Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xiii, 13 - 14. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."

VER. 11. 'And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.'
Some commentators would refer the nearer salvation of which the apostle here speaks, to the destruction of Jerusalem, as standing somehow or other connected with a great enlargement to the prosfessors of Christianity. Others again would refer it to the expected second coming of our Lord - in which it is thought that even apostles were not yet so far instructed or inspired, as to be free from the then prevalent imagination that He would shortly revisit the world - nay make His appearance before the present generation had passed away. Without deciding on either of these interpretations, we hold it a sounder, or at least a safer application of the advice here given; to understand the nearer salvation of every disciple, as signifying the greater nearness of his death - seeing of that event, that it is indeed a great salvation to all who fall asleep in Jesus, for with them to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. When the verse is thus apprehended, it becomes a great and universal lesson, for Christians of all ages, which carries its own obvious recommendation along with it; and is in harmony with many similar injunctions delivered in other places of Scripture - as, Brethren, the time is short, and let us not therefore abuse the world; or Let us work while it is day, the night cometh when no man can work.

'And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep'.
The clause of knowing the time seems to strengthen one or other of the more special interpretations of this verse - as referring to the knowledge of a something which the Christians of that period had been made to see in the light of prophecy or inspiration, whether the rightly anticipated destruction of Jerusalem or the then misunderstood reappearance of our Saviour. We however shall still keep by the more general meaning that we have already assigned to this verse - understanding it thus, that it is now high time to bestir ourselves, and make diligent preparation for that blissful eternity which is so fast approaching; for that this is the great work to be done, and there remains but little, yea a rapidly lessening time for the doing of it. But how comes it that Christians should be called upon to awake out of sleep? Are they not already awakened? Did they not at the first outset of their discipleship yield obedience to the apostolic call of "Awake, 0 sinner, and Christ shall give thee light"? Has not every believer already passed out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel; and why then should he be so urged, as if he had yet to shake himself from the sleep of carnality or spiritual death, or to arouse him out of the lethargy of nature? It is because of the constant and cleaving earthliness which continues to subsist even after regeneration; and which, though weakened and under process of extinction, is not wholly exterminated while we remain in the body - it is because of this that we need to be reminded even of the incipient calls, and that we need to be put on the incipient duties of the Christian life. Thus it is that to be kept from lapsing into unbelief, we must hold fast the beginning of our confidence; and lest our love should wax cold, we must remember the strength of it at the outset of our discipleship. In a word, we must be ever recurring to the exercises of our first faith, our first love, our first obedience; and more especially should awaken out of sleep, or keep awake, amid the opiates of sense and of a deceitful world..

Thus understood, it is the charge of the apostle, that we should open our eyes to the realities of that unseen world, to which we every day are coming nearer. What he teaches in this verse is the wisdom of considering our latter end, to which we are hastening onward. In order to meet the salvation which then awaits us, our distinct aim should be to perfect our holiness; or to give all diligence that we may be found without spot and blameless; or so to run as to reach the prize of our high calling, and be presented faultless before the presence of God. The salvation here spoken of is the salvation that we are called upon to work oñt - a task from which we are not the less exempted, though it be said that God works in us. We are justified on the moment of our believing; but our sanctification is the business of a lifetime. For there is a life of faith as well as a birth of faith; and it should be our care that ere this life is finished its object should be fulfilled; which is, that we stand perfect and complete in the whole will of God.

Ver. 12.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. The imagery of this verse requires the same explanation as did that of the preceding. It is true that the proper night of the soul - the moral night - is anterior to conversion; and that when this event takes place, the soul passes out of darkness into marvellous light. And accordingly the true disciples of the Lord Jesus are said to be no longer the children of night, but the children of light and of the day. Still it is true that so long as we abide in this world, ours is but a state of comparative light - for here though we see it is but through a glass darkly; and that it is only in the next world where we shall live in the full light of the risen day, when we shall know even as we are known. The soul of a saint on earth, still in twilight obscurity, has not yet made its conclusive escape from the region of darkness; and not till ushered into heaven, or among the cloudless transparencies of the upper sanctuary, will it in God's light clearly see light. Such then are the night, and such the day spoken of in our text; and it is because this night is far spent, and this day is at hand, that we are called on to cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light.

There are works of darkness which shun the light of day, or would shrink from exposure, even in this world - such as the deeds either of shameful dishonesty or of shameful licentiousness. There are other works again, which, though alike condemned in the eye of Heaven, we should not here on earth call works of darkness, such as the overt acts which transgress no social law, yet bespeak a heart of deep irreligion, and utterly devoid of all sensibility to the sacredness or authority of God's spiritual law - as when His Sabbaths are secularised in convivial parties; or, in the intent prosecution, whether of the amusements or the business of life, decisive manifestation is given forth of a preference for the creature over the Creator, for the things and interests of time over the things and interests of eternity. These last, as being the mere fruits of natures carnality, and springing universally forth of the habits and affections of natural men, we should not call works of darkness - for they are exhibited daily and without a blush in the face of society - not however because not utterly worthless in themselves, but because done before the eye of spectators, who have no perception of their deformity, and on the theatre of a world which has been rightly denominated the land of spiritual blindness and spiritual death. But if seen in the light of the divine law, and placed before the rebuke of the divine countenance, they will then be recognised as works of darkness, and ranked as they ought with the worst atrocities of human wickedness. And accordingly on the great day of manifestation, and when the principles of a higher jurisprudence are brought to bear on the characters of men, many, the most esteemed and honourable among their fellows, will awaken to shame and everlasting contempt. Ungodliness will then appear in its true estimate, as the great master-sin - being indeed the seminal principle of all misrule and anarchy in creation; and therefore to be exiled and put forth.into everlasting darkness, as a thing unfit to be seen on the open panorama of a harmonious and well-ordered universe.

Yet it might subserve a practical object,to view apart from each other those grosser offences which are usually stigmatised as works of darkness; and those more subtle delinquencies of the heart and spirit, which are universal as the species, and none therefore are at pains to conceal, because none are ashamed of them. It might help to distinguish between the incipient and advanced duties of the Christian life. At the very outset, anterior to their conversion, though with a view to it, nay in the aim of carrying it or bringing it to pass, we should call on all men to abandon their drunkennesses and dishonesties and impurities, or what themselves would all understand and admit to be works of darkness. This is a voice which should. be distinctly and audibly given forth at the first call of the gospel, or first sound of the trumpet which it lifts in the hearing of all men. It is a work often done in fact at the bidding of natural conscience, or on the still lower impulses of prudence and calculation - as when, to use a familiar phrase, the profligate, making a pause in his career, turns over a new leaf, or becomes, in the wordly sense of the term, a reformed man. Such a reformation is often ahieved without Christianity; but on the other hand, there can be no Christianity without such a reformation.

And it is a reformation which should be peremptorily demanded of all enquirers at their very entrance on the way of life - as being an indispensable part, or even preliminary, of that movement by which men pass out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel. Else they are not framing their doings to turn unto God. They are not turning unto Christ, if they are not turning from their iniquities.It is thus that the moral character of gospel teaching should be vindicated and made palpable in the eyes of all men; and so as that they might recognise it to be something more than what they often apprehend it to be - the mere teaching of a cabalistic orthodoxy. Instead of which it is pre-erninently a practical system - striking at once at the evil habits, while its higher aim is to regenerate the evil hearts of men - So that in commanding them everywhere to repent and turn unto God, it charges them, at the first and earliest outset of their religious earnestness, to do works meet for repentance.

But there are other and higher graces more distinctive of Christianity, and serving more specifically to signalise and separate the children of light from the children of his world; and which are altogether beyond the reach of unaided nature. There are certain things which nature, by the sheer force of her own resolute and sustained purposes, might be able to cast off; but there are certain other things which nature in her own strength cannot possibly put on. She may of herself cast off many of the works of darkness; but of herself she cannot put on the graces and virtues which serve more specially to characterise and adorn the children of light. Thus to array herself, she needs other instruments than those which natively and originally belong to her - an instrumentality which is here significantly termed the armour of light, because, in the utter inadequacy of those implements or faculties which we ourselves possess, we require the use of other tools, other instruments of action than those, that we may have power to walk as children of light and of the day; or, which is tantamount to this, that we may have power to become the children of God. Still to cast off the works of darkness is to throw aside a great obstruction, which if suffered to remain, would prove a fatal impediment to the access of all spiritual and saving light into our lives. It may be nothing more than a mere shaking of the dead bones, ere the Spirit of life is blown into us - that mere awakening of the sinner, which is previous or preparatory to the act of Christ giving him light. It is an essential step, however, in the process of our regeneration. There is a something to cast off, as well as to put on. The former we should give our immediate hand to. The latter we should give our immediate and earnest heed to.

And it may perhaps help to elucidate the singular expression, armour of light - if we attend to the manner in which, under the economy of the gospel, the power of a believer to serve the Lord Christ is made to stand allied with his perception of the truth as it is in Jesus. It is in the right views of his understanding in fact, that his great strength for obedience lies. And accordingly we read of his being sanctified by faith, of his being renewed in knowledge, of his receiving power to become a son of God on the moment of his believing in the name of Christ. But our best explanation perhaps of the armour of light, which in the verse before us we are called to put on - is to be had in Paul's description of the armour of God, which in his Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians we are also called to put on; and where we learn that the main furniture of a disciple, and by which he is equipped for the work and warfare of Christianity, lies in such acts and acquisitions as are altogether mental, nay chiefly intellectual - as having our loins girt about with truth, and our taking the shield of faith and our putting on for a helmet the hope of salvation, and our having a constant respect unto the word, with prayer for the Spirit, that in the clear element of His manifestations we might be enabled rightly to discern and to make the right application of it - To which word therefore, we, in the language of Peter, should give earnest heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and th day-star arise in our hearts.

Before quitting this verse, it is well to remark, that as even the most advanced Christians are required to be constantly holding by and keeping in exercise their first faith - so there is a call upon them too to be ever practising at their first obedience. For they too are still beset with their old temptations - insomuch, that if not vigilant and jealous of themselves, they may be precipitated back again into the most enormous and disgraceful works of darkness. The injunction therefore to cast off these is not yet superfluous, although Paul here addresses himself to men who had long embraced the truth and had long walked in it. There is room for the utmost strenuousness even to the end of our days - lest we should fall short of heaven; or, at all events, lest we should fall short of that rank in its blessedness and glory which we might have otherwise attained. Nay there is a most grievous misunderstanding of the gospel, if we be not as diligent and watchful and painstaking, as if overhung by, the risk or the possibility of losing heaven altogether. There was nothing in the orthodoxy of Paul that relaxed his self-discipline, and this too under the apprehension lest he himself should turn out to be castaway. With these views we can imagine nothing more urgent or impressive than the consideration in our text, that the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. In particular, it should tell most emphatically on those who have now entered the vale of years, and may now regard themselves as walking on the shores or along the brink of eternity. And if the righteous scarcely be saved where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? - an appalling thought truly, and most of all to such as him of whom Hosea speaks "Yea grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not" "And they do not return to the Lord nor seek him for all this" These premonitory symptoms of a dissolution, and so of a reckoning at hand, fail to alarm them; and so they go on in natures torpid infatuation, when they should be lifting this fearful cry - " The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."

Ver. 13. '
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.'
The term honest is now of different meaning from what it was at the time that our translation was executed. It then signified that which is seemly, decent, reputable. It bore an especial regard to the aspect of our doings, and so we are called on to provide things honest in the siqht of men. It is according to this, the proper and original sense ,of the word, that we are here bidden to walk honestly as im the day - that is, so as that our whole conduct shall bear exposure, and be sustained as respectable and right, though lying patent to the observation of all our fellows in society. There was a mighty stress laid by our apostle on appearance - on the creditable bearing of his disciples - on their character, not absolutely and in itself only, but on their character in the eyes of the world - Insomuch that, all sensitive and alive to the honour of his master's cause, he weptover those professors who gloried in their shame and through whom the way of truth was evil spoken of. It was obviously not as an end but as a means, that he so valued the good report of his converts - even that their light might shine before men, and men might of consequence be won to the gospel by their conversation.

Thus also Peter in warning his converts against fleshly lusts, adds - "having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may, by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visita tion." It is with this view that he first warns them against those vices which most shun the light, and are peculiarly unfit for exhibition in the face of others - the vices of low and loathsome dissipation - drunkenness and impurity - of so offensive a description, that it was held a sore aggravation of their wickedness who practised them, if they counted it a pleasure to riot in the day-time. They are vices of inherent turpitude in themselves; but it evinces a higher degree of moral hardihood, when it was a turpitude in which men could glory - and highest of all, in an ostensible disciple of the Lord Jesus, who could thus bring disparagement and disgrace on that sacred cause when he was bound by every tie of gratitude and sincerity to adorn. It is not, however, the object of Christianity to conceal vice, but to exterminate it - not to give its disciples but the face and appearance of virtue, but to give them virtue in substance and reality - and so as that they shall glorify the Lord with their soul and spirit, as well as with their bodies. And it is worthy of remark, that for the achievement of this great moral change, it proceeds - not in the style of an ascetic - that is, not in the way of excision but in the way of substitution - Or, in other words, when it calls for the sacrifice or the expulsion of one affection, jt is by replacing it with another - and not by an act of simple dispossession, leaving the heart in a state of desolation and dreariness. Even the disposition to mirth it does not propose to extinguish, but rather provides with the outgoing of a kindred exercise - Is any merry let him sing psalms, making melody in his heart unto the Lord. We can fancy it to be another exemplification of the same design, another specimen of the same reigning character - that when it charges the disciples not to be drunk with wine wherein is excess, it follows up the admonition, by telling them to be filled with the Spirit; and so to exchange the maddening influence of a mere animal excitement for another influence, glorious and elevating too, and fitted, though in a higher and holier way, to transport the soul above the cares of a present sordid and earthly existence.

And as this holds true of the rioting and drunkenness, it holds alike true of the habits or practices which are specified immediately after - a thought suggested to us by the proximity of the advice given a few verses before, where the apostle subordinates all virtue to the law of love, and would supplant all vice by the same law. And certainly there is a high and holy and heavenly affection of love, which, if present and predominant within its, would most effectually overrule, if not eradicate those evil affections which war against the soul. The love of the Father is direct1y and specificafly opposite, we are told by the apostle, to the lust of the flesh. So that, if the love of God were but admitted into the bosom, and had ascendancy there, it would not only cast out fear, but would cast out, or at least keep down lust also. When called to abandon lust, it is by means of the sweetest and softest affection of which nature is susceptible - and that affection directed too to the best and the noblest of all objects. Did we love God with all our heart, there would be no room in it for those base and foul and unhallowed imaginations, which in the expressive language of the prophet, turn it into a cage of unclean birds. Under such a regimen, instead of being frightened from the indulgences of nature as by the scowl of an anchoret, we are gently yet irresistibly weaned from them as by the mild persuasions of a friend; and we feel it to be in beautiful accordance with this, that the apostolic dissuasives against licentiousness are so often couched in terms of so much endearment and tenderness.

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you,"as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love as Christ also loved us, and hath given himself us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. But fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you."
" Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
"When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory - Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth."

He concludes his enumeration of those works which are unfit fo the light of day with strife and envying - which in another place he ranks among the works of the flesh. They belong to the malignant, and not as the former to the licentious vices of om nature - but like these too are of such a character, as to shun the observation of general society. This holds especially true of envy, of which all men dislike the exhibition; and which therefore is left to eat inwardly on him who is actuated thereby, because ashamed of showing it. Even strife, when it breaks forth in outrageous expressions, soon becomes too much for the sympathy of our fellows; and so restrains at least its utterance, or its deeds of open retaliation, for the sake of decorum. There is a grossness in resentment, as well as a grossness in impurity - both of which require to have a veil thrown over them, even from this world's toleration; so that over and above the spiritual proprity of denouncing and denominating all sins as work of darkness, there is a natural or social propriety in affixing this denomination to the latter as well as the former of the sins enumerated in our text.

Ver. 14.
'But put yeon the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ'.
This figurative expression is more readily conceived by us as bearing application to the imputed righteousness of Christ, rather than to the graces of His example. That everlasting righteousness which He brought in, is viewed by us under the image of a garment, wherein we are invited to appear before God, clothed upon as it were, or invested with an order of merit, won not by ourselves but by the Captain of our salvation; and because of which, God looks upon us, not in our own characters, but in the face of His anointed. There is undoubted truth in all this - yet it hinders not the application of the very same phrase, the putting on of Christ, to the adornment of our persons with those identical virtues which made Him to be chief among the sons of men, and altogether lovely. Such a representation, beside that it is correct doctrinally, harmonises with the Scriptural expression of it - as when called to put on the new man, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering. And thus too, "Be clothed with humility."

And we confess our exceeding value for that view, which puts our sanctificat,ion on te same footing with our justification, in that it subordinate both to our faith in Christ. We feel it to be a truth inestimably precious, that our personal holiness is a thing received by us, and from the hands or at the giving of another - just as our judicial acceptance is. It would mightily speed onwards our practical Christianity, did we habitually look unto Jesus as the Lord. our strength, as well as the Lord our righteousness. The lesson we have to learn in the school of preparation for heaven, is the efficacy of believing prayers for grace to help us in every time of need - that we might not only have His propitiation to shield us, but His power to rest upon us. Then should we know what it is to strive mightily according to the grace of God working in us mightily. The mystery would come to be resolved, because experimentally realised, of the utmost diligence in performance along with the utmost dependence in prayer - a happy and fruitful combination, mysterious to the general world, but not to the fellow-workers with God, because by them exemplified and carried into effect. The active and the passive of this conjunct operation work most prosperously into each others hands; and the experience of the apostle, who when he was weak yet was he strong, reflects while it explains the beautiful saying of the prophet - that in quietness and in confidence ye shall have strength. A reposing confidence in Christ gives efficacy to prayer; and by the gratitude which it awakens, gives impulse to all the springs of obedience. Creature perfection, says old Riecalton, lies in the habit of bringing our own emptiness to the fulness that is in Christ Jesus.

'And make not provision for the flesh.'
Provision. The word implies a forecasting of the mind; and the prohibition therefore is against all deliberation or devising of means or expedients for the gratification of our lusts. These base affections of our nature may be excited even involuntarily, on the sudden suggestion or unforeseen presentation of the objects which awaken them. Even then it is our duty to shun these objects, to turn our sight and our thoughts from vanity, and so to flee the lusts which war against the soul. But a far greater depravity than thus to feel them, is it to go forth upon them. One should be ever on the watch lest he is surprised into temptation; but it evinces a greater height and hardihood of profligacy to seek after it, and when, so far from a defensive vigilance against the inroad of evil desires, there is an aggressive vigilance in quest of methods or opportunities for their indulgence. He is a confirmed and advanced learner in the school of wickedness, who can thus in his cooler moments bestow care and calculation on such an enterprise, and in short make a study of the likeliest methods for securing to himself the enjoyment of unhallowed pleasures; and this is the unholy providence, if it may be so termed, on which our text lays its interdict. But it is not against all respect to things future, even though the futurities of this life, that the Apostle warns us. Some might think so, because of such texts as " Take no thought for your life." "Take no thought, saying, what shall we eat." "Take no thought for the morrow." - which latter word does not properly mean thought, but anxious thought; and is accordingly better translated so in the following places. " But I would have you without carefulness" - not without thought, but without carefulness. And the same is also thus rendered in Philippians, iv - " Be careful for nothing."

We are not therefore to imagine, that because told not to be careful or not to be thoughtful for to-morrow, we must take no thought of to-morrow at all. True, it were highly criminal to make provision for to-morrows lusts. But it is not unlawful on that account to make provision for to-morrows necessities. Nay, there is another part of the Bible in which we are told that it were highly criminal not to make such provision. The pronola of our text were criminal, but not the pronoia (the word there too) of the following verse - " But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." We should not have adverted thus minutely to the original Greek, or introduced it at all into a popular exposition of Scripture - had not our quotation from Matthew been one of those very few passages in holy writ, where the emendation of our present version is of any real popular or practical importance.
'To fulfil the lusts thereof.'

Although there is no word for fulfil in the original, it being supplied by the translators, yet, as it is rightly supplied, we might here remark on the difference between the feeling of and the fulfilment thereof. To feel a lust implies the presence of us. To fuifil a lust implies the power of sin over us. The one is the sad evidence that sin still dwells in our mortal bodies. The other is the far sadder evidence that sin has still the dominion over them. When made, not of our own seeking but by surprise, to feel an evil desire, it is our part to flee from it. But greatly worse than to feel is to follow it; and worst f all is to provide for it.
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