Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

R0MANS, xli, 3 - 8. "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as have many are members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation, he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfuIness.’

Vers. 3. ‘For I say, through the grace given unto me.’ The particle ‘for’ establishes a connection between the present and the preceding verse, a which I think might be made out in this way; Paul had just as good as said, that, by being transformed through the renewal of our minds, we should be enabled to prove or discriminate or ascertain what the will of God is. We should be "renewed in knowledge." We should not only be made right in our wills, but right in our understanding also. Indeed the one rightness is a sort of g rantee for the other - He that willeth to do God's will shall know the doctrine of Christ; of who pre-eminently and indeed exclusively is the Teacher of the things of God, seeing that no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsover the Son will reveal Him. It is thus that he who wills aright shall be made to know aright, and more epecially to know the character and will of God.

Now this rectification of the will, and consequently of the understanding, is done by a renewal of the mind, which itself is an operation of divine grace; there is a peculiar significancy and connection in Paul telling the Christians of Rorne, when proceeding to unfold the will of God for the regulation of their conduct, that what he was going to say was through the grace given unto him. He had just acquitted himself throughout the foregoing chapters of this epistle as a teacher of truth; and he now tells them how he came by his qualifications for discharging the office on which he was about to enter of a teacher of righteousness. He was on the eve of giving forth so many practical lessons - a list of particulars respecting the will of God - which he through grace was enabled as their apostle to reveal; and which they, if indeed his genuine disciples, would also through grace be enabled to recognise, as those very lessons of righteousness which proceeded from God, and had in them the character and seal of the upper sanctuary. Between him and them, there would be the tact and sympathy of a common understanding. They would hear his voice. If gifted with spiritual discernment, their eye would see and acknowledge the rightness of what their teacher set before them . They would not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. In knowledge and in all judgment would they approve the things that are excellent ; and so filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, would both teacher and taught give proof to their common discernment of the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

‘To every man that is among you.’
He comprehends all in the advice which he offers; but with the special design, we have no doubt, of reading the lesson which they stood most in need of, to those in the church, who, like Diotrephes, loved to have the pre-eminence - whether they were boastful Jews who still retained somewhat of their old leaven, or arrogant Gentiles who boasted against the branches. It was precisely the lesson, which, if it but took them all in, was the most fitted of all others to hush and to harmonise the discordant elements of the society whom he was addressing.

‘Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly.
’ This may be regarded either as a general dissuasive against pride, and we shall not go astray though in part we so understand it; or, it may be viewed as having a special reference to the temper and conduct of the various ecclesiastical functionaries - each signalised by his own distinct gift, and holding his own distinct office in the church. The following context clearly proves that this latter object too was in the mind of the apostle, which in no way precludes our looking to it in the former light also as a morality of universal application. We cannot but think, however, that, in the direction here given, the case of the church’s office-bearers, if not chiefly, was at least fully in his eye. He wanted them in particular not to think highly of themselves, lest they should aspire to such offices as they were not fit for. What he desired was, that each should be satisfied with his own special gift and his own calling - just as he received it from that 'Spirit who divideth to every man severally as He will.’ He would have each to keep by the part assigned to him, without taking upon him, and still less without despising or undervaluing the part which belonged to another. The next clause presents a consideration eminently applicable to this understanding of the matter.

'According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.’
The very consideration that it is God who determines for every man his place, should not only make the man satisfied to keep within it; but, if a place of honour, it should lead him to bear meekly and modestly the distinction thus conferred upon him by a higher hand. "What hast thou that thou didst not receive" And then it is but given in measure - as if in contradistinction to Him who was the great Pattern of humility, and to whom it was given without measure. The expression - every man’s measure of faith - implies that the faith of each was limited; which it might be, either in degree, as the general faith which makes one a Christian is stronger or weaker with different individuals; or in kind, as some special faith, the exercise of which was followed up by a forth-putting of some one or other of the special gifts or endowments of that period. Thus there was the faith of miracles, which enabled one man to work them; and a faith having respect to a different object, which empowered another, to prophesy, or a third to speak tongues, or a fourth to interpret them, or a fifth who was qualified by his peculiar faith for his peculiar office which might have been the discernment of spirits, or some one or other of those numerous diversities which in that age of preternatural manifestations made part of the full complement of a Christian church. Each man had his own sort of faith, and, appropriate thereto, his own sort of function. Believest thou that I, the Lord of these various administrations, am able to do for you this? And according to these their several faiths, was it severally done unto them. It might well have humbled them to consider, that, not only were the gifts of one and all received by them, but the preceding and preparatory faiths proper to each gift were respectively dealt out to them. God dealt out to every man his measure of faith; or, understanding it in its more special and restricted sense, God gave to each of these privileged men that particular faith which led or opened the way to him for his particular acquirement. And the very same consideration ought powerfully to tell in the humbling of all spiritual pride - for it holds true of the general faith, the faith by which we are saved, that, not only is the salvation a gift (by grace are ye saved); but the very faith is not of ourselves, it being the gift of God.

And indeed in the exercise of faith, from the very nature of it, all is fitted not - to exalt but to humble - for the greater our faith, the greater is our self-renunciation; and the more singly, as well as more strongly, do we draw and depend on One who is higher than ourselves. It is thus that the loftiest in faith is necessarily the lowliest in self-distrust or self abasement. It is altogether an act of self-emptying, the very opposite of arrogance or self-elation; and is clearly so viewed by the apostle, when he checks the boastful disposition of his converts, by the consideration that thou standest by faith, and therefore be not high-minded, but fear.

Ver. 4, 5.
‘For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.’ Now follows the context which determines the more special of the two meanings assigned to the preceding verse - as bearing, though not an exclusive, at least a very distinct reference to. the office-bearers of a church - namely, that each keep within his own particular sphere; and no one thrust himself into the duties, or usurp the office of another. As in other Scriptures, he here avails himself of the human body as a figure, by the various members of which he would illustrate the mutual helpfulness of the church’s several functionaries to each other, as well as the indispensableness of each to the well-being and perfection of the whole - they being one body in Christ the Head, and in virtue of their common relation to this one body, being every one members one of another. The same is expressed otherwise in 1 Cor. xii, 27; and signifies the mutual subserviency and use of the parts to each other, as well as their harmonious adjustment into one system. And upon this analogy does he ground his lesson of the confusion and disorder that would ensue, did each encroach on the proper business of the other - as if the foot were to attempt the work of the hand, or any one member were to undertake the functions of any of the rest. And his two-fold direction is, that each should abide by his own duties, while he maintains the utmost deference for the place and pertormance of the others - being at once helpful to all and doing honour to all. It is thus that they would best demonstrate their being in Christ - and that not by an ostensible or merely conomical, but by a vital and personal and real union. We can never overrate the vast importance for Christianity of such a unity as this among a church’s members and church’s office-bearers. This is powerfully manifested in our Saviour’s prayer - that all His disciples might be one, even "as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." It is further worthy of observation, that to save the heats and the heart-burnings incidental to the complex and economical structure of a Christian society, the description of its mechanism is similarly followed up by the apostle in his Epistles to the Corinthians and the Romans - there by a glorious persuasive to charity, and here by a series of verses, which together make up the brightest tablet of the social moralities ever presented to the world. In his representation too of the thing to the Ephesians, it is the grand lesson of love which forms the main end and burden of his argument.

But before proceeding to the enforcement of this lesson, either in its general form, or in its various applications, as set forth in the last half of the chapter on hand - let us first follow the apostle in his enumeration of the diverse acts or offices, which in his days appertained to a Christian church, and must of course have been of beneficial operation in subserving the designs of this great moral institute. But before entering on the exposition of the verses where these are specified, we would remark on the great number of distinct services which were laid each on a distinct set of office-bearers in apostolic times, coupled with this maxim of Church government which seems generally to have obtained at that period - even that each distinct functionary should keep by his own distinct functions, as if these were enough for all his energies. This subdivision of employment, and that too in the proper work of a Christian church, was greatly proceeded on, and that too in the best and most prosperous and most efficient period of its history, when it had just come fresh from heaven upon the world, and drew direct, or at first hand, from the fountains of inspiration. But the principle which was so much respected then, we grieve to say it, is signally traversed in the present day. One might well have imagined, that in that season of extraordinary and preternatural endowments, the Spirit of God could have overborne the varieties of nature; and, without respect to the separate talents and dispositions of each mental constitution, could have fitted one man for the discharge of many offices.

But this is not His method; and, instead of overbearing, He imitates the variety of nature - dividing to every man severally as He will: And so we behold in the spectacle of a primitive church, the economy of a complex and variegated service made up of many offices - not accumulated on one man, but parted with a right and proper adaptation among many office-bearers, where each laboured in the task he was fitted for, and meddled not with the employments or the services of other men. Surely now, and in this far less gifted age, it is all the more necessary to consult the special ability of each for the special work in which, whether by nature or grace, he is most qualified to excel. We should suit the objective to the subjective - a great lesson, and as well in the business of the church as in the business of general society. In this matter a wise Christian policy, or sound policy of the church, is at one with the policy of the world. We should, as much as possible, humour, even as the Spirit Himself does, the constitutional varieties of taste and talent among men - a maxim this, which has been signally traversed in our present day - when ministers are made men of all works; and each, more especially if he have earned an eminence for something, has many things laid upon him; and so is drawn away from his own favourite, which, generally speaking, if permitted to keep by it without molestation, would to him be the far most productive walk of Christian usefulness. What makes it all the more ruinous is, that rarely indeed is one man eminent in more than one thing; and the sure way therefore f degrading him from eminence to mediocrity, is to bustle and belabour him with more than one thing. In the time of the apostles, the work of the Christian ministry was broken down into manifold departments; and we then beheld the goodly spectacle of a well-going church, having its business conducted and carried forward by means of a well-stocked agency. The tendency now is in an opposite direction - to abridge and economise, and thus mutilate and impair to the uttermost the original machinery of a Christian church. And so not only have many of its primitive offices been lost sight of and fallen into desuetude; but the few remaining office-holders, on whom the whole burden is devolved, instead of operating each with intense efficiency and power of observation on his own separate employment, is forsed to generalise and do all slightly, or to neglect and leave much undone. And no wonder, therefore, at the complaints of our having lighted on a day of small things, and among the pigmies of a slender and superficial generation.

Ver. 6 - 8. ‘Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; lie that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.’ Whe. ther ours be the gifts of Providence, or of what is properly termed grace - that is, whether they have been conferred on us by nature, or more specially I through the channel of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the very same lesson is applicable to both. It is alike our duty to consecrate them to the service of God and the good of mankind. They alike proceed from Him - for what hast thou, 0 man, that thou didet not receive l And far better, both in the church and in society, that each should be provided with his own sphere of labour; and that it should be the kind of labour for which, by his specific endowments, be they of genius or habit or grace, he is best adapted. But let us look to the matter ecclesiastically, and with a strict reference to the promotion of Christianity in our respective neighbourhoods; and we shall come nearer to the main object of the apostle, who recognises the difference between the gifts of one man and another, as due to the grace that was respectively given to each of them. This does not necessarily limit our view to the varieties of official service - though these be included in it, and indeed form the cases of chief consideration. Still the lesson of these verses is a lesson for the members of a church as well as office-bearers - it being alike the duty of all to lay themselves out for the cause of religion, and that according either to the opportunities which are without,.or to the talents and capacities which they feel to be within them. But let us attend to what these services particularly are, as specified and enumerated in the verses before us.

‘Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith
.’ In the following induction of the gifts ‘differing according to the grace’ given, we may remark, that there are none of those extraordinary powers which the apostle specifies in the wider enumeration of his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he tells of the "diversities of gifts" which are by the same Spirit. There is not one of the functions spoken of here, which might not to a certain extent be discharged by Christians in an individual or private, as well as in an official capacity. So that while we have no doubt the apostle had chiefly in his eye the officials of the congregation, the lessons which he gives are of catholic application, and might be appropriated by all. To prophesy was without question the professional employment of a distinct class of office-bearers in those days -

"And he gave some, prophets
." It is well known, however, that prophesying in Scripture is not restricted to the foretelling of what is future. In this passage there is no cognisance taken of any miraculous office. The prophesying here spoken of is tantamount to ordinary preaching. In the Scriptural sense of the term, any man of God is a prophet, whether he be endued with the preternatural knowledge of coming events or not - simply if he be an instructor in the things of God; and that whether the instruction in which he deals be instruction in doctrine or instruction in righteousness, or is comprehensive of both. Here we think it need in its generic sense; and that these its two species are particularised afterwards under the heads of teaching and exhortation. And these prophets are called on to exercise their vocation according to the proportion of faith. We cannot think that by this is meant what theologians term the analogy of faith. This clause we hold to be of the same force and import with the final clause of the third verse - 'according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith' - that measure, in fact, which regulates both the kind of gift and the degree of its exercise. The same qualifications then may be applied, not to the office of prophecy alone, but to each of the offices that are mentioned afterwards. And if instead of offices we regard them as duties, certain it is, as we said before, that they are competent to the members of a church as well as to its office-bearers. That private Christian acts as a prophet in whom the word of Christ dwells richly in all wisdom - when out of the abundance of a heart thus charged, his mouth speaketh. He believes, therefore he speaks ; or, agreeably to the expression before us, his utterance is in proportion to his faith. It is not for clergy alone surely to monopolise this branch of Christian usefulness - a usefulness not confined to the pulpit, but which might spread and be multiplied amongst the social parties of every neighbourhood, when they that fear the Lord speak often one to another. It is not for ministers alone, but the duty of every man so to season his speech, as that it should be always with grace. It is surely not to ministers alone that the apostle says - " Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." As little then does that which immediately follows apply exclusively to ministers, but is intended for all - Let what proceedeth out of your mouth be good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

‘Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.’
‘Ministry’ we hold also to be a generic term, like prophecy in the verse which goes before; and comprehensive of the two things which come afterwards under ,the heads of giving and showing mercy. The great lesson, however, Let each mind his own business, is still kept up and carried out to all the departments of official, and in all the instances we might add, of general service. The lesson primarily and specially directed to church officers is applicable to every man.

"As every man hath received the gift,
even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Looking again ecclesiastically and not generally to the matter, the ministry in this verse may be distinguished from prophecy in the one before - as that which properly, appertaineth to " the outward business of the house of God."

‘Or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation
.’ The apostle now returns on the prophetical office, and specifies two distinct branches of it. The faculties of teaching and exhorting may be combined in the same individual; and indeed in these days, they are best laid upon one person, the ordinary minister of a congregation. Yet the two faculties are so far separate, as in other times to have given rise to separate functions; and accordingly, in the machinery of more churches than one, have we read both of the doctor and the pastor as distinct office-bearers. The one expounds truth. The other applies it, and presses it home on the case and conscience of every individual. The didactic and the hortatory are two distinct things, and imply distinct powers - insomuch, that, on the one hand, a luminous, logical, and masterly didactic, may be a feeble and unimpressive hortatory preacher; and, on the other, the most effective of our hortatory men, may, when they attempt the didactic, prove very obscure and infelicitous expounders of the truth. Both are best; and we should conform more to the way of that Spirit who divideth His gifts severally as He will, did we multiply and divide our offices so as to meet this variety. It were more consonant both to philosophy and Scripture, did we proceed more on the subdivision of employment in things ecclesiastical.

‘He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity.’
If the duty here specified be regarded as a function in the hand of a functionary, it is that of a deacon or distributor of the church’s alms. The word in the original for simplicity has been variously interpreted, and made to stand for a great many different virtues. Its proper signification is singleness; and wherever its place or connection determines its meaning to someone of these virtues, it will mean that virtue in a state of purity; and as free from the alloy of any corruption, or the influence of any principle adverse to or different from itself. Thus in 2 Cor. viii, 2, there can be no doubt of its mean ing a strong and single-hearted liberality; in 2 Cor. 1, 12, a single-hearted conscientiousness - and that too in the midst of distracting forces; in Eph. vi, 5, a simple devotedness to the will of Christ; the same in Col. iii, 22; 2 Cor. xi, 3, an entire and undivided credence in the doctrine of Christ; and in the passage before us, a singleness of aim on the part of our deacon to do aright the duty of his calling - a oneness of purpose to fulfil the end of his appointment, which was not the satisfaction of the poor for the sake of his own popularity, but so to deal with them in the office of a distributor, as might best subserve the good of the poor, or be most conducive to their real and substantial wellbeing. Such simplicity as this might lead him to a large distribution of money or not, according to circumstances. Its aim is not the greatest possible amount of liberality, but the greatest possible benefit of those who are the objects of its care. That Christians in general have a part in this rule is quite obvious. They are called to be willing to distribute, and ready to communicate, and to consider the poor,. and to open the bowels of their compassion towards them. What the office-bearers are required to do for the paupers of the church, all are required to do as they have the opportunity and the call for the poor of society at large.

‘He that ruleth, with diligence.’
There seems to be interposed here a function not exclusively confined to the business either of prophecy or deaconship, but which may extend to all other ecciesiastical business, and has been specially applied to the discipline of the church. It is true that of the ruling elders some there were who laboured in word and doctrine; but in modern practice they who owned this title have had chiefly to do with matter of discipline. And were but the territory of a parish, with its population, rightly parcelled out amongst them - did they but take cognisance of the moral and religious habits of their respective families - would they but prosecute their weekly or periodic rounds of visitation, and do their uttermost in stimulating the education and the economy and the temperance and the church-going and the family worship of all the households within their charge. In this high work of philanthropy, there is ample scope for as much diligence as. they can afford to expend upon it: But along with this, by the Divine blessing on their labours, the amplest encouragement, in that most delightful of all employments, the prosperous management of human nature - to be followed up in God’s good time by that most delightful of all rewards, the elevated morals and piety of those neighbourhoods over which they expatiate. Here too, it is evident, that the Christian usefulness which might be achieved by the elder of a church, lies within the reach of all in a greater or less degree; and that it is the duty of all, thus to lay themselves out for the furtherance of religion in the world.

'He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.’
- There was an official channel provided for this species or modification of benevolence too in the ancient Christian churches. It formed a distinct office from that of deacon or almoner, whose business it was to act as a dispenser among the poor of the charities of the faithful. Besides these, there were those whose part it was to officiate among the distrest from othe causes than that of mere poverty, as the afflicted in any other way, and especially the diseased. They were distinct too from those "elders of the church," of whom we read in James, and who were sent for by the sick to pray over them, or in the discharge of a spiritual duty. The visitors of whom we now treat had the charge rather pf a temporal ministration - attending the sick at their own houses, to whom they gave the comfort of their presence, and the help of their personal services. For the better execution of this trust, there was appointed an order of deaconesses, who officiated then very much as do the sisters of charity in later times. It was quite an appropriate lesson for them that what they did they should do ‘with cheerfulness’ - or with perfect good will and a congenial liking for the task, that, from their very smiles and looks of kindness, the objects of their care might derive a happiness in sympathy with their own. This too is obviously a lesson for all; and is as applicable on the walk of general philanthropy as within the economy of a church. Whoever has leisure for such services of humanity, would do well to study this advice of the apostle - though primarily designed by him for the officebearers of an ecclesiastical community. The goodly equipment of offices in the ancient church for all sorts and varieties of well-doing, carries with it a severe reproach on the meagre, stinted, and parsimonious apparatus of modern times.
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