Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xiv: 17 - 23. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

WE recur to the 17th verse in this lecture, simply because of the immediate reference made to it in the verse which follows -'He that in these things serveth Christ’ - serveth Him in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost - These things are both acceptable to God and approved of men. The circumstance of their being approved of men, as well as acceptable to God, plainly enough intimates that the social is blended with the sacred in the services here specified. The righteousness of our text includes more than the righteousness which is made ours by the faith that is well-pleasing to God, but also the righteousness that is good and profitable to men. The peace comprehends in it more than that peace of God which passeth all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; but also the pacific virtues of the blameless and unoffending citizen, who does all that in him lies to maintain concord and good-will in his neighbourhood. Even the joy, though primarily it be that joy in the Lord which is the strength and aliment of the spiritual life - yet as being the opposite of moroseness, or of sullen and infectious gloom, is fitted to have a gladdening influence over the daily companionships of that believer who serves his God, not in the spirit of fear, but in the spirit of love and peace and a sound mind. In alt these ways may the virtuesof the 17th verse realise the two-fold property ascribed to them in the 18th. They may at once be acceptable to God and approved of men.

Ver. 19.
‘Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.’
In this pacific spirit, the spirit of conciliation and charity, let us follow after the things which make for peace - not after the vain questions which minister strife rather than godly edifying, but after the great and undoubted objects on which all the real disciples of Jesus are sure to coalesce, and to strive for with one mind and one soul. The things on which they agree are not only far more numerous, but of greatly surpassing importance over the things which differ - provoking each other to love and to good works - exhorting one another daily, while it is called to-day - assembling together in meetings of fellowship and prayer, for their mutual confirmation both in the faith and holiness of the gospel - uniting in their schemes of Christian philanthropy, the combined prosecution of which in our day has led to many a delightful re-union of spirit among professing Christians; and given rise to so many periodic festivals of a common cause and common charity, in which all might rejoice - These be the things that make for peace; and, within the limits of essential principle, will cause all sectarian diversities to be forgotten.

‘And things wherewith one may edify another.’
Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Let us live not peaceably only, but profitably with each other. He had before told his converts - as far as possible, and as much as lay in them, to live peaceably with all men. He was obliged to lay these qualifications on the advice he gave them - for purity is a higher object than peace; and as it is our first duty to profit men, rather than please them, it might often be impracticable to labour for the convenience of saints, without stirring up the enmity of unconverted nature. But what ever danger there may be of exciting the displeasure of the unregenerate in our attempts to convert, there is far less danger of incurring the wrath or hostility of disciples in our attempts to edify - only provided however, that we keep by the things which make for edification. We cannot answer for that unanimity which is so desirable, if Christians will be so pragmatical and injudicious, as to be urging their own small and senseless peculiarities on the acceptance of others. Would they only keep by what is great and essential, seldom or never would any real Christians at least fall out by the way. They are the vain janglings about words of no profit, which minister to wrath rather than to godly edifring; and often the very reason why the things which men follow after make not for peace, is because they make not for edification. Surely there is good and worthy cause here, why a disproportiouate stress should not be laid upon trifles. A most important, nay a vital interest may hinge upon it. Our Saviour’s prayer woild intimate that the progress of Christianity in the world, its farther and larger acceptance among men, depends most materially on the ostensible unity of those who are already Christians. They are the divisions of the religious world which have proved so fatal to the growth of religion in society. Zeal is a good thing., but only when expended on a good and adequate subject. It is not to be told what mischief has been done by needless controversies - both within the church, among Christians themselves; and without, in restraining the operation of that good leaven which might otherwise have leavened all the families of the earth. Christ’s prayer on earth for His disciples was, "that they all may be one, 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."

Ver. 20
. ‘For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.’ Do not for the sake of meat destroy the work of God - a reiteration of what he had said before in ver. 15 - ’ Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died.’
For if any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy. It is true that that which entereth into a man defileth not a man; and as far as the effects of the mere material entry of any sort of food into the stomach are concerned "all things are pure." God hath now abolished the distinction between clean and unclean meats; and what He hath cleansed, that call not thou common or impure. The evil thing lies not in the eating, but in the eating with offence. It is the offence, and that alone, which constitutes the evil. There is no evil that results from eating, if no spiritual injury is sustained by it. But there does accrue a very great spiritual injury, if not to yourself, at least to your brother - if you so eat as to make him fall.

Ver. 21
. ‘ It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.’
In opposition to what he denounces as evil in the preceding verse, he tells us what is good in the present one - a good which he nobly exemplified himself, when he said that he would not eat flesh while the world standeth, lest it should make his brother to offend. He would not grieve him by stirring up weak and anxious scrupulosities in his mind. And, what is vorse than merely grieving, he would not seduce him into an act of positive transgression, by causing him to outrun the light of his own conscience - which he would do, if, through the power of imitation, he tempted him to eat that which he saw himself eat, before hat he was fully convinced of its lawfulness. The good or the evil all hinged, not on the thing in itself, but on the effect it was calculated to have, or actually had, on the practice of others - which practice was in them sinful, if it reversed their own principles. It is thus that our eating might prove the putting of a stumblingblock, or an occasion to fall in a brother’s way.

Ver. 22.
‘Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.’
It is obvious that Paul had a greater respect for him whose conscience was free of these difculties, and of the consequent distress that ensued from them. The man who felt himself at liberty, had on these questions at least the spirit of power and of a sound mind, which in one of his addresses to Timothy be opposes to the spirit of fear. But to complete the description of that which he commends, we must add the spirit of love also; and this would lead us to look not only at our own things, but at the things of others. It is very well for himself that his conscience does not trouble him - so that whether he eateth or eateth not, his own peace with God might remain unbroken. It is a happy thing for him that he condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. This is so far good; and were self one’s only concern, there might in this matter be the indulgence of an unbounded liberty. But there are other interests at stake; and he is bound by the obligation of God’s second great law to look at them. More especially is he bound not to give offence, in a thing not of obligation but of indifferency, so as to pain his brother’s feelings, or gall him in a matter on which he is sore or weak; and still more not to place a stumbhingblock before him, to runover which he might fall by running against the light of his own convictions - for though the strong man may eat, because, believing it to be lawful, with him to eat is a matter of indifferency - the weak man may not eat, because if he do, believing it to be unlawful, then it would prove that with him to sin were a matter of indifferency - 'Hast thou faith?’ is a question which does not refer to the faith that is unto salvation - but to clearness in the matter on hand - Art thou dear and confident as to the lawfulness of eating what by the law of Moses was forbidden! They who are not clear, but stand in doubt, have not faith in this matter, though they may have the faith which is unto salvation. He who has the faith, who is fully persuaded in his own mind that to eat is allowable - let him have it to himself before God. There is no call upon him to parade it before others - so as either to hurt their religious sensibilities, or to harass them with doubtful disputations.

Ver. 23.
‘And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.’ For ‘he that doubteth,’ the translation would be as correct in itself and more accordant with the apostle’s reasoning, if we read ‘he that discerneth and putteth a difference between meats.’ It is so given in the margin of some of our Bibles. The judaising Christian did something more than doubt the lawfulness of eating what was forbidden by the Mosaic law. He had the positive conviction of its unlawfulness. For him then to eat would be to sin, not in the face of a doubt, but, worse than this, in the face of an absolute and affirmative conviction. It is proper, however, to observe, that even to do that of which one doubts, or is not sure, whether it be lawful or no, has in it a certain, though it may be a less degree of moral hardihood. It is to incur the hazard, if-not the certainty, of falling into a transgression; and to brave such a risk, argues a weak feeling of religious obligation.

At the same time, it is further proper to remark that whereas the word damnation, in the common acceptation, means the future and everlasting punishment of the wicked - the proper and original meaning of its condemnation - marking therefore the blameworthiness of the act to which it is applied - but not implying necessarily the final and irreversible ruin of him who has committed it. The same observation holds true of 1 Cor. xi, 29 - "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment) unto himself." This mitigation of the sense will not make any real Christian less carefull offending.

‘Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.’ This here is not the universal proposition which some would make of it. It does not mean that every action of an unbeliever is sinful, because he wants that justifying faith, without which there can be no acceptance either for his person or his services. This may be true, but it is not the truth contained in this passage. As we said before, the faith here spoken of is a faith limited to a particular point. The man has not the belief that to eat certain kinds of food is lawful; and if he eat of them notwithstanding, to him it is unlawful. We are not to imagine of this chapter, that the subject of it has now gone by. There are principles here of universal and abiding application - lessons of standing authority, the obligation and importance of which remain to this day; and though the casuistry of Jewish meats may seldom or never be in practical demand amongst us - yet is there a certain other casuistry, which gives rise, as before, to the distinction between weak and strong; and which still continues to exercise, and sometimes to perplex the consciences of enquirers. In separating, as our great apostle did with inimitable skill, the clear from the doubtful - there is one obvious consideration which ought never to be forgotten. Each man is still his brother’s keeper.

We are all responsible to a certain extent for the Christianity of other men; and though there be many indulgencies, which, viewed singly and in themselves, the light and liberty of the gospel would allow - yet are we bound to abstain from them, if our example otherwise, would inflict a moral injury uon any of our fellows. Let me notice, as a case in point, the literalities of Sabbath observation. There are certain imaginable freedoms on that day - an evening walk - an act of convivial intercourse with a pious relative or friend - a journey, a visit, or written message in reply to some call of greater or less urgency, but the necessity of which, or the mercy of which, admits of being interpreted variously. - Many will be found to contend for the innocence of these; and perhaps some undoubted Christians there are who might occasionally give in to them, without violence to their own consciences, or even any damage done to their own spirituality. But there might be others looking on a different habit and education, who could not share in these liberties, without a shock on their religious feelings; or it may be such a stress on the inner man, as might seriously derange and put out of joint the whole structure or system of their religious character. They may have been precipitated into an imitation which yet sat heavy n their consciences - condemning themselves in that to which the example of another may have emboldened them; and in which circumstances, therefore, more especially if the danger of an issue so lamentable was known, the example ought not to have been given.

It is thus, we apprehend, that an English Christian would acquit himself during his temporary residence in one of the retired parishes of Scotland. He would conform to our standard of Sabbath observation; and in the exercise of a right delicacy and discretion, would refrain here from liberties which might be comparatively harmless in or around his own dwelling-place. He would not, for instance, if made aware, scandalise the domestics of any of our families, by superadding the instrumental music of the drawing-room to the worship of Sabbath even though, possibly with him a usual accompaniment, it might minister to the devotion of his own feelings, and so add to the perfection of the service. Would that this principle had been more respected ere the fearful experiment now in progress of railway desecration had been so recklessly gone into; and which, if persevered in, threatens to speed beyond all cakulation the religious degeneracy of our beloved land. As a further exemplification of the principles unfolded in this chapter, we might instance those numerous questions, of shade and degree, which have been raised about conformity to the world; or, more explicitly, about the share which might be lawfully taken in this world’s companies or this world’s amusements. Amid the difficulties, perhaps the impossibility, of advancing any strict and literal solution which shall be applicable to all cases, there is one thing unquestionable - and that is the concern which all ought to feel for the moral safety of others beside themselves. Grant of the strong Christian that he may pass unscathed through the festive parties of the ungodly, and perhaps even leave the savour of what is good in the midst of them; or grant that without injury to his own spirit, he may lend his occasional presence to certain of the haunts of public or fashionable entertainment - it must not be forgotten that many are the weak Christians, who, if led to the premature imitation of his example, would inevitably perish among the surrounding contaminations of an atmosphere which they could not breathe in and yet live. There can be no mistaking here the application of Paul’s heroic and truly high-minded example. He would not eat flesh while the world standeth, should it make his brother to offend; and neither ought we to enter the ball-room or theatre while the world standeth, if it make even the very weakest of our brethren to offend. It were making; an unlawful use of our Christian liberty to do even that which is lawful - should it precipitate others; to do the same things, if either with a deleterious effect -upon their characters, or if beyond the concurrence and bidding of their own consciences.

And if in things doubtful or indifferent, it be the duty of any Christian to deny himself for the sake of others, how much more imperative is the obligation under which he lies to refrain from the example of that which is clearly and undoubtedly wrong. It is not to be told what enormous mischief has been done by the infirmities, and still more by the sins of those who have attained a name of eminent reputation in the Christian world - and this in the way of tempting others to relax the strictness of their lives, because concluding that they too are surely within the limits of safety, though with the same amount of carelessness and sinfulness which they see to be in those whom all have agreed to acknowledge and admire. The pernicious consequences of even an occasional slip, and still more of a sinful habit, in professors of high standing, are truly deplorable; and such as to lay them under a deep responsibility for the souls of others as welt as their own souls. Their fall might involve the fall of many. Because of their misconduct the spirituality of many might wax cold. Their mere follies or faults of temper might serve to lower the standard of practical Christianity in their neighbourhood. Even their wrongness and waywardness in little things may cast a soil on the profession of the gospel; and when, instead of a small, a great moral injury is done - how dreadful - the penalty. For woe to the world because of offences. It were better for a man that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea - than that he should offend one of Christ’s little ones.

There is another, and we think a most legitimate inference, to be drawn from this passage. It is that Christians should either cease to differ - or, if this be impossible, that then they should agree to differ. We of course exclude such differences, as, relating to what is vital and essential, imply that either one or other of the parties is not Christian - disowning, as they do, some weightier matters, whether of doctrine or of the law. There is a territory within - which controversy is not only permitted but enjoined; and so we are bidden to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. And there is another territory within which controversy has had the interdict, and that of sacred and scriptural authority, laid upon it; and so we are told to avoid foolish and hurtful questions, and to indulge not in vain janglings, and to refrain from doubtful disputatious: And we hold it a mighty reinforcement of this lesson by the apostle, that our Saviour should have rebuked His disciples, because they forbade the man who worked miracles yet followed not after themselves - saying, Forbid him not, for he that is not against us is for us.

It may be difficult to assign in theory the limit between these two territories - yet, with a stronger and more general charity in the religious world, we feel persuaded that it were not so difficult to conform to it in practice. The treatise which should undertake to define and set forth the line of demarcation, might very possibly give new impetus te the whirlpool of debate - being itself the brooding of fermenting cause of new controversies. This is a very likely result, whenever the subject is introduced or started anew on the field of argument. Yet we despair not that on the field of action, or in the real and actual administration of the church’s affairs - many of the stoutest and fiercest differences both of the present and former ages will at length fall into desuetude - so that all Christians might be at length brought to be of one mind; or, if not, that it shall at least be patent ta the eyes of the world, that they ae all of one spirit. We are aware of liberalism, that it is a term recently devised to express a spurious liberality, or this virtue carried to a hurtful and unprincipled excess. And we are also aware that latitudinarianism is generally employed in a stigmatical or bad meaning - else we might have said that there is a wholesome latitudinarianism. For example, we cannot imagine how one should read in moral fairness the Epistle to the Romans, or still more perhaps the Epistle to the Galatians - and yet, if he defer to these scriptures at all, should reject the dcetrine of justification by faith alone. So that to recognise as Christian those who deny this article, we should hold to be liberalism. Again, there are other differences, on either side of which has the Bible left any such express or authoritative deliverance, as would lead us to pronounce of one or other of the parties, not only that they are in the wrong, but fatally in the wrong. We should rank among these differences many questions of meats and days and priestly vestments, and many points both of church order and church government - So that to recognise as Christians those of the Episcopalian or Independent or Methodist or Baptist persusasions, we should hold not to be liberalism, but right and genuine liberality.

Paul exemplified both these methods of dealing with controversies and disposing of them - Bold and resolute and uncompromising in all that was essential - Yielding and generous in all that was not so; and, however strong and free from all scrupulosity himself, yet deferring with the utmost tenderness to the honest and conscientious scruples of other men. He thus acquitted himself of two most important services - the one as an intrepid soldier, the manly defender and guardian of the church’s purity; the other as a discreet and wary counsellor, who knew both how to judge charitably, and to arbitrate wisely, for the church’s unity and peace.

And unless we follow this high example, we do not see, how the blissful consummation of that unanimity in the Christian world, of which our Saviour speaks as the stepping-stone to a universal Christianity through the world at large, is ever to be arrived at. Surely for the fulfilment of this sacred object, it were well that in the confessions of different churches, articles of faith, viewed as articles of distinction or separation, should not be unnecessarily multiplied; and we would further submit, whether it is not a most unwarrantable hazarding of this high and precious interest, to speak of the exclusively divine right of any form whatever of ecclesiastical government. It is thus that certain strenuous advocates, both of Presbytery on the one hand, and of Episcopacy on the other, have been heard to affirm, that they will never consent to. the loosening or letting down of a single pin in the tabernacle. This tenacity of theirs we should all the more readily understand - if the specific information of each and every pin were really to be had in Scripture. But in the absence of this, we do think that there might be a great deal more of mutual toleration. It has been well said, that, while it is our duty to be wise up to that which is written, we should not attempt to be wise above or beyond it; and so too, while it is our duty to be inflexible up to that which is wxitten, it is surely not our part to be inflexible beyond it. We feel confident, that with the use and right application of this principle, there is immense room for the abridgment of the church’s controversies. Let us hope that the movement is upon the whole in this direction; and that, even amid the fits and fermentations of this busy period, the Christian world is now heaving towards this bettor state of things - when the war of opinions shall cease; and both truth and charity shall walk hand in hand. Heaven grant, that this perspective of brighter and happier days may be speedily realised.

And let us not be afraid lest, when controversies shall cease, men will therefore sink down into the ease and indifferency of liberalism. The tension of the mind will be fully kept up only in another direction, and in a better way. If Christians will not then strive so much for the mastery in argument, they will be differently and far more profitably employed in provoking to love and to good works. They might not be so intent on the work of fighting each other, because far more intent on the exercise of judging themselves. Christianity will not be so much agitated as a question of opinion between man and man; but far more sedulously prosecuted as a question between God and their own oonsciences. There will still be ample room for zeal and strenuousness - for an ardour that will burn with as pure and bright a flame, if not so fiercely as before. Ere the church militant shall become the church triumphant, we might still have to fight the battles of principle and of the faith with them who are without; but let us hope that our internal wars will cease, by the differences among ourselves being healed. And let us not imagine that because there will then be the repose of mutual charity and peace, there must therefore be the indolence of quietude. The struggle to be uppermost on the field of championship, will then give way before a kindlier and more generous emulation - the struggle to be foremost in zeal for the glory of God, and for all the services of Christian philanthropy; and this too without the heart-burnings of rivalship or envy. For they will be all the readier in honour to prefer each other - when they shall have become more alive to their own shortcomings than to the perversities or defects of their fellowmen. Even now, and notwithstanding the manifold yet chiefly incidental controversies of our day, men in theology are looking greatly more to the points of agreement, and less to the points of difference the promise and preparation, let us hope, for a long millennium of peace and prosperity to the Christian wor1d.
Go to Lecture 98
Back to Romans index

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