47. It would be a great shame, a blasphemy, for a Christian to deny that he is holy. It would be equivalent to denying the holiness of the blood of Christ, of the Word, the Spirit, the grace of God, and of God himself. And all these God has applied to or conferred upon the Christian to render him holy. Paul does not hesitate to call himself a saint (Eph 3, 8): "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given." And (1 Tim 5, 10) he would relieve widows who washed the feet of the saints. It is also said in Psalm 86, 2, "Preserve my soul; for I am godly [holy]." Peter, too (1 Pet 1, 16), quoting from Moses, speaks God's message, "Ye shall be holy; for I am holy." The word "holy" in the Scriptures has reference only to the living.
But we have had books other than the Scriptures to read. Consequently we have been led by our seducers into the humiliating wickedness of calling holy only the dead, and regarding it the highest presumption to apply the term to ourselves. At the same time we are all desirous of being called "Christians," a sublimer title than "holy"; for Christ is perfect holiness, and Christians are named after Christ—after perfect holiness. The shameful abomination known as "the exaltation of saints" is responsible for the deplorable error here. The Pope's influence has created the belief that only they are holy who are dead, or whose works have exalted them to the honor of the title. But how often is the devil exalted as a saint, and how often we regard them saints who are of hell!
48. Paul's design in mentioning "the necessities of the saints" is to teach and move us to do as much for Christians as we are inclined to do for the saints of heaven; to regard such ministration as precious service, for so it is. He commends to us the real saints—those in want; who are of saintly character, though they may be forsaken, hungry, naked, imprisoned, half-dead, regarded by the world as ungodly evil-doers deserving of every form of misfortune; who, unable to help themselves, need assistance. They differ much from those saints whose help we, staring heavenward, implore. It is the poor Christians whom Christ will array on the last day, saying, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me." Mt 25, 40. Then they who so ostentatiously served the blessed of heaven must stand shamed and afraid in the presence of those whom in this life they scorned to respect as they should. Nor will the saints whom they bound themselves to serve, and whom they worshiped, avail them anything.
"Given to hospitality."
49. Now, Paul specifies concerning the "necessities of the saints" and names the treatment to be accorded them. Not only in word are we to remember them, but in deed, extending hospitality as their necessities demand. "Hospitality" stands for every form of physical aid when occasion calls for it—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked. In the early days of the Gospel, the apostles and disciples did not sit in palaces, cloisters, institutions, and torture the people with edicts and commands as do the idolatrous bishops today. Pilgrim-like, they went about the country, having no house nor home, no kitchen nor cellar, no particular abiding-place. It was necessary that everywhere hospitality be extended the saints, and service rendered them, that the Gospel might be preached. This was as essential as giving assistance in their distresses and sufferings.
"Bless them that persecute you."
50. Incidental to the subject of the saints' necessities, the apostle reminds us we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our persecutors, who, to great extent, are to blame for the distresses of the saints. It is well to observe here that we are not merely advised, but commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them; such conduct is the fruit of the Spirit. We must not believe what we have heretofore been taught—that the admonition comes only to the perfect, and that they are merely counseled to bless their persecutors. Christ teaches (Mt 5, 44) that all Christians are commanded so to do. And to "bless" our persecutors means to desire for them only good in body and soul. For instance, if an enemy detracts from our honor, we should respond, "God honor you and keep you from disgrace." Or if one infringe upon our rights, we ought to say, "May God bless and prosper you." On this wise should we do.
"Bless, and curse not."
51. This is to be our attitude toward mankind generally, whether persecutors or otherwise. The meaning is: "Not only bless your persecutors, but live without curses for any, with blessings for all; wishing no one evil, but everyone only good." For we are children of blessing; as Peter says: "Hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing." 1 Pet 3, 9. In our blessing, all the world is blessed—through Christ. "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Gen 22, 18. It is inconsistent for a Christian to curse even his most bitter enemy and an evil-doer; for he is commanded to bear upon his lips the Gospel. The dove did not bring to Noah in the ark a poisonous branch or a thistle sprig; she brought an olive-leaf in her mouth. Gen 8, 11. The Gospel likewise is simply a gracious, blessed, glad and healing word. It brings only blessing and grace to the whole world. No curse, but pure blessing, goes with the Gospel. The Christian's lips, then, must be lips of blessing, not of cursing. If they curse, they are not the lips of a Christian.
52. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between cursing and censuring or reproving. Reproof and punishment greatly differ from cursing and malediction. To curse means to invoke evil, while censuring carries the thought of displeasure at existing evil, and an effort to remove it. In fact, cursing and censuring are opposed. Cursing invokes evil and misfortune; censure aims to remove them. Christ himself censured, or reproved. He called the Jews a generation of vipers, children of the devil, hypocrites, blind dolts, liars, and so on. He did not curse them to perpetuate their evils; rather he desired the evils removed. Paul does similarly. He says of the sorcerer that he is a child of the devil and full of subtilty. Acts 13, 10. Again, the Spirit reproves the world of sin. Jn 16, 8.
53. But the strong argument is here urged that the saints of the Scriptures not only censured, but cursed. Jacob, the patriarch, cursed his sons Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Gen 49, 7. A great part of the Law of Moses is made up of curses, especially Deut 28, 15. Open cursing is commanded to be pronounced by the people, on Mount Ebal. Deut 27, 13. How much cursing we find in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 109. Again, how David cursed Joab, captain of his host! 2 Sam 3, 29. How bitterly Peter curses Simon (Acts 8, 20): "Thy silver perish with thee." Paul curses the seducers of the Galatians (Gal 5, 12), "I would they were even cut off." And he says (1 Cor 16, 22), "If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema." Christ cursed the innocent fig-tree. Mt 21, 19. And Elisha cursed the children of Bethel. 2 Kings 2, 24. What shall we say to these things?
54. I answer: We must distinguish between love and faith. Love must not curse; it must always bless. But faith has power to curse. Faith makes us children of God, and is to us in God's place. Love makes us servants of men, and occupies the place of a servant. Without the Spirit's direction, no one can rightly understand and imitate such examples of cursing. Cursing stands opposed to cursing—the curses of God to the curses of the devil. When the devil, through his followers, resists, destroys, obstructs, the Word of God—the channel of the blessing—the blessing is impeded, and in God's sight a curse rests upon the blessing. Then it is the office of faith to come out with a curse, desiring the removal of the obstruction that God's blessing may be unhindered.
55. Were one, with imprecation, to invoke God to root out and destroy popery—the order of priests, monks and nuns, together with the cloisters and other institutions, the whole world might well say, Amen. For these the devil's devices curse, condemn and impede everywhere God's Word and his blessing. These things are evils so pernicious, so diabolical, they do not merit our love. The more we serve the ecclesiasts and the more we yield to them, the more obdurate they become. They rant and rage against the Word of God and the Spirit, against faith and love. Such conduct Christ calls blasphemy—sin—against the Holy Spirit—unpardonable sin. Mt 12, 31. And John says (1 Jn 5, 16), "There is a sin unto death; not concerning this do I say that he should make request." With the ecclesiasts all is lost. They will not accept any love or assistance which does not leave them in their wickedness, does not strengthen and help—even honor and exalt—them in it. Any effort you may make otherwise will but cause them to rage against the Holy Spirit, to blaspheme and curse your teaching, declaring: "It proceeds not from love and fidelity to God, but from the hate, the malice, of the devil. It is not the Word of God, but falsehood. It is the devil's heresy and error."
56. In fact, cursing which contributes only to the service of God is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is enjoined in the first commandment, and is independent of and superior to love. Until God commands us to do a certain good work or to manifest our love toward our neighbor, we are under no obligation so to do. His will transcends all the good works we can do, all the love we can show our neighbor. Even if I could save the entire world in a single day and it were not God's will I should, I would have no right to do it. Therefore, I should not bless, should not perform a good work, should not manifest my love to any, unless it be consistent with the will and command of God. The measure of our love to our neighbors is the Word of God. Likewise, by the first commandment all other commandments are to be measured. We might, in direct violation of the commandments of the second table, were it consistent with God's will and promotive of his honor, obey the first commandment in killing, robbing, taking captive women and children and disobeying father and mother, as did the children of Israel in the case of their heathen enemies. Likewise the Holy Spirit is able to, and does at times, perform works seemingly opposed to all the commandments of God. While apparently there is violation in some respects, it is in reality only of the commandments of the second table, concerning our neighbor. The Spirit's works are in conformity with the first three commandments of the first table, relating to God. Therefore, if you first become a Peter, a Paul, a Jacob, a David, an Elisha, you too may curse in God's name, and with exalted merit in his sight.
"Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep."
57. There may be a direct connection between these two commands and the injunction about "communicating to the necessities of the saints" upon which Paul has been expatiating, teaching how we are to treat our persecutors, who are largely to blame for the "necessities" of Christians. Yet I am inclined to think he speaks here in an unrelated way, of our duty to make ourselves agreeable to all men, to adapt ourselves to their circumstances, whether good or ill, whether or no they are in want. As common servants, we should minister to mankind in their every condition, that we may persuade them to accept the Gospel. Paul speaks further on this point.
58. Now, if a fellow-man have reason to rejoice, it is not for us to put on a stern countenance, as do the hypocrites, who assume to be somewhat peculiar. Their unnatural seriousness is meant to be indicative of their unrivaled wisdom and holiness, and of the fact that men who rejoice instead of wearing, as they do, a stern look, are fools and sinners. But no, we are to participate in the joy of our fellow-man when that joy is not inconsistent with the will of God. For instance, we should rejoice with the father who joys in the piety and sweetness of his wife, in her health and fruitfulness, and in the obedience and intelligence of his children; and when he is as well off as we are so far as soul, body and character, family and property, are concerned. These are gifts of God. According to Paul (Acts 14, 17), they are given that God may fill our hearts "with food and gladness." Though many such gifts and pleasures are improperly used, they are nevertheless the gifts of God and not to be rejected with a gloomy face as if we dare not, or should not, enjoy them. On the other hand, we ought to weep with our fellow-man when he is in sad circumstances, as we would weep over our own unhappy condition. We read (2 Sam 1, 17; 3, 33) that David lamented for Saul, Jonathan and Abner, and (Phil 2, 27) that Paul was filled with sorrow over the illness of Epaphroditus and grieved as if the affliction were his own.
"Be of the same mind one toward another."
59. The apostle has previously (verse 10) spoken concerning unity of mind in relation to God-ordained spiritual gifts, counseling that everyone should be content as to the offices and gifts of his fellows. Now Paul speaks of the temporal affairs of men, teaching likewise mutual appreciation of one another's calling and character, offices and works, and that none is to esteem himself better than another because of these. The shoemaker's apprentice has the same Christ with the prince or the king; the woman, the same Christ the man has. While there are various occupations and external distinctions among men, there is but one faith and one Spirit.
60. But this doctrine of Paul has long been dishonored. Princes, lords, nobles, the rich and the powerful, reflect themselves in themselves, thinking they are the only men on earth. Even among their own ranks, one aspires to be more exalted, more noble and upright, than another. Their notions and opinions are almost as diverse as the clouds of heaven. They are not of the same mind concerning external distinctions. One does not esteem another's condition and occupation as significant and as honorable as his own. The individual sentiment apparently is: "My station is the best; all others are revolting."
The clumsy, booted peasant enters the strife. The baker aspires to be better than the barber; the shoemaker, than the bath-keeper. Should one happen to be illegitimately born, he is not eligible to a trade, though he even be holy. Certificates of legitimate birth must be produced, and such is the complex state of society, there are as many beliefs as masters and servants. How can there be unity of mind concerning spiritual offices and blessings with people so at variance upon trivial, contemptible worldly matters? True, there must be the various earthly stations, characters and employments; but it is heathenish, unchristian and worldly for one to entertain the absurd idea that God regards a certain individual a better Christian than another upon the contemptible grounds of his temporal station, and not to perceive that in God's sight these conditions make no inner difference.
61. Indeed, it is not only unchristian, but effeminate and childish, to hold such a view. A woman will win distinction for herself by handling the spindle or the needle more deftly than another, or by adjusting her bonnet more becomingly than her neighbor can; in fact, she may secure prominence by things even more insignificant. To say the least, no woman thinks herself less a woman than any other. The same is true of children; each is best satisfied with its own bread and butter, and thinks its own toy the prettiest; if it does not, it will cry until it gets its prettiest.
And so it is with the world: one has more power, another is a better Christian, another is more illustrious; one has more learning, another is more respectable; one is of this lineage, another that. These distinctions are the source of hatred, murder and every form of evil, so tenaciously does each individual adhere to his own notions. Yet, despite their separate and dissimilar opinions, men call themselves Christians.
"Set not your mind on high things."
62. Here Paul makes clear the preceding injunction. He would restrain men from their unholy conceits. As before stated, every man is best pleased with his own ideas. Hence foolishness pervades the land. One, seeing another honored above himself, is restlessly ambitious to emulate that other. But he acts contrary to both teachings of Paul: Comparing himself to his inferiors or to his equals, he thinks he is far above them, and his own station most honorable. Comparing himself with his superiors, he sees his pretended rank fail; hence he strives to rival them, devoting all his energies to attain the enviable position. Clinging to external distinctions, his changing notions and unstable heart impel him to such ambition and render him dissatisfied with the Christ whom all men possess alike.
But what does Paul teach? Not so. He says, "Set not your mind on what the world values." His meaning is: "Distinctions truly must there be in this life—one thing high, another low. Everything cannot be gold, nor can all things be straw. Nevertheless, among men there should be unity of mind in this relation." God treats men alike. He gives his Word and his Spirit to the lowly as well as to the high. Paul does not use the little word "mind" undesignedly. "High things" have their place and they are not pernicious. But to "mind" them, to be absorbed in them with the whole heart, to be puffed up with conceit because of our relation to them, enjoying them to the disadvantage of the less favored—this is heathenish.
"But condescend to things that are lowly."
63. In other words: Despise not lowly stations and characters. Say not, they must either be exalted or removed. God uses them; indeed, the world cannot dispense with them. Where would the wealthy and powerful be if there were no poor and humble? As the feet support the body, so the low support the high. The higher class, then, should conduct themselves toward the lowly as the body holds itself with relation to the feet; not "minding," or regarding, their lofty station, but conforming to and recognizing with favor the station of the lowly. Legal equality is here made a figure of spiritual things—concerning the aspirations of the heart. Christ conducted himself with humility. He did not deny his own exaltation, but neither was he haughty toward us by reason of it. He did not despise us, but stooped to our wretched condition and raised us by means of his own exalted position.
Third Sunday After Epiphany
Text: Romans 12, 16-21.
16 Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. 19 Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. 20 But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
[Footnote 1: This and the last sermon are one in some editions. Hence the paragraphs are numbered as one sermon.]
"Be not wise in your own conceits."
64. The lesson as read in the Church ends here. We shall, therefore, notice but briefly the remaining portion. "Conceits," as here used, signifies the obstinate attitude with regard to temporal things which is maintained by that individual who is unwilling to be instructed, who himself knows best in all things, who yields to no one and calls good whatever harmonizes with his ideas. The Christian should be more willing to make concession in temporal affairs. Let him not be contentious, but rather yielding, since the Word of God and faith are not involved, it being only a question of personal honor, of friends and of worldly things.
"Render to no man evil for evil."
65. In the counsel above (verse 14) to "curse not," the writer of the epistle has in mind those unable to avenge themselves, or to return evil for evil. These have no alternative but to curse, to invoke evil upon their oppressors. In this instance, however, the reference is to those who have equal power to render one another evil for evil, malice for malice, whether by acts committed or omitted—and usually they are omitted. But the Christian should render good for evil, and omit not. God suffers his sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good. Mt 5, 45.
"Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men."
66. This injunction is similar to that he gives the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5, 22), "Abstain from all appearance of evil"; and the Philippians (ch. 4, 8): "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." The reference is purely to our outward conduct. Paul would not have the Christian think himself at liberty to do his own pleasure, regardless of others' approbation. Only in the things of faith is such the Christian's privilege. His outward conduct should be irreproachable, acceptable to all men; in keeping with the teaching of first Corinthians, 10, 32-33, to please all men, giving offense neither to Jews nor to Gentiles; and obedient to Peter's advice (1 Pet 2, 12), "Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles."
"If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men."
67. Outward peace among men is here intended—peace with Christians and heathen, with the godly and the wicked, the high and the low. We must give no occasion for strife; rather, we are to endure every ill patiently, never permitting peace to be disturbed on our account. We must not return evil for evil, blow for blow; for he who so does, gives rise to contention. Paul adds, "As much as in you lieth." We are to avoid injuring any, lest we be the ones to occasion contention. We must extend friendliness to all men, even though they be not friendly to us. It is impossible to maintain peace at all times. The saying is, "I can continue in peace only so long as my neighbor is willing." But it lies in our power to leave others at peace, friends and foes, and to endure the contentions of all. "Oh yes," you say, "but where would we be then?" Listen:
"Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord."
68. Note, in forbidding us to return blow for blow and to resort to vengeance, the apostle implies that our enjoyment of peace depends on our quiet endurance of others' disturbance. He not only gives us assurance that we shall be avenged, but he intimidates us from usurping the office of God, to whom alone belong vengeance and retribution. Indeed, he rather deplores the fate of the Christian's enemies, who expose themselves to God's wrath; he would move us to pity them in view of the fact that we must give place to wrath and permit them to fall into the hands of God.
The vengeance and wrath of God are dispensed in various ways: through the instrumentality of political government; at the hands of the devil; by illness, hunger and pestilence; by fire and water; by war, enmity, disgrace; and by every possible kind of misfortune on earth. Every creature may serve as the rod and the weapon of God when he designs chastisement. As said in Wisdom of Solomon, 5, 17: "He shall ... make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies."
69. So Paul says, "Give place unto wrath." I have inserted the words "of God" to make clearer the meaning of the text; the wrath of God is intended, and not the wrath of man. The thought is not of giving place to the anger of our enemies. True, there may be occasion even for that, but Paul has not reference here to man's anger. Evidently, he means misfortunes and plagues, which are regarded as expressions of God's wrath. Possibly the apostle omitted the phrase to avoid giving the idea that only the final wrath of God is meant—his anger at the last day, when he will inflict punishment without instrumentality. Paul would include here all wrath, whether temporal or eternal, to which God gives expression in his chastisements. This is an Old Testament way of speaking. Phinehas says (Jos 22, 18), "To-morrow he will be wroth with ... Israel." And Moses in several places speaks of God's anger being kindled. See Numbers 11: 1, 10, 33. I mention these things by way of teaching that when the political government wields the sword of punishment against its enemies, it should be regarded as an expression of God's wrath; and that the statement in Deuteronomy 32, 35, "Vengeance is mine," does not refer solely to punishment inflicted of God direct, without instrumentality.
"But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head."
70. This teaching endorses what I have already stated—that the Christian's enemies are to be pitied in that they are subjected to the wrath of God. Consequently it is not Christian-like to injure them; rather, we should extend favors. Paul here introduces a quotation from Solomon. Prov 25, 21-22. Heaping coals of fire on the head, to my thought, implies conferring favors upon the enemy. Being enkindled by our kindness, he ultimately becomes displeased with himself and more kindly disposed to us. Coals here are benefits, or favors. Coals in the censer likewise stand for the favors, or blessings, of God; they are a type of our prayers, which should rise with fervor. Some say that coals represent the Law and judgments of God (see Psalm 18, 8, "Coals were kindled by it"), reasoning that in consequence of the Christian's favors, his enemy is constrained to censure himself and to feel the weight of God's Law and his judgments. I do not think a Christian should desire punishment to fall upon his enemy, though such explanation of the sentence is not inapt. In fact, it rather accords with the injunction, "Give place unto wrath"; that is, do good and then wrath—the coals—will readily fall upon the enemy.
"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
71. With this concluding counsel, it strikes me, Paul himself explains the phrase "coals of fire" in harmony with the first idea—that the malice of an enemy is to be overcome with good. Overcoming by force is equivalent to lending yourself to evil and wronging the enemy who wrongs you. By such a course your enemy overcomes you and you are made evil like himself. But if you overcome him with good, he will be made righteous like you. A spiritual overcoming is here meant; the disposition, the heart, the soul—yes, the devil who instigates the evil—are overcome.
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Text: Romans 13, 8-10.
8 Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.
CHRISTIAN LOVE AND THE COMMAND TO LOVE.
1. This, like the two preceding epistle lessons, is admonitory, and directs our attention to the fruits of faith. Here, however, Paul sums up briefly all the fruits of faith, in love. In the verses going before he enjoined subjection to temporal government—the rendering of tribute, custom, fear and honor wherever due—since all governmental power is ordained of God. Then follows our lesson: "Owe no man anything," etc.
2. I shall ignore the various explanations usually invented for this command, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." To me, clearly and simply it means: Not as men, but as Christians, are we under obligations. Our indebtedness should be the free obligation of love. It should not be compulsory and law-prescribed. Paul holds up two forms of obligation: one is inspired by law, the other by love.
Legal obligations make us debtors to men; an instance is when one individual has a claim upon another for debt. The duties and tribute, the obedience and honor, we owe to political government are of this legal character. Though personally these things are not essential to the Christian—they do not justify him nor make him more righteous—yet, because he must live here on earth, he is under obligation, so far as outward conduct is concerned, to put himself on a level with other men in these things, and generally to help maintain temporal order and peace. Christ paid tribute money as a debt (Mt 17, 27), notwithstanding he had told Peter he was under no obligation to do so and would have committed no sin before God in omitting the act.
3. Another obligation is love, when a Christian voluntarily makes himself a servant of all men. Paul says (1 Cor 9, 19), "For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all." This is not a requirement of human laws; no one who fails in this duty is censured or punished for neglect of legal obligations. The world is not aware of the commandment to love; of the obligation to submit to and serve a fellow-man. This fact is very apparent. Let one have wealth, and so long as he refrains from disgracing his neighbor's wife, from appropriating his neighbor's goods, sullying his honor or injuring his person, he is, in the eyes of the law, righteous. No law punishes him for avarice and penuriousness; for refusing to lend, to give, to aid, and to help his wronged neighbor secure justice. Laws made for restraint of the outward man are directed only toward evil works, which they prohibit and punish. Good works are left to voluntary performance. Civil law does not extort them by threats and punishment, but commends and rewards them, as does the Law of Moses.
4. Paul would teach Christians to so conduct themselves toward men and civil authority as to give no occasion for complaint or censure because of unfulfilled indebtedness to temporal law. He would not have them fail to satisfy the claims of legal obligation, but rather to go beyond its requirements, making themselves debtors voluntarily and serving those who have no claims on them. Relative to this topic, Paul says (Rom 1, 14), "I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians." Love's obligation enables a man to do more than is actually required of him. Hence the Christian always willingly renders to the state and to the individual all service exacted by temporal regulations, permitting no claims upon himself in this respect.
5. Paul's injunction, then, might be expressed: Owe all men, that you may owe none; owe everything, that you may owe nothing. This sounds paradoxical. But one indebtedness is that of love, an obligation to God. The other is indebtedness to temporal law, an obligation in the eyes of the world. He who makes himself a servant, who takes upon himself love's obligation to all men, goes so far that no one dares complain of omission; indeed, he goes farther than any could desire. Thus he is made free. He lives under obligation to no one from the very fact that he puts himself under obligation to all. This manner of presenting the thought would be sustained by the Spirit in connection with other duties; for instance: Do no good work, that you may do only good works. Never be pious and holy, if you would be always pious and holy. As Paul says (ch. 12, 16), "Be not wise in your own conceits"; or (1 Cor 3, 18), "If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise." It is in this sense we say: Owe all men that you may owe no man; or, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another."
6. Such counsel is given with the thought of the two obligations. He who would perform works truly good in the sight of God, must guard against works seemingly brilliant in the eyes of the world, works whereby men presume to become righteous. He who desires to be righteous and holy must guard against the holiness attained by works without faith. Again, the seeker for wisdom must reject the wisdom of men, of nature, wisdom independent of the Spirit. Similarly, he who would be under obligation to none must obligate himself to all in every respect. So doing, he retains no claim of his own. Consequently, he soon rises superior to all law, for law binds only those who have claims of their own. Rightly is it said, "Qui cedit omnibus bonis, omnibus satisfecit," "He who surrenders all his property, satisfies all men." How can one be under obligation when he does not, and cannot, possess anything? It is love's way to give all. The best way, then, to be under obligation to none is, through love to obligate one's self in every respect to all men. In this sense it may be said: If you would live, die; if you would not be imprisoned, incarcerate yourself; if you do not desire to go to hell, descend there; if you object to being a sinner, be a sinner; if you would escape the cross, take it upon yourself; if you would conquer the devil, let him vanquish you; would you overcome a wicked individual, permit him to overcome you. The meaning of it all is, we should readily submit to God, to the devil and to men, and willingly permit their pleasure; we are to insist on nothing, but to accept all things as they transpire. This is why Paul speaks as he does, "Owe no man anything," etc., instead of letting it go at the preceding injunction in verse 5, "Render therefore to all their dues," etc.
LOVE FULFILS THE LAW.
"For he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law."
7. Having frequently spoken of the character and fruits of love, it is unnecessary to introduce the subject here. The topic is sufficiently treated in the epistle lesson for the Sunday preceding Lent. We will look at the command to love, in the Law of God. Innumerable, endless, are the books and doctrines produced for the direction of man's conduct. And there is still no limit to the making of books and laws. Note the ecclesiastical and civil regulations, the spiritual orders and stations. These laws and doctrines might be tolerated, might be received with more favor, if they were founded upon and administered according to the one great law—the one rule or measure—of love; as the Scriptures do, which present many different laws, but all born of love, and comprehended in and subject to it. And these laws must yield, must become invalid, when they conflict with love.
Of Love's higher authority we find many illustrations in the Scriptures. Christ makes particular mention of the matter in Matthew 12, 3-4, where David and his companions ate the holy showbread. Though a certain law prohibited all but the priests from partaking of this holy food, Love was empress here, and free. Love was over the Law, subjecting it to herself. The Law had to yield for the time being, had to become invalid, when David suffered hunger. The Law had to submit to the sentence: "David hungers and must be relieved, for Love commands, Do good to your needy neighbor. Yield, therefore, thou Law. Prevent not the accomplishment of this good. Rather accomplish it thyself. Serve him in his need. Interpose not thy prohibitions." In connection with this same incident, Christ teaches that we are to do good to our neighbor on the Sabbath; to minister as necessity demands, whatever the Sabbath restrictions of the Law. For when a brother's need calls, Love is authority and the Law of the Sabbath is void.
8. Were laws conceived and administered in love, the number of laws would matter little. Though one might not hear or learn all of them, he would learn from the one or two he had knowledge of, the principle of love taught in all. And though he were to know all laws, he might not discover the principle of love any more readily than he would in one. Paul teaches this method of understanding and mastering law when he says: "Owe no man anything, but to love one another"; "He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law"; "If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"; "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor"; "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Every word in this epistle lesson proves Love mistress of all law.
9. Further, no greater calamity, wrong and wretchedness is possible on earth than the teaching and enforcing of laws without love. In such case, laws are but a ruinous curse, making true the proverbs, "summum jus, summa injustitia," "The most strenuous right is the most strenuous wrong"; and again, Solomon's words (Ec 7, 17), "Noli nimium esse justus," "Be not righteous overmuch." Here is where we leave unperceived the beam in our own eye and proceed to remove the mote from our neighbor's eye. Laws without love make the conscience timid and fill it with unreasonable terror and despair, to the great injury of body and soul. Thus, much trouble and labor are incurred all to no purpose.
10. An illustration in point is the before-mentioned incident of David in his hunger. 1 Sam 21, 6. Had the priest been disposed to refuse David the holy bread, had he blindly insisted on honoring the prohibitions of the Law and failed to perceive the authority of Love, had he denied this food to him who hungered, what would have been the result? So far as the priest's assistance went, David would have had to perish with hunger, and the priest would have been guilty of murder for the sake of the Law. Here, indeed, "summum jus, summa injustitia"—the most strenuous right would have been the most strenuous wrong. Moreover, on examining the heart of the priest who should be so foolish, you would find there the extreme abomination of making sin where there is no sin, and a matter of conscience where there is no occasion for it. For he holds it a sin to eat the bread, when really it is an act of love and righteousness. Then, too, he regards his act of murder—permitting David to die of hunger—not a sin, but a good work and service to God.
11. But who can fully portray this blind, perverted, abominable folly? It is the perpetration of an evil the devil himself cannot outdo. For it makes sin where there is no sin, and a matter of conscience without occasion. It robs of grace, salvation, virtue, and God with all his blessings, and that without reason, falsely and deceitfully. It emphatically denies and condemns God. Again, it makes murder and injustice a good work, a divine service. It puts the devil with his falsehoods in the place of God. It institutes the worst form of idolatry and ruins body and soul, destroying the former by hunger and the latter by a terrified conscience. It makes of God the devil, and of the devil God. It makes hell of heaven and heaven of hell; righteousness of sin, and sin of righteousness. This I call perversion—where strictest justice is the most strenuous wrong.
To this depravity Ezekiel has reference (ch. 13, 18-19): "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe to the women that sew pillows upon all elbows, and make kerchiefs for the head of persons of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and save souls alive for yourselves? And ye have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hearken unto lies." What is meant but that the blind teachers of the Law terrify the conscience, and put sin and death in the place of grace and life, and grace and life where is only sin and death; and all for a handful of barley and a bit of bread? In other words, such teachers devote themselves to laws concerning strictly external matters, things that perish with the using, such as a drink of water and a morsel of bread, wholly neglecting love and harassing the conscience with fear of sin unto eternal death; as Ezekiel goes on to say (verses 22-23): "Because with lies ye have grieved the heart of the righteous, whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, and be saved alive; therefore ye shall no more see false visions, nor divine divinations: and I will deliver my people out of your hand; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah."
12. Mark you, it is making the hearts of the righteous sad to load them with sins when their works are good; it is strengthening the hands of the wicked to make their works good when they are naught but sin. Relative to this subject, we read (Ps 14, 5): "There were they in great fear; for God is in the generation of the righteous." That is, the sting of conscience fills with fear where there is neither reason for fear nor for a disturbed conscience. That is feared as sin which is really noble service to God. The thought of the last passage is: When they should call upon God and serve him, they fear such conduct is sin and not divine service; again, when they have need to fear a service not divine, they are secure and unafraid. Isaiah's words (ch. 29, 13) are to the same effect: "Their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them." Always the perverted people spoken of corrupt everything. They confidently call on God where is only the devil; they refrain in fear from calling on God where God is.
13. Such, mark you, is the wretched condition of them who are blindly occupied with laws and works and fail to comprehend the design of law and its mistress Love. Note, also, in the case of our miserable ecclesiasts and their followers, how rigidly they adhere to their own inventions! Though all the world meet ruin, their devices must be sustained; they must be perpetuated regardless of bodily illness and death, or of suffering and ruin for the soul. They even regard such destruction and ruin as divine service, and know no fear nor remorse of conscience. Indeed, so strongly entrenched are they in their wickedness, they will never return from it. Moreover, should one of their wretched number be permitted to alleviate the distress of his body and soul—to eat meat, to marry—he is afraid, he feels remorse of conscience; he is uncertain about sin and law, about death and hell; he calls not on God, nor serves him; all this, even though the body should die ten deaths and the soul go to the devil a hundred times.
14. Observe, then, the state of the world; how little flesh and blood can accomplish even in their best efforts; how dangerous to undertake to rule by law alone—indeed, how impossible it is, without great danger, to govern and instruct souls with mere laws, ignoring love and the Spirit, in whose hands is the full power of all law. It is written (Deut 33, 2), "At his right hand was a fiery law for them." This is the law of love in the Spirit. It shall regulate all laws at the left hand; that is, the external laws of the world. It is said (Ex 28, 30) that the priest must bear upon his breast, in the breastplate, "the Urim and the Thummim"; that is, Light and Perfection, indicative of the priest's office to illuminate the Law—to give its true sense—and faultlessly to keep and to teach it.
15. In the conception, the establishment and the observance of all laws, the object should be, not the furtherance of the laws in themselves, not the advancement of works, but the exercise of love. That is the true purpose of law, according to Paul here, "He that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law." Therefore, when the law contributes to the injury rather than the benefit of our neighbor, it should be ignored. The same law may at one time benefit our neighbor and at another time injure him. Consequently, it should be regulated according to its advantage to him. Law should be made to serve in the same way that food and raiment and other necessaries of life serve. We consider not the food and raiment themselves, but their benefit to our needy neighbor. And we cease to dispense them as soon as we perceive they no longer add to his comfort.
16. Suppose you were to come across an individual foolish enough to act with no other thought than that food and clothing are truly good things, and so proceed to stuff a needy one with unlimited food and drink unto choking, and to clothe him unto suffocation, and then not to desist. Suppose to the command, "Stop, you have suffocated, have already over-fed and over-clothed him, and all is lost effort now," the foolish one should reply: "You heretic, would you forbid good works? Food, drink and raiment are good things, therefore we must not cease to dispense them; we cannot do too much." And suppose he continued to force food and clothing on the man. Tell me, what would you think of such a one? He is a fool more than foolish; he is more mad than madness itself. But such is about the character of our ecclesiasts today, and of those who are so blind in the exercise of law as to act as if works were the only requisite, and to suffocate body and soul, being ignorant that the one purpose of law is to call forth the exercise of love. They make works superior to love, and a maid to her matron. Such perversion prevails to an extent distressing to think of, not to mention hearing and seeing it, or more, practicing and permitting it ourselves.
17. The commandment of love is not a long one; it is short. It is one injunction, not many. It is even not a commandment, and at the same time is all commandments. Brief, and a unit in itself, its meaning is easily comprehended. But in its exercise, it is far-reaching, for it includes and regulates all commandments. So far as works are enjoined, it is no commandment at all; it names no peculiar work. Yet it represents all commandments, because properly the fulfilment of all commandments is the fulfilment of this. The commandment of love suspends every commandment, yet it perpetuates all. Its whole purpose is that we may recognize no commandment, no work, except as love dictates.
18. As life on earth apart from works is an impossibility, necessarily there must be various commandments involving works. Yet Love is supreme over these requirements, dictating the omission or the performance of works according to its own best interests, and permitting no works opposed to itself.
To illustrate: A driver, holding the reins, guides team and wagon at will. If he were content merely to hold the reins, regardless of whether or no the team followed the road, the entire equipage—team, wagon, reins and driver—would soon be wrecked; the driver would be lying drowned in a ditch or a pool, or have his neck broken going over stumps and rocks. But if he dexterously regulates the movement of the outfit according to the road, observing where it is safe and where unsafe, he will proceed securely because wisely. Were he, in his egotism, to drive straight ahead, endeavoring to make the road conform to the movement of the wagon, at his pleasure, he would soon see how beautifully his plan would work.
19. So it is when men are governed by laws and works, the laws not being regulated according to the people. The case is that of the driver who would regulate the road by the movements of the wagon. True, the road is often well suited to the straight course of the wagon. But just as truly the road is, in certain places, crooked and uneven, and then the wagon must conform to the course and condition of the road. Men must adapt themselves to laws and regulations wherever possible and where the laws are beneficial. But where laws prove detrimental to men's interests, the former must yield. The ruler must wisely make allowance for love, suspending works and laws. Hence, philosophers say prudence—or circumspection or discretion as the ecclesiasts put it—is the guide and regulator of all virtues.
20. We read in a book of the ancient fathers that on a certain occasion of their assembling, the question was raised, which is really the noblest work? Various replies were given. One said prayer, another fasting; but St. Anthony was of the opinion that of all works and virtues, discretion is the best and surest way to heaven. These, however, were but childish, unspiritual ideas relating to their own chosen works. A Christian views the matter in quite a different light, and more judiciously. He concludes that neither discretion nor rashness avails before God. Only faith and love serve with him. But love is true discretion; love is the driver and the true discretion in righteous works. It always looks to the good of the neighbor, to the amelioration of his condition; just as the discretion of the world looks to the general welfare of the governed in the adjustment of political laws. Let this suffice on this point.
21. But the question arises: How can love fulfil the Law when love is but one of the fruits of faith and we have frequently said that only faith in Christ removes our sins, justifies us and satisfies all the demands of the Law? How can we make the two claims harmonize? Christ says, too (Mt 7, 12): "All things, therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets." Thus he shows that love for one's neighbor fulfils both the Law and the prophets. Again, he says (Mt 22, 37-40): "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God ... thy neighbor as thyself. On these two the whole law hangeth, and the prophets." Where, then, does Paul stand, who says (Rom 3, 31): "Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law." Again (Rom 3, 28): "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." And again (Rom 1, 17), "The righteous shall live by faith."
22. I reply: As we have frequently said, we must properly distinguish between faith and love. Faith deals with the heart, and love with the works. Faith removes our sins, renders us acceptable, justifies us. And being accepted and justified as to our person, love is given us in the Holy Spirit and we delight in doing good. Now, it is the nature of the Law to attack our person and demand good works; and it will not cease to demand until it gains its point. We cannot do good works without the Spirit and love. The Law constrains us to know ourselves with our imperfections, and to recognize the necessity of our becoming altogether different individuals that we may satisfy the Law. The Law does not exact so much of the heart as of works; in fact, it demands nothing but works and ignores the heart. It leaves the individual to discover, from the works required, that he must become an altogether different person. But faith, when it comes, creates a nature capable of accomplishing the works the Law demands. Thus is the Law fulfilled.
So Paul's sayings on the subject are beautiful and appropriate. The Law demands of us works; it must be fulfilled by works. Hence it cannot in every sense be said that faith fulfils the Law. However, it prepares the way and enables us to fulfil it, for the Law demands, not us, but our works. The Law constrains us—teaches us that we must be changed before we can accomplish its works; it makes us conscious of our inability as we are. On the other hand, love and works do not change us, do not justify us. We must be changed in person and justified before we can love and do good works. Our love and our works are evidence of justification and of a change, since they are impossible until the individual is free from sin and made righteous.
23. This explanation is given to enable us to perceive the true nature of the Law, of faith and of love; to ascribe to each its own mission; and rightly to understand the Scripture declarations in their harmonious relations that while faith justifies, it does not fulfil the Law, and that while love does not justify, it does fulfil the Law. The Law requires love and works, but does not mention the heart. The heart is sensible of the Law, but love is not. Just as the Law, in requiring works before faith exists, is a sign to the individual leading him to recognize his utter lack of faith and righteousness, and to conclude he is conquered, so love in its fulfilment of the Law after faith intervenes is a sign and a proof to the individual of his faith and righteousness. Law and love, then, witness to him concerning his unrighteousness or his righteousness. After faith comes, love is evidence of righteousness. Before faith, man is sensible of the Law's oppression because he knows he does not possess what the Law requires. And the Law does not require a changed heart, but works. Love and works do not effect the fulfilment of the Law; they are themselves its fulfilment.
24. Now, though faith does not fulfil the Law, it contains that which effects its fulfilment; it secures the Spirit and love whereby the end is accomplished. On the other hand, if love does not justify us, it makes manifest the faith whereby we are justified. Briefly, as Paul says here, "Love is the fulfilment of the law." His thought is: Fulfilment of the Law is one thing, and effecting or furnishing its fulfilment another. Love fulfils the Law in the sense that love itself is its fulfilment; but faith fulfils it in the sense that it offers that by which it is fulfilled. For faith loves and works, as said in Galatians 5, 6, "Faith worketh through love." The water fills the pitcher; so does the cupbearer. The water fills of itself; the cupbearer fills with the water—"effective et formaliter implere," as the sophists would say.
25. Faith is ever the actor, and love the act. The law requires the act and thus forces the actor to be changed. The Law is then fulfilled by the act, which, however, the actor must perform. Thus Paul rejects the fancies of the sophists, who in the matter of love would make a distinction between the external work and the inner affection, saying: "Love is an inner affection that loves our neighbor when in our heart we wish him well." Its expression in works, however, they call the fruit of love. But we will not discuss this idea. Note, Paul terms love not only an affection, but an affectionate good act. Faith and the heart are the actor and fulfiller of the Law. Paul says, "He that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law." And love is the act, the fulfilling; for he says, "Love is the fulfilment of the law."
26. Another question arises: How can love for our neighbor be the fulfilment of the Law when we are required to love God supremely, even above our neighbor? I reply: Christ answers the question when he tells us (Mt 22, 39) the second commandment is like unto the first. He makes love to God and love to our neighbor the same love. The reason for this is, first: God, having no need for our works and benefactions for himself, bids us to do for our neighbor what we would do for God. He asks for himself only our faith and our recognition of him as God. The object of proclaiming his honor and rendering him praise and thanks here on earth is that our neighbor may be converted and brought into fellowship with God. Such service is called the love of God, and is performed out of love to God; but it is exercised for the benefit of our neighbor only.
27. The second reason why God makes love to our neighbor an obligation equal to love to himself is: God has made worldly wisdom foolish, desiring henceforth to be loved amid crosses and afflictions. Paul says (1 Cor 1, 21), "Seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe." Therefore, upon the cross he submitted himself unto death and misery, and imposed the same submission upon all his disciples. They who refused to love him before when he bestowed upon them food and drink, blessing and honor, must now love him in hunger and sorrow, in adversity and disgrace. All works of love, then, must be directed to our wretched, needy neighbors. In these lowly ones we are to find and love God, in them we are to serve and honor him, and only so can we do it. The commandment to love God is wholly merged in that to love our neighbors.
28. These facts restrain those elusive, soaring spirits that seek after God only in great and glorious undertakings. It stops the mouths of those who strive after greatness like his, who would force themselves into heaven, presuming to serve and love him with their brilliant works. But they miss him by passing over him in their earthly neighbor, in whom God would be loved and honored. Therefore, they will hear, on the last day, the sentence (Mt 25, 42), "I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat," etc. For Christ laid aside his divinity and took upon himself the form of a servant for the very purpose of bringing down and centering upon our neighbor the love we extend to himself. Yet we leave the Lord to lie here in his humiliation while we gaze open-mouthed into heaven and make great pretensions to love and service to God.
ALL COMMANDMENTS SUMMED UP IN LOVE.
"For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
29. Love being the chief element of all law, it comprehends, as has been made sufficiently clear, all commandments. Its one concern is to be useful to man and not harmful; therefore, it readily discovers the way. Recognizing the fact that man, from his ardent self-love, seeks to promote his own interests and avoid injuring them, love endeavors to adopt the same course toward others. We will consider the commandment just cited, noticing how ingeniously and wisely it is arranged. It brings out four thoughts. First, it states who is under obligation to love: thou—the nearest, noblest, best individual we can command. No one can fulfil the Law of God for another; each must do it for himself. As Paul says (Gal 6, 5), "Each man shall bear his own burden." And (2 Cor 5, 10): "For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." So it is said, "Thou, thou thyself, must love;" not, "Let someone else love for you." Though one can and should pray that God may be gracious to another and help him, yet no one will be saved unless he himself fulfils God's command. It is not enough merely to pray that another may escape punishment, as the venders of indulgences teach; much rather, we should pray that he become righteous and observe God's precepts.
30. Second, the commandment names the most noble virtue—love. It does not say, "Thou shalt feed thy neighbor, give him drink, clothe him," all of which things are inestimably good works; it says, "Thou shalt love him." Love is the chief virtue, the fountain of all virtues. Love gives food and drink; it clothes, comforts, persuades, relieves and rescues. What shall we say of it, for behold he who loves gives himself, body and soul, property and honor, all his powers inner and external, for his needy neighbor's benefit, whether it be friend or enemy; he withholds nothing wherewith he may serve another. There is no virtue like love; there can be no special work assigned it as in the case of limited virtues, such as chastity, mercy, patience, meekness, and the like. Love does all things. It will suffer in life and in death, in every condition, and that even for its enemies. Well may Paul here say that all other commandments are briefly comprehended in the injunction, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
31. Third, the commandment names, as the sphere of our love, the noblest field, the dearest friend—our neighbor. It does not say, "Thou shalt love the rich, the mighty, the learned, the saint." No, the unrestrained love designated in this most perfect commandment does not apportion itself among the few. With it is no respect of persons. It is the nature of false, carnal, worldly love to respect the individual, and to love only so long as it hopes to derive profit. When such hope ceases, that love also ceases. The commandment of our text, however, requires of us free, spontaneous love to all men, whoever they may be, and whether friend or foe, a love that seeks not profit, and administers only what is beneficial. Such love is most active and powerful in serving the poor, the needy, the sick, the wicked, the simple-minded and the hostile; among these it is always and under all circumstances necessary to suffer and endure, to serve and do good.
32. Note here, this commandment makes us all equal before God, without regard to distinctions incident to our stations in life, to our persons, offices and occupations. Since the commandment is to all—to every human being—a sovereign, if he be a human being, must confess the poorest beggar, the most wretched leper, his neighbor and his equal in the sight of God. He is under obligation, according to this commandment, not to extend a measure of help, but to serve that neighbor with all he has and all he controls. If he loves him as God here commands him to do, he must give the beggar preference over his crown and all his realm; and if the beggar's necessity requires, must give his life. He is under obligation to love his neighbor, and must admit that such a one is his neighbor.
33. Is not this a superior, a noble, commandment, which completely levels the most unequal individuals? Is it not wonderfully comforting to the beggar to have servants and lovers of such honor? wonderful that his poverty commands the services of a king in his opulence? that to his sores and wounds are subject the crown of wealth and the sweet savor of royal splendor? But how strange it would seem to us to behold kings and queens, princes and princesses, serving beggars and lepers, as we read St. Elizabeth did! Even this, however, would be a slight thing in comparison with what Christ has done. No one can ever equal him in the obedience wherewith he has exalted this commandment. He is a king whose honor transcends that of all other kings; indeed, he is the Son of God. And yet he puts himself on a level with the worst sinners, and serves them even to dying for them. Were ten kings of earth to serve to the utmost one beggar, it would be a remarkable thing; but of what significance would it be in comparison with the service Christ has rendered? The kings would be put to utter shame and would have to acknowledge their service unworthy of notice.
34. Learn, then, the condition of the world—how far it is, not only from Christ's immeasurable example, but from the commandment in this verse. Where are to be found any who comprehend the meaning of the little phrase "thy neighbor," notwithstanding there is, beside this commandment, the natural law of service written in the hearts of all men? Not an individual is there who does not realize, and who is not forced to confess, the justice and truth of the natural law outlined in the command (Mt 7, 12), "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them." The light of this law shines in the inborn reason of all men. Did they but regard it, what need have they of books, teachers or laws? They carry with them in the depths of their hearts a living book, fitted to teach them fully what to do and what to omit, what to accept and what to reject, and what decision to make.
Now, the command to love our neighbors as ourselves is equivalent to that other, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you," etc. Every individual desires to be loved and not hated; and he also feels and sees his obligation to exercise the same disposition toward others. The carrying out of this obligation is loving another as himself. But evil lust and sinful love obscure the light of natural law, and blind man, until he fails to perceive the guide-book in his heart and to follow the clear command of reason. Hence he must be restrained and repelled by external laws and material books, with the sword and by force. He must be reminded of his natural light and have his own heart revealed to him. Yet admonition does not avail; he does not see the light. Evil lust and sinful love blind him. With the sword and with political laws he must still be outwardly restrained from perpetrating actual crimes.
35. The fourth thing the commandment presents is the standard by which we are to measure our love—an excellent model. Those are particularly worthy instructions and commandments which present examples. This commandment holds up a truly living example—"thyself." It is a better model than any example the saints have set. The saints are dead and their deeds are past, but this example ever lives. Everyone must admit a consciousness of his own love for himself; of his ardent concern for his temporal life; of his careful nourishment of his body with food, raiment and all good things; of his fleeing from death and avoiding evil. This is self-love; something we are conscious of in ourselves. What, then, is the teaching of the commandment? To do to another as you do to yourself; to value his body and his life equally with your own body and life. Now, how could God have pointed you to an example dearer, more pleasing and more to the purpose than this example—the deep instinct of your nature? Indeed, your depth of character is measured by the writing of this command in your heart.
36. How will you fare with God if you do not love your neighbor? Feeling this commandment written within your heart, your conscience will condemn you. Your whole conduct will be an example witnessing against you, testifying to your failure to do unto others as the natural instinct of your being, more forcibly than all the examples of the saints, has taught you to do. But how will it go with the ecclesiasts in particular—the churchmen with their singing and praying, their cowls and bald pates, and all their jugglery? I make no comment on the fact that they have never observed the commandment. I ask, however, when has their monastic fanaticism permitted them time and opportunity to perceive for once this law in their hearts, to become sensible of the example set them in their own human instinct, or even to read the precept in books or hear it preached? Poor, miserable people! Do you presume to think that God will make void this, love's commandment, so deeply and clearly impressed upon the heart, so beautifully and unmistakably illustrated in your own natures, and in the many written and spoken words as well—think you God will do this on account of your cowls and bald pates, and regard what you have been devising and performing?
37. Alas, how shamelessly the world has ignored this beautiful and impressive commandment wherein are so skilfully presented the individual, the task, the model and the sphere of labor! And, on the other hand, how shamefully it occupies itself with the very reverse of what is taught in this commandment! Its whole practice and tendency seem to be to place our responsibility upon others; monks and priests must be righteous for us and pray in our stead, that we may personally be excused. For the noblest virtue, love, we substitute self-devised works; in the place of our neighbors we put wood and stone, raiment and food, even dead souls—the saints of heaven. These we serve; with them we are occupied; they are the sphere wherein we exercise ourselves. Instead of the noblest example—"as thyself"—we look to the legends and the works of saints. We presume to imitate such outward examples, omitting the duty which our own nature and life present and which the command of God outlines, notwithstanding such duty offers more than we could ever fulfil. Even if we could accomplish all it offers, we would still not equal Christ.
LOVE WORKS ONLY GOOD TO ITS NEIGHBOR.
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the law."
38. The Ten Commandments forbid doing evil to our neighbor—"Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery," etc. The apostle, employing similar phraseology, says that love observes all these commands, injuring none. Not only that; it effects good for all. It is practically doing evil to permit our neighbor to remain in peril when we can relieve him, even though we may not have been instrumental in placing him where he is. If he is hungry and we do not feed him when it is in our power to do so, we practically permit him to die of hunger. We should take this view concerning any perilous condition, any adverse circumstance, with our neighbors. How love is the fulfilment of the Law, we have now heard.
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Text: Colossians 3, 12-17.
12 Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; 13 forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: 14 and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. 17 And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
THE GLORIOUS ADORNMENT OF CHRISTIANS.
1. This text is also a letter of admonition, teaching what manner of fruit properly results from faith. Paul deals kindly with the Colossians. He does not command, urge nor threaten, as teachers of the Law must do in the case of those under the Law. He persuades them with loving words in view of the blessing and grace of God received, and in the light of Christ's own example. Christians should act with readiness and cheerfulness, being moved neither by fear of punishment nor by desire for reward, as frequently before stated. This admonition has been so oft repeated in the preceding epistle lesson that we know, I trust, what constitutes a Christian. Therefore we will but briefly touch on the subject.
"Put on, therefore."
2. In the epistle for New Year's day we have sufficiently explained the meaning of "putting on"; how by faith we put on Christ, and he us; how in love we put on our neighbor, and our neighbor us. The Christian apparel is of two kinds—faith and love. Christ wore two manner of garments—one whole and typical of faith, the other divided and typical of love.
Paul here has reference to the latter garment, love. He would teach us Christians the manner of ornaments and apparel we are to wear in the world; not silk or precious gold. To women these are forbidden of Peter (1 Pet 3, 3), and of Paul (1 Tim 2, 9). Love for our neighbor is a garment well befitting us—that love which leads us to concern ourselves about the neighbor and his misfortunes. Such love is called the ornament of a Christian character—an ornament in the eyes of men.
3. Observe the tender and sacred style of the apostle's admonition, a style he is wont to use toward us. He does not drive us with laws, but persuades by reminding us of the ineffable grace of God; for he terms us the "elect of God," and "holy" and "beloved." He would call forth the fruits of faith, desiring them to be yielded in a willing, cheerful and happy spirit. The individual who sincerely believes and trusts that before God he is beloved, holy and elect, will consider how to sustain his honors and titles, how to conduct himself worthily of them; more, he will love God with a fervor enabling him to do or omit, or to suffer, all things cheerfully, and will never know how to do enough. But he who doubts such attitude of God toward himself will not recognize the force of these words. He will not feel the power of the statement that we are holy, beloved, elect, in the sight of God.
4. Let us disregard, therefore, the saints who elect and love themselves; who adorn themselves with the works of the Law; who observe fasts and discipline; who regard raiment and position, for they are unwilling to be sinners before God. Our ornaments are unlike these, and not associated with such mockeries. They are honesty, sincerity, good works, service to our neighbor. We are unfettered by laws regarding food, raiment, times, etc. We are holy in the sight of God, before whom none can be holy until he sees himself a sinner and rejects his own righteousness. But the class mentioned are holy in their own estimation; therefore, they ever remain wicked—sinners in the sight of God. We are beloved of God because we despise ourselves, we judge and condemn ourselves and reject our self-love. The others, because they love and esteem themselves, are despicable and unacceptable in the sight of God. Again, we are chosen of God for the reason that we despise ourselves as filth. Such God chooses, and has chosen from eternity. Because the would-be saints elect themselves, God will reject them, as indeed he has from eternity. Now, this is what Paul means by these words,
"A heart of compassion."
5. They stand for a part of the ornament, the beautiful, charming Christian jewel, that becomes us better in the sight of God than pearls, precious stones, silk and gold become us in the eyes of the world. "A heart of compassion" is evidence of the true Christian. Paul would say: "Not simply in external deed, or in appearance, are ye to be merciful, but in the inmost heart." He refers to that sincere and whole-souled mercy characteristic of the father and mother who witness the distress of a child for whom they would readily expose their lives or sacrifice all they possess. The Christian's mind and heart should be constantly devoted to merciful deeds, with an ardor so intense as to make him unaware he is doing good and compassionate acts.
6. With this single phrase Paul condemns the works and arbitrary rules of hypocritical saints, whose severity will not permit them to associate with sinners. Their rigorous laws must be all-controlling. They do nothing but compel and drive. They exhibit no mercy, but perpetual reproach, censure, condemnation, blame and bluster. They can endure no imperfection. But among Christians many are sinners, many infirm. In fact, Christians associate only with these; not with saints. Christians reject none, but bear with all. Indeed, they are as sincerely interested for sinners as they would be for themselves were they the infirm. They pray for the sinners, teach, admonish, persuade, do all in their power to reclaim. Such is the true character of a Christian. So God, in Christ, has dealt with us and ever deals. So Christ dealt with the adulteress (Jn 8, 11) when he released her from her tormentors, and with his gracious words influenced her to repentance and suffered her to depart. We read of St. Antony having said that Paphrutius knew how souls are to be saved, because he rescued a certain individual from brethren who persecuted and oppressed him for his transgression. See "Lives of the Fathers."
Were God to deal with us according to the rigor of his laws, we should all be lost. But he mercifully suspends the Law. Isaiah says (ch. 9, 4): "For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken." God now only persuades.
7. Note how involved in the Law and in hypocrisy they still are who esteem themselves prominent saints and at the same time are intolerant of the infirmities of Christians. If they fail to find perfect holiness—a miracle of purity—in those who possess Christ and know the Gospel, then nothing is as it should be; the heavens are on the point of falling and the earth about to be destroyed. They can only judge, censure and deride, saying: "Oh, yes, he is truly evangelical; indeed, he is a visionary!" Thus they indicate their utter blindness. With the beam constantly in their own eyes, they show how little they know of Christ.
Know, then, when you meet one so ready to censure and condemn, one requiring absolute perfection in Christians—know that such a one is merely an enforcer of the Law, a base hypocrite, a merciless jailer, with no true knowledge of Christ. As, with Christians, there is no law but all is love, so neither can there be judgment, condemnation and censure. And he who calls another a visionary is certainly a visionary ten-fold himself. In the thing for which he judges and condemns another, he condemns himself. Since he ignores mercy and all but the Law, he finds no mercy in the sight of God; in fact, he has never experienced, never tasted, God's mercy. To his taste, both God and neighbor are bitter as gall and wormwood.
8. But tender mercy is to be shown only to Christians and only among Christians. With the rejecters and persecutors of the Gospel we must deal differently. It is not right that my charity be liberal enough to tolerate unsound doctrine. In the case of false faith and doctrine there is neither love nor patience. Against these it is my duty earnestly to contend and not to yield a hair's breadth. Otherwise—when faith is not imperiled—I must be unfailingly kind and merciful to all notwithstanding the infirmities of their lives. I may not censure, oppress nor drive; I must persuade, entreat and tolerate. A defective life does not destroy Christianity; it exercises it. But defective doctrine—false belief—destroys all good. So, then, toleration and mercy are not permissible in the case of unsound doctrine; only anger, opposition and death are in order, yet always in accordance with the Word of God.
9. On the other hand, they who are mercifully tolerated must not imagine that because they escape censure and force, their beliefs and practices are right. They must not construe such mercy as encouragement to become indolent and negligent, and to continue in their error. Mercy is not extended them with any such design. The object is to give them opportunity to recover zeal and strength. But if they be disposed to remain as they are, very well; let them alone. They will not long continue thus; the devil will lead them farther astray, until finally they will completely apostatize, even becoming enemies to the Gospel. Such will be their end if they permit mercy to be lavished upon them in vain. We may not be indolent and asleep in the matter of our false doctrines, relying upon the fact that we are not despised nor constrained of men. There is particular need to be active and diligent, for the devil neither sleeps nor rests. We need beware that he does not lead us where we will never enjoy God's mercy.
"Kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering."
10. These words represent the other elements of Christian character. Kindness you will find defined in the second epistle lesson for the early Christmas service. It characterizes the conduct of the individual who is gentle and sympathetic to all; who repels none with forbidding countenance, harsh words or rude deportment. We Germans would call such a one affable and friendly disposed. Kindness is a virtue not confined to certain works; it modifies the whole life. The kindly person is obliging to everyone, not displeased with any, and is attractive to all men. In contrast are those peculiar characters who have pleasure in nothing but their own conceits; who insist on others accommodating themselves to them and their ways, while they yield to none. Such individuals are termed "uncivil."
11. But the liberality of kindness is not to be extended to false doctrine. Only relative to conduct and works is it to be exercised. As oft before stated, love with all its works and fruits has no place in the matter of unsound doctrine. I must love my neighbor and show him kindness whatever the imperfections of his life. But if he refuses to believe or to teach sound doctrine, I cannot, I dare not, love him or show him kindness. According to Paul (Gal 1, 8-9), I must hold him excommunicated and accursed, even though he be an angel from heaven.
Thus remarkably do faith and love differ and are distinct. Love will be, must be, kind even to the bitterest enemy so long as he assails not faith and doctrine. But it will not, it cannot, tolerate the individual who does, be it father, mother or dearest friend. Deut 13, 6-8. Love, then, must be exercised, not in relation to the doctrine and faith of our neighbor, but relative to his life and works. Faith, on the contrary, has to do, not with his works and life, but with his doctrine and belief.
12. I think we must know by this time the meaning of "lowliness" of mind—esteeming one's self least and others greater. As Christ illustrates it, occupying the lowest seat at the wedding, and this cheerfully. We are to serve even when our service is not desired, and to minister unto our enemies. So Christ humbled himself before Judas the betrayer, and before all of us. He came, not to be served, but to serve. That humbleness of mind is a rare virtue is not to be wondered at, for every Christian grace is a rarity. Particularly are graces lacking with those who, professing to know most of Christ, find something to censure in all Christians. Christianity Paul calls a mystery of God; and it is likely to continue so.
13. "Meekness" is opposed to anger. The meek man is not easily excited to exhibit anger, to curse, smite, hate, or wish evil to any, even an enemy. To refrain thus is an art. Hypocrites—in fact, all the world—can be meek toward friends and those who treat them well. But true meekness and humility will remain only among the elect and beloved saints of God, as Paul here implies. Even among these are many deficient in all, or at least a large part, of the Christian graces. Hypocrites may thus find something to censure, something whereat to be offended, in the beloved, elect saints of God. And the true saints have occasion to exercise mercy, humility, meekness and forbearance. They whom Paul here terms elect and beloved saints of God, though slightly deficient in humility, meekness and forbearance, are not therefore unholy, not rejected and despised.
14. Paul makes a distinction between longsuffering and forbearance, as in Romans 2, 4: "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering?" In "longsuffering" we have the thought here and there expressed by God in the Psalms and elsewhere by the Hebrew "arich apaim"—"slow to wrath." God patiently bears with evil. Indeed, he repeatedly delays vengeance, apparently more ready to forgive than to punish, even under extreme provocation and having just reason to chastise. Longsuffering extends farther than patience. Patience bears evil and injustice; but longsuffering delays punishment. It does not design to punish; it would not take hasty revenge. Unlike the revengeful, it wishes no one evil. Many we see, indeed, who suffer much and are patient but at the same time trust in a final avenging. The longsuffering Christian, however, is opposed to revenge, desiring the sinner to amend his ways.
"Forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye."
15. In this verse all law is abolished among Christians. One is not permitted to demand, through process of law, the recovery of his property. He must forgive and yield. Christ's example enjoins this principle; he has forgiven us. And what is the extent of his forgiveness? He pardons past sins, but that is not all; as John says (1 Jn 2, 1-2), "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteousness and he is the propitiation for our sins."
16. Note, it is the true Christian saints whom Paul describes, but he looks upon them as infirm to the extent of offending and complaining against one another. This is a state of affairs by no means becoming Christians and saints. So I say Christ's kingdom is a mystery obscure beyond the power of our preaching and teaching sufficiently to explain. Unbelievers cannot be induced to work, but believers cannot be withheld from working. Some would not believe and some would not love.
It is true of Christ's kingdom that his Christians are not perfectly holy. They have begun to be holy and are in a state of progression. There are still to be found among them anger, evil desire, unholy love, worldly care and other deplorable infirmities, remains of the old Adam. Paul speaks of these things as burdens which one must bear for a neighbor (Gal 6, 2), and in Romans 15, 1, he admonishes us to "bear the infirmities of the weak." Likewise Christ loved his apostles much and suffered much from them, and he still daily bears with his own.
17. Some, enumerating the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, 22-23, say a Christian should be gentle, meek, longsuffering, chaste; and they look upon this passage as a law commanding such fruits. Hence they refuse to recognize as Christians any who fail to possess the fruits in perfection. Now, such individuals cannot believe there is a Christ, certain as the fact is. They judge malignantly, complaining that Christians do not exist. They take offense at Christ for his superior wisdom. For Christ has given us scriptural authority for knowing Christians by their fruits. He says (Mt 7, 16), "By their fruits ye shall know them." Here they are emphatic.
18. Can you locate the failure of such an individual? He fails in the fact that he understands absolutely nothing of Christ's kingdom. For he misinterprets the passages referring to Christians. He understands the statement that Christians should be kind and meek, to mean they must never become angry, must bear anything and show impatience toward none; if they do not so, they cannot be Christians, for they have not the fruits. Dear man, what but his own blindness can lead him to such a conclusion? He fancies Christianity to be a holy order of perfection, altogether without infirmity, a perfection as in heaven among the angels. But tell me, where do the Scriptures speak thus of Christians?
But whoso recognizes Christianity as a progressive order yet in its beginning, will not be offended at the occasional manifestation of ungentleness, unkindness and impatience on the part of a Christian; for he remembers that Christians are commanded to bear one another's burdens and infirmities. He knows that the enumeration of the fruits of the Spirit is not a record of laws the observance of which is imperative or Christ will be denied. He is aware the passage is to be interpreted as meaning that Christians are to strive to be kind; that is the mark at which they aim. However, even though they have made a beginning and some progress in this virtue, they often are unkind and bear fruits directly the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit. True, the text quoted says we should be kind, but it does not say we are kind. We are tending toward it, we are in a state of progression; but during the progress much of the old and as yet untransformed nature is intermingled.
19. Know, then, that in a mysterious way Christ is in his saints, and beware of judging or condemning anyone when you have not positive assurance that he believes and teaches contrary to the Gospel. But whoso does oppose the Gospel, you may safely judge to be without Christ, and under the sway of the devil. Pray for such a one and admonish him, in the hope of his conversion. But in the case of one who endorses and honors the Gospel, observe Paul's comment (Rom 14, 4): "Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand." And again (1 Cor 10, 12): "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Christ would be at the same time hidden and revealed, found and not found. He permits the intermingling of some infirmities with the fruits of the Spirit, that he may conceal himself, and that malicious judges may be offended.
"And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness."
20. From longsuffering and meekness the apostle distinguishes love and other jewels of spiritual beauty whereof we have already heard, though all are comprehended in love. As faith is the chief element of Christian character, so love is chief of the fruits of the Spirit, the jewel of surpassing beauty. Therefore Paul says, "Above all these things put on love." Love transcends mercy, kindness, meekness and humility. Paul calls it "the bond of perfectness" because it unites human hearts; not a partial unity, based on similarity or close relationship, but a complete unity among all men and in all relations. It makes us of one mind, one heart, one desire. It permits no one to originate a peculiar order of doctrine or faith. All who love are of the same belief. Consequently there is the same purpose of heart with the poor and the rich, with rulers and subjects, the ill and the well, the high and the low, the honored and the disgraced. The loving heart permits all to share in its good; more, it participates in the adversities of all men, regarding them as its own. Where love is, perfect unity and communion obtain in every event, good or bad. It is a most perfect bond.
21. Where love is lacking, hearts are united and aims single in but few relations; in most things there is disagreement. For instance: Robbers have a common bond, but it is no more than a common purpose in committing robbery and murder. Worldly friends are of the same mind so far as concerns their own interests. Monks are united in relation to their order and their honor. Herod and Pilate agreed, but simply in regard to Christ. For the most part it is exceptional that one monk, priest or layman agrees with another. Their bond of union is weak; they are as chaff bound with straw.
"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which also ye were called."
22. There is much to threaten the sundering of love's bond. The devil never sleeps, but continually stirs up discord and unrest. Paul does not deny that the bond is assailed. But he exhorts us to resist, remembering that love must be exercised by opposition. He admonishes us to let the peace of Christ have dominion in our hearts. The thought of the verse is: Though the peace of the world and the flesh abides not, though you must witness the forces of discord and disruption, nevertheless let your hearts have peace in Christ.
We spoke of the peace of God in the epistle selection for the Fourth Sunday in Advent—Philippians 4, 7. This is the peace whereunto the Gospel calls; not the peace of the world, the flesh or the devil, but the peace that passeth all understanding, of which Paul tells us. We are to hold the peace of God, not only when all is well, but when sin, death, the flesh, the world and all calamities rage.
"And be ye thankful."
23. "Thankfulness" here may be taken in either of two senses: First, thankfulness toward God, Paul's thought being: Let the remembrance of all God has done for you move you to gratitude for his grace and mercy, a gratitude to which shall succeed love and peace. Secondly, we may understand thankfulness toward men—gratitude for all the benefits received from our fellows. The apostle elsewhere (2 Tim 3, 2) speaks of there being, in the last days, among other vices, that of "unthankfulness" of men toward each other. Let everyone make choice for himself of the two applications. It is my opinion, since Paul later takes up the subject of gratitude to God, and since he is here handling that of love to our neighbor—it is my opinion he has reference here to gratitude to our fellowmen. This, I think, is his meaning.
Man is glad to have love shown him; he is quite willing to receive good from others and to be dealt with according to the Gospel. At the same time, he is not disposed to manifest love to his fellows: favors shown him are lost upon his ingratitude. Though love is not defeated by ungratefulness—for it bears all things (1 Cor 13, 7)—yet unthankfulness produces weariness and aversion; and it is a base, unjust and shameful thing for one who continually lends assistance not to be served in return.
24. Paul says on this topic (Gal 6, 6), "Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." And he declares (1 Tim 5, 17) that they who labor in the Word and doctrine are worthy of double honor. In the ninth chapter of First Corinthians he speaks at length on how teachers are entitled to support, saying the mouth of the threshing ox should not be muzzled; that would be gross ingratitude. Of such unthankfulness he here hints. It is true today, and ever has been, that preachers of the Word of God must in general seek their own bread, and receive ingratitude as their reward for the wonderful blessings they confer. Were it their part to celebrate masses and indulgences, gratitude would be forthcoming; great would be the gifts and service rendered them as expression of thankfulness. But just as ungratefully were the Levites treated under the old Law, in contrast with the favor shown the priests of idols and groves.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God."
25. This verse appropriately follows the injunction to be thankful. Paul would say: Be careful to honor teachers and preachers, being grateful that they handle the Word and may richly impart it to you. I do not imagine Paul refers to the giving of the Word of God from heaven, for it is not within man's power to so give it; God alone can commit it to us. So he has done and continues to do. On every occasion when he permits the Gospel to be preached, he showers the message upon us abundantly, withholding no essential knowledge. But, after it is given, we ought to be thankful and to faithfully read and hear it, sing and speak it, and meditate upon it day and night. And it should be our part to secure teachers enough to minister it to us liberally and continuously. This is what is meant by letting the Word of God dwell among us richly.
26. Satiated, indolent spirits soon grow tired and dismiss their pastors to go wherever they wish. The latter are forced to seek a living by other work, and thus God's Word is neglected and becomes rare and thinly sown in the land. Nehemiah (ch. 13, 10) complains that the Levites, because of lack of support, were forced to leave their worship and temple and flee to the fields or start false worship and fables to mislead the people. They then received enough to exist—they became wealthy.
It has come about in the Christian Church that as often as the support of godly pastors and teachers has grown to be a burden, as Augustine laments has been the case, these have been either forced to neglect the Word to labor for their own support, or forced to invent that wretched, accursed worship now prevalent throughout the world and whereby the preachers have attained lordly position. With the revival of the Gospel the financial difficulty mentioned is recurring, and it will continue to recur. One hundred dollars cannot now be raised for the support of a good schoolmaster or preacher where formerly a thousand dollars—yes, incomputible sums—were contributed toward churches, institutions, masses, vigils and the like. Once more God punishes ingratitude by permitting his preachers to withdraw wholly from the ministry and to engage in their own support, or by sending upon the people even greater delusions than ever, which defraud them of wealth and destroy body and soul. For they refuse to let the Word of God dwell among them richly. Paul adds the modifying phrase,
"In all wisdom."
27. Were we to have the Word of God so richly as to ring in every street corner, to be sung everywhere by all children—as they designed who into the pulpits and the lessons introduced canonical prayers and singing and reading—what would all this profit without an understanding mind—without wisdom? For the Word of God was given to make us wise. It was intended that we should understand it; that it should be preached and sung intelligibly. And they who minister it, who sing and speak it, ought to be wise, understanding everything pertaining to the salvation of the soul and the honor of God. That is what it means to have the Word of God dwell among us in all wisdom. Here Paul briefly overthrows the vociferous practices of the churches and monasteries where so much preaching and reading obtain while at the same time the Gospel is not understood. He seems to have foreseen the coming time when the Word of God should freely prevail, but with no resulting wisdom; the time when men should daily increase in ignorance and fanaticism until they should become mere dolts, so completely void of wisdom as to call vociferation and boasting divine worship, and to regard that preaching the salvation of souls.
28. What it is to teach and to admonish has been frequently explained. Here Paul makes the duty of instruction common to all Christians—"teaching and admonishing one another." That is, aside from the regular office of preaching, each is to teach himself and others, thus making everyday use of the Word of God, publicly and privately, generally and specially.
29. As I see it, the apostle's distinction of the three words—psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—is this: "psalms" properly indicates those productions of David and others constituting the Book of Psalms; "hymns" refers to the songs of the prophets occasionally mentioned in the Scriptures—songs of Moses, Deborah, Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Habakkuk, with the Magnificat, the Benediction, and the like, called "Canticles"; "spiritual songs" are those not written in the Scriptures but of daily origin with men. Paul calls these latter "spiritual" to a greater degree than psalms and hymns, though he recognizes those as themselves spiritual. He forbids worldly, sensual and unbecoming songs, desiring us to sing of spiritual things. It is then that our songs are calculated to benefit and instruct, as he says.