Romans 14:1
The composite character of the Christian community at Rome - the Jewish origin of many of its members on the one hand, and contact with heathenism on the other - had doubtless given rise to differences of opinion. Some there were who still retained their Jewish prejudices and ideas. They abstained from meats. They observed special days. They were inclined to judge harshly and even to look down upon those who did not think and act as they did (ver. 3). And, on the other hand, those who partook of all meats, and regarded all days as alike, were disposed to find fault with those who attached a religious significance to the partaking of food and the observing of days. The apostle here lays down some general principles which are of use in all such cases where differences of opinion arise about non-essentials.

I. THE CHRISTIAN'S DEPENDENCE. "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (vers. 7-9). There is no such thing as absolute independence. The relation of each individual to Christ, dependence on him and responsibility to him, is here asserted.

1. We depend upon the Lord's death. In the cross is our hope of forgiveness, pardon, cleansing.

2. We depend upon the Lord's resurrection. In his resurrection is our hope and assurance of the life and immortality beyond. "Because I live, ye shall live also."

3. We depend upon the Lord's continual intercession. In his intercession is our hope and assurance of answered prayer.

4. We depend upon the Lord's continued gifts to us. The Lord's day; the Word of the Lord; the Lord's house; the Lord's Supper; - how much our spiritual life is dependent upon these precious blessings provided for us by our Lord and Master! "Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's."

5. This dependence upon Christ brings with it corresponding obligations. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bedight with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20).

II. THE CHRISTIAN'S INDEPENDENCE. The independence of the Christian is the correlative of his dependence. He is dependent upon Christ, and therefore he is:

1. Independent of external circumstances. "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." And again, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." Even death can bring no alarm to those who can say, "We are the Lord's;" for Christ is the Conqueror of death.

2. Independent of human criticism. "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him" (ver. 3); "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or faileth" (ver. 4); "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (ver. 5). Here the apostle asserts the great principle of liberty of conscience, and inculcates the great duty of charity and toleration. Alas! how often the principle and the duty have been forgotten in the Christian Church! Christian men have excommunicated one another and treated one another as enemies because they differed on some minor detail of doctrine, of government, or of worship.. Even the Protestant Churches, and Protestant Christians, one of whose distinctive principles is liberty of conscience, have sometimes failed to extend to others that toleration which they claim for themselves. "God alone is Lord of the conscience," says the Westminster Confession of Faith, "and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men." - C.H.I.







Him that is weak in the faith receive, but not to doubtful disputations.
Here is a lesson —

I. FOR THOSE WHO ARE STRONG IN THE FAITH.

1. Not to provoke.

2. Nor despise those who are weak.

II. FOR THOSE WHO ARE WEAK. Not to judge their stronger brethren.

III. FOR BOTH.

1. To think and let think.

2. To give each other credit for sincerity.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

1. "Faith" is not here used in the sense of confidence in Christ, but of the faith. The question was, did Christianity or did it not require abstinence from certain meats, and observance of certain fasts and festivals? The man who maintained that it did is here held to be weak in the faith. He had but faintly grasped the breadth of Christ's redeeming work; while he who had attained superior light, and had been set free from all such scruples, was therefore strong in the faith.

2. Now, the apostle assumes that the latter was right. Had he been wrong, there could have been no discussion, and there could be no just ground for a moment's toleration of him. But he was not wrong (ver. 14). The Mosaic law on these subjects had been done away in Christ (Colossians 2:16, 17).

3. The question was whether the man who conscientiously abstained and observed might, or might not, be received into the Church. He was certainly not required in order to salvation to disregard the Jewish festivals, nor to eat unclean meats. But it never could be tolerated that he should set up his scrupulous conscience as the normal standard of Christian faith (Galatians 2:3-5; Galatians 4:9-11; Galatians 5:1-4). No one must bind burdens upon men which the Lord had not bound. Hence the weak in faith is to be received, but not to judgings or condemnations of opinions. If he is content to enjoy the advantages of fellowship with you, without insisting that you are all wrong, let him be received; but if his object is to promote contention, etc., then he has no rightful place amongst you.

I. LET NOT THE STRONG IN THE FAITH DESPISE THEM THAT ARE WEAK, for their convictions rest ultimately upon Divine revelation. The law of Moses was of Divine authority, and, although done away in Christ, was subject to it. Therefore it was not surprising if some of the Jewish converts still felt insuperable objections to its abandonment. It was a matter of conscience, and the man who respects his conscience deserves respect, even when prejudiced and wrong (ver. 6). The strong, therefore, must not put a stumbling-block in their brother's way. This may be done —

1. By a contempt of his scruples. The disposition to sneer at his stupid weakness will not convince him that he is either stupid or weak, but will rather drive him utterly away from those who tolerate such an ungenerous spirit, and perhaps to apostasy. Now, though the strong had a perfect right to disregard the distinctions of meats, he had no right to imperil the salvation of any one for whom Christ died (ver. 17). The weak are not required to abstain from meats, but you are not bound to eat them (1 Corinthians 8:13).

2. By example or persuasion. It was quite lawful for the strong to employ argument in order to convince the weak that he misapprehended the character and purpose of Christianity: but it was not lawful for him to laugh at his scruples, and to assure him, without adducing proof, that there could really be no harm in eating, etc. That might be quite true for him, but it would not be true for his weak brother. If this man presumed to eat the meat, or to disregard the day, while his scruples remained, his own conscience would accuse him of unfaithfulness. Thank God for thy liberty (ver. 22); but use it lawfully (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16; 1 Corinthians 8:9).

II. THE WEAK IN THE FAITH ARE NOT TO JUDGE OR CONDEMN THE STRONG IN THE FAITH, the thing to which they are always predisposed. Incapable of grasping comprehensive principles, that, e.g., of Christian love, they feel to require a multitude of minute prescriptions. Days and meats and dress must all be fixed by enactment. And so being most punctiliously conscientious themselves, are ready to condemn brethren who are not equally scrupulous. Admit them into the Church by all means, says the apostle; but they must lay aside this censorious spirit. For it is not suffered them to usurp the place of the great Supreme. These matters are in themselves morally indifferent (ver. 14; 1 Timothy 4:4). Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and act upon his own convictions. Your judgment is not binding upon any conscience but your own. As to all other matters there must be mutual forbearance and charity. Yet it is for each one to see —

1. That he is loyally and earnestly devoted to the service of his Lord. Whether strong or weak his object must be to approve himself unto the Lord in everything, and for the Lord's sake to promote the comfort and perfection of all his brethren.

2. That conscience is not offended. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth in his own practice. Where there is doubt, respect that doubt. Seek that your conscience may be well informed.

(W. Tyson.)

Weak Christians have infirmities, but infirmity supposes life; and we must not despise them in heart, word, or carriage. We must rather deny ourselves than offend them. We must support them — bear them as pillars bear the house, as the shoulders the burden, as the wall the vine, as parents their children, as the oak the ivy; and this because —

1. THEY ARE BRETHREN. Are they not of the same body? Shall the hand cut off the little finger because it is not as large as the thumb? Do men throw away their corn because it comes into the barn with chaff?

II. THEY ARE WEAK. Bear with them out of pity. In a family, if one of the little ones be sick, all the larger children are ready to attend it, which they need not do if it were well.

III. CHRIST DOES SO. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" — the law of —

1. His command.

2. His example. He takes special care of the lambs, will not quench the smoking flax, and is touched with a feeling of our infirmities.

(Philip Henry.)

Differences of opinion —

I. MUST NECESSARILY ARISE EVEN AMONG CHRISTIANS, out of —

1. Human ignorance.

2. The different constitution of the mind.

II. IN TRIVIAL MATTERS INDICATE WEAKNESS OF FAITH IN THOSE WHO ARE RIGIDLY SCRUPULOUS. They do not understand the spirituality and liberty of the gospel.

III. SHOULD BE MAINTAINED IN THE SPIRIT OF LOVE.

1. The strong may not despise the weak.

2. The weak and scrupulous may not judge the strong.

IV. ARE OF INFINITELY LESS IMPORTANCE THAN CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD. He whom God has received must be —

1. Respected.

2. Treated as a brother beloved.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

The argument for this is founded on —

I. THE NATURE AND CONDITION OF MAN. He is imperfect, and therefore should also be tolerant. There is nothing more universal than ignorance, and hence there should be no virtue more universal than toleration. The facility with which we all absorb error and fall into prejudices, should make us always ready to tolerate many shades of religious opinion. It is folly to demand a unity of belief in a world where there is no one wise but God, and no one good except God. Some of the best men have been the victims of great errors. All intolerance is based upon egotism. It proceeds from the assumption that you have reached the ideal. The dreadful Popish persecutions all originated in a human egotism that cried, "I have found it!" They had become the exponents of God. Whereas now history shows that in all cases the persons exiled or put to death held a better creed at the time than those who forced upon them the bitter fate.

II. IN THE FACT THAT THE IDEAS OVER WHICH MOST BLOOD HAS BEEN SHED HAVE SUBSEQUENTLY BEEN PROVEN EITHER USELESS OR FALSE. But one might have premised that the most intolerance would always be found gathered about the least valuable doctrine, because the most valuable doctrines are always so evident that no thumb-screw or faggot is ever needed to make the lips whisper assent. No man has ever been put to death for heresy regarding the Sermon on the Mount. But when a church comes along with its "legitimacy," its Five Points, its Prayer Book, or its Infant Baptism, then comes the demand for the rack and the stake to make up in terrorism what is wanting in evidence. When witnesses were wanting, the high priests rent their clothes. If God has so fashioned the human mind that all its myriad forms can agree upon doctrines that are most vital; and if, as a fact, persecution has always attached itself to the small, then we would seem to have the curse of God visibly revealed against intolerance.

(D. Swing.)

A Quaker, after listening to Whitefield's preaching, came up to him and said, "Friend George, I am as thou art. I am for bringing all to the life and power of the everlasting God; and therefore if thou wilt not quarrel with me about my hat, I will not quarrel with thee about thy gown."

(J. R. Andrews.)

Sailer, afterwards Bishop of Regensburg, could be identified with no party, and was hated by each. Napoleon prevented his promotion at one time by assuring the king he was a mere hanger-on to the Roman court; the Pope refused it at another because he suspected his attachment to the Church He was one of the mildest and most tolerant of men — mild to excess. It is told that having preached one morning near Salzburg, the parish clergyman rose up and said he would preach himself in the afternoon, as Sailer had made the doors of heaven too wide. "You are excellent at bandages," said one of his friends, "but a bad operator." "Very possibly," he replied; "in my life I have seen more wounds healed by a good bandage than by a knife."

(Dr. Stephenson.)

I. HOW IT IS IMPERILLED.

1. By forcing our own opinions on others.

2. By overestimating our own practice.

II. HOW IT MAY BE PROMOTED.

1. By forbearance (ver. 3).

2. By humility (ver. 4).

3. By aiming at personal conviction (ver. 5).

4. By keeping in view the glory of God (ver. 6).

III. WHEREON IT RESTS.

1. The common assurance that we serve one Lord.

2. That we are all redeemed by Him.

IV. WHAT IT REQUIRES.

1. That we avoid all unbrotherly conduct.

2. That we all submit to God.

3. That we remember our final account.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

This chapter is written to dissuade men from acting the part of religious critics. It cannot be said that men are indifferent to religion in other folks. It is only to religion in themselves that they are comparatively indifferent. Men are so accustomed to criticise each other's church service, etc., that they lose the very spirit of religion. The apostle dissuades everybody from it. A little spring comes out from the side of a mountain, pure and cool. Two men are determined that that spring shall be kept perfectly pure and drinkable. One wants it to be done in one way, and the other in another way; and they are so zealous to keep the spring pure that they get to quarrelling about it, and tramp through it, and make it muddy. They defile it in their very zeal to keep it pure; and the water flows down turbid and unfit to drink. Now, men are so determined to glorify God that they act like the devil. They are so determined that charity shall prevail that they slay men. They are so determined that a kind spirit shall exist that they will not have a word to say to a man who does not believe in their catechism. They are so determined that the world shall be generous that they stir up all manner of corrupting appetites and passions. They condemn their fellow-men, saying, "Well, they are not orthodox. They are not true believers. They do not belong to the true Church. There are no covenants for them." So, under one pretence and another, the great Christian brotherhood, through the ages past, has been turmoiled and distracted; and the world has seen the spectacle of anything but what God meant to establish in the world. The Church by which He meant to make known His manifold wisdom, has made manifest narrowness, sectarianism, selfishness, unjust partialities, and all manner of irritable jealousies. It has not made manifest the beauty of God, the sweetness of Christ Jesus, nor the love of the Spirit. It is a fact which I think can be stated without fear of contradiction, that the general aspect of religion, as presented by churches throughout Christendom, is not winning and attractive, and that the "beauty of holiness," of which the Scriptures speak, has not yet blossomed out in the world.

(H. W. Beecher.)

1. The weak one is —(1) Not one that is weak and sick to death, erring in the foundation of faith — one who doth "not hold the Head" (Colossians 2:19), who "denieth the Lord that bought him" (2 Peter 2:1; 2 John 10).(2) Nor one who is sick about "questions" (1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:13; 2 Timothy 2:13).(3) But one who, though he hath embraced the Saviour, yet is not of a mature judgment, clear enough about the abolition of ceremonial observations, things [which] he judgeth ought to be forborne or done.

2. Charity is enjoined towards such. "Take them to you, receive them into your houses" (Romans 12:13; Luke 5:29). When they fly for their religion and lives, supply their wants, though not just of your opinion. Do not force them to practise what they cannot freely do, but receive them into your arms, love and converse, that you may instruct them and win them into your communion. Let not little differences cause the greatest distances (ver. 3).

3. The limitation of this exception. "Not to doubtful disputations."

I. DISPUTATIONS ARE NOT EASILY JUDGED OF BY SUCH AS ARE WEAK IN FAITH. This is evident from the first dispute that ever was in the world.

1. By this first dispute with the serpent, our first parents were foiled when in uprightness and strength of the image of God. But now sinful man is in a much more dark and doleful state. For —(1) He cannot form an idea of anything as it is in itself (1 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 3:5).(2) His judgment, therefore, must needs be dubious or wrong whereby he is to compare things that differ or agree (Hosea 9:7; Isaiah 5:20; Hebrews 5:14).(3) His conclusions, therefore, must needs be distorted from these premisses; and the errors in the first and second concoction are not corrected and amended by the third. He who cannot make one straight step, can never take three together.

2. As we are lame in our feet by our naturals, so even those who by the light of the gospel and grace are brought over to better understanding, yet by virtue of the old craziness they are not thoroughly illuminated and refined. The very apostles themselves were plainly told by our Saviour of His sufferings and resurrection, yet "they understood none of these things" (Luke 18:33, 34; Luke 24:45). Paul says, We "know" but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). We see but one side of the globe. These weak Jews were zealous for their ceremonies; the Gentiles, as hot for theirs; let no man think himself infallible, for these were all mistaken.

3. Nothing so convulseth men's reason as interest.

II. THE PRACTICE OF HOLY DUTIES IS THE READY WAY TO HAVE OUR MINDS ENLIGHTENED IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF PRINCIPLES. These practical duties —

1. Give light (John 3:21). The very entrance into the command giveth light (Psalm 119:130); the door is a window to him that hath a weak sight.

2. Advance light. Every step a man takes he goeth into a new horizon, and gets a further prospect into truth.

3. Keep from error or help out of it. Communion with the saints, e.g., as in a team if one horse lash out of the way, if the others hold their course, they will draw the former to the right path. "If any man will do this will of God, he shall know of the doctrine" (Psalm 35:14).

III. CHRISTIAN CHARITY AND RECEPTION WILL SOONER WIN WEAK ONES TO THE TRUTH THAN RIGID ARGUMENTS.

1. Opposition breeds oppositions. When men dispute, they jostle for the way, and so one or both must needs leave the path of truth and peace. The saw of contention reciprocated, with its keen teeth eateth up both truth and love; for such contentions are rather for victory than truth.

2. Loving converse taketh off those prejudices which hinder men's minds from a true knowledge of others' principles and practices.

3. Sincere love and converse breed a good opinion of persons who differ from us. They can taste humility, meekness, and kindness, better than the more speculative principles of religion.

(T. Woodcock, A.M.)

Christian Journal.
Such facts remind us of an incident that occurred on the south-eastern coast. A noble ship with its crew and passengers was in awful peril, having struck on a sunken rock. Having been observed by those on shore, the lifeboat was ran down to the beach. Everything was in readiness when a most unseemly quarrel arose. There were two rival crews, each of which claimed the right to man the boat, and to receive any remuneration that might be earned by pulling out to the wreck. Neither crew would give way to the other, and so the boat was not launched, and while those men were wrangling with each other the ship and all on board her went under the raging billows. That was a sad scene. But in the eyes of Heaven it must be a still sadder spectacle to see the Church wasting her time and energies in disputing about points of doctrine and discipline, and yet leaving vast multitudes of men to perish in their sin and misery and despair.

(Christian Journal.)

Let each receive every other in his individuality, and that not to doubtful disputations. We are not to attempt to shape men to that which we think they ought to be in a hard and systematic manner. In churches we see exhibited certain styles of character. The lines have been laid down with accuracy. The members are to believe such and such things, and they are to observe such and such bounds and theological lines, or else they are like a plant that is in a pot that is too small for its roots, and they are dwarfs all the rest of their lives. There are a few Christians (I would to God there were more) in whom the kingdom of God is like an oak or cedar of Lebanon; but there are many who are called Christians in whom the kingdom of God is no bigger than a thimble. There are men who have a few catechetical ideas, who are orthodox, and who make no mistakes in theology; but woe be to the man who does not make any mistakes. Count the sands of the sea, if you can, without misreckoning. A man that has a hundred ducats or dollars may count them and make no mistake; but multiply them by millions, and then can he count them without any mistake? I am sorry for a man who does not make mistakes. If you have a huge bucket, and a pint of water in it, you will never make the mistake of spilling the water; but if a man is carrying a huge bucket full of water he will be certain to spill it.

(H. W. Beecher.)

John Wesley, a man whose bitterest enemy could not fairly accuse him of indifference to the doctrines and faith "once delivered to the saints," wrote thus liberally and large-heartedly to a correspondent: "Men may die without any opinions, and yet be carried into Abraham's bosom; but if we be without love, what will knowledge avail? I will not quarrel with you about opinions. Only see that your heart be right toward God, and that you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and love your neighbours, and walk as your Master walked, and I ask no more. I am sick of opinions. Give me a good and substantial religion, a humble, gentle love of God and man."

God grant that we may contend with other churches, as the vine with the olive, which of us shall bear the best fruit; but not, as the brier with the thistle, which of us will be most unprofitable!

(Lord Bacon.)

As a little spark many times setteth a whole house on fire; even so a contentious and froward person, of a little matter of nought, maketh much debate and division among lovers and friends. As we see one coal kindle another, and wood to be apt matter to make a fire; so those that are disposed to contention and brawling are apt to kindle strife.

(Cawdray.)

A cobbler at Leyden, who used to attend the public disputations held at the academy, was once asked if he understood Latin. "No," replied the mechanic; "but I know who is wrong in the argument." "How?" replied his friend. "Why, by seeing who is angry first." Christian liberty: — In such points as may be held diversely by diverse persons, I would not take any man's liberty from him; and I humbly beseech all men that they would not take mine from me.

(Abp. Bramhall.)

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