F. The duty of enlightened Christians towards weak brethren. From moral duties in general of Christians towards each other and towards all the apostle now passes to such as they owe peculiarly to each other as members of a religious community, united by a common faith. He has already ( Romans 12:16 ) admonished his readers to be "of the same mind one toward another;" but, as was remarked under that verse, this did not imply agreement of view on all subjects, such as is impossible where there are many minds. In this chapter he recognizes the impossibility, having immediately before him what was then patent, the inability of some, through prejudice or slowness of conception, to enter into views of the meaning of the gospel which to himself and the more enlightened were apparent. He by no means departs from what he says elsewhere (cf. Galatians 1:6-10 ) about no denial of fundamental doctrine being allowable in the communion of the Church; but in matters not touching the foundation he does here inculcate a large and generous tolerance. In these, as in all other relations between men on the earth together, the all-inspiring principle of charity is to rule. Who the "weak brethren" were whose scruples he especially inculcates tolerance of in this chapter cannot be decided positively. It will he seen that they were persons who thought it their duty to abstain from animal food, and perhaps also from wine ( Romans 14:2 , Romans 14:21 ); and there is allusion also to observance of certain days ( Romans 14:5 ). The views that have been taken are as follows:—
In favour of view
(a) that in the chapter before us there is no allusion whatever to idol-meats, as there is throughout so markedly in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 .; and
(b) that abstinence from all animal food whatever (and apparently from wine too) is spoken of in this chapter. Objection ( a ) has been met by saying that the ground of the scrupulosity referred to might be so well known that St. Paul did not think it necessary to mention it when he wrote to the Romans. To objection ( b ) it is replied that there might be some who, in order to guard against the risk of buying at the shambles, or partaking in general society of viands connected with heathen sacrifices, made a point of abstaining from meat altogether, and (it has been suggested) from wine too, which might have been used in libations. This is the view of Clement of Alexandria, Ambrosiastor, and Augustine, among the ancients.
View (2) is that of Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, and others, among whom Chrysostom accounts for the total abstinence from meat as follows: "There were many of the Jews that believed, who, being still bound in conscience to the Law, even after believing still observed the ordinances about meats, not as yet venturing to depart from the Law; and then, in order not to be conspicuous in abstaining from swine's flesh only, they abstained from all flesh, and ate herbs only, that their practice might seem to be rather fasting, and not observance of the Law" (so also OE cumenius and Theophylact). But this seems to be a conjecture only, and hardly a likely one. And further, it fails to account for abstinence from wine, which seems to be implied; on the part of tome at least, in verse 21.
If the weak brethren were ascetics, according to view (3), it is most probable that they were Jewish Christians who had imbibed the principles of the Essenes . These were a Jewish sect, spoken of especially by josephus, who aimed at scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and strict personal purity. With this view they lived in communities under rule, partaking of the simplest fare, and some abstaining from marriage. It does not appear that they were strict vegetarians when living in community; but we are told that they might only eat such meat as had been prepared by their own members, so as to be secure against any pollution, and that, if excommunicated, they were consequently compelled to eat herbs. (For what is known of them, see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.; 8.2-5; 'Ant.,' 13.5. 9; 15.10. 4, 5; 18.1. 2, etc.; Philo, 'Quod Omnis Probus Liber,' see. 12., etc.; Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 5.16, 17.) It is far from unlikely that some of these would be attracted to Christianity; and this especially as some of their principles, as described by Josephus, seem to have been endorsed by Christ himself; and, if so, they would be likely to carry their prejudices with them into the Church, and, when living outside their original communities, they might abstain entirely from flesh as well as wine. Or it might be that other Jews, Essenic in principle and feeling, had sought admission into the Church. Philo, in Eusebius, 'Praep. Evan.,' 8. fin., and Josephus, 'Vit.,' 2. 3, intimate that supra-legal asceticism, under the influence of Essenic principles, was not uncommon in Judaism in their time. The latter (c. 3) speaks of certain priests, his friends, who were so God-fearing that they subsisted on figs and nuts, and (c. 2) of one Banns, who had been his master, who ate no food but vegetables. What is still more to our purpose is that we find evidence of pious ascetics of the same type subsequently among Christians. Origen ('Contra Cels.,' 5.49) speaks of some as living in his time; and even the apostle St. Matthew, and James the Lord's brother, were afterwards credited with a corresponding mode of life. Clement of Alexandria ('Paedag.' 2.1) says of the former, "Matthew the apostle partook of seeds and acorns and herbs, without flesh." Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius ( Matthew 2:23 ), says of the latter that "he drank not wine or strong drinks, nor did he eat animal food; a razor came not upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil; he did not use the bath." It is to be observed that abstinence from ointments was one of the practices of the Essenes (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 8.2. 3). Augustine ('Ad Faust.,' 22.3) transmits the same tradition as to the abstinence of James from flesh and wine. Whatever foundation them might be for these traditions, they at any rate show that in the second century, when Hegesippus wrote, abstinence such as is intimated in this chapter was regarded as a mark of superior sanctity by some Christians. Farther, in the 'Apostolical Canons' (Canon 51.), Christians who abstained from marriage, or flesh, or wine, are allowed to be retained in the communion of the Church as long as they did so by way of religious restraint only. Against the above view of the weak brethren of the chapter before us having been ascetics of the Essenic type, is alleged the strong condemnation of persons supposed to have been of the same sort in Colossians 2:8 , Colossians 2:16 , seq., and 1 Timothy 4:1-5 , which is said to be inconsistent with the tender tolerance recommended here. But the teachers referred to in the later Epistles, though inculcating practices similar to those of the "weak brethren," appear to have been heretical theosophists, the germ probably of later Gnosticism. Their tenets may indeed, in part at least, have been developed from Esseuism; but it was no longer mere conscientious scrupulosity, but principles subversive of the faith, that St. Paul set his face against in writing to the Colossians and to Timothy. Canon 51. in the 'Apostolical Canons' above referred to may be adduced as distinguishing between the principles on which asceticism might be practised allowably or otherwise; it being therein laid down that any who abstained from marriage, flesh, or' wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, should be cast out of the Church.
It remains to be observed that there was diffused among the Gentiles also, through the influence of the Neo-Pythagorean philosophy, an asceticism similar to the Essenic, which Eichhoru supposes the "weak brethren" of this chapter to have been affected by, regarding them as mostly Gentile Christians. But Jewish influences are much more probable; the scruples referred to in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 . were certainly due to them; and observe 1 Corinthians 8:5 in this chapter, which cannot but refer to Jewish observances. Further, Origen, in the treatise above referred to, expressly distinguishes between Christian and Pythagorean asceticism. His words are, "But see also the difference of the cause of the abstinence from creatures having life as practised by the Pythagoreans and by the ascetics among ourselves. For they abstain because of the fable concerning the transmigration of souls;… but we, though we may practise the like, do it when we keep under the flesh and bring it into subjection" ('Contra Cels.,' 4).
But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or thou too, why settest thou at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God (so, rather than of Christ, as in the Textus Receptus). For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God ( Isaiah 45:23 , quoted very freely from the LXX .). So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us therefore no longer judge one another . This concluding appeal is addressed to both parties. In all that follows St. Paul returns exclusively to the more enlightened ones, whose feelings were in accordance with his own; and he now presses a further thought upon them, namely of the harm they might be doing to the very souls of the weak ones by tempting them, either by word or example, to disobey their own consciences. But judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling ( σκάνδαλον ). For the meaning of the word, cf. Luke 17:1 ; Romans:33; Romans 16:17 ; 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; Revelation 2:14 .
Men are prone to pass judgment one upon another. It is a tendency against which we have all occasion to watch. For our habit is to be lenient to ourselves and severe towards others. A corrective to this tendency is to be found in the great fact that all are accountable to God. Remembering this, we shall not, except where the authoritative society, the ordinance of Heaven, requires it, be willing to pass sentence upon our fellow-men.
I. THE FACT OF JUDGMENT . It is a fact to which conscience, and the constitution of human nature and human society, undeviatingly testify. Men sometimes strive to forget it, but seldom venture to deny it.
1. Judgment involves a Divine Judge. God will judge the world by Jesus Christ, a Judge qualified, both by his Divine knowledge and his human sympathy, for fulfilling this awful office.
2. Judgment involves an accountable moral nature on the part of those who are subjected to it. Man is so fashioned that it is just that he should be judged, He has knowledge of right and wrong, power of independent action arising from his voluntary nature, and the capacity to appreciate inducements to righteousness.
3. Judgment, always a fact, will in the future be explicit, pronounced, and manifested. Doubtless the Judge observes, approves, and censures every day; but there will be a period in which this shall be apparent. "The day will declare it!"
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF JUDGMENT . Wherever is a moral nature, amenable to law, there responsibility exists, and there the judicial exercise of Divine authority shall take place. Babes, idiots, madmen, are not subject to moral accountability; but all beside—according to light and privilege—must appear for retribution before the bar of God. None is so high in this world as to be superior to justice; none is so low as to escape it. The omniscience of Deity cannot be deceived; the justice of Deity cannot be evaded.
III. THE INDIVIDUALITY OF JUDGMENT .
1. Each shall stand alone at the bar; every one shall give account of himself. In this sense, "every man shall bear his own burden." For his own character, and for his own acts, shall each separate person be held responsible.
2. None shall escape responsibility by casting blame upon Providence, by pleading that he was not favourably circumstanced, that he was not one of "the elect."
3. Nor can any evade judgment by throwing the blame of his sin upon society. The influence of others makes human life a discipline, but it does not reduce it to irresponsible mechanism.
4. Nor can any escape by casting censure upon the Church. Whether or not professing Christians have done their duty by one another, the fact of individual responsibility remains unaffected.
1. TO all hearers of the gospel this fact is a reason for accepting the good tidings of reconciliation.
2. To all Christians it supplies a motive to watchfulness and diligence.
The general treatment of the ethics of the gospel is concluded, and now the apostle deals with a particular application which the condition of the Church at Rome required. There were some there, a minority probably, who were more or less in subjection to the spirit of the old Judaic economy, making distinctions of meats and of days. And when they came together for the Christian love-feasts, the differences were of awkward consequence. The stronger ones doubted whether they should admit these, so weak in the faith, as they deemed them; the weaker ones were scandalized at the unscrupulousness, as they thought it, of the strong, or perhaps, overborne by the weight of their example, against their own convictions they joined in the common meal. Was there not grievous wrong in this? The stronger ones despising the weak, and overbearing their scruples, by disputations, perhaps by ridicule; the weaker ones, grieved in their hearts, and judging the strong, or otherwise, to their own condemnation, sinking their scruples and joining in the feast? But surely the Divine ethics of the gospel can meet this case: the apostle applies them. He will espouse, not the scruples of the weak, but their weakness, as against the Overbearing ridicule of the strong; but first, to guard himself and them, he will defend the liberty of the strong as against the censorious judgments of the weak.
I. THE DUTY OF THE WEAK . The weaker man had his scruples; his strong judgments as to this or that mode of outward living being right, and this or that wrong. And he was quick to condemn the man whose opinions and practices were unlike his own. Not so, says the apostle.
1. He has another Master. Certainly he has yielded himself to Christ, and Christ, not another, must measure the fidelity of his service. If faithful, he abides his servant; if unfaithful, he falls. But he shall not fall. The heart is right, and even if the freedom of outward observance were a mistaken freedom, Christ is not such a Master as to cast him off for a mistake. No; "he shall be made to stand." Is not this the determining principle of the Christian life? Not the minute observance, right or wrong, but the motive, makes the Christian man. It matters nothing comparatively whether we eat or do not eat, whether we observe days or observe them not, whether we live or die: "none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself." The aim of the whole life is Christ-wards, and the aim, not the details, determines the life.
2. He has another Judge. This follows from the former. If Christ be the Master now, he shall judge the service itself at the last. And if we may not measure the fidelity of another's servant, neither may we pass sentence on his deeds. No; "the day shall declare it, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" ( 1 Corinthians 3:13 ). For it is true that the details of the life will be taken into account, but not by our brethren: "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God."
II. THE DUTY OF THE STRONG . So, then, the weak are warned not to judge the men of liberty; and the men of liberty, men of strength as they thought themselves, are to show their strength by gentleness, and their liberty by self-sacrifice. For the conscience of the weak, if erring, was to be respected, and neither were they to be grieved by a needless exhibition of the liberty of the strong, nor above all led to sin against their convictions by the example or ridicule of the preponderant party.
1. They were not to be grieved. Could the stronger ones ruthlessly cause pain to the scrupulous ones by their own seeming unscrupulousness? That was not walking in love. And for the sake of showing that they could eat meat! Away the thought: this was not God's kingdom. Let them rather know that, eating or not eating, to respect the rights of others, to have peace with all, and to rejoice with a common joy in God,— this was God's kingdom. So also would their spirit commend itself to men and to God. Christians then indeed; as Christ died for the weaker ones, so they sacrificing their liberty for them.
2. They were not to be made to fall . Let them know that, innocent as their eating of flesh might be, it was not innocent to the doubting man, and each one's conscience must approve his own deeds, or he is condemned. Nay, he falls! Oh, surely they were not prepared for that? For this was, not merely to destroy the weak brother's peace and charity of heart, but to overthrow the work of God in him! And all for the sake of meat! Better sacrifice all your liberty than this. Have your faith to yourself; have all tender solicitude for your weak brother's conscience.
Then receive the brother, care for him, sacrifice your freedom for him. For while faith, liberty, strength, are good, the best of all is love!—T.F.L.
The risen Saviour as Lord of the conscience.
The apostle, as we have just seen, has been discussing the neighbourly character of Christian living, and showing that the Christ-like soul will love his neighbour as himself, and do no ill to him. And this leads by an easy transition to the whole class of weak consciences, and how they are to be dealt with. For there are people painfully scrupulous, who have come, for example, to fancy that vegetarianism is the only lawful system of diet; or to fancy that holy days ought to be strictly kept; and there is a terrible temptation for strong-minded people to judge harshly the weaker brethren, and so to bring about endless friction in Church and private relations. It is with this whole practical question that the apostle here deals. Differences of opinion upon non-essentials must not break up the brotherly feeling; and Paul shows with wonderful power where the safety lies. It is in the assertion of Christ's Lordship over the conscience.
I. LET US BE CLEAR ABOUT WHO ARE THE WEAK AND WHO ARE THE STRONG . ( Romans 14:1-6 .) We are all creatures of association, and so some of these primitive Christians came to think that meat which had been offered to an idol was thereby polluted, and so unfit for Christian use. Not knowing, therefore, where the meat offered for sale in the shambles had previously been, and naturally suspecting that it may have been in the idol's temple, they thought it prudent to become strict vegetarians, rather than run the risk of defilement. They would not touch, taste, or handle flesh-meat, but confined themselves to vegetables. Others had no such scruples, but ate whatever was laid before them, asking no questions for conscience' sake. Now, the apostle manifestly regards the scrupulous vegetarians as weaker in conscience than the Christian who allowed none of these scruples to affect him. Again, some were scrupulous about holy days. New moons and set feasts, characteristic of paganism as well as of Judaism, claimed regard from weak and uncertain consciences; while others of stronger make regarded all days as alike. The question as to the Lord's day does not seem to be here involved at all, though Robertson of Brighton has based a whole sermon on the supposition, The over-scrupulous in these instances were the weak; the others, more certain of their line of action, were the strong.
II. THERE IS A GREAT TEMPTATION IN THE STRONG TO RIDICULE THE WEAK . The strong are tempted to despise the weak, to judge and ridicule their scruples; and, if there is not watchfulness, there will be constant friction between them. Now, this is a menace to the peace of the Church; and Paul has hero to guard against it. There is a great danger in the indulgence of scorn. A weak brother, if "roasted" and ridiculed by the stronger, may be made a burden to himself, and his personal peace be sacrificed on the altar of his neighbour's criticism. Hence in this passage Paul argues:
1. There should be as little controversy as possible within the Church. The weak brother is to be received, but not to doubtful disputations. He is not to be involved in profitless disputes. The Church is wise which discourages debates between brethren.
2. There should be mutual respect for conscientious difference of opinion. If each man is fully persuaded in his own mind, as Paul declares he ought to be, then let the weak brother admit that his less scrupulous brother has reached his opinion before God, and that God is the only competent Judge of his conduct, while the strong brother is to give the weak one credit for similar conscientiousness. It is a great matter gained if each lays his brother's case before the Lord, and prays and hopes that God will enable him to stand. It is a great thing gained when we are able to see guilt in contemptuous judgment. £
III. IN THE RISEN SAVIOUR EACH ONE MUST RECOGNIZE THE LORD OF HIS CONSCIENCE . ( Romans 14:7-9 .) To Jesus, our risen Saviour. and to him alone, are we responsible, and so let us live, and die unto him. Now, it is important for us to appreciate the purpose of Christ's death and resurrection. It was no less than this, to secure universal dominion over man both here and hereafter. "The Redeemer's dominion over men is forcibly declared to have been the end of his ministry on earth. The apostle's words are very express and emphatic. To this end that signifies, in language as strong as could be used to note design, that the purpose of the Passion was the attainment of universal dominion over the human race in time and in eternity. To this end, and no other; for this purpose, and nothing short of it; with this design, embracing and consummating all other designs. But we must view it under two aspects—it was a purpose aimed at before the death; in the Resurrection it was a purpose reached. He died that he might have the dominion; he lived that he might exercise it." £ Now, of this mighty realm of the risen Christ, the dead constitute the vast majority. "What, in comparison of the uncounted hosts, numbered only by the Infinite Mind, are the few hundreds of millions that any moment are called the living? It is in the realm of the shades that we contemplate our great family in its vastest dimensions, as it has from the first generation been gaining on the numbers of the living, and swelling onwards to the stupendous whole bound up in the federal headship of the first and second Adam." £ a Now, in all this vast domain, there is but one rightful Lord of the conscience; there may be other lords with dominion, and they may be many; but in the realm of conscience there is only one Lord, and he is the risen Saviour! £
IV. THIS LORDSHIP OF JESUS LEADS DIRECTLY TO THE CHRISTIAN IDEA OF LIFE AS A LIFE UNTO OUR LORD . ( Romans 14:8 .) We cannot live unto ourselves, even if we tried. We cannot coop up our life so as that it should have no relations to any but ourselves. We must live to influence others; we ought to live for the glory of our risen Lord. In the Christian idea of life "nothing is indifferent, nothing self-willed; all is consecrated to Heaven. The scruples of the weak rise from the fear of God, and are, therefore, to be considered sacred; the freedom of the strong rises from the dedication to the Lord, and is, therefore, equally sacred. Life, with its energies and purposes, is one prolonged act of consecration. Death, with its silent endurance and great transition, is a consecration too.'' £ As another has faithfully put it, "As he always exists, as a Christian, in and by his Master, so he always exists for his Master. He has, in the reality of the matter, no dissociated and independent interest. Not only in preaching and teaching, and bearing articulate witness to Jesus Christ, does he, if his life is true to its idea and its secret, 'live not unto himself;' not with aims which terminate for one moment in his own credit, for example, or his own comfort. Equally in the engagements of domestic life, of business life, of public affairs; equally (to look towards the humbler walks of duty) in the day's work of the Christian servant, or peasant, or artisan; 'whether he lives, he lives unto the Master, or whether he dies, he dies unto the Master;' whether he wakes or sleeps, whether he toils or rests, whether it be the term or the vacation of life, 'whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does,' he is the Master's property for the Master's use.
"'Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as to thee.
"A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws
Makes that and th' action fine.'"
V. INSTEAD OF JUDGING OTHERS , WE OUGHT TO THINK OF BEING JUDGED AT THE JUDGMENT - BAR OF JESUS OURSELVES . ( Romans 14:10-12 .) Paul points the lesson home. He would have his readers to give up the judgment-seat and think of the judgment-bar. Better to think how we shall meet Christ's scrutiny ourselves than be contemptuously condemning weak brethren around us. Leave the weak and the strong with the Lord, who is no respecter of persons, and let us judge ourselves only, and make sure of a proper appearing at the judgment-bar of Christ. Thus, when all relations are carried up to the feet of Christ, peace is preserved and progress through self-knowledge secured!—R.M.E.