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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Romans 14

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. XIV.

Men may not condemn one another for things indifferent; but take heed that they give no offence in them; for that the apostle proveth unlawful by many reasons.

Anno Domini 58.

SOME of the Jewish converts at Rome, fancying that the meats forbidden by Moses were unclean in themselves, Romans 14:14 and that the days which he ordered to be kept holy, were still to be sanctified, looked on their Gentile brethren as profane persons, because they ate all kinds of meat without distinction, and regarded every day alike. On the other hand, the Gentiles despised the Jews as ignorant bigots, for making any distinctions of meats and days, and refused to admit them into their company. To remedy these disorders, the Apostle, inthis chapter, commanded the Gentile converts who were well instructed, to be in friendship with such of their Jewish brethren as were weak in the faith, and to converse familiarly with them; not however for the purpose of disputing about their particular opinions, but for knowing each other's good qualities and graces, that mutual love might be promoted, Romans 14:1.—He acknowledged that it was natural for the Jews and Gentiles to differ in opinion concerning meats, Romans 14:2.—But the Gentile brother, who ate all kinds indifferently, was not to despise the Jew as a weak bigot, because he ate such meats only as were allowed by the law of Moses. On the other hand, the Jew was not to condemn the Gentile as a profane person, for eating meats forbidden by Moses; for God had received him into his church, notwithstanding he did not obey the law, Romans 14:3.

Having thus advised the Gentile and Jewish Christians to forbear despising and condemning eachother, for not following the same rule respecting meats, the Apostle asked them what title they had to condemn one another for their conduct in that matter, seeing they were all Christ's servants, employed by him in his family or church, alone, whose prerogative it is to acquit or condemn his own servants. Farther, he assured them that, notwithstanding they condemned one another on account of meats, Christ, at the judgment,will acquit his sincere servants, although they may have erred in that matter, provided they have acted therein according to conscience, Romans 14:4.—Next, with respect to the days which Moses ordered to be hallowed, the Apostle likewise acknowledged, that it was natural for the Jews and Gentiles to have different opinions. But whether they observed these days, or did not observe them, their duty was, to be fully persuaded in their own mind concerning the lawfulness of what they did, Romans 14:5.—And therefore, though they differed in their practice concerning meats and days, the Apostle charitably hoped they all acted in these matters from a regard to the will of Christ, Romans 14:6.—This regard, he told them, it became them to maintain habitually, because none of them was his own lord: none of them was at liberty in religious matters to act according to his own pleasure, Romans 14:7-8.—For Christ both died and rose again that he might acquire a right to rule the dead and the living, Romans 14:9.—Christ then being their only ruler, the Apostle asked them, how they dared to intrude themselves into his place, the Jews by condemning the Gentiles, and the Gentiles by insolently despising the Jews? Instead of having a right to judge one another, they were all to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, Romans 14:10 as Isaiah foretold;—and to give an account to him, not of their neighbour's actions, but of their own, Romans 14:11-12.

Christ then being the only Lord of the conscience of his servants, and the judge of their actions, the Apostle commanded the Romans no longer to judge one another, but to judge this rather to be a fit measure, not to lay, either by their severe judgments, or by their example, any temptation in one another's way, which might occasion their falling into sin, Romans 14:13.—And, to shew them what he meant by this advice, he told them, that though no meat be unclean in itself, every kind is unclean to him who thinketh it unclean; because, while he entertains that opinion, he cannot eat it without sin, Romans 14:14.—And therefore, said the Apostle, if thy weak brother be tempted, either by thy severe censures, or by thy example, to eat meats which he thinks unclean, thou actest not according to the love which thou shouldst bear to thy brother, if thou continuest to tempt him in that manner. I beseech thee, do not destroy him with thy meat, for whom Christ died, Romans 14:15.;—nor occasion the good liberty which belongs to the disciples of Christ, to be evil spoken of by the Jews, Romans 14:16.—Besides, there is no reason for using your liberty on every occasion; especially as the religion of Christ does not consist in the use of meats and drinks, but in a righteous and peaceable behaviour towards all men; neither are the pleasures which his religion promises, the pleasures of sense, but those joys which result from the possession and exercise of the graces and virtues which the Holy Ghost infuses into men's minds, Romans 14:17.—Farther, the person who by righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost, serves Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved by all his saints, Romans 14:18.

Upon these principles, the Apostle exhorted his brethren, in things about which they might entertain different opinions with a good conscience, to follow such a course as would promote their mutual peace and edification, Romans 14:19.;—and by no means, for the trifling pleasure of eating this or that kind of meat, to incur the hazard of destroying one another's grace or virtue, which is the work of God. For although all meats are clean, that meat is bad to him who eateth it contrary to his conscience, through the stumbling-block, or temptation of another's example, Romans 14:20.—Every one's duty therefore is, to avoid all those things which have any tendency to lead others into sin, or to weaken their grace, Romans 14:21.—For the direction, however, of the well-instructed, the Apostle told them, that, having a right faith concerning meats and days, they were under no obligation to display that faith at all times. It was sufficient, if they held it fast in the presence of God, for the regulation of their own conduct: and that it would be happy for them, if they never subjected themselves to condemnation, by doing that which they knew to be lawful, Romans 14:22.—Yet condemnation they would assuredly bring on themselves, if by eating meats which they knew to be lawful, they tempted others to sin by eating them contrary to their conscience. For he who believes certain meats to be unlawful, sins if he eats them; because he eateth not of faith, that is, from a belief that they are lawful; but in eating them violates his conscience. And in general, whatever a man does without believing it to be lawful, being a violation of his conscience, is sin: which is the true meaning of the famed aphorism, Whatever is not of faith, is sin, Romans 14:23.

Here the xivth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans ends, according to the common division. But as the Apostle continues the subject treated of in that chapter, through the first seven verses of the xvth chapter, it will be proper to add an account of these verses also, that the reader may have the whole of the Apostle's discourse under his eye at once.

To proceed then. The Apostle having declared in the xivth chapter, that the weak Jewish Christians, in the affair of meats and days, were bound to act according to their own conscience, notwithstanding it might be erroneous, he, in the beginning of the xvth chapter, told the well-instructed Roman brethren, that they ought to bear or carry the weaknesses of the ignorant and prejudiced, that is, they ought to do what they could to prevent their weaknesses from being hurtful to them. In particular, they were not to please themselves with the eating of meats, which their weak brethren reckoned unclean, if they had reason to think that any who entertained that belief would by their example be tempted to eat such meats contrary to their conscience, Romans 14:1.—He therefore exhorted every one to please his neighbour for his good, by abstaining from such meats as were offensive to him, in order that the body of Christ might be edified, Romans 14:2.—To this they were called by the example of Christ, who pleased not himself by sensual gratifications; but subjected himself to all manner of hardships and reproaches for the glory of God, and the good of men, as was foretold concerning him, Romans 14:3.—Here the Apostle took occasion to inform the Romans, that whatever things were anciently written in the Scriptures, were written for our instruction; that by what is recorded concerning the patience and consolation granted to the saints in their trials, we might have hope of receiving the like patience and consolation in our trials, Romans 14:4.—And being exceedingly desirous to promote the purity and peace of the Roman church, he prayed God to bestow on its members the good dispositions which he had been recommending; that, layingaside their disputes, they might cordially join in worshipping God publicly, and in praising him for his goodness to men, Romans 14:5-6.—This admirable discourse, the Apostle concluded with an exhortation to the Jewish and Gentile brethren to receive one another, that is, to live in peace and friendship with one another, even as Christ had received them all into his friendship and church, to the great glory of God the Father, Romans 14:7.

It is proper now to observe, that although the controversy concerning the holy days, and the distinction of meats enjoined by the law of Moses, which led the Apostle to give the Roman brethren the rules contained in the xivth and in the beginning of the xvth chapter of this Epistle, has no place in the present state of the church, these chapters must not be considered as useless. The general principles of morality explained in them, are of unalterable obligation, and may be applied with great advantage for preventing us, both from lording it over the conscience of our brethren, and from submitting to their unrighteous impositions in matters of religion. For what can be more useful to Christians in every age, than to be assured by an inspired Apostle, that Christ is the only Lord of the conscience of his servants, and the judge of their hearts?—That he has not delegated this great prerogative to any man or body of men whatever—That to him alone, and not to one another, they are accountable for their religious opinions and actions—That in all cases where difference of opinion in religious matters takes place, every man should guide himself by his own persuasion, and not by the opinion of others—That no man or body of men has any right to force the conscience of others by persecuting them, or punishing them for their opinions—That all who do so, usurp the prerogative of Christ, and therefore, instead of hating them, either for their opinions, or for their mode of worshipping God, we ought to live in peace and friendship with them, notwithstanding these unessential differences.—That, as the kingdom of God does not consist in meat and drink, but in righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, the teachers who make holiness to consist in abstaining from this or that kindof meat, miserably corrupt their disciples, by leading them to believe that they can render themselves holy and acceptable to God without experiencing and practising holiness.—Lastly, in the above-mentioned chapters, the Apostle has laid it down as an indispensable rule, that no one, even by doing things innocent, should, by his example, tempt a weak brother to follow him, contrary to his conscience; because, while the weak brother thinks the thing sinful, his doing it is a sin, although in itself it may really be innocent.

The foregoing principles and rules being the strongest barrier against all usurpations on the rights of conscience, whether by the ecclesiastical or the civil powers, this passage of the Epistle to the Romans, in which they are laid down by the inspiration of God, should be regarded as the great charter of Christian liberty; and as such, it is highlyto be valued, frequently read, deeply meditated on, and carefully observed by Christians of all denominations. If these liberal principles and excellent rules had been sufficientlyunderstoodanddulyrespectedfromthebeginning,innumerablemischiefs would have been prevented, which miserably wasted the church in former times; and there would have been at this day more of the genuine spirit of the Gospel among the disciples of Christ, than in any period of Christianity since the first ages. But, alas! it was the misfortune of the church, very early, to fall under the teaching and direction of a number of proud, ignorant, ambitious men, who, bring actuated by an immoderate love of power and wealth, impiously usurped the prerogative of Christ, and imposed on the people, not only doctrines not taught by Christ and his Apostles, but doctrines directly contrary to theirs, together with a variety of usages in the worshipofGod,oftheirown invention, many of them downright superstitions, and all of them sinful, when imposed as terms of Christian communion. Nay, whichis worse still, these ungodly spiritual guides, vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds, obtruded on mankind their own definitions of doctrines confessedly above human comprehension, as the infallible dictates of the Spirit of God, by whom they pretended to be guided in their decisions. And, having deluded ignorant superstitious princes with that false pretence, they excited them to persecute all who resisted their unrighteous usurpations, and who rejected that corrupt form of religion which they had established. For these deluded princes, to stop the mouths of those who stood up for the truth, made use of the diabolical arguments of fire and sword, racks and gibbets, and every cruelty which furious bigotry could devise. So that during many ages, the saints were worn out, and genuine Christianity was well nigh banished from the earth.

May Godpreserve his church in the present, and in all succeeding times, from the like evils, that the religion of Jesus may never again be made the instrument of gratifying the evil passions of covetous and ambitious men!


Verse 1

Romans 14:1, &c. Him that is weak, &c.— By Aquila and Priscilla, who were come from Rome, and with whom St. Paul was familiar for a considerable time (Acts 18:2-3.), or by some other hand, the Apostle had a particular account of the state of the Christian church at Rome, and was informed that there was no good agreement between the Jewish and Gentile convertsabout meats and days. The Jewish Christian retaining a veneration for the laws of Moses, abstained from certain meats, and was observant of certain days; while the Gentile, understanding that the Christian religion laid him under no obligations to such ceremonial points, had no regard to either. The Jew censured the Gentile as a latitudinarian, little better than a mere heathen, and likely to relapse into idolatry. The Gentile censured the Jew, as a man of narrow, superstitious principles, and defective in the faith of the Gospel. The Apostle exhorts, that in such things as are not essential to religion, and in which both parties, in their different way of thinking, might have an honest meaning and serious regard to God, difference of sentiments might not hinder Christian fellowship and love; but that they would mutually forbear each other, make candid allowances, and especially not carry any Gospel liberties so far, as to disgust a weak brother or Jewish Christian against the Gospel itself, and tempt him to renounce Christianity. His rules and exhortations are still of great use, and happy would the Christian world be, if they were more generally practised. By him that is weak in the flesh, is meant the Jew, who the Apostle knew assuredly was in the wrong; yet he uses him very tenderly, and avoids saying any thing of him that was harsh and overbearing, and only represents him as weak in the faith. The reception here spoken of is, "the receiving into familiar and ordinaryconversation," as is evident from ch. Romans 15:7 where the Apostle, directing them to receive one another mutually, uses the same word προσλαμβανεσθε . "Live together in free and friendly manner, the weak with the strong, andthe strong with the weak, without any regard to the differences among you about the lawfulness of any indifferentthing."Doubtfuldisputationsimply"debatesanddistinctionsaboutmatters in doubt between you." Dr. Whitby explains the word διακρισεις of discriminating persons, according to their inward thoughts and reasonings on these heads. Dr. Doddridge, remarking upon this verse the strength of the Apostle's reasoning in favour of candour and mutual condescension, observes with the true spirit of that candour which he has so strongly enforced, "that when it shall please God to awaken in the governors of established protestant churches such a spirit of moderationandgoodness, joined with a true zeal for religion, as to leave certain things in that natural state of indifference, in which almost all sensible men confess it is best they should be left, many separations will cease of course, and the healers of such breaches will do a noble service to their country, be honoured by all who love Christianity, and amply rewarded by the great Head of the church."


Verse 2

Romans 14:2. Eateth herbs Some of the Jews used to eat no flesh at all, and others looked upon it as a very high pitch of virtue to abstain from it in Gentile countries, and to subsist entirely on vegetables, from an apprehension, that the flesh sold in the shambles might have been offered to idols, or at least have contracted some ceremonial pollution. Possibly some of these Jewish converts might have been of the sect of the Essenes, who were peculiarly strict on this head, insomuch that they abstained not only from flesh, but from fruit. See Whitby and Doddridge.


Verse 3

Romans 14:3. Let not him that eateth, despise, &c.— By him that eateth, St. Paul seems to mean the Gentiles, who were less scrupulous in the use of indifferent things; and by him that eateth not, the Jews, who made great distinction of meats, and days, and placed in them a great and, as they thought, necessary part of the worship of the true God.To the Gentiles the Apostle gives this caution, that they should not contemn the Jews as weak, narrow-minded men, who laid so much stress on matters of such smallmoment,andthoughtreligionsomuchconcernedinthose indifferent things. On the other side, he exhorts the Jews not to judge that those who neglected the Jewish observances of meats and days, were still heathens, or would soon apostatize to heathenism again; for he reasons, that God had received them into his family, and that theyhad no authority to judge whether they were of that family, or would continue so, on account of these unessential points: "That," says he, "belongs only to the master of the family; but notwithstanding your censure or hard thoughts of them, God is able and willing to continue them in his family, if they cleave to him in faith; not withstanding you suspect, from their free use of things indifferent, that they incline too much, or approach too near to Gentilism." See Locke.


Verse 4

Romans 14:4. Standeth or falleth, &c.— Falleth is here used in the destructive sense, and signifies being totally cast off. Comp. ch. Romans 11:11-12. Dr. Whitby explains the last clause, of God's convincing the Jewish converts in general of the indifference of the Mosaic ritual, by putting a speedy period to the very possibility of observing it, in the destruction at Jerusalem; which would have a peculiar efficacy to wean men's minds from an attachment to it, when considered in connection with Christ's predictions of that event. But a more extensive interpretation of the passage is both more obvious, and less liable to objection.—"Let me tell you, he shall be continued in God's favour, and established as a true member of his family, if he continue to cleave to him by faith; for it is not only consistent with the honour of God, but it is his good pleasure, that he should be continued and established, notwithstanding his neglect of the ritual law; if he persevere in walking with him by faith." See Whitby, and Doddridg


Verse 5

Romans 14:5. One man esteemeth one day, &c.— The Apostle having, in the foregoing verse, used the phrase κρινων αλλοτριον οικετην, for judging any one to be or not to be another man's servant,—seems here to continue the use of the word τρινειν in the same signification; that is, for judging a day to be more particularly God's. Critics have observed, that the word πληροφορεισθω, rendered fully persuaded, is most properly applied to a ship, which is carried on by the wind and tide with all its sails spread to forward it, and nothing to obstruct its course. So that the meaning is, "Let him go on in his own way, without impediment:—let every man enjoy his own sentiments freely in these things." See Raphelius, Doddridge, and Bennet's Appendix to his Irenicum, p. 120, &c.


Verse 7-8

Romans 14:7-9. For none of us liveth to himself, &c.— None of us, that is, "none of us Christians, ought to live," &c. The Apostle's argument stands thus: "According to the principles of true religion, and of the Christian religion in particular, we are not our own; neither are we to live to ourselves, as if we were our own lords and proprietors, and had no other rule but our own will and pleasure. No; we are all Christ's, we are his disciples and subjects; and His will should be the rule of our consciences and conduct. As therefore we should not make our own wills or sentiments a rule to ourselves, much less should we make them a rule to others; as if they were to live to us, or, like servants, pay us obedience. At the time of death we do not fall into our own hands, as if we had power to raise ourselves to life again at the last day; but we die into the hands of Christ, and it is he alone, to whom God has given power to bring us to life again." Consequently, it is the duty of every one of us to approve ourselves to our Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore we may, respecting those things of which we are now treating, safely leave every one to do what he sincerely thinks is most pleasingto him, without endangering our own salvation, or that of a Christian brother. For assuredly all is well, both with him and us, in life and death, if both seriously endeavour to live internally to, and to regulate their actions by, the will of Christ. See Locke.


Verse 8

Romans 14:8. We are the Lord's These words give an easy interpretation to the phrases of eating and living, &c. to the Lord; for they make them plainly to refer to what the Apostle had said at the latter end of Romans 14:3 for God hath received him; signifying, that God had received all those who professed and possessed the power of the Gospel, and had given their names up to Jesus Christ, into his family, and thus made them his domestics; and therefore we should not judge of or censure one another, for that every Christian was the Lord's domestic, appropriated to him as his servant; so that all he did in that state and in that spirit, was to be looked upon as done to the Lord, and not be accounted for to any one else. See Locke.


Verse 9

Romans 14:9. Might be Lord This must be so understood here as to agree with the foregoing verse: there it was, "We, that is, we Christians, whether we live or die, are the Lord's property: for the Lord died, and rose again, that we, whether living or dying, should be his." See Locke.

See commentary on Romans 14:7


Verse 10

Romans 14:10. But why dost thou judge thy brother, &c.— The superstitious are prone to judge, and those who are not superstitious are prone to despise. Heylin.


Verse 13

Romans 14:13. Let us not therefore judge He had before reproved the weak for censuring the strong in the use of their liberty: he comes now to restrain the strong from offending the weak, by a too free use of their liberty, in not forbearing the use of it, where it might give offence to the weak. The word rendered judge, has two different senses, and seems to be used in both in this verse. In the first place, it signifies to censure and condemn; in the other, to determine, as a matter of importance. See Hammond, Locke, and Raphelius. Some say that σκανδακον signifies properly "a piece of wood that supports a trap, which falls on its being moved;" and so may with peculiar propriety signify whatever may be the occasion of ensnaring another, and drawing him into sin and mischief.


Verse 15

Romans 14:15. But if thy brother be grieved, &c.— If then thy brother be offended with thy meat, thou walkest no longer charitably. It hence appears, that grieving a person does not signify merely putting himout of humour, but leading him into sin. The grief therefore is that which arises from a consciousness of having acted amiss, in conformity to the example of a person considered as superior, whether in rank or genius, knowledge or piety. See Hammond, Locke, and Doddridge.


Verse 16

Romans 14:16. Let not then your good be evil spoken of "Let not your liberty, which is a good that you enjoy under the Gospel, be evil spoken of." See 1 Corinthians 10:29-30.


Verse 17

Romans 14:17. For the kingdom of God is not meat, &c.— "The kingdom of God neither prohibits nor enjoins such things as these, nor is it taken up with such little matters; but the great design of it is to regulate the temper of its professors, and in the most effectual manner to cultivate and promote righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; that is, a serene temper and a holy joy, supported by a consciousness of strict integrity, established on principles of universal love, and inspired by the blessed Spirit of God." See Scott's Christian Life, vol. 1: p. 285.


Verse 20

Romans 14:20. The work of God That is, a Christian. See 1 Corinthians 9:1, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 1:6. Destroying him here, and in Romans 14:15, is causing him to apostatize, or renounce the Christian faith. Some read, for the sake of meats, &c. and instead of pure,—clean.


Verse 21

Romans 14:21. Is offended, or is made weak That is, drawn to the doing of any thing, of the lawfulness of which not being fully persuaded, it becomes a sin to him. See Locke.


Verse 22

Romans 14:22. Hast thou faith? There is no necessity for reading the first clause interrogatively; and it seems more agreeable to the structure of the Greek;—Thou hast faith: as if he had said, "I own you have a right persuasion." Farther, there is an anadiplosis in the words εχεις and εχε: the first signifies simply have, the latter hold fast. "You have a right persuasion concerning your Christian liberty, and I advise you to hold your profession steadfastly,with respect to yourself in the sight of God." Εχω, have, has frequently this emphatical signification. See Matthew 25:29. Instead of to thyself, the Greek would be more properly rendered with respect to,—as pertaining to; that is, "so far as it concerns yourself, hold it in the sight of God." It is anexhortation,—nottokeepitprivateto himself, not to suppress his sentiments,—but to retain them steadily, and never do or say any thing inconsistent with them: as it follows, "Happy is the man who condemns not himself, by doing or professing any thinginconsistent with what he is assured in his own conscience is right." The Apostle puts this in, that the Christian Gentile might not mistake his meaning, or imagine that he was persuading him to be indifferent to the truth, to dissemble it, to give it up, or act contrary to it upon some occasions: this was far from the Apostle's intention, who only exhorts him to think charitably of a weak brother, and to abstain from any indifferent actions which might disgust him, or prove a snare or temptation to him. Without this caution, hisdiscourse would have been imperfect, and not well guarded.


Verse 23

Romans 14:23. And he that doubteth, is damned, &c.— Is convicted [of sin] if he eat, because it is not according to his belief: for whatsoever [a man doeth] not according to his persuasion, is sin. The word rendered doubteth, is translated staggered, ch. Romans 4:20 and is there opposed to strong in the faith, and being fully persuaded, as it follows in the next verse. In reading this verse, the emphasis should be laid upon is. Romans 14:22. Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows. Romans 14:23. But he that doubts is condemned; "He that really in his conscience makes a difference between one sort of food and another, is condemned by God as a sinner, if he eat out of unbridled appetite, vain complaisance, or weak shame. It must in such a case be criminal, because he eateth not with faith: that is to say, with a full satisfaction in his own mind, that God allows and approves the action:" for it may be laid down as a general maxim in all these cases, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin; since the divine authority ought to be so sacred with every man, as to engage him not only to avoid what is plainly and directly contrary to it, but what he apprehends or even suspects to be so, though that apprehension or suspicion should be founded on his own ignorance or mistake. See Locke, Doddridge, Mill, Wetstein, Calmet, and "The Case of a doubting Conscience," p. 169.

Inferences.—How ready should Christians be to hold communion one with another, notwithstanding little differences between them, like those that relate to ceremonial days and meats, which are set aside by the Gospel dispensation, and do not affect the vitals of religion! They should take heed of an uncharitable, disdaining, and censorious spirit; but the sincere believer may comfort himself in this, that God has received him, and is able to make him stand, though others may despise, or judge him. How much better therefore is it to approve ourselves to God and our own consciences, than to be approved of men! For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. And, oh! what awful thoughts should we have of the Lord Jesus, as the great God, as well as Judge of all, who has sworn by himself, that every knee shall bow to him; and to whom every one must give an account of himself! And in the view of an impartial and decisive judgment to come, how tender and condescending should we be to our brethren that are apt to be offended, on every little occasion, for want of better light! It is a high aggravation of guilt to do any thing that, in its own nature, tends to the discomfort and ruin of the weakest believers, and to the disconcerting or destroying of the work of God in them. The weak believer should not judge the strong, nor the strong despise the weak; each remembering that what is not of faith is sin: nor should either of them behave so imprudently as to give occasion for their good to be evil spoken of; but happy is he, who condemns not himself in that which he allows himself to do. How concerned should Christians of all ranks and denominations be, to act upon principles of faith, and a good conscience in all things, and to promote each other's edification and peace! Oh, how excellent are the blessings of Christ's kingdom, which consists not in external ritual things, like meats and drinks, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost! And how preferable is his service to all others! It is acceptable to God, and approved of all good men; and, in the performance of this, we are called to live and die, not to ourselves, but to Christ, whose we are, and whom we ought to serve, in consideration of his having died and risen, and now living in heaven, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, As many of the Jewish converts still retained a high veneration for the Mosaical institutions, and were scrupulous in observing a distinction of meats and days, from which the Gentile Christians justly apprehended themselves entirely at liberty; the Apostle therefore recommends a kind condescension towards the Jewish brethren in regard to the prejudices of education; and that there should be no coolness or distance between them on account of these different matters. Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, heartily embracing and welcoming him, but not to doubtful disputations, nor perplexing him with useless disputes about things of a trivial nature.

1. Respecting meats. One believeth that he may eat all things; and, satisfied about the abolition of the ceremonial law, counts nothing any longer common or unclean, eating, without scruple, whatever kind of wholesome food is set before him. Another who is weak, through the prejudice of education, or want of light, fearful of using any meat but what is permitted by the law of Moses, and killed according to the manner there prescribed (Leviticus 17:10-14.), when he is invited to eat with Gentiles, lest he should incur ceremonial defilement, abstains from their victuals, and eateth only herbs. Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not, as weak and superstitious, priding himself on his superior knowledge and clearer views of his Christian liberty: and, on the other hand, let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth; and being prejudiced and narrow in his own conceptions, dare uncharitably to censure his brother as a loose liver, and irreligious professor, because he has no such scruples about indifferent matters; for God hath received him into his favour, and therefore, whom he accepts, none should condemn. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. It is the highest arrogance to usurp God's throne, and sit in judgment on our brother, who is responsible to God alone, and uses only that liberty which he is in conscience satisfied God allows. Yea, and whatever rash censures the weak and superstitious may cast upon him, he shall be holden up; the Lord will strengthen and preserve the faithful soul unto salvation, for God is able to make him stand, is able and willing to preserve the believer that continues to cleave to him, till he appear with boldness in the day of judgment. Note; (1.) Nothing is more contrary to the spirit of charity than rash and hasty censures. (2.) We are to leave every man to the great Judge, nor should pretend to decide upon his everlasting state without the clearest warrant of God's word.

2. Respecting days. One man esteemeth one day above another, as the Jewish converts did, who paid a particular regard to the passover, pentecost, new-moons, and other feast and fast days of the law, as more sacred than others: another esteemeth every day alike, counting all these Jewish distinctions as abolished. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind; and, being satisfied in his own conscience, be content that others should judge for themselves, allowing them the same liberty that we claim ourselves; charitably concluding, that he that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, intending therein to glorify the Lord Jesus, who on mount Sinai at first enjoined the ceremonial law; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it, from the same principle, and with a view to the Redeemer's glory, by whose authority he supposes the Mosaical institutions are laid aside. He that eateth, as the converted Gentile, every kind of meat without scruple, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks, and is persuaded that all the creatures of God are good, when sanctified by the word of God, and by prayer: and he that eateth not, supposing that the prohibition of a variety of meats enjoined by Moses is still in force, to the Lord he eateth not, persuaded in conscience that he ought to obtain, and giveth God thanks for the food which he is allowed under the law. In these points, therefore, we should bear and forbear; and not, for such trifles, dispute, and break the bands of Christian love.

3. Our grand end and aim in these things, and all others, should be the glory of God. For none of us liveth to himself; we are not our own, and must not live as self-seekers, or self-pleasers; we are bought with a price, that we should glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits, which are his: and no man dieth to himself, wishing to get rid of his troubles, or to gain a name; or selfishly desiring his crown before the time when God shall appoint him an end to his warfare; for whether we, who are truly the servants of Jesus, live, we live unto the Lord, desirous to be, and do, and suffer according to his holy will and pleasure; and whether we die a natural, lingering, sudden, or violent death, we die unto the Lord, resigned to his will, committing all our concerns into his hands, and with our departing breath desiring to exalt his great and glorious name, and to commend the goodness of our God: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's; belong to him as his devoted servants; as his inseparable property depending on him, and singly aiming at his glory. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, having made the great atonement, and being raised in token of God's approbation of his undertaking, and seated on the mediatorial throne, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living, as head over all things to his church; invested with universal dominion and authority; to rule the living, to revive the dead; and when, in the day of his appearing and glory, the dead shall rise, and the living be changed, he will be the object of the everlasting praises of his saints. Since then we are Christ's, and he alone has dominion over us, it becomes us never to usurp authority over the consciences of our brethren, or to pass censures on the dead or the living. We have one Master only, whose approbation we need be solicitous to secure.

4. We must each, shortly, answer for ourselves before God; and therefore to his judgment all should be referred. But why dost thou judge thy brother, as lax and latitudinarian, because thou art rigid and scrupulous? or why, on the other hand, dost thou set at nought thy brother, as an ignorant, weak, and despicable bigot, because he thinks that evil, which you know to be innocent? This is to take the matter out of God's hands, and to erect an unhallowed tribunal; for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and by his sentence, and no other, must stand or fall for ever. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God; owning me the eternal Jehovah, acknowledging my eternal glory and Godhead, and bowing before the sceptre of my judgment, as accountable to me alone, and expecting from my lips the decision of their eternal state for happiness or misery: so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God, to Christ, to whom all judgment is committed, and who is essentially very God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more with any rash and precipitate censures; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way: and whatever knowledge he may have of Christian liberty, let him be careful so to use it, as not willingly to grieve or ensnare his brother, by tempting him to sin, by giving a handle for censure, or emboldening him to do what his conscience may not be satisfied is right. Note; Our great concern is, to prepare for a judgment-day, and the best means to be ready for it is, to keep it often in our view, and to bring ourselves thither in self-examination, before the Lord shall cite us to his bar.

2nd, The Apostle had just intimated, that they should desire mutual edification, and not abuse their Christian liberty to the detriment of others.

1. As to his own sense of these ceremonial things, he says, I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself; the ceremonial law concerning meats being wholly abrogated, and that these communicate no moral defilement to the conscience: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean, as he would act against his conscience if he should eat; and though his conscience be erroneous, he would do evil.

But, 2. Whatever conviction any man may have of the lawfulness of all kinds of food, yet, if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, through the prejudices of education, and you unkindly persist in the use of your liberty, and eat before him what he esteems forbidden, now walkest thou not charitably; destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died; destroy not the peace of his mind, by giving him unnecessary offence; or, at least, be not the means of stumbling such as, in the judgment of charity, we may reckon among true believers.

3. Another reason why you should abridge yourself of something of your Christian liberty, is this: Let not your good be evil spoken of; do not provoke those who are misinformed to speak evil of you, for that which is itself lawful; nor do any thing, as far as is consistent with conscience, which may lessen you in men's esteem, and prevent your usefulness; or give occasion to the enemy, by needless contentions, to speak evil of Christianity itself.

4. As the greatest points of Christianity stand distinct from all these trivial matters, no stress should be laid upon them. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; consists not in using or abstaining from the ceremonial institutions which the law prescribed concerning these things; but it is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. These are the grand essential matters: Righteousness, genuine holiness, the image of God, or the love of God and man; peace with God through Jesus Christ, and the sense of his love kindling ours, and engaging us to live peaceably with all men; and joy in the Holy Ghost, which this divine Spirit communicates to our souls, making us happy in God and his holy ways. For he that in these things serveth Christ; faithful to his cause, and in simplicity designing his honour, whatever his practice or sentiments may be in unessential matters, is acceptable to God; his person and services are accepted in the Beloved, and he is approved of men, as a sincere convert, at least by all those of sound judgment and solid experience.

He therefore exhorts, 5. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, laying aside all uncharitable contentions;—and things wherewith one may edify another; not seeking our own pleasure merely, but others' good. For so trivial a consideration as this or that kind of meat, destroy not the work of God, nor disturb the peace, and love, and harmony, which should subsist between fellow-Christians, and which it is the great design of God in his Gospel to produce in the hearts of believers. All things indeed are pure, I will admit, to those who have knowledge; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence; and the liberty of using any meat, which in itself is lawful, becomes practically criminal, when we choose rather to offend a weak brother, than forego the gratification of our appetite for his sake. In such a case, it is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. It would be right and prudent to abstain from any of these creatures, however good in themselves, and lawful to be used, rather than be a hindrance to the weak, grieve or discourage the less enlightened, or tempt our brother rashly to censure us, or with a doubting conscience to follow our example. Hast thou faith, and art satisfied concerning the abrogation of the ceremonial institutions; have it to thyself before God, and use thy liberty to God's glory on proper occasions. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth, and never exposes himself to the just reproaches of his conscience by warping his better judgment to gratify his covetousness, his pleasure, or his pride. And, on the other hand, he that doubteth about the propriety of what he is going to do, and supposes that there may be a difference between meats lawful and unlawful, and therefore hesitates whether he shall eat or not, is damned if he eat; his conscience will condemn him, because he is not sure that he has God's warrant for what he does, and eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. The word of God must be our rule; we must ever from that divine code receive our directions; and, where our minds are not fully satisfied concerning his will, nothing must tempt us to take one step farther. We are safe, though mistaken, when we through jealousy abridge ourselves of our liberty; but where we presumptuously act, though doubts remain, we shew an evident disregard to God's authority, and violate the sacred dictates of conscience.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/romans-14.html. 1801-1803.

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