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Nave's Topical Bible - Commandments; God Continued...; Holiness; Regeneration; Religion; Will; Word of God; Worldliness; Scofield Reference Index - Separation; Thompson Chain Reference - Daily Duty; Duty; Formation; God's; New; Renewal, Spiritual; Surrendered Life, Characteristics of; Three-Fold Duty of Life; Unworldliness; Will; Worldliness; Worldliness-Unworldliness; The Topic Concordance - Conformity; Giving and Gifts; Newness; Proof; Sacrifice; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Holiness; Law of God, the;
Verse Romans 12:2. And be not conformed to this world — By this world, αιωνιτουτω, may be understood that present state of things both among the Jews and Gentiles; the customs and fashions of the people who then lived, the Gentiles particularly, who had neither the power nor the form of godliness; though some think that the Jewish economy, frequently termed עולם הזה olam hazzeh, this world, this peculiar state of things, is alone intended. And the apostle warns them against reviving usages that Christ had abolished: this exhortation still continues in full force. The world that now is-THIS present state of things, is as much opposed to the spirit of genuine Christianity as the world then was. Pride, luxury, vanity, extravagance in dress, and riotous living, prevail now, as they did then, and are as unworthy of a Christian's pursuit as they are injurious to his soul, and hateful in the sight of God.
Be ye transformed — μεταμορφουσθε, Be ye metamorphosed, transfigured, appear as new persons, and with new habits, as God has given you a new form of worship, so that ye serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. The word implies a radical, thorough, and universal change, both outward and inward. SENECA, Epis. vi, shows us the force of this word when used in a moral sense. Sentio, says he, non EMENDARI me tantum, sed TRANSFIGURARI; "I perceive myself not to be amended merely, but to be transformed:" i. e entirely renewed.
By the renewing of your mind — Let the inward change produce the outward. Where the spirit, the temper, and disposition of the mind, Ephesians 4:23, are not renewed, an outward change is of but little worth, and but of short standing.
That ye may prove — εις το δοκιμαζειν, That ye may have practical proof and experimental knowledge of, the will of God-of his purpose and determination, which is good in itself; infinitely so. Acceptable, ευαπεστον, well pleasing to and well received by every mind that is renewed and transformed.
And perfect — τελειον, Finished and complete: when the mind is renewed, and the whole life changed, then the will of God is perfectly fulfilled; for this is its grand design in reference to every human being.
These words are supposed by Schoettgen to refer entirely to the Jewish law. The Christians were to renounce this world-the Jewish state of things; to be transformed, by having their minds enlightened in the pure and simple Christian worship, that they might prove the grand characteristic difference between the two covenants: the latter being good in opposition to the statutes which were not good, Ezekiel 20:25; acceptable, in opposition to those sacrifices and offerings which God would not accept, as it is written, Psalms 40:6-8; and perfect, in opposition to that system which was imperfect, and which made nothing perfect, and was only the shadow of good things to come. There are both ingenuity and probability in this view of the subject.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/romans-12.html. 1832.
12:1-15:13 CHRISTIAN FAITH IN PRACTICE
Responsibilities and relationships (12:1-21)
For eleven chapters Paul has been explaining what God in his mercy has done, and will yet do, for repentant sinners. Now he reminds those who have experienced this mercy that the most fitting act of worship by which they can show their thanks is to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. No longer are they to think and act like non-Christians. Their minds must be changed so that they see issues from a different point of view, God’s point of view. As they learn to think in a more Christian way, they will know God’s will better and their actions will be more pleasing to him (12:1-2).
This does not mean that they will become proud or hold high opinions of themselves. Rather they will learn to be more honest in acknowledging whatever abilities and limitations they have. They will recognize that as members of Christ’s body, the church, all have been given different abilities (3-5). All should be diligent in carrying out the task for which God has fitted them, whether in the leadership roles in the church or in the various ministries to the needy (6-8).
Christians must be sincere and straightforward in everything they do. They must in particular have a loving care for those who are fellow members of Christ’s body (9-10). Besides being spiritually enthusiastic, they must work hard at developing qualities of perseverance and prayerfulness. They must also be generous in giving practical help to their fellow believers (11-13).
These positive attitudes must be shown also towards those who are outside the church, even to persecutors (14-16). Christians should not look for revenge against those who do them wrong, but should try to live peacefully with everyone (17-18). The punishment of persecutors is a matter for God to decide. The responsibility of Christians is to treat them as if they were friends. This may in the end make the persecutors feel so ashamed that they will repent of their wrongdoing (19-21).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/romans-12.html. 2005.
And be not fashioned according to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The world is very much with Christians, who, though not of the world, are nevertheless still in it and subject to its fashions and allurements, unless these shall be rejected; and that rejection is the thing commanded here.
The world ... is not a reference to the physical geography of the planet, but is spoken of the natural habits, desires, and value judgments of the natural man, the natural man being man apart from the loving guidance of his Maker. The things of God's Spirit are "foolishness" to the unregenerated (1 Corinthians 2:14); but the Christian must adopt an utterly different set of value-judgments, based upon an utterly new and higher concept of life, and thus encompassing a view of the eternal things, rather than merely those of earth and time.
Significantly, both the mind and the physical body, in these first two verses, are seen as consciously controlled and directed. Therefore, even the mind, which is often thought of as that portion of the person which does the controlling, must itself be brought into subjection to God. And what is the instrument by which that can be accomplished? It is the ego, the "I," the essence of the person itself that must do this; and, therefore, specific attention to that should be given. That the inner monitor of life does indeed have control over both mind and body is seen in the Old Testament statement:
He that ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city (Proverbs 16:32).
Whatever it is that rules man's spirit, that essential center of human control, is the seat of all authority over human thought and behavior.
Man is so created that the inner throne of life may not be occupied by himself, because it was made for God's occupancy, God being Spirit in nature; but, alas, due to the fall in Eden, Satan, also spiritual, has been allowed by man to occupy the place intended for God. Invariably, this throne, this inner monitor of the total life, must be occupied either by God or by Satan. Man may fancy that he may take the throne himself; but if he does, his very act of dethroning God has brought him under the sway of evil and elevated Satan to the seat of authority in his life. There are, thus, not three potential occupants of the soul-center, but only two.
That is why God's classification of human kind is always dual, and never otherwise. Thus, such metaphors as the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the chaff, the wise and the foolish, those on the left and on the right, God and Mammon, etc., are so prominent in scripture.
Through heredity and environment both, man has a natural bent toward evil, thus giving Satan an advantage in seizing control of the person, which always happens shortly after man reaches an accountable age; but every soul ever born yet retains enough of the image of God within to enable the soul to dethrone the evil one and enthrone the rightful Occupant. This is done by believing and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. This change of masters within is the enabling charter, the validating act, which enables the renewing of the mind which Paul here commanded; but it cannot be accomplished in an instant. That is why the command is here given to Christians who were already baptized and risen with Christ to newness of life (Romans 6:1-10). After justification, which took place in the new birth, there is a growth process by which the mind is truly in a state of being renewed throughout life. Through the disciplines of prayer, study, worship, and meditation the inward man is gloriously renewed, as long as the true Occupant is maintained upon the proper eminence within. It was of this that Paul wrote:
Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
This understanding that the mind itself is but one of the instruments of the true person explains the atheism and perversity which sometimes mark human intelligence. When Satan is on the throne, the mind itself is not free, but subservient to evil, all of the highest gifts of intelligence being absolutely denied by Satan. It was of such persons that Paul wrote:
The God of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The renewing of the mind is not possible except through the maintenance of God upon that inner throne which monitors all human activity, physical and mental. Under many different expressions in the Holy Scriptures, the description of this divine inner Control is presented. Here are some of them:
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38f).
Which is Christ in you the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
The Spirit that dwelleth in us (James 4:5).
Even as God said I will dwell in them (2 Corinthians 6:16).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16), etc.
Manifestly, all of the above scriptures have reference to exactly the same thing, the presence of God upon the inner throne of life. Of all the above, said to dwell in the child of God, none dwells without all the others.
That ye may prove ... indicates that the soul which does indeed allow God to take over in his mind will enjoy the most overwhelming proof imaginable that such a state is the highest destiny of man, being in perfect harmony with the good and acceptable will of God. God's way is the good way; his will is the perfect way for people; and the soul that tries it shall know it is true. His own experience will demonstrate it.Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/romans-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
And be not conformed ... - The word rendered “conformed” properly means to put on the form, fashion, or appearance of another. It may refer to anything pertaining to the habit, manner, dress, style of living, etc., of others.
Of this world - τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ tō aiōni toutō. The word which is commonly rendered “world,” when applied to the material universe, is κόσμος kosmos, “cosmos.” The word used here properly denotes an age, or generation of people. It may denote a particular generation, or it may be applied to the race. It is sometimes used in each of these senses. Thus, here it may mean that Christians should not conform to the maxims, habits, feelings, etc., of a wicked, luxurious, and idolatrous age, but should be conformed solely to the precepts and laws of the gospel; or the same principle may be extended to every age, and the direction may be, that Christians should not conform to the prevailing habits, style, and manners of the world, the people who know not God. They are to be governed by the laws of the Bible; to fashion their lives after the example of Christ; and to form themselves by principles different from those which prevail in the world. In the application of this rule there is much difficulty. Many may think that they are not conformed to the world, while they can easily perceive that their neighbor is. They indulge in many things which others may think to be conformity to the world, and are opposed to many things which others think innocent. The design of this passage is doubtless to produce a spirit that should not find pleasure in the pomp and vanity of the World; and which will regard all vain amusements and gaieties with disgust, and lead the mind to find pleasure in better things.
Be ye transformed - The word from which the expression here is derived means “form, habit” μορφή morphē. The direction is, “put on another form, change the form of the world for that of Christianity.” This word would properly refer to the external appearance, but the expression which the apostle immediately uses, “renewing of the mind,.” shows that he did not intend to use it with reference to that only, but to the charge of the whole man. The meaning is, do not cherish a spirit. devoted to the world, following its vain fashions and pleasures, but cultivate a spirit attached to God, and his kingdom and cause.
By the renewing - By the making new; the changing into new views and feelings. The Christian is often represented as a new creature; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24; 1 Peter 2:2.
Your mind - The word translated “mind” properly denotes intellect, as distinguished from the will and affections. But here it seems to be used as applicable to the whole spirit as distinguished from the body, including the understanding, will, and affections. As if he had said, Let not this change appertain to the body only, but to the soul. Let it not be a mere external conformity, but let it have its seat in the spirit. All external changes, if the mind was not changed, would be useless, or would be hypocrisy. Christianity seeks to reign in the soul; and having its seat there, the external conduct and habits will be regulated accordingly.
That ye may prove - The word used here δοκιμάζω dokimazō is commonly applied to metals, to the operation of testing, or trying them by the severity of fire, etc. Hence, it also means to explore, investigate, ascertain. This is its meaning here. The sense is, that such a renewed mind is essential to a successful inquiry after the will of God. Having a disposition to obey him, the mind will be prepared to understand his precepts. There will be a correspondence between the feelings of the heart and his will; a nice tact or taste, which will admit his laws, and see the propriety and beauty of his commands. A renewed heart is the best preparation for studying Christianity; as a man who is temperate is the best suited to understand the arguments for temperance; the man who is chaste, has most clearly and forcibly the arguments for chastity, etc. A heart in love with the fashions and follies of the world is ill-suited to appreciate the arguments for humility, prayer, etc. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God,” John 7:17. The reason why the heart is renewed is that we may do the will of God: the heart that is renewed is best suited to appreciate and understand his will.
That good ... - This part of the verse might be rendered, that ye may investigate the will of God, or ascertain the Will of God, what is good, and perfect, and acceptable. The will of God relates to his commands in regard to our conduct, his doctrines in regard to our belief, his providential dealings in relation to our external circumstances. It means what God demands of us, in whatever way it may be made known. They do not err from his ways who seek his guidance, and who, not confiding in their own wisdom, but in God, commit their way to him. “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way,” Psalms 25:9. The word “good” here is not an adjective agreeing with “will,” but a noun. “That ye may find the will of God, what is good and acceptable.” It implies that that thing which is good is his will; or that we may find his will by finding what is good and perfect. That is good which promotes the honor of God and the interests of his universe.
Perfect - Free from defect, stain, or injury. That which has all its parts complete, or which is not disproportionate. Applied to religion, it means what is consistent, which is carried out; which is evinced in all the circumstances and reactions of life.
Acceptable - That which will be pleasing to God. or which he will approve. There is scarcely a more difficult text in the Bible than this, or one that is more full of meaning. It involves the main duty of religion to be separated from the world; and expresses the way in which that duty may be performed, and in which we may live so as to ascertain and do the will of God. If all Christians would obey this, religion would be everywhere honored. If all would separate from the vices and follies, the amusements and gaieties of the world, Christ would be glorified. If all were truly renewed in their minds, they would lose their relish for such things, and seeking only to do the will of God, they would not be slow to find it.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/romans-12.html. 1870.
12:2: And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Those who are saved must avoid being “fashioned according to this world” (verse 2). The word fashioned (suschematizo), used only here and 1 Peter 1:14, is related to the English word mold. Brown (1:709) defines fashioned as, “to assume the form of something, to identify oneself essentially with someone else.” The world has a mold that it uses to shape people (compare Ephesians 2:1-2). Those who allow the world to squeeze them into this mold are condemned because the thinking and lifestyle of the world are contrary to the ways of God. Paul used a special grammatical construction that means “stop being fashioned or do not have the habit of being fashioned” (Robertson, 4:402).
What things can we list to illustrate the world’s mold? What morals, philosophies, manner of dress, and customs cause people to conform to the world?
Instead of following the path offered by the world, Christians must be “transformed.” Transformed (metamorphoo) is very similar to the English word metamorphosis. This word is used to describe Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2). Aside from Romans 12:2 and the two passages in the gospels, metamorphoo (transformed) is found only one other time in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 3:18). The word transformed means that Christians must seek to dramatically change their lives so they can glorify God and show the world what He is like. This change starts in the heart (the inside of man) and works to our outer man (2 Corinthians 3:18). Brown (3:864) describes our transformation this way: It “is accomplished by an inner renewal of the mind and by a resistance of the influence of the world (or ‘age,’ aion). A more detailed explanation of the Christian’s transformation is given in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where the experience of Moses in Exodus 34:29-35 serves as an imperfect model. The glory brought by the gospel is not temporary, like the radiance of Moses’ face, but is enduring. The Christian believer has an open relationship with the Lord of glory, which has a transforming effect.”
The key to making this change is the “mind,” the part of humanity that controls our attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and actions (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said our minds must be “renewed” (re-worked). There must be an alteration. This change comes by learning and obeying God’s word. Scripture molds our thinking into the ways that are right and true. Both the promises and warnings in God’s word transform our lives and behavior.
As Christians become increasingly aware of God’s commandments, they will repeatedly use the power of the gospel to transform their lives into what God desires (1 Thessalonians 2:13). This transformation, which is both internal and external, allows the saved to be a holy sacrifice to God.
In Romans 8:6 Paul presented the two choices that all people have (living after the flesh or living after the spirit). A similar point is made in Romans 12:1-2. We can either live “after the Spirit” and be “dead to sin” (6:11), or we can be “fashioned according to the world” and “live after the flesh.” A living sacrifice or being molded into the ways of the world-these are our only two choices.
When people become Christians, they “approve what is the will of God.” The new life, the death to sin, and the living sacrifice mean a person will be as perfect as possible. Though sin will still be committed at times (Romans 3:23), the constant transformation brings Christians closer and closer to the Lord’s example (1 Peter 1:21). This type of life is the fulfillment of God’s will.
Prove (dokimazo) was used by Septuagint writers to describe the testing of precious metals (Zechariah 13:9). In the New Testament, this term describes “the testing process which salvages the good and discards the useless” (CBL, GED, 2:160). What endures is the “accepted” or “approved.” Thayer’s definition (p. 154) is, “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize.” Stated another way, Paul meant we seek to develop and then use the ability “to give a critical answer with the renewed mind concerning the will of God” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:342). Prove is a present tense verb. Acceptable (euarestos) is explained in the commentary for Romans 12:1.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Price, Brad "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bpc/romans-12.html.
2.And conform ye not to this world, etc. The term world has several significations, but here it means the sentiments and the morals of men; to which, not without cause, he forbids us to conform. For since the whole world lies in wickedness, it behooves us to put off whatever we have of the old man, if we would really put on Christ: and to remove all doubt, he explains what he means, by stating what is of a contrary nature; for he bids us to be transformed into a newness of mind. These kinds of contrast are common in Scripture; and thus a subject is more clearly set forth.
Now attend here, and see what kind of renovation is required from us: It is not that of the flesh only, or of the inferior part of the soul, as the Sorbonists explain this word; but of the mind, which is the most excellent part of us, and to which philosophers ascribe the supremacy; for they call it
That ye may prove, (380) etc. Here you have the purpose for which we must put on a new mind, — that bidding adieu to our own counsels and desires, and those of all men, we may be attentive to the only will of God, the knowledge of which is true wisdom. But if the renovation of our mind is necessary, in order that we may prove what is the will of God, it is hence evident how opposed it is to God.
The epithets which are added are intended for the purpose of recommending God’s will, that we may seek to know it with greater alacrity: and in order to constrain our perverseness, it is indeed necessary that the true glory of justice and perfection should be ascribed to the will of God. The world persuades itself that those works which it has devised are good; Paul exclaims, that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s commandments. The world praises itself, and takes delight in its own inventions; but Paul affirms, that nothing pleases God except what he has commanded. The world, in order to find perfection, slides from the word of God into its own devices; Paul, by fixing perfection in the will of God, shows, that if any one passes over that mark he is deluded by a false imagination.
What [Stuart ] says on the last clause seems just, that it is to be taken by itself, and that the words do not agree with “will,” but stand by themselves, being in the neuter gender. Otherwise we cannot affix any idea to “acceptable;” for it would be unsuitable to say that God’s will is “acceptable” to him, that being self-evident.
It ought to be borne in mind, as [Pareus ] observes, that in order to discern, and rightly to understand God’s will, the Apostle teaches us, that “the renewing of the mind” is necessary; otherwise, as he adds, “our corrupt nature will fascinate our eyes that they may not see, or if they see, will turn our hearts and wills, that they may not approve, or if they approve, will hinder us to follow what is approved.” — Ed.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/romans-12.html. 1840-57.
I beseech you therefore, brethren ( Romans 12:1 ),
Because God has grafted you in, because you are partaking of the fullness of that good tree. I beseech thee, because of these things,
that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service ( Romans 12:1 ).
God does not and has not made demands upon us. The gospel is reasonable. God said, "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord" ( Isaiah 1:18 ).
Now, of course, existential philosophy having brought us to the point of despair encourages none reason religious experiences, because reality is despairing. If you face facts realistically, you're going to be just despairing. There's no help. There's no hope. It's all down the tubes. That is reality. If you don't realize that, then you are not facing reality. If you still think the U.N. is going to pull us out of this mess, or that the republicans are going to pull us out of the economic mess, or the democrats, if they can get in they will have the solutions, you're not being realistic. Existential philosophy has taught us that realism is despair. There is no hope is what they are saying. No hope. But man can't live in a state of no hope. You've got to have hope. And thus, you've got to take a leap of faith into what they call the upper story, into a non-reason religious experience. You've got to go into that world of unreality and have some kind of religious experience that will sustain you and help you. And, of course, we see and, of course, the papers are always ready to give a lot of publicity to these non-reasoned religious cults. In Laguna Canyon in their meditations how they found serenity, and peace, acceptance, beauty, love, baras, you know, tingling feelings, non-reasoned religious experiences. "I can't tell you why I feel that way. I just feel that way." Non-reasoned religious experience.
Now, that isn't what the Bible teaches. The Bibles teaches reasonable relationship. "Come now let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they can be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they can be as white as wool" ( Isaiah 1:18 ). "Present your body as a living sacrifice, unto God, which is your reasonable service." When you really stop to think of it, it is reasonable to present my body to God, because as we dealt with the eleventh chapter this morning in detail, verse Rom 12:33 , the wisdom and the knowledge of God, "the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God." It's reasonable if God is so wise and knows so much, it's reasonable to present my body, my life to Him that He might guide and direct me. It is unreasonable for me to try and go ahead and continue to try and figure out things and to work out my own life and to work out my own plan, and I am so stupid. The reasonable thing, the rational thing, the smart thing is to just turn my life and decision-making factors of my life over to God that He might direct my life, and thus, presenting my body unto God as a living sacrifice, that's reasonable, that's smart, that's just good thinking, and anything less is unreasonable. You're not thinking well. You're confused.
Don't be conformed to this world, and yet, that is exactly what the world is pressing for, and that is exactly what peer pressure is pressing towards. "You don't want to be different. Try it. Everybody's doing it." The peer pressure to conform to the world. And we're getting it in magazines, we're getting it on television that if you don't conform to the fruity standards of the world that there is something wrong with you. They would like to make fruits out of all of us.
Don't be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might prove what is the good, the acceptable and perfect will of God ( Romans 12:2 ).
How can I know God's will for my life? I can know God's will for my life as I just surrender my life to Him, as I yield my body to God and as I seek after God, God will reveal His will through my life. My life will become a progressive revelation of the will of God for me. Thus, I presented my life to God, I presented the issues of my life to God, I've committed myself to Him, seeking not to have any strong will of my own or allow some strong desire to master me, just to flow free in God's Spirit, accepting what comes as coming from God, because I've asked God to bring into my life those things that He wants. Accepting those things that pass away as not from God, because I've asked God to take away from my life those things He doesn't want. So I don't sit there and weep over lost opportunities. "Oh, if I'd only done this. Oh, if I only had that." If God wanted me to do it, He would have led me to do it. If He wanted me to have it, I would have had it, you see. So it is that commitment of myself to God, and as I do then God's will becomes a progressive revelation. So I know what God's will is for my life today, and I will know tomorrow what His will is as He reveals it to me as I walk with Him. Sort of exciting to live that way. You never know what a day is going to bring forth as God unfolds His will, His purpose for our lives.
For I say, through the grace that is given unto me, to every man that is among you, he ought not to think of himself more highly than he ought; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith ( Romans 12:3 ).
God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. What do you do with it? We can exercise the faith. We can use the faith that God has given to us, or we can just let it die. But God has given to every man a measure of faith. A person says, "Well, I just don't have any faith." That is not true. I've not yet met a person that didn't have faith. If you didn't have faith, you wouldn't lie down on that bed tonight. You'd be afraid that it was going to fall through. Faith is going to hold you up so you can lie down. If you didn't have faith, you wouldn't try to start your car, because you wouldn't have faith that the thing was going to start when you turned the ignition key. We exercise faith in a lot of things, not always the right things.
Now as he deals with the subjects of the gifts of God, he begins by warning us of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, and that is one of the greatest dangers that I see of men who have been gifted of God--they get into a little ivory tower and they begin to think that they are really something, and they begin to seek adulation, admiration, bucks for my gift, you know. How many have prostituted the works and the gifts of God in their lives trying to use it for their own personal enrichment or glory. I have a deal with God. If ever I start to do that, He is to wipe me out immediately. God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Jesus Christ by which I was crucified to the world and the world to me. But there is a prevalent danger to any person who experiences the working of God's Holy Spirit through their lives to become lifted up by those around them because of what God has done. And the moment you begin to be lifted up, your effectiveness for God's kingdom diminishes.
Now people say, "Oh, there are still multitudes being saved." But you know. If I'm giving my body to be burned and it isn't the love of Christ that is motivating me, but the love for riches or glory or whatever, then it profits me nothing. For many will come in a day saying, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? We cast out devils in your name. We healed the sick. We did many marvelous works." And He'll say, "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you." Their motivations got all twisted up. They began to do things for their own glory and to seek their own honor and their own name.
The Bible warns about those who name things after themselves, sort of a dangerous thing not for any man to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but think soberly. Come on, let's be serious. You're nothing but a sinner saved by grace. And anything you have God gave to you to begin with, so why are you going around as though you are something? For God has dealt to every man a measure of faith.
For as we have many members in one body ( Romans 12:4 ),
That is, I have fingers and hands and toes and eyes and ears and I used to have hair. Stupid perversity. I have it all over my back, but I can't grow it on the top of my head. It's weird!
We have many members, yet we're all one body.
and all members do not have the same function ( Romans 12:4 ):
My eyes were made to function as eyes, and they function well as eyes, but they sure don't function well as ears. I can't hear very well through my eyes, and visa versa. So the body has many members, and each member has its own function in the body. Not all of them are doing the same thing. Not all of them are created to do the same thing.
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another ( Romans 12:5 ).
So we are all put together in the body of Christ, and each of us have our own function in the body. And he's not just talking about us here at Calvary tonight, we're the body of Christ. We each have our function in the body. He's talking about Calvary Chapel being a part of the body of Christ general. The other churches, the other denominations, we're all a part of the body of Christ and members one of another, and we shouldn't be vying with each another. We shouldn't be biting and devouring and destroying one another. We need to identify the enemy and concentrate our efforts against him, but realize that we are one body, members one of another and that God has a purpose of the Presbyterian churches and the Methodist churches and the Baptist churches, and the Nazarenes and the Pentecostals, and not find ourselves in conflict or trying to find what's wrong with them. Let's find out what's wrong with us and seek to correct what is wrong with us. The Bible says, "Therefore, let a man examine himself, for if we will judge ourselves we will not be judged of God." And sometimes we find ourselves in the mood, so busy trying to examine the flaws and the faults of someone else, we totally ignore our own. David said, "Search me, O God," not, "Search the guy next to me, O God, and show him his faults." But, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, and try, O Lord, and see if there is some way of wickedness in me and lead me in Your path."
It is a personal individual thing, and something we should all be quite interested in that God would do His work in our hearts. But we are members one of another, and it is true in this sense, we are here, yes, corporately the body of Christ, and not all of us have the same office. We need to realize that God has called some as pastor teachers. God has called some as deacons. God has called some as intercessors. God has called some to street evangelism and these various things, but don't feel that God has called everyone to say street evangelism and thus feel guilty because you can't do street evangelism. "Oh, I get so scared, so nervous. Oh, I can't stand going up handing someone a track." Obviously, God didn't call you to hand out tracks. So don't feel condemned and guilty and a second-rate Christian and defeated because I get so scared to hand out a track. "Oh, I'm failing God." No you're not. If He called you to hand out tracks, He'd give you all kinds of boldness, love, and a burden and everything else for that. Just talk to the people that hand out tracks. They love it! God's called them to that, but we're not all called to be the same thing and we need to recognize that. And quite these guilt feelings, because I'm not called to the same ministry that you have, and I'd sure like to do the ministry that you're doing. "I wish I could do that. Oh, if I could only do that I wouldn't feel so guilty, because I can't do it." God didn't enable me or call me to do it. He didn't make me a finger, thus, I can't do the work of the finger. But I may admire the work of the finger or the thumb. I may wish I could put things together like he does. God called me to be a mouth, but be thankful we're not all mouths.
So we each take our place in the body and fill our part, do our part, realizing though that it is one body to be coordinated by the Spirit, walking in love, demonstrating Christ to the world because of our love for each other and our united efforts with one another for Jesus Christ, each of us taking our place doing our part. And we give a powerful witness then to the world as they see how harmoniously we live and function together as God's children, and Christ is magnified among us.
So we, being many, are still one body in Christ, we're all a part of each other, you can't escape it.
Having then gifts that are differing according to the grace that is given unto us, if its prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith ( Romans 12:6 );
Prophecy is speaking forth the Word of God.
Ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching ( Romans 12:7 );
That is to wait upon it, fulfill it, study it, prepare for it; waiting upon it.
He that exhorts, on exhortation: he that gives, let him do it with simplicity; and he that rules, with diligence; and he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness ( Romans 12:8 ).
Now this is the area where we will be Thursday night, so we're not going to elaborate on this area right now, because we'll get that Thursday night.
Let love be [without hypocrisy] without dissimulation ( Romans 12:9 ).
Dissimulation is an imitation. Diamond Jim used to be on a station out of Del Rio, Texas. He used to offer genuine simulated diamonds. And all of the people down south used to send in to get their five-dollar genuine simulated diamond from Diamond Jim. Let love be without imitations, without hypocrisy, not a put-on, but let it be genuine.
Now he gives us just a whole bunch of little exhortations. They're just little phrase exhortations, and each one is almost a sermon in itself, so let's just go over the list and let it sort of sink in.
Abhor that which is evil ( Romans 12:9 );
One of the things that God said concerning Job is that he hates evil. He said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? He fears God and hates evil." The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, so abhor that which is evil. He didn't say tolerate that which is evil, or accept that which is evil, live with that which is evil-abhor it!
cleave [stick] to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another ( Romans 12:9-10 );
I think this is one that we really . . . well, I will when I get there on Thursday night I'm going to really lay into this one. There is so much me first; pushing my way to the front, wanting to get the best.
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer ( Romans 12:11-12 );
Not the last thing, but the first thing. Learn to pray about everything first.
Distributing to the necessity of saints ( Romans 12:13 );
Taking care of the needs within the body of Christ, and we do seek to do that here at Calvary. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to take care of those outside the body. And so people come for help, and of them which are members and attend here, we seek to help them. If they are not, then we sadly tell them that we just don't have the resources to help those outside. But distributing to the necessity of the saints, we do feel that that is an obligation.
given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. ( Romans 12:13-15 ).
Be sensitive to other people's feelings.
Be of the same mind one toward another. And mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits ( Romans 12:16 ).
All of these are pithy little words of exhortation. I imagine Romaine could have a field day with this portion of scripture, because it's all good exhortation. He that exhorteth needs to wait upon his exhortation.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things that are honest in the sight of all men ( Romans 12:17 ).
Honesty, not taking vengeance.
And if it is possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men ( Romans 12:18 ).
Now, it isn't always possible. There are some people there is just no way you can live in peace with them. But let it be their fault not yours, as much as lies in you live peaceably with all men.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; and I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head ( Romans 12:19-20 ).
This is a quotation actually out of the Proverbs, and just exactly what it may mean has been a matter of conjecture, but it probably means that you would bring him to burning shame. In other words, your good treatment, your kind and loving treatment would bring him to a burning shame.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good ( Romans 12:21 ).
So great exhortation and that is . . .
We talk about meditation. Now if you want meditation, you need to come back to these, beginning with verse Romans 12:9 , and you need to spend time meditating on each of these and see how it can apply to your own life. Read it over and think about it, and think of how it is operating in your life right now and how you can better do these things, how you can make it apply more completely to you, in what ways you can do these things. But these are things that we need to really be following after and seeking to do in order that we might live a life that is pleasing unto our Father. So that particular portion can stand a lot of meditation, and I encourage you, meditate on these things.
"Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path," David declared. I find that the Word of God is many times like a searchlight turned on inside, lighting up some of those dark corners. So many times I find the Word of God speaking directly to my heart as the Spirit makes application and shows me my failings, my weaknesses, and exhorts me in the right path. And thus, may the Word of God work in your heart and life, drawing you ever closer unto the divine ideal, that which God would have you to be as you walk with Jesus Christ.
May the Lord bless you and be with you this week, and may He strengthen you in your walk that you might bring forth fruit unto righteousness and for the glory of His name. And may you be doers of the Word and not hearers only. In Jesus' name. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/romans-12.html. 2014.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
And be not conformed to this world: Literally, Christians are to stop being fashioned according to the interests, desires, aims, and goals of this age. They are not "to conform to another’s pattern" (A.T. Robertson, Vol. 4 402). "Conformed" (susxhmati/zesqe) means "to form according to a pattern or mold, form/model after something" (BDAG 979). "Transformed" (metamorfou=sqe) means "to change inwardly in fundamental character or condition, be changed, be transformed" (BDAG 639). In this verse both "conformed" and "transformed" carry the idea of change, indicating all men change as time passes. No one is the same person he was five or ten years ago from a variety of aspects. The question is: "How have we changed? Have we continued to allow the world, motivated by the desires of the flesh and the devil, to mold and shape our lives? Or have we changed from within in order to be able to mold and shape the lives of those around us?" It is a question that calls for serious introspective contemplation.
The believer who is mindful of God’s manifold mercies as they are revealed in the gospel and who has committed his body as a sacrifice to God—a living, holy, well-pleasing offering—must not allow his life to be shaped by the forces around him. Instead he must shape them by the power of the changes he makes from within as he is transformed into the image of Christ.
but be ye transformed: The Greek word for "transformed" is metamorfou=sqe. Vine comments that:
The obligation being to undergo a complete change, which, under the power of God, will find expression in character and conduct; morphe lays stress on the inward change, schema (see the preceding verb in that verse, suschematizo) lays stress on the outward; …the present continuous tenses indicate a process (Vol. IV 148–149).
God wants his people to be changed from within. Scientists today use this same word, metamorphosis (from the Greek), to describe the changes a caterpillar undergoes in its chrysalis from which it emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Similarly, the Christian is to be changed from within rather than letting outside forces to shape his life. He is to be "metamorphosed."
by the renewing of your mind: The internal changes God desires from His people are effected by the "renewing" of their minds. This process begins with the renewing that comes through the Holy Spirit when the penitent believer submits to the washing of regeneration: baptism. The Holy Spirit renews the Christian’s mind in an ongoing daily process of transformation through the medium of God’s word (10:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 3:10). Paul describes this process at length in Ephesians 4:22-32.
that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God: The believer whose mind is daily being renewed by the revelation in God’s word will be able to judge what God’s will is for him in any circumstance. The key here is to determine what is meant by the expression "will of God." Is it His sovereign will or His revealed will? God’s sovereign will, which "knows the end from the beginning" and which is larger than what is revealed in His word, is unknown and unknowable to the Christian (Deuteronomy 29:29). We can take comfort from knowing that all things will work out in accordance with God’s sovereign will, but we cannot in even one instance know what it is. In other words, God has no special individual will for each believer. Rather the believer must act within the boundaries established by God’s revealed will in the scriptures (Ephesians 5:17-18; Colossians 3:16). All anyone will ever know of God’s intended will is what is recorded (John 12:48-50; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; Ephesians 3:2-6); therefore, as we nourish and renew our minds with His word each day, we will become more effective at applying His word to our lives in the circumstances we encounter (Hebrews 5:12-13). The writer of Hebrews describes the mature Christian in these words: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (5:14).
Lastly, Paul reminds the believer that as he considers God’s word and judges what God’s will is for him in any circumstance, his resultant action must always consist of conduct that is good within itself; that is, absolutely good or morally good (John 5:29; Acts 10:38; Romans 2:10). Not only so, but his action must be pleasing to God because it is in obedience to His word (Hebrews 5:8-9). Finally, his action must demonstrate complete dedication to loving God and loving his neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/romans-12.html. 1993-2022.
A. Dedication to God 12:1-2
Romans 12:1-2 of chapter 12 deal with the Christian’s most important relationship: his or her relationship to God. These verses are both parallel to the sections to follow that deal with the Christian’s conduct, and they introduce them. Our relationship to God is foundational and governs all our other conduct. Paul had already called for the Christian to present himself or herself to God (Romans 6:13; Romans 6:19). Now he repeated that duty as the Christian’s most imperative obligation. He had also spoken of false worship and corrupted minds (Romans 1:25; Romans 1:28). This exhortation ties into these two former passages especially.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-12.html. 2012.
Romans 12:1 deals with making the commitment and Romans 12:2 with maintaining it.
"The first verse calls for an explicit act; the second commands a resultant lifelong process. These verses are a call for an act of presentation and the resultant duty of transformation." [Note: Hiebert, "Presentation and . . .," p. 312.]
Both activities are important. The present tense in the Greek text of Romans 12:2 indicates our continuing responsibility in contrast to the aorist tense in Romans 12:1 that stresses a decisive act. The "world" (Gr. aion) is the spirit of our age that seeks to exclude God from life (1 John 2:15). The world seeks to "squeeze you into its own mold." [Note: J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase.] The Christian should be continually renewing his or her mind by returning mentally to the decision to dedicate self to God and by reaffirming that decision. This continual rededication to God will result in the transformation of the Christian into Christ’s image (Romans 8:29; cf. Mark 9:2-3). A daily rededication is none too often.
"This re-programming of the mind does not take place overnight but is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking is to resemble more and more the way God wants us to think." [Note: Moo, p. 757.]
The Holy Spirit is the unidentified transformer that Paul set in contrast to the world (Romans 8:9-11; cf. Matthew 17:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 3:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Titus 3:5). "Prove" or "test and approve" involves evaluating and choosing to practice what is the will of God instead of what the world recommends (cf. Ephesians 5:8-10). We clarify what God’s will for us is by rededicating ourselves to God often. God’s will sometimes becomes blurred when our commitment to Him wavers (cf. Ephesians 5:8-10; James 1:6-8). However it is always good. Notice that total commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ is a prerequisite for experiencing God’s will.
Dedication results in discernment that leads to delight in God’s will. The initial dedication and the subsequent reaffirmation both please God (Romans 12:1-2, "acceptable" or "pleasing"; cf. Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). "Good" means essentially good. "Acceptable" means pleasing to God. "Perfect" means it cannot get any better.
Romans 12:1-2 are extremely important verses for Christians. They express our most important responsibility to God, namely, submitting completely to His lordship over our lives. The popular saying, "God is my co-pilot," does not give God His rightful place. God wants and deserves to be our pilot, not our co-pilot. Christians should make this commitment as close to the moment of their justification as possible. However notice that Paul addressed his appeal to believers, not the unsaved. Dedication to God is a response to the mercy of God that we receive in salvation. It is not a condition for receiving that mercy. It is a voluntary commitment that every Christian should make out of love for the Savior, but it is not one that every Christian does make. It is possible to be a Christian without ever making this commitment since it is voluntary.
"To require from the unsaved a dedication to His lordship for their salvation is to make imperative what is only voluntary for believers (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 3:15)." [Note: Livingston Blauvelt Jr., "Does the Bible Teach Lordship Salvation?" Bibliotheca Sacra 143:569 (January-March 1986):38.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-12.html. 2012.
THE TRUE WORSHIP AND THE ESSENTIAL CHANGE ( Romans 12:1-2 )
12:1-2 Brothers, I call upon you, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies to him, a living, consecrated sacrifice, well-pleasing to God--for that is the only kind of worship which is truly spiritual. And do not shape your lives to meet the fleeting fashions of this world; but be transformed from it, by the renewal of your mind, until the very essence of your being is altered, so that, in your own life, you may prove that the will of God is good and well pleasing and perfect.
Here we have Paul following the pattern he always followed when he wrote to his friends. He always ends his letters with practical advice. The sweep of his mind may search through the infinities, but he never gets lost in them; he always finishes with his feet firmly planted upon the earth. He can, and does, wrestle with the deepest problems which theology has to offer, but he always ends with the ethical demands which govern every man.
"Present your bodies to God," he says. There is no more characteristically Christian demand. We have already seen that that is what a Greek would never say. To the Greek, what mattered was the spirit; the body was only a prison-house, something to be despised and even to be ashamed of. No real Christian ever believed that. The Christian believes that his body belongs to God just as much as his soul does, and that he can serve him just as well with his body as with his mind or his spirit.
The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works. After all, the great fact of the incarnation basically means that God did not grudge to take a human body upon himself, to live in it and to work through it. Take the case of a church or a cathedral. It is built for the offering of worship to God. But it has to be designed by the mind of some architect; it has to be built by the hands of craftsmen and of labouring men; only then does it become a shrine where men meet to worship. It is a product of the mind and the body and the spirit of man.
"So," Paul says, "take your body; take all the tasks that you have to do every day; take the ordinary work of the shop, the factory, the shipyard, the mine; and offer all that as an act of worship to God." The word in Romans 12:1 which we along with the Revised Standard Version have translated worship, has an interesting history. It is latreia ( G2999) , the noun of the verb latreuein ( G3000) . Originally latreuein ( G3000) meant to work for hire or pay. It was the word used of the labouring man who gave his strength to an employer in return for the pay the employer would give him. It denotes, not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work. It then came to mean quite generally to serve; but it also came to mean that to which a man gives his whole life. For instance, a man could be said latreuein kallei, which means to give his life to the service of beauty. In that sense, it came very near meaning to dedicate one's life to. Finally, it came to be the word distinctively used of the service of the gods. In the Bible it never means human service; it is always used of service to and worship of God.
Here we have a most significant thing. True worship is the offering to God of one's body, and all that one does every day with it. Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God. As Whittier wrote:
"For he whom Jesus loved hath truly spoken:
The holier worship which he deigns to bless,
Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the fatherless."
A man may say, "I am going to church to worship God," but he should also be able to say, "I am going to the factory, the shop, the office, the school, the garage, the locomotive shed, the mine, the shipyard, the field, the byre, the garden, to worship God."
This, Paul goes on, demands a radical change. We must not be conformed to the world, but transformed from it. To express this idea he uses two almost untranslatable Greek words--words which we have taken almost sentences to express. The word he uses to be conformed to the world is suschematizesthai ( G4964) ; its root is schema ( G4976) , which means the outward form that varies from year to year and from day to day. A man's schema ( G4976) is not the same when he is seventeen as it is when he is seventy; it is not the same when he goes out to work as when he is dressed for dinner. It is continuously altering. So Paul says, "Don't try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don't be like a chameleon which takes its colour from its surroundings."
The word he uses for being transformed from the world is metamorphousthai ( G3339) . Its root is morphe ( G3444) , which means the essential unchanging shape or element of anything. A man has not the same schema ( G4976) at seventeen and seventy, but he has the same morphe ( G3444) ; a man in dungarees has not the same schema ( G4976) as a man in evening dress, but he has the same morphe ( G3444) ; his outward form changes, but inwardly he is the same person. So, Paul says, to worship and serve God, we must undergo a change, not of our outward form, but of our inward personality. What is that change? Paul would say that left to ourselves we live a life kata ( G2596) sarka ( G4561) , dominated by human nature at its lowest; in Christ we live a life kata ( G2596) Christon ( G5547) or kata ( G2596) pneuma ( G4151) , dominated by Christ or by the Spirit. The essential man has been changed; now he lives, not a self-centred, but a Christ-centred life.
This must happen, Paul says, by the renewal of your mind. The word he uses for renewal is anakainosis ( G342) . In Greek there are two words for new--neos ( G3501) and kainos ( G2537) . Neos ( G3501) means new in point of time; kainos ( G2537) means new in point of character and nature. A newly manufactured pencil is neos; but a man who was once a sinner and is now on the way to being a saint is kainos ( G2537) . When Christ comes into a man's life he is a new man; his mind is different, for the mind of Christ is in him.
When Christ becomes the centre of life then we can present real worship, which is the offering of every moment and every action to God.
EACH FOR ALL AND ALL FOR EACH ( Romans 12:3-8 )
12:3-8 For, through the grace that has been given to me, I say to everyone among you, not to have a mind proud beyond that which a mind should be, but to have a mind directed towards wisdom, as God has given the measure of faith to each one of you. For just as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so, although we are many, we are one body in Christ, and we are all members of each other. Since, then, we have different gifts, according to the grace that has been given to us, let us use them in mutual service. If we have received the gift of prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith that we have received. If we have received the gift of practical service, let us use it in service. If our gift is in teaching, let us use it in teaching. If it lies in exhortation, let us use it in exhortation. If we are called upon to share, let us do it with simple kindliness. If we are called upon to supply leadership, let us do so with zeal. If the occasion arises when we must show mercy, let us do so with gracious cheerfulness.
One of Paul's favourite thoughts is of the Christian Church as a body (compare 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The members of the body neither argue with each other nor envy each other nor dispute about their relative importance. Each part of the body carries out its own function, however prominent or however humbly unseen that function may be. It was Paul's conviction that the Christian Church should be like that. Each member has a task to do; and it is only when each contributes the help of his own task that the body of the Church functions as it ought.
Beneath this passage lie very important rules for life.
(i) First of all, it urges us to know ourselves. One of the first basic commandments of the Greek wise men was: "Man, know thyself." We do not get very far in this world until we know what we can and what we cannot do. An honest assessment of our own capabilities, without conceit and without false modesty, is one of the first essentials of a useful life.
(ii) Second, it urges us to accept ourselves and to use the gift God has given us. We are not to envy someone else's gift and regret that some other gift has not been given to us. We are to accept ourselves as we are, and use the gift we have. The result may be that we have to accept the fact that service for us means some humble sphere and some almost unseen part.
It was one of the great basic beliefs of the Stoics that there was a spark of God in every living creature. The Sceptics laughed at this doctrine. "God in worms?" demanded the Sceptic. "God in dungbeetles?" Whereat the Stoic replied: "Why not? Cannot an earthworm serve God? Do you suppose that it is only a general who is a good soldier? Cannot the lowest private or camp attendant fight his best and give his life for the cause? Happy are you if you are serving God, and carrying out the great purpose as truly as an earthworm."
The efficiency of the life of the universe depends on the humblest creatures. Paul is here saying that a man must accept himself; and, even if he finds that the contribution he has to offer will be unseen, without praise and without prominence, he must make it, certain that it is essential and that without it the world and the Church can never be what they are meant to be.
(iii) Third, Paul is really saving that whatever gift a man has comes from God. He calls gifts charismata ( G5486) . In the New Testament a charisma ( G5486) is something given to a man by God which the man himself could not have acquired or attained.
In point of fact, life is like that. A man might practise for a lifetime and yet never play the violin like Yehudi Menuhin. He has more than practice; he has the something plus, the charisma which is a gift of God. A man might toil for a lifetime and still be handless in the use of tools and wood and metals; another can fashion wood and mould metal with a special skill, and tools become part of himself; he has the something plus, the charisma ( G5486) which is a gift of God. One man might practise speaking for ever and a day, and still never acquire that magic something which moves an audience or a congregation; another steps on to a platform or climbs into a pulpit, and the audience are in the hollow of his hand; he has that something plus, that charisma ( G5486) which is a gift of God. A man might toil for a lifetime and never acquire the gift of putting his thoughts on paper in a vivid and intelligible way; another without effort sees his thoughts grow on the sheet of paper in front of him; the second man has the something plus, the charisma ( G5486) , which is the gift of God.
Every man has his own charisma ( G5486) . It may be for writing sermons, building houses, sowing seeds, fashioning wood, manipulating figures, playing the piano, singing songs, teaching children, playing football or golf. It is a something plus given him by God.
(iv) Fourth, whatever gift a man has, he must use it and the motive of use must be, not his personal prestige, but the conviction that it is at one and the same time his duty and his privilege to make his own contribution to the common good.
Let us look now at the gifts Paul singles out here for special mention.
(i) There is the gift of prophecy. It is only rarely that prophecy in the New Testament has to do with foretelling the future; it usually has to do with forthtelling the word of God. The prophet is the man who can announce the Christian message with the authority of one who knows. To announce Christ to others a man must first know him himself. "What this parish needs," said Carlyle's father, "is a man who knows Christ other than at second-hand."
(ii) There is the gift of practical service (diakonia, G1248) . It is surely significant that practical service came to Paul's mind so high on the list. It may be that a man will never have the privilege of standing forth in public and proclaiming Christ; but there is no man who cannot every day show the love of Christ in deeds of service to his fellow men.
(iii) There is teaching. The message of Christ needs not only to be proclaimed; it needs also to be explained. It may well be that one of the great failures of the Church at this present time is just in this realm. Exhortation and invitation without a background of teaching are empty things.
(iv) There is exhortation. Exhortation should have one dominating note, and that should be encouragement. There is a naval regulation which says that no officer shall speak discouragingly to any other officer about any undertaking in which he may be engaged. There is a kind of exhortation which is daunting. Real exhortation aims not so much at dangling a man over the flames of hell as spurring him on to the joy of life in Christ.
(v) There is sharing. Sharing is to be carried out with simple kindliness. The word that Paul uses is haplotes ( G572) , and it is difficult to translate, because it has in it the meaning both of simplicity and of generosity. One great commentary quotes a passage from The Testament of Issachar which perfectly illustrates its meaning. "And my father blessed me, seeing that I walked in simplicity (haplotes, G572) . And I was not inquisitive in my actions, nor wicked and envious towards my neighbour. I did not speak evil of anyone or attack a man's life, but I walked with a single eye (literally, with haplotes, G572, of my eyes). To every poor and every afflicted man I provided the good things of earth in simplicity (haplotes, G572) of heart. The simple (haplous, G572) man does not desire gold, doth not ravish his neighbour, doth not care for all kinds of dainty meats, doth not wish for diversity of clothing, doth not promise himself length of days, but receiveth only the will of God. He walketh in uprightness of life and beholdeth all things in simplicity (haplotes, G572) ." There is a giving which pries into the circumstances of another as it gives, which gives a moral lecture along with the gift, which gives not so much to relieve the need of the other as to pander to its own vanity and self-satisfaction, which gives with a grim sense of duty instead of a radiant sense of joy, which gives always with some ulterior motive and never for the sheer joy of giving. Christian sharing is with haplotes ( G572) , the simple kindliness which delights in the sheer pleasure of giving for giving's sake.
(vi) There is being called to occupy a leading place. Paul says that if we are so called we must do it with zeal. One of the most difficult problems of the Church today is the getting of leaders in all departments of its work. There are fewer and fewer people with a sense of service and of responsibility, willing to give up their leisure and their pleasure to undertake leadership. In many cases unfitness and unworthiness is pleaded when the real reason is disinclination and laziness. If such leadership is taken up, Paul says that it is to be taken up with zeal. There are two ways in which an elder may deliver a communion card--through the letter-box or at the fireside. There are two ways in which a teacher may prepare a lesson--with heart and mind or in the most perfunctory way. A man may dully and drably go through some task in the Church, or he may do it with the joy and thrill of zeal. The Church today needs leaders with zeal in their hearts.
(vii) There is the time when mercy has to be shown. It has to be shown with gracious kindliness, Paul says. It is possible to forgive in such a way that the very forgiveness is an insult. It is possible to forgive and at the same time to demonstrate an attitude of criticism and contempt. If ever we have to forgive a sinner, we must remember that we are fellow sinners. "There but for the grace of God, go I," said George Whitefield as he saw the criminal walk to the gallows. There is a way of forgiving a man which pushes him further into the gutter; and there is a way of forgiving him which lifts him out of the mire. Real forgiveness is always based on love and never on superiority.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN EVERYDAY ACTION ( Romans 12:9-13 )
12:9-13 Your love must be completely sincere. Hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good. Be affectionate to one another in brotherly love. Give to each other priority in honour. Do not be sluggish in zeal. Keep your spirit at boiling point. Seize your opportunities. Rejoice in hope. Meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude. Be persevering in prayer. Share what you have to help the needs of God's dedicated people. Be eager in giving hospitality.
Paul presents his people with ten telegraphic rules for ordinary, everyday life. Let us look at them one by one.
(i) Love must be completely sincere. There must be no hypocrisy, no play-acting, no ulterior motive. There is such a thing as cupboard love, which gives affection with one eye on the gain which may result. There is such a thing as a selfish love, whose aim is to get far more than it is to give. Christian love is cleansed of self; it is a pure outgoing of the heart to others.
(ii) We must hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good. It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked by it. It was Carlyle who said that what we need is to see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin. The words Paul uses are strong. It has been said that no virtue is safe which is not passionate. He must hate evil and love good. Regarding one thing we must be clear--what many people hate is not evil, but the consequences of evil. No man is really a good man when he is good simply because he fears the consequences of being bad. As Burns had it:
"The fear o' Hell's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that ay be your border."
Not to fear the consequences of dishonour, but to love honour passionately is the way to real goodness.
(iii) We must be affectionate to one another in brotherly love. The word Paul uses for affectionate is philostorgos ( G5387) , and storge ( G ) is the Greek for family love. We must love each other, because we are members of one family. We are not strangers to each other within the Christian Church; much less are we isolated units; we are brothers and sisters, because we have the one father, God.
(iv) We must give each other priority in honour. More than half the trouble that arises in Churches concerns rights and privileges and prestige. Someone has not been given his or her place; someone has been neglected or unthanked. The mark of the truly Christian man has always been humility. One of the humblest of men was that great saint and scholar Principal Cairns. Someone recollects an incident which showed Cairns as he was. He was a member of a platform party at a great gathering. As he appeared there was a tremendous burst of applause. Cairns stood back to let the man next him pass, and began to applaud himself; he never dreamed that the applause was for him. It is not easy to give each other priority in honour. There is enough of the natural man in most of us to like to get our rights; but the Christian man has no rights--he has only duties.
(v) We must not be sluggish in zeal. There is a certain intensity in the Christian life; there is no room for lethargy in it. The Christian cannot take things in an easy-going way, for the world is always a battleground between good and evil, the time is short, and life is a preparation for eternity. The Christian may burn out, but he must not rust out.
(vi) We must keep our spirit at boiling point. The one man whom the Risen Christ could not stand was the man who was neither hot nor cold ( Revelation 3:15-16). Today people are apt to look askance upon enthusiasm: the modern battle-cry is "I couldn't care less." But the Christian is a man desperately in earnest; he is aflame for Christ.
(vii) Paul's seventh injunction may be one of two things. The ancient manuscripts vary between two readings. Some read, "Serve the Lord" and some read, "Serve the time." that is, "Grasp your opportunities." The reason for the double reading is this. All the ancient scribes used contractions in their writing. In particular the commoner words were always abbreviated. One of the commonest ways of abbreviating was to miss out the vowels--as shorthand does--and to place a stroke along the top of the remaining letters. Now the word for Lord is kurios ( G2962) and the word for time is kairos ( G2540) , and the abbreviation for both of these words is krs. In a section so filled with practical advice it is more likely that Paul was saying to his people, "Seize your opportunities as they come." Life presents us with all kinds of opportunities--the opportunity to learn something new or to cut out something wrong; the opportunity to speak a word of encouragement or of warning; the opportunity to help or to comfort. One of the tragedies of life is that we so often fall to grasp these opportunities when they come. "There are three things which come not back--the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity."
(viii) We are to rejoice in hope. When Alexander the Great was
setting out upon one of his eastern campaigns, he was
distributing all kinds of gifts to his friends. In his generosity
he had given away nearly all his possessions. "Sir," said one of
his friends, "you will have nothing left for yourself." "Oh, yes,
I have," said Alexander, "I have still my hopes." The Christian
must be essentially an optimist. Just because God is God, the
Christian is always certain that "the best is yet to be." Just
because he knows of the grace that is sufficient for all things
and the strength that is made perfect in weakness, the Christian
knows that no task is too much for him. "There are no hopeless
situations in life; there are only men who have grown hopeless
about them." There can never be any such thing as a hopeless
(ix) We are to meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude. Someone once said to a gallant sufferer: "Suffering colours all life, doesn't it?" "Yes," said the gallant one, "it does, but I propose to choose the colour." When the dreadful affliction of complete deafness began to descend on Beethoven and life seemed to be one unbroken disaster, he said: "I will take life by the throat." As William Cowper had it:
"Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say.
'Even let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may,
It can bring with it nothing
But he will bear us through.'"
When Nebuchadnezzar cast Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the burning fiery furnace he was amazed that they took no harm. He asked if three men had not been cast into the flames. They told him it was so. He said, "But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods" ( Daniel 3:24-25). A man can meet anything when he meets it with Christ.
(x) We are to persevere in prayer. Is it not the case that there are times in life when we let day add itself to day and week to week, and we never speak to God? When a man ceases to pray, he despoils himself of the strength of Almighty God. No man should be surprised when life collapses if he insists on living it alone.
(xi) We are to share with those in need. In a world bent on getting, the Christian is bent on giving, because he knows that "what we keep we lose, and what we give we have."
(xii) The Christian is to be given to hospitality. Over and over again the New Testament insists on this duty of the open door ( Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9). Tyndale used a magnificent word when he translated it that the Christian should have a harborous disposition. A home can never be happy when it is selfish. Christianity is the religion of the open hand, the open heart, and the open door.
THE CHRISTIAN AND HIS FELLOW MEN ( Romans 12:14-21 )
12:14-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless them and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Keep your thoughts from pride; and never refuse to be associated with humble people. Don't become conceitedly wise in your own estimation. Never return evil for evil. Take thought to make your conduct fair for all to see. If it is possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all men. Beloved, do not seek to revenge yourself on others; leave such vengeance to The Wrath, for it stands written: "Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, if your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him drink. If you do this you will heap coals of fire on his head. Be not over come by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul offers a series of rules and principles wherewith to govern our relationships with our fellow men.
(i) The Christian must meet persecution with a prayer for those who persecute him. Long ago Plato had said that the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil; and it is always evil to hate. When the Christian is hurt, and insulted, and maltreated, he has the example of his Master before him, for be, upon his Cross, prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him.
There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed. Stephen died praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death ( Acts 7:60). Among those who killed him was a young man named Saul, who afterwards became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the slave of Christ. There can be no doubt that the death scene of Stephen was one of the things that turned Paul to Christ. As Augustine said: "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Many a persecutor has become a follower of the faith he once sought to destroy, because he has seen how a Christian can forgive."
(ii) We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. There are few bonds like that of a common sorrow. A writer tells of the saying of an American negro woman. A lady in Charleston met the negro servant of a neighbour. "I'm sorry to hear of your Aunt Lucy's death," she said. "You must miss her greatly. You were such friends." "Yes'm," said the servant, "I is sorry she died. But we wasn't no friends." "Why," said the lady, "I thought you were. I've seen you laughing and talking together lots of times." "Yes'm. That's so," came the reply. "We've laughed together, and we've talked together, but we is just 'quaintances. You see, Miss Ruth, we ain't never shed no tears. Folks got to cry together before dey is friends."
The bond of tears is the strongest of all. And yet it is much easier to weep with those who weep than it is to rejoice with those who rejoice. Long ago Chrysostom wrote on this passage: "It requires more of a high Christian temper to rejoice with them that do rejoice than to weep with them that weep. For this nature itself fulfils perfectly; and thee is none so hard-hearted as not to weep over him that is in calamity; but the other requires a very noble soul, so as not only to keep from envying, but even to feel pleasure with the person who is in esteem." It is., indeed, more difficult to congratulate another on his success, especially if his success involves disappointment to us, than it is to sympathize with his sorrow and his loss. It is only when self is dead that we can take as much joy in the success of others as in our own.
(iii) We are to live in harmony with one another. It was Nelson who, after one of his great victories, sent back a despatch in which he gave us the reason for it: "I had the happiness to command a band of brothers." It is a band of brothers that any Christian Church should be. Leighton once wrote: "The mode of Church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and good will are indispensable." When strife enters into any Christian society, the hope of doing any good work is gone.
(iv) We are to avoid all pride and snobbishness. We have always to remember that the standards by which the world judges a man are not necessarily the standards by which God judges him. Saintliness has nothing to do with rank, or wealth, or birth. Dr James Black in his own vivid way described a scene in an early Christian congregation. A notable convert has been made. and the great man comes to his first Church service. He enters the room where the service is being held. The Christian leader points to a place. "Will you sit there please?" "But," says the man, "I cannot sit there, for that would be to sit beside my slave." "Will you sit there please?" repeats the leader. "But," says the man, "surely not beside my slave." "Will you sit there please?" repeats the leader once again. And the man at last crosses the room, sits beside his slave, and gives him the kiss of peace. That is what Christianity did; and that is what it alone could do in the Roman Empire. The Christian Church was the only place where master and slave sat side by side. It is still the place where all earthly distinctions are gone, for with God there is no respect of persons.
(v) We are to make our conduct fair for all to see. Paul was well aware that Christian conduct must not only be good; it must also look good. So-called Christianity can be presented in the hardest and most unlovely way; but real Christianity is something which is fair for all to see.
(vi) We are to live at peace with all men. But Paul adds two qualifications. (a) He says, "if it be possible". There may come a time when the claims of courtesy have to submit to the claims of principle. Christianity is not an easy-going tolerance which will accept anything and shut its eyes to everything. There may come a time when some battle has to be fought, and when it does, the Christian will not shirk it. (b) He says, as far as you can. Paul knew very well that it is easier for some to live at peace than for others. He knew that one man can be compelled to control as much temper in an hour as another man in a lifetime. We would do well to remember that goodness is a great deal easier for some than for others; that will keep us alike from criticism and from discouragement.
(vii) We are to keep ourselves from all thought of taking revenge. Paul gives three reasons for that. (a) Vengeance does not belong to us but to God. In the last analysis no human being has a right to judge any other; only God can do that. (b) To treat a man with kindness rather than vengeance is the way to move him. Vengeance may break his spirit; but kindness will break his heart. "If we are kind to our enemies," says Paul, "it will heap coals of fire on their heads." That means, not that it will store up further punishment for them, but that it will move them to burning shame. (c) To stoop to vengeance is to be ourselves conquered by evil. Evil can never be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred it is only increased; but if it is met with love, an antidote for the poison is found. As Booker Washington said: "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." The only real way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/romans-12.html. 1956-1959.
And do not be conformed -- The word rendered “conformed” properly means to put on the form, fashion, or appearance of something. Here it may refer to anything pertaining to the habit, manner, dress, style of living, etc., of others.
this world -- "this age". Here it refers to the people or generation who live for self and not for God.
Here it means that Christians should not conform to the maxims, habits, feelings, etc., of a wicked, luxurious, and idolatrous age, but should be conformed solely to the precepts and laws of the gospel;
but be transformed -- metamorphosis (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18) The direction is, “put on another form, change the form of the world for that of Christianity.”
This word would properly refer to the external appearance, but by the apostle immediately says “renewing of the mind,” he shows he intended the change to deal with the whole man.
renewing of your mind -- Change of inner purpose and disposition. Not just the outward circumstances, or appearance.
The word translated “mind” properly denotes intellect, as distinguished from the will and affections.
prove -- The word used here
that good, acceptable and perfect will of God -- God’s will for our conduct; his demands of us in our lives and worship.
perfect -- Free from defect, stain, or injury.
acceptable -- That which will be pleasing to God. or which he will approve.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/romans-12.html. 2021.
And be not conformed to this world,.... By this world is meant, either the Mosaic dispensation, and Jewish church state, so called in opposition to עולם הבא, "the world to come", the Gospel dispensation; in which there were a worldly sanctuary, and the rites and ceremonies of which are styled the rudiments and elements of the world; to which believers in the present state are by no means to conform, there being sacrifices and ordinances of another nature, it is the will of God they should observe and attend unto: or else the men of the world are designed, carnal and unregenerate men, among whom they formerly had their conversation, from among whom they were chosen, called, and separated, and who lie and live in wickedness, and therefore should not be conformed unto them: which is to be understood, not in a civil sense of conformity to them in garb and apparel, provided that pride and luxury are guarded against, and decency and sobriety observed, and the different abilities of persons and stations in life are attended to; or to any other civil usages and customs which are not contrary to natural and revealed religion; but of a conformity in a moral sense to the evil manners of men, to walk vainly, as other Gentiles do, to go into the same excess of riot with them; for this is contrary both to the principle and doctrine of grace, which teach men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts: and of a compliance with the men of the world in a religious sense, by joining with them in acts of idolatry, superstition, and will worship, and in anything that is contrary to the order, ordinances, and truths of the Gospel.
But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind; which regards not the first work of conversion and renovation; for in this sense these persons were transformed, metamorphosed, changed, and renewed already; but the after progress and carrying on the work of renovation, the renewing of them day by day in the spirit of their minds; see Ephesians 4:23; which believers should be desirous of, and pray for, and make use of those means which the Spirit of God owns for this purpose, attending to the spiritual exercises of religion, as reading, meditation, prayer, conference, the ministration of the word and ordinances, which is the reverse of conformity to the world: and the end to be attained hereby is,
that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God; by which is meant not the secret will of God, which cannot be searched into, proved, and known, till time and facts discover it: but the revealed will of God, both in the law, as in the hands of Christ, which contains nothing but what is good; and which when done in faith, from a principle of love, and to the glory of God, is acceptable through Christ; and is perfect as a law of liberty, and rule of walk and conversation; and which is to be proved and approved of by all the saints, who delight in it after the inward man: and also that which is contained in the Gospel; as that all that the Father had given to Christ should be redeemed by him, that these should be sanctified, and persevere to the end, and be glorified; all which is the good will of God, an acceptable saying to sensible sinners, and such a scheme of salvation as is perfect and complete, and needs nothing to be added to it; and is, by such who are daily renewed in the spirit of their minds, more and more proved, tried, discerned, and approved of, even by all such who have their spiritual senses exercised to discern things that differ.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-12.html. 1999.
|Consecration to God; Duty towards God; Duty towards Ourselves; Due Exercise of Spiritual Gifts; Duty towards Our Brethren; Brotherly Love; Love to Enemies.||A. D. 58.|
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; 11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; 12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; 13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. 14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
We may observe here, according to the scheme mentioned in the contents, the apostle's exhortations,
I. Concerning our duty to God, We see what is godliness.
1. It is to surrender ourselves to God, and so to lay a good foundation. We must first give our own selves unto the Lord, 2 Corinthians 8:5. This is here pressed as the spring of all duty and obedience, Romans 12:1; Romans 12:2. Man consists of body and soul, Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7.
(1.) The body must be presented to him, Romans 12:1; Romans 12:1. The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:14. The exhortation is here introduced very pathetically: I beseech you, brethren. Though he was a great apostle, yet he calls the meanest Christians brethren, a term of affection and concern. He uses entreaty; this is the gospel way: As though God did beseech you by us,2 Corinthians 5:20. Though he might with authority command, yet for love's sake he rather beseeches, Philemon 1:8; Philemon 1:9. The poor useth entreaty,Proverbs 18:23. This is to insinuate the exhortation, that it might come with the more pleasing power. Many are sooner wrought upon if they be accosted kindly, are more easily led than driven. Now observe,
[1.] The duty pressed—to present our bodies a living sacrifice, alluding to the sacrifices under the law, which were presented or set before God at the altar, ready to be offered to him. Your bodies—your whole selves; so expressed because under the law the bodies of beasts were offered in sacrifice, ; 1 Corinthians 6:20. Our bodies and spirits are intended. The offering was sacrificed by the priest, but presented by the offerer, who transferred to God all his right, title, and interest in it, by laying his hand on the head of it. Sacrifice is here taken for whatsoever is by God's own appointment dedicated to himself; see 1 Peter 2:5. We are temple, priest, and sacrifice, as Christ was in his peculiar sacrificing. There were sacrifices of atonement and sacrifices of acknowledgment. Christ, who was once offered to bear the sins of many, is the only sacrifice of atonement; but our persons and performances, tendered to God through Christ our priest, are as sacrifices of acknowledgment to the honour of God. Presenting them denotes a voluntary act, done by virtue of that absolute despotic power which the will has over the body and all the members of it. It must be a free-will offering. Your bodies; not your beasts. Those legal offerings, as they had their power from Christ, so they had their period in Christ. The presenting of the body to God implies not only the avoiding of the sins that are committed with or against the body, but the using of the body as a servant of the soul in the service of God. It is to glorify God with our bodies (; 1 Corinthians 6:20), to engage our bodies in the duties of immediate worship, and in a diligent attendance to our particular callings, and be willing to suffer for God with our bodies, when we are called to it. It is to yield the members of our bodies as instruments of righteousness, Romans 6:13. Though bodily exercise alone profits little, yet in its place it is a proof and product of the dedication of our souls to God. First, Present them a living sacrifice; not killed, as the sacrifices under the law. A Christian makes his body a sacrifice to God, though he does not give it to be burned. A body sincerely devoted to God is a living sacrifice. A living sacrifice, by way of allusion—that which was dead of itself might not be eaten, much less sacrificed, ; Deuteronomy 14:21; and by ways of opposition—"The sacrifice was to be slain, but you may be sacrificed, and yet live on"—an unbloody sacrifice. The barbarous heathen sacrificed their children to their idol-gods, not living, but slain sacrifices: but God will have mercy, and not such sacrifice, though life is forfeited to him. A living sacrifice, that is, inspired with the spiritual life of the soul. It is Christ living in the soul by faith that makes the body a living sacrifice, Galatians 2:20. Holy love kindles the sacrifices, puts life into the duties; see Romans 6:13. Alive, that is, to God, ; Romans 12:11. Secondly, They must be holy. There is a relative holiness in every sacrifice, as dedicated to God. But, besides this, there must be that real holiness which consists in an entire rectitude of heart and life, by which we are conformed in both to the nature and will of God: even our bodies must not be made the instruments of sin and uncleanness, but set apart for God, and put to holy uses, as the vessels of the tabernacle were holy, being devoted to God's service. It is the soul that is the proper subject of holiness; but a sanctified soul communicates a holiness to the body it actuates and animates. That is holy which is according to the will of God; when the bodily actions are no, the body is holy. They are the temples of the Holy Ghost, 1 Corinthians 6:19. Possess the body in sanctification, ; 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5.
[2.] The arguments to enforce this, which are three:—First, Consider the mercies of God: I beseech you by the mercies of God. An affectionate obtestation, and which should melt us into a compliance: dia ton oiktirmon tou Theou. This is an argument most sweetly cogent. There is the mercy that is in God and the mercy that is from God—mercy in the spring and mercy in the streams: both are included here; but especially gospel-mercies (mentioned Romans 11:1-36), the transferring of what the Jews forfeited and lost by their unbelief unto us Gentiles (Ephesians 3:4-6): the sure mercies of David, Leviticus 3:0; Leviticus 3:0. God is a merciful God, therefore let us present our bodies to him; he will be sure to use them kindly, and knows how to consider the frames of them, for he is of infinite compassion. We receive from him every day the fruits of his mercy, particularly mercy to our bodies: he made them, he maintains them, he bought them, he has put a great dignity upon them. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, that our souls are held in life; and the greatest mercy of all is that Christ hath made not his body only, but his soul, an offering for sin, that he gave himself for us and gives himself to us. Now surely we cannot but be studying what we shall render to the Lord for all this. And what shall we render? Let us render ourselves as an acknowledgment of all these favours—all we are, all we have, all we can do; and, after all, it is but very poor returns for very rich receivings: and yet, because it is what we have, Secondly, It is acceptable to God. The great end we should all labour after is to be accepted of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9), to have him well-pleased with our persons and performances. Now these living sacrifices are acceptable to God; while the sacrifices of the wicked, though fat and costly, are an abomination to the Lord. It is God's great condescension that he will vouchsafe to accept of any thing in us; and we can desire no more to make us happy; and, if the presenting of ourselves will but please him, we may easily conclude that we cannot bestow ourselves better. Thirdly, It is our reasonable service. There is an act of reason in it; for it is the soul that presents the body. Blind devotion, that has ignorance for the mother and nurse of it, is fit to be paid only to those dunghill-gods that have eyes and see not. Our God must be served in the spirit and with the understanding. There is all the reason in the world for it, and no good reason can possibly be produced against it. Come now, and let us reason together, ; Isaiah 1:18. God does not impose upon us any thing hard or unreasonable, but that which is altogether agreeable to the principles of right reason. Ten logiken latreian hymon—your service according to the word; so it may be read. The word of God does not leave out the body in holy worship. That service only is acceptable to God which is according to the written word. It must be gospel worship, spiritual worship. That is a reasonable service which we are able and ready to give a reason for, in which we understand ourselves. God deals with us as with rational creatures, and will have us so to deal with him. Thus must the body be presented to God.
(2.) The mind must be renewed for him. This is pressed (Romans 12:2): "Be you transformed by the renewing of your mind; see to it that there be a saving change wrought in you, and that it be carried on." Conversion and sanctification are the renewing of the mind, a change not of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. It is the same with making a new heart and a new spirit—new dispositions and inclinations, new sympathies and antipathies; the understanding enlightened, the conscience softened, the thoughts rectified; the will bowed to the will of God, and the affections made spiritual and heavenly: so that the man is not what he was—old things are passed away, all things are become new; he acts from new principles, by new rules, with new designs. The mind is the acting ruling part of us; so that the renewing of the mind is the renewing of the whole man, for out of it are the issues of life, ; Proverbs 4:23. The progress of sanctification, dying to sin more and more and living to righteousness more and more, is the carrying on of this renewing work, till it be perfected in glory. This is called the transforming of us; it is like putting on a new shape and figure. Metamorphousthe—Be you metamorphosed. The transfiguration of Christ is expressed by this word (Matthew 17:2), when he put on a heavenly glory, which made his face to shine like the sun; and the same word is used 2 Corinthians 3:18, where we are said to be changed into the same image from glory to glory.This transformation is here pressed as a duty; not that we can work such a change ourselves: we could as soon make a new world as make a new heart by any power of our own; it is God's work, ; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27. Butbe you transformed, that is, "use the means which God hath appointed and ordained for it." It is God that turns us, and then we are turned; but we must frame our doings to turn, ; Hosea 5:4. "Lay your souls under the changing transforming influences of the blessed Spirit; seek unto God for grace in the use of all the means of grace." Though the new man be created of God, yet we must put it on (Ephesians 4:24), and be pressing forward towards perfection. Now in this verse we may further observe,
[1.] What is the great enemy to this renewing, which we must avoid; and that is, conformity to this world: Be not conformed to this world. All the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus must be nonconformists to this world. Me syschematizesthe—Do not fashion yourselves according to the world. We must not conform to the things of the world; they are mutable, and the fashion of them is passing away. Do not conform either to the lusts of the flesh or the lusts of the eye. We must not conform to the men of the world, of that world which lies in wickedness, not walk according to the course of this world (; Ephesians 2:2); that is, we must not follow a multitude to do evil, Exodus 23:2. If sinners entice us, we must not consent to them, but in our places witness against them. Nay, even in things indifferent, and which are not in themselves sinful, we must so far not conform to the custom and way of the world as not to act by the world's dictates as our chief rule, nor to aim at the world's favours as our highest end. True Christianity consists much in a sober singularity. Yet we must take heed of the extreme of affected rudeness and moroseness, which some run into. In civil things, the light of nature and the custom of nations are intended for our guidance; and the rule of the gospel in those cases is a rule of direction, not a rule of contrariety.
[2.] What is the great effect of this renewing, which we must labour after: That you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. by the will of God here we are to understand his revealed will concerning our duty, what the Lord our God requires of us. This is the will of God in general, even our sanctification, that will which we pray may be done by us as it is done by the angels; especially his will as it is revealed in the New Testament, where he hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son. First, The will of God is good, and acceptable, and perfect; three excellent properties of a law. It is good (; Micah 6:8); it is exactly consonant to the eternal reason of good and evil. It is good in itself. It is good for us. Some think the evangelical law is here called good, in distinction from the ceremonial law, which consisted of statutes that were not good, Ezekiel 20:25. It is acceptable, it is pleasing to God; that and that only is so which is prescribed by him. The only way to attain his favour as the end is to conform to his will as the rule. It is perfect, to which nothing can be added. The revealed will of God is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, containing all things which tend to the perfection of the man of God, to furnish us thoroughly to every good work, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Secondly, That it concerns Christians to prove what is that will of God which is good, and acceptable, and perfect; that is, to know it with judgment and approbation, to know it experimentally, to know the excellency of the will of God by the experience of a conformity to it. It is to approve things that are excellent (; Philippians 1:10); it is dokimazein (the same word that is used here) to try things that differ, in doubtful cases readily to apprehend what the will of God is and to close in with it. It is to be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, Isaiah 11:3. Thirdly, That those are best able to prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, who are transformed by the renewing of their mind. A living principle of grace is in the soul, as far as it prevails, an unbiassed unprejudiced judgment concerning the things of God. It disposes the soul to receive and entertain the revelations of the divine will. The promise is (; John 7:17), If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine. A good wit can dispute and distinguish about the will of God; while an honest, humble heart, that has spiritual senses exercised, and is delivered into the mould of the word, loves it, and practises it, and has the relish and savour of it. Thus to be godly is to surrender ourselves to God.
2. When this is done, to serve him in all manner of gospel obedience. Some hints of this we have here (Romans 12:11-12), Serving the Lord. Wherefore do we present ourselves to him, but that we may serve him? Acts xxvii. 23,Whose I am; and then it follows, whom I serve. To be religious is to serve God. How? (1.) We must make a business of it, and not be slothful in that business. Not slothful in business. There is the business of the world, that of our particular calling, in which we must not be slothful, ; 1 Thessalonians 4:11. But this seems to be meant of the business of serving the Lord, our Father's business, Luke 2:49. Those that would approve themselves Christians indeed must make religion their business—must choose it, and learn it, and give themselves to it; they must love it, and employ themselves in it, and abide by it, as their great and main business. And, having made it our business, we must not be slothful in it: not desire our own ease, and consult that, when it comes in competition with our duty. We must not drive on slowly in religion. Slothful servants will be reckoned with us wicked servants. (2.) We must be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. God must be served with the spirit (; Romans 1:9; John 4:24), under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Whatever we do in religion it is pleasing to God no further than it is done with our spirits wrought upon by the Spirit of God. And there must be fervency in the spirit—a holy zeal, and warmth, and ardency of affection in all we do, as those that love God not only with the heart and soul, but with all our hearts, and with all our souls. This is the holy fire that kindles the sacrifice, and carries it up to heaven, an offering of a sweet-smelling savour.—Serving the Lord. To kairo douleuontes (so some copies read it), serving the time, that is, improving your opportunities and making the best of them, complying with the present seasons of grace. (3.) Rejoicing in hope. God is worshipped and honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope, take a complacency in that confidence, which argues a great assurance of the reality and a great esteem of the excellency of the good hoped for. (4.) Patient in tribulation. Thus also God is served, not only by working for him when he calls us to work, but by sitting still quietly when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God's sake, and with an eye to his will and glory, is true piety. Observe, Those that rejoice in hope are likely to be patient in tribulation. It is a believing prospect of the joy set before us that bears up the spirit under all outward pressure. (5.) Continuing instant in prayer. Prayer is a friend to hope and patience, and we do in it serve the Lord. Proskarterountes. It signifies both fervency and perseverance in prayer. We should not be cold in the duty, nor soon weary of it, ; Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2. This is our duty which immediately respects God.
1. A sober opinion of ourselves, ; Romans 12:3. It is ushered in with a solemn preface: I say, through the grace given unto me: the grace f wisdom, by which he understood the necessity and excellency of this duty; the grace of apostleship, by which he had authority to press and enjoin it. "I say it, who am commissioned to say it, in God's name. I say it, and it is not for you to gainsay it." It is said to every one of us, one as well as another. Pride is a sin that is bred in the bone of all of us, and we have therefore each of us need to be cautioned and armed against it.—Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. We must take heed of having too great an opinion of ourselves, or putting too high a valuation upon our own judgments, abilities, persons, performances. We must not be self-conceited, nor esteem too much our own wisdom and other attainments, not think ourselves to be something, Galatians 6:3. There is a high thought of ourselves which we may and must have to think ourselves too good to be the slaves of sin and drudges to this world. But, on the other hand, we should think soberly, that is, we must have a low and modest opinion of ourselves and our own abilities, our gifts and graces, according to what we have received from God, and not otherwise. We must not be confident and hot in matters of doubtful disputation; not stretch ourselves beyond our line; not judge and censure those that differ from us; not desire to make a fair show in the flesh. These and the like are the fruits of a sober opinion of ourselves. The words will bear yet another sense agreeable enough. Of himself is not in the original; therefore it may be read, That no man be wise above what he ought to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety. We must not exercise ourselves in things too high for us (; Psalms 131:1-2), not intrude into those things which we have not seen (Colossians 2:18), those secret things which belong not to us (Deuteronomy 29:29), not covet to be wise above what is written. There is a knowledge that puffs up, which reaches after forbidden fruit. We must take heed of this, and labour after that knowledge which tends to sobriety, to the rectifying of the heart and the reforming of the life. Some understand it of the sobriety which keeps us in our own place and station, from intruding into the gifts and offices of others. See an instance of this sober modest care in the exercise of the greatest spiritual gifts, 2 Corinthians 10:13-15. To this head refers also that exhortation (Romans 12:16), Be not wise in your own conceits. It is good to be wise, but it is bad to think ourselves so; for there is more hope of a fool than of him that is wise in his own eyes. It was an excellent thing for Moses to have his face shine and not know it. Now the reasons why we must have such a sober opinion of ourselves, our own abilities and attainments, are these:—
(1.) Because whatever we have that is good, God hath dealt it to us; every good and perfect gift comes from above, ; James 1:17. What have we that we have not received? And, if we have received it, why then do we boast? 1 Corinthians 4:7. The best and most useful man in the world is no more, no better, than what the free grace of God makes him every day. When we are thinking of ourselves, we must remember to think not how we attained, as though our might and the power of our hand had gotten us these gifts; but think how kind God hath been to us, for it is he that gives us power to do any thing that is good, and in him is all our sufficiency.
(2.) Because God deals out his gifts in a certain measure: According to the measure of faith. Observe, The measure of spiritual gifts he calls the measure of faith, for this is the radical grace. What we have and do that is good is so far right and acceptable as it is founded in faith, and flows from faith, and no further. Now faith, and other spiritual gifts with it, are dealt by measure, according as Infinite Wisdom sees meet for us. Christ had the Spirit given him without measure, John iii. 34. But the saints have it by measure; see Eph. iv. 7. Christ, who had gifts without measure, was meek and lowly; and shall we, that are stinted, be proud and self-conceited?
(3.) Because God has dealt out gifts to others as well as to us: Dealt to every man. Had we the monopoly of the Spirit, or a patent to be sole proprietors of spiritual gifts, there might be some pretence for this conceitedness of ourselves; but others have their share as well as we. God is a common Father, and Christ a common root, to all the saints, who all drive virtue from him; and therefore it ill becomes us to lift up ourselves, and to despise others, as if we only were the people in favour with heaven, and wisdom should die with us. This reasoning he illustrates by a comparison taken from the members of the natural body (as ; 1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:16): As we have many members in one body, &c., ; Romans 12:4-5. Here observe, [1.] All the saints make up one body in Christ, who is the head of the body, and the common centre of their unity. Believers lie not in the world as a confused disorderly heap, but are organized and knit together, as they are united to one common head, and actuated and animated by one common Spirit. [2.] Particular believers are members of this body, constituent parts, which speak them less than the whole, and in relation to the whole, deriving life and spirits from the head. Some members in the body are bigger and more useful than others, and each receives spirits from the head according to its proportion. If the little finger should receive as much nourishment as the leg, how unseemly and prejudicial would it be! We must remember that we are not the whole; we think above what is meet if we think so; we are but parts and members. [3.] All the members have not the same office (Romans 12:4), but each hath its respective place and work assigned it. The office of the eye is to see, the office of the hand is to work, &c. So in the mystical body, some are qualified for, and called to, one sort of work; others are, in like manner, fitted for, and called to, another sort of work. Magistrates, ministers, people, in a Christian commonwealth, have their several offices, and must not intrude one upon another, nor clash in the discharge of their several offices. [4.] Each member hath its place and office, for the good and benefit of the whole, and of every other member. We are not only members of Christ, but we are members one of another, ; Romans 12:5. We stand in relation one to another; we are engaged to do all the good we can one to another, and to act in conjunction for the common benefit. See this illustrated at large, 1 Corinthians 12:14, &c. Therefore we must not be puffed up with a conceit of our own attainments, because, whatever we have, as we received it, so we received it not for ourselves, but for the good of others.
2. A sober use of the gifts that God hath given us. As we must not on the one hand be proud of our talents, so on the other hand we must not bury them. Take heed lest, under a pretence of humility and self-denial, we be slothful in laying out ourselves for the good of others. We must not say, "I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing;" but, "I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost in the strength of the grace of Christ." He specifies the ecclesiastical offices appointed in particular churches, in the discharge of which each must study to do his own duty, for the preserving of order and the promotion of edification in the church, each knowing his place and fulfilling it. Having then gifts. The following induction of particulars supplies the sense of this general.Having gifts, let us use them. Authority and ability for the ministerial work are the gift of God.—Gifts differing. The immediate design is different, though the ultimate tendency of all is the same. According to the grace, charismata kata ten charin. The free grace of God is the spring and original of all the gifts that are given to men. It is grace that appoints the office, qualifies and inclines the person, works both to will and to do. There were in the primitive church extraordinary gifts of tongues, of discerning, of healing; but he speaks here of those that are ordinary. Compare ; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 4:10. Seven particular gifts he specifies (Romans 12:6-8), which seem to be meant of so many distinct offices, used by the prudential constitution of many of the primitive churches, especially the larger. There are two general ones here expressed by prophesying and ministering, the former the work of the bishops, the latter the work of the deacons, which were the only two standing officers, Philippians 1:1. But the particular work belonging to each of these might be, and it should seem was, divided and allotted by common consent and agreement, that it might be done the more effectually, because that which is every body's work is nobody's work, and he despatches his business best that is vir unius negotii—a man of one business. Thus David sorted the Levites (; 1 Chronicles 23:4-5), and in this wisdom is profitable to direct. The five latter will therefore be reduced to the two former.
(1.) Prophecy. Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. It is not meant of the extraordinary gifts of foretelling things to come, but the ordinary office of preaching the word: so prophesying is taken, 1 Corinthians 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:20. The work of the Old-Testament prophets was not only to foretel future things, but to warn the people concerning sin and duty, and to be their remembrancers concerning that which they knew before. And thus gospel preachers are prophets, and do indeed, as far as the revelation of the word goes, foretel things to come. Preaching refers to the eternal condition of the children of men, points directly at a future state. Now those that preach the word must do it according to the proportion of faith—kata ten analogian tes pisteos, that is, [1.] As to the manner of our prophesying, it must be according to the proportion of the grace of faith. He had spoken (; Romans 12:3) of the measure of faith dealt to every man. Let him that preaches set all the faith he hath on work, to impress the truths he preaches upon his own heart in the first place. As people cannot hear well, so ministers cannot preach well, without faith. First believe and then speak, Psalms 116:10; 2 Corinthians 4:13. And we must remember the proportion of faith—that, though all men have not faith, yet a great many have besides ourselves; and therefore we must allow others to have a share of knowledge and ability to instruct, as well as we, even those that in less things differ from us. "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself; and do not make it a ruling rule to others, remembering that thou hast but thy proportion." [2.] As to the matter of our prophesying, it must be according to the proportion of the doctrine of faith, as it is revealed in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament. By this rule of faith the Bereans tried Paul's preaching, ; Acts 17:11. Compare Acts 26:22; Galatians 1:9. There are some staple-truths, as I may call them, some prima axiomata—first axioms, plainly and uniformly taught in the scripture, which are the touchstone of preaching, by which (though we must not despise prophesying) we must prove all things, and then hold fast that which is good, ; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. Truths that are more dark must be examined by those that are more clear; and then entertained when they are found to agree and comport with the analogy of faith; for it is certain one truth can never contradict another. See here what ought to be the great care of preachers—to preach sound doctrine, according to the form of wholesome words, Titus 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:13. It is not so necessary that the prophesying be according to the proportion of art, the rules of logic and rhetoric; but it is necessary that it be according to the proportion of faith: for it is the word of faith that we preach. Now there are two particular works which he that prophesieth hath to mind—teaching and exhorting, proper enough to be done by the same person at the same time, and when he does the one let him mind that, when he does the other let him do that too as well as he can. If, by agreement between the ministers of a congregation, this work be divided, either constantly or interchangeably, so that one teaches and the other exhorts (that is, in our modern dialect, one expounds and the other preaches), let each do his work according to the proportion of faith. First, let him that teacheth wait on teaching. Teaching is the bare explaining and proving of gospel truths, without practical application, as in the expounding of the scripture. Pastors and teachers are the same office (; Ephesians 4:11), but the particular work is somewhat different. Now he that has a faculty of teaching, and has undertaken that province, let him stick to it. It is a good gift, let him use it, and give his mind to it. He that teacheth, let him be in his teaching; so some supply it, Ho didaskon, en te didaskalia. Let him be frequent and constant, and diligent in it; let him abide in that which is his proper work, and be in it as his element. See 1 Timothy 4:15-16, where it is explained by two words, en toutois isthi,and epimene autois, be in these things and continue in them. Secondly, Let him that exhorteth wait on exhortation. Let him give himself to that. This is the work of the pastor, as the former of the teacher; to apply gospel truths and rules more closely to the case and condition of the people, and to press upon them that which is more practical. Many that are very accurate in teaching may yet be very cold and unskilful in exhorting; and on the contrary. The one requires a clearer head, the other a warmer heart. Now where these gifts are evidently separated (that the one excels in the one and the other in the other) it conduces to edification to divide the work accordingly; and, whatsoever the work is that we undertake, let us mind it. To wait on our work is to bestow the best of our time and thoughts upon it, to lay hold of all opportunities for it, and to study not only to do it, but to do it well.
(2.) Ministry. If a man hath diakonian—the office of a deacon, or assistant to the pastor and teacher, let him use that office well—a churchwarden (suppose), an elder, or an overseer of the poor; and perhaps there were more put into these offices, and there was more solemnity in them, and a greater stress of care and business lay upon them in the primitive churches, than we are now well aware of. It includes all those offices which concern the ta exoof the church, the outward business of the house of God. See ; Nehemiah 11:16. Serving tables, Acts 6:2. Now let him on whom this care of ministering is devolved attend to it with faithfulness and diligence; particularly, [1.] He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity. Those church-officers that were the stewards of the church's alms, collected money, and distributed it according as the necessities of the poor were. Let them do it en aploteti—liberally and faithfully; not converting what they receive to their own use, nor distributing it with any sinister design, or with respect of person: not froward and peevish with the poor, nor seeking pretences to put them by; but with all sincerity and integrity, having no other intention in it than to glorify God and do good. Some understand it in general of all almsgiving: He that hath wherewithal, let him give, and give plentifully and liberally; so the word is translated, ; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:13. God loves a cheerful bountiful giver. [2.] He that ruleth with diligence. It should seem, he means those that were assistants to the pastors in exercising church-discipline, as their eyes, and hands, and mouth, in the government of the church, or those ministers that in the congregation did chiefly undertake and apply themselves to this ruling work; for we find those ruling that laboured in the word and doctrine, ; 1 Timothy 5:17. Now such must do it with diligence. The word denotes both care and industry to discover what is amiss, to reduce those that go astray, to reprove and admonish those that have fallen, to keep the church pure. Those must take a great deal of pains that will approve themselves faithful in the discharge of this trust, and not let slip any opportunity that may facilitate and advance that work. [3.] He that showeth mercy with cheerfulness. Some think it is meant in general of all that in any thing show mercy: Let them be willing to do it, and take a pleasure in it; God loves a cheerful giver. But it seems to be meant of some particular church-officers, whose work it was to take care of the sick and strangers; and those were generally widows that were in this matter servants to the church-deaconesses (1 Timothy 5:9-10), though others, it is likely, might be employed. Now this must be done with cheerfulness. A pleasing countenance in acts of mercy is a great relief and comfort to the miserable; when they see it is not done grudgingly and unwillingly, but with pleasant looks and gentle words, and all possible indications of readiness and alacrity. Those that have to do with such as are sick and sore, and commonly cross and peevish, have need to put on not only patience, but cheerfulness, to make the work the more easy and pleasant to them, and the more acceptable to God.
III. Concerning that part of our duty which respects our brethren, of which we have many instances, in brief exhortations. Now all our duty towards one another is summer up in one word, and that a sweet work, love. In that is laid the foundation of all our mutual duty; and therefore the apostle mentions this first, which is the livery of Christ's disciples, and the great law of our religion: Let love be without dissimulation; not in compliment and pretence, but in reality; not in word and tongue only, ; 1 John 3:18. The right love is love unfeigned; not as the kisses of an enemy, which are deceitful. We should be glad of an opportunity to prove the sincerity of our love, 2 Corinthians 8:8. More particularly, there is a love owing to our friends, and to our enemies. He specifies both.
(1.) An affectionate love (; Romans 12:10): Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, philostorgoi—it signifies not only love, but a readiness and inclination to love, the most genuine and free affection, kindness flowing out as from a spring. It properly denotes the love of parents to their children, which, as it is the most tender, so it is the most natural, of any, unforced, unconstrained; such must our love be to one another, and such it will be where there is a new nature and the law of love is written in the heart. This kind affection puts us on to express ourselves both in word and action with the greatest courtesy and obligingness that may be.—One to another. This may recommend the grace of love to us, that, as it is made our duty to love others, so it is as much their duty to love us. And what can be sweeter on this side heaven than to love and be beloved? He that thus watereth shall be watered also himself.
(2.) A respectful love: In honour preferring one another. Instead of contending for superiority, let us be forward to give to others the pre-eminence. This is explained, Philippians 2:3, Let each esteem other better than themselves. And there is this good reason for it, because, if we know our own hearts, we know more evil by ourselves than we do by any one else in the world. We should be forward to take notice of the gifts, and graces, and performances of our brethren, and value them accordingly, be more forward to praise another, and more pleased to hear another praised, than ourselves; te time allelous proegoumenoi—going before, or leading one another in honour; so some read it: not in taking honour, but in giving honour. "Strive which of you shall be most forward to pay respect to those to whom it is due, and to perform all Christian offices of love (which are all included in the word honour) to your brethren, as there is occasion. Let all your contention be which shall be most humble, and useful, and condescending." So the sense is the same with ; Titus 3:14, Let them learn, proistasthai—to go before in good works. For though we must prefer others (as our translation reads it), and put on others, as more capable and deserving than ourselves, yet we must not make that an excuse for our lying by and doing nothing, nor under a pretence of honouring others, and their serviceableness and performances, indulge ourselves in ease and slothfulness. Therefore he immediately adds (Romans 12:11), Not slothful in business.
(3.) A liberal love (; Romans 12:13): Distributing to the necessities of saints. It is but a mock love which rests in the verbal expressions of kindness and respect, while the wants of our brethren call for real supplies, and it is in the power of our hands to furnish them. [1.] It is no strange thing for saints in this world to want necessaries for the support of their natural live. In those primitive times prevailing persecutions must needs reduce many of the suffering saints to great extremities; and still the poor, even the poor saints, we have always with us. Surely the things of this world are not the best things; if they were, the saints, who are the favourites of heaven, would not be put off with so little of them. [2.] It is the duty of those who have wherewithal to distribute, or (as it might better be read) to communicate to those necessities. It is not enough to draw out the soul, but we must draw out the purse, to the hungry. See James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17. Communicating—koinonountes. It intimates that our poor brethren have a kind of interest in that which God hath given us; and that our reliving them should come from a sense and fellow-feeling of their wants, as though we suffered with them. The charitable benevolence of the Philippians to Paul is called their communicating with his affliction, ; Philippians 4:14. We must be ready, as we have ability and opportunity, to relieve any that are in want; but we are in a special manner bound to communicate to the saints. There is a common love owing to our fellow-creatures, but a special love owing to our fellow-christians (Galatians 6:10), Especially to those who are of the household of faith. Communicating, tais mneiais—to the memories of the saints; so some of the ancients read it, instead of tais chreiais. There is a debt owing to the memory of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises—to value it, to vindicate it, to embalm it. Let the memory of the just be blessed; so some read ; Proverbs 10:7. He mentions another branch of this bountiful love: Given to hospitality. Those who have houses of their own should be ready to entertain those who go about doing good, or who, for fear of persecution, are forced to wander for shelter. They had not then so much of the convenience of common inns as we have; or the wandering Christians durst not frequent them; or they had not wherewithal to bear the charges, and therefore it was a special kindness to bid them welcome on free-cost. Nor is it yet an antiquated superseded duty; as there is occasion, we must welcome strangers, for we know not the heart of a stranger. I was a stranger, and you took me in, is mentioned as one instance of the mercifulness of those that shall obtain mercy: ten philoxenian diokontes—following or pursuinghospitality. It intimates, not only that we must take opportunity, but that we must seek opportunity, thus to show mercy. As Abraham, who sat at the tent-door (Genesis 18:1), and Lot, who sat in the gate of Sodom (Genesis 19:1), expecting travellers, whom they might meet and prevent with a kind invitation, and so they entertained angels unawares, Hebrews 13:2.
(4.) A sympathizing love (; Romans 12:15): Rejoice with those that do rejoice, and weep with those that weep. Where there is a mutual love between the members of the mystical body, there will be such a fellow-feeling. See 1 Corinthians 12:26. True love will interest us in the sorrows and joys of one another, and teach us to make them our own. Observe the common mixture in this world, some rejoicing, and others weeping (as the people, Ezra 3:12-13), for the trial, as of other graces, so of brotherly love and Christian sympathy. Not that we must participate in the sinful mirths or mournings of any, but only in just and reasonable joys and sorrows: not envying those that prosper, but rejoicing with them; truly glad that others have the success and comfort which we have not; not despising those that are in trouble, but concerned for them, and ready to help them, as being ourselves in the body. This is to do as God does, who not only has pleasure in the prosperity of his servants (; Psalms 35:27), but is likewise afflicted in all their afflictions, Isaiah 63:9.
(5.) A united love: "Be of the same mind one towards another (v. 16), that is, labour, as much as you can, to agree in apprehension; and, wherein you come short of this, yet agree in affection; endeavour to be all one, not affecting to clash, and contradict, and thwart one another; but keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Philippians 2:2; Philippians 3:15-16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; to auto eis allelous phronountes—wishing the same good to others that you do to yourselves;" so some understand it. This is to love our brethren as ourselves, desiring their welfare as our own.
(6.) A condescending love: Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate, ; Romans 12:16. True love cannot be without lowliness, Ephesians 4:1-2; Philippians 2:3. When our Lord Jesus washed his disciples' feet, to teach us brotherly love (John 13:5; John 13:34), it was designed especially to intimate to us that to love one another aright is to be willing to stoop to the meanest offices of kindness for the good of one another. Love is a condescending grace: Non bene conveniunt—majestas et amor—Majesty and love do but ill assort with each other. Observe how it is pressed here. [1.] Mind not high things. We must not be ambitious of honour and preferment, nor look upon worldly pomp and dignity with any inordinate value or desire but rather with a holy contempt. When David's advancements were high, his spirit was humble (; Psalms 131:1): I do not exercise myself in great matters. The Romans, living in the imperial city, which reigned over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18), and was at that time in the meridian of its splendour, were perhaps ready to take occasion thence to think the better of themselves. Even the holy seed were tainted with this leaven. Roman Christians, as some citizens do upon the country; and therefore the apostle so often cautions them against high-mindedness; compare Romans 11:20. They lived near the court, and conversed daily with the gaiety and grandeur of it: "Well," saith he, "do not mind it, be not in love with it." [2.] Condescend to men of low estate—Tois tapeinois synapagomenoi. First, It may be meant of mean things, to which we must condescend. If our condition in the world be poor and low, our enjoyments coarse and scanty, our employments despicable and contemptible, yet we must bring our minds to it, and acquiesce in it. So the margin: Be contented with mean things. Be reconciled to the place which God in his providence hath put us in, whatever it be. We must account nothing below us but sin: stoop to mean habitations, mean fare, mean clothing, mean accommodations when they are our lot, and not grudge. Nay, we must be carried with a kind of impetus, by the force of the new nature (so the word synapagomai properly signifies, and it is very significant), towards mean things, when God appoints us to them; as the old corrupt nature is carried out towards high things. We must accommodate ourselves to mean things. We should make a low condition and mean circumstances more the centre of our desires than a high condition. Secondly, It may be meant of mean persons; so we read it (I think both are to be included) Condescend to men of low estate. We must associate with, and accommodate ourselves to, those that are poor and mean in the world, if they be such as fear God. David, though a king upon the throne, was a companion for all such, ; Psalms 119:63. We need not be ashamed to converse with the lowly, while the great God overlooks heaven and earth to look at such. True love values grace in rags as well as in scarlet. A jewel is a jewel, though it lie in the dirt. The contrary to this condescension is reproved, James 2:1-4. Condescend; that is, suit yourselves to them, stoop to them for their good; as Paul, ; 1 Corinthians 9:19, &c. Some think the original word is a metaphor taken from travellers, when those that are stronger and swifter of foot stay for those that are weak and slow, make a halt, and take them with them; thus must Christians be tender towards their fellow travellers. As a means to promote this, he adds, Be not wise in your own conceits; to the same purport with Romans 12:3. We shall never find in our hearts to condescend to others while we find there so great a conceit of ourselves: and therefore this must needs be mortified. Me ginesthe phronimoi par heautois—"Be not wise by yourselves, be not confident of the sufficiency of your own wisdom, so as to despise others, or think you have no need of them (; Proverbs 3:7), nor be shy of communicating what you have to others. We are members one of another, depend upon one another, are obliged to one another; and therefore, Be not wise by yourselves, remembering it is the merchandise of wisdom that we profess; now merchandise consists in commerce, receiving and returning."
(7.) A love that engages us, as much as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men, Romans 12:18. Even those with whom we cannot live intimately and familiarly, by reason of distance in degree or profession, yet we must with such live peaceably; that is, we must be harmless and inoffensive, not giving others occasion to quarrel with us; and we must be gall-less and unrevengeful, not taking occasion to quarrel with them. Thus must we labour to preserve the peace, that it be not broken, and to piece it again when it is broken. The wisdom from above is pure and peaceable. Observe how the exhortation is limited. It is not expressed so as to oblige us to impossibilities: If it be possible, as much as lies in you. Thus ; Hebrews 12:14, Follow peace. Ephesians 4:3, Endeavouring to keep. Study the things that make for peace.—If it be possible. It is not possible to preserve the peace when we cannot do it without offending God and wounding conscience: Id possumus quod jure possumus—That is possible which is possible without incurring blame. The wisdom that is from above is first pure and then peaceable, ; James 3:17. Peace without purity is the peace of the devil's palace.—As much as lieth in you. There must be two words to the bargain of peace. We can but speak for ourselves. We may be unavoidably striven with; as Jeremiah, who was a man of contention (Jeremiah 15:10), and this we cannot help; our care must be that nothing be wanting on our parts to preserve the peace, Psalms 120:7. I am for peace, though, when I speak, they are for war.
2. To our enemies. Since men became enemies to God, they have been found very apt to be enemies one to another. Let but the centre of love be once forsaken, and the lines will either clash and interfere, or be at an uncomfortable distance. And, of all men, those that embrace religion have reason to expect to meet with enemies in a world whose smiles seldom concur with Christ's. Now Christianity teaches us how to behave towards our enemies; and in this instruction it quite differs from all other rules and methods, which generally aim at victory and dominion; but this at inward peace and satisfaction. Whoever are our enemies, that wish us ill and seek to do us ill, our rule is to do them no hurt, but all the good we can.
(1.) To do them no hurt (; Romans 12:17): Recompense to no man evil for evil, for that is a brutish recompence, and befitting only those animals which are not conscious either of any being above them or of any state before them. Or, if mankind were made (as some dream) in a state of war, such recompences as these were agreeable enough; but we have not so learned God, who does so much for his enemies (Matthew 5:45), much less have we so learned Christ, who died for us when we were enemies (Romans 5:8, Romans 5:10), so loved that world which hated him without a cause.—"To no man; neither to Jew nor Greek; not to one that has been thy friend, for by recompensing evil for evil thou wilt certainly lose him; not to one that has been thine enemy, for by not recompensing evil for evil thou mayest perhaps gain him." To the same purport, ; Romans 12:19, Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves. And why must this be ushered in with such an affectionate compellation, rather than any other of the exhortations of this chapter? Surely because this is intended for the composing of angry spirits, that are hot in the resentment of a provocation. He addresses himself to such in this endearing language, to mollify and qualify them. Any thing that breathes love sweetens the blood, lays the storm, and cools the intemperate heat. Would you pacify a brother offended? Call him dearly beloved. Such a soft word, fitly spoken, may be effectual to turn away wrath. Avenge not yourselves; that is, when any body has done you any ill turn, do not desire nor endeavour to bring the like mischief or inconvenience upon him. It is not forbidden to the magistrate to do justice to those that are wronged, by punishing the wrong-doer; nor to make and execute just and wholesome laws against malefactors; but it forbids private revenge, which flows from anger and ill-will; and this is fitly forbidden, for it is presumed that we are incompetent judges in our own case. Nay, if persons wronged in seeking the defence of the law, and magistrates in granting it, act from any particular personal pique or quarrel, and not from a concern that public peace and order be maintained and right done, even such proceedings, though seemingly regular, will fall under this prohibited self-revenging. See how strict the law of Christ is in this matter, Matthew 5:38-40. It is forbidden not only to take it into our own hands to avenge ourselves, but to desire and thirst after event that judgment in our case which the law affords, for the satisfying of a revengeful humour. This is a hard lesson to corrupt nature; and therefore he subjoins, [1.] A remedy against it: Rather give place unto wrath. Not to our own wrath; to give place to this is to give place to the devil, ; Ephesians 4:26-27. We must resist, and stifle, and smother, and suppress this; but, First, To the wrath of our enemy. "Give place to it, that is, be of a yielding temper; do not answer wrath with wrath, but with love rather. Yielding pacifies great offences, Ecclesiastes 10:4. Receive affronts and injuries, as a stone is received into a heap of wool, which gives way to it, and so it does not rebound back, nor go any further." So it explains that of our Saviour (Matthew 5:39), Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Instead of meditating how to revenge one wrong, prepare to receive another. When men's passions are up, and the stream is strong, let it have its course, lest by an unseasonable opposition it be made to rage and swell the more. When others are angry, let us be calm; this is a remedy against revenge, and seems to be the genuine sense. But, Secondly, Many apply it to the wrath of God: "Give place to this, make room for him to take the throne of judgment, and let him alone to deal with thine adversary." [2.] A reason against it: For it is written, Vengeance is mine. We find it written, ; Deuteronomy 32:35. God is the sovereign King, the righteous Judge, and to him it belongs to administer justice; for, being a God of infinite knowledge, by him actions are weighed in unerring balances; and, being a God of infinite purity, he hates sin and cannot endure to look upon iniquity. Some of this power he hath trusted in the hands of the civil magistrates (Genesis 9:6; Genesis 8:4); their legal punishments therefore are to be looked upon as a branch of God's revengings. This is a good reason why we should not avenge ourselves; for, if vengeance be God's, then, First, We may not do it. We step into the throne of God if we do and take his work out of his hand. Secondly, We need not do it. For God will, if we meekly leave the matter with him; he will avenge us as far as there is reason or justice for it, and further we cannot desire it. See ; Psalms 38:14-15, I heard not, for thou wilt hear; and if God hears what need is there for me to hear?
(2.) We must not only not to hurt to our enemies, but our religion goes higher, and teaches us to do them all the good we can. It is a command peculiar to Christianity, and which does highly commend it: Love your enemies, Matthew 5:44. We are here taught to show that love to them both in word and deed.
[1.] In word: Bless those who persecute you, ; Romans 12:14. It has been the common lot of God's people to be persecuted, either with a powerful hand or with a spiteful tongue. Now we are here taught to bless those that so persecute us. Bless them; that is, First, "Speak well of them. If there be any thing in them that is commendable and praiseworthy, take notice of it, and mention it to their honour." Secondly, "Speak respectfully to them, according as their place is, not rendering railing for railing, and bitterness for bitterness." And, Thirdly, We must wish well to them, and desire their good, so far from seeking any revenge. Nay, Fourthly, We must offer up that desire to God, by prayer for them. If it be not in the power of our hand to do any thing else for them, yet we can testify our good-will by praying for them, for which our master hath given us not only a rule, but an example to back that rule, Luke 23:34—Bless, and curse not. It denotes a thorough good-will in all the instances and expressions of it; not, "bless them when you are at prayer, and curse them at other times;" but, "bless them always, and curse not at all." Cursing ill becomes the mouths of those whose work it is to bless God, and whose happiness it is to be blessed of him.
[2.] In deed (; Romans 12:20): "If thine enemy hunger, as thou hast ability and opportunity, be ready and forward to show him any kindness, and do him any office of love for his good; and be never the less forward for his having been thine enemy, but rather the more, that thou mayest thereby testify the sincerity of thy forgiveness of him." It is said of archbishop Cranmer that the way for a man to make him his friend was to do him an ill turn. The precept is quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22; so that, high as it seems to be, the Old Testament was not a stranger to it. Observe here,First, What we must do. We must do good to our enemies. "If he hunger, do not insult over him, and say, Now God is avenging me of him, and pleading my cause; do not make such a construction of his wants. But feed him." Then,when he has need of thy help, and thou hast an opportunity of starving him and trampling upon him, then feed him(psomize auton, a significant word)—"feed him abundantly, nay, feed him carefully and indulgently:" frustulatim pasce—feed him with small pieces, "feed him, as we do children and sick people, with much tenderness. Contrive to do it so as to express thy love. If he thirst, give him drink: potize auton—drink to him, in token of reconciliation and friendship. So confirm your love to him." Secondly, Why we must do this. Because in so doing thou shalt heapcoals of fire on his head. Two senses are given of this, which I think are both to be taken in disjunctively. Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, "Thou shalt either," 1. "Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee" (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, ; 1 Samuel 24:16; 1 Samuel 26:21)—"thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then," 2. "It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God's wrath and vengeance." Not that this must be our intention in showing him kindness, but, for our encouragement, such will be the effect. To this purpose is the exhortation in the last verse, which suggests a paradox not easily understood by the world, that in all matters of strife and contention those that revenge are the conquered, and those that forgive are the conquerors. (1.) "Be not overcome of evil. Let not the evil of any provocation that is given you have such a power over you, or make such an impression upon you, as to dispossess you of yourselves, to disturb your peace, to destroy your love, to ruffle and discompose your spirits, to transport you to any indecencies, or to bring you to study or attempt any revenge." He that cannot quietly bear an injury is perfectly conquered by it. (2.) "But overcome evil with good, with the good of patience and forbearance, nay, and of kindness and beneficence to those that wrong you. Learn to defeat their ill designs against you, and either to change them, or at least to preserve your own peace." He that hath this rule over his spirit is better than the mighty.
(1.) As good in themselves (; Romans 12:9): Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. God hath shown us what is good: these Christian duties are enjoined; and that is evil which is opposite to them. Now observe, [1.] We must not only not do evil, but we must abhor that which is evil. We must hate sin with an utter and irreconcilable hatred, have an antipathy to it as the worst of evils, contrary to our new nature, and to our true interest—hating all the appearances of sin, even the garment spotted with the flesh. [2.] We must not only do that which is good, but we must cleave to it. It denotes a deliberate choice of, a sincere affection for, and a constant perseverance in, that which is good. "So cleave to it as not to be allured nor affrighted from it, cleave to him that is good, even to the Lord (Acts 11:23), with a dependence and acquiescence." It is subjoined to the precept of brotherly love, as directive of it; we must love our brethren, but not love them so much as for their sakes to commit any sin, or omit any duty; not think the better of any sin for the sake of the person that commits it, but forsake all the friends in the world, to cleave to God and duty.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Romans 12:2". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/romans-12.html. 1706.
The circumstances under which the epistle to the Romans was written gave occasion to the most thorough and comprehensive unfolding, not of the church, but of Christianity. No apostle had ever yet visited Rome. There was somewhat as yet lacking to the saints there; but even this was ordered of God to call forth from the Holy Ghost an epistle which more than any other approaches a complete treatise on the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, and especially as to righteousness.
Would we follow up the heights of heavenly truth, would we sound the depths of Christian experience, would we survey the workings of the Spirit of God in the Church, would we bow before the glories of the person of Christ, or learn His manifold offices, we must look elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament no doubt, but elsewhere rather than here.
The condition of the Roman saints called for a setting forth of the gospel of God; but this object, in order to be rightly understood and appreciated, leads the apostle into a display of the condition of man. We have God and man in presence, so to speak. Nothing can be more simple and essential. Although there is undoubtedly that profoundness which must accompany every revelation of God, and especially in connection with Christ as now manifested, still we have God adapting Himself to the very first wants of a renewed soul nay, even to the wretchedness of souls without God, without any real knowledge either of themselves or of Him. Not, of course, that the Roman saints were in this condition; but that God, writing by the apostle to them, seizes the opportunity to lay bare man's state as well as His own grace.
Romans 1:1-32. From the very first we have these characteristics of the epistle disclosing themselves. The apostle writes with the full assertion of his own apostolic dignity, but as a servant also. "Paul, a bondman of Jesus Christ" an apostle "called," not born, still less as educated or appointed of man, but an apostle "called," as he says "separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised afore by his prophets." The connection is fully owned with that which had been from God of old. No fresh revelations from God can nullify those which preceded them; but as the prophets looked onward to what was coming, so is the gospel already come, supported by the past. There is mutual confirmation. Nevertheless, what is in nowise the same as what was or what will be. The past prepared the way, as it is said here, "which God had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, [here we have the great central object of God's gospel, even the person of Christ, God's Son,] which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (ver. 3). This last relation was the direct subject of the prophetic testimony, and Jesus had come accordingly. He was the promised Messiah, born King of the Jews.
But there was far more in Jesus. He was "declared," says the apostle, "to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" ( ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν , ver. 4). It was the Son of God not merely as dealing with the powers of the earth, Jehovah's King on the holy hill of Zion, but after a far deeper manner. For, essentially associated as He is with the glory of God the Father, the full deliverance of souls from the realm of death was His also. In this too we have the blessed connection of the Spirit (here peculiarly designated, for special reasons, "the Spirit of holiness"). That same energy of the Holy Ghost which had displayed itself in Jesus, when He walked in holiness here below, was demonstrated in resurrection; and not merely in His own rising from the dead, but in raising such at any time no doubt, though most signally and triumphantly displayed in His own resurrection.
The bearing of this on the contents and main doctrine of the epistle will appear abundantly by-and-by. Let me refer in passing to a few points more in the introduction, in order to link them together with that which the Spirit was furnishing to the Roman saints, as well as to show the admirable perfectness of every word that inspiration has given us. I do not mean by this its truth merely, but its exquisite suitability; so that the opening address commences the theme in hand, and insinuates that particular line of truth which the Holy Spirit sees fit to pursue throughout. To this then the apostle comes, after having spoken of the divine favour shown himself, both when a sinner, and now in his own special place of serving the Lord Jesus. "By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith." This was no question of legal obedience, although the law came from Jehovah. Paul's joy and boast were in the gospel of God. So therefore it addressed itself to the obedience of faith; not by this meaning practice, still less according to the measure of a man's duty, but that which is at the root of all practice faith-obedience obedience of heart and will, renewed by divine grace, which accepts the truth of God. To man this is the hardest of all obedience; but when once secured, it leads peacefully into the obedience of every day. If slurred over, as it too often is in souls, it invariably leaves practical obedience lame, and halt, and blind.
It was for this then that Paul describes himself as apostle. And as it is for obedience of faith, it was not in anywise restricted to the Jewish people "among all nations, for his (Christ's) name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ" (verses 5, 6). He loved even here at the threshold to show the breadth of God's grace. If he was called, so were they he an apostle, they not apostles but saints; but still, for them as for him, all flowed out of the same mighty love, of God. "To all that be at Rome, beloved of God, called saints" (ver. 7). To these then he wishes, as was his wont, the fresh flow of that source and stream of divine blessing which Christ has made to be household bread to us: "Grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (ver. 7). Then, from ver. 8, after thanking God through Jesus for their faith spoken of everywhere, and telling them of his prayers for them, he briefly discloses the desire of his heart about them his long-cherished hope according to the grace of the gospel to reach Rome his confidence in the love of God that through him some spiritual gift would be imparted to them, that they might be established, and, according to the spirit of grace which filled his own heart, that he too might be comforted together with them "by the mutual faith both of you and me" (vv. 11, 12). There is nothing like the grace of God for producing the truest humility, the humility that not only descends to the lowest level of sinners to do them good, but which is itself the fruit of deliverance from that self-love which puffs itself or lowers others. Witness the common joy that grace gives an apostle with saints be had never seen, so that even he should be comforted as well as they by their mutual faith. He would not therefore have them ignorant how they had lain on his heart for a visit (ver. 13). He was debtor both to the Greeks and the barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise; he was ready, as far as he was concerned, to preach the gospel to those that were at Rome also (ver. 14, 15). Even the saints there would have been all the better for the gospel. It was not merely "to those at Rome," but "to you that be at Rome." Thus it is a mistake to suppose that saints may not be benefited by a better understanding of the gospel, at least as Paul preached it. Accordingly he tells them now what reason he had to speak thus strongly, not of the more advanced truths, but of the good news. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (ver. 16).
Observe, the gospel is not simply remission of sins, nor is it only peace with God, but "the power of God unto salvation." Now I take this opportunity of pressing on all that are here to beware of contracted views of "salvation." Beware that you do not confound it with souls being quickened, or even brought into joy. Salvation supposes not this only, but a great deal more. There is hardly any phraseology that tends to more injury of souls in these matters than a loose way of talking of salvation. "At any rate he is a saved soul," we hear. "The man has not got anything like settled peace with God; perhaps he hardly knows his sins forgiven; but at least he is a saved soul." Here is an instance of what is so reprehensible. This is precisely what salvation does not mean; and I would strongly press it on all that hear me, more particularly on those that have to do with the work of the Lord, and of course ardently desire to labour intelligently; and this not alone for the conversion, but for the establishment and deliverance of souls. Nothing less, I am persuaded, than this full blessing is the line that God has given to those who have followed Christ without the camp, and who, having been set free from the contracted ways of men, desire to enter into the largeness and at the same time the profound wisdom of every word of God. Let us not stumble at the starting-point, but leave room for the due extent and depth of "salvation" in the gospel.
There is no need of dwelling now on "salvation" as employed in the Old Testament, and in some parts of the New, as the gospels and Revelation particularly, where it is used for deliverance in power or even providence and present things. I confine myself to its doctrinal import, and the full Christian sense of the word; and I maintain that salvation signifies that deliverance for the believer which is the full consequence of the mighty work of Christ, apprehended not, of course, necessarily according to all its depth in God's eyes, but at any rate applied to the soul in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not the awakening of conscience, however real; neither is it the attraction of heart by the grace of Christ, however blessed this may be. We ought therefore to bear in mind, that if a soul be not brought into conscious deliverance as the fruit of divine teaching, and founded on the work of Christ, we are very far from presenting the gospel as the apostle Paul glories in it, and delights that it should go forth. "I am not ashamed," etc.
And he gives his reason: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith." That is, it is the power of God unto salvation, not because it is victory (which at the beginning of the soul's career would only give importance to man even if possible, which it is not), but because it is "the righteousness of God." It is not God seeking, or man bringing righteousness. In the gospel there is revealed God's righteousness. Thus the introduction opened with Christ's person, and closes with God's righteousness. The law demanded, but could never receive righteousness from man. Christ is come, and has changed all. God is revealing a righteousness of His own in the gospel. It is God who now makes known a righteousness to man, instead of looking for any from man. Undoubtedly there are fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, and God values them I will not say from man, but from His saints; but here it is what, according to the apostle, God has for man. It is for the saints to learn, of course; but it is that which goes out in its own force and necessary aim to the need of man a divine righteousness, which justifies instead of condemning him who believes. It is "the power of God unto salvation." It is for the lost, therefore; for they it is who need salvation; and it is to save not merely to quicken, but to save; and this because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.
Hence it is, as he says, herein revealed "from faith," or by faith. It is the same form of expression exactly as in the beginning of Romans 5:1-21 "being justified by faith" ( ἐκ πίστεως ). But besides this he adds "to faith." The first of these phrases, "from faith," excludes the law; the second, "to faith," includes every one that has faith within the scope of God's righteousness. Justification is not from works of law. The righteousness of God is revealed from faith; and consequently, if there be faith in any soul, to this it is revealed, to faith wherever it may be. Hence, therefore, it was in no way limited to any particular nation, such as those that had already been under the law and government of God. It was a message that went out from God to sinners as such. Let man be what he might, or where he might, God's good news was for man. And to this agreed the testimony of the prophet. "The just shall live by faith" (not by law). Even where the law was, not by it but by faith the just lived. Did Gentiles believe? They too should live. Without faith there is neither justice nor life that God owns; where faith is, the rest will surely follow.
This accordingly leads the apostle into the earlier portion of his great argument, and first of all in a preparatory way. Here we pass out of the introduction of the epistle. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (ver. 18). This is what made the gospel to be so sweet and precious, and, what is more, absolutely necessary, if he would escape certain and eternal ruin. There is no hope for man otherwise; for the gospel is not all that is now made known. Not only is God's righteousness revealed, but also His wrath. It is not said to be revealed in the gospel. The gospel means His glad tidings for man. The wrath of God could not possibly be glad tidings. It is true, it is needful for man to learn; but in nowise is it good news. There is then the solemn truth also of divine wrath. It is not yet executed. It is "revealed," and this too "from heaven." There is no question of a people on earth, and of God's wrath breaking out in one form or another against human evil in this life. The earth, or, at least, the Jewish nation, had been familiar with such dealings of God in times past. But now it is "the wrath of God from heaven;" and consequently it is in view of eternal things, and not of those that touch present life on the earth.
Hence, as God's wrath is revealed from heaven, it is against every form of impiety "against all ungodliness." Besides this, which seems to be a most comprehensive expression for embracing every sort and degree of human iniquity, we have one very specifically named. It is against the "unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." To hold the truth in unrighteousness would be no security. Alas! we know how this was in Israel, how it might be, and has been, in Christendom. God pronounces against the unrighteousness of such; for if the knowledge, however exact, of God's revealed mind was accompanied by no renewal of the heart, if it was without life towards God, all must be vain. Man is only so much the worse for knowing the truth, if he holds it ever so fast with unrighteousness. There are some that find a difficulty here, because the expression "to hold" means holding firmly. But it is quite possible for the unconverted to be tenacious of the truth, yet unrighteous in their ways; and so much the worse for them. Not thus does God deal with souls. If His grace attract, His truth humbles, and leaves no room for vain boasting and self-confidence. What He does is to pierce and penetrate the man's conscience. If one may so say, He thus holds the man, instead of letting the man presume that he is holding fast the truth. The inner man is dealt with, and searched through and through.
Nothing of this is intended in the class that is here brought before us. They are merely persons who plume themselves on their orthodoxy, but in a wholly unrenewed condition. Such men have never been wanting since the truth has shone on this world; still less are they now. But the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against them pre-eminently. The judgments of God will fall on man as man, but the heaviest blows are reserved for Christendom. There the truth is held, and apparently with firmness too. This, however, will be put to the test by-and-by. But for the time it is held fast, though in unrighteousness. Thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against (not only the open ungodliness of men, but) the orthodox unrighteousness of those that hold the truth in unrighteousness.
And this leads the apostle into the moral history of man the proof both of his inexcusable guilt, and of his extreme need of redemption. He begins with the great epoch of the dispensations of God (that is, the ages since the flood). We cannot speak of the state of things before the flood as a dispensation. There was a most important trial of man in the person of Adam; but after this, what dispensation was there? What were the principles of it? No man can tell. The truth is, those are altogether mistaken who call it so. But after the flood man as such was put under certain conditions the whole race. Man became the object, first, of general dealings of God under Noah; next, of His special ways in the calling of Abraham and of his family. And what led to the call of Abraham, of whom we hear much in the epistle to the Romans as elsewhere, was the departure of man into idolatry. Man despised at first the outward testimony of God, His eternal power and Godhead, in the creation above and around him (verses 19, 20). Moreover, He gave up the knowledge of God that had been handed down from father to son (ver. 21). The downfall of man, when he thus abandoned God, was most rapid and profound; and the Holy Spirit traces this solemnly to the end ofRomans 1:1-32; Romans 1:1-32 with no needless words, in a few energetic strokes summing up that which is abundantly confirmed (but in how different a manner!) by all that remains of the ancient world. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man," etc. (verses 22-32.) Thus corruption not only overspread morals, but became an integral part of the religion of men, and had thus a quasi-divine sanction. Hence the depravity of the heathen found little or no cheek from conscience, because it was bound up with all that took the shape of God before their mind. There was no part of heathenism practically viewed now, so corrupting as that which had to do with the objects of its worship. Thus, the true God being lost, all was lost, and man's downward career becomes the most painful and humiliating object, unless it be, indeed, that which we have to feel where men, without renewal of heart, espouse in pride of mind the truth with nothing but unrighteousness.
In the beginning ofRomans 2:1-29; Romans 2:1-29 we have man pretending to righteousness. Still, it is "man" not yet exactly the Jew, but man who had profited, it might be, by whatever the Jew had; at the least, by the workings of natural conscience. But natural conscience, although it may detect evil, never leads one into the inward possession and enjoyment of good never brings the soul to God. Accordingly, in chapter 2 the Holy Spirit shows us man satisfying himself with pronouncing on what is right and wrong moralizing for others, but nothing more. Now God must have reality in the man himself. The gospel, instead of treating this as a light matter, alone vindicates God in these eternal ways of His, in that which must be in him who stands in relationship with God. Hence therefore, the apostle, with divine wisdom, opens this to us before the blessed relief and deliverance which the gospel reveals to us. In the most solemn way he appeals to man with the demand, whether he thinks that God will look complacently on that which barely judges another, but which allows the practice of evil in the man himself (Romans 2:1-3). Such moral judgments will, no doubt, be used to leave man without excuse; they can never suit or satisfy God.
Then the apostle introduces the ground, certainty, and character of God's judgment (verses 4-16). He "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile."
It is not here a question of how a man is to be saved, but of God's indispensable moral judgment, which the gospel, instead of weakening asserts according to the holiness and truth of God. It will be observed therefore, that in this connection the apostle shows the place both of conscience and of the law, that God in judging will take into full consideration the circumstances and condition of every soul of man. At the same time he connects, in a singularly interesting manner, this disclosure of the principles of the eternal judgment of God with what he calls "my gospel." This also is a most important truth, my brethren, to bear in mind. The gospel at its height in no wise weakens but maintains the moral manifestation of what God is. The legal institutions were associated with temporal judgment. The gospel, as now revealed in the New Testament, has linked with it, though not contained in it, the revelation of divine wrath from heaven, and this, you will observe, according to Paul's gospel. It is evident, therefore, that dispensational position will not suffice for God, who holds to His own unchangeable estimate of good and evil, and who judges the more stringently according to the measure of advantage possessed.
But thus the way is now clear for bringing the Jew into the discussion. "But if [for so it should be read] thou art named a Jew," etc. (ver. 17.) It was not merely, that he had better light. He had this, of course, in a revelation that was from God; he had law; he had prophets; he had divine institutions. It was not merely better light in the conscience, which might be elsewhere, as is supposed in the early verses of our chapter; but the Jew's position was directly and unquestionably one of divine tests applied to man's estate. Alas! the Jew was none the better for this, unless there were the submission of his conscience to God. Increase of privileges can never avail without the soul's self-judgment before the mercy of God. Rather does it add to his guilt: such is man's evil state and will. Accordingly, in the end of the chapter, he shows that this is most true as applied to the moral judgment of the Jew; that uone so much dishonoured God as wicked Jews, their own Scripture attesting it; that position went for nothing in such, while the lack of it would not annul the Gentile's righteousness, which would indeed condemn the more unfaithful Israel; in short, that one must be a Jew inwardly to avail, and circumcision be of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, whose praise is of God, and not of men.
The question then is raised in the beginning ofRomans 3:1-31; Romans 3:1-31, If this be so, what is the superiority of the Jew? Where lies the value of belonging to the circumcised people of God? The apostle allows this privilege to be great, specially in having the Scriptures, but turns the argument against the boasters. We need not here enter into the details; but on the surface we see how the apostle brings all down to that which is of the deepest interest to every soul. He deals with the Jew from his own Scripture (verses 9-19). Did the Jews take the ground of exclusively having that word of God the law? Granted that it is so, at once and fully. To whom, then, did the law address itself? To those that were under it, to be sure. It pronounced on the Jew then. It was the boast of the Jews that the law spoke about them; that the Gentiles had no right to it, and were but presuming on what belonged to God's chosen people. The apostle applies this according to divine wisdom. Then your principle is your condemnation. What the law says, it speaks to those under it. What, then, is its voice? That there is none righteous, none that doeth good, none that understandeth. Of whom does it declare all this? Of the Jew by his own confession. Every mouth was stopped; the Jew by his own oracles, as the Gentile by their evident abominations, shown already. All the world was guilty before God.
Thus, having shown the Gentile in Romans 1:1-32 manifestly wrong, and hopelessly degraded to the last degree having laid bare the moral dilettantism of the philosophers, not one whit better in the sight of God, but rather the reverse having shown the Jew overwhelmed by the condemnation of the divine oracles in which he chiefly boasted, without real righteousness, and so much the more guilty for his special privileges, all now lies clear for bringing in the proper Christian message, the. gospel of God. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (verses 20, 21).
Here, again, the apostle takes up what he had but announced in chapter 1 the righteousness of God. Let me call your attention again to its force. It is not the mercy of God., Many have contended that so it is, and to their own great loss, as well as to the weakening of the word of God. "Righteousness" never means mercy, not even the "righteousness of God." The meaning is not what was executed on Christ, but what is in virtue. of it. Undoubtedly divine judgment fell on Him; but this is not "the righteousness of God," as the apostle employs it in any part of his writings any more than here, though we know there could be no such thing as God's righteousness justifying the believer, if Christ had not borne the judgment of God. The expression means that righteousness which God can afford to display because of Christ's atonement. In short, it is what the words say "the righteousness of God," and this "by faith of Jesus Christ."
Hence it is wholly apart from the law, whilst witnessed to by the law and prophets; for the law with its types had looked onward to this new kind of righteousness; and the prophets had borne their testimony that it was at hand, but not then come. Now it was manifested, and not promised or predicted merely. Jesus had come and died; Jesus had been a propitiatory sacrifice; Jesus had borne the judgment of God because of the sins He bore. The righteousness of God, then, could now go forth in virtue of His blood. God was not satisfied alone. There is satisfaction; but the work of Christ goes a great deal farther. Therein God is both vindicated and glorified. By the cross God has a deeper moral glory than ever a glory that He thus acquired, if I may so say. He is, of course, the same absolutely perfect and unchangeable God of goodness; but His perfection has displayed itself in new and more glorious ways in Christ's death, in Him who humbled Himself, and was obedient even to the death of the cross.
God, therefore, having not the least hindrance to the manifestation of what He can be and is in merciful intervention on behalf of the worst of sinners, manifests it is His righteousness "by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe" (ver. 22). The former is the direction, and the latter the application. The direction is "unto all;" the application is, of course, only to "them that believe;" but it is to all them that believe. As far as persons are concerned, there is no hindrance; Jew or Gentile makes no difference, as is expressly said, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the [passing over or praeter-mission, not] remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (verses 23-26). There is no simple mind that can evade the plain force of this last expression. The righteousness of God means that God is just, while at the same time He justifies the believer in Christ Jesus. It is His righteousness, or, in other words, His perfect consistency with Himself, which is always involved in the notion of righteousness. He is consistent with Himself when He is justifying sinners, or, more strictly, all those who believe in Jesus. He can meet the sinner, but He justifies the believer; and in this, instead of trenching on His glory, there is a deeper revelation and maintenance of it than if there never had been sin or a sinner.
Horribly offensive as sin is to God, and inexcusable in the creature, it is sin which has given occasion to the astonishing display of divine righteousness in justifying believers. It is not a question of His mercy merely; for this weakens the truth immensely, and perverts its character wholly. The righteousness of God flows from His mercy, of course; but its character and basis is righteousness. Christ's work of redemption deserves that God should act as He does in the gospel. Observe again, it is not victory here; for that would give place to human pride. It is not a soul's overcoming its difficulties, but a sinner's submission to the righteousness of God. It is God Himself who, infinitely glorified in the Lord that expiated our sins by His one sacrifice, remits them now, not looking for our victory, nor as yet even in leading us on to victory, but by faith in Jesus and His blood. God is proved thus divinely consistent with Himself in Christ Jesus, whom He has set forth a mercy-seat through faith in His blood.
Accordingly the apostle says that boast and works are completely set aside by this principle which affirms faith, apart from deeds of law, to be the means of relationship with God (verses 27, 28). Consequently the door is as open to the Gentile as to the Jew. The ground taken by a Jew for supposing God exclusively for Israel was, that they had the law, which was the measure of what God claimed from man; and this the Gentile had not. But such thoughts altogether vanish now, because, as the Gentile was unquestionably wicked and abominable, so from the law's express denunciation the Jew was universally guilty before God. Consequently all turned, not on what man should be for God, but what God can be and is, as revealed in the gospel, to man. This maintains both the glory and the moral universality of Him who will justify the circumcision by faith, not law, and the uncircumcision through their faith, if they believe the gospel. Nor does this in the slightest degree weaken the principle of law. On the contrary, the doctrine of faith establishes law as nothing else can; and for this simple reason, that if one who is guilty hopes to be saved spite of the broken law, it must be at the expense of the law that condemns his guilt; whereas the gospel shows no sparing of sin, but the most complete condemnation of it all, as charged on Him who shed His blood in atonement. The doctrine of faith therefore, which reposes on the cross, establishes law, instead of making it void, as every other principle must (verses 27-31).
But this is not the full extent of salvation. Accordingly we do not hear of salvation as such in Romans 3:1-31. There is laid down the most essential of all truths as a groundwork of salvation; namely, expiation. There is the vindication of God in His ways with the Old Testament believers. Their sins had been passed by. He could not have remitted heretofore. This would not have been just. And the blessedness of the gospel is, that it is (not merely an exercise of mercy, but also) divinely just. It would not have been righteous in any sense to have remitted the sins, until they were actually borne by One who could and did suffer for them. But now they were; and thus God vindicated Himself perfectly as to the past. But this great work of Christ was not and could not be a mere vindication of God; and we may find it otherwise developed in various parts of Scripture, which I here mention by the way to show the point at which we are arrived. God's righteousness was now manifested as to the past sins He had not brought into judgment through His forbearance, and yet more conspicuously in the present time, when He displayed His justice in justifying the believer.
But this is not all; and the objection of the Jew gives occasion for the apostle to bring out a fuller display of what God is. Did they fall back on Abraham? "What shall we then say that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." Did the Jew fancy that the gospel makes very light of Abraham, and of the then dealings of God? Not so, says the apostle. Abraham is the proof of the value of faith in justification before God. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. There was no law there or then; for Abraham died long before God spoke from Sinai. He believed God and His word, with special approval on God's part; and his faith was counted as righteousness (ver. 3). And this was powerfully corroborated by the testimony of another great name in Israel (David), in Psalms 32:1-11. "For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye."
In the same way the apostle disposes of all pretence on the score of ordinances, especially circumcision. Not only was Abraham justified without law, but apart from that great sign of mortification of the flesh. Although circumcision began with Abraham, manifestly it had nothing to do with his righteousness, and at best was but the seal of the righteousness of faith which he had in an uncircumcised state. It could not therefore be the source or means of his righteousness. All then that believe, though uncircumcised, might claim him as father, assured that righteousness will be reckoned to them too. And he is father of circumcision in the best sense, not to Jews, but to believing Gentiles. Thus the discussion of Abraham strengthens the case in behalf of the uncircumcised who believe, to the overthrow of the greatest boast of the Jew. The appeal to their own inspired account of Abraham turned into a proof of the consistency of God's ways in justifying by faith, and hence in justifying the uncircumcised no less than the circumcision.
But there is more than this in Romans 4:1-25 He takes up a third feature of Abraham's case; that is, the connection of the promise with resurrection. Here it is not merely the negation of law and of circumcision, but we have the positive side. Law works wrath because it provokes transgression; grace makes the promise sure to all the seed, not only because faith is open to the Gentile and Jew alike, but because God is looked to as a quickener of the dead. What gives glory to God like this? Abraham believed God when, according to nature, it was impossible for him or for Sarah to have a child. The quickening power of God therefore was here set forth, of course historically in a way connected with this life and a posterity on earth, but nevertheless a very just and true sign of God's power for the believer the quickening energy of God after a still more blessed sort. And this leads us to see not only where there was an analogy with those who believe in a promised Saviour, but also to a weighty difference. And this lies in the fact that Abraham believed God before he had the son, being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able to perform. and therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. But we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. It is done. already. It is not here believing on Jesus, but on God who has proved what He is to us in raisin, from among the dead Him who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification (verses 13-25).
This brings out a most emphatic truth and special side of Christianity. Christianity is not a system of promise, but rather of promise accomplished in Christ. Hence it is essentially founded on the gift not only of a Saviour who would interpose, in the mercy of God, to bear our sins, but of One who is already revealed, and the work done and accepted, and this known in the fact that God Himself has interposed to raise Him from among the dead a bright and momentous thing to press on souls, as indeed we find the apostles insisting on it throughout the Acts. Were it merely Romans 3:1-31 there could not be full peace with God as there is. One might know a most real clinging to Jesus; but this would not set the heart at ease with God. The soul may feel the blood of Jesus to be a yet deeper want; but this alone does not give peace with God. In such a condition what has been found in Jesus is too often misused to make a kind of difference, so to speak, between the Saviour on the one hand, and God on the other ruinous always to the enjoyment of the full blessing of the gospel. Now there is no way in which God could lay a basis for peace with Himself more blessed than as He has done it. No longer does the question exist of requiring an expiation. That is the first necessity for the sinner with God. But we have had it fully in Romans 3:1-31. Now it is the positive power of God in raising up from the dead Him that was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justifying. The whole work is done.
The soul therefore now is represented for the first time as already justified and in possession of peace with God. This is a state of mind, and not the necessary or immediate fruit of Romans 3:1-31, but is based on the truth of Romans 4:1-25 as well as 3. There never can be solid peace with God without both. A soul may as truly, no doubt, be put into relationship with God be made very happy, it may be; but it is not what Scripture calls "peace with God." Therefore it is here for the first time that we find salvation spoken of in the grand results that are now brought before us in Romans 5:1-11. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." There is entrance into favour, and nothing but favour. The believer is not put under law, you will observe, but under grace, which is the precise reverse of law. The soul is brought into peace with God, as it finds its standing in the grace of God, and, more than that, rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Such is the doctrine and the fact. It is not merely a call then; but as we have by our Lord Jesus Christ our access into the favour wherein we stand, so there is positive boasting in the hope of the glory of God. For it may have been noticed from chapter 3 to chapter 5, that nothing but fitness for the glory of God will do now. It is not a question of creature-standing. This passed away with man when he sinned. Now that God has revealed Himself in the gospel, it is not what will suit man on earth, but what is worthy of the presence of the glory of God. Nevertheless the apostle does not expressly mention heaven here. This was not suitable to the character of the epistle; but the glory of God he does. We all know where it is and must be for the Christian.
The consequences are thus pursued; first, the general place of the believer now, in all respects, in relation to the past, the present, and the future. His pathway follows; and he shows that the very troubles of the road become a distinct matter of boast. This was not a direct and intrinsic effect, of course, but the result of spiritual dealing for the soul. It was the Lord giving us the profit of sorrow, and ourselves bowing to the way and end of God in it, so that the result of tribulation should be rich and fruitful experience.
Then there is another and crowning part of the blessing: "And not only so, but also boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." It is not only a blessing in its own direct character, or in indirect though real effects, but the Giver Himself is our joy, and boast, and glory. The consequences spiritually are blessed to the soul; how much more is it to Teach the source from which all flows! This, accordingly, is the essential spring of worship. The fruits of it are not expanded here; but, in point of fact, to joy in God is necessarily that which makes praise and adoration to be the simple and spontaneous exercise of the heart. In heaven it will fill us perfectly; but there is no more perfect joy there, nor anything. higher, if so high, in this epistle.
At this point we enter upon a most important part of the epistle, on which we must dwell for a little. It is no longer a question of man's guilt, but of his nature. Hence the apostle does not, as in the early chapters of this epistle, take up our sins, except as proofs and symptoms of sin. Accordingly, for the first time, the Spirit of God fromRomans 5:12; Romans 5:12 traces the mature of man to the head of the race. This brings in the contrast with the other Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we have here not as One bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, but as the spring and chief of a new family. Hence, as is shown later in the chapter, Adam is a head characterized by disobedience, who brought in death, the just penalty of sin; as on the other hand we have Him of whom he was the type, Christ, the obedient man, who has brought in righteousness, and this after a singularly blessed sort and style "justification of life." Of it nothing has been heard till now. We have had justification, both by blood and also in virtue of Christ's resurrection. But "justification of life" goes farther, though involved in the latter, than the end of Romans 4:1-25; for now we learn that in the gospel there is not only a dealing with the guilt of those that are addressed in it; there is also a mighty work of God in the presenting the man in a new place before God, and in fact, too, for his faith, clearing him from all the consequences in which he finds himself as a man in the flesh here below.
It is here that you will find a great failure of Christendom as to this. Not that any part of the truth has escaped: it is the fatal brand of that "great house" that even the most elementary truth suffers the deepest injury; but as to this truth, it seems unknown altogether. I hope that brethren in Christ will bear with me if I press on them the importance of taking good heed to it that their souls are thoroughly grounded in this, the proper place of the Christian by Christ's death and resurrection. It must not be, assumed too readily. There is a disposition continually to imagine that what is frequently spoken of must be understood; but experience will soon show that this is not the case. Even those that seek a place of separation to the Lord outside that which is now hurrying on souls to destruction are, nevertheless, deeply affected by the condition of that Christendom in which we find ourselves.
Here, then, it is not a question at all of pardon or remission. First of all the apostle points out that death has come in, and that this was no consequence of law, but before it. Sin was in the world between Adam and Moses, when the law was not. This clearly takes in man, it will be observed; and this is his grand point now. The contrast of Christ with Adam takes in man universally as well as the Christian; and man in sin, alas! was true, accordingly, before the law, right through the law, and ever since the law. The apostle is therefore plainly in presence of the broadest possible grounds of comparison, though we shall find more too.
But the Jew might argue that it was an unjust thing in principle this gospel, these tidings of which the apostle was so full; for why should one man affect many, yea, all? "Not so," replies the apostle. Why should this be so strange and incredible to you? for on your own showing, according to that word to which we all bow, you must admit that one man's sin brought in universal moral ruin and death. Proud as you may be of that which distinguishes you, it is hard to make sin and death peculiar to you, nor can you connect them even with the law particularly: the race of man is in question, and not Israel alone. There is nothing that proves this so convincingly as the book of Genesis; and the apostle, by the Spirit of God, calmly but triumphantly summons the Jewish Scriptures to demonstrate that which the Jews were so strenuously denying. Their own Scriptures maintained, as nothing else could, that all the wretchedness which is now found in the world, and the condemnation which hangs over the race, is the fruit of one man, and indeed of one act.
Now, if it was righteous in God (and who will gainsay it?) to deal with the whole posterity of Adam as involved in death because of one, their common father, who could deny the consistency of one man's saving? who would defraud God of that which He delights in the blessedness of bringing in deliverance by that One man, of whom Adam was the image? Accordingly, then, he confronts the unquestionable truth, admitted by every Israelite, of the universal havoc by one man everywhere with the One man who has brought in (not pardon only, but, as we shall find) eternal life and liberty liberty now in the free gift of life, but a liberty that will never cease for the soul's enjoyment until it has embraced the very body that still groans, and this because of the Holy Ghost who dwells in it.
Here, then, it is a comparison of the two great heads Adam and Christ, and the immeasurable superiority of the second man is shown. That is, it is not merely pardon of past sins, but deliverance from sin, and in due time from all its consequences. The apostle has come now to the nature. This is the essential point. It is the thing which troubles a renewed conscientious soul above all, because of his surprise at finding the deep evil of the flesh and its mind after having proved the great grace of God in the gift of Christ. If I am thus pitied of God, if so truly and completely a justified man, if I am really an object of God's eternal favour, how can I have such a sense of continual evil? why am I still under bondage and misery from the constant evil of my nature, over which I seem to have no power whatever? Has God then no delivering power from this? The answer is found in this portion of our epistle (that is, from the middle of chapter 5).
Having shown first, then, the sources and the character of the blessing in general as far as regards deliverance, the apostle sums up the result in the end of the chapter: "That as sin hath reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life," the point being justification of life now through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is applied in the two chapters that follow. There are two things that might make insuperable difficulty: the one is the obstacle of sin in the nature to practical holiness; the other is the provocation and condemnation of the law. Now the doctrine which we saw asserted in the latter part ofRomans 5:1-21; Romans 5:1-21 is applied to both. First, as to practical holiness, it is not merely that Christ has died for my sins, but that even in the initiatory act of baptism the truth set forth there is that I am dead. It is not, as in Ephesians 2:1-22, dead in sins, which would be nothing to the purpose. This is all perfectly true true of a Jew as of a pagan true of any unrenewed man that never heard of a Saviour. But what is testified by Christian baptism is Christ's death. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto his death?" Thereby is identification with His death. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." The man who, being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, or Christian baptism, would assert any license to sin because it is in his nature, as if it were therefore an inevitable necessity, denies the real and evident meaning of his baptism. That act denoted not even the washing away of our sins by the blood of Jesus, which would not apply to the case, nor in any adequate way meet the question of nature. What baptism sets forth is more than that, and is justly found, not in Romans 3:1-31, but inRomans 6:1-23; Romans 6:1-23. There is no inconsistency in Ananias's word to the apostle Paul "wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord." There is water as well as blood, and to that, not to this, the washing here refers. But there is more, which Paul afterwards insisted on. That was said to Paul, rather than what was taught by Paul. What the apostle had given him in fulness was the great truth, however fundamental it may be, that I am entitled, and even called on in the name of the Lord Jesus, to know that I am dead to sin; not that I must die, but that I am dead that my baptism means nothing less than this, and is shorn of its most emphatic point if limited merely to Christ's dying for my sins. It is not so alone; but in His death, unto which I am baptized, I am dead to sin. And "how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" Hence, then, we find that the whole chapter is founded on this truth. "Shall we sin," says he, proceeding yet farther (ver. 15), "because we are not under the law, but under grace?" This were indeed to deny the value of His death, and of that newness of life we have in Him risen, and a return to bondage of the worst description.
In Romans 7:1-25 we have the subject of the law discussed for practice as well as in principle, and there again meet with the same weapon of tried and unfailing temper. It is no longer blood, but death Christ's death and resurrection. The figure of the relationship of husband and wife is introduced in order to make the matter plain. Death, and nothing short of it, rightly dissolves the bond. We accordingly are dead, says he, to the law; not (as no doubt almost all of us know) that the law dies, but that we are dead to the law in the death of Christ. Compare verse 6 (where the margin, not the text, is substantially correct) with verse 4. Such is the principle. The rest of the chapter (7-25) is an instructive episode, in which the impotence and the misery of the renewed mind which attempts practice under law are fully argued out, till deliverance (not pardon) is found in Christ.
Thus the latter portion of the chapter is not doctrine exactly, but the proof of the difficulties of a soul who has not realised death to the law by the body of Christ. Did this seem to treat the law that condemned as an evil thing? Not so, says the apostle; it is because of the evil of the nature, not of the law. The law never delivers; it condemns and kills us. It was meant to make sin exceeding sinful. Hence, what he is here discussing is not remission of sins, but deliverance from sin. No wonder, if souls confound the two things together, that they never know deliverance in practice. Conscious deliverance, to be solid according to God, must be in the line of His truth. In vain will you preach Romans 3:1-31, or even 4 alone, for souls to know themselves consciously and holily set free.
From verse 14 there is an advance. There we find Christian knowledge as to the matter introduced; but still it is the knowledge of one who is not in this state pronouncing on one who is. You must carefully guard against the notion of its being a question of Paul's own experience, because he says, "I had not known," "I was alive," etc. There is no good reason for such an assumption, but much against it. It might be more or less any man's lot to learn. It is not meant that Paul knew nothing of this; but that the ground of inference, and the general theory built up, are alike mistaken. We have Paul informing us that he transfers sometimes in a figure to himself that which was in no wise necessarily his own experience, and perhaps had not been so at any time. But this may be comparatively a light question. The great point is to note the true picture given us of a soul quickened, but labouring and miserable under law, not at all consciously delivered. The last verses of the chapter, however, bring in the deliverance not yet the fulness of it, but the hinge, so to speak. The discovery is made that the source of the internal misery was that the mind, though renewed, was occupied with the law as a means of dealing with, flesh. Hence the very fact of being renewed makes one sensible of a far more intense misery than ever, while there is no power until the soul looks right outside self to Him who is dead and risen, who has anticipated the difficulty, and alone gives the full answer to all wants.
Romans 8:1-39 displays this comforting truth in its fulness. From the first verse we have the application of the dead and risen Christ to the soul, till in verse 11 we see the power of the Holy Ghost, which brings the soul into this liberty now, applied by-and-by to the body, when there will be the complete deliverance. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." A wondrous way, but most blessed! And there (for such was the point) it was the complete condemnation of this evil thing, the nature in its present state, so as, nevertheless, to set the believer as before God's judgment free from itself as well as its consequences. This God has wrought in Christ. It is not in any degree settled as to itself by His blood. The shedding of His blood was absolutely necessary: without that precious expiation all else had been vain and impossible. But there is much more in Christ than that to which too many souls restrict themselves, not less to their own loss than to His dishonour. God has condemned the flesh. And here it may be repeated that it is no question of pardoning the sinner, but of condemning the fallen nature; and this so as to give the soul both power and a righteous immunity from all internal anguish about it. For the truth is that God has in Christ condemned sin, and this for sin definitely; so that He has nothing more to do in condemnation of that root of evil. What a title, then, God gives me now in beholding Christ, no longer dead but risen, to have it settled before my soul that I am in Him as He now is, where all questions are closed in peace and joy! For what remains unsolved by and in Christ? Once it was far otherwise. Before the cross there hung out the gravest question that ever was raised, and it needed settlement in this world; but in Christ sin is for ever abolished for the believer; and this not only in respect of what He has done, but in what He is. Till the cross, well might a converted soul be found groaning in misery at each fresh discovery of evil in himself. But now to faith all this is gone not lightly, but truly in the sight of God; so that he may live on a Saviour that is risen from the dead as his new life.
Accordingly Romans 8:1-39 pursues in the most practical manner the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. First of all, the groundwork of it is laid in the first four verses, the last of them leading into every-day walk. And it is well for those ignorant of it to know that here, in verse 4, the apostle speaks first of "walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The latter clause in the first verse of the authorised version mars the sense. In the fourth verse this could not be absent; in the first verse it ought not to be present. Thus the deliverance is not merely for the joy of the soul, but also for strength in our walking after the Spirit, who has given and found a nature in which He delights, communicating withal His own delight in Christ, and making obedience to be the joyful service of the believer. The believer, therefore, unwittingly though really, dishonours the Saviour, if he be content to walk short of this standard and power; he is entitled and called to walk according to his place, and in the confidence of his deliverance in Christ Jesus before God.
Then the domains of flesh and Spirit are brought before us: the one characterized by sin and death practically now; the other by life, righteousness, and peace, which is, as we saw, to be crowned finally by the resurrection of these bodies of ours. The Holy Ghost, who now gives the soul its consciousness of deliverance from its place in Christ, is also the witness that the body too, the mortal body, shall be delivered in its time. "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by [or because of] his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
Next, he enters upon another branch of the truth the Spirit not as a condition contrasted with flesh (these two, as we know, being always contrasted in Scripture), but as a power, a divine person that dwells in and bears His witness to the believer. His witness to our spirit is this, that we are children of God. But if children, we are His heirs. This accordingly leads, as connected with the deliverance of the body, to the inheritance we are to possess. The extent is what God Himself, so to speak, possesses the universe of God, whatever will be under Christ: and what will not? As He has made all, so He is heir of all. We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Hence the action of the Spirit of God in a double point of view comes before us. As He is the spring of our joy, He is the power of sympathy in our sorrows, and the believer knows both. The faith of Christ has brought divine joy into his soul; but, in point of fact, he is traversing a world of infirmity, suffering, and grief. Wonderful to think the Spirit of God associates Himself with us in it all, deigning to give us divine feelings even in our poor and narrow hearts. This occupies the central part of the chapter, which then closes with the unfailing and faithful power of God for us in all our experiences here below. As He has given us through the blood of Jesus full remission, as we shall be saved by this life, as He has made us know even now nothing short of present conscious deliverance from every whit of evil that belongs to our very nature, as we have the Spirit the earnest of the glory to which we are destined, as we are the vessels of gracious sorrow in the midst of that from which we are not yet delivered but shall be, so now we have the certainty that, whatever betide, God is for us, and that nothing shall separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then, in Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:1-21; Romans 11:1-36, the apostle handles a difficulty serious to any mind, especially to the Jew, who might readily feel that all this display of grace in Christ to the Gentile as much as to the Jew by the gospel seems to make very cheap the distinctive place of Israel as given of God. If the good news of God goes out to man, entirely blotting out the difference between a Jew and a Gentile, what becomes of His special promises to Abraham and to his seed? What about His word passed and sworn to the fathers? The apostle shows them with astonishing force at the starting-point that he was far from slighting their privileges. He lays down such a summary as no Jew ever gave since they were a nation. He brings out the peculiar glories of Israel according to the depth of the gospel as he knew and preached it; at least, of His person who is the object of faith now revealed. Far from denying or obscuring what they boasted of, he goes beyond them "Who are Israelites," says he, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever." Here was the very truth that every Jew, as such, denied. What blindness! Their crowning glory was precisely what they would not hear of. What glory so rich as that of the Christ Himself duly appreciated? He was God over all blessed for ever, as well as their Messiah. Him who came in humiliation, according to their prophets, they might despise; but it was vain to deny that the same prophets bore witness to His divine glory. He was Emmanuel, yea, the Jehovah, God of Israel. Thus then, if Paul gave his own sense of Jewish privileges, there was no unbelieving Jew that rose up to his estimate of them.
But now, to meet the question that was raised, they pleaded the distinguishing promises to Israel. Upon what ground? Because they were sons of Abraham. But how, argues he, could this stand, seeing that Abraham had another son, just as much his child as Isaac? What did they say to Ishmaelites as joint-heirs? They would not hear of it. No, they cry, it is in Isaac's seed that the Jew was called. Yes, but this is another principle. If in Isaac only, it is a question of the seed, not that was born, but that was called. Consequently the call of God, and not the birth simply makes the real difference. Did they venture to plead that it must be not only the same father, but the same mother? The answer is, that this will not do one whit better; for when we come down to the next generation, it is apparent that the two sons of Isaac were sons of the same mother; nay, they were twins. What could be conceived closer or more even than this? Surely if equal birth-tie could ensure community of blessing if a charter from God depended on being sprung from the same father and mother, there was no case so strong, no claim so evident, as that of Esau to take the same rights as Jacob. Why would they not allow such a pretension? Was it not sure and evident that Israel could not take the promise on the ground of mere connection after the flesh? Birthright from the same father would let in Ishmael on the one hand, as from both parents it would secure the title of Esau on the other. Clearly, then, such ground is untenable. In point of fact, as he had hinted before, their true tenure was the call of God, who was free, if He pleased, to bring in other people. It became simply a question whether, in fact, God did call Gentiles, or whether He had revealed such intentions.
But he meets their proud exclusiveness in another way. He shows that, on the responsible ground of being His nation, they were wholly ruined. If the first book in the Bible showed that it was only the call of God that made Israel what they were, its second book as clearly proved that all was over with the called people, had it not been for the mercy of God. They set up the golden calf, and thus cast off the true God, their God, even in the desert. Did the call of God. then, go out to Gentiles? Has He mercy only for guilty Israel? Is there no call, no mercy, of God for any besides?
Hereupon he enters upon the direct proofs, and first cites Hosea as a witness. That early prophet tells Israel, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi were of awful import for Israel; but, in presence of circumstances so disastrous, there should be not merely a people but sons of the living God, and then should Judah and Israel be gathered as one people under one head. The application of this was more evident to the Gentile than to the Jew. Compare Peter's use in1 Peter 2:10; 1 Peter 2:10. Finally he brings in Isaiah, showing that, far from retaining their blessing as an unbroken people, a remnant alone would be saved. Thus one could not fail to see these two weighty inferences: the bringing in to be God's sons of those that had not been His people, and the judgment and destruction of the great mass of His undoubted people. Of these only a remnant would be saved. On both sides therefore the apostle is meeting the grand points he had at heart to demonstrate from their own Scriptures.
For all this, as he presses further, there was the weightiest reason possible. God is gracious, but holy; He is faithful, but righteous. The apostle refers to Isaiah to show that God would "lay in Zion a stumbling-stone." It is in Zion that He lays it. It is not among the Gentiles, but in the honoured centre of the polity of Israel. There would be found a stumblingstone there. What was to be the stumbling-stone? Of course, it could hardly be the law: that was the boast of Israel. What was it? There could be but one satisfactory answer. The stumbling-stone was their despised and rejected Messiah. This was the key to their difficulties this alone, and fully explains their coming ruin as well as God's solemn warnings.
In the next chapter (Romans 10:1-21) he carries on the subject, showing in the most touching manner his affection for the people. He at the same time unfolds the essential difference between the righteousness of faith and that of law. He takes their own books, and proves from one of them (Deuteronomy) that in the ruin of Israel the resource is not going into the depths, nor going up to heaven. Christ indeed did both; and so the word was nigh them, in their mouth and in their heart. It is not doing, but believing; therefore it is what is proclaimed to them, and what they receive and believe. Along with this he gathers testimonies from more than one prophet. He quotes from Joel, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He quotes also from Isaiah "Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed." And mark the force of it whosoever." The believer, whosoever he might be, should not be ashamed. Was it possible to limit this to Israel? But more than this "Whosoever shall call." There. is the double prophecy. Whosoever believed should not be ashamed; whosoever called should be saved. In both parts, as it may be observed, the door is opened to the Gentile.
But then again he intimates that the nature of the gospel is involved in the publishing of the glad tidings. It is not God having an earthly centre, and the peoples doming up to worship the Lord in Jerusalem. It is the going forth of His richest blessing. And where? How far? To the limits of the holy land? Far beyond. Psalms 19:1-14 is used in the most beautiful manner to insinuate that the limits are the world. Just as the sun in the heavens is not for one people or land alone, no more is the gospel. There is no language where their voice is not heard. "Yea verily, their sound went forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." The gospel goes forth universally. Jewish pretensions were therefore disposed of; not here by new and fuller revelations, but by this divinely skilful employment of their own Old Testament Scriptures.
Finally he comes to two other witnesses; as from the Psalms, so now from the law and the prophets. The first is Moses himself. Moses saith, "I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people," etc. How could the Jews say that this meant themselves? On the contrary, it was the Jew provoked by the Gentiles "By them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you." Did they deny that they were a foolish nation? Be it so then; it was a foolish nation by which Moses declared they should be angered. But this does not content the apostle, or rather the Spirit of God; for he goes on to point out that Isaiah "is very bold" in a similar way; that is, there is no concealing the truth of the matter. Isaiah says: "I was found of them who sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me." The Jews were the last in the world to take such ground as this. It was undeniable that the Gentiles did not seek the Lord, nor ask after Him; and the prophet says that Jehovah was found of them that sought Him not, and was made manifest to them that asked not after Him. Nor is there only the manifest call of the Gentiles in this, but with no less clearness there is the rejection, at any rate for a time, of proud Israel. "But unto Israel he saith, All day long have I stretched out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."
Thus the proof was complete. The Gentiles the despised heathen were to be brought in; the self-satisfied Jews are left behind, justly and beyond question, if they believed the law and the prophets.
But did this satisfy the apostle? It was undoubtedly enough for present purposes. The past history of Israel was sketched inRomans 9:1-33; Romans 9:1-33; the present more immediately is before us inRomans 10:1-21; Romans 10:1-21. The future must be brought in by the grace of God; and this he accordingly gives us at the close of Romans 11:1-36. First, he raises the question, "Has God cast away his people?" Let it not be! Was he not himself, says Paul, a proof to the contrary? Then he enlarges, and points out that there is a remnant of grace in the worst of times. If God had absolutely cast away His people, would there be such mercy? There would be no remnant if justice took its course. The remnant proves, then, that even under judgment the rejection of Israel is not complete, but rather a pledge of future favour. This is the first ground.
The second plea is not that the rejection of Israel is only partial, however extensive, but that it is also temporary, and not definitive. This is to fall back on a principle he had already used. God was rather provoking Israel to jealousy by the call of the Gentiles. But if it were so, He had not done with them. Thus the first argument shows that the rejection was not total; the second, that it was but for a season.
But there is a third. Following up with the teaching of the olive-tree, he carries out the same thought of a remnant that abides on their own stock, and points to a re-instatement of the nation, And I would just observe by the way, that the Gentile cry that no Jew ever accepts the gospel in truth is a falsehood. Israel is indeed the only people of whom there is always a portion that believe. Time was when none of the English, nor French, nor of any other nation believed in the Saviour. There never was an hour since Israel's existence as a nation that God has not had His remnant of them. Such has been their singular fruit of promise; such even in the midst of all their misery it is at present. And as that little remnant is ever sustained by the grace of God, it is the standing pledge of their final blessedness through His mercy, whereon the apostle breaks out into raptures of thanksgiving to God. The day hastens when the Redeemer shall come to Zion. He shall come, says one Testament, out of Zion. He shall come to Zion, says the other. In both Old and New it is the same substantial testimony. Thither He shall come, and thence, go forth. He shall own that once glorious seat of royalty in Israel. Zion shall yet behold her mighty, divine, but once despised Deliverer; and when He thus comes, there will be a deliverance suited to His glory. All Israel shall be saved. God, therefore, had not cast off His people, but was employing the interval of their slip from their place, in consequence of their rejection of Christ, to call the Gentiles in sovereign mercy, after which Israel as a whole should be saved. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first liven to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever."
The rest of the epistle takes up the practical consequences of the great doctrine of God's righteousness, which had been now shown to be supported by, and in no wise inconsistent with, His promises to Israel. The whole history of Israel, past, present, and future falls in with, although quite distinct from, that which he had been expounding. Here I shall be very brief.
Romans 12:1-21 looks at the mutual duties of the saints. Romans 13:1-14; Romans 13:1-14 urges their duties towards what was outside them, more particularly to the powers that be, but also to men in general. Love is the great debt that we owe, which never can be paid, but which we should always be paying. The chapter closes with the day of the Lord in its practical force on the Christian walk. In Romans 14:1-23 and the beginning ofRomans 15:1-33; Romans 15:1-33 we have the delicate theme of Christian forbearance in its limits and largeness. The weak are not to judge the strong, and the strong are not to despise the weak. These things are matters of conscience, and depend much for their solution on the degree to which souls have attained. The subject terminates with the grand truth which must never be obscured by details that we are to receive, one another, as Christ has received us, to the glory of God. In the rest of chapter 15 the apostle dwells on the extent of his apostleship, renews his expression of the thought and hope of visiting Rome, and at the same time shows how well he remembered the need of the poor at Jerusalem. Romans 16:1-27; Romans 16:1-27 brings before us in the most. instructive and interesting manner the links that grace practically forms and maintains between the saints of God. Though he had never visited Rome, many of them were known personally. It is exquisite the delicate love with which he singles out distinctive features in each of the saints, men and women, that come before him. Would that the Lord would give us hearts to remember, as well as eyes to see, according to His own grace! Then follows a warning against those who bring in stumbling-blocks and offences. There is evil at work, and grace does not close the eye to danger; at the same time it is never under the pressure of the enemy, and there is the fullest confidence that the God of peace will break the power of Satan under the feet of the saints shortly.
Last of all, the apostle links up this fundamental treatise of divine righteousness in its doctrine, its dispensational bearings, and its exhortations to the walk of Christians, with higher truth, which it would not have been suitable then to bring out; for grace considers the state and the need of the saints. True ministry gives out not merely truth, but suited truth to the saints. At the same time the apostle does allude to that mystery which was not yet divulged at least, in this epistle; but he points from the foundations of eternal truth to those heavenly heights that were reserved for other communications in due time.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Romans 12:2". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/romans-12.html. 1860-1890.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany