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Romans ii. 17-29

The Jew, first, and also the Greek; this has been the burthen of the Apostle's thought thus far upon the whole. He has had the Jew for some while in his chief thought, but he has recurred again and again in passing to the Gentile. Now he faces the Pharisee explicitly and on open ground, before he passes from this long exposure of human sin to the revelation of the glorious Remedy.

But if 2020There is no practical doubt that εἰ δὲ not ἴde ("Behold") is the right reading here. you, you emphatically, the reader or hearer now in view, you who perhaps have excused yourself from considering your own case by this last mention of the responsibility of the non-Jewish world; if you bear the name of Jew, whether or no you possess the corresponding spiritual reality; and repose yourself upon the Law, as if the possession of that awful revelation of duty was your protection, not your sentence; and glory in God, as if He were your private property, the decoration of your national position, whereas the knowledge of Him is given you in trust for the world; and know the Will, His Will, the Will supreme; and put the touchstone to things 68 which differ, like a casuist skilled in moral problems; schooled out of the Law, under continuous training (so the Greek present participle bids us explain) by principles and precepts which the Law supplies;—(if) you are sure that you, yourself, whoever else, are a leader of blind men, a light of those who are in the dark, an educator of the thoughtless, a teacher of beginners, possessing, in the Law, the outline, 2121Μόρφωσις: we need not understand by this word a reference to mere formalism. Μορφή on the contrary regularly means shape expressive of underlying substance. And μόρφωσις means not shape but shaping. He means that the Pharisee really has, in the Law, God's formed and formative model of knowledge and reality. Still, 2 Tim. iii. 5 justifies our also seeing here a side suggestion of the possibility of dissociating even the divine model from the corresponding "power." the system, of real knowledge and truth, 2222Τῦς γνώσεως, τῦς ἀληθείας:—the adjective "real" in our rendering represents the Greek definite article, though with a slight exaggeration. (the outline indeed, but not the power and life related to it):—if this is your estimate of your position and capacities, I turn it upon yourself. Think, and answer—You therefore, your neighbour's teacher, do you not teach yourself? You, who proclaim, Thou shalt not steal, do you steal? You, who say, Thou shalt not commit adultery, do you commit it? You, who abominate the idols, affecting to loathe their very neighbourhood, do you plunder temples, entering the polluted precincts readily enough for purposes at least equally polluting? You who glory in the Law, as the palladium of your race, do you, by your violation of the Law, disgrace your2323Τὸν Θεόν. We represent the definite article here by "your," and just below by "our"; not without hesitation, as it somewhat exaggerates the definition. God? "For the name of our God 69 is, because of you, railed at among the heathen," as it stands written, in Ezekiel's message (xxxvi. 20) to the ungodly Israel of the ancient Dispersion—a message true of the Dispersion of the later day.

We need not overstrain the emphasis of the Apostle's stern invective. Not every non-Christian Jew of the first century, certainly, was an adulterer, a thief, a plunderer. When a few years later (Acts xxviii. 17) St Paul gathered round him the Jews of Rome, and spent a long day in discussing the prophecies with them, he appealed to them with a noble frankness which in some sense evidently expected a response in kind. But it is certain that the Jews of the Roman Dispersion bore a poor general character for truth and honour. And anywise St Paul knew well that there is a deeply natural connexion between unhallowed religious bigotry and that innermost failure of self-control which leaves man only too open to the worst temptations. Whatever feeds gross personal pride promotes a swift and deadly decay of moral fibre. Did this man pride himself on Abraham's blood, and his own Rabbinic lore and skill, and scorn both the Gentile "sinner" and the 'am-hââretz, "the people of the land," the rank and file of his own race? Then he was the very man to be led helpless by the Tempter. As a fact, there are maxims of the later Rabbinism, which represent beyond reasonable doubt the spirit if not the letter of the worst watchwords of "the circumcision" of St Paul's time: "Circumcision is equivalent to all the commandments of the Law"; "To live in Palestine is equal to the Commandments"; "He that hath his abode in Palestine is sure of life eternal."2424See A. M'Caul's Old Paths (נתיבות עולם), p. 230, etc. The man who could even for 70 an hour entertain such a creed was ready (however deep below his consciousness the readiness lay) for anything—under fitting circumstances of temptation.

So it is now, very far beyond the limits of the Jewish Dispersion of our time. Now as then, and for the Christian "outwardly" as for the Jew "outwardly," there is no surer path to spiritual degeneracy than spiritual pride. What are the watchwords which have succeeded to those of the Rabbinists who encountered St Paul? Are they words, or thoughts, of self-applause because of the historic orthodoxy of your creed? Because of the Scriptural purity of your theory of salvation? Because of the illustrious annals of your national Church, older than the nation which it has so largely welded and developed? Because of the patient courage, under contempt and exclusion, of the community which some call your denomination, your sect, but which is to you indeed your Church? Because of your loyalty to order? Because of your loyalty to liberty? Take heed. The best, corrupted, becomes inevitably the worst. In religion, there is only one altogether safe "glorying." It is when the man can say from the soul, with open eyes, and therefore with a deeply humbled heart, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. vi. 14). All other "glorying is not good." Be thankful for every genuine privilege. But for Christ's sake, and for your own soul's sake, do not, even in the inmost secret of your soul, "value yourself" upon them. It is disease, it is disaster, to do so.

And shall not we of the Christian Dispersion take home also what Ezekiel and St Paul say about the 71 blasphemies, the miserable railings at our God, caused by the sins of those who bear His Name? Who does not know that, in every region of heathendom, the missionary's plea for Christ is always best listened to where the pagan, or the Mussulman, has not before his eyes the Christianity of "treaty-ports," and other places where European life is to be seen lived without restraint? The stumbling-block may be the drunken sailor, or the unchaste merchant, or civilian, or soldier, or traveller. Or it may be just the man who, belonging to a race reputed Christian, merely ignores the Christian's holy Book, and Day, and House, and avoids all semblance of fellowship with his countrymen who have come to live beside him that they may preach Christ where He is not known. Or it may be the government, reputed Christian, which, amidst all its noble benefits to the vast races it holds in sway, allows them to know, to think, at least to suspect, that there are cases where it cares more for revenue than for righteousness. In all these cases the Christian Dispersion gives occasion for railing at the Christian's God: and the reckoning will be a grave matter "in that Day."

But shall the Christians of the Christendom at home stand exempt from the charge? Ah let us who name the blessed Name with even the least emphasis of faith and loyalty, dwelling amongst the masses who only passively, so to speak, are Christian, who "profess nothing," though they are, or are supposed to be, baptized—let us, amidst "the world" which understands not a little of what we ought to be, and watches us so keenly, and so legitimately—let us take home this message, sent first to the old inconsistent Israel. Do we, professing godliness, shew the mind of Christ in our secular intercourse? Do we, on the whole, give the average "world" cause to expect that 72 "a Christian," as such, is a man to trust in business, in friendship? Is the conviction quietly forced upon them that a Christian's temper, and tongue, are not as other men's? That the Christian minister habitually lives high above self-seeking? That the Christian tradesman faithfully remembers his customers' just interests, and is true in all his dealings? That the Christian servant, and the Christian master, are alike exceptionally mindful of each other's rights, and facile about their own? That the Christian's time, and his money, are to a remarkable degree applied to the good of others, for Christ's sake? This is what the members of the Christian Society, in the inner sense of the word Christian, are expected to be in what we all understand by "the world." If they are so, God be thanked. If they are not so—who shall weigh the guilt? Who shall adequately estimate the dishonour so done to the blessed Name? And "the Day" is coming.

But he has more to say about the position of the Jew. He would not even seem to forget the greatness of the God-given privilege of Israel; and he will use that privilege once more as a cry to conscience.

For circumcision indeed profits you, if you carry law into practice; in that case circumcision is for you God's seal upon God's own promises to the true sons of Abraham's blood and faith. Are you indeed a practiser of the holy Code whose summary and essence is love to God and love to man? Can you look your Lord in the face and say—not, "I have satisfied all Thy demands; pay me that Thou owest," but, "Thou knowest that I love Thee, and therefore oh how I love Thy law"? Then you are indeed a child of the covenant, through His grace; and the seal of the covenant speaks to you the certainties of its blessing. But if you are a transgressor 73 of law, your circumcision is turned uncircumcision; the divine seal is to you nothing, for you are not the rightful holder of the deed of covenant which it seals. If therefore the uncircumcision, the Gentile world, in some individual instance, carefully keeps the ordinances of the Law, reverently remembers the love owed to God and to man, shall not his uncircumcision, the uncircumcision of the man supposed, be counted as if circumcision? Shall he not be treated as a lawful recipient of covenant blessings even though the seal upon the document of promise is, not at all by his fault, missing? And thus shall not this hereditary (ἐκ φύσεως) uncircumcision, this Gentile born and bred, fulfilling the law of love and duty, judge you, who by means of letter and circumcision are—law's transgressor, using as you practically do use the terms, the letter, of the covenant, and the rite which is its seal, as means to violate its inmost import, and claiming, in the pride of privilege, blessings promised only to self-forgetting love? For not the (Jew) in the visible sphere is a Jew; nor is circumcision in the visible sphere, in the flesh, circumcision. No, but the Jew in the hidden sphere; and circumcision of heart, in Spirit, not letter; circumcision in the sense of a work on the soul, wrought by God's Spirit, not in that of a legal claim supposed to rest upon a routine of prescribed observances. His praise, the praise of such a Jew, the Jew in this hidden sense, thus circumcised in heart, does not come from men, but does come from God. Men may, and very likely will, give him anything but praise; they will not like him the better for his deep divergence from their standard, and from their spirit. But the Lord knows him, and loves him, and prepares for him His own welcome; "Well done, good and faithful."


Here is a passage far-reaching, like the paragraphs which have gone before it. Its immediate bearing needs only brief comment, certainly brief explanation. We need do little more than wonder at the moral miracle of words like these written by one who, a few years before, was spending the whole energy of his mighty will upon the defence of ultra-Judaism. The miracle resides not only in the vastness of the man's change of view, but in the manner of it. It is not only that he denounces Pharisaism, but he denounces it in a tone entirely free from its spirit, which he might easily have carried into the opposite camp. What he meets it with is the assertion of truths as pure and peaceable as they are eternal; the truths of the supreme and ultimate importance of the right attitude of man's heart towards God, and of the inexorable connexion between such an attitude and a life of unselfish love towards man. Here is one great instance of that large spiritual phenomenon, the transfiguration of the first followers of the Lord Jesus from what they had been to what under His risen power they became. We see in them men whose convictions and hopes have undergone an incalculable revolution; yet it is a revolution which disorders nothing. Rather, it has taken fanaticism for ever out of their thoughts and purposes. It has softened their whole souls towards man, as well as drawn them into an unimagined intimacy with God. It has taught them to live above the world; yet it has brought them into the most practical and affectionate relations with every claim upon them in the world around them. "Your life is hid with Christ in God"; "Honour all men"; "He that loveth not, knoweth not God."

But the significance of this particular passage is indeed far-reaching, permanent, universal. As before, 75 so here, the Apostle warns us (not only the Jew of that distant day) against the fatal but easy error of perverting privilege into pride, forgetting that every gift of God is "a talent" with which the man is to trade for his Lord, and for his Lord alone. But also, more explicitly here, he warns us against that subtle tendency of man's heart to substitute, in religion, the outward for the inward, the mechanical for the spiritual, the symbol for the thing. Who can read this passage without reflections on the privileges, and on the seals of membership, of the Christian Church? Who may not take from it a warning not to put in the wrong place the sacred gifts, as sacred as they can be, because divine, of Order, and of Sacrament? Here is a great Hebrew doctor dealing with that primary Sacrament of the Elder Church of which such high and urgent things are said in the Hebrew Scriptures; a rite of which even medieval theologians have asserted that it was the Sacrament of the same grace as that which is the grace of Baptism now.2525So Bernard, Sermo in Cœnâ, c. 2. But when he has to consider the case of one who has received the physical ordinance apart from the right attitude of soul, he speaks of the ordinance in terms which a hasty reader might think slighting. He does not slight it. He says it "profits," and he is going soon to say more to that purpose. For him it is nothing less than God's own Seal on God's own Word, assuring the individual, as with a literal touch divine, that all is true for him, as he claims grace in humble faith. But then he contemplates the case of one who, by no contempt but by force of circumstance, has never received the holy seal, yet believes, and loves, and 76 obeys. And he lays it down that the Lord of the Covenant will honour that man's humble claim as surely as if he brought the covenant-document ready sealed in his hand. Not that even for him the seal, if it may be had, will be nothing; it will assuredly be divine still, and will be sought as God's own gift, His seal ex post facto. But the principle remains that the ritual seal and the spiritual reality are separable; and that the greater thing, the thing of absolute and ultimate necessity between the soul and God, is the spiritual reality; and that where that is present there God accepts.

It was the temptation of Israel of old to put Circumcision in the place of faith, love, and holiness, instead of in its right place, as the divine imperial seal upon the covenant of grace, the covenant to be claimed and used by faith. It is the temptation of some Christians now to put the sacred order of the Church, and particularly its divine Sacraments, the holy Bath and the holy Meal, in the place of spiritual regeneration, and spiritual communion, rather than in their right place as divine imperial seals on the covenant which guarantees both to faith. For us, as for our elder brethren, this paragraph of the great argument is therefore altogether to the purpose. "Faith is greater than water," says even Peter Lombard,2626See Sententiæ, iv., iv., 3-7. the Magister of the medieval Schools. So it is. And the thought is in perfect unison with St Paul's principle of reasoning here. Let it be ours to reverence, to prize, to use the ordinances of our Master, with a devotion such as we might seem sure we should feel if we saw Him dip His hand in the Font, or stretch it out to break the Bread, and hallow it, and 77 give it, at the Table. But let us be quite certain, for our own souls' warning, that it is true all the while—in the sense of this passage—that "he is not a Christian which is one outwardly, neither is that Baptism, or Communion, which is outward; but he is a Christian which is one inwardly, and Baptism and Communion are those of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter."

Sacred indeed are the God-given externals of Christian order and ordinance. But there are degrees of greatness in the world of sacred things. And the moral work of God direct upon the soul of man is greater than His sacramental work done through man's body.

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