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Observe here, 1. The apostle's loving and courteous compellation, brethren: so he calls the believing Romans. They were brethren by place and nation, and brethren by religion and profession: eodem sanguine Christi conglutinati, cemented together by the blood of Christ, and by the bands of love.
Observe, 2. The manner of the apostle's exhortation: it is by way of obsecration and entreaty, I beseech you, brethren. It imports great lenity and meekness. The apostle did not want authority to command, but uses such humility as to entreat. The minister's work and office is not only to be a teacher, but a beseecher. He must not barely propound and recommend the doctrines of the gospel to his people's understanding, but must endeavour to work upon their wills and affections to embrace and entertain them. The understanding is the leading, but the will the commanding, faculty.
Observe, 3. The exhortation itself: Present your bodies a living sacrifice. Present your bodies, that is, dedicate your persons, devote yourselves, your whole man, soul and body, to the service of God and his glory. Christians are priests, or a royal priesthood; they offer up themselves in sacrifice unto God, as a whole burnt-offering.
Observe, 4. The properties of the Christian sacrifice: it must be voluntary; present yourselves. It must be a living sacrifice, an holy sacrifice, a reasonable sacrifice; otherwise it will find no acceptance with God.
Observe, 5. The argument or motive which the apostle makes use of, to persuade persons to present and give up themselves to God and his service, and that is drawn from the mercies of God; I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God.
Learn thence, That the mercies of God, revealed in the gospel, are the most proper, powerful, and effectual argument, to persuade with, and prevail upon, sinners, that have not given up and devoted themselves to God, to do it; and those that have done it, to do it more and more: I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present yourselves, &c.
Observe here, 1. The apostle's dehortation, Be not conformed to this world, that is, "Do not fashion or accommodate yourselves to the corrupt principles or customs, to the sinful courses and practices, of the men of the world." The Christian is to walk singularly, and not after the world's guise; he must not cut the coat of his profession according to the fashion of the times, or the honour of the company he falls into.
Observe, 2. An apostolical exhortation, Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind; that is, "Be ye regenerated and changed in your whole man, beginning at the mind or understanding, by which the Spirit of God worketh upon the inferior faculties of the soul." Every converted person is truly and really changed, thoroughly sanctified and renewed, endowed with new dispositions and affections; yet this conversion and renovation is not a substantial, but a qualitive change, a change not in the substance of the faculties of the soul, but in the quality of those faculties. And the renewed Christian is sanctified totus, but not totaliter; he is sanctified thoroughly in all faculties, but not perfectly in all degrees. There is in a renewed man's understanding too much blindness and ignorance, in his will too great obstinacy and perverseness, in his affections too much irregularity and sensuality. yet such is the indulgence of the gospel, as to call him an holy person, a person transformed by the renewing of his mind.
Observe, 3. The reason of the apostle's exhortation, Be ye transformed, &c. that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God: that is, that he may discern and approve what the will of God is under the gospel, which requires not what is ritually, but what is substantially good, and consequently always acceptable to him.
Note here, That opposition to the Levitical ceremonies and ritual injunctions, the apostle styles the gospel institution, the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God; and as such may we love and embrace it, and be found in the delightful practice of it.
The apostle having exhorted to an holy life in general, ver. 1 and to a spiritual renovation of mind, in order to it, ver. 2 comes now to a close exhortation to more particular duties; the first of which is modesty and true humility of mind.
This he recommends especially to such who bear any public office in the church, and had received some peculiar and special gifts to fit and furnish them for the discharge of that office.
St. Paul here particularly enjoins them, by virtue of his apostolic office, to watch against pride, and haughtiness of mind, not to think themselves, according to the truth, and to the degree of faith and wisdom given unto them of God; plainly intimating, that such as are exalted to a degree of eminence in the church above others, are in great danger of the sin of pride, which it is their duty to watch and pray against, and to be found in the exercise of that humility and lowliness of mind, which is so greatly ornamental to their persons and profession: Let not any man think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but let him think soberly.
Here the apostle lays before us a special reason why the officers of the church should exercise humility towards, and employ their gifts and talents for, the general good and benefit of the church. The argument is drawn from a comparison between the natural body and the mystical body.
"As in the natural body there are many members, and every member has its distinct office, the eye to see, the ear to hear, the hand to work, the foot to walk; in like manner, in the mystical body, the church of Christ, there are many members; but each member must keep his own place, and not invade the duty or usurp the office of another, but every one employ his own proper gift to the benefit and comfort of the whole, without disdaining or envying one another."
Learn hence, 1. That the church of Christ is one body.
2. That though the body of the church be one, and the Head one, yet the members are many, united to Christ their Head by faith, and to one another by love.
3. That all believers, which are members of this body, have every one his particular gift, his several function, his proper office, which they are duly to execute and perform, without encroaching upon others by proud curiosity, or busy meddling.
But as all the members of the body labour jointly together for the preservation of the whole, so ought all the officers and members of the church to keep their distinct stations, and employ and improve regularly their several talents for the mutual edification and benefit of each other, without encroachment or intruding upon the offices of each other. God is a God of order, and hates disorder in his church.
As if our apostle had said, "Seeing it has pleased God to appoint distinct officers in his church, and to furnish those officers with various degrees of gifts, and not to make all equal either in gifts or office, let every one in general faithfully execute his office, and keep within the limits of his calling, neither neglecting his own duty, nor invading another's; in particular let him that prophesieth, that is, expoundeth the scriptures in the church, do it according to the proportion of faith, or according to what is taught plainly and uniformly in the whole scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as the rule of our faith."
We must not rack nor wrest the scriptures, to make them speak what we please, but what the prophets and the apostles taught, whom we interpret; otherwise we do not expound according to the analogy and proportion of faith.
"Let him that ministereth, teacheth, or exhorteth, and attend upon that work with all diligence; and he that performs the office of a deacon, (who are called helps, 1 Corinthians 12:28) and is employed to relieve the poor out of the church's stock, and to care of strangers, orphans, aged, sick, and impotent persons; let him so it with simplicity, that is, without partiality and respect of persons; and with cheerfulness, that is, with alacrity of heart, with gentleness in words, with pleasantness of countenance, bearing with the infirmities of the aged, with the loathsomeness of the sick and diseased, and administering with delight to the necessities of all that want."
Now from the whole note, 1. That God of his free bounty has beautified his church with divers officers and gifts.
Note, 2. That those whom God has bestowed ministerial gifts upon, ought humbly and faithfully to improve them to the church's benefit and edification.
The foregoing exhortations respected church officers in particular; these that now follow concern all Christians in general, and acquaint them with their duties in common conversation. He begins with the grace and duty of love, that being a radical grace, the root from which all other graces and duties spring and flow. This love to one another, the Holy Ghost requires that it be without dissimulation, that is, sincere love: Be kindly affectioned one to another. The word signifies such an affectionate tenderness as a mother bears to the fruit of her womb, and as creatures bear to their young; and no wonder that such a fervent love is required, when laying down our lives for the brethren is commanded, 1 John 3:16.
Likewise, that our love to others do incline us to give preference unto others; really conceiving others to be more worthy of honour than ourselves, and rejoicing to see them placed in a more useful and honourable post than ourselves.
Yet observe, Though our love must be hot towards our neighbour, it must not hinder us from abhorring that which is sinful and evil in our neighbour: Love without dissimulation, and abhor that which is evil. When we love the persons, we must hate the vices, of men: the love of our friends must not make us in love with their faults; nor must the hatred of men's vices draw us off from delighting in, and cleaving to, that which is good in any man: Abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good.
The next duty exhorted to, is diligence and industry in all our duties both to God and man, but particularly in the duties of our calling. We must avoid the two extremes of slothfulness on the one hand, and excessive drudgery on the other, in the management of our secular affairs and worldly business. But in the service of God we must be fervent, as in the service of the world we must not be slothful. What is done for the world, is best done with indifferency; but what is done for God, is best done with warmth and fervency, or not done at all. Our most ardent affections and active powers must be employed in his service; for, to be cold and careless therein, disparages his excellency, and will defeat our own expectation. We must be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; and may not be slothful in business, serving the world.
The apostle next directs the converted Romans how they should manage themselves under afflictions; namely, to endure them patiently, to rejoice in hope of present deliverance, or future happiness; and, in order to both, to be much in the duty of prayer.
Learn hence, that hope, patience, and prayer, are powerful supports under all afflictions, and will render them not only tolerable, but joyous. By patience, we possess ourselves; by hope, we possess God; by prayer, we are enabled unto both.
The next duty exhorted to, is that of charity and alms-giving to the poor members of Jesus Christ, especially when under persecution; showing hospitality towards them, and giving entertainment to them, when they seek it of us.
Learn, 1. That charity to all persons, but especially to the persecuted members of Jesus Christ, is a necessary and important duty.
Learn, 2. That hospitality is an eminent part of Christian charity; true hospitality, I mean, which is accompanied with prudence and sobriety. There is a wide difference between riotous house-keeping and true hospitality; the latter is always designed for the help of the poor, and particularly for the godly poor. There are great house-keepers who are not good house-keepers, because their house-keeping is for the great, rather than the good, not for the household of faith, especially not for the poor of that household.
As to spirituals, God fills the hungry with good things, but sends the rich empty away; whereas, most men, as to corporals, fill the rich with their table. This is not according to the precept before us; Distributing to the necessities of the saints, and given to hospitality.
The apostle having taught us our duty to our friends in the former verse, teacheth us our duty here towards our enemies. Bless them that persecute you: that is, pray for them, and wish well to them, whatever provocation you may have to the contrary.
Learn hence, 1. That good men must make account of, and prepare for, persecution; either the persecution of the tongue, or of the hand, or of both.
Learn, 2. That it is their duty ever to bless, never to curse, their persecutors and opposers; Bless, but curse not.
Where note, That the apootle doubles the exhortation, Bless your persecutors, bless and curse not. This doubling the exhortation, shows both the difficulty of the duty, how contrary it is to corrupt nature; and also the constancy of the duty, we must ever bless, and never curse: always wish well, never any ill, to the worst of men. Take we great heed of giving way to secret wishes of hurt to our enemy. God forbid we should hurt ourselves by sinful passion, because others hurt us by slander and false accusation. We are naturally prone to speak ill of others, and to wish ill to others, with delight; this sin persisted in, shuts out of heaven as well as murder.
The next duty required, is Christian sympathy and mutual affection between brethren, both in prosperity and adversity, to rejoice in the one, and to mourn together in the other, as being members of the same body. Teaching us,that it is a Christian's duty to rejoice in those good things, whether inward or outward, which befall his brethren; and also to mourn and lay to heart all those afflictions and sorrows, whether inward or outward, which come upon them.
But, Lord! how far are they from this duty, who, instead of mourning for the sufferings of others, are glad at calamity, rejoice at the downfall of others!
O, help us to lay the troubles of others to heart, when we ourselves are freest and farthest from trouble: let us weep with them that weep, and rejoice with, &c. The gospel acquaints us with the pity of God towards us, and presseth us to pity one another.
These words, be ye of the same mind one towards another, are an exhortation to unity among Christians. This is threefold; an unity of the head, or an unity of judgment and opinion; an unity of the heart, or an unity in love and affection; and an unity of the tongue, which is an unity of expression.
Happy we! when in all these respects we are of the same mind one towards another.
Observe next, The hindrances of mutual concord and unity among Christians: and they are two,
1. Price, Mind not high things. 2. Arrogancy, Be not wise in your own conceits.
Mind not high things; that is, mind not preferment, nor riches, nor vain-glory, but be content with and thankful for a middle state and condition in the world; which is far more eligible and desirable than a state of riches, plenty, and abundance, as being less liable to temptations.
And be not wise in your own conceits; that is, entertain humble thoughts of your own knowledge, think it not greater than it is; take heed of an over-weening opinion of your own wisdom, as if you wanted neither divine assistance and guidance, nor yet the advice and counsel of your brethren. Man is naturally a proud creature; but more proud of the endowments of his mind, than of those that adorn his body.
By evil here, we are to understand wrongs and private injuries; by not recompensing them, is meant not revenging them. Corrupt nature is very prone to return wrong for wrong, one ill turn for another, but Christianity sets a nobler pattern before us, even the example of him, "who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered, he threatened not," Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 1 Peter 2:23.
Having exhorted them before to be careful of their conversations towards God, he now presses them to be watchful over their conversations before the world, that by honesty and innocency of life they may cut off all occasion from the enemies fo religion to speak evil of them, and their holy profession; that all their words and actions be justifiable and unexceptionable, to that degree that the heathens may be in love with Christianity, by observing their lives and actions to be holy and honest.
Learn hence, That a Christian must carefully look, not only to his conscience, but to his conversation; that his conscience be holy and upright in the sight of God, and his conversation honest and unblameable before men. The world cannot discern our hearts, but they can soon discover the errors of our lives, and will throw the dirt of our sins upon religion's face; therefore we had need provide things honest in the sight of all men.
Observe here, 1. The duty directed and exhorted to, namely, peaceableness; Live peacably, that is, be of a peaceable temper, and follow those things which make for peace.
Observe, 2. The extent and latitude of this duty: With all men live peacably; not with friends only, or with those of your own judgment and persuasion, but with men of disagreeing humours and interests, with men of different principles and apprehensions, from you.
Again observe, 3. A double restriction and limitation with which it is bounded: first, If it be possible, implying, that there is a sort of men in the world who make peace impossible; but for others, if it may be enjoyed upon honest terms, though upon hard terms, we must not stick at them, always remembering that peace and truth are two precious things, which can never be bought too dear, of they be not purchased with sin and baseness.
The second restriction follows, As much as in you lieth: now this respects our endeavours, not our success. If we follow peace with all men, though we cannot overtake it, yet we shall not miss of our reward in pursuing it. Peace is the most important duty, a singular benefit and blessing, which every Christian is bound to pursue and promote, and that with all men: If it be possible, &c.
Observe here, How the apostle renews his exhortation to all Christians to watch against the sin of private and personal revenge; he urged it before, ver. 17 he reinforces it here, ver. 19 thereby showing how prone our corrupt natures are to commit this sin, and how hard the contrary duty is to flesh and blood. The heathens reckoned revenge to be a part of justice, and ranked it amongst the number of their virtues; but the scriptures require, that instead of revenging an injury, we remit and forgive it.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves: it follows, rather give place unto wrath. What wrath? or whose wrath?
Answer Give place to your own wrath, say some interpreters; give way a little, and turn aside from the person you are angry with, and do not suffer your anger to hurry you away to revenge.
Give place to the wrath of those that wrong you, say others; decline their wrath, and give not word for word, which will but add fuel to the fire, and oil to the flame.
But it seems best to understand it of God's wrath: leave the matter to God, he will right your cause; do not take God's work out of his hand, but suffer him to come in with his wrath upon your enemies, who wrong and injure you; rather give place to the wrath of God against them, for vengeance is his, and he will repay it.
Learn hence, That such, who having suffered wrong, do seek to revenge themselves, take revenging work out of God's hand; whereas, if they leave the matter with God, his justice will right them fully.
As if the apostle had said, "Instead of revenge, render kindness; return courtesies for injuries, affability for affronts: If thy enemy hunger, feed him." The words, as some critics observe, signify to feed their young ones. So doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.
By coals of fire, 1. some understand an heart-melting fire: as if the apostle had said, "By thy kindness thou wilt melt and mollify his spirit towards thee, as hardest metals are melted by coals of fire: it must be a very stony heart indeed that this fire will not melt, a very disingenuous nature that meekness will not mollify. Clemency will melt an enemy, and even force him by a sweet compulsion to become a friend, though of a rough and rugged disposition."
2. By coals of fire heaped upon the head, others understand a sin-punishing fire. Thou shalt heap coals of fire, that is, the fire of divine vengeance, upon his head, by making his malice and hatred against thee more inexcusable.
Learn hence, 1. That to conquer and overcome an enemy by love and kindness, is a noble conquest; and a glorious victory, to melt him down by obliging favours into a good affection.
Learn, 2. That if an enemy, after such kind offices, will persevere in his enmity against us, the event will certainly be this: by our patience towards him, and forbearance of him, we shall engage the wrath of God against him, and heap coals of fire, that is, the divine vengeance, upon him.
Learn hence, That every Christian should not only take heed that he be not overcome of evil; but also labour and endeavour what in him lieth to overcome evil with good.
Question What are we to understand here by evil?
Answer Any unkind or injurious dealings from others, any mischief or ill turn which our neighbour has done us.
Question What is it to be overcome of evil?
Answer 1. When we dwell in our thoughts too much, too often, and too long, upon the injuries and unkindnesses we have met with. This is, as if a man that was to take down a bitter pill should be continually chomping of it, and rolling it under his tongue.
2. We are overcome of evil, when we are brought over to commit the same evil, by studying to make spiteful returns by way of revenge for the injuries we have received.
Question Wherein consists the duty and excellency of overcoming evil with good?
Answer It renders us like to God, who does good to us daily, though we do evil against him continually, hereby we imitate God in one of the choicest perfections of his divine nature; hereby we overcome ourselves; hereby we overcome our enemies; and make them become our friends.
Question How should we overcome evil with good?
Answer By doing good for evil, by returning courtesies for injuries, speaking well of others, although they speak hardly, yea, very ill of us.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 12". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17