ROMANS, vi, 10 - 21.
"I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death"

THE first clause of the nineteenth verse reminds us somewhat of another passage in the apostle's writings, when he says to his disciples, I speak unto you not as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. The transition from the rude and raw conceptions of nature, to the heights of spiritual wisdom and discernment, is not an immediate but a successive one; and so it follows, that the illustrations of Christian doctrine, must be varied according to the progress of him whom you are labouring to convince and to satisfy; and we have to speak more in the manner of men, more in the way that is suited to the comprehension of unenlightened and unrenewed humanity, to those who are still in the infancy of their education for heaven - whereas, in the language of Paul, to those who are perfect, to those who by reason of use have had their senses well exercised, we speak what he calls hidden wisdom, even the wisdom of God in a mystery.From the clause before us, we infer that the same topic may be variously illustrated, and that according to the degree of maturity which our hearers have attained in Christian experience.

And, agreeably to this, we find, that, whereas in the first instance, the apostle, in expounding the personal change from sin to holiness which takes place one very believer, borrows a similitude that may be understood by men at the very outset of their Christian discipleship - he passes on to another consideration, the force of which could only be felt and acquiesced in by those, who had in some degree been familiarised to the fruits and the feelings and the delights of new obedience. This by the way may account for the various tastes that there are for various styles and manners of elucidation; and all it may be of substantially the same doctrine. It justifies fully the very peculiar appetite, that the hearer is often found to express for that which he feels to be most suited to him. Nay, it goes to explain the change that may have taken place in his preference for the ministrations of another expounder, whose mode of putting or illustrating the truths of Christianity, is the best adapted to that state of progress whereunto he has now attained. And all that remains for him is to bear in mind, that there are other hearts and other understandings in the world beside his own - that, as there is a diversity of subjects, so there is and so there ought to be a diversity of applications; and, accordingly, a diversity of gifts is provided by that Spirit, who divideth to every man severally as He will.

This consideration should serve to abate a little of the intolerance, wherewith a hearer is apt to regard the ministrations of all, who do not lie within the boundary of his own very limited and exclusive favouritism. It should expand into a wider latitude that estimation of utility and worth, which he is too apt to confine to those select few among the preachers, who work most effectually upon the peculiar tablet of his own understanding. More particularly, when he sees how Paul accommodated his illustrations to the capacities and progress of his disciples - how, on the principle of being all things to all men, be made use of carnal or human comparisons, to those who were but just emerging into spiritual light from the mere light and discernment of nature - how this gifted apostle, that could have dealt out the profounder mysteries to the older and more accomplished converts, condescended to men of low attainment; and for their sakes came forth with explanations, the need or the pertinency of which might not have been felt by those who had reached a higher maturity of experience in the gospel - Then might he patiently wait what to him perhaps are the insipid or inapplicable reasonings of his minister, in the hope that others of the congregation require the very argument which falls powerlessly on his own heart, and are profiting by the very considerations which to him are superfluous or uncalled for.

And it is well to notice that the precise illustration is, which Paul seems, while he was using it, to have felt of so puerile and elementary a character, or so adapted to the mere infancy of the Christian Understanding that he says I speak as a man or as a mere child of nature, who had not been initiated into the mysteries of the gospel, and that because of the infirmity of your flesh. The thing he was attempting to make plain to them, was the transition of a believer from the service of sin to the service of righteousness. The service of Sin might not be a very palpable conception to us, it being the service of a mere abstraction, so long as you restrict your attention to the general term. But when embodied, as it was to the imagination of a heathen convert, in the person of a heathen deity; and familiar, as he must have been, with those impure and frantic orgies which were held in honour of a god who both exemplified and patronised the worst vices of our nature - he would instantly connect with the service of sin, the serviceof a living master, who issued a voice of authority and exacted deeds of iniquity from his worshippers, as the most acceptable homage that could be rendered to him. In turning from that service to the service of righteousness, he could thus easily comprehend it, as a similar transition to that of passing from under the authority of one living commander to another - even from the god or gods to whom he aforetime rendered the offering of acceptable impurity or acceptable cruelty, to the true God of heaven and of earth whom he could only serve acceptably by walking in holiness and righteousness before Him.

And these Romans - accustomed as they were to the transference of bond slaves from one master to another, to the way in which they were ransomed from their old servitude and placed under a new subjection to him who had purchased or redeemed them - would the more easily catch the similitude from the mouth of the apostle - when he told them of the power and effect of the ransom by Christ; and how, in virtue of it, they were rescued from the grasp of their old tyrant, who could no longer, wield that vengeance against them for sin which he else had been permitted to exercise - and no longer, if they chose to betake themselves to the grace and privileges of the gospel, could have that ascendancy over them, by which their affections were entangled and they were kept under the oppressive influence of moral evil. From this they were all released and extricated, by the new master who had laid down his life for them as the price of their captivity; and whom, now that He had taken it up again, they were bound to serve in the way of all His commandments.

And this illustration of it was not only well adapted to the understanding of those Pagans, who had turned them from dumb idols to serve the living and the true God. It may still, in many instances, be the most effectual that can be employed, for making clear to the convert of modern days, either at the moment of his turning or recently after he has done so - how he enters on the new habit of a sanctified disciple, at the time that rescued from condemnation he cherishes the new hope of a redeemed disciple. He need be at no loss either for a living and substantial personification, when told of the service of sin. There is a real monarch to whom the iniquities of every sinner are so many acceptable offerings - a superhuman being who sits on a throne, the authority of which extends over a wide domain of the moral world - an actual and living Moloch, who is surrounded by innumerable slaves whom he has the power of tyrannizing over in time and of tormenting through all eternity :

And the express mission of the Son of God was to combat and overthrow him. He came to destroy the works of the devil; and to make good the deliverance of all, who put them selves under Himself as the captain of their salvation, and are willing to be rescued from the grasp of the adversary. And that power to punish us wherewith Satan was invested, Christ has as it were exhausted by stepping forward and absorbing its whole discharge in His own body on the tree. And that power to fascinate and enthrall us upon earth, wherewith the God of this world holds his votaries in subjection to sin, the Redeemer hath also overcome by the Spirit poured forth on the hearts of His followers, from that throne of mediatorship to which He has been exalted. and the believer, strong and shielded and secure in the privileges that have thus been obtained for him, is effectually set at large from the power of his old master - either to confine him in the prison-house of guilt, or to control him in any of his actions now that he walketh at liberty. But still like the bond servant who has been translated to a humane from a hard-hearted superior, he is not his own - he is bought with a price - and his business is now to devote, to the new and the pleasing service of Hirn who loveth righteousness and who hateth iniquity, that soul and spirit and body which are not his own but his Lord's.

But the chief cause, perhaps, why an illustration of this sort is more readily seized upon at the outset of our Christianity than many others, is that it falls more in with the natural legality of the human heart. We know not how obstinately it is that the conception of work and wages adheres to us long after we profess to have given in to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and this leaven of carnality it may remain, to taint the pure and the free and evangelical spirit, even for many months after the germ of gospel truth has been deposited, and ere by its growth it overbear the feelings and tendencies of the old man. It is remarkable that Paul should think it right to adjust his expositions,to this state of immature and yet unformed Christianity; and that the sturdy and unbending advocate of salvation by grace, and by grace exclusively, should, for the purpose of helping forward the cause of Christian holiness, avail himself of the legal admixture that still infuses itself into the thoughts at the earlier stages of the Christian discipleship. But so it is; and, on the principle of all things to all men, he suits his argument to the infirmity of their flesh; and, disposed as they are under the economy of nature to regard themselves as servants, who by the fulfilment of an allotted task make out a title to payment from their master - he still, under the economy of the gospel, employs at least the relationship of servant and master to express the relationship that there is between them and God. He comes upon the very borders of legality, in order that he might fetch from thence a something that he might suitably address to the babes in Christ, for the purpose of urging them on to the new life that becomes the new creature; and while none more careful than he to check in his disciples the spirit that would challenge reward from God, even as the servant might prosecute the master for his rightful wages - yet none more solicitous than he, that every Christian should be steadfast and abundant in all the works of righteousness.

And therefore, did he gladly avail himself of a similitude, that the very legalism of the heart would dispose it the more readily to apprehend and by which he would make it plain to his disciples, that they must now give themselves up to the service of another master - that they must now yield themselves unto God. It may only he further necessary in this verse to explain its reiterations. In their former state they had made their members servants to iniquity unto iniquity - that is, iniquity, or he in whom moral evil may be conceived as personified or embodied, was their master. They were servants to, or the servants of iniquity; and it is added 'unto iniquity' - That is to say, unto the corruption or iniquity of their own character. The effect of making iniquity their master, was to stamp the character of iniquity upon their souls. They were theslaves of the tyrant iniquity; and the effect of this was to make themselves iniquitous.

And in like manner, are we to explain the counterpart clause of their yielding their members servants to righteousness unto holiness - that is, by entering into the service of this new master, they become partakers of his character and of his taste in their own persons. They could not become the servants of righteousness, without themselves becoming holy. In yielding up their members unto righteousness, they look to righteousness as vested with an authority to rule over their actions ; and the effect of their doing so is, that righteousness becomes an accomplishment to adorn and exalt their nature. So that this last clause may be thus paraphrased - As aforetime you have yielded your members servants unto uncleanness and to iniquity, unto the utter ruin and corruption of your whole character - even so now yield your members servants to righteousness, unto the recovery and transformation of your character, that it may stand out anew in all the charms of holiness, and be graced as it was originally with the features and the lineaments of that divine resemblance wherein it was created'

And I may here advert to the influence which action has upon principle. When you do what is right at the bidding of another, there may, in the first instance, be no very willing concurrence of the heart with the obedience that has been prescribed to you. You may yield yourself up unto God, under an overpowering sense of His authority; and, from that impulse alone, do many things, which the spontaneous tastes and feelings of the inner man do not very cordially go along with. But no matter - you have entered upon His service; and the effect of your strenuous and faithful perseverance in the course of it, will be to reconcile the inner man to that whereunto you have restrained the outer man. This is a result which it appears you must work your way to. The effect of your going through the services of righteousness, is that you will at length attain the spirit of holiness. You must labour at the work of obedience; and, like unto the effect of practice in many otherparts of human experience, you will at length come to love the ways of obedience.

We doubt not that a certain degree of desire and of cordial regard towards what is right, enters into the very first moving principle that sets you agoing on the career of your sanctification. But you are not to wait till your taste and affections be spiritualised to a sufficient pitch, ere you embark on this career. But now, whether with or against the grain, do whatever your hand findeth to do which you know to be obviously right. Do it under a sense of allegiance to God, in defect meanwhile of the more generous and angelic principle that you like the doing of it; and the transition pointed out in there it seems to be, that, as the fruit of your being ordinated to God's authority, will you come at length to be assimilatd to Him in holiness.

Ver. 20. This twentieth verse seems an argument for our entire dedication to the new master, into whose service we have entered ourselves. It is somewhat like the consideration of making the past time of our life suffice, for having done the will of the flesh; and that it is now high time to spend the remainder of our life in doing the will of God. Aforetime you were wholly given over to the service of sin, and righteousness as emanated from the divine sovereignty had no dominion. You were free from righteousness, or wholly unrestrained by its obligations and its precepts. Now then be free from sin, resist the mandates of the old tyrant, and give yourself wholly up to the will of the new master - Let your obedience to Him now be as complete, as was your disregard of Him then; and an argument of mighty influence why the old service should be altogether followed, is urged upon them in the following verse, by the appeal which the apostle makes to their own memory, of what it was they gained in the employment of their first master.

Ver. 21. The apostle now proceeds to an argument, that could be better seized upon by those who had to a certain degree moved onwards inChristianity - who could now speak to the superiority of the new service over the old; and that, not from the higher authority which had prescribed it, but from the more refined character and enjoymentof the service itself - by those whose moral taste had undergone a renovation, and could now look back with loathing upon the profligacies of their former career, while they cherished a love and a heartfelt preference for those beauties of holiness which adorned the new path whereon they had entered. You will see that, to appreciate such a comparison, marked a higher state of spiritual cultivation, than merely, at the bidding of God, to enter upon the task, which at the outset of their gospel profession He as their new master had put into their hand. The musical scholar, who, at the bidding of a parent or a preceptor, practises every day at the required hours upon an instrument, is not so ripe for a festival of harmony, as he, who, under the impulse of an ear all-awake to its charms, revels as in his most kindred element, when spontaneously he sets him down to the performance - not as a task, but as an entertainment. And neither is that spiritual scholar so ripe for heaven, who, because of the infirmity of his flesh, needs to have his distaste for holiness overcome by the argument of God's authority - as he, who, in his love for holiness, now confirmed by the experience he has had of its pleasant and peaceful ways, nauseates with his whole heart the opposite vice and the opposite impurity.

It is right to lift the voice of an imperative requirement on the side of new obedience, at the commencement of every man's Christianity - just as it is right to exact from the musical scholar, a regular attendance on lessons which at the outset he may find to be wearisome. But as in the one case what is felt to be a weariness, often merges, with the cultivation of the taste and of the ear, into a willing and much-loved gratification - so, in the other case, what, from the strength of remaining carnality was laboured at as a bondage and called for the direct incitement of God's authoritative command to make head against the sluggishness of nature, yet, as the fruit of perseverance in the walk of holiness, does the will itself at length become holy; and there is a growth of affection for all its exercises and all its ways; and the doing of the allotted task by the outer man, calls forth and confirms a suitable taste of accordancy in the inner man; and, in proportion to the strength of the regard for what is sacred, must be the strength of the recoil from what is sinful and what is sensual. So that while Paul, in illustrating the transition of a gospel convert from sin unto righteousness, did, at the moment of that transition and because of the infirmity of his flesh, urge in terms as direct as if the legal economy were still in force, the obligation under which he lay, to exchange the service of one master for the service of another - yet, with the disciple who long had practised and long had persevered at the bidden employment, could he use an argument of a higher and nobler and more generous character ; and, triumphantly appealing to his own recollection, asked him to compare the vileness and wretchedness of his formerdays, with the preciousness of that heavenly charm - which he now felt to be in all the works and all the ways of new obedience.

The apostle tells us here of the fruit of sin in time, and of its fruit in eternity. For its fruit in time he refers his disciples to their own experience and, whether we advert to the licentious or the malignant passions. of our nature, we shall find that even on this side of the grave it is a fruit of exceeding bitterness. That heart, which is either tossed with the agitations of unhallowed desire, or which is preyed upon by the remorse and shame and guilty terror that are attendant on its gratification - that once serene bosom, from which its wonted peace, because its wonted sense of purity, has departed - that chamber of the thoughts which is no longer calm, because stormed out of all tranquillity and self-condemned by the power of a wild imagination. The unhappy owner of all this turbulence, who has given up the reins of government, and now maddens in the pursit of his tumultuous joys along the career of lawless dissipation - let him speak for himself to the fruit of those things, of which he may well be ashamed. 0 does he not feel, though still at a distance from the materialism of hell, that a hell of restlessness and agony has already taken up its inmost dwelling-place in his own soul; that there the whip of a secret tormentor has begun its inflictions; and, even now, the un-dying worm is consciously active and never ceases to corrode him! Or, if he be a stranger still to the fiercer tortures of the heart, will he not at least admit, that, as the fruit of guilty indulgence, a hell of darkness if not a hell of agony, has taken possession of it - that, at least, the whole of that beauteous morning light which gladdened his pure and peaceful childhood is utterly extinguished - that all the vernal springs of approved and placid satisfaction are now dried up - and that, in the whole rupture and riot of his noisy companionship, there is nought that can so cheer his desolate spirit as in the happy years of his boyhood - nought that shines so sweetly upon him, as did the lustre of his pious and his early home.

Or, if, from the wretchedness of him who is the victim of his base and sordid propensities you proceed to examine the wretchedness of him whom conceit is ever instigating against another's rights, or cruelty has steeled against all that is exquisite and all that is prolonged in another's sufferings - you will find that here too, the heart which is the place of wickedness is also the place of woe; and that, whatever the amount of unhappiness may be of which he is the instrument to others, it may not equal the unhappiness which his own moral perversities have fermented in his own bosom. The man of deep and inscrutable design, who is an utter stranger to the simplicity and godly sincerity of the gospel - the man of thought and mystery and silence, and into the hiding-place of whose inaccessible heart the light of day never enters - the man who ever rurninates and ponders and revolves, and has a secret chamber of plot and artifice in his own bosom which admits of no partnership with a single brother of the species - Such a one, it may be thought, diabolical though he be, will, in the triumphs of his wary and well-laid policy, have his own sources of diabolical satisfaction. But ere he reach his place in eternity, he too in time may have the foretaste of the mnisery that awaits him. There is already a hell in his own heart, that is replete with the worst sufferings of the hell of condemnation; and if through the deep disguises in which he lies entrenched from the eye of his fellow-men, we could see all the fears and all the forebodings that fluctuate within him, we should say of him, what is true of every son of wickedness, that, like the troubled sea, he cannot rest.

It seems inseparable from the constitution of every sentient creature, and who is at the same time endowed with moral faculties, that he cannot become wrong without at the same time becoming wretched. And what is the death that is the end of these things, but their natural and their full grown consummationl The fruit of sin in time,when arrived at full and finished maturity, is just the fruit of sin through eternity. There may be fire - there may be a material lake of vengeance - there may be the shootings of physical agony inflicted on the material frames of the damned by material instruments: But we believe that the chief elements of the torture there, will be moralelements - that fierce and unhallowed desire - thatcontempt and jealousy and hatred unquenchable - that rancour in every heart, and disdain in every countenance - that the glare of fiendish malignity, and the outcry of mutual revihings, and the oaths of daring blasphemy, and the keen agony of conscious and convicted worthlessness - We believe that these will form the ingredients of that living lake, where the spirits of the accursed will be forever inhaling an atmosphere of spiritual bitterness.And such is the natural course and consummation of iniquity upon earth. It is merely the sinner reaping what he has sown; and suffering the misery that is essentially entailed upon the character; and passing onwards, by a kind of necessary transition, from the growth and indulgence of vice here, to the constitutional result of it in wretchedness both here and hereafter. It makes no violent or desultory step, from sin in time to hell in eternity. The one emerges from the other, as does the fruit from the flower. It is simply that the sinner be filled with his own ways, and that he eat the fruit of his own devices. All that is necessary to constitute a hell, is to congregate the disobedient together, where, in the language of the Psalmist, they are merely given up by God to their own hearts' lusts, and where they walk in their own counsels.

To conclude - there are some we trust here present, who feel the force of the comparison between their past and their present habits; and who all open to the charms of the vast superiority which lies in holiness, would, from the impulse of spiritual taste alone, make a most quick and disgustful recoil from all iniquity. But there may be others,who, instead of having accomplished the transition from darkness to light, are only at the turning point - or are yet but meditating the transition, instead of having made it. They have not yet acquired that loathing for sin, and that love of sacredness, which would make them appreciate the contrast, which the apostle makes between the service of the old and the service of the new master.Then let us revert to them with the argument of the apostle, who spoke to his young converts as a man, and because of the infirmity of their flesh. If they are not yet in a condition for being roused to the performance of the latter service by the finer argument of taste, let us attempt to rouse them by the grosser argument of authority. The scholar is compelled to his hours of attendance for a musical task, and thus does he work himself into a musical taste. And know, ye men, who are still only at the place of breaking forth on the career of new obedience, that it is a career which must be entered on - that though it should for the present be against every taste and tendency of the inner man,your business is to constrain the outer man to a conformity with all the requirements of the gospel - that the life of a Christian is not utterly and throughout like a piece of well-tuned harmony, moving in soft and flowing accordance with a well- poised and smoothly-going mechanism. But there is a conflict, and a strenuousness., and a painful opposition between the delights of nature and the demands of the gospel, and a positive striving to enter in at the strait gate, and a violence in seizing upon the kingdom of heaven which is taken by force.
Go to Lecture 37
Go back to Romans index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet