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336

CHAPTER XXVI

CHRISTIAN DUTY: DETAILS OF PERSONAL CONDUCT

Romans xii. 9-21

ST PAUL has set before us the life of surrender, of the "giving-over" of faculty to God, in one great preliminary aspect. The fair ideal (meant always for a watchful and hopeful realization) has been held aloft. It is a life whose motive is the Lord's "compassions"; whose law of freedom is His will; whose inmost aim is, without envy or interference towards our fellow-servants, to "finish the work He hath given us to do." Now into this noble outline are to be poured the details of personal conduct which, in any and every line and field, are to make the characteristics of the Christian.

As we listen again, we will again remember that the words are levelled not at a few but at all who are in Christ. The beings indicated here are not the chosen names of a Church Calendar, nor are they the passionless inhabitants of a Utopia. They are all who, in Rome of old, in England now, "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," "have the Spirit of God dwelling in them," and are living out this wonderful but most practical life in the straight line of their Father's will.

As if he could not heap the golden words too thickly together, St Paul dictates here with even unusual 337 abruptness and terseness of expression. He leaves syntax very much alone; gives us noun and adjective, and lets them speak for themselves. We will venture to render as nearly verbatim as possible. The English will inevitably seem more rough and crude than the Greek, but the impression given will be truer on the whole to the original than a fuller rendering would be.

Your () love, unaffected. Abominating the ill, wedded to211211See the context of 1 Cor. vi. 17 for an apology for this paraphrase of κολλώμενοι. the good. For your brotherly-kindness, full of mutual home-affection (φιλόστοργοι). For your honour, your code of precedence, deferring to one another. For your earnestness,212212"In business" gives perhaps too special a direction to the thought, as we use the word "business" now. Not that that special direction would not have a noble truth in it, rightly understood. not slothful. For the Spirit, as regards your possession and use of the divine Indweller, glowing.213213Literally "boiling," as a caldron on the fire. For the Lord, bond-serving.214214This reading, τῷ κυρίῳ, as against τῷ καιρῷ, appears to be certainly right.—Our rendering is bold; for undoubtedly "serving the Lord" meets the Greek grammar more simply. But the datives are hitherto so clearly datives of relation that we think this also must be so explained. We can only apologize for the crude compound "bond-serving" by the wish to represent the full force of δουλεύοντες. For your hope, that is to say, as to the hope of the Lord's Return, rejoicing. For your affliction, enduring. For your prayer, persevering. For the wants of the saints, for the poverty of fellow-Christians, communicating; "sharing" (κοινωνοῦντες), a yet nobler thing than the mere "giving" which may ignore the sacred fellowship of the provider and the receiver. Hospitality215215Τὴν φιλοξενίαν: we may paraphrase the article by "your hospitality," or even "Christian hospitality." But this would exaggerate the impression it represented.—prosecuting (διώκοντες) as with a studious 338 cultivation. Bless those who persecute216216Διώκοντας: it seems certain that this word was suggested by the διώκοντες just before, widely different as the references are. But how shall English convey this echo? you; bless, and do not curse. This was a solemnly appropriate precept, for the community over which, eight years later, the first great Persecution was to break in "blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke." And no doubt there was abundant present occasion for it, even while the scene was comparatively tranquil. Every modern mission-field can illustrate the possibilities of a "persecution" which may be altogether private, or which at most may touch only a narrow neighbourhood; which may never reach the point of technical outrage, yet may apply a truly "fiery trial" to the faithful convert. Even in circles of our decorous English society is no such thing known as the "persecution" of a life "not conformed to this world," though the assault or torture may take forms almost invisible and impalpable, except to the sensibilities of the object of it? For all such cases, as well as for the confessor on the rack, and the martyr in the fire, this precept holds expressly; "Bless, do not curse." In Christ find possible the impossible; let the resentment of nature die, at His feet, in the breath of His love.

To rejoice with the rejoicing, and to weep with the weeping; holy duties of the surrendered life, too easily forgotten. Alas, there is such a phenomenon, not altogether rare, as a life whose self-surrender, in some main aspects, cannot be doubted, but which utterly fails in sympathy. A certain spiritual exaltation is allowed actually to harden, or at least to seem to 339 harden, the consecrated heart; and the man who perhaps witnesses for God with a prophet's ardour is yet not one to whom the mourner would go for tears and prayer in his bereavement, or the child for a perfectly human smile in its play. But this is not as the Lord would have it be. If indeed the Christian has "given his body over," it is that his eyes, and lips, and hands, may be ready to give loving tokens of fellowship in sorrow, and (what is less obvious) in gladness too, to the human hearts around him.

Feeling217217Φρονοῦντεσ: the word "thinking" does not quite rightly represent the Greek. Φρονεῖν is not "to think," in the sense of articulate reflection, but to have a mental and moral disposition, of whatever kind. A popular use of the word "to feel" fairly represents this. the same thing towards one another; animated by a happy identity of sympathy and brotherhood. Not haughty in feeling,218218Lit., "not 'minding,' affecting, high things." We paraphrase, to retain the word "feeling" for φρονεῖν. but full of lowly sympathies;219219Lit., "being led away with the humble (things)." Some paraphrase is necessary here. accessible, in an unaffected fellowship, to the poor, the social inferior, the weak and the defeated, and again to the smallest and homeliest interests of all. It was the Lord's example; the little child, the wistful parent, the widow with her mites, the poor fallen woman of the street, could "lead away" (συναπάγειν) His blessed sympathies with a touch, while He responded with an unbroken majesty of gracious power, but with a kindness for which condescension seems a word far too cold and distant.

Do not get to be wise in your own opinion; be ready always to learn; dread the attitude of mind, too possible even for the man of earnest spiritual purpose, which 340 assumes that you have nothing to learn and everything to teach; which makes it easy to criticize and to discredit; and which can prove an altogether repellent thing to the observer from outside, who is trying to estimate the Gospel by its adherent and advocate. Requiting no one evil for evil; safe from the spirit of retaliation, in your surrender to Him "who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not." Taking forethought for good in the sight of all men; not letting habits, talk, expenses, drift into inconsistency; watching with open and considerate eyes against what others may fairly think to be unchristian in you. Here is no counsel of cowardice, no recommendation of slavery to a public opinion which may be altogether wrong. It is a precept of loyal jealousy for the heavenly Master's honour. His servant is to be nobly indifferent to the world's thought and word where he is sure that God and the world antagonize. But he is to be sensitively attentive to the world's observation where the world, more or less acquainted with the Christian precept or principle, and more or less conscious of its truth and right, is watching, maliciously or it may be wistfully, to see if it governs the Christian's practice. In view of this the man will never be content even with the satisfaction of his own conscience; he will set himself not only to do right, but to be seen to do it. He will not only be true to a monetary trust, for example; he will take care that the proofs of his fidelity shall be open. He will not only mean well towards others; he will take care that his manner and bearing, his dealings and intercourse, shall unmistakably breathe the Christian air.

If possible, as regards your side, (the "your" is as emphatic as possible in position and 341 in meaning,) living at peace with all men; yes, even in pagan and hostile Rome. A peculiarly Christian principle speaks here. The men who had "given over their bodies a living sacrifice" might think, imaginably, that their duty was to court the world's enmity, to tilt as it were against its spears, as if the one supreme call was to collide, to fall, and to be glorified. But this would be fanaticism; and the Gospel is never fanatical, for it is the law of love. The surrendered Christian is not, as such, an aspirant for even a martyr's fame, but the servant of God and man. If martyrdom crosses his path, it is met as duty; but he does not court it as éclat. And what is true of martyrdom is of course true of every lower and milder form of the conflict of the Church, and of the Christian, in the world.

Nothing more nobly evidences the divine origin of the Gospel than this essential precept; "as far as it lies with you, live peaceably with all men." Such wise and kind forbearance and neighbourliness would never have been bound up with the belief of supernatural powers and hopes, if those powers and hopes had been the mere issue of human exaltation, of natural enthusiasm. The supernatural of the Gospel leads to nothing but rectitude and considerateness, in short to nothing but love, between man and man. And why? Because it is indeed divine; it is the message and gift of the living Son of God, in all the truth and majesty of His rightfulness. All too early in the history of the Church "the crown of martyrdom" became an object of enthusiastic ambition. But that was not because of the teaching of the Crucified, nor of His suffering Apostles. Not avenging yourselves, beloved; no, give place to the wrath; let the angry opponent, the dread 342 persecutor, have his way, so far as your resistance or retaliation is concerned. "Beloved, let us love" (1 John iv. 7); with that strong and conquering love which wins by suffering. And do not fear lest eternal justice should go by default; there is One who will take care of that matter; you may leave it with Him. For it stands written (Deut. xxxii. 35), "To Me belongs vengeance; I will recompense, saith the Lord." "But if" 220220Read, ἀλλ' ἐὰν. (and again he quotes the older Scriptures, finding in the Proverbs (xxv. 21, 22) the same oracular authority as in the Pentateuch), "but if thy enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for so doing thou wilt heap coals of fire on his head"; taking the best way to the only "vengeance" which a saint can wish, namely, your "enemy's" conviction of his wrong, the rising of a burning shame in his soul, and the melting of his spirit in the fire of love. Be not thou conquered by the evil, but conquer, in the good, the evil.

"In the good"; as if surrounded by it,221221We are aware that not seldom in the N. T. ἐν represents the Hebrew ב (of בכלם) in its familiar instrumental meaning, without any definite trace of local imagery. But where the more literal rendering has an obvious fitness it is best to retain it. Thus we render ἐν here by "by" not "in." moving invulnerable, in its magic circle, through "the contradiction of sinners," "the provoking of all men." The thought is just that of Psal. xxxi. 18, 19: "How great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man; Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from 343 the strife of tongues." "The good" of this sentence of St Paul's is no vague and abstract thing; it is "the gift of God" (vi. 28); it is the life eternal found and possessed in union with Christ, our Righteousness, our Sanctification, our Redemption. Practically,222222Though the τῳ ἀγαθῳ of the Greek is certainly neuter, by its balance with τὸ κακόν. it is "not It but He." The Roman convert who should find it more than possible to meet his enemy with love, to do him positive good in his need, with a conquering simplicity of intention, was to do so not so much by an internal conflict between his "better self" and his worse, as by the living power of Christ received in his whole being; by "abiding in Him."

It is so now, and for ever. The open secret of divine peace and love is what it was; as necessary, as versatile, as victorious. And its path of victory is as straight and as sure as of old. And the precept to tread that path, daily and hourly, if occasion calls, is still as divinely binding as it ever was for the Christian, if indeed he has embraced "the mercies of God," and is looking to his Lord to be evermore "transfigured, by the renewing of his mind."

As we review this rich field of the flowers, and of the gold, of holiness, this now completed paragraph of epigrammatic precepts, some leading and pervading principles emerge. We see first that the sanctity of the Gospel is no hushed and cloistered "indifferentism." It is a thing intended for the open field of human life; to be lived out "before the sons of men." A strong positive element is in it. The saint is to "abominate the evil"; not only to deprecate it, and deplore. He 344 is to be energetically "in earnest." He is to "glow" with the Spirit, and to "rejoice" in the hope of glory. He is to take practical, provident pains to live not only aright, but manifestly aright, in ways which "all men" can recognize. Again, his life is to be essentially social. He is contemplated as one who meets other lives at every turn, and he is never to forget or neglect his relation to them. Particularly in the Christian Society, he is to cherish the "family affection" of the Gospel; to defer to fellow Christians in a generous humility; to share his means with the poor among them; to welcome the strangers of them to his house. He is to think it a sacred duty to enter into the joys and the sorrows round him. He is to keep his sympathies open for despised people, and for little matters. Then again, and most prominently after all, he is to be ready to suffer, and to meet suffering with a spirit far greater than that of only resignation. He is to bless his persecutor; he is to serve his enemy in ways most practical and active; he is to conquer him for Christ, in the power of a divine communion.

Thus, meanwhile, the life, so positive, so active in its effects, is to be essentially all the while a passive, bearing, enduring, life. Its strength is to spring not from the energies of nature, which may or may not be vigorous in the man, but from an internal surrender to the claim and government of his Lord. He has "presented himself to God" (vi. 13); he has "presented his body, a living sacrifice" (xii. 1). He has recognized, with a penitent wonder and joy, that he is but the limb of a Body, and that his Head is the Lord. His thought is now not for his personal rights, his individual exaltation, but for the glory of his Head, for the fulfilment of the thought of his Head, and for the health and wealth 345 of the Body, as the great vehicle in the world of the gracious will of the Head.

It is among the chief and deepest of the characteristics of Christian ethics, this passive root below a rich growth and harvest of activity. All through the New Testament we find it expressed or suggested. The first Beatitude uttered by the Lord (Matt. v. 3) is given to "the poor, the mendicant (πτωχοί), in spirit." The last (John xx. 29) is for the believer, who trusts without seeing. The radiant portrait of holy Love (1 Cor. xiii.) produces its effect, full of indescribable life as well as beauty, by the combination of almost none but negative touches; the "total abstinence" of the loving soul from impatience, from envy, from self-display, from self-seeking, from brooding over wrong, from even the faintest pleasure in evil, from the tendency to think ill of others. Everywhere the Gospel bids the Christian take sides against himself. He is to stand ready to forego even his surest rights, if only he is hurt by so doing; while on the other hand he is watchful to respect even the least obvious rights of others, yea, to consider their weaknesses, and their prejudices, to the furthest just limit. He is "not to resist evil"; in the sense of never fighting for self as self. He is rather to "suffer himself to be defrauded" (1 Cor. vi. 7) than to bring discredit on his Lord in however due a course of law. The straits and humiliations of his earthly lot, if such things are the will of God for him, are not to be materials for his discontent, or occasions for his envy, or for his secular ambition. They are to be his opportunities for inward triumph; the theme of a "song of the Lord," in which he is to sing of strength perfected in weakness, of a power not his own "overshadowing" him (2 Cor. xii. 9, 10).

Such is the passivity of the saints, deep beneath 346 their serviceable activity. The two are in vital connexion. The root is not the accident but the proper antecedent of the product. For the secret and unostentatious surrender of the will, in its Christian sense, is no mere evacuation, leaving the house swept but empty; it is the reception of the Lord of life into the open castle of the City of Mansoul. It is the placing in His hands of all that the walls contain. And placed in His hands, the castle, and the city, will shew at once, and continually more and more, that not only order but life has taken possession. The surrender of the Moslem is, in its theory, a mere submission. The surrender of the Gospel is a reception also; and thus its nature is to come out in "the fruit of the Spirit."

Once more, let us not forget that the Apostle lays his main emphasis here rather on being than on doing. Nothing is said of great spiritual enterprises; everything has to do with the personal conduct of the men who, if such enterprises are done, must do them. This too is characteristic of the New Testament. Very rarely do the Apostles say anything about their converts' duty, for instance, to carry the message of Christ around them in evangelistic aggression. Such aggression was assuredly attempted, and in numberless ways, by the primeval Christians, from those who were "scattered abroad" (Acts viii. 4) after the death of Stephen onwards. The Philippians (ii. 15, 16) "shone as lights in the world, holding out the word of life." The Ephesians (v. 13) penetrated the surrounding darkness, being themselves "light in the Lord." The Thessalonians (1, i. 8) made their witness felt "in Macedonia, and Achaia, and in every place." The Romans, encouraged by St Paul's presence and sufferings, "were bold to speak the word without fear" (Phil. i. 14). 347 St John (3 Ep. 7) alludes to missionaries who, "for the Name's sake, went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles."

Yet is it not plain that, when the Apostles thought of the life and zeal of their converts, their first care, by far, was that they should be wholly conformed to the will of God in personal and social matters? This was the indispensable condition to their being, as a community, what they must be if they were to prove true witnesses and propagandists for their Lord.

God forbid that we should draw from this phenomenon one inference, however faint, to thwart or discredit the missionary zeal now in our day rising like a fresh, pure tide in the believing Church. May our Master continually animate His servants in the Church at home to seek the lost around them, to recall the lapsed with the voice of truth and love. May He multiply a hundredfold the scattered host of His "witnesses in the uttermost parts of the earth," through the dwelling-places of those eight hundred millions who are still pagan, not to speak of the lesser yet vast multitudes of misbelievers, Mahometan and Jewish. But neither in missionary enterprise, nor in any sort of activity for God and man, is this deep suggestion of the Epistles to be forgotten. What the Christian does is even more important than what he says. What he is is the all-important antecedent to what he does. He is "nothing yet as he ought to" be if, amidst even innumerable efforts and aggressions, he has not "presented his body a living sacrifice" for his Lord's purposes, not his own; if he has not learnt, in his Lord, an unaffected love, a holy family affection, a sympathy with griefs and joys around him, a humble esteem of himself, and the blessed art of giving way to wrath, and of overcoming evil in "the good" of the presence of the Lord.


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