Romans 14Observe here, 1. The person described, whom the apostle recommends to their charity and forbearance: Him that is weak in the faith. Not him that is sick unto death through fundamental error, but one that is sound in the faith, though weak in judgment; men of honest hearts, but weak heads.
Observe, 2. Here is an injunction of charity and Christian forbearance towards these weak ones: Receive them, take them into your houses, yea, into yur hearts; receive them into your society, into your communion, and let not difference in judgment cause any distance in affection.
Observe, 3. The limitation of this injunction: Receive him, but not by doubtful disputations: that is, "Do not quarrel or contend with him about his opinions, or fill his head full of curious and intricate questions, or trouble him with doubtful disputes."
Learn hence, That Christians are to receive such as are weak in the faith, into their hearts by love, without troubling their heads with perplexing disputes. Weak Christians cannot well judge of arguments: and practical piety, and Christian love, will much sooner rectify the judgment of the weak, than fierce argumentations.
Here the apostle declares the ground of difference that was between them; namely, the difference of meats. One thought all meats to be lawful under the gospel; another, rather than eat any meats forbidden by the law, will eat only herbs.
Where observe, How the church of God, in all ages, has been strangely divided about little and indifferent things. What jars and stirs were there between the eastern and western churches about the observation of Easter; about celebrating the Lord's supper with leavened or unleavened bread! And, verily, the fatal evils which our hot contentions have occasioned amongst ourselves, only about indifferent rites and ceremonies, tears of blood are not sufficient to bewail.
Observe next, The apostle's exhortation to the two contending parties, not to vilify or set at nought one another, condemning each other as humorous and scrupulous, much less as obstinate and wilful; but especially, not upon this occasion to separate from, or break communion with, each other. Let not him that eateth all kinds of meats despise him that through weakness durst not eat of any.
As if the apostle had said, "Whilst there is error in our understandings, weakness in our judgments, narrowness in our faculties, differences will arise in the church of God: but take care that where there is not compliance, that yet there may be peace. Despise not, judge not one another."
Observe lastly, the reason offered by the apostle, why they should receive their weak brother; because God hath received him. God, that is most holy, and hateth sin, receiveth such; therefore so must you, if you please God. Why should you refuse to hold communion with such as hold communion with God?
Another reason is here produced why we should not rashly censure or judge our brother differing in judgment from us about lesser things; namely, because he is God's servant; and it is God's sentence and not ours, which he must stand or fall by. And if these differences shall not hinder God's acceptance of him to salvation, why should they hinder us in accepting of him into our communion? To love, is our duty: to judge, is God's prerogative: Let us be more in charity, and less in censure.
Learn hence, That the scripture forbids us to judge one another as having no grace, for the doing or not doing of those things which are consistent with a present state of grace.
The second case, as to indifferent things, is about the observation of days. Many of the believing Jews could not be taken off from solemnizing those feasts which were of God's own founding and instituting among the Jews. Another looked upon them truly as abrogated by Christ. Now the apostle advises, that neither the one nor the other, neither he that regardeth, nor he that regardeth not those days, should be judged, or hardly censured for so doing, because he acts therein according to the direction of his conscience. He that according to his light doth either eat or not eat such meats, keep or not keep such days, intends or designs it as an act of obedience to God; praying for, and giving thanks unto Almighty God for his acceptance. So then, if they both aim at the same end, they ought not to condemn one another for each other's act.
Learn hence, That persons disagreeing with us, and differing from us in lesser things, from a real principle of conscience, firmly persuaded that what they do, or refuse to do, is for the glory of God, and out of a sincere desire to please him, ought not to be judged by us, but left to the righteous judgment of the heart-searching God.
Here our apostle proves what he had before asserted, that Christians in their particular actions have a special regard to the Lord and his honour, because they devote themselves, living and dying, to the service of him, and his glory: None of us, Christians, lives unto himself, but we spend our lives in his service; neither do we die unto ourselves, nor when we please, but when he appoints: therefore living or dying we are his.
From the words, absolutely considered, we may learn, That the best evidence we can have that we are Christ's servants, is this, when we make our aim and scope, our design and care, to live and to die unto Christ our Lord, and not unto ourselves.
Question "But when may we be said to live unto the Lord, and to die unto the Lord?"
Answer When we do not frame our lives after our own wills, but according to the word and will of God, making that the rule and ground of all our actions; when the great end why we desire life, is to do service for Christ on earth, and to be fitted by him for the fruition of him in heaven.
Finally, then we live and die unto the Lord, when we are willing to be at the disposal of God, both for life and death; and this as to time, manner, and means; yea, all circumstances whatsoever, both of life and death. When a man is willing to lay down his life for the Lord, or at the call of the Lord, it is a certain evidence that he liveth and dieth to the Lord.
Three things are here observable: 1. That Jesus Christ, by virtue of his meritorious passion, and glorious resurrection, was constituted Lord of all things, and has power to judge all persons. To this end Christ died, rose again, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living: that is, be the judge and rewarder of all mankind.
Observe, 2. That to this supreme and absolute Lord every one of us must give an account of our actions, and from him receive our final doom: We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
Observe, 3. The argument which the apostle draws from hence to dissuade us from censuring and judging one another; and that is drawn from the consideration of the last and final judgment, which we are all hastening apace unto. Why dost thou judge thy brother? We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
As if the apostle had said, "Let there be a mutual forbearance among Christians: do not rashly judge and uncharitably censure one another, because in some little things you differ from each other. What though your brother cannot in conscience comply with your opinion or practice; must you presently accuse him of stomach, and condemn him for stubbornness, calling his non-compliance obstinacy and humour, pride and singularity, which he calls conscience towards God? Remember the judge standeth at the door, and you must suddenly stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; where every one of us must give an account of himself to God."
Where note, The universality of the subjects rendering this account: Every one of us. The subject-matter of which the account must be rendered; and that is of ourselves. As also the designation and description of the person unto whom this account must be rendered; and that is, to the all-seeing and heart-searching God; to God the Creator, but especially to Christ the Lord, the Redeemer, who is such a judge as the subtilty of the wisest cannot delude; such a judge as there is no appealing from, no repealing of his sentence: Therefore judge nothing before the time, till the Lord cometh.
Observe here, 1. How the apostle advises persons to be very cautious in the use of their Christian liberty: Put not a stumbling-block, or an occasion of falling, into your brother's way.
Learn thence, That to use our Christian liberty when it may be an occasion of sin, by laying a stumbling-block before others, although we do not use it with an intent or purpose to make them stumble, is very sinful.
Observe, 2. The apostle's final determination concerning those meats which some of the Jews scrupled as unclean, was taken away by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe, 3. That although the apostle pronounces that there is no meat unclean in itself, yet notwithstanding this, to him that esteemeth any thing unclean, to him, as to the use of it, it is unclean.
Observe, 4. With what tenderness the apostle directs all Christians to carry themselves towards their weaker brethren, even to the abridging themselves of their lawful liberty in the use of indifferent things, rather than give the weak an occasion of offence. If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, (though no meat be unclean of itself,) yet in eating thou doest amiss, for three reasons:
(1.) Because it is against the laws of charity so to act in things indifferent: If thy brother be grieved, now walkest thou uncharitably.
(2.) Because it is the way to occasion him to sin, and consequently to do what in us lies to bring destruction upon him, for whom Christ died: Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
(3.) Because eating thus with offence to the weak, causeth Christian liberty, purchased by Christ, to be evil spoken of before the world: Let not then your good be evil spoken of.
The sum of the whole is this, To show how uncharitable, unsafe, and unchristian a thing it is, to make such an undue use of our Christian liberty, as may occasion our weak brother to fall or stumble.
That is, "The spiritual kingdom of God and Christ in the world consisteth not in these little things of meat and drink, but in righteousness towards God and our neighbour; in peace, that is, in peaceableness of disposition, in Christian love, concord, and unity; and in joy in the Holy Ghost, that is, in the joyful sense of the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. In these things Christianity consists."
Learn hence, That the essence of Christianity, and the life of religion, is far from consisting in little and indifferent things: and therefore for persons to lay a mighty stress upon them one way or the other, is neither wise nor safe.
Learn, 2. That righteousness and holiness, charity and peaceableness, love and joy, and such like fruits of the Holy Spirit; these are the great things wherein Christianity, or the kingdom of Christ, consists, and in which the life and soul of religion is found: The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
He that in these things, that is, in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, serveth Christ, is acceptable to God. That is, this shows and evidences that he is a person accepted with God, and approved of men, of wise, charitable, and good men; yea, the natural consciences of men in general will applaud and approve what is done by him, notwithstanding the fore-mentioned difference in lesser things concerning meats and days.
Learn hence, That the love and practice of religious duties, such as righteousness and peace, is a clear and strong argument of a person's acceptance with God.
Learn, 2. That such as are for those things accepted by God, ought by no means, for differing from us in lesser things, to be disowned of us, and cast out of communion by us.
This verse is an inference drawn from the foregoing discourse. "Seeing the kingdom of God, or our common Christianity, doth not consist either in the doing or declining of these little indifferent things, let us by no means hazard the peace of the church, or break communion with such as in their sentiments differ from us; much less let us despise and set at naught each other, upon the account of these small, yet unhappy differences. But let us earnestly pursue the things that make for the common peace of all Christians, and the things by which we may further each other's edification and salvation."
Learn hence, That in case of any emergent differences among Christians, it ought to be the joint care and endeavour of all and every one to pursue the things which make for peace, and that this peace be such as will consist with, and greatly help forward, the good of the church: Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
That is, for meat destroy not thou the work of God. Do not thou, for so inconsiderable a matter as eating is, endanger the Christianity of thy brother, or hazard the peace of the church, and cause any through scandal to fall off from their Christian profession. If any of you say, that all meats are clean, and therefore lawful; in answer, they are certainly so in themselves, but yet it is your sin if you use them to the scandal and offence of others, that are not satisfied in the lawfulness of them." It is most certianly the duty of Christians to deny themselves the use of their Christian liberty in some things, when by making use of it they may endanger any of their brethren, by causing them to fall from their own stedfastness.
It is not good; that is, it is not charitable to make use of any part of our Christian liberty, when by so doing any weak Christian is offended, discouraged, and driven from his profession, and brought to any kind of sin. And if it be a Christian's obliged duty to forbear the use of indifferent things, when it is a scandal to the weak; how much more is it a duty to avoid obtruding and imposing such things to the scandal, offence, and hurt of others.
Here the apostle answers an objection: "Some might be ready to say, that they had faith, that is, a firm and full persuasion that it is lawful for them to eat those meats, which others judged to be sinful; and therefore it is necessary that they profess it, and own it, and assert their liberty."
The apostle answers, "Hast thou more knowledge than he, to believe those things to be lawful, which he apprehends to be sinful? Keep thy knowledge and belief to thyself, to justify thy actions before God, but use it not to the hurt and prejudice of others; for he is a happy man, that when he knows a thing to be lawful, doth so use his liberty about it as not to offend others, or condemn himself; for that is a sad kind of knowledge which is used to destroy others, and condemn ourselves.
Such Christians as have different sentiments from their brethren, as to the matters of indifferent things especially, ought to keep their judgment and opinion to themselves, and not to hazard the peace of the church by an imprudent publication: Hast thou faith? have it to thyself.
That is, "He that doubteth whether he should eat or no, and yet eats, is condemned of himself, because he doth a thing when he is not satisfied of its lawfulness; for whatsoever is not done of faith, that is, with a persuasion that it is lawful, is to him that does it undoubtedly sinful." Whatever a man does, believing it to be a sin, is certainly a sin in him.
Here observe, That an erring conscience binds us to do nothing against it. A scrupulous conscience is a troublesome one, but it is better than a presumptuous conscience. As we must not nourish our scruples and doubtings, so neither must we act against our scruples and doubts. In short, no man is to act contrary to his conscience; but then it is as much his duty to inform his conscience, as to follow his conscience. To act against conscience is a very great sin; but a man may act according to his conscience, and yet be a very great sinner. St. Paul, when he was a bloody persecutor, tells us he acted according to his conscience; I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Acts 26:9
Pray we then for a conscience rightly informed by the word of God: and that we may so follow the dictates and directions of it whilst we live, that it may neither reprove nor reproach us when we come to die. Amen.
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