Be careful that no one falls short of the grace of God, so that no root of bitterness will spring up to cause trouble and defile many.
I. PEACE AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after peace with all men." Peace here is the opposite of strife, division, or misunderstanding amongst Christian brethren. "Seek peace, and pursue it." "Behold, bow good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" etc. (Psalm 133.). Notice:
1. The importance of the object of pursuit. "Peace." It is essential to spiritual progress, to Christian usefulness, and to the enjoyment of the Divine presence. Discord drives away the Holy Spirit, and is fatal to personal growth in grace, to mutual edification, and to successful evangelization.
2. The extent of this pursuit. "With all men." The primary meaning is "all their fellow-Christians." The context shows this. Our text immediately follows the exhortation to guard against any feeble Christian being turned out of the way, and it immediately precedes the exhortation to take heed that no one should fall short of the grace of God. And if the "all signified all mankind, the exhortation under consideration would be exceedingly unconnected. It is clearly the brethren who are here meant by all," as in Romans 14:19, "Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." But in applying it to ourselves may we not take it in its widest signification? "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
3. The limit of this pursuit. In our endeavors after peace we must not sacrifice anything which is essential to the pursuit of holiness. "First pure, then peaceable." Follow after peace, but not at the expense of Christian principle.
II. HOLINESS AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after... holiness," or, "sanctification." Delitzsch says, "Sanctification is not holiness, but is the putting on of it and becoming holy." But for popular speech we may use the term "holiness." Let us consider two inquiries.
1. What is holiness? It is, says Dr. Huntington, "that attribute which is the very crown of all the culture of humanity; for it carries the soul up nearest to the everlasting Fountain of wisdom, power, goodness, from which it came. It enters in only where repentance opens the way, and spiritual renewal puts the heart into wholesome relations with the Divine will. It is the peculiar gift for which the world stands indebted to revelation, and it is multiplied just in proportion as the heart is formed into the likeness of Christ's. It is the summit of manhood, but no less the grace of God. It is achieved by effort, because your free will must use the means that secure it; and it is equally the benignant inspiration of that Father who hears every patient petition."
2. How shall we pursue holiness? Not by efforts, however sincere and earnest, after self-reformation or self-improvement. It is assumed that the persons who are exhorted to follow after holiness have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord. Supposing that we are sincere Christians, we should seek for holiness.
(1) By keeping our spiritual nature open to Divine impression and action. We must let Christ enter, and dwell, and work, and reign within us.
(2) By communion with Jesus Christ. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
(3) By conscious and deliberate imitation of Christ. "Take my yoke upon you, anti learn of me." "I have given you an example," etc. (John 13:15). "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps." This imitation obviously includes endeavors to render complete and hearty obedience to the Divine will.
(4) By diligent use of Divine ordinances. The holy Book will be prayerfully and thoughtfully read, "the assembling of ourselves together" will be welcomed, and the ministry of the Word and the sacraments will be devoutly considered and accepted.
(5) This pursuit should be continuous. "It is not by fits and starts that men become holy. It is not occasional, but continuous, prolonged, and lifelong efforts that are required; to be daily at it; always at it; resting but to renew the work; falling but to rise again. It is not by a few rough, spasmodic blows of the hammer that a graceful statue is brought out of the marble block, but by the labor of continuous days, and many delicate touches of the sculptor's chisel. It is not with a rush and a spring that we are to reach Christ's character, attain to perfect saintship; but step by step, foot by foot, hand over hand, we are slowly and often painfully to mount the ladder that rests on earth and rises to heaven" (Dr. Thomas Guthrie).
(6) The pursuit both of peace and of holiness should be zealous. The word used by the writer in enjoining it shows this. It means to pursue rapidly, to follow eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire. Half-hearted efforts are of little avail. As the miser seeks to amass temporal wealth, as the enthusiastic student strives after knowledge, so let us follow after peace and holiness. And with even greater eagerness should we pursue them because of their greater importance.
III. HOLINESS AS A QUALIFICATION FOR HEAVEN'. "Sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord."
2. Holiness is an essential qualification for the perception of this manifestation. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." "The pure heart," says Tholuck, "itself is the organ whereby the vision of God becomes attainable by us." Without holiness a person has no more fitness for heaven than a blind man has for the enjoyment of a beautiful picture-gallery or a glorious landscape.
3. If it were possible for an unholy soul to enter heaven it could find no peace or happiness there, but would realize intense misery. "Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man; How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God's holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in his presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the eternal eye was ever upon him; and that eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an eye of wrath and punishment. God cannot change his nature. Holy he must ever be. But while he is holy, no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, but it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell. The finger of Lazarus would but increase their thirst. The very "heaven that is over their heads 'will be brass' to them" (Dr. S. H. Newman). Therefore, let Us "follow after peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." - W.J.
Lest any man fail of the grace of God.
1. It may be that some of us fail through our want of continued effort. In nay garden there is a cherry tree. It bore no fruit the first year, but we took great pains with it, and the second year it brought forth one splendid cherry, and that was all. It made its effort and succeeded. Likewise, every tree, every flower, and even the common grass by the wayside makes strenuous efforts to put forth beauty and fruit after its kind. But unfortunately some of us men are not like trees and flowers; we do not make continued efforts.
2. Another reason your life is a failure is because you do not depend upon God, and you live more for yourself than for your fellow-men. What do I mean by "depending upon God"? Well, this. See that ship. The captain has put up the sails, and has done all he can. The ship is trimmed, the sails are set, and the captain waits upon the wind; he feels he is dependent Upon it. In the same way we should be dependent upon God. We should wait for Him. We should do what we can to make ourselves ready for His coming, and then wait for Him to do the rest, and be willing to be guided by Him. There is too much self with many of us, that is why, comparatively speaking, our lives are failures.
3. The reason why others of us fail is because we take not advantage of God's grace.
4. Another reason for your failure may be that you delay doing your present duty. You do not do the thing that lies nearest you, but wait to do something great in the future. This habit of procrastination not only robs you of present good but of future blessing. In the same way, you are waiting for some great work to do instead of doing the thing at your right hand. Doing little things well is the best preparation for the achievement of great things.
1. Every man must have a care of himself, and look to his own soul.
2. They must watch one over another, and if they see any inclining to apostasy, or beginning to doubt of, or decline his profession, they must, by good example, instruction, admonition, reproof, and exhortation, seek to reform him.
3. The minister of the gospel being trusted with man's soul, must be very watchful above all other; must exhort, reprove, and by his wholesome doctrine, inform the ignorant, strengthen the weak, reform the erroneous, encourage the faint, and suffer no such bitter root to spring up amongst his people.
4. They that have the power of discipline, upon information, must by admonition and lighter censures first seek to reclaim a sinning brother; and if so, they cannot rectify him, they must cast him out, lest others be infected.
(G. Lawson.): —As the pilot-boats cruise far out, watching for every whitening sail, and hover, through day and night, all about the harbour, vigilant to board every ship, that they may bring safely through the narrows all the wanderers of the ocean; so should we watch off the gate of salvation for all the souls, tempest-tossed, beating in from the sea of sin, and guide them through the perilous straits, that at last in still waters they may east the anchor of their hope.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Root of bitterness springing up.God and afflicts men.
I. The analogy of a root serves to illustrate the NATURE of the evil. An accurate knowledge of the danger goes far to constitute a defence. The figure directs our thoughts at once to the heart as the seat of the affections. "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts," and words, and actions. Our care must not be exclusively directed to the deeds — the fruit above ground — we must seek to reach that hidden root which grows in the soul unseen, generating actual transgression in the life of men. There are many points in which the analogy holds good between a root and the sinful disposition of soul which gives birth to unrighteous action.
1. The root is below ground — unseen. The surface of the field, when you pass by, may be naked, and clean, and smooth — not a green blade to be seen, far less an opening flower, or ripening fruit; yet there may be in that field a multitude of thriving, vigorous roots, that will soon cover and possess its surface with thorns and thistles. So in a church, or a family, or a single member of it, though for the time all that meets the eye be fair, there may be in the soul within a germ of evil already swelling, and ready to burst out into open wickedness.
2. The root not only is, but grows. It has a vital self-increasing principle. Unless you kill it, you cannot keep it down. So with the sinful disposition in the heart. It is not the existence of the thing merely that we have to dread, but its vitality. The Scripture (Ephesians 2:2, 3) speaks of men being dead in sins, and yet walking according to the course of this world. In like manner, though the guilty state of the soul be called death, yet it is a death that lives and grows. It not only bears fruit upward, but strikes root downward; and the more vigorously it shoots its fibres down into the soil, the heavier a harvest of wickedness it bears.
3. Though you may be able to destroy the fruit, and cut down the branches, the root may be beyond your reach. Though the branches be lopped off, and the stem cut down close by the ground, yet the root left in the soil will keep its hold, and send up another stem, and spread out other branches. So with this sin. Much may be done to check its outward exhibition. Many agencies may be brought to bear upon it, which will not only prevent the ripening of the fruit, but will blight the opening blossom, and maim the spreading branches. Many schemes may be tried, and tried successfully, to stop the committing of sins, while the disposition to sin lives as vigorous, and grows as rank as ever in the soul.
II. In the text the root is significantly called A hoot OF BITTERNESS. The analogy of a root suggests the existence, and the life, and the growth, and the power of a principle, without determining whether it be good or bad; but the distinguishing characteristic of the root spoken of is "bitterness." Everything depends on the nature of the root that is bedded in the soil. There is a plant called the nightshade, which is in some respects like a vine. Like the vine, its branches are slender, and unless supported, they trail upon the ground. Its bunches of fruit, too, are very similar, both in form and colour, to clusters of grapes. Its fruit is a poison. From its nature, it gets the name of the deadly nightshade. Now, this plant may grow beside a vine — may cling to the branches of a vine, and intermingle its clusters of fruit, so that you could scarcely distinguish the one from the other. Nay, more; in such a case the roots of the two plants will shoot down into the same soil — they will intertwine with each other in the earth — they will drink up the same sap at the same place. It would require a very close examination to distinguish the fibres that belong to each; yet this root converts the sap into delicious food — that into deadly poison. The result does not depend on air and sun, and moisture and earth — these were all the same in this case. The fruit takes its character from the root. If it be a root of bitterness, it turns everything into poison. Such is the distinguishing characteristic of a sinful affection. Our living souls are the seat of many thoughts and emotions they constitute the soil which nourishes many roots. Some roots grow there bearing sweet fruit to the glory of God and the good of men; but they are "the planting of the Lord." It is the root of bitterness that springs first, and spreads farthest. There are the shattered remnants of much good in the human soul. There are in it many materials which may be turned to good account, when a new heart has been given — a new spirit created. But in all at first, and in many still, a strong one has possession. A bitter root occupies and sucks the soil, wasting its strength in bringing forth death. Pride, envy, worldliness, ungodliness — these, and other roots, pervade the ground, and drain off all its fatness. The natural powers and emotions of the soul — the sap which these roots feed upon — would nourish trees of righteousness, if they were but planted there. There are many precious qualities of mind, efficient for good or for evil, just as they are employed. You have known a man possessed of many good qualities — such qualities as attract and bind to their possessor a wide circle of friends. He is, in the common sense of the term, a good-hearted man. He is generous, and kind, and honest. He will not maliciously resent an injury — he gives liberally of his goods to feed the poor — he renders to every man his due; but he is a drunkard. A bitter root has fastened in that generous soil, and drinks up all its riches. Oh! it is sad to see that strong one keeping possession of a wealthy place. It is sad to see so promising a field exhausted in bearing the filthiest fruit. Avarice is another root of equal bitterness. There is no more pitiable creature on earth than a man whose heart's warm affections have been sucked out by the lust of gold. The power of understanding and judging, of liking and disliking, of hoping and fearing — all these, as natural capabilities of the human soul, are wielded by the presiding will either on the side of righteousness or the side of sin. The same learning and ardour which Saul of Tarsus employed to waste the Church, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, plied as the instruments of extending and establishing it. Paul had met the Lord in the way, and received into his heart the seed of a new life. This is the one needful thing. These understandings and memories, and all these natural powers that are now wasted on sin, the same instruments will do for serving God, when the quickening Spirit has implanted the new life within (Deuteronomy 29:14-18). The root that beareth gall and wormwood is a heart that turneth away from God; and to that spring of evil must the cure be applied. Although it be " a root out of a dry ground," all will be well, if it be not a "root of bitterness." If the root be holy, so also will the branches be.
(T. D. Huntingdon.)
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