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Romans xii. 1-8

AGAIN we may conjecture a pause, a long pause and deliberate, in the work of Paul and Tertius. We have reached the end, generally speaking, of the dogmatic and so to speak oracular contents of the Epistle. We have listened to the great argument of Righteousness, Sanctification, and final Redemption. We have followed the exposition of the mysterious unbelief and the destined restoration of the chosen nation; a theme which we can see, as we look back on the perspective of the whole Epistle, to have a deep and suggestive connexion with what went before it; for the experience of Israel, in relation to the sovereign will and grace of God, is full of light thrown upon the experience of the soul. Now in order comes the bright sequel of this mighty antecedent, this complex but harmonious mass of spiritual facts and historical illustrations of the will and ways of the Eternal. The voice of St Paul is heard again; and he comes full upon the Lord's message of duty, conduct, character.

As out of some cleft in the face of the rocky hills rolls the full pure stream born in their depths, and runs under the sun and sky through green meadows 322 and beside the thirsty homes of men, so here from the inmost mysteries of grace comes the message of all-comprehensive holy duty. The Christian, filled with the knowledge of an eternal love, is told how not to dream, but to serve, with all the mercies of God for his motive.

This is indeed in the manner of the New Testament; this vital sequence of duty and doctrine; the divine Truths first, and then and therefore the blessed Life. To take only St Paul's writings, the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles are each, practically, bisected by a line which has eternal facts before it and present duties, done in the light and power of them, after it. But the whole Book of God, in its texture all over, shews the same phenomenon. Someone has remarked with homely force that in the Bible everywhere, if only we dig deep enough, we find "Do right" at the bottom. And we may add that everywhere also we have only to dig one degree deeper to find that the precept is rooted in eternal underlying facts of divine truth and love.

Scripture, that is to say, its Lord and Author, does not give us the terrible gift of a precept isolated and in a vacuum. It supports its commandments on a base of cogent motive; and it fills the man who is to keep them with the power of a living Presence in him; this we have seen at large in the pages of the Epistle already traversed. But then, on the other hand, the Lord of Scripture does not leave the motive and the Presence without the articulate precept. Rather, because they are supplied and assured to the believer, it spreads out all the more amply and minutely a moral directory before his eyes. It tells him, as a man who now rests on God and loves Him, and in whom God dwells, not only in general that he is to "walk 323 and please God" but in particular "how" to do it (1 Thess. iv. 1). It takes his life in detail, and applies the will of the Lord to it. It speaks to him in explicit terms about moral purity, in the name of the Holy One; about patience and kindness, in the name of redeeming Love; about family duties, in the name of the Father and of the Son; about civic duties, in the name of the King Eternal. And the whole outline and all the details thus become to the believer things not only of duty but of possibility, of hope, of the strong interest given by the thought that thus and thus the beloved Master would have us use His divine gift of life. Nothing is more wonderfully free, from one point of view, than love and spiritual power. But if the love is indeed given by God and directed towards Him in Christ, the man who loves cannot possibly wish to be his own law, and to spend his soul's power upon his own ideas or preferences. His joy and his conscious aim must be to do, in detail, the will of the Lord who is now so dear to him; and therefore, in detail, to know it.

Let us take deep note of this characteristic of Scripture, its minuteness of precept, in connexion with its revelation of spiritual blessing. If in any sense we are called to be teachers of others, let us carry out the example. Richard Cecil, wise and pregnant counsellor in Christ, says that if he had to choose between preaching precepts and preaching privileges, he would preach privileges; because the privileges of the true Gospel tend in their nature to suggest and stimulate right action, while the precepts taken alone do not reveal the wealth of divine life and power. But Cecil, like his great contemporaries of the Evangelical Revival, constantly and diligently preached as a fact both privilege and precept; opening with energetic 324 hands the revealed fulness of Christ, and then and therefore teaching "them which had believed through grace" not only the idea of duty, but its details. Thomas Scott, at Olney, devoted his week-night "lecture" in the parish church, almost exclusively, to instructions in daily Christian life. Assuming that his hearers "knew Christ" in personal reality, he told them how to be Christians in the home, in the shop, in the farm; how to be consistent with their regenerate life as parents, children, servants, masters, neighbours, subjects. There have been times, perhaps, when such didactic preaching has been too little used in the Church. But the men who, under God, in the last century and the early years of this century, revived the message of Christ Crucified and Risen as all in all for our salvation, were eminently diligent in teaching Christian morals. At the present day, in many quarters of our Christendom, there is a remarkable revival of the desire to apply saving truth to common life, and to keep the Christian always mindful that he not only has heaven in prospect, but is to travel to it, every step, in the path of practical and watchful holiness. This is a sign of divine mercy in the Church. This is profoundly Scriptural.

Meanwhile, God forbid that such "teaching how to live" should ever be given, by parent, pastor, schoolmaster, friend, where it does not first pass through the teacher's own soul into his own life. Alas for us if we shew ever so convincingly, and even ever so winningly, the bond between salvation and holiness, and do not "walk accurately" (Eph. v. 15) ourselves, in the details of our walk.

As we actually approach the rules of holiness now before us, let us once more recollect what we have 325 seen all along in the Epistle, that holiness is the aim and issue of the entire Gospel. It is indeed an "evidence of life," infinitely weighty in the enquiry whether a man knows God indeed and is on the way to His heaven. But it is much more; it is the expression of life; it is the form and action in which life is intended to come out. In our orchards (to use again a parable we have used already) the golden apples are evidences of the tree's species, and of its life. But a wooden label could tell us the species, and leaves can tell the life. The fruit is more than label or leaf; it is the thing for which the tree is there. We who believe are "chosen" and "ordained" to "bring forth fruit" (John xv. 16), fruit much and lasting. The eternal Master walks in His garden for the very purpose of seeing if the trees bear. And the fruit He looks for is no visionary thing; it is a life of holy serviceableness to Him and to our fellows, in His Name.

But now we draw near again and listen:

I exhort you therefore, brethren, by means of the compassions of God; using as my logic and my fulcrum this "depth of riches" we have explored; this wonderful Redemption, with its sovereignty, its mercy, its acceptance, its holiness, its glory; this overruling of even sin and rebellion, in Gentile and in Jew, into occasions for salvation; these compassionate indications in the nearer and the eternal future of golden days yet to come;—I exhort you therefore to present, to give over, your bodies as a sacrifice, an altar-offering, living, holy, well-pleasing, unto God; for this (ἥτις) is your rational devotion (λατρεία). That is to say, it is the "devotion," the cultus, the worship-service, which is done by the reason, the mind, the thought and will, of the man who has found God in Christ. The Greek 326 term, latreia, is tinged with associations of ritual and temple; but it is taken here, and qualified by its adjective, on purpose to be lifted, as in paradox, into the region of the soul. The robes and incense of the visible sanctuary are here out of sight; the individual believer is at once priest, sacrifice, and altar; he immolates himself to the Lord,—living, yet no longer to himself.

But observe the pregnant collocation here of "the body" with "the reason." "Give over your bodies"; not now your spirit, your intelligence, your sentiments, your aspirations, but "your bodies," to your Lord. Is this an anti-climax? Have we retreated from the higher to the lower, in coming from the contemplation of sovereign grace and the eternal glory to that of the physical frame of man? No more than the Lord Jesus did, when He walked down from the hill of Transfiguration to the crowd below, and to the sins and miseries it presented. He came from the scene of glory to serve men in its abiding inner light. And even He, in the days of His flesh, served men, ordinarily, only through His sacred body; walking to them with His feet; touching them with His hands; meeting their eyes with His; speaking with His lips the words that were spirit and life. As with Him so with us. It is only through the body, practically, that we can "serve our generation by the will of God." Not without the body but through it the spirit must tell on the embodied spirits around us. We look, we speak, we hear, we write, we nurse, we travel, by means of these material servants of the will, our living limbs. Without the body, where should we be, as to other men? And therefore, without the surrender of the body, where are we, as to other men, from the point of view of the will of God?


So there is a true sense in which, while the surrender of the will is all important and primary from one point of view, the surrender of the body, the "giving over" of the body, to be the implement of God's will in us, is all-important, is crucial, from another. For many a Christian life it is the most needful of all things to remember this; it is the oblivion, or the mere half-recollection, of this which keeps that life an almost neutral thing as to witness and service for the Lord.

And do not grow207207The Greek imperative is present, and indicates a process. conformed to this world, this æon (αἰών), the course and state of things in this scene of sin and death; do not play "the worldling," assuming a guise (σχῆμα) which in itself is fleeting, and which for you, members of Christ, must also be hollow; but grow transfigured, living out a lasting and genuine change of tone and conduct, in which the figure (μορφὴ) is only the congenial expression of the essence208208See Trench, N. T. Synonyms, s.v. μορφή, for the pregnant difference of the two nouns which are the distinctive elements here of the two the renewal of your mind, by using as an implement in the holy process that divine light which has cleared your intelligence of the mists of self-love, and taught you to see as with new eyes "the splendour of the will of God"; so as that you test, discerning as by a spiritual touchstone, what is the will of God, the good, and acceptable, and perfect (will).

Such was to be the method, and such the issue, in this development of the surrendered life. All is divine in origin and secret. The eternal "compassions," and the sovereign work of the renewing and illuminating 328 Spirit, are supposed before the believer can move one step. On the other hand the believer, in the full conscious action of his renewed "intelligence," is to ponder the call to seek "transfiguration" in a life of unworldly love, and to attain it in detail by using the new insight of a regenerated heart. He is to look, with the eyes of the soul, straight through every mist of self-will to the now beloved Will of God, as his deliberate choice, seen to be welcome, seen to be perfect, not because all is understood, but because the man is joyfully surrendered to the all-trusted Master. Thus he is to move along the path of an ever brightening transfiguration; at once open-eyed, and in the dark; seeing the Lord, and so with a sure instinct gravitating to His will, yet content to let the mists of the unknown always hang over the next step but one.

It is a process, not a crisis; "grow transfigured." The origin of the process, the liberation of the movement, is, at least in idea, as critical as possible; "Give over your bodies." That precept is conveyed, in its Greek form (παραστῆσαι, aorist), so as to suggest precisely the thought of a critical surrender. The Roman Christian, and his English younger brother, are called here, as they were above (vi. 13, 19), to a transaction with the Lord quite definite, whether or no the like has taken place before, or shall be done again. They are called, as if once for all, to look their Lord in the face, and to clasp His gifts in their hands, and then to put themselves and His gifts altogether into His hands, for perpetual use and service. So, from the side of his conscious experience, the Christian is called to a "hallowing of himself" decisive, crucial, instantaneous. But its outcome is to be a perpetual progression, a growth, not so much "into" grace as "in" it 329 (2 Pet. iii. 18), in which the surrender in purpose becomes a long series of deepening surrenders in habit and action, and a larger discovery of self, and of the Lord, and of His will, takes effect in the "shining" of the transfigured life "more and more, unto the perfect day" (Prov. iv. 18).

Let us not distort this truth of progression, and its correlative truth of the Christian's abiding imperfection. Let us not profane it into an excuse for a life which at the best is stationary, and must almost certainly be retrograde, because not intent upon a genuine advance. Let us not withhold "our bodies" from the sacred surrender here enjoined upon us, and yet expect to realize somehow, at some vague date, a "transfiguration, by the renewal of our mind." We shall be indeed disappointed of that hope. But let us be at once stimulated and sobered by the spiritual facts. As we are "yielded to the Lord," in sober reality, we are in His mercy "liberated for growth." But the growth is to come, among other ways, by the diligent application of "the renewal of our mind" to the details of His blessed Will.

And it will come, in its true development, only in the line of holy humbleness. To exalt oneself, even in the spiritual life, is not to grow; it is to wither. So the Apostle goes on:

For I say, through the grace that has been given me, "the grace" of power for apostolic admonition, to every one who is among you, not to be high-minded beyond what his mind should be, but to be minded toward sober-mindedness, as to each God distributed faith's measure. That is to say, let the individual never, in himself, forget his brethren, and the mutual relation of each to all in Christ. Let him 330 never make himself the centre, or think of his personal salvation as if it could really be taken alone. The Lord, the sovereign Giver of faith, the Almighty Bringer of souls into acceptance and union with Christ by faith, has given thy faith to thee, and thy brother's faith to him; and why? That the individual gifts, the bounty of the One Giver, might join the individuals not only to the Giver but to one another, as recipients of riches many yet one, and which are to be spent in service one yet many. The One Lord distributes the one faith-power into many hearts, "measuring" it out to each, so that the many, individually believing in the One, may not collide and contend, but lovingly cooperate in a manifold service, the issue of their "like precious faith" (2 Pet. i. 2) conditioned by the variety of their lives. So comes in that pregnant parable of the Body, found only in the writings of St Paul, and in four only of his Epistles, but so stated there as to take a place for ever in the foreground of Christian truth. We have it here in the Romans, and in larger detail in the contemporary 1 Corinthians (xii. 12-27). We have it finally and fully in the later Epistolary Group, of the first Roman Captivity—in Ephesians and Colossians. There the supreme point in the whole picture, the glorious Head, and His relation to the Limb and to the Body, comes out in all its greatness, while in these earlier passages it appears only incidentally.209209See 1 Cor. xii. 21: "Can the head say to the feet, etc.?" But each presentation, the earlier and the later, is alike true to its purpose. When St Paul wrote to the Asiatics, he was in presence of errors which beclouded the living splendour of the Head. When he wrote to the Romans, he was concerned rather with the interdependence 331 of the limbs, in the practice of Christian social life.

We have spoken of "the parable of the Body." But is the word "parable" adequate? "What if earth be but the shadow of heaven?" What if our physical frame, the soul's house and vehicle, be only the feebler counterpart of that great Organism in which the exalted Christ unites and animates His saints? That union is no mere aggregation, no mere alliance of so many men under the presidency of an invisible Leader. It is a thing of life. Each to the living Head, and so each to all His members, we are joined in that wonderful connexion with a tenacity, and with a relation, genuine, strong, and close as the eternal life can make it. The living, breathing man, multifold yet one, is but the reflection, as it were, of "Christ Mystical," the true Body with its heavenly Head.

For just as in one body we have many limbs, but all the limbs have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, in our personal union with Him, but in detail (τὸ δὲ καθεῖς), limbs of one another, coherent and related not as neighbours merely but as complementary parts in the whole. But having endowments (χαρίσματα) —according to the grace that was given to us—differing, be it prophecy, inspired utterance, a power from above, yet mysteriously conditioned (1 Cor. xiv. 32) by the judgment and will of the utterer, let it follow the proportion of the man's faith, let it be true to his entire dependence on the revealed Christ, not left at the mercy of his mere emotions, or as it were played upon by alien unseen powers; be it active service (διακονία), let the man be in his service, wholly given to it, not turning aside to covet 332 his brother's more mystic gift; be it the teacher, let him likewise be in his teaching, whole-hearted in his allotted work, free from ambitious outlooks from it; be it the exhorter, let him be in his exhortation; the distributer of his means, for God, with open-handedness; the superintendent, of Church, or of home, with earnestness; the pitier, (large and unofficial designation!) with gladness, doubling his gifts and works of mercy by the hallowed brightness of a heart set free from the aims of self, and therefore wholly at the service of the needing.

This paragraph of eight verses lies here before us, full all along of that deep characteristic of Gospel life, surrender for service. The call is to a profoundly passive inward attitude, with an express view to a richly active outward usefulness. Possessed, and knowing it, of the compassions of God, the man is asked to give himself over to Eternal Love for purposes of unworldly and unambitious employment in the path chosen for him, whatever it may be. In this respect above all others he is to be "not conformed to this world"—that is, he is to make not himself but his Lord his pleasure and ambition. "By the renewal of his mind" he is to view the Will of God from a point inaccessible to the unregenerate, to the unjustified, to the man not emancipated in Christ from the tyranny of sin. He is to see in it his inexhaustible interest, his line of quest and hope, his ultimate and satisfying aim; because of the practical identity of the Will and the infinitely good and blessed Bearer of it. And this more than surrender of his faculties, this happy and reposeful consecration of them, is to shew its reality in one way above all others first; in a humble estimate of self as compared with brother Christians, and a watchful 333 willingness to do—not another's work, but the duty that lies next.

This relative aspect of the life of self-surrender is the burthen of this great paragraph of duty. In the following passage we shall find precepts more in detail; but here we have what is to govern all along the whole stream of the obedient life. The man rich in Christ is reverently to remember others, and God's will in them, and for them. He is to avoid the subtle temptation to intrude beyond the Master's allotted work for him. He is to be slow to think, "I am richly qualified, and could do this thing, and that, and the other, better than the man who does it now." His chastened spiritual instinct will rather go to criticize himself, to watch for the least deficiency in his own doing of the task which at least to-day is his. He will "give himself wholly to this," be it more or less attractive to him in itself. For he works as one who has not to contrive a life as full of success and influence as he can imagine, but to accept a life assigned by the Lord who has first given to him Himself.

The passage itself amply implies that he is to use actively and honestly his renewed intelligence. He is to look circumstances and conditions in the face, remembering that in one way or another the will of God is expressed in them. He is to seek to understand not his duties only but his personal equipments for them, natural as well as spiritual. But he is to do this as one whose "mind" is "renewed" by his living contact and union with his redeeming King, and who has really laid his faculties at the feet of an absolute Master, who is the Lord of order as well as of power.

What peace, energy, and dignity comes into a life 334 which is consciously and deliberately thus surrendered! The highest range of duties, as man counts highest, is thus disburthened both of its heavy anxieties and of its temptations to a ruinous self-importance. And the lowest range, as man counts lowest, is filled with the quiet greatness born of the presence and will of God. In the memoirs of Mme de la Mothe Guyon much is said of her faithful maid-servant, who was imprisoned along with her (in a separate chamber) in the Bastille, and there died, about the year 1700. This pious woman, deeply taught in the things of the Spirit, and gifted with an understanding far above the common, appears never for an hour to have coveted a more ambitious department than that which God assigned her in His obedience. "She desired to be what God would have her be, and to be nothing more, and nothing less. She included time and place, as well as disposition and action. She had not a doubt that God, who had given remarkable powers to Mme Guyon, had called her to the great work in which she was employed. But knowing that her beloved mistress could not go alone, but must constantly have some female attendant, she had the conviction, equally distinct, that she was called to be her maid-servant."210210Upham: Life, etc., of Mme de la M. Guyon, ch. I.

A great part of the surface of Christian society would be "transfigured" if its depth was more fully penetrated with that spirit. And it is to that spirit that the Apostle here definitely calls us, each and every one, not as with a "counsel of perfection" for the few, but as the will of God for all who have found out what is meant by His "compassions," and have caught even a 335 glimpse of His Will as "good, and acceptable, and perfect."

"I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go."

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