Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou condemnest another, thou judgest also thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (ver. 1). As if he said, "It is quite true that the heathen are inexcusable. So are you. It is quite true that they have not lived up to the light they got. But have you lived up to the light you have got? Have you not come short of the Law of Moses just as much as they came short of the law of nature?" Thus the Divine Word ever seeks to turn us in upon ourselves. Thus it puts its searching questions, and lays down its searching tests. The Gentile is guilty; so is the Jew. The Jew needs repentance as well as the Gentile. It is this, as we have seen above, that makes the gospel a message for every man. It comes to our fallen humanity everywhere, and, with its message of the goodness and mercy of God, seeks to win us from the paths of sin and death to the way that leadeth to everlasting life. Hence St. Paul emphasizes here the goodness of God.
I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS SHOWN. The goodness of God is no new idea. It is as old as the rainbow, as old as the seasons, as old as the sunshine. So strong and deep is the conviction of the human heart about the goodness of the Supreme Being, that when our Anglo-Saxon forefathers were framing words to express their ideas, the word they chose to describe the Almighty was this very word "God," which simply means "The Good," "The Good One." So even in that early age he was regarded as the personification of goodness. Let us consider how God's goodness is shown to us. Think of what temporal blessings he bestows upon us. Think of his goodness to our souls. He has not left us, here on earth, to wander in the dark places of sin and sorrow, of uncertainty and despair. He has not left us, alone and helpless, to meet the king of terrors, and to step out from the darkness of a hopeless life into the darkness of an unavoidable eternity. If, on the one hand, he has given us the light of conscience and the moral law to show us our guilt, on the other hand he has given us the light of the gospel, the light of the cross of Jesus, to reveal to us our hope of safety and peace. And, then, how much he has done for each of us personally! How very mercifully God has dealt with us! We are ashamed of many things in our own lives. The memory of them haunts us like an unbidden guest, like a ghost out of the guilty past. Yet God did not cast us away from his presence, nor take his Holy Spirit from us. "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." Surely he must have an inexhaustible store of patience, of compassion, of mercy. Ah, yes! Paul was right when he spoke of "the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering."
"I know that blessings undeserved "That more and more a providence "That death seems but a covered way "That care and trial seem at last, "That all the jarring notes of life II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS RECEIVED. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering?" (ver. 4). There are few professing Christians who would admit that the goodness of God is thus received by them. They would not like it to be said that they despise God's goodness. Yet must we not all admit that we do not think as much of God's goodness as we might? We take much of it as a matter of course. We forget that we have no claim on these bounties of God's providence and gifts of his grace, but rather the contrary. How little we praise him compared with what we might! How poor a return we make for his goodness by any effort or service of our lives! How poor are the offerings we make of our wealth and substance for God's cause! What is all this but in a sense to despise God's goodness? It is treating God's goodness with indifference; it is making light of it; it is looking down upon it. How indifferent we are even to Jesus Christ, God's own Son! What an evidence of God's goodness was the coming of Christ into the world - his life, his sufferings, his death I "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Yet with what amazing indifference and coolness this message of Divine mercy, this message of redeeming love, is received! How cold and apathetic our hearts are to the love of Jesus! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." From Jesus, the Crucified One, the King, who stands with outstretched hands waiting to receive and bless us, we turn away our hearts after the world and the things of it. Deaf to his loving voice, we turn our back upon our Saviour. We stretch forth our hands after money, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after pleasure, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after popular applause and the favour of men, and we say to them, "I will follow you." But, alas! how few have the gratitude and the courage to say, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest"! III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS MEANT. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (ver. 4). God's goodness is intended to lead us to repentance. And what more potent influence could he use than the influence of mercy and of love? What influence is so likely to make us repent of a wrong we have done to any person than the kindness of that person toward us? If you have injured a neighbour or a friend by word or deed, and he meets you with angry words, this only tends to make you more stubborn, more hostile, than before. But if, on the contrary, you see him bear with patience your attacks, your unkind remarks, does it not tend to make you sorry for the wrong you have done him? Or perhaps he heaps coals of fire on your head, and melts down, by deeds of kindness and a foraying spirit, the hardness of your heart. Is it not a picture of how God deals with men? We have sinned. He has berne with us. We have stood condemned as guilty sinners in the presence of a broken Law. He has sent his own Son to redeem, to justify, to save our souls. All this God has done that he might draw our hearts from sin, that by all his overflowing goodness be might lead us to repentance. He puts before us the guilt of sin and the danger of it, the terrors of the judgment and the agony of the lost. But over and above all he puts the message of mercy. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is this, the story of a heavenly Father's mercy; it is this, the story of a Saviour's love; it is this, the story of the cross, - that has touched the blunted conscience and melted the hardest heart, and won the most hardened sinners to repentance. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." - C.H.I.
"That more and more a providence "That death seems but a covered way "That care and trial seem at last, "That all the jarring notes of life II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS RECEIVED. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering?" (ver. 4). There are few professing Christians who would admit that the goodness of God is thus received by them. They would not like it to be said that they despise God's goodness. Yet must we not all admit that we do not think as much of God's goodness as we might? We take much of it as a matter of course. We forget that we have no claim on these bounties of God's providence and gifts of his grace, but rather the contrary. How little we praise him compared with what we might! How poor a return we make for his goodness by any effort or service of our lives! How poor are the offerings we make of our wealth and substance for God's cause! What is all this but in a sense to despise God's goodness? It is treating God's goodness with indifference; it is making light of it; it is looking down upon it. How indifferent we are even to Jesus Christ, God's own Son! What an evidence of God's goodness was the coming of Christ into the world - his life, his sufferings, his death I "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Yet with what amazing indifference and coolness this message of Divine mercy, this message of redeeming love, is received! How cold and apathetic our hearts are to the love of Jesus! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." From Jesus, the Crucified One, the King, who stands with outstretched hands waiting to receive and bless us, we turn away our hearts after the world and the things of it. Deaf to his loving voice, we turn our back upon our Saviour. We stretch forth our hands after money, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after pleasure, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after popular applause and the favour of men, and we say to them, "I will follow you." But, alas! how few have the gratitude and the courage to say, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest"! III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS MEANT. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (ver. 4). God's goodness is intended to lead us to repentance. And what more potent influence could he use than the influence of mercy and of love? What influence is so likely to make us repent of a wrong we have done to any person than the kindness of that person toward us? If you have injured a neighbour or a friend by word or deed, and he meets you with angry words, this only tends to make you more stubborn, more hostile, than before. But if, on the contrary, you see him bear with patience your attacks, your unkind remarks, does it not tend to make you sorry for the wrong you have done him? Or perhaps he heaps coals of fire on your head, and melts down, by deeds of kindness and a foraying spirit, the hardness of your heart. Is it not a picture of how God deals with men? We have sinned. He has berne with us. We have stood condemned as guilty sinners in the presence of a broken Law. He has sent his own Son to redeem, to justify, to save our souls. All this God has done that he might draw our hearts from sin, that by all his overflowing goodness be might lead us to repentance. He puts before us the guilt of sin and the danger of it, the terrors of the judgment and the agony of the lost. But over and above all he puts the message of mercy. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is this, the story of a heavenly Father's mercy; it is this, the story of a Saviour's love; it is this, the story of the cross, - that has touched the blunted conscience and melted the hardest heart, and won the most hardened sinners to repentance. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." - C.H.I.
"That death seems but a covered way "That care and trial seem at last, "That all the jarring notes of life II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS RECEIVED. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering?" (ver. 4). There are few professing Christians who would admit that the goodness of God is thus received by them. They would not like it to be said that they despise God's goodness. Yet must we not all admit that we do not think as much of God's goodness as we might? We take much of it as a matter of course. We forget that we have no claim on these bounties of God's providence and gifts of his grace, but rather the contrary. How little we praise him compared with what we might! How poor a return we make for his goodness by any effort or service of our lives! How poor are the offerings we make of our wealth and substance for God's cause! What is all this but in a sense to despise God's goodness? It is treating God's goodness with indifference; it is making light of it; it is looking down upon it. How indifferent we are even to Jesus Christ, God's own Son! What an evidence of God's goodness was the coming of Christ into the world - his life, his sufferings, his death I "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Yet with what amazing indifference and coolness this message of Divine mercy, this message of redeeming love, is received! How cold and apathetic our hearts are to the love of Jesus! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." From Jesus, the Crucified One, the King, who stands with outstretched hands waiting to receive and bless us, we turn away our hearts after the world and the things of it. Deaf to his loving voice, we turn our back upon our Saviour. We stretch forth our hands after money, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after pleasure, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after popular applause and the favour of men, and we say to them, "I will follow you." But, alas! how few have the gratitude and the courage to say, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest"! III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS MEANT. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (ver. 4). God's goodness is intended to lead us to repentance. And what more potent influence could he use than the influence of mercy and of love? What influence is so likely to make us repent of a wrong we have done to any person than the kindness of that person toward us? If you have injured a neighbour or a friend by word or deed, and he meets you with angry words, this only tends to make you more stubborn, more hostile, than before. But if, on the contrary, you see him bear with patience your attacks, your unkind remarks, does it not tend to make you sorry for the wrong you have done him? Or perhaps he heaps coals of fire on your head, and melts down, by deeds of kindness and a foraying spirit, the hardness of your heart. Is it not a picture of how God deals with men? We have sinned. He has berne with us. We have stood condemned as guilty sinners in the presence of a broken Law. He has sent his own Son to redeem, to justify, to save our souls. All this God has done that he might draw our hearts from sin, that by all his overflowing goodness be might lead us to repentance. He puts before us the guilt of sin and the danger of it, the terrors of the judgment and the agony of the lost. But over and above all he puts the message of mercy. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is this, the story of a heavenly Father's mercy; it is this, the story of a Saviour's love; it is this, the story of the cross, - that has touched the blunted conscience and melted the hardest heart, and won the most hardened sinners to repentance. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." - C.H.I.
Romans 1:20) that the heathen were without excuse by reason of their possible knowledge of God. But how quickly does the relentless logic of the apostle turn back this truth upon themselves! "Without excuse," because they might have known God's will? "Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man that judgest!" For the very judging implied a knowledge of the wrong, and by that knowledge they were self-condemned. We have here - the false hope of the Jew; the just judgment of God.
I. THE FALSE HOPE OF THE JEW. The Jew was greatly privileged, and God had shown him marvellous mercy. On either of these grounds, or both, he looked for exemption from judgment and wrath.
1. The chief hope of the Jew was founded upon the election of grace; he was called from among the nations to subserve a special purpose of God, and he fondly thought that he was called to security and bliss. He was singled out for service; he thought that he was singled out for inevitable salvation. He reckoned to escape altogether the judgment of God; he proudly deemed himself exempt by his very birth even from an inquiry into character.
2. But if perchance not quite so blind to spiritual claims, yet did not God's very goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, the wealth of which had been lavished upon the Jew, incline him to a careless ease, which was virtually presumptuous contempt? God had taught his wrath against unrighteousness, but he had also shown his mercy. Why not riot in the mercy. The old apology of God of the human heart," God is good; he will forgive."
II. THE JUST JUDGMENT OF GOD. But "let God be true, and every man a liar!" Neither pride of birth, nor the affluence of God's love, shall be security against just judgment.
1. God's judgment is true. (Ver. 2.) It proceeds upon the eternal principles of right; therefore an exemption on the ground of privilege, "respect of persons," is impossible. "The righteous God trieth the hearts" (Psalm 7:9).
2. God's true judgment condemns the evil and rewards the good.
(1) Now: "is against them that practise such things."
(2) "The day shall declare it:" manifested judgment. There is an "end" towards which all things are tending - an end which shall also be a beginning. Reason and revelation point to this. The law of future retribution is the same with the law of present judgment: "to every man according to his works." According to what a man is in himself shall he be regarded by God. And the deeds declare the man. So, then:
(a) To the good, "eternal life," "glory, honour, peace;"
(b) to the evil, "wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish."
3. God's goodness, therefore, does but seek to prepare the way for the exercise of judgment. He must condemn the evil, both now and then, and therefore he will seek to lead men from their evil that he may not condemn. The doctrine of justification is wrapped up in this; for if God can but change a man's self, the obliteration of the past is provided for in Christ. The deep damnation of those who think to pervert such saving love; instead of a wealth of love, there shall be a wealth of wrath for them! Let us learn the danger : of a blinded conscience - because we, forsooth, are "Christians," therefore we are saved! and of a hardened heart - God's very love, if we will not read its meaning, may be our death. Eternally, and without any exception, "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Psalm 11:7). - T.F.L.
severe critic, as guilty men will often be. His spirit towards the heathen world, so manifestly under the Divine curse, is, "Serve them right." He is evidently a Jew (cf ver. 17). Criticizing the heathen world from the platform of superior privileges, the Jew concluded that they had got no more than they deserved. The apostle, however, ventures to tell him he is as "inexcusable" as his Gentile brother. If the Gentile had so misused "the light of nature" and of "conscience" as to become so degraded, why has the Jew so misused the additional light of God's Law as to become so self-righteous? God will not judge the secrets of men upon any narrow and partial grounds, but will dispense judgment fairly. The section now before us presents the leading principles of the Divine judgment in a most masterly fashion.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT IS ACCORDING TO TRUTH. (Ver. 2.) The apostle declares to his self-righteous critic that he is sure - the Revised Version gives it "know" - that God's judgment in the cases already referred to is according to truth (κατὰ ἀλήθειαν). By this we are to understand that it is according to the reality of the things in question. That is to say, the Divine judgment is not based on appearances, it does not rest on superficial grounds, but goes down to the very nature of things. And this is a general principle characterizing God's judgment always. Men may judge according to the appearance, but God looketh on the heart, and dispenses to each individual what he deserves. Now, we could have confidence in no other judgment than this one which conforms to the reality and nature of things. If we are able to analyze fairly God's dealings with sinful men, we shall find that his severe judgments have always had sufficient reason. In the present instance, the critic vindicates the Divine procedure. As he declares the Gentiles to have suffered rightly, he really becomes the champion of God, although in doing so he, as the apostle shows, condemns himself.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS MAY BE PRECEDED BY A DISPENSATION OF FORBEARANCE. (Vers. 3-5.) While God's judgments when executed are truthful and thorough, they may not be executed immediately. In the case of the Jew under review by the apostle, God has been exercising amazing forbearance. Although the recipient of superior privileges, he has been sinning just as really as his Gentile brother, and wholly misinterpreting the Divine forbearance. God, by his goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, has been leading him to repentance, to a thorough change of character and heart (μετάνοια); but he will not be led, but insists on regarding all this forbearance as merited on his part. His heart still continues hard and impenitent (ἀμετανόητον), so that he is really treasuring up wrath for himself which shall be revealed at the day of judgment. And this solemn warning should be heeded by many. There are many still who interpret forbearance as approval; who think highly of themselves because they have been exempt from suffering; who base upon their good health, good fortune, and general comfort the mistaken conclusion that God must contemplate such people with a large amount of complacency. But it is forbearance he is exercising, and no justification could be extended to such self-righteous individuals.
III. REWARD AND PUNISHMENT WILL BE METED OUT EVENTUALLY ACCORDING TO EACH MAN'S DEEDS. (Vers. 6-10.) To the apostle's eye men resolved themselves into two classes: one class was seeking, by patient continuance in well-doing, glory and honour and immortality; the other class was contentious, not obeying the truth, but obeying unrighteousness (ἀδίκια). Now, to the one, reward will be given in the form of all that is implied by "eternal life;" while to the other shall be meted out in strict proportion "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish." Just as, in a well-ordered state, the doer of evil is punished and the doer of good rewarded, so will it be, only with infallible accuracy, under the government of God. Now, at first sight, it seems hard to reconcile a judgment according to works with a justification by faith alone; but if we will only consider the fruits of justification, in those good works which God hath before ordained that his people should walk in them (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10), we can see that the scheme of grace can yet include a reward proportional to work. Let us grant at once that all the work got out of the believer is divinely prompted, that it is the outcome of grace, nevertheless it has its moral value in the universe of God and deserves reward. Besides, as the judgment-scene in Matthew 25. shows, the servants that are welcomed and rewarded receive their reward with wonder. Just as magnanimous minds, when some acknowledgment of their valuable labours is offered, declare it to be beyond their deserts, and feel what they declare, so the rewarded well-doer at the last will be the first to acknowledge that the reward rests, not on any absolute merit, but on abounding grace. On the other hand, the evil-doers will acknowledge that the "indignation and wrath, the tribulation and anguish," have been fully earned and richly deserved (cf. Jonathan Edwards's 'Works: Occasional Sermons,' Nos. 7., 8.). And if we inquire how those who have died in infancy, and those who have been saved as by fire at life's last moments, like the dying robber at the side of Christ, are to fare at a judgment based upon works, we have only to reply that their history after death has doubtless attested the gracious Spirit which was given them, and will justify their reception into the joys of eternal life.
IV. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE WITHOUT RESPECT OF PERSONS. (Ver. 11.) In speaking of this reward and punishment according to works, the apostle is careful to note that each will be "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Ἐλληνι): for there is no respect of persons (προσωποληψία) with God." The reason why the Jew comes first in the order of judgment is that he has had all along such superior privileges as make his judgment all the more serious matter. If he has not profited by these privileges his judgment shall be all the more severe - he shall be beaten truly with many stripes; and if he profited, his reward shall be all the more glorious. The Gentile, or Greek, on the other hand, with nothing but natural light, shall find himself judged fairly, although it must needs be a secondary matter under a beneficent government like God's. For he does not accept the persons of men. He is not influenced in his judgment by personal claims. He puts away the idea of merit in individuals, because all are guilty before him, and bases his judgment upon the one consideration of state, with its resultant outcome, either good works or bad. Now, this was what a Jew found it hard to accept. He thought, as a thorough-bred Jew, he ought to be accepted. It must have been a great humiliation to have to take up a position beside ordinary men, and have no store set by his person at all.
V. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE ACCORDING TO THE LAW, WRITTEN OR UNWRITTEN, WHICH EACH MAN HAS RECEIVED. (Vers. 12-15.) The Gentiles shall not be held accountable for an outward and written revelation which has never come into their hands, but only for that law of conscience which God has written on their hearts. For this law revealed in their nature, and the use they made of it, they shall be justly held responsible. Nor shall the tracing of the law of conscience to utilitarian or animal sources in the least degree diminish human responsibility. The question is not - How has this inward law and monitor come into existence? but - What use has each man made of it, come as it may? And so the heathen shall be beaten, though with few stripes, for their neglect of the inward law. They shall in many cases perish, even though they had not the privilege of a written law. Conscience has had a Divine source, no matter how long it has taken to develop; and God will call all men into judgment for the use of it. On the other hand, those who have had the Law written and delivered shall be judged by it. For the Scriptures come to reinforce the conscience, and to reveal the mercy, of the Lord. In such circumstances it is surely just that those who receive "the oracles of God" should be held responsible for the use and profit they have made of them. If they have been a dead letter to them, then God will justly punish their neglect of them. Such men shall be beaten with many stripes, because they might have known and ought to have done their Lord's will.
VI. THE GENERAL JUDGMENT WILL BE CONDUCTED BY JESUS CHRIST. (Ver. 16.) God the Father will commit to his only begotten Son the duty of judgment. And here we see the wondrous equity of the Divine Being. This Second Person of the Trinity has added to his Divine knowledge a human experience. He has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. He knows the human problem experimentally. He can consequently enter into our case more thoroughly than if he had never assumed our nature. And so he does not judge from above, or from outside, but from within, and can enter into the secrets of the human heart. Hence this general judgment is to be upon the most equitable principles, and by the most capable of judges. How important, then, that we cultivate the acquaintance of him who is to have us at his judgment-bar! Not that we may bribe him, but that he may prepare us for that thorough investigation which lies before us. If we make a "clean breast" of all to him, if we acknowledge our sin and shortcoming, if we ask him for a clean heart and a baptism of his Holy Ghost to enable us to live for his glory and our fellows' good, then he will help us to a better life, and enable us, so far from dreading his judgment-bar, to "love his appearing." May the day of judgment break brightly on us all, for his own Name's sake! - R.M.E.
I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD TO SINNERS. Its abundance. The apostle uses his favourite word to exhibit the munificence of God; his "riches" of every sort, and enough for the whole creation, are ceaselessly, profusely bestowed. His temporal bounties enrich their lives. The children are so engrossed with the enjoyment of the gifts as to forget to uplift thankful smiles to the parental Giver. His spiritual mercies should be remembered. The Gentiles have the warning voice, the guiding light of conscience, to preserve from error and ruin; yet is this token of Divine care frequently slighted and even hated, as Zechariah was slain by Joash. It was no slight favour that blessed the Jews with the "lively oracles;" and Christians may well prize the unsearchable riches of gospel truth. 'Tis when we are anxiously seeking the fight way we are most sensible of our helplessness, and welcome the aid of the Word and Spirit. God's kindness is especially visible in the length of the day of grace vouchsafed. The apostle puts it negatively and positively - God's" forbearance" in restraining his thunderbolts of wrath, and his "long-suffering" in the painful endurance of sin in his dominions. We have tried his patience. He bears long with an evil generation, suffers their manners to go unpunished all these years. Even the souls under the altar echo the complaint of earth, "How long, O Lord, holy and true?"
II. THE INTENT OF THIS KINDNESS. None of God's gifts is without meaning. To use them rightly, to improve them, is the recompense he seeks. His forbearance is designed to change men's lives. Reflection begets repentance, the grieving over past follies, the resolution to forsake them, and the actual turning to a godly life. He gives men time to alter. He is "long-suffering, not willing that any should perish." See this in years while the ark was a-preparing, in the period of prophecy before the Captivity, and in the interval between the Day of Pentecost and the day of judgment. Men have prayed God to spare their lives in the hour of peril, and the moments after rescue have blotted out the memory of his mercy and their vow. He employs agencies adapted to this end. His revelation and the admonitions of the Spirit, preachers, and providences, have been directed towards arousing the lethargic, rebuking the careless, forcing them to trace a connection between sin and destruction. He woos them to a better life by his goodness. He is drawing them as with a magnet, so that if they repent not it is because they resist his "leading."
III. THE TREATMENT THIS KINDNESS TOO OFTEN RECEIVES. Contempt. Men scoff at the idea of retribution awaiting them, arguing final impunity from the arrival of present donations that speak of the Creator and Preserver's benevolence. They mistake his slowness to strike for incapacity. His unwillingness to destroy is imputed to inability. Contempt is a sign of ignorance. "Not knowing that," etc. It is the foolish who display brazen hardihood; the wise man makes light of no threatening storm. Such ignorance is blamable. The source of it is the "hardness and impenitence of the heart." "Their eyes have they closed, and their ears are dull of hearing, because the heart of this people is waxed gross." The Scriptures would drive us from every refuge of lies, would make us ashamed of our behaviour that we may mourn and amend. There is no hope of reformation as long as the pachyderm of self-complacency is not pierced with the compunction of responsibility.
IV. THE AWFUL CONSEQUENCE TO THE IMPENITENT. They aggravate their punishment. The pent-up storm bursts with the greater fury. The more the advantages, the weightier the account demanded; the longer the time granted for amendment, the severer the castigation for wasted opportunities. Men "treasure up" wrath for themselves. Character indurates, like the writing on clay tablets hardened in the sun. No possible excuse can be found where the day of grace has passed unused. A dreadful contrast, to accumulate a store of wrath instead of profiting by the riches of God's goodness. The money of heaven was placed at men's disposal; but, throwing this away as rubbish, they made their own counterfeit coins, and are punished for their treason against the King's government. Trifle not with sin when thou seest its present disastrous results, but calculate thence the "wrath of the Lamb," when gentleness has been spurned and maltreated, and goodness must give place to severity. The smoothly gliding river of God's long-suffering, if barred out of thy heart by closed gates, will swell to a mighty torrent, sweeping thy frail obstructions away to ruin. - S.R.A.
2 Corinthians 5:11)! The subject of God's righteous judgment is an important one both for Christian and for sinner.
I. THE JUDGE. He is a righteous Judge. It is most important that, in thinking of the judgment, we should think of this aspect of God's character. "The righteous judgment of God" (ver. 5). We are not to think of the judgment as necessarily a terror in itself. It is, what the laws of human society ought to be, a terror to the evil-doer, but a praise to them that do well. If we think of the judgment with terror, the fault lies, not with God, but in ourselves. God is a righteous Judge. His judgment is a righteous judgment. There are some who cherish hard thoughts of God, who think of him as a stern and relentless Judge. For such hard thoughts there is no foundation anywhere in God's dealings with men. His character is what we should call a character of perfect fairness. His judgment will be perfectly fair. There may be some one who will say, "I did not know that such a course of action was wrong; I had not the Law of God to guide me." St. Paul meets just such a case: "As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law" (ver. 12). The judgment will be entirely according to our opportunities and privileges. If God condemns us or inflicts punishment upon us, it will only be because we deserve it. Every man will get a fair hearing. "There no respect of persons with God (ver. 11). Every man will get a fair chance Those who have the Bible in their hands cannot say that they have not had a fair chance. We have all got the offer of salvation. We have all heard of the love of Jesus. We have all heard the invitations of the gospel What could God have done for us that he has not done? He has done all he could do for our salvation, when "he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He has done all he could, so long as man remains a free agent, to warn us to flee from the wrath to come, to win our hearts to himself. He is slow to anger, plenteous in mercy, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and yet he will by no means clear the guilty. He gives us every chance, that by his goodness he may lead us to repentance. It may be observed here that the idea of righteousness is so bound up in the idea of the judgment of God, that St. Paul uses one word in the original to express what we describe by two words - "righteous-judgment."
II. THE PERSONS JUDGED. That judgment no one can escape. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds" (ver. 6). Many escape here on earth the just reward of their deeds. Gross crimes are perpetrated, and the murderer escapes the just sentence of the law; the defrauder and the betrayer and the slanderer occupy positions of respectability in life. But they go down to the grave with their sins upon their soul, to pass on into the presence of that tribunal from which earthly rank and earthly wealth can purchase no escape. As the apostle tells us in the eleventh verse, "there is no respect of persons with God." God looks upon the heart; he looks upon the motives; he looks upon the character. Thus regarding men, thus judging them, he sees but two classes. What are these? The rich and the poor? No. The learned and the unlearned? No. The Christian and the heathen? No. The Protestant and the Roman Catholic? No. In God's sight it is character and conduct - not country, or class, or creed - that divide men. St. Paul speaks of the two classes thus: "Every soul of man that doeth evil" (ver. 9), and "Every man that worketh good" (ver. 10). Or, again, he describes them, "Those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality" (ver. 7), and "Those that are contentious [or, 'self-seeking'], and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness" (ver. 8). To one or other of these classes every one of us belongs.
III. THE EVIDENCE. Here again we see how righteous will be the judgment of God. There will be no circumstantial evidence needed, however strong its chain of many links may often be. There will be no need to depend on the testimony of others. There will be no danger of the Judge being led astray by the impassioned pleading or the fallible logic of a human advocate. Our own deeds will be there to speak for themselves. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds. Ah, how solemn is the thought that we are now writing the evidence by which we shall be judged on the judgment-day! In the red sandstone there are found, in some places, marks which are clearly the impressions of showers of rain, and these so perfect that it can even be determined in what direction the shower inclined, and from what quarter it proceeded - and this ages ago! So also scientific men have been able to trace out from the fossil remains, buried for ages in the earth, the shape and characteristics of animals whose species are long since extinct. So our deeds leave their record behind them, and that record in the judgment-day will testify to what our character was when we were here on earth. The judgment-day will be a day of revelation (ver. 5). It will reveal the righteous judgment of God. It will unveil many mysteries in God's dealings which we did not understand before. It will reveal the true character of men. Then God shall judge the secrets of men" (ver. 16). Then shall all hidden things be brought to light, all deceits discovered, all hypocrisies unmasked. Then, too, shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Their character, often here hidden under a cloud, often misunderstood, often misrepresented, shall then be vindicated for all eternity and before all the world. "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." This also makes God's judgment a righteous judgment, that the evidence shall be the evidence of men's own deeds.
IV. THE RESULT OF THE JUDGMENT. To some will be given eternal life (ver. 7). That will be to those who have lived according to the light they had. No mere profession will save us. Neither will our own good works save us. But our works are the evidence whether or not we are believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; those whom God's goodness has led to repentance; those who have kept his commandments; those who have not been weary in well-doing, but "by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality;" those who have denied themselves, and taken up their cross and followed Christ; they "shall have right to the tree of life, and shall enter through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14). To others - oh, what a dark future! "Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" (vers. 8, 9). God's judgment is a righteous judgment. "He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." The apostle speaks of "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath" (ver. 5). That is what every one is doing who goes on in the path of unbelief, impenitence, disobedience, godlessness. What folly to lay up a treasure like that! - C.H.I.
I. THE RECOMPENSE WILL BE PROPORTIONED TO MEN'S DEEDS. Not their professions, but their acts, will determine their destiny. And the character and number of their acts will be reckoned. There is no conflict between this statement and other Scripture passages which speak of the reward as one of grace, not of merit, and as a gift bestowed on all Christians. For the reward will be immensely greater than men's deeds deserve, and will not be earned by them, but conditioned by their conduct. The gospel comes not as a substitute for, but as a help to realizing, practical righteousness; and whilst every justified believer will be saved, each will have the praise that is his, according to his works of faith and labours of love.
II. THE JUDGMENT WILL TAKE ACCOUNT OF MEN'S AIMS IN LIFE, The one class seek "glory, honour, and incorruption," and also "peace." Their choice does them credit; they selected what is fair and lovely and permanent, what is opposed to the rule of the flesh, and is unaffected by the ravages of time. Their goal is not the "vain pomp and glory of the world;" not simply success, but to reach a position of pure, lasting excellence. And they shall receive in fullest measure what they desire. "Eternal life' comprehends all blessedness - deliverance from the thraldom of sin; no need to gather up the skirts lest defilement ensue, for the very streets of their city shall be of pure gold; enwrapment with the Divine splendour; walking in the light of God; manifested as his sons by the likeness they wear; elevated to princely employments and regal dignities. The objects for which the other class strive are not definitely stated, but may be gathered from antithesis and from the unrighteousness to which they yield themselves. They seek not "peace" and "truth," and their harvest likewise is the multiplied outcome of the seeds they have sown. No description of hell can transcend the awful picture of" wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish," resting upon the soul; that, clasping unrighteousness to its bosom as a prize on earth, finds it sting like a serpent and burn with fiercest remorse when allowed full sway in its "own place."
III. THE AWARD WILL BEAR RELATION TO THE METHODS BY WHICH THE OBJECTS OF EARTHLY ENDEAVOUR HAVE BEEN PURSUED. A righteous aim can be permanently attained only in righteous ways. The recognition of this stamps the government of the universe as moral. The "patient continuance" of the one class could only be practised by the well-doing. It includes passive endurance and active perseverance; the stationary posture of the caryatides, and the carrying of a burden in the face of wind and storm. The other class are described as "factious," quarrelling with their lot, coveting pleasure and notoriety, "working evil." Refusing to bow to the yoke of truth, they become the slaves of unrighteousness; and a hard master and terrible paymaster does unrighteousness prove. The judgment of God will proceed on easily intelligible principles. It is not difficult for men to decide whether they are working good or working evil. It is not reaching a conclusion after abstract speculation, nor holding a creed with multitudinous details. Only an omniscient Judge, however, could bring to light the hidden deeds of darkness, the secret thing, good or bad.
IV. THE JUDGE WILL OBSERVE RIGOROUS IMPARTIALITY. With him "is no respect of persons." Jew and Greek shall be tried with due regard to the presence or absence of religious light (cf. Acts 10:35 in the history of Cornelius). It is impossible to bribe the almighty Arbiter or to overawe his tribunal. The anticipation of a Divine judgment has been a comfort to the oppressed, remembering that "One higher than the high regardeth;" and it will be a terror to the worker of iniquity, and an incentive to all noble deeds. "Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." None can complain that their condition makes it impossible to be patient in well-doing. Christ, our Pattern and our Power, offers his "very present help" to all who find the stress and strain of life too severe for mortal strength. - S.R.A.
I. THE GENTILES AND THE JEWS IN THEIR RESPECTIVE RELATIONS TO LAW. The Gentile might have pleaded that his ignorance should save him; the Jew certainly did assume that his knowledge would save him. Paul will lay to their charge "that they are all under sin" (Romans 3:9), and to this end he now shows that they are all under law before God.
(1) The law of instinctive impulse: "by nature;" "a law unto themselves." A correct and complete philosophy of the religious nature and relations of man seems almost impossible to us now; but doubtless we must recognize here the fact that man has still, more or less, the native impulses of righteousness moving in the heart, which but for the Fall would have been perfect and all-containing in us, and but for the redemption would have been altogether lost. This, then, is one part of man's primal constitution as a moral and religious being; he is moved to love and serve God, and to work righteousness, by an original instinct of his nature. Hence heroism, generosity, etc., in ancient and modern world. God works in man, and so far forth man does not suppress God's working.
(2) The law of reflective consciousness: "their conscience bearing witness therewith;" "their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them." Man does not show his true moral nature till the instinct of the heart is obeyed with the intelligent approbation of the reflective consciousness. The instincts of the heart, so far as they approach completeness, afford the essential contents of the moral law; but it is for man to discern, embrace, and obey. And, till righteousness is wrought thus of deliberate choice, it may scarcely be called righteousness. For there are other impulses, which may lead to wrong; and, till the discerning judgment has checked the native impulse, there is hardly moral worth in the one more than in the other. The "thoughts" must excuse or accuse; then the will may act.
2. Jews. But man's heart is corrupt and man's mind is dark by reason of hereditary sin; therefore to the Jews God gave, in trust for the world, a Law, to correct and confirm the law of the heart and mind. The coincidence of the Law of Sinai with the true law of the heart and mind; the convincing authority of that Law, in its Divine power of awakening and purifying the law within. Hence to the Jew there was added the Law of revelation. He was doubly taught his duty.
II. THE SUPREME SIN OF THE JEWS. But to what end was the Law given, whether of nature or of revelation? To teach righteousness. And therefore the man who wrought unrighteousness, according to his knowledge of the Law, whether Jew or Gentile, frustrated the purpose of God, was under condemnation, and would "perish. Yet the Jew gloried in his enlightenment, oblivious of its purport and intent!
1. The Boast.
(a) His name - a Jew." Called by God, indeed, but for work rather than privilege. He perverted his call by a narrow, selfish exclusion.
(b) Resting upon the Law. Knowledge was safety, he thought; whereas knowledge was duty (see vers. 18, 20).
(c) Glorying in God: a merely national God to him, and One who would merely "save."
(a) Guide of the blind.
(b) Light of them that are in darkness.
(c) Corrector of the foolish.
(d) Teacher of babes.
2. The shame.
(1) Inconsistency (vers. 21-23).
(2) Crime (vers. 21-23).
(3) Blasphemy (ver. 24). Their God indeed; what must he be! Our higher privilege, in the matter of law: Christ, and the Spirit. Our graver peril: orthodoxy, and the name of Christian. "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). - T.F.L.
What is true religion? The answer to that question is given by the apostle in the verses now before us.
I. WHAT TRUE RELIGION IS NOT.
1. True religion is not observance of the sacraments. "What!" some one may say, "you tell us that the sacraments are of Divine appointment, that a sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, and yet you tell us that religion does not consist in the observance of the sacraments!" Even so. Christ instituted the sacraments. But what for? As a means to an end. As the symbols, the outward signs, of spiritual truths. They are helps to religion. They teach us the foundation of all true religion - the death, the sufferings, the cross of Christ, as set forth in the Lord's Supper. They teach us the meaning of true religion - the cleansing and purity and change of heart, as set forth in the sacrament of baptism. But they are not in themselves true religion. If they were, would not more stress be laid upon them? St. Paul says here, "Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Law" (ver. 25); and again, "Neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh" (ver. 28). The outward ordinance, though it signified, did not create or cause a change of heart. Observe the attitude of our Saviour himself towards the sacraments. We read that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples" (John 4:2). If the sacrament of baptism had such regenerating power as is attributed to it, the Saviour would surely have used it on every possible occasion. We may notice also how St. Paul speaks of baptism in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gains; lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." St. Paul did not think that religion consisted in the observance of the sacraments, or he would have put the sacraments in the very forefront of his work. Yet how many are resting entirely on the sacraments! They have been baptized. They have been regular communicants at the Lord's table, and therefore they think they are Christians. Ah! religion is something more than this. The sacraments will not save our souls. We need something more than the observance of sacraments, if we are to enter into the kingdom of God.
2. Religion does not consist in the observance of any outward forms. "He is not a Jew, who is one outwardly" (ver. 28). In the verses from the seventeenth to the twenty-fourth, the apostle shows how many who are called Jews, and make their boast in the Law, are among the chief transgressors of the Law. Through breaking the Law they had dishonoured God; so much so, that the Name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles by reason of their conduct (vers. 23, 24). Although St. Paul was a Jew himself, he was a candid and impartial observer of human life, and he found that Jews, like other men, were guilty of dishonesty and impurity and other sins. They had the Law, but instead of living up to it, they trusted to the form of religion instead of the reality. Paul shows them the uselessness of this. The form is useful along with the reality. But without the reality the form is utterly useless. "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Law: but if thou be a breaker of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision" (ver. 25). It is just as if he said to a professing Christian, "Your profession of religion is right, is useful, if you show the spirit and obey the teachings of Christianity; but if your life is in opposition to that spirit and teaching, then your Christianity is no better than heathenism." "Faith without works is dead."
3. Religion is not to be regulated by the opinions of men. "Whose praise is not of men "(ver. 29). The religion which our Saviour found among the Jews in his time was very much a worship of human opinion. Their leaders taught for commandments the traditions of men. The Pharisees and scribes gave their alms and said their prayers to be seen of men. Their object was to have praise of men. And Christ tells us "they have their reward." Such a religion reaches its end in this life. It has no aim, and it certainly will have but poor results, in the life that is to come. It has always been an injury to true religion when it has been influenced too much by the opinions of men. It was so in the history of the Jewish religion, when the kings of Israel corrupted it by their desire of imitating heathen nations. It was so in the early Christian Church. The more the Church came under the control of the state, under the control of human authorities, the more worldly it became, the further it departed from the simplicity and spirituality of apostolic times. Thank God for the clear-headed, Christian-hearted men, who in all ages have resisted the intrusion of human authority and human opinion in matters of religion. Such men were the Waldenses in Italy, the Reformers in Germany and England, France and Spain, and the brave Covenanters of Scotland. It is a great principle, worth dying for, worth living for too, that religion is not to be regulated by the opinions of men. Human influence, human authority, human rank, are of little account in this matter. This is true as regards the Church of Christ, and it is true also as regards the individual.
II. WHAT TRUE RELIGION IS.
1. Religion is a matter of the heart and spirit. "He is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" (ver. 29). Religion, therefore, is a personal matter. The outward form is useless without the internal reality. We want inward Christians - Christians in heart, Christians in spirit. All other Christians are useless, and worse than useless. They are deceiving others, and perhaps they are deceiving themselves. We want Christians whose everyday life is a song of praise, who meditate on God's Law day and night, who walk not in the company of evil-doers, who sit not in the seat of the scornful, and who commune with God in silent but earnest prayer. As I stepped one day into the office of a leading man of business in New York, I noticed over his desk a portrait of a citizen who, as he afterwards told me, had been a dear friend of his own. Beneath the portrait were words so beautiful that I got the owner's permission to copy them: "Whose face was a thanksgiving for his past life, and a love-letter to all mankind." It is Christians like that we want, who carry in their heart and on their face love and gratitude to God, and also love to men. Christians like that would soon transform the Church. Christians like that would soon transform the world. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
2. Religion is to be regulated by the commandments of God. There is no true religion where there is not obedience to the Law of God. "Thou that makest thy boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonourest thou God?" (ver. 23). Whether in doctrine, or worship, or practice, God's Word is to be our guide, and to please God is to be our aim. "Whoso praise is not of men, but of God" (ver. 29). We are too much influenced, even in matters of religion, by the opinions of men. While our religion is to influence us in our dealings with our fellow-men, and while we are to influence them so far as we can by the power of true religion, we are not to permit men to dictate to our conscience, or to regulate our doctrines or our worship. That is a matter between God and our own souls. Whether men will praise us or whether they will blame us, matters very little, if we are serving God as his Word and our own conscience direct. From all the clash and conflict of human opinion, let us turn for light and guidance to him who is the Light of the world.
"Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
I. THE POSITION ASSUMED BY THE JEWS AS THE DIVINELY ENLIGHTENED LEADERS OF MANKIND. (Vers. 17-20.) The apostle states the Jewish assumption admirably. They were proud of their name: "Thou bearest the name of a Jew" (Revised Version). But this was because they had received the Law; and so they "rested in" or "upon the Law;" they made their possession of the Law the basis of their confidence and tranquility. Their notion was that men entrusted with such a literature had nothing in the world to fear. Moreover, it was from God, and why should they not regard them- selves as his favourites, and "make their beast" about him? And the book did not remain unread; they sought from it a "knowledge of his will;" were able, consequently, to exercise judgment "regarding things that differed" (δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφέροντα), and received a general enlightenment through the Law. Not only so, but they believed in their mission; they were to be guides of the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors (παιδευτὴν) of the foolish, teachers of babes, having at least the form (μόρφωσιν) of knowledge and of truth in the Law. In short, the Jews set themselves at the head of humanity as the qualified leaders and instructors of mankind. Now, it is a great assumption for any men to make. Yet the Jews were not singular in their assumption. It is made daily by men with far less reason, perhaps, than they. The leaders of thought, "the men of light and leading," who profess to know how much is given us to master, and how much remains "unknowable and unknown," must accept of the reasonable judgment of their less pretentious fellows, and, as superior persons, must be amenable to morals. By their fruits we shall know them. By their lives we shall be able to estimate the value of their principles. If they are benefactors of their species, if they promote the real welfare of mankind, well and good. If they are hindrances, then they cannot resist being condemned. It is this line the apostle adopts in this passage.
II. THE PRETENTIOUS TEACHERS WERE, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE GREAT HINDRANCE TO THE DISSEMINATION OF DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. (Vers. 21-24.) The first fact Paul dwells on is that these Jews preached too little to themselves. They fell into the error of teaching others what they did not feel inclined to practise themselves. And so he catalogues certain sins of which he knew them to be guilty. It would seem that they stole, committed adultery, were guilty in heathen temples of sacrilege, and, in short, led such unworthy lives as to make God's Name a reproach and ground of blasphemy among the Gentiles. The morality of the teachers thus became the great hindrance to the acceptance of Divine truth. Now, there can be little doubt that the crimes of professed Christians constitute in heathen lands today a chief obstacle to the reception of the gospel; missionaries meet this difficulty constantly. But we ought to apply the canon to the pretentious teachers of our time, and it will be found that their lives are morally defective when judged by the standard of the gospel they affect to despise. The morality of a George Eliot, a G. H. Lewes, or a J. S. Mill, who affected to be moral teachers of their time, will not bear any very close inspection; and even those of the same school, whose lives are outwardly blameless, fall far beneath the self-sacrificing enthusiasm which Christianity fosters, and in multitudes of cases secures. The test is sure and infallible. Men and women that are morally easy-going, that are practically selfish and indifferent in large degree to the circumstances and suffering of their fellows, are unfit to be the teachers of their generation. And their teaching is as sure to prove a failure in the end, as the teaching of Judaism was among the Gentiles.
III. THE JEWS HAD A FALSE CONFIDENCE IN THE RITE OF CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 25.) Their notion was that circumcision constituted something like the" hall-mark" on real silver, and distinguished them from all the mere electro-plating of the Gentiles. They thought that immoral conduct could not obliterate the value of the fleshly rite. This is the mistake made by all who lay undue emphasis upon rites and ceremonies. They fancy they have a value altogether independent of moral states and moral living. The apostle has consequently to draw attention to the fact that circumcision only profited one who kept the Law. It was then a sign of the covenant, and was taken along with the perfect obedience to the Law which had been rendered. But if a circumcised person turned out a Law-breaker, the circumcision really passed into uncircumcision. In other words, the Jew could break the covenant seal by breaking the Law of the covenant. This is a very solemn and weighty truth. It has its application to the covenant signs of the Christian dispensation. It is perfectly possible for persons who have become members of the visible Church, by a course of reckless living to break their covenant sign, and to be in God's sight disfranchised. Let no undue value be assigned to rites and ceremonies. They cannot be separated from moral states and conditions.
IV. THE JEWS IGNORED THE POSSIBILITY AND EXISTENCE OF THE CIRCUMCISED IN HEART. (Vers. 26-29.) If a circumcised person may forfeit his position as in covenant with God by breaking the Divine Law, on the other hand, an uncircumcised person, a Gentile, may so keep God's Law as to be entitled to a position in covenant with him. His uncircumcision in such a case, Paul maintains, should be counted or "reckoned for circumcision." Here the apostle is contending for the admission of Gentiles to the visible Church without the necessity of circumcision. Many a Gentile, like Cornelius, or like the centurion in the Gospels, put to shame the less earnest and less devout Jews. The high morality of such men was a standing condemnation (κρινεῖ) of the pretentious Jew. Accordingly, Paul proceeds to affirm that the circumcision of the heart, not the mere circumcision of the flesh, is the all-important matter. There is a circumcision of the heart which checks the unholy tendencies within, and secures the reality, of which outward circumcision is but the type. Of it God, the Searcher of hearts, is the true Judge. He rejoices in it, and regards those who have submitted to it as his true people. The circumcised in flesh may secure praise from men, but the circumcised in heart look for approbation to God only. It is for us all to seek the inward and spiritual circumcision, the true sign of membership in God's invisible kingdom. - R.M.E.
I. THE WORK OF TEACHING.
1. Its possibility. It presumes that some are able and willing to teach, and that others are equally in a position to learn. Knowledge begets the desire of communication to others; truth by its dissemination enriches all, leaves none the poorer. The possession of the Scriptures constitutes a capacity in those who study to explain their meaning to others less happily situated for meditation. Besides the preachers of the gospel from the pulpit, we have a noble army of volunteers sacrificing their ease each Lord's day to impart to the young what they themselves have learned of Christ. And the youthful mind is plastic, its heart easily impressed.
2. Its importance. Education is a work of beginnings, of seed-sowing, of filling the pockets with treasure in the shape of facts and principles to be afterwards used, applied, recognized, in fulness of meaning. The mind must be fed as well as the body, or we have dwarfed, stunted souls, miserable and corrupt. To neglect the garden is to fill it with weeds. We insufficiently value acquisitions whose worth cannot be tabulated in monetary figures. Of what priceless value is a new happy inspiring thought of God! To be led where we can get a better sight of Christ and his salvation, is surely a service for which we can in no wise adequately thank or pay our guide.
3. Its difficulty. Some hesitate to teach unless they can answer every objection which may be urged against the truth they enforce. And on religious subjects there is no end to the queries which may be started. There are many adverse influences preventing the ready reception of the facts and doctrines of Christianity, or checking the subsequent advance in learning. Recall our Lord's parable of the sower, and its picture of the multiform ways in which sin works against the leaven of the truth. There is a roseate and there is a practical view of Sunday school work. Yet, whilst we would not forget the restlessness of the young, and the far aim of making them "wise unto salvation" so frequently hindered by unlovely homes, neither should any despair, but remember they are wielding the sword of the Spirit, and that to God all hearts are open. Let preachers think of the Lord and his apostles as failing to conquer the opposition and win the assent of all their hearers, and, instead of renouncing toil, remember that they are not responsible for success, but only for effort.
II. THE REFLEX INFLUENCE OF TEACHING ON THE TEACHERS,
1. Incites to their own culture. There is the felt necessity of being in advance of the learners. The more we know and the more thoroughly and clearly we understand it, the greater the enjoyment and the success of the work. We often take pains for the sake of others which we should reject for ourselves. How can we teach if we do not instruct ourselves? There ought to be no sad hiatus between our declarations and our spiritual conduct. We must not only be finger-posts, but guides - "lest, having preached to others, we ourselves become castaways."
"The lore of Christ and his apostles twelve 2. Necessarily promotes their own improvement. Earnest sincere teaching not only demands self-culture and progress, but is certain to result therein. All Christian service is self-rewarding. "Thou shalt be served thyself, by every sense
2. Necessarily promotes their own improvement. Earnest sincere teaching not only demands self-culture and progress, but is certain to result therein. All Christian service is self-rewarding.
"Thou shalt be served thyself, by every sense
I. SYMBOLIC RELIGION. The law of all symbolism in religion is wrapped up in the words, "Circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the Law." That is, the sign is of worth just in so far as it leads to, and attests, the thing signified.
1. Personal value. Man's nature is complex, and the spiritual and the sensuous react on each other. Hence a definite, tangible sign may help the spirit. So circumcision: God's people. So baptism and the Lord's Supper now.
2. Relative value. An attestation of spiritual truths can be emphasized by an outward sign. So circumcision spoke forcefully to the heathen around, and so perhaps baptism and the Lord's Supper have such use now.
II. A TRUE SPIRITUALISM. That, however, which is educative and attesting has no intrinsic worth. Hence:
1. The unvalue of mere symbolism: a childish trifling. Nay, worse - a perpetual condemnation, mocking the reality with the shadow.
2. The supreme value of true spiritualism. If the lesson is learnt, and the witness borne, the work is done; for "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him," etc. So the man of circumcised heart was the true Jew; the man of baptized spirit, and who feeds upon Christ by faith, is the true Christian. Let us learn, in the best sense, "Thou God seest me." - T.F.L.
I. A GENERAL MISTAKE CORRECTED: THE PRONENESS OF MANKIND TO LAY THE STRESS OF RELIGION UPON OUTWARD OBSERVANCES. The Jew grounded his self-satisfaction upon his initiation into the covenant by circumcision; upon his religious dress, with its phylacteries and fringes; upon his prayers, fasting, and tithes. The heathen religion consisted mainly in superstitious ceremonies, sacrifices, and incantations. And the people's query to John the Baptist, "What shall we do? like the jailor's request of Paul, What must I do to be saved?" shows this natural tendency, which begets in our day nominal Christianity; that contents itself with baptism and the Lord's Supper, reading the Bible, and subscribing to societies. Their religion ends there - mere formalism. Its causes may be found in the following circumstances.
1. We are under the governance of the senses. We like, and need to a certain extent, the visible signs and seals of religion, and thus run the risk of exalting unduly their importance. Resting in the embodiment, we neglect the spiritual significance.
2. It saves the trouble of investigating our spiritual condition. Definite rules please us, by relegating to codes or authorities the difficulty and weariness of understanding principles, and deciding as to times and degrees and dispositions of religious service.
3. The rites may be performed without necessarily renouncing pleasurable vices. There is a sort of compromise effected, such and such duties condoning such other laxities. Even asceticism is easier than rigorous inward control and mortification. To depreciate internal religion is evidently wrong:
(1) From the whole tenor of Scripture in many places. Even the Law of Moses affirmed the necessity of loving God with all the heart and soul. The prophets constantly denounced sacrifices which represented no moral feeling, no inward confession of sin or respect to the glory of God.
(2) The intent of religious observances is as means to an end, and to stop at the means is to frustrate the aim of ceremonies, which are designed to purify our conceptions of righteousness, to strengthen our aspirations after the noble and the good, and to leaven the whole life with godliness.
II. A WRONG CONCLUSION OBVIATED: THAT EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES MAY BE DISREGARDED. It is man's habit, as Butler has remarked, when two things are compared, to fancy that the one adjudged less preferable may be wholly neglected. "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone." The practice of religion demands some outward rites.
1. Expression is helpful to our thoughts. Singing increases thankfulness; written vows stamp themselves on the memory. And the symbolic acts of a religion thus lend impressive definiteness to our inward decisions.
2. The union of Christians is assisted by participation in the same rites. Attending the same gatherings, affixing the same badge to the breast, cements the conviction of brotherhood, and renders co-operation possible.
3. The honour of God is subserved by outward worship and confession. His glory is in revelation, and by visible adoration the Church reflects his radiance and becomes the light of the world. There is a moral obligation resting on the disciples of Christ to respect the institutions he himself established.
III. THE TRUE RELATION OF EXTERNAL TO INTERNAL RELIGION.
1. The external observance must be the outgrowth of the inward condition. The sign of a change of heart or disposition. The profession is designed as an index to the soul, a dial-plate of the inner workings; otherwise it is false and worthless, a mockery and an injury. Hence the anxiety of the gospel method to reform and renew the heart, that from a pure spring pellucid rills may flow. "Make the tree good, and its fruit will be good also." Even moral acts have no beauty in them if performed from unworthy motives. To give merely because we are importuned, or to head a subscription list, is not liberality.
2. When there is a conflict between moral duties and religious observances, then only can the latter be neglected. Whilst both are commanded, the moral obligations have the additional sanction of arising from the light of nature. Our Saviour showed that it was better to rescue an ox or a sheep than to keep the sabbath. He declared the Pharisees not to understand the statement, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." They did not perceive that the general spirit of religion consists in piety and virtue, as distinguished from outward forms and regulations. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
IV. THE DIVINE APPROVAL WHICH CROWNS A TRULY RELIGIOUS LIFE. "Whose praise is not of men, but of God." The supreme object is to please him who alone can really see our thoughts and aims, and judge righteous judgment. Men praise where they should blame, and censure when they ought to approve. As Paul cried, "I appeal unto Caesar," so we may appeal unto God. His praise is worth having. The degrees in his university mean merited honours. All our inward strivings against temptation and struggles to hold fast to faith in his Word he has witnessed. Human eyes can only discern our failures or our seeming successes, but Christ's "eyes of flame" test the gold of our actions. And the commendation of the Lord implies blessed reward, to be publicly conferred hereafter. With him is no inadequacy of testimonials to express his sense of his people's services. - S.R.A.