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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Romans 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Romans 12:1

I beseech you.

A lesson to ministers

Ministers of the gospel should be gentle, tender, and affectionate. They should be kind in feeling, and courteous in manner--like a father or mother. Nothing is ever gained by a sour, harsh, crabbed, dissatisfied manner. Sinners are never scolded either into duty or into heaven. Flies are never caught with vinegar. No man is a better or more faithful preacher because he is rough in manner, coarse, or harsh in his expressions, or sour in his intercourse with mankind. Not thus was the Master or Paul. (A. Barnes, D.D.)

Therefore--

The connection between the two parts of the Epistle

Religion among the ancients was service (cultus), and cultus had for its centre sacrifice. The Jewish service counted four kinds of sacrifice which might be reduced to two: the first, comprising the sacrifices offered before reconciliation and to obtain it (sin and trespass-offering); the other the sacrifices offered after reconciliation and serving to celebrate it (whole burnt-offering and peace-offering). The great division of the Epistle to which we have come is explained by this contrast. The fundamental idea of Part I. (chaps. 1-11), was that of the sacrifice for the sin of mankind. Witness the central passage (Romans 3:25-26). These are the mercies of God to which Paul appeals here, and the development of which has filled the first eleven chapters. The practical part which we are beginning corresponds to the second kind of sacrifice, which was the symbol of consecration after pardon had been received (the halocaust, in which the victim was entirely burned), and of the communion established between Jehovah and the believer (the peace-offering, followed by a feast in the court of the temple). The sacrifice of expiation offered by God in the person of His Son should now find its response in the believer in the sacrifice of complete consecration and intimate communion. (Prof. Godet.)

Doctrine and practice

The doctrinal and dispensational portions of the Epistle being ended, the apostle, as a wise master-builder, erects the superstructure of personal religion upon the foundation of redemption, which he has laid deep and substantial. “No doctrine,” remarks H. W. Beecher, “is good for anything that does not leave behind it an ethical furrow, ready for the planting of seeds, which shall spring up and bear abundant harvests.” The connection between doctrine and exhortation is quaintly explained by Bishop Hall: “Those that are all in exhortation, no whit in doctrine, are like to them that snuff the lamp, but pour not in oil. Again, those that are all in doctrine, nothing in exhortation, drown the wick in oil, but light it not; making it fit for use if it had fire put to it; but as it is, neither capable of good nor profitable for the present. Doctrine without exhortation makes men all brain, no heart; exhortation without doctrine makes the heart full, but leaves the brain empty. Both together make a man, one makes a wise man, the other a good; one serves that we may know our duty, the other that we may perform it. Men cannot practise unless they know, and they know in vain if they practise not.” (C. Neil, M.A.)

The relation between doctrine and life

1. The link which unites doctrine and duty is like the great artery that joins the heart to the members--the channel of life and the bond of union. If that link is severed, the life departs. If doctrine and duty are not united, both are dead; there remains neither the sound creed nor the holy life.

2. A common cry is, Give charity, but no dogma, i.e., Give us fruit, but don’t bother us with mysteries about roots. We join heartily in the cry for more fruit; but we are not content to tie oranges with tape on dead branches. This may serve to amuse children; but we are grown men, and life is earnest.

3. In the transition from chap. 11 to chap. 12, the knot is tied that binds together doctrine and duty. At the point of contact Paul defines the relations between the gifts which flow from God to men, and the service rendered by men to God. Christians having gotten all from God are constrained to render back to Him themselves and all they have. Here is a leaden pipe which, rising perpendicularly from the ground, supplies the cistern on the roof. “Water flow up? Don’t mock us. Water flows down, not up.” Place your ear against the pipe. Is not the water rushing upward? “Yes.” The reason is that the water flowing from the fountain on the mountain’s side forces the water up. So the soul is constrained, by the pressure of Divine mercy flowing through Christ, to rise in responsive love. The word “therefore” is the link of connection between doctrine and life. It unites the product to the power.

I. The mercies of God constitute the motive force.

1. Paul is a scientific operator--skilful in adapting means to ends. To provide the water-power may be a much more lengthened and laborious process than to set the mill agoing; but without the reservoir and its supply, the mill would never go round at all. So Paul takes every step on the assumption that a devoted and charitable life cannot be attained unless the person and work of Christ be made clear to the understanding and accepted with the heart.

2. There is a class of men pressing to the front whose maxim is, “A grain of charity is worth a ton of dogma.” But, as I have seen a mechanic, after applying the rule to his work, turning the rule round and trying it the other way, lest some mistake should occur, so it may be of use to express the same maxim in another form; “A small stream flowing on the ground is worth acres of clouds careering in the sky.” In this form the maxim is nonsense; but the two forms express an identical meaning. Wanting clouds, there could be no streams; so, wanting dogma, there could be no charity. The Scriptures present the case of a man who was as free of dogma as the most advanced secularist could desire. “What is truth?” said Pilate, who was not burdened with even an ounce of dogma; yet he crucified Christ, confessing Him innocent.

3. Those who lead the crusade against dogma are forward to profess the utmost reverence for the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. But “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” was a dogma He received with approbation and died for it. Therefore, if He be not the true God, He must be a false man. Thus the Scriptures have rendered it impossible for modern secularists to reject the great dogma of the gospel, and yet retain the life of Jesus as the highest pattern of human character.

4. The word “therefore” is like the steel point which constitutes the fulcrum of the balance. To one extremity of the beam is fixed, by a long line, a consecrated life; but that life lies deep down in the dark, a possibility only as yet. No human arm has power to bring it up. Here is a skilful engineer, who has undertaken the task. What is he doing? He is making fast to the opposite extremity of the beam some immense weight--nothing less than the mercies of God as exhibited in Christ. He has fastened it now, and he stands back--does not put a hand to the work in its second stage. What follows? They come! they come! the deeds of charity.

5. Ask those great lovers who have done and suffered most for men what motive urged them on and held them up. They will answer unanimously, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” They are bought with a price, and therefore they glorify God in their lives.

6. In the scheme of doctrine set forth in the first half of the Epistle, we behold the reservoir where the power is stored; and in the opening verses of the second section the engineer opens the sluice, so that the whole force of the treasured waters may flow out on human life, and impel it onward in active benevolence.

II. A consecrated life is the expected result. This consists of--

1. Devotion to God, the constituents of which are--

2. In the remaining portion of the Epistle Paul labours to stimulate practical charity, in one place reducing the whole law to one precept, to one word--love. After devoting so much attention to the roots, he will not neglect to gather the fruit.

Conclusion:

1. We must look well to our helm as we traverse this ocean of life, where we can feel no bottom and see no shore, lest we miss our harbour. But we must also look to the lights of heaven. The seaman does not look to the stars instead of handling his helm. This would be as great folly as to handle his helm vigorously and never look to the stars. So we must not turn to the contemplation of dogma instead of labouring in the works of charity; but look to the truth as the light which shows us the way of life, and walking in that way with all diligence.

2. Want of faith is followed by want of goodness, as a blighting of the root destroys the stem and branches of a tree. But does the converse also hold good? Many trees when cut down grow again. But some species--pines, for example--die outright when the main stem is severed. Here lies a sharp reproof for all who bear Christ’s name. True it is also that, if from any cause the life cease to act, the faith, or what seemed faith, will rot away underground (1 Timothy 1:19). While faith, by drawing from the fulness of Christ, makes a fruitful life, the exercise of all the charities mightily increases even the faith from which they sprung. While, on one side, the necessity of the day is to maintain the faith as the fountain and root of practical goodness in the life; on the other side, the necessity of the day is to lead and exhibit a life corresponding to the faith it grows upon. (W. Arnot, D.D.)

By the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.

Wherein our Christian sacrifice, with respect to the body, principally consists; and the reasonableness of it

I. The character of the person exhorting. Whoever speaks to us in the name of God, or by a special commission from Him, has certainly a right to our attention. When we consider that the generality of men are more governed by example than precept, or the intrinsic reason of things, we must acknowledge it adds a very great force to instructions we hear from any person when they come recommended by his own practice, and that upon two accounts.

1. Because the actions of men discover most evidently to us the secret bent and disposition of their hearts.

2. Because a good example is a more moving and sensible argument to the practice of piety than the most beautiful images whereby we can otherwise represent it.

II. The manner of the apostle’s exhortation.

1. “Brethren” is the general appellation of Christians which St. Paul uses in all his Epistles.

2. “By the mercies of God,” that is, from the consideration of those great things our good and merciful God has done for us.

3. The subject-matter of the apostle’s exhortation in the following words, “That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.”

(a) “Living” may be here understood as it is opposed to those sensual lusts and passions which have their source from the body, and upon the account of which the apostle cries out (Romans 7:24). By indulging our sensual appetites we vitiate the best constitution, put the organs of the body out of tune, and by degrees perhaps do render it a sink of mortal diseases. All which disorders must necessarily render the body a very unfit and dull companion for the soul, or rather, as it were, a dead weight hanging upon it, in the more lively exercises of reason and devotion. And therefore we must take care never to indulge our bodily appetites to any excess, but rather endeavour to mortify our members which are upon the earth, that the soul operate with its full force and activity; which it is impossible we should do while we study nothing so much as to gratify our bodily appetites.

(b) “Living,” that is, a continual sacrifice. Our whole life in every part and period of it should be consecrated to the service of God. Our incense must burn continually before Him, and the sacrifice of our body, while we are in the body, never cease to be offered. But this leads me to consider--

III. The reason and ground of the apostle’s exhortation. There is nothing here required of us but what is proper to the state and condition of human nature; nothing but what is fit and “reasonable” to be done.

1. God being the Creator and absolute Governor of the world, has power to lay what restraints upon men He sees fit, not exceeding the benefits of their creation.

2. He has laid no restraints upon our natural appetites but what generally tend to our own good and the perfection of our reasonable nature.

3. We think it no injustice in secular potentates to restrain subjects in their natural rights and liberties when such liberties are found inconvenient to themselves, or others, or to the government in general.

4. We often, upon a prospect of a future and greater good, are willing to deny ourselves a present pleasure or satisfaction. Nothing is more common or thought more reasonable.

5. The restraints which are complained of in the Christian religion are no more than what some of the wisest moralists and teachers of natural religion have laid upon themselves and prescribed to others. (R. Fiddes, D.D.)

Are you grateful?

Ingratitude is one of the meanest of vices. You know the old fable of the man who found a frozen viper and in kindness took it home and put it on his hearth-stone to be revived; but when the creature felt the warmth and began to renew its life, it bit its benefactor. This meanest of vices is often seen in men, but scarcely ever in a dog. Perhaps one of its worst forms is when it is shown towards parents; and children who are most indulged are generally the most ungrateful. Note:--

I. The compassions of God.

1. Was it not compassionate of God to create us? There might have been so much better men in our shoes than we are. How shameful then that some of us are little better than logs in a stream! How mean that some of us should wallow in mire like swine, and then say we cannot help it! The wonder is that God can bear with us; but having in mercy created us, He has followed it up with infinite forbearance. Many people are like the Prodigal--they do not care about God until they meet with disaster. Yet God, in His compassion, does not spurn them.

2. God shows His compassion in preparing a heavenly life for us. I dare say that some mother here has taken her little son to market, and when he began to be fagged, encouraged him by saying, “Now, Johnny, be a brave lad, and when we get home I’ll love you and make it up to you! “ Then the little feet trot on more gaily. My weary friend, take courage! God will make it up to you in the other world.

3. Then what compassion to redeem us and to save us from our sins!

II. Our reasonable service. God does not expect aa impossibility from us--only a “reasonable service.” Men are ready enough to profess their willingness to love God, but they are not so ready to show their love to Him by loving one another. Some of you may be living lonely lives, but, if you will, you may people the uninhabited island of your life. You long for sympathy. Well, others feel just the same, and they very likely think you are cold and reserved. Is there not somebody to whom you can say a gentle word, or to whom you can do a kind act? This is your “reasonable service.” Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Take an interest in the joys and sorrows of your fellow.creatures. Those who have money to spare should enjoy the pleasure of dispensing it while they live. When a man gives his money while he lives it is a “living sacrifice”; but when he dies, his money is no longer his. If we have not treasures in money, we have the more precious treasures of love. Some people are like the picture of a rose, which has no perfume. Be perfumed, that is, living Christians; be fragrant of good deeds, which are the sweet breath of heaven; and thus you will show your gratitude to God, be an honour to the gospel of Jesus and a comfort to mankind. (W. Birch.)

True life a priesthood

The life of every man should be that of a priest. The earth should be trod, not as a garden, a playground, or a market, but as a temple. The text indicates that true priesthood is characterised by:--

I. Individuality. “Bodies” here stand for the whole nature--man himself. In this priesthood--

1. Every man is his own sacrifice. The wealth of the world would not be a substitute for himself. What does this imply?

(a) The loss of personality. Man does not lose himself by consecrating his existence to the Eternal.

(b) The loss of free agency. Man does not become the mere tool or machine of Omnipotence. In truth he only secures his highest liberty.

(a) Yielding to God’s love as the inspiration of our being.

(b) Adopting His will as the role of our activities.

2. Every man is his own minister. None can offer the sacrifice for him. He must do it freely, devoutly, manfully.

II. Divinity. It is a vital connection with the Great God.

1. God is the object of it. Men are sacrificing themselves everywhere to pleasure, lucre, fame, influence. There are gods many in England at whose altars men are sacrificing themselves.

2. God is the motive of it. God’s “mercies,” which are infinite in number and variety, are the inciting and controlling motives. The true priest moves evermore from God to God.

3. God is the approver of it. “Acceptable unto God.” He approves it because it is--

III. Rationality. Its reasonableness will be seen if you consider what it really means, viz.--

1. Cherishing the highest gratitude to our greatest Benefactor. Reason tells us that we ought to be thankful for favours generously bestowed upon us. But who has bestowed such favours as God?

2. The highest love to the best of beings. Reason tells that we should only love a being in proportion to his goodness. God is infinitely good, therefore He should be loved with all our hearts, minds, souls.

3. That we should render our entire services to our exclusive proprietor. God owns us; all we have and are belong to Him. If this is not reasonable, what is? In truth religion is the only reasonable life.

Conclusion: Such is true priesthood.

1. All other priesthoods are shams, mimicries, and impieties.

2. Christ’s priesthood will be of no avail to us unless we become true priests to God ourselves. His priesthood is at once the model and the means of all true human priesthood. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Gratitude requires expression

President Hopkins, of Williams College, used to tell his classes that if our religious feelings have no appropriate forms of expression, the feelings themselves will die out. If we do not take a reverential attitude in prayer, we shall lose the spirit of prayer. It is true that if a tree is stripped of its leaves, and kept so, it will die. If we do not express our gratitude and love to God, we shall lose what we have; but by expressing them they are increased--hence these offerings.

Bodily consecration

I. The persons addressed. “You, brethren.” Church members. Paul regarded conversion as an initial step, which, to amount to anything, must be followed by a “going on to know the Lord.” His favourite words were run, strive, fight, grow. He saw the potentialities of Christian manhood in the babe in Christ. This gave him weighty convictions as to the importance of prompt and proper attention to the nursing.

II. The duty enjoined. “Present your bodies.” The body, as well as the soul, is redeemed, and both must go together into God’s service. It is man yielding his members, as servants of iniquity, that gives power to the kingdom of darkness. So, to be of any service in the cause of God, we must yield, not our sympathy merely, but “our members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”

III. The state of condition of the offering. “A living sacrifice.” Allusion is here made to the Jewish sacrifices--which, to have any moral value, must be dead; the Christian sacrifice must be presented living. Man is a priest who lays upon the altar his own living body. And as it was the business of the Jewish priest, not only to present the sacrifice, but to keep it on the altar and see that it be properly offered, so the Christian’s sacrifice is to be--

1. “Holy.” He is to see that his body is kept from all contact with the degrading or sensual.

2. Therefore, “acceptable to God.” Jewish sacrifices were the best of their kind; and man must consecrate all his powers, or God will reject his offering as a mockery and a sham.

3. “Reasonable.” Nothing more reasonable than that the creature should serve the Creator. If man was made to rule, it is equally true that he was made to obey; and in obedience is his greatest pleasure and profit.

IV. The motive prompting the sacrifice. “The mercies of God.” This motive is--

1. Strange. Other religions motive their devotees by the judgments and terror of their gods. None but Christianity ever thought of love as the motive to obedience.

2. Winsome.

3. Adequate. (T. Kelly.)

Entire consecration

The force of the aorist suggests that our self-dedication is to be entire, for once and for all. This act embraces three things--being, doing, and suffering. We must be willing to be, to do, and to suffer, all that God requires. This embraces reputation, friends, property, and time. It covers body, mind, and soul. These are to be used when, where, and as God requires; and only as He requires. Such a consecration should be made--

1. Deliberately;

2. For all coming time;

3. Without any reserve; and

4. In reliance upon Divine strength. (C. Nell, M.A.)

Personal consecration for Divine service

I. This is a summons to a service of worship.

1. The priestly service is required of all Christians without distinction. Every believer is assumed to be anointed, to have passed through the preliminary purification, to have been called and separated (1 Peter 2:9), and to have passed through the consecration ritual (Revelation 1:5-6). Therefore every one of them has “boldness to enter into the holiest (Hebrews 10:19; Ephesians 3:12). And therefore they are all here summoned to holy service. Clearly the act of worship is to be continuous. The Jewish priests had to minister day by day. Morning and evening sacrifices must be offered: the altar fire must be kept burning; the lamps must be lit, and, generally, worship must be offered up continually. And these all symbolised for the people of God the necessity of constant service (1 Corinthians 10:31; Hebrews 13:12-15).

2. This priestly service of worship is to be one of sacrifice--is not indeed of atonement, for the one offering of our great High Priest needs never more to be repeated. But now, the reconciliation having been effected by that offering, we must draw near to God for holy fellowship, as in the peace-offering; to praise, as in the thank-offering; and for perpetual dedication, as in the burnt-offering.

(a) Full and perpetual dedication to Divine service.

(b) Sanctification by the blood of Jesus, or it will become anathema.

(c) “Sanctification of the Spirit,” so that all the appetites, instincts, and members of the body, and all the powers and properties of the inspiring soul, shall be brought into true harmony with the will of God.

3. This priestly service of sacrifice shall be acceptable to God. It is at once worthy of the priest, the temple, and God. That could not be said of the ritual service of the Jewish temple, except in so far as it was type of better things (Isaiah 1:11-15).

II. The spirit in which these priests are required to perform their service (Romans 12:21)

1. Negatively--“Be not conformed to this world.” The special characteristics of worldliness vary according to the variations in the tendencies of thought and of ethical aim and effort at different periods, in different countries, and amongst different people’s. The spirit of the age in which Moses lived was the spirit of gross, sensuous idolatry. Hence the prohibition thereof in the Decalogue. The spirit of the age amongst the Jews, in the time of the apostles, was that of dependence upon external services (Galatians 4:3; Gal_4:9). The spirit of the age by which the Colossians were in danger of being contaminated was that of “philosophy and vain deceit” (Colossians 2:8-23). There is in almost every age a twofold world-spirit, each being the other’s opposite, the most energetic working of which was perhaps most strikingly manifested in the early ages of monasticism, when those who became earnestly religious sought for the perfection of the spiritual life in seclusion and asceticism. Both were injurious to true spiritual religion, and the remedy will be secured by attention to the true Christian requirement. “Present your bodies,” and they are as capable of true spiritual service within their sphere as are your spirits. Therefore “marriage is honourable among all” right-minded men. Therefore to “them that believe and know the truth,” “every creature of God is good” (1 Timothy 4:3-5). Therefore all the honest occupations of life may be pursued in a truly religious spirit (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

2. Positively. Observe

III. The arguments by which the priests are urged to attend diligently to this service.

1. The apostle’s personal influence. He himself had consecrated all to the service of God (Philippians 2:17). And therefore with great urgency of moral power could he say, “I beseech you.”

2. “The mercies of God,” in which there is at once a backward reference to the foregoing arguments and illustrations, an onward reference to the duties about to be inculcated, and a central reference to the consequential link which binds on the one to the other.

3. That ye may personally prove the will of God--

(a) He will prove it to be good, and also productive of good.

(b) He will prove it to be acceptable both to God and man (Romans 14:18; 2 Corinthians 1:12).

(c) He proves that the course prescribed for him by the will of God is perfect. (W. Tyson.)

The consecrated body

The body is--

I. The seat of our animal propensities. These are not necessarily criminal. They are only so when they cease to be subordinate to God. When we are living in His power, the question will not be, Is this self-indulgence right, or wrong? but, Does it interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit within me, and the fulfilment of the mind of God in my life?

II. The seat of our sensuous experiences. Is the love of music to be indulged, or may we take long journeys for pleasure? Surely none of these things are wrong in themselves; but with the child of God the question is not, How shall I most gratify my sensuous propensity? but, How most please God?

III. The seat of our physical sensibilities--those which are acted upon by the sense of pain, pleasure, lassitude, etc. A duty has to be done, but it is a hot day, and we have some approach to a headache, and we do not feel disposed to do it. What is it will enable us to rise above that? Why, to be filled with the Spirit, and then the body will present itself to God’s service joyfully.

IV. Our medium of communication with the physical world. Now, it is not a bad thing that we should have to do with the physical world; but what effect is our bodies producing upon this world? Is it the better for us? Is “Holiness to the Lord” written upon the very vessels of our households? If we are filled with the Spirit of God, our bodies will be the medium through which this world will be continually affected by Him, etc.

V. The medium through which we hold intercourse with mankind. Now, what is the nature of that influence? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will be a revelation of Christ. In these bodies we should carry about the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. The tone of our voice, the line of our conduct, the look of our eye, everything about us, will speak of Christ.

VI. The veil which conceals the things unseen. Strip off these bodies, and in a moment we are landed in the presence of invisible realities. There is only this between me and eternity, between me and God. Now, that is something for which to be thankful. If it were not for this veil it would be impossible for me to fulfil the work of my probation. At the same time, the devil employs it as a means of deadening our spiritual sensibilities. When the Holy Spirit has free course within our being, then the veil becomes almost transparent. There are times when God draws so near to us that it seems more like seeing than thinking, more like touching than simply contemplating. (W. Hay Aitken, M.A.)

Consecrated and transformed

The key of this chapter is found in the preceding verse. The law of the universe, the great march of all things is from God, through God, to God. But all things about us are wrought upon by a great compulsion. From reason, not from blind necessity, we yield ourselves to the sweep of this great law. Yet there is a compulsion even for us--nobler, as our service is nobler, viz., love: “by the mercies of God.”

I. The entreaty: “I beseech you.” But we object to be besought to do a reasonable thing. Show us that a thing is reasonable, and at once and of course we do it. Think, then, that for our highest good we have to be besought! For God alone we play not the part of reasonable men. How amazing that we should have to be urged when God invites us to give ourselves to Him that He may give Himself to us! “That ye may prove what is that good … will of God.” The ear is deaf to the voice of God, calling us to Paradise again. This is the entreaty of a man--

1. Who was living this life of blessedness. Of, through, and to God, was the rhythmic flow of his whole being. And then, in all the consciousness of this blessed life, he thinks of the half-hearted, of those who come far enough out of the far country to lose the husks of the swine, but not far enough to get the bread of the father’s house, who, like the fabled coffin of Mahomet, lie suspended between earth add heaven, unclaimed by either, and yet fretting for each. To these the apostle cries, “I beseech you,” etc.

2. Who had lingered at the Cross until its great love possessed him. He had seen something of God’s unspeakable gift. With that mercy kindling his soul he asks, What acknowledgment can we make? Only ourselves. The power that prompts and sustains this consecration is only here--the love of God in Jesus. There let us seek it.

II. The consecration to which we are urged. Turn again to the great law of all things and trace its application.

1. Nothing in God’s world is any good until it is given up to that which is above it. What is the worth of the land, however fruitful, and whatever title we may have to it, unless we can do something with it? The soil must minister to us, or it is merely waste land. The seed again and all its products--what should we give for them if we could do nothing with them? And what use are cattle and sheep, except as they clothe and feed us? And what are we for? Here lies our worth and our good, in giving ourselves “a living sacrifice” to Him, of, through, and to whom are all things.

2. Every thing by sacrifice not lost, but turned into higher life. Very beautiful is this law of transformation. Listen to the parable of the earth. “Here am I,” it mutters, “so far away from Him who made me, without any beauty of form, or richness of colour, or sweetness of smell! How can I ever be turned into worth and beauty?” And now there comes the seed, and whispers, “Earth, wilt thou give me thy strength?” “No, indeed,” replies the earth, “it is all I have got, and I will keep it for myself.” “Then,” saith the seed, “thou shalt be only earth for ever. But if thou wilt give me thy strength thou shalt be lifted up and be turned into worth and beauty.” So the earth yields, and the seed takes hold of it. It rises with wondrous stem; it drinks in sunshine and rain and air, mingling them with the earth’s strength and changing all to branch, leaf, flower, and fruit. The parable repeats itself in the case of the seed. It has a kind of life, but all unconscious. It cannot see, or hear, or move. But it yields itself to the animal, and then its strength is turned into part of the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the subtle nerve, the beating heart. And the animal gives itself in turn to serve man, and is exalted to a thousand higher purposes. And man gives himself up to God, and is transformed--into what? Ah! who can tell of that wondrous transformation when it is completed? Once when I was a schoolboy going home for the holidays, I embarked at Bristol with just money enough to pay my fare, and thought in my innocence that that included meals. By and by came the steward with his bill. “I’ve got no money,” said

I. “What is your name and address?” I told him. “I should like to shake hands with you,” he said instantly, with a smile. Then came the explanation--how that some years before some little kindness had been shown by my father to his widowed mother.” I never thought the chance would come for me to repay it,” said he, pleasantly; “but I am glad it has.” I told my father what had happened. “Ah,” said he, “see how a bit of kindness lives! Now he has passed it on to you. Remember, if ever you meet anybody that needs a friendly hand, you must pass it on to them.” Years went by, and I had forgotten it all, until one day I was at a railway station, and saw a little lad crying. “What is the matter, my lad?” I asked. “If you please, sir, I haven’t money enough to pay my fare. I have all I want but a few pence; and I tell the clerk if he will trust me I will be sure to pay him again.” Instantly flashed the forgotten story of long ago. Here, then, was my chance of passing it on. I gave him the sum he needed, and told the little fellow the story of the steward’s kindness to me. “Now, to-day,” I said, “I pass it on to you; and remember, if you meet with any one that needs a kindly hand, you must pass it on to them.” My story is the illustration of the law of God’s great kindness that runs through all things. Here lies the earth, and it says: “I have got in me some strength. It belongs to God.” Then it whispers to the seed, “I will pass it on to you.” Then the seed passes it on to the animal, and the animal to man, who completes the circle. Think how all things minister to him. If he serves not God, he hinders all things, and diverts them.

III. The result of this consecration. “Be not conformed to this world.” How great a drop is this! We were dreaming of heaven, and now we have a string of moral commonplaces. Be not wise in your own conceits. Be given to hospitality. Be not slothful in business. Live peaceably with all men. But that this should seem a coming down makes the lesson all the more needful. Do we not too often think that our way upward is first to be right with ourselves, and then to be right with the world, and then somewhere far off we may some day come to be right with God? No, the order is reversed. First right with God, then, and then only, right with all things. First “present your bodies a living sacrifice” unto God; then the world, and all belonging to it, is put in its right place. How vain are all other attempts at curing conformity to the world! There never was a time when there were so many man-made, church-made Christians. Who does not know the receipt? Tie up the hands and say, “You must not do that.” Tie up his feet and say, “You mustn’t go to such and such places--at least, when you are at home.” Cut him off from certain things at which society is shocked, and there is your Christian: a creature with his heart hungering for the world as fiercely as ever. To “present our bodies a living sacrifice” to the opinions of religious society is no cure for conformity to the world. This is the only way--a glad, whole-hearted giving up of ourselves to God. Then comes the being “transformed by the renewing” of the “mind.” Transformed, not from without, but from within; exactly as the earth is transformed when it gives itself up to the seed. “That ye may prove,” etc. The renewed mind has new faculties of discernment--new eyes to see the will of God, and a new heart to do it, and to be it. We cannot know God’s will until we are given up to it. Once as I meditated on these words I heard the children pass my study door. “I sha’n’t,” rang out a little voice. “This won’t do,” said I, gravely; “you must stand in the corner until you come to a better mind.” “Think now,” said I to myself, “if she should say, ‘Well, I suppose it is my father’s will, and I must submit to it,’ should I not answer, ‘Nay, it is dead against your father’s will? Your father’s will is that you should be in the garden playing with the others, but you have gone against your father’s will, and now your father’s will has gone against you.’” And as I turned it over, I thought I saw where all the crosses come from. When God’s will goes one way and our will goes another, there is the cross. When God’s will and mine are one the cross is lost. Already the crown is ours--for what makes heaven? Not white robes, not golden streets, not harps and anthems, but this only--the eternal harmony of wills; and we can have that down here. And what is hell? The eternal collision of wills. We may have that here, and this it is that makes the madness of many a life. Conclusion: And now here is a thing to be done. It shall help us nothing to know all this, to believe it all, and yet to stop short of doing it. Will you do it? (Mark Guy Pearse.)

How is the body to become a sacrifice?

Let thine eye look upon no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thy hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt-offering. But this is not enough, we must have good works also. Let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that despitefully use us, and the ear find leisure evermore for the hearing of Scripture. For sacrifice can be made only of that which is clean; sacrifice is a firstfruit of other actions. Let us, then, from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all our other members, yield a firstfruit unto God. Such a sacrifice is well-pleasing, and not, as that of the Jews, unclean, for “their sacrifices,” says the Scripture, “shall be unto them as the bread of mourners.” Not so ours. Theirs presented the thing sacrificed dead; ours maketh the thing sacrificed to be alive. For when we have mortified our members, then we shall be able truly to live. For the law of this sacrifice is new, and the fire of a marvellous nature. For it needeth no wood under it, but liveth of itself, and doth not burn up the victim, but rather quickeneth it. This was the sacrifice that God sought of old. Wherefore the prophet saith, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” And the three children offered this when they said, “At this time there is neither prince, nor prophet, nor leader, nor burnt-offering, nor place to sacrifice before Thee, and to find mercy. Nevertheless, in a contrite heart and an humble spirit, let us be accepted.” (Chrysostom.)

A living sacrifice

Here is--

I. Something to be done. Note--

1. The terms of the text.

2. That which is here required is not “devotions,” but devotion. Present the offerings of true worship, but above all, present yourselves. All that we are is required, beside that which we have. Bring money, time, and influence as offerings, but above this, offer yourselves, your natural selves, your redeemed selves, the best in yourselves, and the whole of yourselves.

3. Now there are three things necessary to this--

II. A strong motive power by which to do it.

1. “The mercies of God,” which are the manifestations of His goodness recorded in the previous part of this Epistle (see Romans 2:4; Rom_5:8; Rom_5:20-21; Rom_8:38-39). But there are mercies which Paul does not mention, and which the Christian shares with all men. The mercies of God are countless in number, infinite in variety, and inestimable in value. Gratitude is a strong motive-power, by whose aid we may present our bodies an offering for life, holy and acceptable.

2. And is there not some force in the statement that this offering is a reasonable service? The victims under the law were irrational. This yielding ourselves to God is a reasonable service because--

3. And is there not something due to the earnestness of Paul in this matter? “I beseech you.” This man knew what it was to offer himself a sacrifice to God, and did what he recommends, by powers and aids within reach of all Christians. Here lies the secret of his power (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13).

Conclusion:

1. Young brethren, render my text into life. In the school, home, place of business, present yourselves living sacrifices. The religious habits you now form are of immense moment to you. Let them be right habits even from the beginning.

2. Lukewarm and backsliding brethren, my text shows you what you ought to be, and indirectly what you are. A sacrifice it may be, but to self, to vanity, covetousness, pleasure, etc.

3. False brethren, why do you creep into our churches? You are as wood, hay, and stubble in our spiritual building, You are a cancerous growth on the body of Christ. Why do you not leave Christians alone? If you be an infidel, be honest, and do not profess to be a Christian. Go to your own company, but know that there is forgiveness for your falseness if you repent and turn from your evil ways.

4. And let the Pharisees of doctrine and of ritual digest my text. Theory without practice, doctrine without duty, a creed without spiritual life, will avail you nothing. (S. Martin.)

A living sacrifice

I. The motive of the sacrifice: “the mercies of God”--the most cogent motive that can possibly influence a Christian soul.

II. The method. It is to be an act of presentation. “Here am I send me.” Make what use of me Thou canst and wilt.

III. The subject. “Our bodies.”

IV. The object. “Acceptable to God.” (W. Hay Aitken, M.A.)

A living sacrifice

We have here--

I. A highly figurative but exceedingly significant representation of practical and daily virtue. It is given under the form of a presentation.

1. The Romans could not fail to be alive to its meaning. They had always been accustomed to sacrifice and splendid ritualism. They had to turn away from this, and to become members of little private societies, in which there was nothing of the kind. And I can imagine that they would almost feel the want of it; and in consequence of the absence of it to the heathen they did not seem to have any God or religion at all. But the Christian convert was now taught that he himself was a priest of God, that everything he did should be presented on the altar of a religious faith.

2. By the term “bodies” we are to understand the whole person. Though the body is the instrument, yet the mind is that which we always consider as acting. Of course you may take the term as it stands. You are to present your hands by keeping them from violence and fraud, and putting them to honest work. You are to present your eyes by turning them away from objects which may excite concupiscence, or fill you with the workings of unholy passion. The senses and appetites must all be controlled; and the understanding must learn to cultivate the knowledge of truth.

II. “be not conformed to the world, but be ye transformed.”

1. Here, again, the primitive Christian would have a stronger feeling than we can have. The Church and the world were things very distinct then. On the one side were the idolatry, godless philosophy, and vicious habits of heathen society; on the other a little flock, bearing the marks of that holiness which the Christian faith was designed to produce. But things are so wonderfully intermixed now that we do not know where the Church ends and where the world begins. There is a kind of border land; and there they are, going to and fro. Of course there are a number of things which the Church and the world must do in common, and in many cases non-conformity to the world consists, not so much in doing different things as in the different feelings that underlie what we do. “Why,” says the apostle, “if you are not to come in contact with certain persons, you might just as well be out of the world.” If an unbeliever ask you to dine with him, and you are disposed to do so, go; only bear in mind that you are a Christian, and that whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, you are to do all to the glory of God. Now there can be no doubt at all about one thing. If anything presents itself as sinful there must not be conformity. Well, then, if you are really wishing to be a Christian; and if you find something which is injurious to you--you are not to enter into the question whether it is injurious to your neighbour; if you find it injurious to you do not be conformed to it. You may be conscious, e.g., that a certain kind of reading or music is a hindrance to your religious life. Take care, then, that in these respects you “be not conformed to the world.” So with respect to anything that is doubtful with regard to the expenditure of time or money. Let me here whisper to you young people--whenever you find anything condemned by your intelligent and cultivated elders, you may depend upon it that there is something right lying at the bottom of their antipathy.

2. But besides this negative abstinence outwardly, there is to be a positive opening and development of the mind and affections towards that brighter world of Divine truth and goodness, to which it becomes us to be conformed. You must not be contented with outwardly resisting and inwardly longing. There is plenty of non-conformity to the world in the inside of a jail. Butts there the renewal of the mind? Unlike the man coming out of prison, who immediately returns from the force of the life that is within him to the things from which he has been parted for a season, there must be in you such a renewal of the soul that you will detest the things which have been given up; you must feel that you have meat to eat which the world knoweth not of. You will then have the satisfaction of another kind of life within you.

III. The result of this is that you may know by a positive, subjective experience the will of God, how beautiful, how perfect, how good it is; how it is just the thing for which man was evidently made.

1. There have been men of great genius who have been very immoral. “Well, now, let us suppose such a man to have studied Divine truth until he apprehends it just as he might apprehend astronomy. He has knowledge; he has a perception of the beauty of the system, but he has not tasted and seen. There it is, lying above the intellect just as the stars lie above the sky; he has not within him the sense of an actual loving spirit, instinct with the spirit of truth.

2. Take a man of inferior faculties--who, having some little to begin with--the lessons of his father, the prayers of his mother, by which his young heart was early, taught to love holiness and to hate sin; having very few ideas, and those not well arranged, but still daily presenting himself as a living sacrifice unto God, and going on learning the truth by loving it--oh, what different feelings will such a man have, as the whole system of truth gradually opens and reveals itself to him, and he gets more and more an apprehension of it! That is the way in which I want you to come to a knowledge of the Christian system.

IV. This sacrifice is a very reasonable thing. It is a service agreeable to your rational nature. Take the case of a man who does not believe in God; suppose that man to come in contact with another who is disgracing humanity by drunkenness or licentiousness. Can you not conceive him saying, “Well, now, you know you were not made for that”? Or if he did not believe man to have been made at all, can you not imagine him saying, “However, you were made, considering what your mind is, and what society is, with your own knowledge of what is becoming, it is a most irrational thing for you to sink down into such a low, gross existence”? Ay, and we say to the man who talks thus, “Sir, if there’s a God that made him, and you, and me; and if the relations which we sustain to Him as reasonable creatures are far more important than our relations to one another, then is it not required by our rational nature that we should not only avoid the abominations which you have denounced, but that, by the culture of what is good and beautiful and pure, we should present ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice?”

V. The exhortation is enforced “by the mercies of God.” The word “therefore” connects the exhortation with the preceding argument of the apostle, and without referring to that you cannot understand what are the mercies to which he especially refers. That argument bears principally on two points--the mediation of Christ, and the work of the Spirit. These are the two pillars on which the mercies of God are inscribed. You are to “present yourselves a living sacrifice”; you are not to be “conformed to the world,” but to be “transformed by the renewing of the mind.” Hard sayings. But you are not to take them by themselves. There is a provision to meet your weakness. (T. Binney.)

A living sacrifice

This verse makes a transition from the first to the second half of this letter. All before it is what we call doctrinal, the most of what comes after it is practical. There are many men that say, “Give us the morality of the New Testament; never mind about the theology.” But you cannot get the morality without the theology, unless you like to have rootless flowers and lamps without oil. On the other hand, many forget that the end of doctrine is life, and that therefore the most orthodox orthodoxy, divorced from practice, is like the dried flowers which botanists put between sheets of blotting-paper--the skeletons of dead beauty. Let us, then, always remember this little word “therefore,” that binds together indissolubly Christian truth and Christian duty. Note--

I. The sum of Christian service.

1. Sacrifice means giving up everything to God. That is the true sacrifice, when I think as in His sight, and will, and love, and act as in obedience to Him. And this sacrifice will become visible in the sacrifice of the body, when in all common actions we have a supreme and distinct reference to His will, and do, or refuse to do, because of the fear and for the sake of the Lord. The body has wants and appetites; you have to see to it that these are supplied with a distinct reference to, and remembrance of, Him, and so made acts of religious worship. The excess which dulls the spirit and makes it all unapt to serve Him, the absorbing care about outward things which checks all the nobility of a man’s life, are the forms in which the body comes in the way of the soul, and the regulation and suppression of these are the simplest parts of the offering. There is no need in this generation to preach against asceticism. Better John the Baptist’s garment of camel’s hair and his meat--locusts and wild honey, if, like John the Baptist, I shall see the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descending on the Son of Man, than this full-fed sensualism which is the curse and the crime of this generation.

2. This offering makes a man live more nobly and more truly than anything else. Not mutilation but consecration is the true sacrifice. We are not called upon to crush our desires, tastes, appetites, or to refrain from actions; only they are to be controlled and done in obedience to God.

3. This sacrifice is “your reasonable service.” The antithesis is with the material sacrifices, and the Revised Version gives the true meaning in its marginal rendering “spiritual.” It is a service or worship rendered by the inner man, transacted by the mind or reason, and thus, as indicating the part of our nature which performs it, is reasonable. Now there is no need to depreciate outward forms of oral worship. But still we have all need to be reminded that devout daily living is true worship. Where the common food is eaten with thankfulness and in the consciousness of His presence, it is holy as the Lord’s Supper. The same authority that said of the one, This do in remembrance of Me,” said by His apostle of the other, “Whether ye eat or drink, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” “To work is to pray,” if done from a right motive. The bells on the horses may bear the same inscription as blazed on the high priest’s mitre, “Holiness to the Lord,” and the shop-girl behind the counter may be as truly offering sacrifice to God as the priest by the altar. The mere formal worship is abomination without this. There are people that think they have done a meritorious thing in coming here to this service, and whose only notion of worship is a weary sitting in this place for an hour and a half. Do you think that is of any use? The sacrifice of praise is right, “but to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

II. The great motive of Christian service. By “the mercies of God,” the apostle means the great scheme of mercy set forth in the previous chapters. The diffused and wide-shining mercies, which stream from the Father’s heart, are all, as it were, focussed as through a burning-glass into one strong beam, which can kindle the greenest wood and melt the thick-ribbed ice.

1. Only on the footing of Christ’s sacrifice can we offer ours. He has offered the one sacrifice of His death in order that we may offer the sacrifice of our life. He has offered the dying sacrifice which is propitiation, in order that, on the footing of that, we may offer the eucharistic sacrifice of grateful surrender of ourselves to Him.

2. These mercies are also the only motive power that will be strong enough to lead to this consecration of ourselves to Him. The fierce wants, passions, and appetites that rage and rule in men will be subdued by nothing short of the mighty motive drawn from the great love of God revealed in the dying love of Jesus. There is one magnet strong enough to draw reluctant hearts and reluctant limbs, and that is Jesus lifted up on the Cross. Other restraints from propriety, prudence, or even principle will reach their breaking point at a much lower strain than the silken bonds of Christ’s love.

III. The gentle enforcement of this great motive for Christian service. Law commands, the gospel entreats! “Christ’s yoke is easy,” not because His precepts let down the ideal of morality, but because the motive is love, and the manner of command gentle and beseeching. Hence its power; for hearts, like flowers, which could not be burst open by the crow-bar of law, may be wooed open by the sunshine of love. Surely as the morning sunrise drew a note from the stony lips of the statue, which storm and thunder could not awaken, His pleading voice will bring an answer that could not have been won by any commandments, however rigid, or by any threatenings, however severe. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)

A living sacrifice

The words are very familiar, or they certainly would strike us powerfully. None of us ever saw a sacrifice; but the readers of this Epistle knew the sight well; and whether they as Gentiles thought it a mere ceremony, or, if they argued about it, as the Scriptures almost compelled an Israelite to argue, they must have been startled at Paul’s words. “Does he mean us,” they may have said, “to treat our bodies as either sinful and to be got rid of, or as things so sacred, that to offer them in self-devotion will have power to make peace for us with God?” A little reflection would show them that neither of these interpretations could be the right one. St. Paul held the body in high honour; but, on the other hand, there was no thought in his heart, when he spoke of the body as a sacrifice, of anything meritorious. We shall best grasp the apostle’s meaning if we consider--

I. The terms used. St. Paul had never yet visited Rome, and could not say as he said to the Thessalonians, “Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you of these things?” And therefore he has gone with great fulness into the whole system of grace and redemption, and now he turns to the practical inference.

1. He appeals to his readers “by the mercies of God.” They for whom God has done all these great things had, by their very nature, no claim whatever to the love of God; and therefore mercy, “kindness to the undeserving,” is the right word for God’s dealings with them; and if mercy is to be indeed a blessing, it must lead to something in the heart and life, responsive and corresponding to it.

2. “Your bodies.” St. Paul gave no encouragement to that sort of religion which dreams and cultivates beautiful ideas and rapturous feelings, and there stops. If he had written “minds” he might have given the notion of an intellectual attainment; if “souls” he might have opened the door to a languid and useless existence, such as hermits and mystics delight in; but when he says “bodies” he strikes at the root of all such errors. The word he uses is not “carcase,” but “living body”; which includes all the powers of intercourse and exertion.

3. “Present” applies to the worshipper who places his victim by the altar and to the priest who officially makes the presentation, in either of which senses the word would be suitable here. In the one sense the Christian is the priest of his own sacrifice. Scripture speaks of us as offering up “spiritual sacrifices,” as being ourselves “a royal priesthood.” In the other sense the Christian places his offering by the altar that Christ may offer it up to God, and so make it acceptable. There is no conflict between the two; for, if the Christian is God’s priest, he is so in virtue of the one process and the one sacrifice, and the moment he would officiate independently he becomes a priest of Baal.

4. “Sacrifice” was of two kinds.

II. The clause as a whole.

1. It prepares us for a somewhat painful life. “Sacrifice” implies death. “Look, then, upon yourselves as men who have already died with Christ, and who are now being burnt upon God’s altar.” The figure sets before us the life of a Christian as a life through which a fire is passing, that it may come out from it in a new form, the sinful having become pure, the earthly heavenly, and the whole man “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” A process like this must be painful if the holy flame is really alight, if the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire is really at work in us, consuming our base passions, etc.

2. The painful life is also a glorious life. There is something in the word to which all but hearts of earth and stone are responsive. What will not a friend sacrifice for his friend? Will he not go through fire and water may he but prove his love? “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Wherefore? and for what? To show that you feel what God has done for you in Jesus. If Christian ambition were just a refurbishing and regilding of this poor tarnished thing which sin and the fall has made us, I can well imagine noble hearts saying, “I will none of it. I despise your decencies and decorum.” But men cannot speak in this way of the sacrifice of the body, of the flame kindled at the cross-altar, and kindling the creature and the sinner into the sufferer and into a doer and into a darer. Man would give worlds to live that life if he could. He cries in his shame and bitterness, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” One reason why there are not more Christians is because so few have entered into the thought of the inward fire which alone can make the outward surface aught but a delusion or a hypocrisy. (Dean Vaughan.)

A living sacrifice

These words breathe the fervour of a heart which has made the surrender to which it would constrain others, and had they been read to us for the first time without context we might have pictured the apostle not dictating a letter, but standing as he does in the cartoon of Raffaelle with uplifted arms pleading with men. We have here--

I. A demand.

1. The living sacrifice stands in contrast with the animals which were slain in order to be presented to God, and the holiness which is to mark it has reference to the Mosaic sacrifices which had to be without spot or blemish. Believers as a royal priesthood are here exhorted to offer that spiritual sacrifice prefigured by the burnt-offering, without which the sacrifice of praise by the lips, and of almsgiving with the substance, will be unacceptable to God. Remember that the expiatory sacrifice has gone before, and by virtue of it only are we priests unto God (Revelation 1:5-6). When the Jewish priests were consecrated the blood of the sacrifice was applied to the ear, the hand, and the foot, signifying that it needs a blood-stained ear to listen to the Divine commandments, a blood-stained hand to minister before God, a blood-stained foot to tread His courts. So being now consecrated by the blood of the atoning sacrifice, believers are to offer the eucharistic sacrifice of the text.

2. The body does not signify here the whole man. True, the altar on which this victim is offered is the heart, but the reference to the body is not to be frittered away. The body shared largely in the fall, and is to share largely in the redemption. It is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and an instrument in Divine service, and is to be transformed in the likeness of our Lord’s glorious body. So, then, we are called upon to present our bodies to God in useful service, and to take heed that it is not withheld or impaired by indolence, allowance of evil habit, or lack of self-discipline.

II. This demand is enforced by a twofold plea.

1. It is our reasonable service, which has been understood to point a contrast between the Christian sacrifice and those made prior to the Divine command, or those which are superstitious, or mechanical, or carnal. It is enough, however, that the service is dictated by reason in response to a reasonable demand. Granted the apostle’s premises, no one can deny the rationality of this his conclusion. Hence sin is identified with folly, and wisdom constantly defined as being the fear of God and the keeping of His commandments.

2. The mercies of God. Note the emphatic “therefore,” one of many which constitute the links of an irresistible argument for consecration based upon the mercy of God in Christ. It would be enough to mention God’s temporal mercies, but in Paul’s view these sink into insignificance compared with God’s redeeming mercies, which form the substance of the Epistle. (Canon Miller.)

A living sacrifice

As the smith casts the iron he wishes to mould into shape into the fire, so the apostle has been smelting the minds of his readers in the fires of sacred argument, till now they are prepared to receive those strokes of his hammer which are to shape them into practical Christians. The object of all Christian doctrine is to fuse the life of a man with Divine fire, and mould it into a Divine form, so that it shall not be conformed to the fashion of any passing age, but transfigured by the renewal of the mind with the life and beauty of God. Note--

I. The consecration of one’s self to God.

1. In our human relations we know the nature of such self-consecration and what it involves. When two human beings give themselves to one another they swear in the name of love that they will be true to each other as long as life shall last. If the surrender be really entire and mutual, then marriage is really a holy sacrament, consecrating each to each as under the eye of God. It means such a oneness of life henceforth as shall not tolerate the thought of division; such mutual devotion that each shall lose himself in the service of the other--and the anguish of the thought of parting at death is consoled by the confident hope of reunion hereafter.

2. Our relations to God being spiritual cannot always be realised with the same intensity as our visible relations. But some things help to make them stronger and nobler.

II. The manner in which this consecration vow is fulfilled. “And be not conformed,” etc. The offering of ourselves, and the carrying out of the vow, are two different things. The one act is the work of a moment, the other is the work of a lifetime. The one is coming to God under the constraint of His love; the other is abiding in Him and growing up into Christian manhood. When a young man inflamed with the passion for scholarship is sent to the university, he enters his name upon the college books, and becomes pledged to the life of a student. But he is not yet therefore a learned man. He must attend classes, scorn delights, and live laborious days. If he can learn to love hard work and stern self-discipline he shall become at length what his first ambition aimed at. When a soldier takes the oath of allegiance it is but the first step of a soldier’s life. He will have to pass through much monotonous drill before he is fit for service; and if ever called into the field of battle he will have to endure fatiguing marches and brave death itself. And we can be good soldiers of Jesus Christ only upon the same conditions. The case sometimes happens that a profligate man is smitten with the love of a pure woman and swears that if she will give him her love he will become a new man. And if she believes his promise and accepts his love, and he earnestly sets himself to redeem his vow, do you think he is able to become a new man in a day? Yes, in purpose, but not in achievement. The battle with former habits cannot he completely fought out at once, but the victory is won at last because the battle has been faithfully fought under the inspiration of a love that has been stronger than all his other passions. And what a pure earthly love is able to accomplish for a man, shall not the love of God in Christ accomplish for us?

2. We are to become transformed by the renewing of the thinking faculty. That is, instead of being occupied, as we once were, in thinking and planning about the old life and ways, we are to busy our thoughts with the new life, and not only try to feel right, but to think right. And so we shall cease to be conformed to this world, and become transformed by the progressive renewal of our minds till we learn by experience that the will of God is good, and acceptable, and perfect.

III. Such a service to God is in the highest degree reasonable.

1. The religion of Christ appeals to all our highest faculties. It recognises also our understanding as well as our affections, and says that one of the great arguments for the surrender of the life to God is that it is eminently a right and reasonable thing. With some religion is all feeling, all sentiment; with others it is a round of dull proprieties, or a scrupulous and painful performance of prescribed duties; with others it is cloistered communion; with others it is all a matter of reason and argument. Now the apostle intimates that faculties the widest apart are to be brought into the closest alliance in the service of God. Love and reason, the mercies of God, and the judgment of man seem to be things far asunder, and yet here they are united in the apostle’s argument.

2. We live in the most enlightened age the world has seen; when all claims are brought to the bar of reason. Christianity itself cannot escape this test. But if we are true to the teaching of Christ, and insist that consecration to God means the highest love to God and the purest love to men, need we fear that the most enlightened sages can gainsay that doctrine? For is not such love the richest outcome of the nature of man? Is self-sacrifice reasonable or unreasonable? Conclusion: The two things most needed in the religion of our day are a greater spirit of consecration to God, and a greater conviction of its reasonableness. We need greater love and more reason in our religion. A love that shall cast out sordid fear and low-minded calculations of the profit and loss of our religion; a love that can render greater service to God and greater service to the needs of our fellow-men: and in conjunction with this, a more enlightened reason that shall teach us to be afraid of no foes to religion but falsehood, indifference, or superstition. (C. Short, M.A.)

A living sacrifice

The expression may include--

I. Active service. The victims slain could do no further service. But the sacrifice spoken of here is that of a living, voluntary agent, presented, not by others, but by himself, and presented for life in all his powers.

II. Continued devotedness. The victims at the altar could be offered but once, and could never appear at the altar again. But the “living sacrifice” is one which is presented anew every day in the unremitting homage of the life.

III. As the apostle is addressing himself to believers, we ought to include the idea of the new life as distinguishing them from the world and from their former selves when they were in a state of spiritual death. The sacrifice must not possess mere animal life, but must be instinct with the new life of holy sensibilities and spiritual principles to which the soul is “born again by the incorruptible seed of God’s Word” and the power of the Spirit.

IV. Although it is a living sacrifice, it is a sacrifice ready for death, should God require it. The life is to be so devoted to God as to be at all times and entirely at His service, and, if need be, cheerfully surrendered for His glory. It includes, in a word, willingness to be, to do, or to suffer whatever He may see fit to appoint. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)

A living sacrifice

Ellerthorpe, the hero of the Humber, who had rescued many from drowning, was at his duty on board ship, when a cry was raised, “A child overboard!” In an instant he was in the sea, and soon both were again on deck. Next day the mother took the child up to the brave man and said, “This is the gentleman who saved you from the sea; what are you going to give him?” For a moment the child was speechless, not knowing what to answer. But suddenly she put out her hands and said, “If you please, I have nothing else, but I will give you a kiss.” The rough sailor had received many valuable presents, but he declared that the child’s kiss was more to him than all beside. Why? Because she had given all she had--her love. Such is what Paul here asks for God. Note--

I. Paul’s earnestness. “I beseech.” He was a man in earnest, and nothing quenched his zeal; and this one man’s zeal sufficed to carry the standard of the Cross in all directions. It is the earnest man who wins, as is shown in the cases of Luther and Wesley. Rowland Hill once said, “Because I am in earnest men call me an enthusiast. When I first came into this part of the country I saw a gravel pit fall in and bury three human beings. I lifted up my voice for help so loud that I was heard in the town near a mile away. Help came and rescued two of the sufferers. No one called me an enthusiast then; and when I see eternal destruction fail upon poor sinners and call aloud on them to escape, shall I be called an enthusiast now? “There was much force in the suggestion of a Scotchman when they were discussing where to put the new stove in the church. “You had better put it in the pulpit,” said he, “for it is awful cold up there.” Yes, put fire in the pulpit, but the best way of getting it there is to have plenty of it in the pews. Consecrated earnestness is needed in Church and Sunday-school work and by seeking sinners.

II. Our duty to God. We have been so busy in talking about saving souls that we have left no time to think about the body. Christ had but little to say about souls, but much about bodies. It is not without meaning that Paul says, “Present your bodies.” This sacrifice must be--

1. Personal. “You,” “ye,” “your.” We may transact business by proxy, but religion is a personal matter. Earnest efforts may bring blessings upon others, but a man must repent and believe for himself. A teacher cannot save his class, nor a minister his congregation, nor a mother her child.

2. Voluntary. Present yourselves. There is no compulsion. Christ made whips and drove out the buyers and sellers from the temple, but He has not made scourges to drive them in. The driving business has made many hypocrites, but never a saint. Christ knocks at the door, but the door has to be opened from within.

3. Living. God wants no dead or formal offering, but real living service. I would give Him the best buildings, singers, preachers, but unless we give Him living service all else is but the painted flower. A road surveyor, who was just finishing the levelling and paving of a long stretch of street, asked me in an enthusiastic tone if I did not think it splendid. “You see,” he added, “I am trying to put my Christianity into the streets I make.” That is just it. Drive your engines, make your coats and boots and chairs for Christ.

III. The argument by which Paul enforces all this--a threefold cord which cannot be broken.

1. “By the mercies of God.”

2. That God will accept us. Without this encouragement we might expect to be rejected, for we are rebels.

3. It is our reasonable service. (C. Leach, D.D.)

The living sacrifice

The ivy, twining its delicate stem round the tree, gradually increases in size and strength until the tree is overlapped and destroyed. Likewise, if allowed to grow up round the spirit of man, the selfish nature will increase in power until his life is as a stunted tree without any branches on which the fruit of love can grow. Christianity gives to the believer a new energy, which cuts off the ivy of selfishness and enables him to bring forth everlasting fruit. Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and we are besought to follow His steps and to copy His example.

I. The mercies of God are--

1. Repentance--not like the repentance of the sailor in the time of storm, who throws his goods overboard, and in the time of calm wishes he had them back, but it is a repentance unto life which gets rid of all sin and joyfully leaves it behind.

2. The remission of sins. As the dying Israelites of old who, when they looked to the serpent of brass, were saved, so we have looked to Christ on the Cross, and as we looked we believed, and we have received life.

3. Adoption into the family of God and the witness of the Spirit. When the prodigal is clasped in his father’s arms the passer by may say, “I do not believe the lad knows that he is forgiven.” Others add, “I do not believe that anybody can know that his sins are forgiven till he dies.” But that prodigal says, “My beloved father is mine and I am his.”

II. Divine mercies prompt the Christian to become a sacrifice unto God.

1. Living. In the olden time the bullock had to be dragged to the altar, but the Christian comes willingly. After the bullock had been dragged to the altar he was slain, but the real Christian sacrifices while he lives, and does not put off till death, as some do when they bequeath so much to the cause of God because they cannot hold it any longer.

2. Holy. If Christianity can help only our outer life we can do without it. But it enters within the body, cleanses our inner nature. God makes us to be temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He is the filter in the muddy heart making to spring from it a fountain of holiness.

3. “Acceptable unto God” is not only praising God in the church, but praising Him with the melody of our daily words and actions, helping the helpless, and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. (W. Birch.)

The living sacrifice

This “therefore” has in it the accumulated momentum of the whole preceding portion of the Epistle, wherein the apostle has established the doctrine of that justification which is open to every one who believeth, and which is inseparably connected with sanctification of heart.

I. The duty which Paul here lays upon us.

1. There were two kinds of offerings under the Law--the one of expiation, the other of oblation; and two orders of priests--the high priest who went in alone every year into the holy of holies, and the ordinary priests who ministered daily at the altar. Under the new economy there is but one high priest and one sacrifice of expiation, but every believer is consecrated for the daily presentation of thank-offerings to God.

2. So Paul says, “Present your bodies.” That, of course, does not mean that we are to do with ourselves as Abraham thought to do with Isaac, but neither does it mean that we are to give the body apart from the soul, which would be formalism and hypocrisy. Therefore many would take “your bodies” as equivalent to “yourselves.” But that diminishes the force of the original. Paul is anxious to impress the truth that the transformation of the soul should be made manifest through the body, either because the body is the organ of practical activity, or as an indication that sanctification is to extend to that which is most completely under the bondage of sin. Paul found many disposed to undervalue the body, but he confronts this error by exhorting his readers to consecrate it unto the Lord. The words are equivalent to “yourselves in the body.” As it is through the body that the evil in the unrenewed heart comes forth into manifestation, so it is through the body that the gracious principles and affections of believers reveal themselves. Note the singular rite of consecration (Exodus 29:20), the significance of which clearly was that the priest’s ears, hands, and feet were sacred to Jehovah. Similarly each member of the body is to be held by the believer as specially consecrated to God.

II. The qualities that this sacrifice should possess.

1. Life in contrast with the dead victim which could do no farther good in the world; but the living body, inhabited by the Holy Ghost, is to be constantly employed. The Jewish victims could be offered only once, but the Christian sacrifice continues while the life lasts. Here is a field for the display of heroism. It is easier to die for Christ than it is to live for Him.

2. Holiness. The word literally means set apart, but it is also that which is used for the Hebrew term signifying “without blemish and without spot.” The idea is that it should be free from those things which would cause it to be rejected.

3. Acceptableness to God. Not only such as God can accept, but offered on such a ground as shall be well-pleasing in His eyes. Peter supplements Paul when he says, “Acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

4. Rationality, i.e., a service which rests on rational grounds, or one in which the reason is engaged. Our sacrifice is mental and spiritual, and so distinguished from those which were merely ceremonial and external. It requires that the thoughts of our minds, the affections of our hearts, the decisions of our wills, and the admonitions of our consciences should all be Christianised.

III. The motive by which the offering is enforced. The term mercy as generally used denotes kindness shown, irrespective of character, but in the New Testament it designates favour done to the undeserving. That is its meaning here, for the apostle is referring not to the ordinary gifts of God’s providence, but to justification, adoption, sanctification, and glory. Tracing all these to the free mercy of God, he shows us the obligations under which we are thereby laid to dedicate ourselves to God. We see, thus, how false the assertion is that the preaching of justification by faith undermines morality. It does not discourage good works; but, instead of encouraging the sinner to purchase his salvation by his deeds, it makes good works the offering of the grateful heart for the salvation which it has believingly received. Thus the slave becomes the child, and duty is transfigured into choice. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)

Living sacrifices

God always must be served, and that by all. Angels refused to serve Him in heaven and were cast down to hell. Man refused to serve Him and was driven out of Paradise. There are four courses open to us. We may refuse by attempting to oppose and overcome God, or to escape Him, or to endure His wrath; or, we may submit and serve Him. Which of these shall we take? We cannot succeed in the first, the second, or the third; there is nothing therefore left but the fourth.

I. What your reasonable service is.

1. The sacrifice to be offered must be--

2. The manner of offering it.

3. Daily. When a lamb was brought to be offered, it was first cleansed, then bound, and then burned. Now that you may be living sacrifices, it is necessary that you should be daily cleansed, bound, and burned.

II. Paul “beseeches you by the mercies of God” to perform it.

1. It is an appeal from the altar of God, from one who was himself, through the riches of the grace of God, a living sacrifice.

2. Look back through the Epistle for the mercies of which he speaks. Mark how he points out--

3. If you have made the resolve to present yourselves to God, be encouraged to do so, for the text declares that this sacrifice is “acceptable to God.” You see the altar, the cords for binding the sacrifice, the fire for burning it, the sacrifice laid on the wood, bound with cords, and burned. Now look to Him who sits upon the mercy-seat, in the most holy place, accepting it! And that you may understand how acceptable it is, remember that it is “bought with a price”--a “member of Christ”--and a “temple of the Holy Ghost.” (H. Grattan Guinness.)

A reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice

1. When Christianity dethroned the previous religions of the world, it immediately did that which proved its sovereign right to the position which it claimed. It took the names, institutions, and ideas which it found, and gave them a new and better meaning; or even if it destroyed them, it immediately planted something corresponding in their place. Take, e.g., its treatment of sacrifice, so universal in the old, religions. In its ancient sense Christianity rejected it altogether; but in a higher sense Christianity is, above all others, a religion of sacrifice. It is a religion founded on the greatest of all sacrifices, and one whose whole continuance in the world depends on continual sacrifice--the sacrifice of the heart and mind in thanksgiving (Romans 15:16; Hebrews 13:15), the sacrifice of good deeds (Hebrews 13:16; Psalms 50:23), and broken hearts and contrite spirits (Psalms 51:17), the sacrifice of the whole man in the dedication of himself to God (Psalms 50:23; 1 Peter 2:5; Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17).

2. There have been times when this sacrificial act must have been true to the very letter. In the ages of persecution, Christians must have felt that they were indeed presenting themselves victims in the cause of God and truth. Soldiers, too, on the eve of some great battle, must, if they reasoned at all, have felt that they were sacrificing themselves in the literal cease of the apostle’s words. But in the less exciting days of our ordinary lives we can enter into every word of the apostle’s appeal. We many of us feel its whole meaning, when at the Lord’s table we “present to God ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice to Him.” We feel it with an especial force in the beginning of the new year, when new hopes and new resolutions rise within us, and when we determine to enter on a new course of life. We feel it still more when we are entering on a new crisis, career, or position, which to be worthily fulfilled requires the sacrifice of all our energies to this one purpose.

3. Let us note the characteristics of this sacrifice. It is--

I. Reasonable. It is a dedication, not of mere impulse, fancy, affection, but of our intellect; a sacrifice in which our minds go along with our hearts. How is this to be done? The service, which the God of reason and of truth requires of us, first and foremost--

1. The sacrifice of truth. Not to authority, freedom, popularity, fear, but to truth. This is, no doubt, a hard sacrifice. Custom, phrases bound up with some of our best affections, respect of persons or acquiescence in common usage, these are what truth compels us to surrender. Dear, no doubt, is tradition, the long familiar recollection, venerable antiquity on the one hand or bold originality on the other; but dearer than any of these things is truth.

2. The preference of “the Word of God,” as it appears in the Bible, is above all human opinions. This, too, is a sacrifice often hard to make. To search the Scriptures thoroughly, to make out their true sense, and not force our opinions on them, is a task which may involve many a sacrifice of time and thought and ease. The Bible doubtless contains many “things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable may wrest to their own destruction.” But take it with all its difficulties and all the imperfections of the human agencies by which it has come down to us, and it is still true that no more reasonable service can be offered up by man to God than the study of the Scriptures. “Thy Word is tried to the uttermost,” tried by the investigations of science, by the undue claims made upon it, by the misunderstanding of its enemies, by the exaggeration of its friends; and yet, in spite of all, “Thy servant loveth it,” because he knows there is nothing else which will so well repay all the trouble which its study involves.

II. Holy. To what a world beyond ourselves does this word carry us! how near to the Great White Throne! how far away from this selfish, sinful world! How easy to feel its meaning! how difficult to apply it! A life, a worship, consecrated from the low, narrow, impure influences which dry up our better thoughts; a life set on higher aims, a life which has within it something at least which recalls the world to the sense of the saintly, the heroic, the heavenly, the Divine! Where shall this holiness be sought?

1. The Bible is the fountain and bulwark of truth; it is no less the fountain and the bulwark of holiness. There is a holiness in the Bible which speaks for itself. The spirit which breathes through it is indeed the spirit of the saints. To live in that exalted atmosphere which nursed the faith of Abraham, and the unselfishness of Moses, and the courage of Joshua, and the devotion of David, and the hope of Isaiah, and the energy of Paul, and the love of John, is better than any rule or form which scholastic ingenuity or ascetic piety has ever devised. Take even a single Psalm. Read over Psalms 15:1-5; Psa_51:1-19, or 101; or even a single verse from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, or the Sermon on the Mount; act upon it throughout a single week, make it the rule of a single family; what a holy sacrifice, salted with the salt of God’s special grace, would then be offered up!

2. And if we ascend from the Bible to Him of whom the Bible speaks, what a lifting up of our hearts above the toil, and dust, and turmoil, and controversies, and doubts of the world, if we could declare that we embraced with our whole souls the true religion of Christi Ask spiritual counsel from all quarters, but ask it especially from Him who must be above every other religious teacher. Ask not of Him questions of times or seasons, or this world’s knowledge and power, which He refuses to answer; but ask of Him the questions how we are to please God, to serve our brethren, to deal with sin and error, and assuredly we shall receive an answer, not of this world, nor of this age, nor of the will of man, nor of any sect or party, but the answer of the eternal mind of God Himself, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

III. “living.” There have been those who have offered to God a reasonable sacrifice, but one cold, hard, philosophic, without warmth, sympathy, or action; a holy sacrifice, but shut up within books, or walls, the dry bones of religion. Our sacrifices must not be like the dead carcases of the ancient victims, thrown away to perish or to be burned; they must be living, walking, speaking, acting in the face of day. We know what we mean when we say that a child or a man is “full of life.” That is what our sacrifice of ourselves should be--happy and making others happy, contented and making others contented, active and making others active, doing good and making others do good, by our vivid vitality--filling every corner of our own souls and bodies, and every corner of the circle in which we move, with the fresh life-blood of a genial Christian heart. (Dean Stanley.)

The Christian’s sacrifice

I. The purport of the apostle’s exhortation. Here is--

1. Something to be presented unto God. “Your bodies.” Not that Paul was unmindful how important it was that they should present their souls. He had already acknowledged that they had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which had been delivered” unto them; but he probably thought there was some danger lest they should not to the requisite extent “serve of righteousness.”

2. The purpose for which this presentation must be made. It is not a gift--something which we have a right to present, or to withhold; nor a loan, to be returned, nor a service or benefit to be rewarded, but a sacrifice; i.e.--

3. The manner in which this sacrifice must be presented. It is to be(1) A living sacrifice, i.e.--

(a) According to the original a sacrifice alive. “Present your bodies a sacrifice” would startle those who associated the term with death; and hence the necessity of the assurance that it was life, not death, that God required. We are neither to devote ourselves to destruction, as many of the heathen do, to satisfy the claims of their idols, nor to embitter and waste our lives by austerities, as many of the papists do.

(b) Or the apostle may have meant that the “sacrifice” was not to be a solitary act, nor even a frequent repetition of such acts, but the prevailing habit of our lives. There are indeed particular seasons when the sacrifice should be formally presented; but “whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do,” we must “do all to the glory of God.”

II. The motive by which the apostle’s exhortation is urged. He might have urged terrific motives, viz., that, should they fail to present themselves, God would hereafter seize upon them for a prey. Or he might have reminded them how just and right it was, or how advantageous. Instead of this he appeals only to their gratitude. Why?

1. Considering their spiritual state, it was the most powerful motive which he could possibly employ. Had he been writing to persons who were strangers to the grace of God, or had received that grace in vain, it might have availed but little, and the other motives might have availed much. But “the mercies of God” strike the chord of a Christian’s tenderest and best affections, and touch the mainspring of all his conduct. The apostle knew this from his own experience.

2. This is the motive best suited to the character and intent of the sacrifice required. Had the apostle been exhorting us to present our bodies as a sacrifice for guilt, the motives would have been drawn from the Divine justice. As the sacrifice is a thank-offering, the apostle presses on us those considerations which may tend especially to animate our gratitude.

3. They only who have obtained mercy are capable of the sacrifice. They only can present--

Christian self-sacrifice

I. Wherein it consists.

1. Not in particular acts of self-denial, or in undertaking certain painful duties.

2. But in full consecration to God, and in the maintenance of a living, holy, and acceptable walk before God.

II. What it requires.

1. The renunciation of the world.

2. The renewing of the mind.

3. The practical proof of the perfect will of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Self-sacrifice

Pousa the Chinese potter, being ordered to produce some great work for the Emperor, tried long to make it, but in vain. At length, driven to despair, he threw himself into the furnace, and the effect of his self-immolation was such that it came out the most beautiful piece of porcelain ever known. So in Christian labour it is self-sacrifice that gives the last touch and excellence and glory to our work. (W. Baxendale.)

Personal sacrifice

I. The leading motive of the gospel.

1. Not self-interest; not the reasonableness, beauty, and dignity of virtue.

2. But a grateful sense of God’s many and great mercies.

II. The summary of Christian duty. Self-dedication to God, or the consecration of ourselves to do His holy will. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Acceptable to God.--

On the attributes of acceptable worship

I. Notice some of the attributes of acceptable worship implied and expressed in the text.

II. Consider the arguments used by the apostle to enforce this duty.

1. Advert to the reasonableness of the service. It has been thought by some that the apostle, in this phraseology, has an allusion to the irrational animals which were offered in the service of God under the Levitical law; but that His service is much more simple, and the reasons of duty much more obvious to the understanding of the worshipper under the present than they were under the former economy. This is certainly true in point of fact. But recollect that, however various the sacrifices, and however complex the service of God during the preceding dispensations, yet His worship, in itself considered, ever has been, and ever will be, “a reasonable service.” We lie under peculiar obligations, however, to bless the Lord, that the bondage and comparative darkness of the preceding economy is past, and the true light now shineth. The natural imbecility of reason in a fallen creature has been much overlooked; and her appropriate province in revealed religion much misunderstood by many of the disputers of this age. Christians also have much erred on the same subject. Instead of her having been used as an humble, submissive handmaid, to sit at the Saviour’s feet, and implicitly receive the authoritative dictates of heaven from His lips, she has frequently been tricked out in the fantastic drapery of infallibility, and that also, sometimes, in the very temple of God, above all that is called God, or worshipped. Now recollect it is one leading design of the revelation of mercy to humble her haughty looks, and to level all her lofty pretensions in the dust, and to draw her deluded votary to the feet of the Saviour, as an eternal debtor to free mercy, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption (1 Corinthians 1:4-5; 1Co_1:30-31). Glad should we be if sinners were but prompted to reason justly upon their immortal interests and on the unqualified claims which the great salvation has upon the human heart. But it is not enough that our reasoning powers first of all yield unreservedly to God’s appointed plan of redemption for pardon and peace, everlasting consolation and good hope through grace; they are brought into the school of Christ to be tutored for eternity, and to acquire the elements of implicit submission to the whole council of God. This is not so much the duty of a day as a labour for life. But, reason thus tamed, and thus taught--thus guided, and thus governed--by the principles of pure and undefiled religion is the decided enemy to all error--the sworn foe to all corruption--a powerful advocate of the honours of truth and righteousness--and a firm friend to the doctrine of the Cross, and all the social ordinances and commandments of Christ. Allow me further to observe that a well-principled mind will not dare to reason against any part of the revealed will of God. A Christian, living under the vivid impressions of the fear of God, will consider that every part of the truth as it is in Jesus demands and deserves personal obedience, for its own and its Author’s sake; and he will give to each of its parts that degree of attention which its relative importance in the economy of redemption properly claims.

2. We shall now briefly notice our last, though not least powerful argument, used to enforce the duty in the text: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” There is no law in the universe more powerful than that of love. What heart can possibly withstand the tender mercy of the Most High! It is firm as the mountains--free as the air-boundless as the ocean--durable as the pillars of heaven--and efficacious in its operations, as the sun shining in the greatness of his strength.

II. Applicatory remarks.

1. The absolute necessity of a renewed mind in order to any person serving God with acceptance.

2. The importance of Christians being deeply embued with the spirit of devotion in order to their personal comfort and public usefulness.

3. A Christian Church ought to give a fair representation of the spirit of devotion--the institutions of the kingdom of Christ--the principles of benevolence--and the standard of morals in the place where they live. (N. Macneil.)

An acceptable present

(Children’s sermon):--

I. Who the present is for. We read of all kinds of presents for all sorts of persons. Jacob brought one to Esau (Genesis 32:13), and sent one to Joseph (Genesis 43:11); Abigail to David (1 Samuel 25:18); Naaman to Elisha (2 Kings 5:17); Queen of Sheba to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10). Then there are birthday and Christmas presents, and the more imposing testimonials given to men and women for special work. But the present we speak of is for God. Why should we give presents to every one but Him? The wise men brought Him presents; why should not we?

II. Why should we give it.

1. We give presents to those whom we love--to parents, etc., and if we loved God we should bring something to show our love. Mary brought an alabaster box of ointment, worth about f9, to show hers.

2. We give to those who deserve well of us--especially if they have done or suffered much on our behalf. Masters give pensions to old and faithful servants, and the Queen medals to her brave soldiers. If some one were to save you from drowning or fire you would want to give something to show your gratitude. How much has God done for us!

3. We give presents to those who we think will be pleased to receive them. We know it gives them pleasure partly because of the value of the present, but chiefly because of the love that prompts it. So with God (Isaiah 43:24).

III. What should we give.

1. Something worth giving. What costs little is usually worth little. The gift is valuable according to its value to the giver as Jesus taught in the parable of the widow’s mite. God complained that His people gave Him the blind and lame. He was not pleased with it because it cost them nothing (see also1Col_14:24). What we bring must be worth something to us or it will be worth nothing to Him.

2. Something God will care to receive. We avoid what our friends already have, or what would be unacceptable, and find out what they would like. Money, gold, jewellery, land, etc., are of no value to God. The only thing we can give is ourselves--our bodies, including our souls; and God will be pleased with nothing else. But how? By using our hands to work for Him, our tongues to speak for Him, etc. A missionary tells of an Indian who offered his blanket, gun, wigwam--but got no blessing till he offered himself.

IV. Lessons.

1. We are to give, not lend. Seneca says, “There is no grace in a benefit that sticks to our fingers.”

2. We should give our bodies while young and worth giving. (Homiletic Magazine.)

Your reasonable service.--

Our reasonable service

I. The sacrifice. We bring not slain beasts, but living souls and bodies.

II. The sanctuary. Is not of this world, but the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

III. The priests. Are not Levites, but Christian believers, renewed in the spirit of their minds. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Our reasonable service

Yes; there is nothing so reasonable--nothing that gives, and will ever give, reason its full powers, but the religion of Jesus Christ. Our intellects are destined to travel much further into the moral than into the natural perfections of Jehovah; whence we see that those who spurn the religion of Jesus Christ insult their intellects as well as their hearts; robbing themselves at the same time of the sublimest pleasures God Himself has to confer upon any of His creatures. We are destined, moreover, to be more intimately acquainted with the moral perfections of God than with anything else. We shall know more of God a great deal than we shall know of each other. Here then is a sublime feast for the human intellect as well as for the human heart. Worship, then, the Lord in the beauty of holiness. What is so reasonable? Is there anything more reasonable than that a child should obey the father on whom he is dependent for everything? Indeed, communion with God is absolutely necessary, to enable us to extract all the sweets of learning or science. We must learn the happy art of leaving everything more and more with Jehovah, and then we shall be led by Himself into Himself in everything, and participate throughout the revolving ages of eternity in His purity and bliss. Contrasting what I am now telling you with what we see in Scripture, we shall find a strong reason for calling sin folly. There is nothing so opposed to right reason as sin. God’s service is a reasonable service; the slave of sin and Satan is the most unreasonable of all beings.

I. The obedience of faith as a duty. It is due to God from every being who hears the gospel without one single exception. All beings must be, and for ever will be, indebted to God for three reasons:--His own perfections--the relationship subsisting between Him and His creatures--and the many obligations conferred upon them.

II. The obedience of faith as a privilege. If asked which is the most glorious, the obedience of vision above, or the obedience of faith below, I should be obliged to say I cannot tell. I can do many things here on earth in the service of God and my fellow-creatures, which I could not possibly do if body and soul were separated from each other. There is a something which involves in it the glory of God in a peculiar degree in the triumph of faith here below. But there is another thing to be considered. The principle of obedience is, indeed, the gift and creation of God--it is likewise the purchase of One who is God. It not only involves the power of Jehovah, but His worth. It is in these, when connected together, the natural and moral perfections of Jehovah shine in all their glory, in calling into existence, and preserving in existence, true religion in the human heart on this side eternity. The believer is “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). And we must necessarily connect our obedience here below with the obedience of the Son Himself in glory at the present moment. He has triumphed; and the body He wears now will, in its perfect similitude, be worn for ever and ever by all His family. My brother, revere thyself! consider whose thou art!--who bought thee!--who redeemed thee!--thy high parentage!--thy glorious destiny! Consider, too, whoso representative thou art intended to be, so long as thou art a stranger and sojourner here on earth!

III. The obedience of faith in its adaptation to the state of the Church militant. The dispensation under which we are living richly blends justice with mercy. It is but just to God to require what is due to Himself. In His mercy, however, He accepts the weakest offering, proceeding from a contrite heart; while, at the same time, the blessing of perfection is reserved for His family, and He will assuredly make them what He Himself would have them to be for ever and ever.

IV. It is in the obedience of faith alone we can be conscious of an interest in Christ. Let me once be conscious that I love God and delight in Him, I have no more to doubt then. Let the principle of obedience be sublimated, as it may, nay, must be, even here, and I shall immediately echo the language of Paul, “I know whom I have believed.” Lessons:

1. The obedience of faith was destined to preserve man from all extremes--from his legality--from his licentiousness. It is in this obedience we are preserved; and obedience is salvation on this side eternity.

2. Are there any here strangers to Christ? You tell me you cannot come to Him. Invite Him, then, to come to you. But you have many and mighty enemies. He is determined to overcome every enemy.

3. Election is full of every possible encouragement. To whom? To every one who hears the gospel. (W. Howels.)

Religion a reasonable service

If we examine our own nature, everything within, everything around us indicates that religion is a reasonable service, and that man was intended to present it. First, because he is a weak, dependent creature. Survey him in infancy, helpless, needing parental fondness! Thus the first feelings of nature indicate his want of protection, and lead him to seek it from those whom he conceives more powerful than himself. The same sentiment is evident through the whole of his life. Conscious of his inability to guard against the numberless dangers that surround him, conscious of his insufficiency to procure the means of happiness, his desire of protection and assistance is one of the strongest ties that binds him to political society; and for the sake of this he is willing to sacrifice a part of his property, and in many cases a considerable portion of his natural rights. Yet after all he is liable to innumerable evils and dangers, from which no care of his own, and no protection of his fellow-creatures can guard him. Even in the midst of the gayest scenes of pleasure the heart feels a void, and a very slight circumstance is sufficient to render the cup of worldly bliss tasteless. But will the fun of prosperity always shine unclouded and serene? In short, in whatever view you consider man, he is a dependent being; he feels this to be the case, and naturally seeks for assistance and support. The misfortune is, that he applies to the wrong object: instead of trusting to the Rock of Ages, he leans on a feeble reed that will break under him, and wound the hand that reclined upon it, More especially will this appear when we consider that the God on whom we depend is a Being in whom every perfection centres; whose benevolence inclines Him to communicate happiness, and who has given us a rule of faith and conduct which, if we observe, He has solemnly promised that He will make all things to work together for our ultimate and greatest good. Is not religion then the reasonable service of a dependent creature like man to the God on whom he absolutely depends? Religion is likewise our reasonable service, as it is the exercise of the best affections of the heart, and of those which are most influential on the moral conduct. In the habitual exercise of that piety and devotion which religion inspires, we contemplate the ever-living source of all perfection and happiness; an object which fills the mind with pleasing astonishment, enlarges our views, elevates our sentiments and excites us to an imitation of that which we cannot but admire. That religion is a reasonable service which man was intended to present will further appear if we consider that the hopes which it inspires are consonant to his nature, and necessary to his happiness. Of all the creatures that inhabit the world, man alone is the child of hope. But alas! every expectation which has this world for its object must, inevitably perish, and man were the most wretched of creatures if all his hopes were confined to the present life. As hope is thus essentially necessary to human happiness, how excellently adapted to our nature is the religion of Jesus, which tends to improve, exalt, and direct this turn of the affections to objects more durable, sublime, and satisfactory, than any this world can afford. The glorious and Divine hope of life and happiness eternal, which is brought to life in the gospel, is the only true source of felicity to man. Every grateful idea which cheers the mind, together with every pleasing sensation that warms and dilates the heart, is the legitimate offspring of this enlivening principle. The mind of the sincerely pious Christian, inspired by the promises, invigorated by the principles, and supported by the prospects of the gospel, rises superior to every affliction. Thus is religion happily suited to the nature of man, as a dependent creature, as a moral agent, and as the child of hope. To enjoy the consolations it affords, to be inspired with the amiable dispositions it promotes, to be animated with the encouraging hopes it suggests, we must not be satisfied with the mere profession, but must diligently cultivate its duties, and endeavour to imbibe its principles. (B. C. Sowden.)

Our reasonable service

1. To sacrifice ourselves.

2. To renounce the world.

3. To regard ourselves as members of the body of Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Reasonable service

I. Its nature.

1. The word rendered “reasonable” means what belongs to the reason, as distinct from the belongings of the body, or external law. Hence reasonable service means the service of mind.

2. The word “service” means worship; and reasonable service will therefore mean the worship of mind.

3. Consequently “reasonable service” stands in contrast to “body.” What you present is the body, but it is the worship of your mind.

4. The essence of worship is self-dedication; the perfection of worship is entire self-sacrifice, and we cannot sacrifice except in the body. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the best example of this great act of worship. He loved us from eternity. There was no sacrifice in His love; because there was no sacrifice, there was no merit.; because there was no merit there was no salvation. Now what must He do in order that His love may take the form of self-sacrifice? He must become man, and be able in the body to do bodily acts, and these bodily acts of suffering and dying will enable Him to sacrifice Himself. To die is not a great thing externally. Little children do it. Creatures who have no souls do it. Yes; but in that small act of dying on the Cross the infinite Son of God was able to do the very same thing as the little child in that cottage. He was able in that simple act to do the greatest spiritual self-sacrifice that was ever done from all eternity. He created the worlds; but something greater than creation is here. He died, and in dying showed how the infinitely rich, great, powerful, became the infinitely poor, small, weak, and how He who is the Fountain of Life sacrificed His own life for others. Now that is the highest act of worship.

II. How to render it. This verse begins the second part of the Epistle. The doctrine of the previous chapters is justification by faith; what is the connection between that and sacrifice of self? Justification means--50. That a man is profoundly convinced that he is a sinner. He is filled with shame in the presence of God. That shame is the beginning of self-sacrifice. There are other things, plenty of them, to make us feel small, but they do not create self-sacrifice.

2. Justification by faith means that you and I realise deeply that our only salvation is in trusting God. Trust not works. Trust not your own struggles for eminence. Simply trust in the unchanging goodness of God. Paul realised that great truth. That is the secret of this man’s apostleship. It is the explanation of his spiritual life. He felt convinced when he was conquering himself and his pride and the world, he was able thus to conquer through simple trust. It is in that that I see the possibility and the progress of self-sacrifice and self-consecration. And then, oh! how easy it is to say, “Thy will be done”! That is worship. Not singing hymns with a loud voice and a hardened heart; not uttering words of prayer with wandering thoughts; not gesticulations and appearances before men, but a profound, calm, deep readiness to say, “Thy will be done.” (Principal Edwards.)

Sanctified reason

teaches us--

1. How to serve God.

2. How to use the world.

3. How to estimate ourselves. (J. Lyth, D..D.)


Verses 1-8

Verse 2

Romans 12:2

And be not conformed to this world.

Conformation and transformation

1. “World” has various meanings.

2. It is well to define the term in order to avoid two extremes.

3. We must be vigilant against this spirit precisely where it is the most subtle and concealed, e.g.

4. “The world,” then, is a spirit, that is everywhere around us and within, and the injunction is most needed precisely where this spirit is most likely to be confounded with something that is good and true. Proceeding upon this assumption, let us examine the forms and achievements of our modern civilisation.

I. Much of our modern civilisation is a process of conformation. Man is not the master of nature. He learns to control its forces by submitting to its laws. His triumphs of art and mechanism are simply a conformity to nature, not a mastery over it. He mitigates pain and conquers disease by conforming to the laws of health. He has no wand of miracle to supersede law. Civilisation is simply the adjustment of man to the conditions in which he is placed. Now, precisely here we may detect an evil tendency. There is danger lest this habit of conformity fasten us down to a mere worldly level, and saturate all our desires with worldly estimates. On the other hand, the great peculiarity of the Christian method is transformation--not simply obedience to external conditions, but a renewing of the mind. It is a great achievement for man to control new forces without; it is a greater achievement when in the inmost recesses of his being there unfolds a law which forbids all sin, even under the mask of the most splendid gain; when there is awakened a vitality of conscience which inspires him to make only a beneficent application of mighty instruments; when there settles in his soul a sublime patience by which if he cannot conquer pain he can bear it; and when in the midst of all physical terrors he enjoys a spiritual vision which pierces through calamity and looks beyond death.

II. Consider some points where the contrasts between the Christian method and the methods of this world are more especially displayed.

1. Observe how largely men are influenced by excitement. There is a vast difference between the noble steamship that holds its way, trembling the waves and challenging the gale, because it has an inward force, and the poor vessel whose iron heart stands still, and that wallows the sport and victim of the relentless sea. But there may be a difference as great between the man who determines his action by reason and conscience and the man who is perpetually driven by the excitements of time and place. How many people depend upon excitements as the aliment of their very being! They are always whirling in the commotion of something new. And thus people lose true independence of thought and life. Opinions and habits go with the tide. These men and women live as others live, think as others think, do as others do. Nay, even religion may become too closely identified with mere excitement. The method of Christianity is not excitement, but incitement. That man is best qualified for the perils, yet not disqualified for the blessings of the world around him who is moved, not by pressure from without, but by principle from within, who in the midst of these changing tendencies holds a purpose, and whose personality does not dissolve in the social atmosphere around him, but who preserves a rocky identity of faith and conviction, a moral loyalty to his own ideal.

2. The power of our modern civilisation is the power of that which is visible and tangible. Present good, immediate success, are its conspicuous results. What vast sovereignty, what subtle temptation, in this possession of the present, in that visible dollar which I make by my compliance compared with the inward blessing which follows my sacrifice; in the concrete fact which I can grasp in my hand compared with the abstraction that only flits in transient vision before my inward eye! Cancel space, outstrip time, bridge oceans with steam, twitch nations together with electric arteries. Now no instructed Christian undervalues concrete facts and interests. The man who starts from great principles is not one who is most apt to overlook the real interests of the world. But he also regards a higher good. He believes that for the real purposes of this life we need something besides steam and telegraph, and currency and ballot-boxes. We need that which delivers man from sensual illusion and the lust of immediate attainment by fixing his eyes upon the glory of spiritual rectitude, the victory of postponement, and the gain of sacrifice.

3. Civilisation produces its most marked effect without. The best thing accomplished by it is adjustment to the world. Its tests and fruits are better outward conditions, a better social state, better houses, lands, and means of communication. Nevertheless, man’s real life is not in outward things. It cannot be changed merely by external agents. In its wants and capacities it is the same as it was six thousand years ago. Strip the man of the nineteenth century of these externals, and how much is he like the man of ages since! With the telescope we see farther, but do we really see more than Abraham at the door of his tent, or Job gazing upon the Pleiades? If we do, whatever of larger vision or substantial good has come to us has come within--in more comprehensive truth, in more consecrated love, in more perfect assurance of final good. And wherever these results are wrought within us we can dispense with much that is merely outward and palpable. The time comes when the world to us will be as nothing. But while it crumbles we shall not fail. We shall perish with no perishing thing, being “not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of the mind.” (E. H. Chapin, D.D.)

Conformed and transformed

I. The man who is in conformity with this world is not the man who understands it best, or who admires its beauties most; nor can he adapt himself best to all its circumstances. He is too much a slave of the things he sees to look into the meaning of them; too much shut up in the habits of the society into which he is thrown, to have any power of entering into what lies beyond. The word “conformed” implies that he takes his form from the things about him, that they are the mould into which his mind is cast. Now this St. Paul will not for an instant admit to be the form which any man is created to bear. Man is created in the image of God; and the form of his mind is to be derived from Him and not from the things which are put in subjection under Him. The heathen was resisting the conscience which told him that he was God’s offspring, and the very things he saw which testified to the invisible power of God in worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator. But we who have been redeemed out of this worship are striving far more directly and consciously against; this spirit; we are choosing a false way when we admit the world to govern and fashion our minds according to its pleasure, when we submit to receive its image and superscription. That image and superscription will vary in each new age, in each new locality; it is the very nature of the world to be continually changing. That is the reason why it is so ignominious a thing for a man to be conformed to it; he must become merely a creature of to-day; he must be fluctuating, capricious, insincere--a leaf carried about by every gale, floating down every current. How is it possible that such a one can know anything of the will of God, which is fixed and eternal? What signifies it that you give to such a one the Bible and persuade him it is a Divine book? You may persuade him of that as easily as of anything else; if it is the current opinion of course he receives it until the fashion alters, and then he will scoff at it. But while he embraces it what does he gather from it? Just what his worldly spirit wishes to gather and no more.

II. The deliverance from all this is transformation, and such transformation, instead of unfitting a man for the world, is that which alone can enable him to live in it, to appreciate the worth of it, to exercise an influence over it. It was this which enabled the prophet to see the trees and the floods breaking forth into singing; which enabled St. Paul to become all things to all men; which enabled St. John to see the kingdom of God and of His Christ emerging out of the kingdoms of this world. For they beheld all things in God’s light, not in the false lights of this world. They saw the world as He had made it, not as men had made it by rebelling against Him. They had received the true form of men, they could therefore use the forms of the world, accommodating themselves readily to Jewish, Greek, Roman customs--never being brought into bondage by any. They were in communion with the eternal, so they could contemplate the great drama of history, not as a succession of shifting scenes, but as a series of events tending to the fulfilment of that will which is seeking good and good only.

III. The process of this transformation is the renewing of the mind. Such a phrase at once suggests the change which takes place when the foliage of spring covers the bare boughs of winter. The substance is not altered, but it is quickened. The alteration is the most wonderful that can be conceived of, but it all passes within. The power once given works secretly, probably amidst many obstructions from sharp winds and keen frosts. Still that beginning contains in it the sure prophecy of final accomplishment. The man will be renewed according to the image of his Creator and Father, because the Spirit of his Creator and Father is working in him. (F. D. Maurice, M.A.)

Conformed and transformed

If we pour into a mould a quantity of heated metal, that metal as it becomes cool takes the shape of that mould. If we soften a lump of wax, and then press a signet upon it, on its surface is left the impression of the seal. Just so our nature, susceptible at present of being moulded to one character or another, is now undergoing this process. According to the tastes we cultivate, the acts we do, the society we keep, the subjects that engross our interest, we are becoming conformed to the world or to Christ; we are being made into “vessels unto dishonour,” or into “vessels meet for the Master’s use.” The process may be very gradual; but it is not on that account the less fatal and the less sure. Like that insidious disease consumption, the first beginnings of it are hardly perceptible; but though it only destroys life as it were by inches, the raging fever is not in the end more deadly. How many are there who, because they are not raging in the fever-fits of open sin, never dream that they are dying of worldly conformity, and who consider, though the Bible and their consciences sometimes speak to the contrary, that there can be no great harm in living to the world a little, provided that they keep within bounds! But the Word of God says plainly, “Be not conformed to this world.” And if we would, fall in with this requirement we must strive to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We all know what a complete change is signified by the word “metamorphosis,” which is the one here used. In describing this process we must go back one step further in the metaphors than in the case to which we before alluded. We must suppose the metal to have been cast into some faulty shape first, and then to have been melted down and re-cast. Just so our hearts, our wills, our tastes, in short our whole “mind” must be first of all softened by God’s Spirit; then we must be transformed into a “vessel made to honour,” and finally “sealed unto the day of redemption.” In vain shall we seek to transform ourselves; we may give up this or that worldly pleasure or worldly pursuit; but unless we really, earnestly, perseveringly seek by prayer the power of God’s Spirit we never shall be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (W. H. Etchers, M.A.)

Conformity to the world

I. What is the world? The mass of unrenewed men as distinguished from the people of God. It is Satan’s kingdom. It has laws and maxims. Its manners and customs are determined by its reigning spirit. It has its consummation, which is perdition.

II. What is it to re conformed to the world?

1. To be inwardly like men of the world in the governing principle of our lives, i.e., to have a worldly spirit, a spirit occupied with worldly things, mercenary, earthly.

2. To be so ruled by the world’s maxims that the question is not what is right or wrong, but what is the custom of society. What is the public sentiment?

3. To be indistinguishable from men of the world in our--

III. The consequences of this conformity.

1. The destruction of all spirituality. It is impossible to live near to God and yet to be conformed to the world. The Spirit is grieved and quenched.

2. The obliteration of the distinction between the Church and the world, and the consequent enervation of the former. What becomes of Christian profession when Christians are as sordid, gay, and unscrupulous as other men?

3. Identity of doom. They who choose the world will perish with it.

IV. By what rule are we to determine what is and what is not sinful conformity. This is more a theoretical than a practical difficulty, and will not trouble a man who is filled with the Spirit of Christ and devoted to His service.

1. We must avoid sinful things.

2. With regard to things indifferent.

Conformity to the world

I. Be not conformed--

1. To its selfishness.

2. To its presumption.

3. To its superstition.

4. To its carnal policy.

5. To its earthly-mindedness.

II. This Divine requirement is presented here--

1. Negatively “Be not conformed,” etc., in--

2. Positively--“But be ye transformed,” etc. True religion does not consist in simply abstaining, avoiding, disliking, etc.; but also in being, doing, delighting, etc. We cannot be unconformed to the world, unless we are in spirit conformed to God. Therefore the only way to be unworldly is to become converted and spiritual (Galatians 5:16, etc.). The Christian is not simply to be unlike the world; he is to be like Christ. (Homilist.)

Conformity to the world

I. Its nature.

1. By “this world” is meant everything in it which is antagonistic to the truth or to the life of God in the soul of man. You can form a correct estimate of a man’s character by his ruling principles. So you can the spirit of “this world.” Here are some of its maxims--

2. Conformity to this world means the adoption of principles such as these, and practices founded upon them, although there are great differences among men in respect of it.

II. Its causes. Apart from its first and great cause, there are secondary causes, e.g.,--

1. The proclivity to do as other people do. A child may act thus, but may a man? If so, where is his independence? In the dust.

2. The fear of giving offence. There are people who are so dependent upon the good opinion of others, that to gain it they will forfeit their own respect by doing things which otherwise they would have left undone. They have interests of their own, but they are laughed or frowned out of them; they have opinions of their own, but they modify and explain them away! Many a man may date his destruction from the day he began to be afraid of losing the good opinion of bad men!

3. The inability to stand alone. When any public question is debated, the question is, “What side are the respectable people on?” When a side must be taken, “Which is likely to win?” The “expediency” men are many; the “principle” men are few.

II. Its cure.

1. The realising of our own personality and responsibility, refusing to live in the crowd, resolving that by God’s grace we shall live the life He calls upon us to live.

2. The withdrawing of ourselves from under the power of that tendency within us which prevails with us to disobey this command. Sometimes it is of very little use to fight, the only thing is to get away. A young man is beginning to acquire a taste for low pursuits and company: how will you help him to get above them? Not surely by leaving him to fight it out with them, but by creating within him a taste for higher pleasures, and the society of the good. If we would not be conformed to the world, we must rise above it.

3. Transformation by the renewing of the mind. Thus transformed, you will not be conformed: another model will be realised by you in your lives: the world will lose its hold and Christ will be all in all. (P. Rutherford.)

Conformity to the world

I. In what it consists. In cultivating--

1. Its spirit and temper.

2. Its maxims and principles.

3. Its company and conduct.

II. How it must be avoided.

1. By the renewing of our minds.

2. By the adoption of other--

III. Why it should be avoided. Because this is--

1. Good in itself.

2. Acceptable to God.

3. Beneficial to man. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Conformity to the world: its folly

A member of his congregation was in the habit of going to the theatre. Mr. Hill went to him and said, “This will never do--a member of my Church in the habit of going to the theatre!” Mr. So-and-so replied that it surely must be a mistake, as he was not in the habit of going there, although it was true he did go now and then for a treat. “Oh!” said Rowland Hill, “then you are a worse hypocrite than ever, sir. Suppose any one spread the report that I ate carrion, and I answered, ‘Well, there is no wrong in that; I don’t eat carrion every day in the week, but I have a dish now and then for a treat!’ Why, you would say, ‘What a nasty, foul, and filthy appetite Rowland Hill has, to have to go to carrion for a treat!’ Religion is the Christian’s truest treat, Christ is his enjoyment.”

Nonconformity to the world

1. There is no command in Scripture about which there is more debate than this. Are we required to separate ourselves from all who are not Christians, and avoid all employments except those of devotion? This is manifestly impossible. Are we then to abstain from those practices which are common among irreligious persons? Then the question arises, What practices? Where shall we draw the line? Many draw for themselves a line within which they keep; but unfortunately each person draws it differently. To some, this world means profligacy and sin; to others, great luxury; to others, certain fashionable amusements, or dress; to others, the use of secular music, or the reading of light literature. Each believes himself in the right, and blames his neighbours for going beyond or not coming up to the line he has drawn for himself. Each is alternately accuser and accused; while the ungodly consequently declare that it is quite impossible to say what is and what is not worldly.

2. Now all this arises from overlooking the fact that the precepts of the gospel are addressed to our new and inner nature; that they supply principles and motives on which we are to act always, not laws applying to any particular act or set of acts. “Be not conformed to the world” is defined by “Be ye transformed,” etc. It is clear, then, that that conformity is forbidden which interferes with our being transformed. Now that into which we are transformed is the image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18).

3. Now, the rule of the renewed man is simple, always applicable--“The one thing I am to seek is conformity to God’s image, and in order to that, constant communion with God; whatever, then, I find to interfere with this, however good it may seem, is the world to me.” Now the application of this rule is matter of personal experience, and it is impossible to draw a line; for what is the world to one person is not the world to another; and the question is not so much where you are as what you are. To lay down a rule for all lives is as difficult as to prescribe a diet for all constitutions. If you ask us whether certain food will agree with you, we answer--That depends upon your constitution; we can only give you the broad rule--eat nothing that you find to disagree with you. So we lay down the broad rule--whatever disagrees with your soul’s health you must avoid.

4. This is a rule which we would plead with worldly people. Christians are often perplexed when asked--Why do you not join in this or that amusement?

5. In this way we should deal with all cavillers on this subject. Worldly men set down the objections of ministers to prejudice or envy. “Of course, clergymen abuse theatres, etc., but where is the harm? Where are they forbidden in Scripture?” We answer this question by another: “What is the state of your soul? Are you the possessor of a spiritual life? If not, then you cannot possibly understand our objection; for we object to these things as injurious to that which you tell us you have not got, namely--life in the soul. To understand a spiritual precept you must be spiritual yourself.

6. But there are those in whom this spiritual life is as the tender blade, or as the just kindling fire, who ask, anxiously, What is the danger? To show this, we will take--

7. But we must not forget that the principle may be applied in an opposite direction. There are others who need to be told that what is forbidden is worldliness of heart; viz., those who are sure they do not conform to the world, because they never enter a theatre, etc. Their idea of unworldliness is the abstaining from these things, and a few others, e.g., display in entertainments and equipage. Add to this, becoming members of religious associations, frequenting religious society, and attending a gospel ministry, and their definition of unworldliness is complete. Now it is possible to do all this, and more, and yet still be conformed to the world. Worldliness can no more be excluded by a fence of conventional rules and habits than a fog or a miasma by a high wall: it is in the atmosphere. They avoid the theatre, and eschew fiction: to what purpose, if they are daily acting out the characters they will not see represented, or read depicted? They will not gamble. Are they the better for this, if they indulge the covetous spirit elsewhere? They will not frequent the ball-room. Are they any gainers, if they indulge the same spirit of display, etc., in a quiet party, or in a religious meeting? They will not wear fashionable dresses; to what purpose, if they are secretly as proud of their plain dress? Conclusion: To attack at once the worldliness of the religious and the irreligion of the world, is to risk the displeasure of both. But the world and the fashions of it are passing fast away; a few short years, and we shall all be where the applause or censure of men shall be alike indifferent to us--upon our dying beds. Then the question to be decided shall be, not how far may I go in my enjoyment of the world, or where must I fix a limit to my pleasures, for the world can be enjoyed no longer, and death is fixing the last limits to its pleasures, and there remains but one act more of conformity to the world--that last act in which all flesh conforms itself to the law of dissolution; but this shall be the great question:--Am I fitted for that world which I am about to enter? Am I, or am I not “transformed in the renewing of my mind”? Ask yourselves this question now, as you must ask it then. (Abp. Magee.)

Nonconformity to the world

may be seen--

I. In the transformation of the worldly virtues. There are graces which are sometimes seen more in the world than in the Church, and here we cannot go wrong in conforming to the world. Yet it is possible for an unworldly spirit to transfigure them. And unless occasionally so transfigured they would be corrupted and lost. One high heroic instance of truth, justice, or courage is worth a hundred lesser cases--the world is startled by it. But remember in proportion to the dignity given by an unworldly spirit to a worldly virtue is the mischief wrought by the absence of worldly virtues in those who call themselves unworldly. They are salt which has lost its savour. There is no greater stumbling-block than want of candour, justice, and generosity in those who profess to be “not of the world.” But the soldier who is more brave because of a higher than earthly courage; the judge who is more scrupulously just because he has before him a higher than earthly tribunal, the men of business who “ply their daily task with busier feet, because their souls a holy strain repeat,” are instances of what the apostle means by being “transfigured through the renewal of our minds.”

II. In the exhibition of qualities which are unworldly in themselves.

1. Humility. In pagan times there was no name for this grace. The very word is a new creation of the gospel. Nor does the thing now exist in worldly minds. You may prove this by telling an average man of his faults and watching the result.

2. Independence of the world’s opinion. “With me it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord”--is a true unworldly maxim. It is safe, prudent, to conform to the fashion of the world, to swim with the stream, to desert the sinking vessel, to avoid the stricken deer or howl with the wolves. That is the world’s way; but there is a way which is not the way of the world. The old Christian virtue of chivalry still lingers amongst us--the leaning to the weaker side because it is weaker, the desire to protect the weak and repress the strong, etc., may run to excess, but even Quixotism is refreshing. How invigorating to see men dependent on God, though independent of man, stand up against professional clamour and popular prejudice, to see men resist the tyranny of public opinion which will not hear the other side, and refuse the popular and give the unpopular praise!

3. Purity.

4. Resignation. (Dean Stanley.)

Nonconformity to the world

I. What abe we to understand by the world (1 John 2:16).

1. The lust of the flesh (Titus 2:12).

2. The lust of the eye (Ecclesiastes 5:11).

3. The pride of life (Romans 1:30).

II. What is it not to re conformed to it?

1. Not to approve of it (1 John 2:15).

2. Not to imitate it (1 Peter 4:4).

3. To use it as if we used it not (1 Corinthians 7:30-31).

III. Why should we not be conformed?

1. We are separated from the world to God (1 Peter 2:9-12).

2. We have put on Christ.

3. All that is in the world is not of the Father (1 John 2:16), and is contrary to the love of Him (1 John 2:15).

4. The fashion of this world passeth away (1 Corinthians 7:31).

Conclusion: Conform not to this world.

1. You have higher things to mind (Colossians 3:1-3; Philippians 3:20).

2. This world cannot satisfy you (Ecclesiastes 1:8).

3. You must give an account of what you do here. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Nonconformity to the world

I. Its nature.

1. Not ceremonial.

2. Not civil.

3. But moral. Be not conformed--

II. Some reasons for its prohibition.

1. Duty.

2. Profession.

3. Self-love.

4. Love of your neighbour.

5. The commands of Scripture.

III. How it may be prevented. By--

1. The renovation of your natures.

2. The exercise of daily prayer.

3. Guarding against temptation.

4. A constant dependence upon God. (Biblical Museum.)

Nonconformity to the world

There will arise in the Christian’s course, from time to time, occasions on which he will be in doubt as to some points of his duty in relation to social intercourse and amusements. Well, in such cases be turns to his chart--on that chart (his Bible) though he find not every rock and shoal and quicksand, marked down by name--he finds it laid down plainly and decisively that the whole coast is dangerous, i.e, he finds a general principle, “Be not conformed to this world”--“The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” By whom is the amusement patronised? Are they these who are the votaries of other and less dubious pleasures? Are they those who wear the world’s badge and have its mark stamped on their foreheads? Then let the Christian pause--let him fear to find himself surrounded by crowds of worldlings, drinking with them of the same cup. It must be at best but a suspicious cup that meets tastes which should be opposite--it must be at best a suspicious path in which, even for a moment, the Christian walks hand in hand with the man of this world. Be quite sure the world would not be drinking of that cup, if it were not in some way spiced to their taste. Alas! it is far, far more likely that the Christian should have stepped out of his narrow path, than that the worldling should have forsaken his, to walk, even for a moment, with the Christian. And remember that in such cases there is great need that you watch against self-deception. The remark of Jeremy Taylor is but too true: “Most men choose the sin, if it be once disputed whether it be a sin or no.” Although grace teaches and inclines you to distaste the world, yet corruption remains, and to that corruption sin and the world are but too palatable. See to it, then, that while you are professing to inquire into the lawfulness or unlawfulness of such an action, your mind is not biased beforehand, and you have not a secret desire to find the Word of God on your side--a secret determination to make it out, if possible to be so. Beware, too, of that religion which is anxious to take up its lodging next door to the world. If you are determined to go as far as you can you are not safe--you will very soon be on the other side of the line. And if, after all, a given case seemed doubtful, remember, religion, not the world, is to have the benefit of the doubt. It is better to abstain from mistaken scrupulosity from a hundred lawful things than to run the risk of one unlawful act of conformity to the world, or of throwing one stumbling-block in the way of another. (Canon Miller.)

Nonconformity to the world

There are two words for world, αἰών and κόσμος. The former regards time, the latter space. Once they are combined (Ephesians 2:2), “in accordance with the time-state of this matter-world.”… The direction, therefore, is, “Be not like the men of this world, whose all is the present. Wear not the garb of time: live for eternity.” (Dean Vaughan.)

Nonconformity to the world--inward

As the mother of pearl fish lives in the sea without receiving a drop of salt water, and as towards the Chelidonian Islands springs of fresh water may be found in the midst of the sea, and as the fire-fly passes through the flames without burning its wings, so a vigorous and resolute soul may live in the world without being infected with any of its burnouts, may discover sweet springs of piety amidst its salt waters, and fly among the flames of earthly concupiscence without burning the wings of the holy desires of a devout life. (Francis de Sales.)

Nonconformity to the world--outward

The bird of paradise, which has such a dower of exquisitely beautiful feathers, cannot fly with the wind; if it attempts to do so, the current being much swifter than its flight, so ruffles its plumage as to impede its progress, and finally to terminate it: it is, therefore, compelled to fly against the wind, which keeps its feathers in their place, and thus it gains the place where it would be. So the Christian must not attempt to go with the current of a sinful world: if he does, it will not only hinder, but end his religious progress; but he must go against it, and then every effort of his soul will be upward, heavenward, Godward. (M. Davies, D.D.)

The world

is fallen human nature acting itself out in the human family; moulding and fashioning the framework of human society in accordance with its own tendencies. It is fallen human nature making the ongoings of human thought, feeling, and action its own. It is the reign or kingdom of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Wherever that mind prevails, there is the world. (R. S. Candlish, D.D.)

The world an atmosphere

It is like the dense atmosphere which on a November day hangs over your vast metropolis, the product of its countless homes and the proof of its vast industrial efforts; and yet the veil which shuts out from it the light of heaven, destroys the colour on its works of art--the dark unwholesome vapour which clogs vitality and undermines health, and from which a Londoner escapes at intervals with a light heart, that he may see the sun, and the trees, and the face of nature as God made them, and feel for a few months what it is to live. Even thus the world hangs like a deadly atmosphere over every single human soul, brooding over it, flapping its wings like the monstrous evil bird in the fable, or penetrating and entering into it like a subtle poison, to sap the springs and sources of its vigour and its life. (Canon Liddon.)

The world, danger of

As you love your souls, beware of the world: it has slain its thousands and ten thousands. What ruined Lot’s wife?--the world. What ruined Achan?--the world. What ruined Haman?--the world. What ruined Judas?--the world. What ruined Simon Magus?--the world. What ruined Demas?--the world: And “what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

The world: difficult to define

The world cannot be clearly marked out as if it were a kingdom on a map, and every year makes it more difficult to draw any line of demarcation or to lay down any hard and fast lines upon the subject, because society is being leavened by Christian principles, the moral conscience of the nation quickened, and a public opinion, on the whole of a healthy character, making itself powerfully felt. And, further, what is the world to one person is not the world to another. The fact that the world cannot be defined as to locality is an advantage, not a disadvantage: for it calls forth from us a constant spirit of inquiry and watchfulness before we enter upon our pursuits, form our connections, or enter into society. The believer should at all times test every relationship into which he is brought, to see whether beneath its possibly plausible and pleasant surface there may not lurk the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The Christian, too, should examine not only what is without, to see whether the place he is entering is the world, but also what is within himself, and whether he is not converting even what is the kingdom of God into the world by the worldly spirit which he brings with him. We may infect as well as be infected. (C. Neil, M.A.)

The world: spirit of

The spirit of the world is for ever altering, impalpable; for ever eluding, in fresh forms, your attempts to seize it. In the days of Noah the spirit of the world was violence. In Elijah’s day it was idolatry. In the day of Christ it was power, concentrated and condensed in the government of Rome. In ours, perhaps, it is the love of money. It enters in different proportions into different bosoms; it is found in a different form in contiguous towns, in the fashionable watering-places, and in the commercial city; it is this thing at Athens, and another in Corinth. This is the spirit of the world, a thing in my heart and yours to be struggled against, not so much in the case of others as in the silent battle done within our own souls. (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

Worldliness: its spirit permanent, its forms changeful

The world in our days is not a heathen world, as it was in the days of the apostle; but it is not a whit less “the world that lieth in wickedness.” The outward developments are different, but the inward character, principles, and spirit are the very same: changing a few of the mere external circumstances, the apostle’s description of the “world” of his own day is equally applicable to the “world” of ours. There are now, indeed, no idolatrous banquets, no savage gladiatorial conflicts in the blood-stained arena of the amphitheatre, no midnight orgies to some disgraceful deity. The world, perhaps, now, at least the world of the upper classes of society, is not quite so rough, but more polished in its sinfulness; but its scenes of amusement, its theatres, its luxurious tastes and habits, its nightly revels, and too lavish entertainments, partake as essentially of the elements of worldliness as the less advanced indulgences of a ruder age. In its thirst after wealth, in its restless strivings after fame and glory, in its grasping selfishness, in its love of splendour and show, we question whether the world, as it presents itself to the Christian of the nineteenth century wears any materially different aspect from that of the world of the apostle’s days. But, when we speak of worldliness, either as it is developed in business or pleasure, let it not be for a moment supposed that worldliness exists only in these developments: these are only indices or marks of an inward and rooted principle, innate in every man born into this world, and dominant in every man, without exception, who has not been “born again of water and of the Spirit.” (W. H. Etchers, M.A.)

But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.--

Transformation

This word is used to denote the Lord’s transfiguration, when His body was seen invested with the glory in which He is to appear at His second coming. You will then see Him thus transfigured, and the result will be your own transfiguration (Philippians 3:21). For He is to “change your vile bodies,” etc. But there is a transfiguration in the life that now is (2 Corinthians 3:18) also into the image of the Lord; and therefore it is a transformation into glory, but not into the glory that was seen on the Mount, but what was seen in the manger, in the wilderness, in Gethsemane, and on the Cross. Note:--

I. The manner of it. Christ was transformed by becoming man; you are to be transformed by becoming new men in Him. The renewing of your mind is your being brought to have the same mind which Christ had. “I come to do Thy will, O God,” is the language of the Son in the very act of taking the new nature; the renewing of your mind is your making that language your own. Note the closeness of the analogy.

1. The agency is the same--the Holy Ghost. It is He alone who can make the Son partaker of your human nature, without making Him to be as fallen man; it is He alone who can make you partakers of the Son’s Divine nature, without making you to be as God.

2. These two operations fit into one another: the one effecting that supernatural birth by which the Son becomes a servant, the other that supernatural birth by which the servants become sons. The one transformation is the cause of the other: not only as being that without which the other could not have been, but also as being the means of the other. It is through your believing and appropriating His transformation, that you are yourselves transformed. For the transformation in either case is a union. His being transformed is His being united by a new creation with you; your being transformed is your being united by a new creation to Him.

3. To the Son Himself His being born of the Spirit brought a new mind. It was a new thing for Him to have the mind of a servant, and to say, “I come to do Thy will, O God.” And it is a new mind in you when, as sons, you say the same. Naturally, self-will is the ruling principle of your mind. Insubordination to God is that “fashion of the world” to which you are not to be conformed.

4. The transformation effected in the case of Christ, when He humbled Himself to do the will of God, was voluntary on His part; otherwise His humiliation and obedience unto death could have had no efficacy. Equally voluntary must be the change on your part: “Be ye.” You must say, with renewed minds, entering into His mind, “I come to do Thy will, O my God.” It is true, that in order to your thus acting, you must be acted upon by the Holy Spirit. But you are not acted upon as inert matter may be acted upon.

5. Note two practical applications.

II. The end of this transformation. “That you may prove,” etc. The will of God needs to be proved. It can be known only by trial. Essentially, the will of God is and must be the expression of His nature. But the nature of God far transcends the comprehension of finite minds; and therefore His will may well be expected to be incomprehensible too. But in that formal aspect of it as the assertion of the authority of God, let His will be put to the test of actual trial, and then will its real character as the expression of His nature come out; for while neither God Himself nor His will can be grasped in the speculative understanding, both He and it can be grasped in the obedient and loving heart. But apart from any inquiry into the reason of it, the fact is pregnant with important consequences. For one thing, it partly explains the economy of probation, and tends to show how trial must be both summary and decisive summary, that it may be ascertained once for all whether the authority of God is to be acknowledged or disowned; and decisive, for if His will is acknowledged, the way is opened for proving it as the expression of His nature to be “good and acceptable,” etc.; whereas, if disowned, all opportunity of knowing its real character is hopelessly lost.

1. The probation of man turns upon the willingness of man to put the will of God to the proof. The will of God, as it was announced in paradise, was not such as to command either approbation or consent on the part of our first parents. The command not to eat of the fruit did not obviously commend itself as “good,” etc. Doubtless, if they had kept it, they would have found by experience--

2. The probation of Christ proceeds upon the very same principle. He is tried as the first Adam was tried, and upon she same issue, namely, His willingness to prove the will of God; and in His case also the will of God may be so presented to His human soul as to appear neither reasonable nor desirable. In such a light, accordingly, Satan tries to put it before Him. The pain, shame, weariness, and blood awaiting Him, the tempter ingeniously contrasts with the shorter road to glory which he would have Him to take. The Second Adam will not, like the first, accept Satan’s representation; He will prove it for Himself; and so He “learns obedience by the things which He suffers.” But He proved it, and in the proving of it He found it to be “good and acceptable and perfect.” He tasted the delight of obedience, as He learned it.

3. It is into this image of Jesus, thus “proving that will of God,” that you are now to be “transformed,” etc. You are to prove God’s will--

1. How opposite are the two habits, namely, being “conformed to this world,” and being “transformed,” etc. There are here two types, of one or other of which you must take the fashion. To be conformed to the world is to take things as they are and make the best of them. The opposite habit is to try things as they should be.

2. How complete the transformation must be if, instead of being conformed to this world, you are to “prove,” etc. You must make full proof of God’s will. But that you cannot do if you yield a forced submission. A son yielding obedience to his father’s will reluctantly, never can be acquainted with its true character and blessedness; but let him throw himself heart and soul into the doing of it, then will he prove it of what sort it is. To have the mind to do so implies a great change, a new creation, a new heart.

3. Now, so long as the fashion of this world lasts, so long as that second transformation which awaits you is postponed, this proving of the will of God must throughout be more or less an effort. But take courage, O child of God! “The fashion of this world passeth away.” You “look for new heavens and a new earth.” The fashion of that new world and the will of God will not be opposed to one another. The proving of the will of God, then, with your whole nature changed into the image of the heavenly, what a joyous exercise of liberty and love will it be!

4. In the meantime, a signal encouragement as motive. The more you prove the fashion of this world, the less you feel it to be “good,” etc. It looks fair at the first, but who that has ever lived long but re-echoes the wise man’s complaint--“All is vanity”? The will of God looks worse at the beginning; but on, on, child of God, and you will find a growing light, encouragement, and joy. “The path of the just is as the shining light, etc.; and in the trial of them you find that “wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (R. S. Candlish, D.D.)

Transformation

I. What is it to be transformed? To be new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).

1. In our judgment concerning--

2. Our thoughts (Psalms 1:2).

3. Consciences (Acts 24:16).

4. Wills (Lamentations 3:24).

5. Affections (Colossians 3:2).

6. Words (Matthew 12:36).

7. Actions (1 Peter 1:15-16). Towards God and men (Acts 24:16).

II. Why are we to be transformed. Till transformed--

1. We are altogether sinful (Proverbs 15:8).

2. We can enjoy no happiness here nor be capable of happiness hereafter (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

III. Examine whether you be transformed or no. Look to your heads (2 Corinthians 13:5); your hearts (Proverbs 4:23); your lives (Matthew 12:33). Note the reasons for this examination.

1. Many are mistaken about it, and think they are renewed, because turned--

2. This is the most dangerous of all mistakes.

3. If you never examine yourselves, you have the more cause to fear your condition.

IV. Signs of our being transformed. All our actions proceed--

1. From new principles.

2. After a new manner.

3. To a new end (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 5:16).

V. Means.

1. Read the word written (James 1:21).

2. Hear it preached.

3. Meditate upon it.

4. Pray (Psalms 51:10).

5. Receive the sacrament.

Conclusion:

1. By renovation you become again as you were created (Genesis 1:26).

2. God Himself will change to you.

3. If now transformed from the world to God, hereafter you shall be transformed from misery to happiness. (Bp. Beveridge.)

The Christian life a transfiguration

In the preceding verse the apostle gathers the whole sum of Christian duty into one word. And so in this. As all is to be sacrifice, so all is to be transformation. Mark:--

I. Where Paul begins--with an inward renewal

1. He goes deep down, because he had learned in His school who said: “Make the tree good and the fruit good.” To tinker at the outside with a host of red-tape restrictions, and prescriptions, is all waste time and effort. You may wrap a man up in the swaddling bands of specific precepts until you can scarcely see him, and he cannot move, and you have not done a bit of good. The inner man must be dealt with first, and then the outward will come right in due time. Many of the plans for the social and moral renovation of the world are as superficial as a doctor’s treatment would be, who would direct all his attention to curing pimples when the patient is dying of consumption.

2. There has to be a radical change in the middle. “Mind” seems to be equivalent to the thinking faculty, but, possibly, includes the whole inner man. The inner man has got a wrong twist somehow; it needs to be moulded over again. It is held in slavery to the material; it is a mass of affections fixed upon the transient; a predominant self-regard characterises it and its actions.

3. This new creation of the inner man is only possible as the result of the communication of a life from without; the life of Jesus, put into your heart, on condition of your opening the door of your heart by faith, and saying, “Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord.” And He comes in, bearing in His hands a germ of life which will mould and shape our “mind” after His own blessed pattern.

4. That new life, when given, needs to be fostered and cherished. It is only a little spark that has to kindle a great heap of green wood, and to turn it into its own ruddy likeness. We have to keep our two hands round it, for fear it should be blown out by the rough gusts of passion and of circumstance. It is only a little seed that is sown in our hearts; we have to cherish and cultivate it, to water it by our prayers, and to watch over it, lest either the fowls of the air with light wings should carry it away, or the heavy wains of the world’s business and pleasures should crush it to death, or the thorns of earthly desires should spring up and choke it.

II. What he expects from the inward change--a life “transfigured,” the same word as is employed in the account of our Lord’s transfiguration. In that event our Lord’s indwelling divinity came up to the surface and became visible.

1. “A transfigured life” suggests--

2. But as with the inward renewal so with the outward transfiguration, the life within will not work up to the surface except upon condition of our own honest endeavour. The fact that God’s Spirit is given to us is not a reason for our indolence, but for our work, because it gives us the power by which we can do the thing we desire. What would you think of a man that said, “It is the steam that drives the spindles, so I need not put the belting on”?

III. The ultimate consequence which the apostle regards as certain, from this inward change; unlikeness to the world around. “Be not conformed,” etc.

1. The more we get like Jesus Christ, the more certainly we get unlike the world. For the two theories of life are clean contrary--the one is all limited by time, the other lays hold on the eternal. The one is all for self, the other is all for God. So that likeness and adherence to the one must needs be dead in the teeth of the other.

2. And that contrariety is as real to-day as ever it was. Paul’s “world” was a grim, heathen, persecuting world; our “world” has got christened, and goes to church and chapel, like a respectable gentleman. But for all that it is the world still, and we have to shake our hands free of it.

3. How is the commandment to be obeyed?

4. And then, “as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” But we must begin by opening our hearts to the leaven which shall work onward and outwards till it has changed all, The sun when it shines upon a mirror makes the mirror shine like a little sun. “We all with open face, reflecting as a mirror does the glory of the Lord, shall be changed into the same image.” (A. Maclaren, D.D.)

Transfiguration

One master word, for the whole Christian life is sacrifice, self-surrender, and that to God. Paul here brackets, with that great conception of the Christian life, another equally dominant and comprehensive. In one aspect, it is self-surrender; in another, it is growing transformation. The inner man, having been consecrated as a prince, by yielding of himself to God, is called upon to manifest inward consecration by outward sacrifice; an inward “renewing of the mind” is regarded as the necessary antecedent of transformation of outward life.

I. Note, then, that the foundation of all transformation of character and conduct is laid deep in a renewed mind. Now it is a matter of world-wide experience, verified by each of us in our own cases, if we have ever been honest in the attempt, that the power of self-improvement is limited by very narrow bounds. Any man that has ever tried to cure himself of the most trivial habit which he desires to get rid of, or to alter in the slightest degree the set of some strong taste or current of his being, knows how little he can do, even by the most determined toil. The problem that is set before a man when you tell him to effect self-improvement is something like that which confronted that poor paralytic lying in the porch at the pool; “If you can walk you wilt be able to get to the pool that will make you able to walk. But you have got to be cured before you can do what you need to do in order to be cured.” Only one Christ presents itself, not as a mere republication of morality, not as merely a new stimulus and motive to do what is right, but as an actual communication to men of a new power to work in them. It is a new gift of a life which will unfold itself after its own nature, as the bud into flower, and the flower into fruit; giving new desires, tastes, directions, and renewing the whole nature. And so, says Paul, the beginning of transformations of character is the renovation in the very centre of the being. Now, I suppose that in my text the word “mind” is not so much employed in the widest sense, including all the affections and will, and the other faculties of our nature, as in the narrower sense of the perceptive power, or that faculty in our nature by which we recognise, and make our own, certain truths. “The renewing of the mind,” then, is only, in such an interpretation, a theological way of putting the simpler English thought, a change of estimates, a new set of views; or, if that word be too shallow, as indeed it is, a new set of convictions. It is profoundly true that “as a man thinketh, so is he.” Our characters are largely made by our estimates of what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable. Why, we all know how often a whole life has been revolutionised by the sudden dawning or rising in its sky of some starry new truth, formerly hidden and undreamed of. If you want to change your characters--and God knows they all need it--change the deep convictions of your mind; and get hold, as living realities, of the great truths of Christ’s gospel. If you and I really believed what we say we believe, that Jesus Christ has died for us, and lives for us, and is ready to pour out upon us the gift of His Divine Spirit, and wills that we should be like Him, and holds out to us the great and wonderful hopes and prospects of an absolutely eternal life of supreme and serene blessedness at His right hand should we be, could we be, the sort of people that most of us are? Truth professed has no transforming power; truth received and fed upon can revolutionise a man’s whole character. Make of your every thought an action; link every action with a thought. Or, to put it more Christian-like, let there be nothing in your creed which is not in your commandments; and let nothing be in your life which is not moulded by these. The beginning of all transformation is the revolutionised conviction of a mind that has accepted the truths of the gospel.

II. Well then, secondly, note the transfigured life. The life is to be transfigured. Yet it remains the same, not only in the consciousness of personal identity, but in the main trend and drift of the character. There is nothing in the gospel of Jesus Christ which is meant to obliterate the lines of the strongly marked individuality which each of us receives by nature. Rather the gospel is meant to heighten and deepen these, and to make each man more intensely himself, more thoroughly individual, and unlike anybody else. But whilst the individuality remains, and ought to be heightened by Christian consecration, yet a change should pass over our lives, like the change that passes over the winter landscape when the summer sun draws out the green leaves from the hard black boughs, and flashes a fresh colour over all the brown pastures. Christ in us, if we are true to Him, will make us mere ourselves, and yet new creatures in Christ Jesus. And the transformation is to be into His likeness who is the pattern of all perfection. We must be moulded after the same type. There are two types possible for us: this world; Jesus Christ. We have to make our choice, That transformation is no sudden thing, though the revolution which underlies it may be instantaneous. The working out of the new motives, the working in of the new power, is no mere work of a moment. It is a lifelong task till the lump be leavened. And remember, this transformation is no magic change effected whilst men sleep. It is a commandment which we have to brace ourselves to perform. But this positive commandment is only one side of the transfiguration that is to be effected. It is clear enough that if a new likeness is being stamped upon a man, the process may be looked at from the other side; and that in proportion as we become liker Jesus Christ, we shall become more unlike the old type to which we were previously conformed. “This world” here, in my text, is more properly “this age,” which means substantially the same thing as John’s favourite word “world,” viz., the sum total of godless men, and things conceived of as separated from God. Only by this expression the essentially fleeting nature of that type is more distinctly set forth. And although it can only be a word, I want to put in here a very earnest word which the tendencies of this generation do very specially require. It seems to be thought, by a great many people, who call themselves Christians nowadays, that the nearer they can come in life, in ways of looking at things, in estimates of literature, for instance, in customs of society, in politics, in trade, and especially in amusements--the nearer they can come to the unchristian world, the more “broad” and “superior to prejudice” they are. And it seems to be by a great many professing Christians thought to be a great feat to walk as the mules on the Alps do, with one foot over the path and the precipice down below. Keep away from the edge. You are safer there. There is a broad gulf between the man who believes in Jesus Christ and His gospel and the man who does not. And the resulting conducts cannot be the same unless the Christian man is insincere.

III. And now, lastly, note the great reward and crown of this transfigured life. The issue of such a life is, to put it into plain English, an increased power of perceiving, instinctively and surely, what it is God’s will that we should do. To know beyond doubt what I ought to do, and knowing, to have no hesitation or reluctance in doing it, seems to me to be heaven upon earth. And the man that has it needs but little more. This, then, is the reward. Each peak we climb opens wider and clearer prospects into the untravelled land before us. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)


Verse 3

Romans 12:3

For I say … to every man.
., not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.

Needful counsel

I. We must not think too highly of ourselves, especially of--

1. Our knowledge (Jeremiah 9:23; 1 Corinthians 8:1). We know little either in--

2. Our gifts.

3. Our graces.

(a) Love to God (Matthew 22:37).

(b) Faith in Christ (Luke 17:5).

(c) Repentance of sin (2 Corinthians 7:10).

(d) Justice to our neighbour (Matthew 7:12).

(e) Charity to the poor (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6).

II. What cause, then, is there not to be proud--

1. Of strength (Jeremiah 9:23),

2. Of riches.

3. Honours.

III. Study humility.

1. Towards God (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 57:17; Isa_66:2). Considering--

2. Towards men. Consider--

(a) Division among men (Proverbs 13:10).

(b) Separation from God (1 Peter 5:5). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Church membership and ministry

I. In the work of mutual ministry within the Church there is something:for every member to perform. The appeal is “to every man that is among you.” The Church is “one body in Christ,” “every one” being a “member” of some kind, and having his proper office. Every member, organ, nerve, vein, bone, ligament has its proper function in the natural body; and as soon as any one fails, there ensues that disturbance of the harmonic activity which we call disease. In the Church, Christ is the Head, the Centre of life, intelligence, and authority, and His Holy Spirit the organic principle. But every individual believer has his own proper sphere of influence and activity for the general good (Ephesians 4:15-16). If he neglects that ministry, not only will he himself suffer damage or excision, but the body also will suffer loss thereby.

II. In order that every man may do his own proper work, he must form a sober, practical estimate of his own ability. The work must be thoughtfully done. But the thought, to be productive, must be sober. The worker is admonished “not to be high-minded above that which he ought to he minded, but to be so minded as to be sober-minded.” For--

1. If a man thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think, he will probably despise the service to which the Master has called him, and seek to undertake work for which be has not the adequate powers. This will, in all likelihood, be marred, and himself humiliated, while that will fall to more worthy hands. All such aspiring persons world do well to ponder the warning words (Mark 10:43-45). In Christ’s Church the surest way towards honourable promotion is that of prompt, earnest, humble service in that which is close at hand.

2. If a man under-estimates his ability, and thinks that he can do nothing, or nothing of profit to the Master, then he will do nothing, and the Church will lose his service and he will lose his reward (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27). Therefore--

3. The apostle supplies a standard for the measurement of thought in the work of self-estimation. Let every man “think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith”--i.e., the confidence which a man has in Christ, and in himself by the grace of Christ, that he has competent ability for service. The man who has faith in himself generally succeeds; while a better man, if full of doubt and hesitation, fails. I must not so under-estimate my gifts as to decline any service; for some power has most certainly been imparted. But I must not attempt service for which I am unfit in the fanatical confidence that I shall obtain supernatural aid. Nor need I stand in doubt as to whether or not I have a Divine call to the work; the ability and opportunity ought to be sufficient.

III. The service, and the spirit and manner in which it should be discharged (Romans 12:6-8).

1. The ministry of the Word: he that “prophesieth,” “teacheth,” “exhorteth.” The New Testament prophet was pre-eminently the preacher: and he must preach or prophesy according to the proportion of faith. But there are those who are not called to this ministry, who can nevertheless speak words of warning, exhortation, or comfort, either in the intercourse of daily life, the prayermeeting, or the village sanctuary; and any Church which does not encourage these gifted ones is sadly defective. There are others again who, though neither apt to exhort, nor able to preach, have, notwithstanding, the gift of teaching. They can instruct in the Sabbath school. Let none of these neglect the gift that is in him. Let none ambitiously aspire to an office for which he is not equal; and, on the other hand, let none refuse to employ his one talent because he has not more and higher gifts.

2. There is also the ministry of finance and benevolence. That the apostle here speaks of the official diaconate is morally certain, because that it is mentioned in the midst of other offices which are expressly specified as such (1 Corinthians 12:28-30). To them, therefore, would fall the work of superintending and directing the active charities of the Church. He who gave would be, not the disburser of, but the contributor to, the relief fund; and he who showed mercy might be either a person appointed to the special work of relieving the sick and poor, or one who engaged in the good work out of his own impulse. These ministries; though not confined to official persons, were sanctioned by the properly appointed officers. Conclusion: Warning may be here given against two evils.

1. That of those who render very small, if any, service to the cause of Christ, but who criticise those who do. This is a crying evil, and a Christian ought to be ashamed of it.

2. That of over-estimating some particular department of service. (W. Tyson.)

Measurements of manhood

When persons are under the influence of wine, they often entertain the most extravagant notions of themselves, of which they are heartily ashamed when they come to their sober reason. And it is this figure latent that the apostle employs. Think not extravagantly well of yourselves. Form an estimate that is reasonable and in accordance with fact.

I. These words assume that men should have some opinion of their own character and worth, but that they are liable to faulty estimates. It is impossible not to have some opinion of one’s self. And the only question is, whether it shall be an idea shaped according to good rules and through right influences, or whether it shall be casually left to chance feeling.

1. There be those who say that the best way to think of yourself is not to think at all; and there is a sense in which this is true. Men may think too much of themselves, on the one hand, and too little on the other. But these dangers do not take away the wisdom of attempting a correct judgment of ourselves. There is a duty of self-knowledge, for otherwise how shall one know whether he be following the commands of his Master, or simply the impulses of his own selfish nature? How shall there be aspiration? Is it needful for the husbandman to know the extent of his territory, and which part is rich and which part is poor, and is spiritual husbandry to be founded in pretentious ignorance? You are commanded to think in conformity with facts and things as they exist. Not that we should carry self-consciousness with us every hour, and attempt to keep our hand upon the pulse of the heart or of the life. Yet one may come to a general estimate that shall be the foundation of all the processes of moral culture which he is to follow out.

2. The measurements of feeling are to be avoided; and yet those are, in many instances, the only estimates which men make. If one be constitutionally proud, he thinks a hundred times better of himself than anybody else thinks of him. It is said that greatness of mind is inconsistent with vanity; but many men of eminent genius have been men of pre-eminent vanity.

3. The estimate of those qualities which suit our circle, and which reflect from it upon ourselves, is a false way of measuring. This is not having any knowledge of yourselves, but is simply knowing when you are pleased, without any regard to moral condition.

4. The measurement of ourselves simply in executive functions furnishes a very imperfect knowledge of what we really are. Men may have the most exaggerated ideas of their excellence or weakness who simply think of themselves as factors in society, as business men, etc. Skill is certainly a matter which a man ought not to be ashamed of, and which a man may sometimes well be proud of; but judging simply from this view is not enough. It is not wrong for a man to know whether he is a good lawyer or not. It is not necessary to humility that a man who stands second to none at the bar should say of himself, “I always feel myself to be a very poor lawyer!” A man has a right, and it is his duty, to think of himself as he is. This estimate is not incompatible with true humility. Indeed, it is indispensable to true humility. If God has given a man great power, must he make believe that he does not carry power? Must Milton, in order to be modest, believe that he did not speak in immortal numbers?

5. Men make a false estimate in judging of themselves also by selecting the best things in the best moods, and slurring over the rest. We select those excellencies which are apparent, and we usually exaggerate them. And we are inclined to omit co-ordinate qualities. If a man be strong, there are a thousand inflections of feeling which are not taken account of. He may be strong, but not gentle. A man has a blunt lip, and calls it honesty, fidelity to the truth. But where are the co-ordinate qualities of meekness, gentleness and love? The virtues which we have not we do not usually require of ourselves. We leave out of view, too, the great evil tendencies which exist in us. Our characters are dressed for inspection, as apples are when they are sent to market. There are all sorts in the middle of the barrel, and the best ones are put on the top to face off with. We deceive ourselves, not only by arranging our good qualities in the most favourable manner, but by heightening their colour a little. You have seen apple-women take a cloth and rub their apples until every one of them shines, and put them in the most tempting aspects. And do not men do the same thing with their good qualities? If there is a speck, that is turned round inside; but you will find it out after you have bought the apple and cut it. I do not say that a man should make everything put on its worst face. I say simply this: Let every man think of himself as he ought to think. A man may think himself to be far better than he is by judicious selection. I have seen my garden when the season was empty of flowers, and yet, by a skilful garnering from this nook and that, I could gather a handful of flowers that would lead to the supposition that the garden was in its summer glory. A man may select good qualities in himself and make up a bouquet of his fancy, which shall make it seem as though it were a paradise there, by a judicious picking and arranging. But the great mistake which men make is that of selecting only the secondary elements of their character, and leaving out the primary ones. A symmetrical whole is very seldom thought of in self-estimation.

II. No man knows how to measure himself who has failed to understand where true manhood is--where the diameter is--where the equator is. And this is what the apostle gives us: “I say to every man … to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

1. It is where the spiritual elements dwell in man, at that point where he understands and touches the divine, that you must measure him. You must measure, not your animal-hood, but your manhood. Now, if we over-reach our fellow-men, if we use them for our own purposes, we think ourselves strong and great men. But the feeling is malign and satanic. That only is Divine which seeks others’ happiness, if need be at one’s own expense. He who knows what conscience, faith, love, patience, and gentleness are, knows something about himself. And everybody is ignorant of himself who has not an estimate which is founded upon the gauge of these qualities.

2. Nor should we leave out the relation of man to the world to come. For a man may be very strong as regards this life, and very weak as regards the other life. And as we are here to prepare for the life to come, he misses his manhood and the significance of it who only lives for a time and is unfit to live for the spiritual and eternal. It is painful to think how much the grave strains out of that which men do and earn in this life. It is the work of men’s hands that they are proud of mostly. But you shall take through the shadowy door nothing but what is spiritual; and how much of that have you to take through? If you were to efface from many men that which makes them great in influence in the day in which they live, then millionaires might come out paupers. And only he can measure himself aright who knows how much of himself he can carry through and beyond. “The last shall be first, and the first last.”

3. Let every man, then, measure himself, not according to his vanity, but as under the eye of God. Let one think of himself as an heir of immortality; let him believe himself to be a son of God; and then let him apply to himself the measures which belong to this transcendent conception of life and of character. Measuring yourselves thus, you will not think of yourselves, more highly than you ought to. This is true humility. It is humility to think, not that you are less than somebody else, but that you are less than you ought to be. (H. W. Beecher.)

The notion of pride stated, and the pretensions to it examined

1. It is a common observation that however forward men may be to repine at the unequal portion which God has allotted them of worldly blessings, yet they are generally well satisfied with their share of inward endowments: it being as hard to meet with a person who humbly thinks he has too little sense and merit, as it is to find one who fancies he has too great riches and honours. What makes men uneasy in their circumstances is that they are continually setting to view the bright side of themselves and the dark side of their condition in life; the first to find out their own grievances, and the last to discern their own faults and follies. Whereas if they took a contrary method they would perceive that God had been kinder to the worst of men than the very best of men could deserve.

2. Among the many imputations which we are willing to fasten upon these whom we have an aversion to, that of pride is, I think, one of the most common. Now, if we would examine the innermost recesses of the mind, I doubt we should often find that our own pride is the cause why we tax others with it. Men elate with the thoughts of their own sufficiency are ever imagining that others are wanting in their regard to them, and therefore very apt to conclude that pride must be the cause why they withhold from them that respect which they have an unquestioned right to in their own opinion.

I. The notion of pride. Our happiness, as well as knowledge, arises from sensation and reflection, and may be reduced to these two articles, viz., that of pleasing sensations, and that of agreeable thoughts. Now as to a desire of indulging the former without check or control, are owing lust, drunkenness, and intemperance; so from a desire of indulging the latter beyond measure, pride takes its original. It does not consist, in the bare consciousness that we have some accomplishments, as, for instance, good sense, beauty, great abilities; but in that exultation of mind which is frequent upon that consciousness, unallayed by self-dissatisfaction arising from a survey of our sins and frailties. The difference between humility and pride consists in this, that the humble man, whatever talents he is possessed of, considers them as so many trusts reposed in him by God, which are so far from raising his pride that they excite his caution; as knowing that to “whom much is given, of him much will be required”; whereas the proud values himself as if he were not only the subject but the author of the good qualities, and so makes an idol of himself, instead of adoring and thanking God for them. Pride, then, is the thinking too highly of ourselves. To obviate mistakes it will be necessary to observe that pride is not merely to think favourably of ourselves; for then indeed pride, as some late authors have maintained, would be an universal vice, everybody being more or less biassed in his own favour. But pride is to think so favourably of ourselves as to exclude a modest diffidence of ourselves, and a salutary sense of the number of human frailties, the imperfection of our virtues, the malignity of our crimes, and our dependence on God for everything good in us and for us.

II. The unreasonableness of this vice. Are we proud of riches? Riches cannot alter the nature of things, they cannot make a man worthy that is worthless in himself; they may command an insipid complaisance, a formal homage, and ceremonious professions of respect, and teach a servile world to speak a language foreign to their hearts; but where a largeness of soul is wanting they can never procure grateful sentiments and an undissembled love, the willing tribute of a generous heart to merit only. Do we value ourselves upon our power? No; what is remarked by somebody or other is a great truth, viz., that there is no good in power, but merely the power of doing good. Upon our worldly prudence? Those who are acquainted with history know how often the best-laid designs have proved abortive. Are you proud of your distinguished virtue? He who is proud of distinguished abilities, learning, and wealth, is not the less able, learned, and wealthy, because he is proud of them. But he who is proud of distinguished virtue ceaseth to be virtuous by his being so. For the man that is pleased with any degree of virtue, merely because it is uncommon, would be sorry if what he values himself upon as a singular mark of distinction should become common, and all mankind should rise to the same eminence as himself in morality. Now this temper argues a want of benevolence, and consequently of virtue. But if human virtue affords no just grounds for pride, much less does human knowledge, which bears no proportion to our ignorance. The greatest and the least objects equally baffle bur inquiries. True knowledge is one of the strongest fences against pride. When good sense and reason speak, they come like their great Author, God, in “the still small voice,” without any empty voice or loquacity, or overbearing pretensions. And those who keep the best sense within seldom hang out the sign of knowledge. Men of this stamp will own their entire ignorance in many things and their imperfect knowledge in all the rest. Whereas the ignorant are sometimes positive in matters quite above their sphere, and, like some creatures, are the bolder for being blind. In a word, the ingenuous will confess the weakness of their reason, and the presumptuous betray it by their being so. After all, what signifies all the learning in the world without a just discernment and penetration? And what is the result of our penetration but that we see through the littleness of almost everything, and our own especially? That we discern, and are disgusted with, several follies and absurdities which are hid from persons of a slower apprehension? So that our superior sagacity resembles the pretended second-sightedness of some people, by which they are said to see several uncomfortable and dismal objects which escape the rest of the world. Some may perhaps value themselves upon the strength of their genius, the largeness of their heart, even as the sand upon the seashore, and the brightness of their parts. Alas! the strength of the passions, and the quickness of the appetites, generally keep pace with the brightness of the imagination. And hence it comes to pass that those who have, with an uncommon compass of thought, inculcated excellent rules of morality in their writings have sometimes broke through them all in their practice: the brightness of their parts enabling them to lay down fine precepts, and the strength of their passions tempting them to transgress them. To a man of strong sensations every delight that is gentle seems dull, and everything but what is high seasoned flat and tasteless. The consequence of which is, that, disdaining common blessings, and not able to enjoy himself without something out of the usual road, he overleaps these bounds which confine meaner mortals, and precipitates himself into an endless train of inconveniences. But let us suppose, what is not a very common case, that a brightness of imagination and a well-poised judgment are happily united in the same person; yet the brightest genius, the greatest man that ever lived may say, “O my God! that I live, and that I please, if ever I please, is owing to Thee. May it be, then, my uppermost view to do Thy pleasure, from whom I have the ability to please.” Dost thou value thyself upon popular applause and a great name? Think how many that have made a distinguished figure in the world are dead and unregarded as if they never had been, their deaths unlamented, their vacancy filled up, their persons missed no more than a drop of water when taken from the whole ocean. And is it worth our while to strive to please a vain fantastic world which will soon disregard us and think itself full as well without us, instead of laying out our endeavours to please that Almighty Being whose inexhaustible power and goodness will make His servants happy to all eternity? (J. Seed, M.A.)

Self-appreciation

1. Whatever is important is difficult. And it is exceedingly important and difficult to every man to take a right estimate of himself.

2. The cause of this difficulty is--

I. Two great dangers.

1. Of over-estimating ourselves.

2. Of depreciating ourselves. Many, no doubt, do this simply in affectation. They “think” proudly, while they speak humbly. But besides these, there are others who “think of themselves” in a way that--

II. The text steers us between these two rocks.

1. Before God we are, all of us, utterly bad. There is nothing in us that comes up to His standard. The memory of the past is one great humiliation; the sense of the present is all conscious weakness; the anticipation of the future is overwhelming every man who sees only himself.

2. But we should come to a false conclusion if we rested here. In every one who is born of God there are now two natures. The old one is there to abase and confound all, to drive all to Jesus Christ. In this new nature there are numberless degrees. Either God has been pleased by His sovereignty to give to one man more than He has seen fit to give to another; or some have cultivated them more than others have; and so it comes to pass that there are real distinctions between man and man.

E.g.

Presumption and ambition

I. The spirit of presumption consists in thinking ourselves adorned with accomplishments which we have not, in magnifying those which we have, and in preferring ourselves to others on account of these qualities, real or imaginary.

1. The first character of presumption is to imagine ourselves endued with virtues and good qualities, of which we have not the substance, but only the shadow and the false appearance. Of all the blessings which are bestowed upon the good, there is none perhaps more expedient, or more to be requested of God, than a spirit of impartiality with respect to ourselves, together with that accurate discernment, that care to distinguish between real probity and the false appearance of it, and that caution not to be imposed upon by hypocrisy and dissimulation, which we usually exert when we scan the actions and the pretensions of other people.

2. The second character of presumption is the magnifying those good qualities which we have. And here presumption is the more dangerous, because it is not the mere effect of extravagant fancy, but hath some foundation, something real, to trust to and to build upon. It is a common observation in the learned world, that a man’s genius and skill can only be estimated when his thoughts and his inventions are laid before the public; and that many a person who hath been cried up beyond measure by his friends and dependents, or by party zeal, hath fallen short of expectation. The same remark holds true in the moral qualities of the heart and mind. Hath a man resolutely exposed himself to dangers in a just cause? He is, then, a man of courage. Hath he rejected the tempting opportunities of growing great and rich by dishonest methods? He is a man of integrity. Is he uniformly just, equitable, charitable, modest, and temperate? and doth he behave himself to others as his relation to them, his station and situation require? Then may it be truly said that his virtues are real.

3. A third character of presumption is to ascribe to the qualities which we possess an eminence and an excellence that belong not to them. In general, all the qualities of mind and body, and all the external advantages which are commonly called gifts of fortune, all these are so far valuable as they are useful to ourselves and others, and no farther; so that, by being misapplied, they become pernicious.

II. Ambition is the natural effect of presumption, and may be called “a desire to obtain the rewards, which we think to be due to us.”

1. The first object of ambition is glory, esteem, reputation; and, in the desire of these things, there seems to be nothing irregular and vicious. To despise them may be a kind of stupid brutality. But there are excellent rules to be observed on this occasion.

2. The second object of ambition is an honourable rank and station, and places of power, trust, and profit.

A true ideal

A man who looks up all the time is never a great man to himself. Are you a poet? Then do not get poetasters to read and say, “I write better poems than they do, and therefore I am a better poet.” Read Milton, read Shakespeare, read Homer. Go to the old Englishmen of immortal thought, whose drums and trumpets have sounded clear down through the ages to this day. Go to the grandest and noblest of our thinkers and writers, sit in council with them, and then see if you are not a dwarf, a pigmy. It will make you humble to have high ideals. But a man who for ever measures himself by pigmies and dwarfs, and thinks he is better than they--what is he but a mountebank among pigmies and dwarfs? A true ideal tends to cure the conceit of men, and to rank them. Says the apostle, “Let every man think of himself as he ought to think, soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The measure of faith? What is faith? It is the sight of invisible excellence. It is the sight of noble qualities unseen. It is the sight of ideal grandeur. Let every man measure himself by that conception, and then think of himself as he ought to think; let him think of himself as lowly, and poor, and needy; and he may well call out for help and for grace. (H. W. Beecher.)

Odiousness of conceit

Conceit is a very odious quality. It loses a man more friends and gains him more enemies than any other foible, perhaps vice, in the world. It makes him harsh to his inferiors and disrespectful to his betters. It causes him to live at right angles with the world. It makes him believe that he alone is in the right; it warps his opinions in all things, makes him viciously sceptical, and robs him of the most glorious inheritance of faith, while it distorts his hope and totally destroys his charity. (Gentle Life.)

Conceit, ignorance of

A certain worthy of our acquaintance, being out of a situation, made application to a friend to recommend him to a place, and remarked that he would prefer a somewhat superior position, “for you know, Tomkins,” said he, “I am not a fool, and I ain’t ignorant.” We would not insinuate that the brother was mistaken in his own estimate, but the remark might possibly excite suspicion, for the case is similar to that of a timid pedestrian at night alone, hurrying along a lonesome lane, when a gentleman comes out of the hedge just at the turning by Deadman’s Corner, and accosts him in the following reassuring language, “I ain’t a garrotter, and I never crack a fellow’s head with this here life-preserver.” The outspoken self-assertion of the brother quoted above is but the expression of the thought of the most, if not all of us. “I am not a fool, and I ain’t ignorant,” is the almost universal self-compliment, which is never out of season; and this is the great barrier to our benefiting by good advice, which we suppose to be directed to the foolish and ignorant world in general, but not to our elevated selves. The poet did not say, but we will say it for him, “All men think all men faulty but themselves.” It would be a great gain to us all if we had those elegant quizzing glasses of ours silvered at the back so that the next time we stick them in our eyes, in all the foppery of our conceit, we may be edified and, let us hope, humbled, by seeing ourselves. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Self-knowledge

1. Destroys pride.

2. Encourages humility.

3. Promotes the glory of God.

4. Is only acquired through grace. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Self-knowledge, importance of

He (Socrates) did occupy himself with physics early in his career. In after life he regarded such speculations as trivial. “I have not leisure for such things,” he is made to say by Plato; “and I will tell you the reason: I am not yet able, according to the Delphic inscription, to know myself, and it appears to me very ridiculous, while ignorant of myself, to inquire into what I am not concerned in.

Self-knowledge, value of

To know one’s self to be foolish is to stand upon the doorstep of the temple of wisdom: to understand the wrongness of any position is half-way towards amending it; to be quite sure that our self-confidence is a heinous sin and folly, and an offence against God, and to have that thought burned into us by God’s Holy Spirit, is going a great length towards the absolute casting our self-confidence away, and the bringing of our souls in practice, as well as in theory, to rely wholly upon the power of God’s Holy Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Pride, the result of ignorance

The prouder a man is, the more he thinks he deserves; and the more he thinks he deserves, the less he really does deserve. A proud man--the whole world is not big enough to serve him. The little he gets he looks upon with contempt because it is little. The much that he does not get he regards as evidence of the marvellous inequality of things in human life. He walks a perpetual self-adulator, expecting until experience has taught him not to expect, and then he goes for ever murmuring at what he looks upon as partiality in God’s dealings with men. Such men are like old hulks that make no voyages, and leak at every seam. They are diseased with pride. They have the craving appetite of dyspepsia in their disposition. (H. W. Beecher.)

But to think soberly.--

Humility, Christian

I. Its nature includes--

1. A just estimate of ourselves.

2. A due esteem for others.

3. A constant recognition of Divine grace.

II. Its source. Consciousness--

1. Of dependence upon others.

2. That our gifts are but a small part of the fulness of the body of Christ.

III. Its evidence. In the--

1. Ready.

2. Patient.

3. Faithful consecration of our ability to the service of the Church. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Humility and knowledge

I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility doubt of his own power or hesitation of speaking his opinions, but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say and the rest of the world’s sayings and doings. All great men not only know their business, but usually know that they know it, and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually know that they are right in them, only they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who has found fault with his work, “It cannot be better done”; Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or two that would have puzzled anybody else; only they do not expect their fellow-men, therefore, to fall down and worship them. They have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them; and they see something Divine and God-made in every other man they meet, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful. (J. Ruskin.)

According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.--

The measure of faith

The water we draw from a well depends upon the size of the bucket; God provides us with the bucket as well as the water in the well of salvation. Or, again, gifts may be compared to the air we breathe, and faith to the lungs, by which we inhale and exhale; then the strength of the lungs would be represented by the measure of faith. (C. Neil, M.A.)


Verse 4-5

Romans 12:4-5

For as we have many members in one body.

St. Paul’s view of life

How comprehensively he surveys the whole range of human action and conduct! He starts from the consideration of men as constituting “many members in one body,” and he proceeds to direct them in their various offices. He passes in review the private and public duties to which they might be called--ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, and obeying; he depicts the spirit of the Christian in business and in rest, in joy and in sorrow, in hope and in tribulation, towards friends and towards enemies, in peace and in wrath; and he lays down the Christian principles of civil government and obedience. It is a picture of life in its length and breadth, and even in all its lights and shadows, transfigured as the landscape by the sun, under the renovating influence of those spiritual rays of love which illuminated and warmed the apostle’s soul. (H. Wace, D.D.)

Many members: one body

1. The early Church, like the latter, seems to have been deformed by many dissensions. Those who had the least conspicuous endowments envied those who had the more, in place of using such gifts as they had. In order to show the unreasonableness and the evil of this state of things, St. Paul often drew his illustrations from the human body, the parts of which had different offices; but no part of which could be dispensed with without injury to all the rest. So the Church was composed of many members, some of which were, comparatively, without honour, but none were without use; each had functions essential to the general well-being.

2. Observe what close links there are between the several classes in the community, and how the breaking of any one would dislocate the whole social system. “The king himself is served by the field.” The throne is connected with the soil; and the proud occupant of the one is dependent on the tiller of the other. When you look on a community like our own, with its nobles, merchants, teachers, men of science, artificers, you may perhaps think little of the peasantry. But were the peasantry to cease from their labours, there would be an immediate arrest on the pursuits of the community, and, from the throne downward, society would be panic-stricken. There, can, therefore, be no more pitiable spectacle than that of a haughty individual, who looks superciliously on those who occupy stations inferior to his own. And it would be a just method of rebuking his arrogance to require him to trace the production and progress of all that wealth or rank which ministers to his pride, till he finds it originate in the bone and muscle of these objects of his scorn.

3. “That the poor shall never cease out of the land,” is one of those wise and benevolent arrangements of Providence which so eminently distinguish the moral government of this world. One of the most fatal and common tendencies of our nature is to selfishness--the forgetting others, and the caring only for ourselves. And who can fail to see that the having amongst us objects which continually appeal to our compassion is wonderfully adapted for counteracting that tendency. It may be perfectly true that the indigent cannot do without the benevolent; but it is equally true that the benevolent cannot do without the indigent; and whenever you give ear to a tale of distress, and you contribute according to your ability to the relief of the suppliant, you are receiving as well as conferring a benefit. The afflicted being whom you succour, keeps, by his appeal, the charities of your nature from growing stagnant, and thus may be said to requite the obligation.

4. Observe how applicable is the principle of our text to the several classes of society. Of what avail would be the skill and courage of the general who had no troops to obey his command? what the ingenuity of the mechanic if there were no labourers to make use of his invention? what the wisdom of the legislator if there were no functionaries to carry his measures into force? In these and a thousand instances, the hand and the foot would be but of little use unless they were directed by the eye and the head; and the eye and the head would themselves be of little use if they were not connected with the hand and the foot. So true is it that we are “every one members, one of another.”

5. Turn to the Church, a community knit together by spiritual ties. And here the interests of the various classes are so interwoven that it can only be through wilful ignorance that any suppose themselves independent of the others. It may be true that ministers may be likened, in the importance of their office, to the more important parts of body, to the eye or the head; but in prosecuting their honourable and difficult employment, they are dependent on the very lowest of their people. Recur to what we said about the humanising power of the appointed admixture of the poor with the rich. If the actual presence of suffering be the great antagonist to selfishness, then the poor of his flock must be the clergyman’s best auxiliaries, seeing that they help to keep the rest from that moral hardness which would make them impervious to his most earnest remonstrances. You are to add to this that there is a worth in the prayers of the very meanest of Christians impossible to overrate. A rich man may feel attachment to his minister; and he has a thousand ways in which he may give vent to his feelings. But the poor man has little to offer but prayer, and therefore will he throw all the vehemence of his gratefulness into unwearied petitions for blessings on his benefactor.

6. On this great principle we uphold the dignity of the poor man, and the beneficial influence which he exerts in the world. Poverty will never degrade a man--nothing but vice can do that; poverty will never disable a man from usefulness, seeing that it cannot change his office in the body, and there is no office but what is material to the general health and strength. Why, then, are not our honest and hardworking poor to lift up their heads in the midst of society, in all the consciousness of having an important part to perform, and in all the satisfaction of feeling that they perform it faithfully and effectually?

7. We are “every one members, one of another”; and forasmuch as no man ever hated his own flesh, let it be seen that we are all animated with the spirit of charity. It is with reference to this principle that we are to be tried at the last. If we are all members of one body, Christ is the Head of that body; and, consequently, He accounts as done to Himself what is done to the meanest of His members. (H. Melvill, B.D.)

The Church compared to the body

I. In its unity.

II. In the plurality of its members.

III. In the diversity of their functions.

IV. In their mutual relation and dependence.

V. In the possession of one spirit. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Christian unity and diversity

I. Diversity underlying unity.

1. “We have many members in” the “one” natural “body”; and just so we, being diverse Christian members of His redeemed flock, “are one” mystical “body in Christ.”

2. In the natural body every part is not so much a distinct unit in itself as a fraction of one great whole; and so in the Church (John 17:20-21), not the individuality of the member, but the oneness of the whole community, is to demonstrate the truth of Christ’s mission.

3. This unity can only be realised by having a governing Head. Only as we abide in real heart and life fellowship with Christ do we form a body that is “at unity in itself.” If not bound together in the “unity of the Spirit,” the body must decay and dissolve into a mass of lifeless, separate members.

II. Diversity consistent with unity.

1. That diversity is consistent with unity is shown by the analogy of our frame.

2. Diversity of vocation and function is consistent in Christians (1 Corinthians 12:1-31.). The Divine will is that each member should have a special function, but that all should work together for mutual help.

3. Diversity in unity is the foundation of all true beauty and usefulness (see laws of nature, waves of the sea, winds, clouds, human nature, etc.).

Learn in conclusion--

1. We all belong to one another. None may say, “I have nothing to do with thee,” nor plead, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Therefore every Christian should try--

2. We are all necessary to each other--the rich to the poor and the poor to the rich; the sick to the hale as well as the hale to the sick. All can derive help from others, and all can give somewhat to others. All depend on each other in the wondrous “compacting together by that which every joint supplieth.” (Homilist.)

Every one has his place

A row of richly-gilded pipes, stately and massive, reaching to the ceiling, stares majestically down upon us as we gather in our place of worship. They seem to say all the melody and music of the instrument is gathered within us, and we are the musical genii of the place, and when the keys are swept by a skilled artist how rich and grand are the tones evolved! They seem to be fairly alive, and our souls are stirred to the depths by the harmony. Desiring to know their relations to the hidden modest reeds, that we could faintly discern in the darkened chamber behind, we asked our organist what relation did they bear to their unseen companions, and what was their relative power compared with the small pipes. His reply was: “All front pipes speak with force and power, but they would be utterly valueless, so far as music was concerned, unless backed up and supported by the delicate reeds that are hidden within.” How blessed the lesson taught the modest Christian workers in every Church! They look upon the few who occupy a prominent position as leaders, and in their timidity hide themselves, not allowing their own power to be felt, forgetful of the fact that all disciples are workers together with the Lord. In these days, when a few leading spirits are marvellously blessed by God, we must remember that their power is vastly increased by the sympathy and prayers of those whose names are only known to God. As the organ is incomplete if a single pipe is missing, and as it is thrown out of tune by a single reed not acting in harmony, so the Church is hindered from receiving a blessing, and its action impeded, if a single disciple is negligent of his or her duty. So let us in our quiet field toil on, pray on, knowing that he who is faithful unto death will receive the crown.

Individuality

The practical aim of each man should be to perfect his own variety, not ape another’s. A Luther could not be a Melanchthon. By no process could an Owen be made into a Milton. Individuality is indestructible. I am afraid that teachers and learners are often at fault in overlooking what is so very plain. You sometimes have ideal characters described and put before you for imitation, which never were and never will be realised, because they combine incompatibilities. Qualities are taken from men constitutionally different from each other, and you are told to be all that is represented in some unnatural amalgam. But God requires of you no such impossibility. Be yourself--that is the Divine will. Mature and perfect by His grace the gifts He has bestowed. Resist all easily besetting sins, and cultivate all possible good. Not excusing yourself for only doing what pleases you; for omitting acts of self-denial; for being one-sided, self-indulgent, and peculiar; strive to be as comprehensive in excellence as you can, without attempting to obliterate the stamp of your own individuality. Bunyan was a wise man, and therefore did not crush all imaginable good qualities into his Christian, but distributed them amongst a number of individuals; painting the picture of different pilgrims, and assigning to them varied offices of wisdom and love. (J. Stoughton, D.D.)

Mutual relations in life

Consider--

I. The relation which we bear to one another.

1. Our bond of union.

2. Our mutual dependence.

3. Our individual interest.

II. The duties arising out of this relation. Mutual--

1. Love.

2. Sympathy.

3. Help.

III. The manner in which these duties should be performed. With--

1. Care and diligence.

2. Patience and perseverance.

3. Love and cheerfulness. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Spiritual order

There arose a fierce contention in the human body; every member sought another place than the one it found itself in, and was fitted for. After much controversy it was agreed to refer the whole matter to one whose name was Solomon Wise-in-his-own-conceit. He was to arrange and adjust the whole business, and to place every bone in its proper position. He received the appointment gladly, and was filled with joy and confidence. He commenced with finding a place for himself. His proper post was the heel, but where do you think he found it? He must needs be the golden bowl in which the brains are deposited. The natural consequences followed. The coarse heel bone was not of the right quality nor of the suitable dimensions to contain the brains, nor could the vessel intended for that purpose form a useful or comely part of the foot. Disorder ensued in foot, head, face, legs, and arms. By the time Solomon Wise-in-his-own-conceit had reconstructed the body, it could neither walk, nor speak, nor hear, nor smell, nor see. The body was, moreover, filled with intolerable agony, and could find no rest, every bone crying for restoration to its own place--that is to say, every one but the heel bone; that was mightily pleased to be in the head, and to have custody of the brains. (Christmas Evans.)

Church fellowship: its privileges and duties

I. The oneness of the Church.

1. There is one source of activity and life in every human body, and so there is in the Church. There are various spheres in which we live and act. Those who possess natural and intellectual life can enjoy the beauties of nature, the endearments of friendship, the activities of business, the quiet of home, but all the while they may have no sympathy with that which is heavenly; but those who are possessed of spiritual life rise to a higher existence in which love prompts to unwearied activity in the service of God; and the source of this life is Christ. But our Lord came not only that we might have life, but that we might have it more abundantly; and, aware of the influence of association and sympathy, He gathers together His followers into a society in which they may help one another. But, just as with the individual, so with the Church. It is not the most scriptural doctrine, or the most apostolic discipline, or the most impassioned preaching, or the most crowded assemblies that can ensure the greatest prosperity, but the presence of Christ.

2. In this one body there must be harmony of character, or it would resemble the image of Nebuchadnezzar. There will be differences of gifts because there are differences of functions, but there must also be fitness for association, and to form a secure union all the members must be renewed by the Holy Spirit, be joined to Christ by a living faith, and exhibit the beauties of a consistent character.

3. In this oneness of the Church there is identity of interest. If one member of the body suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member is in health, all the members rejoice with it. Suppose a kingdom begins generally to decline, and there should be one profession which, for a time, continues prosperous, this cannot last long. And so in the Church. If discord springs up between those who ought to be bound together in the purest love, if error thrusts aside the doctrine of the Cross, if apathy spread over the people, if prayers are frozen and heartless, there may be members who will retain their spirituality for a time, but by and by they will yield to the general influence. But if peace binds Christians together--if the truth is maintained in its integrity, etc.

then each member will enjoy the benefit of the prosperity of the whole, and will find how blessed it is for them all to have one interest. And yet how frequently Church members seem to take but little interest in one another! They will see the declension of a brother and never warn him, the suffering of a brother and never sympathise with him, the want of employment of the gifts of a brother and never suggest to him that he should employ his gifts. And where there is this want of reciprocal benefit a Church rapidly declines.

4. The Church ought to have one aim. The body is created to show forth the glory of God. You see His glory in the works of nature around, in His word of truth, but chiefly in the grand work of redemption. But then, if a multitude of mankind never study this work of redemption, they cannot see its glory; and, for the most part, people will say, “We judge of the value of that system of redemption by its fruits”; and therefore ought we both by life and lip to recommend the gospel.

II. Each individual member has his appropriate duties to perform. It is by division of labour that so much can be done. One seems more fitted to advise, another to execute; one to warn and terrify, and another to cheer and comfort; and so all are called upon to employ their powers for some useful purpose.

1. All members must feel that they have joined the Church not only to receive good, but to do good.

2. Each member should strive to concentrate his efforts on the particular Church to which he belongs. Wherever there is diffusion there is a waste of power. Concentration is strength, and when God points out in His providence the particular Church to which we are to belong, He thereby points out the particular field in which we are to work.

3. The member who is doing nothing is worse than useless. When a limb is paralysed it only impedes the body. And let every person in Church fellowship remember that he cannot be simply neutral. If he is not doing good he is doing harm. His coldness benumbs, his example discourages others.

4. Every real member is essential to the completeness of the body. Every member of the human frame, however apparently insignificant, is essential. We are sometimes very poor judges of who is the best member. We are thankful for men of rank, wealth, influence, and talents, but we thank God also for the humblest spiritual Christian, whom, perhaps, God may see to be doing a greater work than those who seem great in the eye of the world.

5. All the members bear a close spiritual relationship to each other. Surely, then, there ought to be great sympathy and affection between them, because, when we have a common object and character, we generally feel sympathy and love.

6. If we are members one of another, there ought to be the absence of pride and of all assumption. God has ordained the different ranks in society, and He does not wish those ranks to be obliterated. The believing servant is not to show want of respect to the believing master, and the believing master is not to oppress the believing servant. But as members of the same Church all worldly distinctions disappear. We are all one in Christ.

7. As members one of another we ought always to aim at one another’s benefit. “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” etc. (J. C. Harrison.)

Communion of saints

What the circulation of the blood is to the human body, that the Holy Spirit is to the body of Christ which is the Church. Now, by virtue of the one life-blood, every limb of the body holds fellowship with every other, and as long as life lasts that fellowship is inevitable. If the hand be unwashed the eye cannot refuse communion with it on that account; if the finger be diseased the hand cannot, by binding a cord around it, prevent the life-current from flowing. Nothing but death can break up the fellowship; you must tear away the member, or it must of necessity commune with the rest of the body. It is even thus in the body of Christ; no laws can prevent one living member of Christ from fellowship with every other; the pulse of living fellowship sends a wave through the whole mystical frame; where there is but one life, fellowship is an inevitable consequence. Yet some talk of restricted communion, and imagine that they can practise it. If they be alive unto God they may in mistaken conscientiousness deny their fellow Christians the outward sign of communion, but communion itself falls not under any rule or regulation of theirs. Tie a red tape round your thumb, and let it decree that the whole body is out of fellowship with it; the thumb’s decree is either ridiculously inoperative, or else it proves injurious to itself. God has made us one, one Spirit quickens us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus; to deny fellowship with any believer in Jesus is to refuse what you must of necessity give, and to deny in symbol what you must inevitably render in reality. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 6-8

Romans 12:6-8

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.

Gifts of grace

1. Their common source.

2. Diverse character.

3. Liberal distribution.

4. Faithful exercise.

5. Happy influence. (J. Lyth D.D.)

Gifts: their Divine source

As many vapours, rising from the sea, meet together in one cloud, and that cloud falls down divided into many drops, and those drops run together, making rills of water, which meet in channels, and those channels run into brooks, and those brooks into rivers, and those rivers into the sea; so it either is or should be with the gifts and graces of the Church. They all come down from God, divided severally as He will to various Christians. They should flow through the channels of their special vocations into the common streams of public use for church or commonwealth, and ultimately return into the great ocean of His glory, from whence they originally came. (Bp. Hall.)

God’s gifts to the Church to be used for His service

I. Those of whom the apostle speaks. Members of Christ’s body, i.e., the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

1. But what is the Church? Ask Roman Catholics, the members of the Greek Church, some members of our own Church, or the various sects, they would claim each for themselves the title of the Church. Now these are equally wrong. The Church here spoken of is no particular ecclesiastical government whatsoever, but the spiritual Church of God’s elect throughout the whole world.

2. Here is the test of Church membership--“the measure of faith.” No person is a member of this Church but a true believer, nor can he exercise the gifts here spoken of except he has “the gift” of faith. The apostle’s illustration of the human body is totally inapplicable to the nominal Church. No such sympathy can be exercised unless men be mentally and morally conformed to God. Again, the string of spiritual duties inculcated in the text cannot be performed by mere nominal Christians. If you want a description of real Church members, read the opening address of almost every Epistle.

II. The persons of whom the apostle speaks are all possessed of gifts.

1. The time would fail me to tell of the gifts of God to individual members of His Church--outward gifts, such as station, property, influence, talent; official gifts, gifts of prophecy, of instruction, or those more directly spiritual gifts accumulated in the Church.

2. But the point of the passage is its reference to the diversity of gifts. Sometimes they almost appear to be capricious; one man rich, another poor; one richly gifted, another next akin to idiotcy; some with dispositions very amiable, others just the reverse. Spiritual gifts are not equally given to all. Some have such views of truth, such contemplations of heavenly things, that they seem to be admitted within the veil. Others seem just the reverse, going on heavily, and oftentimes cast down. So it is with all spiritual knowledge and attainments. This point is illustrated under the figure of the human body. What harmony, yet what diversity there! There is the head, the seat of wisdom; the countenance, of feeling and animation; then the various limbs or members of the body, more or less honourable; yet is the whole fitly framed together, each part marvellously adjusted to the other, and all mutually dependent.

3. But the most striking thought is that all are gifts of God. Money we may have earned by our own intelligence and diligence, but God gave us that diligence and intelligence. So with regard to our station in life. So most preeminently with His spiritual gifts. If we have any knowledge of the Scriptures, it is revealed to us by the Spirit of God.

4. Mark the lessons.

III. It is their duty and privilege to consecrate those gifts to the service of God. As masters and servants, parents and children, brothers and sisters, as individual members of Christ’s universal Church, we have each gifts entrusted to us; and whether our talents be few or many, feeble or strong, they are the gifts of God, and must be thrown by us into the common treasury of the Church for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. (Dean Close.)

Varied gifts

There is not greater variety of colour and qualities in plants and flowers, with which the earth, like a carpet of needlework, is variegated, for the delight and service of man, than there is of gifts natural and spiritual in the minds of men, to render them useful to one another, both in civil society and Christian fellowship. (W. Gurnall.)

Gifts, diversity of

Every man has received some gift--no man has all gifts; and this, rightly considered, would keep all in a more even temper; as, in nature, nothing is altogether useless, so nothing is self-sufficient. This, duly considered, would keep the meanest from repining and discontent, even him that hath the lowest rank in most respects; yet something he hath received that is not only a good to himself, but rightly improved, may be so to others likewise. And this will curb the loftiness of the most advanced, and teach them not only to see some deficiencies in themselves, and some gifts in far meaner persons which they want; but, besides the simple discovery of this, it will put them upon the use of lower persons, not only to stoop to the acknowledgment, but even withal to the participation and benefit of it; not to trample upon all that is below them, but to take up and use things useful, though lying at their feet. Some flowers and herbs that grow very low are of a very fragrant smell and healthful use. (Abp. Leighton.)

Unity and diversity

Diversity without unity is disorder; unity without diversity is death. (J. P. Lange, D.D)

Unity in diversity

The spirit resolves the variety into unity, introduces variety into the unity, and reconciles unity to itself through variety. (Baur.)

The requirements of true religion

I. Faithfulness in the church. Our gifts must be improved for the common edification (verses 6-8).

II. Love to the brethren--it must be faithful, yet kind.

III. Consistency in the world.

1. Diligence.

2. Fervour.

3. Cheerfulness.

4. Patience.

5. Prayer.

IV. Kindness to all men.

1. To the saints.

2. To enemies.

3. To all according to their need.

V. Humility.

1. In our intercourse with others.

2. In our aims.

3. In our judgments. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Usefulness, the least Christian to aim at

Many true saints are unable to render much service to the cause of God. See, then, the gardeners going down to the pond and dipping in their watering-pots to carry the refreshing liquid to the flowers. A child comes into the garden and wishes to help, and yonder is a little watering-pot for him. Note well the little water-pot, though it does not hold so much, yet carries the same water to the plants; and it does not make any difference to the flowers which receive that water, whether it came out of the big pot or the little pot, so long as it is the same water, and they get it. You who are as little children in God’s Church, you who do not know much, but try to tell to others what little you know; if it be the same gospel truth, and be blessed by the same Spirit, it will not matter to the souls who are blessed by you whether they were converted or comforted under a man of one or ten talents. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.

The gift of prophecy

I. Its nature and requisites.

II. Its design.

1. The edification of the Church.

2. The spread of truth.

3. Salvation of souls.

III. Its use.

1. According to the analogy of faith.

2. In faith. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The proportion of faith

1. “Prophet” means one who is the interpreter of another’s thought. In the Hebrew word there is involved the idea of a fountain bubbling up as from between rocks, subjected to pressure from without. The prophet often declared future events; but we must not limit his function to the prediction. He brought messages to men pertaining to the present practical duty of life.

2. “According to the proportion of faith.” The sense is made clearer by inserting “the” or “our faith,” i.e., the objective system of truth, the gospel. It is a vast, vital, co-ordinated system, built up a unity, like the root, the stem, and branch, or the wall, the tower, and spire of a building. The balance of every part with every other part is hinted at. What is it that God’s Word brings?

I. Great doctrines.

1. The eternal personality of God--a thought the pagan mind did not grasp. And science is dwarfed when it hides this pivotal thought.

2. His providential goodness and redeeming grace. His hand is in history. The history of the race is the history of redemption. It was God who led Paul to Damascus, Augustine to Rome, Savonarola to Florence, and Luther to Worms, His creative power, His providence and grace, like the mysterious trinity of Being to which they are related, fill us with adoring wonder. The Bible lifts the race, exalting its intellectual as well as its moral capacity.

II. The law of God which is as great as the doctrine of God. It is high above the codes of uninspired teachers. Love to God and man are the essential elements. Every element of life is reached and ruled by it. As one sunshine floods the breadth of the sea and the face of the smallest flower, so the law touches alike the mightiest and the meanest. It enters into the whole man. Courtesy in manner is philanthropy in a trait, and heroism of character is shown in the patience of love. In a word, the law is matched to the doctrine in its supernal character and reach.

III. A Saviour as great as either. He was announced by angels; a star led worshippers to His cradle; at His baptism a voice proclaimed Him the well-beloved of the Father. He laid claims on man’s service--blasphemous were He not God. He put Himself between parent and child, wife and husband; or, rather, above them all, in supreme authority. By His pierced hands, Christ, the crucified and risen Redeemer, has been guiding the course of empires, and is bringing in millennial eras. Really, though often unconsciously, has the world in its advancing civilisation reflected the glory of this majestic Prince of Life. He shall yet see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. On His head will rest “many crowns.”

IV. A universal spiritual kingdom is coincident in majesty and might with the foregoing elements. The idea of such a kingdom is unique and grand. To the Greeks other nations were but barbarians. Rome made other peoples her captives, without extinguishing their enmity or assimilating their life. But Christ founded His throne in the love of His redeemed people. All genius shall be developed, and all wealth shall be consecrated under the supremacy of Christ. Christianity shall be the glory of the nations.

V. Great warnings. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Here is, then, the “proportion of faith,” the harmony of truth, the “analogy” which knits all together in a definite unity. These are the substructural truths of revelation, which are to be studied and proclaimed, each in its time, place, and proportion. Conclusion:

1. As we infer the genius of the architect from the grandeur of the building, the genius of the poet from his verse, or that of the statesman and jurist from what emanates from each, so we infer the sublime greatness of God from this revelation of truth. Can any one say that the Scriptures are the product of the Jewish mind? As well might we say that the Atlantic came from the upsetting of a child’s breakfast-cup!

2. Attacking one point of this revelation is an attack on the whole. If one part be in error the value of the whole is vitiated, the entire edifice tumbles to pieces. All these facts of our common faith stand or fall together, as heart and brain are united. If one be paralysed, the whole suffers. If one stone be plucked from the arch, they all tumble in one heap; but in their entirety they reflect the Divine unity and eternity.

3. We rise into sympathy with God as we come into fuller comprehension of His truth. How unwise it is for one to try to banish God’s Word from his thoughts! Here is the romance of the world. The imagination, as well as the conscience of the race, is exalted by the truth of God. It ennobles the whole man. It enriches the life that is, as well as the life that is to come. (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)

Right proportions of truth

I. What is “faith” here?

1. If we are to understand the trust of the heart towards God, then the passage will mean, that “if any man prophesy,” or preach, he must do it “according to the spiritual experience which God has given him.” The measure of the faith is the measure of the life; and if we wish to raise the standard of our life, we must begin by elevating our faith. We cannot go beyond our faith; and we must not fall short of it. The great business of life is to square our words and actions to the faith which God has given us.

2. But we are to take “faith” here rather as signifying not the belief, but the things believed--our creed--“the faith once delivered to the saints.”

II. We must keep the general symmetry of the whole body of “the truth as it is in Jesus.”

1. There is no greater danger than disproportion--the source of almost all error. For the enemy of truth to present what is palpably false would at once startle and offend! But he secures his end much better, by putting before us what is in itself perfectly true, but which becomes false when not balanced by another and equal truth.

2. God has been pleased to give us a revelation; but He has given us also common sense. The Bible was never intended to be cut up into isolated texts. No book would bear it. If you take single sentences you may prove Socinianism, Popery, anything. What we have to do is to know all; to collate all; and to gather, from the Bible, in its integrity, the mind of God.

III. One or two things in which it is most important to keep “the proportion of faith.”

1. Each Person in the Blessed Trinity has His own prerogative, office, and dispensation. Some persons’ religion is all of the Father, others’ all of the Son, others’ all of the Spirit. See, however, how the works of each stand related to each other in the proportion of faith. The Father loved the world, and gave His Son to save it. The Son wrought out for us a complete salvation, and with Him we have union by faith. That union is our strength, and our life. That union once made, the Holy Spirit flows into us as the blood flows into a member of the body; or, as the sap flows into a branch, grafted into the tree. So that it is impossible to say to which we owe most.

2. According to “the proportion of faith,” there is a wide distinction between the process of our justification and our sanctification. We are justified at once, and perfectly, by a single act of faith; hut we are sanctified by degrees with effort, and even painfulness. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

The doctrine of proportion

Proportion means things in their right place, i.e., when one object does not unduly attract our attention above another. A well-proportioned figure, e.g., is where the head is not too large, or the hands and feet too small for the body. A well-proportioned building is that in which nothing is out of place or too large or small for its place. Apply this doctrine to--

I. Christian practice.

1. It is not enough to ask what is right in itself, but what is right under the circumstances. It is a great thing to have right men in right places, but it is also a great thing to have the right man doing the right thing in the right place, in the right way. A right thing done in a wrong way is often more mischievous than a thing done wrong altogether. A saying most true loses all its savour if said at a wrong time; and it is no defence to argue that it was good years ago or miles away. Is it good for us here and now?

2. Congruity, fitness, proportion, are the graces required for the spiritual as well as the material temple. We are not mere isolated blocks of stone, but “living stones, built up into a spiritual house.” What in one station or age is a grace, in another is a deformity. “To everything there is a season,” etc., says the preacher in that ancient discourse on the doctrine of proportion. How many good plans have come to nought, not from wickedness or opposition, but because men have exalted a virtue or custom out of proportion, and so have driven men into an equal disproportion on the other side--over strictness leading to over laxity, excessive rashness to excessive caution, etc.

3. And so the apostle tells us to act “according to the gifts given to us.” He that is endowed with the gift of preaching is to exercise his gift not in any other line, but in that. He that has the gift of practical work is not to rush out of his way in prophesying. Each has his own special calling; let us not waste our time or mar our usefulness by intruding into provinces disproportioned to our powers. Any one faculty indulged in excess becomes a curse, e.g., music, study, mechanical pursuits. How fatal to Louis XVI., who in the crisis of the French monarchy devoted himself to his favourite craft rather than to the task of saving the state; how useful to Peter the Great, who made it the means of civilising his barbarian empire!

4. In the defence of Lucknow the courage, subordination and zeal of each individual was sustained by the consciousness that on him rested the safety of the whole--a single outpost lost would be the loss of all. So if the fortress of goodness and truth is to be saved, it must be by every one doing at his own post the work that belongs to him alone. What discipline effects in the army is effected in our moral duties by a sense of the apostolical doctrine of proportion. Each one has his own work assigned him by the Captain of his salvation. Allow in others, claim for yourselves a division of labour and responsibility. A good master, servant, soldier, teacher, is made in no other way but by “waiting” on his place.

II. Christian method.

1. “He that giveth with simplicity.” How greatly the value of a gift depends on the manner of giving! “He gives twice who gives soon”; so he who gives with simplicity, i.e., with singleness of purpose, gives a hundredfold more than he who gives grudgingly, late, or ostentatiously. A thousand gifts ill given are hardly better than none.

2. “He that ruleth, with diligence.” He that has charge of a household, school, or commonwealth, may rule imperiously, and so that the institution may go on in apparent prosperity; and yet there may be wanting that peculiar method which will give life and substance to the whole. What is wanted is that he should rule with diligence, i.e. with heart and soul. This is the true secret of influence.

3. “He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” How easy to show mercy in such a way that it shall be no mercy! What is wanted is the bright smile, the playful word.

III. Christian truth.

1. It is important for the teacher to teach according to the proportion of his own faith; not to assume feelings which are not his own, not to urge truths of which he does not feel the value, but to teach according to his own knowledge and experience.

2. It is important for us all so to seek, find, and teach all truth, so as not to forget what are the due proportions of the truth itself. Christian truth is not of one kind only. It has lights and shades, foregrounds and distances, lessons of infinitely various significance. Woe be to us if instead of “rightly dividing the word of truth,” we confound all its parts together. We may believe correctly on every single point, yet if we view these points out of their proper proportions our view may be as completely wrong as if on every point we had been involved in error. (Dean Stanley.)

The danger of exaggerations in religion

1. Lord Bacon compares religion to the sun, which invigorates and cheers live animal substances, but turns the dead to corruption. Similarly religion invigorates a sound mind, and cheers a sound heart, while in a morbid mind it breeds superstitions, scruples, and monstrous fancies. We have only to survey the history of Christianity to see how just their comparison is. What follies, superstitions, licentious doctrines, have been founded on the Bible! This has arisen from a certain morbid tendency in the human mind to caricature truths presented to it.

I. Every heresy has been a caricature of some one point of Christian truth--an exaggeration by which the fair proportion of the faith has been distorted.

1. The truth upon which the Quaker founds his system, is that the New Dispensation is spiritual. No truth can well be more vital, and through the subtle encroachments of formalism it is necessary for all of us every now and then to ask ourselves whether we are properly awake to the fact that the law, under which Christians live, is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” written on the fleshy table of the heart, and that God is a Spirit, and therefore to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. The Quakers would have deserved the warmest thanks if they had done nothing more than bring these truths forward. But, unhappily, they caricatured them, and robbed the Church of her sacraments.

2. The fundamental truth of our religion is that “God is love,” and that He has shown His love by the sacrifice of His dear Son. Now certain divines have perceived this truth clearly, and it is impossible to perceive it too clearly, or proclaim it too loudly. But to say that anger is inconsistent with love, or that justice is inconsistent with compassion, and to acknowledge no relations with God as a Judge, because He stands to us in the relation of a Father, is to caricature the faith and mar its fair proportions. God loves me deeply, but He hates my sin, and will never consent to save me from its guilt without saving me from its power.

3. And where there is no actual heresy, this tendency may lead to a vast amount of unsuspected mischief. In many spiritual books a strain is put upon certain precepts which caricatures them, sets them at issue with other precepts, and cramps the mind which should strive after obedience to them. Take an example. When St. Francis of Sales was dying, he said to one of his attached disciples, “Bishop, God has taught me a great secret, and I will tell it you, if you will put your head closer.” The bishop did so, anxious to know what Francis considered as the crowning lesson of a life of holiness. “He has taught me,” said the dying man, who was acutely suffering, “to ask nothing, and to refuse nothing.” Now at this a sentimental pietism might perhaps whisper, “What beautiful resignation!” But is it in conformity to the Word of God, and the mind of Christ? We admit that we should refuse nothing which comes from our Father’s hand. But where has God taught His people to ask nothing? Did not our Lord pray, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me”? Good St. Francis erred by exaggeration, and caricatured the grace of resignation. Resignation is a heavenly and Christ-like grace; but if you will push it to every length, it becomes absolutely mischievous. Thus one might conceive a beggar doing nothing to improve his condition, on the plea that such was the will of God, and that mendicancy was the state of life to which tie had been called; forgetting that there is a maxim which says that “if any man would not work, neither should he eat.” In the lives of the Scriptural saints nothing is so remarkable as their perfect naturalness, and freedom from all overstrained spirituality. The great Apostle of the Gentiles, after a miraculous escape from shipwreck, gathers a bundle of sticks, and puts them on the fire (for St. Paul was not above feeling cold and wet); and when writing under the affiatus of the Holy Ghost, he bids Timothy bring the cloak which be left at Troas with Carpus, in anticipation of an approaching winter, “and the books, but especially the parchments”; for what studious man can bear to be without his books and papers? Among the early disciples you would have seen nothing overcharged in character or manner; nay, you would have seen little foibles, of temper, of superstition, of prejudice--you might have heard sharp words passing between great apostles, and you might have seen a damsel, recently engaged with others in prayer, in such a joyful trepidation of nerves when the answer arrived, that she opened not the gate for gladness.

II. How, then, shall the devout man keep his mind free from exaggerations both in doctrine and practice? By an impartial study of the whole of Scripture. Pray for the Bereans’ nobleness of mind who brought even the doctrine of apostles to the test of inspiration, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. How much more, when men are not apostles, must their doctrine be thus searched and sifted! (Dean Goulburn.)

The proportion of faith

It has been a matter of controversy whether “the faith” is to be understood in its objective or subjective sense, in other words, whether the caution is intended to guard the preacher against violating the due relation existing between one and another of the truths of revelation; or whether he does not rather use the word “faith” in its subjective meaning, and bid the Christian who is to exercise the prophetic office so to regulate his teaching as may be in accordance with the measure of faith attained by himself or his hearers. I can myself see no reason why we should not use the words in both applications.

I. First, taking the text in its objective meaning, what shall we say is the true proportion which is to guide us in our teaching? Surely in the first instance we must go to the Catholic creeds: these, surely, in the first place, are the natural exponents to us of the revelation of the New Testament. The great truth of the incarnation of the eternal Son lies, as we all should admit, at the root of all sound teaching connected with man’s relation to God. It is the one great central truth round which a theologian would group all the subsidiary truths, which we connect with the words “atonement,” “reconciliation,” “pardon,” “justification,” and the like. A number of other points of teaching, whether we count them matters of faith or of opinion, flow out of this central head. A clergyman--a scribe instructed into the kingdom of heaven--ought to see this relation between the several parts of revelation; but every clergyman even is not a formal theologian; and, deep as is the reverence still amongst our people for the English Bible, St. Paul’s Epistles are mostly read for other purposes than for that of tracing the interdependence of religious truth. We complain sometimes, and not without reason, of the way in which a past generation so magnified one particular doctrine, which they thought to be embodied in St. Paul’s writings, as to obscure altogether collateral and complementary truths; so as to give a thoroughly distorted image of the apostle’s teaching concerning the doctrine nearest to their own hearts. Our generation surely is not altogether clear from the same error.

II. But I suggested that St. Paul’s words, where he speaks of the proportion of faith, might fairly bear the subjective as well as the objective interpretation; in other words, he seems to imply that prophecy, to be effective for the edification of the Church, must be exercised in subordination, not only to the analogy of the faith of the Church itself, but also to the faith of the preacher, and I think also of the hearer. Am I wrong in saying that the prophecy of our days has not been always mindful of this rule? And has not this forgetfulness been one fruitful source of much of the disappointment which has waited on the ministry of good and earnest men? And we hear a great deal about the importance of defending the outworks from some who do not seem to understand altogether what is the citadel which they suppose these outworks to defend. I do not at all mean that there is of necessity any insincerity in all this, but there is, I think, a measure of unreality. The learner is not attracted by very decided statements on the part of the teacher, so long as there is a certain secret instinct in his own mind that the conviction of the speaker’s heart is not altogether in unison with the strength of his language. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh--words not spoken out of that abundance fall dead and powerless even upon the untaught ear. But there is a third, and a different aspect of the whole question.

III. The proportion of faith which we have to take into account is the faith of our hearers as well as the faith of the Church at large, and the force with which we ourselves have apprehended the realities with which faith deals. The days in which we live are days of excitement, of controversy; I must add also days of failure and disappointment to those who have the cure of souls. We have gone out, many of us, full of expectation, and we have returned full of disappointment, “we have sown much and we have brought in little,” and the bright lights of the early morning have ended in a very sober grey. Doubtless there are many causes working up to this result. Our expectation has been unreasonable, and it has been good for us that “tears, prayers, and watchings should fail.” But I venture to think that there has been also a great forgetfulness of St. Paul’s precept among us clergy. We have again and again looked for a sympathy amongst our people, which we had no right to expect; we have failed to apprehend the very wide difference between their standpoint and our own: we have expected to quicken their interest in religious truth, simply because our own has been quickened: and that new, possibly important, phases of doctrine should commend themselves to the spiritual apprehension of our people because they have so commended themselves to our own. These things are doubtless in a measure inevitable. I suppose every clergyman, in reviewing his own work and teaching, has found that he has fallen into many a mistake in his younger days from attempting to build up a super-structure where there was no sufficient foundation already laid. Sympathy with the spiritual and intellectual condition of others must of course be the result of experience. In a word, as years go on, I believe the oldest and the simplest standards alike of faith, and of devotion, and of practice satisfy us best. For dogmatic statements about the sacraments we turn to the catechism of our childhood, and we learn to see that all the refinements of more elaborate definition have added not one whit to the clearness of our apprehension of what is confessedly mystical. In like manner as the Lord’s prayer becomes to us the most complete and satisfying formula of communion with God, each petition in its iteration becoming more and more formal, but ever pregnant with fresh meaning and with new life, so also do the Catholic creeds supply us with all that we want as a standard of faith. Curious and intricate questions about which we were once very much inclined to speculate, we are content to leave where the creeds leave them, implicitly contained perhaps in their statements of truth, but no more. It is in them that we learn the true balance, the real proportion; and alike for our own soul’s guidance and for the teaching of our people, we fall back upon truths learnt at our mother’s knee, and we find words which once sounded a little cold and formal become ever instinct with a new life; for that indeed they contain all that a Christian ought to know and “believe to his soul’s health,” the love of the Father, the Incarnation of the Son, and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. (Archdn. Pott.)

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.--

Waiting on our ministering needs extra grace

I was in Cologne on a very rainy day, and I was looking out for similes and metaphors, as I generally am; but I had nothing on earth to look at in the square of the city but an old pump, and what kind of a simile I could make out of it I could not tell. All traffic seemed suspended, it rained so hard; but I noticed a woman come to the pump with a bucket. Presently I noticed a man come in with a bucket; nay, he came with a yoke and two buckets. As I kept on writing and looking out every now and then, I saw the same friend with the often-buckets and blue blouse coming to the same pump again. In the course of the morning I think I saw him a dozen times. I thought to myself, “Ah, yon do not fetch water for your own house, I am persuaded: you are a water-carrier; you fetch water for lots of people, and that is why you come oftener than anybody else.” Now, there was a meaning in that at once to my soul, that, inasmuch that I had not only to go to Christ for myself, but had been made a water-carrier to carry the water of everlasting life to others, I must come a great deal oftener than anybody else. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

He that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation.--

The faculties of teaching and exhorting

May be combined in the same individual; and indeed in these days, they are best laid upon one person, the ordinary minister of a congregation. Yet the two faculties are so far separate, as in other times to have given rise to separate functions; and accordingly, in the machinery of more churches than one, have we read both of the doctor and the pastor as distinct office-bearers. The one expounds truth; the other applies it, and presses it home on the case and conscience of every individual. The didactic and the hortatory are two distinct things, and imply distinct powers--insomuch, that, on the one hand, a luminous, logical, and masterly didactic may be a feeble and unimpressive hortatory preacher; and, on the other, the most effective of our hortatory men may, when they attempt the didactic, prove very obscure and infelicitous expounders of the truth. Both are best; and we should conform more to the way of that Spirit who divideth His gifts severally as He will, did we multiply and divide our offices so as to meet this variety. It were more consonant both to philosophy and Scripture, did we proceed more on the subdivision of employment in things ecclesiastical. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

Requisites to faithful teaching

I. Study--to secure right material.

II. Method--or the right way of communicating the truth.

III. Diligence.

IV. Simplicity--Or a right aim.

V. Above all faith--Or dependence upon Divine help. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Duty of teachers and ministers

On Egypt’s far-off soil, away from friends and home, just as the morning beams lit up the Eastern sky, an officer lay dying. With gallant daring he had led his followers through many a devious path, guided alone by the pale starlight of the heavens, until at last they reached the enemy; and now the strife is over, but he is wounded, mortally! As the general, his cheeks bedewed with tears, gazed down with sadness on his face, a sudden radiancy illumined for a moment the youth’s countenance as, looking up to Wolseley, he exclaimed, “General, didn’t I lead them straight?” and so he died. “Oh, brothers, when O’er our eyes there steals the film of death, and when the soul flits solemnly from time into eternity, may it be ours to say in truthful earnestness to Christ concerning those committed to our care, “We led the people straight.” (H. D. Brown, B.A.)

He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity.--

The triple lesson

What is the great object of human life?

1. To prepare to die, say many, an answer which contains a small modicum of right, and an overwhelming preponderance of wrong. To be prepared to meet death is, of course, a great object, but it is not itself the great object of life. If it were, on the same principle the great object of a journey would be to get home again; and of getting up in the morning to go to bed again at night, of a fire to consume fuel, and of reading a book to get through its pages. These absurdities bring out the truth that the fag end of a thing is not always the chief object of it.

2. The great object of life is to live, i.e., to do one’s duty as a Christian. And wherever this object is fairly and fully followed out, the last stage of life will be safe and easy. What thought is there so disheartening and disturbing as the thought that we must die, and we know not how soon? Let it be chased away with the reflection that it is our present duty to live, and the text is suited exclusively to living men; to men who will one day have to die, but whose business now is to live and do their duty.

I. To give “with simplicity.” The word simplicity is the opposite of duplicity. Let him do it with a single eye and heart, and without any second or double meaning. Let there be no undercurrent of unworthy motive, but one pure and simple desire of benefiting the recipients of his bounty (Luke 6:35). The case of those who never, or scarcely ever, give anything, is not mentioned. Perhaps the apostle left it as a case which carried its own condemnation with it, and therefore required no special mention. But those who do give are to watch the motive of their giving. They have been “bought with a price,” and they must give out of a feeling of gratitude to Him who hath done so much for them. Whatever they have has been given to them by God, and sooner or later they will have to give an account of their stewardship. That they may do so with joy they must aim at “simplicity” in the exercise of their trust.

II. To rule with diligence.

1. Persons in authority are too apt to forget or shelve their responsibilities; and there are numbers who repudiate the idea of having any authority at all. But there are very few who do not exercise some influence. Now the text drops a word of warning to all, from the queen downwards, and condemns those who talk about taking it easy, and leaving things to take care of themselves.

2. Ruling is not a process which can be performed anyhow. It requires care, and thought, and discretion. And if parents, masters, and mistresses will not take the trouble to look after their dependents, or lack moral courage to do it, we may be sure of an unsatisfactory result sooner or later. Wherever habits of idleness and indulgence, waste and extravagance, recklessness and imprudence, of unbecoming finery in dress, and morbid delicacy in eating, go uncorrected, there the seed of a fruitful crop of social evils is being sown broadcast. Such habits cling tenaciously to young people, and in the case of servants, the humble fare of whose future homes may present a painful contrast to the profusion of domestic service, such habits make them poor and keep them so.

III. To show mercy with cheerfulness. There is a great deal in the way in which a thing is done. The man who does a kind action, accompanying it with kind words and looks, doubles the favour which he confers. The term “cheerfulness” refers particularly to looks. What a beautiful illustration of the spirit of our religion, which seeks to bring our whole man, body as well as soul, our very looks as well as our words and actions, into captivity to the obedience of Christ! How it carries us back to the example of our Master, who never said an unkind word, or gave an unkind look, or did a favour grudgingly. There is a good deal of kindness in the world, but the kindness we experience is not always associated with “cheerfulness.” Who has not heard of the poor relation, and the dependent friend, mourning in secret, not always over unkind actions, but over kind actions unkindly done? (J. Mould, M.A.)

Giving

I. Is a Christian duty. Because--

1. An acknowledgment of our stewardship.

2. An expression of--

II. Should be performed with simplicity. With--

1. A generous heart.

2. A single eye.

3. A clean hand. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Giving with simplicity

is giving just as if giving were so natural that when a man gave he did not think of changing his countenance, manners, or air at all; but did it quietly, easily, beautifully. When you are going around for proper help, some men give so that you are angry every time you ask them to contribute. They give so that their gold and silver shoot you like a bullet. Others give with such beauty that you remember it as long as you live; and you say, “It is a pleasure to go to such men.” There are some men that give as springs do. Whether you go to them or not they are always full, and your part is merely to put your dish under the ever-flowing stream. Others give just as a pump does where the well is dry and the pump leaks! (H. W. Beecher.)

Giving, blessedness of

It is told of John Wesley that when he bestowed a gift or rendered any one a service he lifted his hat as though he were receiving instead of conferring an obligation.

Giving, penalty of not

A lady who refused to give, after hearing a charity sermon, had her pocket picked as she was leaving church. On making the discovery she said, “The parson could not find the way to my pocket, but the devil did.”

Giving, a sign of perfectness

When wheat is growing it holds all its kernels tight in its own ear. But when it is ripe the kernels are scattered every whither, and it is only the straw that is left. (H. W. Beecher.)

He that ruleth, with diligence.--

Ruling with diligence

I. The necessity of the ruler.

1. In the world.

2. In the Church.

II. The functions of the ruler

1. To maintain order.

2. Protect liberty.

3. Secure the common weal.

III. The duty of the ruler. Diligence, implying--

1. Self-sacrifice.

2. Attention to all. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness--

Showing mercy with cheerfulness

This instruction may mean--

1. That we should carry sunshine with us in our visits to the sick chamber or distressed home. In no case is cheerfulness or brightness so needed or so welcome.

2. That we should perform kind offices to the sick or sorrowful, not of constraint, but of a ready mind, con amore; not because it is our business as the paid or voluntary staff of a Church, nor as a matter merely of principle or habit, but of pleasure and privilege. That manner is something to everybody, and everything to some, is a maxim we should act upon when consoling those claiming our compassion. Besides, it is our privilege to show cheerfulness in soothing the sorrows of the afflicted, for no task tends more than this, if entered upon in a right spirit, to banish gloom and discontent from our own minds, and to enliven our own souls. (C. Neil, M.A.)


Verses 8-21

Verse 9

Romans 12:9

Let love be without dissimulation.

Christian legislation

Here are laws for--

I. Social intercourse. It must be--

1. Honest.

2. Pure.

3. Kind.

II. Business must be--

1. Diligent.

2. Conducted on Christian principles.

3. In the fear of God.

III. Temper.

1. Cheerful.

2. Patient.

3. Prayerful.

IV. General behaviour.

1. Benevolent to all.

2. Humble.

3. Forbearing.

4. Peaceable. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Marks of the Christian character

I. Hatred of evil. “Abhor that which is evil.” Hate--

1. Trivial sins as well as great.

2. Secret as well as public.

3. Personal as well as social.

4. In thought as well as in act.

II. Steadfast goodness. “Cleave to that which is good.”

1. In temptation.

2. In dishonour.

3. In persecution.

4. In suffering loss and danger.

III. Mutual love.

1. There is something to love in the worst of men.

2. Piety gives much to love and admire.

3. We must be stimulated by the love and example of Christ.

4. We ourselves want the love of all men.

5. Humility.

IV. Fervent industry.

1. Activity.

2. Piety.

3. Zeal.

V. Spiritual disposition.

1. Joy.

2. Patience.

3. Prayer.

4. Hospitality.

5. Sympathy. (Family Churchman.)

Sincerity the best qualification of charity

Sincerity is an indispensable ingredient of goodness; it stamps a valuable character upon all our actions, and recommends them to the favour both of God and man. It is an evidence of that respect which we pay to our Creator, who is the great Discerner of the thoughts of our hearts; and an instance of that justice which we owe to our fellow-creatures, who delight to converse with us with freedom and security. Hypocrisy on the other side is the blackest of all transgressions, and bears the badge of the original liar. It is directly injurious to the Divine nature, by pretending to elude His infinite wisdom; and pernicious to human society, by deceitfully imposing upon their finite understanding.

I. Let our love of God be without dissimulation. To love God without dissimulation is to love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength; to rejoice in His presence, to be constant in His service; and to let nothing share with Him in our hearts, so as to stand in competition with the duty which we owe Him. Now there are two qualifications which will engage us to be thus sincere in our affection. The one is the true value of the object of our love, and the other an assurance of His tenderness for us: but nowhere can we find these two strong inducements in so eminent a degree as in almighty God; and therefore nowhere else can we possibly be obliged to pay so hearty an affection as I just now mentioned.

II. Let our love of our neighbour be without dissimulation.

III. Let our love of ourselves be without dissimulation. To love ourselves without dissimulation is carefully to consult our truest interest; to endeavour to advance by all suitable means the real happiness both of our souls and bodies; to aim at the most lasting and most solid enjoyments. (N..Brady.)

Religious affections

I. “let love be without dissimulation,” i.e. without any of that pretence which goes by the name of acting. Actors represent characters which are not their own without intending to deceive; but in proportion to the excellence of their performance is the degree of illusion in the beholder. Be sure that you are not merely acting a part in your kindness to men or reverence to God. Feel what you profess to feel. Think as you seem to think. Else is your life little other than stage play.

1. How do men commonly express their love of God? By prayers, praises, honouring God’s Word and day and ordinances. But what if whilst they do all these things outwardly their hearts be far from God?

2. As to our love towards each other: what can be more like acting than to conceal our dislike by words of overstrained civility, or to offer a kindness which we wish never to have to do, or to inflict chastisement on the plea of duty, when we are all the while gratifying revenge?

II. “abhor that which is evil.” Here we see what Christians are allowed to hate and how far they may carry their hatred.

1. To wish that we might sin safely, to go as near to sin as seems anyhow allowable, and to envy the wicked in their prosperity, and when out of fear or prudence we have left off their practices, how far is this from abhorring evil?

2. Questions often arise as to whether it is fitting for a Christian to partake of this amusement, to engage in that employment, or to enter into the other company. In such discussions many argue as if it were desirable to take all the liberty they can. And frequently they act on the presumption that what is easy to argue is safe also to do. But how different would be their conclusion if they would but bear this text in mind! The mere suspicion that any conduct might possibly be wrong, should be quite sufficient ground for us to desist. And where duty may seem to put us in temptation’s way, we should at least take all the pains in our power to make it as little tempting to us as possible. We inquire not, when we hear of plague or famine, of battle or murder, which road will take us most into the way of them, but which will lead us altogether farthest off.

3. To abhor evil in our food is to abominate excess; in our drinking, to detest drunkenness; in our dress, to feel finery as great a burden to ourselves, as it is a folly in the eyes of others; in our thoughts, to recoil from uncharitable suspicion and unkind intentions towards men, and from unthankful regards to God; in our speech, to wish rather that our tongue should cleave unto our mouth than utter one word of bitterness or deceit; in our business, to hate idleness, and yet to loathe the very notion of heaping up hoards of wealth; in our dealings, to shrink with antipathy from dishonesty or oppression, and from that love of this present world which is treason to our Saviour Christ.

4. To abhor evil is not merely to avoid it because it is discreditable, not merely to fear to do it lest it should bring us into trouble, but to hate it for its own sake, because God has forbidden it, and especially because it was for the evil of our sins that Christ died on the Cross.

III. Cleave to that which is good.

1. Whatsoever our Lord has revealed to be believed, commanded to be done, given to be obtained on earth, or promised to be enjoyed in heaven, this is that which is good; this is that which we should so love as to cleave to it with the most fond and persevering affection. Constancy is the highest excellence in love (James 1:8; John 13:1; Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:7; 1 Peter 5:9).

2. It is easy to think good thoughts for short seasons: but how easy to do evil between whiles! It is easy to mean well: but how common to act ill! It is easy to form purposes of amendment; but how seldom do these lead to a renewal of life! Let us, then, lay to heart this counsel of the text. When once we have hold of any holy purpose let us never let it go. This is the only safe way to holiness and heaven. We must serve God through Christ continually. (Canon Girdlestone.)

Love without dissimulation

I. What is this? Love should--

1. Proceed from the heart.

2. Be expressed in the actions.

II. Why should we thus love? Otherwise it is--

1. Hypocrisy before God.

2. A deceiving of our neighbour.

3. No true love.

Conclusion: Love one another.

1. It is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10).

2. The special command of Christ (John 13:34).

3. The principal mark of a true Christian (John 13:35). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Love without dissimulation

is sincere--

I. In feeling and motive.

II. In expression and deed; it abhors evil.

III. In its choice attachments; it cleaves to that which is good (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Dissimulating love

If disinterestedness is anywhere to be looked for, it is in love. Many of our faculties are known to be venal. But one can hardly repress astonishment at the implication that this most princely of all the soul’s attributes is, after all, bribable. Yet it is so; and love dissimulates whenever it expresses more than it feels, and for an interested purpose. This we call blandishment. We trace this in--

I. The home. The gentle and unstudied ways of domestic love have nothing in the world to equal them. But because of that they are counterfeited. The wife would fain stay the anger of the husband, and she throws upon him an affection that she does not at all feel. He would fain charm away her jealousy by an affectionateness of demeanour that has only a purpose in it, and not a heart. She would subdue his obstinacy, and she throws round about him the arms of sweet caress, for the sole purpose of changing his will and gaining her end. Is there no occasion, then, to say, “Let love be without dissimulation”? If you would barter anything, let it not be the heart of love in man. I love the sturdy honesty, the simplicity, the truthfulness of love; and I abhor the arts and wiles and gaieties of love, that are mere baits.

II. The circle of friendship. Men are a thousand times more friendly than the capital of friendship will allow. They behave to each other in a manner which is deceptive even where it is a good-natured habit; but still more deceptive where it has an end in view, as constantly it has. I do not refer to that general kindness which we ought to express toward all. I do not criticise that etiquette, that kindly way, which real high breeding inspires. That is right. The host should be glad to greet every guest; but what if he should impress upon every man the feeling that he had the first place in the heart of his host? The artful addresses which are continually made to the weaknesses of man as if they were virtues--the flattery of silence, of surprise, of a well-timed start, of an interjection, of title and terms, is not honest. Although there may be a half-consciousness in the victim that all this is feigned, yet it is too sweet to be refused, and he is damaged by it as much as the person that uses it.

III. Coquetry. The dissembling some of the phases of love is a lure which both men and women employ for the promotion of their personal pleasure and self-love. It is a common trick to inspire those about you with an inordinate opinion of their worth in your eyes. To all coquettes the apostle’s injunction should come most solemnly.

IV. Social life. There is a loathsome parasite which fastens on men and upon families--viz, the toady. It is the business of such despicable creatures to suck out their own living by assuming all the airs and practising all the blandishments of a true friendship. They praise your words. They take your side in every quarrel. They are a false mirror in which you are handsomer than you are really by nature. Such persons stop at no falseness. They wear all the habiliments of affection only to soil them. They are the bloodsuckers of the heart. And applied to such, the apostolic injunction is terribly pointed.

V. The world of business.

1. See the cunning confidential clerk, or confidential lawyer, that nestles under the wing of the rich principal. See how in everything he praises him; how he avoids his anger; how he cripples every element of manhood that he may still lie close to the favour of his rich patron--and all for his own sake. Society is full of these despicable creatures.

2. But many a merchant will put on all the airs of a flatterer in order that he may manage a rebellious creditor, or save a large debt, or prepare the way for a great success. A man comes down to the city prepared to make large purchases. The one who gets that man gets a plum! And straightway is anything too good for him? What are his vices? The clerk must feed them. He must be invited home. Your noble-hearted wife resents it. The man’s character is questionable. “But,” says the husband, “my interest depends upon our dining him. Mr. A. is going to dine him to-morrow, and Mr, By next day; and he must come to our house to-day.” And hospitality has to be bribed, so that when the man has been feasted and patted, it shall be easier to drive a good bargain with him. And when the whole game has been played, the man smiles, and says, “I angled for him. He was cautious, but rose to the bait, and I landed him!”

3. On what a large scale is this carried out! It is organised. Boards of direction carry out, as a part of their schemes, the rites of hospitality. How are legislatures dined and wined! When rich, combined capitalists wish to secure some great contract, or interest, how do they put on all the guises of sympathy and intense consideration! How do they spin silver and golden webs upon men that they laugh at behind their backs! And do men think that is wrong? It is said that “When a man is in Rome, he must do as Romans do.” And when a man is in hell, I suppose, he must do as hellions do! Business needs to hear God saying to it, “Let love be without dissimulation.”

VI. Politics. When once a man is bitten with the incurable fever of candidacy, see how first of all things he begins to employ the language of strong personal regard toward every man that has a vote. Before an election “condescension to men of low estate” seems to men to be the very fulness of the Bible. A vote! a vote! Anything for a vote. But as soon as the vote has done its work, and the office is secured, what a blessed balm of forgetfulness comes over him. He really does not know anybody out of his own set. The hypocrite! (H. W. Beecher.)

Abhor that which is evil.

Abhorrence of evil

I. What evil.

1. Sin (1 John 3:4).

2. Punishment (Isaiah 45:7).

II. What is it to abhor it?

1. Our settled judgment that it is evil.

2. A hatred to it for its own sake (Psalms 119:113).

3. An aversion from it (Ezekiel 33:11).

III. Why should we abhor it?

1. It is contrary to God’s nature.

2. Repugnant to His laws (John 3:4).

3. Destructive to our souls.

IV. Means of exciting this abhorrence.

1. Always remember that you are Christians.

2. Avoid the occasions of sin (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

3. Often think whom it displeases--the great God (Genesis 39:9).

4. Live always as under His eye (Psalms 139:7).

5. Remember that thou must answer for it (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

Conclusion:

1. Repent of sins already committed; for--

2. Abhor it so as not to commit sin hereafter. Consider it is--

3. Unless you abhor evil God will abhor you, and you will abhor, but ineffectually, evil and yourselves too, to all eternity. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Abhorrence of evil

It is the peculiarity of Christianity that while it aims to exclude all sin from the heart, it does not dismember the soul by excluding from it any faculty that is natural to it. Of these hatred is one--one terribly liable to abuse, but rightly used a potent instrument in the suppression of evil.

I. What is evil? It is twofold. A hidden power in the soul--

1. Like the poison in the berry, or the deadly lightning hid in the thunder-cloud; and as it assumes a concrete form in evil men, books, institutions, etc., i.e., evil appears in character and conduct. It is guilt and pollution.

2. It is vice and crime; the one personal, the other social. Crimes sometimes shock us too much; vices almost always too little.

II. What is it to abhor evil. Abhorrence is the opposite of love. Love seeks to possess the object loved, and then to perpetuate it. Abhorrence casts the evil thing out of our heart, and then seeks to chase it out of the world. It contains the ideas of separation and destruction.

III. Why we should abhor evil.

1. This is the very end for which Christ died--“to destroy the works of the devil.”

2. It is implied in sanctification which is separation to God, and therefore separation from evil in thought, affection, purpose, practice.

3. Your personal safety lies along that line, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

4. God employs the hatred of good men to sin as an instrument for its suppression in others.

5. No other course is open to us. We must not compromise with evil, we cannot utilise it, it is impossible to control it; we must therefore either yield to it or cast it out.

IV. Difficulties and dangers.

1. Evil is associated with fine qualities. Don Juan and the Hebrew Lyrics are in the same volume. There are paintings in the first style of art which would be best seen at midnight without a light. Burke said, “Vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness.”

2. Spurious charity. Ignorance, weakness may be used as a shield and pleaded as an excuse.

3. Social connections.

4. Self-interest.

5. Temperament. The violent and hasty, the easy and indolent are ever ready to extenuate or condone evil.

6. Timidity which shrinks from the consequences of active strife against sin.

7. Familiarity with evil.

8. Diverging views.

9. Our innate love of evil. (W. Bell.)

The duty of abhorring evil

How many shun evil as inconvenient who do not abhor it as hateful; while yet the abhorrence of evil here demanded of us implies a great deal more than that shunning which satisfies, as we often think, every claim which can be made upon us. This vigorous abhorrence of evil has been the mark of God’s saints and servants in all times, and from the very beginning. Let me rapidly gather a few notable proofs. More than forty years had elapsed since that treacherous murder of the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi; but with what a still lively abhorrence, as though it had been the crime of yesterday, does the aged Israel, on his death-bed, disclaim any part or share in that bloody act, and detect and denounce it:--“O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, he not thou united.” Then, too, in a life which made many flaws, I mean in that of Lot, the most honourable testimony which is anywhere borne to him is this, that he was “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked”; that he “dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” Still more plainly and signally does this appear in David. Hear him, as he is speaking before a heart-searching God--“I hate the works of them that turn aside”; “Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?” with many more utterances to the same effect. The same voice finds its utterance in other Psalms, which, though they be not David’s, yet breathe the spirit of David. “How often, for example, and how strongly, in the 119th Psalm--“I have vain thoughts”; or, again, “I beheld the transgressors and was grieved”; it was not, that is, a thing indifferent to him, but pain and grief that men are breaking God’s law. And as with these, so no less with the righteous kings of Judah in later times--the Asas, the Hezekiahs, the Josiahs. What the others gave utterance to in word, these, as occasion offered, uttered and expressed in deed. But most signally of all this abhorrence of evil comes out in Him of whom it is written! “Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” That “Get thee behind Me, Satan,” uttered once to the adversary in the wilderness, was the voice of His heart at every instant, was the keynote to which His whole life was set. If all holy men have felt this abhorrence of evil, it may be well worth our while to inquire whether we have any of this righteous passion in our hearts.

1. And first, how fares it with us in regard of our temptations? Do we parley and dally with them, and to have thus, as by a certain foretaste, some shadow of the pleasure of the sin without the guilt of it? Do we plot and plan how near to the edge of the precipice we may go without falling over? Or do we rise up against temptations so soon as once they present themselves to us, knowing them afar off, indignant with ourselves that they should so much as once have suggested themselves to our minds.

2. Again, the light in which a man regards the old sins into which he may have been betrayed is instinctive, as furnishing an answer to this question, Does he really abhor what is evil?

3. But another important element is this self-examination, whether we be abhorrers of evil or no, is this: In what language are we accustomed to talk of sin, and of the violations of God’s law? Have we fallen into the world’s way, taken up the world’s language in speaking about all this?

4. But, once more, is the sin which is in the world around us a burden to our souls and spirits? Could we with any truth take up that language of the Psalmist, “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved”? or, again, “Mine eyes run over with tears, because men keep not Thy law”? or that which found its yet higher fulfilment in the Saviour Himself, “The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me”? Or do we rather feel that if we can get pretty comfortably through life, and if other men’s sins do not inconvenience or damage us, they are no great concern of ours, nothing which it is any business of ours to fight against? If it be thus with us, we have not yet learned the meaning of these words, “Abhor that which is evil.” One or two practical observations in conclusion. Seeing then, that we ought to have this lively hatred of evil, that, tried by the tests that have been suggested, there are probably few, if any, among us who have it to the extent we ought, how, we may very fitly inquire, shall we obtain it? St. Paul tells us how, when in the same breath he bids us to “abhor that which is evil,” and to “cleave to that which is good.” It is only in nearer fellowship with God, and by the inspiration of His Spirit, that we can learn our lesson of hating evil. It is in His light only that we can see light or that we can see darkness. It is holiness that condemns unholiness; it is only love which rebukes hate. Here, therefore, is the secret of abhorring evil, namely, in the dwelling with or near the Good, and Him who is the Good. From Him we shall obtain weights and measures of the sanctuary whereby to measure in just balances the false and the true; from Him the straight rule or canon which shall tell us what is crooked in our lives, what is crooked in the lives around us. (Archbp. Trench.)

Abhorrence of evil

I. Every faculty has in itself a constitutional repugnance to that which to it is evil.

1. It is a part of its health that it should have this power of rebound. The lowest forms of this feeling are simply those of dislike, then repugnance, then hatred, and then abhorrence. The very word, in its etymology, signifies that kind of affright which causes the quill or the hair of an animal to stand on end, and throws it into a violent tremor, and puts it into the attitude either of self-defence or aggression, so that every part of it is stirred up with a consuming feeling.

2. Is it not a dangerous weapon to put into a man’s hands? It is a very dangerous weapon. So is fire. We must therefore use it, and use it discreetly.

3. You must learn to be good haters--but not of men. Ah! there are hundreds of men that know how to hate men, where there is one that knows how to love a man and hate evil. True, evil may in extreme cases become so wrought into individual persons that we scarcely can distinguish the one from the other; but ordinarily it is not so.

4. We are to hate all crimes against society. Whether these be within the express letter of the law or not, whether they be disreputable in the greater measure or in the less is quite immaterial. We are also to hate all qualities and actions which corrupt the individual; which injure manhood in man; all that creates sorrow or suffering, or tends to do it.

II. The want of this moral rebound will be found to be ruinous. It destroys the individual to whom it is lacking, and it is mischievous to the community in which it is lacking.

1. Hatred of evil is employed by God as one of those penalties by which evil is made to suffer in such a way that it is intimidated and restrained. It makes evil hazardous. In a community where men can do as they please, wickedness is bolder. Selfishness is hateful; and if men express their hatred of it, selfish men are afraid to be as selfish as they want to be. Corrupt passions--the lava of the soul, which overflows with desolating power at times in communities--are greatly restrained by intimidations, by the threat of men’s faces, and by the thunder of men’s souls.

2. Abhorrence is indispensable to the purity of a man’s own self who is in the midst of a “perverse and crooked generation.” Now, the expressions of this feeling are by reaction the modes in which moral sense, the repugnance to evil is strengthened. And if you, for any reason, forbear to give expression to the feeling, it goes out like fire that is smothered. A man is not worthy of the name of man who has no power of indignation. I have heard it said of men that they died and had not an enemy. Well, they ought to have died a great while before! For a true man, a man that knows how to rebuke wickedness, finds enough of it to do in this world. Has a man lived forty or fifty or sixty years and never rebuked wicked man enough to make that man hate him, so that you can put on his tomb, “He has not left an enemy”? Why, I could put that on a cabbage field.

III. The lack of this abhorrence is pitiably seen--

1. In the pulpit. What are pulpits good for that go piping music over the heads of men who are guilty of gigantic transgressions? It is sad to see pulpits that dare not call things by their right names. A man had better be a John, and go into the wilderness clothed in camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey, than to be a fat minister in a fat pulpit, supporting himself luxuriously by betraying God and playing into the hands of the devil.

2. In public sentiment itself. It refuses to take high moral ground, and to be just and earnest. To a certain extent the evil is less in newspapers, yet it is seen very glaringly there also. We are not deficient in newspapers, which, when they are angry, avenge their prejudices and passions with great violence. But to be calm, to be just, and then without fear or favour, discriminatingly but intensely to mark and brand iniquity, and to defend righteousness--this is to make a newspaper a sublime power over the community. Alas! that there should be so few such newspapers. I think it high time that we should speak more frequently on this subject. The want of indignation at flagrant wickedness is one of the alarming symptoms of our times. (H. W. Beecher.)

Abhorrence of evil

It needs no special meditation on natural history, if one meets a bear, a wolf, or a lion, to enable him to determine what he shall do. There is no time for raising questions of fact. Men do not stop to say, “After all, has not this leopard, that is so beautiful, been rather misunderstood? and may there not be a way of treating him which shall win him to beauty within as fine as the beauty that is without?” Men do not reason so about serpents, or scorpions, or tarantulas, or stinging creatures of any kind. Men have a very short process of dealing with them; they treat them to the foot or to the hand without hesitation; and they must, or accept annihilation, or else fly. Men are instant, uncompromising in their action, at times, because there are certain great tendencies that stand connected with a man’s life which, it has entered into the common sense of men, are so dangerous that they are to be abhorred instantly. If one wants to carry a tarantula into the lecture-room for the purpose of instruction in natural history, and wants to subject him to various experiments, that is one thing; that is professional; but for common life, and for common folk, we kill such creatures. (H. W. Beecher.)

Six should be hateful

Let me illustrate this very simply. Here is a knife with a richly-carved ivory handle, a knife of excellent workmanship. Yonder woman, we will suppose, has had a dear child murdered by a cruel enemy. This knife is hers, she is pleased with it, and prizes it much. How can I make her throw that knife away? I can do it easily, for that is the knife with which her child was killed. Look at it; there is blood still upon the handle. She drops it as though it were a scorpion; she cannot bear it. “Put it away,” saith she, “it killed my child! Oh, hateful thing!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Cleave to that which is good.--

Cleaving to that which is good

I. What is good. That which has all things required to its perfection. There is--

1. Transcendent good, God (Luke 18:19).

2. Natural good, perfect in its nature (Genesis 1:31).

3. Moral good, conformity to right reason (1 Timothy 2:3).

II. What is it to cleave to that which is good.

1. To approve of it.

2. To desire it.

3. To be constant in practising good works, so as to cleave to them and be one with them.

III. Why are we to cleave to that which is good. Because--

1. We are constantly receiving good from God.

2. We are commanded to be always doing good (Luke 1:75; Proverbs 23:17; Psalms 119:96).

3. When we do not good we sin.

IV. How are we always to do good. To this is required--

1. Faith in Christ.

2. It must be agreeable for the matter, to the Word of God (Isaiah 1:12).

3. Done in obedience to that Word (1 Samuel 15:22).

4. Understandingly (1 Corinthians 14:15).

5. Willingly (Psalms 110:3).

6. Cheerfully (Psalms 40:8).

7. With the utmost of our power (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

8. In faith (Romans 14:23).

9. Humbly.

10. To the glory of God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

V. Cleave to that which is good, so as always to do it. Consider:

1. How honourable an employment it is (1 Samuel 2:30). The work--

2. How pleasant.

3. How profitable. Hereby thou wilt gain--

Cleaving to theft which is good

We all know how the ivy clings to the wall or to the tree, casts out innumerable little arms and tentacles by which it attaches and fastens itself to it, seeking to become one with it, to grow to it, so that only by main force the two can be torn asunder. It is something of this kind which is meant here. In such fashion cleave to that which is good; and if “to that which is good,” then, as the sole condition of this, to Him that is good, who is the Good, the Holy, the Just One. (Abp. Trench.)


Verse 10

Romans 12:10

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.

Duties of Christians to each other

1. All men ought to love each other as men because brethren by Adam. The world is one common family, split up by sin, but to be united again by Christian love.

2. All Christians ought to love each other, because begotten by one Spirit. Grace has done little for those who indulge in the same feelings as unregenerate worldlings.

3. All Christian Churches ought to love each other because under the rule of the same King. Alas, how little do we see of this! Paul lays down three rules for the guidance of Christians towards each other.

I. Be kindly affectioned. The world’s morality says, Take care of self. Paul teaches the reverse. Scoffers say that many moral men are better than professors. Not better than true professors. And besides, the world must remember that it is indebted to Christianity for its high-toned morality. Christianity has developed the spirit of disinterestedness and self-sacrifice in the world. The affection of the text is not the sympathy, assistance and respect which prevail among moral men, but an affection begotten of love to God.

II. In brotherly love. What more beautiful than a harmonious family--defending each other’s characters, and caring for each other’s wants. This--only purer, brighter, more fervent--should be seen in the Church. Each Christian should defend his brother, help the weak, and regard all with unbounded charity. Brotherly love avoids saying or doing anything that would offend the modesty or honour of a brother.

III. In honour preferring one another. In love and honour outdoing each other. Taking the lead, showing the example in giving honour. How often we strive to outdo each other in getting honour! If there must be contention, let it be an honest strife who shall be most humble and useful. We should in honour prefer one another because--

1. We know ourselves best. We know our evil hearts, and looking into them, we can easily believe that others are better and more deserving.

2. It would curb uncharitable thought, and uncharitable speech.

3. It would tend to the cultivation of the grace of humility.

Lessons:

1. Cherish no evil towards a brother. No Church can prosper which is not united by the love of God.

2. Resentment is almost sure to beget resentment.

3. He that would be the most honoured must be the most humble. (J. E. Hargreaves.)

Kindly affection and brotherly love

The words in the original are more strong and specific than in our translation. The being kindly affectioned is expressed by a term which means the love of kindred, or by some called instinctive; and which is far more intense than the general good liking that obtains between man and man in society, or than ordinary friendship. And, to stamp upon it a still greater peculiarity and force, “brotherly love” is added to it--an affection the distinction of which from that of charity is clearly brought out by Peter (1:7), “And to brotherly kindness add charity”--the same with brotherly love in the original; and as distinct from general love or charity in the moral, as the magnetic attraction is from the general attraction of gravity in the material world. This more special affinity which binds together the members of the same family; and even of wider communities, as when it establishes a sort of felt brotherhood, an esprit de corps, between citizens of the same town, or inhabitants of the same country, or members of the same profession, and so originates the several ties of consanguinity or neighbourhood or patriotism--is nowhere exemplified in greater force than among the disciples of a common Christianity, if theirs be indeed the genuine faith of the gospel. It is in fact one of the tests or badges of a real discipleship (1 John 3:14). It gives rise to that more special benevolence which we owe to the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), as distinguished from the common beneficence which we owe “unto all men,” and which stood so visibly forth in the first ages among the fellow-worshippers of Jesus as to have made it common with observers to say, “Behold how these Christians love each other.” (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

Kindly affection and brotherly love

I. Wherein are we to express our affection to one another?

1. In desiring one another’s good (1 Timothy 2:1).

2. In rejoicing in one another’s prosperity (Romans 12:15).

3. In pitying one another’s misery (Romans 12:15; Isaiah 63:9).

4. In forgiving one another’s injuries (Matthew 6:14-15).

5. In helping one another’s necessities (1 John 3:17-18).

II. Why so kindly affectioned.

1. We are commanded to do it (John 13:34).

2. No other command can be performed without this (Romans 13:10).

3. Neither can we love God without it (1 John 3:17).

4. This is true religion (James 1:27).

5. Because we are all brethren--

Conclusion: Be kindly affectioned to all persons. Objections:

1. They are wicked.

2. They wronged me.

3. But they are still my enemies. Then thou hast a special command to love them (Matthew 5:44; Mat_5:46). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Kindness, words of: their influence

Good words do more than hard speeches, as the sunbeams, without any noise, will make the traveller cast off his cloak, which all the blustering winds could not do, but only make him bind it closer to him. (Abp. Leighton.)

Brotherly love

All men are objects of God’s compassion; and we are required to approve ourselves His children by manifesting a like spirit of love towards all men (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:25-37). But as a man, while cherishing affection for every man, is required also to have special affection or his country, near kindred, and very specially his parents, wife, and children; so a Christian is required to cultivate a peculiar affection towards his fellow-Christians.

I. The ground or reason of this special brotherly affection. Their common special relationship to God and through Him to each other. They are “all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The model for this love is the example furnished by Him who is “the Firstborn among many brethren” (John 15:12-13; 1 John 3:16; Ephesians 4:32; Eph_5:1-2). The special reasons are--

1. The world’s hatred (John 15:18-19; Mark 10:28-30). It was doubtless in anticipation of the manifestation of this affection.

2. The more effectual advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world (John 13:31-35; Joh_17:11-21).

3. That the mutual oversight and care necessary to promote each other’s spiritual perfection might be ensured (Philippians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24; Colossians 3:16; Galatians 5:13).

II. Its special characteristics.

1. Kindly or family affection. The word φιλόστοργος expresses properly the strong natural affection between parents and children. Love here is within a sacred enclosure, being more conscious of a common interest, and more profoundly affected by the joy or grief, the success or failure of any one within the circle. On this account it is more jealous of the character and reputation of its objects, because of the consciousness that anything disreputable on the part of one brings discredit, on the whole. It is also more sensitive, because of its greater intensity, being painfully alive to things which outside that sacred circle would hardly be considered worthy of notice.

2. Emulousness to take the lead in showing respect to the brethren. “In honour preferring one another” (Philippians 2:3). The apostle’s meaning is not that, in respect to honour, we are to strive to excel or to anticipate each other; although of course there is a sphere for legitimate rivalry. And as every one may lawfully covet earnestly the best gifts, so every one ought to endeavour so to excel in all goodness. But it is more agreeable to the context to render, “In yielding, or giving honour to each other, taking the lead,” i.e., Let every one of you so love the brethren as to set an example of true Christian courtesy. (W. Tyson.)

Brotherly love

I. It is possible to be in some measure kindly affectioned one to the other, without having that love of which the apostle speaks. There is a natural affection in man’s heart--the love of parents and children, brothers and sisters. This affection may often be seen strongly in those who are strangers to true religion.

II. How greatly is this affection exalted when grafted with a higher principle of Christian love. The grace of God does not destroy natural affection, but increases and purifies.

1. It springs from higher and purer motives--from love to God and a sincere endeavour to obey the command of Christ, that “we should love one another.”

2. It aims at higher ends--the glory of God, and the spiritual good of those we love.

3. It gives more entire confidence one with another.

4. It is more certain, more steady.

5. It spreads wide. While it seeks first the happiness of those most near and dear, it embraces also all who are of the household of faith.

III. The ways in which this affection wilt show itself.

1. In the honourable preference of one another; in lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than ourselves.

2. In a constant kindness, obligingness, and courteousness; teaching us to avoid everything which is grating and painful to the feelings of others.

3. In bearing and forbearing much, and in readily forgiving.

4. In giving faithful counsel, and, if need be, faithful reproof to others.

5. In praying for others.

IV. Scriptural examples, to practise it.

1. Joseph.

2. Jonathan for David. (E. Blencowe, M.A.)

In honour preferring one another.

I. The honour done to others.

1. An acknowledgment of what is excellent in others.

2. Expressed by outward signs (Genesis 42:6; Acts 26:25).

II. How are we to prefer one before another?

1. By having modest thoughts of ourselves (Proverbs 26:12).

2. By having a just esteem of others’ excellencies (1 Peter 2:17).

3. By accounting all others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3; Isaiah 65:5).

III. Why should we do so? It will--

1. Preserve peace.

2. Avoid confusion.

3. Manifest ourselves Christians. (Bp. Beveridge.)


Verse 11

Romans 12:11

Not slothful in business.

I. We have all business to do.

I. In our particular calling and station in the world (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

2. In our general calling (Philippians 2:12).

II. How are we not to be slothful in business?

1. Not to live as if we had nothing to do.

2. Not to be slothful in doing what we do (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

3. Especially, not to be indifferent as to the grand affairs of our souls (Revelation 3:16).

Conclusion: Consider--

1. You have a great deal of work to do.

2. But a little time to do it in (James 4:13).

3. Eternity depends on your doing your work here. (Bp. Beveridge.)

The influence of great truths on little things

These words constitute an incomplete quotation, and I use them only as representing the entire passage of which they form an organic part. The whole extends from the third verse onwards to the close of the chapter, and contains in all twenty-six clauses, expressive negatively or positively of twenty-three graces of the Christian character. I invite attention, in the first place, to the relation in which they all stand to the life and hope of the Christian. The connecting word with which the chapter opens--“therefore”--“I beseech you, therefore”--looks both backwards to the chapters preceding and forwards to the verses that follow. In the look backwards we find the grand Christian motive. The life of holiness is to be lived, not that we may be saved, but because we are saved. Having laid down this obligation, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,” the apostle next expresses, in the second verse, the grand principle of all holiness. It can only have its spring in a total change of heart and life, wrought in us by the mighty Spirit of God--in the gift of a new nature with its own spiritual senses and experiences. And then, in the remainder of the chapter, he traces this great change into its details. It is as if we watched the beginning of some great river rising, like the springs of the Jordan, where the strong clear waters rush upwards in their strength, and then followed them as they flowed into a hundred divergent streams, carrying beauty and abundance through the smiling land, till they meet again to flow into the ocean. With what rich abundance the apostle heaps grace upon grace: “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.”

I. We may learn from these words the influence of great truths on the details of Christian practice. The truths, explained in the previous part of the Epistle, are almost the grandest that can possibly occupy human thought. Not only does the apostle explain in detail the method of salvation, but in doing so he takes in the full breadth of the Divine action. But I think we must be conscious of a danger arising from the very greatness of these truths. The distance between them and the apparently trivial details of daily life and conduct is so immense that we fail to bring the greatness of the one into contact with the littleness of the other. We get as far as the second verse of the chapter; but there we stop. We admit that a Christian, the object of such a love, tainted with a fatal crime, but redeemed by such a price as the precious blood of Christ, made inheritor of such a glory, should act worthy of his calling, and that, as he is different from other men in his hopes, so he ought to differ from them also in his life and in his modes of thinking, speaking, and acting; but when the time and occasion come for applying this to practice we fail. We have not faith enough to link the grand hope to the little actions. It seems to me that the whole of this chapter, and the energy with which the apostle presses the great motive into the details of the life, is one long witness against it. How minute are the graces enumerated! They do not belong to the few grand opportunities which occur now and then, but to the practical familiarities which enter into the daily life of all. The constancy of little occasions is an incalculably greater trial of faith than a few occasional opportunities, which, as it were, rally effort, and stimulate by their greatness the courage and zeal which become weary and evaporate amid the details of daily obedience. Nor is it only that the occasions are small in themselves, but it is also that so many secondary motives and influences become mixed up with them, and intervene between our clear sight of duty and the occasion of practising it as to throw us off our guard. Just as in a piece of machinery the moving force must be strong in proportion to the distance at which it needs to act, so the smallest occasions that lie, as it were, on the edge and outer confines of our life need the mightiest of motives to reach them and keep them in motion.

II. We may extend the same truth a step further, and learn that every grace has its corresponding temptation--the shadow, as it were, thrown by it on the sunshine of the other world. For instance, in giving, is there not danger of the affectation of an air of superiority and a disposition to magnify our gift? Therefore we are warned, “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity.” When we are placed in a position of authority are we not often tempted to relax effort and yield to self-indulgence? Therefore, he “that ruleth” let him do it “with diligence.” In showing mercy is there not a danger in forgiving unwillingly, as if we reluctantly yielded to the duty of mercifulness? Therefore, “he that showeth mercy” let him do it “with cheerfulness.” In cultivating love to all men is there not danger of insincerity? Therefore, “Let love be without dissimulation.” So, on the other side, “be not slothful in business”; for such I still believe to be the true meaning of the words, in spite of criticism. Is there not danger of becoming absorbed in it? Therefore, “be fervent in spirit.” Yet, may not an enthusiastic energetic temper take a wrong direction? Therefore let it be “serving the Lord.” So in another way, “rejoicing in hope,” and therefore, because a bright hope should give us strength to bear and constancy to endure, whereas we often see persons of a bright and buoyant temperament easily depressed in sorrow, “be patient in tribulation.” Then, as this twofold grace of cheerfulness and patience is not easy to human nature--though, thank God, we often see them combined in the saints of Christ--therefore let us seek strength where alone it can be had, “continuing instant in prayer.” Thus there is a strict connection everywhere, and we need to learn from it. A little self-knowledge will convince us that, even when we do the right thing, we are apt to do it in the wrong way. The shadow and taint of our corrupt nature cling to us everywhere, and nothing but the most generous love of God sweeping away little temptations, as the strong river carries the fallen leaves upon its surface, will enable us to get rid of it. (Canon Garbett.)

Diligence in business

Every Christian--

I. Should have some business to do. If not in the world--

1. In social life.

2. In the Church.

II. Should discharge it with diligence.

1. As a Christian duty.

2. As a part of his moral education.

3. As responsible to the great Master for the use of his ability.

III. Is prompted to this course by the most impressive considerations.

1. Life is the time for work.

2. Is soon ended.

3. Is followed by a just reward. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Business and godliness

Christianity addresses itself to man as he is--as a citizen of the world, having work in the world to do. But as he belongs to another, and owes duties to it--the perfection in obedience consists in maintaining a just equipoise between the two. Religion is a discipline for the whole man. The workshop may be made as good a sanctuary as the cloister.

I. A life of active usefulness is obligatory upon all of us.

1. Neither rank nor wealth can confer a prerogative to be idle. All God’s gifts to us are for some beneficial use, and we dishonour them by allowing them to lie idle. Circumstances may determine for each what his work shall be. But the command to work is universal, and came in with the Fall.

2. And, for a fallen being, there is no reason but to believe such a command is merciful and wise. Continual employment keeps the soul from much evil. Active engagements, so long as they are not so engrossing as to draw our hearts away from better things, give a healthy tone to the mind and strengthen moral energy. Next to devotion (and a man cannot be engaged in that always), there is no relief against wearing anxieties so effectual as the necessity of engrossing work. With nothing to do but to sit still and hear the enemy of souls make the most and worst of our troubles, we should soon get to think ourselves the most ill-used people in the world, and murmur in secret both against God and man.

II. There is nothing in the busiest life, as such, which is incompatible with the claims of personal religion.

1. Scripture teems with examples of those who, while laborious in the duties of their station, were most exact in the duties which they owed to God. Leaving the greatest of all, look at Joseph, Moses, David and Daniel. And like examples the Church has had in all ages. Xavier among churchmen, Sir Matthew Hale among judges, Wilberforce and Buxton among statesmen, Gardiner and Havelock among soldiers, have all left records that prayer never spoiled work, and that work must never interfere with prayer.

2. But this compatibility of business with godliness does not rest upon specific acts or examples, though Hebrews 11:1-40 is full of them. Religion consists not so much in the super-addition of certain acts of worship to the duties of common life, as in leavening the latter with the spirit of the former, and life’s common work will be accepted as worship if we set about it in a religious spirit. The husbandman when he tills the ground with a thankful heart, the merchant when for all success he gives God the glory, the servant who in all fidelity discharges the duties of his trust, each offering to God a continual sacrifice.

III. So far from the active duties of life presenting any barrier to our proficiency in personal religion, they are the very field in which its higher graces are to be exercised, and its noblest triumphs are to be achieved. We sometimes repine at the spiritual hindrances connected with our outward lot: but the hindrance is in ourselves. We have not practised ourselves in the worship of God in the world; the religion of the toiling hand or brain. Yet this is what is required of us, and that which has always distinguished the hard-working saints of God from the common run of men. Every lot in life will serve us with occasions of serving God. We may be diligent in business--even more diligent than other men--and yet the world will soon be able to take note of us that we have been with Jesus. Conclusion: Wherefore be it ours to find out the golden mean. “Be not righteous over much,” as if saying prayers were everything. Be not careful over much, as if bread for the body were everything. We cannot neglect either, and may not disparage either; and therefore that which God hath joined together let no man put asunder. (D. Moore, M.A.)

Business and religion

I. It is a false opinion which would make labour the consequence of sin.

1. Labour was God’s ordinance whilst man was in paradise. The curse provoked by disobedience was not work, but painful work.

2. Employment is appointed to every living thing. The highest of heaven’s angels has his duties to fulfil; and the meanest of earth’s insects must be busy or perish. It is the running water which keeps fresh; it is the air fanned by winds which is wholesome; it is the metal that is in use that does not rust.

3. There is wisdom and goodness in the difference placed between man and animals. From man, the lord of this lower creation, there is demanded labour, and ingenuity, before he can be provided with the common necessaries of life. Whatsoever is beautiful in art, sublime in science, or refined in happiness, is virtually due to the operation of that law of labour, against which so many are tempted to murmur. The unemployed man is always dissatisfied and restless.

II. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. You frequently meet with persons who occasionally will exert much diligence to produce something excellent, but who, at other times, care nothing, so long as a duty be performed, how slovenly may be the performance. And it is against this temper that our text directs its emphasis. What a man is in one thing, that in the main will he be in another. If industrious only by fits and starts in business, he will be industrious only by fits and starts in religion--a habit injurious to both. If I fritter away my time through being “slothful in business,” fewer hours are employed than I might have had for providing for eternity.

III. There cannot be a greater mistake than to divide employments into secular and spiritual. The businesses of life are so many Divine institutions, and, if prosecuted in a right spirit, are the businesses of eternity, through which the soul grows in grace, and lasting glory is secured. If men are but “fervent in spirit,” then are they “serving the Lord” through their very diligence in business. And if this be so, then is diligence in business to be urged by precisely the same motives as diligence in prayer, in the study of the Bible, or in works of piety and of faith. For our earthly callings are the appointments of God; and are therefore means through which you are to work out your salvation; and consequently the servant, the mechanic, the merchant, and the scholar must “do with their might whatsoever their hand findeth to do.”

IV. But there are duties which are more openly connected than others with the saving of the soul. It is not the representation of Scripture that religion is an easy thing; so that immortality may be secured with no great effort. Admitting that we are justified simply through faith, nevertheless the Christian life is likened to a battle, a race, a stewardship; so that only as we are “not slothful” in religion, have we right to suppose that we have entered on its path. Be not then slothful in the great prime business of all. Is temptation to be resisted--be “not slothful” in resistance: a half-resistance courts defeat. Is prayer to be offered--be “not slothful” in offering it: a languid prayer asks to be unanswered. Is a sacrifice to be made--be “not slothful” in making it: a tardy surrender is next akin to refusal. Be industrious in religion. We can tolerate indolence anywhere rather than here, where an eternity is at stake. Work, then, “with your might,” give all diligence to make “your calling and election sure.” If, by industry hereafter, you might repair the effects of indolence here, we could almost forgive you for being “slothful in business”; but now that probation is altogether limited to the present brief existence, and that the boundless future is given wholly to retribution, what are ye, if ye work not “with all your might”? (H. Melvill, B.D.)

Business and religion

I. Business men require sympathy. We often hear that “business is business,” as if it were some lonely island at which no ship of religion ever called, or if it did call it would find but scant welcome. This morning, however, the ship calls at the port, and the captain asks what he can do for you. You are now face to face with one who understands you, in your difficulties, disappointments, and temptations. By so much I would claim your confidence. When you therefore come up out of the market-place into the church, what do you want? If you had been spending the week in gathering violets and in cultivating orchids, I should address you in a very different tone; but the most of you have just laid down your tools, you have not shaken the world from you yet, and therefore you cannot enter into high speculation and transcendental imaginings, or even into fine points of criticism. You want a broad, sympathetic gospel, standards by which you can at once adjust yourselves to God’s claim upon you. Therein is the preacher’s great difficulty. He is not an academic lecturer surrounded by persons who have been spending six days in preparation for the seventh. Probably there are not six men in this house who have been able to say to the world at the door of the church, “Stand thou here, whilst I go up and worship yonder,” and the world permitted to come over the threshold remains to throw a veil between the preacher and his hearer, to excite prejudice and throw the music of revelation into discord. What a weary life is that of the man of business! Always beginning, never ending. He writes a letter that is to form a conclusion, and behold it only starts a more voluminous correspondence. What with orders half completed, money half paid or not paid, responsibilities ignored, discoveries of untrustworthiness on the part of the most trusted, the wonder is that business men can live at all. The Christian preacher, therefore, must recognise their difficulties, and not regard them as if they and he had been living all the week in a great cloud full of angels.

II. Business has its boundaries. You are limited by health, time, the incapacity of others, by a thousand necessities.

1. Thank God, therefore, if Parliament takes hold of you and says, “You shall rest to-day.” It is your commercial, intellectual, and moral salvation. You recover yourselves within those four-and-twenty hours: the very act of closing the book and saying, “I cannot open that until Monday morning” is itself the beginning of a religious blessing. What then have you to do? You have to meet that from the other side by sympathy, by joyful acquiescence, so as to get the most and the best out of the arrangement.

2. You brought nothing into the world, and it is certain you can carry nothing out. What; is the end, therefore, of all this anxiety and toil and sleeplessness? Christ says, “Which of you by multiplying worry and fret can accomplish anything beyond the limits that God has imposed upon you?” If you could show that to-day’s anxiety would bring to-morrow’s success, then it would be justified.

III. Business is a great science. No business man can be an uneducated man. He may never have been at school, but we do not get our education at school: there we get the tools, hints, and suggestions which we may turn to profit subsequently; but our education we get in the world, in social collisions, in having to work out the great practical problems of life and time. Why, the medical man tells me, after I have read all my books, that I must go to the bedside to learn to be a doctor. And the navigator tells me that after I have studied all the mathematics of navigation I must go to sea in order to be a high nautical authority. And so we must go into the practical, real engagements of life in order to be truly educated.

IV. Business success depends on diligence. It is possible for a man of the very finest capacity to be put in circumstances which overpower him; to pass in at the wrong door, and not get back again. Such men have my sympathy. But there are others who often come to me in distress, whose criticism upon life would be comical if it were not too sad in its unreality and untruth. Let me suppose that I am a business man in your sense of the term. I plan, scheme, go to my work, upbraiding the light for being so long in coming, and leave it--upbraiding the light for going away so soon. I succeed, retire, and am a rich man. What does the individual referred to say? “You have been very fortunate.” Is that true? What did he do? Went to business at nine with his hands in his pockets, looked over the door, came back and gossiped with the first person that was fool enough to waste his time with him--was very anxious to know from the papers what was going to be done fifteen thousand miles away from his place of business, went home at four o’clock, and he calls me a fortunate man! Fortunate? No--“be not deceived; God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” The men who like their work, do it joyfully, and when it is done are proud of it, and those who engage them are proud of them and their work too--those men deserve success.

V. I claim business men for Christ. Let me tell you why.

1. Without faith you could not conduct your business; you deal with men whom you have never seen, you base your connection upon written authority; you venture and incur risk. By such experiments and engagements you enter into the very spirit of faith. In the Christian kingdom we walk by faith, and not by sight; we venture upon Christ--we risk it.

2. You know what preparation is. You have apprenticeships, you say that a certain seed sown will produce a certain result--but not to-morrow: you have to wait and trust in the outworking of great eternal laws. In the Christian kingdom we have to do just the same.

3. I claim you business men for Christ, men with clear understandings, resolute wills, and ask you to accept the great mystery of this Christian kingdom. It will go with you through all your engagements, it will turn your water into wine, it will relieve your perplexities, and be the solace of your solitude. Let Christ be head of your firm, The Lord thy God giveth thee power to get wealth--praise God from whom all blessings flow. Conclusion: Diligent in business--not absorbed in, anxious about, overmastered by it. Let your object be not to gain the mere wealth, but to gain something that is better--the discipline, patience, solidity of character, which such engagements of yours tend to work out. He who comes out of business rich in gold only will soon die. (J. Parker, D.D.)

Religion and business

Diligence in business should not hinder fervency in spirit. Like the pure mettled sword, that can bend this way and that way, and turns to its straightness again, and stands not bent, that heart is of the right make that can stoop and bend to the lowest action of its worldly calling, but then return to its fitness for communion with God. (W.Gurnall.)

Religion and business

The Christian must not only mind heaven but attend to his daily calling. Like the pilot who, while his eye is fixed upon the star, keeps his hand upon the helm. (T. Watson.)

The relative importance of religion and business

The common practice is to reverse these words. Business is the chief concern, and religion only secondary; whereas the text teaches us that business is to be attended to as well as the duty of our calling, but religion is to be the object of our holy enthusiasm. There is a vast distinction between the expressions “not slothful” and “fervent.” The one simply denotes that there is to be no loitering, or trifling, but a steady perseverance; the other denotes that there is to be an intensity of ardour. And if we give either a greater degree of attention to business than “not to be slothful” in it, or a less degree of attention to religion than to be “fervent” in it, neither our works of business nor our works of religion are a “serving the Lord.”

I. The grace inculcated, “fervour in spirit.” The great propriety of this is apparent, if we call to mind--

1. The infinitely important matters with which it has to do. “It is not a light thing, but it is your life.” “One thing is needful.”

2. The regard which is due by you to your own interest. Religion has to do with the soul, and business with the body, and therefore religion is just as much more important than business as the soul is than the body.

3. That this is the great end for which you were sent into this world. The primary object of God’s giving you being, was not that you might be men of business. You have a soul to save, and God created you that you might show forth His praise.

II. The secular duty with which the exercise of religion is connected. Even when man was innocent, God allowed him not to be idle. It is not good, therefore, for man to be unemployed, and it is more advantageous to the exercise of piety that our entire time is not to be given to religious employments. Be this, however, as it may, the command is explicit that we be not slothful in business. “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work.” The Book of Proverbs contains many striking exhortations on the will of God in this matter. “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings,” etc. The apostle also gives his command that we “study to be quiet, and to do our own business.”

III. The necessity of the connection between being fervent in spirit and not slothful in business.

1. For the purpose of bringing down God’s blessing upon our secular employments. “Godliness is profitable unto all things,” etc.

2. Because activity in the concerns of business tends to deaden the mind to the claims of religion. Worldly objects are good, but they are good only as they are “sanctified by the Word of God, and by prayer”; and he who spends a portion of his time in prayer shall sooner arrive at the attainment of his object than he who has been the most diligent, but has neglected prayer.

3. Because the principles of the gospel are intended for illustration in the common every-day occurrences of life. (J. Garwood, M.A.)

Religion and business: the necessity of combining them

A poor barefooted brother once presented himself at the gate of a convent, and finding all the monks at work, gravely shook his head and remarked to the abbot, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth.” “Mary hath chosen that good part.” “Very well,” said the abbot, with undisturbed composure, and ordered the devout stranger to a cell, and gave him a book of prayers to occupy his time. The monk retired, and sat hour after hour, until day had passed, wondering that no one offered him the slightest refreshment. Hungry and wearied out, he left his cell and repaired to the abbot. “Father,” said he, “do not the brethren eat to-day?” “Oh, yes,” returned the other, with a quiet smile playing over his aged face, “they have eaten plentifully.” “Then, bow is it, Father, that you did not call me to partake with them?” “For the simple reason,” said the abbot, “that you are a spiritual man, and have no need of carnal food. For our part, we are obliged to eat, and on that account we work; but you, brother, who have chosen ‘the good part,’ you sit and read all the day long, and are above the want of ‘the meat that perisheth.’” “Pardon me, Father.” said the mortified and confounded stranger, “I perceive my mistake.” (J. N. Norton, D.D.)

The busy man

One would have supposed that with such a large and rapidly increasing business, George Moore would have had little time to attend to the organising of charitable institutions. But it was with him as with many other hardworking men. If you wish to have any good work well done, go to the busy not to the idle man. The former can find time for everything, the latter for nothing. Will, power, perseverance, and industry enable a man not only to promote his own interests, but at the same time to help others less prosperous than himself. (S. Smiles, LL.D.)

A cheerful word to tired people

There is no war between Bibles and ledgers, churches and counting-houses. On the contrary, religion accelerates business. To the judgment it gives more skilful balancing; to the will more strength; to industry more muscle; to enthusiasm a more consecrated fire. We are apt to speak of the moil and tug of business life as though it were an inquisition or a prison into which a man is thrown, or an unequal strife where, half-armed, he goes to contend. Hear me while I try to show you that God intended business life to be--

I. A school of Christian energy. After our young people have left school they need a higher education, which the collision of every-day life alone can give. And when a man has been in business for twenty or thirty years, his energy can no longer be measured by weights, plummets, or ladders. Now do you suppose that God has spent all this education on you for the purpose of making you merely a yard-stick or a steelyard? He has put you in this school to develop your energy for His cause. There is enough unemployed talent in the churches to reform all empires in three weeks.

II. A school of patience. How many little things there are in one day’s engagements to annoy. Men will break their engagements; collecting agents will come back emptyhanded; goods will fail to come, or come damaged; bad debts will be made; and under all this friction some men break down, but others find in this a school for patience, and toughen under the exposure. There was a time when they had to choke down their wrath, and bite their lip. But now they have conquered their impatience. This grace of patience is not to be got through hearing ministers preach about it; but in the world.

III. A school for the attaining of knowledge. Merchants do not read many books, nor study many lexicons, yet through the force of circumstances they get intelligent on many questions. Business is a hard schoolmistress. If her pupils will not learn, she smites them with loss. You went into some business enterprise, and lost five thousand dollars. Expensive schooling, but it was worth it. Traders in grain must know about foreign harvests; in fruits must know about the prospects of tropical production; in imported goods must know about the tariff. And so every bale of cotton, and raisin cask, and tea box, becomes a literature to our business men. Now do you suppose that God gives you these opportunities of increasing your knowledge merely to get a grander business? Can it be that you have been learning about foreign lands, and yet have no missionary spirit? about the follies and trickeries of the business world, and yet not try to bring to bear upon them this gospel which is to correct all abuses, arrest all crime, and lift up all wretchedness? Can it be that, notwithstanding your acquaintance with business, you are ignorant of those things which will last the soul long after invoices and rent rolls have been consumed in the fires of a judgment-day?

IV. A school of Christian integrity. No age ever offered so many inducements for scoundrelism as are offered now. It requires more grace to be honest now than it did in the days of our fathers. How rare it is that you find a man who can from his heart say, “I never cheated in trade”; but there are those who can say it, who are as pure and Christian to-day as on the day when they sold their first tierce of rice or their first firkin of butter, and who can pray without being haunted with the chink of dishonest gold, and look into the laughing faces of their children without thinking of orphans left by them penniless. (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)

The Christian at his work

Every Christian ought to be a worker. If he were not one before he became a Christian, Christianity should have made him one. There is a grievous heresy wrapped up in the phrase, “the working classes.” It is just as possible to be sycophantic to the poor as to the rich. The term properly understood includes many besides those destined to the drudgery of material labour.

I. The Christian at his work may feel that work is a good and noble thing. Christianity greatly honours honest industry. Of our race there have been two heads--the one was a gardener in Paradise, the other a carpenter in Nazareth.

1. There is a natural voice of self-respect whose tones Christianity deepens and empowers. It is honourable to be independent. There is no disgrace in deriving riches and renown from ancestors, but there is virtue and glory in obtaining them from ourselves, and that religion which makes everything of the will and nothing of accidents, which aims ever at deepening personal interest and impressing personal responsibility, smiles ineffably at the Christian at his work.

2. Christianity attaches great importance to the exercise of the faculties. The value of daily toil is that it prevents the evils of stagnation, the wretched results of indolence. And here comes in the blessedness of the law that to eat men must work. The merely meditative often go wrong. Many have fallen into wretched theories and more wretched moods, because their thinking powers have not been yoked to their active energies. And, therefore, Christianity, which seeks the maturity and wholesome state of our nature, looks benignly on the Christian at his work.

3. Christianity, in elevating man, elevates his engagements. It cares comparatively little for the sphere and form of our outward life, but attaches every importance to its spirit and its power. It is the “good man” that makes the good, the great man that makes the great, deed. The worker is more than the work; and it is as he is. A slave, according to Paul, may do his work “unto the Lord,” and make a divine service of his hard drudgery. And therefore the gospel, which makes everything of what a man is, and raises and refines him, constituting him a servant and a child of God, has only words of impressive approbation for the Christian at his work.

II. the Christian at his work may feel that he is filling the sphere intended for him.

1. He is not only doing what, in general, is worth doing, but he is, or should be, able to realise the appointment of God. The Bible teaches a present providence as well as an original ordinance in reference to work. But providence is not fatalism. God’s appointment does not interfere with our free agency, or release us from responsibility. “Whatever is, is right,” so far as it is done by God; but it may be wrong, so far as it is done by us. It is true that, in a sense, we cannot frustrate God’s purpose; but there is a limit to our right of inferring our duty from its ordinations and permissions. Our worldly lot may be a matter of volition. We need not stay in a state which necessitates transgression. If we cannot live without sinning, it is a sin to live.

2. It is, then, our duty to ascertain the will of God in reference to our worldly pursuits. That which is presented to us; that which we are fitted for; that to which we are directed by circumstances; these are the evidences, interpreted by a just and godly spirit.

3. Of course, the calling must be a lawful one. A man must be satisfied of this before he can take comfort from the thought that he is “in his place.” As a general rule, it is not difficult for any Christian to distinguish between lawful and unlawful callings. He who wishes to be right may be so. If a man cannot pursue his calling without violating the law of God, his course is plain. If others do wrong, that is no excuse for us. Nor is it any excuse for us if quite as much wrong will be done, whether we do it or not. We are accountable for our actions in themselves, and for our moral example. Nor may we ask Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

4. And is it not a soul-inspiring thought for any toiler in this hard world, that he is doing the work of his heavenly Father? It is not the nature of the service, but the Being that is served, that gives importance to it.

III. Christianity will exert a direct and powerful influence on the Christian at his work.

1. It will regulate it--especially it will make work subservient to godliness. The Christian will not permit himself to be so engrossed with it as to hinder the higher work of eternal redemption. Work is a blessing; but it may become a curse. It is quite necessary that even lawful business should have its limits and intermissions. Speaking spiritually, it is good only with something else. It has to the direct means of spiritual growth the relations of exercise to food. Exercise is healthy; but it is no substitute for nourishment

2. The Christian at his work may be with God. “Let every man wherein he is called therein abide with God.” There is no necessity for the exclusion of religious things from the mind during secular engagements. It is a strange occupation which has no moments of intermission; and to fill these with Christian meditations and prayers is the great privilege of the saint. A mind thus kept spiritual will be able to make some use of work for the purposes of the soul. How much of the carnality of worldly things, which we lament, is owing to our own want of a fresh and lively grace? How many water-pots are there in our earthly life which, if filled by us with water, would be filled by Christ with wine? We have to do with--

3. God may be with him. “Acknowledge Him in all thy ways, and He shall direct thy steps.” And if the guidance of God may be had, His prospering blessing may be had also. “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” And may there not be the presiding sense of the Divine love, “the love of God shed abroad in the heart,” whatever the course of providential events, giving strength in adversity, and infusing a nobler joy in prosperity? (A. J. Morris.)

A consecrated merchant

When a certain New England merchant waited on his pastor to tell him of his earnest desire to engage in work more distinctively religious, the pastor heard him kindly. The merchant said, “My heart is so full of love to God and to man that I want to spend all my time in talking with men about these things.” “No,” said the pastor; “go back to your store, and be a Christian over your counter. Sell goods for Christ, and let it be seen that a man can be a Christian in trade.” Years afterwards the merchant rejoiced that he had followed the advice, and the pastor rejoiced also in a broad-hearted and open-handed brother in his church, who was awake not only to home interests, but to those great enterprises of philanthropy and learning which are an honour to our age. (Clerical Library.)

Diligence and fervour in serving the Lord

1. The word rendered “business” is rightly rendered “diligence” (verse 8), “haste” (Mark 6:25), “care” (2 Corinthians 7:12), “carefulness” (2 Corinthians 7:11), “earnest care” (2 Corinthians 8:16), “forwardness” (2 Corinthians 8:8). It properly denotes promptness in action, earnestness in effort, and zeal in execution. Its special reference in this place is not to secular, but to Christian work.

2. It is quite true that the two first clauses express the manner in which the third is to be obeyed; but this third does not denote a distinct service, but rather requires that all service shall be rendered as unto the Lord.

I. In respect to every kind of service, to which as Christians you are called, let there be no slothfulness, but, on the contrary, promptness and zeal. This exhortation will apply to

1. The conduct of secular business, inasmuch as that implicates Christian character and duty (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12). The religion of Christ gives no countenance to an idle and thriftless spirit (Proverbs 6:6-8; Pro_10:4; Pro_24:30-34). Only it will have a man to attend to his secular business in another than a secular spirit.

2. To the work of our own religious life. This will no more survive continued neglect and starvation than will the bodily life. There is for us the work of searching the Scriptures for spiritual food; of prayer and meditation for the assimilation of that food; of securing fresh air and healthful exercise by the “work of faith and labour of love.”

3. To the manifestation of the graces of the Christian life. The apostle has just written of love and brotherly kindness, and he presently gives examples of the conditions under which these graces must be exercised with special care. But both involve active service (James 2:15-16; Proverbs 3:27-28).

4. To all church work. In whatever department of spiritual ministry you may find your appropriate sphere of activity--whether in teaching, administration, etc.

be punctual, resolute, diligent.

II. It is required that the inner disposition shall correspond with the outward activity. As to the spirit in which the active service shall be rendered, let it be fervent. Christ was “clad with zeal as with a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17; John 2:17; Psalms 69:9). Apollos “being fervent in spirit, he taught diligently the things of the Lord” (Acts 18:25). And wherever there is true fervour of spirit, there will certainly be diligence in service. But there may be diligence without fervour: diligence from servility, pride, ambition, selfishness (Revelation 3:15-16). It is important that our “zeal of God” should be “according to knowledge” certainly, but still more important that zeal there should really be (Galatians 4:18).

III. Be thus diligent and fervent as those who are serving the lord. It is our boast and glory that we are the servants of the Lord Christ. We are His by right, by consent, and by open avowal. Even in our secular work, if we live up to the spirit of our profession, we are still serving Him (Ephesians 6:5-8). This it is which imparts to all labour its true dignity. (W. Tyson.)

On industry

Industry denotes the steady application and vigorous exercise of our active powers in the pursuit of some useful object. Our minds, indeed, by their own nature, are active and restless; while we are awake they are never wholly unemployed--they are continually thinking, contriving, and imagining even in those seasons in which we are scarcely conscious of their operation. But there is a negligent state of mind in which some waste a great proportion of their time. To this negligence industry stands directly opposed.

I. That if you would cultivate the industry which Christianity recommends you must select proper objects of pursuit.

1. It is the nature of the objects which we pursue that characterises our industry as useful or frivolous, as virtuous or vicious. The wicked sometimes discover the most unwearied activity in executing their schemes of guilt. They who are most negligent of their own affairs are often officially attentive to the affairs of their neighbours. There is a frivolous industry which others display in the pursuit of vanity and folly. They fly from scene to scene, seeking in every amusement a relief from that languor of mind with which indolence is always accompanied. Such persons forget that amusement ceases to be innocent when it is followed as the business of life.

2. The things which are innocent and useful are the only proper objects of that industry which the text recommends. What are these? Religion and morality.

3. But as our minds cannot be continually fixed on those great and interesting concerns; there are a variety of inferior objects in the pursuit of which our industry may be usefully exercised. Our worldly affairs, for example, demands a portion of our attention and care. It is surely pitiful in any person who is capable of exertion to be altogether ignorant of his own concerns, and to acknowledge himself unworthy of the station which he fills by committing to others the whole arrangement of his interests. He who attends not to his own affairs is not prepared either to reward the services of the faithful or to check the encroachments of the dishonest; he becomes a prey to the indolence of one, to the profusion of another, and the rapacity of a third: his wealth is dissipated he knows not how. Those who are placed in stations of trust will find in the discharge of the duties which more particularly belong to them an extensive sphere of employment, and for the faithful performance of these every person to whom they are committed is accountable to himself, to the world, and to his Maker. There are also works of general utility which, though not immediately connected with the duties of any particular station, may exercise the industry of the higher classes of men, and which their extensive influence may enable them to forward. To them it belongs to reform public abuses, to encourage useful arts, and to establish such wise regulations as may contribute to maintain the order and advance the happiness of society.

4. Even in his hours of relaxation from the more serious concerns of life the industrious man finds a variety of engagements in which he may exert the activity of his mind.

II. That in the pursuit even of such objects as are innocent and useful in themselves you cannot hope to be successful unless you pursue them according to a regular plan.

1. Among the objects in the prosecution of which our industry may be lawfully exercised there are some which claim our first attention, and there are others to which only a secondary regard is due. Religion first. To cultivate useful knowledge is also a proper exercise of our powers. But we value knowledge too highly if we suffer the love of it so completely to fascinate our minds as to leave to us neither leisure nor inclination for performing the duties of active benevolence; and our benevolence itself becomes excessive when we indulge it beyond the limits of our fortune, so as to involve ourselves in distress or bring misery and ruin on those who are more immediately committed to our care.

2. If you wish, then, that your industry may be successful, let it be conducted with order and regularity. Assign to every duty a suitable portion of your time. Let not one employment encroach on the season allotted for another. Thus shall you be delivered from that embarrassment which would retard your progress. Your minds, when fatigued with one employment, will find relief in applying themselves to another. The seasons which you consecrate to devotion will hallow your worldly cares; and your worldly business, in its turn, will prevent your piety from degenerating into moroseness, austerity, or enthusiasm.

III. Having selected proper objects of pursuit and arranged the plan according to which you resolve to pursue them, it will be necessary that you act on this plan with ardour and perseverance. There may, indeed, be an excess of ardour in the pursuit even of the most valuable objects. Too close an application of mind wastes its strength, and not only unfits us for enjoying the fruits of our industry, but also obstructs our success. When our faculties are fatigued and blunted, we are no longer in a condition to make advancement in any pursuit.

IV. I proceed now to suggest some arguments, with a view to recommend the duty which I have thus endeavoured to explain.

1. Consider that industry is the law of our condition. Nothing is given us by God but as the prize of labour and toil. The precious treasures of the earth lie hid from human view, and we must dig in order to find them. Our food, our raiment, our habitations, all the conveniences that minister to the defence and the comfort of our lives, are the fruits of those numberless arts which exercise the ingenuity of mankind. The circumstances in which we are placed declare the purpose of Heaven with regard to the human race, and admonish us that to abandon ourselves to sloth is to forget the end of our being.

2. Nor is industry to be chosen by man only for the sake of the many advantages which cannot otherwise be attained. It is itself a source of happiness. The mind delights in exercise. The comforts which industry procures have a relish peculiar to themselves. Business sweetens pleasure as labour sweetens rest. Recreation supposes employment; and the indolent are incapable of tasting the happiness which it is fitted to yield.

3. Industry contributes to the virtue no less than to the happiness of life. The man whose attention is fixed on any useful object is in little danger of being seduced by the solicitations of sinful pleasure; his mind is pro-engaged, and temptation courts him in vain. Among the lower orders of men idleness leads directly to injustice. It first reduces them to poverty and then tempts them to supply their wants by all the arts of dishonesty and baseness. In the higher ranks of life it leads to dissipation and extravagance. (W. Moodie, D.D.)

The happy combination

1. Business made an act of religion.

2. Religion made a business.

3. Both sanctified to the service of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Industry

I. This precept is violated--

1. By those who have no business at all. You may have seen attached to an inundated reef in the sea, a creature rooted to the rock as a plant might be, and twirling its long tentacula as an animal would do. This plant-animal’s life is somewhat monotonous, for it has nothing to do but grow and twirl its feelers, float in the tide, or fold itself up on its foot-stalk when that tide has receded, for months and years together. But what greater variety marks your existence? Does not one day float over you like another, just as the tide floats over it, and find you vegetating still? Are you more useful? What real service to others did you render yesterday? And what higher end in living have you than that polypus? You go through certain mechanical routines of rising, dressing, visiting, dining, and going to sleep again; and are a little roused by the arrival of a friend, or the effort needed to write some note of ceremony. But as it curtseys in the waves, and vibrates its exploring arms, and gorges some dainty medusa, the sea-anemone goes through nearly the same round. Is this a life for a rational and responsible creature to lead?

2. By those who are diligent in trifles--whose activity is a busy idleness. Fancy this time that instead of a polypus you were changed into a swallow. There you have a creature abundantly busy. Notice how he pays his morning visits, alighting elegantly on some house-top, and twittering politely to the swallow by his side, and then away to call for his friend at the castle. And now he is gone upon his travels, gone to spend the winter at Rome or Naples, or perform some more recherche pilgrimage. And when he comes home next April, sure enough he has been abroad--charming climate--highly delighted with the cicadas in Italy, and the bees on Hymettus--locusts in Africa rather scarce this season; but upon the whole much pleased with his trip, and returned in high health and spirits. Now this is a very proper life for a swallow; but is it a life for you? Though the trifler does not chronicle his own vain words and wasted hours, they are noted in the memory of God. And when he looks back to the long pilgrimage, what anguish will it move to think that he has gamboled through such a world without salvation to himself, without any real benefit to his brethren.

3. By those who have proper business, but--

II. To avoid this guilt and wretchedness--

1. Have a business in which diligence is lawful and desirable. The favourite pursuit of AEropus, king of Macedonia, was to make lanterns. And if your work be a high calling, you must not dissipate your energies on trifles which, lawful in themselves, are as irrelevant to you as lamp-making is to a king. Those of you who do not need to toil for your daily bread, your very leisure is a hint what the Lord would have you to do. As you have no business of your own, He would have you devote yourself to His business.

2. Having made a wise and deliberate selection of a business, go on with it, go through with it. In the heathery turf you will find a plant chiefly remarkable for its peculiar roots; from the main stem down to the minutest fibre, you will find them all abruptly terminate, as if shorn or bitten off, and superstition alleges that once it was a plant for healing all sorts of maladies, and therefore the devil bit off the roots in which its virtues resided. This plant is a good emblem of many well-meaning but little-effecting people. All their good works terminate abruptly. The devil frustrates their efficacy by cutting off their ends. But others there are who before beginning to build count the cost, and having collected their materials and laid their foundations, go on to rear their structure, indifferent to more tempting schemes. The persevering teacher who guides one child into the saving knowledge of Christ is a more useful man than his friend who gathers in a roomful of ragged children, and after a few weeks turns them all adrift on the streets again. So short is life that we can afford to lose none of it in abortive undertakings; and once we have begun it is true economy to finish. (J. Hamilton, D.D.)

Industry, power of

There is no art nor science that is too difficult for industry to attain to: it is the power of the tongue, and makes a man understood all over the world. It is the philosopher’s stone, that turns all metals and even stones into gold, and suffers no want to break into its dwelling. It is the north-west passage, that brings the merchant’s ships to him by a nearer and shorter path. In a word, it conquers all enemies, and gives wings to blessings. (A. Farindon.)

Labour and religion

“Business” means everything which occupies our attention, but more particularly our temporal pursuits.

I. Sloth is infamous. It draws after it a multitude of vices and a load of sorrows. Man’s nature proves that he is made for action. Without being employed, his faculties are spoilt like metals eaten by rust, but polished by use. No condition is exempt from labour. The mind is a fertile soil, and if not cultivated will bring forth weeds. God brings men into judgment for neglecting to cultivate mind, body, talents, and conveniences of life which He has bestowed.

II. Labour is profitable. It restrains from sin, keeps from temptation, and satisfies cravings which could only otherwise be gratified by dissipation.

III. Piety is compatible with industry.

1. The fervent spirit is one that desires to please God. It is the same disposition directed to higher objects as actuate those who are in love with any earthly object.

2. Serving the Lord means doing good. Earthly affairs must not employ all our time.

IV. Arguments to urge this.

1. The character of Him we serve.

2. The nature of the service.

3. The reward which ensues. (J. J. S. Bird, B.A.)

Religion in common life

1. To combine business with religion is one of the most difficult parts of the Christian’s trial. It is easy to be religious in church, but not so easy in the market-place; and passing from one to the other seems often like transition from a tropical to a polar climate.

2. So great is this difficulty that but few set themselves honestly to overcome it. In ancient times the common expedient was to fly the world altogether; the modern expedient, much less safe, is to compromise the matter. “Everything in its place.” Prayers, etc., for Sundays, practical affairs for weekdays. Like an idler in a crowded thoroughfare, religion is jostled aside in the daily throng of life as if it had no business there. But the text affirms that the two things are compatible; that religion is not so much a duty as something that has to do with all duties, not for one day, but for all days; and that, like breathing and the circulation of the blood and growth, it may be going on simultaneously with all our actions.

3. True, if we could only prepare for the next world by retirement from this, no one should hesitate. But no such sacrifice is demanded. As in the material world, so in the moral, there are no conflicting laws. In the latter there is a law of labour, and as God has so constituted us that without work we cannot eat, so we may conclude that religion is not inconsistent with hard work. The weight of a clock seems a heavy drag on the delicate movements of its machinery, but it is indispensable for their accuracy; and there is an analogous action of the weight of worldly work on the finer movements of man’s spiritual being. The planets have a twofold motion, in their orbits and on their axes--the one motion being in the most perfect harmony with the other. So must it be that man’s twofold activities round the heavenly and earthly centres jar not with each other. And that it is so will be seen from the following considerations--

I. Religion is a science and an art, a system of doctrines to be believed and a system of duties to be done.

1. If religious truth were like many kinds of secular truth, hard and intricate, demanding the highest order of intellect and learned leisure, then to most men the blending of religion with the necessary avocations of life would be impossible. But the gospel is no such system. The salvation it offers is not the prize of the lofty intellect, but of the lowly heart. Christianity affords scope indeed for the former, but its essential principles are patent to the simplest mind.

2. Religion as an art differs from secular acts in that it may be practised simultaneously with all other work. A medical man cannot practise surgery and engineering at the same time, but Christianity is an all-embracing profession--the art of being and doing good, an art, therefore, that all can practise. It matters not of what words a copy set a child learning to write is composed; the thing desired is that he should learn to write well. So when a man is learning to be a Christian, it matters not what his particular work in life may be, the main thing is that he learn to live well. True, prayer, meditation, etc., are necessary to religion, but they are but steps in the ladder to heaven, good only as they help us to climb. They are the irrigation and enriching of the spiritual soil--worse than useless if the crop become not more abundant. No man can become a good sailor who has never been to sea, nor a good soldier by studying a book on military tactics; so a man by study may become a theologian, but he can never become a religious man until he has acquired those habits of self-denial, gentleness, etc., which are to be acquired only in daily contact with mankind.

II. Religion consists not so much in doing sacred acts as in doing secular acts from a sacred motive. There is a tendency to classify actions according to their outward form rather than according to their spirit. We arbitrarily divide literature and history into sacred and profane; and so prayer, Bible reading, public worship, etc.--and buying, selling, etc., are separated into two distinct categories. But what God hath cleansed, why should we call common? Moral qualities reside not in actions, but in the agent and his motive. A musical instrument may discourse sacred melodies better than the holiest lips, but who thinks of commending it for its piety? Just as there is no spot on earth but a holy heart may hallow, a base one desecrate; so many actions materially great and noble may, because of the spirit that pervades them, be ignoble and mean, and vice versa. Herod was a slave though he sat on a throne, but what kingly work was done in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth! A life spent among holy things may be intensely secular, and a life spent in the throng may be divine. A minister’s preachings may be no more holy than the work of the printer who prints Bibles, or of the bookseller who sells them, and public worship may be degraded into work most worldly. But carry holy principles with you into the world, and the world will become hallowed by their presence. A Christlike spirit will Christianise all it touches. Marble or clay, it matters not with which the artist works, the touch of genius transforms the coarser material into beauty, and lends to the finer a value it never had before. Rude or refined as our earthly work may be, it will become to a holy mind only material for a godlike life. Your conversation may not consist of formally religious words, but if it be pervaded by a spirit of piety it will be Christian nevertheless. To promote the cause of Christ by furthering every religious enterprise is your duty, but you may promote it as effectually in the family and society. Rise superior, in Christ’s strength, to all equivocal practices in trade; shrink from meanness, and let the abiding sense of Christ’s love make you loving, and then, while your secular life will be spiritualised, your spiritual life will grow more fervent.

III. As bearing on the same topic, note the mind’s power of acting on latent principles.

1. In order to live a religious life every action must be governed by religious motives. True, we cannot always be consciously thinking of religion, yet unconsciously we may be always acting under its control. As I do not think of gravitation when I move my limbs, or of atmospheric laws when I breathe, so with religion and daily work. There are undercurrents in the ocean which act independently of the movements of the waters on the surface: so there may dwell the abiding peace of God beneath the restless stir of your worldly business.

2. Remember, too, that many of the thoughts and motives which govern our actions are latent. While reading aloud, e.g., we are often carried along by the secret impression of the presence of a listener. So while business is being prosecuted may there not be a latent impression of the presence of God?

3. Have we not all felt anticipated happiness blending itself with busy work? The labourer’s evening release from toil, the schoolboy’s coming holiday, may illustrate that rest which remaineth for the people of God, the anticipation of which intermits not but gives zest to faithful service.

Conclusion:

1. The true idea of Christian life is not periodic observances, or acts of heroism. It is a great thing to be ready to die for Christ, but it is equally great to live for Him.

2. All who wish to live that life must--

(a) Noble;

(b) Useful;

(c) Permanent. No work done for Christ ever perishes. (J. Caird, D.D.)

Religion in daily life

I. The great duties of daily life are indispensable to the development of the whole nature of man. The prayer-meeting, etc., were once spoken of as “means of grace,” and they are such when they produce grace. But it would seem as if they were meant to exclude common occupations; whereas, everything that pertains to the well-being of the individual and the community is part and parcel of the Divine scheme. Therefore the man who bends over his bench may be as really worshipping God as he who bends over the altar. Let us look at a few points which are needed to constitute a true manhood.

1. Order. How will you learn that? Not by hearing sermons about it or thinking of it; but by the conduct of business. Business trains. Punctuality and exactitude are learned in life.

2. Carefulness, frugality, benevolence, also spring out of dealing with practical life. If you shield your child from all avocations, he may learn a small round of such things in the family; but no such education does he receive as one that is pushed out into life. One may learn boating on a pond; but a man who does well on a pond may do poorly on the Atlantic. I am not one of those who revile the denizens of Wall Street. If some sink nearly to the bottom of the scale, others rise nearly to the top. If a man in that street goes steadily on with fidelity and trustworthiness, I think he reaches about as high a mark of honesty as any man on the globe. On the other hand, there may be many who are virtuous in the farmhouse, who, when they are brought into the street and under its influence, have been destroyed. They have not been drilled in street operations. How is it with soldiers? Raw recruits are easily scattered. Why? Because they have not had drill. So, in worldly affairs, a man cannot be trusted who has not been trained in the school of those affairs. When the spiritual disposition goes with diligence in business, men find more that follows manhood in its essential elements than can be found in any temple.

II. Every man ought to find his Christian life in connection with that which God has made his daily business.

1. There be many with whom religion is a kind of luxury, and business a necessary evil. They mean to be religious, therefore, on the Sabbath and in the church. But religion is right-acting as well as right-thinking. The schoolboy’s religion must lie in the duties of the schoolboy; the sailor’s in those of the mariner; the merchant’s in commercial life. You have no business to touch a thing which it is not right to do; and whatever it is right to do is compatible with fervency of spirit; and real service to the Lord.

2. How cold and cheerless is the palace where there is no love; but the old brown house where you were brought up, and the old fields over whose hills you have climbed--homely as these scenes are, is there anything so beautiful when you go back to them? It is what you have put on to these old things that makes them so dear to you. So the duties of life become more agree able by their association with that which is dear to us. The service of a mother to a child is invested with a feeling which makes it to the mother one of the most delightful of occupations; but the same service performed by any other would be odious to her. And that which we see in the mother extends more or less through every part of life. That to which you bring diligence, conscience, taste, and gladness becomes transformed. A noble-spirited man can redeem many duties which are in themselves unattractive, and make them beautiful.

3. There is no place where God puts you where it is not your duty to say, “How shall I perfume this place and make it beautiful as the rose?” If you are a boy in school you are to perform the duties which are assigned you by your master, by reason of your allegiance to Christ. You are working in a joiner’s shop; you are a shoemaker, a street-sweeper, or a boot-black; but, whatever you are, unless in some business that you know is wrong, you are not to say, “How shall I get out of this occupation in order that I may be made a Christian?” but, “How, being a Christian, shall I work grace out of this occupation?”

4. Exactitude, trustworthiness, where there is no eye but God’s to see. These things constitute taking up the cross. Parents say, “Now, my son, if you won’t eat any sugar or butter for six months in order that you may give to the missionaries, that will be taking up the cross.” But there are enough crosses to take up without resorting to such modes as that. When a boy does not want to get up in the morning, and he gets up, he takes up the cross. When a person is cross before breakfast, that is a good time for him to take up the cross, by keeping his temper. Where one does not like to be punctual, there is a good opportunity for him to take up the cross. It is better to take up the cross in things that mean something. Men often seek artificial crosses to take up; but mostly we have crosses enough to take up in subduing the recreancy of our selfish nature to true kindness, and noble enterprise, and faithful manhood.

III. Mark the strange and incongruous ethics which men introduce into different departments of their lives. Men say that you cannot expect one to act in politics as he does in private life. Why not? Are there ten commandments for politics different from the ten commandments for the rest of life? Was the Sermon on the Mount given for men unknown to politics? It is said that you cannot expect a man to act in business as he would in his household. Why not? A man should be the same under all circumstances; and that which is true, honest, fair in the household, is true, honest, fair in the store and in the state. The scrupulousness of honour ought to augment in proportion to the enlargement of the sphere in which one acts. You cannot be a man of honour, though you tell the truth in your household and neighbourhood, if you lie without scruple in public affairs.

IV. Note the mistake and unreasonableness of those who propose to lead a Christian life before they die, but who think they cannot for the present enter upon it on account of their business. If religion were something apart from daily life, there might be some validity in this excuse; but if religion is the right conduct of a man, then everything is religious that tends to build up men in perfect manhood. Then why should one wait? Religion is to the soul what health is to the body. One does not say in respect to health, “I will wait till I have perfected this or that before I recover.” On the contrary, he says, “In order that I may perfect my plans, I will seek health.” A man’s capacity to do business is improved by religion. There is nothing that one is called to do in life that he will not do better with a conscience void of offence and a heart at peace with God. (H. W. Beecher.)

A royal rule of life

I. Character comes out of work. It is what we do that educates us, rather than what we read or speculate about. Integrity of act cultivates integrity of heart; enthusiasm in effort resupplies the founts of enthusiasm in the will, and sympathetic activities nourish the emotion out of which they flow. As the roots of the oak reach down and out in the soil to the slenderest end, so strength of character is found in those unseen acts that run through the moments of each day.

II. Daily work assists us to larger and clearer views of Divine truth. The crazy fancies that have shattered or darkened communities came not from artisan, miner, or sailor, but from recluses. Work gives strength to the mind, and brings it to that point to which the gospel makes its appeal. Leisure has a charm, and inquiry a zest after toil. The best scholars have been trained in cities. In the country there is something of languor, but in the emulous activities of metropolitan life we make our faculties more acute and our inquisition of truth is more successful.

III. By work we enable ourselves to influence others for good. In society every one affects all. There is indeed peril in this fact. An unfaithful workman may introduce into your dwelling disease and death. A negligent pilot may plunge hundreds into sorrow. A bludgeon is not needed to destroy the eye, or a hammer to ruin a watch. A grain of dirt is sufficient in either case; and so it is with secret influences at work in society. Noble work will bless those we may never see, and give progress to what is best in human life. It is not wealth inherited that is the mightiest lever, but that which is gained by work. He who lays aside for Christ a portion of his daily wage of work, preaches to the world and thereby advances the cause of the Redeemer.

IV. If we are obedient to this rule of life, we shall gain the clearest impression of immortality. It is not in dreams that we come under the full power of the world to come; but often in toil we feel the dignity of manhood within us that is not yet revealed. The philosopher may doubt, and the enthusiast may feel that he has not grasped it; but the mother, busied with her humble service, does feel that a time is coming when her work wilt be recognised and rewarded. Of course, we may be so ardent in earthly pursuits as to forget everything else; but to the thoughtful worker this truth comes as an inspiring impulse. Conclusion: We gaze on the loveliness and quiet of the country, and fancy that there is the place to lead an unworldly life. Nay, there is worldliness there as truly as in Wall Street. Men fight about fences as we do about contracts. Here, indeed, in wealth and fashion and sensuality, worldliness takes root with satanic force; but here also are the finest specimens of Christian character illustrated. (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)

Sanctified toil

1. The rights of wealth are secured by diligence.

2. The snares of wealth are obviated by a fervent spirit.

3. The responsibilities of wealth are discharged by serving the Lord. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Worship at work

Here is--

1. The diligent hand.

2. The fervent heart.

3. The single eye. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Fervent in spirit.--

I. What is it to be fervent in spirit? To be serious and earnest in--

1. The exercise of graces; in our--

(a) Tempered with knowledge (Romans 10:2).

(b) Regulated by His Word.

2. The performance of duties in--

II. Why thus fervent in spirit?

1. The end of God’s giving us such active spirits is that we might employ them for Him (Proverbs 16:4).

2. These are businesses of the greatest concern (Deuteronomy 30:15).

3. Whatsoever is not done fervently is no good work (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Conclusion:

1. Bewail your former indifference.

2. Be more serious for the future. Consider

Fervency of spirit

I. Wherein it consists--

1. In zeal for God’s glory.

2. Prompted by God’s love in the heart.

3. Awakened and sustained by God’s Spirit.

II. What are its evidences?

1. Diligence.

2. Fidelity.

3. Cheerful effort.

4. Constancy.

III. Where is it necessary? Everywhere.

1. In the Church.

2. In the world.

3. In the family.

4. In retirement. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Fervency a test of spirituality

Among the wonders which science has achieved, it has succeeded in bringing things which are invisible and impalpable to our senses within the reach of our most accurate observations. Thus the barometer makes us acquainted with the actual state of the atmosphere. It takes cognisance of the slightest variation, and every change is pointed out by its elevation or depression, so that we are accurately acquainted with the actual state of the air, and at any given time. In like manner the Christian has within him an index by which he may take cognisance, and by which he may measure the elevation and degrees of his spirituality--it is the spirit of inward devotion. However difficult it may seem to be to pronounce on the invisibilities of our spirituality, yet there is a barometer to determine the elevation or depression of the spiritual principle. It marks the changes of the soul in its aspect towards God. As the spirit of prayer mounts up, there is true spiritual elevation; and as it is restrained and falls low, there is a depression of the spiritual principle within us. As is the spirit of devotion and communion with God, such is the man. (H. G. Salter.)

Fervour of spirit

The word “fervent,” in our tongue, would seem to indicate heat that prevails to such an extent as to break into a flame. In the Greek it is to be boiling hot. But whether it be the dry heat or the wet, it comes to the same point--namely, feeling, carried up to the point of disclosure.

I. Fervency is the law of Christian conduct, feeling, and life. We are to have “fervid charity”; not languid and somnolent charity, but a charity that flames, that boils. There is no feeling which answers to the test of the Word of God that is not fervent.

1. But are not the deepest feelings often voiceless? Yes, and latent feeling is often the deepest and the best; and there are ether expressions of it besides those of the tongue. The eye expresses it, the hand expresses it. The best mother is not the one who kisses her babe the oftenest, but the one that takes care of it the best. The best friends are not those that for ever hang upon your neck, but those whose whole life and occupation have found out how to serve you by the ten thousand amenities of love. But feeling must develop itself somehow. Feeling that does not do anything is like a candle unlighted, or a fire of green wood that smokes and does not burn.

2. The religious side of human nature must glow. “Let your light shine before men.” We must carry the light of feeling out to a boisterous world; and the feeling is to be carried up to an intensity such that it will burn or shine out, and be able to withstand the influences that are streaming from life on every side. Therefore you see it coupled with “Not slothful in business.” You are to carry your fervency into business; you are to adapt it to your business; you are to make it a part of your business, and so a part of your religion.

3. A great many Christians claim that there is a living force in them; but when you look you never see it--it is never disclosed. For the law of force is fervency, and no man can work with any great competency except by strong feeling.

II. The great truths of the gospel are to be accepted in their plenitude and reality only in a fervent state of mind. As I understand faith, it is such a quickening of the mind, such an expansion of its power, such a luminousness shining through it of the fires of a sanctified imagination working on moral and spiritual elements, that the whole man is lifted up into a higher sphere, and reasons upon things that are not in the vulgar court of a mere justice of the peace, but in the spiritual court of the Holy Ghost. What is God to the great mass of men? A fate; a fear; a dread; an abstraction; a machinist; a power hid behind government; a law; a something; a nothing. But when the soul has been kindled, and the understanding is regnant, and all the best affections cluster around the reason to give it expression, the heavens cannot contain God, and the earth is full of His glory and companionship. There is but one way in which you can have a sound theology, and that is by living so near to God that you have the witness of the Divine Spirit in you that you are the sons of God. If you can breathe into the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ such a vitality of faith as that the members of it are living in a fervent and burning zeal of Christian charity, you need not trouble yourself about doctrinal beliefs; they will take care of themselves. But if you spend all your force upon the externalities of doctrine and of church organisation, you will have a huge casket with a spurious jewel in it.

III. All unfervent, dull, and drowsy preaching is heretical. Anything that turns people out of the way, and imperils their souls, is heresy; and of all heresies there is none more deadly than a drowsy preacher. And yet, when a man comes that wakes up the congregation, there are a great many men that look up and say, “Who knows whereunto this thing will grow?” Why, yes, if sleep be piety, what will become of religion if men wake up? But life is above all price; and a man who is fit to preach at all, must be fit to preach because he has the power of inflammation. A man that cannot boil, and that cannot make anybody else boil; a man that cannot be blown into a flame, and cannot kindle a flame in others, is not fit to preach.

IV. All the conceptions of religious life that esteem strong feeling to be vulgar are unchristian and unphilosophical; they are utterly unallied to the whole nature of grace, or to the disclosure of God’s feeling in the human soul; and yet there are a great many who have such a conception. The substitution of decorum for emotion, of polish for deep feeling, of taste for conscience--in other words, the worship of culture--there can be nothing wider from the true spirit of the gospel than that. When men are thoroughly trained and cultivated, and have religious feeling, and have it fervently and deeply, it is a great deal better that they should express it with refinement and with genius, if it can be so expressed; but to have decorum, and taste, and cold intellectuality, and none of the fire of feeling, is to be idolatrous. It is to worship the senses, and that on a very low plane of life. It is better, a hundredfold, that there should be the utmost tumult of revival than that there should be simply a decorous stupor. Conclusion: “And now, are you, that are grouped into a church, living, with real glow and fervour, a religious life? Do you love God, or do you only say you love Him? Do you love your fellow-men as yourself, or do you only say that you do in routine? Do you enjoy religion? Are you working in your several spheres with fervour? Is it not time that you should wake out of your sleep? The Master is going by, and the cry, “The Bridegroom cometh,” will sound in your ears before long. Are your lamps filled and burning? Do men feel the fire and the flame? Are you a power among men? May the Spirit of light, life, fire, and power come down into the hearts of every one of the members of this church, and of all disciples of every name gathered together this morning, brushing the ashes of the past away, kindle on the old altar a new flame that shall never go out. (H. W. Beecher.)

On the obligations to fervour of spirit

1. Fervour of spirit is, in general, opposed to lukewarmness and indifference. It denotes an uncommon application of mind, and a warmth of zeal bordering on transport, that moves every faculty of the soul, and carries all before it in the pursuit of what we highly value and desire. It does not consist merely in a few emotions of natural piety, neither is it a sudden blaze of religious fervour, which flashes for a moment like a meteor and as quickly disappears. It is a permanent and abiding principle of action, a beam from the Sun of Righteousness, which, bright at the outset, shineth more and more, till it reaches the fulness of its meridian splendour.

2. When this is displayed in its fullest extent, it is one of the noblest ornaments of the Christian. It is to the spiritual life what health is to the natural. It renders that active and spirited which, without it, were dull and almost lifeless.

3. As to our obligations to be fervent, note that--

I. It is enjoined by God’s positive command. The Scriptures abound in exhortations not merely to serve the Lord, but to do so with fervency and zeal, to work while it is day, for the night cometh, when no man can work. Many are the precepts which require us to be up and doing, to be zealous in good works, etc. There is nothing so offensive to God as lukewarmness and indifference.

II. God has a just right to it. He gave us our being at the first; by His providence our lives are daily sustained. Is it possible to render unto God more than His goodness gives Him a right to claim? All this, however, is but a small part of the obligation which His mercy has laid you under. Think only on the wonders of redeeming love. Can you, then, exceed in gratitude to such a Friend, and serve Him with too much zeal?

III. The difficulties connected with the service of God require it. Religion is not a matter of easy acquirement. The enemies we have to encounter are numerous and powerful, and, through them, we must fight our way to the ground which shall be our reward. Within, our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; then we have depraved appetites to restrain, and passions fed by indulgence to subdue. Has any of you made the attempt, and do you find it an easy matter? Besides, all who would love God and Christ Jesus must expect to meet with persecution. Amid so many perils, what need is there of fervour! Amid such obstacles, what but a zeal that knows no bounds would enable us to resist and overcome the enemies of our salvation!

IV. Let the example of the saints animate you to cultivate it. What was the distinguishing characteristic of Abraham, of Elijah, of Samuel, of Daniel, and of the others? It was zeal for the Lord, manifesting itself by obedience, holy, fervid, and strenuous exertion to promote the glory of God. In none, however, did this spirit more immediately display itself than in our blessed Lord and Saviour. “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up.” (G. Milligan.)

Enthusiasm

I. What is enthusiasm? Enthusiasmos means the fulness of Divine inspiration, an absorbing, a passionate devotion to some good cause, the state of those whom St. Paul here describes as “fervent,” literally boiling in spirit, the spirit of man when transfigured, uplifted, dilated by the Spirit of God. Without enthusiasm of some noble kind a man is dead, and without enthusiasts a nation perishes. There are two forms which enthusiasm has assumed--the enthusiasm for humanity, and the enthusiasm for individual salvation. When the two have been combined; when the sense of devotion has been united with the exaltation of charity, it has produced the most glorious and blessed benefactors of the world. What was Christianity itself but such an enthusiasm? Learnt from the example, caught from the Spirit of Christ, the same love for the guilty and the wretched, which brought the Lord of glory down to the lowest depths, was kindled by His Spirit in the heart of all His noblest sons. Forgiven, they have longed with others to share the same forgiveness, and they have been ready to do all, and to dare all, for His sake who died for them. Again and again this Divine fire has died out of the world; again and again has it been rekindled by God’s chosen sons. What would the world have been without them? Ask what the world would be without the sun.

II. The enthusiasm of the student, artist, discoverer, man of science--what else could have inspired their infinite patience and self-sacrifice? It plunged Roger Bacon into torture and imprisonment; it made Columbus face the terrors of unknown seas; it caused years of persecution to Galileo, to Kepler, to Newton, to the early geologists, to Charles Darwin. What supported them was the fervency of spirit which prefers labour to sloth, and love to selfishness, and truth to falsehood, and God to gold.

III. The enthusiasm of the reformer. Think what Italy was fast becoming when Savonarola thundered against her corruption and apostacy. Think how an intolerable sacerdotal tyranny would have crushed the souls of men had not Wycliffe braved death to give the people of England their Bible. Think what truths would have been drowned in deep seas of oblivion if Huss had not gone calmly to the stake. Think what a sink of abominations the nominal Church of God might now have been if the voice of Luther had never shaken the world. Think how the Church of England might now be settling on her lees if such men as Wesley and Whitefield had not driven their fellows back to the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus.

IV. The enthusiasm of the missionary. In the first centuries every Christian looked on it as a part of his life to be God’s missionary, and for centuries the Church produced men like Boniface and Columban. Then for one thousand years the darkness was only broken by here and there a man like St. Louis of France, or St. Francis of Assisi. It is to Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians that we owe the revival of missionary zeal. In the last century missionaries were regarded as foolish and rash, and I know not what. When Carey proposed to go as a missionary to India, he was told that if God wished to convert the heathen He would doubtless do so in His own way. Think of Jn Eliot, the lion-hearted “apostle of the Indians,” and his motto that prayer and painstaking can accomplish everything. Think of young and sickly David Brainerd going alone into the wild forests of America and among their wilder denizens, with the words “Not from necessity but from choice, for it seems to me that God’s dealings towards me have fitted me for a life of solitariness and hardship.” Think of Adoniram Judson and the tortures he bore so cheerfully in his Burmese prison. And we, too, in these days have seen Charles Mackenzie leave the comforts of Cambridge to die amid the pestilent swamps of the Zambesi, and Coleridge Patteson, floating, with his palm branch of victory in his hand, over the blue sea among the Coral Isles. Nor do I know any signs more hopeful for the nation than these, that our public schools are now founding missions in the neglected wastes of London, and our young athletes are going out as poor men to labour in China and Hindustan.

V. The enthusiasm of our social philanthropists. Who can measure the good done by St. Vincent de Paul when he founded his Sisterhoods of Mercy? What man has done more for multitudes of souls than John Pounds, the Plymouth cobbler, who became the founder of ragged schools? What a light from heaven was shed on countless wanderers by Robert Raikes, John Howard, and Elizabeth Fry! Think, too, of the effort of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Sharp and Garrison in their efforts to liberate the slave. Conclusion: There are questions even more pressing and vital now than the slave trade was in the days of our fathers. Shame be on us if we prove ourselves degenerate sons! There are two particular evils which we must either conquer or be ruined by them. One is drink, the other is uncleanness. Are we to be such cowards as to leave these arrows to rankle and gangrene in the heart of England? If the Parliament of England will not deal with them, then the people of England must deal with them. (Archdn. Farrar.)

A fervent piety

I. The importance and the advantages of serving the Lord. Piety is enforced in these respects. Its obligation is indispensable; its beauty is supreme, and its utility is universal. It is not so much a single virtue, as a constellation of virtues. Here reverence, gratitude, faith, hope, love, concentre their rays, and shine with united glory. The most illiterate man, under the impressions of true devotion, and in the immediate acts of Divine worship, contracts a greatness of mind that raises him above his equals. Thereby, says an admired ancient, we build a nobler temple to the Deity than creation can present. Piety is adapted to the notions of happiness and chief good which all men entertain, although these notions were as various in themselves as the theories of philosophers have been about their object. Hither let the man of the world turn, that he may find durable riches, more to be desired than gold and all earthly possessions. Piety is the foundation of virtue and morality. True devotion strengthens our obligations to a holy life, and superadds a new motive to every social and civil duty. A good man is the guardian angel of his country. I shall only add on this head, that by serving the Lord here, we have an earnest and anticipation of the happiness of the heavenly state. Here the sun faintly beams, as in the dubious twilight; there he shines forth in full meridian glory.

II. To explain that fervour of spirit so requisite in the exercises of devotion, and enforce it with a few arguments.

1. By fervour of spirit, in general, is meant an uncommon application of mind in the performance of any thing, a warmth bordering upon transport, that moves every spring of the heart, and carries all before it, to gain its end. So that by a fervency of spirit in serving the Lord must be understood an ardent and active desire of loving the Lord, of worshipping Him in sincerity, and obeying His commands with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. True fervour of spirit proceedeth from above. It is a beam from the Father of lights, pure and benign, which at once enlightens and warms the mind.

2. To engage us more effectually to the performance of this part of our duty, let us consider the general obligations we lie under, as rational creatures, to serve the Lord with fervency of spirit, and then the particular obligations that arise from Christianity.

Religious fervour

I. Fervour, in general, is opposed to lukewarmness or indifference, and denotes that edge or keenness, that activity and diligence, which we commonly exert in the pursuit of any object we highly value and wish to possess. Now the fervour whereof my text speaks hath religion, or the service of God, for its object. Love to God is the principle, the law of God is the rule, and His glory the end of all its operations. But as there are several counterfeits of this gracious temper, I shall endeavour to exhibit the properties of true Christian fervour.

1. That as the service of God is the proper object of true Christian fervour, this renders it necessary that we be thoroughly acquainted with the laws of God, that we may know what particular services He requires of us, and will accept at our hands.

2. As our fervour should be employed in the service of God, or in those duties that God hath plainly commanded, so it ought likewise to aim for His glory, otherwise it is unhallowed passion, which debaseth everything that proceeds from it. If God is glorified by his sufferings, the fervent Christian hath gained his end.

3. That this gracious temper extends its regards to all God’s commandments. It declines no duty that bears the stamp of His authority.

4. The distinguishing property of true Christian fervour is this: It will make us peculiarly attentive to our own behaviour, and begin with correcting what is faulty in ourselves.

5. Though true fervour begins at home, yet it is not always confined there. It was the speech of a wicked Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The warm-hearted Christian extends his good offices to all around him, and useth all that power and influence which his station gives him to discourage vice and to advance the kingdom of Christ in the world.

6. That this fervour must be always under the direction of Christian prudence, that it may not break out into indecent heats, and carry us beyond the limits of our office or station in the society to which we belong.

II. To recommend and enforce this gracious temper. Consider--

1. That God deserves the most zealous and active service we can pay to Him.

2. God not only deserves such service as I am pleading for, He likewise demands it, and will not be put off with anything less. If any imagine that Christ came into the world to relax their obligations to a holy life, they are grossly mistaken; and if they act upon that principle, they shall find themselves fatally disappointed at last.

3. A motive to fervour and diligence in the service of God ariseth from the difficulties that attend our duty. It is no easy matter “to pluck out a right eye, and to cut off a right hand.” Besides, in the ordinary course of events, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution” in one kind or other. Such are the difficulties that attend religion; and do not these make zeal or fervour necessary.

4. That we should be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; because it is absolutely impossible that we can do too much. One thing is certain, that the most serious Christians, when they came to die, have always lamented their former negligence; and the time is at hand when all the world shall confess that holy diligence was the truest wisdom. (R. Walker.)

Serving the Lord.--

Serving the Lord

I. What is it to serve God? It implies--

1. Our devoting ourselves wholly to Him and His way (2 Corinthians 8:5; Matthew 6:24).

2. Subjecting ourselves to His will and laws (Psalms 2:11-12).

3. Worshipping Him (Matthew 4:10; Luke 2:37).

4. Walking in holiness and righteousness before Him (Luke 1:74-75).

5. Improving all for His glory.

II. How should we serve Him?

1. Reverently (Hebrews 12:28-29; Psalms 2:11).

2. Obediently (1 Samuel 12:14).

3. Sincerely (John 4:24; Psalms 51:6).

4. Readily and willingly (1 Chronicles 28:9).

5. Only (Matthew 4:10).

6. Wholly (Deuteronomy 10:12; Psalms 119:6).

7. Continually (Luke 1:75).

III. Why serve the Lord?

1. He made us (Proverbs 16:4).

2. Maintains us (Acts 17:28).

3. Has redeemed us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Conclusion:

1. Unless you serve Him you must serve sin and Satan (Matthew 6:24).

2. His service is the only liberty (Romans 8:21), and the highest honour (1. Samuel 2:30).

3. You vowed to serve Him in baptism (Deuteronomy 26:17-18).

4. All you can do is much less than you owe Him (Luke 17:10).

5. If you serve Him He will cause all things to serve you (Romans 8:28).

6. He will reward you hereafter. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Serving the Lord

I. What this implies.

1. Self-consecration.

2. The repudiation of all other service.

3. Complete devotion to His cause.

4. A steady aim at His glory.

II. Why should we undertake it? It is--

1. Due.

2. Reasonable.

3. Honourable.

4. The end of our being. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Serving the Lord

It is said of Sister Dora that no matter at what hour the hospital door-bell rang, she used to rise instantly to admit the patient, saying, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.”

Serving the Lord

The harmony of Scripture is admirable. He who weighed the mountains in scales has had a clear eye to the adjustment of truth in His Word. While the doctrinal part of Scripture is exceeding full, the practical part is not one whit less copious. In this verse this harmony is noteworthy. The Christian is not to be a worse tradesman because of his religion, but a better. At the same time, we must not neglect the spiritual because of the pressing demands of the temporal. The holy fire within our souls is to be constantly burning.

I. The essentials of all true service to God.

1. Divine acceptance. If a stranger should of his own accord visit your farm, and should commence driving the horses, milking the cows, reaping the wheat, and so on, if you had never employed him he would be fulfilling the part of an intruder rather than the office of a servant. Now it is not every man who is fit to be a servant of God. How should the thrice holy God be served by hands unwashed from sin? Unto the wicked God saith, “What hast thou to do to declare My statutes?”

2. We must render our obedience to the Lord Himself. Much that is done religiously is not done unto God. Whose honour do you seek? for remember that which is uppermost in thy heart is thy master. Sinister motives and selfish aims are the death of true godliness.

3. We must serve God in the way of His appointment. If anything be done without orders, it may be excessive activity, but it is not service. How many think they are serving God when they have never turned to His commandments 1 What God doth not bid you hath no power over your conscience, even though pope and prelate decree it.

4. We must serve God in His strength. Those who attempt to perfect holiness without waiting upon the Holy Spirit for power, will be as foolish as the apostles had they commenced preaching without power from on high. Nothing will last but that which is wrought by Divine power.

5. We must stand continually ready to obey the Lord’s will in anything and everything without distinction. He who enlists surrenders his will to the discipline of the army and the bidding of the Captain. What hast thou to do with likings and dislikings? Servants must like that which their masters bid them.

II. Some of the modes in which we may serve the Lord.

1. It was an ordinance of David that the soldiers who watched by the stuff should be accounted to be as true soldiers as those who joined in the actual conflict. Hence I would say a word to those of you who cannot serve the Lord in direct activities. If the tongue speak not, yet if the life speak thou shalt have done God no small homage. If thou canst not help the cause of God in any other mode, at any rate there is open to thee that of fervent prayer. I doubt not that many sick beds are doing more for Christ than our pulpits. But in addition to this, the very weakest and worst circumstanced can speak at least now and then a word for Christ. Mother, with those babes around you, you have a field of labour among them. You whose occupations engross your time, I cannot imagine that God has given even to you a light which is quite covered with a bushel. They who give thousands to the cause of Christ do well, but they do no better than the widow who, having two mites, gave all.

2. But while we make room for comfort for those who abide by the stuff, we do not desire to console the idle; we are--

III. The commendation which is due to this service. To serve God is--

1. The natural element of godliness. Heavenly spirits enjoy unbroken rest, but they find their rest in serving God day and night. Surely it is as much the element of a Christian to do good as for a fish to swim, or a bird to fly, or a tree to yield her fruits.

2. The highest honour. How men pride themselves on being attached to the train of great men! But what must it be to have God for your Master.

3. The highest pleasure. The happiest members of any church are the most diligent.

4. Soul education. No man grows to be a perfect Christian by lying on the bed of sloth. Our manhood is developed by exercise.

IV. The present need of this service. There is need enough of it in this city. The ignorance, poverty, misery, iniquity of London reek before God, and yet we gather in a little quiet place by ourselves, and we use the rosewater of self-complacency, and think that everything goes well. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 12

Romans 12:12

Rejoicing in hope.

I. What is it to rejoice?

1. Negatively--

2. Positively; it consists in--

II. What is hope? It consists in--

III. What is it to rejoice in hope? To rest satisfied with the expectation of the good things God has promised.

1. An interest in Christ (1 Peter 1:8; Romans 8:32-34).

2. The pardon of sin (Psalms 32:5).

3. The love of God (Romans 5:1).

4. The working together of all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

5. Continual supplies of grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).

6. A joyful resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

7. The enjoyment of God for ever (Psalms 42:2).

IV. What grounds have we to hope for these things, so as to rejoice in it?

1. The faithfulness of God (Titus 1:2).

2. His power (Matthew 19:26).

3. The merits of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Conclusion: Rejoice in hope.

1. Otherwise you dishonour God by mistrusting His promises (Romans 4:20).

2. You dishonour religion by accusing it of uncertainties.

3. You deprive yourself of happiness.

4. The more joyful in hope, the more active in duty.

5. Rejoice in hope now; in sight hereafter. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Rejoicing in hope

I. The source of this joy--Hope.

1. Glorious.

2. Certain.

II. Its nature.

1. Sweet.

2. Solid.

3. Spiritual.

4. Purifying.

III. Its expression.

1. Lively.

2. Practical.

3. Constant.

IV. Its importance to--

1. Ourselves.

2. The Church.

3. The world. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Rejoicing in hope

1. Hope is an instinct of the soul. “Thou didst make me to hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” As an instinct--

2. The real worth of this instinct to man depends upon the direction it takes.

I. A right object.

1. It must not--

2. That which will give a joyous hope is moral goodness--assimilation to the image of God.

II. A certain foundation. Unless a man has good reason to believe that the object he hopes for is to be gained, he cannot rejoice in his hope. Three reasons for believing that a soul, guilty and depraved, can be brought into possession of true goodness, and restored to the very image of God, are--

1. The provisions of the gospel. The life and death of Christ, the agency of the Spirit, and the disciplinary influences of human life are all divinely appointed methods to re-create the soul and to fashion it into the very image of God.

2. The biographies of sainted men. History abounds with examples of bad men becoming good.

3. The inward consciousness of moral progress. The man who has got this hope is conscious that he has made some progress, and that the steps he has taken have been the most difficult. His past efforts are aids and pledges to future success. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Patient in tribulation.

I. what are tribulations? What-soever--

1. Is hurtful to us.

2. Vexeth us.

II. What is it to be patient?

1. Not to murmur against God (Exodus 16:3).

2. Nor despair of deliverance (Psalms 42:5).

3. Nor use unlawful means to get out of them.

4. To rest satisfied with them (1 Samuel 3:18).

5. To be thankful for them (Job 1:21-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

III. Why are we to be patient?

1. They come from God (2 Samuel 16:10-12; Psalms 39:2).

2. Are no more (Lamentations 3:39), but less than we deserve (Ezra 9:13).

3. Impatience does not heighten them.

4. By patience we change them into mercies as in Job, Joseph, David.

Conclusion: Be patient.

1. No afflictions but others have borne (1 Peter 4:12; 1Pe_5:9).

2. Christ has undergone more than we can (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:23; 1Pe_4:13).

3. God knows how to deliver us (2 Peter 2:9).

4. By patience you make a virtue of necessity.

5. Will do you much good by them (Hebrews 12:6-8). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Patient in tribulation

I. Tribulation is unavoidable in this life.

1. Ordained of God.

2. For wise purposes.

II. Should be borne with patience.

1. Not indifference.

2. But in silence.

3. Without repining.

4. With resignation.

III. The reasons.

1. God is kind.

2. Life is but a probationary state.

3. Consolations are provided.

4. The results are glorious. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Patient in tribulation

Some have floated on the sea, and trouble carried them on its surface, as the sea carries cork. Some have sunk at once to the bottom, as foundering ships sink. Some have run away from their own thoughts. Some have coiled themselves up in stoical indifference. Some have braved the trouble, and defied it. Some have carried it, as a tree does a wound, until by new wood it can overgrow and cover the old gash. A few in every age have known the divine art of carrying sorrow and trouble as wonderful food, as an invisible garment that clothed them with strength, as a mysterious joy, so that they suffered gladly, rejoicing in infirmity, and, holding up their heads with sacred presages whenever times were dark and troublous, let the light depart from their eyes, that they might by faith see nobler things than sight could reach. (H. W. Beecher.)

Patient in tribulation

All birds when they are first caught and put into the cage fly wildly up and down, and beat themselves against their little prisons; but within two or three days sit quietly on their perch, and sing their usual notes with their usual melody. So it fares with us, when God first brings us into a strait; we wildly flutter up and down, and beat and tire ourselves with striving to get free; but at length custom and experience will make our narrow confinement spacious enough for us; and though our feet should be in the stocks, yet shall we, with the apostles, be able even there to sing praises to our God. (Bp. Hopkins.)

Continuing instant in prayer.--

I. What is prayer?

1. The hearty desire.

2. Of necessary things.

(a) Sense of sin (Luke 13:3).

(b) Faith in Christ (Luke 17:5).

(c) Pardon of former transgressions (Psalms 51:9).

(d) Subduing present corruptions (Psalms 19:12; Psa_91:13; Psa_119:133).

(e) The continual influences of His grace and spirit (Psalms 51:10; Luke 11:13).

3. From God.

See the error of Papists, who pray to the Cross. To the Virgin Mary, etc. St. Roche for the plague. St. Apollonia for the toothache. St. Eulogius for horses. St. Anthony for hogs. St. Gallus for geese, etc.

II. Why should we pray?

1. God hath commanded it (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

2. Encouraged us with a promise (Psalms 50:15; Matthew 7:7).

3. Made it the condition of all promises (Ezekiel 36:37).

4. It is part of Divine worship.

5. Hereby we give glory to God.

6. All blessings are sanctified by it (1 Timothy 4:5).

7. Only by this we acknowledge our dependence upon Him.

III. How should we pray.

1. Before prayer, consider (Psalms 10:17).

2. In prayer.

(a) Praising God is all that He expects for His mercies.

(b) It is the best sacrifice we can offer (Psalms 69:30-31).

(c) It is the work of Heaven (Revelation 7:9-10; Rev_19:1).

3. After prayer.

IV. When should we pray? Or how continue instant in prayer (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

1. Be always in a praying frame.

2. Take all occasions of praying.

3. Never faint in prayer (Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

4. Make prayer your daily exercise.

5. Objection. I have oft prayed, but am never heard (Job 21:15).

(a) As to the matter (1 John 5:14).

(b) Means (James 1:6).

(c) End, of prayer (James 4:3).

Conclusion: Continue instant in prayer.

1. Otherwise ye live in continued sin.

2. Prayer is the most honourable work.

3. The most pleasant (Psalms 84:10).

4. The only way of getting real mercies (James 1:5).

5. Right praying is a sign of a true convert (Acts 9:11). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Instant in prayer

Prayer is the natural duty of religion. Its observance is as natural as conversation between men. The Scriptures urge a constant and careful performance, then, not only as a duty, but a privilege. The subject suggests an inquiry as to--

I. The matter and subject of prayer.

1. Generally, it is to petition God to bestow upon us all that is good, and to deliver us from all that is evil: the pursuit of virtue, the direction of our affairs, immortal happiness.

2. Particularly, our own individual requirements, according to our particular weaknesses and difficulties, should form the groundwork of our petitions.

II. The specific directions of the apostle--“Continuing instant.” We are not to make it a mere formal duty. It is to be the constant effort and breath of our very existence. We are hereby taught--

1. That worldly duties are not inconsistent with heavenly thoughts.

2. That God may be worshipped at all times.

3. That religion is not a thing to be put off till we have leisure and opportunity.

III. The contrast which this direction affords to all false systems. We are taught that God is worshipped by the mind and thoughts, and not by external observances. How different to heathen worship! Even the Jews’ religion was, to a great extent, formal. (J. Jortin, D.D.)

Instant in prayer

When a pump is frequently used, but little pains are necessary to have water; the water pours out at the first stroke, because it is high. But if the pump has not been used for a long while, the water gets low, and when you want it you must pump a long while, and the water comes only after great efforts. It is so with prayer; if we are instant in prayer, every little circumstance awakens the disposition to pray, and desires and words are always ready. But if we neglect prayer it is difficult for us to pray; for the water in the well gets low. (Felix Neff.)

Instant in prayer

doesn’t exactly mean that we should be praying every instant, though we can be doing that also, but not if we are to think a prayer, or speak a prayer, for how could we then be getting on with other things that need all our attention at the time? But there are prayers that are not spoken or even thought of. You have seen the mariner’s compass. When the ship is tossing about, the compass trembles and swings to and fro, but it always comes back and points straight to the north. That’s where it wants to go to; every time it points to the north it seems to pray, “Let me go there!” Now why is this needle so constant about this wish to go northward? Because it has got in it a spirit that belongs to the distant Pole, and so, even while it is busy in telling the sailors how to steer, it is itself always turning to the north, because its life lies that way. So we may be very busy about other things, and need to fix all our attention upon them; but if our heart is right with Jesus, we shall be always wanting to do things for His sake, and do them right; and that big wish that is always in the heart is a continual prayer. (J. R. Howat.)

Instancy in prayer

I. The import of the injunction. This is indicated by the employment of the word in other Scriptures (e.g., Acts 1:14; Act_2:42; Romans 13:6; Acts 8:13; Act_10:7; Ephesians 6:18)
. These show the meaning of the word; steadfastness or perseverance as a habit. In this sense the passage has many parallels (
Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). In the widest sense, therefore, the injunction lays upon us--

1. The habitual maintenance of a prayerful spirit.

2. The embracing of opportunities for prayer.

3. The improvement of occasions of prayer. You will find these everywhere, in the commonest experiences of every day.

4. Watchfulness.

II. Considerations by which the injunction may be commended and enforced.

1. What a mighty power of restraint would such an “instancy of prayer” exercise!

2. What a spiritual elevation!

3. What peace amid conflicting cares!

4. What strength! (J. M. Jarvie.)

Prayer, daily

As those who keep clocks wind them up daily, lest the weights should run down, and the clock stop; so we must set apart some portion of every day for meditation and prayer, lest our hearts should so far descend, through the weight of the cares of this world, that our course in godliness should be hindered and stopped. (Cawdray.)

Prayer hindered, not defeated

For so I have seen a lark rising from his bed of grass and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest than it could recover by the liberation and frequent weighing of his wings, till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air about his ministries here below. So is the prayer of a good man. (Jeremy Taylor.)

Prayer, nightly

It is said of that good old man, John Quincy Adams, that he never went to his rest at night until he had repeated the simple prayer learned in childhood--the familiar “Now, I lay me down to sleep.”

Perpetual prayer

I. What is here required?

1. Continuance in personal and secret prayer primarily. In these times Christ’s saying is reversed. Men seem to say, If you pray openly, the Father will reward you in secret. And if a man have a taste for prayer meetings and none for private prayer, he should give up the prayer meetings until he recover the taste for secret prayer.

2. Paul speaks of continuance in the sense of importunity and perseverance. “Instant,” means earnest, pressing, and urgent. The precept implies the danger of non-continuance--of a lack of earnestness and urgency. Now this danger arises from--

II. Why is this requirement made? Habitual prayer--

1. Keeps in habitual exercise the first principles of our religious life, etc. You cannot pray without bringing into exercise faith, trust, hope, and love. Now these principles are not intended to be within us like gems in a casket, but are like muscles. Work them, and they will be strengthened; give them nothing to do, and they will shrink, and when you want them, they will not be in a state to serve you.

2. Keeps a man face to face with God. This is the right position. We never see any matter as we ought to see it, except we look God in the face about it.

3. Recognises the two great blessings of the Christian economy. And what are these?

4. Is the constant use of the highest agency which Christians can employ. What has prayer done? Conquered the elements, healed the diseased, restored life, etc. Prayer moves the band which moves the world.

5. Is second only to ceaseless praise in the loftiness and in the sacredness of the habit.

6. Is in harmony with God’s present method of government. The basis of that government is atonement, i.e., an embodied supplication for mercy. (S. Martin.)

Prayer unceasing

Fletcher’s whole life was a life of prayer; and so intensely was his mind fixed upon God that he sometimes said, “I would not move from my seat without lifting up my heart to God.” “Wherever we met,” says Mr. Vaughan, “if we were alone, his first salute was, ‘Do I meet you praying?’ And if we were talking on any point of divinity, when we were in the depth of our discourse he would often break off abruptly and ask, ‘Where are our hearts now?’ If ever the misconduct of an absent person was mentioned, his usual reply was, ‘Let us pray for him.’”

Constant, instant, expectant

I. Instant. The Greek word means “always applying strength in prayer”; “blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee.” Brooks saith that the word is a metaphor taken from hunting dogs, which will never give up the game till they have got it. Prevalent prayer is frequently spoken of in Scripture as an agony--“striving together with me in your prayers,” and as “wrestling.” We must go with our whole soul to God or He will not accept us. We are to pray as if all depended upon our praying. How are we to attain to this urgency?

1. Let us study the value of the mercy which we are seeking at God’s hand. Whatever it is that thou art asking for, it is no trifle. If it be a doubtful thing, lay it aside: but if thou art certain that the blessing sought is good and necessary, examine it as a goldsmith inspects a jewel when he wishes to estimate its worth.

2. Meditate on thy necessities. See thy soul’s poverty and undeservingness. Look at what will happen to thee unless this blessing come.

3. Endeavour to get a distinct consciousness of the fact that God must give thee this blessing, or thou wilt never have it.

4. Eagerly desire the good thing. Stand not before God as one who will be content whether or no. There are times when you must say, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”

5. Now comes the tug of war; you are to plead with all your might. Gather up all your faculties to see whether this thing be a matter of promise or no. When you have found the promise, plead it by saying, “Lord, do as Thou hast said.” If you do not seem to prevail with one promise seek out another and another, and then plead, “For Thy name’s sake, for Thy truth’s sake, for Thy covenant’s sake”; and then come in with the greatest plea of all, “For Jesus’ sake.”

6. Still there is one thing more wanted, and that is strong faith. You cannot be instant in prayer, nay, you cannot offer an acceptable prayer at all except as you believe in the prayer-hearing God.

II. Constant--“continuing.” Go back to the hunting dog. We saw him rushing like the wind after his game, but this will not be enough if it only lasts for a little; he must continue running if he is to catch his prey. It is a sign of failure in the iron trade when the furnaces are blown out; when business flourishes the fire blazes both day and night; and so will it be with prayer when the soul is in a flourishing state. If prayer be the Christian’s vital breath, how can he leave off praying? “That is difficult,” says one. Who said it was not? All the processes of the Christian life are difficult; but “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” Prayer must be continuous, because--

1. It is so singularly mixed up with the whole gospel dispensation.

2. It is connected with every covenant blessing.

3. It has been connected with every living spiritual experience you have ever had.

4. There is no time when we can afford to slacken prayer.

5. Such remarkable gifts are vouchsafed to importunity.

6. The continuance of our instancy in prayer is the test of the reality of our devotion. Earnest men of business cannot afford to open the shop and do a little occasional trade, and then put up a notice, “The proprietor of this shop has gone out for an excursion, and will resume his business when he feels inclined to.” Beware of spasms of prayer.

III. Expectant. It is not in the text verbally, but it must be there really, because there will be no such thing as instancy or constancy unless there is an expectation that God can and will give that which we seek. Go back to our dog again: he would not run at so great a rate if he did not expect to seize his prey. If some people looked out for answers to prayer they might soon have them, for their prayers would be answered by themselves. I was reminded of that by a little boy whose father prayed in the family that the Lord would visit the poor and relieve their wants. When he had finished, his little boy said, “Father, I wish I had your money.” “Why so?” “Because,” he said, “ I would answer your prayers for you.” I like better still that story of the good man at the prayer-meeting, who reading the list of prayers found one for a poor widow that her distress might be relieved, so he began to read it, but stopped and added, “We won’t trouble the Lord with that, I will attend to that myself.” The Lord might well say to us, “Thou sayest, Thy kingdom come; arise and help to make My kingdom come!” I shall close by recommending to all of you one simple but very comprehensive prayer. It was offered by a poor man in Fife, and it was copied out by the Duchess of Gordon, and found among her papers when she died. “O Lord, give me grace to feel my need of Thy grace! Give me grace to ask for Thy grace! Give me grace to receive Thy grace! And when in Thy grace Thou hast given me grace, give me grace to use Thy grace!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 13-14

Romans 12:13-14

Distributing to the necessity of saints.

I. Who are the saints?

1. All that truly believe in Christ are sanctified.

2. All that profess to believe in Him (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; Revelation 7:9).

II. What necessities? That they need our--

1. Advice.

2. Prayers (1 Timothy 2:1).

3. Estates.

III. What is it to distribute?

1. To give them freely.

2. To communicate with, because Christians (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).

IV. Who ought to give.?

1. Every one is to be willing to give (2 Corinthians 8:13).

2. They only are actually to give, who have anything of their own to give (1 John 3:17; Isaiah 61:8).

3. Hence men of a lower estate are bound to give too something (Ephesians 4:28).

V. How much is every one bound to give?

1. In general, bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6).

2. Proportionably to our estates (1 Corinthians 16:2).

3. More than we spend on our lusts.

4. As much as is not necessary for ourselves (2 Corinthians 8:14).

5. Sometimes what is necessary (2 Corinthians 8:3).

VI. How ought we to give ?

1. Out of a sense of duty, not for vainglory (Matthew 6:1-2).

2. Out of love and pity to our brother (1 Corinthians 13:3).

3. Willingly (2 Corinthians 8:10; 2Co_8:12).

4. Cheerfully (Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

5. Readily, without delay (Proverbs 3:27-28).

6. Thankfully (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).

7. For a right end.

Conclusion--Repent of your neglect of this duty. Perform it for the future. Consider--

1. The law of God commands it.

2. The law of nature (Matthew 7:12).

3. God hath made it our brother’s due, and so we rob him unless we give.

4. A blessing is connected with it (Acts 20:35).

5. Hereby we imitate God (Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36).

6. Unless we give we have no love for God (1 John 3:17).

7. Nor true religion (James 1:27).

8. What we have is not our own, but God’s, to be laid out according to His will (Luke 16:12; 1 Chronicles 29:11).

9. Yet Himself will repay us what we have so disbursed (Proverbs 19:17).

10. Hence this is the way to lay up our treasures in heaven (1 Timothy 6:17-19; Matthew 6:19-20).

11. It is the best way to prosper and sanctify what ye have here (Proverbs 28:27; Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

12. You shall be judged according to your performance or neglect of this duty (Matthew 25:34-42). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Liberality to Christian brethren

I. Specially needed.

II. Specially claimed.

III. Specially rewarded. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Expressions of Christian love

I. Benevolence.

1. To the brethren.

2. To strangers.

3. To enemies.

II. Sympathy.

1. With the happy.

2. With the sorrowful.

III. Unity.

1. In Christian feeling.

2. This requires humility in aim, in thought. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Given to hospitality.--

Hospitality

I. Implies--

1. Our indifferency about the world.

2. Willingness to communicate what we have to others (1 Timothy 6:17).

3. Our supplying strangers as well as others with necessaries (1 Peter 4:9).

II. Reasons.

1. A priori. We should do to others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12):

2. A posteriori. Because of the good we may get by it. Some have entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2; Genesis 18:3; Gen_19:2); and prophets (1 Kings 17:10-16; 2 Kings 5:8-27; Matthew 25:43). (Bishop Beveridge.)

Christian hospitality

I. Its trials.

1. The whim and eccentricity of the guest. There are a great many excellent people whose temperament makes them a nuisance in any house where they stay. On short acquaintance, they will keep unseasonable hours, have all the peculiarities of the gormandiser or the dyspeptic, and in a thousand ways afflict the household which proposes to take care of them. Added to all, they stay too long. Gerrit Smith, the philanthropist, asked at his breakfast table, on the day when he hoped that the long-protracted guests would depart, “O Lord, bless this provision, and our friends who leave us to-day!” But there are alleviations. Perhaps they have not had the same refining influences about them that you have had. Perhaps it is your duty, by example, to show them a better way. Perhaps they are sent to be a trial for the development of your patience. Perhaps it is to make your home the brighter when they are gone. When our guests are cheery, and fascinating, and elegant, it is very easy to entertain them; but when we find in them that which is antagonistic to our taste and sentiment, it is a positive triumph when we can be “given to hospitality.”

2. The toil and expense of exercising it. When you introduce a foreign element into the domestic machinery, though you may declare that they must take things as they find them, the Martha will break in. The ungovernable stove, the unmasticable joint, the delayed marketing, the difficulty of being presentable, etc. Yet we may serve God with plate, and cutlery, and broom, just as certainly as with psalm-book and liturgy. But you are not to toil unnecessarily. Though the fare be plain, cheerful presidency of the table and cleanliness of appointments will be good enough for anybody that ever comes to your house. I want to lift this idea of Christian entertainment out of a positive bondage into a glorious inducement. Suppose it were announced that the Lord Jesus Christ would come to town this week, what woman in this house would not be glad to wash for Him, or spread for Him a bed, or bake bread for Him? He is coming. “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it to Me.”

II. Its rewards.

1. The Divine benediction. When any one attends to this duty, God’s blessing comes upon him, upon his companion, upon his children.

2. The good wishes and prayers of our guests. I do not think one’s house ever gets over having had a good man or woman abide there. George Whitefield used to scratch a text on his window, and in one case, after he left, the whole household was converted by it. The woman of Shunem furnished a little room for Elisha, and all the ages have heard the consequences. On a winter night my father entertained Trueman Osborne, the evangelist, and that, among others, was the means of saving my soul. How many of our guests have brought to us condolence, and sympathy, and help! It is said of St. Sebald, that in his Christian rounds he used to stop for entertainment at the house of a poor cartwright. Coming there one day, he found him and his family freezing for the lack of fuel. St. Sebald ordered the man to bring some icicles and throw them on the hearth; whereupon they began to blaze immediately, and the freezing family were warmed by them. How often have our guests come in to gather up the cold, freezing sorrows of our life, kindling them into illumination, and warmth, and good cheer. He who opens his house to Christian hospitality, turns those who are strangers into friends. Some day you will be sitting in loneliness, watching a bereavement, and you will get a letter, and there you will read the story of thanks for your Christian generosity long years before, and how they have heard afar off of your trouble. When we take people into our houses as Christian guests, we take them into our sympathies for ever. In Dort a soldier stopped at a house, desiring shelter. At first he was refused admittance, but when he showed his credentials he was admitted. In the night-time two ruffians broke in, but no sooner had they come over the door-sill than the armed guest met them. There are no bandits prowling around to destroy our houses; but how often our guests become our defenders. We gave them shelter first, and afterwards they fought for our reputation, for our property, for our soul.

3. We shall have hospitality shown to us and to ours. In the upturnings of this life, who knows where we may be thrown, and how much we may need an open door? There may come no such crisis to us, but our children may be thrown into some such strait. Among the Greeks, after an entertainment they take a piece of lead and cut it in two, and the host takes one half and the guest the other as they part. These are handed down from generation to generation, and after awhile perhaps one of the families in want or in trouble go out with this one piece of lead and find the other family with the corresponding piece, and no sooner is the tally completed than the old hospitality is aroused, and eternal friendship pledged. So the memory of Christian hospitality will go down from generation to generation, and the tally will never be lost. (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)

Bless them which persecute you--

Never curse, but only bless your persecutors

1. From virtues towards suffering brethren, the apostle now passes to the spirit to be maintained towards persecutors.

2. All wrongs are hard to be endured; and the Christian knows that he ought not to suffer for righteousness’ sake, and that his persecutors are deserving of punishment. If, therefore, he can secure protection by an appeal to legal authority, he ought to make that appeal. But when there is no such appeal then comes in the temptation, not simply to lodge an appeal with the great supreme Judge, but to invoke His interposition to smite the persecutor with a curse. The feeling that I am wronged is strengthened by the conviction that my wrong is detrimental to God’s kingdom, and therefore an injury to the race. Punishment, therefore, would be agreeable to strict justice, but would it also be good for me to invoke or for God to inflict? Not so, says the apostle. Not so, says Jesus. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are made of,” etc. Therefore “bless them which persecute you,” etc.

3. The command and example of our Lord aught to be decisive for all Christians (Matthew 5:43-48). But why ought we thus to act towards persecutors?

I. The persecutor usually is but resenting what he conceives to be a wrong, not only against himself and society, but against his religion and his God. There are, no doubt, men who avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by the prevalence of the persecuting spirit to give effect to their private hatreds, or to enrich themselves by unrighteous plunder. And others are stung into persecuting activity because the Christian’s holy conversation rebukes their iniquity. But real persecutors are moved by zeal for what they conceive to be religion. It may be a false religion, as idolatry or an incomplete religion, as Judaism, or a corrupted religion, as Romanism; but whatever the special character of the religion whoso interests are supposed to be in danger, it will be that which is generally regarded as being true. This it is which gives such relentless and terrible earnestness to persecutors. They verily think with themselves that they ought to do these things; and that they are doing God service. This, of course, will not avail to justify their conduct; but it furnishes one reason why we should bless those who persecute us. For they are impelled by conscience, and by their apprehension of what is due from them to society and to God.

II. The time for the cursing has not yet come, but is kept back, in order that if possible the injurious men may be brought to a better mind. God was more wronged by men than we can ever be. Yet He not only exercised a marvellous forbearance, but, out of earnest pity for the offenders, spared not His own Son in order to bring back the guilty race. We have been saved, and therefore these people who are still without hate us. But God loves them still, and His purpose is to save them, and He requires of us to do what we can to accomplish this desirable result.

III. Real persecutors are usually men who are worth winning. They are men whose force of character and power of aggressive work would be of immense service in the cause of truth and righteousness. Hence Saul is far more likely to become a chosen vessel of the Lord than his prudent master Gamaliel. And though every persecutor is not a Saul, yet if he is earnest of persecution he is a man of more than ordinary power for service in the cause of Christ. Therefore curse him not, but only bless him still.

IV. There is much more hope of the conversion of earnest persecutors than might at first appear. There is small hope of those who can listen to the gospel and go away as indifferent as when they came. But the man who persecutes earnestly, feels strongly, and thinks vigorously; and when his violence has somewhat abated his wrath, and he begins to feel in what an unpleasant business he is engaged, he is almost sure to think of some other aspects of the question. The truth may then begin to scintillate within his soul, growing brighter as he pursues the meditation, till, by the grace of the Spirit of truth, his heart relents, his conscience begins its work of self-accusation, and he is won. Maintaining, as we do most firmly, the miraculous character of Saul’s conversion, that does not hinder us from admitting the probability that the spirit in which Stephen died, and in which others less noted submitted to the fiery persecution, may have made a profound impression on the zealot’s mind. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Men learned to live and die in the spirit of our text, and the exhibition of such a spirit has availed to save myriads. Conclusion: Whatever the result of such self-denial here, it will not fail of its reward hereafter (Matthew 5:11-12; Hebrews 12:2). (W. Tyson.)

Blessing persecutors

When the trial of Sir Thomas More was ended, and he was judged guilty of death, being asked if he had anything to say, he replied: “ My lords, I have but to say that, like as the blessed apostle St. Paul was present at the death of the martyr Stephen, keeping their clothes that stoned him, and yet be now both saints in heaven, and there shall continue friends for ever, so I trust, and shall therefore pray, that though your lordships have been on earth my judges, yet we may hereafter meet in heaven together, to our everlasting salvation: and God preserve you all, especially my sovereign lord the king, and grant him faithful counsellors.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Blessings on persecutors

At Samatave (Madagascar) on the eve of the bombardment by the French, all the natives, from the governor downwards, were at a prayer-meeting, and there were no prayers for the lives of their enemies, and no cries for vengeance upon them. Prayers for a righteous vindication, for guidance, for faith to trust where they could not see, and for eventual peace and goodwill were the only petitions of the much-injured Malagasy. (G. Shaw.)

How to treat persecutors

The text teaches us--

I. How we should never treat our persecutors. “Curse not.” The temptation to revengeful retaliation is not easy to be resisted by even the most docile. We “must be manly,” and when annoyed by persecution we are extremely liable to regard manliness as the synonym of pugnacity. To turn again upon a formidable foe requires courage, but that may be moral cowardice. Much of the courage that is crowned with honours is mere animalism. To refrain from injuring one who has injured us is the highest type of manliness. To persecute persecutors--

1. Wilt-do you no good. Is revenge sweet? Yes; if the triumph of devils over a soul taken captive is sweet.

2. Will do you harm. It will only inflame those passions which Christ came to stamp out.

3. Will injure your persecutors. It will only incense them in their persecuting work.

II. How we should always treat our persecutors. “Bless them that persecute you.” The word is twice used. All our treatment of persecutors must be in harmony with it. God, Christ, the Spirit, and the angels are saying to you, “Bless your persccutors!” But how?

1. With your pity, i.e., the pity which can weep over the erring ones (Luke 19:41). All who are antagonistic to Christianity need, if they do not deserve, it.

2. With your patience. They may see their folly by and by, and repent of it. Christ had patience with Saul, the champion of persecutors. And since the “chief of sinners” was converted, do not despair of any.

3. With your prayers (Matthew 5:44). In proportion as we can pray for God to bless our bitterest enemies are we Christlike (Acts 7:60).

4. With your pardon. There is no force in the universe so mighty and God-like as that of forgiving love.

5. If need be, with the blessings of your purse (Romans 12:20). No persecutor can stand that long (1 Peter 3:9). “It is hard,” you say. Yes; but, like every other difficult thing, it becomes easy by practice and perseverance. The lesson is only to be learnt at the Cross. (E.D. Solomon.)


Verse 15

Romans 12:15

Rejoice with them that do rejoice.

The Christian’s joy and grief

There are some who only rejoice over their own happiness, only weep at their own miseries. They are ruminating animals--always chewing the cud of their own private joy or grief. If they are in good health, if they are getting on in business, if the world smiles upon them, they are happy. If they are unwell, or poor, or in bad reputation, they are miserable, a thoroughly selfish man would grieve more over an attack of dyspepsia, or the loss of a five-pound note, than over the destruction of a nation, or the ruin of a world. Note--

I. The Christian’s joy.

1. He rejoices in all the happy lower creatures. “God looked upon all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” In this the Christian man is a follower of God as a dear child. “He prayeth well, who loveth well, both man and bird and beast,” etc.

2. He rejoices in all the pure human joys of his fellow-men, like Him who attended the wedding-feast of Cana of Galilee.

3. He rejoices in the progress of the kingdom of God. Every conversion, every time of hallowed fellowship, every act of kindness, all tidings of good being done in any part of the world, fill his heart with joy.

II. The Christian’s grief. He grieves--

1. Over the special sins and sorrows with which he is brought into contact.

2. Over the sin and sorrow of the world, when he “enters into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” The more shallow any nature is, the less capacities it has for joy and grief; the finer and deeper a nature, the more sensitive it is to both. A racehorse is more sensitive both to pleasure and pain than a dray-horse. The Christian has both a deeper joy and a deeper grief than others, because he lives a deeper and a wider life, because his heart trembles into sympathy with human gladness and sorrow all over the world. (R. Abercrombie, M.A.)

The cordial interest in the events that befall our fellow-creatures

I. What we are to do, and how we are to be disposed, for taking a cordial interest in the prosperous or adverse contingencies of our fellow-creatures.

1. Would we rejoice with the joyful and weep with the sorrowful, or, would we take a cordial interest in the good and ill that happens to other persons, we should before all things seriously consider in what a variety of ways mankind are connected together, and how great an influence the happiness or the misery of one has upon the happiness or the misery of others. We should therefore call to mind how many things we possess in common, and how much more important these things are than those whereby we are distinguished from each other. We have all the same rational, immortal nature, the same origin and the same destination. We are likewise obnoxious to the same wants, infirmities, passions, errors, follies, and failings, and the greater or less degree in which we are obnoxious to there evils, depends not so much on our behaviour and our deserts, as on the circumstances in which the Ruler of the world has placed us. Can or should differences weaken or dissolve the ties of affinity and the social benefit that connect us all together? Are there not similar discrepancies even between the children of one father, who were born and brought up in the same house?

2. Would we farther rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep, would we take a cordial interest in the good and ill that happens to others; we must understand the good and the ill that befalls them, that which occasions them joy or sorrow. We must therefore pay attention not only to what passes among our friends or acquaintance, or in the place and the country where we happen to live, but likewise to what is going forward in the rest of the great world, in order to form just and lively conceptions of it. How many opportunities and motives will then occur to the Christian philanthropist to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to weep with them that weep, as he perceives here the light of knowledge, of the sciences, and of true religion making progress, and there still the clouds of ignorance, of superstition and error, hanging heavily over a country; if he here see courage, liberty, generous sentiments, there pusillanimity, bondage, and a servile disposition prevail; if he in this place hear a happy people rejoicing in the blessings of the harvest, or the vintage, and yonder another groaning beneath the sword of the destroyer or under the arrows of pestilence. Is he, however, unable or unwilling to travel in his imagination so far; yet vivid representations of what passes in his place, among his neighbours, in his district, will warm his heart to charity, and one while inspire him with joy, at another bring tears into his eyes.

3. In order to this we must thirdly take a real interest in the good and ill that befall others. We must consider their joys and sorrows, their prosperous or disastrous adventures not as objects irrelative to us, and about which it would be absolute folly in us to be either glad or sorry, because we, perhaps, can discern only an exceeding remote connection, or even none at all, between their situations and ours.

II. How we should express and evince, both in word and deed, our cordial participation in the good and ill that befall others.

1. That we may rejoice with them that rejoice, we should not disapprove, not condemn, not scare away their joy, if it be but rational and innocent, by dark looks and churlish gestures, not censure it as being incompatible with virtue and godliness.

2. Neither should we kill nor diminish the joy of others by requiring that it should always be exactly proportionate to the value of the objects at which they rejoice, and indeed to the worth that we attribute to them. Joy is a matter of sensation, and the feelings admit not of being rigidly restricted to those regulations which cold-hearted philosophers lay down for them.

3. Would we rejoice with them that rejoice, let us rather put ourselves in their situation, view the good and agreeable that happens to them, as it were with their eyes, and in this respect too become all things to all men.

4. Would we be of the number of such as rejoice with them that rejoice, we should show it in action or by works. We should try to promote the satisfaction and happiness of others by all manner of means. We should procure them encouragements, opportunities and means for the enjoyment of a harmless and genial pleasure, according to their inclinations, their circumstances, their wants, and capacities.

5. Parallel duties lie on us in regard to the afflicted and unhappy. Throw no violent obstruction in the way of that flood of tears which relieves their heart; rather mingle your tears with theirs. Have indulgence and compassion for them, even though the expression of their grief be really excessive. (G. J. Zollikofer.)

Fellowship in joy

Sympathy is a duty of our common humanity, but far more of our regenerated manhood. Those who are one in the higher life should show their holy unity by true fellow-feeling. Joyful sympathy is doubly due when the joy is spiritual and eternal. Rejoice--

I. With the converts.

1. Some delivered from lives of grievous sin. All saved from that which would have ruined them eternally, but certain of them from faults which injure men in society.

2. Some of them rescued from agonising fear and deep despair. Could you have seen them under conviction you would indeed rejoice to behold them free and happy.

3. Some of them have been brought into great peace and joy. The blissful experience of their first love should charm us into sympathetic delight.

4. Some of them are aged. These are called at the eleventh hour. Rejoice that they are saved from imminent peril.

5. Some of them are young, with years of happy service before them.

6. Each case is special. In some we think of what they would have been, and in others of what they will be. There is great gladness in these new-born ones, and shall we be indifferent?

II. With their friends.

1. Some have prayed long for them, and now their prayers are heard.

2. Some have been very anxious, have seen much to mourn over in the past, and feared much of evil in the future.

3. Some are relatives with a peculiar interest in these saved ones. Parents, children, brothers, etc.

4. Some are expecting, and in certain cases already receiving, much comfort from these newly saved ones. They have already brightened the family circle, and made heavy hearts glad. Holy parents have no greater joy than to see their children walking in the truth. Do we not share their joy?

III. With those who brought them to Jesus. The spiritual parents of these converts are glad. The pastor, relative, teacher, or friend, who wrote or spoke to them of Jesus. What a joy belongs to those who by personal effort win souls! Endeavour to win the same joy for yourself, and meanwhile be glad that others have it.

IV. With the Holy Spirit. He sees--

1. His strivings successful.

2. His instructions accepted.

3. His quickening power operating in new life.

4. The renewed mind yielding to His Divine guidance.

5. The heart comforted by His grace. Let us rejoice in the love of the Spirit.

V. With the angels.

1. They have noted the repentance of the returning sinner.

2. They will henceforth joyfully guard the footsteps of the pilgrim.

3. They expect his life-long perseverance, or their joy would be premature. He is and will be for ever their fellow-servant.

4. They look one day to bear him home to glory. The evil angel makes us groan; should not the joy of good angels make us sing in harmony with their delight?

VI. With the Lord Jesus. His joy is proportioned--

1. To the ruin from which He has saved His redeemed ones.

2. To the cost of their redemption.

3. To the love which He bears to them.

4. To their future happiness, and to the glory which their salvation will bring to Him.

Conclusion: Do you find it hard to rejoice with these newly baptized believers? Let me urge you to do so, for you have your own sorrows, and this communion of joy will prevent brooding too much over them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Fellowship in joy

Mr. Haslam, telling the story of his conversion, says, “I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul. Whether it was something in my words, or my manner, or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden a local preacher, who happened to be in the congregation, stood up, and putting up his arms, shouted out in Cornish manner, ‘The parson is converted! the parson is converted! Hallelujah!’ And in another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred of the congregation. Instead of rebuking this extraordinary ‘brawling,’ as I should have done in a former time, I joined in the outburst of praise; and to make it more orderly, I gave out, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,’ which the people sung with heart and voice, over and over again.”

Sympathy

1. Sympathy, it may be said, is an accident of temperament, and cannot be a duty. There are those who cannot help being distressed by the troubles of others, and being made happier for the happiness of others. On the other hand there are those who are naturally cold and cannot help it. But the same objection might be urged against other duties. Indolence and intemperance may be largely the result of hereditary tendencies, but as industry and temperance are manifest duties it is unsafe to regard their opposites merely as diseases. Some children are naturally docile and affectionate, others the reverse; but to be obedient and loving are duties and their opposites grave faults. Some have naturally a kind disposition, others have a bad temper. And yet good temper is not a mere fortunate accident, nor is a bad one a mere constitutional calamity--it is a vice. So while some men find it easier than others to rejoice, etc., sympathy is one of the great moral virtues.

2. There is nothing about it in the Ten Commandments, but in the Christian code it stands side by side with justice, truthfulness, etc. It is not merely an ornament of character, but as essential a part of Christian life as worship. The obligation must not be so qualified as to be practically suppressed. There are people with whom it is easy to sympathise, but as it is our duty to be honest to all, the obligations of sympathy are equally general. This precept is only an application of the great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The duty arises from the discovery that has come to us through Christ of the intimacy of our relations to all mankind. All men are dear to the heart of God, and therefore they must be dear to us.

3. We owe sympathy to other men because it is an effective means of contributing to their moral perfection, and because by withholding it we inflict on them grave moral inquiry. In men and women who have many admirable qualities there are grave defects of temper and spirit. They remind one of noble trees that require warmth and sunshine, but which have been discouraged by gloomy skies, and chilled, tormented, by cold, harsh winds. We may not be able to do much to recover those who are morally lost, but we may all do something to lessen the hardness and add to the moral grace of those with whom we live. Sympathise with a man in his prosperity and you do much to protect him from its perils. If you know that a man is carrying on his business on dishonourable principles, whether he is getting richer or poorer, you are bound to refuse him your moral approval. But if you begin to have hard thoughts of him, and if he feels that you have no delight in his honest prosperity, you are not only unjust to him, you may do him serious moral harm. If you are cold to him because he is richer than you, he will be cold to you because you are poorer than he is. If you think of his wealth with discontent, he will think of it with exaggerated complacency. There is always danger that when a man gets rich he will cease to have a brotherly heart towards other men; it is the duty of his old friends to do what they can to save him from that, not by preaching to him, unless they are sure they can preach well, but by rejoicing with him in his riches. The same law holds in relation to success in public life, etc. So when trouble comes upon men your sympathy may lessen the bitterness of their grief, and may prevent them from yielding to a hard resentment against God and the whole order of the world. But remember that what they want is not your ingenious philosophy, but just a touch of your heart.

4. Some people have what is called the gift of sympathy, and a charming gift it is, but it is necessary to distinguish between the gift and the grace. Sympathy with misfortune may be followed by no endeavour to lessen it, and sympathy with joy may be followed in an hour by a sarcasm or a sneer.

5. If it is a duty to give sympathy, it is also a duty to receive it. By rejecting it we harm the person who offers it, for we check the growth of a form of moral perfection. It is a sin to discourage a man who wants to be truthful; it is also a sin to discourage the man who wants to show that he shares our trouble or our gladness. And we wrong ourselves, for we confirm our unbrotherly selfishness.

6. This sympathetic spirit has not really to be created even in those whose natural temperament is unsympathetic. It is in our heart somewhere, and would show itself if it had a fair chance. But it must be cultivated, and it is only by a deliberate effort to measure the magnitude of a great trouble, and to realise some of the innumerable elements of misery in it, that some of us can ever come to feel adequate sympathy with it. And a similar effort is necessary to sympathise perfectly with a great happiness. But self-discipline is not enough. If we abide in Christ we may come to have that sensitiveness to suffering which moved Him to compassion when He saw the blind, etc., and which made Him weep over the grave of Lazarus; and we may come to have that sympathy with common joys which prompted Him to change water into wine. (R. W. Dale, LL.D.)

Benefit of sympathy

Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner of his joy. A friend shares my sorrow, and makes it but a moiety; but he swells my joy, and makes it double. For so two channels divide the river, and lessen it into rivulets, and make it fordable, and apt to be drunk up by the first revels of the Syrian star; but two torches do not divide, but increase the flame. And though my tears are the sooner dried up when they run on my friend’s cheeks in the furrows of compassion, yet, when my flame hath kindled his lamp, we unite the glories and make them radiant, like the golden candlesticks that burn before the throne of God, because they shine by numbers, by light, and joy.

Human sympathy

Though the lower animals have feeling, they have no fellow-feeling. Have not I seen the horse enjoy his feed of corn when his yoke-fellow lay a-dying in the neighbouring stall, and never turn an eye of pity on the sufferer? They have strong passions, but no sympathy. It is said that the wounded deer sheds tears; but it belongs to man only to “weep with them that weep,” and by sympathy to divide another’s sorrows, and double another’s joys. When thunder, following the dazzling flash, has burst among our hills, when the horn of the Switzer has rung in his glorious valleys, when the boatman has shouted from the bosom of a rock-girt loch, wonderful were the echoes I have heard them make; but there is no echo so fine or wonderful as that which, in the sympathy of human hearts, repeats the cry of another’s sorrow, and makes me feel his pain almost as if it were my own. They say, that if a piano is struck in a room where another stands unopened and untouched, who lays his ear to that will hear a string within, as if touched by the hand of a shadowy spirit, sound the same note; but more strange how the strings of one heart vibrate to those of another; how woe weakens woe; how your grief infects me with sadness; how the shadow of a passing funeral and nodding hearse casts a cloud on the mirth of a marriage party; how sympathy may be so delicate and acute as to become a pain. There is, for example, the well-authenticated case of a lady who could not even hear the description of a severe surgical operation, but she felt all the agonies of the patient, grew paler and paler, and shrieked and fainted under the horrible imagination. (T. Guthrie, D.D.)

Law of sympathy

As in the electric shock every one feels the same shock who holds the same chain; or as in the singular acoustic law by which several instruments have a sympathetic vibration, so that, if one note be struck violently on one, there will be a faint vibration on the other; or like the still more delicate and mysterious tracery of nerves which run throughout the whole human body, the meanest member cannot suffer without all the members feeling with it.

Sympathy

I want to tell you how, a few years ago, I got up sympathy with a family in Chicago, where I was living. It is very unhealthy in the summer, and I attended the funerals of a good many children. I got hardened to it, like a doctor, and could go to them without sympathy. One of my little scholars was drowned, and word was sent by the mother that she wanted to see me. I went. The dripping body was there on the table. The husband was a drunkard, and was then in the corner drunk. The mother said she had no money to buy a shroud or coffin, and wanted to know if I could not bury Adeline. I consented. I had my little girl with me then. She was about four years old. When we got outside she asked: “Suppose we were poor, pa, and I had to go down to the river after sticks, and should fall in and get drowned, and you had no money to bury me, would you be sorry, papa?” and then she looked up into my eyes with an expression I had never before seen, and asked: “Did you feel bad for that mother?” I clasped her to my heart and kissed her, and my sympathy was aroused. My friends, if you want to get in sympathy with people, consider how you would feel in their place. Let us, working for the Master, have compassion on the unfortunate, and sympathy for those who need our sympathy. (D. L. Moody.)

The demands of Christian sympathy

1. Joy and sorrow are the two chief elements of life. They often meet in the one event; what is sorrowful to one is joyful to the other. They are often very near each other in this life of uncertainty and change. An hour beyond the present time may transfer us from one to the other. Often the morning is bright, but the evening dull and cloudy and vice versa.

2. Joy and sorrow modify each other, and life requires both to make it complete. Continual sorrow would make men sad and sour; and perpetual joy would make men too light in character, and disqualify them as the comforters of the afflicted; but by their co-operation they make men more fit in this world to work and sympathise. The sweet makes the bitter tolerable; and the bitter imparts a kind of tonic quality to the sweet. Confining ourselves to the latter clause, we shall view calamities--

I. Through some of their causes.

1. A willing ignorance of law. Many fevers, explosions, shipwrecks, etc., arise from ignorance of the laws of things; and there is no excuse for our ignorance of most of them.

2. Presumption. Repeated transgression of law, because it has often happened hitherto without any calamity, often costs men dearly.

3. Mercenary selfishness and ambition. From a love of money sanitary improvements are neglected; and in our mines means of safety are neglected because there is a little expense in the introduction of them.

4. Careless indifference. We by custom become used to things, and act carelessly; where others, unused to the same things, are timid and careful, and often save themselves.

II. Through some of their harrowing distresses and results. Calamities, by reason of their frequent occurrence, lose their impression upon us. Like the loss of life in times of war, they become things of little power because of their frequent occurrence. However we view and feel them, it is clear that the results from them are grave and glaring.

1. They reduce our estimate of human life. We value our own life above all things, and the simplest duty of religion is, to do to others as we would that others should do unto us. We too often reverse this, and by blindness and selfishness make human life the meanest of all things.

2. They harden men religiously. People are amazed that they do not change the heart and life of men. But can the widow melt into tenderness of religious emotions when she broods over her great loss and hard lot, and all the while attributes it to the carelessness of others? Can the orphan be made more religious when he thinks of the way his nearest friend in life has been taken away? If they attribute their calamities to God do they present Him in that amiable character as to attract the heart in love to Him?

3. They diminish the goodness and enjoyment of life.

4. They increase the burden of society. Who are to provide for the widows and the fatherless?

5. But the distress of such calamities to the immediate individuals themselves is beyond language to describe.

III. On Christian ground and in Christian light. Christianity--

1. Brings out the purest and the noblest sympathies of the soul to meet and comfort distress. All done to the distressed under its influence is done by love, hence it is both pleasurable and lasting. It leads the afflicted to an ever-living Father, to the sympathy and love of a Saviour, and the comfort of His Spirit; it brings them into fellowship with all the good; and gives a hope of a heaven of happiness after the sorrows of life will end.

2. Teaches men to make earthly things subordinate to the want and support of persons in their woes and sorrows.

3. Makes it a part of Christian life to assist the needy and ameliorate the woes of men. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” is its first and last teaching.

4. Is catholic and impartial in its aid and comfort to distress and misery. It asks no questions as to nationality, rank, sect, and creed; it views all as human creatures in want and distress.

5. Lessens the misery of humanity. It does this to the mind of men by its spiritual provisions, and to their bodies and outward wants by making all material things subordinate to human want and woe.

6. Unites men so closely to each other as to make them responsible for the good and comfort of one another.

IV. Through their lessons to us. Calamities as these teach us--

1. To be more submissive and satisfied with the ordinary ills and misfortunes of life.

2. The necessity of studying the laws of human life more, and understanding them better.

3. That we are so nearly related to one another that the life and interest of all are very much in the hands of each other.

4. That great calamities all result from the repeated neglect of small things.

5. To do all we can to comfort and help those in distress. (T. Hughes.)


Verse 16

Romans 12:16

Be of the same mind one towards another.

Unity

I. What it implies.

1. One spirit.

2. One aim.

3. One way.

II. How to secure it.

1. Suppress ambition.

2. Be condescending to inferiors.

3. Be modest in the expression of your own opinion. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Mind not high things

I. What high things?

1. Negatively--not the highest or heavenly things (Colossians 3:1-2; Matthew 6:33).

2. Positively--of this world (Jeremiah 45:5). Great--

II. How not mind them? Not so as--

1. To think of them (Psalms 1:2).

2. To desire them (Colossians 3:2; Psalms 73:25).

3. To hope for them.

4. To admire them (Luke 21:5-6).

5. To labour after them (John 6:27; Matthew 6:33).

III. Why not mind them?

1. They are below you.

2. You have higher things to mind (Philippians 3:20).

3. Minding of earth and heaven both is inconsistent (Matthew 6:24; 1 John 2:15). Conclusion: Mind not high things.

Consider they are--

1. Uncertain.

2. Inconstant (Proverbs 23:5).

3. Unsatisfying (Ecclesiastes 1:8; Ecc_4:8).

4. Dangerous (1 Timothy 6:10).

5. Momentary (Luke 12:20). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Mind not high things

I. The import of this prohibition. It forbids--

1. Pride.

2. Assumption.

3. Foolish ambition.

II. Its importance. These evils are--

1. Very offensive to God.

2. A source of misery to ourselves.

3. A cause of serious evil both in the Church and the world. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Condescend to men of low estate.

Condescension

I. The conduct enjoined. A behaviour--

1. Humble.

2. Affable.

3. Condescending.

II. Its excellencies. It is--

1. Magnanimous.

2. Christlike.

III. Its importance. It is essential to the Christian character.

IV. Its motives. Differences of condition are accidental, temporal, designed to afford opportunity for the development of this spirit. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Considerateness towards inferiors

Knowing how anxious the troops in Cabul would look for their letters, Captain (afterwards Sir Henry) Lawrence and his wife--because the Government could not afford a post-clerk!--would sit up half the night sorting them, after the multiform duties of revenue collector, engineer, commissariat officer, and paymaster, had been discharged. But this was only one instance out of many of Lawrence’s exquisite regard for others. (H. A. Page.)

Be not wise in your own conceits.--

I. As to rational wisdom or knowledge.

1. Of natural causes.

2. Future events (James 4:13-14.)

3. The providences of God (Psalms 139:5-6).

4. The intrigues of state (Proverbs 20:3).

5. The spiritual estate of others (Matthew 7:1).

6. The interpretation of Scripture (Mark 12:24).

7. Determination of theological controversies.

8. Be not then wise in your own conceits.

But--

(a) Of God;

(b) Of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2).

II. As to practical wisdom.

1. Wherein?

(a) Beading the Scripture.

(b) Praying (James 4:3).

(c) Hearing (Acts 2:37).

(d) Mediation (Philippians 3:20).

(a) Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). We may repent of some sins, not of all: and our repentance in proportional to none of our sins.

(b) Faith. It may be only historical, or partial (John 1:12), or upon wrong grounds--education, not Divine testimony (1 John 5:10), or, not on Christ only (Philippians 3:8-9).

(c) Love. We do not love God with all our hearts (Matthew 22:37), nor constantly.

(d) Trust. It may be only for spirituals (1 Peter 5:7), and not with all our heart (Proverbs 3:5).

(e) Thankful-nest. Not proportional to our mercies, or not for all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

(f) Charity. It may be from wrong principles (Matthew 6:1-34.), or in a wrong manner (Romans 12:8).

2. Why not thus conceited of ourselves?

3. Uses: Be not wise in your own conceits.

4. Directions.

Be not wise in your own conceits

I. The conduct condemned

1. An undue estimate of one’s own opinion.

2. The immodest expression of it.

II. Its prevalence. Even among Christian professors.

III. Its origin.

1. Ignorance.

2. Pride.

IV. Its impropriety.

1. It is offensive to others.

2. It destroys unity.

3. It is utterly opposed to the Spirit of Christ.

4. It exposes a man to merited humiliation. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Be not wise in your own conceits

I. The temper described. The persistent assertions of your own--

1. Opinions.

2. Judgment.

3. Plans.

II. Its folly. It assumes--

1. That you have nothing to learn.

2. That you are incapable of error.

3. That you are wiser than everybody else.

III. Its evil.

1. It offends others.

2. Generates strife.

3. Is inconsistent with the Christian spirit. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Self wisdom v. Divine wisdom

The text repeats the warning of 11:25, and recalls Proverbs 3:7. But it is not to be understood of speculative opinion. It refers to the practical “prudence” which guides men in business and in the ventures and contingencies of life. It might be rendered--“Become not prudent by yourselves.” The accepted translation is unfortunate, suggesting a sense the word never bears. Note--

I. The special danger Christians are in with respect to this prudence.

1. It is the result of a natural instinct. The general source of it is the tendency to make “self” the measure and end of everything. The selfish man is short-sighted and self-opiniated; or he gives undue weight to the maxims of earthly prudence.

2. It is confirmed by the general opinion and practice of men. The proverbs of the world are for the most part mercenary; the moralities of heathen philosophy, so far as practical, are but a refined selfishness.

3. The nobler life of man is thereby prevented. In modern times the recognition of the independence of all nations in regard to the highest interests has been wondrously fruitful. For a man or a nation, therefore, to shut out wilfully the consideration of others, and to “become prudent, merely for or by itself,” is for it to lose its place in the commonwealth of knowledge, civilisation, and true progress.

4. The gravest dangers threaten within the sphere of religion. How common is the error “Save yourself” as a religious duty. Let us beware lest we have but exchanged the honest “competition” of the marketplace for a “consecrated selfishness” baptized with the name of Christ! The Gentile converts were in danger of despising the “cast off” Jews, and of thinking the grace of God was henceforth to be their own monopoly. Paul warned them against the error (Romans 11:33-36). Because of similar prejudices, missions to the heathen have been obstructed. Only when we rise to the height of this conception of Christianity can it be a perfect salvation for ourselves as individual Christians.

II. How this danger is to be averted.

1. By constant and prayerful study of the Word of God.

2. By considering the examples of holy men, especially of Christ Himself.

3. By remembering that we are all members of the body of Christ, which is His Church. The good of all men is to be sought. Each must labour towards the universal ends of Christ’s kingdom as a “member in particular.”

4. By giving heed to the voice of God’s Spirit within us. It led Peter and Paul to wider fields of usefulness. The “mind of Christ” will ever lead us to deny ourselves, and take up our cross and follow Him. But in so doing we shall discover a Diviner wisdom. In losing our life we shall find it. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. (St. John A. Frere, M.A.)


Verse 17

Romans 12:17

Recompense to no man evil for evil.

Non-retaliation

I. What evils are we not to recompense?

1. Not to hate others because they hate us (Matthew 5:44).

2. Not to curse others because they curse us (2 Samuel 16:10; Matthew 5:44).

3. Not to defraud others because they defraud us (Leviticus 19:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:6).

4. Not to speak evil of others because they speak evil of us (Titus 3:2; 1 Peter 3:9).

5. Not to neglect our duty to them because they do it to us.

II. Why not?

1. It is contrary to the rule (Matthew 7:12).

2. Hereby we do ourselves more injury than they did.

3. Yea, and more than we can do them.

Conclusion: Consider--

1. None can hinder us without God (Isaiah 45:7).

2. Injuries patiently borne are both occasions of virtue.

3. It is better to bear an injury than to cause one.

4. We must follow the Saviour’s example (1 Peter 2:23).

5. It is one of the noblest virtues of a Christian to live above injuries. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Retaliation

is--

I. Natural.

II. Foolish. It--

1. Fails to accomplish its own end.

2. Makes matters worse.

III. Unjustifiable. Because it is--

1. To take the law into our own hands.

2. To assume the prerogative of God.

IV. Unchristian. Because--

1. Opposed to the Spirit of Christ.

2. Inimical to our own moral development.

3. Utterly forbidden. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

I. How provide?

1. Think of them (1 Timothy 4:15).

2. Intend them (Psalms 17:3).

3. Endeavour them (2 Peter 1:5).

4. Practise them (1 John 3:18).

5. Continue the practice of them (1 Corinthians 15:58; Revelation 2:25-26).

II. What honest things?

1. Towards God.

2. Towards men.

3. To all:

III. How in the sight of all men.

1. So as to make open profession of our religion (Romans 1:16).

2. To manifest our integrity in it unto all (2 Corinthians 8:21).

IV. Why in the sight of all men?

1. Negatively. Not to gain credit for them (Matthew 6:1).

2. Positively.

V. Use. Provide things honest, etc. Hereby you will--

1. Keep your conscience void of offence towards God and men (Acts 24:16).

2. Excite others to virtue (James 5:20.)

3. Be an honour to religion.

4. Be certain of God’s blessing here (Psalms 39:12).

5. Be entitled to heaven hereafter. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Providing things honest in the sight of all men

I. The import of this precept.

1. Not merely live honestly.

2. But pay attention to things approved and beautiful in the estimation of men.

3. This implies a regard not only for general consistency, but a respect for the amenities of life.

II. Its importance,

1. The Christian is the highest style of man.

2. Should be inferior to none in moral and social excellence.

3. Should recommend his profession. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Getting an honest living

I. Provide. Such is the message of the whole Bible. Right through industry is commended, idleness anathematised. Need we remind you of Solomon? Paul is quite as good in his way. “If any man will not work, neither shall he eat.” Starve them out! Summary procedure, but salutary. Again, “if any provide not for his own, especially of his own house, he hath denied the faith,” etc. Yes; for it is part of “the faith once delivered unto the saints” that we should “provide.”

1. It is well that we have to do so. No man is to be pitied on account of it. A fine thing is work. It braces the soul like iron, quinine, or water, the body. An experienced African traveller says, “ We sicken more from inactivity than from malaria.”

2. Provide. What? “Things”--

3. Don’t expect others to provide for you; do it yourself. We should cultivate a manly spirit of independence and self-help. According to a certain gage, every man has three fortunes, a head and a pair of hands; would that all made a diligent use of these fortunes. “God helps those that help themselves,” and we should refuse to aid any others.

II. Provide. Things honest. How may we do that? Nobody will have much difficulty in finding out, if he wishes to make the discovery. There are sundry practices which may well be looked at in the light of the text.

1. It is not an uncommon thing for men to get into debt when they know they have small chance of paying. We are well aware of the mode in which this is palliated. When a mob of rioters were about to attack a flour-mill, Luther stood between it and them. “Master, we must live,” they cried. “I don’t see that: you ‘must’ be honest,” answered the brave reformer. Existence, precious though it be, is not to be bought at any price. But men are seldom, indeed, called to make such a desperate sacrifice. “Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and, verily, thou shalt be fed.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. Encouraged by these assurances, let none of us compromise his integrity. “Owe no man anything.” Rather than involve himself in debt Lord Macaulay sold the gold medals which he had won at Cambridge.

2. Sometimes goods are sold for what they are not. We occasionally speak about “getting goods under false pretences,” but are they never got rid of under false pretences? What is the meaning of the common caution, “Beware of spurious imitations”? Think, also, of adulteration. How shamefully is the public sometimes imposed on in what it eats and drinks.

3. It is possible for persons in situations to be lax in their notions of their duty to their employers. If I engage to serve another for a given amount of remuneration for a certain period, I thereby sell him my time, my energy, my talent, and if I withhold it I am not honest.

III. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Not only be honest, but let your honesty be seen. As Bengel remarks in connection with our text: “A gem should not merely be a gem; it should be properly set in a ring, that its splendour may meet the eye.” “In the sight of all men.”

1. For our own sakes. In the long run he is trusted who is trustworthy; integrity wins confidence. If I deal with a man and he deceives me, I mentally put a black mark against his name, and warn others of him. Thus his unrighteousness injures him, as, indeed, it ought to do. More money is to be made by going straight than by going crooked.

2. For the Church’s sake. Nothing is so prejudicial to the interests of religion as lack of uprightness in men professing to be godly. Such monstrosities remind one of what a traveller saw in a Russian church--to wit, a fellow devoutly counting his rosary with one hand and picking a pocket with the other. Robert Burns wrote, “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” He was right. (T. R. Stevenson.)

Honourable dealing

A young man in a dry-goods store in Boston was endeavouring to sell a customer some goods. He had a quantity on hand which he much desired to dispose of, as they were not of the freshest style; and the man seemed inclined to take them. When the goods had been examined, and the bargain was about to be concluded, the customer inquired: “Are these goods the latest style?” The young man hesitated. He wanted to sell the goods, and it appeared evident that if he said they were the latest style, the man would take them. But he could not tell a lie, and he replied: “They are not the latest style of goods, but they are a very good style.” The man looked at him, examined some other goods of later style, and said: “I will take those of the older style, and some of the new also. Your honesty in stating the facts will fasten me to this place.” The man not only sold his goods, and kept a good conscience, but he also retained a customer, whom he might never have seen again if he had not spoken to him the exact truth. There is no permanent gain in falsehood and deception. Righteousness and truth are a sure foundation. (“The Christian, Boston, U.S.A.)

An honest man

Robert Burns wrote, “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” He was right. A man who is honest all round, honest towards God, and honest towards his fellow-creatures, is the noblest work of God, When urged by his wife not to allow his conscience to stand in the way of fortunes Milton said, “I am resolved to live and die an honest man,” Let us say the same, “Come gain or loss, come evil report or good report, come weal or woe, I am resolved to live and die an honest man.”

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

Live peaceably with all men

I. If possible. By maintaining a spirit--

1. Upright.

2. Meek.

3. Peaceable.

II. If not possible.

1. Leave your cause in God’s hands.

2. Show kindness to your enemies.

3. So shall you secure a noble conquest. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

How to live at peace with all men

I. Watch over yourself.

1. Do not retaliate.

2. Be honest.

3. Cultivate a peaceable spirit.

II. Commit yourself to God.

1. Instead of avenging yourself let Him undertake your cause.

2. Retribution is His prerogative.

3. He will certainly defend the right.

III. Conciliate your enemies. By kindness. You will thus achieve a noble conquest over evil in yourself, and subdue enmity by love. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Peace with all men

I. Is not always possible.

1. Some are unreasonable.

2. Others contentious.

3. With many it is impossible to be at peace without sacrificing conscience.

II. Should be maintained as far as possible--by

1. Patience.

2. Prudence.

3. Conciliation.

III. If impossible, cannot be sought without advantage. The attempt secures--

1. Peace of conscience.

2. The approbation of God.

3. And consequently Divine interposition in our favour. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Peaceableness

I. The general import of the exhortation.

1. That we should have a hearty love and value for peace as far as it may be obtained.

2. That we studiously direct our conduct so as may be most likely to reach this end.

II. What is implied in the qualifications added.

1. It is evidently intimated that it is not always possible or in our power to reach the desirable end of peace. Those who “seek peace and pursue it,” according to the exhortation (Psalms 36:14) yet sometimes find that it flies from them.

(a) Neither truth nor holiness are to be sacrificed to peace. That would be to sacrifice our peace with God and with our own consciences for the sake of peace with men, which for certain would be much too dear a bargain.

(b) Nor should we decline any service we are capable of, to the interest of Christ or of our country, for fear of some people’s offence. Christian courage should extinguish such fears.

2. This addition greatly enforces the precept, when it may consist with higher obligations. We must not venture everything for peace, but we should esteem it worth a great deal of pains and self-denial. If we can compass it by any means that are fit for us to use, we should endeavour it.

3. It is implied, farther, that we shall have reason to be content, though we should miss our aim, if we have performed our part. Then the breach of peace may be your affliction, but it will not be your sin.

III. The extent prescribed for our aim in this matter: “Live peaceably with all men.”

1. We should endeavour to live peaceably with all men at large, as far as we have any concern with them. Setting aside the consideration of their religion or their virtuous character, we are obliged by the dictates of nature, and of Christianity too, to study peace with them as our fellow-creatures; and to this end--

2. We should endeavour to cultivate a more peculiar peace and harmony with all our fellow Christians as such.

IV. The importance of a peaceable spirit in Christianity. It is many ways recommended in the gospel; as--

1. By showing us the great evil of an unpeaceable spirit. It is the fruit of carnality, or of an undue ascendant which some fleshly motive or other hath over us (1 Corinthians 3:3).

2. By representing a peaceable disposition in a very advantageous light. It is one of “the fruits of the blessed Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). It is mentioned as one principal thing wherein the spiritual kingdom of God, or true religion in the hearts of men, consists (Romans 14:17). Christ saw fit to make it the subject of one of His beatitudes (Matthew 5:9).

3. By the lively expressions of such a temper in the example of Christ. He was, on the one hand, a pattern for observing the proper limitations to be attended to in all pursuits after peace; He ever preferred truth and duty to it, an obedience to His Father to the pleasing of men; and so must we. But, on the other hand, as far as was consistent with His higher engagements He ever showed a strong disposition to peace.

4. By the account it gives us of the heavenly world, as a state of perfect love and harmony, where there are no jarring notes and affections. When a good man dies he “enters into peace” (Isaiah 57:2).

By way of reflection, then--

1. This may be sufficient to vindicate Christianity from the reproaches which have been cast upon it for the animosities that have abounded among Christians. The precepts, the patterns, the principles of Christianity, all lead another way; they directly lead to peaceableness.

2. This may be a proper subject of trial and self-examination. If we make no conscience of this duty of peaceableness, we have not yet entered into the spirit of true Christianity.

3. Let us all, as we are exhorted in the text, cultivate and exercise a peaceable and healing disposition. This is the likeliest way to dispose others to be at peace with us. (J. Evans, D.D.)

The duty of living peaceably

I. Live peaceably when possible. All that disturbance of man’s peace which springs from our lower nature we are bound everywhere to restrain. Let me mention some provocatives from which we may and should abstain.

1. Offensive language. Many that have great power of speech do not feel that God’s law is to regulate the use of their tongues. There are Christian heads of families who shoot across the table from day to day words which stir up the worst feelings which men can have. Many and many a household has no chimney which carries away the smoke of these conflicts, and the smoke falls down, leaving harm where it rests. As much as lieth in your tongue, then, live peaceably with your wife, your children, your servants, and your fellow-men.

2. Provoking carriage. A man can look as well as speak speech. A nod of the head, a lifting up of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulder, the whole manner, is as powerful as speech. We have no right to be provoking in our attitudes.

3. An unconscious, and still more, an intended, insolent conduct of pride toward men. Frequently the very presence of a man who is filled with a spirit of self-importance is an insult. The duty of humility is not simply a duty of the closet.

4. Selfishness. The ten thousand jealousies and envies which are current in business circles arise from inconsiderate selfishness.

5. The untrained disposition of jocosity. I mean all forms of teasing, jesting, irony, sarcasm, wit, which are indulged in at another’s expense, and which are not “convenient.” Ordinarily, this is practised where the victim has no power of resistance. You often see persons pulling little children’s hair, saying things that stir up little children’s feelings; exposing things that they do not want to have known, in order to see the flush on their cheeks; or creating a laugh at their expense. Saying disagreeable things in a calm and ironical way is inexcusable There is a teasing which is pleasant, and causes nobody suffering; but teasing for the sake of making other people uncomfortable is fiendish.

6. The habit of contradiction and argument. We know what it is to be a “bully.” We see men boasting of their strength, and saying provoking things in the hope of getting into a quarrel with their fellow-men. There are men who may be called logical bullies. If you say anything, they dispute it. Argument leads to disputation speedily, and disputation to quarrelling, and quarrelling to ill-will.

7. Scandalmongering. There are men who have an intuition for discovering faults in others. They see them as quick as lightning; and they tell of them wherever they go. There are men who are vampires, feeding on their fellow-men in this way. And the amount of ill-will that is created in a neighbourhood by tale-bearers is astounding. The only excuse which men give for thus reporting things that are evil in regard to others is that they are true. But you have no right to report anything evil of a man, even if it is true, unless you have a benevolent purpose. Every man has his train of infelicities. But as they sprung from him they ought not to be carried far away from him. A scandal-monger is like one who carries contraband goods; and the partaker is as bad as the thief.

8. Indiscreet frankness. Telling men unpleasant truths about themselves, telling them what other people have said about them--this is generally unwise. Blurting out the truth about people into their faces is impolite. There is an impression that if a man has a truth he should let it fly, hit where it may. A doctor might as well scatter his drugs through the community, as a man tell all he knows about people indiscriminately. Truth, being a medicine, instead of being thrown about heedlessly, and with brutal barbarity, is to be administered with care and discretion.

9. Indiscreet urgency in religious teaching. There are many religious persons who go about with an incisiveness and pertinacity which annoy and vex people, and introduce an element of disquiet by which more harm than good is done.

II. There are times in which you cannot live peaceably.

1. There are cases in which, when you are commanded by the law to do evil, you will be obliged to resist, and make great disturbance. And there are a great many other cases where, in your business relations and social connections, you will be placed in circumstances in which the interest of others pushes you toward the commission of evil, but in which you must not do it. A river complains to the rock on its bank of the noise which it is making. Why does the rock make the noise? Because it will not budge, and the water will. So that it is the water, and not the rock, that makes the noise. The rock stood there, and had a right to stand there; and if the water would beat against it and make a noise, it was not the rock’s fault. The man who is free from wickedness is accused by wicked men of making all the turmoil and excitement, but he does not. You recollect that when the tyrant had vexed and annoyed Israel through years of misrule, and the prophet had attempted to see that the laws were obeyed, and that the welfare of the people was maintained, the king said to him, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?”

2. Christian virtue sometimes stands in the way of men’s pleasure. Sometimes it happens that an individual is solicited to taste wine which conscientiously he cannot touch, and he stirs up great resistance by refusing.

3. Those who are called to teach unwelcome truths must make up their minds not to live peaceably. No man can preach the truth faithfully without offending men. Our Master could not do it. The apostles could not.

4. You cannot attempt to oppose men’s worldly interests for the sake of public morality, for the reformation of the community, for the purification of the ballot, without rousing up an immense amount of anger. But somebody must do these things. No Christian man has a right to see the city in which he lives go down like Sodom and Gomorrah and put out no hand or voice to save it. Christian men are bound to be “lights” and “salt.” (H. W. Beecher.)

Christians exhorted to live peaceably

I. The duty here enjoined. The expression may be taken--

1. For the actual enjoyment of peace with all men: in which sense he only lives peaceably, whom no man molests. This cannot be here intended, because--

(a) The contentious, unreasonable humour of many men. There are some that, like so many salamanders, cannot live but in the fire, and so long as there be such, how can there be undisturbed quietness? God must first weed the world of all ill dispositions before a universal peace can grow in it.

(b) The contrary and inconsistent interests of many men. There is nothing which men prosecute with so much vigour as their interest, and the prosecution of contrary interests must needs be carried on by contrary ways, which will be sure to thwart one another.

2. Wherefore it is clear that the text is to be understood for a peaceable behaviour towards all men; in which case he lives peaceably by whom no man is molested. It consists therefore in--

(a) Prevention, i.e., abstinence from an injurious invasion upon the rights of another, whether as to his person or estate.

(b) Non-retaliation (1 Corinthians 13:7). Fire sometimes goes out as much for want of being stirred up as for want of fuel. He who affronts his brother breaks the peace; but he who repays the ill turn perpetuates the breach. And perhaps the greatest unquietness is not so much chargeable upon the injurious as the revengeful. A storm ruins nowhere but where it is withstood and repelled.

II. What are the measures and proportions by which it is to be determined. “If it be possible,” i.e., morally, lawfully possible (Genesis 39:9; 2 Corinthians 13:8). Where, then, the breaking of the peace is not unlawful, there the maintaining of it ceases, to be a necessary duty. Apply this to--

1. War.

(a) Defensive; in order to repel an evil designed to the public; and therefore is an act of self-preservation.

(b) Offensive; for revenging a public injury done to a community, and so is an act of justice. And further, the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles judged the employment of a soldier lawful.

(a) Declare that they will annoy us unless we mangle our bodies (1 Samuel 11:2).

(b) Declare war with us, unless we renounce our religion, as in the case of the Armada.

(c) Injure us as a nation so as to blast our honour, which honour is as necessary to the welfare and support of a nation as its commerce.

(d) Declare war with us unless we will quit our civil rights.

2. Self-defence.

(a) The great natural right of self-preservation, which is as full in individuals as in public bodies.

(b) That place where Christ commands His disciples to provide themselves swords. To have allowed them the instruments of defence, and at the same time to have forbid the use of them as unlawful, had been irrational.

(c) The suffrage of the civil law.

(a) Life. For where it is lawful to live, it is lawful to do all those things without which life cannot be preserved.

(b) Limbs. For who knows but the loss of a part may bring the destruction of the whole?

(c) Chastity. For this is as irreparable as life itself; and to lose one’s life is indeed a misery, but it is no dishonour.

(d) Estate or goods. Before I pass on I shall add that whatsoever is lawful for a man to do for himself, is lawful for him to do for his neighbour; for we are commanded to “love our neighbour as ourselves.”

(a) That the violence offered be so apparent, so great and pressing, that there can be no other means of escape.

(b) That all possibility of recourse to the magistrate for a legal protection be taken away. In which case the law leaves every man to his own natural defence.

(c) That a man designs merely his own defence, without any revenge towards the person who thus invades him.

3. Litigation. This is allowable when it is to secure the execution of justice in the proper acts of it between man and man. If Christianity prohibits all pursuit of a man’s right at law, then its observance unavoidably draws after it the utter dissolution of all government and society. He that has the strongest arm, the sharpest sword, the boldest front, and the falsest heart, must possess the world. Yet since men are too prone to stretch their just allowances beyond their bounds, note those conditions that are required to warrant men in their law contentions.

(a) That a man takes not this course but upon a very great and urgent cause. Every little wrong and trespass is not a sufficient warrant for me to disturb my neighbour’s peace.

(b) That a man be willing, upon any tolerable and just terms, to agree with his adversary, rather than to proceed to a suit.

(c) Supposing great cause and no satisfaction, that the injured person manage his suit by the rule of charity, and not with any purpose to revenge himself upon his adversary.

III. The means conducible to our performance of this excellent duty.

1. A careful suppression of all distasteful, aggravating apprehensions of any ill turn or unkind behaviour from men. It is the morose dwelling of the thoughts upon an injury that incorporates and rivets it into the mind.

2. The forbearing of all pragmatical or malicious informations. “He that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” The reporting what such a one said or did is the way to kindle such heart-burnings between persons, as oftentimes break forth and flame to the consumption of families, courts, and perhaps at length of cities and kingdoms.

3. That men would be willing in some cases to waive the prosecution of their rights. As--

4. Not to adhere too pertinaciously to our own judgments of things doubtful in themselves in opposition to the judgment of those who are more skilful in those things.

IV. The motives and arguments by which this duty may be enforced.

1. The excellency of the thing itself. “Peace” is a Divine title (Romans 15:33; Isaiah 9:6). The first message that was sent from heaven upon Christ’s nativity was message of peace (Luke 2:14). His whole doctrine is called “the gospel of peace,” and “the word of peace” (Romans 10:15). The last legacy that He bequeathed to His disciples was peace (John 14:27). Peace is the work of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of believers (Galatians 5:22), and both the effect and reward of piety is peace (Romans 15:13).

2. The excellency of the principle from which it proceeds. It is from a pious, generous, and great mind. Little things are querulous; and the wasp much more angry and troublesome than the eagle.

3. The blessing entailed upon it by a peculiar promise (Matthew 5:9). Note two instances of this blessing that attend the peaceable in this world.

Peaceable living not always possible

The wisest men, the best men, the most thoughtful men, the men who are most studious of peace, may have contention forced upon them. Lot could not live peaceably with the inhabitants of Sodom--to his great credit. Moses could not live at peace with Egypt, when he saw his people oppressed. It would have been a shame if he could. Samuel could not live at peace when the king, despotic, arrogant, fractious, was misleading the people. David could not live at peace with Saul--Saul would not let him. The prophets could not live at peace with the idolatrous people whom they were sent to instruct and rebuke, and who would not be corrected nor reformed. Jesus could not live at peace. The most genial, and gentle, and meek, and merciful, and loving of all beings was He; and yet it was impossible that He should live at peace with His own countrymen, in His own time. Therefore you find it said, “If it be possible.” In this great quarrelsome world it is not made obligatory on a man to be at peace with his fellow-men anyhow. The command begins with the implication that it is not always possible. The qualification is, “as much as lieth in you.” You may be at discords; but see to it that you do not produce them. Let them be the result of other men’s misconduct, and not of yours. (H. W. Beecher.)

Peaceableness

Here is--

I. The preface--“If it be possible.” Which words may be looked on--

1. As limiting the command.

(a) other’s malice (James 4:1).

(b) Our own conscience (Acts 24:16) in reproving others; in standing for the truth.

(a) That we do not disturb the peace ourselves.

(b) Nor give occasion to others to do it.

2. As strengthening the command, so that we are to perform it to the utmost of our power.

II. The command. “Live peaceably with all men.” Here is--

1. The command. What is it to live peaceably?

(a) Anger (Ephesians 4:26; Eph_4:31).

(b) Envy (James 3:14).

(c) Pride (Proverbs 13:10).

(d) Hatred and malice (1 John 3:15).

(e) Implacableness (Romans 1:31; Psalms 130:5-7).

2. The extent--“To all men” (Hebrews 12:14).

1. To superiors (Romans 13:1; Matthew 17:27).

2. Inferiors.

3. Equals. Conclusion: Consider--

1. Ye know not where the least strife may end.

2. It disturbs you as much as others (Luke 21:19).

3. If you live in peace, God will be with you (1 Kings 11:1-43; 1Ki_12:1-33; 1Ki_13:1-34; 2 Corinthians 13:11). (Bp. Beveridge.)

Irascible persons not to be provoked

In the Jardin des Plantes we saw a hooded snake in a most unamiable condition of temper. There was a thick glass and a stout wire between us, and we did nothing but look at him, yet he persisted in darting at us with the utmost vehemence of malice, until the keeper requested us to move away, with the advice that it was not well to irritate such creatures. When one meets with an irascible person, on the look out to pick a quarrel, ill-conditioned, and out of elbows with the whole world, it is best to move on, and let him alone. Even if he can do you no harm, and if his irritation be utterly unreasonable, it is best to remove all exciting causes of provocation, for it is never wise to irritate vipers. You do not on purpose walk heavily across the floor to teach a gouty man.that you have no respect for his tender feelings since he ought not to be so susceptible; neither should you vex those afflicted with a bad temper, and then plead that they have no right to be so excitable. If our neighbours’ tempers are gunpowder, let us not play with fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 19-21

Romans 12:19-21

Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath.

Avenge not yourselves

The prohibition urged by such considerations as--

1. Our own peace and happiness. There is nothing so wretched as the harassing disquietudes of angry and revengeful passions. The spirit of revenge is like the shelving rocks in the bottom of the deep, which cause the waters to boil in the foaming whirlpool--the spirit of forgiveness and love keeps the soul “Calm and unruffled as a summer sea.”

2. Self-partiality unfits us for measuring correctly the amount of injuries done to ourselves, and consequently the amount of vengeance due. No man is a proper judge in his own cause.

3. We are very incompetent judges of the motives by which others are actuated. We may inflict “vengeance” where there ought to be approbation and grateful reward.

4. When we do exceed in our vengeance, what is the consequence? All such excess is injury. This injury calls for revenge in return. Thus there is no prospect but of perpetuated wrong, and interminable hostility. Thus there is wisdom in the interdiction--Divine wisdom in Deity retaining the right to recompense in His own hands. He, and He alone, can infallibly appreciate the amount of culpability; and can alone, therefore, apportion the punishments. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)

The sinfulness of private revenge

I. What this revenge is that is so sinful and dishonouring to God, whose province alone vengeance is.

1. There is a public and authoritative revenge, belonging to such as are invested with a lawful authority. This is necessary, and is done by the authority of God. Thus the magistrate has power to revenge wrongs in the state (Romans 13:4), Church-rulers in the Church (2 Corinthians 10:6), and masters in families (Genesis 16:6). And persons wronged seeking redress from those to whom the public revenge belongs is a lawful thing (Luke 18:3).

2. There is a private and personal revenge which is sinful, viz., that--

(a) By words. The tongue is as real an instrument of revenge, as the hands, swords, or spears.

(b) By deeds (Proverbs 26:29).

(c) By omission of duty owing to the offending party, contrary to Romans 12:20. Besiegers may revenge themselves as much by starvation as by storming.

II. The sinfulness and dishonour to God in this revenge.

1. It is directly opposite to the love of our neighbour, the fundamental law of the second table (Leviticus 19:18).

2. It is unjust violence, as assuming and exercising a power which God never gave us. And as unjust violence ever was so it will ever be highly dishonourable to God the Judge and Protector of all (Genesis 6:11). Men are not left like beasts, among whom the stronger command the weaker; but God has set laws for both.

3. It cannot reach the true ends of revenge, which God hath settled, viz., the amendment of the party offending (Romans 13:14), the public good (Deuteronomy 19:20), and the safety of the wronged (1 Timothy 2:2). Private revenge only irritates the party smarting by it, gives a scandalous example to others, and involves the revenger and others in much trouble.

4. It is void of all equity: for in it a man is accuser, judge, and executioner, all in his own cause. Who would reckon that fair in another’s case?

5. It is an invading of authority, a taking out of their hand what God has put in it. Therefore the apostle immediately subjoins the duty of subjects and magistrates (chap 13.). Family revengers invade the Master’s authority; Church-revengers the authority of the Church-rulers; and civil revengers the office of the magistrate.

6. It is an invading of the authority of God (Psalms 94:1; Nahum 1:2). He only is fit to have it in His hand: for He is omniscient; we know little, and are liable to mistakes; He is without passions, we are ready to be blinded by them: He is the common Father and Judge of all, most just and impartial, we are prejudiced in our own favours.

III. Practical improvement.

1. We may hence take occasion to lament--

2. It serves to reprove--

3. Revenge not yourselves, but rather give place to the wrath of your adversary. To press this, I offer the following motives.

(a) In this ye will resemble the spirit Jesus was actuated by (1 Peter 2:23 : Luke 23:34). “Ye shall be as gods” was the height of ambition that men aspired to very soon. Behold an allowable way how we may be like our Lord!

(b) Ye will show a generous contempt of the impotent malice of an evil world (Luke 21:19). The moon retains her brightness though the cur barks at her.

(c) Ye will show yourselves masters of your own spirit (Proverbs 16:32).

(d) Ye may overcome him that wrongs you (Romans 12:20).

(a) His justice, as if He, like Gallio, cared for none of there things.

(b) His wisdom, saying in effect that God’s method of vengeance is not fitted to reach the end.

(c) His veracity, and refuse to believe His word, that He will repay.

4. Objections:

(a) Arm yourselves with meekness and patience.

(b) Learn to bear with one another, and to be always ready to forgive (Colossians 3:13; Matthew 18:21-22).

(c) In matters of weight, where redress is necessary, apply to those for it who are vested with authority for that end (chap. 13:4). Only do it not from a spirit of revenge.

(d) Where redress is not to be expected, put the matter in the Lord’s hand, and wait for Him (Proverbs 20:22).

(e) Live by faith, keeping your eye on Christ the fountain of strength, the pattern of meekness, and on the judgment to come, when justice shall be done to every one. (T. Boston, D.D.)

Revenge, a noble

A letter from Lady Frederick Cavendish, written in answer to a request of the Rev. S. Lloyd, who had asked permission to dedicate to her a sermon upon the assassination of the Chief Secretary, said: “The Dublin disclosures do indeed teach the awful lesson contained in the last verse of the third chapter of 2 Samuel. You will, I am sure, forgive me if I beg you, before sending the MS. to the printers, to look through it first, with the special view of seeing if there is any word that could be turned into a desire for vengeance. You will readily understand how I must shrink from any such feeling. I would rather, as far as I reverently may, adopt the Lord’s prayer on the Cross--‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The law, I know, must take its course, for the sake of the unhappy country itself. I pray that neither the unspeakable greatness of my sorrow nor the terrible wickedness of those men may ever blind either myself or any of the English people to the duty of patience, justice, and sympathy in our thoughts, words, and deeds with regard to Ireland and its people at large.”

Revenge, meanness of

Revenge is a cruel word: manhood, some call it; but it is rather doghood. The manlier any man is, the milder and more merciful, as Julius Caesar, who, when he had Pompey’s head presented to him, wept, and said, “I seek not revenge, but victory.” (J. Trapp.)

Revenge, punishment of

On him that takes revenge, revenge shall be taken; and by a real evil he shall dearly pay for the goods that are but airy and fantastical. It is like a rolling stone which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion. (Bp. Taylor.)

The Christian’s conduct under injury

I. The occasion is common--arising out of

1. Human depravity in general; or--

2. The hatred of wicked men to that which is good.

II. The duty is plain--

1. Bear with patience.

2. Yield to the wrong.

3. Leave it to the judgment of God.

III. The reason is cogent. Vengeance--

1. Is the prerogative of God.

2. Will certainly be executed. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

“Avenge not yourselves”

“What?” will be the reply, “when our memory is smarting with the sense of injury; when our neighbour has transgressed all the laws of God and man towards us, are we to show him that mercy which we do not receive? Are our hands to be tied by religion, while his are at full liberty? What security would there be then remaining for our property or our persons; and to what end are we to be mocked by these gifts of strength, or courage, which we are forbidden, even in self-defence, to employ?”

1. In answer to these objections, we may remark, first, that to repel or resist an injury is not forbidden. Self-defence is a very different tiring from revenge. The latter cannot plead necessity.

2. But, secondly, it is not only our duty to do our enemies no harm, we must if they need our assistance be reader to do them good, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” And, strange as it may seem, this is the wisest as well as the most Christian course we can pursue. In the first place, by these acts of kindness we make our own task easier of combating our resentment and extinguishing every spark of malice in our hearts. Again, in point of safety, this is the best and surest course. If we are apprehensive of future injuries from our enemy, what method so likely to indispose him to mischief? But lastly, if it fall to conciliate him, there is One, at least, a mighty friend, a powerful defender, whose assistance we gain. God is on the side of the merciful. It is true, besides, that there is nothing to a proud temper so painful as to owe an obligation to an enemy. (Bp. Heber.)

On conduct under wrongs

I. It is an important question, whether the object of revenge be really an enemy. Wrong may exist nowhere but in our own erring fancy, or diseased acuteness of feeling.

II. But if the conduct of our neighbour have given us substantial hurt, another necessary question will next arise:--was the injury which he inflicted intentional? It is not impossible that we regard as a deliberate affront that which was intended as an act of the warmest kindness. How often are the affectionate warnings of a wise counsellor construed by a headstrong youth into an assumption of superiority?

III. Suppose now that there exist both injury and malevolence; it yet remains for our attentive recollection, whether we were not, ourselves, the first aggressors? Did not our adversary inflict the wound in self-defence? in resistance of our improper deportment?

IV. But indeed, in point of prudence, whether we ourselves were the original aggressors or not, a retorted offence is new matter of provocation, and almost infallibly ensures a reiterated blow. It may be that the wrath of the foe has spent itself in the first assault. He may have been satisfied; he may have forgotten you. What folly then will it now be to rekindle that flame which had died away of itself.

V. In the next place it deserves continual remembrance, that revenge is not by any means our province. God alone is qualified to apportion the measure of retribution, because He alone has a full and exact view of the injury. Add to this, that there is something exceedingly preposterous and presumptuous in one sinful being’s becoming the judge and executioner of another.

VI. If, however, it should be pretended, that thus wholly to transfer the exercise of recompense to the Almighty, or to His established vicegerent, is an effort of principle too difficult to be at all times expected from frail humanity, various and weighty considerations yet remain for overcoming an inclination to revenge. Hardly the most violent would deem resentment equitable, if the aggression, after inflicting a momentary pain, shall in the course of events, or by a combination of circumstances, have in any degree conduced to the advantage of the sufferer. That calumny which has humbled us in the opinion we had falsely conceived of ourselves, and reduced our mental stature to its just dimensions; any substantial injustice which has furnished us with experience of the deceitfulness of the world and introduced us to an acquaintance with true religion, ought surely to soften, even to dispel our ill-will towards the individual who hath been the unconscious bestower of these spiritual benefits.

VII. This view of the subject suggests another of similar nature; I mean the propriety of regarding the wound we have sustained as having proceeded originally from God; and him whom we call our enemy as no more than the weapon of Divine justice which chastises, or of Divine goodness which seeks our amendment. The injury, viewed in this light, is invested with an air of sacredness, and anger appears to border on rebellion and impiety.

VIII. Reflection on the present condition of our enemy will further be highly useful in appeasing a vindictive disposition. Without any retributive severity on our part, he may already be sufficiently punished. Malignity is unhappiness.

IX. Or should our adversary be a stranger to these delicate sensations, it will be yet well to remember, that the more destitute he is of virtue, so much the more is he an object of Divine displeasure. Shall we seek to overwhelm misery by adding the venom and lash of our malevolence to the sting of conscience, or the blow of Heaven? And even if all things in the present world go on smoothly with him, ought we not next to reflect that this enjoyment is probably but temporary? It may only be a gleam of sunshine, preparatory to a terrible storm.

X. Yet if, in open defiance of all these cogent arguments, we will surrender ourselves to the inward fiend, and proceed to retaliate; we must not forget, when contemplating the present, or the probable recompense of our adversary’s injustice, that by this measure we render ourselves liable to all the same evils. We contract the internal disquietude and self-torment belonging to a malignant temper; we involve ourselves in the hazard of receiving present correction from above.

XI. This leads us on to that great evangelical motive, which is more weighty and persuasive than all those that have preceded it: “if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you yours.” Who is he that shall look this plain proposition in the face, and continue for another moment to foster rancour against an enemy?

XII. For practising the sacred, we may say emphatically, the Christian duty, which the various reasons now collected recommend, concluding motive presses itself upon our regard, in the examples held forth by Scripture. Among these the leading one is that of God Himself; and it is brought forward by our Lord, indeed, when enjoining the love of enemies (Matthew 5:23-24). Even under the Jewish dispensation instances of this virtue, as prompted by the native impulse of a pious or tender disposition, are not wanting. Joseph wept on the necks and amply provided for the wants of his unkind brethren. David forgave Saul for his inveterate and unprovoked hatred. (J. Grant, M.A.)

Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

I. Vengeance is the prerogative of God. He claims it--

1. As the Supreme Ruler.

2. As the fountain of law.

3. As the Judge of all.

II. Will inevitably be exercised upon evil doers,

1. This is essential to moral government.

2. Is affirmed by Scripture.

3. Abundantly sustained by example.

4. Will be terribly demonstrated in the last day. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Vengeance belongs to God

A person happened to complain in the hearing of a pious man of some conduct which had been manifested towards him by his neighbours, and concluded by saying that he had a large portion of vengeance in store for them. “You have stolen it, then,” was the answer; “for I know it does not belong to you of right, because God says, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.’” (Clerical Library.)

Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him.--

Kindness to an enemy is

I. Beautiful in its exhibitions.

II. Magnanimous in its spirit.

III. Christian in its suggestion.

IV. Triumphant in its results. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The triumph of Christian love

I. Is possible over the worst enemy.

II. Is secured by kindness.

1. Treat him gently.

2. Minister to his need.

3. Especially seek his salvation.

III. Is completed by patience.

1. These coals of fire may melt his heart.

2. Must awaken shame.

3. And if he repent not will attract the just vengeance of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

In so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.--

Does that mean that thou shalt be taking the most effectual means of melting him into a state of penitences--“As artists melt the sullen ore of lead, By heaping coals of fire upon its head”? or is there an allusion to the melting of wax; or to the hardening of clay; or to the practice of throwing firebrands upon the heads of besiegers of cities? Possibly there may have been no conscious reference to any one of these things. For, altogether apart from any such references, fire is frequently employed in Scripture as the symbol of any strong passion, or of the instrument by which it finds expression or works out its purposed result. “Our God is a consuming fire.” “Upon the wicked He shall rain snares,” etc. But the fire of God which descended to consume His people’s offerings was a token, not of kindling wrath, but of gracious acceptance. By a coal of that, the trembling prophet was purged from sin, and stood in assured favour. Love also, as well as anger, is as fire: the coals thereof are coals of fire, the fire-flame of Jehovah (Song of Solomon 8:6). The Lord Jesus baptized His people with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And obviously these coals of fire, heaped upon the head of an adversary, are not coals of burning vengeance, but coals of fervent love, the fire-flame of Jehovah, adapted to melt down his hardness, and to win him for ever to virtue and to God. And if the result be really accomplished, you will have conquered an enemy, won an adoring friend, and saved a soul from death. (W. Tyson.)

How to overcome an enemy

I once took a nugget to a gold-melter to be assayed. A friend in the trade explained to me that it was not enough to subject the metal in the crucible to the greatest heat from under the pot: this would only heat the gold to the furnace-heat, but could not melt it into fluid, until the charcoal was put on the top of the crucible as well as under it; and then it would be molten. “Thus,” said he, “the Christian is bidden to soften down and subdue his hardest adversary in the Scriptural metaphor taken from our trade--‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head,’ i.e., effectually melt and overcome him.” (J. B. Owen.)

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

Overcoming evil with good

I. The import of the precept.

1. How evil may overcome us.

2. How we may overcome it.

II. The excellence of it.

1. It counteracts our evil propensities.

2. Assimilates us to Christ.

3. Promotes on earth the happiness of heaven. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Overcoming evil with good

In the year 1818, Tomatoe, the king of Huahine, one of the South Sea islands, embraced the gospel. Some of the heathen islanders resolved on the destruction of him, and of those who, with him, had become followers of Christ. The enemy laid their plan, and had purposed to burn to death those whom they seized. But the plot was discovered; the small band of Christians were on the shore in readiness to meet their foes as they leaped from their canoes, and soon gained a complete victory. And now these heathens looked for nothing but death, and that a cruel death. How great, then, was their surprise when the Christians assured them that they meant not to touch a hair of their head, because Jesus had taught them to treat kindly their bitterest foes! They went further--they prepared a sumptuous feast, and asked the captives to sit down and partake. Some of these were so amazed as to be unable to taste. At last one of them arose (one of the heathen leaders), declared himself no longer a follower of helpless idols, stated his cruel intentions had he been successful, but that this utterly unlooked-for kindness of the Christians had fairly overcome him, so that he could only admire their humanity and mercy. The result of all was that in a few days every idol in the island had been cast away; for the heathen, melted by all this kindness, joined the Christians.

Overcome evil with good

The text sets before us two things, and bids us choose the better. You must either be overcome of evil, or you must yourself overcome evil. The words remind me of the Scotch officer who said to his regiment, “Lads, there they are: if ye dinna kill them they’ll kill you.” Overcome, or be overcome. There is no avoiding the conflict; may we be as ignorant of what it is to be vanquished as the British drummer boy who did not know how to beat a retreat. With regard to the evil of personal injury--

I. The common method is to overcome evil with evil. “Give him a Roland for his Oliver.” “Give him as good as he sends.” “Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” “Be six to his half dozen.” I might go on with a score of proverbs all inculcating the sentiment of meeting evil with evil.

1. This is a most natural procedure. You need not train your children to it; they will of their own accord beat the post against which they stumble. But to which part of us is it natural? To the new nature or the animal in us? “Good for evil is Godlike; good for good is man-like: evil for good is devil-like; evil for evil,”--what is that? Beast-like. Surely we cannot allow the lower part of our triple nature to dictate to our heaven-born spirit. That returning evil for evil looks like rough and ready justice I admit, but is any man prepared to stand before God on the same terms?

2. It is very easy. If you make it a rule that nobody shall ever treat you with disrespect without meeting his match, you need not pray God to help you. The devil will help you, and between the two the thing may be very easily managed. But is that which is so easy to the very worst of men the right procedure for those who ought to be the best of men?

3. By many it has been judged the more manly course. Years ago a gentleman felt it necessary to wipe out an insult with blood. The spirit of Christianity has by degrees overcome this evil, but even now to be gentle is considered to be unworthy of a man of spirit. Now there is but one model of a Christian man, and that is the man Christ Jesus, and whatever is Christly is manly. Hear, then, how He rebukes John for calling for fire to consume the Samaritans, and Peter for assaulting Malchus, and His prayer for His murderers.

4. It does not succeed. Nobody ever overcame evil by confronting it with evil. Such a course increases the evil. When a great fire is blazing it is a strange way of putting it out to pump petroleum upon it. And what is worse, when we assail evil with evil it injures us most. Our enemies are not worth putting ourselves out about, and ten minutes of a palpitating heart, and of a disturbed circulation, causes us greater real damage in body than an enemy could inflict in seven years. Let us not so please our foes. Evil for evil is an edged tool which cuts the man who uses it: a kind of cannon which is most dangerous to those who fire it, both in its discharge and in its recoil. If you wished to destroy your enemy it would be wise to make him a present of it.

5. It does not bear inspection. If we cannot pray about it, or praise about it, or think about it on our death-bed, let us let it alone.

II. The Divine method of overcoming evil with good.

1. This is a very elevated mode of procedure. “Ridiculous!” says one; “Utopian,” cries another. Well, if it be difficult I commend it to you because it is so; what is there which is good which is not also difficult? Soldiers of Christ love those virtues most which cost them most.

2. It preserves the man from evil. If evil assails you, and you only fight it with good, it cannot hurt you, you are invulnerable. If a man has slandered you, but you never return him a reproachful word, he has not hurt your real character; the dirt which he has thrown has missed you, for you have none to throwback upon him. The very thing your enemy wants is to make you descend to his level, but, as long as you remain unprovoked, you vanquish him. Believe me, you are provoking your adversary terribly if you are quite calm yourself, you are disappointing him, he cannot insert his poisoned darts, for you are clad in armour of proof.

3. It is the very best weapon of offence against the opposer. William Ladd had a farm in one of the states of America, and his neighbour Pulsifer’s sheep were very fond of a fine field of grain belonging to Mr. Ladd, and were in it continually. Complaints were of no use, so one morning Ladd said to his men, “ Set the dogs on those sheep, and if that won’t keep them out, shoot them.” After he had said that, he thought to himself, “This will not do. I had better try the peace principle.” So he countermanded the order, and rode over to see his neighbour about those troublesome sheep. “Neighbour,” said he, “I have come to see you about those sheep.” “Yes,” Pulsifer replied, “I know. You are a pretty neighbour, and a rich man, too, and going to shoot a poor man’s sheep!” Then followed some strong language, but Ladd replied, “I am sorry for it; but, neighbour, we may as well agree. It seems I have got to keep your sheep, and it won’t do to let them eat all that grain, so I came over to say that I will take them into my homestead pasture and I will keep them all the season.” Pulsifer looked confounded, and, when he found that Ladd was in earnest, said, “The sheep sha’n’t trouble you any more. When you talk about shooting, I can shoot as well as you; but when you speak in that kind way I can be kind too.” The sheep never trespassed on Ladd’s lot any more. That is the way to kill a bad spirit. It is much the same as when a certain duke proclaimed war against a peaceful neighbour, who was resolved not to fight. The troops came riding to the town, and found the gates open as on ordinary occasions. The children were playing in the streets, and the people were at work; and so, pulling up their horses, the soldiers inquired, “Where is the enemy?” “We don’t know, we are friends.” What was to be done under the circumstances but to ride home? So it is in life, if you only meet evil with good, the bad man’s occupation is gone.

4. Sometimes it is the means of the conversion of evil men. Some years ago a wicked sailor was engaged in tarring a vessel, and there came along an old Christian man. One of the sailor’s mates said, “Jack, you could not provoke that man.” Jack was quite sure he could, and it became the subject of a wager. The wicked fellow took his bucket of tar, and threw it right over the good old man. The old man turned round and calmly said to him, “Christ has said that he who offends one of His little ones will find that it were better for him that a mill-stone had been tied about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea: now, if I am one of Christ’s little ones, it will be very bad for you.” Jack slunk back dreadfully ashamed of himself. What was more, the old man’s quiet face haunted him; and those tremendous words broke him down before the mercy-seat. He asked and found pardon; he sought out the old man, confessed his fault, and received forgiveness. Now suppose the old man had turned round on him, who could have blamed him? But then there would have been no triumph of grace in the Christian, and no conversion in the sinner.

5. It reflects great honour upon Christ. When one of the martyrs was being tortured the tyrant said to him, “And what has your Christ ever done for you that you should bear this?” He replied, “He has done this for me, that in the midst of all my pain, I do nothing else but pray for you.” Ah, Lord Jesus, Thou hast taught us how to conquer, for Thou hast conquered.

Conclusion: Everything that is admirable may be said of this method of overcoming evil with good.

1. A Christian man is the noblest work of God, and one of his noblest features is readiness to forgive. The Emperor Adrian, before he reached the throne, had been grievously insulted. When he had attained the imperial purple he met the man who had used him ill. The guilty person was, of course, dreadfully afraid of his mighty foe. Adrian cried out, “Approach. You have nothing to fear; I am an Emperor!” Did this heathen feel that his dignity lifted him above the meanness of revenge? Then let those whom Christ has made kings unto God scorn to render evil for evil.

2. Good for evil is congruous with the spirit of the gospel. Were we not saved because the Lord rendered to us good for evil?

3. This spirit is the Spirit of God, and he that hath it becomes like to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

On revenge

I. The revengeful man is overcome by various evils,

1. By his passions, which subdue his reason. He becomes the author of slavery to himself, and is his own tyrant.

2. An angry man is not only enslaved by his passions, but he is frequently overcome by his adversary. Fury and rage generally defeat their own designs, by taking men wholly off their guard, and leaving them open to the attacks of their more wary opponents.

3. A revengeful passionate man is in danger of being overcome in a yet worse sense; he is in danger of being hurried into such crimes as will not only affect his peace and reputation at present, but will hazard his eternal happiness hereafter.

II. Some considerations to enable men to subdue a revengeful temper, and to prevent the ill effects of it.

1. He who finds himself naturally addicted to passion ought to guard perpetually against the first tendencies to resentment in his mind.

2. It will probably be of use to the persons for whose service this discourse is intended, to let them know the opinion of wise men concerning this spirit of revenge. And, in their sense, it is owing to a littleness of mind, while they who have studied human nature have observed that men of the weakest capacities are generally most liable to it. This is the concurring opinion both of ancient poets and philosophers; and hence it was, no doubt, that a great man observed, “that the vulgar wrote their injuries on marble, but their benefits on sand.” It was also finely said by Cicero, that “Caesar forgot nothing but injuries”; and a distinguished person among the moderns, when his memory was appealed to for the support of an invidious story, replied, “he remembered to forget it.”

III. Let me endeavour to exhort you to study and be reconciled to your own true interest.

1. Whenever you meet with anything shocking in the common behaviour of life, whenever you are alarmed by unpremeditated offences, remember your own frailties, remember your God, infinitely indulging to these frailties; and from these motives be forbearing, forgiving to others.

2. Happy is the man who can attain to this mastery of morality, and gain that command of passion and superiority of judgment which is necessary to carry him on sweetly through all the ruffles of human life. The possessor of such a temper may be said to have in him the virtue of the load-stone, he wins the affections of others to himself, draws them insensibly to his own point, and leads them, by degrees, into the same good-natured disposition he enjoys.

3. This amiable temper does not only conciliate the goodwill and esteem of men towards us, but peculiarly entitles us to the praise of being formed after the image of God. (J. Smedley, M.A.)

Charity and kind offices, the best conquest over an enemy

The advice is short, comprised in a few words; but it is withal full and instructive, and carries a great deal of good matter in it. The apostle’s manner of wording the thing is observable; for there is a particular force and beauty in the very expression. Being sensible that the forgiving an injury or the not revenging it is commonly looked upon as a kind of yielding to an adversary (which is what the pride of human nature is most averse to), he prudently anticipates the thought, and gives it quite another turn, insinuating that all desire of revenge is yielding and submitting to an enemy; is as much as confessing that he has disturbed us to that degree, that we are no longer able to command our temper and to be really masters of ourselves. Overflowing with rage and resentment upon such occasions is betraying a littleness of mind, and proclaiming our own defeat.

I. Be not overcome of evil. Suffer not any affront to get the better of you.

1. Let not any affront or injury have the superiority over your reason, considering yourself now only as a man, without taking in the additional consideration of your being a Christian also. A passionate furious warrior neither sees an advantage nor knows how to use it; while he is all fire, and no conduct, he does but expose his forces, and at length becomes himself an easy prey to the enemy. But a man of cool and steady courage, who does nothing precipitately, he is the man that maintains his ground, and comes off victorious in the end.

2. But further, to advance to a yet higher consideration, put the case thus: Suffer not any affronts or injuries to get the better of your piety, or of your duty towards God. God permits us not to revenge, or resent our own wrongs. This is no more than every master of a family will demand; that any disputes in his family among his servants be decided by him, and left to his censure and correction. But a question here arises by the way, whether, after a man has referred his cause to God, laying aside all thoughts of revenging himself, he may then pray to God to avenge him, or may take pleasure in observing that the Divine vengeance has fallen down upon his adversary. Much may be pleaded on both sides. What seems to me to come nearest to the truth, is as follows: The peace of the world is much concerned in this--that we never avenge ourselves but refer all vengeance to God. This is the main thing; and if this be carefully observed, we may be the less solicitous about the rest. There is a just pleasure which a good man may take, in seeing the Divine vengeance fall upon very bad men, because such men are enemies to mankind; and so rejoicing in their fall is rejoicing in the public goeth And for the same reason it may not be improper, in some cases, to beg of God to curb or punish them, in such a way as His wisdom shall see proper. And it is of such cases as these that I understand some Scripture-imprecations, if they be really such; which, besides, were pronounced by persons extraordinarily commissioned to imprecate, as from God. As to private injuries, in which the public is very little or not at all concerned, there, as I conceive, is no room left for rejoicing in the Divine judgments upon the adversaries; first, because we are very uncertain whether those judgments are brought upon them on any such account as we might fondly suppose; and next, because, as we are all sinners, we know not whether we ourselves are not justly liable to the same or greater.

3. Having shown how we ought not to suffer any offence or injury to get-the better of our piety towards God, I have but one step more to advance; namely, not to suffer it to prevail over our charity towards man. This article I make distinct from the former, inasmuch as not taking revenge upon an adversary is one thing, and doing him kind offices is another. I say then, let not any injurious usage of an enemy prevent our doing him good.

II. Overcome evil with good. This implies all the kind offices towards an enemy which we are capable of doing, consistent with our own safety, or with our obligations to others. Our blessed Lord’s instructions upon this head may serve as a good comment upon this part of the text (Matthew 5:44-45).

1. The overcoming evil with good, may be understood of conquering an enemy by kindness, so that he may cease to malign us; for then the evil is overcome, as it is put an end to. Such a conduct contributes much to the peace of society, and to the general good of mankind, which is alone sufficient to recommend if with every wise and considering man. And that it may not be suspected that there is anything of tameness or mean-spiritedness in this conduct, the advantage in point of dignity and esteem really lies on the side of the good-natured and peaceable man. There is a greatness of mind shown in being above little piques and childish altercations. There is triumph and conquest seen in the command a man has over his own temper and passions.

2. That there is yet another kind of conquest to be obtained, by persevering in doing good against evil. For though you do not thus conquer the man’s pride or ill nature, yet you conquer your own passions. There is a kind of contest and emulation in such a case which shall be first weary and vanquished, the malice and iniquity of one, or the patience and goodness of the other. He who abides in doing good against evil may be said to be a person of invincible kindness and generosity, unconquerable love and charity.

3. I know but one objection of any moment against this conduct, which is this: that it may seem to give too much encouragement to malicious men to persist in their iniquity, and may also strengthen their hands against ourselves to do us the more mischief. To which I answer that, were it really true that it carried this single inconvenience with it; yet, so long as there are innumerable conveniences on the other side, more than sufficient to counterbalance it, this single difficulty ought to be no objection against it. But I have this thing to add further; that the principles which I have been maintaining do not oblige a man to lay himself open to his enemy, or to give himself up into his power. He may do him kind offices, without making a friend or a confidant of him; may oblige and serve him without running into his arms. The Scripture bids us be kind and generous; and yet bids us also beware of ill men, and not to deliver ourselves up thoughtlessly into their hands. Love and charity are one thing, easiness and folly another. (D. Waterland, D.D.)

Wrath conquered by love

A very good man once said, “If there is any one particular temper I desire more than another, it is the grace of meekness; quietly to bear ill-treatment, to forget and forgive; and at the same time that I am sensible I am injured, not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.” But this sentiment, be it remembered, could be learned only from heaven. It did not belong to the systems of heathen philosophy. At the dawn of the age of mercy, a Pliny said, but had learned the sentiment from that very religion he affected to despise, “I esteem him the best good man, who forgives others, as though he were every day faulty himself; and who at the same time abstains from faults, as if he pardoned no one.” But it was One from heaven who came down in all the amiableness of God, and taught the world principles of kindness; that to forgive is possible, and that the meek are blessed.

I. When may it be considered that one is overcome of evil? This is a calamity that may doubtless happen to the good man, but is a matter of every day’s occurrence to the multitudes of the ungodly. I remark, then, that a man is overcome of evil--

1. When ill-treatment excites the angry passions, and produces harsh and ill-natured language. This unhappy result was perhaps the very design of the onset. The foe has gained his whole object, and his antagonist is vanquished.

2. One is still more completely overcome of evil, when he settles down into confirmed hatred of the offender. By suffering anger to rest in his bosom, he becomes in God’s esteem a fool.

3. One is overcome of evil when he indulges designs of revenge. We suffer ourselves to be driven from the delightful duty of doing good to all men, the only post where we can be happy.

4. We are overcome of evil, when the ill-treatment of one leads us to suspect the friendship of others. Our apprehensions are the very demons that break the tie of friendship, and dissolve the bonds of brotherhood. They beget distance, caution, jealousy, and neglect, and the result is abandonment and hatred.

5. We are more yet completely overcome of evil, when abuse begets habitual sourness of temper.

6. One is overcome of evil, when he attempts unnecessarily a public vindication of his character. I say unnecessarily, for it cannot be denied that a good man, without his wish, may be forced into such a measure. Often is this the very object which some malicious foe would accomplish.

II. How may we save ourselves from the shame and injury of being thus vanquished?

1. He who would designedly injure us does himself a greater injury. There is in nature, or rather in the Divine purpose, a principle of prompt and powerful reaction. Let one attack your character, and sure as life he hurts his own. Let him spread an ill report, and that report will recoil upon his own reputation. Or would he merely disturb your peace, let him but alone, and his own peace is injured more than yours. God can give you a peace that nothing can disturb. If you must unjustly suffer, God can support you and comfort you, but this He will not do for the man who wrongs you. Now if the man who intended to injure us has wounded himself, then we should pity him, and pray for him, and not study a duplicate revenge.

2. If we resist evil we are invariably injured. The foe is the more courageous, the more fierce and prompt the repulse he meets with. He exhibits now a prowess that he could never have summoned, had he coped with mere non-resistance. A slanderous report is repeated and magnified, because it has been wrathfully contradicted.

3. It will calm us in an hour of onset to feel that wicked men are God’s sword.

4. It will be a timely and sweet reflection, for a period of abuse, that ill-treatment is among the all things that shall work together for our good.

5. It should ever be our reflection in the hour of attack, that to be like Christ we must not resist evil

6. Finally, there is the direct command of God. No precept can be more binding than the text. A Christian is but a pardoned rebel, and may not avenge himself. And all others may well fear to be vindictive, lest wrath come upon them to the uttermost. With the same measure that we mete, it shall be measured to us again.

III. How may we overcome evil with good?

1. To do this will require the sacrifice of bad passions. The unrenewed heart has a keen relish for revenge.

2. If one treats us unkindly we must treat him well. If he defame, let us say the kindest things possible of him. If he hurt our interest, let us advance his. If he will not oblige us, we must do kindnesses to him. If he deals reproach, we must practise no retort. (D. A. Clark.)

How to conquer evil

(children’s sermon):--One of our most familiar proverbs tells us that “two blacks do not make a white,” which means that whether other people do right or wrong, we must always try to do right. We must try to conquer badness by goodness.

I. Overcome evil tempers with good temper. Some one is very cross with you. Your natural impulse is to be just as cross in return. But to do that is to own yourself beaten, and no Englishman likes to be defeated. Besides, it will be like pouring oil upon the flame of the angry person. Then try the opposite plan. Return a smile for a frown; courtesy for rudeness. It will not be long before you win the day. There was once a quarrel between the wind and the sun. Each claimed to be the strongest, and one morning they agreed to put their powers to the proof. A traveller had just set out well wrapt up in a warm overcoat, and the wind challenged the sun to see which of them could make him take off his coat. So it swept down from the N.E., and howled past the poor traveller; but the harder it blew, the closer he buttoned his coat, and at last the wind gave up in despair. Then the sun began to peep out, and as the wind fell, and the sunshine became, more powerful, the traveller loosed first one button and then another, until his coat was quite unfastened. And the sun kept on shining until the traveller took his coat right off. Then the wind acknowledged that the sun was mightier. It is just so in our lives. If one meets you who wears a shabby coat of ill-temper, your frowning won’t make him lay it aside. But, if you meet him with a smile, he will soon throw it away in disgust.

II. Overcome evil words with good words. In olden times the sword was the principal weapon in war, and soldiers used to learn to do very wonderful feats. They would split a splinter as it stood erect upon the table, or divide an apple upon your hand without letting the edge of the sword touch your palm. But the hardest feat was to cut through a down pillow. In the sieges of those days soldiers used great battering rams to knock down the walls. But those who were inside used to let down bags of chaff and beds, and the strokes, which would have made a breach in the solid walls, fell quite harmlessly upon these soft cushions. Both the sword and the ram found soft things to be the hardest to penetrate. The best defence against the weapons of anger is not harshness, but gentleness. A little boy was one day playing where there was an echo. “Hallo!” he shouted. “Hallo!” said Echo. “Who are you?” he asked. “Who are you?” was the reply. And he fancied that some other boy was mocking him, and became very angry. “Why don’t you come out?” he cried. “Come out!” answered Echo. Quite exasperated, he shouted, “I’ll fight you!” and the voice replied,: “Fight you!” Then the little fellow ran home and told his mother that there was a boy in the forest who mocked him and made fun of him and threatened to fight him. And his wise mother, who knew all about the echo, smiled, and said, “Run out again and shout, ‘I love you,’ and see what answer comes.” So the child ran out and shouted “I love you,” and Echo replied, “I love you.” Is it not a beautiful lesson? If you make faces before the mirror, you see all the ugly looks reflected on its bright surface. And so the people around us often reflect our own temper and speech. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

III. Overcome evil deeds with good deeds. This is what the apostle especially refers to in our text. There was a publichouse where many young men used to gather on the Lord’s day, and an old man named William Haywood was grieved to see so many treading the path of the destroyer. So he used to take his stand outside the windows, sing “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow”; and then, with earnest pleading, warn the revellers of their folly and sin, and point them to Christ. This made these wild young fellows very angry, and one day one of them, who had filled a pail with foul water, came behind him and emptied it on his head. They thought that would anger him beyond endurance, and that he would be ashamed to talk to them any more. But no. The old man exclaimed: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name!” And then, falling on his knees, he prayed for the reckless men. They were melted by his words, and slunk away; and the ringleaders became devoted Christians. Oh! if boys and girls would learn this lesson, what happy homes there would be! In most cases it seems to be quite otherwise. A brother and sister come to words about a mere trifle, and words lead to blows, and perhaps for many days these foolish children will spite one another, and make each other miserable. (G. H. James.)

Evil overcome

A delegate of the Christian Commission, passing among the wounded at Gettysburg, said to a wounded confederate officer, “Colonel, can I do anything for you?” “No!” was his defiant reply. The offer was repeated, after a time, with like result. The air became offensive from heat and wounds. The delegate offered to put cologne on his handkerchief. The officer, bursting into tears, said, “I have no handkerchief.” “You shall have one,” said the delegate, wetting his own, and giving it to him. The subdued rebel said, “I can’t understand you Yankees: you fight us like devils, and then you treat us like angels. I am sorry I entered this war.”

The power of good over evil

1. Christianity, it has been said, is deficient in the masculine virtues. Our answer is that in this chapter you have a catalogue of Christian virtues, and amongst them is one which does not always find a place even in the virtues of the world: the virtue of hatred. We are to abhor what is evil. Christianity is not deficient in contending power. She recognises that there is an enemy to be fought, and she is determined to contend against it.

2. But it may be said, “Hatred of evil is not victory over it; and it is an imbecile kind of virtue which contents itself with indignation and does not apply itself to some remedy.” The apostle gives the remedy. Because we abhor evil we will not therefore be overcome by evil; we will not ally ourselves with any evil, even though we imagine that the alliance will give us a transient victory over it. The only weapon wherewith we will encounter it is good.

3. But is it possible to overcome evil with good?

I. The teaching of all our experience is that this is the best method of encountering evil. There are two methods by which we may oppose evil; the one is the method of impulse, the other of reflection. In the first heat of virtuous indignation, we are inclined to cry out, “Away with such a fellow from the world; it is not fit that he should live.” But that is only making the alliance, for the moment, with the evil, to overcome it. Now the other method is far better. It says, “I will not meet persecution with violence, falsehood with falsehood. Against falsehood I will present truth, against violence righteousness.” Let me appeal to the simplest spheres within the experience of man.

1. Take the physical sphere. The ancient theory regarding disease was that the element of evil must be expelled at all costs, and the result of medical treatment was the utter weakening of the patient, his death often, in the endeavour to secure his cure. But a milder and a wiser spirit has gradually grown up, and men have come to see that they must support, by every means, the life within the man. Give the patient vigour, and the natural forces will cast off the evil.

2. How do you deal with your children? Are you trying to teach them to excel in any particular art by pointing out their faults and failures? You know that is not the way to success. You may criticise if you will; but the spirit of criticism has never educated any one. The spirit of appreciation, the spirit of imitation--these are the secrets of power.

3. It is true also in moral matters. There are three great enemies which assail us in the three different periods of our life.

4. It is true also in the religious world. Israel’s evil was idolatry. The prophets spoke and the prophets failed; and at last came the terrible penalty--the Exile, which purged out the old leaven. But there was no positive element in their religious life. When they returned they did not worship gods, but they idolised themselves, and Phariseeism grew upon the ruins of the overthrown idolatry of the past. Then came God manifest in the flesh, and men have since found in Him who is to be loved and reverenced, that there was the good that was to expel the evil.

II. It is irrational to suppose that we can overcome it in any other way, for this reason:--There are three elements in the consideration; and he who seeks for mere antagonism to kill the evil--

1. Forgets the man. For what is your idea about evil? Is it a thing that is so part of man’s manhood that his very individuality is concerned in it, or is it like a disease? The truth is that the evil is in the man; and hence your aim is not to kill the man, but rather to deliver him from the power of evil. To meet, therefore, evil by violence, by the spirit which makes an easy alliance with the very wrongs which are denounced of God, fails of its purpose, for it kills in its attempt to cure.

2. Forgets the law. If we have any faith in the moral order of the universe, our answer to every temptation to meet evil with evil is this, “I grant it might answer to-day; but am I sure it would answer in the long run?” Our Master was tempted for the great gain to do the little wrong. But His answer was No! and that must be ours. And why? Because the laws that govern the world are the laws of righteousness. It is never worth while to do evil that good may come.

3. Forgets God; for suppose we are tempted to make use of some transient evil to achieve some great good. The little falsehood, the little elasticity of conscience, declares that you do not believe that God is eternally good, and that you believe in the energy of evil more than in the energy of good. But the Cross tells us that victory lies in the hands of him who will use the Divine weapons and eschew the carnal ones; by that Christ overcame evil with good. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)

The Christian and his adversaries

There are--

I. Adversaries of the gospel. It is a mistake to say that these are now more numerous or formidable than they were. The “higher criticism,” the antagonism of modern science to the Bible, etc., only present in a fresh form the difficulties that have always confronted the Christian. The enemies of truth may be more active, and we may be more thrown into contact with them, and so the evil may be more apparent, but there is no reason to believe that it is more widespread, or, save from the position of some of its advocates, more pernicious. The question is, How are we to deal with it so as to produce the best results? The true answer is that of the text.

1. We are overcome with evil if we indulge in a spirit of mere antagonism. Those against whom we have to contend need the gospel, and have the same right to a share in its provision as ourselves. A spirit of self-righteousness may dispose us to look down upon them, and a feeling of uncharitableness may lead us to provoke them with our denunciations. We may be more anxious to overwhelm an adversary than to win a soul. We forget that Christ bears with them, and so our zeal becomes unchrist-like.

2. But we are not less overcome with evil if we speak in a tone which betrays an indifference to the truth. Desire to win the champions of error, the effort to do them more than justice, must not degenerate into a latitudinarian charity. To shrink from the faithful exposure of error, lest the feelings of some should be wounded, to talk as though sincerity were everything, this is to abuse liberty, and thus to be overcome with evil.

3. There is a more excellent way, and that is to overcome error by confronting it with the truth. The effort of the Christian should not be always to meet objections, but rather to exhibit the gospel in its own simplicity. Many a heart, perplexed by the adversaries’ subtleties, and bewildered by our best answers, would be won by a faithful proclamation of the truth.

II. Sectarian adversaries.

1. There has been too much of a sectarian spirit in all ages. Not only have there been differences, but alienation of heart. There has been a disposition to disbelieve in the existence of goodness beyond our own pale. A spirit of rivalry has introduced itself, and men have done for the love of party what they would not do from pure Christian motive. And where a man’s convictions are strong, it is very hard for him to appreciate the position of those who differ from him, and unless there be restraining influence, there will naturally be a strong display of feeling. But such restraining power there is, and its sway ought to be more widely felt. The children of one family, the redeemed, of one Saviour, should never, amid their differences, forget their essential unity.

2. But there is more danger here than in the war against scepticism, lest we yield too much to the demands of that charity which exists only so long as an opponent is content to hold his own opinions in abeyance. Many virtually say to all who differ from them, “Be silent on every point of separation, never raise your voice against what you deem to be evils, lest you offend us, and then we will meet you.” This is no charity at all. The true language of charity is, “Hold your own opinions firmly; I may not be able to accept them, but I will believe your sincerity. I claim only the like liberty as my right; I will wear no trammels, and I will impose none; so long as we rejoice in a common salvation, march under a common banner, whatever be our other differences we will love as brethren.” Truth is not ours to trifle with; to keep it hidden lest some friend might be “offended with something in its appearance. This indeed is to be overcome with evil. By faithfulness and all carefulness in relation to the scruples of our brethren; by firmness blended with gentleness, we shall best approve our own Christianity, and advance the interests of truth.

III. Personal adversaries. Let a man take an earnest, upright, straightforward course, and he may expect to have some foes. Envy will raise up some who grudge him every honour. Differences of opinion too often degenerate into personal antagonisms, and there are, besides, these offences which, in our imperfect state, always will arise. It is very important that in them all the Christian should indicate that the spirit dwelling in him is other than that which has its place in the world. On the world’s theory retaliation is justifiable. But to the Christian it stands condemned by the precepts and the example of his Lord. We who have had so much forgiven, must ourselves forgive. We must conquer hatred by a display of that charity that is not easily provoked, and which thinketh no evil. Be it ours then to overcome evil with good. There are two aspects in which we may ever regard human characters and deeds. The one is uncharitable; the other kind. The one presents every feature of another’s character in the worst light; the other labours to discover the good. (J. G. Rogers, B.A.)

The great conflict

I. The command to hold out. “Be not overcome of evil.”

I. The Christian ought to be unconquerable, for he has an inexhaustible power to resist all onsets. If he desert not his position, his supplies cannot be cut off. This injunction was peculiarly appropriate to the Church at Rome, where power was almost deified. The apostle, no doubt, had this in view when he declared that the gospel was the power of God. He now urges the exercise of this latent power. Numberless assaults have been made on the Church of Christ, but it still thrives. It has sustained what were, apparently, many defeats; but it soon rallied, and gave fresh proofs of its invincibility.

2. Taken in its connection, the text gives prominence to suffering. Christians are discomfited when they lose the power of suffering in a Christlike spirit. The moment they begin to fight evil on its own low level, their high position is already taken. Vengeance is a weapon too dangerous for them to handle. In God’s hand it is the flashing sword of justice; the Christian, however, is more likely to hurt himself than to wound his adversary with it. A hasty temper is a vulnerable point in a good man’s character. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” A graphic portraiture that--a city easily sacked; falling a prey to the firstcomer; so is he who has lost control over himself. On the other hand, “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” He has subjugated his greatest enemy, and, as a consequence, is endowed with a vast power of resistance.

II. Paul advances boldly from the defensive to the offensive. A besieged city remains unconquered as long as the hostile forces are kept outside the wails; but the besieging army must be repelled before it can claim a victory. In virtue of the resources available to him, the Christian is able to endure a long siege; but it is his imperative duty to advance and put to flight the army of the alien, for it is with the conqueror that Christ promises to share His throne. And inasmuch as we have a Captain made perfect through suffering, we are urged to follow on bravely in His steps. The lines on which the great conflict should be waged are clearly indicated in His life and death. His command to fight evil after His own example may be taken as a certain guarantee of His presence and assistance. Let this inspire us with undaunted courage in our direst extremities.

III. The means whereby to achieve the victory. Much liberty is afforded us in the choice of our weapons, for we are only confined to the world of good; and that is very large. But we are strictly forbidden to fetch any from the enemy’s camp. Nor is there the slightest necessity for employing foreign arms, seeing that the most effective are manufactured in our own country. In the opinion of the world they are harmless; in moments of weakness we are tempted to distrust their efficacy; still the command holds good--“Overcome evil with good.” Kindness is the only instrument we are permitted to use. This is the return fire, and it cannot but eventually silence the enemy’s guns and that without slaying the gunners. The artillery of evil is poor compared with that of good. Touching instances are afforded of the subduing efficacy of good in the history of Saul and David. The weapons here prescribed were the weapons which the Saviour Himself wielded in His terrific conflict against the kingdom of evil. He died for enemies, and slew the enmity of man through His Cross, thus converting an enemy into a friend--the highest and completest victory imaginable. (W. Jenkins, M.A.)

The rule of the Christian warfare

1. The world is a battlefield, and we are all not only under arms, but under fire. No man lives to himself; the whole fabric of society suffers for the misdeeds of one of its members. Every prodigal brings dishonour on the home, every deed of violence lessens our sense of personal security, every adulterer weakens the integrity of the marriage bond, every dishonesty hardens us against strangers, etc. Hence we are concerned not only in the evil done to ourselves, but in that done anywhere.

2. And we should be moved to protect the community as fellow-workers with Christ. Every true Christian has a touch of the knight errant in him. He is his brother’s keeper, and this view of Divine chivalry is shared by many a one who has been blamed as busybody. When Christians first appeared people called them “the men that turned the world upside down.”

I. Be not overcome of evil. Don’t yield to it. Don’t turn your back upon it and say, “It is no business of mine.” What should we think of the man who shrank away from some great famine or pestilence without a kind thought or deed for the sufferers? However safe, he would be overcome of the evil. When we shut our eyes from any general trouble we yield to it. And when the evil threatens ourselves the rule still holds good.

II. Overcome evil with good. We may not be content with a mere protest against evil. In the great battle we may not deliver our shot and then step back, saying, “I have done my part.” We must hold on until we win or until the Captain calls us out of the ranks.

1. Suppose the evil we contend against is a personal one. A man has injured you. The world might say, “Get your revenge.” The apostle says, “Conquer it by good.” Never let the enemy say he has silenced you. Some day repay him with an unexpected thrust of goodness. And in order to do this you must fight against the evil in the man rather than against the man himself. Even when you are compelled to enforce the law against him, do not sting or degrade him.

2. Suppose the evil be general--the prevalence of immorality or infidelity. If you think you cannot do away with it altogether, do not yield to it yourself. If you live in a dirty street you can keep your own doorstep clean. If you can do no more you can be a Noah or an Elijah. You may have to fight single-handed, but with the power which backs you, you can do that. But you must strive lawfully--viz., by doing good. The best answer to deceit is fair dealing. Darkness flies before the light. Falsehood is built on sand, and will some day come down of itself. Don’t, then, pull it down; but prove the strength of truth by building upon the rock. (Harry Jones, M.A.)

The best warfare

(children’s sermon):--To “overcome evil with good” is--

I. The cheapest warfare. War is One of the dearest things that men have to do with. The Napoleonic wars cost England f200,000 every day. It costs the nations of Europe, to keep up the preparations of war, f200,000,000 every year. What a frightful sum to pay, just for the sake of killing men. Why, with a very small part of that sum we could clothe and feed all the poor people in the world, and send missionaries wherever they were needed. But to “overcome evil with good” it is not necessary to buy guns, swords, etc. Kind words cost nothing; and kind actions cost next to nothing.

II. The pleasantest. The other warfares in which men engage are very unpleasant from--

1. The labour involved. Soldiers often have to make long and fatiguing journeys, with heavy burdens on their backs. Think of what British soldiers during the Indian Mutiny had to suffer, and Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign. But there is no toil or labour like this connected with this warfare. Here, the enemy against whom we have to fight is “Evil,” and we may find it in the ugly dispositions, either in ourselves or those around us. We have no toilsome journey to undertake to find it.

2. The danger. But those who are engaged in the best warfare are perfectly safe. God takes care of them. “Who is he that can harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?”

3. The pain and suffering. But, in “the best warfare,” no blood is shed; no bones are broken; no wives are made widows; no children made orphans. This warfare heals wounds, but never inflicts them. It saves life, but never destroys it.

III. The most effectual. Kindness will conquer when nothing else can. There is the greatest difference in the world between conquering by power and conquering by kindness. The former is like building a dam across a stream of water; the latter is like drying up its springs. The one is like keeping a lion from doing harm by chaining him; the other changing his nature and turning him into a lamb.

IV. The most honourable. Beasts and men conquer by force, but God conquers by love. If we try to conquer by kindness or love, we are imitating God. Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon, tried to conquer the world by power, but they did not succeed. Jesus is trying to conquer the world by love. He is succeeding. He will succeed.

V. All may engage in it. When they are enlisting soldiers for an army, they will only take men, and men not too old, or too young. But old and young, women and children, sick and lame, may take part here, as well as strong men. (R. Newton, D.D.)

True moral conquests

These words imply--

1. That good and evil are in this world. This fact distinguishes this from other worlds. In heaven there is good only; in hell evil only. On earth both co-exist, though both coalesce.

2. That evil must be overcome. Its victory is ruin. No man, however bad, wishes evil to triumph.

3. That the way to overcome evil is by the force of good.

I. This is the only effective method. Can evil be overcome by evil, error by error, selfishness by, selfishness, anger by anger, etc.? The idea is a philosophical absurdity, and all history shows it to be an impossibility. Like begets like the whole universe through. This is the only effective method in overcoming evil.

1. Directed against ourselves from society. Are there those who seek our injury? Can we overcome them by resentment or violence? The constitution of the human mind must ever render such efforts futile. Here is the effective plan--“If thine enemy be hungry, feed him,” etc.

2. As it is found existing everywhere in the world. Falsehood, profanity, dishonesty, etc., are to be put down only by good. Truth alone can conquer error, honesty, craft, etc.

3. As existing in our own hearts. Here it is to be overcome, not by tormenting ourselves by self-scrutiny, but by strengthening the good that is within us, and getting more. The traveller who would escape the mists that hang about mountain-sides must ascend the higher zones. So he who would escape the darkness of polluting thoughts and feelings, must struggle upwards into the purer atmosphere of good (Philippians 4:8). Evil within will only yield to the expulsive power of the good.

II. This is the Divinely practised method.

1. The evil of intellectual error God overcomes by the good of intellectual truth. The world’s errors in relation to being and well-being, to virtue, duty, happiness, God, man, destiny, lie as a dark, oppressive atmosphere upon its heart. God overcomes this by a revelation of truth--the Bible.

2. The evil of enmity towards Him He overcomes by the good of His love toward it. Men are enemies to God by wicked works. Their opposition to heaven is their greatest crime and curse. “God so loved the world,” etc.

3. The evil of corrupt life He overcomes by the good of a perfect life. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Value of indirect efforts

You see that this wrought-iron plate is not flat; it sticks up a little towards the lips--“cockles,” as we say. How shall we flatten it? Obviously, you reply, by hitting down on the part that is prominent. Well, here is a hammer, and I give the pinto a blow. Harder, you say. Still no effect. Another stroke, and another, and another. The prominence remains; you see the evil is as great as ever--greater indeed. But this is not all. Look at the warp which the plate has got near the opposite edge. Where it was flat before, now it is curved. A pretty bungle we have made of it. Instead of curing the original defect we have produced a second. Had we asked an artizan practised in “planishing,” he would have told us that no good was to be done, but only mischief, by hitting on the projecting part. He would have taught us how to give variously directed and specially adjusted blows elsewhere, so attacking the evil not by direct but indirect action. (Herbert Spencer.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 12:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/romans-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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