Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Such displays of God's mercy as Jews and Gentiles have received should induce them to consecrate themselves to Him; and not be conformed to the world, Rom 12:1, Rom 12:2. Christians are exhorted to think meanly of themselves, Rom 12:3. And each to behave himself properly in the office which he has received from God, Rom 12:4-8; Various important moral duties recommended, Rom 12:9-18. We must not avenge ourselves, but overcome evil with good, Rom 12:19-21.
The apostle having now finished the doctrinal part of this epistle, proceeds to the practical; and here it may be necessary to take a view of his arguments in the preceding chapters.
The election, calling, and justification of the believing Gentiles, and their being admitted into the kingdom and covenant of God, and having an interest in all the privileges and honors of his children.
(1.) That they have a clear and substantial title to all these he has proved in Romans 1, 2, and 3.
(2.) That this right is set on the same footing with Abraham's title to the blessings of the covenant he proves Romans 6.
(3.) That it gives us a title to privileges and blessings, as great as any the Jews could glory in, by virtue of that covenant, Rom 5:1-12.
(4.) He goes still higher, and shows that our being interested in the gift and grace of God in Christ Jesus is perfectly agreeable to the grace which he has bestowed upon all mankind, in delivering them from that death of the body brought on them by Adams' transgression, Rom 5:12-21.
(5.) He fully explains, both with regard to the Gentiles and Jews, the nature of the Gospel constitution in relation to its obligations to holiness, and the advantages it gives for encouragement, obedience, and support, under the severest trials and persecutions, Romans 6, 7, 8.
(6.) As to the pretences of the Jews, that "God was bound by express promise to continue them as his only people for ever, and that this was directly inconsistent with the election and calling of the Gentiles, on the condition of faith alone;" he demonstrates that the rejection of the Jews is consistent with the truth of God's word, and with his righteousness: he shows the true cause and reason of their rejection, and concludes with an admirable discourse upon the extent and duration of it; which he closes with adoration of the Divine wisdom in its various dispensations, Romans 9, 10, 11. Thus, having cleared this important subject with surprising judgment, and the nicest art and skill in writing, he now proceeds, after his usual manner in his epistles and the apostolic method of preaching, to inculcate various Christian duties, and to exhort to that temper of mind and conduct of life which are suitable to the profession of the Gospel, and the enjoyment of its privileges. - Dr. Taylor.
I beseech you therefore, brethren - This address is probably intended both for the Jews and the Gentiles; though some suppose that the Jews are addressed in the first verse, the Gentiles in the second.
By the mercies of God! - Δια των οικτιρμων του Θεου· By the tender mercies or compassions of God, such as a tender father shows to his refractory children; who, on their humiliation, is easily persuaded to forgive their offenses. The word οικτιρμος comes from οικτος, compassion; and that from εικω, to yield; because he that has compassionate feelings is easily prevailed on to do a kindness, or remit an injury.
That ye present your bodies - A metaphor taken from bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. The person offering picked out the choicest of his flock, brought it to the altar, and presented it there as an atonement for his sin. They are exhorted to give themselves up in the spirit of sacrifice; to be as wholly the Lord's property as the whole burnt-offering was, no part being devoted to any other use.
A living sacrifice - In opposition to those dead sacrifices which they were in the habit of offering while in their Jewish state; and that they should have the lusts of the flesh mortified, that they might live to God.
Holy - Without spot or blemish; referring still to the sacrifice required by the law.
Acceptable unto God - Ευαρεστον· The sacrifice being perfect in its kind, and the intention of the offerer being such that both can be acceptable and well pleasing to God, who searches the heart. All these phrases are sacrificial, and show that there must be a complete surrender of the person - the body, the whole man, mind and flesh, to be given to God; and that he is to consider himself no more his own, but the entire property of his Maker.
Your reasonable service - Nothing can be more consistent with reason than that the work of God should glorify its Author. We are not our own, we are the property of the Lord, by the right of creation and redemption; and it would be as unreasonable as it would be wicked not to live to his glory, in strict obedience to his will. The reasonable service, λογικην λατρειαν, of the apostle, may refer to the difference between the Jewish and Christian worship. The former religious service consisted chiefly in its sacrifices, which were δι' αλογων, of irrational creatures, i.e. the lambs, rams, kids, bulls, goats, etc., which were offered under the law. The Christian service or worship is λογικη, rational, because performed according to the true intent and meaning of the law; the heart and soul being engaged in the service. He alone lives the life of a fool and a madman who lives the life of a sinner against God; for, in sinning against his Maker he wrongs his own soul, loves death, and rewards evil unto himself.
Reasonable service, λογικην λατρειαν, "a religious service according to reason," one rationally performed. The Romanists make this distinction between λατρεια, and δουλεια, latreia and douleia, (or dulia, as they corruptly write it), worship and service, which they say signify two kinds of religious worship; the first proper to God, the other communicated to the creatures. But δουλεια, douleia, services, is used by the Septuagint to express the Divine worship. See Deu 13:4; Jdg 2:7; Sa1 7:3, and Sa1 12:10 : and in the New Testament, Mat 6:24; Luk 6:23; Rom 16:18; Col 3:24. The angel refused δουλειαν, douleia, Rev 22:7, because he was συνδουλος sundoulos, a fellow servant; and the Divine worship is more frequently expressed by this word δουλεια, douleia, service, than by λατρεια, latreia, worship. The first is thirty-nine times in the Old and New Testament ascribed unto God, the other about thirty times; and latreia, worship or service, is given unto the creatures, as in Lev 23:7, Lev 23:8, Lev 23:21; Num 28:18; yea, the word signifies cruel and base bondage, Deu 28:48 : once in the New Testament it is taken for the worship of the creatures, Rom 1:25. The worshipping of idols is forbidden under the word λατρεια, latreia, thirty-four times in the Old Testament, and once in the New, as above; and twenty-three times under the term δουλεια, douleia, in the Old Testament; and St. Paul uses δουλευειν Θεὡ, and λατρευειν Θεὡ indifferently, for the worship we owe to God. See Rom 1:9, Rom 1:25; Rom 12:1, Gal 4:8, Gal 4:9; Th1 1:9; Mat 6:24. And Ludouicus Vives, a learned Romanist, has proved out of Suidas, Xenophon, and Volla, that these two words are usually taken the one for the other, therefore the popish distinction, that the first signifies "the religious worship due only to God," and the second, "that which is given to angels, saints, and men," is unlearned and false. - See Leigh's Crit. Sacra.
And be not conformed to this world - By this world, αιωνι τουτῳ, may be understood that present state of things both among the Jews and Gentiles; the customs and fashions of the people who then lived, the Gentiles particularly, who had neither the power nor the form of godliness; though some think that the Jewish economy, frequently termed עולם הזה olam hazzeh, this world, this peculiar state of things, is alone intended. And the apostle warns them against reviving usages that Christ had abolished: this exhortation still continues in full force. The world that now is - This present state of things, is as much opposed to the spirit of genuine Christianity as the world then was. Pride, luxury, vanity, extravagance in dress, and riotous living, prevail now, as they did then, and are as unworthy of a Christian's pursuit as they are injurious to his soul, and hateful in the sight of God.
Be ye transformed - Μεταμορφουσθε, Be ye metamorphosed, transfigured, appear as new persons, and with new habits, as God has given you a new form of worship, so that ye serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. The word implies a radical, thorough, and universal change, both outward and inward. Seneca, Epis. vi, shows us the force of this word when used in a moral sense. Sentio, says he, non Emendari me tantum, sed Transfigurari; "I perceive myself not to be amended merely, but to be transformed:" i. e entirely renewed.
By the renewing of your mind - Let the inward change produce the outward. Where the spirit, the temper, and disposition of the mind, Eph 4:23, are not renewed, an outward change is of but little worth, and but of short standing.
That ye may prove - Εις το δοκιμαζειν, That ye may have practical proof and experimental knowledge of, the will of God - of his purpose and determination, which is good in itself; infinitely so. Acceptable, ευαρεστον, well pleasing to and well received by every mind that is renewed and transformed.
And perfect - Τελειον, Finished and complete: when the mind is renewed, and the whole life changed, then the will of God is perfectly fulfilled; for this is its grand design in reference to every human being.
These words are supposed by Schoettgen to refer entirely to the Jewish law. The Christians were to renounce this world - the Jewish state of things; to be transformed, by having their minds enlightened in the pure and simple Christian worship, that they might prove the grand characteristic difference between the two covenants: the latter being good in opposition to the statutes which were not good, Eze 20:25; acceptable, in opposition to those sacrifices and offerings which God would not accept, as it is written, Psa 40:6-8; and perfect, in opposition to that system which was imperfect, and which made nothing perfect, and was only the shadow of good things to come. There are both ingenuity and probability in this view of the subject.
Through the grace given unto me - By the grace given St. Paul most certainly means his apostolical office, by which he had the authority, not only to preach the Gospel, but also to rule the Church of Christ. This is the meaning of the word, ἡ χαρις, in Eph 3:8 : Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given - is conceded this office or employment immediately by God himself; that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Not to think - more highly - Μη ὑπερφρονειν, Not to act proudly; to arrogate nothing to himself on account of any grace he had received, or of any office committed to him.
But to think soberly - Αλλα φρονειν εις το σωφρονειν. The reader will perceive here a sort of paronomasia, or play upon words: φρονειν, from φρην, the mind, signifies to think, mind, relish, to be of opinion, etc.; and σωφρονειν from σοος, sound, and φρην, the mind, signifies to be of a sound mind; to think discreetly, modestly, humbly. Let no man think himself more or greater than God has made him; and let him know that what ever he is or has of good or excellence, he has it from God; and that the glory belongs to the giver, and not to him who has received the gift.
Measure of faith - Μετρον πιστεως. It is very likely, as Dr. Moore has conjectured, that the πιστις, faith, here used, means the Christian religion; and the measure, the degree of knowledge and experience which each had received in it, and the power this gave him of being useful in the Church of God. See Rom 12:6.
For as we have many members - As the human body consists of many parts, each having its respective office, and all contributing to the perfection and support of the whole; each being indispensably necessary in the place which it occupies, and each equally useful though performing a different function;
So we, being many - We who are members of the Church of Christ, which is considered the body of which he is the head, have various offices assigned to us, according to the measure of grace, faith and religious knowledge which we possess; and although each has a different office, and qualifications suitable to that office, yet all belong to the same body; and each has as much need of the help of another as that other has of his; therefore, let there be neither pride on the one hand, nor envy on the other. The same metaphor, in nearly the same words, is used in Synopsis Sohar, page 13. "As man is divided into various members and joints, united among themselves, and raised by gradations above each other, and collectively compose one body; so all created things are members orderly disposed, and altogether constitute one body. In like manner the law, distributed into various articulations, constitutes but one body." See Schoettgen.
Having then gifts differing, etc. - As the goodness of God, with this view of our mutual subserviency and usefulness, has endowed us with different gifts and qualifications, let each apply himself to the diligent improvement of his particular office and talent, and modestly keep within the bounds of it, not exalting himself or despising others.
Whether prophecy - That prophecy, in the New Testament, often means the gift of exhorting, preaching, or of expounding the Scriptures, is evident from many places in the Gospels, Acts, and St. Paul's Epistles, see Co1 11:4, Co1 11:5; and especially Co1 14:3 : He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. This was the proper office of a preacher; and it is to the exercise of this office that the apostle refers in the whole of the chapter from which the above quotations are made. See also Luk 1:76; Luk 7:28; Act 15:32; Co1 14:29. I think the apostle uses the term in the same sense here - Let every man who has the gift of preaching and interpreting the Scriptures do it in proportion to the grace and light he has received from God, and in no case arrogate to himself knowledge which he has not received; let him not esteem himself more highly on account of this gift, or affect to be wise above what is written, or indulge himself in fanciful interpretations of the word of God.
Dr. Taylor observes that the measure of faith, Rom 12:3, and the proportion of faith, Rom 12:6, seem not to relate to the degree of any gift considered in itself, but rather in the relation and proportion which it bore to the gifts of others; for it is plain that he is here exhorting every man to keep soberly within his own sphere. It is natural to suppose that the new converts might be puffed up with the several gifts that were bestowed upon them; and every one might be forward to magnify his own to the disparagement of others: therefore the apostle advises them to keep each within his proper sphere; to know and observe the just measure and proportion of the gift intrusted to him, not to gratify his pride but to edify the Church.
The αναλογια της πιστεως, which we here translate the proportion of faith, and which some render the analogy of faith, signifies in grammar "the similar declension of similar words;" but in Scriptural matters it has been understood to mean the general and consistent plan or scheme of doctrines delivered in the Scriptures; where every thing bears its due relation and proportion to another. Thus the death of Christ is commensurate in its merits to the evils produced by the fall of Adam. The doctrine of justification by faith bears the strictest analogy or proportion to the grace of Christ and the helpless, guilty, condemned state of man: whereas the doctrine of justification by Works is out of all analogy to the demerit of sin, the perfection of the law, the holiness of God, and the miserable, helpless state of man. This may be a good general view of the subject; but when we come to inquire what those mean by the analogy of faith who are most frequent in the use of the term, we shall find that it means neither more nor less than their own creed; and though they tell you that their doctrines are to be examined by the Scriptures, yet they give you roundly to know that you are to understand these Scriptures in precisely the same way as they have interpreted them. "To the law and to the testimony," says Dr. Campbell, "is the common cry; only every one, the better to secure the decision on the side he has espoused, would have you previously resolve to put no sense whatever on the law and the testimony but what his favourite doctrine will admit. Thus they run on in a shuffling, circular sort of argument, which, though they studiously avoid exposing, is, when dragged into the open light, neither more nor less than this; 'you are to try our doctrine by the Scriptures only; but then you are to be very careful that you explain the Scripture solely by our doctrine.' A wonderful plan of trial, which begins with giving judgment, and ends with examining the proof, wherein the whole skill and ingenuity of the judges are to be exerted in wresting the evidence so as to give it the appearance of supporting the sentence pronounced before hand." See Dr. Campbell's Dissertations on the Gospels, Diss. iv. sect. 14, vol. i, page 146, 8vo. edit., where several other sensible remarks may be found.
Or ministry - Διακονια simply means the office of a deacon; and what this office was, see in the note on Act 6:4 (note), where the subject is largely discussed.
Or he that teacheth - The teacher, διδασκαλος, was a person whose office it was to instruct others, who thereby catechizing, or simply explaining the grand truths of Christianity.
Or he that exhorteth - Ὁ παρακαλων, The person who admonished and reprehended the unruly or disorderly; and who supported the weak and comforted the penitents, and those who were under heaviness through manifold temptations.
He that giveth - He who distributeth the alms of the Church, with simplicity - being influenced by no partiality, but dividing to each according to the necessity of his case.
He that ruleth - Ὁ προΐσταμενος, He that presides over a particular business; but as the verb προΐσταμαι also signifies to defend or patronize, it is probably used here to signify receiving and providing for strangers, and especially the persecuted who were obliged to leave their own homes, and were destitute, afflicted, and tormented. It might also imply the persons whose business it was to receive and entertain the apostolical teachers who traveled from place to place, establishing and confirming the Churches. In this sense the word προστατις is applied to Phoebe, Rom 16:2 : She hath been a Succorer of many, and of myself also. The apostle directs that this office should be executed with diligence, that such destitute persons should have their necessities as promptly and as amply supplied as possible.
He that showeth mercy - Let the person who is called to perform any act of compassion or mercy to the wretched do it, not grudgingly nor of necessity, but from a spirit of pure benevolence and sympathy. The poor are often both wicked and worthless: and, if those who are called to minister to them as stewards, overseers, etc., do not take care, they will get their hearts hardened with the frequent proofs they will have of deception, lying, idleness, etc. And on this account it is that so many of those who have been called to minister to the poor in parishes, workhouses, and religious societies, when they come to relinquish their employment find that many of their moral feelings have been considerably blunted; and perhaps the only reward they get for their services is the character of being hard-hearted. If whatever is done in this way be not done unto the Lord, it can never be done with cheerfulness.
Let love be without dissimulation - Ἡ αγαπη ανυποκριτος· Have no hypocritical love; let not your love wear a mask; make no empty professions. Love God and your neighbor; and, by obedience to the one and acts of benevolence to the other, show that your love is sincere.
Abhor that which is evil - Αποστυγουντες το πονηρον· Hate sin as you would hate that hell to which it leads. Στυγεω signifies to hate or detest with horror; the preposition απο greatly strengthens the meaning. Στυξ, Styx, was a feigned river in hell by which the gods were wont to swear, and if any of them falsified this oath he was deprived of his nectar and ambrosia for a hundred years; hence the river was reputed to be hateful, and στυγεω signified to be as hateful as hell. Two MSS. read μισουντες, which signifies hating in the lowest sense of the term. The word in the text is abundantly more expressive, and our translation is both nervous and appropriate.
Cleave to that which is good - Κολλωμενοι τῳ αγαθῳ· Be Cemented or Glued to that which is good; so the word literally signifies. Have an unalterable attachment to whatever leads to God, and contributes to the welfare of your fellow creatures.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love - It is difficult to give a simple translation of the original: τῃ φιλαδελφιᾳ εις αλληλους φιλοστοργοι. The word φιλαδελφια signifies that affectionate regard which every Christian should feel for another, as being members of the same mystical body: hence it is emphatically termed the love of the brethren. When William Penn, of deservedly famous memory, made a treaty with the Indians in North America, and purchased from them a large woody tract, which, after its own nature and his name, he called Pennsylvania, he built a city on it, and peopled it with Christians of his own denomination, and called the city from the word in the text, φιλαδελφια, Philadelphia; an appellation which it then bore with strict propriety: and still it bears the name.
The word φιλοστοργος, which we translate kindly affectioned, from φιλος and στοργη, signifies that tender and indescribable affection which a mother bears to her child, and which almost all creatures manifest towards their young; and the word φιλος, or φιλεω, joined to it, signifies a delight in it. Feel the tenderest affection towards each other, and delight to feel it. "Love a brother Christian with the affection of a natural brother."
In honor preferring one another - The meaning appears to be this: Consider all your brethren as more worthy than yourself; and let neither grief nor envy affect your mind at seeing another honored and yourself neglected. This is a hard lesson, and very few persons learn it thoroughly. If we wish to see our brethren honored, still it is with the secret condition in our own minds that we be honored more than they. We have no objection to the elevation of others, providing we may be at the head. But who can bear even to be what he calls neglected? I once heard the following conversation between two persons, which the reader will pardon my relating in this place, as it appears to be rather in point, and is worthy of regard. "I know not," said one, "that I neglect to do any thing in my power to promote the interest of true religion in this place, and yet I seem to be held in very little repute, scarcely any person even noticing me." To which the other replied: "My good friend, set yourself down for nothing, and if any person takes you for something it will be all clear gain." I thought this a queer saying: but how full of meaning and common sense! Whether the object of this good counsel was profited by it I cannot tell; but I looked on it and received instruction.
Not slothful in business - That God, who forbade working on the seventh day, has, by the same authority, enjoined it on the other six days. He who neglects to labor during the week is as culpable as he is who works on the Sabbath. An idle, slothful person can never be a Christian.
Fervent in spirit - Τῳ πνευματι ζεοντες· Do nothing at any time but what is to the glory of God, and do every thing as unto him; and in every thing let your hearts be engaged. Be always in earnest, and let your heart ever accompany your hand.
Serving the Lord - Ever considering that his eye is upon you, and that you are accountable to him for all that you do, and that you should do every thing so as to please him. In order to this there must be simplicity in the Intention, and purity in the Affections.
Instead of τῳ Κυριῳ δουλευοντες, serving the Lord, several MSS., as DFG, and many editions, have τῳ καιρῳ δουλευοντες, serving the time - embracing the opportunity. This reading Griesbach has received into the text, and most critics contend for its authenticity. Except the Codes Claromontanus, the Codex Augiensis, and the Codex Boernerianus, the first a MS. of the seventh or eighth century, the others of the ninth or tenth, marked in Griesbach by the letters DFG, all the other MSS. of this epistle have Κυριῳ, the Lord; a reading in which all the versions concur. Καιρῳ, the time, is not found in the two original editions; that of Complutum, in 1514, which is the first edition of the Greek Testament ever printed; and that of Erasmus, in 1516, which is the first edition published; the former having been suppressed for several years after it was finished at the press. As in the ancient MSS. the word Κυριῳ is written contractedly, ΚΩ, some appear to have read it καιρῳ instead of Κυριῳ; but I confess I do not see sufficient reason after all that the critics have said, to depart from the common reading.
Rejoicing in hope - Of that glory of God that to each faithful follower of Christ shall shortly be revealed.
Patient in tribulation - Remembering that what you suffer as Christians you suffer for Christ's sake; and it is to his honor, and the honor of your Christian profession, that you suffer it with an even mind.
Continuing instant in prayer - Προσκαρτερουντες· Making the most fervent and intense application to the throne of grace for the light and power of the Holy Spirit; without which you can neither abhor evil, do good, love the brethren, entertain a comfortable hope, nor bear up patiently under the tribulations and ills of life.
Distributing to the necessity of saints - Relieve your poor brethren according to the power which God has given you. Do good unto all men, but especially to them which are of the household of faith. Instead of χρειαις, necessities, some ancient MSS. have μνειαις, memorials; distributing to the memorials of the saints, which some interpret as referring to saints that were absent; as if he had said: Do not forget those in other Churches who have a claim on your bounty. But I really cannot see any good sense which this various reading can make in the text; I therefore follow the common reading.
Given to hospitality - Την φιλοξενιαν διωκοντες, pursuing hospitality, or the duty of entertaining strangers. A very necessary virtue in ancient times, when houses of public accommodation were exceedingly scarce. This exhortation might have for its object the apostles, who were all itinerants; and in many cases the Christians, flying before the face of persecution. This virtue is highly becoming in all Christians, and especially in all Christian ministers, who have the means of relieving a brother in distress, or of succouring the poor wherever he may find them. But providing for strangers in distress is the proper meaning of the term; and to be forward to do this is the spirit of the duty.
Bless them which persecute you - Ευλογειτε, Give good words, or pray for them that give you bad words, καταρασθε, who make dire imprecations against you. Bless them, pray for them, and on no account curse them, whatever the provocation may be. Have the loving, forgiving mind that was in your Lord.
Rejoice with them that do rejoice - Take a lively interest in the prosperity of others. Let it be a matter of rejoicing to you when you hear of the health, prosperity, or happiness of any brother.
Weep with them that weep - Labour after a compassionate or sympathizing mind. Let your heart feel for the distressed; enter into their sorrows, and bear a part of their burdens. It is a fact, attested by universal experience, that by sympathy a man may receive into his own affectionate feelings a measure of the distress of his friend, and that his friend does find himself relieved in the same proportion as the other has entered into his griefs. "But how do you account for this?" I do not account for it at all, it depends upon certain laws of nature, the principles of which have not been as yet duly developed.
Be of the same mind - Live in a state of continual harmony and concord, and pray for the same good for all which you desire for yourselves.
Mind not high things - Be not ambitious; affect nothing above your station; do not court the rich nor the powerful; do not pass by the poor man to pay your court to the great man; do not affect titles or worldly distinctions; much less sacrifice your conscience for them. The attachment to high things and high men is the vice of little, shallow minds. However, it argues one important fact, that such persons are conscious that they are of no worth and of no consequence in Themselves, and they seek to render themselves observable and to gain a little credit by their endeavors to associate themselves with men of rank and fortune, and if possible to get into honorable employments; and, if this cannot be attained, they affect honorable Titles.
But condescend to men of low estate - Be a companion of the humble, and pass through life with as little noise and show as possible. Let the poor, godly man be your chief companion; and learn from his humility and piety to be humble and godly. The term συναπαγομενοι, which we translate condescend, from συν, together, and απαγω, to lead, signifies to be led, carried, or dragged away to prison with another; and points out the state in which the primitive Christians were despised and rejected of men, and often led forth to prison and death. False or man-pleasing professors would endeavor to escape all this disgrace and danger by getting into the favor of the great, the worldly, and the irreligious. There have not been wanting, in all ages of the Church, persons who, losing the savour of Divine things from their own souls by drinking into a worldly spirit, have endeavored to shun the reproach of the cross by renouncing the company of the godly, speaking evil of the way of life, and perhaps sitting down in the chair of the scorner with apostates like themselves. And yet, strange to tell, these men will keep up a form of godliness! for a decent outside is often necessary to enable them to secure the ends of their ambition.
Be not wise in your own conceits - Be not puffed up with an opinion of your own consequence; for this will prove that the consequence itself is imaginary. Be not wise, παρ' ἑαυτοις, by yourselves - do not suppose that wisdom and discernment dwell alone with you. Believe that you stand in need both of help and instruction from others.
Recompense, etc. - Do not take notice of every little injury you may sustain. Do not be litigious. Beware of too nice a sense of your own honor; intolerable pride is at the bottom of this. The motto of the royal arms of Scotland is in direct opposition to this Divine direction - Nemo me impune lacesset, of which "I render evil for evil to every man," is a pretty literal translation. This is both antichristian and abominable, whether in a state or in an individual.
Provide things honest - Be prudent, be cautious, neither eat, drink, nor wear, but as you pay for every thing. "Live not on trust, for that is the way to pay double;" and by this means the poor are still kept poor. He who takes credit, even for food or raiment, when he has no probable means of defraying the debt, is a dishonest man. It is no sin to die through lack of the necessaries of life when the providence of God has denied the means of support; but it is a sin to take up goods without the probability of being able to pay for them. Poor man! suffer poverty a little; perhaps God is only trying thee for a time; and who can tell if he will not turn again thy captivity. Labour hard to live honestly; if God still appear to withhold his providential blessing, do not despair; leave it all to him; do not make a sinful choice; he cannot err. He will bless thy poverty, while he curses the ungodly man's blessings.
If it be possible - To live in a state of peace with one's neighbors, friends, and even family, is often very difficult. But the man who loves God must labor after this, for it is indispensably necessary even for his own sake. A man cannot have broils and misunderstandings with others, without having his own peace very materially disturbed: he must, to be happy, be at peace with all men, whether they will be at peace with him or not. The apostle knew that it would be difficult to get into and maintain such a state of peace, and this his own words amply prove: And if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably. Though it be but barely possible, labor after it.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves - Ye are the children of God, and he loves you; and because he loves you he will permit nothing to be done to you that he will not turn to your advantage. Never take the execution of the law into your own hands; rather suffer injuries. The Son of man is come, not to destroy men's lives, but to save: be of the same spirit. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. It is the part of a noble mind to bear up under unmerited disgrace; little minds are litigious and quarrelsome.
Give place unto wrath - Δοτε τοπον τῃ οργῃ· Leave room for the civil magistrate to do his duty, he holds the sword for this purpose; and if he be unfaithful to the trust reposed in him by the state, leave the matter to God, who is the righteous judge: for by avenging yourselves you take your cause both out of the hands of the civil magistrate and out of the hands of God. I believe this to be the meaning of give place to wrath, οργῃ, punishment; the penalty which the law, properly executed, will inflict. This is well expressed by the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus, 19:17: Admonish thy neighbor before thou threaten him, and, not being, angry, Give Place to the Law of the Most High.
Vengeance is mine - This fixes the meaning of the apostle, and at once shows that the exhortation, Rather give place to wrath or punishment, means, Leave the matter to the judgment of God; it is his law that in this case is broken; and to him the infliction of deserved punishment belongs. Some think it means, "Yield a little to a man when in a violent passion, for the sake of peace, until he grow cooler."
I will repay - In my own time and in my own way. But he gives the sinner space to repent, and this longsuffering leads to salvation. Dr. Taylor, after Dr. Benson, conjectures that the apostle in these directions had his eye upon the indignities which the Jews, and probably the Christians too, (for they were often confounded by the heathen), suffered by the edict of Claudius, mentioned Act 18:2, which "commanded all Jews to depart from Rome." Upon this occasion Aquila and Priscilla removed to Corinth, where Paul found them, and dwelt with them a considerable time. No doubt they gave him a full account of the state of the Christian Church at Rome, and of every thing relating to the late persecution under Claudius. That emperor's edict probably died with him, if it were not repealed before, and then the Jews and Christians (if the Christians were also expelled) returned again to Rome; for Aquila and Priscilla were there when Paul wrote this epistle, Rom 16:3, which was in the fourth year of Nero, successor to Claudius.
If thine enemy hunger, feed him - Do not withhold from any man the offices of mercy and kindness; you have been God's enemy, and yet God fed, clothed, and preserved you alive: do to your enemy as God has done to you. If your enemy be hungry, feed him; if he be thirsty, give him drink: so has God dealt with you. And has not a sense of his goodness and long-suffering towards you been a means of melting down your heart into penitential compunction, gratitude, and love towards him? How know you that a similar conduct towards your enemy may not have the same gracious influence on him towards you? Your kindness may be the means of begetting in him a sense of his guilt; and, from being your fell enemy, he may become your real friend! This I believe to be the sense of this passage, which many have encumbered with difficulties of their own creating. The whole is a quotation from Pro 25:21, Pro 25:22, in the precise words of the Septuagint; and it is very likely that the latter clause of this verse, Thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, is a metaphor taken from smelting metals. The ore is put into the furnace, and fire put both under and over, that the metal may be liquefied, and, leaving the scoriae and dross, may fall down pure to the bottom of the furnace. This is beautifully expressed by one of our own poets, in reference to this explanation of this passage: -
"So artists melt the sullen ore of lead,
By heaping coals of fire upon its head.
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And pure from dross the silver runs below."
It is most evident, from the whole connection of the place and the apostle's use of it, that the heaping of the coals of fire upon the head of the enemy is intended to produce not an evil, but the most beneficial effect; and the following verse is an additional proof of this.
Be not overcome of evil - Do not, by giving place to evil, become precisely the same character which thou condemnest in another. Overcome evil with good - however frequently he may grieve and injure thee, always repay him with kindness; thy good-will, in the end, may overcome his evil.
1. Thomas Aquinas has properly said: Vincitur a malo qui vult peccare in alium, quia ille peccavit in ipsum. "He is overcome of evil who sins against another, because he sins against him." A moral enemy is more easily overcome by kindness than by hostility. Against the latter he arms himself; and all the evil passions of his heart concentrate themselves in opposition to him who is striving to retaliate, by violence, the injurious acts which he has received from him. But where the injured man is labouring to do him good for his evil - to repay his curses with blessings and prayers, his evil passions have no longer any motive, any incentive; his mind relaxes; the turbulence of his passions is calmed; reason and conscience are permitted to speak; he is disarmed, or, in other words, he finds that he has no use for his weapons; he beholds in the injured man a magnanimous friend whose mind is superior to all the insults and injuries which he has received, and who is determined never to permit the heavenly principle that influences his soul to bow itself before the miserable, mean, and wretched spirit of revenge. This amiable man views in his enemy a spirit which he beholds with horror, and he cannot consent to receive into his own bosom a disposition which he sees to be so destructive to another; and he knows that as soon as he begins to avenge himself, he places himself on a par with the unprincipled man whose conduct he has so much reason to blame, and whose spirit he has so much cause to abominate. He who avenges himself receives into his own heart all the evil and disgraceful passions by which his enemy is rendered both wretched and contemptible. There is the voice of eternal reason in "Avenge not yourselves: - overcome evil with good;" as well as the high authority and command of the living God.
2. The reader will, no doubt, have observed with pleasure the skill and address, as well as the Divine wisdom, with which the apostle has handled the important subjects which he has brought forth to view in the preceding chapters. Nothing can be more regular or judicious than his plan of proceeding. He first shows the miserable, wretched, fallen, degraded state of man; next, the merciful provision which God has made for his salvation, and lastly, the use which man should make of the mercies of his God. He shows us, in a most pointed manner, the connection that subsists between the doctrines of the Gospel and practical piety. From the beginning of the first to the end of the eleventh chapter he states and defends the grand truths of Christianity, and from the beginning of the twelfth to the end of the epistle he shows the practical use of these doctrines. This is a point which is rarely considered by professors; multitudes run to the Epistle to the Romans for texts to prop up their peculiar system of doctrine, but how few go to this sacred book for rules relative to holy life! They abound in quotations from the doctrinal parts, but seldom make that use of them which the apostle makes in this chapter. "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, and be not conformed to this world, etc." Now we learn from the use which the apostle makes of his doctrines, that whatsoever teaching comes from God leads to a holy and useful life. And if we hold any doctrine that does not excite us to labor after the strictest conformity to the will of God in all our tempers, spirit, and actions, we may rest assured that either that doctrine is not of God, or we make an improper use of it. He that knows God best, loves and resembles him most.