Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMAN5, ix, 1 - 3.

"I say the truth in Christ, I he not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accurscd from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to th flesh."

The matter of which Paul here makes such strong asseveration, is not one that could be looked upon by the eyes of those whom he addresses; but one that himself only could take direct and immediate cognizance of. It had not its residence without, so that others should have access to it by any faculty of external observation; but had its residence within - within the repository of the apostle's own bosom, and he only had access to it by the faculty of conscience. He could not therefore say of it - this is true, for come and see that it is so - he could not thus make his appeal to the senses of other men, for no other earthly eye was upon it than that of his own mind. He therefore had recourse to the only expedient which those in general have, who feel that a certain suspicion attaches to their testimony, and who have no additional testimony wherewith to confirm it - even that of strenuous and repeated affirmation, ‘I say the truth, I lie not.'

But Paul, in this necessary defect of human witnesses, does make mention of other witnesses and which he seems at least to appeal to. He does not simply assert that he says the truth, but that he says it ‘in Christ;' neither does he simply quote the testimony of his conscience, but his conscience as bearing him witness ‘in the Holy Ghost' - most competent witnesses assuredly to the matter here spoken of, seeing that both had thorough insight into the recesses of the human spirit - Christ knowing what is in man - the Holy Ghost searching all things, and how much more the things of man, when He seareheth even into the deep things of God.

In our readings of the Bible, we often acquit ourselves of the task very currently; and are apt to speed our way over whole phrases, without being at all arrested by any thought or feeling, of, their significance - and that too with a book where there is nothing insignificant. The introduction of Christ and of the Holy Ghost in this verse, has perhaps with most of us never stirred up any enquiry into the mind and meaning of the apostle, when he thus refers to them. We recognise their names as well-known sounds, that are quite familiar to the ear; and the understanding therefore not startled, as it were, into vigilance, by any strange or rarely uttered vocable, remains asleep and insensible to the thought which lies couched in the phraseology of the apostle. It is thus that it fares, we apprehend, in very many instances with the Bible - that this mine of precious things is passed over without being entered into - that, full though it is of truth and of meaning throughout all its clauses, there is little drawn out of it by the daily perusals of the mere formalist in Christianity, who, satisfied with running his eye over the pages of Scripture, obtains no view whatever of the richness that is underneath; or who content that with his mouth he should pronounce the language of inspiration, although with his mind he never touches or comes close to the realities which that language embodies, is truly one of those to whom the kingdom of God cometh in word only and not at all in power.

It was for the sake of Christ that Paul made departure from the great body of his countrymen. It was to win Christ, that he counted all the honours which his zeal and, his talent might have earned for him among the Jews, and all the pleasure which he had enjoyed in their society - that he counted them but loss in his estimation. They looked on his association with Christ, as the act by which he had broken friendship with them. He had at least, however, given full evidence of his sincerity by it. He had relinquished all hopes of earthly preferment, and had braved all the terrors of persecution. In speaking of his truth in Christ, he spake of that by which his truth was most nobly accredited. His being in Christ was that which gave the fullest possible demonstration of his own uprightness; and, in the face of the Jewish apprehension that because the friend of Christ he was an enemy of theirs, he in that very name affirms his desire for their eternal welfare to be the most urgent feeling of a bosom, which still felt all its wonted affinities to his countrymen, and glowed with all its wonted affections towards them. And besides, the joining of that name to an affirmation was tantamount to the confirming of it by an oath. It was a name, they might well have known, which he never could have associated with the utterance of a falsehood; and so, to overcome the impression which obtained among the people of his own nation, as if he had lost all his ancient and natural regard for them, he appeals to that very Jesus for whose sake he had abandoned the faith of his countrymen, in support of his solemn averment that he had not abandoned any part of that friendship which he ever entertained for them.
There must be also a meaning which he intended to convey, when he spake of his conscience bearing him witness in the Holy Ghost. It is competent for any man's conscience to take notice of any urgent or strongly felt affection that might be at work in his bosom - as, for example, of the great heaviness and continual sorrow that was in his heart. It needs not the special intervention of any divine or supernatural agent to inform a human creature; whether it be joy or sadness or anger or fear that is the occupant of his heart for the the being; and we should therefore like to find what the precise addition was, or what the peculiarity which distinguished it from a mere ordinary intimation of conscience, when Paul's conscience bore him witness in the Holy Ghost.

Apart from the force which the very mention of Christ and of the Holy Ghost gives to this asseveration of the apostle, as if calling upon them to be witnesses of its truth, and so giving to his utterance all the sanction and solemnity of an oath - apart from this, there is conveyed to us by the phrase in question, that the Holy Ghost was at the the of this affirmation in Paul - that it had to do with his conscience while it testified of that which was in the heart of the apostle, and had to do with his heart by putting and upholding that affection in it of his conscience bare witness. The fruit of the Spirit it is said is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. It is by the last of these fruits, by the truth which it puts into the inward parts, that it both enlightens and directs the conscience. It acts by enabling the conscience to look more clearly on its own proper field of observation - by shedding a greater brightness and legibility on the lineaments of that inward tablet whereon are graven all the characteristics of a man's soul - whether that soul be now an epistle of Christ, so that in reading it we examine ourselves and ascertain that we are indeed in the faith - or it still bears the unaltered inscription of original and unrenewed nature, so that in reading it we become convinced of sin. It is thus, by revealing to the eye of conscience the real condition of the inward parts, that the Spirit performs the office either of aiding in the work of self-examination, or of convincing a man of sin ere he becomes a Christian.

And He not only makes truth known to the conscience, but He makes the man who professes to utter the intimations of this conscience to be strictly observant of the truth - so that the man whose conscience bears him witness in the Holy Ghost, is both a man who is not deceived himself in regard to the real nature of his own internal feelings, and neither would deceive others when he reports what these feelings are.

But further, the Holy Ghost not only enabled him clearly to apprehend the affection by which he was actuated, not only guided him to make true and faithful declaration thereof - but gave him the affection itself; and, in virtue of His fruit being goodness as well as truth, put into him that good and gracious distress which so overweighed his spirit when he bethought him of the spiritual condition of his own countrymen. What would have been a natural in others, was in the heart of Paul made by the Holy Ghost a sanctified affection. There was something most natural, and I could almost add justifiable, even in the pride of Jewish patriotism - for never was a nation so distinguished; and never had a people, even among those whom history has most gorgeously blazoned in all the honours of ancestry and of great achievement, such marvellous distinctions to boast of. All the trophies of conquest and of literature and of all earthly renown, make not out a crown of traditional glory for any of the states or monarchies of other days, which is at all like unto that crown of transcendental glory, that halo from heaven, which sits on the character and the fortunes of the children of Israel. There is nought in the sages, and in the warriors, and in all that is recorded either of the prowess or the philosophy of any other land, which serves so to irradiate its name, - as the name and the land of the Hebrews are irradiated by their patriarchs and their prophets and their holy men of God. The traveller, whose imagination has been sublimed among the historic remembrances which he saw around him in the classical territory of Greece and Rome, has confessed a deeper visitation of awe and of lofty emotion, as he walked over the priestly and consecrated land of Judea.

Even the very humblest of that outcast race, kindles in the recollection of his own ancestral dignity, and feels a sort of conscious superiority to other men when he thinks of himself as one of that selected nation whom seers did instruct, and whom angels visited; and that they were forefathers of his, who heard from Sinai's flaming top the words of the Eternal. Paul seems to have felt some such patriotic inspiration - as he made mention of the Israelites to whom pertained the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises-whose, he says, are the fathers; and of whom, so far from having lost all sense of their nobleness by having become a Christian, he sums up this heraldry of his nation by what he deemed the brightest of all its ensigns - even that of them as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever, amen.

It may serve to guard you against a delusion - should you, on this subject, make the proper distinction between that which was natural and that which was spiritual in this patriotic affection of the apostle. The former might be deponed to by an ordinary intimation of the conscience - the latter is wholly the work of the Holy Ghost; and can only be manifested to the man who has it, by the conscience bearing him witness in the Holy Ghost. It will perhaps make the distinction between these two things all the more palpable - if we only ask, what this high and heavenly ingredient has at all to do with those compositions of our recent poetry known under the title of ‘ Hebrew Melodies.' It has truly nothing to do, either with the genius and enthusiasm of those who framed them, or with the delighted admiration of those who listen to and perform them. The poetry, the pathos, the music, the beauteous and touching imagery, the recollections of domestic tenderness, the resolves and the vows of lofty patriotism - these are natural feelings, and must all be put down to the account of nature. But it follows not, ye sons and daughters of song, alive though ye be to the fascination of these touching numbers, that, because you kindle at the inspiration of genius, you have any part in the inspiration of Heaven. It is not for us to pronounce on the Christianity of the men who emanated these magical effusions; but we affirm it to be possible of the very man whose hand has so embellished these sacred themes, that in his heart there niight not have been a particle of sacredness. And so with you, who melt in all the luxury of emotion over these strains of ancient psalmody; and which only now, when set to the cadence of modern versification and the music of our modern drawing-rooms, have become strains of enchantment.

Ver. 2.
‘ That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.'
But to return from this digression. In the heart of Paul. we have no doubt, that both the natural and the spiritual were blended; and, in the estimation of unconverted men, the former might of itself account, for the great sorrow and continual heaviness that was in his heart. He felt for the overthrow of such a nation. He had sympathy for its fallen greatness. It would seem, from the enumeration that he has made of its glories, as if its proud and prosperous days had passed in recollection before him; and he could not but mourn over the prostrate condition that awaited it, when it should be trodden under foot of the Gentiles, and become the outcast and the mockery of all people. He would have sorrowed, and that most profoundly, although he had felt no more than other Hebrews feel, because of their dispersed nation, their ruined temple, their profaned and desolated sanctuary. The sadness of nature would have been enough to overwhelm him in such a contemplation; but the heart of our apostle was weighed down by a still more oppressive sadness. he was not insensible to the sorrows of wounded patriotism, but his were the deeper and more distressful sorrows of reflecting piety. He sorrowed for his countrymen after a godly sort. He had his eye upon their rejected souls, their now hopeless salvation, their undone eternity. And of far more bitter endurance to him than even the slaughtered hosts and the captive families of Israel, was the miscarriage of his heart's fondest desire for them that they might be saved.

Ver. 3.
‘ For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.' Whatever be the precise import of those terms in which the apostle here expresses his affection for the Israelites, there is one thing of which there can be no mystery or mistake - and that is, the strength and exceeding urgency of the affection itself. The circumstance of their being his kinsmen according to the flesh, gave him a special interest in their welfare; and the interest which he thus felt was mainly directed to the welfare of their immortality. On whatever other question criticism may stumble and go astray, there can be no misunderstanding of this. The literal sense of the verse may in one thing be somewhat unintelligible. But its moral and spiritual expression is altogether obvious. We have here the longing earnestness of an apostle after the salvation of his countrymen; and those sympathies of kindred, which in the hearts of ordinary men lead but to earthly gifts and earthly services, we see them in the instance before us taking a heaven-ward direction, and prompting the efforts and the expostulations and the prayers of this great Christian minister - not for the temporal but the everlasting welfare of those to whom he stood related by the affinities of blood.

We cannot doubt the strength of these affinities, even in the hearts of the veriest children of this world; and that innumerable are the kindnesses and charities of domestic life, to which they give rise. We cannot refuse, even to unsanctified nature, those warm and benevolent affections which have their living play in the bosom of almost every family, and by whose workings it is that the society of earth is upheld. The lesson of the text is not that we should love our relatives, for this is what untaught and instinctive humanity can do. But to love the souls of our relatives - this comes of something higher than the motives or the tendencies of spontaneous nature. Any man's conscience may bear him witness that he has a parent's instinctive fondness for his own children ; but, em he can vouch with truth for a regard at all so strong or so lively to their imperishable souls, there must be a higher agent than nature at work with him. Ere he can say it with truth, he must say the truth in Christ - Ere his conscience bear witness to it, it must bear him witness in the Holy Ghost.

But let us dwell at greater length on this phenomenon of character and feeling- for it is in truth an exhibition of humanity, most pregnant with inference, and fitted more especially to prove how wide an interval there is between the things of sense and the things of sacredness. The agony of an infant's dying bed is not more real, than the agony inflicted by it on a mother's bosom. The. sufferings endured by the one have not a more stable or undoubted certainty, than the sympathy which is felt for them by the other. They alike belong to man's sentient nature - in virtue of which there is scarcely a parent to be found, who bears not in his heart a thorough devotion to all the earthly interests of those who have sprung from him; and shares not in all the distresses, to which, by pain in their bodies, or disappointment in their fame or in their fortunes, they as earthly creatures are exposed. In other words, all that belongs to our sensitive economy which is taken down at death, -is most feelingly sympathised with; and what we affirm is, that, with all that belongs to our spiritual economy that survives death, there might be no concern and no sympathy whatever. After all then, this tenderness for relatives might at the very best be but a mere animal sensibility - an instinct, which has just as little of fellowship with the things of faith and of eternity, as has the similar instinct of any inferior creature. And it is indeed most striking to observe, under how many a parental roof all the amenities of nature's charity and of nature's care are absorbed, and have their full termination in earthliness - how, while the bodily wants of every little nurseling is most tenderly provided for, it is forgotten all the while that their spirits are imperishable - how, amid all the sighs and all the tenderness of family affection, scarce one effort is ever made to secure and scarce one alarm is ever felt lest they should fall short of a blissful eternity - So that while we, alive at every pore to all that is present or visible in the condition of our children, do watch over their sick-beds, and weep over their tombs - we rarely ever think of those fearful possibilities, which, on the other side of death, may still be in reserve for them; and seldom does the dread alternative of their future hell or their future heaven cost us one moment's agitation. That such is experimentally the fact, we have, I am persuaded, the responding testimony of many a conscience among yourselves; and melancholy as the contemplation is, we should like to prolong it through one or two lectures more, for the sake of those practical uses to which it is subservient.

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