We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
I. We ought not to please ourselves. "We": who are the we? Christians, but not that alone. Among Christians, the strong. "We that are strong." The strength here indicated is not the general strength of the Christian character, although that in a measure is implied, but strength in the one respect of a broad intelligent faith as to the lawfulness of all kinds of food, and as to the complete abrogation of the Mosaic law. It is very noticeable that the Apostle has no corresponding exhortation to the weak. I suppose he foresaw that very few would be willing to accept the terms as descriptive of themselves and their state—that for one who would go and stand under the inscription "the weak" there would be ten ready to stand under the name and inscription of "the strong." As to self-pleasing, it is never good in any case whatever. (1) It is of the essence of sin. (2) It always tends to meanness of character. (3) It tends to corruption, just as the stagnant water becomes unfit for use. (4) It always inflicts injury and misery on others. (5) It is enormously difficult to the self that is always seeking to be pleased, so difficult, in fact, as to be ultimately quite impossible of realisation.
II. If not ourselves, then whom?" Let every one of us please his neighbour." But here comes a difficulty, and yet no great difficulty when we look at it more fully. It is this. If the neighbour is to be pleased by me, why should not the neighbour please me in return? If there is to be an obligation at all, it must surely be mutual. Here is the safeguard in the passage itself. "I am to please my neighbour for his good to edification." The one of these words explains the other. "Good to edification" means good in the spiritual sense, religious good; the building up of the character in spiritual life. That is to be the end and aim of any compliance with his wishes that may be made. We are both to borrow, each from each, and then act for the best. If the spirit be good, there will be but little of practical difficulty in settling the limits of concession—in each pleasing his neighbour for his good to edification.
III. To help us to do this we ought to consider much and deeply the example of Christ. When He was here He never spared Himself. He never chose the easier way, never waited for the weather, never postponed the doing of a duty. Here is an example, high and glorious, and yet near, and human, and touching. And we are to do as He did, and be as He was. Even Christ pleased not Himself.
A. Raleigh, The Little Sanctuary, p. 176.
References: Romans 15:2.—S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Upper Norwood, p. 250; H. W. Beecher, Forty-eight Sermons, vol. i., p. 22; G. Litting, Thirty Children's Sermons, p. 1; J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 6th series, p. 39.
Romans 15:2-3Christ not Pleasing Himself—Christian and Social Tolerance.
I. Note, first, the rule of forbearance as laid down by the Apostle. We have to learn that, within the limits of what is not positively wrong, every one has the right to be himself, to develop his own nature in his own way, and that he cannot be forced into the mould of another without losing his capacity of highest enjoyment, and his power and greatest usefulness to his fellow-men. Our duty under God is to be true to our own nature, but to grant this privilege also to every other, and where we seek to influence them to do it in accordance with the laws of their nature. The question may arise here again, Is there no limit to our self-surrender? and it is pointed out. We are to please our neighbour "for his good to edification." This is the end, and the end prescribes the limit. Our great object must be not to please our neighbour any more than to please ourselves, but to do him the highest good, and gain an influence that may lead up to truth and duty and God.
II. This forbearance is illustrated by Christ's example. To prove the disinterested forbearance of Christ, Paul cites a passage that shows His self-devotion to God. He offered Himself to bear the reproach cast on that great name, and thought nothing of self if the honour of God was maintained. There is a broad principle taught us here also—viz., that right action toward men flows naturally from right feeling toward God. If self-pleasing has been sacrificed on the Divine altar, it has received its death-blow in every other form. He who has truly, deeply, entirely given up his will to God is not the man to force it harshly and capriciously on his fellow-men. This is what the Apostle would have us infer regarding Christ in His human bearings. The forbearance of Christ is illustrated (1) in the variety of character which His earthly life drew around it; (2) He interposed to defend others when they were interfered with.
III. Note the advantages that would result from acting on this principle. If we wish those we are influencing to become valuable for anything, it must be by permitting them to be themselves. This is the only way in which we can hope to make our fellow-creatures truly our own. And in pursuing such a course we shall best succeed in elevating and broadening our own nature.
John Ker, Sermons, p. 197.
Romans 15:4What is the true purpose of Holy Scripture? Why was it written? St. Paul replies, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning." And what kind of learning? we ask. St. Paul answers again, "That we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have, not merely information, but hope." Scripture, then, is a manual of moral or spiritual learning. It is addressed to the heart and to the will, as well as, or rather than, to the intellect.
I. We need hope. Hope is the nerve—it is the backbone—of all true life, of all serious efforts to battle with evil, and to live for God. For the majority of men, especially as the years pass, life is made up of the disheartening; the sunshine of the early years has gone. The evening is shrouded already with clouds and disappointment. Failure, sorrow, the sense of a burden of past sin, the presentiment of approaching death—these things weigh down the spirit of multitudes. Something is needed which shall lift men out of this circle of depressing thought—something which shall enlarge our horizon, which shall enable us to find in the future that which the present has ceased to yield. And here the Bible helps us as no other book can. It stands alone as the warrant and the stimulant of hope; it speaks with a Divine authority; it opens out a future which no human authority could attest. There are many human books which do what they can in this direction; but they can only promise something better than what we have at present on this side the grave. The Bible is pre-eminently the book of hope. In it God draws the veil which hangs between man and his awful future, and bids him take heart and arise and live.
II. Those who will may find, in Holy Scripture, patience, consolation, hope, not in its literary or historical features, but in the great truths which it reveals about God, about our incarnate Lord, about man—in the great examples it holds forth of patience and of victory, in the great promises it repeats, in the future which it unfolds to the eye of faith, is this treasure to be found.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 848.
Romans 15:4Practical Use of the Old Testament.
Consider some of the departments of Christian knowledge, for which the study of the Old Testament Scriptures is requisite.
I. The history of the chosen people of God is very full of needful instruction for us. The seed of Abraham were selected as the vehicle of God's will, and ultimately of the blessings of redemption to the world. But they were also selected for the great lesson to be read to all ages, that the revelation of a moral law of precepts and ordinances never could save mankind. And this fact is one abundantly commented on in the New Testament. A man is equally incapacitated from reading the Gospels and the Acts to much purpose—from appreciating the relative position of our Lord and the Jews in the one, or the Apostles and the Jews in the other—without being fairly read in the Old Testament.
II. Again, one very large and important region of assurance of our faith will be void without a competent knowledge of the prophetical books of the Old Testament. It is only by being familiar with such portions of God's Word that we have any chance of recognising their undoubted fulfilment, when it arrives as a thing announced to us for our instruction and caution. If God has really given these announcements of futurity to His Church, it cannot be for us who are lying in His hands—the creatures of what a day may bring forth—to neglect them or cast them aside.
III. As an example of life the ancient Scriptures are exceedingly rich and valuable to the Christian.
IV. The direct devotional use of the ancient Scriptures is no mean element in the nurture of the Christian spirit. They are full of the breathings of the souls of holy men of God; full also of the words of life, spoken by Him to the soul. Search the Old Testament Scriptures, for they are they that testify of Christ. To find Him in them is the true and legitimate end of their study. To be able to interpret them as He interpreted them is the best result of all Biblical learning.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. v., p. 260.
The Scriptures Bearing Witness.
St. Paul is here speaking of things in the Old Testament respecting Christ. They are there written, he says, that we may dwell and ponder on the same, as seeing how they have been fulfilled in Him; and, so being supported and comforted by them, may have hope. But as the inspired Scriptures are of no avail unless God Himself, who gave them, enlighten us, he takes up the same words of "patience and consolation," and proceeds: "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," that God may shed abroad His peace in our hearts, and that His peace may make us at peace with each other; and so, having love to each other, we may render to God acceptable praise and united worship. This, the firstfruits of the Word and of the Spirit, must be by brotherly kindness, uniting Jew and Gentile, bond and free, rich and poor, fragrant as the sacred ointment, and, as the dew from heaven, rich in blessing. "Wherefore receive ye one another," he adds, "as Christ also received us to the glory of God."
II. St. Paul then returns to the fulfilment of the Scriptures, showing how the law and the prophets were in Christ altogether accomplished; inasmuch as He fulfilled the righteousness of the law, was the object of its types, the substance of its shadows, and as such the Apostle and High Priest to the Hebrews; and, according to the same Scripture throughout, was to bring the Gentiles to the obedience of faith, that there might be one fold and one Shepherd. The Epistle for the day ends as it begins, with hope as resting on the Scriptures, as strengthened by the fulfilment of them, as imparted by the God of all hope; and this hope is that blessed hope of seeing Christ soon return, and of being accepted by Him. Many and various are the signs of approaching summer, and manifold, in like manner, will be the tokens of Christ's last Advent which the good will notice—will notice with joy and comfort, as a sick man does the coming on of summer. No light hath been as the light of that day will be; no darkness that we know of will be like that which it brings. O day of great reality and truth! all things are shadows and dreams when compared to thee, and the falling of sun, moon, and stars in the great tribulation will be but as a light affliction, which is but for a moment, compared with thee, like clouds that break away when the sun appears!
I. Williams, The Epistles and Gospels, vol. i., p. 1.
I. There is no book which requires such constant, such daily study, as the Bible. Regard it first merely on what one might call its human side, and quite apart from the fact that it is the wisdom not of man but of God. Scripture is not a hortus siccus, where you can at once find everything you want to find, labelled and ticketed and put away into our drawers; it is a glorious wilderness of sweets, in which under higher guidance you must gradually learn to find your way and discover one by one the beauties it contains, but which is very far from obtruding upon every careless observer. Assume for an instant that Scripture differs in no essential thing from the highest works of human intellect and genius, and then, as other books demand patience and study before they give up their secrets, can it be expected that this book, or rather this multitude of books, should not demand the same?
II. But regard the Scripture in its proper dignity with those higher claims which it has upon us as the message of God to sinful man, and then it will be still more manifest that only the constant and diligent student can hope to possess himself of any considerable portion of the treasures which it contains. For what indeed is Scripture? Men uttered it, but men who were moved thereto by the Holy Ghost. It is the wisdom of God. If all Scripture is by inspiration of God, and all Scripture profitable for instruction in righteousness, must not all Scripture, putting aside a very few chapters indeed, be the object of our most diligent search?
III. Let us read, (1) looking for Christ—Christ in the Old Testament quite as much as in the New. (2) With personal application, for Scripture is like a good portrait, which wherever we move appears to have eyes on us still. (3) Whatever we learn out of God's Holy Word, let us seek in our lives to fulfil the same and strive to bring both the outward course and inward spirit of our lives into closer and more perfect agreement with what there we search.
R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 267.
References: Romans 15:4.—H. P. Liddon, Advent Sermons, vol. i., p. 248; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 204.
Romans 15:4, Romans 15:13The Twofold Genealogy of Hope.
I. We have here the hope that is the child of the night and born in the dark. "Whatsoever things," says the Apostle, "were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience"—or rather, the brave perseverance—"and consolation"—or rather, perhaps encouragement—"of the Scriptures might have hope." The written word is conceived to be the source of patient endurance which acts as well as suffers. This grace Scripture works in us through the encouragement it ministers in manifold ways, and the result of both is hope. Scripture encourages us, (1) by its records, and (2) by its revelation of principles. Hope is born of sorrow; but darkness gives birth to the light, and every grief blazes up a witness to a future glory. Sorrow has not had its perfect work unless it has led us by the way of courage and perseverance to a stable hope. Hope has not pierced to the rock and builds only on things that can be shaken, unless it rests on sorrows borne by God's help.
II. We have also a hope that is born of the day, the child of sunshine and gladness, and that is set before us in the second of the two verses which we are considering. "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope." (1) Faith leads to joy and peace. Paul has found, and if we only put it to the proof we shall also find, that the simple exercise of simple faith fills the soul with all joy and peace. (2) The joy and peace which spring from faith in their turn produce the confident anticipation of future and progressive good. Herein lies the distinguishing blessedness of the Christian joy and peace, in that they carry in themselves the pledge of their own eternity. Here, and here only, the mad boast which is doomed to be so miserably falsified when applied to earthly gladness is simple truth. Here "tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." Such joy has nothing in itself which betokens exhaustion, as all the less pure joys of earth have. It is manifestly not born for death, as are they. It is not fated, like all earthly emotions or passions, to expire in the moment of its completeness, or even by sudden revulsion to be succeeded by its opposite. Its sweetness has no after-pang of bitterness. It is not true of this gladness that "Hereof cometh in the end despondency and madness," but its destiny is to remain as long as the soul in which it unfolds shall exist, and to be full as long as the source from which it flows does not run dry.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, June 24th, 1886.
Reference: Romans 15:13.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 240.
Romans 15:29Christian Confidence.
Consider the sources of our confidence in our Christian influence.
I. There is the constancy of Christ Himself. The constancy of Christ is as much an article of our confidence as His beneficence. His image in the gospel story is that of one without variableness or shadow of turning. When He was on earth, not weariness, nor want, nor scorn, nor cruelty, nor the neglect of His people, nor the imperfections of His disciples, could shake His fidelity, or change the current of His unvarying grace. And now that He has passed away from the gloom and trouble of earth into the serene air of heaven; now that He has laid aside the weakness of humanity, while He retains manhood's tender sympathy and helpful purpose; now that He has established His kingdom in the world and only lives to direct and to advance it; what room is there for fears of His inconstancy to cross and cloud our souls? We have no such fears. We rise into the region of certainty whenever we approach the Saviour.
II. Christ is not only the object of Christian trust; He is the spirit of the Christian life. The measure of our Christian confidence determines the measure of our Christian usefulness; spiritual influence is only the outward side of Christian character. The heart prepares its own reception. We take with us the atmosphere in which we mix with others. Nothing can finally withstand the affectionate purpose of benediction, the spirit that, daunted or undaunted, cries still, "I have blessed thee, and thou shalt be blessed." The fact that we have human souls to deal with, each one wrapped in its own experience, often wayward, often perverse, can no more avail than our consciousness of our own imperfection and instability, to suppress the confidence of Christian believers: "I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ."
A. Mackennal, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 284.
References: Romans 15:29.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 6th series, p. 1; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 1. Romans 15:33.—J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 293. Romans 16:7.—E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 51. Romans 16:10.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 426. Romans 16:23.—A. Maclaren, Week-day Evening Addresses, p. 124.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.