"In diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."—Romans xii. n.
Paul regarded Christian doctrines as all meant to influence Christian practice, and so he attaches, with a "therefore,"a series of plain practical exhortations to the profound exhibition of the central truths of Christianity, which occupies the earlier part of this great epistle. That sequence condemns both a barren orthodoxy and a morality which attempts to produce righteousness without faith. The order in which these practical exhortations appear is no less instructive, for they are all presented as forms of the one foundation of all goodness, namely, yielding ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Give yourselves up to God; that is the Alpha and the Omega of all goodness, and wherever that foundation is really laid, on it will rise the fair building of a life which is a temple, adorned with whatever things are lovely and of good report. Many of the resulting virtues are here arranged in triplets, three sister Graces being linked hand in hand, as is the case in the instance under consideration.
Here we have set foremost the prime grace of diligence. The Authorised Version's rendering of "Not slothful in business" suggests, by reason of our modern restriction of that word "business " to a man's daily occupation, a more limited range to the exhortation than it really covers. For Paul does not mean to enjoin merely diligence in one's daily occupations. The word means zeal or earnestness, and the drift of the precept is to enforce the homely virtue of hard work, which is as necessary a condition of growth and maturity in the Christian life as in any other. Zeal may flag and will slacken its speed till it stops altogether, if it is not kept going by continual diligence. A ship's bottom gets foul with weeds which retard it, and have to be cleaned off. Many of us would have great reason for shame if we would sit quietly down and contrast how we go about our " business," and how we go about our Christian life, which should be our highest, most pressing business. We begin the one early and stick at it all day; we give our whole selves to it, as we ought to do. But why does our growth in Christian character not call forth the same concentration, wide-awakeness, continuous, all-dominating enthusiasm as does our success in our trade or profession? Why are we all fire in one case and all ice in the other? Why do we think it enough to lift the one burden, that which Christ lays on us, with
one languid hand, and to grasp the other, that of our daily avocation, with both hands earnestly ?" In diligence be not slothful" is a very prosaic exhortation. Are we obeying it?
That diligence must be fed by a fervent spirit. "Fervent" is literally " boiling." The spirit brought into contact with Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit will have its temperature raised to the boilingpoint. Such ebullient warmth is here enjoined on all Christians, for without it diligence will slacken and progress cease. Tasks in which the heart is not are soon dropped, if possible, and, if not dropped, are felt to be bondage. In order, then, that we should not settle down into sloth, nor find our Christian efforts burdensome necessities, we must have what will make "the soul's depths boil in earnest."
Of course, "the depth and not the tumult of the soul" is what "the gods approve," and there is a kind of emotional Christianity which is worth nothing, because it is substituted for the strenuous practice of plain morality. But the true relation between the two is that this fervour of spirit should be harnessed, and should draw the car along the road of practical duty. Boiling water makes steam, and steam is not meant to go off roaring through a waste-pipe, but to be led into a cylinder and set to lift a piston. Fervour is valuable when it is set to work. The lightning goes careering through the sky, but we have harnessed it to tram-cars nowadays, and made it carry our letters and light our rooms. Fervour of a Christian spirit is all right when it is yoked to Christian work, and made to draw what else is a heavy chariot. It is not emotion, but it is indolent emotion, that is the curse of much of our "fervent" Christianity. There cannot be too much fervour. There may be too little outlet provided for the fervour to work in. It may all go off in comfortable feeling, in enthusiastic prayers and Aniens and "So be it, Lord"s and the like; or it may come with us into our daily tasks, and make us buckle to with more earnestness and more continuity. Diligence driven by earnestness, and fervour that works, are the true things. Surely there cannot be any deep Christianity which is not fervent. We hear much of the virtue of moderate and sober feeling in religion; but certainly, if we take into view the truths on which the New Testament insists, the truly "sober" feeling is fervent feeling, and tepid feeling is imperfect.
The diligence and fervency are both to be animated by the thought that we are "serving the Lord." The reading "serving the time" seems tame, gives no climax, and breaks the sequence discernible in the verse. This closing member of the triplet suggests what will stimulate diligence, and be fuel to the fire that makes the spirit boil. When our hands begin to droop and our spirits to be cold, and the paralysing influences of the commonplace and familiar threaten to creep over us, let us think that we are "serving the Lord," and the thought will freshen us up and set us boiling again. Many reasons urge us to diligence, such as the greatness of the work, the antagonisms to be faced, the brevity of the time allotted for toil, and the tremendous issues depending on diligence here. But the reason is that Christ has bought us to be His servants. That thought will make us bend our backs to His service, and deliver us from temptations to languid and perfunctory work. We can carry that motive— as we all know, and as we all forget when the pinch comes—into shop, study, office, mill, kitchen, or wherever we go. "On the bells of the horses there shall be written, Holiness to the Lord," said the prophet, and "every bowl in Jerusalem" may be sacred as the vessels of the altar. All life will flash into beauty, and tower into greatness, and besmoothed out to easiness, and the crooked things be made straight and the rough places plain, and the familiar and trite be invested with "the glory and the freshness of a dream," if in all we are consciously serving the Lord. That is the secret of diligence and of fervency.