THOMAS CHALMERS - Romans Lectures

ROMANS, iii, 1,2.

"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."

OUR reason for stopping at this part of our ordinary course, and coming forward with a dissertation on these verses, is that the subject of them seems to guide us to a decision, in a matter that has been somewhat obscured with the difficulties of a hidden speculation. You are aware that to whom much is given, of them much will be required; and the question then comes to be, Whether is it better tbat that thing shall be given or withheld. The Jew, who sinned against the light of his revelation, will have a severer measure of retribution dealt out to him than the Gentile who only sinned against the light of his own conscience; and the nations of Christendom who have been plied with the offers of the gospel, and put them needlessly and contemptuously away, will incur a darker doom throughout eternity than the native of China, whoso remoteness, while it shelters him from the light of tbe New Testament in this world, shelters him from the pain of its fulfilled denunciations in another; and he who sits a hearer under the most pure and faithful ministrations of the word of God, has more to answer for than he who languishes under the lack either of arousing sermons, or of solemn and impressive ordinances; and neither will a righteous God deal so hardly with the members of a population, where reading is unknown, and the Bible remains an inaccessible rarity among the families - as of a population where schools have been multiplied for the behoof of all, and scholarship has descended and is diffused among the poorest of the commonwealth.

And with these considerations, a shade of uncertainty appears to pass over the ques tion - whether the christianization of a people ought at all to be meddled with. If the gospel of Jesus Christ only serve to exalt the moral and everlasting condition of the few who receive it, because to them it is the savour of life unto life; but serve also to aggravate the condition of those who reject it, because to them the savour of death unto death - whether should a nation now sitting in the darkness of Paganism, be approached with the overtures of the gospel This is a doubt which has often I been advanced, for the purpose of throwing discouragement and discredit on the enterprise of missionaries; and though not on exactly the same principle, are there many still, who hesitate on the measure of spreading education among the peasantry. Altogether, it were desirable, in this age of benevolent enterprise, to know whether it is the part of benevolence to move in this matter, or to sit still and let the world remain stationary - leaving it to that milder treatment, and those gentler chastisements, which the guilt of man, when associated with the ignorance of man, will call down on the great day from the hand of Him who both judgets and administers righteously.

We think it must be obvious, to those whose minds have been at all disciplined into the soberness of wisdom and true philosophy, that, without an authoritative solution of this question from God Himself, we are really not in circumstances to determine it. We have not all the materials of the question before us. We know not how to state with the precision of arithmetic, what the addition is which knowledge confers upon the sufferings of disobedience ; or how far an accepted gospel exalts the condition of him, who was before a stranger to it. We cannot balance the one against the other, or render to you any computation of the difference that there is between them. \Ve cannot descend into hell ; and there take the dimensions of that fiercer wrath and tribulation and anguish, which are laid on those who have incurred the guilt of a rejected Christianity - and neither can we ascend into heaven ; and there calculate the heights of blessedness and joy, to which Christianity has raised the condition of those who have embraced it. It is all a matter of revelation on which side the difference lies; and he who is satisfied to be wise up to that which is written, and feels no wayward restlessness of ambition after the wisdom that is beyond it, will quietly repose upon the deliverance of Scripture on this subject; and never will the surmises or the speculations of an uninformed world, lay an obstacle on him, as he moves along the path of his plainly bidden obedience; nor will all the hazards and uncertainties, which the human imagination shall conjure up from the brooding abyss of human ignorance, embarrass him in the execution of an obviously prescribed task. So that if in any way Christ must be preached; and if in the face of consequences, known or unknown, the knowledge of Him must be spread abroad to the uttermost; and if he be required, at this employment, to be instant in season and out of season, declaring unto all the way of salvation as he has opportunity - if these be the positive requirements of the Bible, then, whatever be the proportion which the blessings bear to the curses that he is the instrument of scattering on every side of him, enough for him that the authority of Heaven is the warrant of his exertions; and that, in making manifest the savour of the knowledge of the gospel in every place, he is unto God a sweet savour of Christ, both in them that are saved and in them that perish.

"Go and preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven," and "go unto all the world, and teach all nations." These parting words of our Saviour, ere He ascended to His Father, may not be enough to quell the anxieties of the speculative Christian; but they are quite enough to decide the course and the conduct of the practical Christian. To his mind, it sets the question of missions abroad, and also the question of schools and Bibles and christianizing processes at home, most thoroughly at rest. And though the revelation of the New Testament had not advanced one step farther, on that else untrodden field, where all that misery and all that enjoyment which are the attendant results upon a declared gospel in the world might be stirveyed and confronted together - yet would he count it his obligation simply to do the bidding of the word, though it had not met the whole of his appetite for information. But in the verses before us, we think it does advance this one step farther. It does appear to us, to enter on the question of profit and loss attendant on the possession of the oracles of God; and to decide, on the part of the former, that the advantage was much every way. And it is not for those individuals alone who reaped the benefit, that the apostle makes the calculation. He makes an abatement for the unbelief of all the others; and, balancing the difference, does he land us in a computation of clear gain to the whole people. And it bears importantly on this question, when we are thus told of a nation with whom we are historically acquainted, that it was better for them on the whole that they possessed the oracles of God. We may well venture to circulate these precious words among all people, when told of the most stiff-necked and rebellious people on earth, that, with all the abuse they made of their scriptures, these scriptures conferred not merely a glory, but a positive advantage on their nation. And yet what a fearful deduction from this advantage must have been made, by the wickedness that grew and gathered, and was handed down from one generation to another. If it be true of the majority of their kings, that they did evil in the sight of the Lord exceedingly; and if it be true that, with the light of revelation and amid the warnimigs of prophecy, they often rioted amongst the abominations of idolatry beyond even all the nations that were around them; and if it be true that the page of Jewish history is far more blackened by the recorded atrocity and guilt of the nation, than ever it is illumed by the memorials of worth or of piety; and if it be true that, throughout the series of many centuries which rolled over the heads of the children of Israel, while they kept the name and existence of a community, there was an almost incessant combat between the anger of an offended God and the perverseness of a stout-hearted and rebellious people - insomuch that, after the varied discipline of famine and invasion and captivity had been tried for ages and found to be fruitless, the whole fabric of the Hebrew commonwealth had by one tremendous discharge of fury to be utterly swept away - It were hard to tell, what is the amount of aggravation upon all this sin, in that it was sin against the light of the oracles of God; but the apostle in the text has told us, that, let the amount be what it may, it was more than countervailed by the positive good done through these oracles: and comparatively few as the righteous men were who walked in the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless; and however thinly sown were those worthies of the old dispensation, on whom the light that beamed from Heaven shed the exalting influences of faith and godliness; and though the upright of the land were counted but in minorities and in remnants, throughout almost every period of the nation's progress from its beginning to its overthrow - Yet it serves to guide our estimate of comparison between the gain and the loss of God's oracles in the midst of a country, when, with the undoubted fact of the few who had been made holy on the one hand, and the many on whom they fastened a sorer condemnation upon the other, we are still told that the gain did preponderate - that the Jews who had the Scripturs had an advantage over the Gentiles who had them not - that any people are better of having among them the instrument which makes a man a child of light, even though in its operation it should stamp a deeper guilt upon ten men, and make them more the children of hell than before - that all the means therefore, which in their direct and rightful tendency have the effect to save and to enlighten human souls, should be set most strenuously agoing, even though these means should be resisted; and it is impossible but this offence must come, and a deadlier woe will be inflicted on all through whom such an offence cometh.

Should the fishers of men rescue a few from the abyss of nature's guilt and nature's wretchedness, it would appear that in the work of doing so, they may be the instruments of sinking many deeper in that abyss than if it had never been disturbed or entered upon with such an operation. We have not the means of instituting a comparison between the quailtity of good that is rendered by a small number being entirely extricated from the gulph of perdition, and the quantity of evil that ensues from a large number being more profoundly immersed in it than before. This is a secret which still lies in the womb of eternity; yet we cannot but think that a partial disclosure has been made, and the veil is in part lifted away from it, by the deliverance of our apostle. At all events it clears away the practical difficulties which are attendant on a missionary or christianizing question, when we are here given to understand, that the Jews, with all the aggravations consequent on sin, when it is sin in the face of knowledge, were on the whole better in that they had the oracles of God.

Let us now follow up these introductory views, with a few brief remarks both on the speculative and on the practical part of this question. First, then, as to the speculative part of it. The Bible, when brought into a new country, may be instrumental in saving the some who submit to its doctrine; and, in so doing, it saves them from an absolute condition of misery in which they were previously involved. It makes good to each of them, the difference that there is, between a state of great positive wretchedness and a state of great positive enjoyment. If along with this advantage to the few who receive it, it aggravates the condition of those who reject it, it is doubtless the instrument of working out for each of them an increment of misery. But it does not change into wretchedness, that which before was enjoyment. It only makes the wretchedness more intense; and the whole amount of the evil that has been rendered, is only to be computed by the difference in degree between the suffering that is laid upon sin with, and sin without the knowledge of the Saviour. We do not know how great the difference of misery is, to those many whose guilt has been aggravated by the neglect of an offered gospel; and we do not know how to compare it arithmetically, with the change from positive misery to positive enjoyment, which is experienced by those few who have embraced the gospel. In the midst of all this uncertainty, there is room and place in our minds for the positive in formation of Scripture; and if we gather from it that it was better for the Jews, in spite of all the deeper responsibility and deeper consequent guilt which their possession of the Old Testament laid upon the perverse and disobedient of the nation, yet that a nett accession of gain was thus rendered to the whole - then may we infer that any enterprise by which the Bible is more extensively circulated, or more extensively taught, is of positive be- nefit to every neighbourhood which is the scene of such an operation.

But secondly. - Though in the Jewish history that has already elapsed, they were the few to whom the oracles of God were a blessing, and the many to whom they were an additional condemnanation - yet, on the whole, did the good so predominate in its amount over the evil, that it on the whole was for the better and not for the worse that they possessed these oracles. But the argument gathers in strength, as we look onward to futurity - as, aided by the light of prophecy, we take a glimpse, however faint and distant, of millennial days - as we dwell upon the fact of the universal prevalence that the gospel of Jesus Christ is at length to reach in all the countries of the world - when we consider that all our present proportions shall at length be reversed ; and that if Christians now be the few to the many, Christians then will be the many to the few. Even in this day of small things, the direct blessing which follows in the train of a circulated Bible and a proclaimed gospel, overbalances the incidental evil; and when we think of the latter-day glory which it ushers in - when we think of that secure and lasting establishment which in all likelihood it will at length arrive at - when we compute the generations of that millennium which is awaiting a peopled and a cultivated world - when we try to fancy the magnificent results, which a labouring and progressive Christianity will then land in - who should shrink from the work of hastening it forward, because of a spectre conjured up from the abyss of human ignorance? Even did the evil now predominate over the good, still is a missionary enterprise like a magnanimous daring for a great moral and spiritual achievement, which will at length reward the perseverance of its devoted labourers. It is like a triumph for the whole species, purchased at the expense, not of those who shared in the toils of the undertaking, but of those who met with their unconcern or contempt, the benevolence which laboured to convert them. There are collateral evils attendant on the progress of Christianity. At one the it brings a sword instead of peace, and at another it stirs up a variance in families, and at all thimes does it deepen the guilt of those who resist the overtures which it makes to them. But these are only tile perils of a voyage that is richly laden with the moral wealth of many future generations. These are but the hazards of a battle which terminates in the proudest and most productive of all victories - and, if the liberty of a great empire be an adequate return for the loss of the lives of its defenders, then is the glorious liberty of the children of God, which will at length be extended over the face of a still enslaved and alienated world, more than an adequate return for the spiritual loss that is sustained by those, who, instead of fighting for the cause, have resisted and reviled it.

We now conclude with a few practical remarks.
First. It is with argument such as this, that we would meet the anti-missionary spirit, which, though a good deal softened and silenced of late years, still breaks forth occasionally into active opposition; or, when it forbears to be aggressive, still binds up the great body of professing Christians, in a sort of lethargic indifference to one of the worthiest of causes. The day is not far distant from us, when a christianizing enterprise was traduced as a kind of invasion on the safety and innocence of Paganism - when it was the burden of an eloquent and well-told regret, that the simplicity of Hindoo manners should so be violated - when something like the charm of the golden age was associated with these regions of primeval idolatry - and it was affirmed, that, though idolatry is blind, yet it were better not to awaken its worshippers, than to drag them forth by instruction to the hazards and the exposures of a more fearful responsibihity. We trust you perceive from our text, that, even though the converts were few and the guilty scorners of the gospel message were many, yet still, on the principles of the apostolic reckoning, there may even during the first years of a much resisted Christianity, be an overplus of advantage. And why should we be restrained now from the work by a calculation, which did not restrain the missionaries of two thousand years ago - when they made their first entrance on a world of nearly unbroken and unalleviated heathenism Shall we, with our pigmy reach of anticipation, cast off the authority of precepts issued by Him who seeth the end from the beginning; and who can both bless the day of small things with a superiority of the good over the evil, and make it the dawn of such a glory as will far exceed the brightest visions in which a philanthropist can indulge? The direction at all events is imperative, and of standing obligation. It is "Go and preach the gospel to every creature," and "Go and preach unto all nations ;" and you want one of the features of Him who standeth perfect and complete in the whole will of God - you are lacking in that complete image of what a Christian ought to be - if, without dcsire and without effort in behalf of that great process by which the whole world is at length to be called out from the darkness and the repose of its present alienation, you neither assist it with your substance nor remember it in your prayers.

But secondly. If man is to be kept in ignorance because every addition of light brings along with it I an addition of responsibility - then ought the species to be arrested at home as well as abroad in its progress towards a more exalted state of humanity; t and such evils as may attend the transition to moral and religious knowledge, should deter us from every attempt to rescue our own countrymen from any given amount of darkness by which they may now be encompassed. (*see end)

But lastly. However safe it is to commit the oracles of God into the hands of others, yet, considering ourselves in the light of those to whom these oracles are committed, it is a matter of urgent concern, whether, to us personally, the gain or the loss will predominate. It is even of present advantage to the nation at large, that the word of God circulates in such freedom and with such frequency among its numerous families. But this only - because the good rendered to some prevails over the evil of that additional guilt which is incurred by many. And still it resolves itself, with every separate individual, into the question of his secured heaven, or his more aggravated hell - whether he be of the some who turn the message of God into an instrument of conversion; or of the many who, by neglect and unconcern, render it the instrument of their sorer condemnation. It may be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for him in the day of judgment. To have been so approached from Heaven with the overtures of salvation, as every man is who has the Bible within his reach - to have had such invitations at your door as you may have had for the mere reading of them - to have been in the way of such a circular from God to our guilty species, which though expressly addressed to no one individual, yet, by the wide sweep of a "whosoever will," makes it as pointed a message to all and to any, as if the proprietor of each Bible had received it under cover with the inscription of his name and surname from the upper sanctuary - that God should thus pledge Himself to a free pardon through the blood of Jesus, and profess His readiness to pour out His Spirit upon all who turn to Him that they may live - for Him to have brought Himself so near in the way of entreaty; and to have committed, in the face of many high and heavenly witnesses who are looking on, to have committed His truth to the position, that none who venture themselves on the revealed propitiation of the gospel, and submit to the guidance of Him who is the author of it, shall fail of an entrance into life everlasting - Thus to have placed a blissful eternity within the step of creatures so utterly polluted and undone, is indeed a wondrous approximation.

But how tremendously will it turn the reckoning against us, should it be found that though God thus willed our salvation, yet we would not; and refusing to walk in the way which He with such a mighty cost of expiation had prepared for us, cleaved in preference to the dust of a world that is soon to pass away; and, living as we list, kept by our guilty indifference to offers so full of tenderness, to prospects of glory so bright and so alluring.

But let us hope better things of you and things that accompany salvation though we thus speak. . Let us call upon you to follow in the train of those Old Testament worthies, who, though few in number, so redeemed the loss incurred by the general perverseness of their countrymen - as to make it on whole for the advantage of their nation that to them that were committed the oracles of God. Be followers of them who through faith and patience are now inheriting those promises, which, when in the flesh, they saw afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Declare plainly by your life that you seek another country; that you have no desire for a world where all is changing and breaking up around you - where sin is the native element, and death walking in its train rifles the places of our dearest remembrance, of all those sweets of friendship and society which wont to gladden them. Let the sad memorial of this world's frailty, and the cheering revelations of another, shut you up unto the faith - Let them so place the alternative between the and eternity before you, as to resolve for you which of them is far better. And with such a remedy for guilt as the blood of an all-prevailing atonement, defer no longer the work of reconciliation with the God whom you have offended; and receive not His grace in vain; and turn to the study and perusal of those oracles which He hath granted to enlighten you - knowing that they are indeed able to make you wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

*We forbear to expatiate over again upon this particularargument, as we have already brought it forward in the 15th Sermon of our Commercial Discourses - at p. 874, Vol. VI of the Series

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