I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.
they have no need of it. Amongst the very poor, on the other hand, you will often find the idea that religion may do very well for respectable people, but that it has nothing to do with them. Then, again, you will meet with a certain class of intellectual men - not always the most cultured or most thoughtful - who imagine that the gospel may do very well for commonplace, ordinary people, but that they have got far beyond such a childish belief. Even among Christian people what narrow views of the gospel and its scope! How slow the Christian Church has been in realizing its mission to the heathen world! There are many who still think that the heathen are well enough off; that there is no need to send the gospel to them. There are many who will tell us that there is "no use" in sending the gospel to the Mohammedan or the Jew. But the Apostle Paul took a very different view. In his view the gospel is a message for every one; and it is the work and duty of the Christian Church to bring it within the reach of every one.
I. A FACT STATED. "The gospel of Christ," says St. Paul, "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (ver. 16). This was the cause of his readiness to go and preach the gospel at Rome also (ver. 15), just as he had already preached it to bigoted and fanatical Jews, and to the cultured and sceptical Greeks. He knew no difference of nation or of language, of creed or class, so far as the need of the gospel and the power of it were concerned. His message was that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and he knew that he would find sinners everywhere.
1. The gospel is a message for the rich. It tells them of a treasure that is incorruptible, that fadeth not away. It shows them how to become rich toward God - first, by having Christ, and having him, we have all things; and then, by making a good use of the earthly possessions which God has given them.
2. The gospel is a message for the poor. It teaches them to be industrious and contented. It shows them in the earthly life of Jesus Christ himself, and in the lives of hundreds of his followers, how a peaceful and happy mind may exist, and how a useful life may be spent, even amid circumstances of outward poverty.
3. The gospel is a message for the men of intellect and learning. What sublime ideas it puts before us! with what pure and lofty motives it inspires us! and with what a glorious hope it cheers us on! Contrast the future to which the atheist or the agnostic looks forward, with the future which is the Christian's hope, an eternity of conscious enjoyment of what is noblest and best. The gospel has a claim upon the ignorant and poor because of its simplicity and its comforts. But it has just as strong a claim upon men of giant intellect and vigorous understanding. And observe how some of the foremost men in science, in literature, and in statesmanship have recognized that claim, and responded to it. What names in literature and science stand higher than those of Newton and Faraday, Thomas Chalmers and Hugh Miller, Sir John Herschel and Sir David Brewster, all humble believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? Or to take one case only from our British statesmen, that of the late Lord Cairns, Lord Chancellor of England. During the term of office of the last Conservative administration a Russian war was felt to be imminent, and much excitement prevailed both within and without the cabinet. One day the wife of a junior member of the cabinet inquired of Lady Cairns, "What is the secret of the lord chancellor's constant and unruffled calmness, which my husband tells me pervades the whole place so soon as Lord Cairns appears? "It is this," was the reply; "he never attends a cabinet meeting without spending half an hour immediately beforehand alone with his God." Upon young men of education and learning, upon young men of thoughtful minds, we would press home the claims of the gospel; yes, the personal claims of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel is a message for every one. It is a message for the sorrowing. It is a message to the sinner. It has melted the hardest heart; it has made the impure man pure, the intemperate man temperate, the dishonest man honest; and changed the proud and haughty man into a man of humble and gentle spirit. Over and over again it has proved itself to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
II. A REASON GIVEN AND AN OBLIGATION FELT,
1. St. Paul gives a reason why the gospel is a message for every one. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (ver. 17). A gospel that tees of a perfect righteousness is the universal need of the human heart. In the opening chapters of this Epistle the apostle enlarges on that idea more fully. He shows how the heathen needed a righteousness. Then he shows how the Jews needed a righteousness, condemned as they were by that holy Law whose requirements they failed to fulfil. And then, having shown the universal need - "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) - he speaks of the universal righteousness which is unto and upon all them that believe. There is no difference in the need. There is no difference in the gospel message.
2. We have here also an obligation felt. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise" (ver. 14). There are few statements so sublime as that from any human pen. The old Latin poet represents one of his characters as saying, "Homo sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" ("I am a man, and everything human has an interest for me"). This is a fine sentiment; but here, in the case of St. Paul, we have a man expressing his personal obligation to seek the spiritual good of every man whom he could reach. He, a Jew, counted himself under obligation to do something for the barbarians; he, a learned and intellectual man, counted himself under obligation to do something for the unwise and ignorant as well as for the wise and the cultured. We, too, need to think more of our own personal indebtedness to Christ. Then we too, like St. Paul, shall he anxious to carry the gospel to rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Gentile. - C.H.I.
I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.
I. THE BUSINESS.
1. A merchant, embarked in an extensive foreign trade, has fallen into the habit of doing a good deal of petty business at home on which the profit is small; but it is near, and therefore occupies time out of all proportion to its worth. In the meantime rumours are rife that in one foreign market prices had suddenly fallen before his goods arrived; that in another his agents had sold his cargo and absconded; and that in a third direction an investment, not insured, had been lost at sea. He declines to examine these reports, because he does not like the subject; and to keep his mind free from painful reflections he throws himself with redoubled energy into his huckstering, and exults over the halfpence of profit which each transaction produces. The man is mad, you say. He is. But probably "thou art the man."
2. We are all merchants. We have business with both worlds; but our stake in the one is slight, in the other all but infinite. It becomes, therefore, an important question whether our attention to these two is in due proportion to their comparative worth. Alas! there are many foolish traders who are anxious about the balance of their accounts for time, and leave the interests of eternity to sink or swim.
3. Paul was a diligent and energetic man. Had he been a merchant, the keenest wit in all the Exchange could not have overreached him. He closely examined the worth of an article, and nicely calculated how much it would bring. He embarked all in one business, and then pushed it to the uttermost. He did not neglect the necessary affairs of this life, but his treasure was in heaven, and his heart followed it.
II. THE DEBT.
1. However good men's position in the present world, in their greatest business all begin in debt, and no efforts of their own can ever discharge it. Some heirs would fain get quit of their heritage. When a man discovers his property is burdened beyond the worth of all that he has or can ever hope to win the consequences are disastrous. If there were any hope of success, he might strive by industry to diminish gradually his burden; but the debt is obviously so great that, in spite of all his efforts, its amount will grow greater every year. He loses heart, and abandons himself to his fate. Such is the condition of men in relation to God. We are born with a debt, and the amount of our liabilities has increased and is still increasing day by day. In this extremity a Daysman comes in between the Judge and the guilty and pays the debt. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." The handwriting that was against us is blotted out; the bond is cancelled, and we are free.
2. The forgiven sinner is clear in the book of God's judgment; but he owes much to his Redeemer. He is as deeply in debt as ever, but it is now a debt of gratitude. It is greater than he can ever pay; but the more he realises its greatness the happier he grows.
3. But Paul confesses here that he is a debtor to man — to every man. How comes this? Thus: In the complicated processes of modern merchandise a man often finds himself in debt to unknown persons. You have done business with a merchant at a distance, and the result is a pecuniary balance in his favour, while in transactions with another party the balance is against him. With a view to the convenience of himself and his correspondent, instead of getting money from you and paying it to his creditor, he hands over to that creditor the claim which he holds against you; or, to make the analogy more complete, the merchant to whom you owe money desires to help certain destitute persons in your city, and to them makes over the bill as an equivalent for money. The person who possesses that claim so transferred presents it for payment, and you must pay. Thus you become debtors to persons whom you never saw. Thus Paul became a debtor to the Greeks; and he owed all that he had and was to Christ, who transferred his claim, and Paul was bound to honour it. So wherever there is a man in want, spiritual or temporal, there a legal claim is presented to the disciples of Christ; and if they repudiate they dishonour their Lord. This principle is exhibited in the story of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment (Mark 14:3-9).
4. The root and life of true religion is personal devotion to a personal Redeemer; thereafter and thereon grows active service in his cause. These are the first and second commandments of the New Testament decalogue. Neither of these can thrive alone. Devotion without work degenerates into monkery; work without devotion sinks into a shallow, fitful secularism. If we have got mercy from Christ, we owe mercy to men.
5. Nor does the world's apathy release a Christian from his obligations. If a company of poor people held a claim against a citizen, and if he should take advantage of their ignorance and poverty to evade the payment, he would be a dishonourable man. In like manner, although those who now hold Christ's claim on us, not knowing its value, do not present it for payment, we are bound in honour to seek them out and discharge our obligations.
III. THE COMPOSITION; in what manner and to what amount the insolvent proposed to pay. Carefully observe that the most devoted life is not offered as an adequate return to the Saviour. As well might a man purchase his pardon at first from the Judge as repay the Redeemer for it afterwards. He pays, not in the spirit of bondage, but in the spirit of grateful love; not that he looks to a time when the debt will be paid off, but that he delights in the act of paying it. Having announced his principle, Paul plunged at once into its practical details (ver. 15). Adopting the natural and Scriptural order, we shall suggest first some installments of the debt that are due to parties —
1. At home. It is not necessary that the debtors should go far away in order to find a person authorised to receive the payments. The original creditor has secured that properly qualified receivers should be at band. Wherever there is being in wretchedness within your reach, to that human being you am a debtor. Behold the open spring of all home mission effort! When certain institutions which at first were supported by voluntary contributions were transferred to a tax imposed on the community by imperial authority the difficulties of the managers disappeared. Ah, the treasury of mission would always be full if the authority of Christ were as effective in the hearts of Christians as that of the government! But let it not be supposed that it is in money only or chiefly that Christians should pay their debt. Personal service is the legal tender, and it is only to a limited extent that money may be received as an equivalent. Personal dealing is the need of our day.
2. Abroad. A rich man dies, leaving a large family of young children, of whom another rich man obtains the guardianship. Partly by law and partly by violence he drives off all competitors and constitutes himself sole trustee of the wealthy minors. He then proceeds to enrich himself out of the inheritance of his wards. We have masterfully, not to say unjustly, ousted all other claimants, and assumed absolute guardianship over the vast populations of India. We have enriched ourselves by the inheritance of those little children. As a Christian nation, therefore, we are debtors to them.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. THE DEBTOR AND HIS DEBT. The apostle used these words as representing the whole Church. The Church is not a company under the Limited Liability Act, but is a partnership, and each partner is involved to the uttermost of his possessions. Consider —
1. The ground of this indebtedness. Paul's words are not used directly of his relation to God. Yet we must remember that there is an intimate connection between our debt to God and our debt to our fellow men. The question, "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?" must ever precede the other, "How much owest thou to thy neighbour?" Because we are debtors to God we are debtors to man, and just in proportion as we recognise the one shall we recognise the other. The true ground of this indebtedness is found, therefore, in the relation of the regenerate man to God as a subject of "the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus."
2. Looked at in this light, the debt is a debt of honour. I do not use the term, as is often done, in such a way as to imply that there may be no dishonour in neglecting debt in other forms. But as in this case no writ can be issued, it is therefore peculiarly a debt of honour. When God gave us His salvation it was not for ourselves alone, but for the family of man, of whom we are but members. Our honour is concerned, therefore, in fulfilling to the utmost the purpose of God thus made known. A trustee has a charge committed to him by another whose representative he is. The due administration of the trust is with him a point of the highest honour. Every Christian is, in virtue of his Christianity, a trustee of the gospel for mankind at large, and therefore in honour bound to see that the members of the race get their full share.
3. Granted this, I think you will admit that to the man of honour it is a sad thing to be in debt. Paul was no pessimist; but he was far too true a man to shut his eyes to the real state before God of those who knew not Christ. There were, therefore, two sides to his experience, as there must be to that of every Christian. Looking Godward, he was gladdened by the rays of the Sun of Righteousness; looking manward, he was saddened by the thick darkness of his unregeneracy and death in sin. So it came about that he was "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing," and his sorrow wakened in him a deep sense of responsibility which found expression in the words "I am debtor."
4. The Christian debtor, seeing the true ground of his indebtedness, moved by a sense of honour to Christ, and saddened by the thought of his responsibility, will make strenuous and self-denying efforts to discharge his debt. Thus it was with Paul. In spite of the scanty means of transport at his disposal he managed to reach nearly all the chief centres of the then known world. Brief as was his Christian course, it was packed full of action. "He flew across the world," and at every point he touched he held meetings of his creditors — meetings the object of which was, not to offer a composition, but to pay twenty shillings in the pound — as he unfolded to them "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The debt is owing still. There is no "statute of limitations" cancelling our obligations to preach the gospel to every creature.
II. THE CREDITOR AND HIS CLAIM.
1. Where is he? The touching cry of the widow to Elisha was, "The creditor is come," Aye, the creditor is come. Civilisation has brought him, Time was when the heathen was afar off; but railroad and steamboat, telegraph and telephone, have unified the race. In three weeks you may be among the teeming millions of India. You may know today what took place in China yesterday, as William Carey could not have known in Northampton what had transpired in London the day before. The discoveries of science have laid fresh and weighty burdens of responsibility on the Church of God, but at the same time help us to discharge our obligations.
2. Who is he? "I, too, am a man," he says; "no evolutionised ape, much as appearances are against me, but of the creation of God. Your father Adam was my father too." The common brotherhood constitutes the claim of man upon man in regard to the gospel. When God, in the mystery of the Incarnation, was pleased to take humanity into union with Himself, it was not English humanity or civilised humanity, but humanity as such. The brotherhood of the race, established in creation in the person of the first man, is confirmed in Incarnation in the person of the Second Man. The creditor, then, is your long-lost brother asking for his share of that salvation which God came near to man to secure.
3. His claim. This is emphatically the day of the people. The day of oligarchy and of aristocracy has set; the day of democracy, whether we like it or not, has dawned. The few have had their day, the many are now to have theirs, The rights of man as man are being rapidly brought to the front. He who discerns the signs of the times hears the ever-swelling cry of the proletariat claiming a larger share of privilege, and alongside of it the equally eager though silent cry from the heathen world for a fuller communion in Christian privilege and blessing. He who notes these things will still have sounding in his ears the cry, "Come over and help us!"
3. How is this claim to be met? The claims of the widow's creditor were met by a supply given by God. The debts we owe to the heathen must be paid by that which we receive from the same Divine source. When God had multiplied her oil, the prophet said, "Pay thy debt and live, thou and thy children, of the rest." Home work will not suffer because the demands of the outside world are met. I do not undervalue money nor men; but in order to the bringing out in fuller measure both of men and money we need that which neither money can buy nor men create — a fuller measure of Divine power in the whole Church.
(W. P. Lockhart,)1. The language is commercial, and yet the obligation is not precisely that which a merchant commonly understands. Debt is that which a man owes to another for something received. But Paul was not in any such way indebted to the Gentiles, He owed no one a penny. Neither did he owe the Gentiles any gratitude, for in almost every city he had suffered wrong. It was not, therefore, on this ground that Paul acknowledged himself to be a debtor, but solely on the ground that he had received something for them. "The glorious gospel of the blessed God" had been "committed" to his "trust"; he had been "allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel." This, therefore, he could not honestly hold back. On the one hand he had been signally blessed by Christ. Then, on the other side, were the needs of the Gentile world. The vision of the Macedonian crying, "Come over and help us," was, indeed, a special Divine indication of what the Lord would have him to do; but it came in that form and time because it was already in the line of all his desires. He knew the hollowness and degradation of the idolatries of the Gentiles, and having learned the value of his own soul at the Cross of Christ, he was eager to be the means of communicating the same revelation and conveying the same life to them. Whether they should accept it or not rested with themselves. But as for the proclamation, necessity was laid upon him, and he felt that it was at his peril if he should hold his peace,
2. How that motive operated is seen by his course at Athens. He was there alone. He had not intended without companions to do anything publicly there; but when he saw the state of things his spirit was so stirred that, at the risk of scorn and persecution, he could not but speak. He was always on the outlook for opportunities of paying this debt, He was not afraid to speak to men like Sergius Paulus or Festus; and yet he was not above seeking the salvation of a runaway slave like Onesimus. He was equally earnest in the little prayer meeting at Philippi and upon the summit of Areopagus, and even in Rome he found a congregation large enough for his ambition in the soldier that was chained to his right arm. He never saw a man without remembering that he had a debt to pay to him, and so, not more for the benefit of the stranger than for the exoneration of his own conscience, he sought his highest welfare. When I put it so, I cease to wonder at the unwearying assiduity of the great apostle, while at the same time I am filled with shame at the paltry littleness of our modern Christianity.
3. His was only a specific instance of a principle, which holds for us as really and powerfully as it did for him, viz., that personal possession of privilege is of the nature of a trust, and involves the obligation to use it not for individual profit merely, but for the welfare of others. The greatness of exceptional endowment carries with it an obligation to exceptional service. The highest of all, by virtue of his very elevation, is to be the servant of all. The power of the strong is Divinely mortgaged in the interests of the weak; the sufferer has a God-given claim upon me for relief and the ignorant for instruction. This is clearly the true interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan; and indeed it is the true and proper outcome of the gospel itself. I know that selfishness would repudiate all such indebtedness. The man of wealth, rank, learning, power, says he has won his position, and that he has a right to use it as he will, no matter what may become of others.
4. But Christ has reversed all that by introducing the principle on which I am now insisting, and already we see indications of its operations among us. Take power, for example; and how readily now men assent to the statement that it has its duties, i.e., debts, as well as its prerogatives! Then as to wealth: the conviction is becoming stronger among us that the man who is blessed with it is a debtor to the community of which he is a member. The same is true of education, etc. True, we are a very long way yet from a full recognition of this principle; but it is making its way.
5. The principle has had its origin in the gospel, for until Christ came men cared little for anything outside of themselves. The question of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" gives the key to the explanation of all the enormities Of the ancient civilisations. But Christ taught His followers to look "not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." And this principle furnishes what is needed to meet the perils of our modern civilisation. The tendency of the times is to increase the separation between different classes. We continually hear it said that the rich are becoming richer and the poor are growing poorer. The gulf which has long yawned between employer and employed is widening. Now some of that is no doubt inevitable. We can never have a dead level of absolute equality. What we have to do is to bring the gospel principle to bear upon this subject with more force; for see how it takes the poison out of all this diversity of condition. It makes the powerful man the trustee for the weak, the rich man the guardian for the poor, the learned man the teacher of the ignorant, and the free man the emancipator of the enslaved. When His followers disputed among themselves which should be greatest, the Lord, instead of seeking to uproot ambition, gave a new definition of greatness as service, and bade them be ambitious of that. And in precisely the same way here the gospel, far from blotting out all distinctions in society as the Communist would do, makes the very privileges which mark the distinction between a higher class and a lower the basis of obligation, so that the one is the debtor of the other, and the obligation increases with the increase of the privilege.
6. But we should expect to find the highest manifestation of this principle in the Christian Church. And here, though it has not attained anything like its legitimate development, we are not entirely disappointed, for it has originated and sustained the great missionary enterprise; and though the Church as a whole has not yet anything like come up to the level of Paul, still there have been individuals who are not unworthy to be compared even with the great apostle of the Gentiles. While we here at home are enjoying our privileges with self-complacency and satisfaction, and thinking that we perform our part by giving a small annual donation, missionaries are labouring with devoted heroism to carry the gospel into benighted lands.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)I. THE NATURE AND STRENGTH OF THAT PARTICULAR MOTIVE TO LABOUR FOR THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL WHICH IS PRESENTED IN THE TEXT. The feeling of indebtedness in an honourable mind is —
1. A powerful one. It lies under all the commerce of the world, and is the spring which impels all the wheels of secular business. Never are the secular abilities of a man braced up to a more vigorous activity than when, under the sense of obligation, he proceeds with perfect integrity to obey the injunction, "Owe no man anything."
2. A cheerful and an encouraging motive. Men distinguished in the monetary world have described the gush of pleasure which they experienced in the earlier days of their career from the excitement incident to a gradual but certain overcoming of their liabilities.
II. ITS SOURCE AND FOUNDATION. Every Christian owes the gospel to the pagan —
1. Because of' the deep interest which Christ takes in the pagan. In the account of the last judgment we are taught that all neglect of human welfare is neglect of Christ, and that anything that is done for human salvation, in any nation or age, is done for Him. We have no conception of the immensity of that Divine compassion for man which moved Christ to "take our infirmities and bear our sicknesses." So absorbed was He in His merciful work that "His friends went out to lay hold on Him." This compassion originated partly from His Divinity and partly from His humanity. The Divinity in His complex person gave the eye to see, and the humanity the heart to feel and suffer; and when such an eye is united with such a heart the sorrow and the sympathy are infinite. As God, the Redeemer was the Creator of men, and as Man He was their Elder Brother; and therefore He can so unify Himself with mankind, as He does in these wonderful utterances, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me," etc.
2. Because of his own personal indebtedness to Christ. Language fails to express the absoluteness of the right which the Redeemer has to the service of His redeemed people. The right to man's service which He has by virtue of His relation as a Creator is immeasurable; but this claim which God as Redeemer possesses upon a human being who He has saved from eternal death is even greater. This it was that made Paul say, "I am debtor," etc. — "I owe the knowledge of this great atonement which my Redeemer has made for the sin of the whole world to every creature."Conclusion: Every Christian —
1. Should look upon the work of evangelising the world as a debt he owes to Christ and to his fellow man. He should heartily acknowledge this debt and not attempt to free himself from it by explaining it away as a figure of speech. "Freely ye have received, freely give." This was the command which the Saviour gave to His twelve disciples when He endowed them with miraculous powers "against unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." Suppose now that they had attempted to use this supernaturalism for their own selfish purposes, how instantaneously would the wrath of the Redeemer have fallen upon them! But the case would have been the same had they neglected to make any use of their gifts. They were debtors, and owed these healing mercies to the sick and the dying, and the mere non-use of them would have been a sin and a crime. Precisely such is the relation which every Christian sustains to that power of healing spiritual maladies which is contained in the gospel of Christ. We cannot too carefully remember that the work of missions is not an optional matter; it is a debt. "Woe is me," said St. Paul, "if I preach not the gospel." It is like the manna, which, so long as Israel used it, was the bread of heaven; but when they hoarded it, it became corruption in their very hands. If this sentiment of indebtedness declines, then the Church will lapse back into indifference and apathy, and these are the harbingers of a corrupt Christianity, which will be buried in one common grave with paganism, Mohammedanism, and all forms of human sin and error.
2. Should labour zealously to discharge this debt. The debt which the believer is to pay is not his debt to eternal justice. That he can never discharge. Christians are not to send the gospel to the Greek and the Barbarian for the purpose of making atonement for their sins, and thereby cancelling their obligations to law and justice. That debt Christ Himself has paid. But our debt is to "preach the gospel to every creature." If the providence and Spirit of God indicate that we are to go in person, then we are to go in person. If the providence of God has placed in our hands the silver and the gold by which we can send our representative, then we are to give our silver and our gold, with our prayers for the Divine blessing upon it. And, by the grace of God, this can be done. The labour is of that moderate and proportioned species which consists in giving back to Christ what we have received from Him.
3. Will be rewarded for his discharge of his obligations. "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." God rewards His own grace.
(G. T. Shedd, D. D.)I. HOW WAS PAUL A DEBTOR?
1. Not for special benefits conferred. He had the Roman citizenship, indeed, an he was not unmindful of its privileges; but he did not have it as a peculiar grant in consequence of any peculiar favour of the Roman people. He had received benefits from contact with the Greek literature and art, the influence of which pervaded the atmosphere of the world in that age; but even this was not a benefit which was conferred upon him as separate from others. And these benefits, whatever they were on any human calculation, were wiped out by the treatment which Roman and Greek alike gave to him.
2. Still less was he indebted to the barbarian who had nothing whatever to give him.
3. He felt the obligation of those who have special gifts of power or grace entrusted to them of God to use them for the benefit of others.(1) He had a knowledge which the world as yet had not attained — the knowledge of God, in the person of His Son, by the power of His Spirit, giving redemption to the world, providing for man purification from sin, into the white beauty of God's holiness. It was the knowledge most necessary of all to personal welfare, for the guidance of men in this life, and for their preparation for the great life beyond. It was the knowledge most prolific of public benefit; under whose transforming energy the empire itself should be purged of its savageness and converted to Christ.(2) He had extraordinary power, too, given him of God for the proclamation of this knowledge; and because he had such eminent gifts he felt himself under proportionate obligations to others destitute of them.
II. THE IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS WHICH FLOW FROM THIS.
1. What reason the poor and the weak always have to bless God for the gospel. It is simply the gospel of Christ taking the current of man's natural inclination — arresting it, and then reversing it — which gives to the poor, the weak, and the friendless their recognised claim upon those who are stronger.
2. What a beautiful civilisation it is which the gospel contemplates as its result in the world — a civilisation the key of which is in this doctrine; that weakness confers right, and power simply imposes obligation.
3. What the test is of the progress of Christian civilisation in the world. Not in the multiplying inventions of mechanism; in the accumulating wealth of cities; in the extension of free institutions; in the spread of literature, and the steady advance of science in the earth; but in the answer to this one question: How far does society recognise its obligation to the weakest and the poorest in it?
4. Here is the practical test of our individual Christian experience. Not in outward belief; not in ecstasy of spirit, but here: How much have I of the feeling of Paul toward all around me that, by whatever of power and grace, and of His supreme knowledge God has given to me, I have become the more indebted to them?
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)I. ITS NATURE AND OUR POWER TO PAY IT.
1. When a footpad starts to relieve a traveller of his purse he says to himself, "The world owes me a living, and a living I must have." Many a one cherishes the same feeling. A scholar murmurs, as he gazes upon his unsold volume, "The world owes me fame and a hearing!" The woman of fashion declares, "The world owes me a position!" As the politician clamours for votes he insists, "The world owes me a place!" The ancients exercised themselves much in the attempt to answer the question, What is man? One said, It is the animal which laughs. Another said, It is the animal who cooks his food. A truer answer is, It is the animal who never is appreciated. There lives not the man who is restful under the estimate he receives. And if that great burden bearer — the world — should attempt to pay all the bills for undervaluation presented to it from day to day, it would be hopelessly bankrupt in a single generation.
2. Now precisely here the gospel meets our race. When Jesus hears the cry, "The world owes me," He answers, "Well, I will pay you all it owes; I will pour out upon you such a wealth of resource that the balance due shall be reversed; then you will in turn owe the world." Here is a man who has been wont to say, "The world owes me a competence, for it is the duty of the strong to take care of the weak." To him Christ says in the gospel, "I admit that principle. You shall have all you need. 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God,' etc. Concern yourself no more about money. If you implicitly trust Me, I will see that the treasure never falls. Remember steadfastly your own principle. You owe the world a living. I have furnished you with vast resources. You are to spread the kingdom which crowns you." Just so of everything else. If one demands happiness, influence, position, the gospel bestows it beyond any measurement. All that it ever says the world owes, is so copiously transcended that the obligation rushes across the ledger into a new balance. And now it is the Christian man who is in debt, and that upon his own showing; for he is strong, and the strong are to care for the weak.
II. THE PARTIES WHO HOLD OUR OBLIGATIONS. The apostle specifies the ranks and the races he owes. He meant, simply, he owed everybody. As he says elsewhere, he was to "do good to all men." And all Christianity is embodied in Paul. "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." Love is the fulfilling of the law, and ye are the children of God!
III. THE PURPOSE of all which has been said is this —
1. There is a lesson of deepest importance here to all young Christians. Life is certain to be moulded by the ideal one has of it, and the principles which he makes to underlie it at the start. A child of opulent parents who goes forth into life saying, "The world owes me honour, ease, flattery, and place," will make a very different man from the child of many prayers who enters the conflict saying, "I owe the world a work and a duty." So the gospel sets the Christian on the search, not how much he may claim in the wrestle of existence, but how much he may give.
2. There is something instructive in those instances when men have put forth all their energies to pay their debts. Sir Waiter Scott once tried to rest his half-delirious brain. But he had no time to be sick, as the outstanding obligations matured. "This is folly," said he to the startled servant, as he sprang up from the couch; "bring in the pens and paper!" There is no fertility of genius like the pressure of a great debt. Necessity is the mother of invention.
3. Note, also, the industry and thrift it promotes. That man pays most of his dues whose unfailing hammer rings earliest in the morning and latest at night. He lessens debt the most whose shuttle weaves the most yards in faithful toil. Diligence in business keeps the bailiff a stranger. Put this commonplace alongside of devout Christian life, and so learn the lesson. A child of God who really feels that he is a debtor to the whole world will surely find some shrewd way of his own to discharge the duly. Conclusion: Sometimes you notice a new church coming into being. Once a pastor was asked, "When will this building be completed?" He easily gave the time. "Will the congregation be in debt?" "Oh yes, awfully; sometimes it frightens me to think of it!" Then came the question, "Why did you begin when you had not the money?" Then the minister of God answered, "Oh, we have money enough; we shall have no such debt as that; but think how much a church like this is going to owe the community and the world! How they will look to us for man's love and God's grace!" Is our church debt paid? How much owest thou? Souls are looking to us for help. The true test of piety is a sense of debtorship to souls.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. WE ARE ALL DEBTORS BY THE POSSESSION OF A COMMON HUMANITY. The differences between slave or free, cultured or uncultured, rich or poor, are but the surface. What lies beneath is the one human heart, with the same wants, the same weaknesses, the same aspirations, the same fears, the same possibilities. Here stand a range of Alps, separate, frowning, white-topped, the Jungfrau, the Eiger, and the Monch, and all the brother giants of that mountain system, parted from each other by profound gulfs. Yes! so they are, at the top; but at the bottom all rise up from the one formation. And so mankind. And that unity involves, as a distinct consequence, the thought that every man possesses all his possessions in order that through him the benefit and the use of them may pass to his fellows.
II. WE ARE DEBTORS BY THE POSSESSION OF A COMMON SALVATION. God's purpose in giving you and me Christ for ours is that we should give Him to others. The world needs healing; you there have the healing that the world needs. Is anything more required to prescribe duty? What would you say about a man that, in the midst of famine, sat at home and feasted luxuriously whilst his brethren were starving, and then pleaded that nobody had bade him go out to supply their wants?
III. WE ENGLISH CHRISTIANS ARE DEBTORS, IN MANY CASES, TO THE WORLD, BY BENEFITS RECEIVED. This great commercial, maritime, colonising nation, what does it not owe; what do your homes not owe; what does the business of Manchester not owe to the heathen, to whom you owe your Saviour? We have received our civilisation in its germs, our language, and much high thought, from that far off East which is still the possession of the English Crown.
IV. WE ARE DEBTORS BY INJURIES INFLICTED. That is a sad but, as it would appear, almost an inevitable law, that the contact of the superior, or, at all events, of the civilised, with the inferior or uncivilised races, shall result in the gradual fading of the latter from before the stronger conquerors. And, in addition to that injury, the vices of our modern civilisation are carried whithersoever our ships and our colonies and our commerce goes. "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?" You pay Christ when you pay your fellows.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. WHOSE MAGNITUDE IS IMMENSE.
1. It is the gospel. Who can estimate this treasure? It is the pearl of great price, God's unspeakable gift.
2. It is the consecration of life to the diffusion of the gospel. We owe not merely the gospel, but all our powers and circumstances in order to its diffusion. Not merely the preaching of it, but the living it, and that forever. What a debt is this! We are not our own.
II. WHOSE JUSTICE IS INDISPUTABLE. Think of —
1. The terms of its bestowment. It was given in trust; not to monopolise, but to diffuse, "Go ye fate all the world," etc.
2. The universality of its provisions. They are not for a class, but, like the elements of nature, for universal man — the bread and water of life to all.
3. The conscience of its possessors. All its genuine disciples feel that they ought to communicate it. "Necessity is laid upon me."
4. The condition of its claimants, Those to whom we owe it are perishing for the lack of it.
III. WHOSE DISCHARGE IS URGENT. It is urgent as far as —
1. The creditor is concerned — the whole heathen world, sunk in ignorance, superstition, and misery. The recovery of these fallen millions depends on our paying the debt.
2. The debtor. He who neglects to discharge it is injuring his own nature, character, prospects, and usefulness.Conclusion: Let us all rise to discharge this debt.
1. It has long arrears.
2. Is ever accumulating.
3. May be on our hands at death.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. PAUL'S ESTIMATE OF THE GOSPEL.
1. He designates it "the gospel of Christ," not so much because Christ is the author, as because He is the subject of it. It is the good news about Christ as our Substitute and Sacrifice. In this sense only is it "good news." Ignore the doctrine, and the bare facts of the history are no more a gospel than any other story of a life or death would be. Only when you speak of a Christ who has died for our sins will you put music into the heart of a sin and sorrow-stricken world.
2. In view of Paul's anticipated visit to Rome this expression is especially suggestive. The Romans prided themselves on power, and worshipped it, and Paul seizes on this historic fact to tell the Romans that he knew of a greater power even than theirs. The emblems of this power are the dew, the seed, the light, the leaven, things which work quietly; mighty forces, resistless in the might of their stillness. Sometimes, it is true, God comes to men in the thunders of the law, as when He made Felix tremble; but more frequently it is with the gentle persuasiveness which opened Lydia's heart to the gracious message as the flower unfolds its petals to drink in the dew. I have seen machines used in Nottingham lace work with power enough to rend the whole fabric into a thousand pieces, yet working with such exquisite nicety that they do not break the finest thread. So in the gospel, though God brings His Omnipotence to bear upon the soul, He influences men through means and motives so sweet yet strong that they willingly and gladly yield.
3. And the sphere of the gospel's operation is to be as broad as its power is boundless. "To everyone," etc. There is an old Turkish proverb which declares that Islam can flourish only where the palm tree grows. But there is no such legend for the gospel as that. The word of life which Paul sought to plant will grow in every soil.
II. PAUL'S SENSE OF THE OBLIGATION IN WHICH THE POSSESSION OF THE GOSPEL INVOLVED HIM. "I am debtor," etc.
1. Debt implies obligation, and obligation is —(1) A law of nature. Nothing in the material world lives to itself. The flower made sweet by the breath of God is constrained to shed its fragrance on the air. The sun, filled with warmth and radiance, flings them abroad to gladden the dark places of the earth and to make her desert smile. Basking in his beams the birds sing, the corn ripens, and the trees bend down with rich ripe clusters. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not toll. Why? Simply because it is under the same beneficent constraint. Thus Nature everywhere and by everything proclaims with sublime though silent voice, "I am debtor."(2) An instinct of human life — the genial, gracious bond which unites all hearts. As no man liveth by himself, so no man may live to himself. We all live through others and are dependent on their ministries. And every generous nature feels that unless he gives back to the world as much service as he takes from it he is a delinquent.
2. Christianity enlarges and ennobles this feeling.(1) Sitting at the foot of the Cross men catch the spirit of Him who hangs upon it, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," etc. Christ's life was love in action. And as His disciples we learn from His lips as from His life, that He designs sweet and sympathetic ministries to be the golden coinage of our new nature, the currency of our affections, and that if we try to be misers of such wealth we shall suffer the fate of misers. But if grace has rightly done its work in us we cannot help sharing it. It will flow forth from us as spontaneously as heat from a fire, or fragrance from a June rose. Like the box of ointment which Mary broke, it will shed its perfume all around.(2) The gospel, too, strengthens the instinct of debtorship by revealing men in a new light. Apart from the gospel we are almost ready to question whether some of our dark and depraved fellows are worth saving at all; but the gospel reveals the fact that the most depraved are men after all, and precious in God's sight. Outcasts and prodigals, as children of the same Father, have a claim on our brotherly sympathy and succour. As trustees of an inheritance to which they have an equal right, they demand that we share with them our riches.(3) Again we are laid under obligation by positive command of the Master. When the Crusades were being preached the one cry which provoked a response from every lip was this: "God wills it!" The plea in our case is more urgent than in theirs, and shall our sense of obligation be less. "It is not merely God wills it, but Christ commands it. It comes direct, not merely as the Divine wish, but as the Divine injunction." When Christ says "Go," who will dare to stay?
3. And having laid the obligation on us, the Master has opened the way for its fulfilment. Never have the nations been so accessible as they are today. As Englishmen we mix with the world everywhere. Now, why has God thus brought us into touch with all the nations? Merely that we might fill the coffers of our merchants or sharpen to a keener point the boast about "An empire on which the sun never sets"? Conclusion: Do we realise our obligation, and, if so, are we ready and willing to discharge it? Paul said, not only "I am debtor," but "I am ready." So ready that neither pain, nor peril, nor privation could root out of him his eagerness. Thus "ready," like Paul, to proclaim the gospel, let us rejoice in the assurance that it will be as resistless in our hands as it was in his. When the knights of Germany offered their swords to Luther in behalf of his cause he replied: "The Word shall do it." And he was right. There is an old story about the conqueror of Rome, who dashed his sword down into the scales when the ransom was being paid; and Christ flings His two-edged sword into the scale when we are weighing resources, and the other scale kicks the beam. Only make sure that your hand grips His, and then nothing can withstand you. A young officer detailed by the Iron Duke for some dangerous service, asked for one grasp of the great commander's "all-conquering hand," to fit and fire him for the death-daring enterprise.
(J. Le Huray.)
I. THE ADAPTATION OF THE GOSPEL TO ALL THE VARIETIES OF HUMAN CHARACTER. There are three reasons which prove this fact, which fact constitutes the basis of all missionary duty, and gives encouragement to missionary exertion.
1. The perfection of its evidence. There is no species of moral proof by means of which the understanding can be convinced, the heart impressed, the conscience affected — that is, not brought before us in that evidence which establishes and illustrates the divinity of the gospel.
2. The completeness of its discoveries. Jesus is expressly termed "the Finisher of the faith." He has not only announces it, but completed it. Whatever respects the character of God, the way of salvation, the rule of duty, the source of happiness — whatever belongs to the faith, the hope, the holiness of the Christian — is fully revealed in this sacred testimony.
3. The results of its influence. We can look back on the workings of this mighty system for eighteen centuries, and see how it has always been attended by the same gracious power, and secured the same spiritual results, and thus has been demonstrably proved the truth that it "is the power of God to salvation unto everyone that believeth."
II. THE OBLIGATIONS WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE UNDER TO SECURE BY ALL PRACTICAL AND DIVINELY APPOINTED MEANS ITS UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION.
1. The obligation respects yourselves. There is a question which should always take the precedency when we are contemplating any line of benevolent effort. Have you fled to the refuge of mercy? Is the gospel testimony cordially believed by you? Let these be your feelings, and then you will be at once prepared to appreciate the force of the apostle's statement: "I am a debtor," etc. Having yourselves tasted that the Lord is gracious, you will be delighted to invite others to partake with you in the rich banquet of mercy. The very fact of receiving it carries along with it the obligation to make it known as well as imparts to the mind receiving it an holy activity in its diffusion.
2. In what respects may we regard this obligation as a debt?(1) Gratitude to the Redeemer requires that we should regard this debt and attempt to discharge it. What is there that we do not owe to Christ?(2) It is a debt of honour. If there were no explicit command, yet recollecting how much you owe to the Saviour, and your high privileges, every honourable feeling should bring you to His service.(3) It is a debt of justice. You have what every man wants, and what has been given you for every man; therefore it is unjust to withhold it. What would have been the condition of this land, or our personal conditions, if others had acted towards us on the same feeling of selfish indifference and forgetfulness of this plain and palpable duty?(4) It is a debt for the payment of which we shall be amply compensated. No man lends in this work of labour and love without finding an abundant interest. To be in any measure instrumental, directly or indirectly, in saving the souls of men, will confer a great happiness compared with which all other sources of enjoyment are less than nothing and vanity.(5) It is enforced by the command and authority of the Divine Redeemer, It is not, therefore, left to your calculations or to your feelings.
(J. Fletcher, D. D.)I. THE OBLIGATION UNDER WHICH THE APOSTLE LAY. "I am a debtor." Necessity was laid upon him (1 Corinthians 9:16). But there it was a necessity laid on him to Godward; here it is towards man. How so?
1. There is an obligation in man towards man, established by the law of creation, which nothing can set aside. One proof of it will be seen in the character of the man who disowns the obligation. He is anti-social. He opposes the fundamental law of society by which it is seen that men are formed for each other. And, if so, no limitation either of country or peculiarity of condition, can supersede this law. The parable of the good Samaritan establishes and illustrates this position. It was the old commandment from the beginning, though in Christ new both as to motive, extent, and object.
2. But there is an obligation which results from the condition on which good is imparted by the great Giver of all good. "Freely ye have received, freely give." The apostle himself states that Christ was revealed in him, that he "might preach Him among the heathen." And in another place that "a dispensation or stewardship was committed unto him" (1 Corinthians 9:17), "to make all men know the fellowship of the mystery" (Ephesians 3:9).
3. But, while the apostle would quicken his own zeal by thoughts of responsibility and by the plea of necessity, he delighted rather to dwell upon the more constraining obligation of love. He was one of a redeemed brotherhood. He could honour all men. Hence he could look on everyone he met, whether "Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free" (Colossians 3:11), as one of the families which are all blessed in Christ.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE APOSTLE DISCHARGED THE OBLIGATION. The proposition is, that the debt owing from every Christian man to another is the gospel: the preaching or communicating the gospel is the discharge of that debt. How so? The substance of all good is comprised in the gospel. Everything short of it leaves a man short of salvation, is an abridgment of human happiness. The gospel brings the sinner near to God (Ephesians 2:13, 18; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and restores man to his former position of love to his fellow (Ephesians 2:19-22). The preaching of it satisfied all the claims, because it answered all the wants, of man.
Homilist.I. AN URGENT CHRISTIAN OBLIGATION. There is an obligation in man towards man which nothing can destroy. It is instituted and established.
1. By mutual expediency. The interest of one demands the good of all. One bad man in a community will destroy the peace of all. One diseased person may infect a whole nation.
2. By the fundamental laws of society. All men are made for each other.
3. By the law of benevolence. Even heathens have felt the force of this sentiment, and among the early Christians it became particularly prominent.
4. By the condition on which all good is imparted to us. "Freely ye have received, freely give."
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S MANNER OF CARRYING THIS OBLIGATION OUT. There is —
1. Undaunted purpose. "I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also." Rome had everything which was opposed to the nature and character of Christianity, and could endanger the apostle's life. How little do we imitate this example! Do we care for men's moral and social well-being to such an extent that we should be willing to sacrifice home, comfort, or even self, for their advantage?
2. A limitation of power. "So far as in me is."(1) This limitation has its use. It prevents us from despair when our talents are small or our opportunities few. Not all of us can go as ambassadors to Rome. But we can help so far as in us lies. If we cannot go, we can send those who can.(2) But this limitation is also made an abuse. Persons urge it as an excuse for their negligence, sloth, or parsimony.
(Homilist.)I. THE MISSIONARY ESTIMATE. The "power of God to salvation," and from this the debtorship to extend it rises.
1. You would not have expected that Paul would have had this estimate. The doctrine was incredible, the demand insupportable, the blessings impalpable and vague — belonging either to the world of the spiritual or of the future. And how could he expect such a gospel to he accepted? But Paul knew what it had been to himself and dared not despair. He took it everywhere, and the new power, wherever it went, although ignored by the better and despised by the worse forces of society, made its calm and even way. Its very incredibilities were the things that won credence of the human heart, and its insupportable demands came to men as a dignity Which they were proud to wear, and its impalpable blessings of peace with God of light, of heavenly hope came to them as the balm of heaven.
2. But it is not the acceptance that the apostle accentuates. A man may accept a creed, and if it has no influence there is no great importance in the acceptance of it; but this creed men accepted to a throne of mighty influence, It wrought marvels, It was "the Omnipotence of God unto salvation." You know how hard it is to touch the character; how that is the aim and the despair of all reform. The necessary thing is to lift men's manhood, then you lift everything about them. But it is just here that other reforms fail. But where everything else failed the gospel never failed, but lifted them up into what Paul calls "salvation." And it did this universally. Philosophers wanted specially fitted disciples to receive their truths, mysteries wanted some culture, other doctrines wanted some congruity; but the glory of the gospel was this — that whoever believed it in him it was omnipotent.
3. That was Paul's estimate of the gospel after twenty years' experience; the estimate and experience of all that preached it. Let us today remember that what we have got in our hands is no feeble thing, but the omnipotence of God for salvation to everyone that believeth.
II. THE MISSIONARY INSTINCT. "I am debtor," etc.
1. This is not exclusively Christian, it is a human instinct; we all have to say, "I am debtor." From infancy to age no day passes but we are enriched with some comfort that comes to us from the service of our fellow men. We did not work our freedom; others wrought the laws which give us protection; others achieved the sciences which gives us delight; others opened wide those very avenues of trade by which men make their wealth. What would we be without the example, influence, sympathy of other men? We cannot pay the debt back to those that have gone; we can only pay it forward to those they make their heirs, and every generous nature feels that unless he gives back to the world as much service as he lakes from it, he is a delinquent and short of honour.
2. And this instinct blossoms into many forms — into neighbourly affection, into righteousness, patriotism, philanthropy, sympathy. Sometimes this instinct is thwarted in its growth. But in the degree in which there is nobility, in that degree men look not to society's duty to them, but to their duty to society. Sometimes thwarted by the action of pride and fear and weakness; when this sense of debtorship meets with the gospel, then it comes forth in all its lordly strength. Everything helps to develop it then — penitence deepens it; gratitude increases it; it thrives beneath the dew of Calvary and especially under the influence of grace, because it moves love, and sees men in the new light. Outside the light of the gospel men may almost question whether their fellow men are worth helping. But when we begin to see them precious in God's sight, then our fellow men put on a dignity which makes it worth our while to serve them. It has, therefore, been the singular mark of the Church of Christ. At Pentecost men saw the love of God and copied it, and none said that aught of the things that he possessed was his own. The widows' hearts began to sing for joy with the new kindness that had dawned upon the world. Now it blossoms into the care of the infants cast out into the streets of the heathen cities; now in the redemption of captives; now in the ministry to the sick. All the fairest names in the Church's history are the names of those who felt that debtorship to proclaim the gospel of Christ to their fellow men. You do not wonder, then, that Paul should feel this debtorship. He saw a creditor in the face of every man — his creditor wanting gold that he could give him; and he woke glad and eager to pay his debt.
III. THE MISSIONARY CONSECRATION. "I am ready" — that is Paul in three words. The first question at conversion was, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" and that was the last, the hourly question. So ready was he that "forthwith" he preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus and in Jerusalem; so ready that God had to stop him and send him to Arabia to meditate and pray. So ready that if tonight he dreams of the Man of Macedonia, in the morning he is looking out for the ship that will carry him across the wave. So ready that nothing can root out of him his eagerness. He was ready always, and now — a battered, withered old man — he is ready to assail Rome itself, and believes in the possibility of converting that secular empire, and all its degradation, to Christ. Of what infinite value that readiness is in any man! Presence of mind is good, but presence of heart is better. It saves time, freshness, and penetrative power. What a different story there would have been in Christianity if Paul's readiness had not been so bright! The gospel grew richer with every new effort to proclaim it. Paul's heaven has grown larger and richer from that hour to this, as daily still the pilgrims have entered it who were led by him to know and to choose the Lord! He was "ready," but we are unready. We are rich, but not ready. Strong minds and warm hearts are ready for commerce, war, science, but the great ambition does not seem to touch them.
1. Polytheism divided the contemplation over many objects, etc. The Grecian was to obtain wisdom from one Deity: eloquence from Mercurius; purity from Diana, etc. Hence dissipation of mind: that fickleness for which the Greeks were famous. All stability of character rests on the contemplation of changeless unity.
2. And all the results of science have been to simplify and trace back the manifold to unity. It is ever tending towards unity of law. Hence science is calm and dignified, reposing upon uniform fact.
3. So also in religion. Christianity proclaimed "One God and one Mediator," etc. St. Paul's view of the gospel, the salvation of the Gentiles, was the eternal purpose, and his own personal election was part of an eternal counsel. Now see the effect on character. First, on veracity (2 Corinthians 1:18, etc.). He contemplated the changeless "yea" of God — his own yea became fixed as God's. Again in orthodoxy — "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." Be not carried about by divers and strange doctrines. Truth is one — Error manifold — many opinions, yet there can be but one faith. See how calm and full of rest all this spirit is. St. John's view of the gospel recognised it rather as the manifestation of love. Pain and pleasure, the sigh and smile, the sunshine and the storm, were but the results of eternal love. Hence came deep calm — the repose which we are toiling all our lives to find, and which the Greek never found.
II. WORLDLINESS. There are men and nations who live as if they had no aspiration above it. If ever there was a nation who understood the science of living, it was the Grecian. This world was their home and the object of their worship. The results were three fold.
1. Disappointment. Lying on the infinite bosom of Nature, the Greek was yet unsatisfied. The worldly man is trying to satiate his immortal hunger upon husks.
2. Degradation. Had you asked the Greek his highest wish, he would have replied, "This world, if it could only last — I ask no more." This is to feed on husks: but husks which the swine did eat.
3. Disbelief in immortality. The more the Greek attached himself to this world, the more the world unseen became a dim world of shades. Accordingly, when Paul preached at Athens the resurrection of the dead, they "mocked." This bright world was all, and the Greek's hell was death. The dreadfulness of death is one of the most remarkable things that meet us in their ancient writings. And these men were startled by seeing a new sect rise up to whom death was nothing. For the Cross of Christ had crucified in their hearts the Grecian's world. The rise of the higher life had made this life nothing, "and delivered those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject unto bondage."
III. THE WORSHIP OF THE BEAUTIFUL.
1. The Greek saw this world almost only on its side of beauty. He looked at actions in the same way. If he wanted to express a perfect man, he called him a musical or harmonious man. What was the consequence? Religion degenerated into the arts. Hence, necessarily, sensuality became religious. There is a peculiar danger in refinement of sensuous enjoyments. Coarse pleasures disgust and pass for what they are; but who does not know that the real danger and triumph of voluptuousness are when it approaches the soul veiled under the drapery of elegance? They fancied themselves above the gross multitude; but their sensuality, disguised even from themselves, was sensuality still — ay, and at times even, in certain festivals, broke out into gross and unmistakable licentiousness.
2. There is this danger now. Men are awakened from coarse, rude life to the desire of something deeper. And the God of this world can subtly turn that aside into channels which shall effectually enfeeble and ruin the soul. Refinement, imagery, witchery of form and colour, music, architecture: all these, even coloured with the hues of religion, producing feelings either religious or quasi-religious, may yet do the world's work. For all attempt to impress the heart through the senses, "to make perfect through the flesh," is fraught with that danger beneath which Greece sunk. This, too, is the ruinous effect of an education of accomplishments. An education chiefly romantic or poetical, not balanced by hard practical life, is simply the ruin of the soul.
3. If anyone ever felt the beauty of this world it was Christ, but the beauty which He exhibited in life was the stern loveliness of moral action. The King in His beauty "had no form or comeliness": it was the beauty of Divine self-devotion. The Cross tells us that it is the true beautiful which is Divine: an inward, not an outward beauty, which rejects and turns sternly away from the meretricious forms of the outward world, which have a corrupting or debilitating tendency.
IV. THE WORSHIP OF HUMANITY.
1. The Greek had strong human feelings and sympathies. He projected his own self on nature: humanised it: gave a human feeling to clouds, forests, rivers, seas. In this he was a step above other idolatries. It was not merely power, beauty, or life, but human power, etc., which was the object of his profoundest veneration. His effort therefore was, in his conception of his god, to realise a beautiful human being. Much in this had a germ of truth — more was false. This principle, which is true, was evidently stated: The Divine, under the limitations of humanity, is the only worship of which man is capable; for man cannot conceive that which is not in his own mind. They wanted humanity in its glory — they asked for a Son of Man. Christ is Deity under the limitations of humanity. But there is presented in Christ for worship, not power, nor beauty, nor physical life, but the moral image of God's perfections. Through the heart and mind and character of Jesus it was that the Divinest streamed. Divine character, that was given in Christ to worship.
2. Another error. The Greek worshipped all that was in man. Every feeling had its beauty and its divine origin. Hence thieving had its patron deity, and treachery and cunning, and lust had its temple erected for abominable worship. All that was human had its sanction in the example of some god. Christ corrects this. Not all that is human is Divine. There is a part of our nature kindred with God; the strengthening of that, by mixture with God's Spirit, is our true and proper humanity — regeneration of soul. There is another part whereby we are related to the brutes; and whoever lives in that, sinks not to the level of the brutes, but below them, to the level of the demons; for he uses an immortal spirit to degrade himself, and the immortal joined with evil, as the life to the body, is demoniacal. Conclusion: In all this system one thing was wanting — the sense of sin. The Greek would not have spoken to you of sin: he would have told you of departure from a right line, want of moral harmony, discord within: he would have said that the music of your soul was out of tune. Christ came to convince the world of sin; and for this there is only one remedy — that which is written in the Redeemer's blood.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. THE PUBLIC LIFE OF ROME.
1. The spirit of its religion — the very word means obligation, a binding power. Very different from the corresponding Greek expression, which implies worship by a sensuous ceremonial (threskeia). The Roman began from the idea of duty. The fabulous early history of Rome preserves the spirit of the old life when it does not preserve the facts. Accordingly, the tradition taught that the building of Rome was done in obedience to the intimations of the will of Heaven. Its first great legislator (Numa) is represented as giving laws after secret communion with the superhuman. It was the belief of Roman writers that the early faith taught access to God only through the mind: that therefore no images were found in earliest Rome. War itself was a religious act, solemnly declared by a minister of religion casting a spear into the enemy's territory. Nay, we even find something in spirit resembling the Jewish sabbath: the command that during the rites of religion no work should go on, but that men should devoutly contemplate God.
2. This resulted in government. Duty, and therefore law on earth, as a copy of the will of Heaven. Beauty was not the object of the Roman contemplation, nor worship; nor was harmony. Hence, when Greece was reduced to a Roman province, in , the Roman soldiers took the noblest specimens of Grecian painting and converted them into gambling tables. You may distinguish the difference of the two characters from the relies which they have left behind them. The Greek produced a statue or a temple, the expression of a sentiment. The Roman, dealing with the practical, has left behind him works of public usefulness: roads, aqueducts, bridges, drains, and, above all, that system of law which has so largely entered into modern jurisprudence.
3. In accordance with this, it is a characteristic fact that we find the institutions of Rome referred to inspiration. Turning to Scripture, whenever the Roman comes prominently forward, we always find him the instrument of public rule and order. Pilate has no idea of condemning unjustly: "Why, what evil hath He done?" But he yields at the mention of the source of law, the emperor. The Apostle Paul appeals to Caesar, and Festus respects the appeal. The tumult at Ephesus is stilled by a hint of Roman interference. When the angry mob was about to destroy Paul, Claudius Lysias comes "with an army, and rescues him." It was always the same thing. The Roman seems almost to have existed to exhibit on earth a copy of the Divine order of the universe, the law of the heavenly hierarchies.
II. PRIVATE LIFE.
1. The sanctity of domestic ties.(1)Very touching are the anecdotes — that, e.g., of the noble matron, who felt, all spotless as she was, life dishonoured, and died by her own hand. The sacredness of home was expressed strongly by the ides of two guardian deities (Lares and Penates) who watched over it. There was no battle cry that came so to the Roman's heart as that, "For the altar and the hearth." The whole fabric of the Commonwealth rose out of the family. First the family, then the clan, then the tribe, lastly the nation.(2) Very different is it in the East. A nation there is a collection of units, held together by a government. When the chief is slain, the nation is in anarchy — the family does not exist. Polygamy and infanticide, the bane of domestic life, are the destruction too of national existence.(3) There is a solemn lesson in this. Moral decay in the family is the invariable prelude to public corruption. The man whom you cannot admit into your family cannot be a pure statesman. A nation stands or falls with the sanctity of its domestic ties. Rome mixed with Greece, and learned her morals. The Goth was at her gates; but she fell not till she was corrupted and tainted at the heart.(4) We will bless God for our English homes. Partly the result of our religion. Partly the result of the climate which God has given us, so that darkness, making life more necessarily spent within doors, is domestic. When England shall learn domestic maxims from strangers, as Rome from Greece, her ruin is accomplished.
2. Let us break up this private life into particulars.(1) We find manly courage. Courage, manhood, virtue, were one word. Among the degenerate descendants of the Romans virtue no longer means manhood: it is simply dilettantism. This courage was not merely animal daring. Like everything Roman, it was connected with religion. The Roman legions subdued the world, not by their discipline, strength, or brute daring, but by their moral force. A nation whose heroes could thrust their hand into the flame, or come from captivity and advise their countrymen against peace, and then go back to torture and death, or devote themselves by solemn self-sacrifice (like the Decii), could bid sublime defiance to pain and count dishonour the only evil. The world must bow before such men; for unconsciously here was a form of the spirit of the Cross: self-surrender, unconquerable fidelity to duty, sacrifice for others.(2) The honour of her women. There was a fire in Rome called Eternal, which was tended by the Vestals, and implied that the duration of Rome was co-extensive with the preservation of her purity of morals. The Roman was conspicuous for the virtues of this earth; but moral virtues are not religious graces. There are two classes of excellence, each of which is found at times disjoined from the other. Men of almost spotless earthly honour scarcely seem to know what reverence for things heavenly and devout aspirations towards God mean; and men who have the religious instinct yet fall in matters of common truth and honesty. Morality is not religion. Still, beware of talking contemptuously of "mere morality."
III. THE DECLINE OF ROMAN LIFE.
1. First came corruption of the moral character. The soul of the Roman, bent on this world's affairs, became secularised, then animalised, and so at last, when there was little left to do, pleasure became his aim. Then came ruin swiftly. When the emperors lived for their elaborately contrived life of luxury — when the Roman soldier left his country's battles to be fought by mercenaries — the doom of Rome was sealed. Lofty spirits rose to stem the tide of corruption and the death throes of Rome were long and terrible.
2. Scepticism and superstition went hand in hand. The lower classes sunk in a debased superstition — the educated classes, too intellectual to believe in it, and yet having nothing better to put in its stead. Or perhaps there was also a superstition which is only another name for scepticism: infidelity trembling at itself — shrinking from its own shadow. This is as true now. Men tremble at new theories, new views, the spread of infidelity; and they think to fortify themselves against these by multiplying the sanctities which they reverence. But it is not by shutting out inquiry and resenting every investigation as profane, that you can arrest the progress of infidelity. Faith, not superstition, is the remedy.
3. Religion degenerated into allegiance to the State. In Greece it ended in taste. In Rome it closed with the worship of the emperor, and the word "sacrament" meant an oath of allegiance. In the Christian Church it is also the oath of highest fidelity. "Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice." And in this contrast of the sacramental vows were perceptible the different tendencies of the two starting points of revealed religion and Roman. Judaism began from law or obligation to a holy Person. Roman religion began from obedience to a mere will. Judaism ended in Christianity; whose central principle is joyful surrender to One whose name is Love. The religion of Rome stiffened into Stoicism, or degenerated in public spirit.
4. The last step is the decline of religion into expediency. It is a trite and often quoted observation of a great Roman, that one minister of religion could scarcely meet another without a smile upon his countenance. And an instance of this, I believe, we have in the town clerk of Ephesus, who stilled the populace by an accommodation to their prejudices, much in the same way in which a nurse would soothe a passionate child. He was the friend of Paul, yet he assures the people that there could be no doubt that the image fell down from Jupiter — "great goddess Diana."
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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