, God’s will might be done.
3. Now, it is the privilege of a Christian not only to have the written will of God in general, but to be able also to ascertain God’s will as to our separate movements. This was afforded to Israel by the “pillar of cloud and fire,” and is not less so now. Let a man do three things--clear his heart of self-will; use his best judgment, aided by counsel; and pray. And is it presumptuous to believe that through the blended circumstances, the many counsels and prayers, I am here by the will of God?
II. With what purpose? Note--
1. The sphere within which the effect of the ministry is to be sought. The pastor aims at an effect on the spirit of man. When the six days have run you down; when your spirit is weary, dull, and almost without holy thought or desire, you need, and I hope, will find rest and refreshment here.
2. The identity of the preacher’s experience and his hearers’. I preach not a Saviour that I do not need myself. “With you” I come to “be refreshed”; with the same nature and needs, and to the same supply. In this identity lies one of the chief charms of the ministry.
III. In what mood? “With joy.” There is in the responsibilities of the ministry much to oppress. Yet I do come with joy--
1. That there is such refreshment provided for weary souls.
2. That I am permitted the honour of ministering the same, and to stand in the happy relationship which never fails to rise out of a faithful ministry.
3. That the Lord Himself will be with us.
4. In hope of the final joy of the Lord. Conclusion: All this turns on one condition. Paul did not hope for it in his case apart from prayer (Romans 15:30-33). (S. Hebditch.)
1. The Christian is often--
2. This arises from--
(1) The labour and conflict of life.
(2) The world’s spiritual barrenness.
1. In the means of grace--prayer, hearing, reading, singing, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and in Christian fellowship (Proverbs 27:17).
2. By Christ Himself. “Come unto Me,” etc. (Psalms 23:1-6; Mark 6:31).
III. Should be enjoyed.
1. The consequences of its enjoyment.
(1) Augmented strength.
(2) Invigorated courage.
(3) Happy feelings.
2. The consequences of its neglect.
(3) Misery. (J. W. Burn.)
Now the God of peace be with you all.--
The God of peace
Whatever may be the amount of agitation in the universe, there is one Being without one ripple upon the clear and fathomless river of His nature. Three things are implied in this. That there is nothing--
I. Malign in His nature. Wherever there is jealousy, wrath, or malice, there can be no peace. Malevolence in any form or degree is soul-disturbing. In whatever mind it exists it is like a tide in the ocean, producing eternal restlessness, But the Infinite heart is love.
II. Remorseful. Wherever conscience accuses of wrong there is no peace. Moral self-complaisance is essential to spirit peace. God has never done wrong, and His infinite conscience smiles upon Him and blesses Him with peace.
III. Apprehensive. Wherever there is a foreboding of evil, there is a mental disturbance. Fear is essentially an agitating principle. The Infinite has no fear. He is the absolute master of His position. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The God of peace
I. His nature is peace.
II. His purpose is peace.
III. His presence secures peace.
1. In every heart.
2. Among Christian brethren.
3. From foes without.
4. Under all circumstances. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The God of peace
I. God is the original possessor of this blessing, in its eternal and infinite fulness. In the Divine nature all is in harmony, because all is perfect. Truth, justice, wisdom, and goodness, are in the nature of things consistent with themselves and with each other. If it were possible for the infinite nature to be swayed by storms of passion, and changed by course of time and events, for the hand that upholds all worlds to tremble--even the destruction of all worlds would be a less calamity than this. But this is the one grand impossibility; “Though we believe not, He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” And since there is no discord, strife or change in His nature, these must arise from something contrary to it. He can have no delight in them. His works must reflect His character, and He must delight to fill and bless the hearts of His creatures with the image of His own Divine peace.
II. God is the Author and Giver of peace.
1. Between Himself and His sinful creatures. The first announcement of the gospel was “Peace on earth,” its first invitation, “Acquaint thyself with Him, and be at peace.” The Word of God sounds, indeed, an awful note of alarm against those who are resting in a false peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” But this is only like the cry of “fire!” when you are asleep, and your roof is burning over you; or of “breakers a-head!” when your ship is driving on towards a lee shore. You are told your danger that you may escape it. If you will lay down your arms and fling open the gates to receive your King, He will enter, not as an Avenger or a Judge, but a Redeemer and Friend (Isaiah 1:19). Peace with God’s law, or in other words, freedom from condemnation, is the first blessing which the gospel offers. As soon as we believe in it, it is ours (1 John 1:9; Romans 5:1). The cause of this exercise, of God’s pardoning mercy, is His love to His guilty child. And the end for which it is bestowed is to bring back the estranged heart, and fill it with love to Him. So the peace which God offers is not merely peace with the law, but peace with Himself.
2. God makes the heart at peace with itself. The carnal heart is at enmity not only with God, but with itself. Pleasure it may have, but not peace. Sin has destroyed the balance of our nature, which only the influence of God’s Spirit can either preserve or restore. The love of God being absent, the ruling affection of the soul is wanting. First, the word of Christ applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, brings back God to the throne of the heart, and love to Him becomes the ruling affection. Next, this puts the law of God in a wholly new light. Its condemning terror being taken away by the blood of the Cross, we find that, instead of an enemy, it is a friend. So the schism between duty and inclination, law and love, conscience and will, is healed. Then, as nothing so divides the soul as the multitude of varying aims, and nothing so unites it as to have all its powers absorbed in one practical pursuit; the gospel gives us a single object, and that the noblest to live for--the glory of Christ; and a single hope, and that the most precious and certain--eternal life in inseparable union with Christ and His Church.
3. When the soul is thus at peace with God, and at peace with itself, it is comparatively an easy thing to keep it at peace in the midst of all outward causes of trouble. He could easily, if He pleased, keep us out of the reach of trouble; but He sees it fitter and happier to make us experience His power to give peace in the midst of it. He has given us our hope in Him “as the anchor of the soul,” and He will have it proved in the storm. And the greatest triumph of Divine peace is that which our Saviour promises, “These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace” (Isaiah 26:3).
4. The fullest manifestation of God’s character as the God of peace is to be revealed and enjoyed hereafter. There is a world of peace. There remaineth a rest for the people of God. (E. R. Conder, D.D.)
The God of peace
I. The title. Mars amongst the heathens was called the god of war; Janus was worshipped in periods of strife; but our God styles Himself the God of peace. Although He permits war sometimes for necessary purposes, and has even styled Himself the Lord, mighty in battle, yet His holy mind abhors bloodshed. Peace is His delight.
1. This is so with all the Persons in the Trinity.
(1) God the Father is the God of peace, for He planned the great covenant of peace; He justifies, and thereby implants peace in the soul.
(2) God the Son is the God of peace; for “He is our peace,” etc. He makes peace between God and man, in the conscience and in the heart, and in the Church.
(3) The Holy Ghost is the God of peace. He of old brought peace out of confusion, by the brooding of His wings. So in dark chaotic souls He is the God of peace. When by earthly cares we are tossed about, He says, “Peace be still.” He it is who on the Sabbath-day brings His people into a state of serenity. And He shall be the God of peace at life’s latest hour, and land us save in heaven.
2. He is the God of peace because--
(1) He created nothing but peace. See if in the great harp of nature there is one string which when touched by its Maker giveth forth discord; see if the pipes of this great organ do not all play harmoniously! When God made the angels did He fashion one of them with the least ill-will in His bosom? Go into the Garden of Eden: there is nothing of tumult.
(2) He restores it. Nothing shows a man to be much fender of peace than when he seeks to make peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” God is the great Peacemaker. When Satan fell, there was war in heaven. God made peace there, for He smote Satan. But when man fell, God made peace not by His power, but by His mercy.
(3) He is the Preserver of peace.
(a) Whenever I see peace in the world, I ascribe it to God. So combustible are the materials here that I am ever apprehensive of war. “Whence come wars and fightings? Come they not from your lusts?” If, then, we desire peace between nations, let us seek it of God, who is the great Pacificator.
(b) There is an inward peace which God alone can keep. Is thy peace marred? Go to God, and He can say, “Peace, be still”; for He is the God of peace.
(4) He shall perfect and consummate it at last. There is war in the world now; but there is a time coming when there shall be peace on earth and throughout all God’s dominions.
II. The benediction.
1. Its necessity. Because there are enemies to peace always lurking in all societies.
(2) Ambition. “Diotrephes loveth to have the pre-eminence,” and that fellow has spoiled many a happy Church.
2. Its appropriateness. We indeed ought to have peace amongst ourselves. Joseph said to his brethren when they were going home to his father’s house, “See that ye fall not out by the way.” Ye have all one father, ye are of one family. The way is rough; there are enemies to stop you. Keep together; stand by one another: defend each other’s character. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Peace with all
I. Whence it flows--from the God of peace.
II. How it is secured--by His presence.
III. What is the result--peace--
3. With all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29