Two Great Commandments

THE Twelfth Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans is usually regarded as a section complete in itself. The thirteenth chapter, or at least the first ten verses of it, might perhaps be taken in as part of the section. The topic there discussed, - which is, the duty of Christians as members of civil society - the obedience which they owe to their civil rulers and the obligations under which they lie to their fellow-subjects, - fits in well enough to those which occupy the twelfth chapter. And the pithy and emphatic maxim about charity or love, - " Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law," - would form a not unsuitable close to a series of practical lessons which all turn on the cultivation of that grace or virtue of love, in the different forms or modifications of it which different relations and circumstances require. I am inclined, however, to adhere to what seems to be the ordinary opinion. The thirteenth and subsequent chapters embrace several questions of a somewhat casuistical nature, and of rather difficult solution, apt to arise in particular states of the Church and the world. The twelfth is quite general and comprehensive. It is not of course to be disconnected from the preceding and following portions of the Epistle, - especially from the preceding. But as a summary of Christian ethics, it is, when taken by itself, an entire whole ; - having, if I may so say, its own beginning, middle, and end.
Considered in that light, the summary has always commanded the warm admiration, not of divines only, but of moralists also ; - and is, indeed, rather a favourite with a class of persons who are fond of praising the preceptive part of Christianity at the expense of those peculiar dogmas which they regard as hard and mystical. Even Christian readers themselves, perhaps, have been apt to feel as if the moral beauty and simplicity of the exhortations of this chapter were a relief:, after the more abstruse matters of doctrine which have strained and taxed their attention so severely in what goes before.

One object of the present volume is to modify any such impression, and to show how thoroughly the ethics of the Gospel are impregnated with the spirit of its theology. Not merely does the word of connection or inference in the first verse, - " therefore," - warrant the general conclusion, that it is upon the views given in the previous chapters of the Divine Sovereignty, first in the grace of justification, and then in the grace of election, that the precepts of the present chapter all hang ; - but when these precepts come to be examined in detail, they are found, one and all of them, to embody the principle, that man's right conduct, in all the relations in which he is placed, consists essentially in his knowing, and believing, and sympathizing with what may be called the conduct of God; insomuch that, in every instance, man feels and acts rightly just in proportion as he understands, by divine teaching, how God himself feels and acts in his great plan of saving mercy. I believe that what is required of me, in every department of duty, is, that, on the one hand, I apprehend God's sovereign grace, in his justification of the unrighteous through faith in the righteousness of his Son, and in his choice and calling of the unworthy and the unwilling according to his own mere good pleasure; and then, on the other hand, that apprehending this sovereign grace in its immediate personal application to me, and as ruling God's treatment of me, I enter into the spirit of it, and apply it myself to all with whom I have anything to do, for the ruling of my treatment of them. Now these are the two themes which occupy the whole doctrinal part of the Epistle ; - the sovereignty of God's grace in justification, and the sovereignty of his grace in election and vocation; - the one being discussed in the first eight chapters, and the other in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh. I assume the teaching of these chapters upon both of these views of God's grace; and I endeavour, with reference to the twelfth chapter as a whole, and with reference to its precepts in detail, to bring out the amazing harmony and identity that there are between that grace of God and every duty which, on the ground of it, he requires of them that believe.

The plan which I have adopted, dividing the chapter into three parts, is explained and vindicated as I proceed from verse to verse in my exposition. It is not necessary to enter upon a formal defence of it beforehand; I trust to its approving itself in the course of its detailed development.. I may observe, however, that down to the end of the eighth verse, there is little or no room for doubt. Believers are in the first place (ver. 1, 2), summoned to a personal dealing, each for himself, directly and immediately with God.. They are to consecrate themselves to God, and separate themselves from the world, for the proving of the will of God; and this they are to do as individuals, - not jointly, but severally.

Then, in the second place, (ver. 3 - 8,) they form themselves, or find themselves formed, into a collective body, in which they have all their separate gifts, and functions, and offices; while yet such order and mutual subordination reign that they all act in harmony, - not only severally, but jointly also. Thus far, the arrangement is clear enough. After the eighth verse, however, there might at first sight seem to be a mere miscellaneous string of good advices, some having reference to the Christian's duty in the Church, others to his duty towards the world, and others again partly to both, but all mingled together, as one would say, very much at random. Thus the ninth verse brings in the duty of universal charity, or love, in the midst of precepts evidently bearing upon the fellowship of Christians as such; whereas again in the fifteenth and sixteenth verses, or at all events in the latter, we have what looks like a counsel of Christian brotherhood, while both before and after the teaching refers to the treatment of persecutors.

Hence I believe the notion has come to prevail, that beyond the first eight verses there is no exact order to be traced in the chapter. I am persuaded that this is a mistake, and that it has led to an inadequate interpretatipn, to say the least, of some of the verses in question. I have endeavoured to show how the introduction of the general commandment of love (ver. 9) qualifies the special commandment of brotherly love (ver. 10); and also how the enjoining of sympathy (ver. 15), and even apparently of unanimity (ver. 16),. is very much to the purpose in considering how a hostile world is to be treated. I look at those precepts which appear to be out of their place, and inquire what, supposing that they are in their place, is their bearing in the connection in which they actually stand; and in doing so, I begin to find in them a force and point not otherwise observed. I trace an orderly sequence in the whole train of thought, as the writer would lead believers in Jesus to apprehend what they are to God, as his peculiar people; what they are in respect of their union among themselves, and their organization into one body, for the purposes of fellowship and of work; and what they are in respect of their position in a hostile world, and the duties which they owe to "them that are without."

It is this view that has reconciled me to the Title suggested by a friend for my treatise. I do not profess formally to discuss the "two great commandments" in connection with my theme. But having sought to enter into the meaning of Paul's ethical directory, without any immediate reference to the Lord's summary, I have noticed with much interest how the law or principle of love, given forth as a pure ray of light from the Sun of Righteousness, is as it were broken up in its application to the details of duty ; - how, as if he were giving a practical commentary on his Master's saying, the Apostle brings out the working of supreme. love to our God in self-consecration, transformation, and obedience; and brings out also the working of equal love to our neighbour, - our loving him as ourselves, - in Christian brotherhood among believers, and Christian humanity towards all men.

There is no attempt in this work to deal with the chapter critically, or even, in the strict sense, exegetically. If that had been my aim, I must have discussed some questions of interpretation which I have not even raised, and dwelt upon some sentences and clauses on which I have only slightly touched. It is to be remembered, however, that there are not any considerable critical or exegetical difficulties in the passage.

Of the various readings, two only are noticeable, not for any force of external evidence in their favour, - the weight of manuscript authority, both in quantity and in quality, being decidedly against them ; - but because they illustrate the way in which alterations of the text have sometimes crept in, through the prejudice or erroneous judgment of transcribers. Thus in the thirteenth verse, some copies have, instead of distributing or ministering to the "necessities" of saints, ministering to their "memories"; - an alteration evidently savouring of that undue reverence for the departed which early began to prevail in the Church, and ultimately became worship.

Again at verse eleventh, the clause, serving "the Lord," is in a considerable number of manuscripts, serving "the time," or "season" . The copyist apparently thought that the idea of "serving the Lord" was too general to come in among the specific directions with which it is joined, and therefore be made it "serving the time," - that is, acting in conformity or in obedience to the time or season; an injunction not very appropriate or emphatic, and not very much in accordance with what Paul elsewhere says about being diligent in season and out of season. That the received text, as it stands, has a relevant meaning, I have endeavoured to show.

Much has been made, in former times, by theologians, both Romanist and Protestant, of the expression in the sixth verse, "the proportion" or the analogy "of faith." It has been used, in fact, as a sort of proof text to support a principle of interpretation of very wide application, and requiring somewhat delicate handling. The principle is this, - that in fixing the meaning of any particular passage, regard is to be had to the general strain of the teaching of Scripture, and of the system of truth as understood and held by the Church Catholic. However sound the principle may be, within due limits, it derives support from the passage now in question; in which it cannot be an objective measure or standard of faith that is intended, but rather the inward, subjective kind, or amount of conviction which a man has in himself. Having formed that opinion, I have not deemed it needful to dwell on the phrase, "the proportion of faith," or to discuss the principle of interpretation which it has been supposed to countenance; since I take it to mean simply that he who prophesies should in doing so go to the full extent of the faith wrought in him, or, as I have expressed it, should prophesy - " believing all that he says, and saying all that he believes" (see page 119). I am glad to find that I may appeal in support of my opinion to so high an authority as Alford.

Had my plan been different from what it is, I must have gone much more fully into the consideration of the topic treated of in the fourth and following verses, taken in connection with Paul's teaching in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, (ch. xii.,) where the same subject is handled at greater length. I am aware that I have thus been led to omit some topics of interest regarding the constitution and organization of the Church, whether viewed as an unseen, spiritual fellowship, or as an outstanding society in the world. But the discussion of these topics would have drawn me away from the more immediate design of the Apostle's discourse; which is not to lay down an ecclesiastical platform, but to enforce personal obligations.

For much the same reason, I have dealt somewhat summarily with the phrase in the twentieth verse, "coals of fire," or "burning coals ;" contenting myself with a single reference to the passage in the Old Testament which the Apostle manifestly has in view (Prov. xxv. 21, 22). Several other Old Testament texts might have been exegetically examined, and might have been found very much to the purpose. An inquiry of deepest interest would thus have been opened up, into the harmony of the teaching of both Testaments, not only as to the penal justice of God, but as to the sentiments with which his saints regard the execution of its righteous awards. The inquiry, however, would demand, and deserve, a separate treatise. It would demolish, I am persuaded, the notion of there being any real difference between the Christian dispensation and those which preceded it, on the subject of God's treatment of his enemies and his people's acquiescence and sympathy therein; and would make it clear, that, with all the fuller discoveries of his love which we have in the Gospel, we are called all the more on that account to realize, for ourselves and for others, the dark, overhanging cloud of ultimate retribution.

But any such discussion as that would have led me away from the line I had prescribed to myself. Of the texts indicated, it is enough to say, that since they, one and all of them, apply the phrase exclusively to the infliction of judicial vengeance, for the vindication of the righteous and the punishment of the ungodly, they confirm the opinion that we cannot interpret the Apostle's precept (ver. 20) as if it contemplated only a good issue of kindness shown to an enemy; that its meaning is not exhausted unless we hold it to have fully in view the possibility of the issue being exactly the reverse.

What I wish to be understood, in short, is, that the present treatise is entirely practical. The Discourses when preached were meant to be practical; and they are published nearly as they were delivered. When I call them practical, however, I mean practical in an evangelical point of view. I endeavour, throughout, to carry the stream of sound doctrine through all the departments of duty that I have to survey. In particular, as the chapter begins with a pointed reference to Sacrifice, and ends with a very solemn appeal to Judgment, so I think there is a propriety in viewing the whole of this brief code of Christian ethics, as well as every part of it, in the light of those high attributes of the Divine character, and those great principles of the Divine government, of which the first and second advents of Christ may be said to be the exponents. I start with the assumption of the Atonement made by Christ at his first coming being a real satisfaction to Divine justice, through his real substitution of himself in the room of the guilty who are obnoxious to justice. And I can find no meaning in the very solemn closing verses of the chapter unless they involve the reality of wrath and retribution, to be consummated when the Lord cometh again. I solicit special attention, in this view, to the last two or three Discourses in the volume. For, however modern theological refinement may shrink from any notion of righteousness that is not remedial, and any notion of punishment that is not resolvable into correction, I am fully persuaded that it is fatal, not less to the high and healthy tone of Christian morals than to the living power and influence of Christian faith, to repudiate or keep in the back-ground the doctrine or fact of judicial retribution. That doctrine, or fact, I take to be the essence of law and government. Without it, neither the Divine sovereignty nor human responsibiity, - neither the sovereignty which is God's prerogative as a moral ruler, nor the responsibility which is man's dignity as a free moral agent, - can, in my opinion, be safe. On any system which excludes that element, God is dishonoured, and man must in the long run be degraded. I recognise it alike in the theology and in the ethics of Paul.
R.S.O. EDINBURGH, February 1860.

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