Page images



ROMANS, xiii. 7.

[ocr errors]

Render, therefore, to all their dues ; tribute to whom tribute

is due ; custom to whom custom ; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

The thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a continuation, as I said before, of the subject begun in the twelfth ; namely, a most perfect display of the full and varied fruits of Christian principles, in private life and in public. What those principles were which alone could bear such fruit, had been stated at length in the earlier part of the Epistle: these latter chapters give us, in a manner, the glorious harvest of that divine seed,—such as it would yield always, if our soil and climate, our evil nature and manifold temptations, did not so often blight and ruin it.

The Apostle, in these chapters, goes over the several parts of our common living, to show us how we should live in each as Christians. He dwells, however, chiefly on our duties towards our neighbour, whether in private life or in public ; as these form the largest part of what we have to do, and afford perhaps the principal matter of our trial. And we may observe, in what he says on this head, a mixture of the highest virtues with those which we are accustomed to think trifling, but which, from the constant occasion which there is for their exercise, and from the amount of pleasure and comfort which they give, are in reality very important. I mean that just after the command, “Bless them that persecute you, bless and curse not,” we find it added, “ Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” The first of these exhorting us to a sort of heroic perfection, such as many men may go through life without finding any occasion to practise; the second calling for an exertion of kindness and good feeling which every man, more or less, must be required to show to his neighbours, as he has intercourse with them in sorrow or in joy.

What is said with great truth of men gradually gaining higher and higher ideas of Christian perfection from a study of the Scriptures, with a view to make them a light to their path, applies very much to passages such as this which I have just now been reading. The broad and principal commandments strike us immediately; or rather we are made familiar with them from our childhood, so that we know them at least, whether we practise them or no. But he who, first honestly labouring to fulfil these, turns over the volume of the Scripture to learn the finer and more minute features of the Christian character, will find something applicable to every part of his daily living, something that will serve as a rule for his temper and manners, no less than a guide to his actions, in the most trifling particulars. It is from the want of this that we see men's avowed principles very often so strange a patchwork : the ground of them perhaps taken from the Gospel, but filled up with pieces of a colour and texture the most opposite that can be conceived ; that is, with the low maxims of the world's morality, which are admitted in common cases without scruple. Thus you will hear a man talking perhaps one minute, and very sincerely, of the great importance of religious principle, and then in the next speaking ill of his neighbour, or laughing perhaps at some one who is merely acting consistently with his Christian profession, and showed no desire to grow rich because he really believed what the Scriptures tell him, that riches are a dangerous snare. And thus the complexion of our common conversation is unchristian ; we blame a man for not looking keenly after his own interest, and allowing himself to be cheated rather than go to law, just as much as if we had never heard of St. Paul's remonstrance to the Corinthians,“ Why do ye not rather suffer wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be deprived ?" We speak with adıniration of clever satire, of things said or written with powerful severity, just as much as if they were no breach of the

perfect law of Christian charity. So accustomed are we to this low way of judging in common matters, and so confirmed is it by the habits of our youth, during which we are most commonly almost strangers to the spirit of Christ's Gospel, that it takes a long time and great labour to weed out these tares from every part of our mind, and to become consistently Christian in our judgment and practice, in all points and on all occasions, no less when talking over the contents of a newspaper, than if we should discuss those of a sermon.

[ocr errors]

It is for this purpose that we should know the Scripture, not loosely and in its great commandments only, but thoroughly, so as to remember its rules, and be influenced by its spirit, naturally and habitually through life. For instance, the command,

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” might save us from a thoughtless inattention to the feelings of others, and teach us to enter into them and gratify them, as far as lies in our power, by conforming our own behaviour to them. This may deserve no higher name than courtesy or civility ; yet every one knows how much of the comfort of life arises from these little things ; and even these common things become ennobled when we connect them in our minds with our Master's service, and do them because they are His will. When it is said, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God,” or, as it is in another place,“ do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” the meaning is that we should thus make the commonest actions virtues by connecting them with the love of Christ, and so be daily and hourly forming in our souls the habits and the feelings of heaven. And we may be sure, too, that he who thinks of pleasing Christ in little things, will not forget Him in the greater actions of life ; while on the other hand, they who keep Him out of sight in these matters, and get accustomed to act generally from lower and worldly motives, will be in some danger of letting these motives guide them in great points also, and of never acting as Christians at


What has been hitherto said applies exceedingly to those verses of the thirteenth chapter from which the text is taken, and which speak of our duties to our neighbour in public matters; that is, of our duties to our government and the laws. I could not name easily any branch of human conduct from which the influence of the Gospel has been more carefully shut out than this; any one on which worldly motives are avowed more boldly and more exclusively. In fact, many men seem to have vaguely confounded the Gospel and the clergy in their notions about these matters; and because clergymen, like other men, have often interfered in them in the worst possible spirit, not setting an example of Christian conduct, but plunging into the lowest motives of passion or interest by which other men are actuated, there seems a sort of fear that the Gospel itself will teach something mischievous to the public welfare or liberty. But, indeed, in all moral wisdom, in all duty, whether as private men or as citizens, there is but one Master, even Christ, from whom we can draw nothing but what is pure and upright. “ “ Governments," says the Apostle, “ are ordained of God; and whoever resists them resists the ordinance of God; for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil: therefore we must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." We are accustomed to put conscience very much out of sight in our behaviour towards the government and laws of our country, because any offence against them is visited with a worldly punishment. There is something of a feeling that we are running a fair risk, and that as we shall be punished if detected, so if we are not, there is no harm in breaking the law. In fact, our notions about public duty are low altogether, because we look upon civil society either as a matter of mutual convenience only between man and man, or else as an in

« PreviousContinue »