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14. The Weak and the Strong
1But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples. 2One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. 3Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. 5One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. 6He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. 8For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God. 11For it is written,
As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow,
And every tongue shall confess to God.
12So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling. 14I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. 16Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. 19So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another. 20Overthrow not for meat's sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth. 22The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth. 23But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
1. Him indeed, etc. He passes on now to lay down a precept especially necessary for the instruction of the Church, — that they who have made the most progress in Christian doctrine should accommodate themselves to the more ignorant, and employ their own strength to sustain their weakness; for among the people of God there are some weaker than others, and who, except they are treated with great tenderness and kindness, will be discouraged, and become at length alienated from religion. And it is very probable that this happened especially at that time; for the Churches were formed of both Jews and Gentiles; some of whom, having been long accustomed to the rites of the Mosaic law, having been brought up in them from childhood, were not easily drawn away from them; and there were others who, having never learnt such things, refused a yoke to which they had not been accustomed. 413413 Some, as Haldane, have found fault with this classification, as there is nothing in the chapter which countenances it. But as the Apostle’s object throughout the epistle was to reconcile the Jews and Gentiles, there is reason sufficient to regard them as the two parties here intended: and, as Chalmers justly observes, it is more probable that the Gentiles were the despisers, inasmuch as the Jews, who, like Paul, had got over their prejudices, were no doubt disposed to sympathize with their brethren, who were still held fast by them. — Ed.
Now, as man’s disposition is to slide from a difference in opinion to quarrels and contentions, the Apostle shows how they who thus vary in their opinions may live together without any discord; and he prescribes this as the best mode, — that they who are strong should spend their labor in assisting the weak, and that they who have made the greatest advances should bear with the more ignorant. For God, by making us stronger than others, does not bestow strength that we may oppress the weak; nor is it the part of Christian wisdom to be above measure insolent, and to despise others. The import then of what he addresses to the more intelligent and the already confirmed, is this, — that the ampler the grace which they had received from the Lord, the more bound they were to help their neighbors.
Not for the debatings of questions. 414414 Non ad disceptationes quaestionum, μὴ εἰς διακρίσεις διαλογισμῶν; “non ad altercationes disceptationum — not for the altercations of disputings” or debatings, Beza; “not to debates about matter in doubt,” Doddridge; “not in order to the strifes of disputations,” Macknight. Both words are in the plural number; therefore to give the first the sense of “judging,” as Hodge does, cannot be right; for in that case it would have been in the singular number. The words may be rendered, “no for the solutions of doubts.” One of the meanings of the first word, according to Hesychius, is διάλυσις — untying, loosening, dissolving; and for the latter, see Luke 24:38, and 1 Timothy 2:8. according to the frequent import of the preposition εἰς, the sentence may be thus paraphrased, “Him who is weak in the faith receive, but not that ye may solve his doubts,” or, “debate in reasonings,” or, “contend in disputations.” — Ed. This is a defective sentence, as the word which is necessary to complete the sense is wanting. It appears, however, evident, that he meant nothing else than that the weak should not be wearied with fruitless disputes. But we must remember the subject he now handles: for as many of the Jews still clave to the shadows of the law, he indeed admits, that this was a fault in them; he yet requires that they should be for a time excused; for to press the matter urgently on them might have shaken their faith. 415415 Scott’s remarks on this verse are striking and appropriate, — “Notwithstanding,” he says, “the authority vested by Christ in his Apostles, and their infallibility in delivering his doctrine to mankind, differences of opinion prevailed even among real Christians; nor did St. Paul, by an express decision and command, attempt to put a final termination to them. A proposition indeed may be certain and important truth; yet a man cannot receive it without due preparation of mind and heart; — so that a compelled assent to any doctrine, or conformity to any outward observances, without conviction, would in general be hypocrisy, and entirely unavailing. So essential are the rights and existence of private judgment, in all possible cases, to the exercise of true religion! and so useless an encumbrance would an infallible judge be, for deciding controversies, and producing unanimity among Christians!”
He then calls those contentious questions which disturb a mind not yet sufficiently established, or which involve it in doubts. It may at the same time be proper to extend this farther, even to any thorny and difficult questions, by which weak consciences, without any edification, may be disquieted and disturbed. We ought then to consider what questions any one is able to bear, and to accommodate our teaching to the capacity of individuals.
2. Let him who believes, etc. What Erasmus has followed among the various readings I know not; but he has mutilated this sentence, which, in Paul’s words, is complete; and instead of the relative article
he has improperly introduced alius — one, “One indeed believes,” etc. That I take the infinitive for an imperative, ought not to appear unnatural nor strained, for it is a mode of speaking very usual with Paul.
This is true, but the passage here seems not to require such a construction. Both sentences are declarative, announcing a fact respecting two parties: the one believed he might eat everything; the other did eat only herbs. The relative ὃς, when repeated, often means “one,” as in Romans
13:5, and in 1 Corinthians 11:21: and the article ὁ stands here for that repetition; an example of which Raphelius adduces from the Greek classics.
Some think that this abstinence from meat was not peculiar to the Jews; but that some Gentiles also had scruples on the subject. It is true that heathens, who held the transmigration of souls, did not eat flesh: but it is not likely that abstinence, arising from such an absurd notion, would have been thus treated by the Apostle. It indeed appears evident, that the abstinence here referred to did arise from what was regarded to be the will of God: and though abstinence from all animal food was not enjoined on the Jews, yet it appears from history that Jews, living among heathens, wholly abstained, owing to the fear they had of being in any way contaminated. This was the case with Daniel and his companions, Daniel 1:8-16. Professor Hodge says, in a note on this passage, “Josephus states in his life (chapter 23) that certain Jewish priests, while at Rome, lived entirely upon fruit, from the dread of eating anything unclean.” We may also suppose that some of the Essenes, who abstained from meat and from wine, were among the early converts. — Ed. He then calls those believers who were endued with a conscience fully satisfied; to these he allowed the use of all things without any difference. In the mean time the weak did eat herbs, and abstained from those things, the use of which he thought was not lawful. If the common version be more approved, the meaning then will be, — that it is not right that he who freely eats all things, as he believes them to be lawful, should require those, who are yet tender and weak in faith, to walk by the same rule. But to render the word sick, as some have done, is absurd.
3. Let not him who eats, etc. He wisely and suitably meets the faults of both parties. They who were strong had this fault, — that they despised those as superstitious who were scrupulous about insignificant things, and also derided them: these, on the other hand, were hardly able to refrain from rash judgments, so as not to condemn what they did not follow; for whatever they perceived to be contrary to their own sentiments, they thought was evil. Hence he exhorts the former to refrain from contempt, and the latter from excessive moroseness. And the reason which he adds, as it belongs to both parties, ought to be applied to the two clauses, — “When you see,” he says, “a man illuminated with the knowledge of God, you have evidence enough that he is received by the Lord; if you either despise or condemn him, you reject him whom God has embraced.” 417417 The last clause is by Haldane confined to the strong, and he objects to this extension of it; and certainly the following verse is in favor of his view, for the weak, the condemner, is the person reproved, and therefore the strong is he who to his own master stands or falls. The condemner throughout is the weak, and the despised is the strong. — Ed
4. Who art thou who judgest, etc. “As you would act uncourteously, yea, and presumptuously among men, were you to bring another man’s servant, under your own rules, and try all his acts by the rule of your own will; so you assume too much, if you condemn anything in God’s servant, because it does not please you; for it belongs not to you to prescribe to him what to do and what not to do, nor is it necessary for him to live according to your law.”
Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two; for we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment. Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.
To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant doeth: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.” And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace.
But by referring to the power of God, he means not simply, as though he had said, that God can do this if he will; but, after the usual manner of Scripture, he connects God’s will with his power: and yet he speaks not here of perpetuity, as though they must stand to the end whom God has once raised up; but he only reminds us, that we are to entertain a good hope, and that our judgments should lean this way; as he also teaches us in another place,
“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)
In short, Paul shows to what side their judgments incline, in whom love abounds.
5. One indeed, etc. He had spoken before of scruples in the choice of meats; he now adds another example of difference, that is, as to days; and both these arose from Judaism. For as the Lord in his law made a difference between meats and pronounced some to be unclean, the use of which he prohibited, and as he had also appointed festal and solemn days and commanded them to be observed, the Jews, who had been brought up from their childhood in the doctrine of the law, would not lay aside that reverence for days which they had entertained from the beginning, and to which through life they had been accustomed; nor could they have dared to touch these meats from which they had so long abstained. That they were imbued with these notions, was an evidence of their weakness; they would have thought otherwise, had they possessed a certain and a clear knowledge of Christian liberty. But in abstaining from what they thought to be unlawful, they evidenced piety, as it would have been a proof of presumption and contempt, had they done anything contrary to the dictates of conscience.
Here then the Apostle applies the best rule, when he bids every one to be fully assured as to his own mind; by which he intimates that there ought to be in Christians such a care for obedience, that they do nothing, except what they think, or rather feel assured, is pleasing to God. 418418 “Unusquisque sententiae suae certus sit;” ἕκαστος ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ νοὶ πληροφορείσθω; “unusquisque in animo suo plene certus esto — let every one be fully sure in his own mind,” Beza, Pareus; “let every one be convinced in his mind,” Macknight; “let every one freely enjoy his own sentiment,” Doddridge This last is by no means the sense: Our own version is the best and the most literal, “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind;” and with which Calvin’s exposition perfectly agrees. For the meaning of the verb here see Romans 4:21. “The Greek word is a metaphor borrowed from ships, which are carried with full sail, and signifieth a most certain persuasion of the truth.” — Leigh. The certain persuasion here refers to both parties — the eater and the abstainer: both were to do what they were fully convinced was agreeable to the will of God. — Ed. And this ought to be thoroughly borne in mind, that it is the first principle of a right conduct, that men should be dependent on the will of God, and never allow themselves to move even a finger, while the mind is doubtful and vacillating; for it cannot be otherwise, but that rashness will soon pass over into obstinacy when we dare to proceed further than what we are persuaded is lawful for us. If any object and say, that infirmity is ever perplexing, and that hence such certainty as Paul requires cannot exist in the weak: to this the plain answer is, — That such are to be pardoned, if they keep themselves within their own limits. For Paul’s purpose was none other than to restrain undue liberty, by which it happens, that many thrust themselves, as it were, at random, into matters which are doubtful and undetermined. Hence Paul requires this to be adopted, — that the will of God is to preside over all our actions.
6. He who regards a day, etc. Since Paul well knew that a respect for days proceeded from ignorance of Christ, it is not probable that such a corruption was altogether defended by him; and yet his words seem to imply, that he who regarded days committed no sin; for nothing but good can be accepted by God. Hence, that you may understand his purpose, it is necessary to distinguish between the notion, which any one may have entertained as to the observance of days, and the observance itself to which he felt himself bound. The notion was indeed superstitious, nor does Paul deny this; for he has already condemned it by calling it infirmity, and he will again condemn it still more plainly. Now, that he who was held fast by this superstition, dared not to violate the solemnity of a particular day; this was approved by God, because he dared not to do any thing with a doubtful conscience. What indeed could the Jew do, who had not yet made such progress, as to be delivered from scruples about days? He had the word of God, in which the keeping of days was commended; there was a necessity laid on him by the law; and its abrogation was not clearly seen by him. Nothing then remained, but that he, waiting for a fuller revelation, should keep himself within the limits of his own knowledge, and not to avail himself of the benefit of liberty, before he embraced it by faith. 419419 It has been suggested as a question by some, whether the Christian Sabbath is included here? The very subject in hand proves that it is not. The subject discussed is the observance of Jewish days, as in Galatians 4:10, and Colossians 2:16, and not what belonged to Christians in common. — Ed.
The same also must be thought of him who refrained from unclean meats: for if he ate in a doubtful state of mind, it would not have been to receive any benefit, from God’s hand, but to lay his own hand on forbidden things. Let him then use other things, which he thinks is allowed to him, and follow the measure of his knowledge: he will thus give thanks to God; which he could not do, except he was persuaded that he is fed by God’s kindness. He is not then to be despised, as though he offended the Lord by this his temperance and pious timidity: and there is nothing unreasonable in the matter, if we say, that the modesty of the weak is approved by God, not on the ground of merit, but through indulgence.
But as he had before required an assurance of mind, so that no one ought rashly of his own will to do this or that, we ought to consider whether he is here exhorting rather than affirming; for the text would better flow in this strain, — “Let a reason for what he does be clear to every one; as an account must be given before the celestial tribunal; for whether one eats meat or abstains, he ought in both instances to have regard to God.” And doubtless there is nothing more fitted to restrain licentiousness in judging and to correct superstitions, than to be summoned before the tribunal of God: and hence Paul wisely sets the judge before all, to whose will they are to refer whatever they do. It is no objection that the sentence is affirmative; for he immediately subjoins, that no one lives or dies for himself; where he declares, not what men do, but commands what they ought to do.
Observe also what he says, — that we then eat to the Lord, or abstain, when we give thanks. Hence, eating is impure, and abstinence is impure, without thanksgiving. It is only the name of God, when invoked, that sanctifies us and all we have.
7. For no one of us, etc. He now confirms the former verse by an argument derived from the whole to a part, — that it is no matter of wonder that particular acts of our life should be referred to the Lord’s will, since life itself ought to be wholly spent to his glory; for then only is the life of a Christian rightly formed, when it has for its object the will of God. But if thou oughtest to refer whatever thou doest to his good pleasure, it is then an act of impiety to undertake anything whatever, which thou thinkest will displease him; nay, which thou art not persuaded will please him.
8. To the Lord we live, etc. This does not mean the same as when it is said in Romans 6:11, that we are made alive unto God by his Spirit, but that we conform to his will and pleasure, and design all things to his glory. Nor are we only to live to the Lord, but also to die; that is, our death as well as our life is to be referred to his will. He adds the best of reasons, for whether we live or die, we are his: and it hence follows, that he has full authority over our life and our death.
The application of this doctrine opens into a wide field. God thus claims authority over life and death, that his own condition might be borne by every one as a yoke laid on him; for it is but just that he should assign to every one his station and his course of life. And thus we are not only forbidden rashly to attempt this or that without God’s command, but we are also commanded to be patient under all troubles and losses. If at any time the flesh draws back in adversities, let it come to our minds, that he who is not free nor has authority over himself, perverts right and order if he depends not on the will of his lord. Thus also is taught us the rule by which we are to live and to die, so that if he extends our life in continual sorrows and miseries, we are not yet to seek to depart before our time; but if he should suddenly call us hence in the flower of our age, we ought ever to be ready for our departure.
9. For to this end Christ also died, etc. This is a confirmation of the reason which has been last mentioned; for in order to prove that we ought to live and to die to the Lord, he had said, that whether we live or die we are under the power of Christ. He now shows how rightly Christ claims this power over us, since he has obtained it by so great a price; for by undergoing death for our salvation, he has acquired authority over us which cannot be destroyed by death, and by rising again, he has received our whole life as his peculiar property. He has then by his death and resurrection deserved that we should, in death as well as in life, advance the glory of his name. The words arose and lived again mean, that by resurrection he attained a new state of life; and that as the life which he now possesses is subject to no change, his dominion over us is to be eternal.
10. But thou, why dost thou, etc. As he had made the life and death of us all subject to Christ, he now proceeds to mention the authority to judge, which the Father has conferred on him, together with the dominion over heaven and earth. He hence concludes, that it is an unreasonable boldness in any one to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which he alone has received from the Father.
But first, by the term brother, he checks this lust for judging; for since the Lord has established among us the right of a fraternal alliance, an equality ought to be preserved; every one then who assumes the character of a judge acts unreasonably. Secondly, he calls us before the only true judge, from whom no one can take away his power, and whose tribunal none can escape. As then it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; so it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother. A similar argument is mentioned by James, when he says, that “he who judges his brother, judges the law,” and that “he who judges the law, is not an observer of the law but a president;” and, on the other hand, he says, that “there is but one lawgiver, who can save and destroy.” (James 4:12.) He has ascribed tribunal to Christ, which means his power to judge, as the voice of the archangel, by which we shall be summoned, is called, in another place, a trumpet; for it will pierce, as it were with its sound, into the minds and ears of all. 423423 The words “We shall all stand,” etc., may be rendered, “We must all stand,” etc. It is indeed the future tense, but this is according to what is often the case in Hebrew, for in that language the future has frequently this meaning. Romans 13:12 may be rendered in the same manner, “So then every one of us must give account of himself to God.” — Ed.
11. As I live, etc. He seems to me to have quoted this testimony of the Prophet, not so much to prove what he had said of the judgment-seat of Christ, which was not doubted among Christians, as to show that judgment ought to be looked for by all with the greatest humility and lowliness of mind; and this is what the words import. He had first then testified by his own words, that the power to judge all men is vested in Christ alone; he now demonstrates by the words of the Prophet, that all flesh ought to be humbled while expecting that judgment; and this is expressed by the bending of the knee. But though in this passage of the Prophet the Lord in general foreshows that his glory should be known among all nations, and that his majesty should everywhere shine forth, which was then hid among very few, and as it were in an obscure corner of the world; yet if we examine it more closely, it will be evident that its complete fulfillment is not now taking place, nor has it ever taken place, nor is it to be hoped for in future ages. God does not now rule otherwise in the world than by his gospel; nor is his majesty otherwise rightly honored but when it is adored as known from his word. But the word of God has ever had its enemies, who have been perversely resisting it, and its despisers, who have ever treated it with ridicule, as though it were absurd and fabulous. Even at this day there are many such, and ever will be. It hence appears, that this prophecy is indeed begun to be fulfilled in this life, but is far from being completed, and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall ascend his tribunal: he has therefore suitably applied this testimony to the judgment-seat of Christ.
This is also a remarkable passage for the purpose of confirming our faith in the eternal divinity of Christ: for it is God who speaks here, and the God who has once for all declared, that he will not give his glory to another. (Isaiah 42:8.) Now if what he claims here to himself alone is accomplished in Christ, then doubtless he in Christ manifests himself And unquestionably the truth of this prophecy then openly appeared, when Christ gathered a people to himself from the whole world, and restored them to the worship of his majesty and to the obedience of his gospel. To this purpose are the words of Paul, when he says that God gave a name to his Christ, at which every knee should bow, (Philippians 2:10:) and it shall then still more fully appear, when he shall ascend his tribunal to judge the living and the dead; for all judgment in heaven and on earth has been given to him by the Father.
The words of the Prophet are, “Every tongue shall swear to me:” but as an oath is a kind of divine worship, the word which Paul uses, shall confess, does not vary in sense: 424424 The passage is from Isaiah 45:23. In two instances the Apostle gives the sense, and not the words. Instead of “by myself have I sworn,” he give the form of the oath, “As I live.” This is the manner in which God swears by himself, it is by his life — his eternal existence. Then the conclusion of the verse in Hebrew is, “every tongue shall swear,” that is, “unto me.” To swear to God or by his name is to avow allegiance to him, to profess or to confess his name. See Psalm 63:11; Isaiah 63:1; Zephaniah 1:5. The Apostle therefore does no more than interpret the Hebrew idiom when he says, “every tongue shall confess to God.” — Ed. for the Lord intended simply to declare, that all men should not only acknowledge his majesty, but also make a confession of obedience, both by the mouth and by the external gesture of the body, which he has designated by the bowing of the knee.
12. Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.
From the various significations of the word to judge, he has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place he forbids us to judge, that is, to condemn; in the second place he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment, so as not to give offense. He indeed indirectly reproves those malignant censors, who employ all their acuteness in finding out something faulty in the life of their brethren: he therefore bids them to
exercise wariness themselves; for by their neglect they often precipitate, or drive their brethren against some stumblingblock or another.
The two words, πρόσκομμα and σκάνδαλον, mean nearly the same thing, but with this difference, that the first seems to be an hindrance or an obstacle which occasions stumbling or falling, and the other is an obstacle which stops or impedes progress in the way. See
Matthew 16:23. The two parties, the strong and the weak, are here evidently addressed; the former was not, by eating, to put a stumblingblock in the way of the weak brother; nor was the weak, by condemning, to be a hindrance or impediment in the way of the strong so as to prevent him to advance in his course. Thus we see that forbearance is enjoined on both parties, though the
Apostle afterwards dwells more on what the strong was to do.
The clause might be thus rendered, —
“But rather judge it right to do this, —
not to lay before a brother a stumbling-stone, or an impediment.” — Ed.
14. I know, etc. To anticipate their objection, who made such progress in the gospel of Christ as to make no distinction between meats, he first shows what must be thought of meats when viewed in themselves; and then he subjoins how sin is committed in the use of them. He then declares, that no meat is impure to a right and pure conscience, and that there is no hindrance to a pure use of meats, except ignorance and infirmity; for when any imagines an impurity in them, he is not at liberty to use them. But he afterwards adds, that we are not only to regard meats themselves, but also the brethren before whom we eat: for we ought not to view the use of God’s bounty with so much indifference as to disregard love. His words then have the same meaning as though he had said, — “I know that all meats are clean, and therefore I leave to thee the free use of them; I allow thy conscience to be freed from all scruples: in short, I do not simply restrain thee from meats; but laying aside all regard for them, I still wish thee not to neglect thy neighbor.”
By the word common, in this place, he means unclean, and what is taken indiscriminately by the ungodly; and it is opposed to those things which had been especially set apart for the use of the faithful people. He says that he knew, and was fully convinced, that all meats are pure, in order to remove all doubts. He adds, in the Lord Jesus; for by his favor and grace it is, that all the creatures which were accursed in Adam, are blessed to us by the Lord. 427427 To elicit this meaning, which is in itself true, Calvin must have construed the sentence thus, “I know, and I am persuaded, that through the Lord Jesus nothing is of itself unclean:” but this is not the meaning. What the Apostle says is, that he knew, and was fully assured by the Lord Jesus, that is, by the teaching of his word Spirit, that nothing was in itself unclean, all ceremonial distinctions having been now removed and abolished. — Ed. He intended, however, at the same time, to set the liberty given by Christ in opposition to the bondage of the law, lest they thought that they were bound to observe those rites from which Christ had made them free. By the exception which he has laid down, we learn that there is nothing so pure but what may be contaminated by a corrupt conscience: for it is faith alone and godliness which sanctify all things to us. The unbelieving, being polluted within, defile all things by their very touch. (Titus 1:15.)
15. But if through meat thy brother is grieved, etc. He now explains how the offending of our brethren may vitiate the use of good things. And the first thing is, — that love is violated, when our brother is made to grieve by what is so trifling; for it is contrary to love to occasion grief to any one. The next thing is, — that when the weak conscience is wounded, the price of Christ’s blood is wasted; for the most abject brother has been redeemed by the blood of Christ: it is then a heinous crime to destroy him by gratifying the stomach; and we must be basely given up to our own lusts, if we prefer meat, a worthless thing, to Christ. 428428 From the words “destroy not,” etc., some have deduced the sentiment, that those for whom Christ died may perish for ever. It is neither wise nor just to draw a conclusion of this kind; for it is one that is negatived by many positive declarations of Scripture. Man’s inference, when contrary to God’s word, cannot be right. Besides, the Apostle’s object in this passage is clearly this, — to exhibit the sin of those who disregarded without saying that it actually effected that evil. Some have very unwisely attempted to obviate the inference above mentioned, by suggesting, that the destruction meant was that of comfort and edification. But no doubt the Apostle meant the ruin of the soul; hence the urgency of his exhortation, — “Do not act in such a way as tends to endanger the safety of a soul for whom Christ has shed his blood;” or, “Destroy not,” that is, as far as you can do so. Apostles and ministers are said to “save” men; some are exhorted here not to “destroy” them. Neither of these effects can follow, except in the first instance, God grants his blessing, and in the second his permission; and his permission as to his people he will never grant, as he has expressly told us. See John 10:27-29. — Ed. The third reason is, — that since the liberty attained for us by Christ is a blessing, we ought to take care, lest it should be evil spoken of by men and justly blamed, which is the case, when we unseasonably use God’s gifts. These reasons then ought to influence us, lest by using our liberty, we thoughtlessly cause offenses. 429429 “Vestrum bonum,” ὑμῶν τὸ ἀγαθόν. Some, such as Grotius and Hammond, Scott, Chalmers, etc., agree with Calvin, and view this “good,” or privilege, to be Christian liberty, or freedom from ceremonial observances, (see 1 Corinthians 10:29;) but Origen, Ambrose, Theodoret, Mede, etc., consider that the gospel is meant. The first opinion is the most suitable to the passage. — Ed.
17. For the kingdom of God, etc. He now, on the other hand, teaches us, that we can without loss abstain from the use of our liberty, because the kingdom of God does not consist in such things. Those things indeed, which are necessary either to build up or preserve the kingdom of God, are by no means to be neglected, whatever offenses may hence follow: but if for love’s sake it be lawful to abstain from meat, while God’s honor is uninjured, while Christ’s kingdom suffers no harm, while religion is not hindered, then they are not to be borne with, who for meat’s sake disturb the Church. He uses similar arguments in his first Epistle to the Corinthians:
“Meat,” he says, “for the stomach, and the stomach for meat; but God will destroy both,” (1 Corinthians 6:13:)
“If we eat, we shall not abound,” (1 Corinthians 8:8.)
By these words he meant briefly to show, that meat and drink were things too worthless, that on their account the course of the gospel should be impeded.
But righteousness and peace, etc. He, in passing, has set these in opposition to meat and drink; not for the purpose of enumerating all the things which constitute the kingdom of Christ, but of showing, that it consists of spiritual things. He has at the same time no doubt included in few words a summary of what it is; namely, that we, being well assured, have peace with God, and possess real joy of heart through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. But as I have said, these few things he has accommodated to his present subject. He indeed who is become partaker of true righteousness, enjoys a great and an invaluable good, even a calm joy of conscience; and he who has peace with God, what can he desire more? 430430 What is here said is no doubt true of the kingdom of God; but by considering what is afterwards said in the two following verses, we cannot well accede to this exposition. Righteousness, peace, and joy, mentioned here, are things acceptable to God and approved by men: they must then be things apparent and visible, which men see and observe; and to follow “the things of peace,” refers to the conduct. “Righteousness” then must mean here the doing of what is right and just towards one another; “peace,” concord and unanimity, as opposed to discord and contentions; “joy,” the fruit of this peaceable state, a cheering delight, a mutual rejoicing, instead of the sorrow and grief occasioned by discord; and these come “through the Holy Spirit” and are produced by him; and they are not the semblances of such virtues and graces, presented in some instances by false religions. See Galatians 5:22,23. Doddridge, Stuart, and Chalmers have viewed the passage in this light, though the latter, as well as Scott, seemed inclined to combine the two views: but this is to mix up things together unnecessarily, and to destroy the harmony of the context. — Ed.
By connecting peace and joy together, he seems to me to express the character of this joy; for however torpid the reprobate may be, or however they may elevate themselves, yet the conscience is not rendered calm and joyful, except when it feels God to be pacified and propitious to it; and there is no solid joy but what proceeds from this peace. And though it was necessary, when mention was made of these things, that the Spirit should have been declared as the author; yet he meant in this place indirectly to oppose the Spirit to external things, that we might know, that the things which belong to the kingdom of God continue complete to us without the use of meats.
18. For he who in these things, etc. An argument drawn from the effect: for it is impossible, but that when any one is acceptable to God and approved by men, the kingdom of God fully prevails and flourishes in him: he, who with a quiet and peaceful conscience serves Christ in righteousness, renders himself approved by men as well as by God. Wherever then there is righteousness and peace and spiritual joy, there the kingdom of God is complete in all its parts: it does not then consist of material things. But he says, that man is acceptable to God, because he obeys his will; he testifies that he is approved by men, because they cannot do otherwise than bear testimony to that excellency which they see with their eyes: not that the ungodly always favor the children of God; nay, when there is no cause, they often pour forth against them many reproaches, and with forged calumnies defame the innocent, and in a word, turn into vices things rightly done, by putting on them a malignant construction. But Paul speaks here of honest judgment, blended with no moroseness, no hatred, no superstition.
19. Let us then follow, etc. He recalls us, as much as possible, from a mere regard to meats, to consider those greater things which ought to have the first place in all our actions, and so to have the precedence. We must indeed eat, that we may live; we ought to live, that we may serve the Lord; and he serves the Lord, who by benevolence and kindness edifies his neighbor; for in order to promote these two things, concord and edification, all the duties of love ought to be exercised. Lest this should be thought of little moment, he repeats the sentence he had before announced, — that corruptible meat is not of such consequence that for its sake the Lord’s building should be destroyed. For wherever there is even a spark of godliness, there the work of God is to be seen; which they demolish, who by their unfeeling conduct disturb the conscience of the weak.
But it must be noticed, that edification is joined to peace; because some, not unfrequently, too freely indulge one another, so that they do much harm by their compliances. Hence in endeavoring to serve one another, discretion ought to be exercised, and utility regarded, so that we may willingly grant to our brother whatever may be useful to further his salvation. So Paul reminds us in another place: “All things,” he says, “are lawful to me; but all things are not expedient;” and immediately he adds the reason, “Because all things do not edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23.)
Nor is it also in vain that he repeats again, For meat destroy not, 432432 This is a similar, but not the same sentence as in Romans 14:15. The verb is different, κατάλυε; which means to undo, to loosen, to pull down; and as “work” follows, which, as Calvin and others think, is to be understood of God’s building, the work of edifying or building up his people, the verb may in this sense be rendered here, “Pull not down the work of God.” But here, as in Romans 14:15, it is the tendency of the deed that is to be considered, and the effect as far as man’s doing was concerned. The Apostle says nothing of what God would do. — Ed. etc., intimating, that he required no abstinence, by which there would be, according to what he had said before, any loss to piety: though we eat not anything we please, but abstain from the use of meats for the sake of our brethren; yet the kingdom of God continues entire and complete.
20. All things are indeed pure, etc. By saying, that all things are pure, he makes a general declaration; and by adding, that it is evil for man to eat with offense, he makes an exception; as though he had said, — “Meat is indeed good, but to give offense is bad.” Now meat has been given to us, that we may eat it, provided love be observed: he then pollutes the use of pure meat, who by it violates love. Hence he concludes, that it is good to abstain from all things which tend to give offense to our brethren.
He mentions three things in order, to fall, to stumble, to be weakened: the meaning seems to be this, — “Let no cause of falling, no, nor of stumbling, no, nor of weakening, be given to the brethren.” For to be weakened is less than to stumble, and to stumble is less than to fall. He may be said to be weakened whose conscience wavers with doubt, — to stumble when the conscience is disturbed by some greater perplexity, and to fall when the individual is in a manner alienated from his attention to religion. 433433 What is said here proves what is stated in a note on Romans 14:13; that is, that σκάνδαλον is a less evil than πρόσκομμα, only that the idea of stumbling, instead of hindrance or impediment, is given here to the former word. The Apostle still adopts, as it were, the ascending scale. He first mentions the most obvious effect, the actual fall, the extreme evil, and then the next to it, the obstacle in the way; and, in the third place, the weakening of the faith of the individual. The real order of the process is the reverse, — the weakening, then the impediment, and, lastly, the stumblingblock which occasions the fall. — Ed.
22. Hast thou faith? In order to conclude, he shows in what consists the advantage of Christian liberty: it hence appears, that they boast falsely of liberty who know not how to make a right use of it. He then says, that liberty really understood, as it is that of faith, has properly a regard to God; so that he who is endued with a conviction of this kind, ought to be satisfied with peace of conscience before God; nor is it needful for him to show before men that he possesses it. It hence follows, that if we offend our weak brethren by eating meats, it is through a perverse opinion; for there is no necessity to constrain us.
It is also plainly evident how strangely perverted is this passage by some, who hence conclude, that it is not material how devoted any one may be to the observance of foolish and superstitious ceremonies, provided the conscience remains pure before God. Paul indeed intended nothing less, as the context clearly shows; for ceremonies are appointed for the worship of God, and they are also a part of our confession: they then who tear off faith from confession, take away from the sun its own heat. But Paul handles nothing of this kind in this place, but only speaks of our liberty in the use of meat and drink.
Happy is he who condemns not himself, etc. Here he means to teach us, first, how we may lawfully use the gifts of God; and, secondly, how great an impediment ignorance is; and he thus teaches us, lest we should urge the uninstructed beyond the limits of their infirmity. But he lays down a general truth, which extends to all actions, — “Happy,” he says, “is he who is not conscious of doing wrong, when he rightly examines his own deeds.” For it happens, that many commit the worst of crimes without any scruple of conscience; but this happens, because they rashly abandon themselves, with closed eyes, to any course to which the blind and violent intemperance of the flesh may lead them; for there is much difference between insensibility and a right judgment. He then who examines things is happy, provided he is not bitten by an accusing conscience, after having honestly considered and weighed matters; for this assurance alone can render our works pleasing to God. Thus is removed that vain excuse which many allege on the ground of ignorance; inasmuch as their error is connected with insensibility and sloth: for if what they call good intention is sufficient, their examination, according to which the Spirit of God estimates the deeds of men, is superfluous. 434434 The version of Calvin is, “Beatus qui non judicat seipsum in eo quod examinat,” μακάριος ὅ μὴ κρίνων ἑαυτὸν ἐν ᾦ δοκιμάζει; the latter part is rendered by Beza, and Piscator, “in eo quod approbat — in that which he approves;” by Doddridge, “in the thing which he alloweth;” by Macknight, “by what he approveth.” The reference is no doubt to the strong, who had “faith,” who believed all meats lawful. The verb means to try, to examine, as well as to approve; but the latter seems to be its meaning here. To approve and to have faith appears in this case to be the same: then to have faith and not to abuse it by giving offense to a brother was to be a happy man, who did not condemn himself. The meaning then most suitable to the passage is this, “Happy the man! who condemns not himself by what he approves,” that is, by eating meat to the annoyance and stumbling of the weak. — Ed.
23. But he who is undecided, etc. He very fitly expresses in one word the character of that mind which vacillates and is uncertain as to what ought to be done; for he who is undecided undergoes alternate changes, and in the midst of his various deliberations is held suspended by uncertainty. As then the
main thing in a good work is the persuasion of a mind conscious of being right before God, and as it were a calm assurance, nothing is more opposed to the acceptance of our works than vacillation.
The Greek is ὁ διακρινόμενος, “he who discerns,” that is, a difference as to meats; so Doddridge, Macknight, and Chalmers regard its meaning.
Beza has “qui dubitat — who doubts,” and so our version. The word used by Calvin is dijudicat, which properly means to judge between things, to discern, but
according to his explanation it means to judge in two ways, to be undecided.
The verb no doubt admits of these two meanings; it is used evidently in the sense of making or putting a difference, but only, as some say, in the active voice. There are indeed two places where it seems to have this meaning in its passive or middle form, James 2:4, and Jude 1:22. But as Paul has before used it in this Epistle, Romans 4:20, in the sense of hesitating, staggering, or doubting, we may reasonably suppose that it has this meaning here, and especially as in every place where he expresses the other idea, he has employed the active form. See 1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 11:29,31; etc. — Ed. And, oh! that this truth were fixed in the minds of men, that nothing ought to be attempted except what the mind feels assured is acceptable to God, men would not then make such an uproar, as they often do now, nor waver, nor blindly hurry onward wherever their own imagination may lead them. For if our way of living is to be confined to this moderation, that no one is to touch a morsel of meat with a doubting conscience, how much greater caution is to be exercised in the greatest things?
And whatever is not from faith, etc. The reason for this condemnation is, that every work, however splendid and excellent in appearance, is counted as sin, except it be founded on a right conscience; for God regards not the outward display, but the inward obedience of the heart, by this alone is an estimate made of our works. Besides, how can that be obedience, when any one undertakes what he is not persuaded is approved by God? Where then such a doubt exists, the individual is justly charged with prevarication; for he proceeds in opposition to the testimony of his, own conscience.
The word faith is to be taken here for a fixed persuasion of the mind, or, so to speak, for a firm assurance, and not that of any kind, but what is derived from the truth of God. Hence doubt or uncertainty vitiates all our actions, however specious they may otherwise be. Now, since a pious mind can never acquiesce with certainty in anything but the word of God, all fictitious modes of worship do in this case vanish away, and whatever works there may be which originate in the brains of men; for while everything which is not from faith is condemned, rejected is whatever is not supported and approved by God’s word. It is at the same time by no means sufficient that what we do is approved by the word of God, except the mind, relying on this persuasion, prepares itself cheerfully to do its work. Hence the first thing in a right conduct, in order that our minds may at no time fluctuate, is this, that we, depending on God’s word, confidently proceed wherever it may call us.