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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Romans 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-8

Chapter 25

CHRISTIAN CONDUCT THE ISSUE OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH

Romans 12:1-8

AGAIN we may conjecture a pause, a long pause and deliberate, in the work of Paul and Tertius. We have reached the end, generally speaking, of the dogmatic and so to speak oracular contents of the Epistle. We have listened to the great argument of Righteousness, Sanctification, and final Redemption. We have followed the exposition of the mysterious unbelief and the destined restoration of the chosen nation; a theme which we can see, as we look back on the perspective of the whole Epistle, to have a deep and suggestive connection with what went before it; for the experience of Israel, in relation to the sovereign will and grace of God, is full of light thrown upon the experience of the soul. Now in order comes the bright sequel of this mighty antecedent, this complex but harmonious mass of spiritual facts and historical illustrations of the will and ways of the Eternal. The voice of St. Paul is heard again; and he comes full upon the Lord’s message of duty, conduct, character.

As out of some cleft in the face of the rocky hills rolls the full pure stream born in their depths, and runs under the sun and sky through green meadows and beside the thirsty homes of men, so here from the inmost mysteries of grace comes the message of all-comprehensive holy duty. The Christian, filled with the knowledge of an eternal love, is told how not to dream, but to serve, with all the mercies of God for his motive.

This is indeed in the manner of the New Testament; this vital sequence of duty and doctrine; the divine Truths first, and then and therefore the blessed Life. To take only St. Paul’s writings, the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles are each, practically, bisected by a line which has eternal facts before it and present duties, done in the light and power of them, after it. But the whole Book of God, in its texture all over, shows the same phenomenon. Someone has remarked with homely force that in the Bible everywhere, if only we dig deep enough, we find "Do right" at the bottom. And we may add that everywhere also we have only to dig one degree deeper to find that the precept is rooted in eternal underlying facts of divine truth and love.

Scripture, that is to say, its Lord and Author, does not give us the terrible gift of a precept isolated and in a vacuum. It supports its commandments on a base of cogent motive; and it fills the man who is to keep them with the power of a living Presence in him; this we have seen at large in the pages of the Epistle already traversed. But then, on the other hand. the Lord of Scripture does not leave the motive and the Presence without the articulate precept. Rather, because they are supplied and assured to the believer, it spreads out all the more amply and minutely a moral directory before his eyes. It tells him, as a man who now rests on God and loves Him, and in whom God dwells, not only in general that he is to "walk and please God" but in particular "how" to do it. [1 Thessalonians 4:1] It takes his life in detail, and applies the will of the Lord to it. It speaks to him in explicit terms about moral purity, in the name of the Holy One: about patience and kindness, in the name of redeeming Love; about family duties, in the name of the Father and of the Son; about civic duties, in the name of the King Eternal. And the whole outline and all the details thus become to the believer things not only of duty but of possibility, of hope, of the strong interest given by the thought that thus and thus the beloved Master would have us use His divine gift of life. Nothing is more wonderfully free, from one point of view, than love and spiritual power. But if the love is indeed given by God and directed towards Him in Christ, the man who loves cannot possibly wish to be his own law, and to spend his soul’s power upon his own ideas or preferences. His joy and his conscious aim must be to do, in detail, the will of the Lord who is now so dear to him; and therefore, in detail, to know it.

Let us take deep note of this characteristic of Scripture, its minuteness of precept, in connection with its revelation of spiritual blessing. If in any sense we are called to be teachers of others, let us carry out the example. Richard Cecil, wise and pregnant counsellor in Christ, says that if he had to choose between preaching precepts and preaching privileges he would preach privileges; because the privileges of the true Gospel tend in their nature to suggest and stimulate right action, while the precepts taken alone do not reveal the wealth of divine life and power. But Cecil, like his great contemporaries of the Evangelical Revival, constantly and diligently preached as a fact both privilege and precept; opening with energetic hands the revealed fulness of Christ, and then and therefore teaching "them which had believed through grace" not only the idea of duty, but its details. Thomas Scott, at Olney, devoted his week night "lecture" in the parish church almost exclusively to instructions in daily Christian life. Assuming that his hearers "knew Christ" in personal reality, he told them how to be Christians in the home, in the shop, in the farm: how to be consistent with their regenerate life as parents, children, servants, masters, neighbours, subjects. There have been times, perhaps, when such didactic preaching has been too little used in the Church. But the men who, under God, in the last century and the early years of this century, revived the message of Christ Crucified and Risen as all in all for our salvation, were eminently diligent in teaching Christian morals. At the present day, in many quarters of our Christendom, there is a remarkable revival of the desire to apply saving truth to common life, and to keep the Christian always mindful that he not only has heaven in prospect, but is to travel to it, every step, in the path of practical and watchful holiness. This is a sign of divine mercy in the Church. This is profoundly Scriptural.

Meanwhile, God forbid that such "teaching how to live" should ever be given, by parent, pastor, schoolmaster, friend, where it does not first pass through the teacher’s own soul into his own life. Alas for us if we show ever so convincingly, and even ever so winningly, the bond between salvation and holiness, and do not "walk accurately" [Ephesians 5:15] ourselves, in the details of our walk.

As we actually approach the rules of holiness now before us, let us once more recollect what we have seen all along in the Epistle, that holiness is the aim and issue of the entire Gospel. It is indeed an "evidence of life," infinitely weighty in the inquiry whether a man knows God indeed and is on the way to His heaven. But it is much more; it is the expression of life; it is the form and action in which life is intended to come out. In our orchards (to use again a parable we have used already) the golden apples are evidences of the tree’s species, and of its life. But a wooden label could tell us the species, and leaves can tell the life. The fruit is more than label or leaf; it is the thing for which the tree is there. We who believe are "chosen" and "ordained" to "bring forth fruit," [John 15:16] fruit much and lasting. The eternal Master walks in His garden for the very purpose of seeing if the trees bear. And the fruit He looks for is no visionary thing; it is a life of holy serviceableness to Him and to our fellows, in His Name.

But now we draw near again and listen:

I exhort you therefore, brethren, by means of the compassions of God; using as my logic and my fulcrum this "depths of riches" we have explored; this wonderful Redemption, with its sovereignty, its mercy, its acceptance, its holiness, its glory; this overruling of even sin and rebellion, in Gentile and in Jew, into occasions for salvation; these compassionate indications in the nearer and the eternal future of golden days yet to come; -I exhort you therefore to present, to give over, your bodies as a sacrifice, an altar offering, living, holy, well pleasing, unto God; for this is your rational devotion. That is to say, it is the "devotion," the "cultus," the worship service, which is done by the reason, the mind, the thought and will, of the man who has found God in Christ. The Greek term, "latreia," is tinged with associations of ritual and temple; but it is taken here, and qualified by its adjective, on purpose to be lifted, as in paradox, into the region of the soul. The robes and incense of the visible sanctuary are here out of sight; the individual believer is at once priest, sacrifice, and altar; he immolates himself to the Lord, -living, yet no longer to himself.

But observe the pregnant collocation here of "the body" with "the reason." "Give over your bodies"; not now your spirit, your intelligence, your sentiments, your aspirations, but "your bodies," to your Lord. Is this an anticlimax? Have we retreated from the higher to the lower, in coming from the contemplation of sovereign grace and the eternal glory to that of the physical frame of man? No more than the Lord Jesus did. when He walked down from the hill of Transfiguration to the crowd below, and to the sins and miseries it presented. He came from the scene of glory to serve man in its abiding inner light. And even He, in the days of His flesh, served men, ordinarily, only through His sacred body: walking to them with His feet; touching them with His hands; meeting their eyes with His; speaking with His lips the words that were spirit and life. As with Him so with us. It is only through the body, practically, that we can "serve our generation by the will of God." Not without the body but through it the spirit must tell on the embodied spirits around us. We look, we speak, we hear, we write, we nurse, we travel, by means of these material servants of the will, our living limbs. Without the body, where should we be, as to other men? And therefore, without the surrender of the body, where are we, as to other men, from the point of view of the will of God?

So there is a true sense in which, while the surrender of the will is all-important and primary from one point of view, the surrender of the body, the "giving over" of the body, to be the implement of God’s will in us, is all important, is crucial, from another. For many a Christian life it is the most needful of all things to remember this: it is the oblivion, or the mere half recollection, of this which keeps that life an almost neutral thing as to witness and service for the Lord.

And do not grow conformed to this world, this "aeon," the course and state of things in this scene of sin and death; do not play "the worldling," assuming a guise which in itself is fleeting, and which for you, members of Christ, must also be hollow: but grow transfigured, living out a lasting and genuine change of tone and conduct, in which the figure is only the congenial expression of the essence-by the renewal of your mind, by using as an implement in the holy process that divine light which has cleared your intelligence of the mists of self-love, and taught you to see as with new eyes "the splendour of the will of God"; so as that you test, discerning as by a spiritual touchstone, what is the will of God, the good, and acceptable, and perfect (will).

Such was to be the method, and such the issue, in this development of the surrendered life. All is divine in origin and secret. The eternal "compassions," and the sovereign work of the renewing and illuminating Spirit, are supposed before the believer can move one step. On the other hand the believer, in the full conscious action of his renewed "intelligence," is to ponder the call to seek "transfiguration" in a life of unworldly love, and to attain it in detail by using the new insight of a regenerated heart. He is to look, with the eyes of the soul, straight through every mist of self-will to the now beloved Will of God, as his deliberate choice, seen to be welcome, seen to be perfect, not because all is understood, but because the man is joyfully surrendered to the all-trusted Master. Thus he is to move along the path of an ever-brightening transfiguration; at once open eyed, and in the dark; seeing the Lord, and so with a sure instinct gravitating to His will, yet content to let the mists of the unknown always hang over the next step but one.

It is a process, not a crisis; "grow transfigured." The origin of the process, the liberation of the movement, is, at least in idea, as critical as possible; "Give over your bodies." That precept is conveyed, in its Greek form ( παραστηˆαι, aorist), so as to suggest precisely the thought of a critical surrender. The Roman Christian, and his English younger brother, are called here, as they were above, [Romans 6:13; Romans 6:19] to a transaction with the Lord quite definite, whether or no the like has taken place before, or shall be done again. They are called, as if once for all, to look their Lord in the face, and to clasp His gifts in their hands, and then to put themselves and His gifts altogether into His hands, for perpetual use and service. So, from the side of his conscious experience, the Christian is called to a "hallowing of himself" decisive, crucial, instantaneous. But its outcome is to be a perpetual progression, a growth, not so much "into" grace as "in" it, [2 Peter 3:18] in which the surrender in purpose becomes a long series of deepening surrenders in habit and action, and a larger discovery of self, and of the Lord, and of His will, takes effect in the "shining" of the transfigured life "more and more, unto the perfect day". [Proverbs 4:18]

Let us not distort this truth of progression, and its correlative truth of the Christian’s abiding imperfection. Let us not profane it into an excuse for a life which at the best is stationary, and must almost certainly be retrograde, because not intent upon a genuine advance. Let us not withhold "our bodies" from the sacred surrender here enjoined upon us, and yet expect to realise somehow, at some vague date. a "transfiguration, by the renewal of our mind." We shall be indeed disappointed of that hope. But let us be at once stimulated and sobered by the spiritual facts. As we are "yielded to the Lord," in sober reality, we are in His mercy "liberated for growth." But the growth is to come, among other ways, by the diligent application of "the renewal of our mind" to the details of His blessed Will.

And it will come, in its true development, only in the line of holy humbleness. To exalt oneself, even in the spiritual life, is not to grow; it is to wither. So the Apostle goes on:

For I say, through the grace that has been given me, "the grace" of power for apostolic admonition, to everyone who is among you, not to be high-minded beyond what his mind should be, but to be minded toward sober-mindedness, as to each God distributed faith’s measure. That is to say, let the individual never, in himself, forget his brethren, and the mutual relation of each to all in Christ. Let him never make himself the centre, or think of his personal salvation as if it could really be taken alone. The Lord, the sovereign Giver of faith, the Almighty Bringer of souls into acceptance and union with Christ by faith, has given thy faith to thee, and thy brother’s faith to him; and why? That the individual gifts, the bounty of the One Giver, might join the individuals not only to the Giver but to one another, as recipients of riches many yet one, and which are to be spent in service one yet many. The One Lord distributes the one faith power into many hearts, "measuring" it out to each, so that the many, individually believing in the One, may not collide and contend, but lovingly cooperate in a manifold service, the issue of their "like precious faith" [2 Peter 1:2] conditioned by the variety of their lives. So comes in that pregnant parable of the Body, found only in the writings of St. Paul, and in four only of his Epistles, but so stated there as to take a place forever in the foreground of Christian truth. We have it here in the Romans, and in larger detail in the contemporary 1 Corinthians. [1 Corinthians 12:12-27] We have it finally and fully in the later Epistolary Group, of the first Roman Captivity-in Ephesians and Colossians. There the supreme point in the whole picture, the glorious Head, and His relation to the Limb and to the Body. comes out in all its greatness, while in these earlier passages it appears only incidentally. But each presentation, the earlier and the later, is alike true to its purpose. When St. Paul wrote to the Asiatics he was in presence of errors which beclouded the living splendour of the Head. When he wrote to the Romans, he was concerned rather with the interdependence of the limbs, in the practice of Christian social life.

We have spoken of "the parable of the Body." But is the word "parable" adequate? "What if earth be but the shadow of heaven?" What if our physical frame, the soul’s house and vehicle, be only the feebler counterpart of that great Organism in which the exalted Christ unites and animates His saints? That union is no mere aggregation, no mere alliance of so many men under the presidency of an invisible Leader. It is a thing of life. Each to the living Head, and so each to all His members, we are joined, in that wonderful connection with a tenacity, and with a relation, genuine, strong, and close as the eternal life can make it. The living, breathing man, multifold yet one, is but the reflection, as it were, of "Christ Mystical," the true Body with its heavenly Head.

For just as in one body we have many limbs, but all the limbs have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, in our personal union with Him, but in detail, limbs of one another, coherent and related not as neighbours merely, but as complementary parts in the whole. But having endowments-according to the grace that was given to us-differing, be it prophecy, inspired utterance, a power from above, yet mysteriously conditioned [1 Corinthians 14:32] by the judgment and will of the utterer, let it follow the proportion of the man’s faith, let it be true to his entire dependence on the revealed Christ, not left at the mercy of his mere emotions, or, as it were, played upon by alien unseen powers; be it active service, let the man be in his service, wholly given to it, not turning aside to covet his brother’s more mystic gift; be it the teacher, let him likewise be in his teaching, wholehearted in his allotted work, free from ambitious outlooks from it; be it the exhorter, let him be in his exhortation; the distributer of his means, for God, with open handedness; the superintendent, of Church, or of home, with earnestness; the pitier, (large and unofficial designation!) with gladness, doubling his gifts and works of mercy by the hallowed brightness of a heart set free from the aims of self, and therefore wholly at the service of the needing.

This paragraph of eight verses lies here before us, full all along of that deep characteristic of Gospel life, surrender for service. The call is to a profoundly passive inward attitude, with an express view to a richly active outward usefulness. Possessed, and knowing it, of the compassions of God, the man is asked to give himself over to Eternal Love for purposes of unworldly and unambitious employment in the path chosen for him, whatever it may be. In this respect above all others he is to be "not conformed to this world"-that is, he is to make not himself but his Lord his pleasure and ambition. "By the renewal of his mind" he is to view the Will of God from a point inaccessible to the unregenerate, to the unjustified, to the man not emancipated in Christ from the tyranny of sin. He is to see in it his inexhaustible interest, his line of quest and hope, his ultimate and satisfying aim: because of the practical identity of the Will and the infinitely good and blessed Bearer of it. And this more than surrender of his faculties, this happy and reposeful consecration of them, is to show its reality in one way above all others first; in a humble estimate of self as compared with brother Christians, and a watchful willingness to do-not another’s work but the duty that lies next.

This relative aspect of the life of self-surrender is the burthen of this great paragraph of duty. In the following passage we shall find precepts more in detail; but here we have what is to govern all along the whole stream of the obedient life. The man rich in Christ is reverently to remember others, and God’s will in them, and for them. He is to avoid the subtle temptation to intrude beyond the Master’s allotted work for him. He is to be slow to think, "I am richly qualified, and could do this thing, and that, and the other, better than the man who does it now." His chastened spiritual instinct will rather go to criticise himself, to watch for the least deficiency in his own doing of the task which at least today is his. He will "give himself wholly to this," be it more or less attractive to him in itself. For he works as one who has not to contrive a life as full of success and influence as he can imagine, but to accept a life assigned by the Lord who has first given to him Himself.

The passage itself amply implies that he is to use actively and honestly his renewed intelligence. He is to look circumstances and conditions in the face, remembering that in one way or another the will of God is expressed in them. He is to seek to understand not his duties only, but his personal equipments for them, natural as well as spiritual. But he is to do this as one whose "mind" is "renewed" by his living contact and union with Iris redeeming King, and who has really laid Iris faculties at the feet of an absolute Master, who is the Lord of order as well as of power.

What peace, energy, and dignity come into a life which is consciously and deliberately thus surrendered! The highest range of duties, as man counts highest, is thus disburthened both of its heavy anxieties and of its temptations to a ruinous self-importance. And the lowest range, as man counts lowest, is filled with the quiet greatness born of the presence and will of God. In the memoirs of Mme. de la Mothe Guyon much is said of her faithful maidservant, who was imprisoned along with her (in a separate chamber) in the Bastille, and there died, about the year 1700. This pious woman, deeply taught in the things of the Spirit, and gifted with an understanding far above the common, appears never for an hour to have coveted a more ambitious department than that which God assigned her in His obedience. "She desired to be what God would have her be, and to be nothing more, and nothing less. She included time and place, as well as disposition and action. She had not a doubt that God, who had given remarkable powers to Mme. Guyon, had called her to the great work in which she was employed. But knowing that her beloved mistress could not go alone, but must constantly have some female attendant, she had the conviction, equally distinct, that she was called to be her maidservant."

A great part of the surface of Christian society would be "transfigured" if its depth was more fully penetrated with that spirit. And it is to that spirit that the Apostle here definitely calls us, each and every one, not as with a "counsel of perfection" for the few, but as the will of God for all who have found out what is meant by His "compassions," and have caught even a glimpse of His Will as "good, and acceptable, and perfect."

"I would not have the restless will That hurries to and fro, Seeking for some great thing to do Or secret thing to know I would be treated as a child, And guided where I go."


Verses 8-21

Chapter 26

CHRISTIAN DUTY: DETAILS OF PERSONAL CONDUCT

Romans 12:8-21

ST. PAUL has set before us the life of surrender, of the "giving over" of faculty to God, in one great preliminary aspect. The fair ideal (meant always for a watchful and hopeful realisation) has been held aloft. It is a life whose motive is the Lord’s "compassions"; whose law of freedom is His will; whose inmost aim is, without envy or interference towards our fellow servants, to "finish the work He hath given us to do." Now into this noble outline are to be poured the details of personal conduct which, in any and every line and field are to make the characteristics of the Christian.

As we listen again, we will again remember that the words are levelled not at a few, but at all who are in Christ. The beings indicated here are not the chosen names of a Church Calendar, nor are they the passionless inhabitants of a Utopia. They are all who, in Rome of old, in England now, "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," "have the Spirit of God dwelling in them," and are living out this wonderful but most practical life in the straight line of their Father’s will.

As if he could not heap the golden words too thickly together, St. Paul dictates here with even unusual abruptness and terseness of expression. He leaves syntax very much alone; gives us noun and adjective, and lets them speak for themselves. We will venture to render as nearly verbatim as possible. The English will inevitably seem more rough and crude than the Greek, but the impression given will be truer on the whole to the original than a fuller rendering would be.

Your love, unaffected. Abominating the ill, wedded to the good. For your brotherly kindness, full of mutual home affection. For your honour, your code of precedence, deferring to one another. For your earnestness, not slothful. For the Spirit, as regards your possession and use of the divine Indweller, glowing. For the Lord, bond serving. For your hope, that is to say, as to the hope of the Lord’s Return, rejoicing. For your affliction, enduring. For your prayer, persevering. For the wants of the saints, for the poverty of fellow Christians, communicating; "sharing," a yet nobler thing than the mere "giving" which may ignore the sacred fellowship of the provider and the receiver. Hospitality-prosecuting as with a studious cultivation. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse. This was a solemnly appropriate precept, for the community over which, eight years later, the first great Persecution was to break in "blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke." And no doubt there was abundant present occasion for it, even while the scene was comparatively tranquil. Every modern mission field can illustrate the possibilities of a "persecution" which may be altogether private, or which at most may touch only a narrow neighbourhood; which may never reach the point of technical outrage, yet may apply a truly "fiery trial" to the faithful convert. Even in circles of our decorous English society is no such thing known as the "persecution" of a life "not conformed to this world," though the assault or torture may take forms almost invisible and impalpable, except to the sensibilities of the object of it? For all such cases, as well as for the confessor on the rack, and the martyr in the fire, this precept holds expressly: "Bless, do not curse." In Christ find possible the impossible; let the resentment of nature die, at His feet, in the breath of His love.

To rejoice with the rejoicing, and to weep with the weeping; holy duties of the surrendered life, too easily forgotten. Alas, there is such a phenomenon, not altogether rare, as a life whose self-surrender, in some main aspects, cannot be doubted, but which utterly fails in sympathy. A certain spiritual exaltation is allowed actually to harden, or at least to seem to harden, the consecrated heart; and the man who perhaps witnesses for God with a prophet’s ardour is yet not one to whom the mourner would go for tears and prayer in his bereavement, or the child for a perfectly human smile in its play. But this is not as the Lord would have it be. If indeed the Christian has "given his body over," it is that his eyes, and lips, and hands, may be ready to give loving tokens of fellowship in sorrow, and (what is less obvious) in gladness too, to the human hearts around him.

Feeling the same thing towards one another; animated by a happy identity of sympathy and brotherhood. Not haughty in feeling, but full of lowly sympathies; accessible, in an unaffected fellowship, to the poor, the social inferior, the weak and the defeated, and again to the smallest and homeliest interests of all. It was the Lord’s example; the little child, the wistful parent, the widow with her mite, the poor fallen woman of the street, could "lead away" His blessed sympathies with a touch, while He responded with an unbroken majesty of gracious power, but with a kindness for which condescension seems a word far too cold and distant.

Do not get to be wise in your own opinion; be ready always to learn; dread the attitude of mind, too possible even for the man of earnest spiritual purpose, which assumes that you have nothing to learn and everything to teach; which makes it easy to criticise and to discredit; and which can prove an altogether repellent thing to the observer from outside, who is trying to estimate the Gospel by its adherent and advocate. Requiting no one evil for evil; safe from the spirit of retaliation, in your surrender to Him "who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not." Taking forethought for good in the sight of all men; not letting habits, talk, expenses, drift into inconsistency; watching with open and considerate eyes against what others may fairly think to be unchristian in you. Here is no counsel of cowardice, no recommendation of slavery to a public opinion which may be altogether wrong. It is a precept of loyal jealousy for the heavenly Master’s honour. His servant is to be nobly indifferent to the world’s thought and word, where he is sure that God and the world antagonise. But he is to be sensitively attentive to the world’s observation where the world, more or less acquainted with the Christian precept or principle, and more or less conscious of its truth and right, is watching, maliciously or it may be wistfully, to see if it governs the Christian’s practice. In view of this the man will never be content even with the satisfaction of his own conscience; he will set himself not only to do right, but to be seen to do it. He will not only be true to a monetary trust, for example; he will take care that the proofs of his fidelity shall be open. He will not only mean well towards others; he will take care that his manner and bearing, his dealings and intercourse, shall unmistakably breathe the Christian air.

If possible, as regards your side (the "your" is as emphatic as possible in position and in meaning), living at peace with all men; yes, even in pagan and hostile Rome. A peculiarly Christian principle speaks here. The men who had "given over their bodies a living sacrifice" might think, imaginably, that their duty was to court the world’s enmity, to tilt as it were against its spears, as if the one supreme call was to collide, to fall, and to be glorified. But this would be fanaticism; and the Gospel is never fanatical, for it is the law of love. The surrendered Christian is not, as such, an aspirant for even a martyr’s fame, but the servant of God and man. If martyrdom crosses his path, it is met as duty; but he does not court it as eclat. And what is true of martyrdom is of course true of every lower and milder form of the conflict of the Church, and of the Christian, in the world.

Nothing more nobly evidences the divine origin of the Gospel than this essential precept; "as far as it lies with you, live peaceably with all men." Such wise and kind forbearance and neighbourliness would never have been bound up with the belief of supernatural powers and hopes, if those powers and hopes had been the mere issue of human exaltation, of natural enthusiasm. The supernatural of the Gospel leads to nothing but rectitude and considerateness, in short to nothing but love, between man and man. And why? Because it is indeed divine; it is the message and gift of the living Son of God, in all the truth and majesty of His rightfulness. All too early in the history of the Church "the crown of martyrdom" became an object of enthusiastic ambition. But that was not because of the teaching of the Crucified, nor of His suffering Apostles.

Not avenging yourselves, beloved; no, give place to the wrath; let the angry opponent, the dread persecutor, have his way, so far as your resistance or retaliation is concerned. "Beloved, let us love"; [1 John 4:7] with that strong and conquering love which wins by suffering. And do not fear lest eternal justice should go by default; there is One who will take care of that matter; you may leave it with Him. For it stands written, [Deuteronomy 32:35] "To Me belongs vengeance; I will recompense, saith the Lord." "But if" (and again he quotes the older Scriptures, finding in the Proverbs 25:21-22 -the same oracular authority as in the Pentateuch), "but if thy enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for so doing thou wilt heap coals of fire on his head"; taking the best way to the only "vengeance" which a saint can wish, namely, your "enemy’s" conviction of his wrong, the rising of a burning shame in his soul, and the melting of his spirit in the fire of love. Be not thou conquered by the evil, but conquer, in the good, the evil.

"In the good"; as if surrounded by it, moving invulnerable, in its magic circle, through "the contradiction of sinners," "the provoking of all men." The thought is just that of Psalms 31:18-19 : "How great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man; Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." "The good" of this sentence of St. Paul’s is no vague and abstract thing; it is "the gift of God"; [Romans 6:23] it is the life eternal found and possessed in union with Christ, our Righteousness, our Sanctification, our Redemption. Practically, it is "not It but He." The Roman convert who should find it more than possible to meet his enemy with love, to do him positive good in his need, with a conquering simplicity of intention, was to do so not so much by an internal conflict between his "better self" and his worse, as by the living power of Christ received in his whole being; by "abiding in Him."

It is so now, and forever. The open secret of divine peace and love is what it was; as necessary, as versatile, as victorious. And its path of victory is as straight and as sure as of old. And the precept to tread that path, daily and hourly, if occasion calls, is still as divinely binding as it ever was for the Christian, if indeed he has embraced "the mercies of God," and is looking to his Lord to be evermore "transfigured, by the renewing of his mind."

As we review this rich field of the flowers, and of the gold, of holiness, this now completed paragraph of epigrammatic precepts, some leading and pervading principles emerge. We see first that the sanctity of the Gospel is no hushed and cloistered "indifferentism." It is a thing intended for the open field of human life; to be lived out "before the sons of men." A strong positive element is in it. The saint is to "abominate the evil"; not only to deprecate it, and deplore. He is to be energetically "in earnest." He is to "glow" with the Spirit, and to "rejoice" in the hope of glory. He is to take practical, provident pains to live not only aright, but manifestly aright, in ways which "all men" can recognise. Again, his life is to be essentially social. He is contemplated as one who meets other lives at every turn, and he is never to forget or neglect his relation to them. Particularly in the Christian Society, he is to cherish the "family affection" of the Gospel; to defer to fellow Christians in a generous humility; to share his means with the poor among them; to welcome the strangers of them to his house. He is to think it a sacred duty to enter into the joys and the sorrows round him. He is to keep his sympathies open for despised people, and for little matters. Then again, and most prominently after all, he is to be ready to suffer, and to meet suffering with a spirit far greater than that of only resignation. He is to bless his persecutor; he is to serve his enemy in ways most practical and active; he is to conquer him for Christ, in the power of a divine communion.

Thus, meanwhile, the life, so positive, so active in its effects, is to be essentially all the while a passive, bearing, enduring, life. Its strength is to spring not from the energies of nature, which may or may not be vigorous in the man, but from an internal surrender to the claim and government of his Lord. He has "presented himself to God"; [Romans 6:13] he has "presented his body, a living sacrifice". [Romans 12:1] He has recognised, with a penitent wonder and joy, that he is but the limb of a Body, and that his Head is the Lord. His thought is now not for his personal rights, his individual exaltation, but for the glory of his Head, for the fulfilment of the thought of his Head, and for the health and wealth of the Body, as the great vehicle in the world of the gracious will of the Head.

It is among the chief and deepest of the characteristics of Christian ethics, this passive root below a rich growth and harvest of activity. All through the New Testament we find it expressed or suggested. The first Beatitude uttered by the Lord [Matthew 5:3] is given to "the poor, the mendicant ( πτωχοί) in spirit." The last [John 20:29] is for the believer, who trusts without seeing. The radiant portrait of holy Love [1 Corinthians 13:1-13] produces its effect, full of indescribable life as well as beauty, by the combination of almost none but negative touches; the "total abstinence" of the loving soul from impatience, from envy, from self-display, from self-seeking, from brooding over wrong, from even the faintest pleasure in evil, from the tendency to think ill of others. Everywhere the Gospel bids the Christian take sides against himself. He is to stand ready to forego even his surest rights, if only he is hurt by so doing; while on the other hand he is watchful to respect even the least obvious rights of others, yea, to consider their weaknesses, and their prejudices, to the furthest just limit. He is "not to resist evil"; in the sense of never fighting for self as self. He is rather to "suffer himself to be defrauded" [1 Corinthians 6:7] than to bring discredit on his Lord in however due a course of law. The straits and humiliations of his earthly lot, if such things are the will of God for him, are not to be materials for his discontent, or occasions for his envy, or for his secular ambition. They are to be his opportunities for inward triumph; the theme of a "song of the Lord," in which he is to sing of strength perfected in weakness, of a power not his own "overshadowing" him. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]

Such is the passivity of the saints, deep beneath their serviceable activity. The two are in vital connection. The root is not the accident, but the proper antecedent of the product. For the secret and unostentatious surrender of the will, in its Christian sense, is no mere evacuation, leaving the house swept but empty; it is the reception of the Lord of life into the open castle of the City of Mansoul. It is the placing in His hands of all that the walls contain. And placed in His hands, the castle, and the city, will show at once, and continually more and more, that not only order, but life, has taken possession. The surrender of the Moslem is, in its theory, a mere submission. The surrender of the Gospel is a reception also; and thus its nature is to come out in "the fruit of the Spirit."

Once more, let us not forget that the Apostle lays his main emphasis here rather on being than on doing. Nothing is said of great spiritual enterprises; everything has to do with the personal conduct of the men who, if such enterprises are done, must do them. This too is characteristic of the New Testament. Very rarely do the Apostles say anything about their converts’ duty, for instance, to carry the message of Christ around them in evangelistic aggression. Such aggression was assuredly attempted, and in numberless ways, by the primeval Christians, from those who were "scattered abroad" [Acts 8:4] after the death of Stephen onwards. The Philippians [Philippians 2:15-16] "shone as lights in the world, holding out the word of life." The Ephesians [Ephesians 5:13] penetrated the surrounding darkness, being themselves "light in the Lord." The Thessalonians [1 Thessalonians 1:8] made their witness felt "in Macedonia, and Achaia, and in every place." The Romans; encouraged by St. Paul’s presence and sufferings, "were bold to speak the word without." [Philippians 1:14] St. John [3 John 1:7] alludes to missionaries who, "for the Name’s sake, went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles."

Yet is it not plain that, when the Apostles thought of the life and zeal of their converts, their first care, by far, was that they should be wholly conformed to the will of God in personal and social matters? This Was the indispensable condition to their being, as a community, what they must be if they were to prove true witnesses and propagandists for their Lord.

God forbid that we should draw from this phenomenon one inference, however faint, to thwart or discredit the missionary zeal now in our day rising like a fresh, pure tide in the believing Church. May our Master continually animate His servants in the Church at home to seek the lost around them, to recall the lapsed with the voice of truth and love. May He multiply a hundredfold the scattered host of His "witnesses in the uttermost parts of the earth,"’ through the dwelling places of those eight hundred millions who are still pagan, not to speak of the lesser yet vast multitudes of misbelievers, Mahometan and Jewish. But neither in missionary enterprise, nor in any sort of activity for God and man, is this deep suggestion of the Epistles to be forgotten. What the Christian does is even more important than what he says. What he is is the all-important antecedent to what he does. He is "nothing yet as he ought to" be if, amidst even innumerable efforts and aggressions, he has not "presented his body a living sacrifice" for his Lord’s purposes, not his own; if he has not learnt, in his Lord, an unaffected love, a holy family affection, a sympathy with griefs and joys around him, a humble esteem of himself, and the blessed art of giving way to wrath, and of overcoming evil in "the good" of the presence of the Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 12:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-12.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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