Romans 12
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Chapter 12

The apostle, having at large cleared and confirmed the prime fundamental doctrines of Christianity, comes in the next place to press the principal duties. We mistake our religion if we look upon it only as a system of notions and a guide to speculation. No, it is a practical religion, that tends to the right ordering of the conversation. It is designed not only to inform our judgments, but to reform our hearts and lives. From the method of the apostle’s writing in this, as in some other of the epistles (as from the management of the principal ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom) the stewards of the mysteries of God may take direction how to divide the word of truth: not to press duty abstracted from privilege, nor privilege abstracted from duty; but let both go together, with a complicated design, they will greatly promote and befriend each other. The duties are drawn from the privileges, by way of inference. The foundation of Christian practice must be laid in Christian knowledge and faith. We must first understand how we receive Christ Jesus the Lord, and then we shall know the better how to walk in him. There is a great deal of duty prescribed in this chapter. The exhortations are short and pithy, briefly summing up what is good, and what the Lord our God in Christ requires of us. It is an abridgment of the Christian directory, an excellent collection of rules for the right ordering of the conversation, as becomes the gospel. It is joined to the foregoing discourse by the word "therefore." It is the practical application of doctrinal truths that is the life of preaching. He had been discoursing at large of justification by faith, and of the riches of free grace, and the pledges and assurances we have of the glory that is to be revealed. Hence carnal libertines would be apt to infer."Therefore we may live as we list, and walk in the way of our hearts and the sight of our eyes." Now this does not follow; the faith that justifies is a faith that "works by love." And there is no other way to heaven but the way of holiness and obedience. Therefore what God hath joined together let no man put asunder. The particular exhortations of this chapter are reducible to the three principal heads of Christian duty: our duty to God t ourselves, and to our brother. The grace of God teaches us, in general, to live "godly, soberly, and righteously;" and to deny all that which is contrary hereunto. Now this chapter will give us to understand what godliness, sobriety, and righteousness, are though somewhat intermixed.

Verses 1-21

We may observe here, according to the scheme mentioned in the contents, the apostle’s exhortations,

I. Concerning our duty to God, We see what is godliness.

1. It is to surrender ourselves to God, and so to lay a good foundation. We must first give our own selves unto the Lord, 2 Co. 8:5. This is here pressed as the spring of all duty and obedience, v. 1, 2. Man consists of body and soul, Gen. 2:7; Eccl. 12:7.

(1.) The body must be presented to him, v. 1. The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, 1 Co. 6:13, 14. The exhortation is here introduced very pathetically: I beseech you, brethren. Though he was a great apostle, yet he calls the meanest Christians brethren, a term of affection and concern. He uses entreaty; this is the gospel way: As though God did beseech you by us, 2 Co. 5:20. Though he might with authority command, yet for love’s sake he rather beseeches, Philem. 8, 9. The poor useth entreaty, Prov. 18:23. This is to insinuate the exhortation, that it might come with the more pleasing power. Many are sooner wrought upon if they be accosted kindly, are more easily led than driven. Now observe,

[1.] The duty pressed-to present our bodies a living sacrifice, alluding to the sacrifices under the law, which were presented or set before God at the altar, ready to be offered to him. Your bodies—your whole selves; so expressed because under the law the bodies of beasts were offered in sacrifice, 1 Co. 6:20. Our bodies and spirits are intended. The offering was sacrificed by the priest, but presented by the offerer, who transferred to God all his right, title, and interest in it, by laying his hand on the head of it. Sacrifice is here taken for whatsoever is by God’s own appointment dedicated to himself; see 1 Pt. 2:5. We are temple, priest, and sacrifice, as Christ was in his peculiar sacrificing. There were sacrifices of atonement and sacrifices of acknowledgment. Christ, who was once offered to bear the sins of many, is the only sacrifice of atonement; but our persons and performances, tendered to God through Christ our priest, are as sacrifices of acknowledgment to the honour of God. Presenting them denotes a voluntary act, done by virtue of that absolute despotic power which the will has over the body and all the members of it. It must be a free-will offering. Your bodies; not your beasts. Those legal offerings, as they had their power from Christ, so they had their period in Christ. The presenting of the body to God implies not only the avoiding of the sins that are committed with or against the body, but the using of the body as a servant of the soul in the service of God. It is to glorify God with our bodies (1. Cor. 6:20), to engage our bodies in the duties of immediate worship, and in a diligent attendance to our particular callings, and be willing to suffer for God with our bodies, when we are called to it. It is to yield the members of our bodies as instruments of righteousness, ch. 6:13. Though bodily exercise alone profits little, yet in its place it is a proof and product of the dedication of our souls to God. First, Present them a living sacrifice; not killed, as the sacrifices under the law. A Christian makes his body a sacrifice to God, though he does not give it to be burned. A body sincerely devoted to God is a living sacrifice. A living sacrifice, by way of allusion-that which was dead of itself might not be eaten, much less sacrificed, Deu. 14:21; and by ways of opposition—"The sacrifice was to be slain, but you may be sacrificed, and yet live on"—an unbloody sacrifice. The barbarous heathen sacrificed their children to their idol-gods, not living, but slain sacrifices: but God will have mercy, and not such sacrifice, though life is forfeited to him. A living sacrifice, that is, inspired with the spiritual life of the soul. It is Christ living in the soul by faith that makes the body a living sacrifice, Gal. 2:20. Holy love kindles the sacrifices, puts life into the duties; see ch. 6:13. Alive, that is, to God, v. 11. Secondly, They must be holy. There is a relative holiness in every sacrifice, as dedicated to God. But, besides this, there must be that real holiness which consists in an entire rectitude of heart and life, by which we are conformed in both to the nature and will of God: even our bodies must not be made the instruments of sin and uncleanness, but set apart for God, and put to holy uses, as the vessels of the tabernacle were holy, being devoted to God’s service. It is the soul that is the proper subject of holiness; but a sanctified soul communicates a holiness to the body it actuates and animates. That is holy which is according to the will of God; when the bodily actions are no, the body is holy. They are the temples of the Holy Ghost, 1 Co. 6:19. Possess the body in sanctification, 1 Th. 4:4, 5.

[2.] The arguments to enforce this, which are three:—First, Consider the mercies of God: I beseech you by the mercies of God. An affectionate obtestation, and which should melt us into a compliance: dia toµn oiktirmoµn tou Theou. This is an argument most sweetly cogent. There is the mercy that is in God and the mercy that is from God-mercy in the spring and mercy in the streams: both are included here; but especially gospel-mercies (mentioned ch. 11), the transferring of what the Jews forfeited and lost by their unbelief unto us Gentiles (Eph. 3:4-6): the sure mercies of David, Isa. 55:3. God is a merciful God, therefore let us present our bodies to him; he will be sure to use them kindly, and knows how to consider the frames of them, for he is of infinite compassion. We receive from him every day the fruits of his mercy, particularly mercy to our bodies: he made them, he maintains them, he bought them, he has put a great dignity upon them. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, that our souls are held in life; and the greatest mercy of all is that Christ hath made not his body only, but his soul, an offering for sin, that he gave himself for us and gives himself to us. Now surely we cannot but be studying what we shall render to the Lord for all this. And what shall we render? Let us render ourselves as an acknowledgment of all these favours-all we are, all we have, all we can do; and, after all, it is but very poor returns for very rich receivings: and yet, because it is what we have, Secondly, It is acceptable to God. The great end we should all labour after is to be accepted of the Lord (2 Co. 5:9), to have him well-pleased with our persons and performances. Now these living sacrifices are acceptable to God; while the sacrifices of the wicked, though fat and costly, are an abomination to the Lord. It is God’s great condescension that he will vouchsafe to accept of any thing in us; and we can desire no more to make us happy; and, if the presenting of ourselves will but please him, we may easily conclude that we cannot bestow ourselves better. Thirdly, It is our reasonable service. There is an act of reason in it; for it is the soul that presents the body. Blind devotion, that has ignorance for the mother and nurse of it, is fit to be paid only to those dunghill-gods that have eyes and see not. Our God must be served in the spirit and with the understanding. There is all the reason in the world for it, and no good reason can possibly be produced against it. Come now, and let us reason together, Isa. 1:18. God does not impose upon us any thing hard or unreasonable, but that which is altogether agreeable to the principles of right reason. Teµn logikeµn latreian hymoµn—your service according to the word; so it may be read. The word of God does not leave out the body in holy worship. That service only is acceptable to God which is according to the written word. It must be gospel worship, spiritual worship. That is a reasonable service which we are able and ready to give a reason for, in which we understand ourselves. God deals with us as with rational creatures, and will have us so to deal with him. Thus must the body be presented to God.

(2.) The mind must be renewed for him. This is pressed (v. 2): "Be you transformed by the renewing of your mind; see to it that there be a saving change wrought in you, and that it be carried on." Conversion and sanctification are the renewing of the mind, a change not of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. It is the same with making a new heart and a new spirit-new dispositions and inclinations, new sympathies and antipathies; the understanding enlightened, the conscience softened, the thoughts rectified; the will bowed to the will of God, and the affections made spiritual and heavenly: so that the man is not what he was-old things are passed away, all things are become new; he acts from new principles, by new rules, with new designs. The mind is the acting ruling part of us; so that the renewing of the mind is the renewing of the whole man, for out of it are the issues of life, Prov. 4:23. The progress of sanctification, dying to sin more and more and living to righteousness more and more, is the carrying on of this renewing work, till it be perfected in glory. This is called the transforming of us; it is like putting on a new shape and figure. Metamorphousthe—Be you metamorphosed. The transfiguration of Christ is expressed by this word (Mt. 17:2), when he put on a heavenly glory, which made his face to shine like the sun; and the same word is used 2 Co. 3:18, where we are said to be changed into the same image from glory to glory. This transformation is here pressed as a duty; not that we can work such a change ourselves: we could as soon make a new world as make a new heart by any power of our own; it is God’s work, Eze. 11:19; 36:26, 27. But be you transformed, that is, "use the means which God hath appointed and ordained for it." It is God that turns us, and then we are turned; but we must frame our doings to turn, Hos. 5:4. "Lay your souls under the changing transforming influences of the blessed Spirit; seek unto God for grace in the use of all the means of grace." Though the new man be created of God, yet we must put it on (Eph. 4:24), and be pressing forward towards perfection. Now in this verse we may further observe,

[1.] What is the great enemy to this renewing, which we must avoid; and that is, conformity to this world: Be not conformed to this world. All the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus must be nonconformists to this world. Meµ syscheµmatizesthe—Do not fashion yourselves according to the world. We must not conform to the things of the world; they are mutable, and the fashion of them is passing away. Do not conform either to the lusts of the flesh or the lusts of the eye. We must not conform to the men of the world, of that world which lies in wickedness, not walk according to the course of this world (Eph. 2:2); that is, we must not follow a multitude to do evil, Ex. 23:2. If sinners entice us, we must not consent to them, but in our places witness against them. Nay, even in things indifferent, and which are not in themselves sinful, we must so far not conform to the custom and way of the world as not to act by the world’s dictates as our chief rule, nor to aim at the world’s favours as our highest end. True Christianity consists much in a sober singularity. Yet we must take heed of the extreme of affected rudeness and moroseness, which some run into. In civil things, the light of nature and the custom of nations are intended for our guidance; and the rule of the gospel in those cases is a rule of direction, not a rule of contrariety.

[2.] What is the great effect of this renewing, which we must labour after: That you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. by the will of God here we are to understand his revealed will concerning our duty, what the Lord our God requires of us. This is the will of God in general, even our sanctification, that will which we pray may be done by us as it is done by the angels; especially his will as it is revealed in the New Testament, where he hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son. First, The will of God is good, and acceptable, and perfect; three excellent properties of a law. It is good (Mic. 6:8); it is exactly consonant to the eternal reason of good and evil. It is good in itself. It is good for us. Some think the evangelical law is here called good, in distinction from the ceremonial law, which consisted of statutes that were not good, Eze. 20:25. It is acceptable, it is pleasing to God; that and that only is so which is prescribed by him. The only way to attain his favour as the end is to conform to his will as the rule. It is perfect, to which nothing can be added. The revealed will of God is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, containing all things which tend to the perfection of the man of God, to furnish us thoroughly to every good work, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. Secondly, That it concerns Christians to prove what is that will of God which is good, and acceptable, and perfect; that is, to know it with judgment and approbation, to know it experimentally, to know the excellency of the will of God by the experience of a conformity to it. It is to approve things that are excellent (Phil. 1:10); it is dokimazein (the same word that is used here) to try things that differ, in doubtful cases readily to apprehend what the will of God is and to close in with it. It is to be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, Isa. 11:3. Thirdly, That those are best able to prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, who are transformed by the renewing of their mind. A living principle of grace is in the soul, as far as it prevails, an unbiassed unprejudiced judgment concerning the things of God. It disposes the soul to receive and entertain the revelations of the divine will. The promise is (Jn. 7:17), If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine. A good wit can dispute and distinguish about the will of God; while an honest, humble heart, that has spiritual senses exercised, and is delivered into the mould of the word, loves it, and practises it, and has the relish and savour of it. Thus to be godly is to surrender ourselves to God.

2. When this is done, to serve him in all manner of gospel obedience. Some hints of this we have here (v. 11, 12), Serving the Lord. Wherefore do we present ourselves to him, but that we may serve him? Acts 27:23, Whose I am; and then it follows, whom I serve. To be religious is to serve God. How? (1.) We must make a business of it, and not be slothful in that business. Not slothful in business. There is the business of the world, that of our particular calling, in which we must not be slothful, 1 Th. 4:11. But this seems to be meant of the business of serving the Lord, our Father’s business, Lu. 2:49. Those that would approve themselves Christians indeed must make religion their business-must choose it, and learn it, and give themselves to it; they must love it, and employ themselves in it, and abide by it, as their great and main business. And, having made it our business, we must not be slothful in it: not desire our own ease, and consult that, when it comes in competition with our duty. We must not drive on slowly in religion. Slothful servants will be reckoned with us wicked servants. (2.) We must be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. God must be served with the spirit (ch. 1:9; Jn. 4:24), under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Whatever we do in religion it is pleasing to God no further than it is done with our spirits wrought upon by the Spirit of God. And there must be fervency in the spirit-a holy zeal, and warmth, and ardency of affection in all we do, as those that love God not only with the heart and soul, but with all our hearts, and with all our souls. This is the holy fire that kindles the sacrifice, and carries it up to heaven, an offering of a sweet-smelling savour.—Serving the Lord. Toµ kairoµ douleuontes (so some copies read it), serving the time, that is, improving your opportunities and making the best of them, complying with the present seasons of grace. (3.) Rejoicing in hope. God is worshipped and honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope, take a complacency in that confidence, which argues a great assurance of the reality and a great esteem of the excellency of the good hoped for. (4.) Patient in tribulation. Thus also God is served, not only by working for him when he calls us to work, but by sitting still quietly when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God’s sake, and with an eye to his will and glory, is true piety. Observe, Those that rejoice in hope are likely to be patient in tribulation. It is a believing prospect of the joy set before us that bears up the spirit under all outward pressure. (5.) Continuing instant in prayer. Prayer is a friend to hope and patience, and we do in it serve the Lord. Proskarterountes. It signifies both fervency and perseverance in prayer. We should not be cold in the duty, nor soon weary of it, Lu. 18:1; 1 Th. 5:17; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2. This is our duty which immediately respects God.

II. Concerning our duty which respects ourselves; this is sobriety.

1. A sober opinion of ourselves, v. 3. It is ushered in with a solemn preface: I say, through the grace given unto me: the grace f wisdom, by which he understood the necessity and excellency of this duty; the grace of apostleship, by which he had authority to press and enjoin it. "I say it, who am commissioned to say it, in God’s name. I say it, and it is not for you to gainsay it." It is said to every one of us, one as well as another. Pride is a sin that is bred in the bone of all of us, and we have therefore each of us need to be cautioned and armed against it.—Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. We must take heed of having too great an opinion of ourselves, or putting too high a valuation upon our own judgments, abilities, persons, performances. We must not be self-conceited, nor esteem too much our own wisdom and other attainments, not think ourselves to be something, Gal. 6:3. There is a high thought of ourselves which we may and must have to think ourselves too good to be the slaves of sin and drudges to this world. But, on the other hand, we should think soberly, that is, we must have a low and modest opinion of ourselves and our own abilities, our gifts and graces, according to what we have received from God, and not otherwise. We must not be confident and hot in matters of doubtful disputation; not stretch ourselves beyond our line; not judge and censure those that differ from us; not desire to make a fair show in the flesh. These and the like are the fruits of a sober opinion of ourselves. The words will bear yet another sense agreeable enough. Of himself is not in the original; therefore it may be read, That no man be wise above what he ought to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety. We must not exercise ourselves in things too high for us (Ps. 131:1, 2), not intrude into those things which we have not seen (Col. 2:18), those secret things which belong not to us (Deu. 29:29), not covet to be wise above what is written. There is a knowledge that puffs up, which reaches after forbidden fruit. We must take heed of this, and labour after that knowledge which tends to sobriety, to the rectifying of the heart and the reforming of the life. Some understand it of the sobriety which keeps us in our own place and station, from intruding into the gifts and offices of others. See an instance of this sober modest care in the exercise of the greatest spiritual gifts, 2 Co. 10:13-15. To this head refers also that exhortation (v. 16), Be not wise in your own conceits. It is good to be wise, but it is bad to think ourselves so; for there is more hope of a fool than of him that is wise in his own eyes. It was an excellent thing for Moses to have his face shine and not know it. Now the reasons why we must have such a sober opinion of ourselves, our own abilities and attainments, are these:—

(1.) Because whatever we have that is good, God hath dealt it to us; every good and perfect gift comes from above, James 1:17. What have we that we have not received? And, if we have received it, why then do we boast? 1 Co. 4:7. The best and most useful man in the world is no more, no better, than what the free grace of God makes him every day. When we are thinking of ourselves, we must remember to think not how we attained, as though our might and the power of our hand had gotten us these gifts; but think how kind God hath been to us, for it is he that gives us power to do any thing that is good, and in him is all our sufficiency.

(2.) Because God deals out his gifts in a certain measure: According to the measure of faith. Observe, The measure of spiritual gifts he calls the measure of faith, for this is the radical grace. What we have and do that is good is so far right and acceptable as it is founded in faith, and flows from faith, and no further. Now faith, and other spiritual gifts with it, are dealt by measure, according as Infinite Wisdom sees meet for us. Christ had the Spirit given him without measure, Jn. 3:34. But the saints have it by measure; see Eph. 4:7. Christ, who had gifts without measure, was meek and lowly; and shall we, that are stinted, be proud and self-conceited?

(3.) Because God has dealt out gifts to others as well as to us: Dealt to every man. Had we the monopoly of the Spirit, or a patent to be sole proprietors of spiritual gifts, there might be some pretence for this conceitedness of ourselves; but others have their share as well as we. God is a common Father, and Christ a common root, to all the saints, who all drive virtue from him; and therefore it ill becomes us to lift up ourselves, and to despise others, as if we only were the people in favour with heaven, and wisdom should die with us. This reasoning he illustrates by a comparison taken from the members of the natural body (as 1 Co. 12:12; Eph. 4:16): As we have many members in one body, etc., v. 4, 5. Here observe, [1.] All the saints make up one body in Christ, who is the head of the body, and the common centre of their unity. Believers lie not in the world as a confused disorderly heap, but are organized and knit together, as they are united to one common head, and actuated and animated by one common Spirit. [2.] Particular believers are members of this body, constituent parts, which speak them less than the whole, and in relation to the whole, deriving life and spirits from the head. Some members in the body are bigger and more useful than others, and each receives spirits from the head according to its proportion. if the little finger should receive as much nourishment as the leg, how unseemly and prejudicial would it be! We must remember that we are not the whole; we think above what is meet if we think so; we are but parts and members. [3.] All the members have not the same office (v. 4), but each hath its respective place and work assigned it. The office of the eye is to see, the office of the hand is to work, etc. So in the mystical body, some are qualified for, and called to, one sort of work; others are, in like manner, fitted for, and called to, another sort of work. Magistrates, ministers, people, in a Christian commonwealth, have their several offices, and must not intrude one upon another, nor clash in the discharge of their several offices. [4.] Each member hath its place and office, for the good and benefit of the whole, and of every other member. We are not only members of Christ, but we are members one of another, v. 5. We stand in relation one to another; we are engaged to do all the good we can one to another, and to act in conjunction for the common benefit. See this illustrated at large, 1 Co. 12:14, etc. Therefore we must not be puffed up with a conceit of our own attainments, because, whatever we have, as we received it, so we received it not for ourselves, but for the good of others.

2. A sober use of the gifts that God hath given us. As we must not on the one hand be proud of our talents, so on the other hand we must not bury them. Take heed lest, under a pretence of humility and self-denial, we be slothful in laying out ourselves for the good of others. We must not say, "I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing;" but, "I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost in the strength of the grace of Christ." He specifies the ecclesiastical offices appointed in particular churches, in the discharge of which each must study to do his own duty, for the preserving of order and the promotion of edification in the church, each knowing his place and fulfilling it. Having then gifts. The following induction of particulars supplies the sense of this general. Having gifts, let us use them. Authority and ability for the ministerial work are the gift of God.—Gifts differing. The immediate design is different, though the ultimate tendency of all is the same. According to the grace, charismata kata teµn charin. The free grace of God is the spring and original of all the gifts that are given to men. It is grace that appoints the office, qualifies and inclines the person, works both to will and to do. There were in the primitive church extraordinary gifts of tongues, of discerning, of healing; but he speaks here of those that are ordinary. Compare 1 Co. 12:4; 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Pt. 4:10. Seven particular gifts he specifies (v. 6-8), which seem to be meant of so many distinct offices, used by the prudential constitution of many of the primitive churches, especially the larger. There are two general ones here expressed by prophesying and ministering, the former the work of the bishops, the latter the work of the deacons, which were the only two standing officers, Phil. 1:1. But the particular work belonging to each of these might be, and it should seem was, divided and allotted by common consent and agreement, that it might be done the more effectually, because that which is every body’s work is nobody’s work, and he despatches his business best that is vir unius negotii—a man of one business. Thus David sorted the Levites (1 Chr. 23:4, 5), and in this wisdom is profitable to direct. The five latter will therefore be reduced to the two former.

(1.) Prophecy. Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. It is not meant of the extraordinary gifts of foretelling things to come, but the ordinary office of preaching the word: so prophesying is taken, 1 Co. 14:1-3, etc.; 11:4; 1 Th. 5:20. The work of the Old-Testament prophets was not only to foretel future things, but to warn the people concerning sin and duty, and to be their remembrancers concerning that which they knew before. And thus gospel preachers are prophets, and do indeed, as far as the revelation of the word goes, foretel things to come. Preaching refers to the eternal condition of the children of men, points directly at a future state. Now those that preach the word must do it according to the proportion of faith—kata teµn analogian teµs pisteoµs, that is, [1.] As to the manner of our prophesying, it must be according to the proportion of the grace of faith. He had spoken (v. 3) of the measure of faith dealt to every man. Let him that preaches set all the faith he hath on work, to impress the truths he preaches upon his own heart in the first place. As people cannot hear well, so ministers cannot preach well, without faith. First believe and then speak, Ps. 116:10; 2 Co. 4:13. And we must remember the proportion of faith-that, though all men have not faith, yet a great many have besides ourselves; and therefore we must allow others to have a share of knowledge and ability to instruct, as well as we, even those that in less things differ from us. "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself; and do not make it a ruling rule to others, remembering that thou hast but thy proportion." [2.] As to the matter of our prophesying, it must be according to the proportion of the doctrine of faith, as it is revealed in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament. By this rule of faith the Bereans tried Paul’s preaching, Acts 17:11. Compare Acts 26:22; Gal. 1:9. There are some staple-truths, as I may call them, some prima axiomata—first axioms, plainly and uniformly taught in the scripture, which are the touchstone of preaching, by which (though we must not despise prophesying) we must prove all things, and then hold fast that which is good, 1 Th. 5:20, 21. Truths that are more dark must be examined by those that are more clear; and then entertained when they are found to agree and comport with the analogy of faith; for it is certain one truth can never contradict another. See here what ought to be the great care of preachers-to preach sound doctrine, according to the form of wholesome words, Tit. 2:8; 2 Tim. 1:13. It is not so necessary that the prophesying be according to the proportion of art, the rules of logic and rhetoric; but it is necessary that it be according to the proportion of faith: for it is the word of faith that we preach. Now there are two particular works which he that prophesieth hath to mind-teaching and exhorting, proper enough to be done by the same person at the same time, and when he does the one let him mind that, when he does the other let him do that too as well as he can. If, by agreement between the ministers of a congregation, this work be divided, either constantly or interchangeably, so that one teaches and the other exhorts (that is, in our modern dialect, one expounds and the other preaches), let each do his work according to the proportion of faith. First, let him that teacheth wait on teaching. Teaching is the bare explaining and proving of gospel truths, without practical application, as in the expounding of the scripture. Pastors and teachers are the same office (Eph. 4:11), but the particular work is somewhat different. Now he that has a faculty of teaching, and has undertaken that province, let him stick to it. It is a good gift, let him use it, and give his mind to it. He that teacheth, let him be in his teaching; so some supply it, Ho didaskoµn, en teµ didaskalia. Let him be frequent and constant, and diligent in it; let him abide in that which is his proper work, and be in it as his element. See 1 Tim. 4:15, 16, where it is explained by two words, en toutois isthi, and epimene autois, be in these things and continue in them. Secondly, Let him that exhorteth wait on exhortation. Let him give himself to that. This is the work of the pastor, as the former of the teacher; to apply gospel truths and rules more closely to the case and condition of the people, and to press upon them that which is more practical. Many that are very accurate in teaching may yet be very cold and unskilful in exhorting; and on the contrary. The one requires a clearer head, the other a warmer heart. Now where these gifts are evidently separated (that the one excels in the one and the other in the other) it conduces to edification to divide the work accordingly; and, whatsoever the work is that we undertake, let us mind it. To wait on our work is to bestow the best of our time and thoughts upon it, to lay hold of all opportunities for it, and to study not only to do it, but to do it well.

(2.) Ministry. If a man hath diakonian—the office of a deacon, or assistant to the pastor and teacher, let him use that office well-a churchwarden (suppose), an elder, or an overseer of the poor; and perhaps there were more put into these offices, and there was more solemnity in them, and a greater stress of care and business lay upon them in the primitive churches, than we are now well aware of. It includes all those offices which concern the ta exoµ of the church, the outward business of the house of God. See Neh. 11:16. Serving tables, Acts 6:2. Now let him on whom this care of ministering is devolved attend to it with faithfulness and diligence; particularly, [1.] He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity. Those church-officers that were the stewards of the church’s alms, collected money, and distributed it according as the necessities of the poor were. Let them do it en aploteµti—liberally and faithfully; not converting what they receive to their own use, nor distributing it with any sinister design, or with respect of person: not froward and peevish with the poor, nor seeking pretences to put them by; but with all sincerity and integrity, having no other intention in it than to glorify God and do good. Some understand it in general of all almsgiving: He that hath wherewithal, let him give, and give plentifully and liberally; so the word is translated, 2 Co. 8:2; 9:13. God loves a cheerful bountiful giver. [2.] He that ruleth with diligence. It should seem, he means those that were assistants to the pastors in exercising church-discipline, as their eyes, and hands, and mouth, in the government of the church, or those ministers that in the congregation did chiefly undertake and apply themselves to this ruling work; for we find those ruling that laboured in the word and doctrine, 1 Tim. 5:17. Now such must do it with diligence. The word denotes both care and industry to discover what is amiss, to reduce those that go astray, to reprove and admonish those that have fallen, to keep the church pure. Those must take a great deal of pains that will approve themselves faithful in the discharge of this trust, and not let slip any opportunity that may facilitate and advance that work. [3.] He that showeth mercy with cheerfulness. Some think it is meant in general of all that in any thing show mercy: Let them be willing to do it, and take a pleasure in it; God loves a cheerful giver. But it seems to be meant of some particular church-officers, whose work it was to take care of the sick and strangers; and those were generally widows that were in this matter servants to the church-deaconesses (1 Tim. 5:9, 10), though others, it is likely, might be employed. Now this must be done with cheerfulness. A pleasing countenance in acts of mercy is a great relief and comfort to the miserable; when they see it is not done grudgingly and unwillingly, but with pleasant looks and gentle words, and all possible indications of readiness and alacrity. Those that have to do with such as are sick and sore, and commonly cross and peevish, have need to put on not only patience, but cheerfulness, to make the work the more easy and pleasant to them, and the more acceptable to God.

III. Concerning that part of our duty which respects our brethren, of which we have many instances, in brief exhortations. Now all our duty towards one another is summer up in one word, and that a sweet work, love. In that is laid the foundation of all our mutual duty; and therefore the apostle mentions this first, which is the livery of Christ’s disciples, and the great law of our religion: Let love be without dissimulation; not in compliment and pretence, but in reality; not in word and tongue only, 1 Jn. 3:18. The right love is love unfeigned; not as the kisses of an enemy, which are deceitful. We should be glad of an opportunity to prove the sincerity of our love, 2 Co. 8:8. More particularly, there is a love owing to our friends, and to our enemies. He specifies both.

1. To our friends. He that hath friends must show himself friendly. There is a mutual love that Christians owe, and must pay.

(1.) An affectionate love (v. 10): Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, philostorgoi—it signifies not only love, but a readiness and inclination to love, the most genuine and free affection, kindness flowing out as from a spring. It properly denotes the love of parents to their children, which, as it is the most tender, so it is the most natural, of any, unforced, unconstrained; such must our love be to one another, and such it will be where there is a new nature and the law of love is written in the heart. This kind affection puts us on to express ourselves both in word and action with the greatest courtesy and obligingness that may be.—One to another. This may recommend the grace of love to us, that, as it is made our duty to love others, so it is as much their duty to love us. And what can be sweeter on this side heaven than to love and be beloved? He that thus watereth shall be watered also himself.

(2.) A respectful love: In honour preferring one another. Instead of contending for superiority, let us be forward to give to others the pre-eminence. This is explained, Phil. 2:3, Let each esteem other better than themselves. And there is this good reason for it, because, if we know our own hearts, we know more evil by ourselves than we do by any one else in the world. We should be forward to take notice of the gifts, and graces, and performances of our brethren, and value them accordingly, be more forward to praise another, and more pleased to hear another praised, than ourselves; teµ timeµ alleµlous proeµgoumenoi—going before, or leading one another in honour; so some read it: not in taking honour, but in giving honour. "Strive which of you shall be most forward to pay respect to those to whom it is due, and to perform all Christian offices of love (which are all included in the word honour) to your brethren, as there is occasion. Let all your contention be which shall be most humble, and useful, and condescending." So the sense is the same with Tit. 3:14, Let them learn, proistasthai—to go before in good works. For though we must prefer others (as our translation reads it), and put on others, as more capable and deserving than ourselves, yet we must not make that an excuse for our lying by and doing nothing, nor under a pretence of honouring others, and their serviceableness and performances, indulge ourselves in ease and slothfulness. Therefore he immediately adds (v. 11), Not slothful in business.

Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry [1706]

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