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Romans viii. 12-25

NOW the Apostle goes on to develop these noble premisses into conclusions. How true to himself, and to his Inspirer, is the line he follows! First come the most practical possible of reminders of duty; then, and in profound connexion, the inmost experiences of the regenerate soul in both its joy and its sorrow, and the most radiant and far-reaching prospects of glory to come. We listen still, always remembering that this letter from Corinth to Rome is to reach us too, by way of the City. He who moved His servant to send it to Aquila and Herodion had us too in mind, and has now carried out His purpose. It is open in our hands for our faith, love, hope, life to-day.

St Paul begins with Holiness viewed as Duty, as Debt. He has led us through our vast treasury of privilege and possession. What are we to do with it? Shall we treat it as a museum, in which we may occasionally observe the mysteries of New Nature, and with more or less learning discourse upon them? Shall we treat it as the unwatchful King1301302 Kings xx. 12, 13. of old treated his 219 splendid stores, making them his personal boast, and so betraying them to the very power which one day was to make them all its spoil? No, we are to live upon our Lord's magnificent bounty—to His glory, and in His will. We are rich; but it is for Him. We have His talents; and those talents, in respect of His grace, as distinct from His "gifts," are not one, nor five, nor ten, but ten thousand—for they are Jesus Christ. But we have them all for Him. We are free from the law of sin and of death; but we are in perpetual and delightful debt to Him who has freed us. And our debt is—to walk with Him.

"So, brethren, we are debtors." Thus our new paragraph begins. For a moment he turns to say what we owe no debt to; even "the flesh," the self-life. But it is plain that his main purpose is positive, not negative. He implies in the whole rich context that we are debtors to the Spirit, to the Lord, "to walk Spirit-wise."

What a salutary thought it is! Too often in the Christian Church the great word Holiness has been practically banished to a supposed almost inaccessible background, to the steeps of a spiritual ambition, to a region where a few might with difficulty climb in the quest, men and women who had "leisure to be good," or who perhaps had exceptional instincts for piety. God be thanked, He has at all times kept many consciences alive to the illusion of such a notion; and in our own day, more and more, His mercy brings it home to His children that "this is His will, even the sanctification"—not of some of them, but of all. Far and wide we are reviving to see, as the fathers of our faith saw before us, that whatever else holiness is, it is a sacred and binding debt. It is not an ambition; it is a duty. We are bound, every one of us who names the name of Christ, 220 to be holy, to be separate from evil, to walk by the Spirit.

Alas for the misery of indebtedness, when funds fall short! Whether the unhappy debtor examines his affairs, or guiltily ignores their condition, he is—if his conscience is not dead—a haunted man. But when an honourable indebtedness concurs with ample means, then one of the moral pleasures of life is the punctual scrutiny and discharge. "He hath it by him"; and it is his happiness, as it is assuredly his duty, not to "say to his neighbour, Go and come again, and to-morrow I will give" (Prov. iii. 28).

Christian brother, partaker of Christ, and of the Spirit, we also owe, to Him who owns. But it is an indebtedness of the happy type. Once we owed, and there was worse than nothing in the purse. Now we owe, and we have Christ in us, by the Holy Ghost, wherewithal to pay. The eternal Neighbour comes to us, with no frowning look, and shews us His holy demand; to live to-day a life of truth, of purity, of confession of His Name, of unselfish serviceableness, of glad forgiveness, of unbroken patience, of practical sympathy, of the love which seeks not her own. What shall we say? That it is a beautiful ideal, which we should like to realize, and may yet some day seriously attempt? That it is admirable, but impossible? Nay; "we are debtors." And He who claims has first immeasurably given. We have His Son for our acceptance and our life. His very Spirit is in us. Are not these good resources for a genuine solvency? "Say not, Go and come again; I will pay Thee—to-morrow. Thou hast it by thee!"

Holiness is beauty. But it is first duty, practical and present, in Jesus Christ our Lord.


So then, brethren, debtors are we—not to the flesh, with a view to living flesh-wise; but to the Spirit—who is now both our law and our power—with a view to living Spirit-wise. For if you are living flesh-wise, you are on the way (μέλλετε) to die. But if by the Spirit you are doing to death131131Θανατοῦτε: observe the present tense, the process is a continuing one. the practices, the stratagems, the machinations, of the body, you will live. Ah, the body is still there, and is still a seat and vehicle of temptation. "It is for the Lord, and the Lord is for it" (1 Cor. vi. 13). It is the temple of the Spirit. Our call is (1 Cor. vi. 20) to glorify God in it. But all this, from our point of view, passes from realization into mere theory, wofully gainsaid by experience, when we let our acceptance in Christ, and our possession in Him of the Almighty Spirit, pass out of use into mere phrase. Say what some men will, we are never for an hour here below exempt from elements and conditions of evil residing not merely around us but within us. There is no stage of life when we can dispense with the power of the Holy Ghost as our victory and deliverance from "the machinations of the body." And the body is no separate and as it were minor personality. If the man's body "machinates," it is the man who is the sinner.

But then, thanks be to God, this fact is not the real burthen of the words here. What St Paul has to say is that the man who has the indwelling Spirit has with him, in him, a divine and all-effectual Counter-Agent to the subtlest of his foes. Let him do what we saw him above (vii. 7-25) neglecting to do. Let him with conscious purpose, and firm recollection of his wonderful position and possession (so easily forgotten!), call up the eternal Power which is indeed not himself, though 222 in himself. Let him do this with habitual recollection and simplicity. And he shall be "more than conqueror" where he was so miserably defeated. His path shall be as of one who walks over foes who threatened, but who fell, and who die at his feet. It shall be less a struggle than a march, over a battlefield indeed, yet a field of victory so continuous that it shall be as peace.

"If by the Spirit you are doing them to death." Mark well the words. He says nothing here of things often thought to be of the essence of spiritual remedies; nothing of "will-worship, and humility, and unsparing treatment of the body" (Col. ii. 23); nothing even of fast and prayer. Sacred and precious is self-discipline, the watchful care that act and habit are true to that "temperance" which is a vital ingredient in the Spirit's "fruit" (Gal. v. 22, 23). It is the Lord's own voice (Matt. xxvi. 41) which bids us always "watch and pray"; "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). Yes, but these true exercises of the believing soul are after all only as the covering fence around that central secret—our use by faith of the presence and power of "the Holy Ghost given unto us." The Christian who neglects to watch and pray will most surely find that he knows not how to use this his great strength, for he will be losing realization of his oneness with his Lord. But then the man who actually, and in the depth of his being, is "doing to death the practices of the body," is doing so, immediately, not by discipline, nor by direct effort, but by the believing use of "the Spirit." Filled with Him, he treads upon the power of the enemy. And that fulness is according to surrendering faith.

For as many as are led by God's Spirit, these are God's sons; for you did not receive a spirit of slavery, to take you back again (πάλιν) to fear; no, 223 you received a Spirit of adoption to sonship, in which Spirit, surrendered to His holy power, we cry, with no bated, hesitating breath, "Abba, our () Father." His argument runs thus; "If you would live indeed, you must do sin to death by the Spirit. And this means, in another aspect, that you must yield yourselves to be led along by the Spirit, with that leading which is sure to conduct you always away from self and into the will of God. You must welcome the Indweller to have His holy way with your springs of thought and will. So, and only so, will you truly answer the idea, the description, 'sons of God'—that glorious term, never to be satisfied by the relation of mere creaturehood, or by that of merely exterior sanctification, mere membership in a community of men, though it be the Visible Church itself. But if you so meet sin by the Spirit, if you are so led by the Spirit, you do shew yourselves nothing less than God's own sons. He has called you to nothing lower than sonship; to vital connexion with a divine Father's life, and to the eternal embraces of His love. For when He gave and you received the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of promise, who reveals Christ and joins you to Him, what did that Spirit do, in His heavenly operation? Did He lead you back to the old position, in which you shrunk from God, as from a Master who bound you against your will? No, He shewed you that in the Only Son you are nothing less than sons, welcomed into the inmost home of eternal life and love. You found yourselves indescribably near the Father's heart, because accepted, and new-created, in His Own Beloved. And so you learnt the happy, confident call of the child, 'Father, O Father; Our Father, Abba.'"132132The Aramaic "Abba," used by our Lord in His hour of darkness, had probably become an almost personal Name to the believers.


So it was, and so it is. The living member of Christ is nothing less than the dear child of God. He is other things besides; he is disciple, follower, bondservant. He never ceases to be bondservant, though here he is expressly told that he has received no "spirit of slavery." So far as "slavery" means service forced against the will, he has done with this, in Christ. But so far as it means service rendered by one who is his master's absolute property, he has entered into its depths, for ever. Yet all this is exterior as it were to that inmost fact, that he is—in a sense ultimate, and which alone really fulfils the word—the child, the son, of God. He is dearer than he can know to his Father. He is more welcome than he can ever realize to take his Father at His word, and lean upon His heart, and tell Him all.

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are God's children, born children, τεκνά. The Holy One, on His part, makes the once cold, reluctant, apprehensive heart "know and believe the love of God." He "sheds abroad God's love in it." He brings home to consciousness and insight the "sober certainty" of the promises of the Word; that Word through which, above all other means, He speaks. He shews to the man "the things of Christ," the Beloved, in whom he has the adoption and the regeneration; making him see, as souls see, what a paternal welcome there must be for those who are "in Him." And then, on the other part, the believer meets Spirit with spirit. He responds to the revealed paternal smile with not merely a subject's loyalty but a son's deep love; deep, reverent, tender, genuine love. "Doubtless thou art His own child," says the Spirit. "Doubtless He is my Father," says our wondering, believing, seeing spirit in response.


But if children, then also heirs; God's heirs, Christ's co-heirs, possessors in prospect of our Father's heaven (towards which the whole argument now gravitates), in union of interest and life with our Firstborn Brother, in whom lies our right. From one hand a gift, infinitely merciful and surprising, that unseen bliss will be from another the lawful portion of the lawful child, one with the Beloved of the Father. Such heirs we are, if indeed we share His sufferings, those deep but hallowed pains which will surely come to us as we live in and for Him in a fallen world, that we may also share His glory, for which that path of sorrow is, not indeed the meriting, but the capacitating, preparation.

Amidst the truths of life and love, of the Son, of the Spirit, of the Father, he thus throws in the truth of pain. Let us not forget it. In one form or another, it is for all "the children." Not all are martyrs, not all are exiles or captives, not all are called as a fact to meet open insults in a defiant world of paganism or unbelief. Many are still so called, as many were at first, and as many will be to the end; for "the world" is no more now than it ever was in love with God, and with His children as such. But even for those whose path is—not by themselves but the Lord—most protected, there must be "suffering," somehow, sooner, later, in this present life, if they are really living the life of the Spirit, the life of the child of God, "paying the debt" of daily holiness, even in its humblest and gentlest forms. We must observe, by the way, that it is to such sufferings, and not to sorrows in general, that the reference lies here. The Lord's heart is open for all the griefs of His people, and He can use them all for their blessing and for His ends. But the "suffering with Him" must imply a pain due to our union. It 226 must be involved in our being His members, used by the Head for His work. It must be the hurt of His "hand" or "foot" in subserving His sovereign thought. What will the bliss be of the corresponding sequel! "That we may share His glory"; not merely, "be glorified," but share His glory; a splendour of life, joy, and power whose eternal law and soul will be, union with Him who died for us and rose again.

Now towards that prospect St Paul's whole thought sets, as the waters set towards the moon, and the mention of that glory, after suffering, draws him to a sight of the mighty "plurity" of the glory. For I reckon, "I calculate"—word of sublimest prose, more moving here than any poetry, because it bids us handle the hope of glory as a factthat not worthy of mention are the sufferings of the present season (καιροῦ, not χρόνου; he thinks of time not in its length but in its limit), in view of the glory about to be unveiled upon us (εἰς ἡμᾶς), unveiled, and then heaped upon us, in its golden fulness.133133With this verse on his lips, unfinished, Calvin died, 1564. For—he is going to give us a deep reason for his "calculation"; wonderfully characteristic of the Gospel. It is that the final glory of the saints will be a crisis of mysterious blessing for the whole created Universe.134134We cannot think that the κτίσις of this passage refers only, as some would have it, to humanity (as Mark xvi. 15, Col. i. 23). The κτίσις is a something which was "subjected" involuntarily, and so, surely, not guiltily. This could not be said of humanity. In ways absolutely unknown, certainly as regards anything said in this passage, but none the less divinely fit and sure, the ultimate and eternal manifestation of Christ Mystical, the Perfect Head with His perfected members, will be the occasion, and in some sense too the cause, the 227 mediating cause, of the emancipation of "Nature," in its heights and depths, from the cancer of decay, and its entrance on an endless æon of indissoluble life and splendour. Doubtless that goal shall be reached through long processes and intense crises of strife and death. "Nature," like the saint, may need to pass to glory through a tomb. But the issue will indeed be glory, when He who is the Head at once of "Nature,"135135See Col. i. 15, 16. The Lord's Headship of Creation, explicitly revealed there, is seen as it were only just below the surface here. of the heavenly nations, and of redeemed man, shall bid the vast periods of conflict and dissolution cease, in the hour of eternal purpose, and shall manifestly "be what He is" to the mighty total.

With such a prospect natural philosophy has nothing to do. Its own laws of observation and tabulation forbid it to make a single affirmation of what the Universe shall be, or shall not be, under new and unknown conditions. Revelation, with no arbitrary voice, but as the authorized while reserved messenger of the Maker, and standing by the open Grave of the Resurrection, announces that there are to be profoundly new conditions, and that they bear a relation inscrutable but necessary to the coming glorification of Christ and His Church. And what we now see and feel as the imperfections and shocks and seeming failures of the Universe, so we learn from this voice, a voice so quiet yet so triumphant, are only as it were the throes of birth, in which "Nature," impersonal indeed but so to speak animated by the thinking of the intelligent orders who are a part of her universal being, preludes her wonderful future.

For the longing outlook of the creation is expecting—the unveiling of the sons of God. 228 For to vanity, to evil, to failure and decay, the creation was subjected not willingly, but because of Him who made it subject; its Lord and Sustainer, who in His inscrutable but holy will bade physical evil correspond to the moral evil of His conscious fallen creatures, angels or men. So that there is a deeper connexion than we can yet analyse between sin, the primal and central evil, and everything that is really wreck or pain. But this "subjection," under His fiat, was in hope, because the creation itself shall be liberated from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God, the freedom brought in for it by their eternal liberation from the last relics of the Fall.S For we know, by observation of natural evil, in the light of the promises, that the whole creation is uttering a common groan of burthen and yearning, and suffering a common birth-pang, even till now, when the Gospel has heralded the coming glory. Nor only so, but even the actual possessors of the firstfruits of the Spirit, possessors of that presence of the Holy One in them now, which is the sure pledge of His eternal fulness yet to come, even we ourselves, richly blest as we are in our wonderful Spirit-life, yet in ourselves are groaning, burthened still with mortal conditions pregnant of temptation, lying not around us only but deep within (ἐν ἑαυτοῖς), expecting adoption, full instatement into the fruition of the sonship which already is ours, even the redemption of our body.

From the coming glories of the Universe he returns, in the consciousness of an inspired but human heart, to the present discipline and burthen of the Christian. Let us observe the noble candour of the words; this "groan" interposed in the midst of such a song of the Spirit and 229 of glory. He has no ambition to pose as the possessor of an impossible experience. He is more than conqueror; but he is conscious of his foes. The Holy Ghost is in him; he does the body's practices victoriously to death by the Holy Ghost. But the body is there, as the seat and vehicle of manifold temptation. And though there is a joy in victory which can sometimes make even the presence of temptation seem "all joy" (Jas i. 2), he knows that something "far better" is yet to come. His longing is not merely for a personal victory, but for an eternally unhindered service. That will not fully be his till his whole being is actually, as well as in covenant, redeemed. That will not be till not the spirit only but the body is delivered from the last dark traces of the Fall, in the resurrection hour.

For it is as to our (τῇ) hope that we were saved. When the Lord laid hold of us we were indeed saved,136136See the perfect participle, σεσωσμένοι, Eph. ii. 5, 8. but with a salvation which was only in part actual. Its total was not to be realized till the whole being was in actual salvation. Such salvation (see below, xiii. 11) was coincident in prospect with "the Hope," "that blessed Hope,"137137Is ἡ ἐλπὶς ever used in the N. T. in any other connexion than this? the Lord's Return and the resurrection glory. So, to paraphrase this clause, "It was in the sense of the Hope that we were saved."138138Luther's rendering is good as a paraphrase, Wir sind wohl selig, doch in der Hoffnung. But a hope in sight is not a hope; for, what a man sees, why does he hope for? Hope, in that case, has, in its nature, expired in possession. And our full "salvation" is a hope; it is bound up with a Promise not yet fulfilled; therefore, in its nature, 230 it is still unseen, still unattained. But then, it is certain; it is infinitely valid; it is worth any waiting for. But if, for what we do not see, we do hope, looking on good grounds for the sunrise in the dark east, with patience we expect it. "With patience," literally "through patience," δι' ὑπομονῆς. The "patience" is as it were the means, the secret, of the waiting; "patience," that noble word of the New Testament vocabulary, the saint's active submission, submissive action, beneath the will of God. It is no nerveless, motionless prostration; it is the going on and upward, step by step, as the man "waits upon the Lord, and walks, and does not faint."

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