Romans 14:1-23 . SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED--CHRISTIAN FORBEARANCE.
The subject here, and on to Romans 15:13 , is the consideration due from stronger Christians to their weaker brethren; which is but the great law of love (treated of in the thirteenth chapter) in one particular form.
1. Him that is weak in the faith--rather, "in faith"; that is, not "him that is weak in the truth believed" [CALVIN, BEZA, ALFORD, &c.], but (as most interpreters agree), "him whose faith wants that firmness and breadth which would raise him above small scruples."
receive ye--to cordial Christian fellowship.
but not to doubtful disputations--rather, perhaps, "not to the deciding of doubts," or "scruples;" that is, not for the purpose of arguing him out of them: which indeed usually does the reverse; whereas to receive him to full brotherly confidence and cordial interchange of Christian affection is the most effectual way of drawing them off. Two examples of such scruples are here specified, touching Jewish meats and days. "The strong," it will be observed, are those who knew these to be abolished under the Gospel; "the weak" are those who had scruples on this point.
2. one believeth that he may eat all things--See Acts 10:16 .
another, who is weak, eateth herbs--restricting himself probably to a vegetable diet, for fear of eating what might have been offered to idols, and so would be unclean. (See 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ).
3. Let not him that eateth despise--look down superciliously upon "him that eateth not."
and let not him that eateth not judge--sit in judgment censoriously upon "him that eateth."
for God hath received him--as one of His dear children, who in this matter acts not from laxity, but religious principle.
4. Who art thou that judges another man's--rather, "another's"
servant?--that is, CHRIST'S, as the whole context shows, especially Romans 14:8 Romans 14:9 .
Yea, &c.--"But he shall be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand"; that is, to make good his standing, not at the day of judgment, of which the apostle treats in Romans 14:10 , but in the true fellowship of the Church here, in spite of thy censures.
5. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day--The supplement "alike" should be omitted, as injuring the sense.
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind--be guided in such matters by conscientious conviction.
6. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord--the Lord CHRIST, as before.
and he . . . not, to the Lord he doth not--each doing what he believes to be the Lord's will.
He that earth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks--The one gave thanks to God for the flesh which the other scrupled to use; the other did the same for the herbs to which, for conscience' sake, he restricted himself. From this passage about the observance of days, ALFORD unhappily infers that such language could not have been used if the sabbath law had been in force under the Gospel in any form. Certainly it could not, if the sabbath were merely one of the Jewish festival days; but it will not do to take this for granted merely because it was observed under the Mosaic economy. And certainly, if the sabbath was more ancient than Judaism; if, even under Judaism, it was enshrined among the eternal sanctities of the Decalogue, uttered, as no other parts of Judaism were, amidst the terrors of Sinai; and if the Lawgiver Himself said of it when on earth, "The Son of man is LORD EVEN OF THE SABBATH DAY" (see Mark 2:28 )--it will be hard to show that the apostle must have meant it to be ranked by his readers among those vanished Jewish festival days, which only "weakness" could imagine to be still in force--a weakness which those who had more light ought, out of love, merely to bear with.
7, 8. For none of us--Christians
liveth to himself--(See 2 Corinthians 5:14 2 Corinthians 5:15 ), to dispose of himself or shape his conduct after his own ideas and inclinations.
and no man--"and none" of us Christians "dieth to himself."
8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord--the Lord CHRIST; see Romans 14:9 .
and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's--Nothing but the most vivid explanation of these remarkable words could make them endurable to any Christian ear, if Christ were a mere creature. For Christ is here--in the most emphatic terms, and yet in the most unimpassioned tone--held up as the supreme Object of the Christian's life, and of his death too;. and that by the man whose horror of creature worship was such, that when the poor Lycaonians would have worshipped him, he rushed forth to arrest the deed, directing them to "the living God," as the only legitimate Object of worship ( Acts 14:15 ). Nor does Paul teach this here, but rather appeals to it as a known and recognized fact, of which he had only to remind his readers. And since the apostle, when he wrote these words, had never been at Rome, he could only know that the Roman Christians would assent to this view of Christ, because it was the common teaching of all the accredited preachers of Christianity, and the common faith of all Christians.
9. For to this end Christ both, &c.--The true reading here is, To this end Christ died and lived ("again").
that he might be Lord both of the dead and--"and of the"
living--The grand object of His death was to acquire this absolute Lordship over His redeemed, both in their living and in their dying, as His of right.
10. But why, &c.--The original is more lively:--"But thou (the weaker believer), why judgest thou thy brother? And thou again (the stronger), why despisest thou thy brother?"
for we shall all--the strong and the weak together.
stand before the judgment-seat of Christ--All the most ancient and best manuscripts read here, "the judgment-seat of God." The present reading doubtless crept in from 2 Corinthians 5:10 , where "the judgment-seat of Christ" occurs. But here "the judgment-seat of God" seems to have been used, with reference to the quotation and the inference in Romans 14:11 Romans 14:12 .
11, 12. For it is written--( Isaiah 45:23 ).
As I live, saith the Lord--Hebrew, JEHOVAH.
every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God--consequently, shall bow to the award of God upon their character and actions.
12. So then--infers the apostle.
every one of us shall give account of himself to God--Now, if it be remembered that all this is adduced quite incidentally, to show that CHRIST is the absolute Master of all Christians, to rule their judgments and feelings towards each other while "living," and to dispose of them "dying," the testimony which it bears to the absolute Divinity of Christ will appear remarkable. On any other view, the quotation to show that we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God would be a strange proof that Christians are all amenable to Christ.
13. Let us not therefore judge--"assume the office of judge over"
one another; but judge this rather, &c.--a beautiful sort of play upon the word "judge," meaning, "But let this be your judgment, not to put a stumbling-block," &c.
14, 15. I know, and am persuaded by--or rather, "in"
the Lord Jesus--as "having the mind of Christ" ( 1 Corinthians 2:16 ).
that there is nothing unclean of itself--Hence it is that he calls those "the strong" who believed in the abolition of all ritual distinctions under the Gospel. (See Acts 10:15 ).
to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean--"and therefore, though you can eat of it with out sin, he cannot."
15. But if thy brother be grieved--has his weak conscience hurt
with thy meat--rather, "because of meat." The word "meat" is purposely selected as something contemptible in contrast with the tremendous risk run for its sake. Accordingly, in the next clause, that idea is brought out with great strength.
Destroy not him with--"by"
thy meat for whom Christ died--"The worth of even the poorest and weakest brother cannot be more emphatically expressed than by the words, 'for whom Christ died'" [OLSHAUSEN]. The same sentiment is expressed with equal sharpness in 1 Corinthians 8:11 . Whatever tends to make anyone violate his conscience tends to the destruction of his soul; and he who helps, whether wittingly or no, to bring about the one is guilty of aiding to accomplish the other.
16, 17. Let not then your good--that is, this liberty of yours as to Jewish meats and days, well founded though it be.
be evil spoken of--for the evil it does to others.
17. For the kingdom of God--or, as we should say, Religion; that is, the proper business and blessedness for which Christians are formed into a community of renewed men in thorough subjection to God (compare 1 Corinthians 4:20 ).
is not meat and drink--"eating and drinking"
but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost--a beautiful and comprehensive division of living Christianity. The first--"righteousness"--has respect to God, denoting here "rectitude," in its widest sense (as in Matthew 6:33 ); the second--"peace"--has respect to our neighbors, denoting "concord" among brethren (as is plain from Romans 14:19 ; compare Ephesians 4:3 , Colossians 3:14 Colossians 3:15 ); the third--"joy in the Holy Ghost"--has respect to ourselves. This phrase, "joy in the Holy Ghost," represents Christians as so thinking and feeling under the workings of the Holy Ghost, that their joy may be viewed rather as that of the blessed Agent who inspires it than their own (compare 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ).
18. For he that in these things--"in this," meaning this threefold life.
serveth Christ--Here again observe how, though we do these three things as a "kingdom of God," yet it is "Christ" that we serve in so doing; the apostle passing here from God to Christ as naturally as before from Christ to God--in a way to us inconceivable, if Christ had been viewed as a mere creature (compare 2 Corinthians 8:21 ).
is acceptable to God, and approved of men--these being the things which God delights in, and men are constrained to approve. (Compare Proverbs 3:4 , Luke 2:52 , Acts 2:47 , 19:20 ).
19. the things, &c.--more simply, "the things of peace, and the things of mutual edification."
20. For--"For the sake of"
meat destroy not the work of apostle sees in whatever tends to violate a brother's conscience the incipient destruction of God's work (for every converted man is such)--on the same principle as "he that hateth his brother is a murderer" ( 1 John 3:15 ).
All things indeed are pure--"clean"; the ritual distinctions being at an end.
but it is evil to that man--there is criminality in the man
who eateth with offence--that is, so as to stumble a weak brother.
21. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing--"nor to do any thing"
thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak--rather, "is weak." These three words, it has been remarked, are each intentionally weaker than the other:--"Which may cause a brother to stumble, or even be obstructed in his Christian course, nay--though neither of these may follow--wherein he continues weak; unable wholly to disregard the example, and yet unprepared to follow it." But this injunction to abstain from flesh, from wine, and from whatsoever may hurt the conscience of a brother, must be properly understood. Manifestly, the apostle is treating of the regulation of the Christian's conduct with reference simply to the prejudices of the weak in faith; and his directions are to be considered not as prescriptions for one's entire lifetime, even to promote the good of men on a large scale, but simply as cautions against the too free use of Christian liberty in matters where other Christians, through weakness, are not persuaded that such liberty is divinely allowed. How far the principle involved in this may be legitimately extended, we do not inquire here; but ere we consider that question, it is of great importance to fix how far it is here actually expressed, and what is the precise nature of the illustrations given of it.
22. Hast thou faith--on such matters?
have it to thyself--within thine own breast
before God--a most important clause. It is not mere sincerity, or a private opinion, of which the apostle speaks; it is conviction as to what is the truth and will of God. If thou hast formed this conviction in the sight of God, keep thyself in this frame before Him. Of course, this is not to be over-pressed, as if it were wrong to discuss such points at all with our weaker brethren. All that is here condemned is such a zeal for small points as endangers Christian love.
Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth--allows himself to do nothing, about the lawfulness of which he has scruples; does only what he neither knows nor fears to be sinful.
23. And--rather, "But"
he that doubteth is damned--On the word "damnation,"
if he eat, because he eateth not of faith--On the meaning of "faith"
for whatsoever is not of faith is sin--a maxim of unspeakable importance in the Christian life.
Note, (1) Some points in Christianity are unessential to Christian fellowship; so that though one may be in error upon them, he is not on that account to be excluded either from the communion of the Church or from the full confidence of those who have more light. This distinction between essential and non-essential truths is denied by some who affect more than ordinary zeal for the honor and truth of God. But they must settle the question with our apostle. (2) Acceptance with God is the only proper criterion of right to Christian fellowship. Whom God receives, men cannot lawfully reject ( Romans 14:3 Romans 14:4 ). (3) As there is much self-pleasing in setting up narrow standards of Christian fellowship, so one of the best preservatives against the temptation to do this will be found in the continual remembrance that CHRIST is the one Object for whom all Christians live, and to whom all Christians die; this will be such a living and exalted bond of union between the strong and the weak as will overshadow all their lesser differences and gradually absorb them ( Romans 14:7-9 ). (4) The consideration of the common judgment-seat at which the strong and the weak shall stand together will be found another preservative against the unlovely disposition to sit in judgment one on another ( Romans 14:10-12 ). (5) How brightly does the supreme Divinity of Christ shine out in this chapter! The exposition itself supersedes further illustration here. (6) Though forbearance be a great Christian duty, indifference to the distinction between truth and error is not thereby encouraged. The former is, by the tax, made an excuse for the latter. But our apostle, while teaching "the strong" to bear with "the weak," repeatedly intimates in this chapter where the truth really lay on the points in question, and takes care to call those who took the wrong side "the weak" ( Romans 14:1 Romans 14:2 Romans 14:14 ). (7) With what holy jealousy ought the purity of the conscience to be guarded, since every deliberate violation of it is incipient perdition ( Romans 14:15 Romans 14:20 )! Some, who seem to be more jealous for the honor of certain doctrines than for the souls of men, enervate this terrific truth by asking how it bears upon the "perseverance of the saints"; the advocates of that doctrine thinking it necessary to explain away what is meant by "destroying the work of God" ( Romans 14:20 ), and "destroying him for whom Christ died" ( Romans 14:15 ), for fear of the doctrinal consequences of taking it nakedly; while the opponents of that doctrine are ready to ask, How could the apostle have used such language if he had believed that such a catastrophe was impossible? The true answer to both lies in dismissing the question as impertinent. The apostle is enunciating a great and eternal principle in Christian Ethics--that the wilful violation of conscience contains within itself a seed of destruction; or, to express it otherwise, that the total destruction of the work of God in the renewed soul, and, consequently, the loss of that soul for eternity, needs only the carrying out to its full effect of such violation of the conscience. Whether such effects do take place, in point of fact, the apostle gives not the most distant hint here; and therefore that point must be settled elsewhere. But, beyond all doubt, as the position we have laid down is emphatically expressed by the apostle, so the interests of all who call themselves Christians require to be proclaimed and pressed on every suitable occasion. (8) Zeal for comparatively small points of truth is a poor substitute for the substantial and catholic and abiding realities of the Christian life ( Romans 14:17 Romans 14:18 ). (9) "Peace" among the followers of Christ is a blessing too precious to themselves, and, as a testimony to them that are without, too important, to be ruptured for trifles, even though some lesser truths be involved in these ( Romans 14:19 Romans 14:20 ). Nor are those truths themselves disparaged or endangered thereby, but the reverse. (10) Many things which are lawful are not expedient. In the use of any liberty, therefore, our question should be, not simply, Is this lawful? but even if so, Can it be used with safety to a brother's conscience?--How will it affect my brother's soul ( Romans 14:21 )? It is permitted to no Christian to say with Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" ( Genesis 4:9 ). (11) Whenever we are in doubt as to a point of duty--where abstinence is manifestly sinless, but compliance not clearly lawful--the safe course is ever to be preferred, for to do otherwise is itself sinful. (12) How exalted and beautiful is the Ethics of Christianity--by a few great principles teaching us how to steer our course amidst practical difficulties, with equal regard to Christian liberty, love, and confidence!