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Ver. 1–ch. 14:23
III. HORTATORY. It is St. Paul's way to supplement his doctrinal treatises with detailed practical directions as to the conduct that should of necessity ensue on belief in the doctrines propounded. So also in Ephesians 4:1, etc., where, as here, he connects his exhortations with what has gone before by the initiatory παρακαλῶ οὖν. Beyond his exposition of the truth for its own sake, he has always a further practical aim. Saving faith is ever with him a living faith, to be shown by its fruits. Nor, according to him, will these fruits follow, unless the believer himself does his part in cultivating them: else were these earnest and particular exhortations needless. If, on the one hand, he is the great assertor of our salvation being through faith and all of grace, he is no less distinct for the necessity of works following, and of the power of man's free-will to use or resist grace; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10, where, speaking of himself, he does not mean to say that grace had made him what he was in spite of himself, but that grace had not been in vain, because he himself had worked with grace. All was of grace, but he himself had laboured, assisted by grace working with him. It will be observed how comprehensive is the survey of Christian duty that here follows, reaching to all the relations of life, as well as to internal disposition.
E. Various practical duties enforced.
I beseech you therefore, brethren (he does not command, as did Moses in the Law; he beseeches; he is but a fellow-servant, with his brethren, of Christ; he does not "lord it over God's heritage" (cf. 1 Peter 5:3), but trusts that they will of their own accord respond to "the mercies of God" in Christ, which he has set before them), by the mercies of God ("Qui misericordia Dei recte movetur in omnem Dei voluntatem ingreditur. At anima irae obnoxia vix quiddam juvatur adhortationibus," Bengel), that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. The verb παραστῆσαι is the usual one for the presenting of sacrificial animals at the altar (Xen., 'Anab.,' 6.1.22; Lucian, 'De Sacrif.,' 13. The LXX in Le Romans 16:7, Romans 16:10, has στήσει. Cf. Luke 2:22 : Colossians 1:22, Colossians 1:28, and supra, 6.13). Our bodies are here specified, with probable reference to the bodies of victims which were offered in the old ritual. But our offering differs from them in being "a living sacrifice," replete with life and energy to do God's will (cf. Psalms 40:6, Psalms 40:7, Psalms 40:8, and Hebrews 10:5, Hebrews 10:6, Hebrews 10:7), yea, and oven inspired with a new life—a life from the dead (Romans 6:13). Further, the thought is suggested of the abuse of the body to uncleanness prevalent in heathen society (cf. Romans 1:24). The bodies of Christians are "members of Christ," "temples of the Holy Ghost," consecrated to God, and to be devoted to his service (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:15, etc.); and not in heart only, but in actual life, of which the body is the agent, we are to offer ourselves, after the example of Christ. Your reasonable service (τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν) must be taken in apposition to "present your bodies, rather than to "sacrifice," it being the act of offering, and not the thing offered. that constitutes the λατρεία. This word is especially used for the ceremonial worship of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 12:25, Exodus 12:26; Exodus 13:5; Romans 9:4; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:1, Hebrews 9:6, Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 13:10), the counterpart of which in Christians is, according to St. Paul, not ceremonial service, but rather that of a devoted life (cf. Acts 27:23; Romans 1:9; Philippians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 41:28). The epithet λογικὴν has been variously understood. It probably means rational, denoting a moral and spiritual serving of God, in implied opposition to mechanical acts of outward worship. "Respectu intellectus et voluntatis" (Bengel). It may be taken to express the same idea as οἱ Πνεῦματι Θεῷ λατρεύοντες (Philippians 3:3), and πνευματικὴν θυσίαν (1 Peter 2:7; of. John 4:24). Though the offering of the body is being spoken of, yet "bodily self-sacrifice is an ethical act" (Meyer). Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20. The word itself occurs in the New Testament only here and in 1 Peter 2:2, where its meaning, though obscure, may be similar.
And be not conformed to (rather, fashioned after; the verb is συσχηματίζεσθαι this world; but be ye transformed (the verb here is μεταμορφοῦσθαι) by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove (or, discern) what is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (So, rather than as in the Authorized Version; the epithets acceptable and perfect not being properly applicable to the will of God; and the translation given above being close to the original.) It is a matter of no importance for exegesis that ancient authorities leave it uncertain whether the verbs at the beginning of this verse should be read as imperatives (συσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε) or as infinitives (συσχηματίζεσθαι and μεταμορφοῦσθαι). In the latter case they depend, with παραστῆσαι in Romans 12:1, on παρακαλῶ. The meaning remains unaffected. As to the words themselves, Meyer's assertion that they stand in contrast only through the prepositions, without any difference of sense in the stem-words, is surely wrong. St. Paul is not in the habit of varying his expressions without a meaning; and he might have written μετασχηματίζεσθε (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Corinthians 11:14; Philippians 3:21) instead of μεταμορφοῦσθε or συμμορφοῦσθε (cf. Philippians 3:10) instead of συσχηματίζεσθε. And there is an essential difference between the senses in which σχῆμα and μορφή may be used. The former denotes outward fashion, which may be fleeting, and belonging to accident and circumstance; the latter is used to express essential form, in virtue of which a thing is what it is; of. Philippians 3:21, and also (though Meyer denies any distinction here) Philippians 2:6, Philippians 2:7. The apostle warns his readers not to follow in their ways of life the fashions of this present world, which are both false and fleeting (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:31, Παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου), but to undergo such a change of essential form as to preclude their doing so. If they become συμμόρφοι with Christ (cf. Romans 8:29), the world's fashions will not affect them. The phrase, "this world" or "age". The transformation here spoken of consists in the renewal of the mind (τοῦ νοὸς), which denotes the Understanding, or thinking power, regarded as to its moral activity. And Christian renewal imparts not only the will and power to do God's will, but also intelligence to discern it. Hence follows εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς, etc.. It is to be observed, lastly, that the present tenses of the verbs συσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε, unlike the previous aorist παραστῆσαι, intimate progressive habits. The perfect Christian character is not formed all at once on conversion (of Philippians 3:12, seq.; see also previous note on Romans 6:13, with reference to παριστάνετε and παραστιήσατε).
So far the exhortation has been general. The apostle now passes to particular directions; and first (Philippians 2:3-9) as to the use of gifts.
For I say, through the grace given unto me (the grace of apostleship to the Gentiles (cf. Romans 1:5; Romans 15:15). He is about to warn against either neglecting or exceeding the special graces given to each person; and he may, perhaps, mean to imply here that he himself, in giving these admonitions, is exercising, without exceeding, his own special grace) to every man that is among you (this is emphatic. The pretensions to superiority of some at Corinth who possessed more showy gifts than others had shown how the admonition might need to be pressed on all; and in a community like that of the Romans there might well be a special tendency to assumption on the part of some), not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly (rather, as in the Revised Version so to think as to think soberly, or, more literally, to be minded so as to be sober-minded), according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Why of faith? One might have expected the expression to be, "of grace," as in Romans 12:6, "according to the grace that is given to us;" or as in Ephesians 4:7, "according to the measure [μέτρον, as here] of the gift of Christ." It seems to be because by faith we become receptive of the grace given to each of us. Hence the faith assigned by God to each is regarded as "the regulative standard; the subjective condition" (Meyer)of the several gifts or graces. Cf. also Matthew 17:20 and 1 Corinthians 13:2, where miraculous powers are spoken of as dependent on the amount of faith. Tholuck explains thus: "Faith in an unseen Christ brings man into connection with a world unseen, in which he moves without distinctly apprehending it; and in proportion as he learns to look with faith to that world, the more is the measure of his spiritual powers elevated."
Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5
For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; so we, the many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. The illustration of the body with its members to set forth the mutual dependence on each other of the several members of the Church with their several gifts and functions, and the importance of all for the well-being of the whole, is further carried out in 1 Corinthians 12:12, seq. In Ephesians 1:22 and Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16, Christ is regarded, somewhat differently, as the exalted Head over the Church which is his body. Here and in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31., the head is not thus distinguished from the rest of the body (see 1 Corinthians 12:21); the whole is "one body in Christ," who is the living Person who unites and animates it.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, in our ministry; or he that teacheth, in his teaching; or he that exhorteth, in his exhortation; he that giveth, in simplicity; he that ruleth, with (literally, in) diligence; he that showeth mercy, with (literally, in) cheerfulness. The elliptical form of the original has been retained in the above translation, without the words interposed for elucidation in the Authorized Version. There are two ways in which the construction of the passage might possibly be understood.
(1) Taking ἔχοντες δὲ in Romans 12:6 as dependent on ἐσμεν in Romans 12:5, and κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, not as hortatory, but as parallel to κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν, and understanding in a like sense the clauses that follow. Thus the general meaning would be—we are all one body, etc., but having our several gifts, to be used in accordance with the purpose for which they are severally given.
(2) As in the Authorized Version, which is decidedly preferable, hortation being evidently intended from the beginning of Romans 12:6. The drift is that the various members of the body having various gifts, each is to be content to exercise his own gift in the line of usefulness it fits him for, and to do so well. The references are not to distinct orders of ministry, in the Church, but rather to gifts and consequent capacities of all Christians. The gift of prophecy, which is mentioned first, being of especial value and importance (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1, seq.), was the gift of inspired utterance, not of necessity in the way of prediction, but also, and especially, for "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3), for "convincing," and for "making manifest the secrets of the heart" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 1 Corinthians 14:25). tie that has this special gift is to use it "according to the proportion of his faith;" for the meaning of which expression see on μέτρον πίστεως above (Romans 12:3). According to the prophet's power of faith to be receptive of this special gift, and to apprehend it if granted to him, would be the intensity and truth of its manifestation. It would seem that prophets might be in danger of mistaking their own ideas for a true Divine revelation (cf. Jeremiah 23:28); and also that they might speak hastily and with a view to self-display (see 1 Corinthians 14:29-33), and that there was a further gift of διάκρισις πνευμάτων required for distinguishing between true and imagined inspiration (see 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29). Further, the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32); they were not carried away, as the heathen μάντις was supposed to be, by an irresistible Divine impulse; they retained their reason and consciousness, and were responsible for rightly estimating and faithfully rendering any revelation (ἀποκάλυψις, 1Co 5:1-13 :30) granted to them. Delusion, inconsiderate utterance, extravagance, as well as repression of any real inspiration may be meant to be forbidden in the phrase. (The view of τῆς πίστεως being meant objectively of the general Christian doctrine, from which the prophecy was not to deviate—whence the common use of the expression, analogia fidei—is precluded by the whole drift of the passage. It is not found in the Greek Fathers, having been apparently suggested first by Thomas Aquinas.) The gift of ministry (διακονία) must be understood in a general sense, and not as having exclusive reference to the order of deacons (Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; Romans 16:1), who were so called specifically because their office was one of διακονία. The words διακονεῖν διακονία διάκονος, though sometimes denoting any kind of ministry, even of the highest kind, were used and understood in a more specific sense with reference to subordinate ministrations, especially in temporal matters (cf. Acts 6:2, "It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables (διακονεῖν τραπέζως)"). If any had a gift for any such kind of administrative work under others, they were to devote themselves to it, and be content if they could do it well. Teaching (διδασκαλία) may denote a gift for mere instruction in facts or doctrines, catechetical or otherwise, different from that of the inspired eloquence of prophecy. Exhortation (as παράκλησις, which bears also the sense of consolation, seems here to be rightly rendered) may be understood with reference to admonitory addresses, in the congregation or in private, less inspired and rousing than prophetic utterances. In Acts 13:15 the word παράκλησις denotes the exhortation which any person in the synagogue might be called upon by the rulers to address to the people after the reading (ἀνάγνωσιν) of the Law and the prophets; cf. 1 Timothy 4:13, where Timothy is told to give attendance to reading (ἀνάγνωσιν), to exhortation (παράκλησιν), and to teaching (διδασκαλίαν). He that giveth (οὁ μεταδιδοὺς) points to the gift of liberality, to the endowment with which both means supplied by Providence and a spirit of generosity might contribute. The almsgivers of the Church had their special gift and function; and they must exercise them in simplicity (ἐν ἀπλότητι), which may perhaps mean singleness of heart, without partiality, or ostentation, or secondary aims. But in 2Co 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13, the word seems to have the sense of liberality, and this may be the meaning here. "Uti Deus dat, Jac. 2 Corinthians 1:5" (Bengel). In the 'Shepherd of Hermas' (written, it is supposed, not later than the first half of the second century) ἁπλῶς is explained thus: Πᾶσιν ὑστερουμένοις δίδου ἁπλῶς μὴ διστάζων τίνι δῷς ἠ τίνι μὴ δῷς πᾶσι δίδου ('Hermae Pastor,' mandatum 2.). Possibly this gives the true original conception, from which that of general liberality would follow. [The idea that the almoners of the Church, rather than the almsgivers, are intended, viz. the deacons (Acts 6:3, seq.), is inconsistent with the general purport of the passage, as explained above. Besides, μεταδιδόναι means elsewhere to give up what is one's own, not to distribute the funds of others. Ὁ διαδιδούς might rather have been expected in the latter case (cf. Acts 4:35).] He that ruleth (ὁ προιστάμενος) means, according to our view all along, any one in a leading position, with authority over others; and not, as some have thought, exclusively the presbyters. Such are not to presume on their position of superiority so as to relax in zealous attention to its duties. He that showeth mercy (ὁ ἐλεῶν) is one who is moved by the Spirit to devote himself especially to works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and succouring the distressed. Such a one is to allow no austerity or gloominess of demeanour to mar the sweetness of his charity. On the general subject of these gifts for various administrations (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31., seq.; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40.; Ephesians 4:11, seq.) it is to be observed that in the apostolic period, though presbyters and deacons, under the general superintendence of the apostles, seem to have been appointed in all organized Churches for ordinary ministrations (Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2, seq.; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; Acts 21:18; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-16. l, 8; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5), yet there were other spiritual agencies in activity, recognized as divinely empowered. The "prophets and teachers" at Antioch (Acts 13:1) who, moved by the Holy Ghost, separated and ordained Barnabas and Saul for apostolic ministry, do not appear to have been what we should now call the regular clergy of the place, but persons, whether in any definite office or not, divinely inspired with the gifts of προφητεία and διδασκαλία. In like manner, the appointment of Timothy to the office he was commissioned to fill, though he was formally ordained by the laying on of hands of St. Paul himself (2 Timothy 1:6) and of the presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14), appears to have been accompanied—perhaps sanctioned—by prophecy (1 Timothy 4:14). Persons thus divinely inspired, or supposed to be so, appear, as time went on, to have visited the various Churches, claiming authority—some, it would seem, even the authority of apostles; the term "apostle" not being then confined exclusively to the original twelve; else Barnabas could not have been called one, as he is (Acts 14:14), or indeed even Paul himself. But such claims to inspiration were not always genuine; and against false prophets we find various warnings (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3, seq.; Galatians 1:6, seq.; Galatians 3:1; 1 John 4:1, seq.; 2 John 1:10; Revelation 2:2). Still, these extraordinary agencies and ministrations, in addition to the ordinary ministry of the presbyters and deacons, were recognized as part of the Divine order for the edification of the Church as long as the special charismata of the apostolic age continued. Afterwards, as is well known, the episcopate, in the later sense of the word as denoting an order above the general presbytery, succeeded the apostolate, though how soon this system of Church government became universal is still a subject of controversy. It appears, however, from 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (Διδαχὴ τῶν Δώδεκα Ἁποστόλων), recently brought to light by Archbishop Bryennius (the date of which appears to have been towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second), that the earlier and less regular system continued, in some regions at least (it does not follow that it was so everywhere), after the original apostles had passed away. For in this early and interesting document, while directions are given for the ordination (or election; the word is χειροτονήσατε, the same as in Acts 14:23) of bishops and deacons in the several Churches, there is no allusion to an episcopate of a higher order above them, but marked mention of teachers, apostles, and prophets (especially the last two, apostles being also spoken of as prophets), who appear to have been itinerant, visiting the various Churches from time to time, and claiming authority as "speaking in the Spirit." To these prophets great deference is to be paid; they are to be maintained during their sojourn; they are to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in such words as they will (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16); while speaking in the Spirit they are not to be tried or proved (οὐδὲ διακρινεῖτε; cf. δια κρίσεις πνευμάτων, 1 Corinthians 14:10; and οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν, Rom 14:1-23 :29), lest risk be run of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Still, among these itinerants there might often be false prophets, and the Churches are to exercise judgment in testing them. If they taught anything contrary to the received doctrine; if they remained for the sake of maintenance without working for mere than two days; if they asked in the Spirit for worldly goods for themselves; if their manner of life was not what it should be;—they were false prophets, and to be rejected, Similarly, in the 'Shepherd of Hermas' like directions are given for distinguishing between true and false prophets, between those who had τὸ Πνεῦ,α τὸ Θεῖον and those whose πνεῦμα was ἐπίγειον (mandatum 11.). And even in the 'Apostolical Constitutions' (a compilation supposed to date from the middle of the third to the middle of the fourth century) there is a passage corresponding to what is said in the Teaching about distinguishing between true and false prophets or teachers who might visit Churches (Rom 7:1-25 :28). The Teaching seems to denote a state of things, after the apostolic period, in which the special charismata of that period were believed to be still in activity, though with growing doubts as to their genuineness in all cases. As has been said above, it does not follow that this order of things continued everywhere at the time of the compilation of the Teaching; but that it was so, at any rate in some parts, seems evident; and hence some light is thrown on the system of things alluded to in the apostolical Epistles. It is quite consistent with the evidence of the Teaching to suppose that in Churches which had been organized by St. Paul or other true apostles, the more settled order of government which soon afterwards became universal, and the transition to which seems to be plainly marked in the pastoral Epistles, already prevailed.
Various admonitions, applicable to all; headed by inculcation of the all-pervading principle of love.
Let love be unfeigned (so is rendered elsewhere ἀνυπόκριτος in the Authorized Version, cf. 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22). Abhor (literally, abhorring) that which is evil; cleave (literally, cleaving) to that which is good. The participles ἀποστυγοῦντες, etc., here and afterwards, may be understood as mildly imperative. Or perhaps the apostle connected them in thought with ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος, as if he had said, Love ye unfeignedly.
In brotherly love (φιλαδελφίᾳ) be kindly affectioned (φιλόστοργοι) one to another (φιλαδελφία, expressing the love of Christians for each other, is a special form or manifestation of general ἀάπη. In it there should be ever the warmth of family affection, στοργή); in honour preferring one another; literally, according to the proper sense of προηγούμενοι, taking the lead of each other in honour—i.e., in showing honour, rather than equivalent to ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν in Philippians 2:3.
In business (rather, diligence) not slothful; in spirit fervent (we are to do with our might whatever our hand finds to do; yea, with fervent zeal); serving the Lord. For τῷ Κυρίῳ, (the Lord), some manuscripts have τῷ καιρῷ (the time, or the opportunity), which reading is preferred by some commentators on the ground that it is less likely to have been instituted for the familiar τῷ Κυρίῳ than vice versa. But τῷ Κυρίῳ is best supported, and has an obvious meaning, vie. that in the zealous performance of all our duties we are to feel that we are serving the Lord.
In hope rejoicing; in tribulation enduring; in prayer continuing instant; communicating to the necessities of the saints (i.e. Christians); given to (literally, pursuing) hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. In Romans 12:14 the form of the admonition passes from participles to direct imperatives, a positive command of Christ being adduced. In Romans 12:15 the gentler admonitory form of in the infinitive is taken up, passing to participles, as before in Romans 12:16.
Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another (denoting mutual good feeling and unanimity of sentiment; not, of course, agreement in opinion on all subjects). Mind not high things, but condescend to (literally, being led away with) men of low estate. It is a question whether τοῖς ταπεινοῖς should not be understood as neuter, so as to correspond with τὰ ὐψηλὰ; the meaning thus being that, instead of being ambitious, we should let ourselves be drawn willingly to the lowlier spheres of usefulness to which we may be called. The main objection to this view is that the adjective ταπεινὸς is not elsewhere applied to things, but to persons. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide (in the sense of take forethought for) things honest (or fair, or honourable) in the sight of all men. This is a citation from Proverbs 3:4, where the LXX. has, Προνοοῦ καλὰ ἀνώπιον Κυριόυ καὶ ἀνθρώπων. We are not only to do what we know to be right in the sight of God, but also to have regard to the view that will be taken of our conduct by other men; we must not give any just cause for our good being evil spoken of (cf. Proverbs 3:16 and 1 Peter 2:12).
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath. The thought in Romans 12:19 seems to follow from what precedes. It may sometimes be impossible to he at peace with all; but at any rate, do not increase bitterness by avenging yourselves. Give place unto wrath (τῇ ὀργῇ), has been taken by some to mean that we are to give scope to the wrath of our enemy, instead of being exasperated to resist it (cf. Matthew 5:39, etc.). But there has been no particular reference to a wrathful adversary. Another view is that our own wrath is intended, to which we are to allow time to expend itself before following its impulse; δότε τόπον being taken as equivalent to data spatium in Latin; and this interpretation suits the usual sense of δότε τόπον. It is not thus implied that the falling of Divine vengeance on our enemy should be our desire and purpose, but only this—that, if punishment is due, we must leave it to the righteous God to inflict it; it is not for us to do so. And this interpretation suits what immediately follows. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, quoted freely from the Hebrew, but with the words ἐκδίκησις and ἀνταποδώσω as found in the LXX. The fact that the same form of quotation occurs also in Hebrews 10:30 seems to show that it was one in current use). But (so rather than wherefore, as in the Authorized Version) if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. This whole verse is from Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22, where is added, "and the Lord shall reward thee." What is meant by the "coals of fire," both in the original and in St. Paul's citation, has been much discussed. Undoubtedly, the expression in itself, in view of its usual significance in the Old Testament, suggests only the idea of Divine vengeance (see Psalms 18:12; Psalms 120:4; Psalms 140:10; and especially 2 Esdras 16:53. Cf. also Psalms 11:6; Habakkuk 3:5); and this especially as it occurs here almost immediately after "Vengeance is mine." Hence Chrysostom and other Fathers, as well as some moderns, have taken it to mean that by heaping benefits on our enemy we shall aggravate his guilt, and expose him to severer punishment from God. But it is surely incredible that the apostle should have meant to suggest such a motive for beneficence; and the whole tone of the context is against it, including that of Proverbs 25:21, which follows. Jerome saw this, writing," Carbones igitur congregabis super caput ejus, non in maledictum et condemnationem, ut plerique existimant, sed in correctionem et poenitudinem." But if the "coals of fire" mean the Divine judgment on our enemy, there is nothing to suggest a corrective purpose. The view, held by some, that the softening effect of fire on metals is intended, is hardly tenable. Heaping coals of fire on a person's head would be an unnatural way of denoting the softening of his heart. More likely is the view which retains the idea of coals of fire carrying with it, as elsewhere, that of punishment and the infliction of pain, but regards the pain as that of shame and compunction, which may induce penitence. This appears to be the most generally received view. It is, however, a question whether any such effect is definitely in the writer's view. He may mean simply this: Men in general desire vengeance on their enemies, expressed proverbially by heaping coals of fire on the head. Hast thou an enemy? Do him good. This is the only vengeance, the only coals of fire, allowed to a Christian. Then follows naturally, Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Christian sacrifice and worship.
In commencing the practical part of this Epistle, St. Paul adopts a tone of gentle and affectionate persuasion. He might have addressed his readers as disciples, and have used towards them the language of authority and command. But, on the contrary, he calls them his "brethren," and he "beseeches," entreats them, as employing the appeals of love to enforce the precepts of duty. At the same time, his language implies that compliance with his admonitions is not a matter optional and indifferent. He beseeches them because they are brethren, and because he has a right to expect that they will not only listen with respect, but obey with alacrity. Before entering upon the specific duties of the Christian life, and depicting in detail the Christian character, the apostle exhibits in this verse the general ,and comprehensive principle of practical Christianity. As religious men, these Roman Christians must, as a matter of course, offer a sacrifice and a service of worship. And they are here told that the presentation to God of themselves is the one great act in which all specific acts of obedience are summed up and involved. Let them enter into the temple of God, and bring with them a living sacrifice; let them join in offering to Heaven a reasonable, a spiritual worship; for with such the Father will be well pleased.
I. Consider THE MOTIVE WHICH THE APOSTLE URGES in order to induce to consecration. "By the mercies of God." To every sensitive and appreciative mind this is a cogent motive. The mercies of God have been, and are, so many, so varied, so suited to our case, so unfailing, that we cannot meditate upon them without acknowledging the claim they constitute upon us. The word used here is peculiar; the apostle speaks of the pity, the compassions, of the Lord. Language this which brings out our condition as one of dependence, helplessness, and even misery, and which brings out also the condescension and loving-kindness of our heavenly Father. There is, no doubt, an especial reference to the spiritual favours which have been so fully and powerfully described in the earlier portion of the Epistle. The mercies of God are nowhere so apparent as in redemption; and human sin requires a great salvation. In exhibiting the marvellous interposition of Divine grace on behalf of sinful humanity, in explaining the reconciling work of Christ, in depicting the immunities, privileges, and hopes of those who receive the gospel, the apostle has laid a good foundation for the appeal of the text. Mercies may well excite gratitude, for they are undeserved, sovereign, and free; and gratitude in the mind of the Christian, who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is a motive of no mean order. And gratitude to such a God, and for such gifts, can only be a motive to virtue and holiness.
II. Consider WHAT THE APOSTLE ENJOINS US TO PRESENT TO GOD. "Your bodies." The vigorous understanding of St. Paul preserved him from that sentimental form of religion which many, professing to be his followers, have adopted and advocated. It will not do to treat men, to regard ourselves, as possessing only a spiritual nature. We have body as well as soul. The most ethereal and ecstatic spiritual experiences do not prove a man to be a true Christian. God requires that body, soul, and spirit should be consecrated to him. For the bodily nature is intended to express and manifest the character, the spiritual life, the true man. If the spirit be renewed and purified, the effect of this Divine work within will be apparent in the outer life. Thus it is that the new creation, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, extends to the whole nature and life. The body, therefore, shares in the death unto sin, and in the new life unto righteousness and holiness. The body is consecrated to him who has redeemed the body as well as the soul; and its members are employed as weapons or instruments, not of sin, but of righteousness. It cannot be supposed that the apostle intends us to understand that bodily service alone is sufficient. Nothing would have been more alien from his whole teaching, or from the spirit of the New Testament, than such a doctrine. Christ has taught us that worship, in order to being acceptable, must be in spirit and in truth; and St. Paul himself has assured us that bodily exercise profiteth nothing, that circumcision avalleth nothing, but a new creation. In presenting our bodies unto God, we offer the praises of our lips and the service of our hands. The body is the instrument of toil. The Christian's daily activity is consecrated to his redeeming God; and this is so, whatever be the employment to which Providence has called him. The body is also the agent of spiritual ministry. Accordingly, the Christian's special efforts to do good, his teaching and preaching, his ministering to the wants of his fellow-men and relieving them from their sufferings, his evangelistic journeys in order to seek the lost and to proclaim the gospel,—all are instances of his consecration of the body as well as of the soul to his redeeming Lord.
III. Remark that such PRESENTATION ON THE PART OF THE CHRISTIAN IS REGARDED AS SACRIFICE. From a study of the religions of mankind, we learn that the sacrifices, alike of the heathen and of the Jews, may be regarded as
(1) offering, and
Now, as far as expiation, propitiation, is concerned, we, as Christians, know that there has been one, and only one, real and acceptable sacrifice of this kind—the sacrifice of himself offered to the Father by our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the substance of which all that went before was merely the shadow, and which can neither be repeated nor imitated. But as far as the tribute of thanksgiving, adoration, and obedience is concerned, we are taught that this is to be offered to God continually (Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16). It is in this respect that all Christians are priests unto God; all, irrespective of the position they hold in the Church, or the special services they render in the congregations of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish sacrifice, which this perpetual offering most closely resembles, is the burnt offering, which the Hebrew worshipper brought to Jehovah as the expression of his personal devotion and consecration to Heaven, as the public declaration that he owed everything to the Lord, and that he withheld from him nothing which he possessed. In like manner Christians present their bodies—their whole nature and life—to him who gave himself for them. "Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your bodies, which are his." Of this sacrifice, in which all Christians unite, the apostle reminds us that it possesses three qualities.
1. It is living. The sacrifices which the Jews offered were either living creatures, or substances which by their nature ministered to life; and in offering such gifts the worshipping was presenting a symbol of his own life. But ordinary sacrifices were slain; the life was consumed in the offering. The Christian's life is not forfeited in being presented to God. Yet in the presentation there is both death and life. It has been said, "There is in every sacrifice a death, and in this sacrifice a death unto sin, out of which there arises a new life of righteousness unto God. Thus the living sacrifice is that in which, though the natural life is not lost, a new life of holiness is gained." What a privilege is ours, who are expected to bring unto God, not the bodies of brute animals, not the blood of bulls and goats, but our own bodies—our very selves, our living nature—and gratefully and willingly to lay this sacrifice upon the altar of God!
2. It is holy. The animals which were presented under the Mosaic economy were, according to the prescribed regulations, to be free from blemish. This was doubtless an ordinance intended to impress upon the mind of the worshipper a sense of the holiness of the Being who was approached. All who officiated were to be ceremonially clean. The substance, of which these symbols were the shadow, was holiness, spiritual purity, freedom from iniquity. There is nothing upon which greater stress is laid than the requirement that every offering to God shall be such as a Being of perfect purity can accept. A sprinkled body is not sufficient; a pure heart is the demand of him who is himself the all-holy Lord.
3. And such an offering is well pleasing to God. This, indeed, may be inferred from a consideration of God's moral character as a truth-loving and holy Governor, who cannot endure dissimulation and hypocrisy. The enlightened among the ancient Hebrews saw clearly enough that ceremonial purity and ritual correctness were not enough to secure Divine acceptance and favour. And none who enters into the teaching of our Saviour, and sympathizes with the spirit of his religion, can fail to discern the necessity of a living and holy sacrifice in order to please the Searcher of hearts, and satisfy the requirements of Christ.
IV. The offering of the Christian is further represented as A REASONABLE SERVICE OR WORSHIP. The Revisers have, in the margin, "spiritual." It is a service rendered by the intelligent, reasonable, spiritual part of our nature. Though the body is presented, he presentation of the body is the expression of inner, spiritual worship. For the word means "worship"—"an outward act of religious worship." Worship is a universal expression of the religious nature of man. The heathen practised their ritual of ceremony, sacrifice, prayer, adoration; and the Jewish religion imposed an elaborate system of public worship. The superiority of Christian worship is marked. Obedience is the highest and most acceptable form of worship which can be offered to God. This "reasonable worship" is distinguished from worship that is merely mechanical and formal. It is similarly distinguished from all substitutionary worship. It is personal, not representative; not by a priest who worships for the congregation, and professes to offer sacrifice as their representative, but by each individual Christian who has his own tribute to offer, his own service to render.
APPLICATION. The language of the text appeals to those who neglect or withhold this sacrifice, this service, and reproaches them as unreasonable, ungrateful, indefensible, disobedient, self-destructive. It urges them to yield what God asks, through Christ, who makes obedience and praise acceptable offerings to God.
The Apostle Paul was great both in theoretical and in practical thought. Truth and duty were equally his themes. He could introduce new ideas into men's minds, and that with a force which made the ideas part of the minds into which they were introduced. And, at the same time, he could show the bearing of the grandest ideas upon the commonest actions and the homeliest life. This is a combination of qualities not always found even in the greatest of men. It was found in Paul; and accordingly we go to him for the loftiest representations of Christian truth, for the most elaborate expositions of Christian doctrine, and also for the counsel we need in circumstances of difficulty, and the instructions we need in the development of social and individual life. It was a grand conception, that with which the apostle beans the practical part of this treatise. What devout heart does not, upon having this conception brought before it, burn with an ardent desire to realize it—to present the body, the self, the all, a living and holy sacrifice unto God? But then comes the question—How is it to be done? And, indeed, what is it, precisely and actually, which is to be done? The apostle proceeds to show us. And in translating the noble idea of the first verse into the language of practical life, he proceeds wisely and carefully, first giving us the general rule and law, and then drawing out from it the special applications in detailed duties of Christian morality. In studying this chapter we must ever and anon revert to the great principles contained in the first and second verses. The principle is barren without the precepts; the precepts are lifeless, flavourless, and impossible without the principle. The verse contains—
I. A DISSUASION; i.e. from conformity to the world. Human character and life are treated as something to be formed and fashioned by the personal will. We are dealt with as beings responsible for the form and fashion we impart to character and life. The apostle does not take it for granted that those living in a Christian community must, as a matter of course and necessity, attain to the Divine ideal. There is a temptation, a danger, against which it is prudent to be warned. It was, no doubt, easier to understand this dissuasion in the earliest days of Christianity than it is now. "This world!" "this age!"—what a fulness, an awful fulness of meaning this expression must have had for a Christian of the first century! Not the material world, of course, but the world of human society, of pagan idolatry, and sensuality, and cruelty, and scepticism, and despair, was the world present to the apostle's mind. Satan is termed in the New Testament "the prince of this world;" the unbelieving, unchristian population are designated "the children of this world." "The disputer of this world," "the wisdom of this world," apply to what is unspiritual and godless. The distinction between the heathen world and the Church of Christ must then have been sharp indeed. And no reader could be at a loss to understand Paul's advice to the Roman Christians not to be fashioned according to this world. For in Rome, perhaps above all other places, this world was the acknowledged mistress and sovereign of human society. And, as a matter of fact, the Christian community in this and in other cities of the empire did live a life in utter, manifest, obtrusive contrast to that lived by the multitude of ambitious, pleasure-loving, superstitious, cynical citizens, by whom they were surrounded. To make this a practical matter, let us ask—How does this dissuasion apply to us? What is the world of which we are to beware? Is there such a world in our England today? We meet with narrow and prejudiced opinion on these questions. Some people think it worldly to have anything to do with politics—especially on one side; others, to mix with general society; others, to take an interest in painting, architecture, music, and even literature. To such objections it is enough to answer that, in becoming a Christian, one does not cease to be a man, but rather learns to bring to bear upon human interests and occupations the principles of the highest life and calling. We must beware of narrow and merely technical definitions of "the world." In truth, to be "fashioned according to the world" is to conform to sinful and prevalent practices. What is worldliness? It is injustice, untruthfulness, impurity, avarice, slander. Some of these vices and sins are to be found amongst those who are very scrupulous in preserving what they call the line between the Church and the world. But bear in mind that a life devoted to selfish aggrandizement or pleasure, a life lacking in love and sympathy, is a worldly life. The same idea is dwelt upon with urgency by the other apostles. John admonishes, "Love not the world;" and Peter requires Christians "not to be fashioned according to their former lusts in their ignorance."
II. A DIRECTION; i.e. to spiritual renewal. That the followers of Christ might present themselves "a living sacrifice" to God, they were taught that they must become something very different from what they had been in their unbelieving, unregenerate days. The admonition of the apostle is very full and strong.
1. It is to a change. "Repent!" was the first Divine message to men—alike from the forerunner and from the Messiah. Christians they could not be, whether Jews or Gentiles, until changed. Religion cannot flatter, though priests may.
2. It is to renewal. How characteristic of the religion of the Lord Jesus is this counsel! We have a new covenant, and we need a new nature; we need to become a new creation, that we may live in newness of life, and so prepare to dwell in the new heavens and to join in the new song. Christianity is a gospel of renewal. The fact implies the abandonment and death and crucifixion of the old—the old nature, "the old man," as Paul calls it. Christ takes the individual, the society, in hand, and moulds all afresh from the beginning; implants new principles, new laws, new aims, new hopes. He makes one new man, one new humanity. What a gospel it is! It invites men to turn their back upon their old and sinful ways, to abjure their old and sinful self; to enter upon a new course—to become a new creation. Here, surely, is hope and promise for the downcast. Amendment may be impossible, but not renewal and regeneration; for the Spirit of God is the mightiest of all powers to transform.
3. It is to a mental, a spiritual renewal. We are invited to a renovation, which shall be not merely outward and bodily, but shall commence with the very centre and spring and root of our being. There is wisdom in this provision. It originates in the Author and Framer of our being, who knew what was in man. Let the heart be renewed, and, the fountain being cleansed, sweet water shall flow from it; and, the tree being made good, fruit ripe and wholesome shall be borne. Our Lord asks for the heart, and the heart only will he accept. "Be renewed," says the apostle elsewhere, "in the spirit of your mind." The Holy Spirit imparts new affections, new principles, new desires; encourages to new associations, and inspires with new aims and hopes.
III. AN INDUCEMENT; viz. by following the apostolic instructions the Christian will prove what God's will is. It seems a somewhat singular motive to present. Yet, to a believer in God, it must be a very powerful motive. The great question which interests men's minds today is just this—Are there in the universe signs of the presence, and energy, the moral character, and conscious purpose of Deity? Is there, in a word, such a thing as God's will? and, if so, what is it? According to the apostle, the consecrated and obedient Christian is in the way to settle this question in his own experience. It seems almost presumptuous to propose the testing of God's will. The boy proves the calculation he has made with figures; the armourer proves the temper of the gun or sword; the steel-maker, the strength of the spring; the machinist, the resisting power of his boiler. The vessel is sent upon a trial trip; the electrician tries his principle practically in the working of a railway. So in the moral realm. The apostle bids us "prove all things." Still, to speak of proving God's will does seem marvellous, and scarcely reverent. But it must be borne in mind that Paul speaks of that will, not so much as the action of the Divine mind, as the Divine law of the human life, of that will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Now, it is one thing to look at the Divine will as something to be admired and reverenced, and another thing to regard it as something to be done. And by doing it, we, as Christians, prove it; we discover for ourselves what it is, what are its qualities. It is good. The old Greek idea of what, in moral life, is to be sought, was summed up in this word—the good, the truly good, the highest good. This is equivalent to the nature, expressed in the will, of the Supreme. It is acceptable, or well-pleasing. That is to say, the performance of the Divine will by man is well-pleasing to him who has revealed the law of human life, and who is gratified when his own idea is taken up, and wrought out into practice with vigour and sympathy. It is perfect, admitting of no amendment, no censure, no improvement. To attain to it is to reach a moral height above which nothing towers. The connection between the will of God and the consecration and sacrifice commended in the previous verse is obvious. As the apostle elsewhere says, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." Walking as children of the light, we "prove what is acceptable unto the Lord." It is only thus that we show ourselves to "understand what the will of the Lord is." To understand it as a mere matter of theory is valueless and vain.
1. The motive to this new life is to be found in the love and sacrifice of the Redeemer.
2. The power for this new life is to be found in the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit of God. Let this motive have force and sway in your nature; let this power be sought, to control, transform, and renew your life.
Membership in Christ.
The great principles laid down at the outset of this chapter have to be followed out into practice. Paul shows how consecration and renewal are to manifest themselves in actual life, and how the will of God is to be practically proved. In so doing—perhaps because he is writing to a Church, and not to an individual—he first treats of the obligations of social Christianity, and shows how members of a brotherhood ought to act in their association with one another, in their Church-life. Yet he does not lose sight of the fact that a congregation, a community, is composed of individuals; accordingly, the message he delivers he delivers expressly to "every man that is among you." His first caution is against self-exaltation and self-praise; his first counsel is to unity and mutual consideration. This is very natural; for the early Christians were but few in number, and, being so decidedly distinguished from the world around, they were thrown very much into one another's society, and their Christian life had both the advantages and dangers attaching to its social character.
I. PRIDE IS CONDEMNED AND SOBRIETY OF JUDGMENT ENJOINED.
1. This was a necessary caution and admonition. It is a besetting temptation of human nature to think too highly of ourselves. Men are prone to exaggerate their own abilities and merits, and to extenuate their own faults; and, at the same time, alas! to depreciate the gifts and deserts of their neighbours, and to magnify their failings. It is the infirmity of selfishness, of self-importance, of self-glorification. In old times, the Christian moralists reckoned pride among the seven deadly sins. There was an additional reason for this apostolic caution in the case of the early Christians. There were imparted to many of them very remarkable and striking gifts, in some instances of a miraculous character. Within the boundary of these societies, these gifts were held in high esteem, and were often unduly prized and even coveted. The possessors of supernatural powers, gifts of tongues or of healing, may have been persons of no more than average Christian character, and may have been specially in danger of being puffed up by spiritual pride. Let it be remembered that there is scarcely any possession or endowment which may not furnish occasion for sinful pride.
2. There is a special propriety in modesty, in sobriety of judgment concerning ourselves. What we have we received from the Giver of every good gift, and every perfect boon. Our "measure of faith" he bestowed. Who, then, made us to differ? In fact, what are we, the best of us, but poor helpless sinners, saved by sovereign grace? The more we reflect, the more we shall see how unreasonable, indefensible, and absurd it is to indulge sentiments of self-importance and self-esteem. Humiliation and contrition are far more appropriate to all.
3. This is an admonition easy to misconstrue. Insincere professions of humility are repugnant to the Searcher of hearts; yet there is reason to believe that they are frequent. There is a "pride that apes humility" And there are those who need to be put upon their guard against undue depreciation of themselves and their abilities; such persons do little good, because they have a rooted conviction that they have no power for service. It is desirable, neither to neglect the one talent, nor to beast of the five.
4. We have an example of the virtue of sobriety in Paul's own case. Even here, instead of commanding or dictating, he words his counsel modestly: "I say, through the grace given to me" Not that he doubted his apostolic authority, but that he disclaimed any personal merit or claim. For he could sincerely speak of himself as "the least of the apostles;" "not worthy to be called an apostle;" "less than the least of all saints." He, therefore, may justly be said to have enforced his precepts by his own personal, living example.
II. MEMBERSHIP IN CHRIST IS SHOWN TO BE THE ROOT OF HUMILITY AND MUTUAL CONSIDERATION. How can we enough admire in the apostle his habit of laying the foundation of every duty and virtue in Christ? In order to think modestly of ourselves, and kindly and respectfully of our Christian brethren, we should bear in mind our common dependence upon the same Saviour, and our mutual relation one to another. The principle here stated was one very familiar to Paul's mind; for it is propounded in several of his Epistles, and enforced with great beauty, and at some length, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
1. Christians are in common members of the Lord Christ. He is the Head; the Divine Personality, revealing himself through the body. He himself had taught this great and precious doctrine. "Abide in me," said Christ, "and I in you." He dwells in and inspires his body, the Church, by his own gracious and mighty Spirit. It is his presence that gives life and guidance, energy and blessing, to the body. Now, if this be so, surely it is obvious that to exalt ourselves and to despise others is inconsistent with such a relation. Can we regard with neglect, or with scorn, those whom the Lord terms members of his own mystical body?
2. There is diversity among the members of the spiritual body. As in the human frame, so in the Church, every member has its own office. In subsequent verses Paul explains what some of these offices are. It is an instructive thought, impressing lessons of modesty and mutual esteem, that Christ has a use for every one of us. Instead of fretting that you have not your neighbour's gift, rather rejoice that he has it. Instead of thinking so much of your own work as to fill up the whole horizon of your vision with what is yours, turn an interested and kindly eye upon the ministry of your neighbour. Almost all men are prone to be one-sided. Receive inspired counsel: "Look every man also upon the things of others." There is room in the Church for the Christian scholar, the Christian philosopher, the Christian preacher, the Christian man of business, the Christian man of science, the Christian workman; for those who give themselves to healing, to education, to domestic life, to civil government, to social amelioration; in fact, there is room for all whom Christ has called and qualified for his own service. The great Maker has fashioned no two alike; let each be content to be himself—to be just what the Lord of the body intended him to be.
3. There is unity and harmony among the members of Christ's body. The inspired view is this: We cannot be all Christ's without coming into relation with one another, very close and vital. Common dependence upon the Head creates mutual affections, and calls for mutual services. How destructive is this teaching of that pride, from which the apostle dissuades! The health of each member, and his efficiency for service, depends upon the condition of the other members of the spiritual organism and structure. It is not uniformity which is to be cultivated and expected; it is organic unity, which implies unity in diversity. Subordination to the one Head, the indwelling of the one Spirit, will produce this happy result. Thus are secured the growth of the body and the glory of Christ.
Grace and gifts.
It is presumed that every member not only refrains from disparaging or envying the offices of fellow-members, but fulfils his own office. And it is also presumed that, as there is no member in the human body without a function, so, in Christian society, the Creator and Lord has assigned to every individual a place to fill, a work to do, and service to render as well as to receive. In this comprehensive passage several great principles are explicitly or implicitly presented.
I. GOD'S GRACE ACCOUNTS FOR HUMAN GIFTS. We speak of our fellow-creatures' "gifts," and say of some that they are "gifted," that they "have talents;" but what is involved in this language does not always come before our minds. Yet, if from the Father of lights cometh down every good gift and every perfect boon, surely the gifts of intellect and heart, the gifts of sympathy and ministration, are as truly and really from above, as are those we term the gifts of Providence. The risen and glorified Redeemer bestows gifts upon men. The Holy Spirit is given, and that Spirit's presence imparts moral power and adaptation and influence. Freely, and not of constraint, or because of our desert, is the Spirit given. It is ours to receive with gratitude, and to use with fidelity; but our receiving and employing are only possible through Divine grace and liberality.
II. GOD'S INFINITE RESOURCES SUPPLY MAN'S MANIFOLD NEED. We may well admire the goodness of our Father in heaven, in the bestowal of his gifts; his bounty, manifest in the universal diffusion of those gifts; and his wisdom, conspicuous in their endless variety. God has created man with many wants, and has so constituted human society that "no man liveth unto himself;" that we are mutually dependent one upon another for all our knowledge, happiness, and means of usefulness. Every congregation of Christians may be regarded as a collection of spiritual, as well as of more obvious and physical, necessities. The young need to be taught and trained; the misled need to be recovered; the feeble need to be confirmed; the sorrowful need to be comforted; the presumptuous need to be repressed; the petulant and quarrelsome need to be corrected; the inexperienced need to be advised. These, and other cases, can only be met by a provision inexhaustible in quantity and exquisitely adapted in character. In this and parallel passages the apostle takes pleasure in dwelling upon the vastness and variety of the resources which the Lord of all places at the disposal of his people. It is indeed a delightful thought: "All things are yours," etc.
III. THE WORK OF CHRISTIANS IN THIS WORLD IS THE FULFILLING A TRUST FROM GOD. We live, not certainly to seek our own pleasure, not certainly to respond to every passing social impulse, not even merely to develop our own nature and cultivate our own powers. We are summoned to take a higher view of life and its opportunities. As St. Peter expresses it, "According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." It is good for the young and unformed to come under the control of a superior human mind and will, and so to shape life as to secure approval and commendation from a master, a leader. How much better for us all to live as those whose fidelity the Master in heaven is testing, and who are held responsible to him! When we read of God's gifts, we are not to infer that we possess them absolutely, in such a sense that it is in our option either to use or neglect them, that we are at liberty to treat them otherwise than as a sacred trust. On the contrary, "every one of us must give an account of himself to God." The talents the Lord has entrusted to his servants are for them so to employ that, when he comes in judgment, they may give in their account with joy and not with
IV. EVERY CHRISTIAN IS CALLED TO USE HIS GIFTS FOR THE BENEFIT OF HIS FELLOWS. It is observable that every several admonition in this passage has reference to benefits to be conferred upon others. The Christian is called to look, not upon his own things, but also upon the things of others. This is the lesson which Christianity has from the beginning been inculcating; and modern society is for it under a debt, which is not always frankly and fully acknowledged. Some modern systems of morality and schemes of human life, as positivism, make the whole of religion consist in living for others (altruism). But it is vain to rear a superstructure without first laying the foundation. To induce and sustain an unselfish life, it is needful to begin with the counsels of God; to feel the one, sacred motive of the cross of Christ, to seek the guidance and aid of the Spirit of God. At the same time, unselfishness and self-denying benevolence are one great evidence of a renewed nature, and of the action of Christian principle.
V. CHRISTIAN MINISTRATION IS CONFINED TO NO CLASS, BUT DEVOLVES UPON THE WHOLE CHURCH. The apostle is not writing to the officers of the society at Rome, but to all in the city, who are "beloved of God, and called to be saints." The duties here enumerated are diffused amongst the community, amongst whom the gifts necessary for their discharge are graciously and wisely distributed. There is a mischievous tendency in human nature towards doing good by deputy. It is, indeed, right that a man should not meddle with work which is not his; but some, who profess to act upon this principle, not only neglect other people's business, but neglect their own. You may not be gifted with much power of teaching, but you may be able to show mercy. You may have little to give, but you may, if you will exercise your gift, prove able to console and sympathize. In any case, let us not fall into the error of supposing that, because we cannot do everything, therefore we can do nothing. One of the disadvantages attending a professional ministry is this—that many suppose that it is the exclusive business of the clergy to attend to the consolation of the saints and to labour for the evangelization of the world. The fact is that, wherever the gift has been bestowed and the opportunity for its exercise provided, there the responsibility lies, and there the service is required.
1. Let us ask, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
2. Let us cultivate the spirit of mutual respect and consideration as fellow-members of Christ.
3. Let us co-operate for the great ends which the Divine Head of the Church has set before us, viz. the increase and the harmony of the body of Christ.
(second homily). In enumerating the various gifts imparted by the Lord to his Church, the various services its members are called to render to one another, the apostle writes for all time. In the primitive congregations there were persons endowed with special and supernatural gifts; but these, with one exception, the apostle does not include in this instructive catalogue; he rather chooses to put upon record his own judgment as to the graces and qualifications necessary, through all ages, for the edification of the Church and the evangelization of mankind. We observe—
I. GIFTS INTELLECTUAL AND INSTRUCTIVE. The truth is the great gift and deposit entrusted by the Head of the Church. The truth is first apprehended and appropriated; and then, as a natural result, is communicated and propagated. And this has been and is done in various methods.
1. By prophecy. This is, in the strictest sense of the term, a supernatural gift; the word designates the power of uttering forth the mind and will of God, and implies a special illumination from above. There are traces, in the Book of the Acts, of the existence and ministry of such a class, who authoritatively announced the will of Heaven, and sometimes foretold events to come. We may justly regard the apostles as themselves prophetically endowed; so that we, and the whole Church, are benefited through the impartation of this gift.
2. By teaching. Christianity is a teaching religion, and commits to every generation the sacred duties of instructing the succeeding race, and assigns to the enlightened the office of evangelizing those who are in spiritual darkness and ignorance. When the Son of God became incarnate, he condescended to live the life of a Teacher; and when he committed to his apostles the final trust, he bade them go forth and teach all nations. In the early Church the office of the teacher was magnified; and it was an evil time for Christianity when the teacher became a priest. It is true that not every Christian has the qualifications of the teacher. Yet there is a vast amount of teaching power in many Christian congregations, which needs to be called out, sanctified, and employed in the holy cause of religion.
3. By exhortation, or consolation. Teaching appeals to the understanding; exhortation to the heart, the conscience, the will. We are reminded that human nature is reached in various ways. Teaching alone is apt to become dull and mechanical; exhortation, unless based upon sound, sober instruction, is vapid and unpractical. It is in the combination of the two that a spiritual ministry reaches its perfection.
II. GIFTS PRACTICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE.
1. By ministry seems to be meant all practical service. The deacons or ministers of the early Churches were no doubt entrusted with the charge of the poor, and the administration of the secular affairs of the Christian community; yet their service seems to have been varied and general, and was limited only by their own powers and the several opportunities of their lives. The apostle here specifies several forms of ministry, as samples of the rest, and as of peculiar interest and value.
2. These gifts may take the practical form of government. Rule is a Divine idea, just as is teaching; and without rule, in some form and to some extent, no society of imperfect human beings can be held together. There is order and rule in the Church, which fails to answer its Founder's ends, and fails to produce a right impression upon the world, unless decency and order and harmony are maintained. There must be rule in the State, which is an organism in which the head must needs direct and control the members. And there should be order and law in the household, which should be the Church in miniature.
3. Some possess the gift, and are entrusted with the privilege of giving, of liberality. It is obvious that there is propriety in regarding this as a proper consequence of receiving from Heaven. "Freely ye have received; freely give." Gifts may be either for the relief of the poor and needy, or for the promotion of evangelization. In any case, we are here taught that giving should be with simplicity, without ostentation, and with a single eye to the glory of God.
4. Closely allied to this gift is that of showing mercy. Whether in ministrations to the aged, the sick, and the dying, in the release or ransom of captives, in the instruction of the young, or in the recovery of the degraded and the lost, there has ever been, and there still is, abundant room in sinful human society for the showing of mercy. We are admonished that this gift—that of compassion and kindness—should be exercised with cheerfulness. There should be a sense of the dignity and privilege of being called to so Christ-like, so God-like, a vocation. Not grudgingly, not even from a constraining sense of duty, merely; but with the spirit of the Divine Physician, the Divine Liberator, should the followers of Jesus engage in these sacred and beautiful ministrations.
Romans 12:9, Romans 12:10
Church-life is very important; but human life is wider and more important still. In the first age, and when Christian communities were few and small and persecuted, the life the followers of Jesus led was very much a life in common, and very distinct from that of the world around. We cannot wonder that so many of the apostolic counsels and injunctions referred to the conduct of Church-members towards one another, and towards one another as connected with actually existing societies. Still, many admonitions were given to Christians as men and women moving more or less in general society. They were bidden to "honour all men," to "walk in wisdom towards those without." So, in this practical chapter, when Paul has instructed the Roman Christians in their mutual duties as members of a society, and has shown how each ministry is to be discharged, how each office is to be filled, and how each gift is to be employed, he proceeds to more general counsels. He describes the spirit which is to be displayed in the common intercourse of life, both amongst themselves and in their association with the unchristian world. First and foremost among his exhortations is this to brotherly love and kindness. For all precepts beside are merely the unfolding of that Divine law of charity which is designated "the bond of perfectness."
I. Consider THE DIVINE PRINCIPLE AND MOTIVE OF CHRISTIAN BENEVOLENCE AND LOVE. We are sometimes told that mutual good will is evolved in settled society, being found advantageous to all, and preferable to suspicion, distrust, and malevolence. But the fact is that this is very much a matter of individual character, and that in very primitive societies there are found Christians who are superior to the malice and hatred which prevail around them; whilst in the most civilized communities there are multitudes who prefer their own pleasure and interest to all beside. Christianity reveals to us the true principle of universal brotherhood, basing it upon the Fatherhood of God and the redemption of Christ. The apostle of love, St. John, tells us that "God is love," and makes this the Christian's motive to the love of his brother. And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says, "Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God." And here the precepts of the apostle must be taken along with what goes before in this Epistle, and it must be remembered that the entreaty is urged "by the mercies of God." All earthly duties have a heavenly origin. Religion is designed to govern our whole spirit and life. The man who believes in the infinite love, in the fatherly heart, of God, who believes that God sent his Son to save us from hatred and all other sins, has a root for his renewed dispositions and his changed habits of regarding and treating his fellow-creatures; it becomes natural to him to live a life of love.
II. LOVE INVOLVES ALL VIRTUE, AND IS THE COMPENDIUM OF THE MORAL LAW. We have the unquestioned authority of our Lord for this view of love; for Jesus approved of the summing-up of all duty, of the whole Decalogue, in both tables, in the two precepts, "Love God," and "Love thy neighbour." Where there is true love, vice and crime are banished. And every virtue and grace may be regarded in practice as the fruit of this plant. Even justice, the first of the virtues, is not above this alliance; for how can we wrong those whom we love? It is thus we must account for the exhortation, with which verse 9 closes, coming in this place. Evil is hatred, and is therefore abhorred; good is love, and is therefore so right and held fast with a firm grasp. Some, indeed, interpret this clause, "Cleave to the Good One, i.e. Christ," bringing; the motive of a personal attachment to the Saviour to bear upon the redeemed nature. Let us not neglect the Divine method, or spurn the aid which infinite wisdom and grace have preferred. Is it in any respect hard for us to obey God, and follow in the steps of Christ? Then let us call to mind the love of God revealed in his dear Son, and allow that love to prompt us to obedience, gratitude, and consecration. And let us, adopting Christ's new commandment, live in the spirit of love and kindness. This, by the help of the Holy Spirit, will render difficult duties easy, and will enable us to fulfil, in the right spirit and in the right way, the will of God concerning us, in all our relations with our fellow-creatures.
III. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD BE UNFEIGNED. As variously rendered, "without dissimulation," "without hypocrisy." There were hypocrites, not only among the Jewish Pharisees, whom Christ denounced for their pretences and insincerity, but also among the Christian communities. Thus Ananias and Sapphira professed love and generosity, but there was no reality corresponding to the profession. It is hard to understand how, in those times, there could have been any inducement to hypocrisy. However, the language of the apostle here seems to imply that there was a danger of some professing disciples of Christ avowing a love which they did not really feel. There is certainly such danger now. Public sentiment requires that charity should be professed among Christians. Yet there obtains very much which is inconsistent with such profession. There are those who call one another "dear brethren," who nevertheless slander and injure one another when opportunity occurs. It is the curse of the so-called religious world; and it would be well for a while to have in this matter a little less profession and a little more practice. The pretence of brotherly love without the reality is self-delusion, and it is most pernicious in its influence over the unbelieving world.
IV. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD BE CHARACTERIZED BY SYMPATHY AND TENDERNESS. The language used by the apostle here is very remarkable: "Be tenderly affectioned one to another." There is a quality in Christian love which is peculiar to our religion, which was but little known previously to our Saviour's coming, and which may be sought almost in vain in the heathen world today. We are not to show kindness merely from a sense of duty; but to do so in the spirit of him who brake not the bruised reed, who was often moved with compassion, who, even on the cross, was meek and gentle, considerate and foraying. Paul had much of the same spirit. A keen logical mind, a rhetorical style, a commanding will, were in him united with the tenderness of the nurse, the mother. His was the love of forbearance and patience, of sympathy and pity. Now, there are many classes whom it is especially desirable that we, as Christians, should deal with in this spirit and temper. For instance, the young, the destitute, the afflicted, the wayward. All of these need to be approached in the spirit commended in this passage; not in a hard, cold, mechanical manner, such as seems habitual with some people, who in some respects might be called good; but in a Christ-like attitude, and with Christ-like tones, such as are proper to disciples of him who is touched with a feeling of human infirmities.
V. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD DISPLAY ITSELF IN MUTUAL RESPECT AND HONOUR. Brotherly affection is opposed to self-seeking, pride, and arrogance, as pole to pole. It fosters humility as regards self, and it prompts to put honour upon others. In both these respects the Christian spirit is opposed to the spirit of the world, which impels men to push themselves forward, to urge their own claims, and, on the other hand, to depreciate their neighbours and to thrust them into obscurity. It is a precept of Christianity, "Be courteous." And true courtesy has its deep, Divine root in brotherly love, springing from the soil of fellowship with God in Christ.
1. Let any one who may be living in hatred and malice towards any fellow-creature learn to suspect the reality of his Christianity; for such dispositions are not the fruit of the Spirit.
2. Let those whose demeanour towards their neighbours is hard and unsympathetic, consider whether this is the temper of mind which their Lord exemplified in himself and approves in his followers.
3. Let all Christians cultivate that spirit of love which will fit for the immortal fellowship of heaven, the abode of harmony and charity.
The spirit of Christian service.
Religion is a personal, individual matter. Its seat is in the heart. Christianity is both an intelligible truth and a living power. It enters into and takes possession of a man's spiritual nature; and controls and governs his life, and affects his social relations. Christ dwells in the heart by faith, and rules in the heart by the energy of the Divine Spirit. It is in this light that the apostle in this verse regards the religion which he authoritatively teaches and enforces. Let us look at the matter thus, and consider what Christianity proposes to do in the character and life of every person who truly receives it.
I. We have here described THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, It is service, rendered to Christ. Several very important views of our existence and vocation are afforded by this language.
1. Life should be neither aimless nor selfish. A desultory way of spending time, with no definite purpose, no unity, is most unsuitable to the professed Christian. To seek simply the satisfaction of one's own wants, the gratification of one's own appetites and tastes, is flagrant violation of the Divine law. How can such a life be termed a service? The bondman has one occupation, doing his master's will; and one aim, securing his master's approval. So with the Christian; the life which is not service cannot he his.
2. Life should be, consciously and deliberately, a service rendered to the Lord Jesus. This is what our Divine Master expects. "Ye call me," says he, "Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am." This is what his inspired servants acknowledge to be right. "We serve the Lord Christ." This is, in fact, the proper designation of all true Christians—servants of the Lord. The will of God, revealed in Christ Jesus, is our proper law. The glory of God, in the advancement of the kingdom of righteousness, is our proper aim. The disciples of Christ are our congenial fellow-servants. The wages of our service, what are they? "The gift of God is eternal life."
3. Our service rendered to Christ should be an acknowledgment of his incomparable service rendered to us. Jesus was the Servant as well as the Son of God. He was the Servant of God for us. Such was his own declaration: "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." And the apostle says of him, "He took upon him the form of a servant." This amazing condescension, perfected in his sacrificial death, demands a grateful recognition and return from us; and is, indeed, divinely adapted to awaken within us the purpose and resolve to devote all our powers to him who withheld not his labours and his life from us. Hence we draw the motive and the power to obey and serve. To express our gratitude and love and consecration to him, no devotion can be too unqualified, no effort too strenuous, no sacrifice too great.
II. We have here described THE PRACTICAL DILIGENCE WHICH SHOULD DISTINGUISH THE CHRISTIAN'S SERVICE. "Not slothful [or, 'remiss'] in diligence." "Business" is a misleading term, as it seems to refer to the occupation by which a man gains his livelihood. It is a quality or habit which is thus designated.
1. With regard to the scope for diligence, there is no limitation; except that, as a matter of course, the employment in which we are to be diligent is to be one which conscience and the God of conscience approve. The Christian should be diligent in the discharge of the common duties of life. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Whether the sphere of your activity be in the family and household, in the Church, or in what is called secular life, the same rule applies. Let young people especially take advice in this matter, and, remembering the flight of time, and their responsibility to Heaven, be alert and active.
2. How needful is this admonition! All men have some, and there are those who have many, temptations to indolence. Natural disposition or the example of idle companions may induce some to remit their efforts. Others may become weary in well-doing, or may be discouraged because all their glowing expectations are not fulfilled; or because they are left, they fancy, to work without sympathy and alone. The work of the Lord may seem so vast, and your powers may seem so limited, that you may be tempted to say, "My exertions are worthless, and can issue in no result; I may as well fold my hands, and wait for some supernatural interposition." But the right spirit is this—Work as if all depended upon you; pray as if all depended upon God.
3. We have in Jesus Christ the motive and the example of diligence. Who can do too much, who can do enough, for him who has done and suffered all for us? His meat and drink were to do the will of him who sent him. Strenuous were his exertions in his earthly ministry; limitless his devotion. "It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master." Learn, therefore, of him.
III. We have here described THE FERVENT SPIRIT IN WHICH THE CHRISTIAN'S SERVICE SHOULD BE DISCHARGED. The same expression, here used with regard to the servants of the Lord Jesus generally, is used regarding that remarkable man named Apollos (Acts 18:25). It may be objected to this admonition that fervour is very much a matter of temperament; and that it would not be reasonable to expect that persons of a calm and equable character should display the same warmth as persons naturally excitable and emotional. In this there is some truth; yet there may be true fervour without demonstration and noise. A glow of love in the heart may animate the conduct and inspire the efforts even of the tranquil and quiet. It may further be objected that fervent people seldom wear well. We all know persons who have been full of feeling, eager to find fault with methodical and steady hard-workers, loud in their professions of zeal, and abundant in schemes for its display. And we have all known such persons as quick to cool down as to warm up. We have watched their ways, and have found them volatile and fickle; their fine schemes come to nothing; they themselves perhaps make shipwreck; or, at the best, they weary of one plan only to be hot for a season in promoting another. And perhaps experience has led us to undervalue ardour, to place no reliance upon the professions of the fervent, and to regard with no confidence the glowing projects of the sanguine. But let us bear in mind that it is not the fervour that is at fault, but the uncertainty of the flame, and the haste with which it burns out and dies down. The metaphor of the text may give us a hint as to the real truth of the matter. The word used applies to water which is heated to the boiling point. Now, if water be placed in an open vessel, and if heat be applied to it, it soon evaporates in the air—in homely language, it boils away; and the heat applied, the fuel consumed, have served no useful purpose. But let the water be poured into the boiler of a steam-engine, and then let the furnace be heated. What now will be the result? The fervour becomes power, the expansion of the steam occasions motion; the machinery begins to act, and some useful result is secured. So in the spiritual realm. Let us have warmth of devotion, love to Christ the Saviour, zeal in the service of God. But let them be under the control of Christian wisdom. Let them be applied to purposes of practical piety and benevolence. Let them, instead of evaporating in words, whether of insincere profession or of insincere devotion, be used according to the counsels of inspiration, the dictates of sober experience, and the holy promptings of the Spirit of God. What counsel shall be given to those professed followers of the Saviour who are deficient in spiritual fervour? In every Christian society there are, it is to be feared, some who, in the judgment even of charity, must be accounted lukewarm. How displeasing to the great Head of the Church are such characters need scarcely be said; his word to them is, "I would thou weft cold or hot!" When you are careless as to your spiritual state, indifferent to God's Word and to the exercises of prayer and praise, negligent and irregular in attendance upon the public means of grace, slow to reform yourself and quick to censure your neighbours, illiberal in your gifts and slothful in your services to Christ and his cause, it cannot but be presumed that you are wanting in fervour of spirit. There is but one remedy. You must draw near to that Saviour from whom you have wandered. You must repent, renew your first love, and do your first works. Seeking forgiveness for culpable lukewarmness, you must revive the flame of piety by kindling it anew at the sacred altar of Divine love. Contemplate the grace and compassion of the Redeemer as evinced in the anguish of Gethsemane and the woe of Calvary. Call to mind the fervour he displayed when, in the anticipation of his sacrifice, he exclaimed, "Father, glorify thy Name! .. Thy will be done!" Thus shall your languid zeal be revived, thus shall your flagging devotion be reanimated. And your service shall no longer be cold and mechanical, but it shall be rendered gratefully and joyfully; it shall be the tribute of a loyal subject, and the offering of a loving child.
1. Let all hearers of the gospel clearly understand what are the claims of Christ upon them. A profession of faith in itself is of little value. What the Lord Jesus asks is the devotion of the heart, and the service of all the powers.
2. Let members of Christian Churches ask themselves how far the tone of their piety and the conduct of their life agree with the language of the text. And let them be on their guard against the insidious approach of lukewarmness.
3. Let communicants approach the Lord's table with the desire of so meeting with Christ that the fervour of their love may be renewed, and that they may be led to consecrate all their energies anew unto the hallowed service of their Saviour and their Lord.
Patience, hope, and prayer.
In the preceding verse the active, energetic side of religion is presented with vivacity and completeness. And this is perhaps the most important of all the trustful results of true Christianity. It was an end worthy of the Divine interposition to introduce amongst men the purpose and the power to serve the Lord with fervour and with diligence. Yet this is not all which our religion does for us. Our life is not altogether in our own hands; we cannot control and govern all that concerns us. We have all to learn the lesson that Divine providence has appointed for us; not only to work, but to submit; that we have not only to serve, but to suffer. True religion must give us, not only a law and impulse for fulfilling life's duties, but also a power by which we shall endure life's calamities and weakness. However our natural character may make active exertion congenial, however our lot may be, on the whole, one of cheerful and devoted service; there comes a time to all—a time, it may be, of sickness, or of infirmity, of calamity, or of old age—when another aspect of religion must be realized; when we must turn to Christ for grace, that we may be found "in hope joyful, in trial patient, in prayer unwearied."
I. To CHRISTIANS TRIBULATION IS DIVINE DISCIPLINE. The text implies, not only that the human lot is characterized by affliction, but that affliction is the occasion of the calling forth of Christian virtues. There would scarcely be such an emotion as hope unless the present were a condition from which (in some respects) it is desirable to be released, or, at all events, a condition susceptible of great improvement. Unless we had something to bear, there would be no scope for the virtue of patience. If all things were as we could wish them, if we had nothing to contend with, if nothing occurred to make us feel our own helplessness—in such case prayer would scarcely be felt to be urgently, or at all events constantly, necessary. Life is a very different thing to those who are enlightened by revelation, as this verse conclusively shows us. How truly Christian are these precepts, and bow truly Christians those who fulfil them, appears, if we think of the heathen, and realize how they failed alike in patience, in hope, and in prayer. Philosophers inculcated patience in adversity, but they imparted no principle or power which enabled people generally to cherish this disposition. The hope which the unenlightened pagans cherished respected this life alone, and even the wisest and best knew nothing of a hope of immortality so vivid and powerful as to awaken joy. Their prayers were either purely matter of custom and form, or, being addressed to deities morally imperfect and capricious, were faithless, fitful, and uninfluential even upon their own nature. It is the glory of Christianity to have changed all this. Among the lowliest of the Saviour's followers we find fortitude in the endurance of affliction, arising from the conviction that it is the chastening of a Divine Father. Hope-especially as reaching beyond this brief existence, and as a mighty sustaining power—is a virtue distinctively Christian. Whilst prayer, instead of being an occasional, doubting, and unprofitable exercise, is the atmosphere the Christian breathes, the power which sustains him in all trouble, and which inspires within him a hope founded upon the faithfulness and the promises of his redeeming God.
II. AS RESPECTS THE PRESENT, THE CHRISTIAN IS SUPPORTED BY PATIENCE. Patience suffers without murmuring the ills which Providence permits. Patience waits for the relief which, in due time, Providence will send. Suffering and waiting complete this unusual virtue. It is not easy for any one to be patient; it is easier to work with diligence and strenuousness than to endure trial without complaint—than to wait until a power not our own shall bring the trial to a close. Christian patience is not a stoical acquiescence in the inevitable, upon the principle "What can't be cured must be endured."
1. It is the result of a belief in a wise and merciful Providence. We do not bow to fate; we submit to a Father in heaven. Often we cannot understand why he should permit all that befalls us. But faith assures us that the counsels of God towards us are counsels of love. We cannot shut out from the universe the unseen hand that guides and governs all for our highest and eternal good. We believed in our own earthly father's heart, though sense could never have told us of it; and similarly our souls are patient, because we are assured that a heavenly Parent cares for us, and strengthens and heals as well as smites.
2. It is the fruit of fellowship with Jesus. There was no quality for which our Saviour was more to be admired than for his patience. He was patient with the misunderstandings of his own disciples; he was patient with his enemies and murderers; he was patient under insult and agony. In all this he left us an example; and an apostle prays that God may direct our hearts into the patience of Christ. Many, through faith in the meek and patient Saviour, have been enabled by Divine grace to overcome a naturally impatient and imperious, hasty and violent temper.
3. It is a virtue in which we are instructed and practically disciplined by the Spirit of God. "Tribulation worketh patience." The lesson is not learned all at once. Let not those dispositions to which it is not naturally easy be discouraged. "Let patience have its perfect work." Patience is tried, not that it may give way, but that it may be established. It is the handiwork of the living Spirit; and the day shall come when the Maker shall pronounce this and all his works to be very good.
III. AS RESPECTS THE FUTURE, THE CHRISTIAN IS INSPIRED BY HOPE. NOW, hope is an easier and more natural exercise of the human spirit than is patience. A person may rebel and fret under present discipline, and yet may hope for better times.
"the darkest day,
Live till to-morrow, will have passed away."
The Christian's hope is, however, far superior to any other. Whilst he has higher pleasures and stronger supports now, he has brighter prospects for the great hereafter. There are several elements of superiority in this hope.
1. It is well-founded, resting as it does upon the faithful promises of God. God is designated "the God of hope." Hence the Christian's hope is not vague, but definite; it is not hesitating, but sure.
2. It is hope of grace for all the needs that are to come. This means hope of deliverance from all dangers, support under all difficulties, consolation under all troubles, guidance in all perplexities.
3. It is hope which reaches beyond this present life; such hope as none has been able to inspire but he who "abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel." Hope of rest, of victory, of a kingdom; a hope as "an anchor unto the soul, sure and steadfast, which entereth into that within the veil."
4. It is hope which brings joy. Making the future real, bringing the future near, hope chases away the gloom and darkness, and creates a spiritual joy, pure, serene, and unspeakable. Thus, in the night, songs of joy and gladness ascend to heaven. "Patience worketh experience, and experience hope."
IV. BY PRAYER, PATIENCE IS PERFECTED AND HOPE INSPIRED. It is evident that the admonition to prayer is introduced here with a special purpose in view. It is intended to point out to us that the demeanour here commended can only be maintained through cultivating a prayerful spirit. It is not easy, whilst pursuing this pilgrimage, to be patient amidst its difficulties, to be joyful when the present is dark, and the ray of hope alone illuminates the night. Still, though not easy, it is possible. That is to say, it becomes possible by prayer. Grace can be obtained, if sought in God's appointed way; but it must be sought, not occasionally or fitfully, but steadfastly, perseveringly, constantly, habitually. This is reasonable enough. There is nothing in our condition that should put a close to our prayers, and nothing in our hearts. We do not become independent of the aid which such fellowship with Heaven alone can bring. There is every inducement, in the declarations and promises of God's Word, to "pray without ceasing," "always to pray and not to faint." God's fatherly heart does not cease to pity; Christ does not cease to intercede for his people. As long as our Lord is on the throne of power, and we are in poverty and need and helplessness, we may well continue our prayers. Private, domestic, and public; silent and uttered; stated and ejaculatory;—the prayers of God's people are acceptable, and are heard.
1. The tribulations of life are common to all mankind. Why should any hearer of the gospel endure those tribulations without the grace that can sustain and comfort, the hopes that can animate and inspire?
2. If Christians are weighed down and distressed by the trials of life, is it not because they fail to give heed to the admonitions of God's Word, because they neglect to use the means of grace and help which are placed within their reach? Tribulation will come. We can be sustained under it only by patience and by hope; and these virtues are the fruits of prayer.
Romans 12:13, Romans 12:14
Treatment of friends and foes.
Christianity is a practical religion. The New Testament is not simply a repertory of general principles; it draws out those Divine principles into the detailed duties and difficulties of daily life. For example, whilst love is the new commandment of Jesus to his disciples, and whilst love is described as the sum of the Divine Law, as the greatest of the virtues, as the bond of perfectness, we are shown how to manifest love in the occupations and relationships of daily existence. In this passage we learn how the Spirit of Christ will govern our conduct both to friends and to foes.
I. CHRISTIAN TREATMENT OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDS. In the first age of the gospel there were formed, in the cities of the empire, societies professing to trust Christ as the Divine Saviour, and to obey Christ as the Divine Lord. In many respects the proceedings and habits of the members of these societies differed from those of the people around, and this with a profound and wide difference. This is exemplified in these admonitions.
1. Charity should be exhibited to those in need. In every community there were the very poor, the aged, the infirm and disabled, the oppressed and persecuted, the widows and orphans. "The poor ye have always with you." Among the heathen it was too common to treat these classes with contempt and neglect. Christianity introduced a better mode of dealing with the necessitous. Teaching the brotherhood of men in Christ, it encouraged the sentiment of community, and led each practically to share with his neighbour the good of this world.
2. Hospitality is another form of the same virtue. By this is not meant sumptuous banquets, often given for ostentation and for purposes of policy. But in early times Christians would often come as strangers to a town, it might be in pursuit of work, it might be to escape from persecution, it might be as the bearers of messages of greeting and sympathy. Accordingly, we find some Christians commended for receiving such into their houses and entertaining them, and we find admonitions to others to adopt such a practice—the encouragement being added, "Forget not to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
3. The motive and model of such conduct are to be found in the Lord Jesus himself. His very coming to this world was occasioned by his compassion upon our necessities: how much more his sacrifice and redemption! Look at his example; and you find him and his disciples keeping a bag, and from their slender store relieving the poor; you find him providing bread for hungering multitudes; you find him healing the sick and helpless; you find him inviting young men to visit and to converse with him. After his ascension, Christ's followers, under the influence of the Spirit poured out from on high, imitated their Lord's example. Officers were appointed in the societies for the ministration of alms; gifts were voluntarily made for the support of the poor; collections were made for indigent fellow-Christians; men were raised up whose ministry as hosts was deemed worthy of apostolic approval. All this was the working of Christ in the community; and in proportion as Christ lives in your hearts will you follow these examples.
4. Wisdom and discretion are needed in the fulfilment of these honorable duties. Circumstances differ as the state of society changes. Impostors abound. Indolence must not be countenanced. Each Christian must be guided in the exercise of charity and hospitality by his means and by his opportunities.
II. CHRISTIAN TREATMENT OF FOES. Those who curse, revile, calumniate, injure them, Christians are bound, as followers of Christ, to bless, to pray for, and to benefit.
1. Christ himself has commanded such conduct. There can be no doubt that the sermon on the mount was well known to Paul, and that he was quoting from it here.
2. Christ himself has exemplified it. In his life he never injured those who hated him, but rendered, contrariwise, blessing. When he came to die, he furnished the most amazing and Divine instance the world has ever known of returning good for evil. He prayed for and forgave his murderers; further than this he could not have gone. And. "he has left us an example that we should follow in his steps."
Joy and sorrow are great facts of human life. If there is such an element as purpose in the universe, it is clear that men were made to experience gladness and grief, and that both experiences are intended to act as discipline by which human character may be tested and trained. Both emotions are experienced in childhood, and manifest themselves most strikingly in early life, when what the mature think trivial causes are wont to awaken feeling. In manhood, feeling is less easily enkindled, and it less easily dies away. To the selfish, causes of rejoicing must diminish, both in frequency and in force, with advancing years; whilst, probably to most, occasions of sorrow are multiplied, for bereavements, the causes of bitterest sorrow, naturally befall the most frequently those who have trodden the path of life the longest. The religion of the Lord Jesus does not seek either to subdue or to blame these natural emotions; it aims at controlling them, at enlarging their scope, at purifying them, at making them all minister to our spiritual good. To quote from the Old Testament, "There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh." To quote from the New Testament, "Is any among you suffering? let him pray. Is any cheerful? let him sing praise." And, to bring out the special lesson of the text, Christianity teaches us that both joy and sorrow are to be shared, and yet extended; to be heightened, sanctified, and blessed, by true Christian sympathy.
I. THE NATURE OF SYMPATHY. This habit of mind is simply sharing the feelings of others, entering into the experiences of their hearts, making them our own. We do this by virtue of a natural principle. Sinful selfishness often overcomes this principle, checks it, and prevents it from, displaying itself. Yet sympathy may sometimes be observed where there is no reverence or faith toward our Saviour; and, alas! is sometimes absent where there is a loud profession of such faith. When we participate in a brother's feelings, a Divine law appoints that such participation shall be for his good; we relieve him of some of the burden of his grief and anxiety, or we heighten his happiness. This quality of sympathy is, perhaps, more natural to some minds than to others; yet it may be either cultivated or repressed. It may be manifested in various ways—by the expression of the countenance, by the language of congratulation or condolence, by the tones of the voice, by the offer of companionship, by the extension of such assistance as the case may render possible. If there be two stringed instruments in a room, and a note of one be struck, it is said that the corresponding string of the neighbouring instrument responds to the sister tone. When the horn is wound among the rocks of the winding river, the cliffs give back the music in repeated and orderly response.
"Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever;
Blow, bugles, blow! set the wild echo flying;
And answer, echo! answer, dying, dying, dying!"
"As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man."
II. THE FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIAN SYMPATHY. Our religion lays the deep basis of all virtues in the character of God and in the redemption of Christ. The New Testament always, in admonitions as to conduct, either states or assumes this principle. Whatever is right is commended to us as the will of God. Christ died to redeem us from iniquity, and to sanctify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works; and the Holy Spirit is the power of life whose fruit is holiness.
1. In Christ's mediation we have an instance—the highest and most wonderful of all instances—of true sympathy. Why did our Lord visit this world? Why did he take the form of a servant, and become obedient unto death? It was because he was impelled by Divine compassion, which is one part of sympathy. He wept with those who weep because of sin and misery and helplessness. He "bore our sins and carried our sorrows:" was not that practical sympathy? He "tasted death for every man," and "gave himself for us:" what more could he have done? Yet the other side of sympathy was present in his nature. He rejoiced in the joy of our deliverance, in the prospect of our participation in the blessings of life eternal. For the joy that was set before him which was joy over us—he endured the cross!
2. In Christ's ministry we have beautiful examples of sympathy. He pitied the widow of Nain; he wept at the grave of Lazarus; he shed tears over the doomed Jerusalem; he commiserated the distressed daughters of the city: On the other hand, he rejoiced with those who rejoiced; he came eating and drinking; he was present at a marriage-feast, and contributed to its festivity. And when any poor wandering sinner was by his compassion recovered to the fold, the language of his heart was this: "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."
3. The religion of Christ provides for mutual sympathy among those who in common acknowledge him. In restoring peace between man and God, Jesus has virtually restored peace between man and man. As the Head, he brings all the members into a unity—living, organic, mutually helpful, and mutually sympathetic. Hence one great peculiarity of his Church, "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it."
III. THE RANGE OF CHRISTIAN SYMPATHY. We may sympathize with another's anxieties, fears, faith, fortitude, or hopes. But the apostle here refers to the two widest and commonest forms of emotion—joy and sorrow.
1. We are admonished to participate in one another's rejoicing. Thank God, there are very many occasions on which this is possible; the cup of gladness is handed round, and few are those who have not tasted. When our neighbour experiences some piece of good fortune, when after sickness he is restored to health, when he is spared in the midst of danger, when he is happy in his family life, prosperous in his business, honoured among his associates, let us rejoice with him. The mind that cannot so rejoice must indeed be grudging and envious. Of all vices, envy and jealousy are the pettiest and vulgarest, the remotest from a liberal, generous, Christian nature. No excuse or extenuation can be imagined for these faults, as for some others. And how shall we rejoice over the spiritual happiness of our fellow-men! When an undecided friend has yielded heart and life to the Saviour, when a disobedient one has been brought to contrition and repentance, when a brother has been enabled to exercise some Christian virtue by which good has been done to others, on such occasions it is meet and right, divinely natural and beautiful, to rejoice in our brother's joy. Paul would say, "I joy and rejoice with you all," and John had "no greater joy than to see his children walk in the truth."
2. We are admonished to participate in one another's grief—to "weep with those who weep." This is said to be easier than the former exercise of sympathy; for the other seems to imply our inferiority; this, our superiority. We are said to sympathize more easily with the greater sorrows, and with the lesser joys, of our neighbours. If envy refuses to rejoice with the happy, inhumanity refuses to sorrow with the afflicted. What a depth of malice does that heart reveal which can rejoice in the misfortunes and griefs of others! Yet, though this extreme of malignity is uncommon, it is not an uncommon thing even for Christians to be unmoved by others' woes. Naturally, sympathy will be more intense towards those in closest association with ourselves; those of widest sympathies can with difficulty weep for the woes of the distant and unknown. With our own family and congregation, with our own circle of friends, sympathy will, in time of trial, be ready, tender, and warm. With the widow and the fatherless, the aged and the infirm, the unfortunate and the deserted, the oppressed and the persecuted, with the sons and daughters of affliction, let us sympathize with Christian forwardness and sincerity. And let it not be forgotten that sympathy will, in many cases, evince itself in practical forms. There are some, who are in elevated positions, towards whom we can show, when they are in grief, no other sympathy than such as expresses itself in demeanour and in words. But there are others, in poverty and in need, with whom it would be a mockery to express sympathy and yet to withhold from them relief and help.
IV. THE BLESSINGS OF CHRISTIAN SYMPATHY. Not only is such a disposition, as is commended here, in harmony with the Divine will, and in itself beautiful and admirable, but it is contributive to the welfare and happiness of all concerned.
1. Sympathy is the occasion of happiness to those who exercise it. Those who are sympathetic need not be told this; those who are not, and are incredulous, may make the trial. To lose sight, as far as may be, of personal pleasure and trouble; to interest ourselves in the emotions of our neighbours;—this is the sure way to happiness.
2. Sympathy is the occasion of relief and of profit to those to whom it is extended. The burdened spirit parts with half its load when a kindly friend extends a ready and tender sympathy. The tear is dried, the heart is cheered, when the sufferer feels that he is not left to suffer all alone. And joy, when the rejoicing spreads, is purified from selfishness, and is heightened tenfold. A torch burns brightly; but let ten torches be applied to it, and you have eleven flames instead of one. Thus gladness spreads from heart to heart. And in the Church of Christ, what is more beautiful than to behold the gleam of gladness on a hundred faces, to hear the song of gladness from a hundred harmonious lips! One soul afire with love to Jesus calls upon other souls to share the devotion and the praise; sympathy spreads, and general joy prevails.
3. Thus the Church of Christ is edified. The purposes of Divine grace in appointing Christian fellowship are fulfilled when each bears his brother's burdens and joins his brother's song. There is no surer sign of the Saviour's spiritual presence, of his gracious work, than the prevalence of such sympathy.
4. What a testimony is thus offered to the world! Men complain of the world that it is heartless; that every one is engrossed in his own pursuits, his own interests, his own pleasures, his own troubles. It should be otherwise in the Church. And when it is otherwise, a proof is given of a Divine presence, a superhuman power. An energy of attraction is recognized; and men are drawn to the society of those who feel the winning and consolatory power of the emphatically Christian spirit of love and mutual sympathy.
Romans 12:17, Romans 12:18
Honourableness and peaceableness.
Men do and must live in society. And all civilized communities have their own codes of conduct, which must be observed by those who wish to enjoy the benefits of social life and the protection of political government. Civil society enjoins the observance of justice and the maintenance of peace. But public opinion often requires simply a compliance with the letter of the law, and is very tolerant as to infractions of its spirit. The code of society or the laws of honour require that a man shall deal honourably with his equals, but in some instances allow him to act, within the limits of the law, dishonestly towards his inferiors; thus he must pay his gambling debts, but he may cheat his tradesmen if he can. The same rules prohibit murder, but in some places admit of duelling, and generally sanction resentment and revenge. Christianity requires that honourable and peaceable conduct should be distinctive of our life in our relations to all men.
I. HONOURABLENESS. The word means more than honesty. It was not a very lofty morality which dictated the saying, "An honest man's the noblest work of God." Bare honesty is a small part of religion; it may keep a man out of jail, but it cannot fit a man for the Church of Christ. The apostle enjoins honourable, fair, praiseworthy, noble conduct. Deceitful, shifty, tortuous ways of acting should be far from the Christian's soul. Sincerity, straightforwardness, truthfulness, fairness, should dwell in his soul and speak from his lips. In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation he should shine. That the Christian should provide or take thought for such a coarse of action is in harmony with our reasonable and reflective nature. Deliberate preference, diligent pursuit, steadfast adherence to things honourable, are thus enjoined. Impulse is good when directed to what is right; but principle is better, for it is more trustworthy. When the apostle commends such conduct towards all men, he provides for the social influence of Christians being felt by all around. Not merely within the pale of Christian society, not merely amongst personal friends and associates, but in the sight of all men, uprightness and honour should express the power of religion. The advantages accruing to the world in consequence of such a practice as is here commended are manifest. The credit of religion will be promoted, and the favour of men conciliated towards doctrines so fruitful of good works. Christianity and morality will appear as twin sisters, bringing congenial blessings to an ignorant and misguided world.
II. PEACEABLENESS. The New Testament makes it evident that the introduction of peace to a distracted and discordant humanity was one of the great ends of Christianity. Christ is the "Prince of peace;" his coming was the advent of peace; his kingdom is the reign of peace. From enjoyment of peace with God, and of peace of conscience within, the Christian passes to a wider sphere; cultivates peace as a mark of the Divine presence within the Church, and seeks its diffusion throughout human society generally. Amongst Christians there should prevail mutual forbearance, sympathy, and co-operation. But in saying this we do not exhaust the reference of this passage. "All men" are contemplated by the inspired writer. Men of all stations—superiors, equals, and inferiors; men of all characters—the litigious and quarrelsome as well as the meek and yielding—are all to be treated in the distinctively Christian temper. Sometimes opinions and interests conflict, sometimes natural temperaments differ; still the peace is to be maintained. Yet the apostle, who was both a reasonable man, and a man who had large experience of life, mentions a condition. It may not always be possible to live peaceably. But the impossibility must not be upon our part; we must not make such excuses as, "I could not keep my temper;" "I could not treat such and such a person with my usual self-possession." But there will sometimes arise an impossibility on the part of others. The enemies of religion may resolve upon breaking the peace; persecutors may rage and imagine a vain thing; as we see from passages in the life of our Lord and his apostles, and in abundance at later periods of history. Violent and unreasonable professors of Christianity may resent the exposure of their errors, or the rebuke of their sins and follies. There is a higher duty even than that of peaceableness; peace must not be sought at any price; we must not, for its sake, sacrifice conscience and displease God.
Happy is the society in which this picture is realized! Let not our spirit and habits prevent or delay the delightful realization.
The way to victory.
Although the world is full of strife, and although the Scriptures constantly represent the good man as engaged in conflict, still we cannot regard warfare, either physical or moral, as the true occupation and the final satisfaction of man. The state of humanity is, however, such that only through the battling of opposed principles can true peace be gained and the ideal condition be reached. We are accordingly accustomed to think of resistance as the necessary incident and of victory as the hard-won end of the moral life. And, for us, the good man is the man who spends his strength, and passes his time, in antagonism to error and to evil.
I. THERE IS A GREAT CONFLICT AND WARFARE UPON EARTH CARRIED ON BETWEEN EVIL AND GOOD. Truth contends with error, reason with superstition, conscience with passion, virtue with vice, law with crime, order with turbulence, religion with infidelity. There are wars and fightings in which it may be said that light contends with darkness. But for the most part the campaign is not so simple, so intelligible; the combatants are not on the one side all good, nor on the other all evil; opposing principles are distributed irregularly through the armies.
II. NONE CAN BE NEUTRAL IN THIS STRUGGLE, Whether or not we consciously and deliberately engage in the moral war, it is ever raging. Not only so; we are constrained to take a side. He who professedly withdraws from the moral conflict does in reality side with the enemy of God. For to deem the war one of no interest, ere which has no moral claim upon us, is to fail to respond to the trumpet-call of duty, and to decline the noblest of all careers—that of the soldier of the cross. "He that is not with me," says our Lord, "is against me."
III. THE FORCES OF EVIL ARE POWERFUL AND OFTEN VICTORIOUS. Christians do ill to despise the power of their spiritual foe; for such an estimate may lead them to over-confidence, and to the neglect of necessary means of defence. They may then be taken unawares, and being surprised may succumb to their foe; or in any case the foe may in all likelihood gain an advantage over them. An example is given by St. Paul in this passage. There is a natural tendency to revenge. A Christian who has been wronged is urged by the surging of resentful passion within to turn upon his injurer, to retaliate, to inflict evil for evil. But, if he do so, in such case he will in fact be overcome by evil. Many are the cases in which the unspiritual principle or impulse gains the mystery in the heart and in the actions of the individual. Who is there who cannot from his own experience bear witness to this? And what state of society, what age of the world, can be pointed out which has been exempt from such spectacles as the temporary defeat of truth, justice, and goodness? Apart from Christianity, it does not seem that things have a natural tendency to improve. He who studies the history of any unchristian community will observe forms of sin continually varying, sometimes more and sometimes less repulsive, but he will not find truth and righteousness progressively powerful and finally triumphant. Now and again the snow-white standard sinks in the tumult of the strife.
IV. CHRIST, AS THE CAPTAIN OF THE RIGHTEOUS HOST, TOOK PART IN THE CONFLICT, AND CONQUERED EVIL WITH GOOD. It is true that the Lord Jesus was the Prince of peace, yet his whole life was one long struggle with sin and error. He knew well that there was but one way to a peace which should be acceptable to God and serviceable to man; and that that way was the way of spiritual conflict. It was in this sense that he came to send, not peace, but a sword, upon earth. Now, the supreme illustration of the method enjoined in the text, where we are bidden to overcome evil with good, is that furnished in the ministry of our Lord and Leader. He has proved himself the Conqueror, and if the world's sin is finally to be vanquished, it will be through Christ. And what were the tactics of the Divine Commander? He did not turn against his foes the weapons with which they attacked him. He did not render injury for injury, slander for slander, hatred for hatred. He relied upon the power of the highest and purest morality. Such strategy, if the word may be used in a good and not an evil sense, was not likely to be immediately successful; but under the government of God it cannot ultimately fail. By the compassion of his heart, by the ungrudging sympathy he ever showed to sufferers, by the patience with which he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, by his forgiving spirit, by his voluntary sacrifice,—by these means Christ procured his victory. Our Saviour's ministry was a conflict with the powers of darkness and of iniquity. In this conflict he was never really worsted. And that he was at last victorious was made manifest when he arose from the dead and ascended to the Father.
V. CHRISTIANS ARE SUMMONED TO FOLLOW THEIR MASTER IN THIS HOLY WAR. Have not their own hearts been the battle-field upon which the Saviour has fought and conquered? Has not their evil been overcome by his good? Such being the case, if they now yield to the adversary and espouse his cause, how inconsistent and indefensible will be such a course! And it must needs be that their own nature and character must be the field upon which the struggle is to be maintained even to the end. Nor is this all. We have as Christians a battle to wage with the ungodly world around. In every condition of life, in every relation, in every calling and service, there occur opportunities for us to withstand the forces of evil. And this we are called upon to do in the Saviour's Name, and by the might of the Saviour's cross. It is by honour and integrity, by purity and truth, by courage and patience, by meekness and love, that this holy war is to be waged. "Fight the good fight of faith."
VI. VICTORY MAY BE DEFERRED, BUT IT IS ASSURED AND CERTAIN TO THE ARMY OF THE LORD. It is not denied that the conflict will certainly be arduous, will probably be long. Why, we cannot tell; yet we can see that the protracted moral strife is a means of testing the faith and zeal of those combatants who have vowed to follow the banner of the Son of God. But the attributes and the promises of God himself, the glorious work of Christ, the precious and faithful declarations of Scripture, all assure us that the issue of the strife is in no way doubtful. Victory is pledged to the followers of the Lamb. We may unfalteringly rely upon the express assurance of the great Captain of our salvation: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with me upon my throne."
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
The living sacrifice.
In the oldest records that can be found of the various nations of the earth, sacrifice is always found to have formed part of their religious services. Thus we find an idea universally existing that something was needed to obtain pardon for guilt, and to express gratitude to the supreme being or beings whom they regarded as the givers and benefactors of their life. But it is only when we come to the religion of Israel that we find the idea of sacrifice having any influence upon the life. The other nations offered sacrifices, but there was no turning away from evil. Nay, in the case of many heathen countries, their acts of religious worship became, and have become, associated with immoral and degrading practices. The religion of Israel, however, taught the necessity of personal holiness. True, their religion was largely composed of rites and ceremonies, but it was a religion of practical morality also. Very plainly the Jewish psalmist recognizes that it is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart that is most acceptable to God, and that without this it is vain to offer the blood of bulls and goats. But the high precepts of their religion were sadly neglected by the Jews in later years. In the time of Jesus Christ on earth, the religion of most of them was a religion of ritual and routine. He told the Pharisees that though they outwardly appeared righteous unto men, within they were full of hypocrisy and iniquity. But Jesus came to teach men true religion. The worship that he demands is a worship in spirit and in truth. The sacrifice that he requires is a sacrifice of our life. He wants the activities and energies of body, soul, and spirit to be consecrated to his service. This is what the apostle means when he speaks of presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.
I. IT IS TO BE A SACRIFICE OF OUR FEELINGS. The whole heart must be given up to God, so that whatever is right may be strengthened, and that whatever is wrong may be taken away. Many Christians render to Christ an imperfect sacrifice in this respect They keep back part of their life from him. They allow themselves to be dominated by feelings which are inconsistent with his spirit and precepts. They will excuse themselves for some besetting sin by saying, "That is my nature; I can't help it." The evil nature is still with us, it is true; but it is our duty to strive against it, to overcome it. Moses appears to have been at first a man of hasty and violent temper. Yet the Divine discipline, and no doubt also his own obedience to the Divine will, produced such a change in his character that it is afterwards recorded of him, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were upon the face of the earth." It is a natural thing to be angry when things are said or done to provoke us; but is it Christian? So with the other feelings of envy, of pride, of revenge, of hatred—instead of yielding to them or excusing them, the true Christian will be ashamed of them and sorry for them, and will do his best to overcome their influence in his heart.
II. IT IS TO BE A SACRIFICE OF OUR AFFECTIONS. The love of God should ever be the chief affection of our heart. Not that we are to love our friends less, but we are to love God more. Hence, when our natural affections become hindrances in the Christian life, they must be restrained and subdued. The strongest temptations to the Christian are not always those that come from the baser part of his nature, but sometimes those that come from the purer and better emotions of the soul. The love of a friend—it might seem strange that there should be anything wrong in that. Yet even this affection, right and natural in itself, becomes wrong when it interferes with love to God. The love of home—how can there be anything wrong in that? Yet there is wrong in it when it interferes with the call of duty. "He that loveth father or mother more than me," says Christ, "is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." When the din of war begins to resound throughout a land, the man who has dedicated himself to the military service of his country does not hesitate to obey the trumpet-call. His farm or his business may require his presence, and may suffer seriously by his absence. It is a sore trial to tear himself away from his wife, from his family, and from his friends, whose faces he may never see again in this world. But however pressing the claims of his daily work may be, however strong his domestic ties, all these considerations must now give way to the demand of patriotism and of duty. And shall not the Christian soldier sacrifice all earthly affections rather than be unfaithful to Christ? Shall he not hear the voice of Jesus above all earthly voices? Of such complete self-denial Christ himself has given us the best example. "He pleased not himself." Not merely in his death, but in his life, he gave himself a living sacrifice. When we think of how much we owe to Christ, any sacrifice that we can make will seem but a poor and feeble effort to show our gratitude and our love. Yet we are encouraged to present even our poor sacrifice by the assurance that it will be "acceptable unto God."—C.H.I.
The two likenesses.
The exhortation contained in this verse regards the human mind as impressionable, pliable, susceptible. It is especially addressed to Christians. There are two forms which seek to impress themselves upon the Christian, and the image of which every Christian bears in greater or less degree. The one is likeness to the world; the other is likeness to God.
I. LIKENESS TO THE WORLD. Against this the apostle warns the Christian: "Be not conformed to this world."
1. The exhortation is much needed. The ambition of many Christians is to be as like the world as possible. They talk of the extreme of Puritanism, and speak of being too strict. The danger now is from the extremity of worldliness. If I am to choose, let me have the extreme of being too scrupulous rather than too careless, ultra-conscientious rather than having a conscience that sees no harm in anything. Let me be like Abraham, who would not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet from the King of Sodom, rather than like worldly minded Lot, who pitched his tent toward Sodom, and by-and-by came and dwelt in Sodom, though he vexed his righteous soul from day to day with the filthy conversation and unlawful deeds of the people among whom he had chosen to dwell. Let me be like Elisha rather than Gehazi, like Daniel rather than Belshazzar.
2. Conformity to the world is injurious to the Church. When the Jewish people came in contact with the heathen nations, they began to imitate them, to conform to their customs. The result was disastrous to the spiritual life, and ultimately to the temporal prosperity of Israel. So it was with the Churches of Asia, Their worldliness proved their ruin. Sardis had a name to live, but it was dead. Laodicea was lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot. We may try as Christians to please the world by conforming to it, but in proportion as we do so we are unfaithful to our Master, and we are displeasing him. "The friendship of this world is enmity against God."
3. The conformity of Christians to the world is injurious to the world. Some Christians imagine that they will have more influence on the world by becoming more like it. It is a great mistake. If we want to teach children to write, we don't set them imperfect copies. The world was never made better by low ideals. The deities of paganism did not elevate humanity. It is not the half-and-half Christian, the worldly minded Christian, whose influence will tell for good upon those around him. If we are to make the world better, it can only be by keeping before us as Christians a high ideal of what the Christian life ought to be, and by striving faithfully, and with the help of Divine grace, to live up to it. Christians are living epistles, known and read of all men. What kind of copy are we setting to the world?
4. We are not to imitate the world in its estimate of religion. The world's idea of religion is that it is a thing of gloom, an irksome restraint, a weary bondage, something that it would be desirable to have when death is approaching, but which it would be well to live without as long as possible. Too often Christians give encouragement to this idea, Their religion has too little relation to their daily life, or a relation of routine form rather than of living and pleasant association.
5. We are not to imitate the world in its estimate of the soul. In the popular estimation, and in everyday life, the soul is thrust into the background. The chief concern is how to provide comfort and luxury for the body. No expense is grudged for these objects. Bodily health is scrupulously guarded, and rightly so. Education is carefully attended to. How anxious parents are, and rightly so, to secure a good education for their children! But how little trouble is taken to instruct them or have them instructed in eternal things! How little care, generally, is devoted to the concerns of the immortal soul! In this respect professing Christians are too liable to be conformed to the world. They become too much absorbed in the world's business to think as much as they ought of their own spiritual life and of the souls of others. Christian parents are often very careless in regard to the spiritual instruction of their children. Let us not bear the world's likeness. "Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate;" "Be not conformed to this world."
II. LIKENESS TO GOD. "But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."
1. This is the way to drive out likeness to the world. Likeness to God will exclude likeness to the world. The more desire we have for God, the less we shall have for the world; the more we think of the soul, the less we shall be anxious about the body; the more we think of eternity, the less we shall think of this present world; the more we think of the judgment of God, the less we shall think of the judgment of men.
2. The first step is the renewing of your mind. An external influence is here implied. We cannot renew our own minds. "Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This is rightly called the saving change. To experience this change is the starting-point of the Christian life. It is to pass from death to life. Old things pass away; all things become new. There is a new way of looking at things. Things which we once took pleasure in have no attraction for us now; duties which we once thought irksome now become our delight. This is the result of the Holy Spirit working in us, producing in us likeness to God, transforming us into his image, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Jesus Christ.
3. This transformation will soon affect your whole life.
(1) It will affect your business. You will no longer regard your business dealings from the merely worldly, but from the Christian standpoint. Your question will not be merely—Will it pay? but—Is it right?
(2) It will affect your companionships. The question will be, not—Are they pleasant, but—Are they pleasing to God? are they helpful to my spiritual life?
(3) It will affect your amusements. The question will be, not—May I? but—Ought I? Not—Is there any harm in this? but—Is there any good in it? Is it the way in which I would enjoy myself if I knew that I was to die tomorrow? When Achilles Daunt, late Dean of Cork, was a student at Trinity College, Dublin, he was passionately fond of the drama, and used to go often to the theatre. One evening, after coming home and taking up his Bible for his usual evening reading—feeling that the scenes he had just witnessed made it a little irksome to do so—his eye lit on our Lord's words, "He that is not with me is against me." The passage seemed to seize him with an iron grip. He then and there battled out the matter with his own heart, and did not rise from his knees till he had resolved to dedicate himself to the Lord, to take his stand boldly as his servant, and never again to enter a theatre.
4. This transformation is to be developed by living near to God. Prayer, and the study of God's Word, are the means of obtaining this likeness to God. It is noteworthy that the same Greek word which is here translated "transformed" is the word which is used to describe the transfiguration of Christ: "And he was transfigured before them." And when did Christ's transfiguration come to him? When he was on the mountain-top in prayer. "And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering" (Luke 9:29). Prayer is the true transformation, the true transfiguration, of the soul. Thus here on earth we shall reflect in some measure the image of God until we reach that land where "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."—C.H.I.
Diversity and unity in the Church of Christ.
The subject of union among the various branches of the Church of Christ is one to which much attention has of late years been turned. The efforts of the Evangelical Alliance have been largely directed to secure a more brotherly relationship and more hearty co-operation between the different denominations of Christians. Some Christians desire an organic union of all sections of the Church, but the passage before us indicates that there may be outward diversity along with inward and real unity.
I. DIVERSITY AND UNITY IN THE BODY. "We have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office" (Romans 12:4). There we have diversity. What diversity there is between the organs of hearing and seeing, tasting and touching, speaking and smelling! What a complex organism is that of heart and brain, and veins and arteries, and nerves and sinews! Yet there too we have unity. There is one body. One life throbs in all the parts.
II. DIVERSITY AND UNITY IN THE CHURCH. "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:5). There we have diversity. There is room for diversity in the Church of Christ—for varied forms of worship, for varied views of doctrine, for varied methods of Church government. A dull uniformity is undesirable. "Acts of Uniformity" only made more diversity, and produced discord instead of unity. When the Church of England had no room for John Wesley, she only prepared the way for a larger secession from the ranks of her membership. So, too, in individual congregations, there is room for varied gifts and activities. There, also, we have unity. "One body, and every one members one of another." There is the unity of the Spirit, the unity that arises from the common bond of faith in Christ and love to him, of obedience to the same Divine law, and of the inspiring hope of the same heaven.
III. TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. A lesson of humility. "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly' (verse 3). The recognition of the fact that there are varied gifts in the Church of Christ will prevent any one from being unduly proud of any gifts he may possess, or any work he may have done. All the members of the body have need of one another. There is a place for the humble and unlearned workers in the Church of Christ, just as much as for the wealthy and the cultured and the learned.
2. A lesson of concentration. Division of labour and concentration of individuals upon particular branches is one of the great principles of modern manufacturing and commerce. St. Paul applies the same principle to Christian work. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness." There are three special spheres of Christian work.
(1) Teaching. Under this head may be comprised what the apostle speaks of as "prophecy," "teaching," "exhortation." This is the work of ministers of the gospel, of professors in colleges, of teachers in daily schools and in Sunday schools. There could be no more important work than that of instructing others, moulding immortal souls, inspiring old and young with the power of great principles. When Socrates was asked why he did not commit to writing his philosophic opinions and teachings, his answer was, "I write upon human souls. That writing will last eternally." How important that all who engage in any department of teaching should realize the abiding consequences of their work, and should devote their best energies to it!
(2) Ruling. There must of necessity be authority and discipline in the Christian Church. Impenitent offenders against Christian morality need to be excluded. Differences of opinion or quarrels between brethren need to be wisely considered, and breaches healed. How necessary that those who are placed in positions of authority should rule "with diligence," realizing their high responsibility to preserve the peace and maintain the purity of the Church of Christ!
(3) Giving. Under this head may be included not only what is here called "giving," but also those branches spoken of as "ministering" and "showing mercy." Christians who are not teachers or rulers ought at least to be givers. If they have money to give for Christ's cause, let them give it, and give it, too, with liberality, in no selfish and in no niggard spirit. Every Christian can give something for the building up of the Church of Christ. We can give our time. We can give our attention to the poor, to the sick, to the stranger. Let Christians remember that in the natural body there are no useless or idle members. Each member has its own distinct function. So is it in the Christian Church. There is some special work for every one to do.—C.H.I.
Romans 12:9-21 (omitting Romans 12:11 and Romans 12:12, for which see below)
The Christian's duty to his fellow-men.
In these closing verses of this chapter the apostle sets before us the duty of a Christian man. It is a picture of what the Christian ought to be. What a world it would be if these precepts were carried out, if even every Christian was careful to observe them! Six features the apostle mentions which should characterize our dealings with others.
I. SINCERITY. "Let love be without dissimulation" (Romans 12:9). Unreality, falsehood, insincerity, untruthfulness,—these are prevalent evils in our day. They weaken all confidence between man and man. They destroy domestic peace, social intercourse, and commercial morality. Truthfulness and sincerity are much needed.
II. DISCRIMINATION. "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good" (Romans 12:9). The spirit of indifference is another prevalent evil of our time. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil." Dr. Arnold at Rugby, trying to elevate the standard of character there, found this difficulty—indifference about evil. He said, "What I want to see in the school, and what I cannot find, is an abhorrence of evil; I always think of the psalm, 'Neither doth he abhor that which is evil.'" We want more discrimination. The young especially need to discriminate in their friendships, and to choose the society of good men and good women.
III. GENEROSITY. "Distributing to the necessity of saints" (Romans 12:13). In exercising generosity, God's people, our brethren in Christ, should have the first claim upon us. But we are not to limit our attentions to them. "Given to hospitality," we shall show kindness to strangers, just because they are strangers and are away from home and friends. How truly the Christian religion teaches men consideration for others!
IV. SYMPATHY. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15). Sympathy is a Christ-like quality. Sympathy for the perishing brought Jesus Christ to earth. Sympathy sent Henry Martyn to Persia, Adoniram Judson to Burmah, David Brainerd to the Red Indians, David Livingstone and Bishop Hannington to Africa. Sympathy led Mr. E. J. Mather to brave the dangers of the deep in order to do something for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the deep-sea fishermen of the North Sea. We want more sympathy for those near us—for the poor, the sick, the suffering, the careless, at our own doors. We need to learn also how to sympathize with innocent enjoyment. The mission of the Christian Church is not a mission of amusement, but it can show that it does not frown upon, and can thoroughly enter into, the innocent pleasures and recreations of life. We are not only to "weep with them that weep," but also "rejoice with them that do rejoice."
V. HUMILITY. "Mind not high things, but condescend to man of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." There is too mush pride even in the Church of Christ—pride of rank, pride of wealth, pride of learning. The condition of things so severely satirized and rebuked in the second chapter of James is still too common in the Christian Church. The Church of Christ needs to condescend a little more than it does "to men of low estate." Christian ministers need to think more of the humbler members of their congregations, while they do not neglect the spiritual welfare of the rich. A little more of the humility of Christ would make the Church of Christ and. the ministers of religion more respected among the working classes and the poor.
VI. PEACEFULNESS. "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (verse 18). This peaceful relation may be secured:
1. By not cherishing a vindictive spirit. "Recompense to no man evil for evil" (verse 17). "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves" (verse 19). Offenders against peace would do little harm if they did not find others only too ready to take offence. What an example is that of Cranmer!—
To do him any wrong was to beget
A kindness from him; for his heart was rich,
Of such fine mould, that if you sowed therein
The seed of hate, it blossomed charity."
2. By meeting enmity with kindness. "Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not" (verse 14). "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." Your kindness will be like coals of fire to melt his hardened heart, just as Jacob's prudent act of kindness, following on his prayer, turned away the anger of his injured brother Esau. So we may destroy our enemies, as the Chinese emperor is said to have done, by making them our friends. Thus we shall "overcome evil with good."—C.H.I.
Romans 12:11, Romans 12:12
The Christian's duty to himself.
While we are to think of others, we are to think of ourselves also. Herbert Spencer has contrasted the "religion of enmity," or the religion of heathenism, with what he calls the "religion of amity," or the religion of Christianity. But he speaks as if the Christian precept was, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour better than thyself." It is not so. The command is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
"To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
The apostle enumerates some duties which the Christian owes to himself.
I. DILIGENCE IN BUSINESS. Each man should have some definite work or business in life. Especially should the Christian be free from the sin of idleness. Whatever our work is, let us be diligent in the performance of it. "The hand of the diligent maketh rich." "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
II. EARNESTNESS OF SPIRIT. "Fervent in spirit." It is a strong phrase. Fervent means "burning," "on fire." Yes, we need more Christians who are on fire. It is the enthusiasts who have done the best and most lasting work in the world. They are usually called fanatics at first, but the day comes when their memory is blessed. St. Paul was a fanatic to Festus. Festus could not understand the fire that burned in Paul's heart and in his words. "Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning cloth make thee mad." William Wilberforce, the emancipator of the slaves; John Howard, the prisoner's friend; Samuel Plimsoll, the sailor's friend; Lord Shaftesbury, the friend of the overworked artisan;—all these men at first were sneered at and ridiculed by the multitude of indifferent and interested men. Earnestness and enthusiasm may be incomprehensible to the world, but they are indispensable to the true Christian.
III. A RELIGIOUS SPIRIT. "Serving the Lord." That spirit consecrates life, sweetens life, saves life. Serving the Lord does not lead us to the drunkard's degradation, the disgrace of the dishonest or fraudulent, the cell of the murderer or the grave of the suicide. The Christian will serve the Lord in every relationship of life—in his home, in his business, in his amusements. Can we all say as St. Paul did (Acts 27:23), "Whose I am, and whom I serve"?
IV. HOPEFULNESS AND JOY. "Rejoicing in hope." The apostle elsewhere in this Epistle uses the same phrase, "And rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). Dr. Chalmers has somewhere said, "That which distinguishes wisdom from folly is the power and habit of anticipation." The Saviour himself, in his earthly life, was sustained by the hope of what lay beyond. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). So it was with St. Paul. He looked forward to the crown of righteousness. Therefore the Christian should be full of joyousness. Why should we groan under life's heavy burdens when we think of the rest that remaineth to the people of God? Why should we be unduly distressed by life's trials when we remember that they that are tried shall receive the crown of life? This, too, is a duty the Christian owes to himself. Work becomes no longer a burden when it is done with hopefulness and joy.
V. PATIENCE UNDER TROUBLE. "Patient in tribulation." The true Christian will know how to suffer. He knows that trials have their meaning and their place in the discipline of the children of God. He knows that whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and that "though no chastisement for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby."
VI. PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER. "Continuing instant in prayer." Prayer is the beginning and the end of the Christian life. We should ever go forth to the discharge of our duties, humbly asking for the Divine guidance and the Divine help. And then, when the duties are performed, we should not forget to pray that the Divine blessing should follow the work that we have done. This thought is well brought out by St. Paul in his description of the Christian's armour (Ephesians 6:11-18). Having exhorted his readers to put on the whole armour of God—the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit—he adds, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." This is the fitting climax of the whole. It is the fitting conclusion of any exhortation about Christian warfare or Christian work. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."
Such, then, are the Christian's duties to himself. Diligence. Earnestness. Religious spirit. Hopefulness. Patience. Prayerfulness. Let us cultivate them.—C.H.I.
The Christian's assurance and the Christian's duty.
"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." There is a great danger to the spiritual life of many, which arises from undervaluing the power of sin. But there is another danger. It is the danger of thinking too much of the power of evil. A Christian may be overcome by evil, not because he thinks too little of it, but because he thinks so much of its power that he regards the struggle as hopeless, and gives up striving against it. Against this spirit of pessimism or despondency the exhortation of this verse is well fitted to fortify us.
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S ASSURANCE. When the apostle says, "Overcome evil with good," he implies that the good has power to overcome the evil. He implies even more than this; he implies that the good, as manifested and practised by the Christian, will prove a sufficient weapon with which to vanquish the forces of sin. It is not merely that the good, in some general or abstract sense, will overcome the evil, but that you Christians, men and women, flesh and blood though you be, may overcome the evil by the good which you can exhibit and exercise. Is not this something worth having the assurance of? Is not this something worth living for? My life, if it be a good one, shall not then be in vain. Humble though my position, my talents, my influence, I may, nevertheless, be a part of the Divine power against evil, a labourer together with God, and a partaker of the great and final triumph of righteousness over sin. This is faith in Jesus Christ in its practical side. In ourselves we could not vanquish sin. But we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us. This is the Christian's assurance. Ever afraid of evil, yet never afraid of it. Ever on the watch against sin, yet never disheartened by its power. Ever distrustful of self, yet never distrustful of God, never wavering in our confidence that when God is on our side success and victory are sure. If men had only this trust in God, they would never transgress his law to obtain a temporal blessing or a temporary success. They would not be so impatient to vindicate themselves. Committing their character and their cause into God's hands, they would not be so ready to revenge themselves on those who do them injury or wrong. Let this, then, be our confidence, that the good is always better than the evil; that it is always best to do the right, no matter how hard it may be; and that the day is coming when evil shall be entirely vanquished and overthrown, and righteousness shall prevail throughout the earth. "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good.… Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S DUTY. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Not only is there a warfare between the evil and the good, a warfare which shall ultimately result in the triumph of what is good; but it is the duty of every Christian to take part in that warfare. This duty applies first to his own character and life. The best way to drive out evil thoughts, evil passions, is to fill your mind with what is good. Seek the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Be filled with all the fulness of God. Let your thoughts be much occupied with the precepts and promises of God's Word, and then sin will not easily gain dominion over you. Those who occupy their days with all the good they may do will not have time to think of what things they may not do. The same rule of duty holds good in regard to others, in our relations to the world without us. When evil things are said of us, when unkind or angry words are spoken to us, it is hard not to feel provoked, it is hard not to answer back, it is hard to keep down the desire for revenge. But here again we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us. Divine grace can wonderfully restrain such tendencies of our human nature. To feel anger, or to exhibit anger in such a case, is to be "overcome of evil." To look upwards for help. and in the strength of Divine grace to restrain our anger—this is to "overcome evil with good." To crucify the flesh, this is the Christian's work. This to so show that Christ is our Life, when we try to act as he would have acted, and speak as he would have spoken. Christians may overcome the evil in the world both by being good and by doing good. By being good. For every consistent Christian life tells upon the world. It is a light shining in the darkness. It bears witness to the power of Divine grace. It is a protest against worldliness, ungodliness, and sin. If the personal character of every professing Christian was what it ought to be, what a power for good the Church of Christ would exercise! By doing good also. Ignorance and error are to be overcome by the activity of Christians in educational and evangelistic effort. Unkindness and uncharitableness are to be overcome by the active manifestation of kindness, charity, and love. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
Romans 12:1, Romans 12:2
The living sacrifice.
The great argument of the Epistle to the Romans is to the effect that God's favour is not to be earned, but accepted, and this is justification by faith. The earlier chapters dealt with this; and the apostle now proceeds to a development of the doctrine which completely reverses the old ideas. Judaism sought mercy by sacrifice and service; St. Paul teaches that God seeks man's true sacrifice and service by showing mercy. We are to come to him, not that he may love us in the end, but because he loves us from the beginning. Our obedience to God is to be, therefore, no task-work, but love-work; not servitude, but sonship. God's love is the great motive-power of the new life. We consider here the results which such love should produce: the sacrifice and service of the body; the renewing of the mind.
II. THE SACRIFICE AND SERVICE OF THE BODY. There was a total change from Judaism to Christianity in the point of sacrifice. The old dispensation was one of blood and death. Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, on various ever-recurring occasions, the altars of the temple ran with blood from the dead bodies of slain beasts and birds. The temple was one vast slaughter-house. But Christianity said, "This no more!" For there has been offered one sacrifice for sins for ever; and what is wanted now, says the apostle, is your bodies, not the bodies of beasts and birds, and these bodies living, not dead. There was a vast change in the point of service (λατρεία) also. What an elaborate ritual of service had gathered round the sacrifice! part ordained by God, part added by man. There were feasting and fasting; times and seasons, days and years; meats and drinks; purifyings; prayers. Christianity swept this away too, in all its ceremonial character. And what is wanted now, says the apostle, is not an elaborate ritual and minute observance, but the life; a service, not mechanical and befitting children, but rational and befitting men. All this the apostle points to by his words. Your own living bodies are to be the sacrifice; the holy, consecrated life of your bodies is to be the service. But let us gather the significance of his words more fully. The body is an integral part of man: consider in this connection the creation, death, and the resurrection. The body is sacred: consider old dualistic heresy, leading to severe repression or gross sin; also the modern error of despising the body now, and hoping to be freed from it as from a burden by-and-by. The body? it is the instrument of our active life in God's creation—deed, speech, thought. The spirit in itself may live towards God; but only by the medium of the body can it live for God amongst men. And to present the body a living sacrifice is thus to offer the whole life to God. Think, then, of the meaning of this. Think of your life: busy work, with manifold industries of limb, or speech, or brain, and intervals of rest which continually re-create you for new work; social relationships, with all the continuous interchange of affection and thought which they involve; of the life of your own mind, your reasonings, your beliefs, your fancies, your memories, your hopes: think of all these things, and a thousand others; and then remember that all this is to be offered up to God, a living sacrifice. This demands that the life be pure. Jewish sacrifices without spot. So conduct, words, imaginings, must be undefiled. Demands also that the life be consecrated. Just as sacrifice, when pronounced pure, was offered on altar, so our activities, being undefiled, are to be all given to God, that they may be employed for him. Nothing neutral: activities of brain, of tongue, of hand, having many subordinate ends, must be governed by the great controlling purpose to please God and do his will. Is it so? Is the undefiled life God's life? Do you make everything inexorably bend to this? Is your great "sacrifice" the sacrifice of the life? your great "service" the service of the life? All else is as nothing compared with this.
II. THE RENEWING OF THE MIND. But how? The "age" is against us. Whether or not conspicuously an age of impurity, certainly an age of greed and self-worship. Consider the plastic and binding influences exerted by the world: it imperceptibly educates us to itself if we yield; it restrains us as with iron bands if we attempt to break away. And the current of our own nature sets with the stream (Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:3). Self-seeking; self-pleasing. Not only are the lusts (ἐπιθυμίαι) of the flesh worldwards, themselves controllable if the inner life were right; but the desire (θέλημα) of the mind is worldwards too. The interior springs of life are bad; the "willing" nature (νοῦς) is diseased. And the secret of all this is that the inward life is wrong with God; there is death, not life (Ephesians 2:1). For this reason, God's governance and succour being lost, the will is sunk in the lusts that it should control, and it is thus that the desires of the flesh (ἐπιθυμίαι) have become actually volitions (θελήματα) of the flesh (see Ephesians 2:3 again). Hence "be not conformed" is immediately followed by "be transformed." This is the great doctrine of the new birth: a re-attachment to the life of God, which shall make all things new. Has been fully elaborated in ch. 6-8. in which the apostle sets forth regeneration as the natural and necessary accompaniment of true justification. It is here insisted upon once more, as the only guarantee of a life of consecration such as he is about to set before his readers in the following chapters, which are an unfolding of the principle of the first verse of this chapter. The Spirit of God is the regenerating power: what is the regenerating principle? Love—love evoked, fed, perfected by the mighty, changeless love of God. An enthusiasm for the highest good, which wings its way through all that obstructs a lower energy of life, and triumphs evermore. So now the νοῦς is renewed, the θελήματα set with the current of the new life, and the ἐπιθυ,ίαι of the flesh fall into their proper place. Thus a power of nonconformity to the "course of this world" is ours; the bonds are broken, and the plastic influences break like spray upon a rocky shore. And so, with the altar set in order, the sacrifice is offered up; with the worshipful heart restored, a living service is rendered. We "prove" what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God; it is -known, loved, obeyed.
In conclusion, let us remember that we are besought to this renewal and consecration by the yearning pity (οἰκτιρμῶν) of our God. His tears! Oh, let us be persuaded to accept our healing at his hands!—eyesight for blindness, love for our dead, cold, barren selfishness. And being alive unto God within, let us live to God without. Away with fictitious sacrifices and fictitious service! The sacrifice is to be the living sacrifice of ourselves; the service the rational service of a pure and consecrated deed and speech and thought.—T.F.L.
The life of Christian consecration is now set forth in its practical bearings. We have life in the Church, including its attitude towards those that are without (Romans 12:1-21.), and life in the state (Romans 13:1-14.). The life of members of the Church, as such, is set forth as controlled by two great vital principles: humility, as regards one's self; love, as regards others. Here the grace of humility is insisted on, as regulating each one's thoughts and work.
I. First, we are to have a sober and proper estimate of ourselves and our aptitudes.
1. The tendency amongst men is to exalt themselves in their own thoughts as compared with others. An unholy rivalry of heart is easily possible even in the Christian brotherhood. We magnify our own importance out of all proportion to the actual place we fill. How contrary to the very initial requisite of the kingdom of heaven: "Blessed are the poor in spirit"! We must, on the contrary, think soberly. We must in all seriousness know ourselves and our place. We must indeed gauge and estimate our sanctified powers, but only that we may know to what holy purpose we shall put there ''according to the capacity, in the realm of faith, which God has given us" (see Godet).
2. And so we must think of our various gifts, not as in rivalry, but as supplementing one another. The figure of the many members, and their diverse offices: so the body of Christ. Variety in unity: this the lesson taught us by God's works, and by his constitution of human society in general; we Christians must learn the lesson, as teaching us that we all are "members one of another."
II. Secondly, we are to give ourselves with all diligence to the fulfilment of our several works. We trench here upon the second principle. If humility teaches us to confine ourselves soberly to our own God-appointed labour, love teaches us to throw ourselves with holy zeal into such labour that the several members may all profit by our diligence. And the great truth brought out prominently here is that the cause of Christ is best advanced when each one does earnestly what he can do best. The apostle says, "Use your own sanctified gifts to the best of your ability, so will God be well-pleased, and your brethren and the world be blessed."
1. Prophecy: the spiritual insight that apprehends with increasing clearness God's purposes of saving grace. Ministry: the official attention to financial and business matters of the Church, in which the "deacon" wins his good degree. Teaching: the assiduous inculcation of received truth, that the people of God may be built up in the faith. Exhorting: the earnest pleading with men, that their hearts may be won, or more fully won, to that which is Divine and good. Such the more official duties.
2. The more private and spontaneous duties are to be similarly performed. Giving: for some who are so favoured have it as their special work to hold in trust for others, and to bestow as they have opportunity, the good things of this world. Let this be with all liberality of heart. Ruling: there will be committees for such philanthropic work, and men of enterprise will have it as their special business to lead the way. Let this be with diligence, for success or failure will follow according to their devotion or half-heartedness. Showing -mercy: some will have it for their work personally to dispense the help which perhaps the liberality of others affords. Let it be with a cheerfulness that shall make the blessing doubly blessed; let their presence be hailed everywhere as it were sunshine in the gloom.
Such is the principle of a true Christian humility, merging into love. The old Greek wisdom urged upon its students, "Know thyself." Our Christian faith inculcates the same lesson upon us. Not by our seeking to do others' work, but by our fulfilling, as best we may, our own, will the common weal be advanced. Yes, know thyself, and know thy Saviour; so shalt thou save thyself, and promote the salvation of the world.—T.F.L.
Now we come to the great central principle of the Christian life in its social relations among men—true love. And, as the apostle addresses Church-members, he paints this love, by a few vivid strokes, as they owe it to their fellow-members, and also to those that are without.
I. First, as members of Christ, they are to love one another.
1. The ethical character of this love. It is holy. Not a mere sentimental tenderness, but a love that abhors the evil, in whomsoever found, and cleaves only to the good (comp. James 3:17, "first pure," etc.).
2. The manifestations of the love. Tender affection, as of the members of one loving family; self-sacrificing respect, so contrary to the spirit which asks, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"—zealous to practise this regard for others with a diligent industry; animated to this diligence by the fervour of the spiritual life; sanctifying the love and service by loving and serving them in Christ.
3. The supports of such love. The exultant joy of Christian hope, in view of that appearing of our Lord; the patient endurance of trial and pain, by the power of that hope; the abiding fellowship with God, which ever rekindles the hope and makes it holy.
4. The practical working of this love in the matters of the life that now is. Relief of needy ones, as being the needy ones of God's household; hospitality to all who for the Lord's sake have left their home and rest.
5. The forbearance of this love. When, unhappily, even Christian brethren misunderstand and strive and persecute, they are still to be loved and blessed; not for any provocation is cursing to be rendered back.
6. The sympathies of the love. A real and manifested joy, in sympathy with rejoicing ones; a real and manifested sorrow, in sympathy with sorrowing ones.
7. The unity of love. Of the same mind.
8. The humility of love. Not high, ambitious aspirations, but willingness for lowly work; and to this end, not serf-conceited wisdom, but the heart of a little child.
II. Secondly, as showing forth Christ to men, they are to love even those that are without.
1. No revenge to be allowed. Think of their temptations to old habits and practices.
2. Honourable conduct to be strictly maintained. Yes, even with the emphatically "heathen" man.
3. Peace to be sought with all. On our side at least it is possible, and so the sanctities of the Christian's own heart shall not be violated.
4. Again, no vengeance towards those whose crimes may seem to cry for vengeance upon them. No, not even in the way of justice, for a higher One is Judge, and all wrath must be left to him, whose very wrath is love; and, in truth, our rising wrath itself must be transformed to love, a love which shall even feed and give drink to the enemy in his distress. And shall not this shame his heart? and his shame may be to him for salvation. So shall the evil not conquer us, but be itself conquered by the good.
"Who is sufficient for these things?" The high perfection of this Christian love seems far beyond our reach. But it has been shown forth once, in him who said, "I have overcome the world." Yes, its evil was vanquished by his sacrifice of love. And, through him, we may conquer too. May the living Christ be ours, and his grace shall be sufficient!—T.F.L.
"A living sacrifice."
The text suggests to us the spiritual teacher's platform. He does not so much command or threaten as "beseech his brethren." Various terms are, indeed, used in the Authorized Version to translate the word παρακαλέω. But the feature of the word is speaking to some one for a particular purpose, to get him to do or refrain from something, to help him in difficulty or console him under trouble. The Saviour is spoken of in John's Epistle as our "Advocate," our Paraclete, according to our Lord's own description of himself when he promised, "I will send you another Comforter." And who has so great a right to speak faithfully as a brother? The very nearness of kin implies affectionate solicitude, precludes evil suspicions. As brethren should the members of Churches stimulate each other with kindly jealousy for each other's welfare.
I. THE DEDICATION DESCRIBED. "Present your bodies a living sacrifice." The law of offerings is not abrogated, is spiritually fulfilled. The daily Christian sacrifice is not propitiatory like the Saviour's, but consequent upon that one efficacious atonement, and intended in like manner to glorify the righteousness and goodness of God, and to redeem man from evil. Sin has corrupted the entire organism, and the sacrifice is to consist of the whole being. The body is expressly named as the part which visibly was immersed in sin, and bowed under idolatry. But as the organ and symbol of the life, and the vehicle of information and action, bringing the powers of the soul into exercise, the surrender of the body to Christian principle means that the entire self is yielded to God. If sacrifice signifies self denial, there is yet a joy that swallows up the pain of privation in the thought of the honour conferred on the garlanded victim accepted by the Most High as an act of worship and praise. Note some of the qualities of this sacrifice. It is "living," as contrasted with the dead sacrifices of Jewish rites. True religion is not a galvanized life, but an inward principle that vivifies the entire frame. The mere saying of prayers, attendance at God's house, the avoidance of ill places and company, is a dead and worthless sacrifice if unaccompanied by love and devotion. The love of Christ flaming within the body makes it no longer a dull lump of clay, but an illumined spiritual temple. It is a "holy" sacrifice; the sacredness of consecration to a holy Being rests upon it, and there is real and actual holiness of heart and life. It is "acceptable," well-pleasing to him who despises not the weak, but rejoices in humble, devout sincerity, where the leaven is cast out in order to a true celebration of the feast. We need not fear the rejection of our offering, since to us has been revealed the proper mode of approach; nor will the shortcomings and sinful accompaniments that in spite of our best attempts mingle with our words and deeds cause them to be abhorred of him who perceives therein the sweet savour of Christ and incense of the Spirit. The "calves of our lips" will not pollute his courts, nor our "doing good and communicating" pollute his holy altar. We have also a general characterization of the sacrifice. It is a "reasonable service." It is engaged in and ratified by the highest powers, the enlightened intellect and the quickened spirit. Unlike an unmeaning ritual, the service of the Christian is to him emblematic of deepest truths. He sees himself not an isolated unit which has itself merely to please and cherish, but a child of God, a constituent of society, with the obligation and dignity of obedience and self-abnegation for the service of God and man. And there is great meaning in the word employed to denote our "service." It compares our lives to the ministrations of the priests in the temple. When we raise our voices in supplication to the throne, when we seek to lead others to the Saviour of our choice, when we strive to discharge the duties of our calling as unto the Lord, when we relieve the distressed or comfort the afflicted, we are as much employed in temple-worship as if, like Aaron, we wore the high priest's robes, or, like Zacharias, offered incense before the veil. What a noble idea of the vocation of the people of God this metaphor conveys! Expect not a path of flowery ease—that the mountains should be levelled and the valleys raised to facilitate your progress! At the altar say, "I feel the cord that binds me; the knife is keen that severs the tender flesh; the flames are hard to bear; but withal I can rejoice that I am exalted to the honour of a holocaust accepted of God, and not consumed but purified by the sacrifice."
II. THE WEIGHTY ARGUMENT TO URGE THE DEDICATION. There is a "therefore" in the text; the exhortation is grounded on previous reasoning and previously stated facts. Herein lies the strength of the religious teacher. He may have no excommunication with bell, book, and candle to pronounce, no fire and sword with which to wring reluctant assent; but he has decisions of a recognized court to allege, and motives of unequalled potency to appeal to. Every one who has to do with machinery knows the importance of motive-power. And Christianity is strong where philosophical systems of ethics are weak. "You admit," the apostle seems to say, "these premisses; now supply the practical conclusion" He has been rehearsing the "mercies of God" to Jews and Gentiles. Gratitude for the Divine goodness impels to his service, and the hope of future benefits is a lawful constraining force. Surely the grace that has granted pardon, peace, eternal life, is a voice to demand, a magnet to attract to, such a sacrifice as that entreated. Providential mercies cry aloud, "Yield yourselves unto God." Where shall we begin, how end their recital? There are seasons, such as the beginning of a new year, or the anniversary of a birthday, when the remembrance of the Divine forethought and loving-kindness overwhelms the soul with thankfulness and praise. The darkest night has had its star; in the coldest day some gleam of sunshine has cheered our landscape. Family and household mercies, blessings bestowed on Church and town and country, fresh discoveries in nature or art, "sweet voices from the distant hills,"—all these renewed compassions of a benevolent God evoke the old inquiry, "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me?' The text furnishes the answer, the full New Testament programme, outlined in the psalmist's "cup of salvation" and "thanksgiving," and "payment of vows" and "prayer."—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
Christian character a metamorphosis.
Advice as to conduct, in order to be complete, should be both negative and positive in exhortation; it should say what ought to be done as well as what ought to be avoided. Christianity repels from evil and attracts to goodness. He runs best who not only flees from peril, but knows the refuge for which to shape his course.
I. NOT THE FASHION OF THE AGE, BUT THE WILL OF GOD, IS THE TRUE STANDARD OF DUTY. The Scriptures contrast this world with the kingdom of God. The one is fleeting, the other eternal. The one is carnal, the other spiritual; the one appears to the bodily senses, the other is a vision of faith. The kingdom which Christ has established realizes the desire and purpose of God's heart. Those who enter it are not thereby removed from the sphere of worldly need and influence and activity, but there is a difference in the spirit with which these temporal objects are pursued. A touchstone of value is introduced, and occupations and possessions are appraised according to its decisions. The will of God is the Ariadne clew which guides the traveller safely through the maze of shifting opinions and bewildering dictates. The disciple of Christ asks not—What will my companions say? what is the prevailing etiquette? what is the code of honour prescribed by the circle to which I belong? or what is the amount of kindness, purity, and justice which will save me from public censure? but—What would God have me do? what will he approve? what is his Divine intent in my upbringing and redemption? From how many petty anxieties is such a man freed, and what noble cares supplant his former subservience to custom! Commerce, politics, the Church, every arena needs such men. The face of God is not reflected in his servants like coins stamped with the sovereign's identical image, but varies like the reflection of the sky, according to the lake, river, or sea that mirrors its glory.
II. A RENEWED MIND IS THE CHANNEL OF TRANSFORMATION. God has created man intelligent, and men act generally according to their perception of the fitness of things. Alter their views, modify their tastes, direct their inclinations, and their career is changed. If they do the same things, they do them with reference to a higher Being and a wider landscape. Some things loved before appear loathsome now; the eyes are opened, and the old order is deserted for the beauties and satisfactions of the new state. The will of God may be traced in his works and ways, in creation and providence; but Jesus Christ in the Scriptures is to us the fullest revelation granted of the mind of God, and by studying him is the conscience quickened, the reason enlightened, the affection sanctified. Christianity thus works from within outward. It does not try to transfigure appearances by gilding the apples of the tree, or appending fruit to its boughs, but it transforms the sap, and lets the new life produce its appropriate harvest. The renewing of the judgment implies a restoration of man to a primitive condition from which he has fallen. The lineaments of God in human nature which had grown dull, almost obliterated by the wear and tear of a godless existence, are made vivid again. Like the whitewash removed from the walls of an ancient edifice, and no longer allowed to conceal the glorious frescoes or carving beneath, so the chamber of the heart is renovated by the reception of the Spirit of Christ, and the defilements and deceptions give place to the pristine conception of man in the likeness of God, retouched, remodelled by him who maketh all things new. The blood-stained cross is the measure of devotion to the will of God and of self-sacrifice for the common good. The risen Christ is the ideal of the future to which Christian hopes turn and to which conformity is lovingly sought.
III. THE COMPLETER THE TRANSFORMATION, THE MORE SURELY IS THE WILL OF GOD DISCERNED, AND THE MORE INTENSELY IS IT PRIZED. It is the universal law condensed into a proverb that "experience teaches." Not all at once can the car distinguish sounds, or the eye form and colours. Not immediately does the reason discriminate between logical and illogical arguments and procedures, nor the taste discover and apply its canons of judgment. Practice and discipline are required. And it were absurd to expect that in the regenerated man the old habits of liking and behaviour could be thrown off by one effort like a worn-out garment. The man rescued from drowning slowly comes to himself, and gradually does the eye of the saved believer learn to recognize in every place the presence of his Lord, and his ear to at all times catch the faintest whisper of his voice. The early converts made sad blunders in their celebration of Christian ordinances, in their governance of the gifts with which they were endowed, and in their application of Divine morality to the questions of the day. But they were in the school of Christ, and made steady progress. And every advance in knowledge and life has confirmed our appreciation of the will of God as being good, and worthy of the utmost maturity of ethical manhood. The Saviour's prayer is the verdict of the saintliest lives, the last word of Christian judgment: "Thy will, not mine, be done." As an encouragement it may be noted that our standard of duty ever rises as we understand better the mind of God and approximate to its requirements. And we must not be disappointed if to ourselves we seem as far off as ever from the ideal development. This is only as, in climbing to some mountain summit, the top appears more distant because progress reveals more accurately the total height.—S.R.A.
A proper estimate of self.
The fount of knowledge and utterance is the "grace" of God. The apostle claims to be beard as one who, has received a message, not excogitated a thought, which it is his business to deliver and enforce. This is ever the prophet's function, to announce the mind of God, and he needs continual "grace" to be faithful to the truth, not to hide nor to alter nor to add.
I. IT IS NOT SELF-DEPRECIATION WHICH IS HERE COMMANDED. Aristotle's dictum of right action is that virtuous behaviour lies in a mean between two extremes. And whilst not a sufficient account, this often serves as a ready criterion. Proper humility is not to be confounded with mock modesty and diffidence on the one hand, nor on the other hand with arrogance and pride. He acts injuriously to himself who, comparing himself with others, despises what he is and can do, because higher and larger gifts have been bestowed on his fellows. Such self-despising is ingratitude to God, and casts a slur on the Divine equity. We dare not make light of any post he enables us to fill, or of the simplest service he permits us to render. He who has dignified humanity, first by creating it "in his own image after his likeness," and then by the incarnation of his beloved Son, may expect in every man a certain reasonable degree of self-respect. And the apostle implies that there is a way in which each "ought think" of himself, ought to honour his position and abilities. Shall the lark refuse to trill forth melody in his upward flight because he cannot pour forth the luscious changeful notes of the nightingale? or the robin refuse to chirp merrily in the winter because he cannot undertake the long flight of the swallow? Shall the violet withhold its delicious fragrance because the sunflower is so conspicuously gorgeous? or the lofty elm not clap its hands in praise of God because of its nearness to the wide-spreading beech? That is not true humility, but scornful indolence, which buries its talent in the earth. Of a lowly beast of burden it was said, "The Lord hath need of him."
II. IT IS UNDUE SELF-ESTEEM WHICH IS REPROVED. An immoderate estimate of our personal worth is unmindful of obvious facts. It forgets that God regards quality rather than quantity, and that all we possess we have received, even the ability to use our gifts, and by use to augment and perfect our capacity. We gain a humble estimate of our powers by coming into the society of truly great men. As we measure little hills by the sky-piercing mountains, so we may profitably turn our thoughts to the almighty and all-wise, the ever-living and holy God. And, to assist us in our judgments, his grace has sent a pattern of merit in the character and life of his Son, attempering the glory of the Most High to our weak vision, and allowing us to see Divine greatness humbling itself to the form of a servant and the death of a criminal. We have to own our imperfect rectitude when we place it side by side with the obedience and righteousness of Christ. As with a douche of cold water, is the most intoxicated with his own grandeur sobered into due modesty. Through pride the angels "kept not their first estate," and it is a favourite device of the tempter to allure men into a sense of self-sufficiency and importance. "Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged." Wounded vanity prevents many a member of the Church from seeking to glorify a lowly position; the foot wants to be where the eye is, and the hand objects to serve the head. The elder brother loses the joy of the prodigal's return. Remember that in the Saviours reckoning the widow's offering far outweighed the costly contributions of the wealthy.
III. THE RULE IS TO BE UNIVERSALLY APPLIED. I say to every man that is among you." Every man needs this regulation. The precepts and promises of Scripture addressed to all are only effective as each severally appropriates them. We are individualized in God's sight, not lumped together in the mass. The danger lies at the door of each, and each must calculate his proper worth and position. We cannot do this for one another; to his own Master does each stand or fall Every Christian obtained some amount of faith. There are gradations in spiritual as in temporal life, and the rank of honour is according to the service rendered to the body to which we belong. But none is entirely destitute; let none, therefore, be despised or downhearted. All Christians are landed proprietors; an estate large or small is allotted to them to occupy and cultivate. The Spirit distributeth as he will. Our business is not to quarrel with the distribution, but to be diligent stewards of the deposit entrusted to our care. He that is faithful in little or in much shall be rewarded. Such a consideration abates envy and discontent, abolishes boasting and self-complacency.—S.R.A.
The two clauses of this verse remind us of the two main emotions of the human breast, of their diverse nature, and their common association. Sorrow ever treads at the heels of joy. The sigh and the laugh may be heard at once. Scarce has prosperity brightened one threshold than adversity overshadows another. As in the plagues, there is light in Goshen and darkness in Egypt. If every house were painted to reveal the condition of the inmates, what startling contrasts would be seen side by side! It is of little use to try and measure the sum of happiness and of misery, to calculate which preponderates in life; better is it to adapt ourselves to these two prevailing states, and by appropriate words and deeds to evince our sympathy both with those who mourn and those who exult, not shrinking from distress nor envying the fortunate. Many reasons concur in recommending the apostle's injunction.
I. GOD HAS MADE MAN A SOCIAL BEING. He is the "God of the families of Israel." The Law commanded convocations, social observances; the people encamped not as individuals, but as households and tribes. Besides the appetites and affections that concern ourselves personally, there are others which respect our fellows and cannot be gratified without their presence. Love, gratitude, pity, all suppose their existent objects, so that the moral constitution of man exhibits the social capacities with which he has been endowed. There is a basis for sympathy in our physical nature. The appearance of one man acts and reacts on his companions. The mirthful induces merriment in the company, and the entrance of a gloomy countenance damps the spirits of a whole party. Infants are quickly affected by the attitude of those near them; and the lower animals are prone to frisk and leap when their masters are glad, and to be depressed by their melancholy. To shut one's self up in solitude, to take no notice of the circumstances of others, is therefore to sin against the laws of our being.
II. JESUS CHRIST HAS PROVIDED FOR THESE SOCIAL INSTINCTS IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS CHURCH. He has instituted a community of believers, united for mutual counsel and support. One by one we resort to the Saviour for individual teaching and healing, but "those that are being saved" are "added to the Church," and the visibility of the fact assists in that redemption from selfishness which is the essence of sin. "Bear ye one another's burdens" is the recognition of our unity. The limb which shares not in the thrill of pain or pleasure is on the way to atrophy, disunion, death. Love and service to the Head of the body bind the members together as an organism, and love ministers to trouble and enhances joy. Such sympathy cannot, however, be restricted to the members of the Church. Family ties lead to efforts for the salvation of outsiders, and a desire for the glory of the Lord and the enlarging usefulness of his kingdom prompts to imitation of his beneficence who came to lighten our woes and to augment our gladness.
III. OUR DEVELOPMENT UNTO PERFECTION DEMANDS THE CULTIVATION OF SYMPATHY. It was not "good" for Adam to be alone. A high pitch of civilization cannot be reached or maintained in isolation. Left to ourselves, we grow careless of refinement or progress. To shut ourselves up like flowers that close their petals at the rude blast, to crawl inside our shell, and, closing the aperture, to dwell simply on our own satisfactions and uneasinesses, is the pleading of mistaken self-love that overreaches itself and misses the pure happiness of sharing others' delights and of doing good. Spiritual growth is not attainable any more than physical strength by a life within-doors. Avoid the heat and the icy wind, and health suffers by too-great confinement. What lessons may be learnt from the successes and misfortunes of our neighbours! Their lot may be ours soon; it were well to be wise betimes. To look on others is to gaze at a mirror that reflects our own image.
IV. THE FULFILMENT OF THIS PRECEPT WOULD MATERIALLY LIGHTEN THE WRETCHEDNESS OF THE WORLD. The savageness of unrestricted competition vanishes where a due regard is paid to the happiness or suffering of our companions. Nothing like a visit from the employer to the homes of his servants, or a sight by the speculator of the misery his unjust gains have entailed, to abate the fierceness of greed and to remedy grievances and wrongs. The world sorely needs brotherly kindness. Then would men and nations realize that what elevates one raises all, what depresses one truly enriches none. We may note that obedience to the latter clause of the text is perhaps more needful than compliance with the former. The distressed require help, the prosperous can do without it. But any separation of the two duties weakens both. It is not always easy to congratulate a fortunate compeer, any more than to assist the unlucky. No doubt we like to bask in the sunshine, and to withdraw from gloom. But the "elder brother" refused to join in the household felicitations, and the Levite and the Pharisee "passed by" the wounded traveller. Guard against the mere indulgence of passive sympathy. The rejoicing and mourning of the text imply an active sympathy, and action forms habits of good will and benevolence as Butler has described. Copy the Redeemer. No ascetic or misanthrope was he, who multiplied the innocent gaiety of the marriage feast, and mingled his tears with those of the weeping sisters of Lazarus. Even a hearty grasp of the hand adds to joy, and a moistened eye comforts those that mourn. The poorest in point of worldly goods may be rich in God-like sympathy. Many a man has been saved from utter despair by the knowledge that another was interested in his welfare.—S.R.A.
Victory that blesses both the conqueror and the conquered.
No chapter in the Bible is richer and more benign than this in practical exhortation. It breathes the spirit of the sermon on the mount, and the apostolic teaching has the advantage of the illustration and commentary furnished by the beneficent life and self-sacrificing death of the great Preacher.
I. THE MOMENTOUS CONFLICT. "Be not overcome of evil." A man has been wronged by his neighbour. The feeling of injury begets a desire for retaliation. The resentment is just, is a testimony to the sense of righteousness imbedded in the conscience. But the feeling tends to go too far, and to become a longing for revenge in any shape that may present itself. Here is the subtlety of temptation, making evil appear as good. Undisguised vice is easy to repel, but a righteous indignation may open the gate through which unrighteous passion enters like a flood. This is one form of the universal battle against sin, which is ever ready to take advantage of lawful natural impulses and to push them to excess. The warning of the text applies, therefore, to the whole sphere of life. All good conduct implies the possibility of the reverse. Solicitations to evil are everywhere about us. Physical evil, such as a painful disease, may become moral evil when it produces murmuring, peevishness, utter idleness, and blasphemy. The struggle is fierce and prolonged, for "we wrestle against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places." As the gifts of God in the material universe are secured at the expense of painful thought and toil, so the blessings of the spiritual life are not to be had at our ease, but only by strenuous wrestling.
II. THE METHOD OF WARFARE. "Overcome evil with good." To resist the evil inclination is the first part of the duty, but it is not alone a sufficient maxim. We have a weapon to wield; we must occupy ourselves in the practice of what is good. Not only arrest the hand that is about to strike an angry blow, but find some service for the hand to render to our opponent. They sin least, are least subject to temptation, who are engrossed like the Saviour in "doing good." He could move uncontaminated in the presence of "publicans and sinners." The outrush of active benevolence barred the influx of evil. The moment we try to see if we cannot benefit a would-be foe, we are conscious of a changed sentiment within; we pity instead of hating and condemning; we lose our worse to find our better self. This is a law to be remembered in all attempts to combat the forces of evil. "Resist the devil; draw nigh to God." The drunkard may sign the pledge of abstinence, but he needs meetings, society, efforts for others, to occupy his leisure moments. Do not gaze at the Sirens, but make for the home whose pure pleasures will profitably engage your energies. Let the young man have his study, and his proper recreation, and thus by the pursuit of what is elevating rise above petty meannesses and degrading amusements.
III. THE INSPIRING PATTERN. Christ is our Exemplar, "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again." He "committed his cause to him that judgeth righteously," and instead of heaping reproaches on his persecutors, prayed for their forgiveness, died for their salvation. The spurious Gospels, with their narrative of the Saviour's boyhood as a scene of vengeance wreaked on his youthful companions for their opposition and insult, condemn themselves as contradictory to the after-life of the "meek and lowly" One. He never exerted his power to harm his foes. His only miracles of judgment were on the swine and the barren fig tree. In Gethsemane the band of traitors were awed to the ground, but not injured. He knew that "to whomsoever much is forgiven, the same loveth much." Afterwards "a great company of priests became obedient to the faith." Saul the persecutor was changed by appealing love into Paul the missionary. The Lamb "led to the slaughter" unresistingly has proved himself in victorious submission the "Lion of the tribe of Judah." "Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind."
IV. THE SUCCESS OF THIS METHOD. Good is stronger than evil because it is on the side of God and the angels; it is backed by eternal laws. Like produces like. Strife leads to more strife; war sows a crop of dragons' teeth that yield a harvest of future enmities and battles. Germany, exacting a heavy indemnity from France and seizing two fair provinces, has laid herself under crushing armaments and ceaseless fears of coming reprisals. The peace principles of Christ, wherever faithfully adhered to, prove their soundness and fruitfulness. The man who resists not tames the spirit of his opponent. Obstinacy that defies the chilling blast is forced to relax when the warmth of Christian kindness shines on its outer crust. The coals of such a fire do not fiercely burn, but they melt the unjust into contrition and confession. The disuse of duelling has contributed to courtesy amongst men. We are not fit to take the law into our own hands and mete out justice, but we cannot do wrong in cultivating mercy and generosity. The observance of what is good works no mischief, whereas we may run into many an error if we fight evil with evil either in ourselves or others, and fancy that the end may justify the means.—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
After the lengthened exposition of the Divine "mercies" given in the preceding eleven chapters, the apostle feels himself in a position to apply the truth and enforce Christian morals. He accordingly proceeds to base his exhortation upon the "mercies of God," and the flint matter he urges is becoming individuality. These brethren at Rome ought to dedicate themselves as living sacrifices unto God, realizing how reasonable such a service is, and exhibiting due unworldliness of character in all things. Let us, then, with Paul as guide, consider the elements of Christian individualism as here set before us.
I. OUR BODIES ARE TO BE LAID AS LIVING SACRIFICES ON GOD'S ALTAR. (Romans 12:1.) If we have been called with a holy calling, if the risen Saviour has given us the needed helping band, then we are bound to realize our obligation to him in dedicating our bodies as "living sacrifices" unto him. The reason why we can dedicate them as living sacrifices is that he has offered the atoning sacrifice our pardon and acceptance require, and we can consequently dedicate ourselves living to his glory. Now, when we look into the order of the Jewish sacrifices, we find that the sin offering came first, then the burnt offering, and then the peace offering. The leading idea in each was atonement, consecration, and fellowship. The sin offering emphasized atonement, the burnt offering or holocaust emphasized consecration, and the peace offering emphasized fellowship. Now, the self-dedication to which the apostle here calls us corresponds in the ritual to the burnt offering; and just as in this particular sacrifice the entire carcase was consumed in the sacred fire, so the idea is that our whole personality, body, soul, and spirit, is to be consecrated by the fire of the Holy Spirit to the service of our Lord and Master. The idea, in short, is that our bodies should be organs of the Holy Ghost. What a holy and blessed thought is thus associated with the body of the believer! It dare not be dedicated to any profane use. It is a holy thing, and is to be laid on God's altar and thus dedicated in its entirety to him. Miss Havergal's "Hymn of Consecration" will occur to every one, with the dedication of" hands," and "feet," and "voice," and "lips" and, in a word, "all' we are, to the glory of our Lord. Dean Goulburn, in his suggestive work on the ' Study of the Holy Scriptures,' gives a sketch upon this passage, from which the following will be found useful: "Consider the members of the body which must thus be yielded:
(1) The eyes. The lust of the eye must be mortified, and the eye employed in reading God's Word, or surveying his works.
(2) The ears. We must be 'swift to hear' the voice of instruction, and must turn away the ear from temptation and from flattery (see Acts 12:22, Acts 12:23).
(3) The hands. 'Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth' (Ephesians 4:28).
(4) The feet. 'I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me' (Matthew 25:36).
(5) The mouth. 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers' (Ephesians 4:29). 'Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt' (Colossians 4:6)." £
II. WE ARE TO REALIZE THAT THIS ENTIRE DEDICATION IS ONLY OUR REASONABLE SERVICE. (Romans 12:1.) It seems at first a large demand. But it becomes reasonable the moment we consider our obligation. If Jesus has dedicated his body in life and in death to our interests and salvation, the dedication of our living bodies in return to him is surely a reasonable service. M. de Rougemont has brought out the reasonable character of this self-dedication in his own pointed fashion. Writing in his 'La Vie Humaine avec et sans la Foi' upon this passage, he says, "The word body signifies here the complete man; the victim, it is ourselves, and the sacrifice, to which St. Paul exhorts us, is that of our soul, of our will, of our thought, of our heart, without which that of our flesh would be impossible. But on hearing this term 'sacrifice,' the vicious takes to flight, the honest man is up in arms (resiste), the semi-Christian frets. All say it is impossible, or at least it is too difficult. And St. Paul contends that it is reasonable! Yes, reasonable, and irrational, senseless, absurd, to refuse God such a worship (culte). In fact, to refuse it to him is to refuse him all worship; it is to condemn ourselves to a life of worldliness and irreligion. Is it a true religion which consists in giving to prayer a half-hour a day, to the Divine service two or three hours on Sunday, when, even during those hours, one says to God, 'I give thee, indeed, a part of my time; but my heart?—no, I keep that for myself'? If at least, by guarding thus for ourselves our heart, we were happy! Let us leave aside here the lusts and passions which enslave and shame us. Let us speak only of our plans of happiness, of our favourite occupations, of our legitimate affections. We cannot bring ourselves to lay them on the altar, to present them to God, and minus these to sacrifice ourselves to him. But are we then our masters? do we dispose events according to our will? do we hold in our hands the threads of our life and of the life of our relatives (la vie des notres)? Can we do anything against God? If he wishes to take away from us the objects of our affections, to snatch us away from our labour or our pleasures, to over- turn all our projects, who are we to struggle against him? Is it not more reasonable to offer ourselves altogether unto him, like docile and trustful lambs, and to say to him, 'Here we are; make us what thou pleasest: thou canst take no more from us, since we have given all to thee; we are besides without fear, because we know by Jesus Christ how great are thy mercies? Can such living and holy victims be anything but acceptable to God? and is not this worship the only reasonable one, as it is also the only loyal, free, and joyous one?".
III. Such A SELF-DEDICATION IMPLIES NONCONFORMITY TO THE WORLD AND TRANSFIGURATION INTO THE DIVINE WILL. (Romans 12:2.) The conduct of others is not to be our standard, but the will of God. Worldliness consists essentially in this—making the fashion our standard of life. Now, in this respect we are not to conform to the worldly and prevailing ideas. Saurin has a fine sermon on this verse, in which he exhorts his hearers not to conform to the multitude in faith, or in worship, or in morals, or in our exodus at death. £ And then, if we take the Divine will as our proper standard, we shall find ourselves "transfigured" (μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewing of our minds, so that we shall "test" (δοκιμάζειν) and so come to understand what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (cf. Shedd, in loc.). Now, it is in this way, by surrendering ourselves to the Divine idea concerning us, that we shall realize that individuality and influence among men which is so desirable. In fact, we become most original, in the best sense of that term, when we do not try to be original, but simply to be and do what is God's will concerning us. It was the same with our blessed Master. He professed to do nothing of himself, but simply to mediate to men what the Father gave him (John 5:19); and yet he has been out of sight the most original personality which has ever appeared in this world. So will it be with us in our little spheres if we will only allow God to transfigure us.
IV. SUCH ABANDONMENT TO THE DIVINE WILL SECURES DUE SOBRIETY IN OUR ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES. (Romans 12:3.) The gospel delivers us from egotism; we dare not think highly of ourselves; we can only think of how we are realizing God's will concerning us. And so, as merely mediating God's wiser will, we think soberly and humbly of ourselves. The apostle thus commends to the Romans and to all men what Leighton calls that "gracing grace of humility, the ornament and safety of all other graces, and what is so peculiarly Christian." Our individualism will thus be found delivered from the egotism and self-esteem of worldly men, and projected along the path of meekness and lowliness of heart which the Master trod before us. Such sober self-knowledge makes the Christian life a wondrous power. Contrasting with the self-assertion and self-esteem which are so valuable in the world's regard, the humility of the Christian becomes a power and influence radically different in kind from, but far more fruitful in results than, the noisy efforts of the world. May the Master help us all to follow in his meek and lowly steps!—R.M.E.
Having seen what Christian individualism is meant to be in the preceding verses, we now enter upon the wider relation of Churchmanship. For the apostle is not here speaking of human nature in its social aspects, as we find it so powerfully expounded for us in Bishop Butler's 'Sermons upon Human Nature,' but in its Church aspect, the relation of the individual to the one body which has its organic existence "in Christ." The apostle would have us to believe that we are united as closely to our fellow-believers as the members of one body are to one another. In fact, we are members one of another. A selfish individualism is out of the question; we are bound to the body of believers by vital and eternal ties. Hence we are to consider in this section the constitution of the body of Christ, that is the Church. And—
I. BELIEVERS ARE TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS ORGANICALLY UNITED, AND ARE CONSEQUENTLY TO CO-OPERATE FOR THE COMMON END. (Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5.) We are not meant to be isolated units, but members in sympathy. We are "joint-heirs" with Jesus Christ; we are consequently partners with one another in the great Christian enterprise. Co-operation, rather than competition, should be the guiding star of Christian people. We are distinctly made for the Christian Church, and it is our duty to promote the happiness and welfare of all our fellow-believers. Organic connection implies co-operation and sympathy of the sincerest character.
II. AS MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER, BELIEVERS WILL FIND THEMSELVES DISTRIBUTED A VARIETY OF POSITIONS, JUST AS THE MEMBERS OF THE BODY. (Romans 12:6-8.) While believers are members one of another, we are not reduced to a dead level of uniformity. Edification is doubtless to be in the body as every joint supplieth it, but the joints are not all alike; if they were, it would be a curious medley—a conglomeration of mere atoms, which we should have in place of a body. In the body there is subordination of member to member, and part to part. The foot is not to usurp the place of the head, nor the hand that of the eye, else will the body be turned upside down, and become a monstrosity instead of a thing and form of beauty. Consequently, we find that in the apostolic Church there were a variety of offices, and the apostle here specifies the spirit in which they should be filled and their duties discharged. Let us briefly notice the offices as here described.
1. Prophecy. The apostle puts this in the very forefront. Parallel passages go to prove that it was most highly esteemed in the apostolic Church. Thus it is placed immediately after the working of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10). In another place it is spoken of as "the gift of prophecy," and is associated with the "understanding of all mysteries, and of all knowledge" (1 Corinthians 13:2). It is further represented as the necessary adjunct to speaking with tongues (1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:22). And it was evidently regarded as the prime requisite in the edification of the public congregation; for St. Paul declares, "If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 1 Corinthians 14:25). Now, the more this matter is looked into, the more clearly are we landed in the conclusion that we have the prophetical office continued in Christ's Church in the ministry of the Word. Every minister who is called by Christ to the preaching of the gospel, and endowed by him for the work, is a prophet of the Highest just as really as Elijah or John the Baptist. If, then, to any of us this grace of prophecy has been committed, we must exercise it "according to the proportion of faith" (ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως). That is, "the prophet must be true and sincere, communicating only what God has given him." Moreover, and chiefly, must he show no disposition to exaggerations in the exposition of religion, but must give to each subject its due place and proportion. £ Hence Dr. Shedd, in his 'Commentary' upon the passage, declares, "This injunction of St. Paul is the key to systematic theology. No alleged Christian tenet can be correct which conflicts with other Christian tenets. All Christian truth must be consistent with Christianity. For example, the Deity of Christ supposes the doctrine of the Trinity; monergistic regeneration involves the doctrine of election; and an infinite atonement for sin, by God incarnate, logically implies an infinite penalty for sin."
2. The diaconate. For it is evidently to this particular ministry (διακονίαν) the apostle is here referring. To the apostolic Church this set of officers was given to attend to the temporalities of the Church, especially the care of the poor, the sick, and such like. The idea, then, is that thoroughness should characterize the diaconate just as well as the prophetical office.
3. Teaching. Now, the office of teacher is distinguished from that of prophet in such passages as 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. It has been suggested that the prophetical office implies inspiration, while the teacher's only the common knowledge of a devout and disciplined Christian mind (Shedd, in loc.). There is evidently need of a teaching order in the Church as well as of a preaching or prophetical order. If any is called to teach, let him be thorough in his teaching.
4. Exhortation. This is a gift which can be exercised by men who do not aspire to either the prophetical or the teaching office. It deals with the heart and will. "Evangelists" are for the most part of this character: they go about to stir up the souls of men to decision and activity, while their teaching is of necessity of a very limited description.
5. Giving. This applies to the distribution by the deacon of the Church's charity, and it may also apply to the private beneficence of the Church-member. In either case simplicity of motive and of aim is to characterize the giver. Charity should be exercised without parade and without any ulterior or selfish end.
6. Ruling. This undoubtedly refers to the function exercised by the officers of the Church, and it implies that nothing but diligence can succeed. Zeal (σπουδή) for the Church's purity and honour, and for the glory of the Church's Head, should characterize all who have authority in the Church.
7. Showing mercy. This applies to the attention the deacons and private Christians show to the sick and the suffering. Well, it is to be exercised "with hilarity" (ἱλαρότητι). What a difference it often makes when we set cheerfully about our merciful ministrations, entering with alacrity into them, and not doing them "against the grain"? Our "pity," as it has been very properly said, "should be impulsive, and not an effort; an inclination, and not a volition" (so Shedd, in loc.). Now, if Churchmanship were entered into in this noble and sympathetic spirit, what a different tale would our different Churches have to tell! It would be a tale of tender and gracious ministration, a tale of real because spiritual success? May the merciful Master grant it!—R.M.E.
From Churchmanship, which was discussed by the apostle in the preceding verses, we now pass to the Christian in society; and our endeavour will be to appreciate the Christian socialism which Paul here inculcates. The great error of the Christless socialism which prevails, alas! in many lands, is that it tries to do from without and by mere material manipulation what can only come from within through the Christian spirit. Into the various forms which socialism has assumed it would be improper here to enter; but any who wish to get some idea of the subject will do well to get the late Dr. Roswell D. Hitchcock's powerful and compendious treatise on 'Socialism,' where, after treating of "Socialism in General," "Communistic Socialism," and "Anti-Communistic Socialism," he reaches his climax in expounding the meaning of "Christian Socialism." £ Our duty just now is to appreciate the spirit of love which Christianity infuses into society, thereby securing all that socialism could possibly reach by its coarse materialistic methods, and infinitely more.
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTER OF LOVE. (Romans 12:9, Romans 12:10.) For this is the one thing needful (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.). Well, the apostle tells us it is not to be hypocritical (ἀνυπόκριτος); not to be a profession, but the reality of love. It is from this loving spirit that Christianity proceeds to the regeneration of society. If, then, we start with a genuine spirit of love, we shall not be found rejoicing at evil, but always abhorring it; while to good at all costs we shall ever cleave. Thus "pure Christian love manifests itself in two phases—the ethical recoil from moral evil, and the cleaving to moral good. The former, full as much as the latter, evinces the sincerity of the affection. Indifference towards sin, and especially an indulgent temper towards it, proves that there is no real love of holiness. The true measurement of a man's love of God is the intensity with which he hates evil (cf. Psalms 97:10). The ethics produced by the sentimental idea of God and of moral evil, is 'easy virtue'" (so Shedd, in loc.). Such love, then, will bloom into the intense "brotherly love" (φιλαδελφίᾳ), which is the great evidence of the Christian spirit (John 13:35). And when brotherly love is entertained, instead of a selfish race for honours, there will be a pushing of worthy brethren forwards—a contest not for the first rank, but for worthier men than we are to put therein. How striking a Christian spirit becomes in presence of the severe competition going on around it, when it is seen exerting itself to honour others rather than to honour itself! It is this self-effacement which the world cannot understand.
II. LIFE IN EARNEST. (Romans 12:11-13.) Now, when a Christian declines honour, and seeks to put the better man thereinto, it is not that he may shirk work. For, as a matter of fact, hard work and honour are not inseparably associated in this world. Hence the Christian can show his "zeal for the Lord" while setting no store by honour for it. The next element, therefore, in the Christian life and spirit is earnestness. As Luther puts it, "In regard to zeal, be not lazy." The Christian will show a zealous spirit in all legitimate lines of effort. £ His life will be intense. And to maintain it in intensity, it will require to be "fervent in spirit," and in all "serving the Lord." The serving of the opportunity, as in some ancient manuscripts, is not so likely, nor so emphatic, as "serving the Lord;" for the Christian is one who has learned to serve God in everything—to "do everything as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord he shall receive the reward of the inheritance as he serves the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23, Colossians 3:24). Moreover, with this fervent, faithful spirit there will come a buoyancy and hopefulness which is most important in all Christian work; a patience too in tribulation; a prayerfulness at all times; a liberality towards the saints; a hospitality towards all men. The Christian keeps "open house" because he is open-hearted. Now, if such an earnestness were infused into all Christian living, society would soon be regenerated.
III. LIFE MAGNANIMOUS AND SYMPATHETIC. (Romans 12:14-16.) Jesus set the great example of magnanimity. He blessed his persecutors; he prayed for his murderers; he converted some of them at Pentecost. Hence, if we would carry out his spirit, we must bless them that persecute us; we must meet the weak spirit which descends to intolerance and persecution with the one weapon of blessing. The Christian martyrs have crushed the opposition to the gospel by blessing their persecutors. But we must show sympathy as well as magnanimity, prepared to congratulate those in joy, to weep along with those in tears. Sympathy adds largely to the experience and benefit of life. £ And this sympathy is to be genuine all round; we are to be "of the same mind one towards another." We are not to be selecting for our sympathy those in good positions, but we are to "condescend to men of low estate." This is, indeed, the luxury of the Christian spirit to be able to take men up in a low condition, and treat them as God has treated us. We are also to avoid being "wise in our own conceits." In this way the Christian will exhibit large-heartedness; there will be nothing small or petty about his movements; he will be the noble brother-man in his little sphere that Christ has been and is in the wide sphere of the Church.
IV. LIFE LOVINGLY AGGRESSIVE. (Romans 12:17-21.) We pass, lastly, to love encountering opposition, yet triumphing over it. And first we are not to take the law into our own hand and recompense evil for evil Now, the world cannot well understand this Christian spirit. It can appreciate better "the blow for blow" which characterized the early ages. "Thomas Paine, in reference to our Lord's injunction to turn the other cheek to the smiter, charges Christianity with the 'spirit of a spaniel,' asserting that it destroys proper self-respect, and renders man indifferent to insult and affront" (see Shedd, in loc.). But when the Christian is charged to "provide things honest in the sight of all men," the meaning being "things honourable" (Revised Version), then it couples with forbearance true Christian dignity. £ In strict accordance with this Christian dignity is to be our living peaceably with all men, if possible. It may be necessary by Christian testimony sometimes to provoke and exasperate worldling; but, at the same time, pugnacity will be seen not to belong to the Christian spirit. And as for vengeance, let us leave all that with God. He will do justly at last. Meanwhile it is our prerogative to feed and give drink to an enemy; and by every means in our power to heap coals of fire on his head. The only vengeance allowed in the code of love is to kill our enemy with kindness. As the king was directed by Elisha to feed the Syrian soldiers and send them home in peace, and as they came not in that generation into Palestine again, so we are to avenge ourselves by kindness. £ The apostle leaves us here in the last verse with the great principle in the aggressive Christian life. Evil can only be overcome by good. We are not to be exasperated by the enemy; we are to turn the tables on him by love. And has not this been God s own plan? Is not his government and administration to overcome evil by good? Even "everlasting punishment will be covered by the principle of good. May we entertain and practise the Christian spirit in all our intercourse with men!—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17