The Epistle to the Romans.

Division 4. (Rom. 12–16.)

Ways suited to these mercies.

We come now to the practical results, the ways suited to these mercies of which the apostle has been speaking. The place in which practice comes we have seen far back, in the book of Numbers. We have in Genesis, life, the primary necessity; in Exodus, the knowledge of redemption; in Leviticus we are introduced into the sanctuary, into the presence of God, and learn the holiness that suits Him — ourselves now, what could not then be said, in nearness to Him; then we have in Numbers the practical walk through the world. So here we must first know the truth, as the Lord says, "that the truth may make us free," established in the position divine grace has given us. It is in that which is Christian in us that the Spirit of God alone works, in the new nature, not in the natural man. "Faith worketh by love," and then again it is love that appeals to love, and "perfect love," which is God's love towards us, "casts out fear, because fear hath torment," so that "he that feareth is not made perfect in love:" he has not yet got his lesson aright. Thus, we are set in the blessing at the outset. We have not to work into it to win it, and all this bears witness to the truth of the gospel, which is not of works, but of God's grace. We live and do, not do and live.

Subdivision 1. (Rom. 12.)

The spirit of harmonious, universal obedience.

1. The harmony and universality of the obedience claimed are first brought before us. The principle with which we begin shows us this. The body is to be given up "a living sacrifice" to God. The body is the instrument of the spirit; and this so completely that, if it be laid hold of for Him, there is no part of the practical life but must, of necessity, be His. The feet are used to walk at His bidding, the hands to employ ourselves in His things, the tongue to speak for Him and nothing else, the ear to hear His words; the eye also, so that whatever it looks upon, it will look upon as being under His control. It is plain that the whole life, thus, finds its government. The body indeed, as the apostle has shown us, is dead; but as dead it can yet be used in the power of the Spirit of God, which, as we have seen, is in it expressly for this purpose, to make it a temple for His praise. People put the citadel of practical life too far in, and even sometimes seem to think they exalt the spirit by ignoring the body; no matter what the ear hears or the eye looks upon, the spirit may be unaffected by that, which, of course, is true in one respect; but the eye affects the heart, and if we allow the eye to wander away from His control, we have allowed the enemy thus far and he has already gained a victory. Here, as we can understand, there is indeed the call for sacrifice. We need to deny ourselves as those who belong to Another, "a living sacrifice" indeed, in contrast with those sacrifices of the law which were sacrifices in death. This is in life, but a most real one, and such a sacrifice the yoke of Christ already implies for us; easy as His yoke may be, and light His burden, still it is a yoke, a restraint upon the mere natural inclinations. There was but One who answered fully to the type of the red heifer, upon which never came yoke, He who could say with the whole heart: "I come to do Thy will," with whom there was nothing else than this; for Him there could be no yoke. But yoke as there may be, and something in us, as we all shall confess, that needs to be restrained; yet the mercies of God, as we have already seen them displayed in the gospel, persuade us to this full surrender of ourselves, not as a hard, but a joyful subjection. What, indeed, is there of freedom compared with that of walking in ways that are ways of perfect holiness, but also of perfect love, where divine wisdom guides us continually and where divine power encompasses us and guards us? Thus it is "by the mercies of God" that the apostle beseeches Christians to offer up their bodies "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, an intelligent service."

But around us is a scene in opposition to us and to God. "The age," not "the world," is that which we are not to be conformed to. In a sense it is the world, but this seen in its control of the whole scene through which we move. The age is never Christian, even though Christianity is fully come, and we may be now living in lands which are called Christian; yet the god of "the age," as the word really is (2 Cor. 4:4), is Satan. The strongest possible expression is used. He is not merely the prince, but the god of this age, and we can understand the difficulty that all this presents for us and the need we have of power working with and through us, greater than our own. Another thing. — it was in this age that we had our part naturally, and we need actually to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that is, by our minds being made entirely anew, in order to escape from it. "Renewal" is here not that which we need as realizing the wear and tear of things, the mere refreshment and revival of strength, but the actual production of another spirit and temper altogether. We need, therefore, as is plain, the word of God as that which alone can expose the subtle influences which are all around us and deliver us from the plausible deceptions which are abroad. "The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit," a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." We need the double edge of it, the one for ourselves, allowing our thoughts and intents to be searched out by it; the other for what is objectively before us. How blessed to know that the proving of the will of God which will thus be effected will realize how good, acceptable and perfect that will is! There is an experience here which every soul in the least divinely taught knows well, an experience which has in it the most wonderful encouragement. How can we tell rightly what the divine way is except as we walk in it? Who that has walked in it, whatever the apparent severity of its requirements, but knows the blessedness of this?

2. Now we have, in the next place, service. Service to God is what, of course, is implied in what we have already had. Now this is made practical as service to our brother. "If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?" Our brother is thus the representative of God, of Him who is Father to us all; and the Church, as the body of Christ, of necessity means such a field of service. The apostle has not spoken of the Church, the epistle to the Romans does not enter upon this; but when we come to practice, the Church in fact exists, and it is the nearest thing to us that does exist. This, the apostle speaks of, therefore, at the very start, only he tells us that there is something we have to do in order to be fit for service in such a field as this. We must learn to esteem ourselves aright, "not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath given to each the measure of faith." Faith is not measured in the sense of its being so limited that it might possibly fail us for any work that is ours. Its limit is only found when we get outside our own sphere, and take up, perhaps, another's work. We shall not find faith for that. Thus we have to learn our capacity; but here again we cannot learn this by simply looking in upon ourselves. We cannot estimate our capacity until we have in measure proved it, and that is how God leads us on, not only making us know the qualification for what service He has made ours, but developing in us also the gift which He has given. Love, of necessity, sets us to work: it is the spirit of service. Love alone will prompt us, in view of needs we find, to do what we can to minister to them. Here, if it be love, we are safeguarded also, for love is the lowliest thing that can be. It "seeketh not its own," and thus pride and ambition are necessarily foreign to it; they are its contradiction, its opposite. But as we are brought into contact with the need around, and in love seek to do whatever lowly service God may give us, we find in practical working what God has indeed fitted us for, and only in such a way is knowledge truly acquired. It is noticeable, when we come to the Gentiles, how the apostle here puts together things that are clearly "gifts" in the way in which we ordinarily speak, — public gifts for the Church, — and things that are of the most private character. Prophecy comes first; then ministry; a large and general term used for it, which has been ecclesiastically narrowed into "deaconship;" then teaching, exhortation, but next, giving, and after that, ruling and showing mercy. It is as if the apostle foresaw the distinctions which have in fact come in, and that Christians would divide into different classes upon these points. In the first case even, there is a character of prophecy which applies to the whole Church. "Ye may all prophesy," says the apostle elsewhere, "one by one;" and he adds, "Covet to prophesy." Again, if we are not all teachers, we may all teach, according to our ability. Exhortation is necessarily a thing wide enough in character and all ought to find their place here also. In fact, there is never a limit to the use of anything we have, except that we do not go beyond the measure of spiritual ability. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." As already said, love and lowliness, — and the two go together, — will find their way everywhere without difficulty. To dwell upon ourselves is not the divine preparation. Love leads us out of ourselves and occupies us with others, while indeed we do learn practically, as already said, what God has qualified us for, but we learn it in the presence of others and with the necessary safeguards which practical experience furnishes for us.

But let us notice now, that in the order here, prophecy comes first. No doubt the apostle has in contemplation especially what was the gift so needed at that time, and which filled out divine revelation to its present fulness; but we are not surely to confine it to this. The first place in which we find it should make us realize the blessed position we have in Christianity as thus brought near to God, and with the most ample opportunity and encouragement in learning His mind. As the prophet said of old: "God will do nothing, but He will make it known to His servants the prophets." And now, His full mind being made known to us in Christ, the practical possession of this, and in such a way as that we shall have a word for every emergency that can arise, is open to us all. The exhortation here is that men prophesy "according to the proportion of faith," words which have been variously taken; but we can understand that faith is the whole matter here, and that for us the word of God furnishes with all that faith has to do with. It will ever be in entire dependence upon this, which, of necessity, therefore, tests all that can be called such.

In the three next cases, the great point is to occupy ourselves with that which God has really entrusted to us. We may lose the practical possession of our gift to almost any extent, by failing to use it, and, in fact, how much ministry is thus lost to the Church! Timidity, lack of confidence in God, but which necessarily goes, therefore, with a lack, more or less, of that divine love which would make us forget ourselves and break through all barriers which are not of God Himself, — these things may make us to be really unconscious of what God has endowed us with, much more, of what He would lead us on to. For "to him that hath, shall more be given." Let him that teacheth, therefore, occupy himself with his teaching, a gift which is specially apt to be encroached upon by demands of another character. Teaching is naturally of slower development than, for instance, evangelizing. We need to acquire the knowledge which we are to use in this way; but how many things come in here to hinder even the proper furnishing with this knowledge! The order of acquirement that Peter gives us is: "Add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge." "Virtue" is there the soldier's virtue, — courage. It is that spirit of decision which at any cost carries us on. If all God's various knowledge lies open before us, who would not desire to possess himself of it? But there is need for it to be practical, for God will not give that which is to be trifled with or hoarded up merely. He gives for use, and we must have courage to use it. It seems more difficult, perhaps, to realize how "be that exhorteth" is to occupy himself with exhortation. Exhortation, we say, can only be as the need arises, but still how many needs there are. How much, in fact, is before our eyes that we excuse ourselves, perhaps, from having to do with, — and the inventive faculty is great in making excuses. Exhortation is not, as we know, apt to be always an acceptable thing, and then again we have to guard our own spirits carefully with regard to it.

Next we have: "He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity." That has been variously put as liberality, but, in fact, the two things are very similar. A man that gives simply will do it liberally. The need will appeal to him and the love that is in him be aroused by the need; and true love is wise; there is no blindness about it. Divine love is, in fact, never separate from divine wisdom.

Next, we have "he that ruleth" or "he that leadeth." The leader is of necessity, to a large extent, the ruler also, but there is no absolute rule, except that of the Spirit in the church of God; but he that realizes that he is leading others has, of necessity, much responsibility attaching to this. If his word is weighty, he must be the more careful. The apostle says here, he must rule or lead "with diligence," that is, not careless of what he is doing, not at random, but as giving thought and care to that which is having effect upon the minds of others. The apostle closes here with, "he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness."* These are, of course, only specimens of how we are to use the gifts that are given to us, and the opportunity of showing mercy is itself, in a way, a gift.

{*Showing mercy, while a general term, is sufficiently definite for us to get its meaning. It does not mean forgiveness, or showing mercy in that sense, but rather all acts of kindness and charity — as illustrated by the good Samaritan. This mercy is to be shown, not grudgingly but "with cheerfulness," "hilarity" as the word literally is — a kind of exhibition of that "merry heart which doeth good like a medicine." It need hardly be said that this is farthest removed from a worldly levity which would grieve the Spirit of God. — S.R.}

3. Next comes what we shall realize more as fruit in holiness. That word "fruit," which we do not find here, we shall find in Galatians in a striking connection (Gal. 5:22, comp. ver. 19). Here we have the fruit of the Spirit in contrast with the works of the flesh. Activity is not necessarily fruit, as we must easily realize. Fruit is a growth, the product of life, and which needs nurture and maturing in order to be right and ripe. There is a unity about it which in work there is not. In how many directions the flesh may work, even religiously; but fruit in holiness cannot be mistaken for this. Here the apostle's first word is that which brings us to the heart of the matter. Love is the divine nature. It is, in a sense, the whole thing, but then we make so many mistakes about it, that we need to have this carefully guarded. Love itself abhors that which is evil, cleaves to that which is good. You cannot, in fact, cleave to what is good without abhorring the evil which is its opposite. Then, how much there is in the world of the affectation of love, an outside show of it which may deceive even, not merely others, but one's self also. How often we mistake in our estimation of the reality of the love we have to others. People are necessary to us, they minister to our pleasure. We appreciate that, value them in a sense, and call this love, but "love seeketh not her own." It does not claim, but ministers. The love, here again, is brotherly love. The apostle is not traveling beyond that at the present moment; and again we see how self-denying it is, all the more, perhaps, because it does not dream that it is self-denial. "In honor preferring one another," ready to give that which others might suppose to be our own due. All this clearly connects together.

The next clause has been much abused, and misunderstanding has arisen from the way in which words in course of time alter their meaning. "Business" we so naturally refer to our temporal occupations; these are the things, in fact, in which men commonly and necessarily, as they believe, are most "busy," but the word simply means "diligence": "In diligence not slothful." There is a way in which we may be busy about things without real diligence. All is to be earnest with us, we are to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." The character of the One we serve should be enough to enforce that. No detail of duty to Him can be a light matter.

Next we have "rejoicing in hope." Alas, how the present, with its calls and duties, may interfere with that! We need continually to have our heads up and to be contemplating the unseen realities which are ours. Here we have a material for rejoicing which will never fail us, and which will carry us, as the apostle reminds us here, through tribulation itself. "In tribulation enduring"; still not without the need of realizing our dependence upon the One who carries us, and therefore "in prayer persevering." We need to realize that the prayer which may seem little effective, has nevertheless, always its answer from God. It may not be, of course, just in the way in which we imagine, but answered in some way, it surely will be.

Next we have, "communicating to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality." A glance now, at the outside, hostile world is given us, and yet may the exhortation be always confined to that? "Bless them that persecute you, bless and curse not." There are, alas, here also forms of persecution which may find their place even in the ranks of the saints. With all this, we are not to be shut up in ourselves. We are to "rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep." How much of joy is open to us in this way of which we do not, in fact, avail ourselves, and how much of sorrow do we shut ourselves out from, when it is just the school which God would make fruitful for ourselves! Then we are to have "same mind one towards another," an equal mind, without regard of persons. "Not affecting high things, but consorting with the lowly." That, of course, goes with this, this equal mind towards all: one who seeks high things for himself cannot practice it. "Be not wise," he adds, "in your own eyes."

Finally, as realizing the strife that is going on between good and evil, we are to abide in the good, assured that here is that which alone can overcome it. "Evil for evil" can never overcome evil. We are to be careful to have," things right before all men," as the word here means, so as to give no occasion to the adversary. As to one's own spirit, as far as it depends upon us, (as we familiarly say, "It takes two to make a quarrel,") we are to be "at peace with all men." Nothing can invade this sanctuary of ours unless we open it to the invasion. The spirit of revenge will surely do this. On the contrary, we are to give place unto wrath, not meet it with wrath, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will recompense, saith the Lord."* We must not take the judge's place, and we must not desire to do so. Love is still that which overcomes here. "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." "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

{*The above is not the ordinary interpretation of this clause, though it seems to be the true one. Most commentators interpret it by what follows, "Give place to (God's) wrath, for vengeance is Mine." That is, wait on God who will execute vengeance in due time. But this is hardly in accord with a Christian spirit, which desires neither its own nor divine vengeance. The simple and natural thought would be that of yielding, turning the other cheek to the smiter. — S.R.}

Subdivision 2. (Rom. 13.)

As strangers and pilgrims in the world.

1. Now we have the Christian attitude toward the outside world, to which we are not to be conformed. "Strangers and pilgrims" in it, we yet recognize, surely, all that is of God. Government is of God, not this or that form of it; there is no decision as to what is best or of any form being best. The world is outside of us and all that belongs to it, but God's hand is in it and over it, and with a restraining power upon the evil, which is immense mercy to all. Government is of God, whatever exists, whatever we find practically in the place in which we are. We are only passing through, and it is not ours to meddle or make. Any form of government whatever is comparatively beneficial: think of what anarchy would mean. While all forms fail, as Daniel at large shows us, because the One who alone is capable of exercising perfectly righteous rule has not come. God's mercy comes in everywhere to temper things; but the world is in opposition to God and therefore to us. As long as we are here, there will never be another condition of the world. Our place is in the world to come. There we shall reign with Christ, but now, if the apostle says to Christians, "Ye have reigned as kings," it is plainly a reproach on his lips, and he adds "without us." If they got reigning, they were out of communion with the apostles, clearly; they were more apt to be in a prison than on a throne; and, if we are to be in communion with the apostles, it must be so still with us. If we say times have changed and our conduct therefore must change with that, the world is still the world, if it is without God. If it is with God, it is not in the evil sense "the world"; but who will assert that, however Christianized it may apparently be, the mass is not truly the world any longer? If this shifts for us, if the world is gradually growing better and our position in it is to be affected by that, then we are without practical guidance in the word of God. The changed times would require a new Bible. The Lord's prophetic words speak of His disciples being brought before rulers and kings for a testimony against them and the nations, nothing else. The apostle of the Gentiles is left at the close of the Acts in the Gentile prison; and, while we find in his epistles careful directions for Christians as subjects, there are plainly none for Christian kings or magistrates. We may say, perhaps, that there were none at that time, but that does not argue that there would be none; the coming king was provided for in Judaism long before he came, as well as the absolutely necessary law book in which he would find the divine laws which he was to execute. Think of Christian magistrates and kings to execute laws other than divine! Plainly, nothing of all this is given to us; and yet we accept the authorities that are as "ordained of God," and "he who setteth himself against the authority, withstands the ordinance of God." Thus, plainly, "he will receive to himself judgment." Nothing that is of God can rightly be resisted, and on the whole, through His mercy, things are so ordered that rulers are still His ministers for good, not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Blessed it is to be able to realize how, through all that seems to be most opposed to Him, God nevertheless works, and thus we are to be in subjection for conscience, sake. How good to know that in every circumstance of this world through which we pass, while yet we are strangers in it, the world is not so strange but that we shall find God everywhere, and things that seem the most contrary, yet ordered by Him. If, indeed, the governments of the world yet require of us that which is in plain conflict with the word of God, we must obey Him rather than men, but in suffering, not resisting. This the apostle carries out to the smallest detail. We are to render to all their dues: "Tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, and honor" also "to whom honor." We are not permitted, even, to have freedom of speech against that which is of God's institution.

2. Now comes the debt to all men. Here, it is not a question of loving the brethren merely. We are to owe no one anything save to love one another, and here it is pointed out that we have the fulfilment of that which the law sought, but could never obtain. Love is that which is the fulfilment of the law, or the whole of it, for if we love our neighbor as ourselves, love works no ill to one's neighbor. The commandments give us only the prohibition of these various forms of ill. Love owns the debt to all men and pays it. "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit."

3. We have now another thing. We are "children of the light and of the day." We walk in the night and in the darkness, but the darkness is passing away. The hour of dawn is approaching. It is already time to be aroused out of sleep. Our salvation, final salvation of course, is getting ever nearer, but for us, already the light shines upon us. If it has not come for the world, for us it has come. We are in it in such sort that we should be reflecting it. Heaven is open to us, and the glory in the face of Christ already shines upon us. Practically to enjoy this is to manifest it and to manifest what we are. It is to put on the armor of light. Who is unaware of what a defence light is in itself in the midst of darkness? The evil deeds of men are done in the darkness. Light reproves them. How blessed to walk in the joy of that which manifests us for what we are, and which, by its presence in us, rebukes evil and breaks, as it were, the power of temptation; but we have, therefore, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ in a practical way. It is, in fact, but to sit in the sun and the sun will make its mark upon us; but that means the heart laid hold of and therefore no thought of provision for the flesh, which, with its lusts, belong to the darkness.

Subdivision 3. (Rom. 14 — 15:7).

The conscience to be in each one before the Lord.

We have now the settlement of questions which are not merely, as we may say, questions, but the settlement of which announces a principle which is of the utmost importance for us and for all with whom we walk. In our relationship to the Church, (for that is all that is spoken of here,) the question of conscience is one that has to be carefully considered. Conscience is individual to each one of us, but then that means that there are other consciences outside of ours, and which we have to regard. How important that we should know, both for ourselves how to keep a good conscience, and how to help to maintain at the same time that in others which we realize for ourselves to be of first necessity!

1. What the apostle puts first, therefore, here, is that conscience must be before the Lord. He is the Governor of the conscience and He alone, but this means then, of course, that we are to permit other consciences to be before the Lord. We must leave each one, therefore, to his liberty in this. Nay, we must fear to be a conscience to any one, and thus, with whatever good intent, to take one away from being before God. What is here sought to be established first, therefore, is just that the only authority for the Christian is that of the Lord. A serious question for us all is how far this is real with us. How much human relationships come in and hinder! There is the relationship of children with parents; they are to obey their parents in all things. The wife with her husband, also. What is she to do when there is a conflict of judgment with regard to anything? Alas, the snare which may beset us here is a very real one. "Subject in all things" it is urged sometimes is put as without limit, but the moment we bring in God, there are conditions necessarily implied by the very fact that He is God; and so necessarily implied that they need not even be named. We need scarcely to be reminded of them. If a parent taught his child to steal, is the child to be "subject in all things"? There is a limit somewhere, as is clear. Where is the limit? It can be found nowhere except here, that the plain will of the Lord governs, whatever human will may clash with it. We are not to drift from that for the sake of company with others, or under any plea whatever of relationship to others. That which makes real all relationships, which gives its value to them all, is above them all. Relationship to God is the first relationship of all, and to be indifferent to this is to make all else valueless. In fact, it is really to undo all the bonds of society; all human relationship is violated if that to God be violated. Thus it is that if we have sinned against our neighbor, it is sin against God, and if we sin against God, it is necessarily against our neighbor.

Necessarily, the things in which one has to yield here, therefore, are things indifferent. That is what the apostle is speaking of, of meats and drinks and days. It is supposed that on both sides the authority of the Lord is owned. One cannot be really liberal in things that are not one's own. One can give up one's own liberty where it is simply a question of that, and not only we can, but we ought. The supposition here is of religious scruple entirely, not of people without conscience, but of conscience in fact rigidly governed by that which to them, whatever be the truth of it, is the will of the Lord. If a man eats, he eats to the Lord, or if he eats not, it is still to the Lord; if he observes the day, he observes it to the Lord, or to the Lord he does not observe it. Here a question may be raised with regard to the Lord's Day. How does the principle here affect that? It would seem that it does not come into the question; just because the Lord's Day is given us not in the way of legal command, but as a privilege which must be accepted as privilege in order for the observance to be anything really acceptable to God, — not that it is supposed that a Christian could have a scruple religiously about observing the day in this case or on this ground. Religious scruples are the whole matter here and who could scruple to avail himself of the privilege of giving up a day to the Lord, a day free for him to be occupied with his own things, and in such a manner as we find Scripture before us? Question here, therefore, could scarcely be made. What the apostle has before him is, of course, as the meats and drinks show, the Jewish distinction of meats and days, which has passed away, but which, nevertheless, may have a real power over the minds of some who realize that these things were once given of God, and who do not see how He has brought us out of them. Here the principle applies which the apostle has stated elsewhere, that to those who were under the law he became as under the law, "not being myself under the law," as he carefully adds; "that I might gain those that are under the law." These are the questions, but the principle as we have said, the first principle here, is that the conscience is to be before the Lord alone; and that we are to leave every Christian free to act before God. We must not judge. The Lord will do that. "Every knee shall bow to Him and every tongue confess to God." It is of the first importance that in every question of conscience this should be maintained.

2. But there is another motive beside, that of duty to our brother. Our love to our brother is to be a motive. We are to consider what it means to put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in a brother's way. Let it be the lightest thing imaginable, the use of only meat to him unclean, yet our use of it may lead him into that which he has not faith for, and how could love possibly do this? A terrible thing it is to lead a person to act without conscience; that is, therefore, to sin against God. It is a thing which will necessarily have influence, if self-judgment do not come in, upon the whole character of his life and ways. We may be for ourselves doing that which is perfectly lawful to us, (in itself lawful,) and yet the question of a brother's conscience with regard to it cannot be ignored. We are not forced to eat or drink, because it is our privilege to do so. The Kingdom of God does not in its character consist of eating and drinking and such like things, but in "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Here the one who is, while free in his inmost soul, a bond-servant to Christ, — (the apostle puts the strongest term) — will not allow the freedom that he really has to prevent him forgetting that he is bound in every way to use his freedom to glorify Christ with it; this man is "well pleasing to God and approved of men." We are to pursue, therefore, the things that are for peace, and the things that are for edification with regard to others. Think of destroying God's work in another for the sake of a piece of meat; for while the things themselves may be clean, it still is evil to the man who eats while he stumbles over it. "It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended or is weak." You may say, you have faith. Well, he says, but faith is after all the lowliest of things. Faith is realized dependence, is it not? Act in it in lowliness, "Have it to thyself before God;" and remember that, "Happy is he who does not bring judgment upon himself in that which be approveth;" but this is the very thing that the doubter does. He is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." How important is this principle, and in how wide a sphere! How important it is that we should so act in every case as not to induce the weakest or those nearest to us, — where our conduct is apt to have the strongest weight, — to walk without God! It will be no excuse for them before Him, to say that they have followed us. God's will is not so far to seek and not so hard to be understood as to allow of excuse here on the part of any, but the point is clearly especially for the strong, that they are not, by their strength, really to force others into paths, which, because doubtful to them, are necessarily wrong, even though the path looked at in itself may be a right one.

3. There is another principle which comes in here, though it be understood, as we may say, all the way through. We are here for the glory of God. "We that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for that which is good to edification;" not, therefore, as seeking to please him merely, but with a careful estimate of what will be blessing for him. As for pleasing ourselves in such things, "Christ pleased not Himself." He who was for God in the world always, who gave Himself no margin, desired none, because His law was in His heart, — "Christ pleased not Himself," but "the reproaches of them that reproached Thee," He says, "fell on Me." These things are, it is plain, then, principles of the highest importance for the Christian, and the Scriptures lead us in paths which are not merely right, but which have in them the blessing and the joy which go with the right, for in this way God is the God of endurance and of comfort. The comfort is to enable to endure, and it is abundant for this. It is thus He would make us "like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus," in order that we may, "with one accord, with one mouth, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Here, then, is that which finally governs all. We are to "receive one another (it is plain from the beginning in what sense he means this) even as Christ received us, to the glory of God." The principle, of course, we may use as widely as it will carry us, but we most remember what the apostle is about when he is speaking so. He is simply enjoining the reception of one another without regard to these things which are indifferent in themselves. Here he can urge the glory of God as to be maintained by that which, in such cases ignores this difference.

Subdivision 4. (Rom. 15:8-33.)

The human appeal and apology of the apostle of the Gentiles.

There follows now what in some sense is supplementary to the whole epistle while it is, no doubt, in special relationship to those questions which we have just had discussed, and which are clearly such as would be most likely to affect the harmony of a mixed assembly of Jews and Gentiles, as that at Rome perhaps in an especial manner was. It reminds them of what the Old Testament had declared as to the acceptance of the Gentiles, an object for which, while minister of the circumcision to confirm the promises made to the fathers, Christ had no less wrought. And this leads the apostle into a brief reference to his own labors to the same end, as the apostle of the Gentiles, and to declare once more his unfeigned desire to see the saints at Rome, of which he had spoken at the beginning of the epistle. It is a human appeal which could not fail to have from one like Paul its moral effect in the same direction as what precedes it. At the same time, the comparative slightness of treatment, compared, for instance, with his defence of his ministry in the epistle to the Galatians, answers to its supplementary place here as compared with its foremost one in that which is distinctly controversial.

1. He owns the place that Christ primarily occupied as minister of the circumcision for the truth of God. It was in this character that Israel rejected Him, although the testimony as to it did not end with the Cross, but was continued in that of the Spirit afterward. But the promises which He thus confirmed themselves contemplated the blessing of the nations, and the apostles were distinctly commissioned to bear witness to Him in the whole world. The psalmist had joined with the prophets and with Israel's own law-giver, as the quotations show here, in expanding these promises in fuller and more definite statements. There could, of coarse, be in these no announcement of the Church, the body of Christ, which was a secret hid in God till Israel refused the grace which had first of all been offered to her; but of this the apostle is not here speaking, nor is the doctrine of it in the epistle at all. The nations were to rejoice with His special people, and the root of Jesse to be their Ruler and confidence. The branches of the wild olive were, in fact, being grafted into Israel's olive-tree, though this did not mean the relinquishment on God's part of promises which were to be fulfilled to the nation in due time. The Old Testament bore witness that God had the Gentiles in remembrance; Israel's blindness in part might change the character of things for the time being, it being impossible to recognize them in this blindness of unbelief. Gentiles and Jews would thus of necessity be brought together in a way beyond that which the prophets contemplated; but this was almost necessarily the result of the Jews' own exceptional position through their sin. God's purpose of blessing to the Gentiles could not wait for this.

The apostle does not enter into all this, but it is in the strict line of his argument and easily to be understood. It was better left, perhaps, to be worked out by themselves. He closes this with an earnest prayer in behalf of the Roman saints. In the revelation God had made of Himself, whether to the disheartened adherents of the dying paganism, or to the remnant of Israel disappointed of their national expectations, He had indeed approved Himself as the God of hope. In the realization of the blessings which were now become their own, they could afford to bury their dead past, and forget it. He prays that they may be filled with all joy and peace in believing, so as to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. How good to make full proof of the possibilities that are in our hands! and how do we possess ourselves of what is our possession! This is for a lamentation, and must be for a lamentation.

2. Paul speaks out the confidence of his heart in these Roman brethren whom as yet he had not seen. He credits them in the frankness of Christian love with the due moral effect of their faith, and with the enlightenment proceeding from it. But he had written to them in the boldness belonging to his position as apostle of the Gentiles, a position the gift of God's grace alone, to put them in mind of all that was their own. The ministration of the gospel of God was for him in the fruit God gave him of it, a priestly service which presented the Gentiles in whom the Spirit wrought as a sanctified and acceptable offering to Him. The words, in their perfect simplicity and intelligibility, yield no cover to the ritualistic confusion which confounds ministry with priesthood — approach to God with the message of peace and reconciliation for men. Paul does not stand between the Gentiles and God, to offer anything to Him on their behalf, who in the place which Christianity had given them were themselves all a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), all in equal nearness to Him, through the grace that had brought them nigh. But it was themselves, as the fruit of the work in them of which God had made him the instrument, who became thus an offering — his offering — to God. Thus he had matter of glorying through grace in what God had done through him to make the Gentiles obedient in faith to Christ, God also accompanying his word with signs and wonders, in demonstration of whose work in fact this work of his was. He had not been slothful or negligent either in this joyful work, but from Jerusalem in a wide circuit to Illyricum, he had fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Here he explains to them what had hindered him, with all this activity, from coming to a place so central and important as Rome was. It had been, he says, his earnest desire to follow the Scripture principle, to bring those to see who had yet had no tidings brought to them, and those understand who never yet had heard. Rome, therefore, with its assembly already gathered, could not claim him in view of the unoccupied places round. But now be found no more room, as he counted this, in the regions where he had been, and there was the far western country of Spain beckoning him by its need. Here would be his opportunity to visit by the way those whom he had long desired to see. This he contemplated therefore, but not immediately; for now Jerusalem claimed him, for the ministry of the contribution of the Gentiles to the need of those in whose spiritual blessings they had been made partakers. After this, Rome would come next, on his way to Spain. We have learned elsewhere how differently this was to be fulfilled to him from the way in which he now imagined. The fear of something, however, that might come to him at the hands of the disobedient in Judea, he frankly confesses, asking their prayers for his deliverance, and the accomplishment of his purpose as he had declared it to them. It is at least probable that he may have, after all, gone on to Spain; but there is no Scripture account of it, and no real certainty. There was, as we know, a long and unwilling delay, and years in a Roman prison, whether in Judea or at Rome. Our prayers are often answered in ways we know not, and so it was in this case as to the apostle himself; but who shall say that they were not answered? or that they were not answered in a way better in the sight of God — better for the gospel itself, than had all taken place according to his thought? Nor would this be irreconcilable with a certain effect of his own failure at this time to interpret aright his Lord's mind for him. We need not go into this here, but the mistakes of those most earnest and devoted may have, just in this very way, the most important lessons for us. We are to follow no merely human leader without personal exercise, and a grave, wise reserve which the apostle here would be the first to press upon us; "Be ye followers of me," he could say indeed, but not without the reservation implied, if not directly stated, "even as I also am of Christ." How beautiful the prayer with which he closes here, — the more as we think upon the difficulties of the way for him whose the the prayer was, — "the God of peace be with you all."

Subdivision 5. (Rom. 16.)

The close in salutations and warning.

There is no other epistle in which are found so many salutations as in this to the Romans. The wayfarer's epistle, Colossians, comes next, the naturalness of which we seem to recognize. In Galatians there are none; the controversy cuts off the possibility of the free interchange of human affection, where Christ Himself was now in question. In Romans as yet no controversy has arisen, and the fellowship in Christ has no restraint upon its expression. There are, of course, also, such links as might be expected with the continually shifting population of the imperial city. Could we examine more deeply, we should find, no doubt, that this is not a haphazard collection of names and memories, but that God has so ordered all as to give us instruction from every detail and name recorded. At present we cannot do this; but abundance in the way of proof we have surely had to make it a conviction that He, whose work all Scripture is, has left no part without the perfect elaboration which every thing has to which He has put His hand.

1. First, we have those enumerated whom the apostle thinks worthy of personal recognition, where any special service to the Lord has, as might be expected, its special notice. The claims of kindred, however, are not forgotten, where the higher link created by the Spirit renews and exalts it to an eternal value. But there are others whose names to us are as yet names only, — ciphers to which their connection with Christ gives all the interest; some again whose names are unknown altogether; simply they belonged to such or such a household: all these have undoubtedly just their fit place and mention; but we cannot demonstrate it: how much we have need in every sphere of faith, where our business is to turn it little by little into experimental knowledge. What precious conquests of now well-nigh barren tracts await those who will lay claim, boldly, however humbly, to their large and good land, which unbelief persistently belittles while it looks at it from afar off with its reversed telescope!*

{*Phoebe means "radiant." "Minister" is diaconos, "deacon," but the word is now used too restrictedly. It is, in fact, one of the terms of widest application in this way, as may be seen by comparing some of the passages in which we find it: as Rom. 13:4; Rom. 15:8; 1 Cor. 6; Eph. 3:7, etc. Prisca means "ancient, venerable;" Aquila, "eagle" (see Notes, p. 121); Epaenetus, "worthy of praise;" Mary, "exalted;" Andronicus, "victory of (or over?) men;" Junias (?); Ampliatus, "enlarged;" Urbanus, "man of the city;" Stachys, "ear of corn, plant, scion;" Apelles, "plain (?)"; Aristobulus, "best counselor;" Herodion, (?); Narcissus, "stupefying;" Tryphaena, "delicate (?)"; Tryphosa, "broken off (?)"; Persis, "Persian," or "destruction;" Rufus, "red;" Asyncritus, "incomparable;" Phlegon, "burning;" Hermes, Hermas, "gain (?)"; Patrobas, "a father's step;" Philologus, "fond of learning" or "of argument;" Julia, "of the wheat-sheaf;" Nereus, Olympas, of doubtful signification.}

2. Already the apostle has to warn these Roman saints, however, against those who, whether in their midst as yet or not, were certainly at work to bring in divisions and occasions of stumbling amongst those united by the Spirit into one fellowship of love and mutual service. The things warned against were contrary to the doctrine they had learned, whether or not they involved in themselves the introduction of error. But this would be apt to be the case; for there is nothing more ready to come in upon the adoption of carnal ways than perversions of doctrine to cover, if not to justify them. If a man craves the world, is he likely to take honestly the texts that speak of the Christian in his relation to it? As the epistle to the Ephesians reminds us, the eyes are in the heart (Eph. 1:18, R.V.); and with an eye that is not single, darkness comes upon the soul; and those self-deceived will become the deceivers of others. The saints are here bidden to mark and turn away from such; which may intimate that the apostle is speaking here of things not come to maturity, or what as yet did not call for or was not ripe for assembly action. But Christ was not served or honored in their ways, but self, whose cravings led them on, and characterized them, for discerning eyes, by the beggar's badge they wore; none the less that they had the beggar's wheedling tone, and smooth hypocrisy, calculated to deceive, and which would deceive the unwary. With the Roman Christians there was indeed, as had come abroad and was well known, a readiness of obedience which. it gave the apostle joy to recognize; but he would have them wise in it with regard to good, while as to evil simple in rejecting it, without over-occupation with that in which the power of the enemy works to ensnare the mind. The ordinance as to cleansing by the ashes of the heifer has here great practical value for us. Even the clean person, cleansing another with it, became himself unclean until the evening (Num. 19:21). But there is happy assurance for us: "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." Peace is what is in God's heart for men; though He who came with the message of it had, because of what the world was, in the meanwhile to bring, not peace, but a sword. The work which wrought it as before God insured the casting out of the enemy; which, if it yet lingers, will have full accomplishment. Even now there are anticipations of it, and victories that presage the end.

3. There follow salutations from those with the apostle, in which the Christian heart, prompted by no special links or remembrances, save only the link of the common Christianity, flows out to those in whom it recognizes this all-sufficient relationship. The name of Tertius as the writer of the epistle shows the general custom of the apostle, most probably from some physical infirmity, such as he elsewhere refers to (2 Cor. 12:7; Gal. 4:14-15), to employ another person to act for him in that capacity; while a salutation from his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17) was the token of genuineness in each epistle.*

{*The names here are Timotheus, "one that honors God;" Lucius, "luminous;" Jason, "healer;" Sosipater, "preserver of his father;" Tertius, "third;" Gaius, "of earth;" Erastus, "loveable;" Quartus, "fourth."}

4. The epistle ends with an ascription of praise to God as able to establish them according to Paul's gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, — according (that is) to the revelation of the mystery bid through the dispensations hitherto, now made known, and by scriptures of prophetic character published to all nations for the obedience of faith. This in its full extent the apostle does not give in Romans. The epistle states the partial blinding of Israel to be a part of it, and with this would be the grafting of Gentile branches on Israel's olive-tree, in full equality with Jews. The body is referred to, but not necessarily as the body of Christ; but in the first epistle to the Corinthians we have the Church both as this, and as the temple of God; though Ephesians and Colossians are needed to complete the revelation. With the fully proved frailty of man, however, even of the saint, only God could be counted on to maintain His people at the height of this. The ages of silence were days of preparation for the full announcement of that in which God's wisdom as well as grace is so wondrously declared. Man had to be shown in them in his true condition, that that grace might remain man's only hope and boast. To Him alone wise will be the glory through Jesus Christ throughout the ages of eternity. Amen.