Who will harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
Romans 8:31-35), or that in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9), the Septuagint Version of which is evidently the basis of our text. We have probably here a consideration additional to that preceding, in order to confirm the conclusion of the blessedness of holiness. The apostle has been quoting, with evident delight in the flowing periods, the assurance of the psalm, that God's watchful eye is upon the righteous. Here he as it were says - and, besides, it is the general experience of the world - lovers of good get good from men. As Christ said, "Sinners also love those that love them."
I. THE SORT OF MEN THAT GENERALLY GO UNHARMED. The Revised Version reads "zealous" instead of "followers," and probably is right in the substitution. If "followers," or more literally, "imitators," were retained, it would be most natural to translate "him who is" instead of "that which is" good. But the antithesis with the previous verse ("them that do coil") and with the word translated "harm," which is from the same root as that rendered "evil,' makes the neuter more probable. If, then, we take "zealous for that which is good" as the description of the kind of men to whom the promise implied in our text is made, we may say that it is not the actual possession of purity and virtue which draws men's affections, so much as a certain enthusiasm for goodness and aspiration after it. It is possible to be good in a very disagreeable fashion - to be pure as the eternal snows on the Alps, and cold and forbidding as they. And it is possible to have the whiteness of even an austere morality lit up with a rosy gleam of ardor and emotion which shall make it lovely as that same snow as it blushes in the rising sun. The morality which casts, for the most part, a shield around its possessor is "morality touched by emotion," in which good is evidently loved as well as practiced, and practiced because it is loved. It is precisely there that so much goodness presents an unlovely face to the world. The doer does net seem to find delight in it himself, and so the onlookers have little in him. If our practice of purity be obviously reluctant and constrained it will net dispose men to look on us with respect or favor. We must be "zealous of good" if we are to claim the benefit of this promise. And it is extremely improbable that such zeal or enthusiastic emotion shall be continuously cherished towards a mere neuter abstract - that which is good. A living Person is needed to evoke it. If the abstract "good" be the personal God our Father; if it be incarnated in Jesus Christ our Brother who loves us, and to whom as their conscious and responsive Object our hearts may turn; - then there may be such zeal, but scarcely if we have to be zealous only for that cold and vague impersonal idea - goodness. It is very hard to keep up enthusiasm for anything ending in "ness." Men must have a person to love, and their desire after purity is deepened and changed into a more ardent earnestness when "that which is good" takes human form and becomes "him who is good, the perfect Christ, the Image of God, the only Good." All earnest seeking after moral excellence leads the seeker at last to Jesus Christ, and the merchantman's quest for many goodly pearls ends in the finding of one entire and perfect chrysolite in which all fragmentary preciousnesses are sphered.
II. THE SAFETY OF THESE ENTHUSIASTS FOR THE GOOD. There is an antithesis in the original which is lost in our versions, but may be represented by some such rendering, "Who is he that will do bad things to you, if you be zealous of the good?" That principle thus forcibly put, by the triumphant challenge of the question and by this sharp antithesis, may be illustrated by several considerations which are linked together in such a way that each comes into play where the preceding ceases or fails.
1. The first of these is that, as a rule, a character of obvious single-minded enthusiasm for goodness conciliates. Men are not so bad but that there is a place in their hearts and consciences which can be touched by goodness, especially if it is accompanied with that self-forgetfulness and consciousness of imperfection which zeal for goodness will always bring. When good men are disliked it is very often not for their goodness but for some accompaniment of it which would be better away, such as their want of tact or of sympathy, their apparent sense of superiority, or the like. But even if men are not won to love purity, or even to be at ease in the presence of good men, they will very seldom go so far as to put dislike into action and do harm to one who does good to them. The traveler without a revolver is safest. Fire at the gaping crowd on the banks, and they will overwhelm you. Meet them with a smile and a handful of gifts, and you will almost always make friends. Gentleness and patience, sympathy and love, clear a path for their possessors. It is not vinegar, as the old legend has it, which will split the rocks. "When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." Of course, this is not true without exception, as the whole history of good men shows, and as Peter goes on to admit. Sometimes, righteousness excites men's enmity, and, when it fails, then the second consideration comes in.
2. That is, that God will protect those who for righteousness sake suffer. The grand promises which Peter has been quoting from the thirty-fourth psalm come into play. A tacit comparison is suggested between the good man's enemies and his defenses. "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous," and that being so, though deadly foes prowl round him with their cruel eyes gleaming like a lion greedy of his prey, the question of our text rings out the same assurance as Paul's proud challenge, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Many a time the persecutor has had. to confess that just as he seemed to have the prey in his power -
"The man sprang to his feet, 3. But that Divine protection is not always granted. Peter had indeed experienced deliverance at the eleventh hour, but his Lord had told, him that one day the putting off of his tabernacle was to come by violence; and more, one of the apostles had already trod that brief and bloody path of martyrdom which he knew lay before him and before many of those to whom his writings would come. What, in such extreme cases, should be the worth of such a saying? Is it not grimly contradicted by the scaffold and the fire? No; for even if these two outer walls of defense are carried by the enemy, and men's malice is not softened but rather embittered by goodness, and God's love does not see fit to shield us from the blow, the inner line of fortification remains impregnable. In the utmost extremity of outward suffering, ay, even from the midst of the fire, the Christian may ring out the triumphant words of our text; for no real harm can touch us if we be zealous of that which is good. The evil in the evil will be averted. The bitter will be changed into sweet, as in the old legend the shower of burning coals became a shower of rubies. The poison will be wiped from the arrow. The loving heart that cleaves to Christ and desires most to be united to him will not count that an evil which brings it nearer its home and its joy, nor think the wildest storm a calamity which blows it to Christ's breast. The same events may be quite different in their character to different men. Two men may be drowned in one shipwreck. To the one it may be the opening of the door of his Father's house to the weary pilgrim and the very crown of God's mercies. To the other it may be misery and truly a sinking in a boundless sea of death. All depends on our relation to God, who is the Source of all good. If we love him in Christ, and are seeking as our highest aim amid the illusory and fleeting good of earth to press closer to him, then he will deliver us from all real evil; and "who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" "All things work together for good to them who love God." - A.M.
3. But that Divine protection is not always granted. Peter had indeed experienced deliverance at the eleventh hour, but his Lord had told, him that one day the putting off of his tabernacle was to come by violence; and more, one of the apostles had already trod that brief and bloody path of martyrdom which he knew lay before him and before many of those to whom his writings would come. What, in such extreme cases, should be the worth of such a saying? Is it not grimly contradicted by the scaffold and the fire? No; for even if these two outer walls of defense are carried by the enemy, and men's malice is not softened but rather embittered by goodness, and God's love does not see fit to shield us from the blow, the inner line of fortification remains impregnable. In the utmost extremity of outward suffering, ay, even from the midst of the fire, the Christian may ring out the triumphant words of our text; for no real harm can touch us if we be zealous of that which is good. The evil in the evil will be averted. The bitter will be changed into sweet, as in the old legend the shower of burning coals became a shower of rubies. The poison will be wiped from the arrow. The loving heart that cleaves to Christ and desires most to be united to him will not count that an evil which brings it nearer its home and its joy, nor think the wildest storm a calamity which blows it to Christ's breast. The same events may be quite different in their character to different men. Two men may be drowned in one shipwreck. To the one it may be the opening of the door of his Father's house to the weary pilgrim and the very crown of God's mercies. To the other it may be misery and truly a sinking in a boundless sea of death. All depends on our relation to God, who is the Source of all good. If we love him in Christ, and are seeking as our highest aim amid the illusory and fleeting good of earth to press closer to him, then he will deliver us from all real evil; and "who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" "All things work together for good to them who love God." - A.M.
And who is he that will harm you?
(J. S. Boone, M. A.)I. THE FOLLOWING OF THAT WHICH IS GOOD IS THE READY WAY TO PRESERVE US FROM VIOLENCE AND HURT, BECAUSE THIS INOFFENSIVE AND RELIGIOUS DEPORTMENT COMMANDS THE RESPECT AND LOVE OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT ENEMIES TO PIETY AND VIRTUE.
II. The following of that which is good, the habitual practice of religion and charity, will shelter us against harm and wrong, BECAUSE IT ENTITLES TO THOSE PROMISES, WHEREBY GOD HAS ASSURED HIS SERVANTS, THAT SO FAR AS SHALL BE SUITABLE TO HIS GLORIOUS DESIGNS IN GOVERNING THE WORLD, AND GRACIOUS PURPOSES TOWARDS THEM, HE WILL PROTECT THEM against the malice of those who intend or attempt their hurt (2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 91:1-4; Psalm 121:5-7; Isaiah 25:1, 4; Isaiah 54:14, 17; Proverbs 16:7).
1. God sometimes accomplishes His promises of protection to His servants by changing the hearts and dispositions of their bitterest enemies, so that they become favourers and friends (Proverbs 21:1). Esau (Genesis 32:7, 11); Egyptians (Exodus 11:3).
2. God preserves the honest followers of that which is good from harm, by so chaining up and overawing the malice of their enemies, that however their inward hatred remain, yet they do not manifest it by outward injuries (Genesis 31:42; Exodus 34:24).
3. As the enemies of the righteous are often constrained to conceal their malice; so, when God thinks it fit to interpose His power, He screens the righteous from the most furious assaults of their open hatred and wrath, Red Sea; Saul and David; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Mordecai.
III. The following of that which is good, though it does not always mollify the hearers, nor manacle the hands of men, yet it does that which is much better, viz., IT TURNS THE GREATEST INJURIES OF THEIR MOST DEADLY ENEMIES TO THEIR PROFIT AND ADVANTAGE. This effect it produces sometimes in their temporal, but always in their spiritual and eternal interests (Romans 8:28). Conclusion:
1. We are informed from the truth already cleared, of the most certain, the most innocent method of securing ourselves and our interests against oppression and wrong, viz., the sincere following of that which is good (Isaiah 32:17, 18; Isaiah 33:16; Proverbs 18:10).
2. Seeing God has taken the followers of that which is good under His protection, this should fill their hearts with joy and courage, and banish from them sinful and disquieting sadness and fear, even when their enemies are most powerful (Isaiah 26:1; Psalm 5:11, 12; Psalm 27:1-3).
3. The consolation which this doctrine yields to the sincerely good is much enhanced while he considers that the greatest injuries are turned by the sovereign providence and grace of God to their benefit, sometimes in their temporal, and always in their spiritual and eternal interests.
4. Since the safety of our persons and interests from oppression lies chiefly in the following of that which is good, it should endear unto us religion and virtue, and powerfully dissuade us from ungodliness and vice.
5. Since the harming of those who are the followers of that which is good is so unreasonable in itself, and such a perfect contradiction unto God, who is the great Patron of holiness, this should make men both ashamed and afraid to be guilty thereof.
6. Though they who, after serious examination of their ways, see their own uprightness, need not suspect the same because of those evils they meet with from the world, yet persecution, as all other afflictions do, fairly invites us to search and try our heart and behaviour, that so we may know, whether or not by our turning aside from that which is good, we have provoked God to expose us to the spite and violence of men.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. THE CARRIAGE, "followers of that which is good"; the Greek word is imitators. The Word of God contains our copy in its perfection, and so the imitation of good, in the complete rule of it, is the regulating of our ways by the word. But even there we find, besides general rules, the particular tracks of life of divers eminently holy persons, that we may know holiness not to be an idle imaginary thing, but that men have really been holy; though not altogether sinless, yet holy and spiritual in some good measure; have shined as lights amidst a perverse generation. Why may we not then aspire to be holy as they were, and attain to it? Would you advance in all grace? Study Christ much, and you will find not only the pattern in Him, but strength and skill from Him to follow it.
II. THE ADVANTAGE, "Who is he that will harm you?" In the life of a godly man, taken together in the whole frame of it, there is a grave beauty or comeliness, which oftentimes forces some kind of reverence and respect to it even in ungodly minds. Though a natural man cannot love them spiritually, as graces of the Spirit of God, yet he may have and usually hath a natural esteem of some kind of virtues which are in a Christian, and are not, in their right nature, to be found in any other, though a moralist may have somewhat like them. Meekness, and patience, and charity, and fidelity — these and other suchlike graces do make a Christian life so inoffensive and calm, that, except where the matter of their God or religion is made the crime, malice itself can scarcely tell where to fasten its teeth or lay its hold; it hath nothing to pull by, though it would; yea, oftentimes, for want of work or occasions, it will fall asleep for a while. Whereas ungodliness and iniquity, sometimes by breaking out into notorious crimes, draws out the sword of civil justice, and where it rises not so high, yet it involves men in frequent contentions and quarrels.
(Abp. Leighton.)I. THE QUALIFICATION SUPPOSED is, that we be "followers of that which is good." But what is that? The apostle does not go about to define it, but appeals to every man's conscience to tell him what it is. It is not anything that is controverted, which some men call good and others evil, but that which is universally approved by heathens as well as Christians, that which is substantially good, and that which is unquestionably so. It is not zeal for lesser things, about the ritual and ceremonial part of religion, and a great strictness about the external parts of it, but a pursuit of the weightier things of the law, a care of the great duties of religion, mercy, and justice, and fidelity; those things wherein the kingdom of God consists — righteousness and peace.
II. THE BENEFIT AND ADVANTAGE which may reasonably be expected from it, and that is, security from the injuries of men: "Who is he that will harm you?" etc. The apostle doth not absolutely say none will do it, but he speaks of it as a thing so very unreasonable and so unlikely that it will not often happen. And this will appear —
1. If we consider the nature of virtue and goodness, which is apt to gain upon the affections of men, and secretly to win their love and esteem. True goodness is inwardly esteemed by bad men; it carries an awe and majesty with it, so that bad men are very often restrained from harming the good by that secret reverence which they bear to goodness.
2. If we consider the nature of man, even when it is very much depraved and corrupted. There is something that is apt to restrain bad men from injuring those that are remarkably good — a reverence for goodness, the fear of God, and of bringing down His vengeance upon their heads; and many times the fear of men, who, though they be not good themselves, cannot endure to see them oppressed, especially if they have found the real effects of their goodness in good offices done by them to themselves.
3. If we consider the providence of God, which is particularly concerned for the protection of innocency and goodness.
III. AND YET WE ARE NOT TO UNDERSTAND THIS SAYING OF THE APOSTLE, AS DECLARING TO US THE CONSTANT AND CERTAIN EVENT OF THINGS WITHOUT ANY EXCEPTION. For good men are sometimes exposed to great injuries of which I shall give you an account in these following particulars —
1. Sonic that seem to be good are not sincerely so, and when they, by the just judgment of God, are punished for their hypocrisy, in the opinion of many goodness seems to suffer.
2. Some that are really good are very imperfectly so, have many flaws which do very much obscure their goodness; they are "followers of that which is good," but they have an equal zeal for things which have no goodness in them, or so little that it is not worth all that bustle which they make about them, and will contend as earnestly for a doubtful opinion as for the articles of "the faith which was once delivered to the saints," and will oppose a little ceremony with as much heat as the greatest immorality. In these cases it is not men's goodness which raiseth enmity against them, but their imprudent zeal and other infirmities which attend it.
3. The enmity of some men against goodness is so violent and implacable that no innocency can restrain their malice. Against these the providence of God is our best safeguard.
4. The last and chief exception is that of the cross, when the sufferings and persecutions of good men are necessary for the great ends of God's glory, for the advancement of religion, and the example and salvation of others.
(Abp. Tillotson.)I. If a man be a follower of that which is good, 'tis probable NO MAN WILL HAVE ANY DESIRE TO HARM HIM.
II. If we be followers of that which is good, 'tis certain NO MAN, WHATEVER HIS WILL BE, SHALL HAVE ANY POWER TO DO US ANY REAL HARM.
1. The providence of God does in a peculiar manner watch over the righteous, to preserve them under all events.
2. The enemies of a righteous man cannot do him any real harm, because they cannot take from him anything wherein his true and proper happiness consists.
3. Whatever loss a good man sustains in the world upon the account of his concern for truth and virtue, shall be abundantly made good to him in that which is to come; and consequently 'tis so far from doing any real harm, that it ought rather to be accounted a gain than a loss.
(S. Clarke, D. D.)
II. scoffed at him and said, "What: venture yourselves among the savages of North America! Why, man, what security have you that you will not be in their war kettle within two hours after setting your foot on their shores?" "The best security in the world," said William Penn. "I doubt that, friend William," said the king. "I have no idea of any security against these American cannibals but a regiment of good soldiers with their bayonets and muskets: and I tell you beforehand, with all my goodwill for you and your family, to whom I am under obligations, I will not send a single soldier with you." "I want none of your soldiers," said William Penn. "I depend upon something better." "On what?" asked the king. William Penn answered, "On the Indians themselves, and their moral sense, and the protection of the Almighty God." And it is a fact in American history that for seventy years the red men kept that treaty, and it was not broken until the white men broke it.
(Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)
Followers of that which is good
Homilist.I. ITS PROSPECTIVENESS.
1. A desire for future good.
2. An expectation of future good.
II. ITS SOCIALITY. It has a community of —
1. Paramount interest.
2. Leading aims.
III. ITS REASONABLENESS.
1. Our nature was made for goodness.
2. Christ came into the world to give us goodness.
3. God works to make us good.
4. The great struggle of our nature is to be good.
IV. ITS REVERENCE. Genuine religion is modest, devout, meek.
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