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Wherefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest.
1. He has a knowledge of his duty.
2. He was created with ability to perform it.
3. He knows the consequences of neglecting it.
4. He condemns others for doing what he does himself.
II. What ever be--
1. The nation to which he belongs.
2. The profession he makes.
3. The privileges he enjoys.
4. The position he occupies. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Jews as bad as pagans
The tests of the Jews’ pretentious lay to hand in the facts of Jewish life. Did the morals of his countrymen fit them to stand before the righteous tribunal of Eternal Justice? Had they so kept their boasted law as to attain by it to practical righteousness? Let the observation of the Roman world reply. The appeal is a rough and ready one--fit for the occasion. In his own case, Paul’s Hebrew life had been outwardly pure. Like a good many of his contemporaries, especially among the Palestinian schools, he could accuse himself of no patent vices. Here, however, he is writing to a community familiar with foreign Jews resident in a city where of all others the basest elements from every land flowed together to make one another worse; and he could appeal to the observation of the Roman Christians whether the Jews of Rome were not as bad in morals as any pagan--nay, whether the very name of Jew had not come to be on Gentile lips a word of opprobrium and reproach. A vagrant life, association with the servile population of great towns, an equivocal position in the eyes of Roman law, social exclusion, the necessity of living by their wits and amassing bullion instead of stable property, these causes were already at work creating that deteriorated type of Hebrew character which has long been fixed in Europe. From independent witnesses we know that the Jews were at that day the gipsy, the usurer, the fortune teller, the pander, and the slave agent of the Roman world; everywhere living on the vices of the heathen whom he despised; one of the most restless, turbulent, and despicable elements in that corrupt society. And this is what has come of Israel’s religious privileges and ancestral glories. This was the upshot of the national attempt to attain to the righteousness of God by the works of “the law.” An open rupture betwixt profession and performance, between religion and morals; on one side, a faith which was mocked by their life; on the other, a life which was condemned by their faith. For while in morals they were a byword even to the heathens, these same Jews were eaten up with religious self-importance, and looked down on heathens as outcasts and unclean. Arrogant and bigoted zeal for proselytysing went hand in hand, therefore, with personal profligacy. It was nothing to be a cheat or a procurer: it was everything to know the true God, and to be circumcised and to be instructed in the law. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
I. Its prevalence.
II. Its folly.
III. Its inexcusableness. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Hypocrisy is almost always unconscious: it draws the veil over its own evil deeds, while it condemns those of others, not intentionally, but because human nature is strangely gifted with the power of deceiving itself. It is popularly described as “pretending to be one thing, and doing, thinking, or feeling another”; in fact it is very different. Nobody really leads this sort of divided existence. A man does wrong, but he forgets it again; he sees the same fault in another, and condemns it; but no arrow of conscience reaches him, no law of association suggests to him that he has sinned too. Human character is weak and plastic, and soon reforms itself into a deceitful whole. Indignation may be honestly felt at others by men who do the same thing themselves; they may often be said to relieve their own conscience, perhaps even to strengthen the moral sentiments of mankind, by their expression of it. So that hypocrisy, though the worst of sins, is for the most part weakness and self-deception. The Scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites,” regarded their own lives in a very different light from that in which our Lord has pictured them. Their hypocrisy, too, might be described as weakness and self-deception, only heightened and made more intense by the time and country in which they lived. It was the hypocrisy of an age and a state of society--blinder, perhaps, and more fatal in its consequences for this very reason, but less culpable in the individuals who were guilty of it. Those who said, “We have a law, and by it He ought to die,” were not without a zeal for God, though seeking to take away Him in whom only the law was fulfilled. But although experience of ourselves and others seems to show that hypocrisy is almost always unconscious, such is not the idea that we ordinarily attach to the word. The reason is--
1. That the strong contrast we observe between the seeming and the reality, between the acts and words of the hypocrite, lead us to speak as though the contrast were present and conscious to himself. We cannot follow the subtle mazes through which he leads himself; we see only the palpable outward effect.
2. The notion that hypocrisy is self-deception or weakness is inadequate to express our abhorrence of it.
3. Our use of language is adapted to the common opinions of mankind, and is incapable of expressing the finer shades of human nature. (Prof. Jowett.)
The self-righteous and the hypocrite tried and condemned by
I. Conscience (Romans 2:1-3).
II. The mercy of God (Romans 2:4).
III. Eternal justice (Romans 2:5-11). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. This sin is to be avoided, because--
1. We are incapable of judging accurately.
2. We are not invested with the office of judge (Romans 14:4; James 4:12).
3. Judging others is generally the effect of uncharitableness; and--
4. Is expressly forbidden by Christ.
II. In order to avoid this sin--
1. Be slow to judge, and do not condemn without evidence.
2. While different motives are possible, do not ascribe an action to the worst.
3. When there is just ground for doubt, suspend your judgment.
4. When you are obliged to condemn, do it with regret.
5. Listen calmly to apology, and readily admit every explanation.
6. Confound not in one general censure all of a party or sect.
7. View men’s actions in the sunshine of charity, not in the shade of moroseness. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
By doing so a man--
I. Demonstrates his own guilt.
1. He knows the law.
2. He violates it.
II. Denies the justice of God.
1. Its equity.
2. Its severity.
III. Despises God’s mercy.
1. As if he needed it not.
2. He will not repent.
3. He treasures up wrath. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The judges judged
I. To whom the expostulation is addressed. The disposition here reproved shows itself in--
1. Worldlings towards--
(1) Each other.
(2) Professing Christians.
2. Religious persons towards--
(1) Each other.
(2) The world.
II. The address itself. Concerning uncharitable persons it shows--
1. How vain their hopes.
2. How aggravated their guilt.
3. How fearful their prospects.
1. Do not occupy yourselves too much about others, but rather take heed to yourselves.
2. Above all things seek to know your need of a Saviour. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The final judgment foreshadowed
It had been clearly established against the Gentiles that they were inexcusable, and that there could be no hope of their escape but on the ground of the salvation revealed in the gospel. But of such salvation the Jew stood in equal need. Only to convince him of it a different process was required. Confident that he should escape the just punishment of sin, it was necessary to convince him that the grounds of his expectation were false. He is, therefore, reminded--
I. That, in pronouncing judgment upon the sins of others, he was but foreshadowing his own doom, for that the judgment of God is always according to truth. It is true that Paul’s reasoning would be equally conclusive against Jew or Gentile, but there is no intimation that the latter meted out condemnation only to others; or that he flattered himself that, while they were justly punished, he should escape. But the fond thought of many a Jew was that his interest with the Eternal Judge was too intimate, powerful, and well assured to render it possible that he should be punished as other sinners (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33-44). Now the apostle would have him understand that such a hope was vain. No external connection with the kingdom of God; no attention to the requirements of religious ritual can possibly avail to deliver any man from wrath if it does not avail to save him from his sins (Isaiah 1:11-20). Neither circumcision nor baptism, neither the sacrifices of Judaism nor even the precious blood of Christ, will screen a man from wrath who does not honestly consent to abandon his sinful practices.
II. That the riches of God’s goodness were intended to lead him to repentance, and that, therefore, his continued sinfulness would but serve to enhance his guilt.
1. In specifying “the riches of God’s goodness,” etc., the apostle refers to those aboundings of grace which pertained specially to the Jews. The words of Moses indicate at once their character and purpose (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). The Mosaic institutions, the Abrahamic covenant, the whole of the Old Testament, and the disciplinary dealing of God with the nation, had but this one object, “That they should fear the Lord,” etc. (Deuteronomy 10:12). To this end mercy was promised them upon repentance; and, for the like purpose, all gracious instruction, aid, defence, and supply were assured to them. But should they, notwithstanding all this, refuse to repent and to become a holy people, then they should be overtaken by wrath.
2. The purpose and tendency of the goodness of God was to lead them to repentance. But it required the concurrence of their own wills, which, however, they would not render. Their hearts were hard and impenitent. They valued their religious institutions only so far as they supposed that, through their magic influence, the consequences of their sins should never overtake them. Moses had clearly foreseen this abuse of God’s goodness, and had strongly warned the people against it (Deuteronomy 29:18-20). Yet, notwithstanding this, the people, from generation to generation, did bless themselves in their hearts, saying, “Peace! peace!” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 23:16-17). Therefore was sent to them the scathing rebuke (Isaiah 6:9-10).
III. That the day for the revelation of wrath is fixed and that the decisions shall then be in accordance with the strictest equity. This day is not one of probation, in which, along with a revelation of wrath, there is also a revelation of mercy; but one in which, probation being concluded, its lasting results will be disclosed. It is stated--
1. That the judgments of that day shall proceed upon character and works alone. Such is the uniform and consistent doctrine of Scripture. The question of questions will be not to what nation or Church the man belonged; not, “Was he duly circumcised or baptized?” This, too, was the teaching of the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Proverbs 11:21; Proverbs 11:21; Psalms 1:5-6) and of Christ Himself (Matthew 7:21). If a man despise the goodness of God, and continue in his sins to the end of life, then all his sins, with all their evil influence upon his own character, must go with him to the judgment, and he must bear the punishment of all. But if, softened by the riches of that goodness, he yields to the gracious influence, then, by virtue of the Atonement, his iniquity shall be taken away (Ezekiel 18:21-22; Matthew 18:3).
2. That the rule of judgment shall be administered without respect of persons. That which is pronounced wicked in a heathen will be pronounced equally wicked in a Jew or a Christian. Nay, more so (Luke 12:47-48). Therefore, “as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law,” etc.
3. That the judgment of that day will be so far from opening up a way of escape for the Jew that it will disclose for his portion a “how-much-sorer punishment.” And this according to the solemn warning of the Judge Himself (Matthew 11:21-24). His sin is greatest who has sinned against the fullest light and the richest grace. Therefore there must be provided a deeper hell of “tribulation and anguish” for the obdurate Jew than for the impenitent Gentile; but the deepest must needs, on the same principle, be reserved for those who have sinned away the day of Christian light and salvation.
4. The results of the judgment, shall be to the righteous eternal life, i.e., an immortality of supremely blessed existence. To the impenitent and disobedient it shall be a revelation of “indignation and wrath,” producing “tribulation and anguish.” And as the award shall be final, so too the results shall be ever-enduring (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). One way there is, but only one, by which sinful men may escape from the terrors of that great day--the way of repentance. Obviously that way of escape was open to the Jew even before the advent of Christ (Ezekiel 18:30), and was assumed by Paul to be available for the sinful Jew still, and also for the sinful Gentile (Romans 2:26-29). (W. Tyson.)
Judgment--human and Divine
I. Human judgment is pronounced by inconsistent men. The men who judge, often those who judge most sternly, are themselves guilty. David and Nathan. The accusers and the woman taken in adultery. In the light of the Sermon on the Mount we are all inconsistent.
II. Divine judgment is pronounced by a perfectly righteous Being. We notice--
1. The standard by which God judges--truth.
2. The spirit in which God judges. His judgment is--
(1) Long suffering;
3. The character of the Divine Judge is--
(1) An inspiration to those who seek well-doing.
(2) A terror to those who obey unrighteousness. (U. R. Thomas.)
The judgment of God
It is easy for us to see sin in others, and to join in general confessions of sin, in which we seem to include ourselves. But it is very bard to acknowledge it penitently before God. There is, in every man’s heart, a subtle element of self-flattery, which leads him to extenuate or deny his own offences, while yet he is very forward to condemn the iniquities of his neighbours. When Haldane read to D’Aubigne a chapter from this Epistle concerning the natural corruption of man, he said, “Now I do, indeed, see it in the Bible.” “Yes,” replied Haldane, “but do you see it in your heart?”--a home thrust which awakened a sense of sin, and led to his conversion. Thus Paul proceeds here to bring home to every man’s conscience the terrible charge advanced against the world at large in the latter part of chap. 1. He knew that many who, while acknowledging the general correctness of his statements, would make an exception of themselves. None would be more ready to do this than the Jews. The apostle therefore approaches them warily, beginning with appeals of a more general character, and then coming gradually down to a direct application of his argument to every self-righteous descendant of Abraham. Let us notice--
I. Those who exempt and excuse themselves from the general charge of the world’s abounding wickedness.
1. The Greeks, or Gentiles. Among these were many who could condemn their neighbours most severely, while yet they openly commended themselves. Even Socrates could practise in secret gross sensualities which he inveighed against in public. There were men who were by nature less savage or less treacherous than their fellows; but there were vices of disposition, such as envy, malice, and revenge, in which they freely, if not vauntingly, participated. Then there were men of refinement whose only difference from the licentious mob was in the superior delicacy of their pleasures, the higher artfulness of their hypocrisies, the closer secrecy of their excesses. And have not we also many classes of character, the exact counterpart of those just described--those who have not yet been found out, or are careful to avoid all coarse and flagrant forms of vice; but are selfish, covetous, proud, or vindictive? And are not these dispositions as certainly the manifestations of a corrupt heart as many fouler sins from which they fastidiously shrink? Therefore are they without excuse, for in judging others they condemn themselves.
2. The Jews. Their common delusion was to fancy themselves free from condemnation, merely because they possessed the oracles of God and enjoyed special tokens of the Divine regard. They thus missed the very object of the kindness extended toward them. It was meant to lead them to repentance; but they used it to build up their pride and confirm their obduracy. And have they not also their representatives in the Christian pale? There are many amongst us who pride themselves on their religious advantages without ever improving them to their own salvation. Are you, then, better than the heathen, because you possess the Bible, rest on the Sunday, and attend the sanctuary? Is it enough that you hear the law, without obeying it? The enjoyment of these advantages only heightens your obligation, adds to your responsibility, and may make you at last tenfold more the child of hell than the pagans you despise. “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
II. The final judgment of the world by Jesus Christ.
1. This is a peculiarly gospel disclosure. True, there were premonitions of it amongst the heathen, as there were pre-intimations of it in the Old Testament; but still it was left to Christ and His apostles to develop the doctrine. Here we learn that a day is determined on by God to be devoted to that exclusive business. We need not conceive of a day consisting of twenty-four hours, but rather of a vast period--just as we call the term of gospel grace the day of salvation, or of immortal ages as the day of eternity. Over the affairs of that day shall the Son of Man preside in person. Before His bar all nations must be arraigned. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” and answer for the things done in the body.
2. Mark its impartiality. “There is no respect of persons with God.” No man’s case will be prejudiced by his circumstances, and no man will find favour because of the accidents of birth and position. We can conceive of no motives of favouritism in the mind of God. And certainly it will be impossible either to corrupt the Judge with bribes, to pervert Him by flattery, or to overcome Him with threats. The wise will not be saved by his wisdom, nor the strong by his strength, nor the rich by his riches, nor the noble by his rank; youth and beauty will be as powerless as decrepitude and age.
3. Its strict equity. Each must receive according to his deeds, whether good or evil. What, then, is the moral amenability of the extra-Christian world? What the possibility of its salvation? (verses 12-15.) The heathen world was not left wholly without a knowledge of right and wrong. Also, in highly civilised countries, wise men had been raised up who had carefully sought out the rule of virtue, and thus established many correct principles of moral guidance, which gained the consent of their fellow citizens, and might have served to lead them far on in the path of righteousness. If the light of Christianity is that of the sun, the light of Judaism that of the moon, the rest had at least the light of many stars. The same state of things is still found among unchristian peoples. They have both religious feelings and moral convictions. Thus is the foundation laid for a future judgment, extending to all. All have within or amongst them a law, through the operation of which they are held amenable to their Creator, and are preparing to stand before His judgment bar. And thus may they perish without the law, although, in such a case, their guilt will be less and their doom more endurable than that of men who sin amid all the illumination of Scriptural truth. And so also it is possible for some to be saved, if, with honest purpose, they follow up the light they possess and sincerely seek to please God. Thus may it come to pass that from every heathen land redeemed souls may come and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God. Any way, the judgment of the great King will be according to truth and justice. To whom much has been given, from him much will be expected; and only little from him whose advantages have been few.
4. The principle of judgment will be a strict regard to the actions of men. Universally, throughout the Bible, is this doctrine affirmed (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 25:1-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:13). Yet none will be saved by their works as works, but only as evidential of a right and honest state of will and feeling; a state produced, in all cases, by the influence of the Holy Ghost through such light of truth as may be enjoyed. This principle will not invalidate, but only the more elucidate and confirm, the fundamental arrangement of grace that “the just shall live by faith.”
5. The grand bearings of the final judgment upon the destiny of men (verses 6-10). Two awards, and only two, will result from the proceedings of the great judgment day. The good will be thenceforward and for evermore separated from the evil; the former will enter into a state of absolute enjoyment and peace, while the latter will be consigned to an abode of unmitigated wretchedness and infamy. (T. G. Horton.)
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth.
God’s judgment is
I. Correct; according to the facts of the case.
II. Impartial; according to a true moral standard, having respect to character.
III. Equitable; according to the principles of infallible justice. By Him actions are weighed (1 Samuel 2:3). “Tekel” is written on each one’s conduct (Daniel 5:27). Job’s wish (Job 31:6) is realised in all. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The final judgment of God
When Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zachai was sick his disciples came to visit him, and when he saw them he began to weep. They said to him, “Rabbi, the light of Israel, the right-hand pillar, the strong hammer, wherefore dost thou weep?” He answered, “If they were carrying me before a king of flesh and blood, who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, who, if he were angry with me, his anger would not last forever; if he put me in prison, his prison would not be everlasting; if he condemned me to death, that death would not be eternal; whom I could soothe with words or bribe with riches; yet even in such circumstances I should weep. But now I am going before the King of kings, the holy and blessed God, who liveth and endureth; who, if He be angry with me, His anger will last forever; if He put me in prison, His bondage will be everlasting; if He condemn me to death, that death will be eternal; whom I cannot soothe with words nor bribe with riches. When, further, there are before me two ways, the one to hell and the other to paradise, and I know not into which they are carrying me, shall I not weep?” (Talmud.)
The sure judgment of God
Said Anne of Austria, the Queen of France, to her implacable enemy, Cardinal Richelieu, “My lord cardinal, there is one fact which you seem to have entirely forgotten. God is a sure paymaster. He may not pay at the end of every week or month or year; but I charge you, remember that He pays in the end.”
The justice of God’s judgment
I. This we see in its--
II. Of this we have the assurance in--
1. God’s own nature.
2. His Word.
3. His providence.
4. Conscience. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And thinkest thou … that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
The sinners’ folly
I. Their conduct.
1. They judge others.
2. Forget themselves.
3. Dream of impunity.
II. Its folly. There is but--
1. One law.
2. One judge.
3. One judgment. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
No escaping God’s judgment
I. The Jews thought to escape it, on the grounds of--
1. Their relation to Abraham.
2. Their possession of the law.
3. Their circumcision.
4. Benefits already received.
5. Their own good works.
6. The merits of their ancestors.
7. Their ceremonies such as the Day of Atonement, etc.
II. Men in general think to escape it. With as little reason, through--
1. Wealth, power, or exalted position.
2. Poverty or insignificance.
3. Religious profession, Church membership, or sacred office.
4. Personal conduct.
5. Pious ancestry.
6. Practice of religious rites.
7. Prayers, fastings, almsgivings.
III. The impossibility of this.
1. The Jews were solemnly warned that they should not escape (Amos 9:1-4; Psalms 50:7-22).
2. The only escape is through Christ (Acts 4:12), just as the only refuge from the flood was in the provided ark (1 Peter 3:20-21).
3. The guilty flee, the pardoned alone escape the judgment of God. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The gradual but inevitable advance of Divine judgment
Slow goes the hand of justice, like the shadow on the sundial; ever moving, yet slowly creeping on, with a motion all but imperceptible. Still stand in awe. The hand of justice has not stopped, although imperceptible it steadily advances; by and by it reaches the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth hour. And now the bell strikes. Then unless you have fled to Christ, the blow which was so slow to fall, shall descend over the head of impenitence with accumulated force. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness.
I will give nothing for that preaching that is like the sheet lightning, flaming over a broad expanse, but altogether harmless. The apostle fixes his eye on a single person who had condemned others for transgressions in which he himself indulged; one who did not place his candle on his table to light his own room, but held it out at the door, to inspect therewith his neighbours who passed by. He thinks he shall escape in the future, and so despises the present goodness and long suffering of the Most High. Let me speak to thee, unregenerate man, of--
I. The goodness of God which thou hast experienced.
1. In temporal things. You have, perhaps, been prospered above your fellows. God has granted you wealth and health. You are happy in your wife and children. A thousand evils have been kept from you.
2. In spiritual things. You are in the very focus of Christian light. The Word of God is on your table; you hear the earnest preaching of the gospel. A tender conscience makes your road to perdition peculiarly hard. The Spirit has so striven with you that you were at times almost ready to drop into the Saviour’s arms.
3. He has been forbearing and long suffering for your sins. Forbearance has to do with the magnitude of sin; long suffering with the multiplicity of it. Many have been snatched from vice only to return to its deep ditch of filthiness. They have trembled on the brink of death, yet God has permitted them to recover strength. They slight His love, yet He perseveres in it. How many years you have been heaping up the loads of transgression! Yet here you are still, on praying ground and pleading terms with God. Think, also, who and what God is, who displays this long suffering. Think of His goodness: why should you provoke Him? Think of His omniscience: every transgression is committed in His very presence. Think of how powerful He is: your wicked heart would cease to beat if He should withdraw His power. Think of His purity: sin is much more intolerable to Him than to us.
II. The sin of which thou art suspected. Some despise God’s goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, because--
1. They never even gave a thought to it. God has given you life, and indulged you with kindness; yet it has never occurred to you that this patience is worthy of the smallest thanks. You have been of no service to your Maker, nor even thought of being of service to Him. Others have, perhaps, thought of it, but never meditated thereon.
2. Because they imagine God does not take any great account of what they do. So long as they avoid gross and open sin, they think it of light consequence not to love God.
3. They think the threatenings of God will never be fulfilled. They think, because the blow is long delayed, it never will come.
III. The knowledge of which thou art forgetful. The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance--
1. By giving opportunity to repent. All these years have been given you, that you might turn to God: yet you are spared only to multiply your transgressions.
2. By suggestions to repent. Life and death, heaven and hell, call upon you so to do. Every page of the Bible, every sermon, calls you to repent. Nature is full of voices warning you.
3. By leading to repentance. His mercies lead you. If they fail, He turns you by admonition. He leads you; hence He will help you, and will accept your repentance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The principal thoughts of these words are the wonderful things which meet our observation--the wonderful conduct of God.
I. The wonderful conduct of God. How grand is the expression! It is not merely the “goodness,” etc., but the “riches” of them all.
1. God is rich. We lay up a few thousands, or purchase a few acres and call ourselves rich; but God is the owner of all. Our world is but a speck of sand in His possessions. How stupendous, then, that He should accept the halfpence which some of you give to His cause! Then think of His spiritual wealth--the souls He owns--how much more astounding this than His material!
2. We are here directed to His wealth of goodness. Here is an ocean unfathomable. We know so little of what goodness really consists in that we can only stand and gaze on the surface. The riches of Divine goodness are more wonderful than those of Divine possession.
3. This goodness is manifested in “long suffering and forbearance.” God need not be long suffering. Why not end the long, sad, tale of rebellion and sin? Why not crush the blasphemous atoms? He could create another race. Surely, there is no theme for the contemplation of angels or men like the wonderful conduct of God.
II. The wonderful conduct of men. These words contain--
1. A charge. It is unnatural among men to manifest ingratitude and indifference in return for favour. To injure one who saves our life is inhuman. But men think little of the treatment they show to God. Sin is weak in some things, and man is powerless, but in this thing they both have strength. They can do what angels dare not do. Man can break down barriers which it cost the life of the Son of God to erect. He can withstand the love of God. Oh fatal power! Some have attempted to dare the power of God, but they have been crushed as a moth before the advance of a world. But they are more successful in resisting His love.
2. An appeal. It is as if it said, “Can you despise such riches?” etc. It is an appeal to our highest attributes of humanity. It is an appeal to our gratitude. Thanklessness is the lowest stage of inhumanity. It is an appeal to our own hearts. How should we like such a return to our beneficence? Despised! Are we not thrilled with the unnaturalness of the act? We despise that which is evil and contemptible; but the apostle speaks of despising that which is good. It is wonderful that God acts as He does; it is far more wonderful that man should treat that action with contumely and scorn. What madness for the shipwrecked sailor to despise the rope thrown to him! What folly for the inhabitants of a burning house to scorn the fire escape! But to spurn the tenderness of God is incomprehensible in the intensity of its madness.
III. Thy wonderful loss--“That leadeth thee to repentance.” He who despises the riches of Divine forbearance despises that which ought to lead to his eternal salvation. Earthly friendships are precious, how much more the friendship of God! Yet this is despised, and so lost, and with it happiness, peace, glory, eternal life. But the loss consists not only in what we lose, but in what we gain. It is easy to lose by a gain. A man had a splendid coat given him which had been worn by a fever patient. He gained the coat, but he lost his life. In despising God we not only lose heaven, but we involve ourselves in eternal condemnation. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
As the sun sends forth a benign and gentle influence on the seed of plants, that it may invite forth the active and plastic power from its recess and secrecy, that, by rising into the tallness and dimensions of a tree, it may still receive a greater and more refreshing influence from its foster father, the prince of all the bodies of light; and, in all these emanations, the sun itself receives no advantage but the honour of doing benefits: so doth the Almighty Father of all the creatures. He at first sends forth His blessings upon us, that we, by using them aright, should make ourselves capable of greater; while giving glory to God and doing homage to Him are nothing to His advantage but only to ours; our duties towards Him being vapours ascending from the earth, not at all to refresh the regions of the clouds, but to return back in a fruitful and refreshing shower; and God created us, not that we can increase His felicity, but that He might have a subject receptive of felicity from Him. (Bp. Taylor.)
A favourite word of Paul’s, implying abundance, preciousness. It is applied to--
1. God’s wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33).
2. His glory (Romans 9:23).
3. His grace (Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7).
4. The glory of His inheritance (Ephesians 1:18).
5. The glory of this mystery (Colossians 1:27).
6. The full assurance of understanding (Colossians 2:2).
7. The unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).
8. The liberality of the poor (2 Corinthians 8:2). Here the riches--
(1) Of goodness is goodness overflowing, multiplied, long-continued.
(2) Of forbearance is patience all but unwearied.
(3) Of long suffering is delay in punishing beyond all expectation. Corresponding aggravation of the sinner’s impenitence. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
I. In what they consist.
1. By the “goodness” of God! understand those providential mercies which surround us, and ought to lead us to acknowledge Him, and those which are manifested in His calling sinners “out of darkness into His marvellous light:” We are to bear in mind that there was no one single thing in man which could attract or merit God’s goodness, but that all sprang from God’s sovereign grace.
2. The “forbearance” of God is His withholding the judgments which are due to His enemies (Romans 3:24, etc.).
3. The “long suffering” of God is manifested--
(1) By the plenteousness of redemption. We can understand that plenteousness--
(a) By looking at the will of God. He does not desire “that any should” perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(b) By the infinite price that has been paid.
(c) By the extent to which that redemption reaches.
II. The right use of these riches.
1. The awakening of our better affections. There is a sorrow for sin which “worketh death,” and a sorrow which “needs not to be repented of.” When we realise the greatness of God’s goodness there will be a greatness of love toward God--e.g., take the history of the woman spoken of in Luke 7:1-50. When we truly understand the extent of sin which has been pardoned, the depths of misery from which we have been extricated, the heights of glory to which we are to be admitted, then, and not till then, will our hearts burn with love towards God.
2. To teach us the exceeding sinfulness of sin--that we are sinning not only against One whose eyes are too pure “to look upon iniquity,” but against One who is good, and to lead us therefore to repentance.
III. Their abuse. How common is it that men live and die despising the riches of God’s love! Take the case of temporal mercies. How many speak of their good fortune, their success, never considering that these things came from God! And if we turn to the subject of our gracious mercies, how many are there who presume upon the continuance of those mercies, and determine to indulge in sin, as if there were no reckoning time for them (Ecclesiastes 8:1-17). There are many who misrepresent God’s forbearance as though He were overlooking sin. Many are there who, when they learn the exceeding riches of His grace, suppose that sin can therefore be of no consequence (Jeremiah 7:9-10). (Bp. Villiers.)
The riches of God’s goodness
God only is originally good. All created goodness is a rivulet from this fountain, but Divine goodness has no spring. God has it in and of Himself. All the goodness that is in His creatures is but the flowing of His goodness upon them, and vast is the number towards whom it flows--angels, glorified spirits, men, etc.
there is still less manifested than is left. All possible creatures are not capable of exhausting its riches. And God only is perfectly good, because infinitely good. He is good without indigence, because He has the whole nature of goodness, not only some beams that may admit of increase of degree. As nothing has an absolutely perfect being but God, so nothing has an absolutely perfect goodness but God; as the sun has a perfection of heat in it, but what is warmed by the sun is imperfectly hot, and equals not the sun in that perfection of heat wherewith it is naturally endued And then God only is immutably good. Other things may be good by supernatural power, but not in their own nature; i.e., they are not so good but they may be bad; God is so good that He cannot be bad. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
The exuberance of God’s goodness
There is not so much sin in man as there is goodness in God. There is a vaster disproportion between sin and grace than between a spark and an ocean. Who would doubt whether a spark could be quenched in an ocean? Thy thoughts of disobedience towards God have been within the compass of time; but His goodness hath been bubbling up towards thee from all eternity. (N. Culverwell.)
The riches of God’s goodness
Goodness to the innocent, or goodness to the deserving, merely displays this attribute in a state of simplicity; but the goodness which remains unequalled and unexhausted after it has been sinned against--the goodness which persists in multiplying upon the transgressor the chances of his recovery, and that in the midst of affront and opposition--the goodness which, loathe to inflict the retaliating blow, still holds out a little longer and a little longer; and, with all the means in its power of avenging the insults of disobedience, still ekes out the season for its return, and plies it with all the encouragements of a free pardon and an offered reconciliation. This is the exuberance of goodness, this is the richness of forbearance and long suffering; and it is the very display which God is now making in reference to our world. And by every year which rolls over our heads--by every morning in which we find that we have awoke to the light of a new day, instead of awaking in torment--by every hour and every minute through which she stroke of death is suspended, and you still continue a breathing man in the land of gospel calls and gospel invitations--is God now justifying His goodness towards you. And earnest as He is for your return, and heedless as you are of all this earnestness, does it call as time moves onwards for a higher and a higher exertion of forbearance on the part of the Divinity, to restrain His past and accumulating wrath from being discharged on the head of those among whom though God entreats yet no man will turn, and though He stretch out His hand yet no man regardeth. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Despising the riches of God’s goodness
I. What are the riches of God’s goodness? etc. The greatness, the abundance of His kindness and patience towards sinful men.
1. To understand this you must consider the greatness of the provocation that is given Him. Look around you--look within you! Can you help seeing how unspeakable the outrage that is offered to Him day by day! Think of--
(1) The amount of it. There is not a moment in which ten thousand times ten thousand lips are not uttering corrupt communications; not a moment in which as many guilty hearts are not thinking wicked thoughts; not a moment in which as many hands and feet are not hastening to acts of sin. And God’s all-seeing eye perceives at every instant, and in every quarter, one widespread scene of sin and vileness.
(2) The heinousness of it. It is the Creator, the Preserver, the Redeemer of mankind who is thus sinned against. Nor do men sin through ignorance of His requirements. He hath written His law in the consciences of men; and to a vast multitude He hath revealed it plainly in His Scriptures. Yet they only listen to His precepts that they may tread them under foot. They know that He hath sent His Son into the world to die for them; and yet they do outrage to His very mercies--neglecting such a great salvation.
2. And now behold “the riches of God’s goodness,” etc. How doth He act? Doth He crush every sinner? No; He sits patiently seeing and hearing all the outrage that is done to Him; yet holding back His judgments, and giving breath to all these sinners, and providing food convenient for them. True, God doth in some cases break forth and vindicate the injured honour of His name by sending instant death on the transgressor. But such instances are comparatively rare. Where is the sinner who hath not cause to say that the Lord is slow to punish.
3. But why is this?
(1) Is it because He looks upon sin with indifference and unconcern? Is it excusable--is it a trifle in His eyes? No; sin is an abomination in His holy eyes beyond what we can possibly imagine.
(2) Is it, then, a want of ability to punish them? Were God only to pronounce the word, how instantly would death be at our side! Nay, were He only to take from you His preserving hand, where would you now be?
(3) Why, then, if sin be so “exceedingly sinful,” why does He prolong the life of the transgressor? (2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 33:1-33).
II. What frame of mind they ought to lead us to. Who can meditate on the goodness of God and not feel that it calls him to repentance?
1. It does so, were it only for this reason, that it gives the sinner time and opportunity to turn to God.
2. While there is a time there is a call. So long as God’s forbearance gives you opportunity, His grace gives you invitation. The sinner may be sure that, whilst the long suffering of God waiteth, he is welcome to a Saviour, and cannot seek in vain (Job 33:27-28).
3. But God’s long suffering makes, on another ground, a strong appeal to guilty man. Suppose it were a fellow creature we had wronged, and he should return our injuries with kindness and forbearance, should we not be moved and melted by it? Then how much more ought we to be melted down by the forbearance of our God! As often as you have sinned against Him, so often hath He pitied you and spared you. How different His dealings towards you from your dealings towards Him! Ought not this amazing kindness of the Lord to make you feel the vileness of your sins?
III. What is it to despise them? In order to reply there is only need to describe the way in which men do avail themselves of God’s forbearance.
1. Multitudes draw courage from it to live on in sin (Ecclesiastes 8:11; Psa 7:21). Let not, then, a man venture after reading the text to bolster himself up in sin by making God’s long suffering his pillow. If God prolong a wicked man’s life it is not because God hath a liking for that man, or because He views his conduct with indifference; it is to give him time and reason for repentance; but if the man be not led unto repentance by God’s goodness to him, that goodness will only aggravate his final ruin (Psalms 92:1-15).
2. They also despise it who consider not “that the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance.” Alas! how vain for countless multitudes of sinners is the time in which God waits for them! “The three-score years and ten” are all consumed in vanity, and end as they began. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
God’s goodness despised
I. The object of God’s goodness is--
1. To exhibit His perfections and to receive His creatures’ praise.
2. To attach this to Himself in gratitude and love.
3. To lead them to obedience and a holy life.
II. God’s goodness is despised.
1. When not duly noticed.
2. When not followed by grateful acknowledgment.
3. When the end aimed at in it is disregarded. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The heinousness of despising God’s goodness
To sin against law is daring, but to sin against love is dastardly. To rebel against justice is inexcusable, but to fight against mercy is abominable. He who can sting the hand which nourishes him is nothing less than a viper. When a dog bites its own master, and bites him when he is feeding him and fondling him, no one will wonder if his owner becomes his executioner. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s goodness, etc., not to be despised
I. The goodness, forbearance, and long suffering of God.
1. As God is good, infinitely good in Himself, so--
(1) His goodness was the cause of the universe, and is still the source of all His dispensations. It is true, all His other attributes also were concerned in creating, and are still concerned in governing the world; but it seems they are all but modifications of His goodness. What is His wisdom but goodness planning and directing? His power but goodness executing? His justice but goodness governing, etc.
(2) And if His goodness gave origin to the universe in general, so did it to man in particular, as he was first formed, that masterpiece of Divine workmanship. Although by the Fall we forfeited every blessing our Creator had bestowed upon us, His goodness continues to us (Acts 14:17).
(3) His goodness is more particularly manifested in our redemption, in which especially “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). The unspeakable extent of His goodness is seen in the dignity of the Person given, and the humiliation and sufferings to which He was given (Philippians 2:6-8); the unworthiness of those for whom He undertook; the great misery from which we are rescued; the happiness to which we are, or may be, advanced. It is manifested in the blessings consequent on our redemption; as in the information afforded by the gospel, and means of grace (Luke 1:78); the influences of the Holy Spirit; the sincere and free offer of salvation, both present and eternal.
(4) As to the influence this goodness of God ought to have upon us; ought it not to humble us, as a much less display of goodness did one of old? (Genesis 32:10) to fill us with gratitude and love?
2. His forbearance--
(1) Exercised of old towards the heathen world (Acts 14:15-16; Acts 17:24-31). What an awful picture in chap. 1, and what a proof of God’s forbearance that He should endure those depicted! Towards the Jews (verse 1, 17-24), whose perverse and sinful manners He suffered for ages. (Acts 13:18; Isaiah 1:5). Towards sinners still; those wilfully ignorant, neglecting the means of instruction; those living in open or secret sin, and though knowing their Master’s will (Isaiah 65:2; Isaiah 1:10), such as rest contented without Christian experience and practice, such as leave their first love and backslide (Hosea 11:7-9; Jeremiah 3:12); unfruitful and slothful Christians, compared to the “earth drinking in the rain which cometh oft upon it” (Hebrews 6:7-8). He bears with them year after year.
(2) What is the end for which He bears with them? That a reformation may be wrought, and a change take place in all the instances mentioned. If there be no alteration, still God is--
3. Long suffering, i.e., slow to punish (Numbers 14:18; Joel 2:12). Many instances of this are noticed in Scripture, as towards the old world in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20; cf. Genesis 6:3-7; Genesis 7:4). Towards the world now (2 Peter 3:7-9). Towards particular nations, as Egypt, in the days of Pharaoh (Genesis 15:13-14; Romans 9:22); the Canaanites (Genesis 15:16); the Israelites in all ages (Isaiah 5:1), especially in the time of Christ (Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 13:6-9). Towards particular cities, as Sodom (Genesis 18:20); Nineveh (John 1:2; John 3:10; John 4:11); Babylon, Tyre. Towards Churches that have left their first love (Revelation 2:1-6); that are lukewarm (Revelation 3:15); that are formal and dead and barren (Revelation 3:1). Towards families, as that of Ahab (1 Kings 21:29); the house of Stuart, in England, and of Bourbon, in France. Towards individuals innumerable of all characters, whom God is slow to punish, and even to chastise (Luke 13:7).
II. How these attributes, included under the name of the goodness of God, lead, or should lead, men to repentance.
1. Repentance is--
(1) After thought or reflection; the looking back upon our former ways, and considering them with a just conviction of our guilt, attended with humiliation, sorrow, and hatred of all our sins.
(2) A change of mind of all our powers.
(3) Evidenced by the production of the proper fruits.
2. How does the goodness of God lead men to repentance? His long suffering leaves room for it (Revelation 2:21), which there would not be if punishment followed immediately on the heels of transgression. His forbearance, when considered, strongly invites, persuades, and must move an ingenuous mind. His goodness and bounty also afford every needful and useful help, as the mediation and intercession of Christ; the ministry of the Word; the chastisements and blessings of Providence; the strivings and influences of the Holy Spirit.
III. The reasons why the goodness of God does not produce that effect. These are--
“Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. Ignorance of their fallen state and exposure to Divine wrath; of the worth and necessity of holiness; of the true character of God, that He is as holy and just as He is merciful and gracious; of the dignity of the Redeemer, and of His great love and sufferings: of the end of man’s creation, preservation, and redemption; of the infinite importance of this short span of human life, and how much depends on our rightly improving it, as a state of trial, for eternity.
2. Hardness, or callousness, contracted by sinning against light, and the formation of evil habits (Ephesians 4:18-19).
3. An impenitent heart, i.e., an inconsiderate, unreflecting, and therefore unrelenting heart. (Joseph Brown.)
God’s goodness: its abuse and its design
1. It is an instance of Divine condescension that the Lord reasons with men, and asks this question, and others like it (Isaiah 55:2; Isaiah 55:2; Jeremiah 3:4; Ezekiel 33:11).
2. God not only acts kindly to sinners, but when they misuse His kindness He labours to set them right (Isaiah 1:18; Hosea 11:8).
3. It is a sad thing that any who have seen God’s judgments on others, and have escaped themselves, should draw from this special mercy a reason for adding sin to sin (Jeremiah 3:8). From the Lord’s earnest question let us learn wisdom.
I. Let us honour the lord’s goodness and forbearance. A reverent sense of it will be a sure safeguard against despising it. It is manifested to us--
1. In a three-fold form.
(1) Goodness which has borne with past sin (Psalms 78:38).
(2) Forbearance which bears with us in the present (Psalms 103:10).
(3) Long suffering which, in the future as in the past and the present, is prepared to bear with the guilty (Luke 13:7-9).
2. In great abundance--“riches of His goodness.”
(1) Riches of mercies bestowed, temporal and spiritual (Psalms 68:19).
(2) Riches of kindness seen in gracious deliverance, measured by evils averted which might have befallen us, such as sickness, poverty, insanity, death, and hell (Psalms 86:13).
(3) Riches of grace promised and provided for all needs.
3. In its excellence by four considerations.
(1) The person who shows it. It is “the goodness of God” who is omniscient to see sin, just to hate it, powerful to punish it, yet patient towards the sinner (Psalms 145:8).
(2) The being who receives it. It is dealt out to man, a guilty, insignificant, base, provoking, ungrateful being (Genesis 6:6).
(3) The conduct to which it is a reply. It is love’s response to sin. Often God forbears, though sins are many, wanton, aggravated, daring, repeated, etc. (Malachi 3:6).
(4) The boons which it brings. Life, daily bread, health, gospel, Holy Spirit, new birth, hope of heaven, etc. (Psalms 68:19).
4. It has been in a measure manifested to you. “Despisest thou?”
II. Let us consider how it may be despised.
1. By allowing it to remain unnoticed--ungratefully passing it over.
2. By claiming it as our due, and talking as if God were bound to bear with us.
3. By opposing its design, and refusing to repent (Proverbs 1:24-25).
4. By perverting it into a reason for hardness of heart, presumption, infidelity, and further sin (Zephaniah 1:12; Ecclesiastes 8:11).
5. By urging it as an apology for procrastination (2 Peter 3:3-4).
III. Let us feel the force of its leadings. The forbearance of God should lead us to repentance. For we should argue thus
1. He is not hard and unloving, or He would not have spared us.
2. His great patience deserves recognition at our hands. We are bound to respond to it in a generous spirit.
3. To go on to offend would be cruel to Him, and disgraceful to ourselves. Nothing can be baser than to make forbearance a reason for provocation.
4. It is evident from His forbearance that He will rejoice to accept us if we will turn to Him. He spares that He may save.
5. He has dealt with each one personally, and by this means He is able to put it, as in the text, “God leadeth thee to repentance.” He calls us individually to Himself. Let each one personally remember his own experience of sparing mercies.
6. The means are so gentle, let us yield to them cheerfully. Those who might refuse to be driven should consent to be drawn.
1. Each gift of goodness draws thee to Jesus!
2. Forbearance would fain weep thee to Jesus!
3. Long suffering waits and woos thee to Jesus! Wilt thou not turn from sin and return unto thy God, or “despisest thou the riches of His goodness?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Roman magistrates, when they gave sentence of scourging, a bundle of rods tied hard with many knots was laid before them. The reason was this: that whilst the flagellifer was untying the knots, which he was to do in a certain order, and not hastily, the magistrate might see the deportment of the delinquent, whether he was sorry for his fault, and showed hope of amendment, that he might recall his sentence or mitigate the punishment; otherwise he was to be corrected the more severely. Thus God in the punishment of sinners, how patient is He! how loath to strike! how slow to anger if there be but hopes of recovery! How many knots doth He untie! How many knots doth He make in His way to justice! He doth not try us by martial law, but pleads the ease with us, “Why will ye die?” And all this to see whether the poor sinner will throw himself down at His feet, make his peace and be saved. (T. Fuller, D. D.)
The patience of God
I. Its nature. It is one of those attributes which the sins of His creatures first called into exercise. We are not to suppose that it proceeds from any ignorance in God, for “He has set all our misdeeds before Him.” Nor is it the fruit of indifference. On the contrary, it implies that “God is angry with the wicked every day.” Neither must we ascribe it to a want of power to punish. We sometimes bear with provocations because we are unable to avenge them; but the Omnipotent has at all times the means of vengeance.
II. Its source. Solely God’s goodness. These attributes are mentioned together, and the one must be regarded as the origin of the other. Goodness, when exercised in withholding vengeance is patience; and when continued under repeated provocations, is long suffering. There is, however, a distinction to be made between the goodness and the patience of God. Man, as needy, is the partaker of the one, whilst man, as guilty, is the object of the other. Goodness supplies our wants, patience bears with our sins. The one will endure forever, and is inseparable from the Divine nature; the other is adapted only to the present scene of things, and may end tomorrow.
III. Its greatness, or its “riches.” Every blessing Christ has purchased in abundance. The mercy He has obtained is “great” and “tender,” the grace “manifold and exceeding,” the redemption “plenteous,” the joy “unspeakable,” the glory “an exceeding great and eternal weight.” In regard to God’s patience consider--
1. How long it has been exercised.
2. How many sins every man commits.
3. How aggravated and daring many of our provocations have been.
4. How many sinners there are.
IV. Its designed effect. “Repentance.” The forbearance of the Almighty--
1. Gives us time for repentance.
2. Shows that the penitent may obtain forgiveness.
3. Has a tendency to produce repentance in our hearts.
Experience proves that man’s stubborn heart is much less likely to be subdued by the contemplation of vengeance, than by the influence of mercy.
V. The hanger of despising it. We are undoubtedly guilty of this sin--
1. When we are unmindful of the patience which bears with us, when we either think nothing at all about it, or think of it lightly.
2. When we draw encouragement from it to continue in sin.
And long suffering.--
God’s long suffering a demonstration of His almighty power
Long suffering is the greatest exhibition of power on this side the day of judgment. It is our evidence that God now possesses all that God shall then exercise.
1. When I am told that God is long suffering, and no limitations are placed on the attribute, you bring before me a picture as overwhelming in outline as stupendous in detail. I see at once that God can punish sin. Then vice may seem to carry it over virtue, and I may search in vain through all that is passing over a disordered creation for tokens that a moral government is still upheld; and the infidel may tauntingly refer to the triumph of evil, and infer that God has been compelled to abandon one world at least to the dominion of His foes; but fastening on the long suffering of the Creator, I am proof against all doubts as to His power. He could not be long suffering unless He could punish; He could not punish unless He were supreme.
2. To each of us He has been long suffering. Each of us has provoked His wrath, and yet upon none of us has that wrath come down to its fury. So that if the great demonstration of God’s power be His long suffering, then each of us may find in himself that demonstration in all its completeness. And thus it may be possible that after summoning suns and seas and mountains to give in their tribute to His night, that angels may be looking down upon myself as the crowning proof; and not because I am marvellous as the compound of matter and spirit, of mortal and immortal: and not because I inherit a nature that has been taken into union with the Divine; but because I have sinned and yet breathe; because I have defied the living God and not been consumed; because I have been long offending and God has been long suffering--therefore may they regard me as the most perfect demonstration that the power of their Lord is great; and assign me because spared in mine offences, a place amongst the witnesses to the almightiness of their Maker, which they give not to the marching of planets, nor to the gorgeousness of light, nor to their own beauty as ethereal beings, and rapid and masterful.
3. We have all heard of the infidel challenging God to prove His existence by smiting him, His denier. Now you can hardly picture to yourselves a being exercising over himself so perfect a command that, with all the apparatus of fiery reply at his disposal, he should not answer the challenge by levelling him who utters it to the ground. Can you measure to me the effort which it would be to a creature to keep the thunder silent, and to chain up the lightning? Yet the atheist is allowed to depart unscathed; and the proof of God’s existence, which would have seemed preeminently calculated to overspread a neighbourhood with terrible conviction is mysteriously withheld. But the believer learns God’s might a hundredfold more from the unbroken silence of the firmament than he would from the hoarse tones of vengeance rushing down to the destruction of the rebel. The atheist overthrown--this is as nothing to the atheist spared. It would have been as nothing that God should have launched the bolt--the prodigy whose height I cannot scale, whose depth I cannot fathom is that God should have withheld the bolt. I should have learnt God powerful over the elements had I seen the blasphemer a blackened corpse at my feet: I learn God powerful over Himself when the questioner of His deity passes on uninjured.
4. When I think on the difference between God’s creating a world and God’s pardoning a sin--the one done without effort, the other demanding an instrumentality terribly sublime; the one effected by a word, the other wrought out in agony and blood on a quaking earth and beneath a darkened heaven--the one is as nothing beside the other. That God can pardon is at the very summit of what is wonderful; and therefore then, O Lord, do I most know Thee as the Omnipotent when I behold in Thee the long suffering. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.--
Goodness leading to repentance
A distinguished minister on a journey was once stopped by a highwayman, and called on to deliver his purse, with the weapon of death presented at his breast. “Wait,” said the man of God, “for one moment”; and instantly fell on his knees and offered a fervent prayer for the unhappy man before him. The murderer stood silent, and listened. When the holy man had finished his supplication, he said to him for whom he had prayed: “Do you not wish for some better employment than this; some other means of a livelihood?” The answer was in the affirmative. “Come, then,” said the minister, to such a place, naming his own residence, “and without ever divulging this act of yours while you live, such a provision shall be made for you.” He confided in the assurance of one so intent on his welfare; became a member of his own family--an humble disciple of Christ: and, after a life of exemplary piety, died at the age of sixty, when, in his funeral sermon, the minister related these facts. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
God’s goodness leading to repentance
I. Expound the text.
1. “Repentance” denotes a change of mind, inclination, and habits.
2. “Leadeth” describes the method in which the Lord deals with rational creatures. There is a sort of spurious repentance, to which men are sometimes driven. Thus Ahab was driven by Divine threatenings, Pharaoh by supernatural judgments, Felix by the dread of a future reckoning, and Judas by the terror of his own conscience; but to genuine repentance a man is led; allured by the discovery of hope, and the attraction of love.
3. “Thee.” It matters not so much what others are: the question is, What are we? The charge of the prophet is pointed: “No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?”
4. Observe what it is that conducts to this result. “The goodness of God,” Not that this is always the case. It frequently emboldens men in transgression, and hardens them in impenitence. The text, however, expresses its natural and proper tendency.
II. Illustrate the sentiment which it contains. The goodness of God--
1. Gives time for repentance. This is implied in the “forbearance and long suffering.” It is said of one, “I gave her space to repent and she repented not.” Here was the perversion of Divine goodness. Of others it is affirmed, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Here is depravity in its most hateful form. Let us “account that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation.”
2. Provides the means.
(1) The law, by which “is the knowledge of sin.”
(2) Affliction, Which, while it gives leisure for reflection, disposes to the duty.
(3) The gospel. A man may be convinced of sin; but his repentance is not unto salvation, except so far as he is persuaded of mercy, and discovers “a door of hope.”
3. Furnishes motives. Note--
(1) The common mercies you enjoy. Are they not all forfeited by sin? And yet do they not freely, richly, and constantly descend?
(2) Every special interposition of God in your favour. From how many dangers and sicknesses has He delivered you?
(3) Trials. Are not trials wisely appointed; mitigated by abounding comforts, and mingled with innumerable benefits?
(4) The authority which enjoins it. “God hath commanded all men everywhere to repent.”
(5) The love which recommends it. How tender the expostulations, how precious the promises of the gospel on this subject! “Return, ye backsliding children.” “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc.
(6) The grace which accepts it. For repentance is accepted, not in consideration of its desert, but in virtue of the mediation of the Saviour.
(7) The examples which illustrate it. The Prodigal, Zaccheus, Peter, etc.
1. Does not this subject remind you of the hardness of the human heart? The design of Divine goodness is apparent; its true tendency is most beneficial; but how is it perverted and abused!
2. Forget not the necessity of the Holy Spirit to produce this change. He it is who works repentance by impressing the heart with a sense of Divine goodness; and of the evil of sin, and to feel the attractions of heavenly love, as displayed in the gospel. (T. Kidd.)
The goodness of God a persuasive to repentance
1. There is much in the very nature of Divine goodness that is fitted to lead men to repentance. It lays them and all intelligent beings in the universe under everlasting obligations to love and serve God, the great Author of their being and of their mercies. It shows also, in a very affecting light, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, as committed against the greatest and best of beings. It appeals to our reason; and the verdict is that to sin against such a Being as God is a most guilty perversion of, the noble faculties with which He has endowed us. It appeals to our sense of duty; and the verdict is that no obligation is so strong as that which binds us to the love and service of Jehovah. It appeals to our gratitude, to our hopes and fears; and the verdict is that no good can be secured so great as that which flows from repentance toward God, and no evil incurred so tremendous as that which must result from continued impenitence. There is, too, a peculiarity in the mode in which Divine goodness flows to guilty man which adds inexpressibly to its tender, persuasive power. It is not goodness flowing to innocent beings through the unobstructed channels of benevolence; but goodness flowing to lost sinners through the mediation and suffering of the Son of God. Here is goodness such as was never manifested in any world but ours, nor towards any other beings but the lost children of men.
2. The goodness of God is suited to lead men to repentance, as it secures for them a respite from punishment and gives a space for repentance.
3. The goodness of God leads to repentance, as it has opened a way in which repentance is available to secure pardon and life for even the chief of sinners.
4. The goodness of God is fitted to lead to repentance, as it furnishes the best possible means of repentance, and the most powerful motives to this duty. Consider the impressive instruction poured around you from the Word, the providence, and the works of God. All these conspire to impress on your mind the same lessons of eternal wisdom and love. Notice next the invitations of Divine goodness; they must avail to subdue every heart that is not a heart of stone.
Turn next to the promises which Divine goodness has made to those that repent--promises of pardon, grace, and eternal glory. Such, then, being the tendency of the goodness of God, let us inquire what are its actual effects.
1. All who truly love God feel the constraining power of His goodness, and by it are made penitent, believing, thankful, and obedient.
2. There is another class of persons whom the goodness of God appears to leave wholly unaffected and unmoved. Is not this to despise the riches of God’s goodness, and with singular rapidity to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath?
3. There is another class who go still farther, and take encouragement from the goodness of God to sin against Him with an increased freedom and boldness. This is eminently to despise the riches of the goodness of God, and forbearance, and longsuffering. (J. Hawes, D. D.)
The Divine goodness a motive to repentance
There is no need to insist on the necessity of repentance; for nothing would appear more impious than for anyone to say, “I need no repentance.” But there is a consideration of very grave importance, viz., that all men will certainly come to repentance. In this view it is a very solemn thing to look at the thoughtless, impious, hardened, self-righteous, and think, “You will certainly repent! your repentance may be in vain--too late, but it will certainly come!” But we would speak of reasons that should enforce it now; and surely this should be a powerful one. If ultimate repentance is inevitable, under an irresistible power, how desirable it should not be left to be caused so; but be effected under the persuasive influence of more gracious causes! And of these the chief “is the goodness of God,” manifested, acknowledged, and felt. Contemplate, then, that “goodness.”
I. As beheld in the same view with the deserts of man.
1. What is it in man that is adequately correspondent to that goodness? Is it a humble, constant sense of dependence? an affectionate admiration of His beneficence? a mighty attraction towards Him? a solicitude to be conformed to Him an aversion to all that He disapproves?
2. Look at any of the particulars of His goodness--His constant provision, His watchful protection, His compassionate care of weakness. What corresponds to these? His rays of instructive wisdom falling on man--what corresponds? Love of truth? anxiety to be taught? His shining forth on them, a sovereign pattern of sanctity, and in an economy of redemption--what does this very thing imply that there is in man to answer to it?
II. In the same view with the manifestations of God’s mind against sin. How many they are, how decisive, solemn, just! And yet the world is not made an unmingled scene of vindictive execution. His just denunciations are sent conjoined with mercies exceeding the number of the expressions that He is offended, as if He would not send His rebukes or threatenings but by the hands of friends. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.”
III. As being contemporary with each sin in our long succession of offences. Advert to any sin in its time, there was goodness experiencing then: advert to the next, and the next; at that time there was still “the goodness of God,” and in various ways at once.
IV. By supposing it withdrawn. Deprivation is sometimes the most effectual way of verifying what and how much a thing was. So God might cause His bounty to recede on every side of the sphere of our interests. On one side a diminution just enough to be felt at first; but speedily more, and still more; the same operation on another side: something still departing day after day!--things we had scarcely thought of as mercies, leaving incurable pain, or want, behind; our condition becoming more and more miserable, till we sunk in a death without consolation or hope! Or, instead of this gradual process, a sudden general deprivation.
V. In its character of patience and long suffering. All His lengthened indulgence, His train of favours--what for? What, but that there might be increasing gratitude and devotedness? And when has there been such a degree of these, that it was anything but mere goodness in God to continue His favours? (J. Foster.)
The goodness of God an inducement to repentance
Adversity has its place in the salutary economy of probation, but God’s voice may be discerned in prosperity at least as much as in adversity, and much more frequently. The latter is His common way of addressing us; to the other mode He only resorts when for some reason it is necessary or expedient.
I. How may we abuse the goodness of God? We do so--
1. When we accept His gifts but ignore Him. How common a thing it is for men to enjoy the good things of this life, without thinking for one moment that they come from God! How many of us take our portion without a thought of thankfulness, as though it came from that office keeper, Nature, instead of from our Father’s hands! How does it cut us to the heart when our gifts elicit no grateful recognition! And where is there a man that would go on from year to year repeating his kindnesses where no sort of notice was taken of him? And what do men gain by this? nay, what do they not lose? Should we enjoy His gifts any the less if we took them as coming from the Giver, and found in each an occasion for fresh manifestation of grateful love? Where we receive the gifts of God, but disown the Giver, the gift loses the most precious part of its value. It ceases to be a gift at all to our higher nature.
2. When we accept His gifts, and find in them a substitute for Himself, and so many reasons why we should ignore Him. He gives us many good things, that we think we can dispense with Him, the Giver; so much gratification, that we have no need to seek a truer and deeper gratification in His love. But when His gifts thus become substitutes for Himself, and you turn away from Him because you enjoy them, surely you are making it necessary for Him to take them away. Rather than let you lose all, in your folly and blindness He may see fit to take away some of the many good things that you enjoy. Why not hear His voice in all that He gives you, and let the goodness of God lead you to repentance?
3. By counting upon the continuance of His goodness, in order that we may go on sinning against Him. This is the very worst abuse, and it is to this that St. Paul here specially refers--the abuse of God’s forbearance, who, though provoked, in the magnanimity of His nature goes on forbearing to smite when smaller natures must inevitably have lost patience long since. He waits because He loves; and yet this is the very characteristic that men count upon in order to sin against Him, as they hope, with impunity. Were it clearly understood by any that God’s long suffering would reach its term this very night, where is there one who would dare to defy the Majesty of heaven? Surely there cannot be any meanness so repulsive. Common manhood should lead us to say, “I can’t be at one and the same moment the pensioner of God’s bounty and the enemy of His authority.” But what are the facts of the case? What is more common than to meet with utterly godless people, who have the fullest intention of turning to God some day or other, most probably in a dying hour! But if we can’t be put out of conceit with this, by considering its meanness and unmanliness, it may be well to remember that God’s goodness is not weakness, that even His forbearance must have its term. “Because I have called, and ye refused,” etc. (Proverbs 1:24-28). He who attempts to mock God finds in the end that he is only mocked himself. It is not that you evade or escape the penalty of your base ingratitude and perfidy, but it is that you treasure it up (verse 5). Just think of the possibility of laying up treasure in hell!
II. Its use. The history of sin dates from the first suspicious thought of God. This thought Satan delights in cherishing, until those who yield to his influence get to think of God as if He were a pitiless tyrant, ever ready to diminish our happiness. On the other hand, a real repentance begins with the repudiation of all such false views of God, and to such a repentance the goodness of God, revealed in all His dealings with us, is intended to lead; and surely it will if we will only let it speak to our heart. How can God be stern and unsympathetic when He gives us so much to enjoy?
1. If He provides for the gratification of every sense with which He endows us, multiplying the fair sights and sweet sounds of nature, and sometimes stirring all our being with the vision of the beautiful or the sublime, how can He be the enemy of our happiness?
2. Or, if He enriches you with all that social wealth accumulated through the ages, so constituting society that man may become a source of untold gratification to his fellow man, surely His goodness in all this must needs show that He is the Friend and not the enemy of human happiness. Is it not to Him that we owe music, art, literature, science, and philosophy? and how much of enjoyment do all these add to life?
3. It is from Him that we derive both our faculties of loving and all those tender relations of home and friendship which call forth our love and which contribute so much to increase the joy of life; surely, then, we wrong Him when we shrink from Him as though He were the enemy of our happiness.
4. But is there not one supreme manifestation of His goodness which should move us more than all the rest and bring us to repentance? “God so loved the world,” etc. He let His own Son suffer to spare you suffering! Let His goodness carry the day triumphantly. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
God’s goodness and repentance
I. The action specified--“Repentance.”
1. Its nature.
2. Its necessity. Why is it necessary? Not because it earns the favour of God or claims the pity, but because--
(1) It shows a true desire to be His disciple.
(2) It manifests a breaking with the world and the evil that is therein.
(3) It brings the soul into harmony with the Divine purposes and plan.
II. The motive which prompts--“The goodness of God.”
1. God never drives when He can lead. The grand principle of all His dealings is to lead His people, even as He led the children of Israel, by a cloud.
2. What it is to lead us to repentance. It is goodness, and the point of this goodness is that it is--
(1) Undeserved. It is shown to rebels, enemies, and persecutors.
(2) Continuous. Good is not one thing today and another tomorrow.
(3) Unassuming. God, unlike some human patrons, does not make a mighty show of His goodness to sinners; He treats them with tenderness and gentleness.
III. The conduct enjoined. The apostle indirectly urges upon us all the duty of repentance. Not only the notoriously evil need repentance. The most humble Christian is constantly transgressing. And every act of benevolence we receive should awaken in us the sense of our deficiency and our sorrow therefore. For repentance is not a slavish, legal act. It is not degrading humiliation or desponding misery. It is a consciousness indeed of self-failure, but an expression of loved affection towards our heavenly Father. (J. J S. Bird, B. A.)
The goodness of God designed to reclaim
It has this tendency--
I. As it enforces the commandments of God. These are not merely the commands of one who governs by virtue of His power and supremacy, nor merely of one whom it is our interest or obligation to obey; they are the commands of our Benefactor. The God who, having made us of nothing, still keeps us; the God whose care and presence are ever surrounding us, who gives us friends, health, raiment, food; who provides salvation and offers heaven--it is this God who commands us to repent. Has such a God no claim on us by His mercies?
II. As it appeals to the tenderest and strongest sensibilities of our nature. There is no principle of human nature, fallen and degraded as it is, that is more obvious than that which leads us to requite kindness with kindness. Precisely on this principle does God assail the hearts of sinners. He does not rely merely on His authority over us, nor resort merely to His terrors to alarm us. He who searcheth the heart well knows that, amid all its darkness and corruptions, there is yet another and a surer spring that can be touched. God reveals Himself. God in Christ unfolds Himself in the attractive aspect of the God of mercy in order to touch sympathy, gratitude, and the secret place of tenderness and tears.
III. As it discovers to us the true character of God. God is love, and all the expressions of His kindness to us are only a manifestation, bringing that character before us. We may contemplate and admire moral excellence in another, who may never have been called to show kindness to us. But let us become the objects of that kindness, and we find a new and stronger emotion rising in our hearts, and fixing our strongest affection on Him. And if we have to such a friend been unfaithful, how will the tears of repentance flow when we come again, under a sense of his kindness! It is thus the goodness of God leadeth to repentance--it unvails in brightest manifestation the perfection of His character, directing all its cares, its solicitude, its tenderness to us.
IV. As is shown by its expressions.--
1. In their number. Would we count them? As the sands of the sea, they are without number. And for what are they bestowed? Is it that we deserve them? No. Is it that He cannot strip us of every good thing, and leave us naked before the storm of His wrath? No; it is that He may prove to us how able, how content He is to bless.
2. In their nature. Not one, nor all of them, can become a satisfying portion, but they are exactly fitted to the great end for which they are given--our probation. Every blessing comes with this inscription, “Take not this for your portion, but receive it with thanksgiving, and use it with reference to your eternal well-being. Take all these gifts as the pledge of the love of the Creator to His own creature--the proof that He longs for thy love in return, and to flow forth on thee in a pure and abundant stream of good forever.”
V. As is demonstrated by facts. What illustrations of this have we while the Saviour was on the earth! In how many hearts did He plant the dominion of His love by acts of kindness! And what multitudes, from Saul of Tarsus downwards, have been actually led by it to repentance! (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
God’s goodness means salvation
The full force of the text cannot be made to appear except by reading the catalogue of crimes in chap.
1. The apostle goes on to say, substantially, that it made no difference whether these things were committed by the Jew or the Gentile. Wrong is wrong without regard to nationality or anything else. Wrong is the violation of great laws, universal, perpetual, which defend themselves by penalties. If a man drugs himself, the drug vindicates its nature; if a man is selfish, the moral law carries a penalty of selfishness. If a man is good, the law brings forth the fruit of goodness to him. The only question is a question of how shall a man be restrained from the violation of the law of the moral economy; how shall he be developed so that he shall love the good rather than the evil? The apostle here declares that the presentation of the goodness of God is that which constitutionally tends to restrain men from evil, and to develop in them all goodness. Goodness is the working force of God’s nature, and is to be made the working force of all government; but if God’s goodness does not help men, His natural law goes right on to penalties without trial or sentence; the laws execute themselves in the moral kingdom. From this general exposition of this passage I remark--
I. God’s goodness is the grand presentation of Him from which the most influence and benefit is to be expected. It has been a current idea that God’s mercies are alternative, but that His justice is primary; that fear is the primary, mercy the secondary, instrument by which men are to work. But this is in fiat contradiction of the whole tenor of Scripture. First, middle, and last, the Scripture teaches God’s goodness as first to be preached, and if that does not avail, then the alternative comes, namely, the sure penalty of transgression. For example, let us go back to that memorable passage where Moses was about to legislate. He wanted to know (Exodus 33:13-15) what view of God’s nature he was to employ, and wished to be filled to overflowing with that view. Then God said to him, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee,” etc. Then comes the declaration in grand dramatic form, as recorded in Exodus 34:6-7. There is the staple view of the character of God. But if men will not see that, and go on still in their transgressions, let them understand that this goodness does not mean the abolition of distinctions between right and wrong. The great law of the universe will go on with its penalties, yea, by heredity for generations to come. The guilty cannot be cleared except upon their repentance and reformation. It is not a goodness that will clear a man and let him do just what he pleases, treating him as if he had been righteous and just. And so Paul at Lystra (Acts 14:17). It was the goodness of God that had to be preached to them first. And our text is the same thing. Coming in through the darkness of that terrific record of vices, Paul says that it was the goodness of God that should have led men to repentance. This is the doctrine not only of Scripture, but of good reason or philosophy; for--
II. Goodness and fear touch human nature on different and opposite sides. The double being, man, the animal and spiritual, is approached on the upper and on the under side of his nature. Goodness develops what is of its own nature, touches the spiritual side of man. The presentation of goodness to the affections of a man’s upper life helps them. When you present beauty to a man, you tend to develop the same quality in him. But the animal man cannot see anything in beauty. Such a man has to be touched and influenced by fear. You cannot teach duty to a horse or an ass, and so you put a bit and bridle in the mouth, and spurs in their sides, or make them afraid. The training of wild animals goes on wholly on the principle of fear. Therefore fear has in it a power of restraint, but not of development. All the conversions of men that have been the result of fear are hardly worth the letters that spell the story. Whenever the character of God is presented to us as goodness, it waters, stimulates, and develops that side of human nature which is most like God. But when men do net respond to that but range in their lower instincts, then you have got to bring in a restraint, and that restraint comes from fear; but it is secondary, it is alternative. Convicts who are in insurrection, are rushing out for their liberty, rush upon serried ranks of bayonets. “One step further and you are dead men, every one of you.” They draw back, but they do not become law keepers on that account. They are simply restrained. So, in the great moral government of God, men may be restrained from going further into transgression, but no man is converted by abject fear. If, therefore, human nature is to be developed in the direction of spiritual excellence, you must develop it by the presentation of those excellencies in their supreme forms in God. No view, then, of God, no view of the gospel, no view of the atonement as an element in the gospel, is a right one which does not present the hopeful side, the winning and the cheerful side. God loving and saving is the doctrine of the Bible. (H. W. Beecher.)
God’s goodness in relation to man, and man’s relation to it
I. Divine goodness, in its relation to man, is very extraordinary--
1. In its plentitude. “The riches of His goodness.” See this--
(1) In his constitution. The extent of God’s goodness to a being may be determined by the capacities which He has given for happiness, and the provision He has made to supply them. How great, then, His goodness in the constitution of man! He has a capacity for sensational, intellectual, social, and religious pleasure. Beasts have a capacity for sensational pleasure, but not for intellectual; angels have a capacity for intellectual, but not for sensational; man has a capacity for both. He has powers to draw happiness from all the wells of enjoyment.
(2) In His redemption. “God so loved the world,” etc. “Herein is love,” etc.
2. In its form. It is “long suffering”--forbearance. God’s goodness to brutes or angels is not “long suffering.” But His goodness to man is goodness holding back the arm of indignant justice.
3. In its design--to lead to “repentance”; to reform our souls.
II. Man’s conduct, in relation to Divine goodness, is very depraved. This is seen--
1. In his inconsideration. “Not knowing.” Men pay no attention to the moral meaning and design of all this goodness.
2. In his insensibility of heart. “Thy hardness and impenitent heart.” Pharaoh a type. His heart grew stony under the rich showers of Divine goodness.
3. In his self-destructiveness. “Treasurest up wrath.” He is transmuting those very streams of goodness into poison. See the electric cloud on the summer’s sky. It was as small as a man’s hand half an hour since, but it has grown wondrously. What is it doing? “Treasuring up.” Every fresh particle swells and blackens it. It will burst in flame and thunder soon. That cloud is an emblem of the sinner.
III. The day of judgment will be very awful in relation to such conduct. There will come such a day. There is historic, moral, and Biblical evidence enough to satisfy us of this.
1. This judgment will be a righteous judgment. “The righteous judgment of God.”
2. A universal judgment. “Who will render to every man according to his works.” How will the abuser of Divine goodness stand in this judgment? He will have “tribulation and anguish.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
“God is love”; consciously to know this is life. “He that loveth is born of God.” “Not knowing” it, the mind “despises” all the manifestations of God’s goodness which are adapted to lead to repentance unto life. In what way, then, shall we get an influential conviction of the Divine love which tends to produce repentance? The love of God towards us, as spiritual beings, is manifested--
I. In the character and office of conscience. Conscience is not a guide infallible. It is empowered only by faith in God, and it is true only by belief of the truth. This fact is one of the strongest testimonies for the necessity of revelation. With revelation conscience is--
1. Moral admonition. When any sin is contemplated, it whispers, “Do not that wickedness and sin against God.”
2. Moral impulse. It points to the path of duty and says, “That is the way, walk ye in it.” “You have sinned, arise and go to your Father.” Now the design of God is seen in conscience as clearly as the design of the maker in the regulator of a watch. The regulator was placed in the watch to govern its movements and keep the watch right. So was conscience in the soul. God in conscience shows His goodness by placing a power in the soul to deter us from known sin, and to lead us to repentance. Despise not His goodness! The best friend, though he follow the sinful many years, will turn back if his counsel be persistently rejected: so the voice of conscience will abate in the soul if we continue to resist its admonitions.
II. In the character and design of Divine revelation. The true test of benevolence is its design. What, then, is Revelation designed to accomplish for man? The greatest--
1. Individual good. To love God and man is the soul’s highest good here and hereafter.
2. Social good. Suppose a family obeyed the laws of God--“Husbands love your wives”; “Wives love and reverence your husbands”; “Children obey your parents in the Lord”--who will doubt but that such a family would experience the greatest good?
3. Universal good. If I loved others as myself, I should rejoice in their good as much as my own; and every blessing bestowed upon them would he bestowed upon me, and my blessings upon them.
III. In the motives He presents to incline us to repent and obey. The character of any mind is known by the character of the motives that it presents to influence other minds. Now, in the New Testament, the evil of sin and its final curse are presented to our fears to arrest us in the highway to hell. The purity and glory of heaven are presented to our hopes to induce us to repentance and faith. The heart is appealed to by infinite love. From the Cross the suffering Saviour cries, “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?”
IV. In the sacrifice of Christ. A revelation of law does not lead us to love the law that we have transgressed; but a revelation of love, which offers pardon, leads us to love the lawgiver, and thus to honour and obey the law. “What the law could not do,” etc. God could not make a law which would allow a single sin. But we are all sinners, and in our evil and helpless state Christ offers Himself “a propitiation for the sins that are past,” “that God might be just and the justifier of him that believeth on Jesus.” “In this was manifested the love of God” (1 John 4:9).
V. To lead us to repentance by the mercy of the Holy Spirit’s operation. He convicts “the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment,” i.e., He shows them their sin, points to the true standard of righteousness, and admonishes them of judgment, in order thus to lead them to repentance. Then, in the heart of Christians, He “takes of the things of Christ and shows them” (John 16:14); and as the Christian sees, he repents, worships, and rejoices. In the conviction and indwelling of the Spirit are the love of God manifested to lead men to repentance. (J. B. Walker, M. D.)
God’s goodness to be reverenced
I remember well being taken one day to see a gorgeous palace at Venice, where every piece of furniture was made with most exquisite taste and of the richest material, where statues and pictures of enormous price abounded on all hands, and the floor of each room was paved with mosaics of marvellous art and extraordinary value. As I was shown from room to room, and allowed to roam amid the treasures by its courteous owner, I felt a considerable timidity, I was afraid to sit anywhere, nor did I hardly dare to put down my foot or rest my hand to lean. Everything seemed to be too good for ordinary mortals like myself; but when one is introduced into the gorgeous palace of infinite goodness, costlier and fairer far, one gazes wonderingly with reverential awe at the matchless vision. “How excellent is Thy loving kindness, O God!” “I am not worthy of the least of all Thy benefits. Oh! the depths of the love and goodness of the Lord.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But after thy hardness.
Hardness of heart
I. What it is.
1. Not mere callousness or insensibility of feeling.
2. But entire obduracy of soul--not of one faculty, but of all. The same word is sometimes translated blindness and sometimes hardness. There are two words, πῶρος a stone, and πώρωσις, blindness or hardness (Mark 3:5; Romans 11:25). This hardness, therefore--
(1) Is blindness of the mind.
(2) Is fixedness of the will in opposition to God and His truth.
(3) Admits of degrees.
(a) Disobedience and secret opposition to truth.
(b) Zealous opposition and hatred of it, manifesting itself at length in blasphemy and persecution.
II. This hardness is a sinful state.
1. From its very nature.
2. In its higher form it is the state or character of the lost and of Satan.
3. It is self induced.
(1) As it is the natural effect of our depravity.
(2) As it is the natural consequence of the indulgence of sin.
As the natural consequence of the cultivation of virtue is virtue; of kindness is kindness, and so the natural consequence of the indulgence of sin is sin--a sinful hardening of the heart.
III. It is none the less a Divine judgment and a premonition of reprobation. Any degree of it is reason to fear such reprobation. The higher forms of it are direct evidence of it.
1. God exerts no efficiency in hardening the heart of sinners, as He does in working grace.
2. But it is the punitive withdrawing of the Spirit; the inevitable result of which is obduracy. God let Pharaoh alone and the result was what it was.
3. In its last stage it is beyond the reach of argument, motive, discipline, or culture; and beyond our own power to cure or remove.
1. Dread it.
2. Withstand it.
3. Pray against it.
4. Avoid it by not grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Hardness of heart
This is the state of a person insensible alike to entreaties, expostulations, warnings, admonitions, and chastisements (Jeremiah 5:3). Men become obdurate--
1. By separating themselves from God, the Source of all life, just as a branch dries up when detached from the tree, or as a limb withers when the connection between it and the heart ceases.
2. By a life of pleasure and sin, the effects of which may be compared to those of the river north of Quite, petrifying, according to Kirwin’s account, the wood and leaves cast into its waters; or to those of the busy feet of passers-by causing the crowded thoroughfare to grow hard. (C. Neil, M. A.)
Hardening the heart
On a winter evening, when the frost is setting in with growing intensity, and when the sun is now far past the meridian, and gradually sinking in the western sky, there is a double reason why the ground grows every moment harder and more impenetrable to the plough. On the one hand, the frost of evening, with ever increasing intensity, is indurating the stiffening clods: on the other hand, the genial rays which alone can soften them are every moment withdrawing and losing their enlivening power. Take heed that it be not so with you. As long as you are unconverted, you are under a double process of hardening. The frosts of an eternal night are settling down upon your souls; and the Sun of Righteousness, with westering wheel, is hastening to set upon you for evermore. If, then, the plough of grace cannot force its way into your ice-bound heart today, what likelihood is there that it will enter tomorrow? (R. M. McCheyne, M. A.)
As the old historian says about the Roman armies that marched through a country burning and destroying every living thing, “they make a solitude, and call it peace,” so men do with their consciences. They stifle them, forcibly silence them, somehow or other; and then when there is a dead stillness in the heart, unbroken by no voice of either approbation or blame, but doleful like the unnatural quiet of a deserted city, then they say it is peace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And impenitent heart.
The impenitent heart is one which
1. Has not repented.
2. Is not easily brought to repentance.
3. Is disinclined and unwilling to repent.
4. Is unable to repent. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Its nature.
1. We shall better understand this if we consider what is the nature of penitence, which is a clear view of our nature and conduct as tried by the pure and perfect law of God. Connected with this there is--
(1) A consciousness that we are deservedly under the wrath of God, and the curse of that law which our sins have violated.
(2) Alarm at sin and its consequences.
(3) An ingenuous disposition to confess sin to God, without extenuation or self-defence.
(4) Grief for sin.
(5) A disposition to forsake it.
(6) And there will be no true repentance where there is not faith in Christ, as the only way by which sin can be forgiven.
2. Now, impenitence means, of course, the opposite to this. The man who is not convinced of sin, etc., is impenitent, hard-hearted towards God and religion.
3. Mark the guilt of this. It really contains in itself every aggravation that sin admits of. It is--
(1) Rebellion against the authority of God, who commands men everywhere to repent.
(2) Great insult to God: for in proportion to the excellence of any being whom we may offend should be the promptness of our mind to confess the offence and mourn over it.
(3) Great contempt of the law of God, that, after we have trampled it under foot, we should have no grief for the injury we have done it.
(4) Total rejection of the whole scheme of mercy in the gospel.
II. Its consequences.
1. The time when the punishment will be inflicted. It is very true that the moment we die we enter into heaven or hell. But neither the happiness of the righteous nor the punishment of the wicked will be complete till the judgment. This is called--
(1) “The day of wrath,” and it wilt be to the wicked nothing but that.
(2) A day of revelation. There will be a revelation--
(a) Of God, in the wisdom of His plans, in His mercy to His people, in His justice of the punishment of the wicked.
(b) Of Jesus Christ. No more shall it be doubted that He is the great God and our Saviour.
(c) Of man. Millions of saints shall come out from their obscurity, and shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Millions of flaming but hypocritical professors shall stand at that day unmasked.
(d) Of secrets--all the secrets of men’s history.
(3) But the text speaks of it as the revelation of righteous judgment that shall come on the wicked. There will be a revelation--
(a) Of judgment itself. The punishment of the wrath of God is now revealed only partially; never, impenitent sinner, till the day of judgment will the greatness of thy iniquity be revealed.
(b) Of righteous judgment; a complete manifestation of the justice of God in the punishment of the wicked. There shall be no infidels in hell: there shall none go from the judgment seat impeaching the justice of God.
(c) Before the world. So that, while the righteous shall be honoured, the wicked will be punished before the universe.
2. Its nature. “Thou treasurest up wrath.” Whose wrath? If it were the wrath of an angel there would be something tremendous in it. But--
(1) It is the wrath of God--something more terrible than the imagination can compass! Solomon tells us that “the wrath of a king is as the roaring of a lion.” But what is the wrath of a king to the wrath of God? But, perhaps, it may be said that it is only a taste of His wrath. The Scripture says wrath will come on the wicked to the uttermost; it will be unmixed wrath. Now God blends mercy with judgment: then mercy will retire.
(2) It will be wrath felt, not merely threatened. Now it is threatened, and the wicked sport with the threat; but then it will be felt.
(3) It will be everlasting wrath. What must it be to endure the unmitigated wrath of God for a moment, for an hour, for a week, for a year, for a century, for a thousand years, for a million of ages! But if, at that distance, there should be one gleam of hope appearing through the vista of darkness, hell would cease to be hell; hope would spring up; and the very idea of the termination of torment would sustain the soul under it. But oh, eternal wrath! To be obliged to cry out, How long? and to receive no answer but “Forever!” And after millions of ages have passed, and the question is again asked, How long? still to receive no answer but “Forever!”
(4) This wrath is said to be wrath to come, and because it is to come, sinners will not believe it; because it is to come, they think it never will come. But it is perpetually drawing near. It is nearer this day than it was last Sabbath day.
3. The proportion of the punishment. In the Hebrew Scriptures anything that is accumulative is accounted treasure. Hence, we read of the treasures of wickedness. The expression “treasurest up wrath” seems to be put in opposition to “the riches of His goodness.” What an idea! Treasures of love! Heaps of wrath! And you will observe the sinner is represented as the author of his own punishment. The idea conveyed is this, that there is an accumulation continually going on as long as he sins. And then, as this proportion will be according to the sin committed, so it will be according to the mercies abused and neglected. The sins of the poor heathen are light compared with ours, and the punishment will be light too. (J. Angell James.)
Treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath.--
He who perseveres in sin is not only continuing in a dangerous state, but treasuring up unto himself wrath. As a man amasses a fortune by saving up certain sums from year to year, and more and more as he goes on, so this man goes on making the wrath that will come upon him at last heavier and heavier, by adding fresh sins day after day. God does not forget; He is ready to forgive, so entirely and freely to forgive that He calls it forgetting, but He does not let things pass by forgetfulness, and therefore our deeds are “treasured up” against the day of judgment, and He will then render to us according to them. Prudence would always lead us to think what we are treasuring up for ourselves, for whatever we do, we may be sure we are treasuring up something. Our daily life is adding by little and little to some kind of stock that is laid up for us. In this world, if we are regular and temperate in our living, we lay up for ourselves, ordinarily, health and length of life. If, on the contrary, we are irregular, self-indulgent, or intemperate, we lay up for ourselves an accumulating stock of weakness and disease, and a debt to our nature which we may have to pay by the cutting off of many days from our time here. If we are honest and industrious, we lay up for ourselves a treasure of good character, which will serve us more and more as we grow older; if we are dishonest and idle, we lay up for ourselves a bad character, which will tell more and more against us. If we are kind and good-tempered, we lay up a treasure of the goodwill of our fellows; if we are proud and quarrelsome, we lay up enmities and dislikes, which may grow even to our ruin, and which may any day show themselves, all gathered into a mass, when we should most wish to be clear of them. And we know very well how it is sometimes when any person goes on behaving ill towards ourselves, disregarding our advice, disobeying our orders, reckoning upon our not choosing to punish; we go on a long time, it may be, to give him a chance of doing better, but at last he heaps up such an abundance and weight of misconduct, that we can bear it no longer, and we dismiss him from his employment with disgrace. So it is with a man who deals thus lightly with God, and presumes on His forbearance. God warns him again and again, but yet for a while does not execute judgment upon him. But at last comes the day of reckoning, and it is found that he has been all along heaping up for himself an evil treasure, a treasure of wrath against the day of wrath. The pleasures that are gone have left a sting behind them, the unjust gains, that seemed for a while to abide, are a witness against the covetous (James 5:2-4). (C. Marriott, B. D.)
Treasuring up wrath
This proves that sins will be punished according to their accumulation. A man is rich according to his treasures. The wicked will be punished according to the number and aggravation of their sins. There are two treasures, which Paul opposes to each other--that of goodness, of forbearance, and long suffering--and that of wrath; and the one may be compared to the other. The one provides and amasses blessings for the creature, the other punishments; the one invites to heaven, the other precipitates to hell; the one looks on sin to pardon it on repentance, the other regards obstinate continuance to punish it, and avenge favours that are despised, God alone prepares the first, but man himself the second. (R. Haldane.)
It is related that some years ago, in a mountainous region on the continent of Europe, an avalanche of snow--i.e., an enormous mass of snow--came down from one of the overhanging rocks in such a vast body as entirely to dam up a river into which it fell. What was the effect produced? As the river could no longer flow, it went on forming itself into an extensive lake--threatening, whenever it should burst through its snowy barrier, to carry desolation and ruin upon men and villages in the country beneath. The larger the quantity of water suspended, the greater would be its violence when it obtained its liberty: and so it proved. The devastation caused was said to be terrible in the extreme. It is thus with every unconverted sinner. The longer he lives, the greater is the amount of wrath he is accumulating, or treasuring up, against his day of destruction. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
And revelation of the righteous Judgment of God.--
The revelation of God’s righteous judgments
1. Further on in this epistle the contrast between darkness and light is employed to depict the difference between the present time and that which will succeed the second coming of Christ (Romans 13:12). We may have been compelled to tread a dangerous path under the guidance of an imperfect light, and we can recall the difficulty of distinguishing between substance and shadow, the bewildering sense of insecurity, and our thankfulness when the day enabled us to see things as they really were.
2. The imagery then, of the apostle is exceedingly appropriate to our present condition. We are not in absolute darkness, for we have the Word of God, which is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path. The road of safety is indeed sufficiently plain. But if we look beyond and around us, there are painful problems which we cannot solve, and huge difficulties which we cannot surmount. We cannot discern as yet the true proportions and nature of things; but when the day of eternity breaks, then the blinding, perplexing shadows will disappear.
3. These remarks will serve to introduce our topic. God is greatly misunderstood even by His own people. Witness the eases of Job, of Jeremiah, and of some of the Psalmists (Psalms 73:1-28). And if it be so with religious people, much more must it be true of the ungodly. But a day is coming when it shall be seen that He is holy in all His ways, and righteous in all His works.
I. Consider some of the difficulties which perplex us.
1. Those which concern God’s dealings with ourselves. Not unfrequently it happens that trials befall a Christian which he cannot interpret, and he is almost tempted to think that God is not the wise and loving Father he has been led to suppose. It may be, too, that the explanation will never come in this world. God would have His children trust Him without explanation. And then the only refuge is in the words “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
2. Those connected with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
(1) If there be one thing in Scripture more plain than another, it is that the offer of salvation is made to every man. And the blame of rejection is distinctly thrown upon the sinner: “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” Now all this points to the responsibility of man. He might come, but he refuses to come. Here, then, is one side of the truth. On the other side we are just as plainly taught that no man cometh unto Christ unless the Father draw him; that repentance and faith are both the gift of God; and that Christians can take no credit to themselves for the position in which they are placed, but that they are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God,” etc. In the matter of salvation He acts according to the good pleasure of His will. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” Here, then, we have another side of the truth--the sovereignty of God.
(2) Now you ask me to make these two statements consistent. I cannot comply with your demand. What I know is this, that I am bound to hold both truths without anxiety about consequences; and that there is a witness for both facts in the hearts of men. Never yet was a Christian found who would not admit that his salvation originated with God; and the man without faith in Christ, though he will say nothing, his conscience bears witness that he has been resisting by an act of his own will the gracious influences of God’s Holy Spirit; and that if he should perish in his sins, he will have no one to blame for his ruin but himself. With these testimonies we may be satisfied, and look for the solution of the difficulty hereafter. The revelation that is coming will be a revelation of the “righteous” judgment of God.
(3) With respect to this particular subject we may represent the two doctrines as two massive pillars standing face to face as if they were rivals. There they stand; and we look up at them, trying to trace out a point of contact. But they rise beyond our vision, and their majestic shafts are soon lost in dark mysterious clouds, and the eye can follow them no longer. But somewhere beyond the clouds--somewhere in the world of light above--we believe that they unite in some grand arch, and that there all appearance of antagonism disappears; and we believe also that that meeting point will be seen at the manifestation of Jesus Christ.
3. Those connected with the broad subject of the Divine dealings with the human race.
(1) There is one in the fact that so many centuries have elapsed since the sacrifice of Calvary, and yet so small a portion of the human race have heard the gospel.
(2) There is another in the fact that those who die in their sins will be punished eternally. This topic is one so inexpressibly painful and puzzling that we do not much wonder at the theories which evade the force of the Scriptural statements.
II. With respect to these difficulties consider--
1. That they are altogether inseparable from our present condition. Much as we should like to have everything made plain to us, it cannot be so; and it is well, too, that it should be so. We are in the night, not in the day; we have a glimmer, but not the full light: the full light comes in with the appearing of Christ. Moreover, this is the season of training. If everything were intelligible, where would be the exercise of faith?
2. That we are led to look forward to a day of explanation, a day of revelation is coming, which will be a day of revelation of the righteousness of the decisions and of the appointments of God. Wait for that day patiently. Its bright light will solve all problems, and scatter the darkness of those mysteries which now perplex and distress the Christian mind.
III. What conclusions shall we draw from our subject?
1. That the belief of the coming of a day of explanation will operate to check all hasty theorising, all “judging before the time.” Men yield to this temptation and invent systems of doctrine in the vain hope of escaping from the grand inconsistency of Holy Scripture. Like men in old times, occupied with squaring the circle, perpetual motion, or the method of turning everything into gold, they busy themselves with an unprofitable, because impossible, task. Yet again, men in their impatience to solve the problem of the Divine dealings with man have rejected the statements of Holy Writ. These theorists are bidden wait for the day of explanation that is coming. Thus there is in this view of the text a remedy for our natural impatience.
2. But more than this: there is much comfort in looking forward to such a time. A loving child may have most perfect confidence in his father. He is sure that what that father does is right and wise; yet he may be puzzled with the captious remarks of his father’s enemies. So he looks forward to the day of explanation. He knows that then the character and acts of his parent will receive a most triumphant vindication, and that the mouths of all detractors will be silenced, and silenced forever. Even so the Christian looks forward with delight to the second appearing of the Lord--the day of the revelation of the righteousness and holiness of God.
3. Yet in all perplexities we have an unfailing remedy available now. We can look to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Every murmur ought to be stilled, every doubt ought to be suppressed, every misgiving silenced--when we stand on the slope of Calvary. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
Who will render to every man according to his deeds.
In some parts of the Bible the inheritance of the saints is set forth as the recompense of good works, while there are others in which it is represented as the free gift of grace, a thing that faith alone can receive. Without faith no one can hope to see heaven; neither can anyone see it without good works, or, which is the same thing, without that newness of heart in which they take their rise. They are not related to heaven, however, in the same manner.
I. Eternal life cannot, in any strict sense, be said to be the reward of any well-doing or merit of our own. For who is there that can look for anything at the hands of God, or even hope to stand in peace before Him, on the simple ground of his own character? Even the best parts of the very holiest of lives in this world cannot bear His rule of retribution. It is only of infinite grace that anyone, even when he has done his utmost, can enter into the joy of the Lord. Eternal life is not wages, it is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.
II. While the work of our Saviour accounts for the gift of eternal life as enjoyed in common by all the saints, it leaves unexplained those diversities by which their life in heaven is characterised. The ground on which the gift of life is given, is the meritorious work done by Christ in our behalf--a righteousness that is made ours by faith, and that comes up to all that the holy law of God can require of us. This righteousness is not only perfect in its nature, but also infinite in measure; so rich in merit that it can extend to any number of souls, and secure for us any degree, however high, in the joys of heaven. Its virtue is no wise dependent on the strength of the faith by which we embrace it, but is entirely inherent in itself, as the work of One in whom the Divine and the human are alike combined in all their fulness. Hence, if there is no other consideration to come into view, the honours and the enjoyments of heaven must be the same to all; there can be no degrees of blessedness; one saint cannot have a higher place in glory than another. But does this agree with what we are taught concerning the heavenly world? We read of diversities of gifts in the early Church, all proceeding from the same Spirit--some more, and some less honourable--some more, and some less profitable: diversities of somewhat the same kind prevail at this day. May we not expect that these distinctions in the Church on earth will give rise to corresponding distinctions in the Church in heaven, and that the various degrees of blessedness among the saints in light will have their root in those varieties of character and services by which Christians are distinguished in the present world?
1. As the believer is accepted in Christ, so all that is good in him, whether in heart or life, is accepted also, and not only accepted but rewarded. An illustration may be used, in the light of which eternal life as a free gift may be seen to be in perfect harmony with the idea of recompense. Take the case of some institution in this world, the inmates of which are received into it not on the ground of anything meritorious in themselves, but simply by virtue of the free gift of some generous benefactor who procures the right of admission for them. Side by side with this, may there not be room in the internal arrangements of such an institution for various measures of benefit and various degrees of enjoyment, arising from diversities of character among those who have found a home in it?
2. Another reason why heaven will be richer in blessing to some than to others is, that many of the works in which they engage on earth are of such a kind that their results will meet them there, and thus prove a source of joy to them. The landscape glowing on the canvas is an object of pleasant interest to everyone, but to none so much as to the artist whose taste, and skill, and patient labour have produced it. When a tract of waste and barren land has been reclaimed and brought under cultivation--when golden harvests and pleasant homes are seen to spread over a whole district where but lately there was nothing to meet the eye but crags and marshes--the contemplation of a scene like this will be a source of peculiar pleasure to the man to whose enterprise the change is due. One who spends his time and his means in civilising some rude and degraded tribe, secures for himself a pleasure of a higher kind. But of a still higher and more lasting nature must the pleasure be that is enjoyed by the man who is instrumental, under God, in reclaiming lost souls, and to whom it is given to behold peace and holiness where there was nothing but disorder and sin. For what is the utmost that a mere earthly civilisation can do for mankind, in comparison with those blessings to which they may be raised through the gospel--blessings imperishable as the soul and lasting as eternity?
3. A further reason why some will stand higher than others in the joy of heaven, is to be found in the larger capacity for spiritual enjoyment to which they have attained in their course on earth. The new man of the heart is capable of increase in knowledge, and power, and love, and holiness, and consequently in the capacity for happiness. This increase depends partly on the use we make of the means of grace, but also on the faithfulness with which we employ the powers we already have, both natural and spiritual, in doing the work that God has given us to do. Exercise is one of the indispensable conditions of the soul’s growth: there must be a “patient continuance in well-doing.” And the more we abound in those things by which man is blessed and God glorified, the more do we grow in sympathy with the Divine character, the purer is the joy we are capable of receiving, and the more meet do we become for the employments and the pleasures of a higher world; so that on this principle well-doing has a part in working out its own recompense. (G. Hutchison, D. D.)
I. Essential--proved a priori by--
1. To the good, glory, etc. (verse 7).
2. To the wicked, wrath (verse 8).
III. Impartial. To the Jews, etc., for there is no respect of persons with God (verses 9-12). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The final judgment
I. Its certainty, “will render.”
II. Its universality, “to every man.”
III. Its equity, “according to their deeds.” (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Justification by faith and works
It has been asked how this maxim can be reconciled With the doctrine of justification by faith. There is only one answer to this question, viz., that justification by faith alone applies to the time of entrance into salvation through the free pardon of sin, but not to the time of judgment. When God of free grace receives the sinner at the time of his conversion, He asks nothing of him except faith; but from that moment the believer enters on a wholly new responsibility; God demands from him, as the recipient of grace, the fruits of grace. This is obvious from the parable of the talents. The Lord commits His gifts to His servants freely; but from the moment when that extraordinary grace has been shown, He expects something from their labour. Compare also the parable of the wicked debtor, where the pardoned sinner who refuses to forgive his brother is replaced under the rule of justice, and consequently under the burden of debt. The reason is that faith is not the dismal prerogative of being able to sin with impunity; it is, on the contrary, the means of overcoming sin and acting holily, and if this life fruit is not produced it is dead, and will be declared vain (Matthew 3:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 6:7). (Prof. Godet.)
I. Their quality.
II. Their frequency.
III. Their degree.
IV. Their circumstances.
V. Their effects. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Deeds are seeds
The crop may extend through many generations. The consequences of our deeds may end only with the world. Men’s example, instructions, institutions, written works. Believers’ good deeds receive a righteous reward of grace (Matthew 25:34-35; Hebrews 6:10); their evil ones though pardoned in Christ are visited with chastisements here. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.
I. In aim.
II. In conduct.
III. In result. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. The supreme duty of life. “Well-doing.” Man only lives as he is active, and he only lives rightly and happily as he acts well. “Well-doing” does not mean the “well-doing” of one faculty, but of all faculties, not in one sphere of life, but in all spheres; it means doing everything from the right principle, supreme love to God.
II. The supreme duty of life requires continuance. “Patient continuance.” He that does not do well always, at all times, in all circumstances, does not do well at all. A man is either under the sovereignty of the right principle or not. If not, whatever he does is wrong-doing; if he is, whatever he does is right. “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” Hold on to the principle, be ever loyal to it.
III. Continuance in the supreme duty calls for patience. “Patient continuance is well-doing.” Patience, because there are so many forces that obstruct, so many circumstances that try, so many agencies that are hostile. “Resist the devil,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
“Good work,” as the Greek has it--not “works,” but lifelong work. Consider this--
I. Negatively. It is not--
II. Positively. It is well-doing; good.
1. As to the matter--prescribed by God and according to His will (Micah 6:8).
2. As to the motive--done for God’s glory and pleasure (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23).
3. As to the manner--carefully, earnestly, heartily (2 Corinthians 9:7; Romans 12:11; Colossians 3:23).
4. As to its essential element--love (Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 13:10).
5. As to its example--Christ (1 Peter 2:21-23).
III. Relationally. Well-doing is agreeable.
1. To the nature God has given us.
2. To the relation in which we stand to God and our fellow men.
3. To the rule God has given us in Scripture.
1. Well-doing is the effect of grace alone (Romans 3:12; Ephesians 2:9).
2. Man is renewed in Christ for this purpose (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10).
3. Believers are required to abound in it (Colossians 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:18).
4. Well-doing alone will be rewarded. “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Patient continuance in well-doing
As the sun never leaves off shining, though clouds sometimes obscure its light, so we must never cease to do well, even to our enemies and persecutors.
The reward of patient effort
If we look back to the history of efforts which have made great changes, it is astonishing how many of them seemed hopeless to those who looked on at the beginning. Take, e.g., the effort after the unity of Italy. Look into Mazzini’s account of his first yearning, when he was a boy, after a restored greatness and new freedom for his country, and of his first efforts as a young man to rouse the same feelings in other young men, and get them to work towards a united nationality. Almost everything seemed against him; his countrymen were ignorant or indifferent, governments hostile, Europe incredulous. Of course the scorners often seemed wise. Yet you see that the prophecy lay with him. (George Eliot.)
Perseverance: its value and effects
It is only by slow stages that we can rear a monument whose proud boast it shall be that it is oere perennius. The constant dropping of water, says one proverb, hollows out the stone, and another that “he who goes slowly goes long, and goes far.” No work is well done that is done by fits and starts. Steadfast application to a fixed aim is the law of a well-spent life. When Giardini was asked how long it would take to learn the violin, he replied, Twelve hours a day for twenty years. Alas! too many of us think to play our fiddles by a species of inspiration. The Leotards and Blondins--what painful diligence must they have exhibited! The same adherence to a settled purpose might assuredly have made them benefactors of mankind had they been animated by a nobler impulse. In music, take the examples of Malibran and Pasta; in painting, of Titian and Raffaelle; in letters, of Lord Lytton and Carlyle; in science, of Laplace and Faraday; and you will find that the great results which have surrounded their names with imperishable honour, were wrought out by the most wonderful constancy of labour, and the most heroic energy of patience. Nothing can be greater mistake than to suppose that genius dispenses with labour. What genius does is to inspire the soul with a power to persevere in the labour that is needed; but the greater geniuses in every art invariably labour at their art far harder than all others, because their genius shows them the value of such patient labour, and aids them to persist in it. (W. H. D. Adams.)
Good works must be continuous
No grace, no, not the most sparkling and shining grace, can bring a man to heaven of itself without perseverance; not faith (which is the champion of grace), if it be faint and fail; nor love (which is the nurse of grace), if it decline and wax cold; nor humility (which is the adorner and beautifier of grace), if it continue not to the end; not obedience, not repentance, not patience, no, nor any other grace, except they have their perfect work. It is not enough to begin well except we end well. Manasseh and Paul began ill, but ended well; Judas and Demas began well, but ended ill. (T. Brooks.)
The constancy of holiness
Holiness consists not in the rushing of intense resolve, which, like Kishon, sweeps everything before it, and then subsides, but in the constant flow of Siloah’s still waters, which perpetually make glad the city of our God. Holiness is no blazing comet, amazing nations with a transient glory; it is a fixed star that, with still, calm radiance, shines on through the darkness of a corrupt age. Holiness is persevering obedience; it is not holiness at all if it be occasional zeal and sensational piety. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The permanent determination to realise goodness
The notion of patient continuance is emphasised here, not only in opposition to the idea of intermittent moral efforts, but to indicate that there are great moral obstacles to be met on this path, and that a persistent love of goodness is needed to surmount them. The apostle says literally; perseverance in “good work.” In verse 6 he had used the plural. He now comprehends this multiplicity of “works” in the profound principle which constitutes their unity--the permanent determination to realise goodness. What supports a man in this course is the good which he has constantly before him: “glory,” an existence without defilement or weakness, resplendent throughout with the Divine brightness of holiness and power: “honour,” the approbation of God which forms the eternal honour of its object: “incorruptibility,” the absolute impossibility of any wound, interruption or end to this state of being. The “and” between the last two substantives, shows a certain degree of emotion; the accumulation of terms arises from the same cause. In all human conditions there are souls who contemplate the ideal here described, and which, ravished with its beauty, are elevated by it above every earthly ambition and the pursuit of sensual gratifications. These are the men who are represented under the figure of the merchant seeking goodly pearls. For such is the pearl of great price--“life eternal!” This last word, laden, as it were, with all Divine riches, denotes the realisation of the ideal just described; it worthily closes this magnificent proposition. (Prof. Godet.)
The beatitude of patient courage
I. The ideal Christian life. “Patient continuance in well-doing.”
1. The feverish ambition which must see its name in the newspaper and be congratulated in public meetings, is in great danger of exhausting its reward before the day of judgment (Matthew 6:2-5). Happier far is he who hears with glad surprise the Master’s “Well done,” and finds that the work which was unnoticed on earth was seen and remembered in heaven.
2. Spasmodic effort, brief fervour followed by long languor, wins no enduring honour either in this world or the next. Steady, brave, unremitted work is that which pays best, both here and hereafter. How many teachers have for years toiled on receiving scant recognition on earth, yet day by day preparing for that time when their pound shall have gained ten pounds! There was a teacher at East Grinstead who for fifty-seven years had been present at his post twice every Sunday with few exceptions. “He has in his class the grandchildren of those he once taught. He does not remember a single occasion on which he has been late.” It would be hard to find a more apt illustration of patient continuance in well-doing.
3. Patient continuance means more than patience, perseverance, endurance. It is heroic patience, strong both to bear and to do, which, like love, “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” and “never faileth.” There are many short cuts to success in Christian work, but this is the only true way. Let us seek it earnestly, and tread it consistently.
II. The reward.
1. What they seek they win. Eternal glory, the honour that cometh from God, a life that knows no decay, these are the objects of Christian ambition, and they who patiently seek shall find them. God giveth to such eternal life--not simply unending life, but life in all its glorious fulness. This is the end of patient Christian toil.
2. There is way which to the natural man seemeth dull, hard, uninviting, unhonourable, “but the end thereof are the ways of” life (Proverbs 14:12). The loftiest end is reached by the lowliest path.
3. Eternal life, with all its unutterable joy and glory, awaits the faithful Christian worker in every field. It is not well to dwell exclusively upon the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him, but it is surely well ever and anon to glance upward for a moment to that crown which the man with the muck rake neither sought nor saw. These things are made known to us, not that we may become careless or boastful, but that we may be strengthened and heartened. (A. E. Gregory.)
I. The grandeur of the aim.
“Seek for glory, honour, immortality.” What great words these! Some wish to take them out of the vocabulary, and out of human life--they deride such ideas. But we need them, and cannot get on without them. We go into the fields, and there grows a modest simple daisy. But think what a costly flower it is! It owes its shape to the action of the vast terrible law of gravitation working through all the realms of space; to refresh it the ocean must yield its virtue; to vivify it the electrical forces must sweep through the planet; to colour it millions of vibrations must shoot through the light ether; to build it up, unfold it, perfect it, it requires an orb ninety-five millions of miles away, five hundred times bigger than all the planets put together--a million and a half times bigger than the earth itself. “Vain little daisy, will not less than this do for you,” says the sceptical critic. No; less will not do. So man may seem a poor creature in infidel eyes, but if he is shut out from large ideas and hopes he loses the fulness of life and happiness. Take these words, “glory, honour, immortality,” out of the vocabulary, and what is the effect on--
1. Character? It is all very well to attempt to shut men up to beef and beer, but we shall never get large, strong, beautiful life out of that. It is certain that where these words have been most laid to heart, the rarest, purest graces have bloomed. Some horticulturists hold that roses grow best on their own roots. I am quite sure that God’s roses grow best so; and whenever they are severed from their own roots, grafted into some wild briar of the wilderness, and planted on secular ground, the moss rose of the garden becomes the dog rose of the hedge. No; you only get noble, tender, pure, beneficent character out of a lofty faith and a glorious hope.
2. Experience? Will the spirit of man be content without these words? No, say the men of the world, but they can find glory, honour, immortality within the worldly life. Can they? “Glory” means solidity, reality, durability; have they these? Certainly not. According to their philosophy, man is a soap bubble, and, pricked by death, where is he? “Honour,” have they that? If you take the soul out of man he is but one of the beasts which perish, and social honours are his golden shoes, his jingling bells. Is this honour? “Immortality,” have they that? Yes, fame. Fame! a death’s head decked with a fading wreath. No, they have not these things, they have only the words. There is no lofty, luminous character, no rich, satisfying experience, except as we recognise our share in the Divine and the eternal. “To them who seek glory, honour, immortality, eternal life.” God goes beyond our utmost ideas. In the lips of men these words shrink to nothing, but God fills them to overflowing with glorious meaning. Aim at the highest. When a great ideal slips out of a man’s soul he begins to rot; only as he cherishes grand thoughts does he find rest to his soul, and come to the stature of a perfect man.
II. The simplicity of the pathway. “By patient continuance in well-doing.” There is something quite startling between the aim and the condition. “Well-doing.” Men have sought “glory,” etc. in many strange paths, but the true plain path is here--well-doing. Not brilliant doing in trade, war, scholarship, but well-doing. Doing the work of life with a willing mind, a loving heart, with both hands earnestly--diligence in getting good, being good, doing good. In this world all the grand prizes go to a few brilliant people. It was so at school. The brilliant boys carried off the prizes. It is the same in the big world, which likes genius, brilliance, audacity. But what a blessing it is to us, the dim million, to know that God recognises patient merit, and that the grandest prizes of all are kept not for the brilliant, but for the faithful. God recognises--
1. The greatness of simple character. We are apt to overlook great character in humble guise, but God does not. We look at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. I do not want anybody to tell me about the man who spoke prose for forty years without knowing it. Scores of men speak poetry for forty years without knowing it, nay, act splendid poetry without knowing it, and God shall surprise them with a splendid reward. “Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered,” etc. Thousands of lowly men think but little of themselves and their doings, but God knows their measure and shall surprise them with glory, honour, immortality beyond their most glowing dream.
2. The greatness of simple duty. The cynic loves to show how mean splendid things are when critically examined. Such substances as clay and flint form the basis of nearly all the precious stones. But so far from showing the meanness of magnificence, he shows the magnificence of meanness. So men of a certain temper love to show how all the business of life is vulgar and insignificant; but if our daily tasks are viewed in regard to the will of God, the fashioning of our character and destiny, they are solemn and momentous. Angels and shopkeepers, archangels and manufacturers, belong to the same celestial hierarchy as they stand before God’s face and do His bidding. “There is no difference, for God is no respecter of persons.”
3. The greatness of simple suffering. One of our writers said the world just now wants heroes. It altogether depends what kind of heroes they are. Some of these make a great stir for small advantage. The most illustrious of heroes are often those of “obscure life.” All around us simple people bear uncomplainingly the most bitter suffering; nobly resist the most terrible temptation; sustain with silence the heaviest burdens. Gordon flashed a splendid figure on the imagination of the world, but there are many Gordons unknown to fame, but who are known to God, and shall not lose their appropriate reward. Conclusion: Let us be content with our place and work however coarse and common. If we cannot be flowers of the garden, of the aristocracy of flowers, let us be flowers of the grass, very beautiful in the eyes of Him who makes the grass to grow upon the mountains. It is not in brilliance that we shall be saved, but by pegging away in simple, honest work. But let us feed our soul with high beliefs and hopes. Let us talk to ourselves all the day long about glory, honour, immortality, eternal life; so shall our path of life, however lowly, be a royal pathway, brighter and brighter, to a perfect day! (W. L. Watkinson.)
The Christian’s great aim
I. The object of the Christian’s pursuit. A triple crown--a crown of “glory and honour and immortality.” But does not this reduce their virtue to a thing of hollow utility? No; as will appear if we consider their motive, which is that they may east their crowns at Jesus’ feet. They seek--
1. A glorious position--“glory,” “majesty.” The inhabitants of heaven are all glorious within, and all glorious without.
2. The highest praise, “honour.” Courtiers have spent years to insinuate themselves into the favour of their king; while vast numbers have not spent an hour in seeking the smile of God. And yet to have the approbation of the highest potentate of earth, is nothing compared with the approbation of the King of Glory.
3. To hold this position and this praise in perpetual possession. There is here a contrast between the things of earth and of heaven. Here, the leaf must wither and the flower must die; there, the leaf is evergreen and the flower amaranthine.
II. The means employed to obtain this object.
1. There is the performance of good works. This universe is an infinite conjugation of the verb “to do.” And it is either conjugated ill or well. By the Christian, it is conjugated well.
2. The patient performance of good works. “Good doing” in this world is climbing the steep, often with bleeding feet. Hence, Christians require the Divine virtue of patience; and patience is true heroism.
3. Perseverance in the performance of good works. Our life must resemble the sun in his commencement, continued course, and consummation. We must travel onward and upward to “the perfect day” of knowledge, of purity, of joy.
III. The object obtained by the means employed. Those who seek in the way described not only find what they seek, but much more--eternal life. This life is--
3. Permanent. (J. Dunlop.)
Seeking for glory, honour, and immortality
1. As one who feels the want of those blessings (Luke 15:14; Ecclesiastes 1:2; Jeremiah 2:13).
2. As one who discerns their surpassing excellence and worth (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:7-8).
3. As one who is willing to strive for them in the appointed and proper way, and to accept them upon the terms offered (2 Timothy 2:5; Isaiah 55:1).
4. As one who is prepared to make any self-sacrifice, brave all dangers and oppositions, and never to be deterred by failure (Acts 21:13). (C. Neil, M. A.)
or splendour, is here as often elsewhere in Scripture, specified as the distinguishing characteristic of that celestial state in which the holy find their everlasting award. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43; cf. Romans 9:23; Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:10; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Peter 5:10). On earth the righteous may have their lot in the midst of the mean accompaniments of poverty. In heaven everything around as well as within them will be lustrous and glorious. (J. Morison, D. D.)
This is another fold of the manifold excellency of the heavenly state. It is kindred to “glory.” Its idea, however, has more of relativity about it. One may be absolutely glorious. God from everlasting was so. But one can have “honour” only when others esteem and prize and praise. Hence the connection of the Greek word (τιμή) with price (see 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 27:6; and compare the German preis, and the English “prize” and “praise.”) Relative “honour” as well as essential glory awaits the holy. They will bask in the Father’s approbation and complacency. Angels will rejoice in their companionship. They will be “kings unto God,” and will “reign with Christ” (Revelation 5:10). (J. Morison, D. D.)
naturally looks back to “glory” and “honour,” and contrasts the permanence of the celestial with the fleeting shadows of the terrestrial. The “inheritance” is “incorruptible.” The diadem that encircles the brows of the glorified heirs is amaranthine. It “fadeth not away.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
Labouring for eternity
“There,” exclaimed an artist, on finishing a perishable work on perishable material, “it is done!--and it has been thirty years in doing!” We labour for eternity; and shall we think a life long to devote to endless results? (A. Reed, D. D.)
Working for eternity
Apelles, the Grecian painters when asked why he touched and retouched his pictures with so much care, answered, “Because I paint for eternity.”
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath.--
Factiousness and its punishment
I. The character described.
(1) The expression is literally “those who are ‘of ‘ a factious spirit.” Descent or parentage is suggested as in “him who is of faith,” “them who are of the circumcision” (cf. also Galatians 4:10; John 18:37)
, and in “children of light,” etc. (Ephesians 2:2-3; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). In all such expressions the outstanding idea derived from the universally recognised law of like begetting like, is that of predominant characteristic.
(2) The word itself denotes a spirit of faction, but always with a vile implication of interested and selfish aims. The apostle’s reference, therefore, is not to mere political sectarianism, or national bigotry. His mind has before it the conception of God’s vast moral empire. Faction in it is opposition to the monarch of the universe; opposition that springs from a base desire to gratify the lower principles of the nature. It is in fact a covert kind of rebellion; only it is rebellion animated by the most ignoble aims.
2. The factious are disobedient to the truth. Such, indeed, is implied in their factiousness. “The truth” is personified as a lady or mistress who ought to be obeyed. The truth is disobeyed when there is a wilful refusal to have the life, at once in its inner thoughts and feelings, and in its outer acts, conformed to the rule which it embodies. The rule is imperative. For moral, religious, evangelical truth is revealed just in order that the living mind may live in conformity with it, and thus in consonance with the will of Him whose voice truth is.
3. The factious while disobedient to the truth are obedient to unrighteousness--the counterpart idea which is the complement of the preceding clause. The lawful sovereign of the soul being disobeyed, subjection is transferred to a usurper’s sway. Unrighteousness has doubtless its usual import as the antithesis of moral rectitude, and is not to be regarded as doctrinal error. It is the case, however, that just as “the truth” received is the kernel of that of righteousness, without which no one can be meet to enter into the kingdom of heaven; so unrighteousness is a husk within which will be found the primal seed of error.
II. Its punishment.
1. “Wrath and indignation” from God. The one word reverberates on the other. The two are an intensification of the idea of each.
2. The suffering of tribulation and anguish. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The mercenary spirit
Contentions is mistranslated on the supposition that it has something to do with ἐρις--strife--whereas it comes from ἔριθος, a day labourer, a hireling. The word ἐριθεία is used of those who canvass for office, and form cabals and parties to accomplish their ends. Hence, in the largest sense it will signify those who labour for their own private and selfish ends; and it is remarkable that this should be contrasted with the patient continuance in well-doing, as containing in itself every form of evil. The words would be properly translated, “those who are of a mercenary spirit.” (Bp. Thirlwall.)
Obedience to unrighteousness, i.e.,
revolting against what is good, and becoming slaves to what is evil. Here a striking contrast is indicated between that contentious spirit which disobeys the truth, and yet obeys unrighteousness. The one denotes an extraordinary haughtiness, and an exceeding boldness, and the other extreme meanness and servility of soul. They who do not choose to serve God as their legitimate sovereign become the slaves of a master who is both a tyrant and usurper. (R. Haldane.)
Indignation and wrath
mark the greatness of God’s anger proportioned--
1. To the dignity of the Sovereign Judge of the world.
2. To the authority of those eternal laws which have been violated.
3. To the favours which sinners have received.
4. To the unworthiness and meanness of sin. (R. Haldane.)
Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.--
Tribulation and anguish
Tribulation means pressure, which, when extreme, as in various modes of torture, causes excruciating pain. Anguish means straitened room--straits--the source of utter despair and ruin when one is pursued by an invincible antagonist. The latter is stronger than the former (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:8)
--in every way troubled and hard pressed, but not reduced to absolute straits. Here the one term simply intensifies the other; and the two in union are a representation of the award of woe which hangs over the persistently wicked. They represent the award as it terminates in the persons judged; whereas “indignation and wrath” represent it as it emanates from the Judge. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The punishment of sin
I. Its nature.
1. Tribulation. By--
(1) Exclusion from God’s presence and the bliss of heaven.
(2) Confinement to the society of the devil, his angels, and wicked men.
(3) The absence of all that can afford comfort and pleasure.
(4) The presence of all that can occasion misery. Outer darkness: furnace and lake of fire; undying worm; bottomless pit, are its emblems.
2. Anguish. From--
(1) Experience of God’s anger.
(2) Sense of abhorrence of all holy beings.
(3) Consciousness of moral loathsomeness and corruption.
(4) Working of uncontrolled passions and ungratified desires.
(5) Sense of all being self-caused and justly deserved.
(6) Inability to escape or obtain mitigation.
(7) Knowledge that all is everlasting.
II. Its characteristics.
1. Universality. “Every soul that doeth evil.”
2. Suitability. “The soul”--
(1) The chief seat of suffering as the chief agent in sinning.
(2) Especially capable of realising the Divine anger.
3. Impartiality. “The Jew first and also the Gentile.” (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The retribution of sin mercifully revealed
I do not accept the doctrine of eternal punishment because I delight in it. I would cast in doubts, if I could, till I had filled hell up to the brim. I would destroy all faith in it, but that would do me no good; I could not destroy the thing. I cannot alter the stern fact. The exposition of future punishment in God’s Word is not to be regarded as a threat, but as a merciful declaration. If, in the ocean of life, over which we are bound to eternity, there are these rocks and shoals, it is no cruelty to chart them down; it is an eminent and prominent mercy. (H. W. Beecher.)
The law of consequences
After a service in a place where the people had been a good deal bewildered by a young preacher, who accepted only so much of the Bible as suited his whims, and who was wont to make merry over the idea of future punishment, a man stepped up to me and said in a bantering voice: “Bishop, do you believe in hell?” I said, “Are you anxious to know what I think of hell?” “Yes,” said he. “Well,” said I, “the best answer I ever heard came from a poor negro woman. She had a young niece, who sorely tried the poor soul. The more she struggled to keep this wilful charge in the right way the more she seemed to wander. One day, after hearing a new preacher, the niece came bounding into the room and said: ‘Aunty, I ain’t gwine to believe in a hell no more. Ef dar is any hell, I jest wants to know where dey gets all de brimstone for dat place; dat’s ‘zactly what I would like to know.’ The old woman fixed her eyes on her, and with a tear on her cheek, said: ‘Ah, honey darlin’, you look out you don’t go dere, for you’ll find dey takes dere own brimstone wid ‘em.’“ I then said, “Is there any other question in theology you would like to ask?” “No,” said he. And he went home, I hope, with a new idea that sin brings sorrow and that to be saved we need deliverance from sin. Some men carry “their own brimstone” even in this world. (Bp. Whipple.)
The end of sinful pleasures
Be assured, a serpent lurks at the bottom of guilt’s sweetest pleasure. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
But glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good.--
Glory, honour and peace
This is the echo of verse 7. “Peace” is added in contrast to “anguish.” He who is pursued by an antagonist with whom he cannot cope in strength, he who while thus pursued, finds himself shut in within some strait place, either on land or sea, can have no repose of spirit. But in heaven there are no foes to pursue, and no straits into which to he pursued. “Honour and glory” shall be enjoyed in uninterrupted peace. “On earth,” says Chrysostom, “whatever good things a man has, he has with many troubles, even though he be rich and powerful, or even a king. Although, too, he may have no dissensions with others, he has them often with himself: there is war within his own thought. But in heaven all is reversed. There is calmness and freedom from trouble, and genuine peace.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
The blessings God has in store
I. Their nature.
II. Their objects. Those who work good.
III. Their impartiality. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The glory of heaven
We know not, and never shall know until experience strips the bandages from our eyes, what new methods of participation of the Divine nature, and new possibilities of intimacy and intercourse with Him may be ours when the veils of flesh and sense and time have all dropped away. New windows may he opened in our spirits, from which we shall perceive new aspects of the Divine character. New doors may be opened in our seals, from out of which we may pass to touch parts of His nature, all impalpable and inconceivable to us now. And when all the veils of a discordant moral nature are taken away, and we are pure, then we shall see, then we shall draw nigh to God. The thing that chiefly separates man from God is man’s sin. When that is removed, the centrifugal force which kept our tiny orb apart from the great central sun being withdrawn, we shall, as it were, fall into the brightness and be one, not losing our sense of individuality which would be to lose all the blessedness, but united with Him in a union far more intimate than earth can parallel. (A. Maclaren.)
The glory of heaven
The glory of heaven is such that it can never be fully known till it is fully enjoyed. And yet if heaven were ever made crystally transparent to you, if ever God opened you a window into it, and then the eyes of your faith to look in by that window, think what it is that you there discovered, what inaccessible light, what cherishing love, what daunting majesty, what infinite purity, what overloading joy, what insupportable and sinking glory, what rays and sparklings from crowns and sceptres; but more from the glances and smiles of God upon the heavenly host, who forever warm and sun themselves in his presence; and when you have thought all this, then think once again that all your thoughts are but shadows and glimmerings, that these are dust and ashes in the eye of your faith that makes all these discoveries come infinitely short of the native glory of these things, and then you may guess, and somewhat near, what heaven is. (Bp. Hopkins.)
For there is no respect of persons with God.
God no respecter of persons
I. It needs be so, for God rules us all.
II. It may well be so, for God is good to all.
III. It ought to be so, for God has made all.
IV. It must be so, for God is just to all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God no respecter of persons
Impartiality is one of the chief qualifications of a judge. Without it no amount of knowledge or ability can inspire confidence. Yet it is by no means a common quality. Even where a judge is truly conscientious, he is made partial by common prejudices, and by the law itself, which, in many instances, favours the rich above the poor. But God is strictly impartial, and the law affords shelter for no rich sinner, nor can any outlet be found for him who has broken it. And yet, there is an appearance of partiality. The good are the objects of God’s peculiar regard. But such is no partiality. He favours the good because they are good. He, who is righteous Himself, could not favour the unrighteous without being implicated in their sin. But God’s impartiality is seen by the fact that anyone can become a participator in His goodness. This impartiality is shown in--
I. The common declaration of sin affirmed of all. On this the whole Word of God is uniform. Now, strong as the assertion here may seem, one moment’s reflection will show its righteousness. With one consent men declare they have done wrong. Should one affirm that his life was perfect, he would be laughed at, so utterly at variance is it with the common experience of men. Here, then, is the impartiality of God. For His own honour it would seem that the faults of those who were His favourite servants should be concealed; but no, all is told.
II. The common Saviour provided for all. No man could save himself, because all had sinned. Then all must rely on this one great Mediator, who was to die for the sins of the whole world. The Jew, as a Jew, was not the object of His life and death, but the Jew, as a man, and the Gentile as a man.
III. The common condition required of all. It is usual in man-made religions so to frame the condition of salvation in favour of the rich and influential. But no such thing can be found in God’s Word. All may be saved from the common evil by one way only. It tells all that they must submit themselves to God, and that submission is shown and obtained by repentance and faith.
IV. The common rewards and punishments adjudged to all. This was beautifully taught by our Lord in the parable of Lazarus and Dives. God purposes that all should possess the blessings of eternal life, irrespective of their condition. The truly loving, faithful heart, wherever it may be found, shall be taken into Abraham’s bosom; while the disobedient, the unbelieving, will be subject to eternal death.
V. The common revelation given to all. It is in one book, which may be read and understood by all who can read. In our own country, every man cannot be his own lawyer, and so at great cost has to employ a lawyer; hence, the rich can obtain the best advice and knowledge, while the poor cannot obtain counsel at all. Such is not the case with God’s law. The book is given into our hands. (H. W. Butcher.)
God no respecter of persons
Whatever apparent varieties there may be in Divine dispensations, they do not affect the perfect rectitude of God’s moral administration, and everyone will be harmonised by the decisions of the judgment day. It will be seen, then, that the judgment of God is according to truth, for He will render to every man according to his deeds. A superficial inspection of His government often leads men to a different conclusion; and nothing is more natural than that the government of an infinite Being should present mysteries to finite minds, for it is an obvious impossibility that we should comprehend all the reasons by which an infinite Spirit is actuated; but until we can do so, we are not in a position to form a correct estimate of His proceedings. But whatever is mysterious to us, may yet be in strict accordance with the rectitude of the Divine character. “His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts.” He treats men differently. There is an immense variety in His dealings with His creatures, so that the experience of no two men is exactly alike; yet whatever differences exist, they do not trespass on equity; His punishments never exceed the demands, and His mercy is never exercised without a sacred regard to the rights of justice. Let us examine--
I. The testimony of Scripture; and we shall perceive more clearly wherein the Divine impartiality consists.
1. God hath not that respect for outward appearances which man has. In the selection of instruments to accomplish His purposes, He has respect solely to moral qualities. This is seen in the selection of David instead of Eliab. “The Lord looketh on the heart.”
2. While there is great variety in His providential government, with regard to different nations, yet it arises not from partiality; and though the Jews had put this interpretation on the Divine conduct, they were taught by Paul that both Jew and Gentile would be recompensed according to their works. And Peter, having imbibed the prejudices of his nation, was taught to acknowledge that “God is no respecter of persons.”
3. Rank, riches, honour, etc., do not affect the moral character of the Divine administration. The king and his subjects, the master and his servants, are treated on the same equitable principles.
4. We often form a too favourable estimate of those we love; our partiality conceals their defects, and magnifies their excellencies; but not so with God.
5. We cannot conceive of an infinitely perfect moral governor, and divest him of this impartiality.
(1) To suppose Him destitute of it, would be to imagine some defect in His perfections. He is infinitely wise, so that He cannot possibly mistake the characters of men. He is “a God of knowledge; by Him actions are weighed.” Partiality might be shown unwittingly, as when it arises from defective information; but intentional partiality must have a motive, and is ordinarily connected with a feeling of interest arising from the limitations and weakness of authority. But no such motive can operate with the Divine Being. The independence of Jehovah is a security for His impartiality. As He has no natural inducements to it, so partiality could only result from moral obliquity. But He has no tendency to depart from perfect uprightness; He naturally and necessarily esteems that which is good and excellent in itself, and dislikes that which is evil. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness.”
(2) As His infinite perfections are a security for the impartial administration of His government, so the inspired writers have inferred it from the common relation in which He stands to all men. He is our Creator; and it may be fairly inferred, that those who stand in a common relation will be treated on common principles. As our universal Parent, He will display the parental character to all; and whatever diversities obtain in His administration, they are not violations, but different manifestations, of the strictest impartiality. Thus God will not regard the rich more than the poor, because He is the Maker of them all.
II. Illustrations from the great features of God’s government of the world.
1. His providential dispensations are, notwithstanding their great variety, impartial.
(1) There is perfect equality in the principal facts of man’s history; and all the varieties of providence are trifling when compared with the points in which men’s experience agree. Men enter into life in the same state of helpless infancy; they are subject to similar diseases; and the characteristic joys of different periods of life are much the same in all countries. There is great sameness in the occupations of men; and while there are differences of rank and station, the advantages and disadvantages of each are so nicely poised, that it is difficult for us to say, when we contemplate the whole of our being, which is to be preferred.
(2) Human life, in itself considered, presents no essential difference. It is preserved and sustained by means which have all the regularity of laws; and the actions of the body and mind are obviously essentially the same in all men. And while there is no important distinction in the physical or mental constitution of mankind, the external world stands in the same relation to all, quite irrespective of persons or character. The sun shines on the evil and the good; God sends His rain upon the just and upon the unjust. The same physical laws are in operation with regard to all men; and the natural results of conduct are experienced over the whole world. In all ordinary circumstances, “He becometh poor that is slothful, and the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” As the whole character of man’s existence is strikingly similar, so in death there appears a similar equality.
(3) God’s experimental probation of His intelligent creatures is perfectly adapted to the infinite variety of mind and character. He governs them by one law, which, by its contractile and expansive force, is a perfect law of equity to every individual He has formed. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much will be required.” There is nothing in God’s law which respects only a portion of our race; it is of universal obligation, and of common concern to every individual. It is accompanied by the same rewards and punishments to all men. Its sanctions are of universal application, and constitute encouragements to obedience, and motives against transgressions. There is not one kind of reward for the rich and another for the poor.
2. The doctrine of the text is illustrated by the universal aspect of the gospel to all mankind. “God so loved the world,” etc.
3. In the final decisions of the judgment day it will be seen that God is no respecter of persons. None will be exempted from judgment; they will all have to appear at the same tribunal, before the same Judge, and their judgment will proceed on the same principles of equity and truth.
Conclusion. Let the doctrine of the text--
1. Guard us against a rash and hasty judgment of any part of the Divine conduct. We see but small parts of an immense and combined system of operation, and are incompetent to decide upon the character of any one event without knowing vastly more than we do in the present state.
2. Guard us against presumption. Men cherish undefined notions of the goodness of God, that induce them to suppose He will not be strict to mark iniquity. Other men presume on their self-righteousness. Another class are hypocritical professors, who name the name of Christ, but depart not from iniquity.
3. Direct us to the only ground of hope and confidence towards God. There is no respect of persons with Him: nothing in our external condition or relations will induce Him to form a judgment of us contrary to truth. The universal condition of salvation is faith in Christ Jesus. (S. Summers.)
God no respecter of persons
Even those works of God, with which we seem the most familiar, are replete with mystery; much more is this true of the moral world, which the mind of God administers and directs. We see, e.g., virtue prostrated with calamity, while ungodliness “prospers in the world.” And yet we are told that “there is no respect of persons with God.” How, then, are we to reconcile what we see, and feel, with what we read? In order to a complete view of the subject, I shall--
I. Assign the reasons why there is apparently “respect of persons” here. Now it is popularly, but mistakenly assumed, that differences of outward circumstances is an evidence of “respect of person”; because we are in every instance what God has made us, and have in every instance what He has given us; and He hath given to some preeminence over others in personal endowments, in worldly possessions, and in honour among mankind. For this, however, we may assign the following reasons--
1. That such has been the order of nature, throughout all God’s works, from the beginning. And not only has it been the order of nature that there should be degrees of beauty in the vegetable, and of strength in the animal world; that trees, e.g., should be of different height, flowers of different hues, and fruits of different flavour, and that the irrational creatures should vary in the measure of instinct; but the same wise Creator ordained a difference also in the first living pair whom He was pleased to form in His own image. But from the first fatal act of disobedience, both were alike involved in the common transgression, and both are alike capable of realising the proper deliverance. Hence says St. Paul, “There is no difference between male and female.”
2. That inequality among individuals conduces to the general good. And this connects itself with the former. Some men, indeed, raise the absurd and senseless cry of universal equality; forgetting that such a state of things could not possibly exist, unless all mankind were exactly equal in strength, and talent, actuated by the very same propensities, and in pursuit of the same objects. So long as there are some formed by natural endowments to lead, and others to follow, so long must there be some to exercise command, and others to render obedience. And could we balance the advantages of either state, we should find it very difficult to determine on which side the scale preponderates. David, the innocent youth, keeping his father’s sheep, with not an enemy upon earth, and with God for his Friend in heaven, was assuredly not less happy than David, king of Israel. Again, what was the result of the attainment of royal dignity to Saul? The nation, indeed, required one to lead them against the Philistines; and for their sake, but not for his own, was Saul exalted out of the people; but for his own sin, not for theirs, were the weapons of his warfare broken.
3. That the worldly condition, whatever it be, is the trial of faith, and the probation for eternity, best suited to him who occupies it. Some are born, as it might seem, to do--others to suffer--the will of God; but if action is more profitable to others, endurance is most assuredly not the least profitable to ourselves; and only towards that man could God be said to act with partiality, to whom He should deny the power of doing His will, and the opportunity of attaining to the perfect bliss of the righteous. But God has done this to none. Whether we are possessed of the one talent, or of the two, or of the ten, is comparatively of inferior moment; since a man is “accepted according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not.” Thus St. Paul “charges them that are rich in this world, that they do good, that they be rich in good works,” etc.; but even if they attain to this, it is not a higher degree of attainment than to suffer patiently the will of God. Had Dives given half his goods, like Zaccheus, to the poor, we have no warrant whatever for supposing that this would have been more acceptable than the patient self-devotion of the beggar. Lazarus could not act, indeed, but he could suffer; he could not relieve the distress of others, but he could, and did, exhibit a shining example of long suffering and patience. And thus everyone placed in a humble sphere ought to consider whether that situation is not the best calculated to advance his highest and most enduring interests; whether if God were to bestow upon him worldly prosperity, his heart might not thereby become hardened, or his spiritual perceptions obscured. The fact of an eternal existence must be taken to be the true test of the interests of time. Hence, again, “there is no respect of persons with God,” because He will judge all by what they have done, and by what they have suffered for Christ’s sake; not by what they have enjoyed or possessed.
II. Afford the evidence why there is really no respect of persons with God because there shall be none hereafter. And this evidence is also three fold.
1. Because the distinctions to which men attach so much importance are transient and precarious. Whatever difference there may be in the character of our path through life, there is none whatever in the nature of the end. One “house” is “appointed for all living”; and no sooner do we enter that common tenement than all are on the same level. And what is the undying soul? It is either rejoicing in God’s manifested presence, or it is an outcast from the glories of redemption. Then, if not before, it will be seen that the fancied advantages on account of which we “call the proud happy,” are far more than counterbalanced by the downward tendency of wealth. It may, indeed, cost an effort on the part of those who are daily struggling with privation to suppress the rising wish that they had been born to opulence, but never let them harbour for an instant the vain imagination that it is because they are of less estimation in the sight of God. They ought to consider that if they have not the advantages, neither have they the trials of the affluent; if they have not their means of doing good, neither have they their responsibilities for leaving good undone. Nay, they ought to consider that the very necessity of daily toil is a preservative against sin; and though necessities and distress may plant their path with thorns, they at least diminish the attractions of things below, and point the soul to things above. The “good part” is that “which cannot be taken away”; and while “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
2. Because all, whatever they possess, are alike responsible to their Judge. “Every one of us,” said St. Paul, “must give account of himself to God.” To whom little is given, of him is little required, while “to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more”; and so it is with God.
3. Because, as to all there is a common Saviour, there must be a common salvation. All, therefore, who shall be convened before the tribunal of the Judge, whether those who reigned or those who served, those who smiled or those who suffered--all shall be separated into two classes, and only two. (T. Dale, M. A.)
The Divine impartiality
How is this possible, since all men are what God made them, and since no one thing can more differ from another than one person seems to differ from another?
1. As to the body, one is defective, and another well-formed; one is deprived of some of the senses, or hath them in low degree, another enjoys them all in their full vigour; one is weak and sickly, another healthy and strong; one hath length of days, another is cut off in the flower of youth.
2. As to circumstances; one is poor, and another rich; one unfortunate, another successful; one is doomed to obscurity, another is powerful and in high station.
3. As to temper; one is easily satisfied, and possesses serenity of mind; another is anxious or melancholy, and is plagued with forebodings.
4. As to the passions; they seem to be more impetuous in some, whilst others find them more compliant.
5. As to natural abilities; one hath a strong memory, a lively fancy, a good judgment, a fine taste, and a large capacity; another is deficient in all these respects.
6. As to the external advantages, of country, situation, and education, upon which so much depends; one is placed in a land of liberty, learning, religion, and good manners, and wants no helps of enlarging the mind and improving the heart; another hath his hard lot in regions quite the reverse. To clear up the Divine impartiality from objections consider--
I. What is respect of persons, and distinguish between matters of favour and matters of justice.
1. Amongst men, gifts to which another person hath no claim, are free, and none can be accused as a respecter of persons who makes one rather than another the object of his kindness, if he is guided by prudence or by innocent affection. As in the choice of friends or servants, or in beneficence, we cannot keep company with, or employ, or assist everyone, and we may prefer one deserving person to another equally deserving, without being respecters of persons. But in points of justice and matters of trust, whosoever favours the guilty hurts the innocent, or gives or refuses contrary to the eternal rules of right, such an one is a respecter of persons.
2. The same distinction holds true in relation to God’s dealings with His creatures. His giving them more or less, His placing them here or there, is a matter of favour, and respect of persons hath nothing to do with it. But in His behaviour to His creatures consequent to their behaviour towards Him, in this He acts by the rules of justice, and in this His justice shall be so manifest as to clear Him from all imputations of partiality.
3. If you examine the Scripture where God is said to be no respecter of persons, you will find that it is as He is Ruler and Judge, and dispenser of rewards and punishments; and so with relation to men, when they are commanded not to respect persons, they also are considered, not as doing favours, but as exercising acts of authority and justice, in a public or private character.
II. The present diversity of condition amongst men is so uncertain and variable, and lasts for so very short a space, that it becomes in this view far more inconsiderable than is usually imagined.
1. Man is called into this world for a few years, and then to depart into eternity. One flourishes, and another struggles with adversity; and whilst we gaze with envy upon the one, and pity on the other, the scene closes, and the vision fades away. It is our future lot alone that can determine us happy or unhappy upon the whole.
2. Even the present condition of men is perpetually varying. All men, more or less, pass through the vicissitudes of what we call good and evil.
3. Even temporal happiness depends not so much upon externals. Many other circumstances are to be taken into account; and of two persons, of whom the one passes for happy, and the other for unhappy, perhaps the sum total of their pleasure and pain is nearly equal.
4. Natural evil, such as poverty, pain, and disappointments, is not always a real calamity, but rather discipline, tending to make the sufferer better, and to guide him to happiness.
III. The evils of which men complain are often of their own procuring. Virtue has a natural connection with happiness. This connection is sometimes suspended and interrupted by accidental causes; but it holds good on the whole, and vice has the same connection with misery. If the evils to which men were obnoxious were traced up to their causes, we should find that the greater part of them are the consequences either of thoughtless folly or wickedness. Therefore these sufferings are not to be charged to the Divine administration.
IV. The impartiality of Providence, whatsoever difficulties may attend it in the present state, will be fully cleared up in the next; and we must wait with patience to that time for the fuller solution of some of our doubts. As to the temporals there is no reasonable objection to the Divine impartiality. It is the moral and religious difference between men that creates the main difficulty. One hath an opportunity of religious improvement, and is a good Christian; another is deprived of this advantage, by no fault of his own, but by having his hard lot in the dark regions of rudeness and of ignorance. In answer to this, the Scripture saith that God will judge the world in righteousness, and deal with everyone according to his talents, and to the use which he hath made of them.
1. All men have it in their power to do what God requires.
2. All those who in the main act suitable to their abilities have a secret influence of God to help them so far as is needful.
3. All such have Christ for their Redeemer, though He never was revealed to them.
4. All those who have thus behaved themselves shall enjoy the beneficial effects of it hereafter, according to the extent of their desires and capacities, and shall have the means of making greater progress in goodness and happiness.
5. All they who by their own perverseness have abused the talents committed to them, shall suffer for it in such manner as the Supreme Wisdom shall judge expedient. Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required; and unto whomsoever little is given, of him little shall be required. This is the voice of reason, this is the express declaration of our Saviour.
V. Men, in many respects, and with a few exceptions, are rather more upon the level than we usually imagine.
1. All men have a mortal body, an immortal soul, the same senses, and much the same powers and faculties.
2. All have the same earth to feed them, the same sun and stars to shine upon them, the same air to breathe, and the same heavens to cover them.
3. All have the same ordinary means and methods to improve themselves, such as diligence, application, sobriety, civility; and all suffer by the contrary vices.
4. As they are reasonable creatures, they have the same great law of reason, or natural religion, to guide and instruct them.
5. As they stand equally in need of the Divine assistance, they all may secure it, if they behave themselves suitably to their situation and circumstances.
6. They are all subject to one supreme Governor, to whom they are answerable, not according to their rank or possessions, but according to their use or abuse of the Divine blessings.
7. Christianity, indeed, hath not been revealed to all; but this arises from other causes, and not from anything in its nature. It is plainly intended for universal use, and where revealed, it is for all classes and conditions.
VI. God is and must needs be impartial, from His own nature and perfections.
1. All partiality arises either from vice, weakness, or ignorance; consequently it can find no access to an all-perfect Being.
2. As God is almighty, self-existing, eternal, and independent, all His creatures are at the same infinite distance below Him. Compared with each other, they differ in a vast variety of degrees; but compared with Him, they bear no proportion at all. Therefore He must behold them all as they are created beings, with the same disposition.
3. As He is perfectly wise, He must treat them according to the laws of wisdom and justice.
4. As He is perfectly good, He considers them all as His offspring. He created them to do them good, and nothing can hinder Him from exerting this beneficence, except their undutiful behaviour. Conclusion: Let us imitate God in this perfection. It is indeed extremely difficult for man to be impartial, and therefore we must divest ourselves of those qualities which lead us to unfairness, such as pride, selfishness, party zeal, anger, envy, indolence of temper, capriciousness, etc. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
The Divine impartiality
This was a bold and startling declaration to make at Rome, to a community whether of Romans or of Jews; for these two nations were each, above all others at that moment, convinced that such a respect did actually exist in their special favour. The Roman deemed his own the favoured race, and regarded the extent of his dominion as a conclusive proof of it. The Jew, with no less complacency, maintained that the Divine preference of himself was intimated by the spiritual advantages he manifestly enjoyed, and the glorious hopes proclaimed to him. To require the Jew and the Roman each to surrender the assurance on which he relied, and admit the other to an equal footing in Divine favour, was indeed a bold undertaking. But between the Jew and the Roman there stood also the Greek, and the Epistle of St. Paul was addressed to the Greek equally with both the others; perhaps, indeed, to the Greek more directly than to either of them, inasmuch as the Grecian element in the early Roman Church was larger probably than either of the others. The Greek, too, had a pride of his own, a pride in his intellectual culture; and he looked down from his own point of view with equal scorn on both the Roman and the Jew. He, too, would despise, if he dared not resent, the apostolic declaration of a universal equality of the races. (Dean Merivale.)
No partiality with God
A little black girl, eight years old, was setting the table, when a boy in the room said to her, “Mollie, do you pray?” The suddenness of the question confused her a little, but she said, “Yes, every night.” “Do you think God hears you?” the boy asked. She answered promptly, “I know He does.” “But do you think,” said he, trying to puzzle her, “that He hears your prayers as readily as those of white children?” For full three minutes the child kept on with her work; then she slowly said, “Master George, I pray into God’s ears, and not His eyes. My voice is just like any other little girl’s, and if I say what I ought to say, God does not stop to look at my skin.”
No respect to person
M. Boudon, an eminent surgeon, was one day sent for by the Cardinal du Bois, Prime Minister of France, to perform a very serious operation upon him. The Cardinal, on seeing him enter the room, said to him, “You must not expect to treat me in the same rough manner as you treat your poor miserable wretches at your hospital of the Hotel Dieu.” “My lord,” replied M. Boudon, with great dignity, “every one of those miserable wretches, as your Eminence is pleased to call them, is a Prime Minister in my eyes.”
For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.
The law and sin
I. Implies law.
II. Must be measured by the law under which it is committed.
III. Must be visited accordingly. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The responsibility of man
I. The text divides the race into two classes--those who have sinned without law and those who have sinned in the law. What is meant by law? Rule. Here, then, are some without and some within rule--the Gentiles not having and the Jews having a revealed rule.
II. The text affirms a certain amount of obligation connected with each division; for we cannot understand those who have sinned and shall consequently perish without law to mean a class to be judged without any standard whatever by which to try their guilt or innocence. As between man and man we insist, before judgment is passed upon us, on having the opportunity of knowing the rule by which we are to be judged. Before the statute law of this country is proclaimed no one is guilty of any violation of it, and of course it must be the same as between God and man; and so the passage before us would appear to direct our attention to law of some kind applying to each party, and therefore human responsibility appears to arise.
III. Human responsibility seems to arise from the relation in which both classes stand to God. The law revealed to the Gentiles is the law of nature, that to the Jews is the law of the Word of God. Now if both are in substance the same, then we must admit that the responsibility resting on man in a state of nature is as decidedly proved as that resting on him when under revelation.
1. Nature discovers indications of kindness on the part of a fatherly Creator, and of brotherhood among the creatures. Everything is so constructed that all must harmonise to a certain extent with one another or perish together. Different countries have different climates and productions that there may be an intercommunity between the various regions, from all which we conclude that it is the duty and interest of this common family to connect their common wants, safety, and comforts, that they may rejoice together in the same grace of life. To infringe, therefore, this law of nature is to rebel against God, and consequently to incur responsibility for this rebellion. Can we look out on nature, and see what its Author meant, and then set that meaning at naught, and say that we will follow the bent of our own minds and passions, and then say that we feel no accusation of ourselves in our own hearts? We cannot. There is a sense of responsibility to God when we discover what God intends.
2. But to rise into a higher sphere. Are there not intimations in nature that we owe to God an acknowledgment of His being and a veneration for His character? Are there not, e.g., feelings that indicate to us the duty of children to respect their parents? Well, surely we are as much bound to honour the Universal as the particular parent; and so we further establish the responsibility of man, which, when we come to Scripture, is confirmed beyond question.
IV. But it may be said that, admitting all this, there may be an internal inability to meet the rule so cleanly seen. The heathen may see that God is his Father, has kindness and authority, but he may feel within him an indisposition to act accordingly because he is corrupt, and the same may be said about a man who has God’s Word in his hands. Does this, then, relieve from responsibility? Let the answer be derived from individual experience. For what is responsibility? That state which is created by a clear discovery of law to one who is a free agent. And what is inability? A man is physically unable to walk, e.g., when he is chained to his prison, in which case he cannot be blamed for his inability, because it arises from another, not from himself, and this other has the responsibility for all the consequences of his bondage, i.e., whenever the inability is external, and comes not from ourselves, the responsibility is not recognised. So morally, if a man is bound by another his responsibility is at an end. But where is the man whose moral faculty is bound by another? You can tie your neighbour’s hand, but you cannot bind his will. You can work upon the outward, but you cannot touch the inner man. The moral inclination of man is his own, and can be restrained by none. Why, then, if man is thus free, does he not obey the law? Because he is corrupt, and acts according to his own nature; and is responsible because he so acts. He acts under no foreign influence, but according to the principles by which his own normal nature is moved. And so--to return to our text--those who have had no revelation will be tried by the illustrations of their duty which nature gives, and those who have by the illustrations of duty which it furnishes. And if they are found guilty it will be found to arise, not from inability, but from dislike; and let no man say because he dislikes God therefore he is unaccountable--a delusion which is in itself absurd and an encouragement to all wickedness. Conclusion: Let us acknowledge our responsibility. This will lead us to ask for and to secure power to discharge it, and to find in its discharge peace of conscience in this life and an eternal reward in the life to come. (J. Burner.)
Future of the heathen
A clergyman once travelling in a stagecoach was abruptly asked by one of the passengers if any of the heathen would go to heaven. “Sir,” replied the clergyman, “I am not appointed Judge of the world, and consequently I cannot tell; but if ever you get to heaven you shall either find some of them there or a good reason why they are not there”--a reply well fitted to answer an impertinent question, dictated, at best, by an idle curiosity.
For not the hearers of the law are Just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
What the apostle says about the Jews is equally applicable to many so-called Christians. Multitudes justify themselves by attendance on a gospel ministry; God only justifies those who practise what they hear. Our congregations are made up of--
I. Those who hear--
1. But do not understand. Often, doubtless, this is the preacher’s fault, who fails because he is not clear or lacks the power to awaken the dormant intelligence; but it often arises from a want of spiritual perception of, or interest in, the truth by those who hear.
2. Or only admire, the object being in some cases the mere beauty of the truth itself, in others the grace of its setting and the charm of its delivery.
3. Or criticise, the object being the statement in some instances, the method or manner in others.
II. Those who hear and do. Amongst such are those who are--
1. Anxious to understand. They want to know in order that they may do. Hence they bring all their intellectual and spiritual powers to bear upon the message declared. Such seldom go away unsatisfied or become “unfruitful” hearers.
2. Believe the truth. While not insensible to its intrinsic beauty or to the grace of the form in which it is presented, they regard it as a solemn message from God having a direct bearing on life and destiny. They desire, therefore, not only to understand it, but to assimilate it and make it a power for action.
3. Who reduce the truth to practice. This is the true criterion of hearing which is acceptable to God. Many understand clearly enough, many thoroughly believe as far as intellectual conviction goes--how few “do”! Let this be a matter of self-examination to thoughtful and orthodox hearers! (Romans 2:17-23).
III. Those who neither hear nor do. One might almost say, Who do not because they do not hear, but for the fact that hearing is not the only source of knowledge. Conclusion:
1. Hearing is a great privilege.
2. As privilege it involves responsibility.
3. For the manner in which we have heard we shall be called into judgment, and judged accordingly. (J. W. Burn.)
Hearing and doing
I. For those seeking salvation by the law. The whole law must be done, not simply heard. Who has, who can do it? Sin has so corrupted our moral nature that we are “without strength,” and therefore so cannot obtain salvation.
II. For those seeking salvation through an influential gospel. The principle of the text applies much more here. There is no salvation even by the gospel save by acting on its terms--“believe,” “receive,” “repent,” etc.
III. Suggesting the vanity of an evangelical profession without an evangelical life. The gospel has its laws as well as Judaism. (R. Glover.)
Hearing without doing
It is a strange folly in multitudes of us to propound no end in the hearing of the gospel. The merchant sails, not only that he may sail, but for traffic, and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman ploughs, not only to keep himself busy, but in order to sow, and sows that he may reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly?--hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity and a great misery, to lose that labour which, duly used, would be of all others most gainful; and yet all our meetings are full of this! (T. Leighton.)
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these … are a law unto themselves.
Man without the Bible
“Law” means God’s special revelation through the Bible. This contains the moral code of Moses, exhibited in prophetic teaching, inculcated in the instructions, illustrated in the life and death of Christ: It is here suggested that man without the Bible--
I. Has Bible morality written on his spiritual nature.
1. “The law written in their hearts.” The great cardinal principles of morality are in every man’s soul, and the ethics of the Bible are but a transcript of them. Christ, who was the living exemplar of the moral code of the universe, reduced it to supreme love for the great Father of all and unselfish love for all His children; and in every heart these two elements are found--moral reasoning and conduct. “Socrates speaks of the unwritten laws which were held in every country, and mentions as samples honour to parents and the prohibition of incest. He says that since these laws are universally held, and are evidently not the result of human legislation, they must have been made by the gods.” Sophocles speaks of “the unwritted and indelible laws of the gods in the hearts of man,” and Plutarch of “a law which is not outwardly written in books, but implanted in the heart of man.” The moral Governor of the universe, then, has written in the constitution of all the subjects of His empire the eternal laws that should govern them.
II. Can put into practice in his daily life the Bible morality that is written on his nature. “For when the Gentiles,” etc., “are a law unto themselves.” “Do by nature,” i.e., by the outworking of those moral elements within them”--not by written directions, but by moral intuitions. The bee that constructs her cells and lays up honey proves thereby the existence within her of architectural principles. She works out the laws which her Maker imprinted upon her constitution. Thus, heathens who have no Bible can work out the moral principles of their nature, and often do to an extent that may well out to blush the conduct of those who possess a written revelation. In estimating their responsibility it is well to remember both I and
II. They are rather the objects, therefore, of honest denunciation than of sentimental pity if they pursue an immoral or ungodly life.
III. Will be inwardly happy or miserable as he puts in practice or otherwise the Bible morality written on his nature. “Their conscience also bearing witness,” etc.
1. Psychologists supply different and conflicting definitions of conscience. Is it a distinct faculty of the soul, or its substratum--that in which all the faculties inhere? Whatever it is, it is that within us which concerns itself, not with the truth or falsehood of propositions or the expediency or inexpediency of actions, but with the right and wrong of conduct. If a heathen acts up to his ideas of right, it blesses him with peace; if he does not, it scourges him with anguish.
2. The “accusing” power of conscience was seen in the Pharisees who brought to Jesus the woman taken in adultery (John 8:9); in Felix, when he trembled before Paul the prisoner; in Pilate, when he called for a basin of water to wash his hands.
3. Conscience can “excuse,” i.e., make righteous allowances; she vindicates as well as condemns. “Who can tell the sacred calm which fills the soul when Conscience, sitting on her great white throne, pronounces the sentence of approval of any one single act or thought, and assures the misunderstood, or misrepresented, or calumniated, or even self-doubting servant of God, ‘Herein you are free from blame’?”
Conclusion: Several things may be deduced from this subject.
1. The identity in authorship of human souls and Divine revelation. The grand rudimental subjects of the Bible are love, retribution, God; and these are written in ineffaceable characters on the tables of the human heart everywhere.
2. The impossibility of atheism ever being established in the world. The human soul is essentially theistic and religious.
3. The responsibility of man wherever he is found.
4. The duty of missionaries in propagating the gospel. Let those who go forth to the heathen not ignore the good in the human heart on all shores and under all suns, but let them--
(1) Recognise it;
(2) honour it;
(3) appeal to it; and
(4) develop it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Gentile obedience to the law
They do (literally) “the things which are of the law,” i.e., which are agreeable to its prescriptions. They do not observe the precept as such, for they have it not, but they fulfil its contents; e.g., Neoptolimus in Philoctetes, when he refuses to save Greece at the expense of a lie; or Antigone, when she does not hesitate to violate the temporary law of the city to fulfil the law of fraternal love; or Socrates, when he refuses to save his life by escaping from prison, in order to remain subject to the magistrates. Sophocles speaks of these “eternal laws,” and contrasts this internal and Divine legislation with the ever-changing laws of man. (Prof. Godet.)
The natural feeling of right and wrong: its analysis
These verses reveal that feeling in three states or stages.
1. The unconscious stage, in which the Gentiles not having the law show its real though latent existence in their own hearts, of which--
2. They have a faint though instinctive perception in the witness of conscience, which--
3. Grows by reflection into distinct approval or disapproval of their own acts and those of others. (Prof. Jowett.)
1. It is a common impression that we are dependent for all our knowledge of moral duty upon the Bible, or at least that there are no motives to moral goodness worth speaking of apart from it: But just think what the latter means. It means that unless a man has faith in God, reverence for His authority, dread of His anger and desire of His approval, there is no strong motive to prevent him from being a liar and a villain. The former lands us in still more startling results, viz., that a man who has not, or disbelieves in, the Bible cannot see that lying, etc., are bad things, and that truthfulness, etc., are good things, i.e., that he can see no difference between vice and virtue. But you know that among your own acquaintances there are nonreligious men who abhor lying, etc., as much as you do, and in the old heathen world there were illustrious examples of lofty virtue.
2. Christ has ennobled our conception of morality and brought new motives and aids to right-doing, but He always assumed that man had a knowledge of duty and recognised its authority. The gospel itself assumes this, for it is a declaration that God is willing to forgive sin; but it could have no meaning for men who did not know that they had done wrong. If the natural conscience were murdered, and men lost the distinction between right and wrong, the gospel would have nothing to take hold of.
3. Some say that religions faith is the foundation of morals: it would be nearer the truth to speak of morals as the foundation of religion; for the grounds of our trust in God are not His infinite power, which, if not governed by justice and goodness, would fill us with terror, nor His infinite knowledge, which might fill us with wonder but could not command affection and confidence--we trust and reverence Him because of His righteousness, truth, and love--his moral perfections, which we see are admirable in themselves. We cannot trust God until we know that He is trustworthy.
4. St. Paul believed that heathens not only knew many of their duties, but discharged them. The subject is not a speculative one merely. One great defeat of the Evangelical revival was that it failed to afford its converts a lofty ideal of practical righteousness and a vigorous moral training, with the result that Evangelical Christians have the poorest conceptions of moral duty and the weakest moral strength. To remedy this defect we must think more about Christian ethics, which we cannot do to any good purpose unless we begin with St. Paul by recognising the power which belongs to man to distinguish between right and wrong.
5. This power is one of the noblest of our prerogatives, but it is forgotten that, like every other faculty, it needs training. Many suffer from colour blindness, but experiments have proved that this arises, not from any disease or malformation of the eye, but from want of education; and it has been cured by teaching the colour alphabet. Skeins of wool of different colours have been displayed and their differences slowly learnt. Most of us learn this without systematic instruction, but drapers and milliners, who have to notice the finer gradations of tints, obtain the power of discriminating the difference between shades of blue and scarlet which seem to ordinary eyes alike. Their eyes are not better than ours, but they have been better taught. And so most of us, if we have lived among good people, learn without regular teaching to distinguish in a rough way between right and wrong. But if the conscience is to have a keen vision, and if its discrimination between right and wrong is to be unaffected by the cross lights of interest and passion, it must be more perfectly trained, and surely it is worth it; and if you are careful to train your child’s memory and voice, why not its conscience, which is infinitely more deserving of your care?
6. There is a bad way of teaching morals as there is of teaching arithmetic. In a bad school the rule is given and the child works his sum blindly, accepting the rule on the authority of the teacher. If his mind is sharp, he may puzzle out its reason; if not, he is left to mark it in the dark. So some people teach morality. They give the child God’s rules of conduct, and happily the conscience may discover for itself their nobleness; but if it does, no thanks to the teacher. Having been told the rule, the child is warned that God will punish disobedience; but if from this motive only the rule is obeyed, it is not obedience, but servile superstition. The appeal to God’s authority should only be occasional, or the moral sense will be disabled or checked in its growth by so tremendous a conception. When we follow a guide who never leaves us we are likely to take no notice of the path, and our knowledge of it will be no greater at the end than at the beginning.
7. For the education of the conscience we need teaching that is really moral, and not religious, that trains the mind to recognise for itself the obligation to do right because it is right. The vessel of human nature, when exposed to storms of temptation, needs more than one strong cable. Religious faith is the great security; but all the anchors are sometimes wanted, and we have no right to refuse the aid of such guarantees of safety as a genuine love of righteousness for its own sake, a deep hatred of wrong, a dread of moral shame. It is, however, alleged that apart from the Divine authority it is impossible to enforce the obligations of virtue. The objection is put in this form: “You say to a boy that he ought to tell the truth; suppose he asks, ‘Why?’ what can you answer except that God commands it?” But suppose the boy asks, “Why should I do what God commands?” will you say that because if he does not he will be punished?--a very mean and sandy foundation for morals, for it is no man’s duty to do anything simply because he will suffer for not doing it. A rule must be right in itself, or else it is a crime to punish men for disobeying it, If a child asks, “Why ought I to obey God or to tell the truth?” you must answer, “Because you ought.” But neither question will be asked if we have done our duty by our children. If they have learnt from us who God is, if they have heard us speak of Him with reverence and trust and love, they will know that they ought to obey Him; and if we are truthful at the impulse of a hearty love and admiration for truth, and put in their way stories about heroic truthfulness, they will know for themselves that lying is wrong and shameful.
8. I have pleaded for the education of the conscience in the interest of morality; I also plead for it in the interest of religion. Why should I trust, obey, and worship God? Because I ought. And wherever that answer is not given by the human soul, no appeal to hope or fear or gratitude will be effective. Mere terror is not without its uses. It may break the strong cords of immoral habits and paralyse for a time the baser passions, and may so give the conscience which has been trampled under the brutal hoofs of insolent vice the chance of asserting its authority. But I believe that as a general rule the nobler power has been in alliance with the terror from the very first. However this may be, I do not believe that religious faith can have any secure hold of man except it is confederate with conscience; and a man who has learned to revere his minister is most likely to revere God Himself. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The moral constitution of man
The question which the apostle was obliged to argue was largely the condition of the heathen world. He argues both sides of it; and in chap. 1 that they were to be condemned on substantially moral grounds, and that yet they must be condemned in much less measure than the Jews--a peculiarly offensive turn to the argument, because the Jew held that he had a right to superiority before God, no matter how he lived. The fact that men were now Jews, though they might be virtuous and devout, was enough. The apostle, therefore, is obliged to go against this stupid bigotry: “It is not they that hear the law that are the safest, but they that do it.” “Ah! but the Gentiles never had it, and of course they did not do it.” “But,” says Paul, “nevertheless, if they do those things under the light of nature which the law commands, that shall suffice. If you, with the law, sin, and they sin without it, they will stand, for that very reason, higher than you do.” This question, historically considered, was local, but the apostle settles it upon a ground which makes it universal; for he here takes ground with the moral constitution of man--that man has in himself, not as a full revelation, but in a rudimentary form, an interpreting nature, by which he knows what is right and wrong, by which he accuses or excuses his conduct. He declares that men receive a revelation, not for the sake of creating a moral sense, but for the sake of guiding a moral sense already created; that religion is not a thing superinduced upon the moral constitution of man, but the right unfolding of that constitution. Let us follow this line out.
1. The essential truths of religion are natural, constitutional, organic. They were not first created when declared by inspired men. Mental philosophy does not create mind, and the law of conscience did not create conscience. All those great Bible truths which involve the nature of right and wrong, of inferiority and superiority, of submission, of obligation--all that goes to constitute what we call moral sense--has a foundation in the nature of things; and if man only had the wisdom to know what he was and how to unfold his moral constitution, every man would work from his own moral consciousness to substantially the same ground which is open to him in Scripture. So that, when I preach the gospel, particularly in its relations to duty and obligation, I feel strong, not only because I believe the Word of God, but because, tracing the Word back, I find it written again in you. Studying man as I do, and studying the Word of God, I find the two are respectively witnesses of each other, and both together are stronger than either alone; and all the way through the Word of God appeals to this consciousness of men to bear witness to its essential truth.
2. On the other hand, a right-minded man, if he had no revelation, but had power to keep his mind clear and sensitive and his conduct in harmony with his higher nature, would go up on to the plane of the gospel. Hence, the gospel is not a super addition to nature. It is the opening of nature, the blossom of that which belongs to the race; nature being understood to mean, for the most part, that condition which God first intended.
3. From this fundamental view, it will appear right and wrong in human conduct, in the main, are not conventional, not things of mere custom. There are a thousand things in life which may be changed, and which are different in different nations. But the great fundamental principles of right and wrong--truth, justice, purity, and love--these are the same in every age and everywhere. It makes no difference how much men may philosophise about them. A man may have any theory he pleases of digestion, but digestion does what it pleases. A man may believe that there is a brain in his head, or that there is nothing in it; but his belief makes no difference with the facts. And so with moral theories: they touch not moral facts in the least degree.
4. Men are not released from obligations to virtue and religion simply by keeping away from the church, etc. There are many who think that if they shut out disturbing truths they will have rest. No. The Word of God comes as your friend to help you, by giving you the state of facts; but if you throw the facts away, you simply throw the help away. A man lies sick, and sends for his physician. The physician prescribes such and such remedies, and forbids the use of such and such articles of food, etc., etc. But after the physician has gone the man says to his attendant, “Go, tell him not to come again--to keep his advice and his medicines away.” And then he says, “There! I have dismissed my doctor.” If you could only dismiss your disease as easily as you can your doctor, it would be all very well; but to dismiss your doctor and keep your disease is not wise. The fever is a fact, and does not depend on quarrelling schools of medicine. A man says, “The Churches are all by the ears, and I am going to take my own way. I will manage my case myself.” You may in that way get rid of Churches and of a thousand disagreeable circumstances; but will any men get rid of that nature in which the law is written, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” etc., “and thy neighbour as thyself”? Go out, now, into the world to get gain, to be happy. Wind yourself up with the key of selfishness. Try to make your own powers serve you faithfully in harmony with each other. They are at a jangle with themselves. And you are not any better off because you have put the Church away from you; for the obligations rest not on the Church, but on you. Not they alone who have made a profession of religion are bound by its duties: they are binding upon every man. A man does not see any better for being in an oculist’s establishment. The necessity or the desirableness of his seeing does not arise from the fact that he is there, but from the nature of things. And if a man has ophthalmia the necessities of his eye and the laws of sight are just the same as though he were under medical treatment and care. And yet there are people who seem to think that of course a man ought to do certain things because he is a member of the Church. No, the obligations came long before the Church could have imposed them upon him. You say, “I am not a member of the Church, and you ought not to expect that of me.” But are you not born? Have you not that law of God written in you? I preach right, purity, holiness to you, because you are men. If you had never seen a Bible, these obligations would have rested on you by the very primal conditions of your creation.
5. There is an impression among many that freedom is gained by going out of the sphere of religious teaching into infidelity; and they laugh and say, “I used to feel guilty if I broke the Sabbath, but I do not now; I used to think that I ought to pray, but prayer is a superstition.” And so men go on setting aside point after point of fundamental religious belief; and they think they are becoming more and more free, and they ridicule Christians, whom they think to be bound hand and foot. Now, I do not say that the Churches have the perfect view of religion; but I do affirm that the faith which is held by all Christians is in the main a guide and a light. You and another man are walking in a troublous path. There are precipices on the right and left, and deep morasses below. Your companion is walking with a little lantern, containing only a tallow candle, and, taking one step at a time, manages to pick his way, though with some difficulty. You, who are so bold as to venture without any light, say to him, “Your tallow candle makes a miserable pretence of giving light; of all absurd things, the greatest is the attempt to make one’s way through the world with such a light as that”; and you knock it into the mud. It may be that the lantern could have been improved; but is it improved by darkness? Now the man has nothing to guide himself with. The light he had was feeble, but it was enough to guide him safely; and now he makes a misstep, and plunges headlong down the precipice and perishes. Suppose all is true that you say of Churches: after all, are they not better than nothing? Do not they attempt to take hold of those fundamental instincts which belong to men, and which must be cared for and satisfied? And do not they go a certain way toward satisfying them? And does not infidelity bring men into bondage and darkness instead of into liberty and light?
6. By throwing off religious faith and the restraint of the Church men do not escape conviction of sin, nor a sense of guilt, nor unhappiness (Romans 1:20). If there were not a Church, nor a Bible, nor a teacher; if there were nothing but the sun and the stars and the rolling seasons; and if there were but a single man living, he would be without excuse; for God has made the heavens and the glimmering light of nature, and these are enough to hold a man responsible for his character and conduct. And then in the text he says, “When the Gentiles which have not the law,” etc. There is no man of any degree of reflectiveness or sensibility who is not made unhappy in himself by the way in which he is living. In the excitement of a career of business, in the intoxication of pleasure, men drown their unhappiness; but the moment there comes a leisure moment there comes a time for thought. A man’s reason looks over his life, and he says, “I have toiled fifty years, and I have built my house and furnished it, and I have a place among men; but, after all, what am I profited? If I might live again, would I live over the same life? Have I satisfied my early aspirations, realised my own ideal?” Or, if he looks more closely at himself, he says, “Am I selfish, or am I not? I have learned to wield the pen; I know how to paint; I can carve; I am able to build a house; I can handle the sword; I have power to manage anything in this world almost; but myself I cannot manage. My conscience jangles with my feelings; I am often carried away by temptation. Everything is wrong. There is nothing that I make such poor business in dealing with as myself.” A man reads this, not out of the Bible, but out of his own soul. And if a man’s faculties do not live in harmony, then his own thoughts accuse him, and his judgment judges him, and his moral sense brings him under condemnation. It is in such cases that the gospel way is shown to men; and though they may set aside the revelation of mercy, they cannot set aside this judgment that is perpetually going on in their consciences.
7. The gradation in condemnation is a matter for thought. Those who have been taught the truth, and who then sin, are condemned in the greatest measure. But let no man say, “I was born of ignorant parents, remote from instruction, and I cannot be condemned.” According to your measure you will be condemned; but the lowest grade of condemnation will be more than you can bear. No one can afford to be sick. All the contrivances of nature have never made anybody attempt to be sick. You can make the body love odious things, you can modify the digestive powers, but no sort of treatment ever made sickness an agreeable thing. And by no means can a soul that is out of order be happy. There is a condemnation that rests upon it just so long as it is in that state. And now comes the declaration of the gospel, “Except a man be born again,” etc. It rests not alone upon those that have been instructed, but upon everybody.
8. This moral constitution is not a mere thing of time. It is not an arrangement for a special occasion, not for a transitory scene. The testimony of the Saviour and the New Testament all through is that right and wrong are eternal; that the moral constitution which divided men in this world divides them in the other. As on the one hand he that in this world loves, seeks, and so far as in him lies does the right, goes on forever with increasing blessedness, so, on the other hand, he who in this world perverts his body and soul grows worse and worse; and the evil effects of his misspent life do not drop off from him when he dies, but go on with him. You are not sinful, then, because you have been preached to or because the Bible says so and so, but on account of the perversion of that nature which God gave you. But when an offer is made to you of pardon for the past, and God in His infinite mercy through Jesus Christ gives you a remedy for your sins thus far if you will forsake that which is evil, if you turn away from Him you are destroyed. Men are very much like lunatics in hospitals. All their wants are provided for, and yet they set fire to the institution and burn it up. They are not made well by this deed. It is simply a part of their insanity to do it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Which show the work of the law written in their hearts.
The work of the law written in the heart
“I know and approve the better, and yet follow the worse,” said one of the wisest heathens; yet it did not require any superlative wisdom to arrive at that conclusion. Dr. Livingstone tells us that he found the rudest tribes of Africa ready to admit that they were sinners. Indeed they hold almost everything to be sin which, as such, is forbidden by the Word of God. Nor is it possible to read his clear statement on that subject without arriving at this interesting and important conclusion, that the decalogue is but the copy of a much older law--that law which his Maker wrote on Adam’s heart, and which, though sadly defaced by the Fall, may still, like the inscription on a time-eaten, moss-grown stone, be traced on ours. See how guilt reddens in the blush, and consciousness of sin betrays itself in the downcast look of childhood. Even when they wallow in sin as swine in the mire, there is a conscience within men which convicts of guilt and warns of judgment. Dethroned, but not exiled, she still asserts her claims, and fights for her kingdom in the soul; and resuming her lofty seat, with no more respect for sovereigns than beggars, she summons them to the bar, and thunders on their heads. Felix trembles; Herod turns pale, dreading in Christ the apparition of the Baptist; while Cain, fleeing from his brother’s grave, wanders away conscience-stricken into the gloomy depths of the solitudes of the unpeopled world. Like the ghost of a murdered man, conscience haunts the house that was once her dwelling, making her ominous voice heard at times even by the most hardened in iniquity. In her the rudest savage carries a God within him, who warns the guilty, and echoes those words of Scripture, “Depart from evil and do good.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The law written and rewritten in the heart
The moral law is interwoven in man’s moral constitution. Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27); so in knowledge and holiness (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). The expression “written” is an allusion to the two tables of stone (Exodus 32:15-16), perhaps also to Roman laws written on brass. God’s law is rewritten in the renewed heart (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). In creation it is written as a light to direct and convict; in regeneration it is rewritten as a power to govern and transform. In creation it is written so as to be known and felt; in regeneration it is rewritten so as to be known and loved. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Their conscience also bearing witness.
The witness of conscience
At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be established. The three in regard to men are God, the Bible, conscience. The latter is--
I. An inward witness. Other witnesses are outside, and so may be set aside. One witness may be produced against another, or circumstances may destroy the testimony given, but it cannot be so with the witness within. A man may as soon fly from God or himself as from conscience. Now that which is thus within a man has the greatest influence upon him either for comfort or terror: so that we had better have all men and all devils for our enemies than our own conscience!
II. A knowing and intelligent witness. None can know what conscience knows but He who knows all things. Human witness are sometimes set aside on account of intellectual feebleness, but conscience penetrates into the secret windings of our hearts; and as--Its discernment is clear, so its judgment is generally true, and what it once knows it never forgets.
III. An authorised and credible witness. Witnesses are sometimes disallowed on the ground of moral blemish; but conscience is the King’s witness, so that he who heareth conscience, heareth God (Romans 9:1).
IV. A faithful and true witness. It will not be bribed: like its Master it accepts of no man’s person. It deals impartially with the monarch and the slave; and though it may sometimes speak amiss, yet never contrary to its judgment.
V. A loud witness. The deaf shall hear the voice of conscience. Like the voice of God, it is terrible and full of majesty. Cain found it so. The cry of conscience was as loud as that of his brother’s blood. Judas thought it so when he went and hanged himself. How loud does it sometimes speak on a sick and dying bed! The law thunders, and conscience is but the echo of its voice. The law speaks by terrible things in righteousness, and conscience does the same. The law says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die”; and conscience says, “Thou art the man!” Many endeavour to drown it in riot, and the hurry of business, but their efforts will be ineffectual. When God bids it speak, it will speak to purpose; and those who would not hear the voice of parents, ministers, providences, or even of the Divine Word, yet shall hear the voice of conscience.
VI. A sufficient witness. It will silence all pleas and excuses, put an end to all subterfuges and evasions, and leave a man self-judged and self-condemned, It is sufficient now; there is no refuting its testimony, or setting aside its verdict, and it will be so at the last day.
VII. An eternal witness. If all other witnesses were dead, conscience lives, and will hereafter bear its testimony unrestrained. Its language will be, “Son, remember”! (Proverbs 5:12). Conclusion:
1. Let us take care of sinning against conscience. It is an enemy that no bolts nor bars can keep at a distance. The approbation of conscience, next to God’s, is the greatest blessing this side of heaven.
2. Let us endeavour to keep conscience tender, then attend to its motions, and hearken to its remonstrances. Tenderness is its perfection. God takes notice of it (2 Chronicles 34:27).
3. Above all, let us have our hearts purged from an evil conscience by the blood of Christ.
4. Let wicked men remember that if conscience be ever so silent now, it will be vociferous enough at the great day. As the spectre said to Brutus, “I will meet thee at Philippi,” so conscience says, “I will meet thee at judgment seat!” Good men, who at times suffer much from the lashes of their own consciences, learn the importance of having always “a conscience void of offence” (1 John 3:21). (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The apostle is explaining how the heathen, who had not the written law of God, were yet amenable to an unwritten law impressed on the hearts of all mankind. Their conscience is a witness for or against them.
I. Its nature and office.
1. God has given man a written law as the supreme standard, whose object is to educate and confirm him in his duty to God and man. This law, however, is--
(1) Of late communication. The Old Testament, given only gradually through centuries. The New Testament only when the world was already old.
(2) Of only local extent. Before Moses there was none. In St. Paul’s day it was known only to the Jews. In our day vast regions and even in our own country too many have no knowledge of it. If, then, there were only God’s written law, the mass of men, in the past and still, would have no standard of right and wrong--their passions unchecked. Society would be impossible.
2. But the existence of a written moral law implies an already existing moral sense, or unwritten law. Without this our obedience to any law would want a moral character. It would be either mere training and discipline, or submission to force. There would be no sense of obligation to keep it, no choice of the will and heart in doing so.
3. An unwritten law of God, however, does exist. In every race there is an instinct which--
(1) Condemns evil. The judgment day not only in the future. The great white throne, and He that sits on it, are in effect set up in every bosom. No deception is possible. No outward position screens us.
(2) Vindicates the right. The answer of a good conscience is the support of the soul under any trial. Of old it sustained the saints in their fiery trials. Fidelity to principle still bears up many a one. It is the greatest solace in the retrospect of life.
(3) Is given to receive and act up to the higher teachings of the written law. “By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Imposes on us the duty of learning all the bearings of our obligations.
II. Hindrances to its healthful vigour.
1. Ignorance. In savage life, obscured and limited in its range by circumstances. Imperfect conception of relative duties from the struggle for self-preservation. Now long reign of selfish passion. Violence and hereditary darkness. In criminal life amongst ourselves. The child of a thief, what can it know of right and wrong in some directions?
2. Perversion. Education colours our estimate of the character of acts in many eases. Pascal speaks of morality as varying with latitude and longitude. This is seen--
(1) In religion. Inquisitors torturing and burning for the greater glory of God. Whitefield defending slavery. Paul thinking he honoured God by helping to stone St. Stephen.
(2) In business. Conventional or trade morality. Men do in business what they would shrink from in private life.
3. The seared conscience. The religious faculty may be well-nigh extirpated by neglect; like eyes of cave insects and fishes.
4. The weak conscience. A failing that leans to virtue’s side. Troubles itself and others by making a principle of what is really indifferent. The disputes in Paul’s Epistles, new moons, eating flesh, Levitical laws, etc. So some object to matters of no moral moment.
III. Characteristics of a healthy conscience.
1. It accepts and acts on principle, not its accidental illustration. It guards itself in great matters by fidelity in all. Its rule is, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.”
2. It is not content with profession, but carries its convictions into practice; not “go” and “went not.”
3. It is always humble. Feeling its own weakness and constant need of strength.
4. It is manly. Will not yield to custom, favour, gain.
5. It bases its action on the law of Christ as the ideal of morality.
6. It keeps the example ever before it, and remembers its obligations to honour Him by loyal duty. Conclusion: One may strengthen and enlighten conscience. In any case it grows with the wider realisation of the breadth and sweep of God’s law. In our own day it has widened its sphere. Needs still further quickening in each walk of life; especially in the vital matters of the soul. The deputy of the Almighty. Bring your soul before it. As it asks you, “Guilty, or not guilty?” answer. If guilty, repentance and a holy life, looking to the great salvation of Christ, will reverse the verdict. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
I. Its offices.
1. It is an ever present, true and helpful friend. One who will not be afraid to speak plainly, and whose counsels will be to the point, and, as a rule, wise, kind, true, and good.
2. It is an ever observant and faithful witness--one out of whose sight we can never get, who is diligent to record, careful to remember, and ultimately faithful to bear its testimony.
3. It is an impartial judge. It not only bears witness, but acquits or condemns.
4. In regard to the impenitent, it will be the righteous executioner fulfilling the behests of the Great Judge of all, and the punishment itself--the worm that never dies.
II. The seasons at which it executes its several offices.
1. To an extent at all times--with more or less efficiency.
2. To a more powerful degree--
(1) After some special act of sin.
(2) Under some specially awakening sermon.
(3) Under some severe affliction.
(4) At the hour of death.
III. The circumstances which may for a time interfere with its efficient action.
1. It may be misinformed or ignorant. Conscience can only condemn a man for what he himself believes to be wrong.
2. It may be warped or swayed--
(1) By prevalent customs and notions.
(2) By a man’s interest, passions, tastes.
(3) It may be partially stifled and benumbed.
Tampering with conscience will enfeeble its action. A watchdog gave notice of danger to the inhabitants of a log hut; they were disturbed by his bark, and, annoyed, they silenced him--but only when too late. The Indians were upon them, their hut was burned, and their lives sacrificed. Conclusion:
1. Do not trifle with conscience.
2. Seek its enlightenment.
3. Remember that conscience after all is less rigid than the law of God (1 John 3:20).
4. Let it lead you not only to tremble, but to the Cross. (G. J. Adeney, M. A.)
We all know that the word comes from con and scio, but what does that con intend? Conscience is not merely what I know, but what I know with some other; for the prefix cannot be esteemed superfluous, or taken to imply merely that which I know with or to myself. That other knower whom the word implies is God. His law making itself known and felt in the heart; and the work of conscience is the bringing of the evil of our acts and thoughts as a lesser, to be tried and measured by this as a greater--the word growing out of and declaring that awful duplicity of our moral being which arises from the presence of God in the soul--our thoughts, by the standard which that presence implies, and as a result of a comparison with it, “accusing or excusing one another.” (Abp. Trench.)
Conscience quickened by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is to the moral sense what the warm breath of spring is to the hidden seeds of things. This brings them out, this unfolds them into flower and fruit, this makes of a barren expanse a landscape of beauty, fertility, and gladness. (T. Griffith.)
Conscience: its power
I. Discriminating. By it man--
1. Discovers the reality of moral law.
2. Determines his character according to it.
II. Binding. Conscience--
1. Tells us that we are under obligation to God’s law.
2. Produces consciousness of obligation.
1. As a witness.
2. As a judge.
1. The reality of conscience.
2. Its originality.
3. Its universality. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Conscience: susceptible of improvement and injury
I. It may be improved.
1. By use.
2. By reflecting on the moral character of our actions.
3. By obedience to its admonitions, or conscientious acting.
4. By meditating on characters of preeminent moral excellence.
II. It may be injured.
1. By disuse.
2. By neglecting to reflect on the moral character of our actions.
3. By disobedience to its admonitions, or want of conscientiousness.
4. By frequent meditation on vicious characters and actions. “Vice seen too oft, familiar with its face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Nothing has done so much to perplex men’s speculations about conscience as certain fundamental mistakes respecting its proper nature and functions.
1. In the first place, conscience is not a law, but a faculty; not the decision pronounced in a particular case, but the faculty which pronounces the decision.
2. Again, this faculty is susceptible of instruction and improvement, like other faculties of the human mind; like the understanding, for example, or the taste.
3. There is also another important distinction to be made in respect to conscience. Its authority is sometimes said to be supreme and final. And so it is, in a certain sense; that is to say, it is supreme over every other kind of human motive and inducement; should a conflict arise, our sense of what is right ought to prevail, in all cases, over our sense of what is expedient or agreeable. But the authority of conscience is not final in such a sense as to forbid conscience itself from, if need be, reversing its own past decisions. I may appeal at any time from my conscience less instructed to my conscience more instructed, and under these circumstances what was right to me yesterday may become wrong to me today; and what is right to me today may become wrong to me tomorrow.
4. But if conscience itself is an Improvable faculty, and if, in its legitimate action today, it can revise and reverse its own decisions of yesterday, the question naturally arises, Is there anything in conscience which is fixed and absolute? I answer, Yes. The things which are fixed and absolute in conscience--that is to say, the things which are the same in all consciences, and the same in every conscience at all times--would seem to be these three. In the first place, all consciences make a distinction between actions as being right or wrong secondly, the notion of right, as such, or of wrong, as such, is identical to all minds; and, thirdly, all concur in the feeling that they ought to do what they believe to be right. Each man’s conscience is a special development of our common moral nature; and each man’s duty in respect to it is, to take care that this special development shall be more and more complete, and more and more effective; in short, that he may have a better conscience to obey, and obey it more faithfully.
5. It remains to consider the means by which this two-fold improvement in conscience and in conscientiousness may be promoted. The first condition is, a habit of attending to the moral aspects of things, and especially of our own dispositions and conduct; in one word, moral thoughtfulness. A second necessary condition of the moral progress required--of progress in both conscience and conscientiousness--is found in a determination to do right, cost what it may; in other words, to moral thoughtfulness we must add an invincible moral purpose. The progress insisted on in this discourse supposes another condition; namely, that we not only obey conscience, but obey it as an echo of the Divine will: in other words, to moral thoughtfulness and a moral purpose we must add a sense of the authority and sanctions of religion. One condition more. To make us more observant of conscience, and, at the same time, to make conscience what it ought to be, we must take our standard of righteousness from the New Testament. (James Walker.)
The law of conscience
(with John 8:9):--Like every other mental and moral power, conscience has its own distinct function. It is that faculty of our moral nature Which perceives the right and wrong in our actions, accuses or excuses, and anticipates their consequences under the righteous government of God.
I. Conscience is an original law in man’s moral nature. Being so, it is the same in all men, civilised and uncivilised. It cannot be educated any more than the eye can be taught to see, or the ear to hear. The only training a man can be given is in applying the law of conscience to the conduct, and in the art of subjecting the other powers of the soul to its authority. When conscience is spoken of as enlightened and unenlightened, there is applied to it what properly belongs to some of the other powers with which it is associated, particularly the understanding. Being intended for all classes the Scriptures are written not in metaphysical, but in popular language, and therefore, while it is proper to make such distinctions as those we have just indicated, we shall at present treat of conscience in the popular, that is in the Bible, sense. “Their own conscience” is an expression which suggests these two things, viz., that every man is endowed with this faculty, and that it is an essential part of his being, so really his own as to be inseparable from him, and indestructible. But conscience is not now in any man what it originally was. In consequence of sin, the moral law written at first on the fleshly tables of the heart had lost much of its clearness and certainty, like a scarcely legible inscription on a decaying gravestone. It had therefore to be deeply graven by the finger of God on tables of stone, and afterwards given in the imperishable Book, which could be read in every tongue throughout the habitable globe. But while conscience is not now in anyone what it once was, and has in some reached its lowest possible degree of weakness, in different persons it may exist in different states. Paul speaks of some who had their conscience seared with a hot iron. As that part of the flesh becomes insensible to pain, so conscience, under the habit of sinning, comes to be so familiar with evil that its accusing voice is, if at all, but faintly heard. It is past feeling. Jude speaks of some ungodly men in his day as being twice dead, implying that their conscience had been once quickened, but that it had again sunk into its previous condition of torpor and paralysis, which was little different from death. Having been dead before, it was thus twice dead. The man whose conscience is in this condition will practise lying, dishonesty, intemperance, and uncleanness, without often thinking he is doing wrong, and without at all dreading the consequences of his wrong-doing. A more hopeful condition of conscience is that which is described as a pricking in the heart. This was how the first converts on the day of Pentecost were affected. A more appropriate phrase could not easily be found to portray the same moral change in any who undergo it. Piercing sorrow, sharp mental pain, is what it points to. Yet, distressing though it be, this is an interesting and hopeful state of mind. The thunder is not a more certain presage of a pure and settled atmosphere; the storm is not the more certain forerunner of a calm; the opening buds and genial breezes of spring are not the surer signs of retreating winter than are those prickings of heart, the signs of a spiritual winter breaking up in the soul, and of a spring of life and growth and beauty having come. Then there is also the peaceful conscience. True peace can come from only one source, When a man sees that Jesus Christ has by His obedience unto death borne the penalty of his sin, and when he accepts of God’s forgiveness through Christ, his fears leave him, his conscience is pacified, hope springs up in his breast. He may now and again have his regrets and his fears, but as his knowledge of the Saviour and of His work with his own purity of heart and life increases, so does his peace become fuller and more settled.
II. It is by conscience that conviction of sin is produced. There are no doubt other powers which cooperate with it to bring about this result. There is the understanding. Truth and duty must be known before they can be believed and practised. A man cannot rightly realise his sinfulness until he knows what God’s law requires of him, nor believe the gospel, which is God’s great revelation to us, before he knows what it means. Without a knowledge of its truths there cannot be faith, and without an increasing knowledge of its truths there cannot be much progress in goodness. There is also the will. The renewal of our moral nature presupposes as one of its conditions the subduing of the will, and the bringing of it into harmony with the will of God. There are, it is true, preliminary steps in this inward change, such as the enlightening of the mind with regard to sin and salvation, and the melting of the heart into penitence and contrition, but there is, besides, the bending of the will to choose and to follow the Divinely appointed way of deliverance. And, humanly speaking, it is here the greatest difficulty in the work of conversion is met with. The hardest of all struggles is to conquer a man’s self-righteous pride, that he may humbly and thankfully accept eternal life as God’s free gift to the undeserving who believe in His Son.
III. It is by the truth of the gospel that conscience is awakened. The teachings of science and philosophy are powerless here. Only the truth as it is in Jesus can work its way into the deep recesses of man’s nature, stir into life its slumbering activities, meet all its wants, and satisfy its highest aspirations. No other truth can give us a fixed and unchanging standard of duty outside of ourselves and not subject to our variations, show us how far we come short of it, and set before us with certainty the fixed and indissoluble connection there is between cause and consequence in the moral universe. No other truth has the same self-evidencing power. (James Black, D. D.)
Conscience: its uses and perversions
The world is under a solemn economy of government, discerning, approving, or condemning. Now it was requisite there should be something in the soul to recognise this; a faculty to feel obligation to, and apprehension of a greater power. And that which makes a man feel so is a part of himself, so that the struggle against God becomes a struggle with man’s own soul. Therefore conscience has been often denominated “the God in man.”
I. This internal judge has not been altogether in vain.
1. Many men have wished they could be rid of it, and in most it may be presumed, therefore, that conscience has had some restraining effect. Criminals would have been still more criminal but for this. It has been one dissentient power among man’s faculties, as if among a company of gay revellers there should appear one dark and frowning intruder whom they could neither conciliate nor expel. It has struck on the soul, and said, “Listen to that!--that belongs to thee!”
2. It has often compelled confessions of great importance to truth and justice. Very generally, in the last scene of life, it has constrained even bad men to give testimony to religion and the guilt and wretchedness of trifling with it.
3. It has often been made effectual to urge men to a persevering application to Divine mercy, as acting through the mediation of Christ. The guilt is too deep for Divine justice to pardon. There must be some grand expedient as a medium of mercy, and here it is.
4. In good men it has been mighty in trial and temptation, consolatory under injustice, and a sublime energy under persecution.
II. But there is a darker side of the subject, i.e., the view of its perversions and frustration.
1. With by far the greatest number of men conscience has been separated from all true knowledge of God. Now God is both the essential authority of conscience and the model for its rectitude. What is its condition then where the one true God is lost from human knowledge? and instead, a tribe of deities whose characters exemplify all varieties of iniquity, dictating absurdities and abominations, blended, indeed, with some better things which are spoiled in such combination. Or (paganism being disclaimed), there is a falsified notion of God, and a perverted apprehension of His will, Think what an authority for conscience to acknowledge. What should it do but correspond to its authorities? “He that killeth you shall think he doeth God service.” A perpetrator in the St. Bartholomew massacre said, “God was obliged to me that day.”
2. Conscience has often been beguiled to admit trifling ceremonies as an expiation of great sins, when, had it been in its right state, it would have shaken the whole soul.
3. Conscience may suffer itself to be very much conformed to prevailing customs and notions. That which ought to ever look to the throne and law of God may be degraded to this most irreligious homage to man. So that the superior and eternal order of principles is nearly out of sight, as in some countries they rarely see the sun or the stars.
(1) When, at moments, conscience does attempt to resume a little of the genuine spirit of its office, it is solicited to look out on the world and see whether the common estimates and practices do not warrant that which it is disposed to accuse.
(2) The next consequence is that it will have little to take account of short of positive vices. Therefore it will begin with slight censures at a point where very grave ones are deserved. Supposing the whole of what the Divine law condemns to be measured by a scale of one hundred degrees of aggravation, then, the censure beginning at one, will become extremely severe by the time of rising to fifty. But let this first fifty be struck off as harmless in accommodation to the general notions, then conscience will but begin, and in slight terms, its censures at the fifty-first degree, and so, at the very top of the scale, will produce with but just that emphasis which was duo at the point where it began.
4. Conscience is extremely liable to be accommodated to each man’s own interests, passions, and tastes. What will he not do to reconcile it or make it submit to them? He will not part with them, and consequently has great advantages against his conscience. The favourite interest or inclination he sets in the fairest light; palliations of what is wrong in it multiply; it is far less culpable than many things in others which they think very venial, and there is such and such good to which it will turn to account. Now it is not strange if, by this time, his conscience has come to speak in a much more submissive voice. And, melancholy as the fact is, there are few things that gratify a corrupt mind more than to have gained a victory over conscience.
5. Conscience may, in a great degree, be turned to a judgment on bare external actions. Now conscience has a great advantage as a judge over outward observers. It is seated, with its lamp, down in the hidden world among the thoughts, motives, intentions, and wishes. The greater the grievance I but how to obviate it? Labour to think that what is practical is of far greater importance than feelings and thoughts. These are varying and transient; actions substantial and permanent. Inward principles within do injury to none; the right actions do much good. Thoughts and movements within are much involuntary; the outward conduct is the result of will and effort. Look so much on the best parts of conduct as to become emboldened to make the inference--“the case is not so wrong within as conscience had attempted to charge,” for “by their fruits shall men be known.” Thus, in a measure, may conscience be beguiled out of its inward watching place, to be content to look only at the outside.
6. When conscience is seriously alarmed, it may be quieted by delusive applications. “There will be time enough yet.” Sometimes these alarms are frustrated by treacherous presumptions as to the way of propitiating the Divine Justice; men may reconcile God by repentance; satisfy His demands by a reformed conduct; secure final safety by a careful obedience instead of faith in Christ. This last is a deadly treachery practised on conscience; for it is quieting its alarms by inducing it to abjure that very law which is its appointed standard, and of which it is its very office to be the representative and sanction.
7. Conscience can be reduced to a state of habitual insensibility. This is attained by tampering and equivocating with it; by a careful avoidance of all that might alarm it; continual neglect of its admonitions; a determined resistance and repression; and habits of sin. The result of this will be a deep torpor and stupefaction. Think of the advantage of being able to look at others who are troubled by a wakeful, interfering conscience! But why does this dead stillness appear an awful situation? Because it will awake! and with an intensity of life and power proportioned to this long sleep, as if it had been growing gigantic during its slumber. It will awake!--probably in the last hours of life. But if not, in the other world there is something which will certainly awake it.
III. The right treatment of conscience.
1. It should be regarded with deep respect--even its least intimations attended to, not slighted as scrupulous impertinencies, blown away, etc.
2. We should diligently aim at a true judgment of things, because our judgment is the rule by which conscience will proceed, There must be much reflection and retirement.
3. We shall recollect always that the most judicial conscience is less rigid and comprehensive than the Divine law. “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” Therefore in consulting conscience we should endeavour to realise to ourselves the Divine presence, and implore that our consciences may ever be in the Divine keeping rather than our own.
4. As we often speak of improvements in the Christian life be it remembered that one of them is an improvement in the discerning sensibility, and extent of jurisdiction of conscience. And if this involves an increase of solicitudes, pains, penitential emotions, so much the more desirable will appear that better world where there is no possibility of sin, where the continued improvement of spiritual perception will be a continually augmented exquisiteness of the felicity. (John Foster.)
In the day when God shall Judge the secrets of men.
The future judgment
I. The grand subject of inquiry. “The secrets of men.” A phrase to be understood in its utmost latitude, including not only matters known only to God and our own consciences, but also things which escape ourselves, or the nature of which may be undiscovered. The hypocrite, who either deceived others or deluded himself, shall then be laid open. And the good actions of the sincere Christian, uncharitably mistaken by the world, or unreasonably censured by his own conscience, shall be vindicated. The expression does not exclude public actions (Ecclesiastes 12:14), which are, in a sense, a secret as to their nature, motives and consequences. Our secret sufferings will also be judged; what we have endured, and in what spirit, whether with resignation toward God, and with gentleness towards men; all which is difficult to determine now.
II. The person who will judge the secrets of men.
1. God who alone--
(1) Has a right to judge them; it is His law that is broken.
(2) Can judge them; none other has power to assemble the living and the dead; wisdom, to know all the individuals and their actions, words, thoughts, etc.; holiness to hate sin; justice to pass an equitable sentence.
2. By Jesus Christ (John 5:22; Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:18; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 25:31; Acts 17:31; Acts 17:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
(1) This appointment is reasonable, as a reward of His obedience and sufferings. If He reward us for ours, how much more is He, who was “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,” worthy to be “crowned with glory and honour” (Philippians 2:6-10).
(2) This perfect honour is appropriate to Him. The powers of hell employed their force and fraud in opposing the kingdom of Christ, and it is fit He should pass sentence upon them (Revelation 17:13-14).
(3) With respect to His followers also, it is fit that He should acquit them, who bore their sins; that He should determine their happiness, who purchased heaven for them with its various mansions; that He should present them faultless, who preserved them from falling; that He should judge those who were under His government while on earth. (Joseph Benson.)
Coming judgment of the secrets of men
I. On a certain day God will judge men.
1. A judgment is going on daily. Every deed is recorded in the register of doom.
(1) This session of the heavenly court is like the daily sessions of our local magistrates, and does not prevent but rather necessitates the holding of an ultimate great assize.
(2) As each man passes into another world an immediate judgment is passed upon him; but this is only the foreshadowing of the final judgment.
(3) There is a judgment also passing upon nations, for as nations will not exist as nations in another world, they have to be judged now, and history shows how sternly justice has dealt with empire after empire, when they have become corrupt. Where is Assyria, Babylon, Rome, etc.? The world is full of monuments of the mercy and justice of God: the very monuments of His justice being proofs of His goodness; for it is mercy to put an end to evil systems when, like a nightmare, they weigh heavily upon mankind. We have often laughed at the idea of the New Zealander sitting on the broken arch of London Bridge sketching the ruins of St. Paul’s. But is it quite so ridiculous as it looks? What is there about London that it should be more enduring than Rome? If we rebel, God will not hold us guiltless.
2. Though such judgments proceed every day, yet there is to be a day in which more distinctly and finally God will judge men. We might have guessed this by the light of nature and of reason. Even heathen peoples have had a dim notion of a day of doom; but we are solemnly assured of it in Holy Scripture.
(1) By judging is here meant all that concerns the proceedings of trial and award.
(a) There will be a session of majesty, and the appearing of a great white throne, surrounded with pomp of angels and glorified beings.
(b) Then a summons will be issued, bidding all men come to judgment.
(c) Then the indictment will be read, and each one examined.
(d) Then the books shall be opened, and everything recorded there read.
(e) Then the great Judge shall give the decision, pronounce sentence and execute it.
(2) This will be so, and it ought to be so: God should judge the world, because He is the universal ruler and sovereign.
(a) There has been a day for sinning, there ought to be a day for punishing.
(b) It ought to be so for the sake of the righteous. The best have had the worst of it, and there ought to be a judgment to set these things right. Besides, the festering iniquities of each age cry out to God that He should deal with them.
(3) Why doth it not come at once? And when will it come? It is idle and profane to guess at it, since even the Son of Man, as such, knoweth not the time. It is sufficient that it will surely come; sufficient also to believe that it is postponed.
(a) To give space for repentance.
(b) That the Church may be completed. The Lord keeps the scaffold standing till He hath built up the fabric. Not yet are all the redeemed with blood redeemed with power and brought forth into the holiness in which they walk with God. But do not deceive yourselves. The great day of His wrath cometh on apace, and days of reprieve are numbered.
II. God will judge the secrets of men.
1. By these are meant--
(1) Those secret crimes which hide themselves away by their own infamy, which are too vile to be spoken of.
(2) The hidden motives of every action; for a man may do that which is right from a wrong motive, and so the deed may be evil in the sight of God, though it seem right in the sight of men. Oh, think what it will be to have it proven that you were godly for the sake of gain, that you were generous out of ostentation, or for love of praise, etc.
(3) The sensual desires and imaginings.
(4) Secrets, that were secrets even to the sinners themselves, for there is sin in us which we have never yet discovered.
2. Why God should judge the secrets of men. Because--
(1) There is really nothing secret from God; for all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
(2) Often the greatest of moral acts are done in secret. The brightest deeds that God delights in are those that are done by His servants when they have no motive but to please Him, and when they studiously avoid publicity. It were a pity that such deeds should be left out at the great audit. Thus, too, secret vices are also of the very blackest kind, and to exempt them were to let the worst of sinners go unpunished.
(3) Besides, the secret things of men enter into the very essence of their actions. An action is, after all, good or bad very much according to its motive. So, if God did not judge the secret part of the action He would not judge righteously.
(4) The secret thing is the best evidence of the man’s condition. Many a man will not do in public that which would bring him shame. That which a man does when he thinks that he is entirely by himself is the best revelation of the man.
III. God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. This will be--
1. For the display of His glory. What a difference there will be then between the Babe of Bethlehem’s manger and the King of kings and Lord of lords; between the weary man and full of woes, and He that shall then be girt with glory, sitting on a throne encircled with a rainbow! From the derision of men to the throne of the universal judgment, what an ascent! This, too, will finally settle the controversy about our Lord’s Deity.
2. Because men have been under His mediatorial sway, and He is their King. We have been placed by an act of Divine clemency, not under the immediate government of an offended God, but under the reconciling rule of the Prince of Peace.
3. That there may never be a cavil raised concerning that judgment. Men shall not be able to say, Vie were judged by a superior being who did not know our weaknesses and temptations, and therefore judged us without a generous consideration of our condition. The Judge was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. He is our brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, partaker of our humanity, and therefore understands and knows what is in men.
4. This judgment by Christ puts beyond possibility all hope of any after-interposition. If the Saviour condemns, and such a Saviour, who can plead for us? If He that bled to save men at last comes to this conclusion, that there is no more to be done, but they must be driven from His presence, then farewell hope.
5. Does not this also show how certain the sentence will be? for this Christ of God is too much in earnest to play with men. If He says, “Come, ye blessed,” He will not fail to bring them to their inheritance. If He be driven to say, “Depart, ye cursed,” He will see it done, and into the everlasting punishment they must go.
6. It seems as if God in this intended to give a display of the unity of all His perfections. In Christ you behold justice and love, mercy and righteousness, combined in equal measure. He turns to the right, and says, “Come, ye blessed,” and with the same lip, as He glances to the left, He says, “Depart, ye cursed,”
IV. All this is according to the gospel. There is nothing in the gospel contrary to this solemn teaching. Men gather to hear us preach of infinite mercy, and our task is joyful; but oh, remember that nothing in our message makes light of sin! There is grace for the man who quits his sin, but there is tribulation and wrath upon every man that doeth evil. The gospel is all tenderness to the repenting, but all terror to the obstinate offender. The background of the Cross is the judgment seat of Christ. “According to my gospel,” saith Paul; and he meant that the judgment is an essential part of the gospel creed, and in times of righteous indignation its terrible significance seems a very gospel to the pure in heart. I have read this and that concerning oppression, slavery, the treading down of the poor, and the shedding of blood, and I have rejoiced that there is a righteous Judge. Thousands of men have been hanged for much less crimes than those which now disgrace gentlemen whose names are on the lips of rank and beauty. Where this is not preached, I am bold to say the gospel is not preached. It is absolutely necessary to the preaching of the gospel that men be warned as to what will happen if they continue in their sins. Surgeon, you hope to heal the sick without their knowing it. You therefore flatter them; and they die! Your delicacy is cruelty; you are a murderer. Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumbers from which they will awake in hell? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The secrets of men disclosed and judged
I. Conduct. Those actions we concealed from friendship and from man, proclaimed on the housetop. How many secrets are now in progress in the world! Secrets of--
1. Ambition, where the man is sacrificing all for it.
2. Covetousness; call them secrets of trade if you like, but there are many practices countenanced which cannot bear the light. How have you held back from the widow, and passed by the orphan?
3. Sensuality. In darkness, not to be named in public. Look in your closets; how have your consciences been contaminated.
4. Envy: I cannot go into your closets; but what has God seen there!
II. Character. Character is formed by principle. Now this can only be known to Him who searches the heart. I know not the springs of your conduct, nor the principles on which your character is formed. Though Jesus says we may know the tree by the fruit, yet there is not always a faithful correspondence between principles and practice. How few seek only the glory of God. Self is a subtle principle. In private a man will blush at his own hypocrisy; and Satan, helping him, may make him a self-deceiver. But every motive will then start up! How many actions now under the garb of humility will then be seen to have originated in pride! How many blazoned deeds from self-love! How many actions, which seem under the motive of zeal to God, like those of Jehu, are prompted by interest!
III. Inattention. A large portion of our actions are thought to be venial, trifling, etc. “For every idle word which men shall speak, they shall give account in the day of judgment.”
IV. Influence. We are members one of another. We are always, when in society, doing either good or harm.
1. Little do we know how many are they on whom we have in some way exerted an unhallowed influence. In that day the author of blasphemous works will answer for all the evil he has done.
2. At the same time, many secrets of prayer will then be found, many tears, etc.
1. This subject requires deep self-examination. What secrets will this night conceal!
2. What will be the effects of this judgment?
(1) The shame of exposure. What would you not give here to avoid exposure?
(2) Besides shame, the agony of remorse, the horror of despair. “Some shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt.” (J. Summerfield, A. M.)
Judgment of our thoughts
1. Thoughts are amongst the secrets of men. They are what men cannot be sure of in each other. They are what men often seem to imagine that even God cannot behold.
2. Whence is it that the thoughts arise which will be called to account? “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19). Out of the heart also it is that good thoughts, by God’s good grace, spring up.
3. And this make it so needful for them to be judged hereafter. They prove what is the inward disposition of the soul, what there is of good or evil there.
4. But though it is easy to see why the thoughts must be judged; yet it is not easy to think as if they would be. How few think continually such thoughts as they would wish to have entirely laid open unto those amongst whom they live! How few such as are fit to be beholden by Him to whom all thoughts are open! How few that God will judge them!
I. What are the thoughts that will be judged.
1. Selfish thoughts. For what are the thoughts which God commands us to cherish towards each other? (see Matthew 19:19; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:4). Consider how far are your thoughts guided by these rules?
2. Proud thoughts. The pattern set before it Christian is as follows: “Learn of My, for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). The rule laid down for his thoughts of others is, “In lowliness of mind,” etc. (Philippians 2:3). How often is this rule violated; how seldom this pattern followed! There is, indeed, a great variety in rank, ability, etc., and it would be but a pretence to humility for a man to profess himself inferior in a point where he cannot help to know his own advantages. But whatsoever be his comparative advantages, let him fix his attention rather on his own actual defects--his sins, wasted opportunities--and he will scarcely think highly of himself.
3. Angry thoughts. These are closely connected with pride and selfishness. He that thinks highly of himself covets largely for himself, and must, therefore, often be disappointed and affronted. Thus spring up angry thoughts; and though neither unkind words or actions follow, the thoughts alone are sinful, and will be judged. The most secret thoughts Christ would have to be now gentle and charitable.
4. Impure thoughts (Matthew 5:27-28). Let no one imagine himself innocent, merely because his conduct is respectable. The fear of shame, the lack of opportunity, may preserve the outward character, but they cannot secure the favourable judgment of Him who sees the heart to be sensual. Thus not only he who follows after strong drink in excess, but he also who fain would do so if he could is a drunkard in the sight of the Almighty. Thus in another sin, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
5. Worldly thoughts. We learn that a Christian should set his affections on things above (Colossians 3:2), and not be anxious for this world’s morrow (Matthew 6:25-34). How, then, can they answer for it hereafter, whose whole minds are occupied with the business of the world they live in; with scarcely one reflection in the day on the world which they so soon must enter? Are not these things among those secrets of men which God will judge?
II. What should we do in view of this?
1. Besides the times which you set apart for prayer, etc., you must endeavour to cherish thoughts of heaven in the midst of your attention to the business of earth. Say you are engaged in work. Why should you not relieve your toil by thinking of what awaits you when life shall end?
2. Set before yourselves your Christian calling. Keep in view the condemnation from which you have been delivered, and the dealings of Him who has delivered you (Philippians 4:8). And think further of what God has yet in store for us in the world which now we see not. Let us more stedfastly believe that we shall dwell in heaven, and we shall think more frequently of dwelling there. Let us believe more firmly that Christ died for our sins, and we shall think of Him both more often and more thankfully. Then shall we less fear to have our secrets judged, when we have not a thought which is not beforehand submitted to our Judge, suggested by His Spirit, guided by His Word, or devoutly surrendered to His will. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)
The secrets of the soul
I. We live is a strange secrecy, even hidden from our most intimate friends.
1. If any one of us were asked to relate his own life, he might relate two lives which would seem all but independent of each other. He might tell when he was born, where he had lived, what he had done, etc. He might anticipate the future, calculate what were his chances of success, and how he expected to end his days. Or, again, he might tell quite a different story. What he remembered of his own early character; what were his real affections; what did he secretly like, and pursue, and hope for; what changes had passed over him; what events had influenced the general current of his thoughts; what struggles he had been engaged in, and their issue. He might tell of the very beginnings, unknown to all save himself, of habits of sin never since quite shaken off; of deeds done in darkness; why some names, associations, memories make him uncomfortable without any visible reason; why he wishes, in his secret heart, some subjects to be forbidden, and is always conscious of an effort to seem indifferent when they are mentioned.
2. Now how different these two lives would often be! How events of the highest importance, and persons who play a large part in the one would disappear in the other! How strange it would be to see that a man who had succeeded in the eyes of his friends in a particular path had meanwhile been cherishing within him quite foreign thoughts and other longings! How strange to find that a fair character was only fair outwardly! Those who had been praised would, in many cases, win pity; and some few who now suffer from showing ill would be found to rank far above the level at which they had always been placed. Often the recital of a man’s secret life would completely change our opinion of him. But still more often we should be astonished to see how these two lives seemed to run side by side almost without mingling.
II. The revelation will one day be made, and Christ will decide, and he alone can decide, on the evidence which each will give.
1. Neither tells the whole man.
(1) The outer life only tells what we are under all the influences of the eyes of others, which eyes call into use a completely different set of faculties and motives--the desire to be thought well of, to please, to win popularity or love, then begin to act. Our consciences, too, are strengthened in some ways by the sight of each other; and there are some duties which we see much more clearly.
(2) On the other hand, the inner life tells what we are when quite left to ourselves, but no man is complete when alone. There is a large part of his nature which is made to fit into the society of his fellows; and if this part of him does not find its proper complement, the nature of the man is not all called out. Moreover, what goes on in our secret lives is, to a great extent, the very consequence of our believing that it will end where it begins. Many a man indulges passing thoughts, who would not put them into deeds even if tempted by the certainty of perpetual concealment. It would not be possible, therefore, to judge a man either by the secret life or by the public. But Christ will unveil them both, and we shall see and feel the justice of His decision.
2. Now we can see why God has thus shut up a large and important part of our lives in this absolute secrecy. God has made us to be members one of another; but He will not have us to be nothing but members one of another. Every soul shall have an individual life, with an individual history, and shall come at last to an individual judgment. God requires that each soul shall have a separate strength supplied by Himself alone. The Church is much. But the Church shall not be everything. You shall, if you are to call yourself a servant of Christ, give something which you and you alone can give, which you and you alone can know whether you give or not. From this responsibility you cannot escape. Another may ask you whether you have done it, but he must depend for his answer on what you tell him, and he cannot know whether your answer is the whole truth. God alone can tell that; and between yourself and God the secret must remain till the judgment day.
3. God has hidden a part of our lives; and this concealment we can cast over much more than He has hidden. But again and again are we warned against it. It is the man whose deeds are evil that loves darkness rather than light. And what is the voice of God’s Word is also the voice of natural feeling. The man who is fair outside and foul within is condemned of all men as a hypocrite. Men reserve all their strongest terms of reprobation for the dark, reserved, and secret sinner. Men refuse their love to the reserved and secret character. Nature and revelation both warn us against the danger we run if we pollute our inner and secret life with what we dare not tell.
4. In view of this awful coming judgment let us determine to force all our faults outwards. At whatever cost let us keep sacred to God that inner shrine which He has thus hidden with a secrecy of His own making. Let us avoid a secret sin with a hundred times more eager avoidance, just because it is secret. If we can be fair anywhere let it be in that which God has reserved for Himself, and where Christ is willing to dwell. (Bp. Temple.)
According to my gospel.
St. Paul and his gospel
It is impossible to tell what it cost Paul to write Chapter
1. It is a shame even to speak of the things, but Paul felt that it was necessary to break through his shame, and to speak out concerning the hideous vices of the heathen. Monsters that revel in darkness must be dragged into the open, that they may be withered up by the light. After Paul has thus written in anguish he bethought himself of his chief comfort. He clings to the gospel with a greater tenacity than ever. Here he did not speak of it as “the gospel,” but as “my gospel.” He felt that he could not live in the midst of so depraved a people without holding the gospel with both hands, and grasping it as his very own. “My gospel.” Not that Paul was the author of it, not that Paul had an exclusive monopoly of its blessings, but that he had so received it from Christ Himself, and so fully taken it into himself that he could not do less than call it “my gospel.” In another place he speaks of “our gospel”; to show how believers identify themselves with the truth which they preach.
1. He had a definite form of truth, and he believed in it beyond all doubt; and therefore he spoke of it as “my gospel.” Herein we hear the voice of faith, which seems to say, “Though others reject it, I am sure of it,” “Should all the forms that men devise,” etc.
2. Is not this word “my gospel” the voice of love? Does he not by this word embrace the gospel as the only love of his soul--for the sake of which he had suffered the loss of all things, and for the sake of which he was willing to proclaim, even in Caesar’s palace, the message from heaven? Though each word should cost him a life, he was willing to die a thousand deaths for the holy cause.
3. Does not this show his courage! As much as to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
4. There is a touch of discrimination about the expression. Paul perceives that there are other gospels, and he makes short work with them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Pauline gospel
Twice in this epistle the apostle uses this remarkable expression; here and in Romans 16:25. Now, it would be obviously arrogant for any ordinary preacher to use such an expression. We dare not speak of it so as to imply that it has acquired some distinctive character from our way of putting it. But in Paul’s case we may feel sure that this expression was not used presumptuously.
1. Not only was he a chosen apostle, but there was given to him such excellency of knowledge in the mystery of Christ, that it is impossible to see how Christianity could have become the religion of all men but for Paul. Peter may have been qualified to open the door of faith to the Gentiles, and may have struck the first blow at the middle wall of partition, but it was through Paul’s preaching that this middle wall was broken down effectually and finally, and the last trace of the long inferiority of the Gentile to the Jew completely effaced.
2. Then, again, it is Paul who has shaped all our formal theology as such, and given the life of Christ in the soul that articulate form without which it would soon die away into a vague and bodiless sentiment. It is Paul who has opened up the types, and linked Old Testament and New together.
3. All philosophy and all history may be said to stream out of the teaching of this the greatest of the apostles, like those rivers which flowed out of Eden and parted into four heads. As for the philosophy of history, it may be said to take its rise from the Epistle to the Romans, in the same way as it has been said that history itself was born on the night of the Exodus.
4. I dare not make use of this expression. And yet I feel irresistibly attracted to use it, though in a much lower sense. My justification for preaching at all is, that there is a sense in which any true teacher has a message from God which may be said to be distinctively his own. Every man must be fully persuaded in his own mind, and then declare his own mind to others. (J. B. Heard, M. A.)
Behold, thou art called a Jew.
The Jews also without excuse
Hitherto the apostle, in seeking to shut up the Jew unto the faith of Christ, has contented himself with an enunciation of the equitable principles on which the final judgment shall proceed, simply affirming, of both rewards and punishments, that they shall be to the Jew first, but also to the Gentile. He now proceeds, in a direct appeal to the Jew, to indicate to him the folly of any hope of escape but in the free grace of God as revealed in the gospel.
I. The appeal is made to the Jew as to the practical effect of the religion of which he made his boast upon his own character and conduct.
1. Did it make him to become a wiser or better man? If not, of what avail could it be in the day of final account? “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law,” etc. (Romans 2:25). Circumcision therefore is not itself a saving rite, but the sign and seal of a salvation already secured by faith (Romans 4:10-11). But, if a man’s life proclaims his profession of faith false, then the sign becomes a falsehood, and the seal a delusion and a snare. The sign is not the thing signified; nor does the thing signified of necessity wait upon the sign. The seal is not the treasure sealed; and neither is it produced by the magic influence of the sealing; nor does it of necessity remain so long as the seal remains. Marvellous it is that men should ever have imagined that God could be bound, by this mere external rite, to deliver men from the just punishment of their sins. How different the faith and reasoning of the great Father of the faithful! With him it was not a question of circumcision, but of righteousness (Genesis 18:24-25).
2. But if an uncircumcised Gentile should practically meet the law’s requirement he should be accounted as a circumcised person, and his conduct would condemn that of the unfaithful Jew (Romans 2:26, etc.). The inward and spiritual character of the religion required both by the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic law had been distinctly insisted upon by all the inspired writers, and the one ever-recurring complaint was that of Stephen, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). By the testimony of Moses, and all the prophets, such circumcised ones were really and before God uncircumcised. But could an uncircumcised Gentile remaining uncircumcised, secure a position of grace equal to that which the disobedient Jew forfeited? By consenting to be circumcised he confessedly might. For that express provision had been made. But besides proselytes there were great numbers of Gentiles like the devout centurion (Luke 7:1, etc.), and devout Cornelius, who were truly godly men and accepted of God, and whose circumcision was that of the heart (Acts 10:34). And why should the reference be restricted even to these? Surely there are men, even in purely heathen lands, who turn from sin seeking for redemption. And shall it be said that because they do not possess the light of revelation, and cannot exercise an intelligent personal faith in the Saviour of men, they must therefore be cut off from all interest in His great redeeming work? But if men, under such disadvantages, should become circumcised in heart and accepted of God, their fulfilment of the law would indeed judge those who, with all the advantages of revelation, continued still to be transgressors of the law.
II. Objections to the conclusiveness of the argument are answered (Romans 3:1, etc.).
1. If a Gentile, by keeping the law, might become, in the estimation of God, a Jew, while the Jew, through disobedience, might be reduced to the position of a sinful Gentile, then what profit could there be in circumcision? The advantage was much every way. First, indeed, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. The question to be solved was not how could a man be assured of perfect immunity from punishment, but how could he be most effectually rescued from the love and the practice of sin? For this Gentilism had no aptitude or power, but rather the contrary; while Judaism had both. In its sacred oracles, the need, the grace, the way, and the sure promise of salvation were made abundantly plain; so that, if the Jew did not secure it, he was without excuse. Then it is demanded--
2. If some of the Jews did not believe those sacred oracles, so as to secure possession of the promised salvation, would their unbelief invalidate the promise of God? Most surely not. For the fact that He had given the promise to believing and holy Israel could not be supposed to bind Him to insure salvation to every descendant of Abraham, whether believing and obedient or not. In respect to that, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” David (Psalms 51:4) would have vindicated God for excluding him from salvation, because of his sin; and he sought the restoration of the joy of that salvation only on the ground of the promise which free grace had made to the penitent. But now--
3. “If our unrighteousness (who, being Jews, fail to manifest the faith and obedience of the covenant people) commend the righteousness of God,” establish and make it more conspicuous, what shall we say? “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance” upon us whose very iniquities have served to promote His glory? “(I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” If He must needs exempt from punishment all who contribute to His glory, then none can possibly be condemned. For His real glory is that He deals impartially with men according to their true characters, and not according to accidental relationship; and if it were possible for Him to depart from this rule, then the glory would also depart. “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory, why am I yet to be judged as a sinner?” Clearly because I am a sinner. If otherwise, “why should we not say, as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we do say, Let us do evil that good may come?” To that Jesuitry which carried out to its logical results would justify any crime, the apostle deigns no other reply than that the damnation of its promulgators is just.
III. As to actual moral and religious character, the Jew must stand sine by side with the Gentile, as a sinner, and exposed to just condemnation (Romans 2:9, etc.) (W. Tyson.)
The advantages of the Jews
consisted in their--
I. Bearing the name of Jew, which embraces three significations--confession, praise, and thanksgiving, by which that people was distinguished from all other nations. The Jew alone had been chosen as the confessor of God, while all the rest of the world abjured His service; he alone was appointed to celebrate His praises, while by others He was blasphemed; he alone was appointed to render thanksgiving to God for multiplied benefits received, while others were passed by.
II. Having received the law. They had no occasion to study any other wisdom or philosophy (Deuteronomy 4:6). In this they “rested.”
1. Labour was spared them of employing many years and great endeavours, and travelling to distant countries, as was the case with other nations in acquiring knowledge and certain rules of direction.
2. They had an entire confidence in the law as a heavenly and Divine rule which could not mislead them, while the Gentiles could have no reliance on their deceitful philosophy.
III. Having the true God as their God, while the Gentiles having only false gods were “without God in the world.” They had, therefore, great reason to glory in Him, and on this account David said, that in God was his strength and his refuge (Psalms 18:1-50; Psalms 62:7; Psalms 144:1-15).
IV. Knowing His will, and that not by a confused knowledge, such as the Gentiles had by the revelation of nature, but a distinct knowledge by the revelation of the word, which the Gentiles did not possess (Psalms 147:19-20).
V. Discerning what is evil. They knew the will of God, and consequently what was contrary to it, i.e., what He condemns.
VI. Their ability to teach and guide others. The law not only instructed the Jews for themselves, but also for others, and in this they held that they enjoyed a great superiority over the other nations, who are here called blind, for with all the lights of their philosophy, laws, and arts, being without true religion, they had no true saving light. (R. Haldane.)
I. The Jews’ grounds of dependence.
1. Their covenant relation. The Jew expected salvation because he was a Jew. Denominationalism, rather than the living personal Christ, is too often made a ground of trust. They rested in the law as their confidence, and boasted that God was their God and they His people.
2. Their superior knowledge. Divine things had been specially revealed to them; on this ground they expected special favour of God. They forgot that superior knowledge often enhances the guilt of sin, and increases the certainty, necessity, and severity of punishment. It should make us first anxious to do right ourselves and then to lead others right.
3. The fact of circumcision.
II. The just principles of Divine judgment. These are to be men’s works or character, and the standard of judgment, the light we all severally enjoy. This is true both of Gentiles and Jews. The one will be judged precisely by the same principles as the other (Romans 2:28-29). (C. Higgins.)
The need of spiritual religion
Paul now addresses the Jew direct.
I. The false conceptions of the Jews.
1. The Jews were--
(1) Overweeningly proud of their national name. To be entitled to the name of “Jew” was the highest of earthly honours. To be an Athenian, or a Roman, was a much inferior distinction. Nor without reason; yet they should not have carried it to so ridiculous an excess. Alas! how has the fine gold now become dim (Deuteronomy 28:37).
(2) Boastful of their religious privileges, and vainly built upon them their confidence of final safety and present acceptance with God. He possessed the law, etc. With such distinguishing favours he gave himself wondrous airs of self-importance; and looked down upon Grecian sages and Roman legislators with contempt. As to the common people among the uncircumcised, they were mere dogs and swine.
(3) Thought themselves at liberty to indulge in all manner of unrighteousness with impunity. As the special favourites of heaven, God would be tolerant of their vices, and readily sanction them in their evil propensities. What would be a damnable crime among the heathen would, in a Jew, be a small and venial offence scarcely needing forgiveness.
2. Accordingly, the apostle boldly assails their refuges of lies, and shows them that their transgressions were as abhorrent to God as the corresponding iniquities of the heathen. And here he establishes the principle, that circumcision was never meant to be a substitute for personal holiness, and can never be accepted as such, while uncircumcision will not place at a disadvantage any virtuous and well-meaning Gentile. And why? Because God regards the heart rather than the outward appearance. The sign of the covenant is of little worth unless the terms of the covenant have been apprehended and accepted by the inner man. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly,” etc.
3. All that is essential in this teaching belongs to us, as professedly a Christian people. We have the form of saving truth and knowledge as well as they; and we are in the same danger of resting in that form, and then making it an excuse for sin and a cloak to our unrighteousness. Baptism stands in the place of circumcision. Do we not need, then, to be taught that he is not a Christian who is one outwardly only (1 Peter 3:2).
4. This doctrine was, indeed, taught in the Old Testament, and the prophets severely rebuked their contemporaries for resting in the outward law, and thereby causing the name of Jehovah to be evil spoken of among the heathen, who, of course, judged of Him and His requirements by the conduct of His professing people (Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:16-21; Ezekiel 36:25-27).
II. The inward, true, and spiritual religion, on which the apostle so forcibly insists.
1. Its seat is in the heart. There is an outward form which is not to be despised; for wherever there is the power of godliness there will also be its appropriate expression, because a good tree must bring forth good fruit, and a pure fountain send forth pure streams. A piety which consists wholly of frames and feelings, and articles of belief, is a delusion and a snare. Yet, on the other hand, there may be an imitation of the form of godliness where its power is entirely absent. Sometimes there is a consciousness of hypocrisy, and a man puts on the livery of religion with the deliberate purpose of imposing on the world; but more frequently the error is the result of self-delusion. People observe the external proprieties of Christianity, while their hearts are utterly dark and dead. The difference between a formal Christian and a real one is that the one is an artificial tree, made of dead wood and wire, on whose branches oranges and apples are mechanically hung; while the other is a tree which bringeth forth his fruit in due season. The one is a painted fire, while the other is an altar on whose sacred hearth the flame truly burns.
2. It is not ours by nature, but it is the gift of God. By nature we have no religion, but we can, even if left to ourselves, easily acquire one. That which is outward is within the compass of our natural powers; but that which is inward and spiritual is like the flames which licked up Elijah’s altar, which only Jehovah could flash forth. It is not enough that you read the Bible, say your prayers, etc. Are you the subject of a direct Divine working, changing your inward character? Is your circumcision, your consecration to God, that of the heart, “in the spirit and not in the letter: whose praise is not of men but of God”?
3. Let us delineate it. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Israel. God pledged Himself to be their King and Father. They, on the other hand, were to be willing to obey and serve Him. Our consecration is to be substantially of the same order. Let us view it as relating to--
(1) The will. As God’s creatures, we ought to be subject to His will. Nor should this be a hardship when we reflect on His perfect wisdom, goodness, and righteousness. Yet, man is a self-willed creature. This tendency reveals itself in earliest childhood. And then, afterwards, when our thoughts are directed to a higher quarter, when we become aware of a God whom it is our duty to honour and obey, the guilty struggle is renewed. Or, perhaps, we try to put Him off with a half-hearted and pretended service. The necessity of religion and the triumph of grace is to subdue this mutinous spirit, and make us willing and ready to say, “Father, not my will, but Thine be done.” Now, this subjection of the will to God shows itself in submission to His dealings with us, and obedience to His requirements of us.
(2) The motives follow the will. It is true that the will is influenced by motives; but it is also true that the will has a prior power of choosing its own motives. Now, ordinarily, men are constrained by a love of money, pleasure, power, etc. The man of God may be the subject of the same tendencies and incentives so far as they are in themselves lawful and right; but then he will not yield himself up to them blindly or absolutely; he will subordinate the whole to the supreme principle of seeking first the Divine glory and being actuated by love to God (Corinthians 10:31).
(3) The affections participate in the effects of inward holiness.
(a) Love is an acknowledged necessity of our existence. If carnally minded, our love will be impure, misleading, dangerous; but if spiritually minded, its great and all-satisfying object will be God Himself.
(b) Closely allied to love is fear; for what we love we fear to lose. And if we love God we shall fear to offend or displease Him; and having that we need have no fear beside.
(c) Where our love and fear centre thither will our desires ascend.
(d) From this feeling will spring both trust and hope. We shall confide with unfaltering affiance in Him whom our soul loveth. We shall have boldness before His presence, and know that, as He liveth, we shall live also. We shall not be dismayed by the prospect of death, or tremble when we think of judgment. Conclusion: Such is spiritual religion, the “circumcision of the heart.” It is produced within us by the Holy Ghost. The instrument is the Word of truth. And especially does He employ and apply to our hearts those doctrines which relate to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, to God’s readiness to be a Father to us and acknowledge us as His children, and to the dread realities of the world to come. Let us again ask ourselves if we possess real, inward, and spiritual religion? If not, a mere form and profession will be found in vain. (T. G. Horton.)
The nominal Christian
I. What he boasts (Romans 2:17-20).
II. What he does (verses 21-21).
III. What is the result. He is condemned--
1. By his own principles.
2. By the upright heathen.
3. By the gospel law. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. His exalted privileges.
2. His honourable calling.
3. His faithless conduct. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And approvest the things that are more excellent.
Sensitiveness of moral sense
The phrase is explained by Alford as “provest (in the sense of sifting and coming to a conclusion on) things which differ”; and by Vaughan as--
1. “Discernest things that differ; art able to discriminate, as by an infallible test, things true and false, right and wrong.
2. Approvest things that excel” (cf. Philippians 1:10; Romans 12:2)
. The boast, here, clearly refers to accuracy of judgment and to the sensitiveness of the moral sense. As the wild huntsman can hear a footfall at incredible distances; as the Indian of the prairie can track a trail, which to a dull-eyed European is invisible; as the connoisseur can distinguish the slightest shades of flavour in food and in wines of various vintages; as the artist can at a glance decide if a picture be that of a master or not; so the Jew boasted he could discern the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, and unloose all kind of casuistical knots of morality. (C. Neil, M. A.)
And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind.--
Jewish treatment of Gentiles
Four terms set forth the moral treatment to which the Jew, as the born physician of mankind, subjects his patients, the Gentiles, to their complete cure. “Thou art confident” describes his pretentious assurance. And, first, he takes the poor Gentile by the hand as one does “a blind man,” offering to “guide” him; then he opens his eyes, dissipating his “darkness” by the “light” of revelation; then he “rears” him, as one who would bring up a being yet “without reason”; finally, when through all this care he has come to the stage of the “little child” (one who cannot speak--a designation of proselytes), he initiates him into the full knowledge of the truth, by becoming his “teacher.” (Prof. Godet.)
Now, I should like to ask a question of two or three classes, and then send you home. There are a great many of us here tonight who are teachers of others. Some of you are deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, street preachers. I thank God that you are a busy people, and you are doing much for Christ. There is a question I want to ask of you and of myself: Are we who teach others sure that we have believed in Christ ourselves? It is well to ask that question; it is a very dangerous thing indeed for an unsaved man to begin to work for Christ, for the probabilities are that he will take for granted what he ought diligently to have proved. In many cases he never will seek to be saved; but go on, on, on, never pausing to examine himself, and so, while professing to work for God, he may be a stranger to the work of God on himself. There is an old story I recollect reading somewhere of a lunatic in an asylum, who one day saw a very lean cook. Accosting him, he said, “Cook, do you make good food?” “Yes,” said the cook. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “And does anybody get fat on it?” “Yes,” again was the reply. “Then,” said the man, “you had better mind what you are after, or else, when the governor comes round, he will put you in along with me, for if you make good food, and yet are so thin yourself, you must be mad, for you do not eat it, or else you would get fat too!” There is some sense in that. You teach others, you say; you give them spiritual food; but why not feed on it yourselves? Master, what right hast thou to teach if thou wilt not first learn? Physician, physician, heal thyself! Brother, it will go hard with you and with me, if we are lost. What will become of us teachers of others, if, after having led others to the river, we never drink; after bringing others the heavenly food, we perish of spiritual famine ourselves? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes.--
The Sunday school teacher
I. His work and office. “An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes.”
1. In these words this is comprehensively described, both as respects the material upon which the teacher has to work, and the appliance which he brings to bear upon it. He has to deal with human nature in its ignorant and helpless condition: to make the naturally foolish “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
(1) “The foolish!” According to Scripture, the natural state of mankind is one of folly, and the way of sin the way of foolishness. And right reason agrees with this; for surely it is folly to neglect the great end of a man’s being, and to come short of eternal happiness. Surely it is a gross infatuation to risk that precious jewel, the soul, in seeking to grasp the pomps of the world, or to grovel in the dust of its pollutions. And this foolishness, though not so exaggerated as in more advanced years, is incident to the years of childhood. It is “bound in the heart of a child”; “childhood and youth are vanity” (Proverbs 22:15; Ecclesiastes 11:10). It is so in the very nature of things. Impressible for good as the mind of a child unquestionably is, and free as it is from the prejudices of riper age, still when left to itself it will invariably take the wrong direction, and by degrees develop its sinful tendencies. The soil of the heart, if it be not cultured for the good seed of the Divine word, will be speedily sown with evil principles, and bring forth an abundant measure of foolish and evil habits.
(2) Thus “foolish,” the young are mere “babes” as far as regards spiritual health and strength. This designation sufficiently expresses men’s natural inability to recover themselves out of the way of folly, and advance in the true life of God (Jeremiah 10:23). And, if this is true of man in mature life, how much truer must it be of his childhood. But the Sunday school teacher has to deal literally with babes, and needing as much care, in a moral point of view, as the very babe which hangs upon its mother’s breast. They are the lambs of the flock, the young and tender, who stand in need of kind assistance, of gentle leading, of suitable provision. They are those of whom the good Shepherd spake (John 21:15).
2. The office must be of the last importance. It is to “train the little ones in the way they should go”; to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Sunday school is a nursery for heaven. It is true that it has afforded a means of education to many a poor child; but its grand object is to make scholars in the school of Christ, This may be done now with greater ease than at any other time. The young plant may be trained to assume almost any shape, if bent and turned while it is yet flexible, To preoccupy and cultivate the ground should be the aim of the Christian philanthropist: it will not long lie fallow; for Satan and his agents will be assiduous enough in their endeavours to plant it with tares. If we do not train the foolish and helpless for God, Satan will train them for himself (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalms 78:3-7; Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6).
II. The spirit in which he should engage in his work.
1. Sincere desire to promote the spiritual well-being of the children. What we want is to Christianise our people, and when is this so likely to be brought about as in youth? Do not think, then, that you have done enough when you have taught them to read the letter of the Bible: you must seek to imbue them with its spirit. But here an inquiry will naturally be suggested, are you competent for this, i.e., are you a converted character, or only a professor. Here is your test. Thus, only as you are led by the Spirit of God are you fit to be “an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes.”
2. Self-denial, patience, and perseverance. There will always be much to try and discourage you: the waywardness of some, the dulness of others, and the uncertainty of not a few. There is much call for gentle and cautious treatment: the variety of dispositions and capacities must be noted, and dealt with in various ways; and the difficulty of so doing will often occasion discouragement. Some require to be urged on, while others must rather be restrained (Genesis 33:13). You are sorely tried on account of the little impression which seems to be made upon your children; but little is manifest as the result of your teaching; do not despair, the seed often remains a long time in the soil before it begins to fructify: if you work in a proper spirit, “your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). You cannot expect to do everything at once.
3. Unwavering dependence upon Divine aid. While on the one hand the inquiry may be made, “Who is sufficient for these things?” on the other hand, it may be confidently, though humbly, urged, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” He whom we serve has all hearts and all things at His disposal: He can overturn or remove this or that obstacle, and make our way smooth before us, and so interpose as to leave us without excuse, if we grow weary or faint in our duty. Hence we must fervently pray for Divine enlightenment and teaching. We want wisdom as well as strength. And in seeking for the guidance of the Spirit, we are not to despise or pass by all proper human aids. We may the more confidently crave the teaching of the Spirit, when we have duly sought after available knowledge; for the Divine blessing is invariably given in the use of means.
4. A single eye to the Divine glory. When the Christian sets this before him as the end of his life, he will not regard ordinary difficulties. This will lead him to strive after the conversion of souls.
III. The encouragements.
1. The general assurance of success. Enough is said to encourage every labourer to prosecute his work with assiduity. And not a few instances might here be recorded of pleasing results. Not only have children been instructed and converted to God, but they have proved the means of instruction and conversion to their parents and others. How many who now occupy stations of eminence and usefulness owe their all, under God, to Sunday schools.
2. Personal benefit. In many cases the instructor has been savingly taught himself, while teaching others. And where he has been truly pious, when engaged in the work, the graces of the Christian’s life have been called into exercise, and their growth promoted.
3. The final reward (Matthew 25:40). (J. S. Broad, M. A.)
Opinions may play upon the surface of a man’s soul, like the moonbeams on the silver sea, without raising its temperature one degree or sending a single beam into its dark caverns. And that is the sort of Christianity that satisfies a great many of you, a Christianity of opinion, a Christianity of surface creed, a Christianity which at the best slightly modifies some of your outward actions, but leaves the whole inner man unchanged. (A. Maclaren.)
Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?--
The teacher taught
In His conversation with Nicodemus our Saviour enunciated the principle to which all Christian usefulness must eventually be referred (John 3:11). The model Pharisee asserted for himself the most edifying orthodoxy, flawless morality and eminent devotion; he claimed extraordinary keenness in discrimination, approving only what was excellent; he could inform the ignorant, illumine the darkened, give counsel to illumined adults, and help forward untaught children. Yet with all these assumptions the apostle seems to have discovered that which led him to rate such a creature as a mere spiritual quack. This man, so earnest against thieving, had a touch of dishonesty; so stern in pressing the penalties of the seventh commandment, had some sins which would look ill under scrutiny. In a word, he was instructing others with no word for himself. And so St. Paul reiterates the grand principle of the gospel: religious instruction is to be indorsed by the living experience of the instructor. Consider:--
I. The great common need under which humanity lies. It has pleased God to make men instruments of good to each other. Hence the proclamation of the gospel is necessarily experimental. “Come all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Naaman was just the person to tell lepers of the prophet who had bidden him go wash in the Jordan. Bartimeus was just the right one to lead blind men to Jesus, who had opened his eyes. Hence, it is perfectly natural that we demand of him who teaches that he should first have felt the truth he proffers. Otherwise he lays himself open to the taunt, “Physician, heal thyself!”
II. The aim of all religious instruction. The conscience must be reached, and through its monitions the entire life must be influenced, or else all teaching is wasted. Nothing is so mysterious as the forms of operation which this inner monitor chooses. Sometimes it seems to render a man harder and more violent; and yet at that very wildest moment he is nearer yielding than ever before. Sometimes it melts a man into deep emotion; and yet we painfully discover afterward that this has been mere ebullition of excited feeling. Now, we cannot grow skilful in distinguishing these external shows, without diligent study of our own experience. Conscience must be watched in its working within our hearts. “As in water, face answereth to face; so the heart of man to man.” That truth is most effective which, having proved itself forceful in reaching our own consciences, goes from its success there upon the intrenchments of another.
III. The variety of forms employed in Scripture instruction. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,” etc. But then, how much there is of it! and what room for skill in discriminating what doctrine, principle, or precept to apply in each given case. Now, many of our Sunday school teachers are at a loss here. When the tossed vessel is drifting, and a passenger lies at the point of death, are there none who hurry to the Bible, as a sailor to the medicine chest; and yet stand appalled at the formidable array of spiritual drugs, any one of which possibly might be helpful or hurtful, if only they could know which? How can we learn what phases of truth to present? Let the Scriptures be studied experimentally. Let the Christian teacher rework every principle he offers to others, first into his own mind, and outwork it into his own life.
IV. The power of a godly example. Men are imitative, and in nothing so much as religious observance. Moreover, they insist upon identifying a moral teacher with what he teaches. They will not suffer a limping man to propose an effective cure for lameness. Hence there can be no failure more ridiculous in the eyes of the world than that of a man who urges a truth and lives a lie. But, on the other hand, whenever fully possessed of the power of the gospel, and radiant with its light, a grand life goes about doing good, that life has a majestic driving force to it almost unlimited.
V. The law of the Holy Spirit’s action. Truth is propagated not by transmission through mere symbols, but by radiation through conductors in contact. The lens of a burning glass will not only suffer the free passage of the sun’s rays, but will concentrate them, until what they fall upon bursts into flame; meanwhile the lens itself will remain perfectly cool. Wonderful experiments of this sort have been performed with even a lens of ice, which kindled a fire and continued unmelted. You can find nothing, however, in religious matters to which this phenomenon would answer. The torch, not the burning glass, is the emblem of spiritual life; it flames while it illumines, and is warmed as it sets on fire. He influences others most who has been nearest in contact with Christ. No religious teacher can give more than he gets. Conclusion: Whichever way we look, then, we reach the same conclusion. The heart lies behind the hand which proffers religious truth.
1. We learn here the proper use to make of the Scriptures. All religious instruction must be received experimentally. Thus the Bible becomes personal in every one of its utterances. How is it now (see Isaiah 29:11-12)? What renders the learned and the unlearned together so at fault is not want of education, but want of experience. It may be worth knowing, as a geographical fact, that there is no water in the Kidron valley save after a shower: it may be important to learn, as a historic fact, that Capernaum was located at Khan Minyeh; but this is not what is going to save souls. We must embody truth in life, and reduce vague information to vital and available help.
2. We learn to distinguish between gift and grace. Mere intellectual gift sometimes even hinders grace. “Christ,” said Legh Richmond, “may be crucified between classics and mathematics.” It is not our want of aptitudes for doing good which stands in our way, half so much as it is our want of communion with God. The rule is, “Oh! taste and see that the Lord is good!” Out of this experimental acquaintance with truth grows our power fitly to offer it. Scholarship is only a means to an end. The gospel light is much like the solar light; its beauty is not its efficiency. You may divide the sunbeam into seven beautiful colours, and not one alone nor all together will imprint an image on a daguerreotype plate. Just outside the spectrum, in the dark, there is one entirely invisible ray, called the chemical ray, which does all the work. No man ever saw it, no man every felt it; and yet this it is which bleaches and blackens a dull surface into figures of loveliness and life. I care not how luminous a man’s personal or intellectual qualities may be; if he lacks, amid the showy beams that are shining, this one which is viewless--this efficient but inconspicuous beam of spiritual experience--all his endeavours will surely prove inoperative for good.
3. We learn here the advantage of seasons of discipline. In all the round of God’s dealing with His children, there is nothing like suffering as an educator. Anything that loosens the hold of the soul on earthly things, and shuts it up to God, is valuable; but, as a preparation for usefulness, is priceless. Any man expert in sea life could have said all that the apostle said when he came forth to quiet the sailors in the midst of a shipwreck. The force of his counsel lay not so much in the prudence of what he suggested, as in the experience which was embodied in it--that “long abstinence” in which he had received his vision. One mysterious but remembered hour there was which gave his speech all its efficiency (Acts 17:22-25). It is just this which is the element of power in any counsel. The angel of experience is sent to one, and then he is ready to say, “I believe God!”
4. We learn the secret of all success, and the explanation of all failure. It would seem at first sight that truth is efficient in itself. But now we understand that first it must pass through the teacher’s experience. When the plague was raging in Ireland, the priests gave out that if any man would take from his own fire a piece of burning peat and light his neighbour’s fire with it, he would deliver the family from an attack of the disease. The whole region was instantly alive with brands passing to and fro. Oh! if superstition could do this much, ought not zeal to do more? But the kindling was to come from one’s own hearthstone then; and the kindling must come from one’s own heart now. Calvin’s seal motto was a hand holding a heart on fire, with the legend, “I give thee all, I hold back nothing!” What we need is to have our entire level of Christian experience lifted. We are too busy about appliances and places and theories.
5. We learn the last essential of preparation for teaching. We must have the presence of the Holy Ghost. You see this most evidently in the case of Paul. They called him Paullus, because he was little. He had a distemper in his sight. His bodily presence was said to be weak, and his speech contemptible. But no man ever equalled him in power as a religious teacher. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The teacher animated and urged to duty
I. Let us attempt to produce animation by an appeal to you as teachers of others. “Be not weary in well-doing”; implies that in well-doing we may be weary--though sinners are not often weary in ill-doing.
1. Fill your minds with the magnitude and importance of your work.
(1) When you look upon your little charge, you are not merely to regard them as beauteous shells scattered on the shore of the ocean, but as each a pearl of incalculable value. When you are called to be “teachers of babes,” you are not called to play with toys.
(2) But, as an incalculable value is impressed upon them, so they are exposed to imminent danger. Though naturally depraved, this depravity is increased by indulgence, and rivetted by practice; and, if you interpose in time, you may rescue many.
(3) Recollect that God calls the greater part of His people in early life.
2. Let me charge on your consciences your obligations to attend to the work.
(1) Think that you are all now listening to Him who says, “Lovest thou Me?--feed My lambs.” The Saviour takes a little child in His arms, and He says, “Suffer little children to come unto Me,” etc. “He that receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.” While others look at the Saviour, as He issues His command, and say, “Is this all? our imaginations are filled with something greater, we would be preachers, writers, missionaries, martyrs--anything but teachers of babes”:--you say, “What! disdain to stoop to babes, when Christ takes the little ones up in His arms.”
(2) And while Christ thus aims to bind you by a sense of obligation, let me remind you what He has done for you. Has He not, as it were, washed your feet? and should you not wash the feet of His meanest disciples?
3. Recall to your grateful recollection the blessings with which God has crowned this work. “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Some may say that they have turned out ill who were brought up well; but we may say, “Be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me.” Let us then look round, and see what blessings have attended the instruction of the rising race; and, while we look around, let us inquire, “What hath God wrought?”
(1) Take this school and all the children who have been instructed in it--add to them all in the metropolis--in the kingdom--in the world.
(2) And such being the numbers of those collected in Sabbath schools, think how many blessings have been carried into families. Consider how the first tidings of salvation have been thus conveyed.
4. Tremble at the thought of neglecting this work. Woe to us if Sunday schools should expire! We have waked up the world so completely that it will not soon go to sleep again. We have taught this generation that they must teach the next. We must go on: we have advanced too far to recede. The great enemy of man is at work to ruin the world, by the very same means which we employ to benefit the world.
II. Attend to the expostulation which is contained in the second part of the text, “Teachest thou not thyself?” I would expostulate with you.
1. With regard to over-enlisting. Sabbath schools are at once our glory and our shame. We should earnestly wish their extinction; it is a disgrace to us that they are needed. When the children of pious and instructed parents are sent to a Sunday school, it is a perversion of things. There should be a Sunday school in every house. There are but two exceptions to this--the first is where the parents are so ignorant that they need instruction themselves; the children of these you ought to take and instruct. The other is where the parents have small families, and can take their children with them to a Sunday school: thus they may instruct the children of the poor and their own children at the same time. No mortal living has a right to transfer the care of his children to others, while he can take care of them himself.
2. Against overworking. Overdoing is often undoing. All should be anxious to do as much as possible; but you must remember that the Lord’s day was intended to be a day for the rest and edification of your own souls. Let there be no long singing, long prayers, long lessons. For the children’s sakes, as well as for your own, avoid overworking. As long as you can keep the attention judiciously awake, you do good; but when you see the spirits flagging you may be certain very little will be done.
3. Beware of over-valuing. Nothing is more common than for persons to think highly of that in which they are engaged.
4. Beware of undervaluing. Do not suppose that because a man is wise to his own salvation he is therefore wise enough to teach others.
(1) You should know much; you should have some time for study; and all your knowledge should be made subservient to your grand design.
(2) And then there must be, also, the art of teaching. This must be acquired, or, with all your knowledge, you will not be wise to win souls.
(3) There must be the art of ruling: if you have not the ability to hold sway over your own spirits, the children will soon perceive it, and will soon manage you. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
Teaching and example
He that giveth good precepts, and follows them by a bad example, is like a foolish man who should take great pains to kindle a fire, and, when it is kindled, throws cold water upon it to quench it. (Abp. Secker.)
Teaching and practice
The contradiction between the two is--
3. Damnable. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The responsibility of the teacher
A misplaced switch or a wrong signal may send hundreds into eternity unprepared.
Truths best taught by life
In how quick a time a man can take round the hands of a watch when he has the key! But who can tell the hour from that? It is a different thing when slowly, moment by moment, the machinery within works them round so that every hour and every minute is marked correctly. So a man may run the whole round of Christian doctrines in speech, but it is not half so effective as when he lives and shows them forth day by day, and as events arise, in this difficult life of ours.
The teacher must make the truth part of his inner experience
I am afraid that very often the truth which we deliver from the pulpit--and doubtless it is much the same in your classes--is a thing which is extraneous and out of ourselves, like the staff which we hold in our hand but which is not a part of ourselves. We take doctrinal or practical truth as Gehazi did the staff, and we lay it upon the face of the child, but we ourselves do not agonise for its soul. We try this doctrine and that truth, this anecdote and the other illustration, this way of teaching a lesson and that manner of delivering an address; but so long as ever the truth which we deliver is a matter apart from ourselves and unconnected with our innermost being, so long it will have no more effect upon a dead soul than Elisha’s staff had upon the dead Child. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?--
That the Jew of Paul’s time, and for generations long before, abhorred idols there can be no question. In the Babylonish captivity, the nation became so disgusted with idolatry that the hatred of it then engendered was left as a legacy to all time. But did the Jew at the same time commit sacrilege? To answer this question we must first clearly understand what we mean by sacrilege.
1. We may take the alternative reading, “Dost thou rob temples?” And then the inference would be that this hater of idolatry was none the less sometimes profiting by it, stealing the gifts of Pagans from their altars, and turning them to his own account; as we may suppose in our own time one who should inveigh fiercely against the liquor traffic, and derive a part of his income from the rental of a spirits vault.
2. Leaving this, however, and accepting the text as it stands, our idea of sacrilege is that of the profanation of sacred things. Uzziah, e.g., assuming priestly functions, or Belshazzar using the sacred vessels in the orgies of a bacchanalian revel. To speak more generally, sacrilege is diverting from its Divine purpose anything that God has given us. The undue exaltation of sacred things may be sacrilege, and herein the Jew might commit idolatry in the spirit while he vehemently protested against it in the letter. A superstitious reverence for sacred things, such as, e.g., the worship of the brazen serpent in Hezekiah’s time.
3. Herein we think the integrity of the antithesis that runs through the questions from the 21st verse is sustained, “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?…Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou--by thy foolish superstitions, by using and exalting some of thy sacred things in a way never intended by the Lord as well as in degrading them to common purposes--dost thou commit sacrilege, and so in spirit fall into that sin of idolatry against which thou criest out so loudly?” And now to turn this question to good account. Is it possible for us who have renounced idolatry to commit sacrilege in the sense of becoming idolaters in spirit, while in the letter we denounce it? I think it is--
I. “We may commit sacrilege with Divine ordinances, with baptism and the Lord’s Supper, e.g., by investing them with a mechanical efficacy never intended by their Author.
II. Selfishness is sacrilege, self-worship being one of the worst and most subtle forms idolatry can take.
1. “Know ye not, brethren, that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, that you are not your own, but bought with a price,” and, if this be so, what greater sacrilege or idolatry can any man commit than to use his God-given powers and faculties as if they were his own? Selfishness, self-worship, is a kind of sacrilege that brings with it its own most certain retribution. No leprosy may break out upon our persons as in the case of Uzziah; no handwriting may appear upon the wall as in the case of Belshazzar; but, none the less, the retribution will surely come.
2. Selfishness is sacrilege in relation to others as well as to ourselves, for what right have we to use our fellows for our own selfish ends and purposes? How dare we make capital out of other’s weaknesses? Every man’s person is sacred; he is an image of God. Wherefore let us honour all men, recognise the sacred uses and possibilities that are in them, lest losing reverence for the human we lose it also for the Divine.
3. Selfishness is sacrilege against God, too, for in His great house we are all of us vessels of gold, or of silver, of wood, or of stone, and if we use ourselves as for ourselves, forgetful of His sacred service, we are like servants that waste their master’s goods, like priests who desecrate all sacred things, and abuse their solemn functions.
III. The love of others, where it leaves in the soul no room for love to God, is sacrilege. We may degrade them, and so fall into this sin, but we may also so exalt them as to fall into the same. When we hear it said that a woman is “devoted” to her child, or that she “idolises” her husband, if we were to adhere to the letter we should say that this is sacrilege. We do not think upon the whole that we are in very much danger of loving our dear ones either unwisely or too well. We can love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and also yet love our husbands, our wives, our children, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. We are more likely on the whole, I think, to become sacrilegious by loving them too little than too much. Yet if it should be so with any of us that these relationships come between us and our God, then indeed do we commit sacrilege against them as certainly as against Him.
IV. Worldliness of spirit, the excessive love of this world’s goods is sacrilege and idolatry. If we are the devotees of fashion or of pleasure, if the shows of this world so engross us as to leave no time nor heart for the spiritual, then we are committing sacrilege. The most common gifts, the most earthly things are amongst the “all things” that work together for our good, but they work together for our harm when, instead of using them for God, we use them for mean purposes. The silver and the gold are the Lord’s, and we may be sacrilegious if we discern not this and use them not for Him. Whether we waste our money or hoard it, we are committing sacrilege with it, for money answereth all things, even the ends of grace as well as the means of ruin. Let us reverently handle even our money, using it as God Himself would have us use it, and so in things sacred or in things secular, it will be consecrated to Him in a true life service.
V. The love of nature to the exclusion of the love of God, the worship of mere material forms, is sacrilege. The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the heavens declare His glory, etc., and to see nothing beyond this state of things is to commit sacrilege. For these do as truly reveal Him as does the Bible. But just as we may be bibliolatrous, so there is a nature-worship which, while it seems to elevate, does but desecrate and degrade. (J. W. Lance.)
I.e., temple robbery.
I. The Jews were guilty of it.
1. In reference to heathen temples (Acts 19:37).
2. In withholding or misappropriating tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8).
II. In not giving God the glory which is His due. They made the temple a den of thieves (Jeremiah 7:11; Matthew 21:13), and were charged with offering the blind and lame for sacrifice (Malachi 1:8). Thus they abhorred false gods, but robbed and dishonoured the true God.
II. We may commit sacrilege by--
1. Withholding what is God’s.
2. Appropriating to our own use what properly belongs to God in regard--
(1) To property: a portion claimed for His service (Malachi 3:10).
(2) To time: the whole of the weekly Sabbath claimed as His own (Exodus 20:8). It is sacrilege, therefore, to appropriate any part of it to business or pleasure (Isaiah 58:13).
1. Sacrilege the climax denoting intense coveteousness.
2. Unrenewed men only substitute one idol for another. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
For the name of God is blasphemed among the heathen through you.--
Nominal Christians, the occasion of blasphemy to the heathen
If the fifth commandment be “the first with promise,” the third is the first with threatening. In no point is the Almighty so sensitive as the honour of His name. Hence His Son has taught us to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” And in no sin is God more provoked than in that which brings dishonour upon His name. Hence this charge, which we shall illustrate--
I. In its application to Israel.
1. It is essential to remember that Israel were God’s chosen, peculiar, separate people, whom He had called forth in order that He might make them the lamp into which He would introduce the light of revelation for a lost world. To them He committed all the institutions of His holy worship, and all the laws of His Divine will. To the world at large, they were as Goshen in the midst of the land of Egypt in the plague of darkness. So that the whole earth borrowed what little light streaked its dark horizon from the solitary lamp lighted upon Zion; and just in proportion as that lamp east forth its beams was the moral darkness relieved, and the Gentile nations came to the brightness of the hope that was in Zion.
2. We must remember, further, that for a lengthened period the people of God were not missionaries, sent abroad to communicate their prophecies, laws, and ordinances to the Gentile lands; but rather the people from afar, hearing the fame of what God had done for Israel, came up to Jerusalem to inquire and worship, even as the Ethiopian eunuch came. And many were the proselytes that were led to join themselves to the people of the God of Israel. But in process of time God lifted up His hand to scatter them among the nations, so that long ere their final dispersion at the destruction of Jerusalem, there was scarcely a known spot where some of the wanderers of Zion were not to be found. And how did they go? They went still as the people of God. And consequently the heathen could not but regard them with deep curiosity and attention, in order that they might trace in them the character of their faith.
3. And what was the consequence? When the heathen saw that their vices were dark as their own, whilst they were puffed up with pride, because of their privileges, then it came to pass that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles through the people of God (Ezekiel 36:19, etc.). And the apostles had to encounter no obstacle in the progress of the truth that was more fatal than the dark misconduct of the scattered Israelites.
II. In its application to our own favoured land.
1. Englishmen undoubtedly stand nearest to the condition of the ancient people of God. If Israel stood in the relation of a covenant people to God, so do we. We are a baptized, as they were a circumcised, people; and if all their rebellion and inconsistency did not loose the bond of the covenant, but God spoke of them as His people, is it not so with ourselves? However deeply we may disgrace the name of Christians, that name is fastened upon us. He has taken this nation into peculiar union with His truth and His faith; He has identified us with His cause. And have not other lands looked to us as their example, and sought us for light and holy knowledge? And then God has brought us into contact with all nations. As of old the Jews were everywhere intermingled, so has it come to pass with the English. But Israel was scattered by the sword; they were exiles and wanderers, despised and cruelly entreated. But our sons are abroad through the richness of the blessing of God given to their mother land; so that her merchants visit every shore, her travellers explore every waste, her mariners are on every sea and in every haven--and over the whole world an Englishman’s name constitutes a passport. And everywhere, too, our land has a mighty influence, and an empire so vast, that the sun never sets upon its limits. One fourth of the whole family of the earth acknowledges the sway of our Queen, and the other three-fourths are more or less influenced, and mightily too, by our land.
2. What ought to have been the results of such unexampled influence? It ought to have been that wherever Briton’s sons went they should have carried the blessed savour of Britain’s truth; and wherever they planted their feet, they should be recognised at once as witnesses for Christ. Alas! the charge brought against Israel may with equal emphasis be brought against ourselves. “The name of God hath been blasphemed among the Gentiles” through us. What has been our colonisation but, to a terrific extent, an annihilation of the tribes whose lands we have usurped, and whose homes we have ravaged? Our missionaries, one and all, concur in telling us that the most fatal and formidable obstacle in the way of the reception of Christ’s gospel among the Gentiles is the blasphemy occasioned to the name of our Redeemer by those who bear it but to defile it. And until this great stumbling block be removed, the gradual progress of Divine truth must be retarded; that we could only have our mariners, merchantmen, travellers, and colonial settlers going forth as “living epistles, known and read of all” the heathen lands through which they pass, then indeed would there go forth from Britain’s shore a voice which would come home to every heart--the voice of a godly life.
3. Then, if such be the application of this solemn charge against our own favoured land, it follows that there is not a more pressing or urgent claim upon Christian restitution, Christian justice as well as Christian sympathy and Christian zeal, than that every means should be used to redeem our title to the Christian name. (Canon Stowell.)
Inconsistency: its evil effects
How many sinners every year are driven away from all thought of religion by the inconsistency of professors! And have you ever noticed how the world always delights to chronicle the inconsistency of a professor! I saw only yesterday an account in the paper of a wretch who had committed lust, and it was said that “he had a very sanctified appearance.” Ay, I thought, that is the way the press always likes to speak: but I very much question whether there are many editors who know what a sanctified appearance means! at least they will have to look a long time among their own class before they find many that have any excess of sanctification. However, the reporter put it down that the man had “a sanctified appearance”; and of course it was intended as a fling against all those who make a profession of religion, by making others believe that this man was a professor too. And really the world has had some grave cause for it, for we have seen professing Christians in these days who are an utter disgrace to Christianity, and there are things done in the name of Jesus Christ which it would be a shame to do in the name of Beelzebub. There are things done, too, by those who are accounted members of the Church of our Lord Jesus, so shameful that, methinks, Pandemonium itself would scarcely own them. The world has had much cause to complain of the Church. O children of God be careful. The world has a lynx eye: it will see your faults, it will be impossible to hide them; and it will magnify your faults, making much of little, and of much a boundless mass. It will slander you if you have no open faults; give it, at least, no ground to work upon; “let your garments be always white”; walk in the fear of the Lord, and let this be your daily prayer, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Inconsistency hinders the spread of Christianity
When Brainerd was among the American Indians, he stopped at a place where he offered to instruct them in Christianity. He was met by the retort, “Why should you desire the Indians to become Christians, seeing that the Christians are so much worse than the Indians? The Christians lie, steal, and drink worse than the Indians. They first taught the Indians to be drunk. They steal to so great a degree, that their rulers are obliged to hang them for it; and even that is not enough to deter others from the practice. We mill not consent, therefore, to become Christians, lest we should be as bad as they. We will live as our fathers lived, and go where our fathers are when we die.” By no influence could he change their decision.
For circumcision verily profiteth if thou keep the law.
Circumcision in relation to baptism
I. Its institution (Genesis 17:9). It is called “the covenant,” and “the token of the covenant,” which God established with Abraham and his seed. So circumcision was not of man’s invention, but of God’s appointment. And baptism is not a ceremony introduced into the Church by the invention of man. Christ said, “Go and baptize all nations,” etc.
II. The history of the ordinance.
1. It commenced with adults (Genesis 17:23). We do not read about the state of mind of all these adults. It is certain that Ishmael differed exceedingly from Isaac and from his father. So baptism was first amongst adults. You remember the instance of Lydia. She having her heart opened, was afterwards baptized, and her house, without any specific mention of the character of the parties composing her household.
2. It continued not amongst adults, but on children (Genesis 21:4). And this became a custom in Israel. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were as truly circumcised as Moses and Aaron; Jeroboam and Ahab as David or Hezekiah. And thus it came to pass, by the continuance of the outward ordinance, not waiting upon the individual character, but taking its rise on the eighth day of the child’s age, there came to be an Israel in two senses--spiritual, inclusive of that chosen people that God reserved to Himself; and national, inclusive of the others, together with the mixed multitude which knew not God. And so the apostle tells us, “All are not Israel that are of Israel.” Now the analogy here again is perfect. Baptism, which commenced with adults, soon proceeded among the children; the children of the baptized converts, were themselves baptized. There is no especial commandment for the purpose. None was needed, because the earliest Christians, who were Jews, regarded their children as entitled to the same privileges as themselves. It would have been strange if Christianity, placing before them greater privileges in every other respect, had restricted them in this. They were in the habit of bringing their children as Jews; to do so as Christians, at the same age, was natural. But if instead of presenting them at eight days old, they were to keep them back till they had formed some judgment of their character, then, indeed, a special commandment would have been required, because they would have been called to change their already established practice. The same consequences would naturally follow which followed in the case of Israel. There would grow up a baptized community, a variety of characters. All would not be Christians which were of Christendom; as all were not Israelites, indeed, who were of Israel in the flesh.
III. The nature of the ordinance and the abuse of it (Romans 4:11).
1. Here faith is distinguished from circumcision. It was enjoyed by Abraham previous to the circumcision; and he received the circumcision--a sign, and declared also to be a seal, to him of the righteousness of the faith which he had before. Nothing less than this could ever have been supposed to belong to circumcision by any believing Israelite. Remembering it was a seal to his father Abraham of the righteousness of faith, he would look upon it as a seal to himself in like manner, and would ask for it as a seal upon his child also, and would give thanks unto God that his infant might be sealed in like manner. He would presently find, indeed, that many have the seal Who grow up without the faith. But would their falling off alter his view of the ordinance of God? No. He would be called to distinguish between the ordinance itself and the abuse of it, into which the nation had fallen; and he would endeavour, amidst all the degeneracy of the people around him, to rise into holy confidence that God would bless His own ordinance, and as he found that faith working within him, he would appeal to that ordinance as a proof of God’s loving kindness to him. Now here the analogy is the same. Baptism was, indeed, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which the first adult Christian had, being yet unbaptized. It does not follow that no persons were baptized except true believers. We know of one who was baptized, and the apostle told him that he had “neither part nor lot in the matter.” But all who made a profession of faith were baptized. If the answer were the answer of a good conscience, then baptism was all that it was intended to be--a seal to them of the righteousness of the faith which God had given them. But afterwards, when the infants of those believing parents were baptized, it would presently appear that many were baptized in the flesh who lived without God in the world: and the faith of the believer would then be put to a trial. Baptism has been abused, as circumcision was.
2. See, then, how circumcision was abused. It is the nature of the human heart to desire to escape punishment without desiring to avoid sin; and therefore the tendency of man always has been to substitute some form for real religion. The Jews boasted of being the children of Abraham, and placed their confidence in that for escape from punishment. There is nothing that the Scripture is more express against than this resting in outward privileges, as if they could give them safety with God (Matthew 3:8-9; John 8:33, etc.; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:28-29). How awful is the analogy here. With regard to the outward forms of religion, there remains a large class of persons amongst ourselves who place the same sort of bold reliance upon the outward ordinance of baptism that the Jews placed upon their being the children of Abraham. Read from Romans 2:17 in its application to yourselves: most remarkable it is, by the transposition of a few words--changing “Jew” for “Christian” and changing “circumcision” for “baptism.” Oh, be assured that while circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of Abraham’s faith, the baptism which is of the heart is the purifying power of God. (H. McNeill, D. D.)
1. Are intended to promote holy living.
2. If this end be accomplished they are invaluable.
3. If not our very religion becomes irreligion. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly.--
Outward and inward religion
I. Merely outward religion is no true religion at all.
1. The apostle is proving that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. He has shown this respecting the Gentiles. He next comes to the Jew, and there is a harder task, for the Jew was so blinded, prejudiced, and self-righteous. There was nothing which the Jew more gloried in than in that of circumcision. God having, as they said, promised Abraham that, if his children transgressed, He would remember their compliance with this ordinance, and deliver them on account of the merit of circumcision. They accounted this one rite equal to the keeping of all the commandments of God. But in this they showed a lamentable ignorance of their own Scriptures (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 9:25; Jeremiah 4:4). Surely these are sufficiently plain as to the utter outward worthlessness of circumcision. So, with regard to the other rites, when the Jews would substitute them for true religion, then they became an object of aversion to God (Isaiah 1:13, etc.). What is there in outward rites and practice which, of itself, can be acceptable to God, who is a Spirit. Worship offered to the Divine being must have some correspondence to His nature, and accordance with His will and Word. If God had a body, and were not a Spirit, then a religion of bodily exercise might serve without any regard to the inward state of the worshipper’s mind and heart. But God has no corporeal form, and therefore bodily service, without spiritual worship, is no worship at all. If, again, God were a stock or a stone, then a religion which exercises neither the mind nor the spirit might satisfy His claim. But when God is a pure Mind, a great Spirit--when God is love, and claims all souls as His, then to attempt to put Him off with outward forms is an insult to His spiritual character and His holy majesty.
2. Are there none of you who have thought that, if you came to church once or twice a week, this alone proved that you were good Christians? And yet it might be that there was only a bodily attendance: your minds might have been at home, or with your business, or with the last pleasure. And so with baptism, which has taken the place of circumcision. The Scripture itself guards us against not resting in the mere outward form or outward rite (1 Peter 3:21). And yet many, if baptized with water, never examine themselves as to whether they have also been baptized with the Holy Spirit. And so the spirit of formality can turn even the Lord’s Supper, which is meant to deepen penitence, and to call forth simple glory in the Cross of Christ, into self-righteous formality and a judaizing ceremony.
II. The absolute necessity of an inward work of Divine grace. “For he is a Jew which is one inwardly,” etc.
1. This may be learned from the Old Testament. Moses taught (Deuteronomy 30:6) that true circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, a Divine work, inwardly wrought.
2. What was the design of this peculiar rite?
(1) St. Paul says, “Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised.” So, in Genesis 17:1-27, God calls it a token of the covenant betwixt Him and Abraham. In that covenant God had engaged to make Abraham a father of many nations; to be a God to him and his seed after him, and in this all blessings are comprehended; and if Abraham had not believed God, he would not have complied with a rite so painful to flesh and blood. Thus, in its very origin, this rite was connected with faith, and if used without faith, it did not answer its original design.
(2) But, again, this rite also denoted that man is by nature, from his very birth, a sinner; that the covenant of grace requires blood to be shed in order to atone for him; that there must be the inward mortification of the body of sin; and that there must be a marked distinction in spirit between the people of God and the children of the world. It especially set forth Christ the Mediator of the covenant who should arise of the seed of Abraham, who should shed His blood in atonement for sin, through whom also should be given the Holy Spirit, who should impart a new nature, a new heart, and should enable men to mortify their sinful lusts, and thus to become a peculiar people, separate from the world indeed, zealous of good works. But all this spiritual meaning was lost where men used only the outward form. Hence the declaration of verses 25-29.
3. To this rite of circumcision our Lord personally submitted. He had not the personal need which others had. It was because He had consented to be made under the law, to be obedient unto the law for men, yea, to shed His blood for the atonement of the sins of men. As He ended, so He began His life, with shedding His sacred blood. Here was part of the vicarious obedience paid by Christ to the law, whence our safety, our peace, our happiness, our salvation.
4. But now, under the gospel, the outward rite is gone with the types of the ceremonial law, but the inward blessing is as important as ever. We are by nature born in sin; we have to look with faith to the blood of the everlasting covenant; we have, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to mortify our members which are on earth; we have to come out of the world. Especially we have to receive Jesus as the Messiah in all His offices, and we are to depend on Christ, in the fulness of His grace, for the help of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate, to mortify, and to sanctify. These things are not less essential to our religion than they were to the Jew; without them our Christianity is nothing worth. Whatever outward things the Christian may do, he will never allow himself to forget the necessity of inward piety. But in his zeal for spiritual religion he need not neglect the few or simple ordinances of religion; but while using all means must trust to Christ only. (J. Hambleton, M. A.)
Church privileges no sign of grace
This point deserveth a lively discovery, because it is the only evidence of most Christians for heaven. And whereas in other things they would judge a title without reality to be a miserable comfort, yet in religion they are strongly contented to have the repute of Christians, baptized persons, professors of Christ’s doctrine, and yet know not the power of these things, being like a dead corpse with sweet flowers strewed upon it.
1. Therefore to explicate this necessary point, consider some things by way of foundation.
(1) We find it such a sin that generally the people of Israel were guilty of, insomuch that the great contestation between the prophets in the Old Testament and the Israelites living then, between Christ and His apostles and the Jews living then, to have been upon this very particular. No minister, no sermon, could take them off from this, that because they had the external privileges, therefore they did belong to God, and were the children of Abraham.
(2) If you look over all Christianity you shall find this the universal sin, whereby Christ and regeneration with powerful godliness is wholly neglected, and a fleshly carnal confidence in the titles and ordinances of Christianity established.
(3) To demonstrate the connaturality of this sin, observe how ingenious the fleshly minds of men have been by arguments and opinions to encourage a carnal confidence in these externals.
2. While we give this explication, you must by way of caution take heed of two other extremes.
(1) To cry down the very being and use of these external ordinances as being but forms, and the spiritual frame of the heart is made all in all.
(2) We are also deficient when, although we do not cry down forms wholly, yet we give too little to these institutions of Christ.
3. Consider why people are so apt to rest upon these as comfortable testimonies, and there are several reasons.
(1) Because they being duties commanded, when performed, that gives some ease and comfort to a natural conscience.
(2) We are apt to rest in these things because they are easy to be done; whereas the way of mortification is tedious to flesh and blood. Hence it is called crucifying the flesh, and cutting off the right hand, and pulling out the right eye.
(3) Men rest upon these because they are ignorant of the work and necessity of regeneration. The apostle calls circumcision of the heart, circumcision made without hands; and so baptism and the sacraments in the heart, which are not visible in the eyes of the world, make us esteemed before God. Be not, then, idol Christians that have eyes and see not, hearts and understand not the inward virtue and spiritual efficacy of Christ in His ordinances.
(4) They put confidence in them because they are ignorant of the righteousness by faith in Christ.
(5) Men rest on them because they look on these duties as satisfactory and compensatory to God.
(6) Carnal people rely on these because they mistake the nature of them. They look upon them as those things which will of themselves make them acceptable to God, notwithstanding any preparation or spiritual managing of them. Whereas setting aside the Word of God that works the first grace in us, all other duties they are but as garments to the body, which cannot warm a dead body, but if there be life in the body to heat them first, then they will increase the heat. And thus it is here: if there be spiritual life in thee, and thou put it forth in these duties, then these duties will corroborate and strengthen it more. (A. Burgess.)
The having and enjoying such seals is not sign sure enough for our being in the state of grace
1. That they are not may appear in that the Scripture makes it not only possible for such to be damned, but doth foretell even actual damnation, and that to the greater part of such persons.
2. The Scripture reckons the condition of a man with these privileges and one without them in the same condition if there be not holiness. Thus Jeremiah makes the uncircumcised in heart, though circumcised in flesh, all one with the worst of heathens, the Moabites and the Ammonites. And to this purpose, also, the apostle in the verses before, “Shall not thy circumcision be accounted uncircumcision if thou keep not the law?” So that as long as wickedness is in thy life, thy baptism doth no more advantage thee than the heathen’s no-baptism.
3. The Scripture goeth higher, and doth not only make them equal with pagans, but God professeth His abomination of all their religious service, and thy wickedness is more noisome than all thy religion is well-pleasing. See Isaiah 1:1-31, how God expresseth Himself concerning the sacrifices and new moons of the sinful Israelites. He hated them; they were an abomination to Him. It was like cutting off a dog’s head. Oh, how contrary are God’s thoughts and thy thoughts about the same religious duties! The prophet Haggai also (Haggai 2:1-23) doth by an excellent instance show, that if a man be unclean and sinful, his holy services do not take off from his uncleanness, but his uncleanness defiles them.
4. These are so far from being signs without grace, that they will be aggravations of thy condemnation. As in some countries when their malefactors were to be burnt at the fire, they poured oil and pitch to increase their torment the more, so will every sacrament, every prayer, every church privilege, make hell the hotter for thee. (A. Burgess.)
Outward and inward religion
I. There are some who are only Christians outwardly and others who are also Christians inwardly. This difference appears--
1. In the different characters given those who profess the same faith and true religion (Matthew 13:47-48). The tares and the wheat and the goats and the sheep, the wise and the foolish (Matthew 25:1-46), are in the Church.
2. In the different effects religion has on the lives of those who are called Christians. There are some whose religion makes them holy, others who have nothing but an idle form (2 Timothy 3:5). The knowledge of some is confined to their heads, it never gets down to their hearts (Titus 1:16). Others, by reason of their light, dare not venture on an ill thing, more than on a precipice. The pretended religion of others leaves them loose.
3. In the different acceptance which persons’ prayers get. Some are very pleasing, others God abhors (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 66:2-3; Isaiah 1:11).
4. From the different feeling which those have of the advantage of religion, the ordinances and duties thereof. Some are acquainted with the gain of religion, and, from their own experience, can give a solid reason why they follow it (1 Timothy 6:6). But unto others all these things are but as empty husks (Proverbs 14:10). They abide in the outer court of religion all their days.
5. In the different effects of the religion which those profess. Grace is of a growing nature (Proverbs 4:18). And the longer that saints have a standing in religion they will be the more firmly rooted (Psalms 92:13-14; Proverbs 26:14). But others think they are right, and they seek no farther, and some, instead of growing better, grow worse and worse (Revelation 3:16).
6. In the different passage which those have out of time into eternity. Death is the point at which we all meet; but it is the point where outside and inside Christians part forever (Psalms 37:37-38).
II. The causes of this difference.
1. The different way that persons come by their religion. There is a difference--
(1) In the weight which their entering on their religion had on their spirits. Some come very lightly by their religion; hence it sits lightly upon them, and often goes as lightly from them. They venture upon building a tower without counting the cost. To others it is not so easy, but they are brought to the utmost seriousness in the matter (Luke 14:28-29); hence they go to the bottom of the matter, while others satisfy themselves with superficial work.
(2) In the depth of their conviction and humiliation (Luke 6:48-49). The plough of conviction lightly going over the fallow ground of the heart is sufficient to make an outside Christian (Matthew 13:5; Matthew 13:20). But it must be carried deeper to make an inside Christian, even to the root of the most inward beloved lust, and to the discovery of Christ for sanctification, as well as justification.
(3) In the issue of their exercises about their soul’s case. In the one they have issued in the change of their nature (Ezekiel 36:26); but in the other, whatever stir has been made in the affections, the stony heart has remained untaken away (Matthew 13:5).
2. The different ways in which professors follow religion.
(1) Some make religion their main business (Genesis 5:24). And this makes an inside Christian (Psalms 119:6). Others make religion but a bye-work; their main business is of another kind. In regard to the one, all things else about him bow to his religion; whereas, as to the other, he makes his religion bow to his other designs.
(2) They follow religion from different principles, motives, and ends.
(a) Some follow it from a natural conscience. Fear of punishment, or hope of reward, are powerful enough to make an outward Christian. But an inside Christian has a gracious principle of love to God and holiness implanted in him which incline him unto holiness.
(b) Some aim at approving themselves to men in their religion (Matthew 6:2), and others study to approve themselves to God (2 Corinthians 5:9).
III. What is the outside and letter of religion which only makes an outside Christian and what is the inside and spirit of it which makes a Christian?
1. The outside of religion is that part of it which lies open to the view of the world by which men form their estimate, not God (1 Samuel 16:7). It comprehends all Church privileges, duties, and attainments lying open to the view of men.
2. The letter of religion is that part of it which is agreeable to the letter of the law, whether in externals or internals. And it comprehends not only the outside, but internal dispositions and attainments as to the matter of them; for example, Judas’s sorrow for sin, the stony ground’s joy at receiving the seed of the Word, and the hypocrite’s delight in approaching God (Isaiah 58:1-14).
3. The inside of religion is that part of it which is open to the all-seeing eye of God (Matthew 6:4).
4. The spirit or spirituality of religion is the eternal grace joined to the external performance (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:5).
IV. Not the former, but the latter, sort of religion marks a true Christian. This is evident if we consider--
1. That there is nothing in the outside or letter of religion but what man may reach in an unregenerate state, in which no man can ever please God (Romans 3:8).
2. That the outside and letter of religion may be without any true love to God in the heart, which yet is the substance of practical holiness and the comprehensive duty of the whole law (Ezekiel 33:31).
3. That the outside and letter of religion may consist with the reign of sin in the heart (2 Timothy 3:5).
4. That men are in religion only what they are before God, not what they are before men (Genesis 17:1). (T. Boston, D. D.)
Outward and inward religion
Though the apostle here addresses Jews, yet his words concern us. Change Jew into Christian, and circumcision into baptism, and those outward duties and privileges which we set so high a value upon, and the text will fit us. As they believed themselves secure of God’s favour, merely because they had all the external characters of Judaism upon them, so do we, too, often presume upon an outward Christianity. Note--
I. The parallel between outward Judaism and outward Christianity.
1. The Jews place their confidence in being the seed of Abraham, being circumcised, and having the true religion and worship of God among them, and consequently despised all the world besides, and thought that therefore they should certainly be saved, let them lead what lives they would. It is this notion that the Baptist tacitly reproves in Matthew 3:8-9. But many among us build upon no better a foundation. What great difference is there between being natural-born Jews and being born of Christian parents? between an outward circumcision and an outward baptism? between an external profession of the law of God given by Moses and an external profession of the gospel of Christ? And yet are there not too many of us that hope to be saved merely on account of these things? Far am I from undervaluing these privileges, but to rest upon them alone is just the folly of a man, that, being born to a good estate, riotously spends it all, and yet thinks to die rich. Baptism and the profession of a holy religion are unspeakable blessings; but they were granted us that we might be obliged to forsake the devil and all his works, and follow the example of our Lord. If we do not make use of our baptism and profession, they will signify nothing to us.
2. The Jews boasted in being skilful in the knowledge of their law (verses 19, 20), and the more they excelled in this the better Jews they took themselves to be, and the more acceptable to God, and the more they despised their inferiors in this knowledge (John 7:49). Hence, instead of practising the law their study was taken up in speculations about it. And are there not some now that make Christianity little more than a mere speculation, or a set of orthodox opinions? And too many, who read the Word of God, but with no intent to better their lives, but merely for the confirmation of some notion they have taken up? Others study Scripture merely for the sake of its language, which they so wretchedly misapply that it is little better than jargon and cant. With some of these, to be a good Christian is to be able to dispute about articles of faith. With others of them, Christianity is but talking warmly in Scripture phrase about matters they never troubled to understand--such regard with contempt those plain simple Christians that heartily believe their creed, and endeavour to serve God, but yet trouble not about points of speculation. This is the worst representation of Christianity that can be (Romans 2:13; John 13:17; John 2:3-4).
3. The Jews had an extraordinary zeal for things indifferent, and not commanded of God (Mark 7:7-9). What a stir did they make about their phylacteries, which they were abundantly more careful to have tied on their heads than to have the law of God written upon their hearts. What conscience did they make of cleansing cups and platters, etc. (Matthew 15:1; Mark 7:2). We who know better are apt to deride these superstitions; but are not many of us as foolish? Is it not as great piece of superstition to make it a matter of conscience to forbear the use of an indifferent thing when God hath not forbid the use of it, as it is to make it a matter of conscience to use an indifferent thing when God hath not commanded it? And those who think to recommend themselves to God merely by a conformity to the forms prescribed in the worship of God, without any inward devotion, are as much devoid of the life of God as any I have now represented.
4. The Jews showed a greater zeal for rituals than for the moral duties of the law (Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:12; Matthew 15:8). Now, consider whether we also do not frequently thus play the Jews with God. Hath not the world experience of some who would not, for any consideration, swear an oath, that yet will make no scruple of using very indirect arts for the promoting their own interests? These are those who are very strict in keeping the Lord’s day; but yet they are not so strict in keeping faith and trust, and preserving their minds from worldliness and sensuality.
II. The characteristics of inward religion.
1. The inward Jew is one who is “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47). A true disciple of Christ is one who is so far from vaunting himself in the outward privileges he enjoys, that he draws from hence an argument of working out his salvation with greater fear and trembling, knowing that the greater advantages he enjoys above others involve him in greater obligations to outstrip them in holiness.
2. He is one that hath quitted his mind of all its sinful prejudices, so that he is always prepared to receive any truth of God, though conveyed to him by mean instruments, and though never so disagreeable.
3. He is one that gives every duty its due and just place in his esteem, preferring inward acts of piety, and so ordering his devotions towards God that they promote the duties he owes to his neighbour.
4. He is one who endeavours to yield a universal obedience to the laws of God, not picking and choosing those that are easiest and least repugnant.
5. He seeks not the praise of men, but hath a mighty care to approve himself to God.
6. He is one that, when he hath done all, is yet humble, not pretending to merit anything at the hand of God (Luke 17:10; Psalms 115:1). (Abp. Sharp.)
Outward and inward religion
Would the washing of the windows of a house make the inhabitants thereof clean? Yea, does the painting and ornamenting of the exterior of a mansion make the dwellers in it healthier or holier men? We read of devils entering into a clean-swept and garnished house, and the last end of that man was worse than the first. All the outward cleansing is but the gilding of the bars of the cage full of unclean birds; the whitewashing of sepulchres full of rottenness and dead men’s bones. Washing the outside of a box will leave all the clothes inside as foul as ever. Remember, therefore, that all that you can do in the way of outward religion is nothing but the sacrifice of the fat of rams, and “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Outward and inward religion
The Egyptian temples were very beautiful on the outside, but within you shall find nothing but some serpent or crocodile. (M. Mede.)
When Archdeacon Hare first visited Rome, some of his Protestant friends, it is said, who knew his love of art, and the personal sympathy which he had with the Eternal City, trembled for the effect it might produce upon his mind. These fears were groundless. Rome was all, and more than all, he had imagined. But the splendid vision left him a stronger Protestant than it found him. “I saw the Pope,” he used to say, “apparently kneeling in prayer for mankind; but the legs that kneeled were artificial--he was in his chair. That sight was enough to counteract all the aesthetical impressions of the worship, if they had been a hundred times stronger than they were.” Thus it is with all mere ritualism and other formalism--the legs which kneel are artificial.
The mere routine of religion
Richard Knill notes in his journal the following amusing incident of the force of habit, as exemplified in his horse. “Mr. and Mrs. Loveless would have me live with them, but they charged me very little for my board, whereby I was enabled, with my salary, to support seven native schools. These were so situated that I could visit them all in one day. My horse and gig were seen constantly on the rounds, and my horse at last knew where to stop as well as I did, This nearly cost a Bengal officer his life. Captain Page, a godly man, who was staying with us until a ship was ready to take him to the Cape, one morning requested me to lend him my horse and gig to take him to the city. The captain was driving officer-like, when the horse stopped suddenly, and nearly threw him out. He inquired, ‘What place is this?’ The answer was, ‘It’s the Sailors’ Hospital.’ They started again, and soon the horse stopped suddenly, and the captain was nearly out as before. ‘What’s this?’ ‘A school, sir,’ was the reply. At last he finished his business, and resolved to return another way. By doing this he came near my schools, and again and again the horse stopped. When he got home, he said, ‘I am glad that I have returned without broken bones, but never will I drive a religious horse again.’” Persons who go to places of worship from mere habit, and without entering into the devotions of the service, may here see that their religion is only such as a horse may possess, and a horse’s religion will never save a man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The true Christian described; the hypocrite detected
I. He is not a true Christian who only bears the visible badges of Christianity, but he who, with the visible badges, also partakes of the invisible grace (Mark 16:16).
1. One may be baptized in the name of Christ, and yet be even at the last only an outside Christian (as in our text, and Acts 8:13; Acts 8:21). But he is a true Christian who has the invisible grace signified by baptism. See the difference in this (Matthew 3:11, and 1 Peter 3:21).
2. Persons may be admitted to the Lord’s table, and yet not be true Christians. They may be admitted to an external partaking of the children’s bread, and yet be but dogs in the sight of the heart-searching God (Luke 12:26; Matthew 22:13). But he is a true Christian who is admitted to communion with God in that ordinance (Song of Solomon 5:1; John 6:57). The one is held in the outer court, the other is admitted into the inner, and is there feasted.
II. He is not a true Christian whose outward man only is cleansed from the pollutions of the world, but he whose inward man is also cleansed. Saving grace penetrates to the inside (Psalms 24:3-4; Luke 23:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). A blameless life in the world, though good in itself, yet comes not the length of true Christianity.
1. There are several things that may in some measure cleanse the conversation from gross pollutions.
(1) Good education and company, as in the case of Joash under the tutorage of Jehoiada. This may chain men’s lusts, though it cannot change their nature.
(2) A good natural temper and disposition. But no man is born a true Christian, as he is with his natural temper; religion is a supernatural temper (2 Peter 1:4).
(3) Their being kept out of the way of temptation. The outward cleanness of many is owing more to circumstances than to any gracious disposition. Many have kept right as long as they were not tried, but so soon as the trial comes they give way.
(4) The workings of a natural conscience under a rousing ministry (Mark 6:20).
(5) Self-love, fear of punishment, and hope of reward, are powerful incentives, where God’s authority is but little valued (Matthew 6:2; Ezekiel 8:12).
2. But the true Christian has this cleanness of the outward conversation, and goes farther.
(1) He joins internal purity to external (Psalms 24:4; Matthew 5:8; Galatians 5:24).
(2) Even his external purity is from religious motives, springs, and principles (Genesis 39:9).
III. He is not the true Christian who only performs the duties of external obedience, but he who also with them joins the duties of internal obedience.
(1) A man may perform the external duties of morality towards his neighbour, and yet be no more than an outward Christian. He may be just in his dealings with men (Luke 18:11), and be liberal towards the needy (1 Corinthians 13:3). True Christianity makes a good neighbour; but when a man is nothing else he is but half, and hardly half, a true Christian.
(2) A man may perform the outward duties of piety towards God, yet after all be but an outside Christian.
(a) Persons may be very punctual in their attendance at public ordinances, and behave themselves gravely and attentively (Isaiah 58:2; Ezekiel 33:1-33; Ezekiel 31:1-18), and be at much pains in following ordinances from place to place (John 6:24; John 6:26), and talk well of what they hear (1 Corinthians 13:1), and after all be but outside Christians.
(b) They may be praying persons, and so carry religion into their families, and into their closets (Jeremiah 12:2; Hebrews 12:17).
(c) They may also be sufferers for religion (1 Corinthians 13:3). Hypocrisy is such a salamander as can live in the fire of persecution; and many whom the violent wind of persecution has not been able to drive off the Lord’s way, the warm sun of prosperity has done their business.
(3) They may join both the outward of the first and second tables, and yet be but outside Christians (Luke 18:12; Philippians 3:6). All this may be, and yet not beyond the boundaries of Pharisaical righteousness (Matthew 5:20).
2. The inside exceeds the outside Christian.
(1) He performs the duties of evangelical obedience, in subjecting his whole heart and soul to the Lord, as well as the outward man (John 4:23; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 5:24).
(2) He is unreserved and universal in his obedience, which the outside Christian never is.
(3) His obedience is son-like, the other is servile and slavish. The highest principle with the hypocrite is fear of punishment, and hope of reward (Hosea 10:11), their highest end is themselves (Hosea 10:1). Jehu professed zeal for the Lord, but in effect it was but zeal for a kingdom. The inside Christian serves God as a son does his father. Prompted by love to Him, and aiming at His honour (1 Corinthians 10:31).
IV. He is not a true Christian who has inside religion only in the letter of it, but he who also has it in its spirituality.
1. A man may carry his religion into internals, and yet be but a Christian in the letter. He may do and have that in religion which no eye but God sees or can see, and yet be no true Christian (Jeremiah 17:9-10; Jeremiah 3:10).
(1) A natural conscience may cheek for sins that no eye sees but God’s (Romans 2:15).
(2) An unsanctified desire of salvation, in the way of the covenant of works, may carry a man to the internals in religion (Romans 10:3). Observe the case of the young man in Matthew 19:16-20.
(3) Light may be strong, and kept strong by the common operations of the Holy Spirit, in an unholy heart. Thus, Balaam durst not entertain a thought of cursing Israel; though he would fain have gained the wages of unrighteousness.
2. The true Christian has inside religion, not in the letter only, but in the spirituality thereof (Philippians 3:3), which consists--
(1) In the graciousness of the principle (1 Timothy 1:5). Their inward religion is the fruit of their new nature; it is natural, and not forced by terrors or necessity.
(2) In the holiness of their aim (Colossians 1:10). (T. Boston, D. D.)
But he is a Jew which is one inwardly.
A Jew in the true sense
A man may be born an Englishman or become naturalised, and yet be un-English in his thoughts and habits and character, and disloyal in his conduct; while a foreigner may be English in his sympathies and behaviour, and deeply attached to the crown. Which of the twain is the true Englishman? Which of the twain would be the most acceptable to the Sovereign? The former represents the case of the unfaithful Jew, while the latter that of the believing Gentile. (C. Neil, M. A.)
Profession and reality
If the idea we have of a philosopher and his profession were merely to wear a cloak and a long chain, those who do so may be entitled to the name; but if it be rather to keep himself free from faults, why are not those who do not fulfil the profession deprived of the title? When we see one handle an axe awkwardly we say, “This man is no carpenter”; and when we hear one sing badly we say, “This fellow is no musician”; so shall it be with philosophers who act contrary to their profession. (Epictetus.)
Literal and spiritual obedience
There are two kinds of obedience to law--the literal and the spiritual. The former depends upon specific directions; it is doing just as much as is in the letter, and because it is in the letter. This obedience is merely outward and mechanical; it is in the knee, tongue, or head, but not in the heart. It is always a burden. This was the observance of the Jews. The other is spiritual. Supreme love to the Lawgiver is the motive and inspiration. This is happiness. There are two sons, children of the same father, living under the same roof, subject to the same domestic laws; one has lost all filial love, his father has no longer any hold upon his affections. The other is full of the sentiment; the filial instinct in him is almost passion. How different is the obedience of these two sons! The one does nothing but what is found in the command, and does that merely as a matter of form; he would not do it if he could help it. The other does it not because it is in the command, but because it is the wish of him he loves. He goes beyond the written law; he anticipates his father’s will. Obedience is burden in the one case, but delight in the other. (H. Allon, D. D.)
To be a Jew in the proper sense was a high privilege indeed. It was to bear “the highest style of man.” St. Paul could give no sadder state of the unevangelised Gentiles than that they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. On the road to Damascus he had beheld the True Jew. This was the Messiah Himself, the only type and model henceforth of a Jew. Saul’s zeal for Judaism was not diminished but rather increased by the heavenly vision. Yet it took a wholly new direction from the fundamental change in his conception of what Judaism was. True Judaism has three characteristics:--
1. It is not a thing of mere observances, but a hidden life, a sanctification of the affections, right direction of the will, a regal power which holds all inferior faculties in subjection, which mortifies all worldly and carnal lusts, and is in all things obedient to God’s blessed will.
2. It is spiritual, not a literal Judaism, not in bondage to statutes and rules, but taking the principle of the law, which being written on the heart, the Lawgiver’s intention is carried out in life. It is an energy which goes beyond the rules of justice to the unconstrained works of reverence, love, and pity.
3. And then, just because it is thus hidden and spiritual, the being and the beauty of it are manifest to God rather than man. Let us come to our Great High Priest for this circumcision of the heart. (Homilist.)
Inward religion is found in
I. The state of the understanding. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened.” It is in this faculty that the work of grace commences, in order to bring into a right state this leading power by which all the rest are governed. If we are Christians inwardly, then our understandings will be so enlightened as that all the truths of God essential for us to know shall be so clearly discerned as to exercise an influence as powerful as their importance demands. Hero is the great cause of error in those who fancy they have already acquired a right knowledge of the truth because they have been instructed in the Christian theory. They rest in the knowledge of some general propositions; and this is perfectly consistent with complete spiritual blindness. Christ prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” The truth of God, when apprehended by the understanding in the light of the Holy Spirit, exerts its own sanctifying influence on the soul.
II. In the state of the judgment. “And this I pray,” said the apostle (Philippians 1:9-10), i.e., that we may come to such conclusions in our judgment respecting the truth which our understanding has admitted as shall render our knowledge of the truth practical. What is faith, in fact, intellectually considered, but an expression of our judgments on Divine truth? What is the faith of credit but the expression of our judgment on the credibility of that which we believe? And what is the faith of trust and reliance which justifies but the expression of our judgment that the great truths of Christianity are worthy of being admitted into our spirit, and rested and acted upon? It is here that we find a great difference between outward and inward Christians. The judgment of the former respecting Divine things seldom, if ever, amounts to more than a general belief of their truth. But he who possesses inward religion has been brought to this serious judgment, that he must be born again, or he cannot enter the kingdom of God; that Christ must be received, and His atonement embraced personally; that he must yield obedience to His laws. And thus it is that the state of our religion is, to a great extent, regulated by the state of our judgment in Divine things. If this judgment is weak and feeble there is little effect produced. If it is strong, and the truth of God form the continual basis of our judgment, there will be a decision of mind which operates as a principle, and rapidly becomes a habit.
III. In the state of the will. When this is right, it will be clearly manifested in--
1. Submission to the Divine authority--i.e., a full acknowledgment that we belong to Christ, and have no right to ourselves. When we are brought to this state, everything that God has fixed as the object of our choice will be accepted by us readily, constantly, and fully.
2. Acquiescence in all the dispensations of Providence, even in the infliction of pain and trouble. Inward religion always brings us to imitate Him who said, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
IV. In the state of our principles. All are men of principle, some way or other. Sometimes the principles may be right, sometimes wrong. It is only he who is a Christian inwardly that has a principle capable of universal reference, and thus of uniform operation. The grand principle on which the men of the world act is to live to themselves. The blindness of their understanding conceals from them those true and holy principles which ought to govern their feelings and life. If we are Christians inwardly, new principles are fixed in our heart and are operating there; and they all resolve themselves into this: “We are not our own; we are bought with a price,” etc. And how easy of application this is! What a universal rule it affords for the government of all our actions! If this great principle entirely governs us, it is impossible for us to be practically wrong.
V. In the state of the feelings. There are some who deny that feeling forms any essential part of religion. They might as well say, either that man has no feelings, or that there is one faculty of the mind which religion does not control. We do not say that these deep emotions are always visibly expressed, but wherever there is true piety there will be strong feelings. Look at man as God has made him, and then say if it would not be strange if the great things of eternity could be set before him, and cordially believed by him, without producing lively and constant emotion. Whatever danger may be ascribed to religious emotions, the real danger will be found to be, not so much in the emotion itself, as in the opinions and principles by which it is directed. The feelings that arise from right principles and opinions will seldom be wrong. Conclusion: As an inference from this passage, I would say--
1. That those external things which do not promote this state of mind are, as to us, whatever they may be to others, of no value at all (verse 25). No person derives benefit merely from having heard the name of Christ, by being acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity. This doctrine of the difference between a merely outward religion, and one which is enthroned in the heart and reigns over the whole man, separates the chaff from the wheat, and ought to lead to the inquiry, in what manner we are affected by our external privileges.
2. Let not those be discouraged who find that their understandings, judgments, will, principles, and feeling are not yet exactly in the state that has been described, if they are penitently and earnestly seeking inward religion. God will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.
3. When we thus bring our character and experience to the test of God’s holy Word, there is an impression which may almost naturally be made on our mind. We may think these requisitions of Almighty God to be somewhat severe and rigorous. But let us correct ourselves. He requires all this of us, not only as He is our Judge, but as He is our Saviour. (R. Watson.)
Inward religion its own evidence
A Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a farmer, and an atheist were in a railway carriage together. The atheist commenced the conversation by asking the priest this question, “What, in your opinion, is sufficient proof of the truth of the Christianity which you profess to believe and teach?” The priest began to talk of councils, of the traditions of the Church, and so on; but the atheist had been all over that ground before, and soon replied to the arguments advanced. He then turned to the Protestant minister and asked the same question. The minister talked of external evidences, of internal evidences, of collateral evidences, and so forth; but the infidel had also considered all these arguments, and had his answer ready. The minister then referred the atheist to the old farmer, whom he happened to know. The farmer’s indignation had been welling up for a considerable time at hearing his Lord and Master reviled, and when the atheist said, with a contemptuous air, “Well, my man, what in your opinion is sufficient proof of the truth of the Christianity you profess to believe?” the farmer answered earnestly, “Sir, I feel it!” The atheist was surprised at the reply, and said, “Gentlemen, I can’t answer that!” (Gervase Smith, D. D.)
And circumcision is that of the heart.--
The circumcision of the heart
In general it is that habitual disposition of the soul which is termed holiness, and which consists in being cleansed from sin and being endued with those virtues which were in Christ. To be more particular, it implies--
I. Humility. Humility, a right judgment of ourselves, cleanses our minds from those high conceits of our abilities and attainments which are the fruit of a corrupted nature. It convinces us that in our best estate we are of ourselves sin and vanity; that we are insufficient to help ourselves; that without the help of the Spirit of God we can do nothing but add sin to sin; that it is He alone who works in us to will or do that which is good. A sure effect of having formed this right judgment will be a disregard of the honour that cometh of men.
II. This knowledge of our disease disposes us to embrace with a willing mind that faith which alone is able to make us whole. The best guide of the blind, the surest light of those who sit in darkness, the most perfect instructor of the foolish, is faith. But it is such a faith as is mighty to the overturning of all the prejudices of corrupt reason, all false maxims and evil customs and habits. All things are possible to him who thus believeth. The eyes of his understanding being enlightened he sees what is his calling, viz., to glorify God who hath bought him with a price. He feels what is the exceeding greatness of His power who is able to quicken the dead in sin. This faith is not only an assent to all, even the most important, truths of Scripture, but the conviction of Christ’s personal love who “gave Himself for me.” Such a faith cannot fail to show evidently the power of Him who inspires it, by delivering His children from the yoke of sin, and “purging their consciences from dead works.”
III. Those who are thus by faith born of God have also strong consolation through hope--even the testimony of their own spirit with the Spirit which witnesses in their hearts that they are the children of God. It is that Spirit who works in them that clear and cheerful confidence that their heart is upright toward God; who gives them the expectation of receiving all good things at Christ’s hand; who assures them that their labour is not in vain.
IV. Yet lackest thou one thing. If thou writ be perfect add to all these love, and thou hast the circumcision of the heart. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment.
1. To God.
2. To our neighbour.
3. To our brethren in Christ. (J. Wesley, M. A.)
Circumcision of the heart essential
It is not merely true that your sabbaths and sacraments may be as useless to you as the rite of circumcision ever was to the Jews; that the whole ceremonial of Christianity may be duly and regularly described on your part, without praise or without acceptance on the part of God; that worship may be held every day in your own houses, and your families be mustered at every recurring opportunity to close and unfailing attendance on the house of God. But it is also true that all the moral honesties of life may be rendered, and yet one thing may be lacking. The circumcision of the heart may be that which you have no part in. All its longings may be towards the affairs and the enjoyments and the interests of mortality. Your taste is not to what is sordid, but to what is splendid in character; but still it is but an earthly and a perishable splendour. Your very virtues are but the virtues of the world. They have not upon them the impress of that saintliness which will bear to be transplanted into heaven. The present and the peopled region of sense on which you expatiate, you deck, it is true, with the lustre of many fine accomplishments; but they have neither the stamp nor the endurance of eternity. And, difficult as it was to convict the Hebrew of sin, robed in the sanctities of a revered and imposing ceremonial, it is at least a task of as great strenuousness to lay the humiliation of the gospel spirit upon him, who lives surrounded by the smiles and the applauses of society--or so to awaken the blindness, and circumcise the vanity of his heart, as to bring him down a humble supplicant at the footstool of mercy. What turns the virtues of earth into splendid sins is that nothing of God is there. It is the want of this animating breath which impresses upon them all the worthlessness of materialism. It is this which makes all the native loveliness of our moral world of as little account, in the pure and spiritual reckoning of the upper sanctuary, as is a mere efflorescence of beauty on the face of the vegetable creation. It serves to adorn and even to sustain the interests of a fleeting generation. Verily it hath its reward. But not till, under a sense of nothingness and of guilt, man hies him to the Cross of expiation; not till, in the attitude of one whose breast is humbled out of all its proud complacencies, he receives the atonement of the gospel, and along with it receives a clean heart and a right spirit from the hand of his accepted Mediator; it is not till the period of such a transformation, when he is made the workmanship of God in Christ Jesus, that the true image of moral excellence which was obliterated from our species at the fall, comes to be restored to him, or that he is put in the way of attaining a resemblance to his Maker in righteousness and in true holiness. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Whose praise is not of men, but of God.--
The praise of true religion
The love of praise is a natural passion. We see it in children, young people, and adults. Its highest earthly form is ambition, or the love of fame. Among other things men praise religion; but that which the world commends is only an outward religion, one that can be seen, is profuse and sanctimonious in pious exercises, or which is charitable to the poor. True religion is abhorrent to the world.
I. Men do not praise it.
1. They have a difficulty in understanding it. It consists so much of feelings and experiences with which they have no sympathy.
2. They fail to appreciate what they cannot understand. Surely it is enough to do good, and harm nobody, and there can be no need for so much praying, crying, and love.
3. They make its possession no standard of worth. Their heroes are of quite another order. If they should admire a philanthropist, it will be because they view his public usefulness quite apart from his spiritual principles.
4. They often bitterly hate and persecute it.
II. Its praise is of God.
1. Why does He commend it? Because--
(1) Of its intrinsic excellence. There is an inherent worth about humility, goodness, devotedness to God, self surrender to Him, the entire circumcision of the heart.
(2) It is the produce of His own grace and power. Wherever spiritual religion exists it has been imparted supernaturally by the power of the Holy Ghost.
(3) It reflects His own image and character. God must approve Himself, and therefore He must admire all that resembles Himself.
2. How does He show it?
(1) By the inward witness of His Spirit; giving to the humble and happy soul a sweet and secret sense of His approval.
(2) By outward tokens of success and prosperity, as in the history of Abraham, Moses, David, and Daniel.
(3) Hereafter by open acknowledgment of His own elect in the day of judgment. Conclusion: The love of praise will influence you, among other motives, in matters of religion. Will you, then, seek to please men or God? If you please men, you must displease God; and what will their commendation and applause do for you in the article of death, or in the hour of judgment? Therefore--
1. Seek only to please God.
2. Be satisfied with His approval.
3. Thus overcome the worldly lust of fame.
4. And enjoy perfect peace.
5. And show yourself a pattern of high and genuine heroism. (T. G. Horton.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/