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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Romans 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-21

The Christian Ideal

Romans 12

Anew section of the Epistle would seem to open with the twelfth chapter. The eleventh chapter concludes with "Amen": but Amen was not necessarily a final word with the Apostle Paul. He had his own way of writing. He began again after he was supposed to have finished; always another idea occurred to him; evermore there was a light beyond on which he must dwell if only for a moment, and scarcely had he indicated that beam than there dawned upon that ardent mind mornings brighter than he had ever seen. We shall know from the application the meaning of the sermon. In very deed there are parts of the sermon we cannot understand. The Epistle to the Romans is intensely theological, doctrinal, here and there bewildering, metaphysical. We do not know what the Apostle means; probably he hardly knew his own meaning; that is to say, he saw things which he could only shadowingly indicate and not substantially develop and represent. It was a wonderful mind. To be near the Apostle Paul was to be at school; to read one of his epistles is to see that we have not yet begun our education. Yet who could be so simple, so practical? Who could be so definite in exhortation? We shall know from the twelfth chapter onward all that he has been talking about; that is to say, we shall know in practical exhortation what we never for a moment could understand in metaphysical disquisition. It is even so with men in the Church and men everywhere. There can be but few metaphysicians. All men must be workers, must attend to the practical side of life, must accept discipline, and must work out some policy or theory of being. If we could establish ourselves in this conviction, infinite trouble would be saved and infinite mischief would be prevented. The danger is that all men think themselves metaphysicians. As a matter of fact, there is only a man here and there who ought to meddle with the philosophy of things; the millions should live on the outside: work, attend to practical duties, and accept the conclusions wrought out for them either by philosophy on the one hand or experience on the other. Those who cannot understand the first eleven chapters of the Epistle to the Romans should begin at the twelfth chapter.

"I beseech you therefore." The term "therefore" may be a term in ratiocination, and probably was in this instance; or it may be an ebullient word, his feeling is so excited as to become itself a form of reasoning, and he will have all men do something because God"s way is so mysterious, yet withal so beneficent. "...by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies." This is a reference to the general constitution of human nature; it is not a word which could be replaced by the other and vaguer word "yourselves": when the Apostle says bodies in this connection he means bodies—flesh, the outward, lower, meaner self; so that not only the tenant should be a hero, but his house should be a sanctuary. Lay the emphasis upon the word "bodies": the flesh must be broken down, subdued, overruled, refined, glorified. Nor is this to be done by mutilation, or by the barbarous custom of ancient times of putting the knife to the jugular vein and causing the body to die. This is to be a living sacrifice: every member complete, yet each member doing its work simply, lovingly, obediently; the whole body alive, but controlled, disciplined, and turned to highest and sweetest utility. This is the difference between the old sacrifices and the sacrifice required under the Gospel. It is easy to kill a bullock, easy to offer a thousand rams: but we are called to the spiritual sacrifice of being dead yet living, of passing through our own death into newness of creatureship, the upper mystery and the broader mystery of spiritual resurrection. Hence, the folly of monasticism, and mutilation, laceration, and those starvings and contempts with which the body is visited by merely mechanical disciplinarians. We are not to shut the ear lest we should hear music. We are to open the ear and say, Let me hear you: I can judge you now. Are your tones pure? Is your meaning sacred? Play on, sing on, I can discriminate; I will reject the suggestion of evil, I will respond to the tone of purity. We are not to hide ourselves away from the recreations and the amusements and the entertainments of life: but we are to say, What are you? what can you do? what is your power? what scope have you? We are now above you: once we were on a level with you and we were dragged as by cart ropes and waggon chains behind you; but now we can take you up and set you down, use you, make a convenience of you, and it is impossible for you to so besiege us by vicious importunity as to make any conquest over us. We are living sacrifices; not dead bodies, but living bodies; every drop of blood intact, every drop of blood a drop of fire; and yet we pray. To this vocation we are called. We are not amputated, depleted, or disabled men; but we are full, complete, crowned men, and have that highest of all sovereignty, the sovereignty of ourselves. Thus Paul"s theology is practical conduct. Apostolic metaphysics must end in human good behaviour. Theology is not a quibble in words, a trick in logomachy; it is an attainment in character. Theologians that never come out of the theological cloud ought never to have got into it; they misrepresent the kingdom of God,—they are word-choppers, and murderers of human thought and language, and spoiling wolves that are seeking to live upon the flock of Christ. Any sermon that does not come out in a grand application ought never to have been delivered. The sacrifice is to be "holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service"—which is the service of your reason. The Apostle will not have reason driven out of the Church. The Pauline Church is a church of rationalists in the highest, truest sense of that term—in fact in the only high and true sense. Rationalism that does not include God is reason without head, or hands, or faculty that can be turned to use: a blind teacher prating of colour which it has never seen. The Apostle will have our reason sanctified. Reason should be a worshipper; reason should take the covering from its lofty head and bow before the Cross in reverent obeisance. That is Paul"s idea, and Paul is the teacher of Christians, whatever else he may or may not be.

Does the apostolic exhortation end with the body? The answer is found in the next verse:—"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." In the first verse the body is put into its right relation to God; in the second verse the mind is put into its right relation to things infinite and eternal. Thus the whole man is consecrated. "Be not conformed to this world." Why not? Because it is not a world at all, in any sense of completeness. It is too small for the mind. Even science is growing contemptuous. There was a time when the world eight thousand miles through was thought to be a great world; now it is thrown aside as something that may be called for, or may not be called for, according to the exigencies of tomorrow. Be not conformed to your cradle, O men. The cradle is a silver one, the cradle is a beautiful one. Yes, but it is a cradle still, and you are men. There was a time when it was roomy enough, the very house you wanted, better than all the king"s palaces at Babylon; but now that ye have become men, that your minds are awake, that you can see the distant, and see that which to the untrained sense is invisible, be not conformed to your cradle, but be ye transformed, take on other capacities rightfully yours and claim all the worlds. For what purpose? For the purpose of making stepping-stones of them. There is not one of them on which you may not put your foot, as a man might put his foot upon a step that he might higher go. The mind is to be renewed, made new, made young, made fresh like a dewy morning, made lithe like an energy that cannot be tired. To what end? That it may become a faculty of moral criticism; that ye may prove, test, look carefully into, and know what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God; and know the will of God from that which is supposed to be the will of God; that you may have the faculty of discrimination, the judgment that will not be satisfied with broad definitions, but must go into critical distinctions, so that the mind cannot be imposed upon by a false revelation. If any man be in Christ Jesus, part of the Lord Jesus, absorbed in the Lord Jesus, you cannot palm upon him a forged epistle. Say, This we have found bearing the autograph of Paul; he needs no scholar learned in little words with all their verbal changes and alterations in order to tell him whether it is true or not; it comes against him, and he receives it as a friend, or he comes against it, and he assaults it as an enemy. Inspiration is not in the word but in the breathed spirit, in the pleading importunity, in the dazzling Wisdom of Solomon , in the lofty call. The mind that has been renewed and invested with critical discrimination can read any amount of false literature, and cast it out with an ejection significant of burning contempt. We are to be able to do two things: first to find out what is the will of God, and secondly to find out the best way of doing it. This we can never do except by long days and nights spent in the school of Christ under the tuition of God the Holy Ghost.

Now the Apostle clothes himself with apostolic authority and proceeds—"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." The English can make nothing of Paul"s talk. If the English language were pressed into an exact expression of Paul"s conception it would sound almost grotesquely, certainly it would be heavy and distasteful to the merely literary palate. The Apostle will have every man minded to be sober-minded, minded to be modest-minded. He is not to think soberly in the sense of thinking languidly, or without the urgency of passion, but he is to think in the direction of sober thinking, to be minded to sober-mindedness, with honest clear-headed mindedness that cannot be imposed upon. By what measure is this to be measured?—"according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." That is one of the things forgotten in the Church. It is supposed that all men can have equal faith. When folly of that kind is insisted upon in the Church what wonder we have all manner of heterodoxy within its borders? One man has little faith, and you cannot give him more; another man is all faith, and he never talks in prose. The Lord gave to every man what every man has; he made one a painter, another a poet, another a preacher, another a merchantman; he made one woman bright as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, subtle as George Eliot; he made another woman the mother of the house, taking care of everything, cumbered about many things, loving all that belongs to home, and making home the sweetest little church under the sun—all these are equally the gift of God. So in the Church he made one man possess great faith, and another man has hardly any faith at all. Is the man of little faith to be disesteemed and cast out? Verily no:—"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.... Who art thou that judgest another man"s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand." Only let him know that he has next to no faith and therefore ought to be a silent member of the Church; only let him know that he has no business to say who is orthodox and who is heterodox; only let the babe in the cradle take no part in household economy; then we shall have a Church marked by an infinite variety of gift, tone, colour, pulse, force; and it is for God to blend the differences into one solid harmony.

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith." Literally: Having then gifts of grace, differing according to a sovereignty we cannot control, let us recognise differences. Of differences we have made a very vicious use. We have thought they were signs of schism, signs of separation, signs of disharmony. They are the very glory of the Church. Differences should be welcomed; contrasts should not be unknown in the kingdom of Christ. One man could not be an Arminian, another man could not be a Calvinist; one man must have all men saved, another man would be content to have a few saved if he thought that God himself wanted it to be so; the man would crush his own instincts, his own natural benevolence, if he once got hold of the prejudice that God himself only wanted a certain percentage of humanity to be saved. These men cannot live in the same Church, simply because they do not recognise differences; they are non-apostolic; they must build themselves separate sanctuaries, and worship God at different altars. Instead of this we should have in the same Church all manner of Baptists, all manner of theologians, every possible variety of thinker. We must not make God"s providence monotonous, we must not take out of God"s kingdom the lights that sometimes appear to cross one another. "According to the proportion of faith": literally, according to whatever faith each man has. The words have often been prostituted to false uses,—that we must preach so much upon one subject, then so much upon another, and then rectify the balance by an allusion to other subjects. No such meaning is to be found in Paul"s words; his simple meaning Isaiah , Every man has a gift of faith, and according to every man"s particular gift of faith let him work, whether he be prophet or minister or servant or exhorter. Here is the reconciliation of all things. The mischief always is that the man who has little faith will quarrel with the man who is all faith. It is very rarely you hear the great dog bark, but the little dog no whip can keep quiet. Be sure that if a man has little faith he has tremendous criticism: in proportion to the littleness of his faith he is able to tell who is on the down-grade, who is on the up-grade, who is right, and who is wrong. He pronounces his own condemnation. The Apostle Paul recognises differences, proportions, dowries to start the world with: all he insists upon is personal simplicity and sincerity in the conviction wherewith we are called. Is any man called to be a poet? let him gather his singing robes around him, and awake with the lark, and sing to us from heaven"s gate of the glory land and all the vision that makes heaven"s eternal summer. Is any man called to be a servant? let him stoop to his work honestly and lovingly, and worshippingly, and he shall find in the ground the mystery wrought by the sun, roots rich with fruit. Is any man called to give? let him give with both hands richly, simply; "let him do it with simplicity," that Isaiah , with only one meaning. Simplicity is the single fold, open and read of all men; duplicity is the double fold, between the folds who can tell what may be hidden? complexity is the multifold; simplicity is lost. He that giveth let him give with simplicity, with an open, frank, generous nature; not asking how much other people are going to give, not making an investment of it, not causing it to suffer because being done ostentatiously, but let him give with real genuine heartiness. "He that sheweth mercy with cheerfulness." There is a mercy which says, Now behold me, I am going to be very merciful: I could crush you, but I will not; I could just simply annihilate you, but I will not; I could bring to bear upon you an instrument that would grind you to powder, but I will not. The Apostle Paul will not have mercy of that kind. Mercy is to be radiant, tuneful, joyous, happy; mercy is to say, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; lost, and is found; make the welkin ring! The Apostle Paul will have good things done in a good way. He will have nothing slovenly. If you are called to be a prophet, prophesy according to your faculty, your spiritual gift, your immense faith. "Or ministry:" serving, that is; let us attend to our ministering our serving, and be absorbed in it. Or if we are called to teaching let us sit down with the little scholars and make them understand first the letter, then the syllable, then the word, then the thought, then the music. Or if we are called to exhortation: literally, to encouragement, to stimulate men, cheer them on under difficult tasks: let us wait on that function as if it were the greatest in the Church. It we are called to rule, let us do it "with diligence"; and if we are called to show mercy let mercy come forth, not robed in sackcloth with ashes sprinkled on its head, but let mercy be liberated like an angel, and come out to sing its pardons and proclaim its welcomes in music.

Prayer

Saviour of the world, open thou our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of thy law. The law of the Lord is perfect: do thou perfect us in pureness that we may read thy book with wise and understanding minds. Help us also to begin at Moses and all the prophets, and to read in all the Scriptures the things concerning Christ. We bless thee for thy book; it is a fountain full of water, it is a sun pouring down the morning and the noontide upon our way of life; it is a shield and buckler, a great sword and a mighty defence, it is bread and water; it is like its Lord, it is all things, bright, beautiful, good, and tender. Enable us to walk right through this whole paradise of revelation; may we notice everything, may nothing escape the attention of our love: thus shall we know thy book to be like thyself, O Christ, and we shall say concerning thy book, Its name is Wonderful. We thank thee for what it has done for us; thy book has directed our way, comforted us in our sorrow, upheld us when our poor strength was giving way; it has been full of promises and songs to us in the time of dejection and in the night of great fear. May we see in this land and in all the lands a revived interest in God"s own book; may we all gather around it as around the only book worth reading, because it contains the revelation of God, the music which souls need, and because in it and round about it and above it there shines a wondrous mystery of mercy and love, of sacrifice and redemption. We bless thee for all thou hast given unto us; now wilt thou crown all thy gifts by opening our understanding that we may understand the Scripture. May the word of Christ dwell in us richly; may we so know thy word that none can impose upon us by offering us another; may we know thy music, thou Son of God, so well that we shall rise in instant indignation against any one who shall offer to defraud us or impose upon us. Grant unto us the great mind, the penetrating judgment, the responsive heart, which thou hast promised to those who are like little children. Make us little children in simplicity and in love, in self-distrust and in all pureness of mind; then shall thy book be above us as the sun is above the earth, yet not too far away from the little earth to be able to warm it and gladden it, and make it bright with summer. The Lord hear us in every prayer that is breathed at the Saviour"s Cross, and cleansed by the Saviour"s blood. Amen.


Verses 9-21

Romans 12:9-21

9 Let love be without dissimulation ["Let love be unfeigned." Comp.

2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22]. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love ["In brotherly-love be affectionate one to another." The Speakers Commentary points out that the emphatic order of the Greek is lost in the A.V.]; in honour preferring one another:

11. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

12. Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13. Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality [Lit. pursuing hospitality.]

14. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

15. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

16. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

"Enmity being the world"s prevailing attitude, how must the Christian meet it?"

17. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest [honourable] in the sight of all men.

18. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20. 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.

21. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Christian Ideal

(continued)

All this is what we ought to be and ought to do, and cannot be and cannot do. No man can live the Sermon on the Mount; it was not intended to be lived. Nor is this intended to be attained in all the perfectness of its meaning, and exemplified in all the minuteness of its spiritual beauty. It was meant as an ideal; something to look up to, something to strive after; the impossible that made the possible more glorious, more fruitful of educational results and spiritual attainments. If any man is smitten on the one cheek, he cannot turn the other also; nor was he meant to do so. The exhortation points in the direction of a Christian quality that is to be striven after, prayed for, earnestly and passionately desired, and nothing is to be done by the Christian contrary to the temper which that aspiration indicates. It is only by setting up the ideal that we can do anything worth doing in the actual. No man is ever satisfied with his work; at best he says, It will do until tomorrow; then I shall improve the colour, then I shall ease the stiffness, then I shall introduce the mystery of distance, then I shall call in the wizardry of atmosphere; meanwhile, this poor hand is tired, and I lay down my instruments and implements; I must sleep myself into some larger faculty. The ideal is not meant to be mocked, it is meant to be striven after. We could not have the possible but for the impossible, the actual but for the poetic and ideal; we could not have the artificial light but for the sun. It is the lofty that makes the lowly what it Isaiah , in quality, in loveliness, in fascination. It is eternity that makes time worth living.

"Let love be without dissimulation." The young know what a dissyllable is; it is a word of two syllables: "dissimulation" is something of two images; plainly, we call it two faces; speaking of some persons we say, They are very two-faced. That is to say, they are hypocrites; they smile with one face and frown with another; they speak honied words, but the poison of asps is under their tongue; they can look what they do not mean. If this word were put in a picture, then it would be represented by two faces; one expressing one emotion, and the other expressing quite a contrary feeling. Paul says, Let there be no hypocrisy in love. The very word "love" ought to be its own protection. Love is one of the substantives that can dispense with epithets. You must not even put a diamond on a wedding ring. The wedding ring is so sensitive it would be hurt by pearl and ruby; it must be magnificent in its simplicity. You must not put epithets to love; it would be like jewelling a wedding ring. Let love be without two-facedness, hypocrisy, double-dealing; let there be no words used that are ambiguous or that can be used in two-shaded senses. Not only must there be no possibility of contrast in the uses of love; there must be no possibility of shading one meaning into another. This is to be the spirit of the Church; a great, honest, frank, radiant love: not necessarily a blindness to infirmity, to disability, but love triumphing over disability, infirmity, and drawback of every kind. It is not love that loves only the lovely. That is refined or calculated selfishness. It is not love that takes out of the orphanage the golden-hair, the blue-eye, the sweet little voice full of meaning and full of possibility, of strength, and grace. That were no love. Love will say, Give me the cripple, the infirm one that nobody else would be troubled with, the ill-looking one; for even ugliness may be refined into beauty, by gentle care, by the education of watchfulness and the motherliness of love: give me the one that everybody else has left. That is love. Yet we say, How kind to have taken a child out of the orphanage, such a beautiful little thing! It is never kind to hang a picture; it is never a mark of divine condescension on the part of man to adorn his chamber with the loveliest work of art: he is kind who takes in the child that everybody else has refused.

Where love is frank, pure, simple, one-visaged, there will come an abhorrence of that which is evil, and a cleaving to that which is good ( Romans 12:9). The word "Abhor" is intense. Too much emphasis cannot be imported into its utterance. The very enunciation of the word should itself be a kind of shot or cannon ball. When evil hears how it is regarded it should stagger and fall back to the ground dead. Good is not to be daintily handled, as if we could take it up and set it down and change its position and make a convenience of it: we are to cleave to, to hang on by, to stick to, as for grim life and death. That is how a man is to keep his pledge, his vow; that is how he is to honour his consecration words. Here is the explanation of backsliding, apostasy, dereliction of every grade and form. Men do not abhor that which is evil; their gorge does not rise, their passion does not flame; they are willing that the evil beast should enter the sanctuary and sit down awhile, though the hospitality be but scant. Evil can live on little; if there is any hospitality at all, that will do to begin with. Evil is a hound that can pick up a living on the floor. It is not to be admitted into the place at all; it is to be encountered at the front door with iron, at the back door with steel, at every window with cannon. Can this be done? Not wholly, not in its ideal sublimity; but it is along this line that our efforts are to be made. Men could certainly do more of this work of abhorrence if they chose to do it. No man must find an excuse in the impossibility of fulfilling the ideal. He who does all that is possible entitles himself to do next that which is ideal.

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love." That is difficult. There is a Christian brotherhood that is partial. There are Christians who could not sit in a church where very poor people had sat. There are those who, not disposed to question the theology of anybody, would yet prefer to have a pew that nobody else sat in—a pew with a padlock; they do not know what is meant by the expressive phrase, "The enthusiasm of humanity." Such people do not see the humanity, they only see the clothes; they do not see the man in the sinner, and therefore they do not see the Christ of God in any act of providence or redemption. The idea is wholly based upon the family conception. The Church is to be a family, and the spirit of the family is to be a spirit of affectionateness. There is an affectionateness that is very dainty, exclusive. There is a handkshaking that hands the man away. He who has studied handshaking has studied human nature. It cannot be mimicked. Any man"s handshake reveals him instantly, and he cannot help it. You need not go any further than taking hold of a man"s hand to know what is in his soul. You must of course take him off his guard; if he has prepared himself for the occasion he may deceive even the very elect: but take him the days of the week through, and his hand reveals him. Life is subtle, life is expressive; the character is in every glance and touch and breathing. The quality of the family intercourse is therefore to be a quality of affection.

"...in honour preferring one another." More literally, In honour anticipating one another,—who to be most courteous, who to be first, civil, gentle, helpful. To anticipate is to do before what somebody else was going to do. Hence we say: I have been anticipated: My remarks have been anticipated: My action was anticipated by a day, a week, a month; that is to say, some former speaker has advanced what a succeeding speaker was about to enunciate; some friendly hand has done a week before what another friendly hand was going to do if he had not been forestalled. But anticipation is a critical act. It is not to be done pedantically. There is an effusive courtesy that is hypocrisy; there is a fussy anticipation that cannot live more than a day, because it wears itself out by its unnatural energy; there is an occasional fickle showing of courtesy which is worse than discourtesy itself, because it excites hopes and then disappoints them; it creates an impression favourable to the doer, and then it obliterates that impression, or substitutes for it one that is ungracious. Christian idealism is to be unconscious of its own excellence; it must move with the easy grace that is not aware of its own gracefulness. There must be no violence even in the act of being courteous. A man must not so anticipate another as to outrun and thrust him aside that he himself may gain some honour. There is a withdrawment in favour of another that is as graceful as an advance expressive of personal interest. This cannot be taught in the schools. No man can aspire after this as a mere task-learner or a mere hireling. All this mutual affection, mutual honour, anticipation of courteous service and action, comes out of profound, vital communion with God. No soul can be bathed as it were in the fellowship of Divine communion, and then descend to earth to play the bore, the bully, or the fool. We should know how far any man has been up in heaven by the gentleness and loveliness, the purity and the beauty, of his social behaviour.

"Not slothful in business." This is a favourite motto with Christian merchants. They quote it as if they lived it. There is an almost suspicious familiarity about the method of the quotation. They will hurry through the morning prayer, yea even through the morning meal, a still greater sacrifice, and leaping to their feet will say, "Not slothful in business!" That is very admirable, but it has nothing whatever to do with this particular text. There are many Biblical texts that urge to industry, faithfulness, mercantile energy, and the like: but this word "business" has no commercial element in it. Where now your plea for abbreviating the morning meal and neglecting the morning psalm? You pleaded apostolic authority for non-apostolic action. What is the "business" referred to by the Apostle? It is spiritual business; it is intercourse with God, it is business with heaven, it is commerce with the skies, it is intercourse with eternity: there, within that line, conduct your imports and exports—your imports of grace Divine, eternal; your exports of hosannas, hallelujahs, doxologies, praises, psalms of adoration and thankfulness. The Apostle warns us against slothful piety,—piety that takes everything for granted, and that says if it does not pray, some other people will pray; and if it is laggardly in the Song of Solomon , the music will be taken up vigorously by other singers and minstrels. The Church has sunk into slothfulness of piety. The Saviour said, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s business?" The word business is apparently the same in both instances, but in the instance of Christ it Isaiah , "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s house?" That is the same inner meaning, the same Divine consecration, impulse, and sacrifice,—Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s house, in my Father"s house, in the very centre of it, carrying all its burden, unveiling all its intents, uttering all its music, teaching all its teachers? for me there is no habitation beyond the sanctuary. That is the meaning of the term. So henceforth we must not plead apostolic authority for neglecting Divine obligations.

"Fervent in spirit." What is the meaning of "fervent"? It is the positive aspect of that which precedes. We have first a negative condition—namely, Not slothful in spiritual commerce; then we have an opposite quality, "fervent in spirit." Here we need another picture to represent the idea to the young, a companion picture to that which typifies the meaning of dissimulation. The meaning of fervent is hot; more than hot, boiling; more than boiling, boiling over. Yes, that is it,—ebullient, rising up in fiery bubbles and foam, and overflowing by reason of its ardent energy. Such piety would not be tolerated to-day; it would be called fanaticism, insobriety; it would be regarded as a great remove from religious propriety. What we want to-day is nothing to object to. A great London merchant said to me that even a man of education will go through his place, and the highest compliment he will pay to the finest works in his establishment Isaiah , "There is nothing to object to there." The only thing to object to is that man himself. Think of beauty being dishonoured by a look from such eyes of ignorance! Yet this is what we have to contend with. Our epithets are now such as, Very quiet, Very nice, Very proper, Nothing to object to, Always really quite in accordance with good manners, and Everything was done very placidly. Will you quote the chapter and the verse that commends such epithets and descriptions as applied to Christian service and sanctuary life? It is supposed that there are some epistles that have been lost; what those epistles contained I do not know, but if they contained any such suggestions as yours I can recognise the hand of Providence in their having been lost. Boiling in spirit, ebullient in spirit, running over in spirit, reaching the highest temperature in spiritual zeal.

"Serving the Lord,"—as if doing that alone; seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness: serving God on the knees; working for God and working with God. But inasmuch as there is very little working now, what wonder that there should be no real service of the Lord in many directions? Work is now looked upon as servile. He who would find an honest Prayer of Manasseh , an Adam Bede, a soul that lived in his carpentry, would find a man to be honoured. But the decadence did not begin at the mechanical point; the decadence began within. When a man"s fervour in religious service cools, his fingers lose their cunning, their energy, their industry, and their work of the world goes down from solidity to superficiality and felony.

We now come to exhortations which we in degenerate days cannot understand:—"Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality." All that is a foreign tongue to us. It is impossible to us because of our circumstances. A man cannot pray over wine. No man knows what the meaning of "rejoicing in hope" Isaiah , who has plenty of money, abounding health, and troops of friends. The people to whom these exhortations were addressed sat in sevenfold night, were searched and torn by the tribulum. They had nought to live on but their prayers. They little thought that the time would come when such expressions as these would lose all meaning in the Church in any section of the world or in any period of civilisation. "Distributing to the necessity of saints." All that is passed. We now exchange courtesies; we give and take. That is not the meaning of distributing to the necessity of saints. Saints were hunted men, the hounds were after them! if there was any light behind it was the light of some shining weapon lifted in murderous purpose; so the door had to be opened quietly, just enough to get the saint inside, that he might be nursed and fed and comforted, for he had hazarded his life for the Lord Jesus. We never hazarded a limb for the Son of God. "Given to hospitality." We do not understand the meaning of that expression. Bishops are to be given to hospitality, and yet they cannot be given to hospitality because they have no opportunity. "Hospitality" is not a word that has retained its best meanings. Here again we come upon interchange and exchange; as, for example, he who bids to the feast expects himself to be bidden. That is not hospitality, that is natural and legitimate enjoyment; within its own limits it is proper, and a necessary development of civilisation: but keeping to the text, and to the limits of the apostolic exhortation, the men who were exhorted to be given to hospitality were men who had the care of the church, men who only got bread into the house that they might give it away. There may be a dozen saints here to-night, quoth the old Christian; I must see that I have bread enough for the children; we may be called at midnight: what have we in the house? There are tokens of storm in the air, and the enemy may pounce upon the little churches here and there; see to it that the fire go not out; do not let it blaze too briskly, or the light may be suspected by the enemy, and our very hospitality may be turned to a disadvantage: be careful to draw the curtain, but let the light be ready, and let it not take long to bring the bread out: let us pray for opportunities to give all this bread away. The heroic days of Christianity are dead, in some localities.

"...condescend to men of low estate." Here we want another picture. The literal meaning Isaiah , Be in the stream with them. Do not go down, as who should say, Now I am going to condescend to you, watch how I make the descent. This is not to be an occasional patronage, it is to be a continual brotherhood in living sympathy. Some men can only mix with a certain kind of men. Some persons would not break bread with you, and their bread would poison them if they attempted to break it with me—they do not know me. He who is advanced in the Christian life can sit down beside a man whom socially he dislikes. Within what limits are these questions to be settled? If it is a question of personal taste, personal enjoyment, how many persons could we dismiss from the circle of our acquaintance! We are not to live wholly among one set, or we shall go down—down in quality, down in compass of mind, down in range of heart. We are to know all kinds of men. It was a "multitude" that followed Christ, and if there were any he did not know it was the respectable people. This man hath gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

"Be not wise in your own conceits": take counsel with one another. Something may be learned even from a fool: let others speak upon the subject. You need not believe all that they say; they need not necessarily be all philosophers of a very high stamp and quality, but out of the mouths of babes and sucklings the Lord hath ordained praise. Sometimes the word of light comes from persons whom we had not credited with the possession of any illuminating power. Listen well; be good hearers: do not suppose that you are infallible, and then go out to condemn any pope.

"...give place unto wrath." Here we want a fourth picture. It is the idea of standing back that God may work. I am not to stand between God and the object of his providence or ministry; I am to give place to the cannon ball, and it will strike the right object; I am to stand back and let the sword fall where God means it to fall. He is a fool who does his own vengeance—"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; it he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt" take the right vengeance upon him. No other religion ever said this. Some religions have tried to say part of it. Mohammedanism says a little part of it. There is a creed which says, If thine enemy be up to the knees in water, offer him a hand; if he be up to the waist in water, offer him a hand; if he be up to the chin in water, put thine hand upon him and drown him. No other religion can go so far as Christianity. Because the Cross works these miracles the Cross shall stand for ever—the wonder, the refuge, the hope of the world.

Prayer

Almighty God, we thank thee for thy word. It is eternal music; it comes into our hearts by right; it knows us, it searches us, it brings thee to our love and faith; it opens a way into thy heavens. Thy word has been our strength, our guide and glory all our life; it is so now more than ever. Thy word grows in beauty; thy word is tenderer to us in our distress, more stimulating to us in our indifference, more encouraging to us in the hours of hopelessness: may thy word continue to be our light and our defence, our comforter and our counsellor all the days of our life. Our days are but a handful at the most; the days of our years are threescore years and ten, if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; it is soon cut off and we fly away, and are forgotten. Yet if we be in thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, if we know the fellowship of his sufferings and the power of his resurrection, we shall be where he Isaiah , in life eternal, in peace unspeakable. Help us to bring the power of an endless life to bear upon the concerns of these coming and going years; may we know the years that are at thy right hand, then we shall care less and yet care more for the years that give us our opportunities now. For all thy goodness we bless thee. We never thought to see the dawning year; yet, behold thou hast sent it upon us; it is full of promise, it is charged with silent music; we receive it as the gift of God; help us to see it conscientiously, reverently, industriously, and hopefully. May every man resolve not to be the first to speak words of unkindness; may every heart know the joy, the glowing love of forgiveness; may all men stand in a new and higher relation to one another, because of a larger and clearer vision of the Saviour of the world. May this be the best year in our lives; may every day be a long day, may every night be a short night, because of the depth and dreamlessness of our sleep; and may all we think and see, all we purpose and execute, begin, continue, and end in the Lord Jesus. Thus shall the year be all summer, and at night we shall see the vision of God and be thankful. Pity those who begin the year with special trouble, to whom the year is but a new and larger anxiety; look upon hearts that are made bitter with grief, look upon eyes that cannot yet see because of their tears, and sanctify to us all the discipline of life. Especially be with those who are broken-hearted because of domestic sorrow, the wandering child, the prodigal Song of Solomon , the vacant chair, the shattered vow: and give joy upon joy to those whose households are made dear by thy presence and tender by thy love. The Lord hear us, and read himself with his own kind eyes the prayers that are written upon our hearts, but may not be spoken; seeing that we pray at the Cross, the holy, wondrous Cross—the Altar of blood. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 12:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/romans-12.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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