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ROMANS XII. 3-12.
Ver. 3. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is
among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
BESIDEs the common word of edification implying it, we find often in the Scriptures, teaching compared to building; and, amongst other things, the resemblance holds in this, that in both, of necessity, there is a foundation first to be laid, and then the structure to be raised upon it. He that gives rules of life, without first fixing principles of faith, offers preposterously at building a house without laying a foundation: and he that instructs what to believe, and directs not withal a believer how to live, doth in vain lay a foundation without following out the building. But the Apostles were not so foolish builders, as to sever these two in their labours in the Church. In this Epistle, we find our Apostle excellently acquitting himself in both these. He first largely and firmly lays the groundwork, in the foregoing part of the Epistle : now, he adds exhortations and directions touching the particular duties of Christians.
The first thing, certainly, to be done with a soul, is, to convince it of sin and death, then, to address and lead it unto Christ, our righteousness and life; this done, it should be taught to follow him. This is Christianity, to live in Christ, and to live to Christ; to live in Him by faith, and to live to Him in holiness. These our Apostle joined in his doctrine,
Chap. viii. v. 1, There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The exhortation that begins this chapter, hath in it the whole sum of Christian obedience, fitly expressed and strongly urged; and in that, are all particular rules comprised.
But because of our ignorance and our sloth, we do not always readily draw forth particulars from those comprehensive general rules wherein they lie; we need, therefore, to be assisted in this; and to this the Scriptures descend, particularly the Apostles in their Epistles, and that usually in the latter part of them. And this is a main part of our duty in preaching the word, often to represent these rules to you, not so much that
you may understand them better, though somewhat of this likewise may be needful, as that you may remember them, and eye them more, and walk according to them: and there is no more in these things truly known, than what is known after this manner.
I have endeavoured, in the course of my teaching, to reach this end. My design, and I hope yours likewise, hath been, not to pass so much time, nor to pass it with empty delight, which in other things might be done at an easy rate, but that you be really built up heavenwards, and increase with the increase of God; that the truth and power of Christianity may possess our hearts, and grow there, and may be evident in our lives, to the glory of our Lord Jesus.
We shall endeavour to lay before you the particular graces that are the ornaments of Christians; and this, not that you may look on them simply, and commend them, but that you may pursue them, and be clothed with them, and then they will be much more comely and commendable: as a robe of rich apparel, if it seem fine while it hangs or lies by, it appears far better when it is put on.
The rules the Apostle is to give, he prefaces thus, For I say, through the grace given to me- I speak as the Messenger or Apostle of Christ, according to that knowledge and experience that He hath given to me of these things; and so take
it, as from one that hath some interest in, and share of, these graces I recommend to you. And this, indeed, makes recommendations carry home. Oh, that we could truly say this ! Alas! it is an uncomfortable, and commonly an unprofitable thing, to speak of Christ and the graces of His Spirit, only as having heard of them, or read of them, as men that travel in their studies, do of foreign countries.
Alà tis gépiros. The Apostle represents this, to add the more authority, and gain the more acceptance, to what he had to say; and for this end, some care is to be had of the good opinion of people, so far as their interest is concerned, that the message we bring be not prejudged : otherwise, this truly set aside, it were little matter how we were mistaken or despised, yea, it were a thing some way desirable; only provided nothing be done on purpose, that may justly, yea, or that may probably, procure it, for that both piety and charity forbid.
To every man.] This is more pressing than if he had said simply, to you, or generally, to you all ; for in men's talking of things, it proves often too true, Quod omnibus, nemini, What is said to all, is said to no one; but To every one, that each one may suppose it spoken to him, as an ingenious picture looking to each in the room. Thus we ought to speak, and thus ye ought to hear. We to speak, not as telling some unconcerning stories, but as having business with you; and you to hear, not each for another, as you often do" Oh! such a passage touched such an one,"_but each for himself.
The first particular the Apostle recommends, is that gracing grace of humility, the ornament and the safety of all other graces, and which is so peculiarly Christian. Somewhat philosophers speak of temperance, justice, and other like virtues, but these tend rather to blow up and swell the mind with big conceit and confidence of itself, than to dwell together with self-abasement and humility. But in the school of Christ, the first lesson of all is, self-denial and humility; yea, it is written above the door, as the rule of entry or admission, Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart. And out of all question, that is truly the humblest heart which hath most of Christ in it.
Not to think highly.] Not aspiring and intending in things too high. And a great point of humility is subjection to God in the point of knowledge; in this was our first climbing that proved our fall; and yet still, amidst all our ignorance and darkness, we are catching and gaping after the deadly fruit of unallowed knowledge.
This, withal, hath in it the attempering of our thoughts and practices to our measure and station ; to know ourselves truly and thoroughly : for that will certainly beget a very low esteem of ourselves, to judge ourselves the unworthiest and meanest of all.
And having truly this estimate of ourselves, we shall not vainly attempt any thing above our reach, nor disdainfully neglect any thing that is within the compass of our calling and duty; which are the two evils so common among men, yea even amongst Christians, and in the Church of God, and are the cause of most of the enormities and disorders that fall out in it. It is a strange blindness, that they who do grossly miscarry in the duties of their own station, yet so readily fancy themselves capable of somewhat higher, and think themselves wronged if it be refused them.
The self-knowing Christian would rather descend, and finds himself very disproportioned to his present station, be it never
He can say with David, Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Psal. cxxxi. 1. But vain minds would still be tampering with the greatest affairs, and dwell not with themselves. Oh! my brethren, be entreated to study your own hearts better. Be less abroad in
. things that concern you not. There is work enough within you ; heaps of base lusts, and self-deceits, and follies, that you see not yet; and many advantages of good things you seem to see in yourselves, that indeed are not there. Self-love is a flattering glass, which represents us to ourselves much fairer
than we are ; therefore turn from it, if you desire a true account of yourselves, and look into the pure and faithful mirror of God's Law. Oh! what deformities will that discover, which you never saw nor thought of before; it will make you the lowest of all persons in your own eyes.
This low self-esteem doth not wholly take away the simple knowledge of what gifts and graces God hath bestowed on a man; for that were to make him both unthankful and unuseful. Qui se nescit, nescit se uti. He who doth not know what God hath freely given him, cannot return praise to God, nor make use of himself for God in his station. Yea, the Apostle's caution intimates a sober, humble reflection on the measure God hath given a man, as what he not only allows but requires ; and himself gives example of it in his own present expression, declaring that he speaks these things through the grace that is given to him.
But this knowledge of a man's own gifts and graces, that it may not preclude his attaining more, but help him to more, in the humble acknowledgment and use of what he hath, should have these two qualifications: 1. That he beware of overweening; that he take his measure much below, rather than any whit beyond what he truly hath. 2. That whatsoever it is, he always look on it not as his own, but as God's, having His superscription on it, and all the glory of it being His peculiar tribute ; nothing of that to be interrupted or retained : Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory. Still, all the glory entirely sent up to Him. Thus, here, the Apostle sets all grace in that view, As God hath dispensed the measure ; and so speaks of his own, Through the grace given to me. Still, is it so to be looked on, not aś what we have, but as what He hath given. That is the gospel style, Grace, free gifts-yapis, xapiouata. Whereas philosophy speaks of all as habits, or havings, or possessions.
Now, viewed in that relative dependent notion of freely given, a man shall never be puffed up by any endowments, though he see and know them : yea, the more he knows them Vol. II.