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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Romans 12

 

 

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Verse 1

Romans 12:1

I. We have in the text a very remarkable way of putting what I may call the sum of Christian service. The main leading idea is the gathering together of all Christian duty into the one mighty word—sacrifice. Sacrifice, to begin with, means giving up everything to God. And how do I give up to God? When in heart and will and thought I am conscious of His presence, and do all the actions of the inner man in dependence on, and in obedience to, Him. That is the true sacrifice when I think as in His sight, and will and love and act as in obedience to Him. To consecrate oneself is the way to secure a higher and nobler life than ever before. If you want to go all to rack and ruin, live according to your own fancy and taste. If you want to be strong, and grow stronger and more and more blessed, put the brake on, and keep a tight hand upon yourself, and offer your whole being upon His altar.

II. We have here likewise the great motive of Christian service: "I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God." In the Apostle's mind this is no vague expression for the whole of the diffused blessings with which God floods the world, but he means thereby the definite specific thing, the great scheme of mercy, set forth in the previous chapters, that is to say, His great work in saving the world through Jesus Christ. That is "the mercies" with which he makes his appeal. The diffused and wide-shining mercies, which stream from the Father's heart, are all, as it were, focussed as through a burning-glass into one strong beam, which can kindle the greenest wood and melt the thick-ribbed ice. Only on the footing of that sacrifice can we offer ours. He has offered the one sacrifice, of which His death is the essential part, in order that we may offer the sacrifice of which our life is the essential part.

III. Note the gentle enforcement of this great motive for Christian service: "I beseech you." Law commands, the gospel entreats. Paul's beseeching is only a less tender echo of the Master's entreaty.

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 1st series, p. 315.


The Self-sacrifice.

Consider:—

I. The nature of the claim which is here made upon us. (1) Let us avail ourselves of the light which is shed on the nature of sacrifice by the term which is here employed. "A living sacrifice." The Apostle was addressing those to whom both the need and the thing were perfectly familiar. Sacrifice stands out with great prominence among the forms of the Jewish dispensation; and among all peoples the thing is to be met with, though the conception of its nature and relation, both to man and to God, would vary according to the moral education and condition of each particular race. But it is to be questioned whether the idea could be fully comprehended until He, in whom was life, had, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, and laid on His disciples the obligation to yield themselves a living sacrifice to God. The true sacrifice must be a living one. (2) The presenting ourselves a living sacrifice is the first act of a true man's life. Carry on the association sacrifice with life rather than with death, and it will help you with the second principle. Our highest and holiest relations begin when we make the sacrifice of the whole heart of selfishness to God. (3) This presenting ourselves a living sacrifice is the ground of all true rendering of duty to the Church, the family, and the whole world of man.

II. Consider the ground of this claim of God; and I note: (1) The Christian sacrifice is a living sacrifice because God urges His claims, not on the ground of His right only, but of His love. The Father loves us with a love which even our sin and apostasy could not weaken. He loves us with a love which could grapple with and conquer death. (2) God has not left, He will not leave, His work for us. He sent His Son into the battle; He became perfect as the Captain of our salvation by suffering. The Father hath sent, sendeth still, the Spirit to carry on the work, and present it to Him complete in the day of the Lord Jesus. The striving and pleading of His. Spirit still is the measure of His interest and hope. He is ready to animate us to achieve the sacrifice which His love constrains us to attempt; ready with all a Father's tender sympathy to share our burdens, to feel our pangs, to prop our weakness, to kindle our courage, to stir and plume our hope.

J. Baldwin Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 139.


Sacrifice.

What are the characteristics of the sacrifice which God's wonderful mercies have made binding upon us all?

I. First, the Apostle tells us it is to be a living sacrifice, and this is the great distinguishing mark of that personal offering required of us. Sacrifice of old was wont to imply the death of the thing or creature offered. Christian sacrifice is that of the life, and Christ has come to enable us to make that sacrifice a worthier one by giving us fuller and more abundant life to offer, by quickening and transforming all our capacities and fitting them for greater things. There have been those who have thought to offer to God a dead sacrifice, the sacrifice of a mechanical obedience, the sacrifice of stereotyped habits; and such sacrifice is not out of date. Others, again, have thought to offer a dead sacrifice in the shape of a hard, self-contained religion—a religion without warmth of sympathy or expansive power—the exclusive luxury of its possessor; all such sacrifices have but a name to live, and He who asks for nothing less than our very selves cannot away with them.

II. Secondly, the sacrifice demanded is a holy sacrifice. What awe surrounds that word, and how far away from ourselves and this miserable, selfish, sinful world that word always seems to carry us! We know what it means; we know that it implies separation; the drawing off from whatever is low and sordid and soiling, the solemn setting apart of whatever it qualifies for the express service of a pure and perfectly holy God.

III. And, lastly, this is a reasonable service which is demanded of us, or, as the words might be rendered, a ritual of thought and mind as distinguished from the outward and material ritual which has passed away. It is an intelligent offering that we are called upon to make, one that is both prompted and presented by the reason of the understanding, one in which the mind goes along with the heart. This is the glory of Christianity, that it addresses itself to man's highest power, that it enlists his intellect as well as his affections, that it finds scope for his divinest endowment, and gives heavenward direction to all that is in him.

R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 33.


References: Romans 12:1.—R. W. Church, Human Life and its Conditions, p. 31; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 13; E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 313; W. C. E. Newbolt, Counsels of Faith and Practice, p. 125; H. A. M. Butler, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 228; H. G. Hirch, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 40. Romans 12:1, Romans 12:2.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 126. Romans 12:1-3.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 32.


Verse 2

Romans 12:2

Conformity and Transformation.

I. There are two terms in the original language for the expression the world. One of them regards the things that now are in reference to time, the other in reference to space. The one means the things that are seen, this material world, with all its enjoyments and gratifications, its riches, pleasures, and honours; the other means the time or age to which these things belong, and by which they are limited and circumscribed; the period, longer or shorter—we know not its duration, but God knoweth—previous to what we are taught to designate as the end of all things, that consummation of the old, that introduction of the new, which shall be the concomitant of the second Advent of Jesus Christ, the consequence of that second and greater Epiphany for which the Church on earth and in heaven is ever waiting and watching.

II. In the passage before us, the term rendered world means properly the period or age that now is. Therefore "Be not conformed to this world" becomes equivalent to "Be not conformed to time, but rather to eternity." Wear not the fashion of persons who belong to time and have nothing to do with eternity. Let not the garb of your souls, let not the habit of your lives, be that which befits persons whose home, whose dwelling-place, whose all, is in the passing unreal scene, which we call human life, and who have no part nor lot in the permanent and unchanging realities of the new heaven and new earth, which shall come into view with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the just. Wear not the garb of time, but invest yourselves already with the fashion of eternity.

III. No one can be conformed to, can fashion himself according to, that which he knows not. We are conformed to this world, not because it satisfies us, not because it makes us happy; not because we find rest or peace in living by its rules and principles, but because it is the only world we know, the only world, let me say, in which we know any one. The way to escape from our worldliness is not so much to struggle with it hand to hand, but to supersede it, as it were, by the entrance into us of a new affection; by giving our hearts to another, even to Him who has already entered for us within the veil, and who now and ever liveth to be our Intercessor and our life.

C. J. Vaughan, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, p. 1.


The Christian Life a Transfiguration.

Notice:—

I. Where Paul begins—with an inward renewal, "the renewing of your mind." He goes deep down, because he had learned in his Master's school who said, "Make the tree good, and the fruit good." This new creation of the inner man is only possible as the result of the communication of a life from without. That communicated life from without is the life of Jesus Christ Himself put into your heart, on condition of your simply opening the door of your heart by faith, and saying to Him, "Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord." And He comes in, bearing in His hands this gift most chiefly, the gift of a germ of life which will mould and shape our mind after His own blessed pattern.

II. The transfigured life which follows upon that inward renewal. What about the Christianity that does not show itself in conduct and character? What about men that look exactly as if they were not Christians? What about the inward life that never comes up to the surface? A certain kind of seaweeds that lie at the bottom of the sea, when their flowering time comes, elongate their stalks, and reach the light and float upon the top, and then, when they have flowered and fruited, they sink again into the depths. Our Christian life should come up to the surface and open out its flowers there, and show to the heavens and to all eyes that look. Does your Christianity do that? It is no use talking about the inward change unless there is the outward transfiguration. Ask yourselves the question whether that is visible or not in your lives.

III. Consider the ultimate consequence which the Apostle regards as certain, from this central inward change, viz., the unlikeness to the world around. "Be not conformed to this world." The more we get like Jesus Christ, the more certainly we get unlike the world. For the two theories of life are clean contrary—the one is all limited by this "bank and shoal of time," the other stretches out through the transient to lay hold on the Infinite and Eternal. The one is all for self, the other is all for God, with His will for law and His love for motive. The two theories are contrary to one another, so that likeness with and adherence to the one must needs be dead in the teeth of the other.

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 17.


I. St. Paul had been dwelling at great length, in this Epistle to the Romans, on the unsearchable riches and goodness of God, in grafting the Gentiles into the stock of Israel, whereby they were become partakers of all the promises made to the Jews of old; which he sums up by this appeal: "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

II. "Be not conformed to this world," be not like the age around you, and in which you live, the fashion of which perisheth and passeth away; but be ye transformed, let a continual change be taking place in you, by the renewing of your mind, by a new heart, new dispositions, and new way, such as is consistent with the new man, and the new birth in Christ, being made conformable to the Holy Child in obedience, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. "That ye may prove" the word, means to ascertain by putting it to the proof; by obedience men come to know what is pleasing to God, as our Lord says, "If ye do the will, ye shall know of the doctrine." Thus, by the renewal of your minds, ye shall learn that which is good, well pleasing to God, and perfect. The old sacrifices were not so, being but the shadows of good things to come; but the body is of Christ, He is the only good, the one well-pleasing and perfect sacrifice, and such are they who by faith shall be found in Him, perfect even as He is perfect, inasmuch as their old man being buried and dead, they are only known of God as having their life in Christ.

III. Thus in Christ must all Christian teaching begin and end. He is Himself the true Passover, and the Lamb that is offered; in Him alone is all reasonable service and filial obedience. He is the New Man to whom we are to be transformed day by day by the renewing of our mind. It is as parts of His body, as limbs and members of Him, that we are to learn humility and love to one another; it is in Him we are to be about our Father's business and in His house. He is Himself that little child to whose pattern we are to humble ourselves.

I. Williams, The Epistles and Gospels, vol. i., p. 119.


I. When first we meet with such expressions as these, "conformed to the world," "transformed by the renewing of our mind," we may suppose that St. Paul is speaking of a state of mind which is suitable to us as inhabitants of this present earth, and of some other state which may prepare us for what is to come after death. But this is a very imperfect and slovenly method of explaining his language. The man who is in conformity with the world is not the man who understands the world best, not the man who admires the beauty of it most, not the man even who can adapt himself best to all its various circumstances and conditions. He is too much a slave of the things he sees to reflect upon them or look into the meaning of them; too much devoted to all outward shows and enjoyments to have an apprehension of their secret loveliness and harmony. The word "conformed" is used very strictly; it implies that he takes his form from the things about him, that they are the mould into which his mind is cast. Now, this St. Paul will not for an instant admit to be the form which any man is created to bear.

II. Deliverance from conformity to the world is the transformation which is spoken of in the next clause of the verse. The process of this transformation St. Paul describes as the renewing of the mind. Such a phrase at once suggests the change which takes place when the foliage of spring covers the bare boughs of winter. It is not strictly a recovery of that which had been lost. The substance is not altered, but it is quickened. The alteration is the most wonderful that can be conceived of, but it all passes within. It is not sudden, but gradual. The power once given works secretly, probably amidst many obstructions from sharp winds and keen frosts. Still, that beginning contains in it the sure prophecy of final accomplishment. The man will be renewed according to the image of his Creator and Father, because the Spirit of his Creator and Father is working in him.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 123.


References: Romans 12:2.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 28; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 290. Romans 12:2-18.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 84.


Verse 3

Romans 12:3

Self-Appreciation.

I. Every man's view of himself is meant to be a correct deliberate thing, according to the facts of the case—neither degrading himself too low, nor vaunting himself too high, but thinking of himself as he really is and as God has been pleased to make him.

II. To guide us in such investigations the Apostle gives one single rule—"to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." It is a remarkable expression of his. It is not saying, Judge of yourselves according to the knowledge, or the peace, or the good works, or the attainments, or the powers you have made. But "the measure of faith." Does he say this because everything that is good in a man's heart is faith? Or is it that every other good thing being proportioned to the faith we have, the measure of the faith is indeed the measure of everything that a man has, or that a man can attain, and so becomes the measure of the man, i.e., is the man? Whichever it be, see the important part which faith acts in all our relations. We are really before God what our faith makes us. Realise the love of God to you, and by that realisation you have it.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1865, p. 9.


References: Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 170. Romans 12:5.—A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 13; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 265; S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, p. 283. Romans 12:6.—W. C. E. Newbolt, Counsels of Faith and Practice, p. 255; E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 304. Romans 12:10.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 232; H. J. Wilmot Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 170; Saturday Evening, p. 215.


Verse 11

Romans 12:11

The Results of Slothfulness.

I. We frequently meet people who, on extraordinary occasions, or stimulated by some special inspiration, will exert much diligence and take great pains to produce something excellent and commendable, but who at all other times are slatternly and indolent, caring nothing, so long as a duty be performed, how slovenly may be the performance. It is against such a temper as this that our text directs its emphasis. You are not to be slothful in business—in any business whatever. Let us prevail upon men to be industrious, and we shall have called out the powers and formed the habits which religion most tasks in its commencement and demands in its progress. The industrious man, no matter what lawful objects have occupied his industry, is comparatively the most likely man to receive the gospel, and certainly the fittest, when it has once been received, for its peculiar and ever-pressing requirements. Every man takes a step towards piety who escapes from a habit of sloth.

II. God may be served through the various occupations of life, as well as through the more special institutions of religion. It needs only that a man go to his daily toil in simple obedience to the will of his Maker, and he is as piously employed, aye, and is doing as much towards securing for himself the higher recompenses of eternity, as when he spends an hour in prayer or joins himself gladly to the Sabbath-day gathering. The businesses of life are as so many Divine institutions, and if prosecuted in a spirit of submission to God and with an eye to His glory, they are the businesses of eternity, through which the soul grows in grace, and lasting glory is secured. If men are but fervent in spirit, if, that is, they always carry with them a religious tone and temper, then they are serving the Lord, through their being not slothful in business.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1793.


Verse 12

Romans 12:12

In the widest sense the injunction of the text lays upon us these things: (1) The habitual maintenance of a prayerful spirit; (2) the duty of embracing opportunities for prayer; (3) the duty of improving the occasions of prayer; (4) watchfulness as a part of constancy in prayer.

J. M. Jarvis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 250.


References: Romans 12:11, Romans 12:12.—E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 244. Romans 12:12.—H. Alford, Plain Village Sermons, p. 1; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 18; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. ii., p. 97; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 227.


Verse 15

Romans 12:15

I. Christians do not enough bear in mind the duty of cheerfulness. An open and lively countenance, a free and joyous manner of address, are considered rather as happy accidents, than as results which every Christian ought to aim at as part of his spiritual life. It is astonishing, if you look through the New Testament Scriptures, how many passages you will find recommending this suavity and urbanity of manner, as a grace to be sought for and to be attained by believers in Christ. The temptation of all seriously thinking men is to slide into shadow and put on gloom. To rejoice with the rejoicing requires some of that healthy and manly vigour of character which can afford to despise the taunts of men, and go its own way in the light of God; some of that hearty and thorough Christianity which does not live by its newspaper, but by its Bible and its conscience. When shall the world find among us a joy better than its own, and say to us, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is among you"?

II. But now let us pass to the other side of our duty of sympathy—to weep with those that weep. The words here bear no mere formal meaning. They imply that entire oneness, which not a transient fit of compassion, not a tear starting at passing or hearing of a scene of misery, will satisfy; but which requires a man really to enter into and give himself to the companionship and tending of sorrow; in other words, to show active sympathy with the suffering, and endeavour to share and diminish their troubles. Nothing can be conceived more opposed to the natural selfishness of man, nothing less in accordance with the common maxims and practice of the world. It is by no means an easy thing effectually to weep with them that weep. Yet it is the duty of us all as Christians, and one the exercise of which is of very blessed use to us. And therefore we are not to turn our faces away from sorrow, not to avoid it as if it were something detrimental to us; but to feel it an obligation laid on us by Him whom we follow, a portion of our aiming at His holy example, a chosen bond of union with Him in one Spirit, to weep with them that weep.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 85.


Rejoicing and Weeping with Men.

I. Our first remark on this twofold duty is that it is one which requires constant watchfulness and activity. The joys and sorrows of men around us are so constant and varied, so multitudinous and changeful, that if we are to keep up a sympathy with them we must be always wakeful. And what can be better fitted to waken men up than the joys and sorrows of their fellow-men? One of the chief elements in working out your own salvation is to forget yourself and enter into the joys and sorrows of others.

II. The text presents a task that seems to some impossible to carry out by one and the same person, at least in the same period. The mistake here lies in the idea that to sympathise with the sorrowful one must himself be of a sorrowful mood, and that to be in sympathy with the joyous one must himself at the time be joyous. It is not sadness that is sympathetic, but love, benevolence. And love will take to itself the grief of the sufferer, though itself it is full of joy. It is the sympathy of a joyous, radiant spirit that helps the sorrowful, provided only it is able to enter into true accord with the sorrow. You have seen a bright day of sunshine hiding its brilliancy now and again behind clouds, and even chequering its course with rain. It is such days that have rainbow. It is not the clouds that are the main thing, but the sun shining through the clouds. Sunshine is the grand requisite for meeting either the happy or the sorrowful.

III. The earnest endeavour to perform this twofold duty will be found an effective quickener of life and a key to all the secrets of religion. One who is intent on doing both of these will find the need for much earnest prayer. Many a cry will spring from the depths of his heart as he finds himself hard and envious and selfish. And the broken heart will find that the true way to grow sympathetic is thinking much of Christ, looking to Christ, and drawing hope and confidence from Him, drawing courage and love from Him.

J. Leckie, Sermons at Ibrox, p. 109.


Reference: Romans 12:15.—H. J. Wilmot Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 167.



Verse 15-16

Romans 12:15-16

Sympathy and Condescension.

I. The first part of the text is a call to sympathy. But notice what St. Paul meant by sympathy, how he describes it. (1) It is an old remark that it is more difficult to rejoice with them that rejoice than to weep with them that weep. Let us endeavour, in little matters, within our own doors first of all to be glad when another is glad, to feel another's as our joy, to be not willing only but thankful that another should have, even though that other's gain may be outwardly our own loss. (2) "Weep with them that weep." The first requisite of all human consolation is sympathy, fellow-feeling, the appreciation of the calamity whatever it be, in its breadth and in its depth. Of all the designations which a human being under Christ's teaching can acquire, none is so valuable, in the estimate of a truly Christian ambition, as this, A son of consolation.

II. "Condescend to those things which are lowly." Is it not just the neglect of this rule which makes the chief evil of what is called society? It is a constant pursuit of high things; a struggle to rise one step higher, and then one yet higher, on the ladder of ambition, whatever its particular ambition be; it may be of rank, it may be of fame, it may be of fashion, it may be of excitement generally; most often it is, in some shape or other, the ambition of distinction; but whatever the particular aim, it is briefly to be described as a minding of high things, and the proper remedy for it is that here described by St. Paul, Condescend to things that are lowly. There is a narrowing effect as well as a widening in the pursuit even of Divine knowledge, if that knowledge be chiefly intellectual. How many a man has ended his course a doubter or a disbeliever, mainly, we may well believe, for this reason, that he never forced himself to condescend to the humble, never discovered that the true way to knowledge is through love! If he had learned to condescend to things lowly, he would have entered at length, with a true insight, into the things which transcend knowledge.

C. J. Vaughan, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, p. 21.



Verse 16-17

Romans 12:16-17

Our Duty to Equals.

I. While the compassionate view of man, as compared with the ordinary view of him in his health and strength as a flourishing member of this world, is characterised by a beauty of its own, it has at the same time the defect of being a protected state of mind, a state in which the mind is for the moment relieved of all its tendencies to irritation and to asperity, and thrown into a perfect quiet by an external event which does everything for it without an effort of its own. The condescending life is sheltered from trials which very sharply beset the field of equals. The poor and dependent, the mourner, the despondent, the cast down—these exercise our active benevolence, but do not they unconsciously flatter us while they appeal to it? In the life of equals a man enters upon a vast field of relations in which his humility and his generosity pass through an ordeal of special and peculiar severity—severity far greater than that which attaches to any trial of them in the relationship to inferiors, for the simple reason that a man is in competition with his equals, and he is not in competition with his inferiors. To a superficial person it might appear that the great act of humility was condescension, and that therefore the condescending life was necessarily a more humble one than the life with equals. But this is not the true view of the case. The hardest trial of humility must be not towards a person to whom you are superior and who acknowledges that superiority, but towards a person with whom you are on equal footing of competition.

II. It is thus that a life of ordinary and common probation, which is what a man generally leads when he lives with his equals, is found, when examined, to contain a powerful supply of the most finished and subtle weapons of discipline. The trials of the sphere of equals touch the tenderest parts and apply the most refined tests; they find a man out the most thoroughly. It is common life that has the keenest and subtlest instruments at command. The ordeal of the sphere of equals is amply represented in the New Testament. If by the constitution of our nature compassion has a particular gratification attending upon it, that gratification attended upon it in our Lord's case. His life among equals, proclaiming His cause against adversaries, invincible defiance, inflexible will—that was His hard work: it was by the struggle with equals that the battle of eternal truth was fought, and by this He fulfilled the great trial of a human life. First in the succour of man, first in the war with man, first in both hemispheres of action, the Firstborn of Creation lives in the gospel, a marvellous whole, to inspire morality with a new spirit, to soften man's heart, to consecrate his wealth. The light of ages gathers round Him. He is the centre of the past, the pledge of a future: the great character marches through time to collect souls about it, to found new empires for the truth, and to convert the whole earth to the knowledge of the Lord.

J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 183.


Reference: Romans 12:17.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 47.



Verse 21

Romans 12:21

Retaliation.

I. We must read this verse first in direct contrast with the prohibition, "Be not overcome of evil." The immediate subject of both is that of injuries and their treatment. As to be overcome of evil is to let evil master us, so that it shall subdue and lead captive, instead of merely oppressing and overwhelming us; so to overcome that evil with good is to bring into conflict with injury, not anger, not sullenness, not revenge, but the very opposites and contraries of all these—patience, and meekness, and forbearance, and charity—and this so earnestly, so skilfully, so persistently, that they shall vanquish the evil, shall make it ashamed of itself, and repentant and reconciled, insomuch that the saying shall be verified, Whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Darkness shone upon is darkness no more; evil kindled by a coal from the altar becomes the good which it sought to overbear.

II. Evil, St. Paul says, is never vanquished by evil. Satan casts not out Satan, nor does the wrath of man ever work out God's righteousness. Evil must be conquered by good. View the saying in two aspects. (1) In reference to truth and error. Not in a spirit of strife and debate, not in a spirit of disdain or defiance, not in a spirit of superiority or self-confidence—in none of these tones ought any earnest believer to address himself to the separatist from his faith. That were indeed to assail evil with evil. There is one way and but one to the mind of the unbeliever, and that way is through the heart. Not by negatives, but by positives; not by meeting this evil in hand-to-hand warfare, but by bringing into the field a wholly new and unexpected ally, by appealing to his sense of want, and then by showing how Christ has in Him the very food and remedy and rest wanted. It is thus, if at all, that the unbelief will find itself believing. (2) Sin and holiness. No might is really equal to the might of evil save the one mightier than the mightiest, which is the love of Christ constraining. Bring this good into the war with thine evil, and thou shalt overcome yet.

C. J. Vaughan, Sundays in the Temple, p. 212.


I. The most important and deepest part of the truths that are wrapped up in this great maxim of St. Paul is that the very genius of Christianity itself is a positive, not a negative. It is a life, not a code; a spirit, not a set of rules; a new impulse, not a mass of prohibitions. It is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. It is, above all, the spirit of life and of freedom, not of death and bondage. Now religion very often presents itself to the young in a very opposite light. Its commands appear to be exclusively "Thou shalt not." And this aspect of Christianity is of course a necessary one; but it is very far from complete. It is preparatory; it is the law, not the gospel; it is the schoolmaster that brings men to Christ, not Christ Himself. "I am come," says Jesus Christ, "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." It was not to destroy and stunt and cripple energies, not to discourage action, not to repeat the old commands, Touch not, taste not, handle not, but to inspire new energy and new life, to give a new direction to the burning desire for action that flames in young souls; in a word, to give life. Fill your soul with new life, give it vent in action, and thou shalt not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. It is not only by avoiding sin, it is by actively doing what is good, that we make progress in holiness. Sin is not fought, it is expelled.

II. Surely there is a lesson here for all who have eyes to see Who are they who are ever ready with unhelpful grumbling, with pessimism and self-righteousness? Is it not those who have as yet no notion of the positive method of the Christian life, who have no other idea of dealing with the ever-existing evil of the world, except to proclaim that it is the duty of some one else to repress it, and to hug themselves in blind Pharisaism? How far this is from the spirit of Christ! His was the spirit of inspiration to positive action. His life was not one of self-denial so much as of activity; not of repression, but of expression. It was not His sinlessness, it was His holiness that was the example to the world; and holiness is not merely absence of sin, but the presence of an abounding, overflowing goodness; and here lies its power and its contagiousness.

J. M. Wilson, Sermons in Clifton College Chapel, p. 311.


Sometimes it has been said that Christianity is deficient in what are called the masculine virtues. The world would give it credit for meekness, for gentleness, for purity; but the world finds fault with it because it lacks that energetic force which is seen in a strong antagonism and in a power of combat with the difficulties of life. They are inclined to say, "Such courage is of a passive order. You can suffer, but you cannot contend." Our answer would be that in this twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans you have a catalogue of Christian virtues, and amongst them is given one virtue which, I imagine, does not find a place even in the catalogue of the virtues of the world. It is the virtue of hatred. We are to abhor what is evil. Christianity will link her lot with goodness, and as in happy wedlock she will live in her sweet home where goodness dwells; but when she goes forth to the world she can put on the armour of entire abhorrence and determined antagonism; she can abhor that which is evil, or, precisely because she loves the Lord, she has learned to hate evil. And hence it follows that the spirit of undying antagonism to evil is indeed a Christian spirit, and is surely one of the masculine order.

I. The consent of all our experience may lead us to believe that we can overcome evil with good. Are you trying to overcome your children's faults in the spirit of fault-finding? You know it is not the way to success. The spirit of approbation, the spirit of appreciation, the spirit of imitation—these are the secrets of power. The spirit of Christianity carries us to things that are noble. It raises us to the stature of the fulness of Christ: that is to say, we shall be able to give expression to our nature, and that expression will reflect the image of God. To deal with it otherwise is simply suicidal; it is looking at the work and the energies of God's creation as though it were less than He meant it to be.

II. It is irrational to suppose that we can overcome evil in any other way. The laws that govern the world are the laws of righteousness—the laws of good; and you and I, if we believe in them, must believe that it is never worth while to do evil that good may come; it is never worth while to sacrifice a great moral principle, even to achieve a great good.

Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 17.


I. Evil in its root is simply unregulated desire. Desire is that quality in us men which corresponds to gravitation in the physical bodies, which, while all is well with us, keeps us moving around our true centre, the Being of beings—God. Sin is the free concentration of desire upon some other centre than God—that is, upon some created being; and just as if, in the heavenly spheres, a planet could get detached from its true orbit, from loyal revolutions round its proper sun, and could thus come within the range of other and counteracting attractions, the effect would be vast and irretrievable disaster, so is it in the moral world. Sin is this disorder in the governing desires of the soul, followed by a corresponding disorder in its outward action; and in this disordered desire there lies something beyond, namely, a contradiction of the moral nature or essence of the one necessary being of God. Moral truth is in its principles as distinct from their application, just as eternal and just as necessary as mathematical truth. It is like mathematical truth, eternal, and therefore it is a law of the life of the one eternal Being Himself, since, otherwise, it would be a co-eternal principle independent of Him. And sin is thus the contradiction of God arising from disorder in those governing desires of the soul which were intended by Him to keep us men in our true relationship and dependence upon Him.

II. "Be not overcome of evil." It is not then a resistless invader, it is not invincible; for it is not the work of an eternal being or principle. Strong as it is, it is strictly a product of created wills. As Christians, we know evil to be both hateful, and not invincible. It is our duty to abhor it; yet it is also our duty, and within our power, to overcome it. Simple decision, perfectly courteous but unswervingly determined will, will carry the day. Evil may talk loudly, it may bluster; but at heart it is always a coward, and it skulks away at the show of a strong resistance. It may be hard work at first; but in the end purity and straightforwardness and charity and reverence will win the battle; opposition will die gradually away into silence, silence into respect, respect into sympathy, and even into imitation. "Thou art of more honour and might than the hills of the robbers."

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 504.

References: Romans 12:21.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 161; H. P. Liddon, Christmastide Sermons, p. 397; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 50.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 12:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/romans-12.html.

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