Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMAN5, xv, 1 - 13. "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our leaning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus; that ye may wish one mind and one month glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say, that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name, And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost"

IN the two first verses we are told what is the duty of the strong towards the weak - which duty is an obvious practical inference from the principles laid down in the foregoing chapter. It was that they should please their neighbour and not themselves. And yet Paul himself was in one sense any thing but a man-pleaser. In his Epistle to the Galatians, be appears in wholly another character; and so tells us there - " Do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ". And in a former part of this Epistle to the Romans, he says to the commendation of those who had not gained the approval of the Jews by submitting to circumcision, that their praise was not of men but of God. This difference between Paul at one time and Paul at another lay altogether in this. He never sought the praise or pleasure of men as an end; but he often sought it as a means to an end. He sought it when he could serve Christ by it. It would not have served Christ, but the contrary, had he given in to the judaising Christians in the church of Galatia; and, in compliance with their demand, laid the rite of circumcision on their Gentile brethren - and this too on the ground that it was necessary for their salvation. He, had it been placed on the same footing, would also have resisted their abstinence from meats - but not, when, without the concession of any such vital principle, this abstinence subserved the peace or extension of the Christian Church. When these high objects were to be gained - this thing of indifferency became a thing of duteous obligation; and then not only were the strong taught to bear the infirmities of the weak - but every one was taught, not to please his neighbour, but to please his neighbour for his good to edification. Thus did Paul seek to please men in all things - because not seeking his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.

Ver. 3. For even Christ pleased not himself; but,as it is written, 'The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me'. And here this matter of not eating flesh, in itself a perfect trifle, is made to rank with a virtue of the very highest order - the imitation of Christ. The quotation here given is from Psalm lxix, 9 - the first part of which verse is applied by the apostle John to our Saviour; and the latter in this place by the apostle Paul. There was no pleasure in those reproaches of men, which were borne by our blessed Lord in the cause of seeking after and saving them - when He endured the contradiction of sinners, and despised the shame of it. But a still more emphatic application of these words to Jesus Christ is to be found in that vicarious sacrifice which He underwent for the sins of the world - even those sins wherewith so much reproach and dishonour had been cast upon God. TJte burden of all this was made to fall upon the head of our blessed Saviour, who indeed took it upon Himself; and, by magnifying the law, took off indignity from the Lawgiver. Truly He pleased not Himself, when under the heavy load of the hour and the power of darkness, His soul became exceeding sorrowful, and He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Surely if Christ thus bore the sins of the wicked, we might well bear the infirmities of the weak.

Ver. 4.'
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope'. He had just quoted from the Scriptures; and, to enforce the lesson he had just drawn from them, he comes forth with a general testirnony to the worth and the estimation in which these writings ought to be held. It is true, that they are only the Scriptures of the Old Testament which are here alluded to - or such as were written aforetime - or, immediately, for the instruction of those who lived many centuries back; yet, distantly and universally, for the instruction of the men of all ages. This is only one out of many places in the New Testament, where the Scriptures, though but consisting then of the Hebrew sacred writings, have a power and a sufficiency ascribed to them which now-a-days we are apt to overlook. It is the illustrious testimony of Paul himself that they are able to make us wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Christ Jesus. There is a glory and a virtue in these elder Scriptures, which should not be lost sight of. It were well that we made ourselves familiar with the high ascriptions given to them by the Psalmist of old; and still better with the attestations in their favour by Him who is the Author and. Finisher of our faith - as repeated by His apostles after Him, and from which we assuredly gather that they were written, not for the men of bygone periods only, but also for our admonition on whom the latter ends of the world have come.

'That we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope' - through the comfort which they directly give, and through the patience which both Scripture examples and Scripture ex.hortations are fitted to inspire. The connection of hope with comfort is quite obvious - seeing that hope is the best and likeliest of all topics for minitering consolation to those who may at present have much to bear; and also of hope with patience - seeing that patience worketh experience, and experience hope. The pertinency of this whole consideration to the argument which the apostle is now holding, will appear more distinctly if we recollect, that when he asked the dissentient parties of the church that he was addressing to give up their controversies, they were carrying their differences so far, as to refuse one another the hopes and privileges of their common salvation. There were judaising teachers, we know, who taught that except men were circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved. And it would seem as if from the apostle's reasoning, that at least the weak brethren, were apt to look on their opponents as so auy reprobates who had forfeited their claims to a blissful immortality; and also that the strong brethren made too little account of the spiritual well-being, and so the ultimate safety of their adversaries, in this contention - wounding their consciences, and perhaps caring not although destroyed by their meats, those disciples should perish for whom Christ died. The great object of the apostle was to convince them that the question now so keenly agitated need not affect the everlasting condition of either party; that both might alike stand unto God and be alike accepted of Him; and that, after having passed through the ordeal of the last judgment, both might be admitted to life everlasting with Him who is Lord of the dead and the living He therefore bids them cherish both for themselves and others the hope of their common salvation -looking on each other as heirs and expectants now, and to be partakers hereafter of the same glorious inheritance - when they shall ever be at rest, and all their partial and temporary differences here will be lost and forgotten in the reign of an endless and universal charity here they speak, and understand, and think, as children; but there, where they shall have attained to manhood, and all shall have become strong, they will put away the childish things - the trifles of their present vain and fruitless controversy.

Ver. 5
. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus.'
The God of patience and consolation - the expression varied here from comfort to consolation, though not in the original - where the reference therefore to the very terms of the last verse is all the more distinct in the ascription given to God, as the God of patience and comfort - or as the Giver of these graces, which He is, when He strengthens us "with all might according to his glorious power unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness." We are here reminded of what is said of God the Father in 2 Cor. i, 4 - " The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." The sympathy of a common hope begetting the sense of a common interest, within every good and Christian mind, beget also the fellowship of a common or mutual charity, and so make them "like-minded one to another;" and it, is added, "according to Christ Jesus," of after the example of Christ Jesus - even the example which he had already quoted in the third verse. The patience and comfort, it might have been said, though from God, are nevertheless through the Scriptures - the one being the Source of all our graces, the other their channel of conveyance. And the like-mindedness of this verse has certainly in it as one ingredient at least, that of which in Philippians, ii, 2, this like-mindedness is said to consist - even in having the same love, of one accord, of one mind - under the influence of which spirit nothing would be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind each would esteem other better than themselves.

Ver. 6
. But it is evident from this verse, that "the like-mindedness here does not lie exclusively in this fellowship of a mutual charity one for another. It points also to the common direction of their minds towards one and the same object - that object being the glory of God. They may differ in certain observances; but what he wants of them is that they shall agree in this. Let him that regardeth the day regard it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord let him not regard it. In like manner, let him who eateth, and him who eateth not, agree in giving God thanks, and in giving God glory. This they should do with one mind; and, he adds, with one mouth. With our mind we must think the same things, ore with our mouth we can speak the same things. Were we then more slow to speak of the things on which we differ, and more ready to speak of the things on which we agree, it would mightily conduce to the peace and unity of the visible church. The members of the church at Rome differed in regard both to meats and days; and Paul as good as enjoined silence about these, when he bade them receive eaoh other, but not to doubtful disputations. But, on the other hand, he bids them join with one mouth, as well as one mind, in giving glory to God. "Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing."

'Even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ'.
This is the peculiar aspect which, as Christians, we regard God. Did we but view Him as the God of Natural Theology - apart from Christ, and out of Christ - there might be a fearfulness toward God, but no fellowship. It is our looking to Him, and so trusting in Him, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - it is this, which, specifically and characteristically, marks our entrance on the religion of the gospel. Then begins our fellowship with the Father and with the Son - the best of all preparatives, according to the apostle John, for our having fellowship one with another. And so it follows in

Ver. 7. '
Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.'
He winds up his argument on this topic, by re-echoing what he had said at the outset of it. He bids them receive one another, even by bearing one another. Surely if Christ made our sins no obstacle in the way of our reception, and that too at the time when we were enemies, we should make their infirmities no obstacle to the reception of those who are our brethren - weak brethren, they may be; but it will make us all the liker to our Saviour, who was meek and lowly in heart, if we bear ourselves with a peculiar gentleness towards them, seeing that we are required not to strive, but to be gentle towardt all men. He had compassion on them who were out of the way; and far more grievously out of it, than those erring or over-scrupulous disciples, in whose behalf and for whose indulgence Paul is now pleading. Surely if Christ adopted is into God's family, we should adopt one another into our fellowship. And to the glory of God too. He effected peace on earth in the way that brought glory to God in the highest. He reconciled us sinners unto God- yet so as to exalt His authority, and make all the glories of His character stand out in brighter manifestation than ever, to the eyes both of angels and of men. He received and recognised us as the children of His own Father, and so as His own brethren; but on such a footing as nevertheless redounded to the vindication and honour of the divine perfections: And it was indeed a signal triumph over difficulties insuperable to all but He - when out of such materials as the guilty aliens of the human race, both Jews and Gentiles, He gained such large accessions to the spiritual household of the faithful. Let us not impair this household, or narrow its limits - whether in reality, or in our own imaginations - whether by offences, on the one hand, as when we wound the consciences of the weak, and perhaps destroy those for whom Christ died; or by our intolerant and exclusive sectarianism on the other, as when we say that without certain ceremonial observances men cannot be saved.

Let us not thus defeat the sacred policy of Him, who opened the door of admission for the world at large. Let Gentiles give up their contempt, and Jews give up their bigotry; and as Christ received both, let both receive one another. Let us do nothing to break off this fellowship; or to mutilate that church, by which is shown to the universe the manifold wisdom of God. It is therefore well added - that we should receive each other to the glory of God - for it were indeed a minishing of His glory, thus to abridge the extent and entireness of that great temple, the materials whereof are gathered out of all nations, and of which Christ Himself is the chief corner-stone.

Ver. 8 - 12
. 'Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.'

As he draws towards the close of his epistle, he seems as if to redouble his strenuousness for the fulfilment of its main object - which was the establishment of a common understanding between Jews and Gentiles - a full settlement of all the unhappy differences betwixt them. To effectuate this his favourite design, on which it is obvious that his whole heart was set, he puts forth all his powers of persuasion; and he evidently feels that his chief attempt must be to soften the prejudices of the Jewish understanding - or that his most necessary, as well as hardest task, was to propitiate and reconcile the minds of his own countrymen, all whose partialities had been violently thwarted by the free admission of Gentiles into the church, and more especially when accompanied with the indulgence of being exempted from the obligations of the ceremonial law. We can fancy as if it were in the spirit of his own characteristic policy, and to appease the wounded vanity of the Jews, that in the 8th verse he sets forth Jesus Christ Himself as being in His own person the direct minister of the circumcision - whereas afterwards he puts himself forward as being the humble minister under Christ for the conversion of the Gentiles. Certain it is that our Saviour, while on earth, very much restricted His ministrations to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the great instrumentality employed by our apostle, and which he most wielded for gaining over the Jews, was a plentiful quotation of their own Scriptures. This was precisely what our Saviour Himself did, when, to do away another of their national antipathies, even the revolt which they all felt in the notion of a crucified Messiah - He argued from Moses and the Prophets, that Christ ought to have suffered these things, expounding "in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." And thus too Paul has recourse to a scriptural demonstration; and brings both psalms and prophecies to witness that the truth of God was as much committed to the admission of the Gentiles within the pale of gospel mercy, as to the fulfilment of the promises made on behalf of the Jews in the ears of those patriarchs from whom they had descended.

Ver. 13.'
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.'
Having thus merged the distinction between these two classes, he makes them both the objects of a common invocation - and this in one of the most pregnant and precious verses of the Bible. The God whom he thus calls upon is designed by him the God of hope - just because He is the Author of this grace, making us to abound in hope - even as a little before He is called the God of patience and comfort, because He works in us these graces also - strengthening us "with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness."

There are certain weighty lessons enveloped in the brief but emphatic sentence now before us, and some of whlch we shall slightly touch upon.
Our first remark is founded on the comparison of the 4th and 13th verses - whence we are made to perceive the identity of that effect which is scribed to the Scriptures on the one hand, and o the Holy Ghost upon the other. In the first of these the apostle directs the attention of his disciples to the, things which were written aforetime, that through the Scriptures they might have hope. In the second, he prays for the same disciples, that they. may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. The respective functions of the Word and Spirit are thus brought into view; and more especially this important truth - that, though perfectly distinct from each other, their joint operation on. the soul of man issues, not in two different results, but in one and the same result. The reason is, that the one is the agent, and the other the instrument, of one and the same service. And so the word of God is called the sword of the Spirit, that which He works by. When He enlightens, it is by opening the understanding to understand the Scriptures; and when He impresses, it is by giving the influence and power of moral suasion to the lessons of Scripture. It might help perhaps to alleviate the mysteriousness of certain passages in the Bible if the comparing of spiritual things with spiritual, we understand to be the comparing of scriptural things with scriptural, and the things of the Spirit were regarded as the things of Scripture spiritually, discerned. We should then be at no loss to harmonise the saying that we are born again of the Spirit, with the saying that we are born again by the word of God. And as both co-operate work of our regeneration, so both co-operate in the production of. such special grace that belongs to the new creature in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The joy and peace here spoken of are both to be understood objectively - or in the sense of mental affections, wherewith it is the prayer of the apostle that his disciples should be filled. It is not the joy which there is in heaven over a sinner that. repenteth, but the joy felt by the sinner himself when he comes to have the faith of the gospel. Neither is it the peace which there is in the heart of the Godhead towards us, when, on our acceptance of His Son as our Saviour, His purposes of wrath and vengeance against us are turned away. But it is the peace which enters our own hearts, when, visited by the sense of forgiveness, or by the conviction that God hath ceased from His anger, we cease from all our disquietudes because of it. And more than this. Not only are we relieved from the terrors of a coming vengeance, but also from those sensations of disquietude which might else have agonised us, amid the vexations or vicissitudes of the life that soon pass away. Because of the glorious prospect beyond it, we are calm - even when beset with tribulation; or are not troubled as other men. This peace of our text is of a more negative character than the joy of our text; yet it too admits of degrees - the strength of it being rightly estimated by the magnitude of those trials, under which we maintain the serenity of our spirits, notwithstanding. In the world, our Saviour tells us, we shall have tribulation; but in Him we shall have peace: And, as a proof that it admits of being increased and strengthened, it is said in one place to be a peace so great that it passeth all understanding; and it is spoken of by Isaiah as the privilege of God's reconciled children, that they will delight greatly in the abundance of their peace - a peace of such depth and stability, that it is Conceived of by the same prophet, as flowing through the heart like a mighty river - the surface of which might be ruffled by the passing wind that blows over it, while all is stillness, all is tranquil and beyond the reach of disturbance within and below.

There is as great a complexional variety in the experience of Christians, as there is in the natural temperaments of men. It is because of this constitutional difference, that while the faith of the gospel works joy in the heart of one man, it works peace in another. And so we read of death-beds of ecstacy, and also of death-beds of calm and settled assurance - the latter evincing, it is possible, as strong a degree of faith, though unaccompanied by the raptures of a lively and overpowering manifestation.

And what is worthy of our special notice is, that both the joy and the peace may be felt in the direct exercise of believing. They may flow, and flow immediately, from the faith of the gospel without aught to intervene between them. Those would throw a sad obscuration on the freeness of the gospel, and greatly embarrass the outset of an enquirer who is groping for an entrance on the way of salvation - who insist that ere joy or peace can be felt, there must be some subjective ground of experience on which to sustain it. There can be no doubt that the subjective in Christianity does minister both joy and peace to the believer - as when Paul rejoiced in the testimony of his conscience; and John could tell that when his heart condemned him not, then had he confidence towards God. But when one principle is admitted, must it always be at this expence - the exclusion or extinction of another equally legitimate, and equally indispensable to the Christian state and the Christian character. There are a peace and a joy in the subjective - or on our finding what good things have been worked in the Spirit of God. But distinct from this, aud I should say anterior to this, there are also a peace and a joy in the objective - or on our believing what good things have been spoken to us by the word of God, and to be felt immediately on our giving credence to them, a peace and a joy which emanate directly from the sayings of Scripture; and such sayings too as are addressed, not to disciples only, but to yet unconverted sinners also.

Would not the man whom we had injured, and of whom we had good reason to be afraid - did he stand before us with an angry or menacing countenance - would not he be the object of our dread and disquietude, and this simply on our view of the objective! And on the other hand, did his countenance bespeak a readiness for peace and pardon, would not terror give way to confidence - and that simply too on our view of the objective! And does the Lawgiver make no such exhibition of Himself in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as when He looks compassion on the children of men, or sets forth His own Son as the propitiation for the sins of the world! But there are sounds as well as sights of encouragement, words which are the direct bearers of comfort to the soul, a proclamation of amnesty as well as a flag of amnesty; and which, as coming from without, are objective things external to ourselves, and, apart from ourselves, fitted to light up an immediate gladness in our bosoms, did we but open our eyes or our ears to them - as surely as when the wise men from the east saw the star over Bethlehem, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy; or as surely as the shepherds who first heard the proclamation of good-will from the sky, and saw the babe in the manger, glorified and praised God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. We cannot well imagine how any tidings should be designated tidings of great joy - unless they had the property of making joyful, simply and immediately on our believing them - and this without any thought bestowed upon ourselves, or subjective regards cast downwardly or inwardly on our own spirit, or on the state of our own hearts and characters. It is thus that there. are a peace and joy in believing what we read of God, and of God in Christ, in our hearts as when He swears by Himself that He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that all should come unto Him and live; or beseeches us to enter juto reconciliation;, or assures us that whosoever cometh unto His Son shall in no wise be cast out; and that if we so come, our sins, though as crimson, should become as wool, though as scarlet, should be made whiter than the snow. The ministers of the gospel are the heralds of a universal proclamation - a proclamation of mercy, in the believing of which there are instant peace and joy.

But neither would we exclude the subjective as being a ground of peace and joy also. Nay we will adiult that there must be a certain harmony between the objective and the subjective at the very outset of our Christianity. The same heavenly Teacher and Saviour who says, Come unto me and I will receive you, says also, He who cometh unto me must forsake all. There are here both an invitation and a declaration. I cannot imagine, notwithstanding the perfect fulness and freeness of the one, how any man could come confidently or rejoice in the faith - if in the face of the other, he was not honestly desirous of forsaking all sin, and making an entire surrender of himself to the will of Christ. If at all conscious of this reservation or, of this duplicity, it will make him incapable of clearly or confidently believing - or, in other words, an evil conscience will darken faith. But this does not preclude the importance, nay even the necessity, of setting forth in full presentation before the eye of the mind the objective truths of Christianity, the objects that faith must have to rest upon; and the fruit of this on all truly earnest enquirers, or in other words, on all good and honest hearts, will be peace and joy. And this whether they be looking inwardly on their hearts or no. Nay you must give them time to look outwardly on the tidings from heaven ere they can rejoice; and in virtue of their hearts being good and honest (a goodness and honesty which abide, and stand them in stead, even when they are not looking inwardly) - in virtue of this singleness of eye, and singleness of purpose, will their whole bodies be full of light; and they will see clearly outward these objects of vision, because within them there is a clear medium of vision. And there is a counterpart to this in them who want singleness of eye, or whose hearts are full of duplicity, and so of darkness; and to whom therefore the objects of faith, bereft of all luminousness, might be preached or presented - but in vain. Still it is our duty to preach at a venture - that to the good and honest it might be the savour of life unto life, although it should be the savour of death unto death to all other hearers. In the simple exercise of believing they will have hope - the hope is yet of faith only, and not till afterwards the hope of experience. But the stronger the faith is, and the hope founded upon it - the brighter will the experience be, and the hope also which is founded upon it. These two will work like conspiring influences, which keep pace together, and work into each others hands. For the more vigorous the faith, the more vigorous also will be the obedience. The faith and the good conscience will thus grow with each others growth, and strengthen with each others strength - whereas if we cast away our good conscience, of our faith we shall make shipwreck.

And it is the Holy Ghost who causeth us to abound in both - in the hope that cometh directly from the objective, by taking of the things of Christ and showing them unto us; and in the hope that cometh reflexly from the subjective, by working in us those personal graces, whence men take knowledge of us, and we may also take knowledge of ourselves, that we are indeed the disciples of Jesus. He is alike the author of the hope that springs from the inherent, and of the hope that springs from the imputed righteousness - of the one when experience worketh hope, by the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost given to us; of the other, when through the Spirit we wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
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