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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Romans 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-23

Apostolic Admonitions

Romans 14

It is important to know to what subjects the Apostle Paul is confining his attention in his chapter upon Christian casuistry. He is not talking about the distinction between eternal right and eternal wrong: he is alluding wholly to questions of opinion, ceremony, ritual, formality, mechanical adjustment, and the like. This clears the ground of a thousand difficulties. "In every work regard the author"s end." The Apostle is not submitting the Cross of Christ for diversity of opinion; he is not submitting the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, and saying to men, You can believe it or not, and the one shall just be as good as the other. In reality these are not vital questions, and yet they are questions which come up again and again, especially in early Christian experience; and to these questions which come and go the Apostle is now directing his entire attention. This chapter has been wrested, so that men have built upon it doctrines of the most objectionable kind. They have exaggerated liberty into licentiousness; they have been irreverent or indifferent or defiant, and have quoted this chapter in support of their erratic spirit and conduct. They are wholly wrong. They have forgotten what the Apostle was dealing with. It has been supposed that he was dealing with the greatest questions, whereas he was only adjusting matters of casuistry, and endeavouring to find a point of harmony and reconciliation amid tumults that were dividing the Church in a very immature state of Christian experience. Let us follow the Apostle in his reasoning according to this light.

Paul being himself a strong Prayer of Manasseh , almost equally strong at every point, had a distinct doctrine about weak people. The Apostle was always careful about the "weak brother." Yet he discharged his conscience in reference to that man by distinctly calling him weak. He never left that man under the impression that he was as good as anybody else; he always laid his hand upon the lame limb and said, You are a cripple. He never failed to point out the sightless eye, and to say, You do not see as well as some other people see. He never told the weak man a lie. Steadily and frankly he persevered in telling the weak man that he was weak, and that if anything was done on his account, it was done simply because a good many things are done for the sake of the baby of the household. But because all these concessions are made to him he does not cease to be a baby. "Him that is weak in the faith,"—not the faith as represented in a body of theology, which is often erroneously and mischievously called "the faith"; as if any words of man"s collocation could swing themselves around the infinite circumference of God"s truth. Rather, him that is weak in faith, a mere child in trust; the infantile Prayer of Manasseh , doubtful, cloudy, timid, groping, uncertain; willing to be right, but a very long way from having attained the sacred purpose. "...receive ye ": let him come into the house, find a position for him in the Church, enrol him on the register of those who have espoused the Cross as the symbol of their life, and the plea of their soul. But when you receive him do not make him, as the Puritans would say, question-sick. Do not receive him for the purpose of disputing with him. Seldom is any good done to a man by arguing with him about anything. The weaker he is the more disposed he will be to argue. He may have lost all his limbs, but he still retains that mischievous tongue. When you receive into the Church a man who is weak in faith, do not attempt to talk to him about his doubts. The more you talk to him about them the more he will doubt. Set before him a heroic life, show him what you do under the inspiration of religious trust, put his disputatious-ness to shame by your self-sacrifice: he will soon find that he is no longer eloquent, but only a poor chatterer of words; he will withdraw his lame arguments in the presence of your burning holiness.

Then the Apostle comes into the detail of casuistical questions:—"For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is wok, eateth herbs." We have nothing to do with these questions. The difficulty was about meats offered to idols. The question arose, Is it right to eat such meats? They have been laid upon forbidden altars, they have been mentioned under names that should be unknown in the Christian sanctuary: have they ceased to be legitimate foods? have they ceased to be nutritious meats? Ought they to be taken at the base altars and thrown into the black river, to be taken whither the river may flow? Or have they not been desecrated? are the meats still good for use? is there a healthy purpose to be served by eating them? The Apostle says, Brethren, if you think you ought not to eat these meats, let them alone: your duty is clear. But, on the other hand, another man says, The meat cannot be desecrated; it has been put to a foolish purpose religiously, but the meat, as meat, is just as good as ever, and I intend to eat it. Then, says the Apostle, you are at liberty to carry out your notions: you need not debate these things; for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; it is not this view of flesh meat, and this view of vegetables, and this view of discipline; the kingdom of God is not built upon that narrow basis; it is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; a grand spiritual Revelation , a holy mystery. They who would bring it under discussion as relating to ceremonies of any kind would desecrate the very religion which they profess to honour.

"Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not." That is the danger of strength. Power is always likely to become contemptuous. Sheer strength is not the glory of any man. God"s power is nothing but for God"s mercy. The mercy that withholds the power is greater than the power would be without the mercy. When a man is himself well reformed he is apt to despise the ignorant. No truly educated man will ever despise the struggling honest mind; no really refined soul will remark upon the want of refinement in others. Partial education will be severe: whatever approaches complete education will in that measure be self-controlled, well regulated, and will be held in a spirit of modesty and trusteeship, and not in a spirit of arrogance and independence. "...and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." The danger of weakness is fault-finding, Here is a poor cripple who cannot get off his stool: but what a tongue he has, what a file of a tongue, what a rasping tongue! How he finds fault with minister, office-bearer, fellow-member, fellow-student, fellow-worshipper! Hear how he riles and reviles, and how exasperating is his talk. Weak! see his weakness in his criticism, his fault-finding, his love of discovering weakness, or imagining it, in the character of other men. Here are two difficulties to be avoided. Paul says, You are a strong man: do not be contemptuous. Then he says, You are a weak man: do not be fault-finding, censorious, and seeking to make up for intellectual and spiritual weakness by a rasping criticism. The weak Prayer of Manasseh , however, is in more danger than the strong man. Strength can be patient, modest, tranquil: but weakness is always seeking self-compensation,—What can I do to make myself seen and heard and felt? Weakness will send a man into severe punishment for a mistake in spelling, in punctuation, in dating a letter: and yet that same weakness will one day be found to have misspelt every word, to have mispointed every paragraph, and to have mistaken the whole gist and purpose of life. Wherever you find a censorious man you find a weak man. There are some persons cursed with the genius of criticism.

Why is the strong man to refrain from contempt? Why is the weak man to refrain from censoriousness? Paul gives the reason at the close of the third verse—"for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man"s servant?" That is the annihilating question. It brings every man up sharply, when he is asked to produce his title. You find fault with the minister! produce your title to open your mouth in any respectable company. You find fault with your fellow-worshipper! you say you could not do as he does; how he does it you cannot conceive: who art thou? who asked you to conceive anything? who ever troubled you with an inquiry addressed to your imagination? Let him that is without sin cast the first stone. If there is a perfect man let him rise. We should listen to his impeccability with the modesty due to deity. When men attend to their own faults they will be surprised how very little time is left to attend to the faults of other people. Are you aware that, when you are finding fault so glibly with men who have forgotten more than you ever had the capacity to acquire, there are those who are stigmatising you as little, miserable, foolish, objectionable, detestable—a man they would not have within their threshold?

Is there then no standard of responsibility? The Apostle answers the question—"To his own master he standeth or falleth.... We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.... Every one of us shall give account of himself to God." It is because there is a standard set up by hands Divine that we are not called upon to play the judge over one another. The universe does not begin and end in our individuality. Let no man suppose that he can escape final criticism: but the glory and the advantage of that criticism are to be found in its perfectness, for it will be conducted by him who knows us in and out, through and through, ancestrally, and circumstantially. Remember it is because there is an eternal judgment seat that we are released from the necessity of fault-finding, criticism, and judgment. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves... Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." The time of judgment is not yet. There may be tares among the wheat of your neighbour"s character: let both grow together until the harvest; the discriminating angels will separate the one from the other. If we must be frank, and, indeed, what may appear to be objectionable, let us do it as if we would rather not do it; never let us do it defiantly, boastfully, vain-gloriously, as who should say, I have an eye for faults: beware how you conduct yourselves in my presence. Let us rather fall down in self-accusation, and venture with timid modesty to exercise the work of criticism where it is needful such work should really be done.

The Apostle proceeds to deal with special cases:—"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike." Here is the importance of the principle with which we started. About what days is the Apostle talking? Not about the Sabbath day at all. No man can have what he believes to be a Divine commandment steadily before his eyes, and then say to all other men, You can treat that commandment just as you please: if you like it, keep it; if you do not like it, neglect it: it really makes no matter; please yourselves. The Apostle could not so conduct a Christian argument. He is talking about days that have been set aside by scribes and Pharisees, and pedants and Judaisers and interlopers, and inventors of ceremonies and festivals and observances. One man finds it good to fast one day in the week; Paul says, Then by all means let him fast, because he finds it good for his soul thus to punish his body. Another man finds it quite possible to pray after every meal and to make every meal a sacrament; he has no need to take a day out of the week for the purpose of religious fasting; the Apostle says, Then by all means let him have the liberty of his own judgment and conscience; where there is no written, distinct, positive law men are left to realise the circumstances in the light of their own experience, and they are entitled to enjoy the liberty of their spiritual conviction. This is apostolic doctrine. But the man who fasts cannot let the man who feasts alone: the man who feasts finds it difficult not to remark upon the ascetic who has his days of fasting. Thus liberty is impugned, thus liberty is dishonoured. The Church which ought to represent every possible variety of opinion upon disputed questions is turned into a beargarden. It should be the glory of the Church that it can differ and yet agree. The Church will never be one in mere matters of opinion. The Lord allows the liberty of indi vidual judgment upon a thousand questions. They may be questions of climate, circumstance, individual condition, family limitations. The Lord does not dishonour the human intellect or dismiss from his service the human reason; he says, you are responsible beings, you have intelligence, you can saturate your souls in prayer, you can come to the consideration of every subject in a reverential spirit: according to your faith, so ye shall be judged. Many persons have thought that the Apostle was talking about the Sabbath day, and consequently they had opened all their museums and all their picture-galleries, and run all the omnibuses they could lay their hands upon, on the strength of the fifth and sixth verses. No man would be more surprised at that interpretation than the Apostle Paul himself would be. The Apostle had a way of taking some things for granted which ought never to be disputed. The Apostle often assumed that he was writing to common-sense men. If it had occurred to that ardent and dazzling mind that there were fools who thought a commandment could be trifled with, he would have started and conducted his argument accordingly. He comes amongst the inventions of the Church, its calendared feast days and fast days and new moons and observances, and he says, I am not going to interfere with these things in any arrogant spirit: really, much must be left to individual reason and individual conscience: if a fast day will do you good, have it; if you can do without fasting, continue in your usual course of life: only let there be no bickering, disputing, fault-finding, censoriousness: we are neither saved nor lost by our fast days. All reason is on the side of the Apostle, and all wisdom confirms the wisdom of his admonitions. There are no such days of dissipation in any country as the days of fasting. Men are never so drunk as on the fasting days. There is a time-bill for fast days, and that is generally about the middle of the day when everybody can see you, but as the sun goes down, and the curtains are drawn, and the family lights are set ablaze, then say if it were not well that these beasts fasted before they began that tumult at the trough. "When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret."

Note how wondrously the Apostle always comes from the discussion of little disputable questions and fortifies himself by great principles:—"For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord"s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living." That is Pauline. Even when you bring this mighty mind to the consideration and adjustment of casuistical detail, at the very first opening he lifts his pinions and flies into broad heavens. If men had greater principles they would have less difficulty in detail. If we were sounder in heart we should have fewer difficulties in the head. If our spirit were really baptised into the Spirit of Christ we should know a thousand things without learning them. We need not be drilled into fast days and feast days, and little arrangements and small disciplines and stipulations with ourselves which only show our feebleness: we should know what to do, by the inspired spirit, the refined and sensitive soul, that knows God afar off, and that feels the law, and therefore need not have it written.

The Apostle must, however, come back to reason with men who are frail of mind and uncertain in spirit; so he says, "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" See the brother, not the sinner; see the brother, not the wanderer; see the Prayer of Manasseh , rather than the criminal. The tendency of our minds, being immature, imperfect, unfurnished as to the higher qualities of soul, is to look upon circumstances, external conditions. The magistrate is in infinite haste to seize the criminal; perhaps it is well he should be so: the Lord, the Christ of God, the Saviour of the world, does not see the criminal; he sees the Prayer of Manasseh , the woman, the child, the image of God,—for who has eyes like Christ, who can see through the shell into the kernel, who can penetrate the environment and see the living soul?

What then are we to do? Paul answers—"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother"s way." You do a great many things for the baby. That baby is the master of the household, in a certain sense and for a limited time; but if he remain a baby more than five or ten years you have a right to chastise him and tell him that his babyhood has ceased. So we cannot have this weak brother amongst us over long; he must be getting better by the prayer, the thought, the exhortation, and the example of those amongst whom he is living. If he continue to whine much longer he must be put in a room by himself, that he may admire his own shadow. Still, the Apostle will be patient if he can. He says there are some things which may be done with a good conscience, and may not be done with a good conscience. There are some amusements which you might enjoy, and yet if they make a man who is weaker than you are really soul-sorrowful; well, think of it: will it not be better to deny yourselves than to mortally offend that poor cripple? To that principle there is no answer. It is the principle of the Cross, it is the principle of self-sacrifice, it is the Divine principle of self-denial. If any man should say, The reason why I abstain from meat or vegetables or wine is that I am trying to help some other man to be a better man than he Isaiah ,—to that argument there is no reply; it is beneficent, it is grand, it is Divine. The Apostle Paul puts the whole case with inspired vividness and liberality. A thing may be good in itself, but another man is hurt by certain uses of it; then consider the man rather than consider yourself, and for his sake refrain from doing much which to yourselves would be perfectly innocent.

"Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink." The kingdom of God has nothing to do with externals. The kingdom of God is not measured by what a man abstains from, or what a man partakes of, or what a man"s opinion is about casuistical questions: the kingdom of God Isaiah , like God himself, intensely, ineffably, infinitely spiritual.

"For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure: but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Yet we must not pamper the weak man too much, or he will become weaker. We may touch even the vanity of weakness and make it intolerable, so that a man only needs to have a prejudice, when he knows that all the good men of the Church will acknowledge his prejudice and do as he wants them to do, while he is nursing this foolish prejudice in his foolish heart. Surely there must be some public aspect of this deference which is perfectly consistent with the larger liberty which men may enjoy in the absence of the weak man. There are some things you would not say before your child, yet you would not hesitate to say them when the child was absent; there are certain things you would never dream of doing in the nursery, but you would not hesitate to do them in the more public rooms of the house. There are certain things you would never allow the weak man to know that you even thought of. He has no right to be your master, to be the critic of the whole range of your life; and you have no need to call him in and say, Weak Prayer of Manasseh , I want thee: I am thinking of a certain course of conduct, I am organising a policy of life: come and tell me what thou thinkest of it. Certainly not. It would be monstrous, irrational, intolerable. And yet the great principle of the Apostle remains the same—royal, far-seeing in sagacity, all-saving in beneficence; the sum total of the meaning being this—If by any means you can help a weak man to become a strong man do it: but if you are wasting your life, and the man becomes no stronger, then consider what is best to be done.

"Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God." This is the law of sacred privacy. Here is the sanctuary within which great liberty may be enjoyed. Hast thou faith? Talk it out with God; let God be the companion of all thy indulgences, and they will be all right; always have God in the sanctuary of thy confidence, and say to him, Lord, I can do this in thy presence; I could not do it in the presence of my weak brother. Even along this line of private and sacred liberty men must exercise sanctified reason. This applies to matters theological, though the Apostle did not intend such matters to be thought of in this connection. Hast thou a doubt? Have it to thyself. We do not want any man to stand in the Christian pulpit and tell us what he doubts about: we want him to tell us what he believes, and what he wants us to believe, and what he lives upon, from what fount he draws his immortality. Hast thou faith—the larger faith, the faith that would be called heterodoxy by those whose ignorance enables them to be fluent? Have that larger faith to thyself before God. Dost thou see a new era coming for the Church? Do not name it yet, because many persons would not understand it. Dost thou see a larger inspiration, a nobler brotherhood, a sublimer millennium? Keep that faith to thyself before God: do not be wantonly defiant, do not trample down boundaries and limitations ruthlessly, but know that as sure as thy thought is true it will come to pass, yea, it will come quietly, quietly like the dawn: men will not know that the light has come until they see it on the mountain tops hastening down to the green valleys. Who ever heard the wheel of the sun grinding its way up into the orient? Who ever heard the blade of grass making a noise as it rose into the air and then filled the ear with the corn meant for the satisfaction of human hunger? Who ever saw himself grow? What noise do the stars make as they sparkle in the heavens? Many things come noiselessly; especially will this be the case with the kingdom of heaven. It cometh not with observation. Do not bluster about great liberties; they will come little by little, and the time will arrive when all we shall have to do will be to welcome men to the enjoyment of their freedom. This is the sanctuary of Christ"s truth. These reconciliations and harmonies have been made possible by the Cross. The Apostle never ceases even in this reasoning to cite the example of Christ. It is by Christ men have liberty; by Christ men are restrained from the enjoyment of much liberty; by Christ men are enabled not to contemn the weak; by Christ the weak are restrained from criticising the strong; by Christ a man is taught what to eat, what to drink, what to take, what to let alone. If the Spirit of Christ be in a Prayer of Manasseh , he will no longer have difficulties about the practical conduct of life; he will know and be persuaded, in the language of the Apostle, what to do, and how to do it, and he will do everything, great and small, in the presence of the all-judging Christ.

Prayer

Almighty God, thou has set us amidst great wonders; this moment a thousand men are dying, this moment a thousand men are being born into the world; there is a continual outgoing and incoming, and the Lord is Keeper of all. Yonder is the wedding feast, and here is the funeral ceremony; here there is great sorrow, and yonder there is naught but joy, loud, pure, dominant. We live in this world, so intermixed, so self-contradictory; thou hast put us here to be educated, chastened, ennobled. Watch over all the ministries of thine own creation, and adapt them to the fulfilling of thy purposes of love. May we be large hearted, tender in feeling, accessible to every honest petition of need and pain; may we answer the petitions of weakness in all the fulness of our strength. We bless thee for health and reason, for continued faculty, for force of character; we thank thee also for vows that are courageously borne, burdens that are bravely carried; we thank thee for all the ministry of education continually appealing to our lives. Let the sick-chamber draw thee into its sadness, O thou Healer of men. Hear the song of those who have great gladness, and who wish to praise thee as they had never praised thee before. Lead the blind by a way that they know not; show us the worthlessness of all men"s inventions if they be not founded in the uprightness of God. Pity the little earth with continual tears; it is still thine; vagrant, it is still of the household of the stars; thou hast not set thy foot upon it and extinguished it, therefore the continuance of thy patience is itself an assurance that thou wilt bring all this ministry of sin and heartache and weariness to a blessed consummation. The Lord reigneth; we will abide in the tabernacle of the Almighty, and hide ourselves under the wings of his strength. The Lord help poor lives to struggle a day or two longer, and say unto them that by thy grace on the third day they shall be perfected. Amen.


Verse 12

Individualism

Romans 14:12

Not, we shall give account of ourselves as congregations, councils, committees, boards of direction, organisations; but, as individual souls. We must be very careful, therefore, how we deal lightly or loosely with the doctrine and practice of individualism. Many men would be only too glad to pluralise themselves, and leave the responsibility with the other people. That is the danger of all combinations. A man who is really a Prayer of Manasseh , and who is perfectly honest when trading with you face to face and alone, is not always so honest when he becomes one of a number. His individuality is multiplied, yet divided; it is increased, yet lessened: he is timid, he is not intellectually equal to the occasion he is not a debater, he has no gift of expression or criticism, and therefore he may allow things to be done which he would never think of doing in his own personal and private capacity and business. It is desirable to make this doctrine of individualism very clear, because to-day it has no favour in certain quarters. It is sneered at, it is frowned upon, it is altogether unpopular. One wonders why. Such unpopularity has no vindication that I can find in the Bible; and that which is without vindication in the Bible is to me always suspicious. On the contrary, I find in the Bible the doctrine of individualism taught in the clearest and directest terms—"Every one of us shall give account of himself to God." That is the consummation of the doctrine; that could not come in at the end if it had not come in at the beginning; this is the ripening or maturing of all that has gone before. This is a revelation of the plan upon which the universe is administered in one sentence,—man by Prayer of Manasseh , soul by soul, one by one: thus we die, thus we shall be judged. Therefore there must be in this individualism something that ought to be inquired into, deeply, devoutly, and practically, with a view to its application to our personal daily life.

Notice that there are various individual units. The radical unit is the one man; without that unit you cannot move. Then there is the unit of the family; a family may be spoken of as one—a family, the family, this family. Then there is the unit of the nation; each nation has its own repute or character or credit or history. Then there is the unit of the world. All these are individualities, yet they all go back to the one Prayer of Manasseh , the one soul, the personal judgment, the personal will, the personal conscience. If we are wrong there, we are wrong everywhere. Communism is sanctified and ennobled individualism. You cannot by putting a great number of corrupt individualities together make that which is clean, pure and divine. Unless, therefore, we get down to the radical unit and make that right and set it to work on proper principles we shall be wrong in the family, in the nation, and in the world. Let us remember the radical unit. Individualism may be abused. What is there that cannot be degraded? If men are condemning the abuses and corruptions of individualism, we of necessity go with them in all their condemnation: but we are not to condemn the instance at the expense of the principle. The doctrine is the same, and must be retained inviolate and applied fearlessly and impartially, though there may be instances, on the one side or the other, apparently confirming or contradicting that principle. We have nothing in the meantime to do with the mere instance; we are engaged now in fixing our thought intently upon the doctrine that, without personal individuality of character, we cannot have anything that is noble and beneficent in the family, in the nation, or in the world.

There is a debased individuality even in religious circles. That is a fault I have to find with some communions and churches. They are almost always of necessity talking about themselves, their own statistics, their own progress, their own funds, their own figure before the world. That is a debased instance of communal or congregational individualism. Then I have also to find fault with men, individual men, who, as the common phrase Isaiah , play for their own hand. They do not consider the case which they deal with broadly, in all its relations and issues. They must of necessity consider each himself how he will stand, how he will be totalled up in the schedule. This is not individualism, this is mere selfism; this is cultivating selfish vanity and aspiration at the expense of all that is holiest in spiritual ambition. There is also a true individuality; in this sense, individualism is the security of co-operation; individualism in this sense is the security of society. Corrupt men can never hold themselves together except for the one chance, the immediate occasion, and transient condition; they will fall foul of one another: individually corrupt, they cannot be socially noble. My contention, therefore, is that individualism, ennobled and sanctified, is the security of society, and that society is impossible without such individualism. Hence we have the grand doctrine and practice of personal responsibility. There is no transfer of obligation from one man to another. This is a trick we may adopt amongst ourselves; but in the sight of God the practice will be put down with infinite judgment and rebuke, and will be condemned to everlasting darkness. We say, It was my brother: it was my fellow-minister: it was my co-director: it was my partner in business. But God will not have it so. He will say to us, You ought not to have had any one in your reckoning that could vitiate the process, that could interfere with the responsibility. "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God," and that miserable and detestable partner of yours, who is always interfering with your great schemes, he must be named. You have never named him, you have referred to him as a figure behind the arras; you must name him, and in his own personality he must be burned in the fire of hell. Thus I contend that individualism may be debased, and thus I further contend that individualism may be ennobled. I am advocating the ennobled individualism; and that individualism must of necessity recognise the individual rights of other men. If you find an individualism that denies rights to other men, that individualism is foul, corrupt, debased; it is not the individualism we are seeking to promote. I repeat that by the very necessity of the case when the individual is right he must recognise the rights of other men. What have we then? This recognition is the very secret of co-operation; this recognition keeps the waters of life sweet and pure. I must give what I claim. Do I claim the right of private judgment? I must concede it. Do I claim to act in the fear and sight of God in all matters concerning myself? I must allow that other men are as honest and high-minded as I claim to be.

What have we, then, in this development and application of individualism? Why, we have the true communism, the real, healthy, permanent brotherhood. Any other combination is a sham, and must end in failure. Whatever is not based upon individual conviction and regulated by individual conscience is a truce, a compromise, an expedient for the time being, a process of giving and taking that may end to the detriment of moral integrity. Thus we set up in the sight and fear of God a real, generous, noble, sanctified individualism. And thus, and thus only, can we come to fraternity. The mischief is that so many persons imagine we cannot have unity unless we have uniformity. That is the vicious fallacy that enfeebles and debases so much of political and ecclesiastical reasoning. Individuality knows nothing about uniformity. Yet individuality claims to grow up into the highest unity. Life is multifold. Life is not a brick-built wall; life is a garden, a forest, a landscape; the landscape may be one, though every field is different in geometric form and every tree is distinct from every other tree on all the green undulation. When will men recognise the difference between unity and uniformity? Some persons cannot be persuaded that we are making any progress until we all walk alike, and until we are all practically of the same stature, and until we are almost indistinguishable the one from the other. I have never known that to be the Divine law. The Scripture gives no sanction to any such interpretation of human nature and human fellowship. Let every man be himself. The Lord has given to one man five talents, to another two, and to another one; and nowhere does he say, Total them up into eight, divide the eight by three, and I will take an account of you for the integer and the fraction. He calls each man to account for his five talents, for his two talents, for his one talent. There is individuality, and yet there might have been unity in co-operation, in the one cheering the other, helping and appreciating the other. Lay down the fundamental doctrine that uniformity is man"s trick: unity is God"s purpose.

This idea of uniformity has ruined some sections of the Church. Some sections of the Church are nothing apart from their distinctiveness. Not where they are like others, but where they are unlike or individual their genius and their power begin. This uniformising has led to a great decadence in the power of the Christian pulpit. Men will have all preachers alike; they will have all sermons cast in one mould; they will have all begin at the same place, pass through the same process, end in the same consummation. That is not the Divine plan. I would have every minister be himself. There is no one man who is all other men. No minister is the ministry. Where then do we find unity? We find it in the fact and in the claim that the ministry of Christ is one. We are not individual preachers only. Each preacher represents what he can represent of what he has known, felt, tasted, and handled of the word of life. We must hear all the ministers before we hear the ministry. We are not all called upon to do the same work. The conception that every individual section in the Christian Church must go and do the same work in the same place is the ruin of co-operation, as well as of individuality. Suppose there are twenty sects in Christendom: are all these twenty sects to go down to one village in order to convert it or evangelise it? Nothing of the kind. I ask, what sect is there already? If it is an honest, true-hearted, hardworking sect, I will keep away. It may be my sect or it may be some other sect, but if the work is being done I am doing it, though I am not there, if I be really in sympathy with all Christian development and all Christian progress. I will go further and say, that nineteen of the sects must keep away from ground that is preoccupied, and they must send down to the men who have preoccupied it all the money they want. Have the Methodists got possession of that village? If Song of Solomon , send them what funds they need from the Congregationalists, from the Presbyterians, from the Baptists. We are nowhere commanded to go down twenty strong and divide a little population by our ecclesiastical contentions and differences. I would go further still: I would look around and examine whether, within my own communion, there are men who can do a certain kind of work. If I can find the men, I ought to support them in the first instance; but if I cannot find the men that are needed, within the boundaries of my own communion, I must look abroad and see who is doing the work that requires to be done, and though he may not fight under my particular ecclesiastical banner, he is fighting under the colours of the Cross, and must be sustained and supported by all Christian communions. Personally, I could not do a certain kind of work. It is something for a man to know the limitation of his faculty and of his responsibility. Other men can do it a thousand times better than I can do it. Have I therefore to go down and say, "I must do this particular work, whoever else is trying to do it or not trying to do it," when I know I cannot do it? I will never follow so narrow and so base a policy. I believe the Salvation Army, for example, belongs to all the churches. In the fact that it belongs to none in particular, I find the fact that it belongs to all in general. If we are earnest Christian souls, each working where he can, and where he can do so best, we are part of the Salvation Army, and we ought to send our prayers and our gifts after it. We may be able to give money and not to give counsel; let us do what we can do, and leave undone what God never meant us to attempt. On the other hand, I believe that there is a work that the Salvation Army cannot do, that other men can do much better, a work of exposition and teaching and training and consolidating; let these men know their gift and calling of God, and carry out the Divine purpose conscientiously. Here we have individuality, and here we have community and co-operation; here we have unity, and, blessed be God, here we have nothing of uniformity. Understand that human nature is multiplex, many-sided, doubled and Revelation -doubled with innumerable complications; understand that that fact necessitates a multifold ministry; some can do one thing and some can do another: let each do what he can do, or what it as a congregation or organisation can do, and God will bless us all.

When we get rid of this notion of organisation and uniformity, we shall be liberated, and shall go on our way rejoicing. If the Lord has made any two hundred or two thousand men all of the same size and all of the same pattern, and so alike that they do not know themselves and are always mistaking themselves for other people, then by all means let them unite and make what they can of themselves; I have never seen them, and never heard of them. Looking abroad upon society, and studying human nature in practical instances, I find that God seems to have taken a delight (with reverence be it spoken) in differentiating man from Prayer of Manasseh , in giving each man a personality of his own; and he seems to say to us through great instincts and sympathies, Now you are very different, yet you may all be one; I mean you to be united; find the common measure, find the uniting line; and whilst retaining all your individuality enter into one another"s feelings and sympathies and activities, and whilst communising yourselves never forget your individuality. Hear this great voice sounding through all the corridors of history—"Every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

It will be something if I have drawn your minds with any steadiness to the contemplation of the fact, that individualism may be abused, and if I can enforce upon your judgment and conscience the fact that I am not supporting an abused individualism, but an individualism that means personal thinking, personal conscience, personal service, personal obedience: and it will be still something more if I have begun to suggest to opening minds the great fact, that uniformity is a false standard of judgment, and that only by bringing all the individualities together do we get the right conception of the Church. This is my explanation or philosophy of denominationalism. Some men could not be Quakers. That is a melancholy fact, perhaps, but it is a fact in history. And the Quakers are beginning to find that they themselves can no longer be themselves, but must hobnob with the Philistines on the other side of the wall; they are becoming gay and frivolous, and curiously and inexplicably ecclesiastical. All men could not be Congregationalists, nor could all men be Presbyterians, or Episcopalians. I believe in all sects that are honest: grace, mercy, and peace be to them, yea, to all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. I do not deny the unity of the human race because no two men are alike; I do not deny society because every man has a way of thinking peculiar to himself. If any one communion gets up and says, "I can do all that is wanting to be done of a religious nature in this world," I have no confidence in it; that communion has not recognised the fundamental fact of the difference between man and Prayer of Manasseh , temperament and temperament, education and education, environment and environment. If my own sect should arise and say, I am sent of God to be the one Church of the world, I should leave it. It is a foolish and an impious claim. I want to hear each sect say, I have a work to do, my Lord sent me to do this particular kind of work; let me work side by side with you, if you please, and you will be doing your kind of work, I will be doing my kind of work, and we all belong to the one Master; and because we belong to the one Cross we are really one, though our methods of working and our progress and our policies are different in colour and in words. Some men seem to think that each Church must stand up and say, there is no other Church; as if Congregationalism must be put down because it cannot do all the religious work required by the world; and as if Anglicanism should be put down on the same ground. Nothing of the kind. Each has its sphere, each has its function; let each recognise this fact, and in that recognition there will be the beginning of union and the guarantee of harmony. There is an individualism that seeks its life and loses it; there is also an individualism that loses its life and finds it. In the Church I would make room for everybody. Have you a tongue? have you a prophecy? have you a psalm? There are diversities of administration, but the same spirit; there are manifold gifts, but the same Divine use of them: as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, yet all the members constitute the one body, so we, being many in Christ, constitute the whole Church of Christ. The Papists are in it, and the Quakers are in it, and all honest and godly souls are in it; and even the unclassified portion of men may be in it, without knowing it. "Other sheep," said the great Shepherd, "other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring." "Them also"—wondrous "also." He will not rest until all who are even groping after him have felt his hand and seen his face.

Let us have no patched-up compromises one with another The man who has one talent is as much the servant of God as the man who has five; he must give an account of his one talent. The man who can work best in one pulpit and in one church is as much a servant of God as the evangelist who flies from continent to continent, and makes all the world his sphere of usefulness. The Sunday-school teacher who can only speak to two scholars at a time, because three would make too much of a public meeting, is as much a teacher of Christ"s kingdom, i in earnest and if enlightened, as if he could address ten thousand men in thunder-tones. Why will we not recognise these differences, and praise them not as mere differences; not construe them into hostilities, but regard them as individualities which total up into the great unity? The universe is one; etymologically, its very name signifies oneness, yet how wondrous in difference; what light and shade, what contrast of colour, what mingling and intermingling of voices, sounds, tones; what mountains and rivers, what hills and dales, what mystery of coming and going, what eternal processions and revolutions! Shall the universe break itself up into parts and say that some other part does not belong to the universe? Nay, verily: so must not we break ourselves up into a debased individualism: neither must we give up our individuality, and say, Other men shall think for us. If you examine this matter still further in the light of the history of religious organisations, you will find individuality everywhere. Even on a committee there is a man who determines the whole thing for you. He is not necessarily the greatest mind on the committee, but he is a capable Prayer of Manasseh , he has had most opportunity of thinking about the business, forecasting it and arranging it, and if he does not always have his way he thinks himself hardly and cruelly used; and as nobody wants to use any other body cruelly he gets his way, and then denounces the idea of individualism! He will have none of it; not knowing that he is himself the most debased individuality in the organisation which he rules. There may be great show of freedom where there is really no liberty. A man may so nationalise himself as to include everybody, and yet when an individual comes to preach for me he may tap him on the head, and say, "Not to-day, sir!" And this is the man who is so magnificently nationalised that he knows nothing about your little sectarian limitations. Beware! In some breadths there is nothing but vacancy. Beware! sometimes intensity means reality of soul and conviction of purpose. However much we may pine for uniformity even, never forget that every one of us shall give account of himself, and of nobody else, to God. How can I prepare for that judgment? Only by being one with my Lord, who recognised all differences and reconciled all individualities; and who is drawing up unto himself all men that may find the fulness of the meaning of their manhood in his Deity. So we come back to the Cross; we always end on Calvary; to end otherwhere would be to be lost in the desert: to end here is to end in peace and gladness.

Prayer

Almighty God, we bless thee for the healing Christ. We all need healing; we are wounds and bruises in thy sight: Lord, touch us, heal us, make us strong. Thou art the giver of strength, thou art the fountain of power; we come to thee for renewal of energy; because thy compassions fail not we are made young again every morning. Every good gift and every perfect gift are thine, and thine only; we have nothing that we have not received: how then shall we return thanks unto God, who daily loadeth us with benefits? He healeth all our diseases, he makes us strong by the ministry of his love. We thank thee for all men who so far imitate the Saviour as to seek the healing of others; wherein they know not what they do they give thanks unto God; wherein they deny the very Master they serve, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge; open their eyes that they may see, and show them that to heal is to pray, to do good is to love, to seek the higher benefits for men is to act in the spirit of the Saviour. We bless thee for all good institutions, all healing ministries, all hallowed forces and agencies, and we pray that they may be sanctified to the accomplishment of their holy purpose. The Lord cause the spirit of pity to dwell amongst us. If we pity one another we shall come to love God; if we love God we cannot help pitying one another: he who loveth God loveth his neighbour also; if he say he love God and do not love his neighbour, thou hast made him a liar, and thou hast accounted him as an offence in thy sanctuary. Help us therefore to know the right relations of things and to act lovingly and trustfully, knowing that the Lord is accomplishing an immeasurable and beneficent purpose in all the darkness and discipline and chastening of life. Good Lord, hear us for the sick, the troubled, and for those who are appointed to die. Are we not all so appointed? Yet some must die to-day, some tomorrow, and their death so sudden will bring great clouds upon the house. The Lord help such to believe that all is ordered, that there is an appointed time to man upon the earth, that not to know that appointed time is one of the blessings thou dost give unto thy children. Thus let the Lord hear us, and fill all heaven with a cloud that shall break in blessings upon our life. Amen.


Verse 16-17

Romans 14:16-17

"Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [R.V.]; but righteousness, and peace [lit, peaceableness], and joy in the Holy Ghost."

Proportionate Character

Here we have an exhortation, and here, secondly, we have a reason for it. "Let not then your good be evil spoken of,"—do not fritter yourselves away; do not let the one thing that is good about you be mistaken or discredited, because of several little things in you that are unworthy of your profession and status in Christ. There is something good in you, take care if it; you are not without quality, do not debase it; be jealous about yourselves, about your character, about its proportion, about its perspective, about all its relations and energies. It is not enough to be good; we may be good, and yet spoil the good. Men thus injure themselves, and no man can injure himself alone: who injures himself injures Christ, crucifies the Son of God afresh, misrepresents the Divine kingdom. It is not enough to say that, with all his eccentricity and peculiarity, he is at the heart of him a good man. It is always a pity when a man so conducts himself that he has to be explained and apologised for in that way, as who should say, After taking oft a hundred wrappings you will come to something that is really not inferior, something that is indeed more or less excellent. That is a poor representation of the Divine kingdom; that is a miserable way of representing the living, loving, pure, beautiful Christ, that he has to be dug out of the grave of our eccentricities and follies.

Let not then your good be discredited. Distinguish between the essential and the incidental. Some people seem to be quite unable to accomplish that little arrangement. Nothing is important to them, because all things are equally important. Where we see nothing but mountains there seem to be no mountains. We may run even great things into monotony and wearisome-ness. The Apostle Paul says, Do make a distinction between one thing and another. God has not painted the universe black and white; observe the fine gradation of shade and colour and mystery of light that there is about everything that God has done. Study proportion. Some men have no idea of the term proportion as applied to Christ"s character. They do one thing as intensely as another. That may not be earnestness; it may be mere exaggeration or miscalculation. Why waste yourselves on littles, on frivolities, or trivialities, or mechanisms? Why not get at the root and heart of things? In this way only, by going to the core, can you correctly comprehend God"s kingdom and Christ"s Cross, and represent the same to men beauteously and persuasively.

Look at the consequences of your being wanting in proportion. Your good will be evil spoken of. Even your greatest beliefs will go for less than they are really worth. People will fasten upon your pedantries, and ritualisms, and ceremonies, and mechanisms, and they will roughly say, What can you expect from people who pay so much attention to pin-points, to trifles? How can they be really great or truly good? If where we really do understand them they are trivial, frivolous, pedantic; if we could understand them still more thoroughly in their souls, we should find that they were true to their own littleness all through and through. Your prayers will be despised; all your best actions will be discounted. Why do you not pay attention to proportion? Why fight about days, and feasts, and fasts, and observances, as if they had anything to do with the kingdom of God? Within their own little limits they may have their significance and their importance, but, when viewed in relation to God"s uppermost thought and purpose in the constitution and destiny of the universe, they are comparatively unworthy of attention. The people who hinder the kingdom of God are the people who do not understand it and yet pretend to do so. They are full of what they call habits; they are well-informed in the matter of religious stipulations and maxims; their life is all scheduled out from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same; they live pedantically, puristically, mechanically: but their whole life can be represented adequately on a printed schedule. The Apostle tears down all your little schedules, and says, The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, getting up at such an hour in the morning, visiting brotherhoods through a part of the day, going out in the evening to see friends and neighbours; that is not the kingdom of God: down with your schedules and your mechanisms! the kingdom of God is righteousness, peaceableness, joy in the Holy Ghost the highest eating and drinking, divinest festival; men at this feast are drunk with the Spirit of God.

That is the exhortation.—"Let not your good be evil spoken of." What is the reason? The reason is given in the seventeenth verse:—"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." How penetrating, how profound! We are in the grasp of a great reasoner. Paul always vindicates himself as a majestic philosopher. No matter what the subject Isaiah , he discusses it with the ease of mastery. This man Paul has got a sound, thorough grip of his subject. He cannot fail. He knows the question through and through; you can suggest nothing to him. He is full of suggestion, apology, exposition, and defence. How good it is to feel one"s soul in the keeping of a strong man! That is what we want at home, in the sick-chamber. There are some persons so healthy that they make others healthy as they draw near, that is to say, they bring a kind of contagion of health with them. Theirs is not that rude boisterous health which is self-trusting, but that complete health of soul and of body which breathes itself into those who are weak and ailing, and in great pain; they say of such visitors, They bring with them morning and youth and summer; they are not overpowering, they are inspiring. It is precisely so we feel towards the Apostle Paul when he preaches, teaches, or expounds. He always seems to be so full of his subject, and to have such grip and mastery of it, that he can make us partakers of his riches if we be right-hearted towards him and towards his subject. Paul had a kingdom, where has that kingdom gone to? Who are these that nibble and mumble and hesitate and apologise in God"s pulpit? Who sent them? We have forgotten that God has a kingdom upon the earth, a great conception of rule and sovereignty and majesty; a great scheme of spiritual law and impulse, and incessant and ever-increasing inspiration. The Church is almost anything but a kingdom; in some respects it is about the poorest mendicant that goes about cap in hand soliciting broken bread that it may keep its life within it. The Church has given up the idea of domination—not outward, nominal, formal domination, but the domination which comes of spiritual health and spiritual treasure, and spiritual sympathy. The voice that should make itself heard through all the thunder and tempest and wrath of the ages should be the still, small voice, so still because so majestic, and small because so all-sufficient. Its whisper is more than all other thunder. Let us see if we do not degrade the idea of the kingdom.

What is Paul"s conception? It is not eating and drinking; it is not socialism, it is not routine, it is not conviviality. The Church is not an exchange of visits in which men conceal their deepest conviction and suppress their holiest emotions. The Church is not a programme, it is a revelation. We are great in programmes; we can draw out schedules a week long, and we can so draw them out that on the eighth day we forget that we ever conceived them. The Church is in danger of becoming a programme, a series of little things to be done, a succession of amusements, a series of entertainments, a concatenation of interchanges, so that we are here to-day, and there tomorrow: and that we call the brotherhood. Is there anything wrong in these things? Not necessarily; they may be good; but they may also be set out of right perspective and proportion, they may become so exaggerated as really to inflict indignity upon the idea of the Divine kingdom. The men who have hurt the Church a good deal are men who have had some rude or cultured skill in getting up plans and schemes and entertainments. They have not been mischievous in their purpose; on the other hand they have been zealous for what they believed to be the Christian life: but if they have been devoting themselves to the wrong things, and disturbing God"s proportion as to the set and significance of his kingdom, then they have unwittingly been doing mischief, and the mischief is not the less that it has been unwittingly done. I can hardly conceive anything less like the Acts of the Apostles than a correct and literal transcript of what many Churches are doing this very day. I am willing to risk the issue upon parallel columns; in the one column shall stand the Acts of the Apostles, and in the other column shall stand the programmes and entertainments and observances of to-day: then tell me, thou blind fool, which is apostolic and which is modern Christianity. If I do want to match the Acts of the Apostles I can do Song of Solomon , but then I shall have to bring in the chronicles of our missionary societies, what we are doing amongst the heathen, and the chronicles of our home missionary societies, what we are doing amongst the home heathen and the home poor. But I do not know that I could honestly go to the ordinary Church life of to-day, especially where it is most respectable, if I really wanted to balance in some humble degree the heroic, the tragic, the appalling record of apostolic life.

What then is the kingdom of God? It is "righteousness." Who wrote that word so often as Paul wrote it? He must surely sometimes have abbreviated it if he wrote much with his own hand, because he was so familiar with it, and used it so frequently that some symbol alone would indicate his meaning. Paul would have no compromises about anything; he would have it settled squarely and rightly; if it was of the nature of compromise, he would not give up the element of right; if he were going to abstain from eating and drinking, he would say, I have a right both to eat and drink, but if you are so constituted that you will be injured by my eating and drinking, then I will overrule that right by a still larger right—the right of charity, the right of self-sacrifice. Still, amid all concessions, and arrangements about Sabbath days, and eating flesh, and drinking wine, Paul would insist upon having the line of right set up, and he would have every concession understood to be a concession and not an acknowledgment of his being wrong, or of the claimants being wise above the revelation which he had received from God. Are social habits then to be neglected? Nay: social habits are to be cultivated, but they are first to be rightly originated. If your habit is a mechanical arrangement, it will go down under pressure: if your habits express your righteousness, peaceableness, and joy in the Holy Ghost, then they are no longer mechanical habits, they express that which is within you of Divine idea, Divine thought, and Divine fire. Habits ought to be incarnations. If a man cannot begin at any point but the point of habit, we must accommodate his weakness; he must, however, be trained to see that the kingdom of God is not external, something to be gazed upon, and measured as if it were a figure in geometry. Little by little some men may have to be trained to see that the whole idea of the Divine kingdom is internal, spiritual, metaphysical, and that even a habit, which seems to be a thing of the hand, goes right back into eternity; it finds in God its origin, its motive, its impulse, and its sanctification. Thus many of our mere habits would have to be torn down and to be publicly discredited. It is easier to cultivate a habit than to enter into the mystery of the life of God. It is easier to go to church than to be in it. Many a man is in the sanctuary, who is a thousand miles away from it at the time of his bodily presence there. Habits are either good or bad, but all depends not so much upon themselves as upon their motive.

Out of all this line of reasoning there will come a great evangelistic and social policy. Now we are prepared for our work. The Apostle has exhorted—"Let not then your good be evil spoken of"; he has told us that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink," or eating and drinking; "but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost"; if this be Song of Solomon , see what a practical policy comes out of the exhortation and the reason on which it is founded. Here is our missionary policy. We go amongst the heathen to reveal an invisible kingdom. That will take a long time; in proportion to the intensity of the spirituality of the kingdom will time be required to reveal it. They are the wise missionaries who do not begin by upsetting the whole scheme of life in which they find the heathen, but who say, Let us get a right idea into the mind first; as to habits that are grotesque and ludicrous, we must let them go on for a while; if we began our reform at these external points we might do more harm than good; let us therefore live with the people; for a considerable time there need not even be much preaching, let us breathe out our souls in this heathen atmosphere. Let us so act that the heathen will begin to wonder about us; we shall be to them mysteries, enigmas, great wonders: they will not know that we have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of, and yet they will by-and-by begin to suspect this hoarded bread, then they will ask us questions; when an opportunity comes we will drop a word, give a hint, offer a service: but instead of rudely attacking the whole system of habit in the heathen world, let us begin at a comparatively remoter point, yea, a very remote point, and come down gradually upon the whole sphere of life; let our missionary success be an atmosphere, and let it mean a spiritual ministry and influence. It could easily be conceived that many a man would get himself killed by beginning at the wrong end of missionary work. Many a man has been doing more harm than good through not knowing it, through not beginning at the right point. What wisdom we require! We need to be taught everything we do, and we need to say, Father, I will not lift a hand until I am sure I must lift it, nor will I cross the threshold until thou dost send a messenger to go before my face. Thus we need Divine skill, Divine Wisdom of Solomon , as well as Divine sympathy and Divine support. Here we have the great law of action amongst our own home population. If you are going down into what you call the lowest places of your social life with a sort of aggressive, rude, and overpowering reform, you may do more harm than good in the first instance; or you may go down otherwise, with a larger conception of God"s kingdom and God"s purpose. At first sight you may appear to be doing nothing, but every life is doing something; there cannot breathe an honest healthy soul anywhere without doing good. Sometimes we do more good by wisely-calculated abstention than by that onrush and overpowering energy which often defeats its own purpose. What is it that you are going to reveal to the people? Is it mere eating and drinking? Then take your tables, and your vessels, and all your appurtenances and appointments. But is it a Divine kingdom, a spiritual idea, a newness of soul; are you going to make new habits, or new souls, new workers? you will operate accordingly. You can only embody your own conception: if you have a poor and low conception, you will incarnate it; if you have a lofty, pure, and true conception, you may require more space and more time to work in than others require; but in the long run he who is most spiritual will be most useful.

Here is also a law which will operate in your own family. There are many fathers who ought to be turned out of their own households. I have known fathers who were so impiously pious that they have ruined the lives of their own children by their purisms, pedantic arrangements, mechanical stipulations about rising, and sleeping, and eating, and going out, and coming in;—things that in themselves have a definite importance, but being pressed out of their proper proportion, being exaggerated, they become mischievous. If this were an argument upon paper one man might vex another by cross-examination, and hinder him by mere verbiage; but when it is a question of Christian life, actual, positive, accessible experience, then we must depend upon facts, not upon any man"s surmisings and speculations. I have known families in which no honest soul could live. The whole household was a set of programmes and plans and stipulations, all originating with one foolish brain, and all controlled by one tyrannous but feeble hand. We must have a wise home policy, if we are to train the children aright. "Let not your good be spoken evil of." What do your children do when they know that you are little miserable tyrants, mere purists, and not great apostles of the kingdom? This—sneer at your prayers, and when you are pouring out your family supplication they are looking at each other over the shoulder and making grimaces at their foolish father. "Let not then your good be evil spoken of." It is right for you to read the Divine Word, and to offer holy prayer in the family; but if you have been living such a trivial and mechanical life, and if you have been bringing your children into such literal bondage, you cannot expect them to pray; they do not want to pray, and they do not want to go with you to church; your being in church with them destroys the church idea. What then are we to have? Liberty run to seed, mere licentiousness? Nothing of the kind; no wise man could ask such a question or make such a suggestion: what we want is proportion. Children, we would reveal (the father should say) a kingdom of right and peace and joy; not temporary right, not superficial peace, not transient gladness: I tell you, boys and girls, children of mine, we want to reveal a kingdom that is solid, grand, useful, beautiful, that rises all the way up from the rock of righteousness into the gladness of heaven"s own rapture and music. Get that idea into the family life, or into the social lite on a larger scale, and all the habits will come, all the rest will fall into its right place. If you have exceptional instances you must treat them exceptionally; I am now speaking upon the broad general ground-plan of life, and I insist that many men in the family are working mischief, who think they are working good, and are paying more attention to discipline than to inspiration.

Here then is. the kingdom with which we are associated. This kingdom cannot be successfully assailed. The kingdom of programmes, and schedules, and ecclesiasticisms, and ritualism, can be assaulted, wounded, shattered: but this kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, stands beyond the storm of war, and comes down below it, touching all that is highest in heaven, and all that is deepest in the tragedy of human experience. This is the kingdom we must defend. The critic cannot get at it: the fool cannot understand it: the pedant cannot measure it. If we drag it down to mere documents and dates and signatures, then it is no longer a kingdom, it is an affidavit, it is something for magisterial inquiry. Documents and dates and signatures have their importance, no wise man will doubt that for a moment; but the book is not God"s book because it is dated and signed; it is God"s book because it has in it a kingdom that can be found nowhere else, speciality of experience and force which cannot be discovered in all the literature of the world. This is a question of experience, this is a question of sublime experience; and the Apostle tells us for our joy that if we take the right view and operate on the right policy, this sublime experience will become a social conquest; it shall not only be "acceptable to God," but "approved of men." There is the social issue; that is the final outcome of things. It is not approved of men at first. Men cannot understand the spiritual, they cannot penetrate the invisible; you may easily be too profound for men: but you can live Song of Solomon , you can live on such a scale, and in such a spirit, as to become a mystery to your fellow creatures. You can be so righteous, so generous, so strong, so tender, so useful, always most present when most needed, that at last they will begin to say, Truly this man also is a son of God!

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/romans-14.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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