Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xii, 1, 2. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

V. 1. ‘By the mercies of God’ - Those mercies of which he had just spoken as alike applicable both to Jews and Gentiles, whom he now addresses as the subjects of a common discipleship, and under the common title of brethren. The style of his address is eminently fitted to conciliate the men, with whom he had just been holding what at least one class of them might have felt to be a somewhat stern and repulsive argument. As his manner is, he omits no lawful expedient, by which to disarm the repugnance of his pupils to aught which might prove hard or distasteful in the reasonings which he employs; and so he stands before them, not in the attitude of a master to school them into submission, but of a friend and fellow-disciple, to supplicate their gifts and services at the altar of their common Christianity. At this part he makes the transition from doctrine to practice; and on the groundwork of those mercies which he had just demonstrated, tells them what the returns are which are expected at their hands. That gospel mercy which proclaims so full an indemnity for the past, is greatly misunderstood by those, who conceive of it as holding out a. like full exemption from the toils of a future obedience - instead of which there cannot be imagined the more entire renunciation of an old habit and an old will, than what takes place, and takes place invariably, in the economy under which we sit.

And there is no dispensation from it. The covenant of works began with service, and ended with reward. The covenant of grace begins with mercy and ends with service; and most certainly a service not short of the former, either in the universality of its range over the whole domain of our moral nature - or at length with every single disciple in the school of Christianity, in the tale and measure of his performances. And can any subordination be more complete than that which is proposed in these verses ? - and proposed too on the ground of those mercies, or because of them (therefore), as the rightful and proper return to God for the benefits of this new dispensation. We are called on to present our bodies a ‘sacrifice’ - not by giving them to be burnt, as were the slain carcases of the Jewish offerings, but to present them ‘a living sacrifice;’ or, in other words, not by the extinction of our animal life, but by the utter mortification of all that is evil or forbidden in our animal desires, which, if not the death of the body, is at least the death of that which was formerly dear to it even as life itself. The voluntary surrender of that in which the chief enjoyment of life consisted, is a self-denial, or rather a self-infliction, which, if not equivalent, is at least analogous to a literal sacrifice of the person; and is thus denominated in various parts of Scripture. And certainly it may require a strength of resolution as great as that exhibited in the martyrdoms, whether of principle or of patriotism.

And accordingly we read of being "crucified with Christ," of them that are His having "crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts," of our being "buried with him in baptism," of our "being made conformable unto his death," of our putting off by a circumcision "the body of the sins of the flesh," of our being "baptized into his death." There is nothing surely in these expressions, to countenance the immoralities or the indolence of antinomianism; and we may well miderstand how that, to be carried into effect, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Truly it is not by a slight or easy process, by a listless seeking after life, that we shall make good our entry thereinto, or work out our salvation; but by dint of a hard and laborious striving, so very hard and far above the powers of nature, that it needs the working of that grace which worketh in us mightily. It is no more a literal sacrifice that we are called to, than Paul’s was a literal crucifixion, when he tells us that he was crucified with Christ. Nevertheless he lived. Yet, to signify the actuating power which thus enabled him to stifle and overbear the strongest and most urgent importunities of nature, he further says that it was not he but Christ who lived in him; and, still more to explain the principle or rationale of this great achievement, he lets us know that his life (for the crucifixion he underwent did not, as in the case of the Saviour, imply any surrender of this life) that the life which he lived in the flesh was a life of faith on the Son of God - and he adds, "who loved me and gave himself for me."

Let us in like manner take the same firm hold on the sure mercies of David - the identical mercies of our text; and on the strength of this confidence, or faith which overcometh the world, we shall accomplish the same victory and make good the same sacrifice which it was the incessant labour of his life to perfect in the sight of God. Let the grace of Christ rule in our hearts, and then sin will no longer have the dominion over us. If we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; but keep under our bodies and so bring them into subjection, keep them in sanctification and honour, keep them with that holy guardianship which is due to the temples of the Holy Ghost - and finally, to complete the surrender, or merge our will wholly into God’s will, we shall not be satisfied with one act of self-denial; but, making it the symbol and earnest of a universal obedience, whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we shall do all to the glory of God.

The supremacy ascribed to Him at the end of the last chapter is universal; and, in keeping with this, the submission laid upon us at the commencement of this chapter is universal also. And this is a sacrifice which may well be called ‘holy’ - a term properly expressive of separation. The best and indeed the prescribed way of keeping down the appetencies of the body, is to keep at a distance from the objects which excite them. And thus it should be our prayer and our endeavour to turn away our eyes from beholding vanity; and we are told not to look upon the wine when it is red; and we are bidden to refrain our foot from the path of sinners, and to refrain our tongue from evil and eschew it. The policy of the Christian is first to flee the temptation of alluring objects when he can, and then resist it to the uttermost when he can not. He does the first when he sets no wicked thing before his eyes, or rather avoids it, passes not by it, turns from it, and passes away. He does the second, when in such circumstances as that he cannot withdraw, but may at least withstand - as when he sits to eat with a ruler, and considers diligently what is set before him; and puts a knife to his throat if he be a man given to appetite. The world we live in is a world full of temptation to these distempered, or as the apostle terms them, the vile bodies; and it is only by a strenuous avoidance and a strenuous resistance together, that we can maintain a holy separation from the objects which would otherwise lord it over us, and bring us under the dominion of those evil affections. which war against the soul.

'Acceptable unto God.'
There is a certain rigid and overstrained orthodoxy, which would banish this term altogether from the doings or the services of men; and has thus, we fear, done a world of mischief to practical religion. It is most true, as they contend, that the perfect obedience of Christ is the only ground of our meritorious acceptance with God - the only consideration on which the rewards of eternity can be challenged or claimed for us as rightfully our due. But this is no reason why acceptance, nay acceptance with God, should be so utterly dissociated as some would have it to be from the obedience of man. On this subject the Bible is far more free and fearless than are many of our sensible theologians. It can tell us to walk worthy of the Lord unto all well-pleasing; and of the value which He has for our personal virtues, as, for example, a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price; and of the love He bears to the possessor of good moral qualities, and habits, as when it says that God loveth a cheerful giver; and of the chief importance which it assigns to the services of our new obedience, making these the end or terminating object of our Saviour’s death, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works ; and of the real substantive effect or virtue that there is in an endeavour for adding to our treasures in heaven, or to the rewards and joys of our etenity, as when it bids us be stedfast and immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labour in the Lord shall not be in vain: And, in one word more, of its incessant demand for the right conduct of every disciple, and for the graces and accomplishments of a right character, as shining forth throughout all the gospel, and in each of the epistles.

Now we cannot say of all or any part of this, that it is expressly denied by our evangelical Christians. Nay rather, it in words is expressly admitted by them; and it has a place in the formularies of every Protestant church; and is harmonised by theologians into a consistency with the great doctrine of justification by faith - for they tell us, and tell us truly, that it forms no part of this justification, and that it our services or sacrifices be acceptable at all, they are only acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, in whom alone it is that we can find acceptance either for our persons or services. All this is very distinctly laid down; and yet with many a mind it does not countervail the effect of those denunciations which orthodoxy has launched forth on the presumption and vanity of human works. Such is the evil of fierce controversy, that, after all the attempts to correct or to qualify its previous fulminations on good works, there is still in many an anxious and agitated spirit, a general fear of them. So much has been said respecting the danger which there is of arrogating a merit because of our good works, that we almost feel as if there was a merit in renouncing them - could almost wish them undone, because of the hazard incurred in the doing of them. It is thus, we apprehend, that, as the compound result of all the arguments and asseverations which have been uttered in defence of the true system against the heresies of gainsayers on the subject of our acceptance with God - a freezing interdict has been laid by them on the activities of the Christian life. Surely it is a precious encouragement on the side of gospel obedience that God is highly pleased with it, though He will not admit it as forming our right to the inheritance of heaven - just as the father of a family on earth may be delighted with the services of his children and their efforts to do his will, though it be not these which constitute their right, their legal, forensic, and unchallengeable right to a place and a maintenance under the parent’s roof.
Let us dismiss then the chilling fears of a misplaced and mistaken orthodoxy on this subject; but enter with all alacrity on the path of duty, and in the full sense of a complacent smile from the upper sanctuary to cheer us on. In betaking ourselves to this walk, let us break through the fetters which an artificial theology may have laid upon it; and resolutely, yea hopefully, do the work of obedience, whether we can rightly assign or not the place which it holds in a regular and well-built system of divinity - trusting in the Lord and doing good - giving ourselves up to the practical and prescribed labour of Christianity; and this cheerfully, courageously, and with the comfort of knowing that our labour in the Lord shall not be in vain.

‘Which is your reasonable service.’
Perhaps a reasonable, in contradistinction to a ritual service - the one applied to the living sacrifice of our own bodies, the other to the sacrifice of animals under the Jewish law. Not that it is not altogether reasonable to do a given thing, simply because it is the will of God. But there are certain things of which we see the reasonableness, prior to and apart from the voice of any express revelation; and others again in which there would have been no reasonableness, had it not been for the distinct and positive injunction of them by authority of the great Lawgiver. There would have been no reason, for example, in the prescribed form of the tabernacle, or in the prescribed offerings of the Hebrew ceremonial as laid down by Moses, had it not been for the things showed to him or the things told to him on the mount. There is an analogy between what we now say of the ‘reasonable,’ and what might be as well said of the ‘right.’ An observance may be right in itself, or only right and the matter of obligation, because made the subject of a positive or statutory enactment on the part of God. It is truly a most right thing that we should do what He hath commanded, though solely on the ground of the commandment. But the thing thus commanded may, anterior to the commandment, have a primary and inherent rightness of its own. Children," says the apostle, "obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right " - not right oniy because God had commanded it, for this might be alleged of every precept which cometh out of His lips; but, separately from this consideration, having a proper and independent rightness of itself.

And in like manner, as a service may in its own proper character be right, so may it in its own proper character be reasonable; and this applies preeminently to the service of the text - that is, the presentation of our bodies unto God as a living sacrifice. For not only is He Lord of the body, and its rich and bountiful Provider, and the Upholder for every instant of its complex and curious workmanship by the word of his power; and what more reasonable than that the thing which so thoroughly and in all its parts subsists by Him, should in all things be subject to Him ? - But let us think of the effect, if, instead of our bodies being made by us a sacrifice unto God, we should come under the degrading, the brutalising influence of its vile affections, and so become slaves of the body, the wretched bondsmen of one or other or all of its tyrant appetites - when the intervals of a worthless enjoyment should be filled up by the languor, the remorse, the disgust, and self-dissatisfaction, wherewith remaining conscience, so long as it keeps alive, exercises the unhappy victims of sordid indulgence and excess. Or should conscience die, and so the man sink into the animal, let us but think of the moral ruin which ensues, when the master-faculty is put out; and all that is distinctive of a superior or spiritual nature is obliterated; and the hopes of eternity are extinguished, while perhaps the dark imagery of terror, as the only badge and relict of an immortal capacity, might still continue at times to haunt and agonise him; and the Spirit of God takes His final departure from that foul and loathsome tenement, which, under another regimen, might have become a glorious temple of the Holy Ghost; and the abject devotee of those pleasures which he can no longer resist though they now pall upon him, and present him with but the mockery of enjoyment, renounces for ever that service which he would have experienced to be perfect freedom, bad he only yielded up his members to be instruments of righteousness - and thus barters irrecoverably away from him the light and the liberty of God’s own children. That truly is an unreasonable service, by which Reason is disposted from her supremacy; and all the objects of a rational and immortal creature are given up in exchange for those short-lived pleasures of sin, which are but for a season. her.

And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.’
‘And be not conformed to this world.’ The sacrifice of our corporeal affections, involves in it this bidden nonconformity. We should then not fashion ourselves according to our former lusts. The grossness of Paganism made the nonconformity between Christians and those who were without all the more palpable in these days. And accordingly when the disciples of Jesus Christ entered on their new course - resolving no longer to live the rest of their time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God; and reckoning that the time past of their lives should suffice them to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when they walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries - then did the unconverted, the world as contradistinguished from the church and lying in wickedness, think it strange of these Christians that they ran not to the same excess of riot with themselves, and so spake evil of them. The distinction may not be so glaring now-a-days, nor force itself so necessarily and irresistibly on the eye of the senses. But the enormities of the heathen world in these days, and of which we read in the descriptions both of the new Testament and of profane authors, were as little scandalous then - as the gaieties and the amusements and those various companionships from which all sense of God and all the conversations of godliness are excluded, of the festive and fashionable and general society of our modern world can possibly be now.

The distinction is the same, though its insignia be different. There is as wide a difference of spirit still between the children of light and the children of this world, whatever reforms or refinements of manner and external decency the latter may have undergone. The distinction is not the less real, that it is perhaps more latent and lurks now under the subtlety of a disguise which serves more to humanise all, and so seems more to assimilate all. And it requires now as deep and radical and searching an operation to effect the indispensable change, or translate the one character into the other, as it did in those days when the apostle, addressing those of his own disciples, who at one time were fornicators, or idolaters, or adulterers, or effeminate, or abusers of themselves with mankind, or thieves, or covetous, or drunkards, or revilers, or extortioners, said - "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." This was the process of separation from the world then, and it is the process still - though it be a world now less revolting in its general aspect, and having on it a fairer face of civilisation and social morality. The same mighty agent is needed for the work of regeneration in all ages; and the same total revolution of spirit and character must be achieved on every son and daughter of Adam, ere they can inherit the kingdom of God.

‘But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ This single clause proves the magnitude of the transition. In order to our being not conformed, we must be transformed - and that not by a superficial amendment, but by a renewal, and, more decisive still, a renewal in the very interior of our system - a change not merely on the outward walk, but a change in the central parts of our moral nature, or at the place of command and presiding authority, and where the main spring of every deed and every movement lies. Some would have the body in the first verse, on the principle of the part for the whole, to signify the entire man. But thisis unnecessary; and we should beside lose the impressiveness of a distinct reference to each of the two great departments in the human constitution, which we obtain when passing on to the second verse, we find the subjection of the mind provided with an express and authoritative lesson, oven as in the first verse is the subjection of the body to the will of God.
It is thus that the whole of the living and willing and intelligent mechanism is not only mended, but is virtually though not literally and in substance, made over again. The carnal mind is changed into the spiritual; and we are led to glorify God in our body and in our spirit, which are God’s. It is remarkable that this should be the subject of a precept, or that we should be as good as bidden to transform ourselves. It is not more remarkable, however, than that we should be told in Ezekiel to make us a new heart and a new spirit.

The solution is found in this - that for every precept, we may be said, under the economy of grace, to have a counterpart promise. And accordingly by the mouth of the same prophet, God, in His own person, sends forth this gracious proclamation - "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." And what we have to do between this precept on the one hand and this promise on the other, how we must turn ourselves for the purpose of making them good, is distinctly intimated in a following verse of this chapter - " I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them."

In other words, we have to seek and pray for the offered blessing. It is by ‘the mercies of God’ that Paul conjures us to be transformed by the rehewing of our mind. To these mercies we should make our confident appeal; and as these form the subject of his invocation, when he delivers to us the seemingly impracticable charge of renewing ourselves ançl transforming ourselves, so our faith in these forms our very instrument for the achievement of the task which he puts into our hands. But this is not all. Even in the high and transcendental matter of our regeneration, we have a something to do as well as to pray for. Indeed the apostle, in the passage now in hand, tells us thus much, when in the preceding verse before he had bidden us be transformed by the renewing of our minds, he tells us how to dispose of our bodies - that is, keep their every appetite under restraint, even though it should be with such a violence to our inclinations as might amount to the feeling of a most painful sacrifice. And so also the prophet Ezekiel in the place already quoted, and before he had bidden his countrymen make them a new heart and a new spirit, lays it in charge upon them to cast away from them all the transgressions whereby they had transgressed. But most significent of all is that saying of Hosea, when he complains of the people, that "they will not frame their doings to turn unto their God."

Amid such explicit testimonies as these, the trumpet surely cannot be said to give an uncertain sound. We can neither pray too earnestly, nor work too diligently; and if it be asked, which of these should have the precedency, - better far than any metaphysical adjustment is the sound practical deliverance, that we can neither pray nor work too soon. On the one hand, we should make haste and delay not to keep the commandments. But on the other, the cry of our felt helplessness can never ascend too early. The aspirations of the heart and movements of the hand should begin and keep pace together. Paul’s first question at the moment of conversion was, What wilt thou have me to do; and his first recorded exercise is, Behold he prayeth. Let us dismiss, then, the idle question of the antecedeney between these two things. Let there be no self-indulgence in praying, for thus should we be antinomians; no self-sufficiency in doing, for thus should we be legalists. It is not by sitting still in the attitude of a mystic and expect ant quietism, that we shall carry our salvation. But neither is it by activities, however manifold or boundless, without a constant sense of dependence upon God. From the very outset His helping hand must be sought after. He not only puts His Spirit within us; but He causes us to walk in His statutes.

‘That ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ The man who lives in and is led by the Spirit of God, will come to know, in the new and heaven-born desires of his own regenerated heart, what the will of God is. That fruit of the Spirit, which is in all righteousness and goodness and truth, must be best known in these its various characteristics and excellencies, by him who is the bearer of it. When God putteth His law into the inward parts of men, and writes it in their hearts - then they need not to be taught of others, saying unto them, Know the Lord, for all who are thus enlightened know Him from the least even to the greatest. They surely know best the laws and lessons of the Holy Ghost, who are the immediate subjects of His teaching; and even they who see their good works recognise in them the lineaments of that divine image in which they’ are created - and so, on looking to the righteousness and the true holiness of those whose light tlius shines before men, discern in these virtues the very will and character of God, and are led thereby to glorify their Father who is in heaven.
Go To Lecture 89
Go back to Romans index

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