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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Romans 14

 

 

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Introduction

Verse 1

Romans 14:1. Him that is weak in the faith. (See note above.) The phrase might be rendered ‘weak in faith,’ or even, ‘in his faith,’ since faith in Christ is meant, not Christian doctrine, or, moral conviction, or, knowledge. The latter ideas are implied; for in the cases referred to the faith did not have its practical result in moral discernment and conviction in regard to what properly belonged to a life of faith.

Receive ye; do not reject or discourage him, but count him one of your number, in fraternal fellowship. This exhortation suggests that the weak brethren were in a small minority.

But not to doubtful disputations, lit., ‘unto judgings of thoughts.’ This clause is addressed to the stronger brethren, who formed the great majority of the church. While they receive the weak brother, it should not be in such a way as to produce this result, that his thoughts (in this case the scruples named in Romans 14:2; Romans 14:5. etc.) are criticised and judged. To refer it to both parties is opposed by the form of the sentence. The word ‘thoughts’ here refers to doubts, but does not itself mean this. Godet explains: debates consisting in vain reasonings. But the word ‘judgings’ means decisions, or, discriminations of judgment, while ‘thoughts,’ though usually having a had sense in the New Testament, never means vain reasonings. Lange’s view: ‘Not to the judicial decision of motives,’ though a proper inference, is lexically indefensible.


Verses 1-12

1. Fraternal Duty in the Case of the Weak Brethren.

The exhortation to receive the weak (Romans 14:1); the difference between the strong and the weak in the matter of eating (Romans 14:2), with admonitions to these classes respectively (Romans 14:3), especially to the weak brother who judges (Romans 14:4); the difference respecting the observance of days (Romans 14:5); the Christian attitude of both classes in their different conduct (Romans 14:6), based upon the common relation to Christ our Ruler (Romans 14:7-9); a warning to both classes in view of the accountability to God as Judge (Romans 14:10-12).

The caution about judging is prophetic: more divisions and discords have arisen in the Church from the questions here referred to, about which the Apostle has given no authoritative decision, than from the discussion of the truly weighty matters of the previous chapters, in regard to which he speaks so positively. Neglect of distinctively Christian truth is often joined with pettiness in Christian ethics.


Verses 1-13

II. SPECIAL DISCUSSION RESPECTING THE SCRUPLES OF CERTAIN WEAK BRETHREN.

This part of the Epistle was occasioned by the existence at Rome of a class of Christians who had scruples in regard to eating meat and drinking wine, and who clung to the observance of the Jewish festivals. Whatever may have been the origin of such a class (see below), the result was that these judged their less scrupulous Christian brethren, who in return looked upon them with contempt. The Apostle's exhortation, while addressed mainly to the stronger brethren, who constituted the great majority of the church, lays down a principle of universal validity in regard to differences of opinion among Christians on practical points not inconsistent with common faith in Christ, and hence not essential to salvation. The passage may be, for convenience, divided into three sections: (1) Exhortation to reciprocal forbearance and regard, mainly addressed to the weak; chap. Romans 14:1-12. (2.) Proper use of Christian liberty, on the part of the stronger brethren; chap. Romans 14:13-23. (3.) More general treatment of the subject, passing over into expressions of Christian praise; chap. Romans 15:1-13. The entire passage is ‘at the same time the first step in the return horn the form of a treatise to that of a letter; it forms, in consequence, the transition to the epistolary conclusion of the entire writing’ (Godet). This is important in its bearing upon the question respecting the place of chaps, 15, 16 in the Epistle.

THE WEAK BRETHREN AT ROME. The scruples of the weak brethren were respecting eating flesh, drinking wine, and the non-observance of Jewish festivals. The result of these scruples, as indicated by the Apostle’s exhortation, gives no certain clue to their origin. But the tone of the exhortation shows that Paul did not regard these brethren in the same light as he did the Judaizing teachers in Galatia, the errorists in Colosse, or even the weak brethren at Corinth (1 Corinthians 8, 10). He speaks of and to them in a mild and persuasive way, entirely different from his language against false teachers. We must therefore consider them as men with weak ascetic prejudices rather than as legalists, or antipauline Judaizers. The persons referred to in 1 Cor. seem most closely allied in opinion to these, but at Rome the scruple does not appear to have been confined to meat offered to idols. They were not Jewish Christians who wished to retain the law, but it is probable that they were mainly of Jewish origin. Scrupulousness about meat offered, and wine poured out to idols, may have led to entire abstinence from meat and wine, or even from all food which in their view others might have rendered unclean in their preparation of it. Possibly this asceticism was due to Essenic influences; but it could scarcely have been derived from the schools of heathen philosophy. Godet discovers an attempt to return to the vegetarian rule of the antediluvian age. The entire discussion shows profound insight respecting human character, and the adaptation of the principles laid down to social Christian life in all ages has been again and again proven. Unfortunately ecclesiastical bodies have too often made deliverances on matters of minor morals which overpass the limits here set to bearing the infirmities of the weak. The attempt to make men holy by ecclesiastical law has always failed; no other result is possible, since the law of Moses proved powerless to sanctify.


Verse 2

Romans 14:2. One man; as in Romans 14:5. ‘For’ is not found in the original

Hath faith to eat all things. ‘Believeth’ is literal, but the reference to ‘faith’ throughout makes this paraphrase necessary. One has a confidence resulting from faith which permits him to eat every kind of food. This is the first point of difference, and the position of the majority naturally comes first.

But he that is weak, eateth herbs. (See above.) This is best taken in its exact sense; the scruple was such that only vegetables were eaten. Even bread, prepared by others, may have been deemed unclean. But there may have been a variety of usage among the weak brethren. Such believers are apt to differ among themselves, as well as with their stronger brethren.


Verse 3

Romans 14:3. Let not him that eateth set at nought (as in Romans 14:10) him that eateth not. ‘The self-consciousness of strength misleads into looking down with contempt on the weak’ (Meyer). Against this so natural tendency the Apostle cautions; in the latter half of the chapter, the duty of the strong is more fully explained.

Judge him that eateth. The weak brother fails to comprehend the liberty of the stronger one; his misjudgment leads to false judgment, namely, in condemning the person whose conduct he fails to reconcile with the scruples of his weak faith. The reference is, not to doctrinal differences, but to practical Christian ethics.

For God hath received him. ‘Did receive him’ is more literal, pointing to the time when fellowship in Christ began. This clause gives a reason for not judging (comp. Romans 14:4), though some would prefer it to both the preceding prohibitions. But it is far more pertinent to the weak brethren, since they are apt to excommunicate, withdraw from fellowship on trivial grounds of external observance, thus rejecting him whom God received. The strong do not reject, but, while tolerating, are prone to despise the weak.


Verse 4

Romans 14:4. Who art thou that judgest? Comp. chap. Romans 9:20. Evidently addressed to the weak brother, rather than to both classes.

Another man’s servant, lit., ‘house-servant,’ one more closely connected with the family than the other slaves, and in those times often the recipient of great and special favors from a powerful master.

To his own lord. ‘Lord’ is preferable to ‘master,’ to indicate the correspondence with the correct reading of the last clause of the verse, and also to suggest the evident reference to Christ.

He standeth or falleth. The judgment of the weak would exclude the stronger brother from his place as a Christian (Romans 14:3), hence it is most natural to explain this phrase of the continuance or non-continuance in the daily fidelity of a true Christian life. To refer it to God’s final judgment seems less in accordance with the context, where Christ’s power, not his grace, is spoken of. The passage implies that God only is the Lord of the conscience, but that is not its primary meaning.

He shall be made to stand; for the Lord (‘his own lord,’ namely, Christ) is able to make him stand. The argument is still addressed to the weak brother, who condemns the stronger one, thinks he must fall, if be exercises such freedom. But the Apostle asserts: the standing and falling concerns Christ who is his master, and Christ, who is able, will make him stand in his daily Christian faith and life.


Verse 5

Romans 14:5. One man esteemeth one day above another; lit, ‘judges day above day;’ distinguishes one day from another, the reference probably being to the Jewish feasts and fasts. This is a second point of difference, but not so prominent as the first, which is emphasized throughout. The occasion of offence would be more frequent in the matter of eating and drinking

Another esteemeth every day alike; lit., ‘judgeth every day.’

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He does not say ‘spirit,’ but, ‘mind;’ the practical reason is to be exercised in the decision of matters of personal duty; the full conviction of an educated conscience should be sought for, not fancied spiritual intuitions.


Verse 6

Romans 14:6. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord. However weak his faith, ‘he who directs his carefulness to the day, exercises this carefulness in his interest for the Lord, namely, in order thereby to respond to his relation of belonging to the Lord’ (Meyer). So far as the scruples lead to conduct with this Christian tone, they appeal to the kind tolerance of those who are conscious of greater freedom.

The clause: ‘and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it,’ is omitted by the best authorities, and rejected by most modern editors. It was probably inserted to complete the antithetical form of the passage, though some who retain it are disposed to think it was omitted because it seemed to be against the observance of the Lord’s day and Christian holidays. As regards the latter, the Apostle’s principle is against compulsory observance, but the Lord’s day has other claims than those of Jewish or Christian festivals. The presence of the Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue, the recognition (and explanation) of the obligation to keep the Sabbath by our Lord, as well as the relation of the law to the Christian life, suggest for the observance of the Lord’s day a higher sanction than is afforded by ‘considerations of humanity and religious expediency’ or by ecclesiastical enactment. The application to the Jewish Sabbath may be admitted, but ‘the observance of Sunday does not comprise anything in common with that Sabbatic observance which sunders life into two parts, one sacred, the other profane. It is this legal distinction which Paul excludes in our Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2’ (Godet).

And he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth thanks unto God, etc. The Apostle now reverts to the first point of difference, and applies to both parties the Christian maxim just laid down. All Christians were in the habit of thanking God at meals (and have been ever since). This was the proof that the man who ate without scruple ate as a Christian man, ‘unto the Lord;’ while on the other hand he who scrupulously abstained also regarded himself as abstaining from the same Christian motive, and hence gave thanks unto God over the meal of herbs to which he confined himself.


Verse 7

Romans 14:7. For none of us liveth unto himself, etc. The Christian’s eating or not eating is unto the Lord, because the sum of his earthly existence, living and dying, is not ‘unto himself;’ and this is true in the case of all. This is the negative side; the positive follows.


Verse 8

Romans 14:8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord, i.e., Christ

We die unto the Lord; even our dying is an act of consecration to Christ

Whether we live therefore, etc. The whole course of our existence here being unto Christ, it follows that in all we belong to Christ, whose divine majesty and power (Bengel) are set forth in the repetition of the word ‘Lord.’


Verse 9

Romans 14:9. For to this end, as described below, and including the thought of Romans 14:8, Christ died and lived again, or, ‘became alive,’ at the resurrection. There is general agreement as to the correctness of the briefer reading, from which the numerous variations can readily be explained. That followed in the E. V. contains two errors, and is poorly supported

Might be Lord of both the dead and the living. The correspondence with what precedes (‘died and lived’) is intentional, but the two facts and classes should not be divided. God’s purpose in Christ’s death and resurrection together was that he might be Lord of the race of men, whether in the state of the dead or still living. Hence Christians, whether living or dying, belong to Him (Romans 14:8). Ephesians 4:10 contains a wider thought, which may be included here, though for the Apostle’s argument the reference to believers is quite sufficient. Notice, that the Lordship is that of the risen Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word.


Verse 10

Romans 14:10. But why dost thou judge thy brother? ‘Thou’ is emphatic, ‘thou’ belonging to Christ the Lord. ‘Thy brother’ marks an advance in thought from Romans 14:3-4. This is addressed to the weak brother.

Or thou also, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? Addressed to the stronger brother, who ‘also,’ by setting at nought his brother, overlooks the fact that both belong to Christ

For, as a reason for both the preceding questions, we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. The oldest manuscripts read ‘God,’ which is accepted by nearly all modern critical editors. ‘Christ’ was probably substituted, to correspond with Romans 14:9, or, from 2 Corinthians 5:10. The question of the divinity of Christ is not affected by the variation. ‘The judging of one’s brother therefore, first encroaches upon Christ’s office as ruler, and, second, anticipates the judgment bar of God’ (Lange).


Verse 11

Romans 14:11. For it is written (Isaiah 45:23). The citation is freely made, the variations are, As I live for ‘I have sworn by myself’ and shall give praise to God for ‘shall swear’ (LXX. ‘unto God’). The word ‘give praise’ usually means ‘confess,’ but followed by a dative, as here, has the signification, ‘render homage,’ ‘give praise.’ The general thought thus expressed by the Apostle lay at the basis of the more special one of the Old Testament passage. The whole, in any case, is regarded as a prophecy of the final judgment, furnishing a proof of the last clause of Romans 14:10.


Verse 12

Romans 14:12. So then each one of us, etc. The emphasis rests on ‘each one of us,’ not on ‘of himself,’ or, ‘to God.’ There is no exception; let each remember this, and each will be guarded against judging his brother. ‘That which precedes means: “Do not judge thy brother, since God will judge him;” this verse means: “Judge thou thyself, since God will judge thee.”‘ (Godet.)


Verse 13

Romans 14:13. Let us not therefore judge one another any more. Both classes are here addressed, since Romans 14:12, to which ‘therefore’ refers, included both; ‘one another’ points back to ‘of himself’ in the same verse. The clause, however, furnishes a transition to the exhortation to the strong.

But judge this rather, not to put, etc. There is a play on the word ‘judge,’ which here has the sense of forming a judgment as a principle of action.

A stumbling block or an occasion of falling. Evidently this is addressed to those whose freer conduct gave offence to the weak brethren. The two expressions are regarded by many as synonymous, or the second as explanatory of the first. Godet refers ‘stumbling block’ to that which grieves the weak brother, and ‘occasion of falling’ to that which may lead him to sin by enticing him to act against his conscience. This view is favored by the fact that the section discusses these two forms of offence.

In a brother’s way. Fellow Christians are spoken to and spoken of. The principle does not apply to all men, to the same extent. The ‘brotheris assumed to have a conscience more enlightened than that of an unbeliever, whose judgment and ground of offence cannot therefore have the same weight.


Verses 13-23

2. Proper Use of Christian Liberty on the Part of the Stronger Brethren.

The section opens with a caution against judging (Romans 14:13 a), which furnishes a transition to the leading thought, namely, that our practice should recognize the principle of not causing others to offend (Romans 14:13 b). This principle is further explained and enforced: our liberty should not grieve the weak brother (Romans 14:14-18), nor destroy in him the work of God, by leading him to do what he has not freedom of conscience in doing (Romans 14:19-23).


Verse 14

Romans 14:14. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus. His knowledge on the point in question amounts to full conviction growing out of his fellowship with Christ. The principle which he thus prefaces is: that nothing is unclean, lit., ‘common,’ impure, according to the distinction made by the Jews, and ascetics generally, of itself, i.e., by nature. (See marg. refs. on this point.) There is some doubt about the correct reading of this phrase, but the sense is well established. Paul thus declares that the freer brethren are in the right, these distinctions are not valid theoretically; but practically an exception must be made, which the Apostle enforced on the ground of love (Romans 14:15).

But, or, ‘except.’ If the latter sense be accepted, the exception holds good in regard to ‘unclean,’ not to ‘unclean of itself.’

To him that reckoneth, etc. ‘Reckoneth’ is the word used of justification, it points to a judgment, not to moral quality.

To him it is unclean; the emphasis rests on ‘to him;’ his scruple makes it so for him.


Verse 15

Romans 14:15. For. The best authorities give this reading, which introduces the reason for speaking of the exception (Romans 14:14), namely, to warn against the lack of love in disregarding it

If because of thy meat (or, ‘food’) thy brother is grieved. The freer brother would eat that which the weaker reckoned unclean, and thus he would be ‘grieved,’ vexed in conscience. This is not identical with ‘destroy,’ which is a possible result of it

Thou art no longer walking according to love. Love limits liberty, and substitutes for it self-denial, even when the scruple is an incorrect one.

Destroy not by thy meat, etc. To this the grieving may lead; the weak brother may be so influenced as to act against his conscience, and so sin as to fall into eternal destruction. There is a pathos in the closing phrase: him for whom Christ died. If Christ gave up life for him, canst not thou give up a kind of food for him. ‘Believers (the elect) are constantly spoken of as in danger of perdition. They are saved only if they continue steadfast unto the end’ (Hodge). This principle holds good in this warning also.


Verse 16

Romans 14:16. Let not than your good be evil spoken of, lit, ‘blasphemed.’ ‘Then’ implies that to act in the way forbidden in Romans 14:15 would have this result. The exhortation may be applied to the strong; ‘good’ referring accordingly to their Christian liberty, or strength of faith, which grieved the weak brethren, and would lead to censure. But many think the exhortation is ad-dressed to the whole Church, since the plural is introduced here. ‘Good’ would then point to the doctrine of the gospel, or the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). Those who ‘blasphemed’ would be such of the outside heathen world as noticed the discord. The wider view is favored not only by the emphasis resting upon ‘your,’ but by the existence of ‘our’ as a various reading, pointing to a possession of the whole Church, and also by the thought of the next verse.


Verse 17

Romans 14:17. For the kingdom of God. This kingdom is ‘God’s dominion over the heart, instituted and administered by Christ; it is the heavenly sphere of life, in which God’s word and Spirit govern, and whose organ on the earth is the Church’ (Lange). To refer it here to the future Messianic kingdom seems impossible. If the previous verse refers to Christian liberty, then this verse urges a limitation of it, because nothing essential to the kingdom is involved in this restriction. But if all are addressed, then the motive is derived from the wrong estimate of Christianity which would be formed by those without who blasphemed their ‘good.’ As what follows has a special fitness for the weak brethren, the latter view is further sustained.

Is not eating and drinking; the act of eating and drinking, not, food (as in Romans 14:15; Romans 14:20).

But righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Two views: (1.) ‘Righteousness’ from God (= justification), ‘peace’ with God (= reconciliation) ‘joy in the Holy Spirit,’ produced by fellowship with the Holy Spirit; these are named as the essential matters in the kingdom of God. This is favored by the tone of the entire Epistle. (2.) Others understand ‘righteousness’ as moral rectitude toward men, ‘peace’ as concord in the Church, and ‘joy in the Holy Spirit’ as above, but with a wider reference to the common joy of Christians. This view is favored by the context, especially Romans 14:18-19, and by the practical nature of the entire passage.


Verse 18

Romans 14:18. For he that herein, lit., ‘in this,’ according to the correct reading. Some have referred ‘this’ to the ‘Holy Spirit,’ which seems unnatural. Others, to avoid the difficulty, retain the poorly supported plural. ‘Herein’ points to the sphere of life, just described, and the verse confirms the statement of Romans 14:17.

Serveth Christ. This phrase not only indicates the moral reference of what precedes, but shows that duty in the kingdom of God consists in service of Christ.

Is well pleasing to God; since such service is what He enjoins, and approved of men; standing the test of their moral judgment—‘a fact not annulled by abnormal manifestations, in which misapprehension, perversion of the moral judgment, and the like are at work’ (Meyer). Men can approve of the conduct of Christians even while they hate it for the reproof it conveys.


Verse 19

Romans 14:19. Let us therefore; an inference from Romans 14:17-18.

Follow after the things of peace; those things which constitute peace.

And the things which pertain to mutual edification. Here the edification of individuals is meant; elsewhere the building up of the entire Church is spoken of. Godet finds in this clause the beginning of the second part of the section: not only follow after peace, and thus avoid grieving the weak brother, but build up, instead of pulling down, the work of God already begun in his heart; Romans 14:20-23 carrying out the thought.


Verse 20

Romans 14:20. Do not for the sake of meat undo (or, ‘pull down’) the work of God. The verb ‘pull down’ is in contrast with ‘edification,’ upbuilding. Hence it is most natural to refer ‘the work of God’ to the Christian brother (as in Romans 14:15), but here in his relation to God as the author of his spiritual life. (Other explanations: Christian faith, the extension of the kingdom of God, the fellowship of faith.) To abuse Christian liberty is to fight against God.

All things indeed are clean (comp. Romans 14:14); but it is evil for the man who eateth with (lit., ‘through’) offence. The exhortation is addressed to the strong brother, whose principle is admitted to be correct; but it does not follow that ‘the man who eateth with offence’ is the freer Christian who gives offence by eating. This gives to the phrase ‘through offence’ a very forced sense, it is rather the weak brother who is led by the example of the strong brother to eat against his own conscientious scruple. In such a case, according to the principle of Romans 14:14, it is evil to him. This is here urged upon the stronger brother as a motive, not to eat. This agrees best with what precedes, and is as accordant with the next verse as the other view.


Verse 21

Romans 14:21. It is good; admirable, honorable, morally good, in view of what has been said; hence this is the general principle of action, for the strong brother.

Not to eat flesh, etc. This suggests that the weak brother had special scruples on the two points here named, totally abstaining from animal food and wine.

Nor to do anything. It is best to supply ‘to do,’ since other things than eating and drinking are included.

Whereby; lit, ‘in which,’ referring to all that precedes,

Stumbleth. Some of the most ancient authorities omit the rest of the verse. While it is difficult to decide which is the correct reading, the preponderance is slightly in favor of the briefer form. The principle is included in the word ‘stumbleth,’ which is related to that rendered ‘offence’ (Romans 14:20). (If the longer reading be accepted, ‘made weak’ should be changed to ‘is weak;’ the meaning being that we should avoid the weak point of a Christian brother, even when knowing that his scruple is incorrect.) A strong Christian should strive to act upon the principle of this verse, but the weak brother has no right to demand it of him; such a demand is a confession that he is wrong in his scruple. The self-denial of the strong is not a warrant for the tyranny of the weak, who should study the passages meant especially for him.


Verse 22

Romans 14:22. The faith which then hast, etc. The authority for ‘which’ is decisive, and this reading gives the above rendering, which does not alter the purport of the verse.

Have it to thyself before God; it is not necessary to parade it before men. This is a commendation of the position of the strong brother: keep this faith because it is well founded, but keep it to thyself, when it might injure the weak brother.

Blessed (as the word is usually rendered) is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth; tests and then chooses to do. The clause points to one ‘who is so certain of his conviction, that his decision for this or that course is liable to no self-judgment; he does not institute any such judgment, as the anxious and uncertain one does’ (Meyer). Christian practice ought to be out of the sphere of morbid introspection.


Verse 23

Romans 14:23. But he that doubteth (in contrast with the one who judgeth not himself) is (has been and is) condemned, if he eat ‘The act of eating itself condemns him, of course, according to the Divine ordering, so that the justice of this verdict appears not only before God, but before men, and himself also’ (Philippi). This guards against the extreme view, that ‘condemned’ refers to eternal condemnation.

Because it is not of faith; his eating was not an ethical result of his faith in Christ; comp. Romans 14:1-2.

And (‘for’ is incorrect) whatsoever is not of faith is sin. This is the general truth underlying the previous statements. ‘Faith’ here is saving faith (and not subjective, moral conviction), regarded as a principle of life, informing the morals of the Christian. ‘It refers as always to the acceptance of the salvation obtained through Christ. That which one cannot do as his redemption and in the enjoyment of His salvation, he should not do at all, otherwise that act, of which faith is not the soul, becomes sin, and can conduct to the result indicated in Romans 14:20 : the total destruction of the work of God in us’ (Godet).

The conduct of Christians alone is under discussion; so that there is no direct application of the principle to unbelievers. But, making due allowance for the statements of chap. Romans 2:14-15, respecting the natural law of conscience, the passage furnishes a strong indirect proof of the sinfulness of all acts not resulting from faith; especially in view of the previous demonstration of the Apostle in chaps. Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20. The more important matter is, however, to remember that for Christians, at least, Christian ethics should have full validity, and that here the principle admits of no exception: whatsoever is not of faith is sin; genuine Christian morality is all of faith.

On the doxology inserted at this point in some authorities, see Romans 16:25-27.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/romans-14.html. 1879-90.

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Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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