Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats…
Turned into modern English the writer's meaning is that the merely intellectual religion, which is always occupied with propositions instead of with Jesus Christ, "Who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever," is worthless, and the merely ceremonial religion, which is always occupied with casuistries about questions of meats, or external observance of any sort, is as valueless. There is no fixity; there is no rest of soul, no steadfastness of character to be found in either of these two directions. The only thing that ballasts and fills and calms the heart is what the writer here calls "grace," that is to say, the living personal experience of the love of God bestowed upon me and dwelling in my heart. So, then, the main theme of these words is the possible stability of a fluctuating human life, the means of securing it, and the glory and beauty of the character which has secured it.
I. First, then, mark WHAT THIS WRITER CONCEIVES TO BE THE ONE SOURCE OF HUMAN STABILITY. What the New Testament means by this familiar and frequently reiterated word "grace," which, I suspect, is oftener pronounced than it is understood by a great many people. To begin with, then, the root meaning of that word, which runs all through the New Testament, is simply favour, benignity, kindness, or, to put all into a better and simpler form, the active love of God. Now, if we look at the various uses of the expression we find, for instance, that it is contrasted with a number of other things. Sometimes it is set in opposition to sin — sin reigns to righteousness, grace reigns to life. Sometimes it is contrasted with "debt," and put sometimes in opposition to "works," as, for instance, by Paul when he says, "If it be of works then is it no more grace." Sometimes it is opposed to law, as in the same apostle's words, "Ye are not under law, but under grace." Now, if we keep these various uses and contrasts in view we just come to this thought, that that active love of God is conditioned, not by any merit on our part — bubbles up from the depths of His own infinite heart, not because of what we are, but because of what He is, transcends all the rigid retributions of law, is not turned away by any sin, but continues to flood the world, simply because it wells up from the infinite and changeless fountain of love in the heart of God. And then, from this central, deepest meaning of active love manifesting itself irrespective of what we deserve, there comes a second great aspect of the word. The name of the cause is extended to all the lustrous variety of its effects. So the complex whole of the blessings and gifts which Jesus Christ brings to us, and which are sometimes designated in view of what they do for us, as salvation or eternal life, are also designated in view of that in God from which they come, as being collectively His "grace." And then there is a final application of the expression which is deduced from that second one — viz., the specific excellences of character which result from the communication to men of the blessings that flow to him from the love of God. So these three: first, the fountain, the love undisturbed and unalterable; second, the stream, the manifold gifts and blessings that flow to us through Christ; and, third, the little cupfuls that each of us have, the various excellences of character which are developed under the fertilizing influences of the sunshine of that love — these three are all included in this great Christian word. There are other phases of its employment in the New Testament which I do not need to trouble you with now. But thus far we just come to this, that the one ground on which all steadfastness of nature and character can be reared is that we shall be in touch with God, shall be conscious of His love, and shall be receiving into our hearts the strength that He bestows. Man is a dependent creature; his make and his relationships to things round him render it impossible that the strength by which he is strong, and the calmness by which he is established, can be self-originated.
II. And so I come, in the second place, to LOOK AT SOME OF THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH THIS ESTABLISHING GRACE CALMS AND STILLS THE LIFE. We men are like some of the islands in the Eastern Tropics, fertile and luxuriant, but subject to be swept by typhoons, to be shaken by earthquakes, to be devastated by volcanoes. Around us there gather external foes assailing our steadfastness, and within us there lie even more formidable enemies to an established and settled peace. How are such creatures ever to be established? My text tells us by drawing into themselves the love, the giving love of God. I would note, as one of the aspects of the tranquillity and establishment that comes from this conscious possession of the giving love of God, how it delivers men from all the dangers of being " carried away by divers strange doctrines." I do not give much for any orthodoxy which is not vitalised by personal experiences of the indwelling love of God. I do not care much what a man believes, or what he denies, or how he may occupy himself intellectually with the philosophical and doctrinal aspect of Christian revelation. The question is, how much of it has filtered from his brain into his heart, and has become part of himself, and verified to himself by his own experience? So much as you have lived out, so much you are sure of because you have not only thought it but felt it, and cannot for a moment doubt, because your hearts have risen up and witnessed to its truth. About these parts of your belief there will be no fluctuation. Still further, this conscious possession of the grace of God will keep a man very quiet amidst all the occasions for agitation which changing circumstances bring. Such there are in every life. Nothing continues in one stay. Is it possible that amidst this continuous fluctuation, in which nothing is changeless but the fact of change, we can stand fixed and firm? Yes! There is shelter only in one spot, and that is when we have God between us and the angry blast. An empty heart is an easily agitated heart. A full heart, like a full sack, stands upright, and it is not so easy for the wind to whirl it about as if it were empty. They who are rooted in God will have a firm bole, which will be immovable, howsoever branches may sway and creak, and leaves may flutter and dance, or even fall, before the power of the storm. Further, another field of the stability communicated by that possessed love of God is in regard of the internal occasions for agitation. Passion, lust, hot desires, bitter regrets, eager clutching after uncertain and insufficient and perishable good, all these will be damped down if the love of God lives in our hearts.
III. Lastly, my text suggests HOW BEAUTIFUL A THING IS THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN THAT IS ESTABLISHED IN GRACE, The word translated "good" in my text would be better rendered "fair," or "lovely," or" beautiful." Is there anything fairer than the strong, steadfast, calm, equable character, unshaken by the storms of passion, unaffected by the blasts of calamity, undevastated by the lava from the hellish, subterranean fires that are in every soul; and yet not stolidly insensible, nor obstinately conservative, but open to the inspiration of each successive moment, and gathering the blessed fruit of all mutability in a more profound and unchanging possession of the unchanging good? So do you see to it that you rectify your notions of what makes the beauty of character. Then, my brother, if we keep ourselves near Jesus Christ, and let His grace flow into our hearts, then we, too, shall be able to say, "Because I set Him at my right hand I shall not be moved."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.