Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xii, 9 - 13, 15, 16.
"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits."

THOUGH the apostle may be regarded in the few last verses as addressing himself in a more especial manner to the few office-holders of a select society - yet certain it is, that the instructions which he gives them are based on the soundest principles of a general ethics, that had a permanent and uriversal application; and wherewith he now breaks forth on a field as general, as are the principles themselves which he had just been urging and enforcing on the occupiers of a narrower sphere. No one can question that in what follows, they are not rules limited to but a few cases or situations, but the wide and catholic moralities of the species in which he deals, of the same extent and compass with humanity itself, or in every way as general as Christianity herself is general. We may therefore omit henceforth the consideration of the church’s office-bearers, and feel that they are now those duties of unexcepted obligation which men owe to their God and to each other wherewith from this time we have properly to do.

Ver. 9. ‘ Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.’
‘Let love be without dissimulation.’ Or, as we have it in other scriptures - let ours be "love unfeigned." The spirit of this direction is the same with that which the apostle, a few verses before, had laid upon the deacons - " Let him who giveth do it with simplicity." There is the frequent semblance both of faith and love without the reality of either; and so he speaks too of unfeigned faith. He elsewhere speaks of the sincerity of our love. The charge here given is tantamount to that of the apostle John - " Let, us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.’ I think with Calvin, that it is not moral good in the general, or moral evil in the general, which is here intended; but that good which springs immediately from love to one’s neighbour, and that evil which springs as immediately from the opposite affections of hatred, malice, or revenge. It is the same good and evil as that spoken of in the last verse of this chapter - where the apostle tells his disciples to overcome evil with good - that is, to meet the persecution and the injustice of enemies, not with the maledictions of anger or returns of vengeance, but with blessing and kindness and peace. The good which he bids them cleave to in the one verse, is that which he also tells them to quit their hold of in another, but to keep by a wield as the instrument of a great moral victory And the evil which in the first of these two place he bids them abhor having any part or performance in themselves, is the very evil which he tells the not to retaliate, should it ever be inflicted on them by others.

Ver. 10.
‘Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.’
The words in the original convey strongly and specifically the affection of our text0 than has been adequately rendered in our translation. The being kindly affectioned is expressed by a term which means the love of kindred, or by some, called instinctive; and which at all events is far more intense than the general good liking that obtains without the pale of relationship between man and man in society. It is an affection distinct from, and in general greatly more tenacious and tender, than that of ordinary friendship. And, to stamp upon it a still greater peculiarity and force, it is added that Christians should be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love - an affection, the distinctness of which from that of charity, is clearly brought out in the enumeration of virtues or graces made by the apostle Peter. And to brotherly kindness add charity - .the same with brotherly love in the original; and as distinct from general love or charity in the moral, as the magnetic attraction is from the general attraction of gravity in the material world. This more special affinity which binds together the members of the same family; and even of wider communities, as when it establishes a sort of felt brotherhood, an esprit de corps, between citizens of the same town, or inhabitants of the same country, or members of the same profession, and so originates the several ties of consanguinity or neighbourhood or patriotism - is nowhere exemplified in greater force than among the disciples of a common Christianity, if theirs be indeed the genuine faith of the gospel. It is in fact one of the tests or badges of a real discipleship.

"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." It gives rise to that more special benevolence which we owe to the "household of faith," as distinguished from the common beneficence which we owe "unto all men " - and which stood so visibly forth in the first ages among the fellow-worshippers of Jesus, as to have made it nommon with observers to say - Behold how these Christians love each other.

‘In honour preferring one another’ - each leading the way in acts of respect and courtesy - the contest being which shall render the other the greatest deference and honour. "Let each esteem other better than themselves." This would remove one of the greatest obstacles in the way of mutual affection - the great lesson of our passage, as it is the great lesson of the evangelic morality throughout the New Testament. Self-preference and jealousy of each other’s reputation, have in all ages of the Christian church been the greatest provocatives to that envying and strife which are opposed to the meekness of the wisdom that is from above Hence in a very great degree the unseemly contentions of ecclesiastical men, which have ever proved the worst hindrances to the adoptions of measures for the good of Christianity. This love of power, and of pre-eminence has in all ages been adverse to the objects of a sound and disinterested ecclesiastical patriotism. It might be traced even to apostolical times. Paul seems to have been sensible of its presence among the chief men of the council at Jerusalem, and to have felt the necessity of protecting himself against it. And so before he would submit his question to a public assembly, he took care by a round of previous attentions to propitiate those of them who were of reputation, by communicating with them privately, lest by any means he should run or had run in vain. He with a most justifiable wisdom went first to those "who seemed to be somewhat " - it might have been perhaps for the purpose of obtaining counsel and information; but the further purpose seems to be insinuated of gaining them over by the homage beforehand of his recognition and respect. And even should we discern in this policy of our great apostle, the offering of a little incense to the personal vanity of those on whom he waited - we see nothing in this but the marvellous identity of human nature at all times and in all places of the world; or that the leaders and men of consequence then should be of the same affections with the men of consequence now - the ecclesiastical somewhats of the present day.’

Ver. 11.
‘Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.’
The word here translated ‘business,’ is the same with that which in the 8th verse is translated "diligence." Its proper and primitive signification is ‘speed,’ and hence the affection which prompts to speed - or earnestness, intenseness, the desirousness of a heart set on some particular object, and therefore setting one busily to work for its accomplishment; and thus the fervency of spirit in the next clause may be looked to as the animating principle of that diligence in business which is here inculcated - even as in the case of Apollos, who, "being fervent in the Spirit," did in consequence speak and teach diligently the things of the Lord.

But whether we retain the word business, or render it into any other of the relative terms, there is no mistaking the sense of this first clause, which is not to be slothful but diligent; and that whatever the business may be, if an expedient and a lawful one. The question whether it be a sacred or secular employment which is here referred to, will not embarrass him whose honest aim it is to leaven with the spirit of the gospel every hour of his life, and every work which he puts his hand to. The man who studies to observe "all things whatsoever" Christ hath commanded him, will still feel himself religiously employed when following the precept - "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." He will see no difficulty in making the advice here given to be of universal application, who aspires to a conformity with the sayings - "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God"

"Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Neither in the absence of any express utterance from Scripture itself, will he be careful to determine, whether it be the Spirit of God or the spirit of man that is spoken of in the next clause - if sufficiently indoctrinated by Scripture at large in the truth, that all right fervency in the spirit of man is from the Spirit of God alone - is the product of fire from the sanctuary, and not of his own kindling. It is thus that in practical Christianity there is a conjunction of prayer with performance; and the disciple striveth mightily according to the grace that worketh in him mightily.

‘Serving the Lord.’ There is a different reading adopted now by the most learned of our Biblists; and that because of the number and authority of those manuscripts which present the Greek word for "time." We should then understand the direction to be - ’ Do diligently each work in its own season ‘ - or, ‘Let each hour be busily filled up with its own proper employment.’ We should have given our assent to this emendation, but for the word ‘serve,’ which in the Greek implies subjection, and in the most entire and submissive form; and in which sense it stands in far more suitable relation to a living superior, and most of all to Him who liveth and is Supreme. It were apposite enough to speak of suiting the time, but not of submitting to the time - whereas nothing can be more appropriate than that in all things we should submit ourselves unto the Lord.

Ver. 12.
‘Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.’
There are some commentators who endeavour to run a thread of continuity throughout the various precepts of this chapter; and so to force a dependence of one upon another contiguous to it, as would perhaps somewhat pervert the obvious meaning of certain of these rules. Instead of supposing that each rule suggested its fellow, and that they all follow each other, like the terms of a series on the principle of the association of ideas - it seems to us the better theory, that they are also in part suggested to the mind of the apostle by his direct view of the exigencies of that society which he was addressing; and that therefore we behold in these precepts as much and as little of the miscellaneous, as there was of the miscellaneous at the time in the chief temptations and circumstances of the Romish Christians. Now in the first instance, they were exposed to jealousies and contentions from within, to meet which we have one class of charges - mutual respect, and mutual cordiality; and more especially the duties of office-bearers, whose part it was to refrain from all lordly contempt or usurpation of the work of other functionaries, and each to keep rightly and assiduously at the appropriate business of his own calling. And then in the second instance, they were exposed to persecution from without; and hence another and a distinct set of charges - hope, and patience, and prayer, and sympathy for the afflicted among their brethren, and succour to those of them who were spoiled of their goods; and, most of all, meekness and forbearance and unquelled charity under all the provocation and injustice that were heaped upon them.

‘Rejoicing in hope ‘ - and that even in the midst of tribulations.’
This must have been the hope of glory in another life - the only hope which could rejoice the hearts of those, of whom Paul says, that if in this life only they had hope, they were of all men the most miserable. Theirs was a hope which reached beyond the grave - the hope of those who walked by faith and not by sight, or who looked beyond the things which are seen and temporal to those which are unseen and eternal. It was this which made all their afflictions light unto them - the contemplation of that exceeding great and eternal weight of glory, which was to follow their present trials, and for the full enjoyment of which these trials were fitted to prepare them.

‘Patient in tribulation.’ The very same hope- which ministers joy in the bright prospects of the future, ministers patience under the sufferings of the present. Even Jesus Christ, "for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross."

‘Continuing instant in prayer.’ For though hope will elevate and sustain in the midst of adversities; yet the hope of unseen realities on the other side of death requires to be itself sustained by a power that is above nature - else nature gives way. We are made to "abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost" It is thus that the faith and fortitude of the Christian are augmented by constant supplies of light and grace from above and which supplies are kept up by instant prayer. For this purpose we must pray and watch for the Spirit with all perseverance. Prayer is not confined to the occasions of its set and formal utterance. It might alternate in brief and frequent aspirations with the familiar business of life.. Nay it may exist as a prayerful disposition in the heart, or in the form of a perennial tendency upward and heavenward; and he who owns such a disposition, whether he have .the power and opportunity of sending forth articulate supplications or not, may be said to pray without ceasing.

Ver. 13.
‘Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.’
The view of the church at Rome as a suffering and persecuted church might well have suggested these rules also - not but that they are of permanent and universal obligation, but that there was a more pressing and peculiar call for them in these days of violence - when the very profession of Christianity exposed them who held it to the loss of their substance, or to be dismissed from the service of their employers. And the word is expressive of something more than a simple giv ing. It means to give with a fellow-feeling, and as if the ease of the sufferer was one’s own. It is our duty to give unto all, if it be for their good, as we have opportunity. But here the apostle speaks of giving for the necessities of the saints - of giving therefore with that special sympathy which he enjoins in another form, when he bids his disciples rejoice with them who rejoice, and weep with them who weep. The common danger of these times disposed men all the more readily so to give, as if they had all things common.

‘Given to hospitality.’ And this too is far from being a local or merely occasional virtue - though doubtless there was a more urgent occasion for its exercise in these days. The proper sense of hospitality is kindness to strangers, or to those who were at a distance from their own home - a wholly different thing from the conviviality which opens one’s house to festive parties made up of acquaintances from the immediate neighbourhood. This was the common lot of Christians in those days - often scattered abroad by persecution, and dependent both for food and shelter on the compassion of their brethren in the faith. Let it not be imagined however, that this is a duty confined to any one period, or called forth by the extraordinary circumstances of the church during the first ages - a common expedient this for diluting the peculiar morality of the gospel, or blunting the force and application of its most authoritative precepts. There is here an obligation laid on Christians of all times as indelible as the record whieh contains it - distinct, however, from that expenditure on the enjoyments of the social board, which now forms almost all that is known under the name of hospitable - as distinct as the feasts enjoined by our Saviour to the poor and the helpless are from the merry companionships, that alternate or pass in rounds from house to house among the children of fashion and luxury. Not that we would utterly proscribe these reciprocal convivialities of the middle or higher classes - burdensome though they often are, and wearisome to an extreme from the entire destitution, whether of the intellectual or the spiritual, in the conversation our every-day parties. Our religionists might in a great degree be protected from this latter annoyance, were they but consistent with themselves; and did they aim at an entire, instead of a partial Christianity. Had they more of openness and intrepidity in their talk - when they sit at the same table, did they meet together on the footing of a society of immortals - would they speak of the country whither they were going, and of the character which prepared for it - A goodly number even of their present society might be amalgamated into a conformity with their own spirit, while the rest might be scared away from those resorts, in the atmosphere of which they could not breathe with congeniality or comfort. There would thus be brought about a thing mainly wanted in our day - a broader line of demarcation between the church and the world. It might seem a paradox, but is not the less true, that- it is easier to be an altogether than an almost Christian.

Ver. 15, 16.
‘Rejoice With them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. ‘Be of the same mmd one toward another. Miiid not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.’
Passing over at present a verse which regards the deportment of the persecuted Christians to their enemies, we, in the next two verses, still find the apostle occupied with the matters of that internal morality which should subsist among themselves, or with the directory of their conduct to each other.
'Rejoice with them that do rejoice.’ He, a few verses before, had bidden them rejoice in hope; and certainly it is well that Christians, for their mutual encouragement, and to uphold the stedfast.ness of their faith, should speak often together of that heaven which is the home of their common expectations. But beside this, the sympathy of congratulation seems to be recommended in this clause, even as the sympathy of pity forms the subject of the next. A sincere happiness in the happiness of others, argues not merely the strength of our affections, but our freedom from envy towards them.

‘And weep with them that weep.’ There is a charm in the fellow-feeling of others, distinct altogether from the pleasure we have in any material benefit that we might receive from them. This last is provided for in a foregoing verse, under the heads of distributing to the necessity of saints, and being ‘given to hospitality.’ But to complete either the code of charity, or the happiness of that society over which it reigns, it is indispensable that the moral should be superadded to the substantial or physical; for certainly apart either from gifts or services, there is enjoyment, and that of the highest order, both in the mere exercise of kind and brotherly affection on the one hand, and in being merely the object of such affection on the other - whether it be that of sympathy with the prosperous, which heightens the felicities; or of sympathy with the afflicted, which alleviates the ills of humanity. It is thus that independently of all aid from the hands, there comes a direct and most precious contribution to the happiness of the species from the hearts of men - and that by instant transition, in the play of their reciprocal emotions from one spirit to another. The apostle was no stranger to the balsamic virtue, as of some hidden essence or elixir, which lay in this more ethereal part of well-doing. In these days it operated with all the speed and force of a pulsation, throughout the widely extended community of the faithful. Whether one member suffered, all the members suffered with it; or one member was honoured, all the members rejoiced with it. The three clauses of the 16th verse serve, we think, to qualify and determine the meaning of each. The general lesson of the 15th is, that all, and more especially if saints or members of the same Christian society, should, if in like circumstances, be alike sharers of our sympathy. And we are inclined to view the general lesson of the 16th, as being, that these same parties, as all members of the Christian church, should at least in far the highest and noblest distinction of which humanity is capable, have the like place, or be alike sharers in our estimation. We do not regard them as meaning that we should all think the same things, - that we should be of one orthodoxy, or of one opinion in matters of doctrine or theology; but that whatever the diversities of our rank or station might be, we should, on the ground of our common Christianity, hold each other in equal or like estimation. The original presents a counterpart between the,'each other’ of the first clause, and the ‘yourselves’ of the third, which coupled in each with the same radical word, impresses the idea that when taken together, they signify that we should mutually hold each other in the same estimation, and not confine our estimation to ourselves.’ If in Philip. ii, 3, we are told that in lowliness of mind each should esteem other better than themselves, in this place, and to our minds it gives the precise sense of the passage, we are told that each should esteem other at least as good as themselves. And in keeping with this view, we are disposed to think that in the middle clause they are not men of low estate to whom we are bidden condescend, but low or humble things that we are bidden be content with. Do not aspire after high things, but consent to be evened with low things. Honour all your fellow-Christians, and that alike on the ground of their common and exalted prospect. When on this high level, do not plume yourselves on the insignificant distinctions of your superior wealth or superior earthly consideration of whatever sort. Rather let the rich rejoice in that he is made low; and thus let the monopoly of honour, or self-respect, give way to the respect of each other. We do not lose the benefit of the precept in our version - ‘condescend to men of low estate ‘ - by our substitution of things for men. He who for the sake of the gospel can put up with low things, with poverty and all its humble accommodations,, will not refuse to associate with Christian men, who are lovers and followers of the gospel, because of their poverty.
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