"But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
THE apostle, in contrasting the nature and enjoyment of the
two services, passes from that of sin which is indeed a service of bitterness,
to that of righteousness which is a service of delight here - and of enduring
bliss and glory hereafter. It is remarkable that he speaks of holiness as the
fruit, and not as the principle of our service to God - as the effect which
that service has upon the character, and not as the impelling moral power which
led tothe service.
And this accords with the observations that we made on the various clauses of the19th verse - where they who had yielded their members servants to iniquity, are, represented as having thereby reaped fruit unto iniquity - or in other words, as having, by their own sinful work, aggravated and confirmed the sinfulness of their own characters. And, on the other hand, they who had yielded their members servants to righteousness, are represented as having reaped thereby fruit unto holiness - or, in other words, they, by doing, and that on a direct feeling of obligation or at the bidding of a direct authority, that which was right, they, by giving an obedient hand to the work of righteousness, rectified their own moral frames; restored to themselves that image of holiness in which they were originally formed; became saints in taste and principle, from being at the first rather only saints of performance. The obedience of the hand reached a sanctifying influence upon their hearts; and a perseverance in holy conduct made them at length to be holy creatures.
This is the very process laid down in the verse before us. In virtue of having become servants to God, they had their fruit unto holiness. We have no doubt that there is a germ of holiness, at the very outset of the new life of the new creature in Christ Jesus. But still a coarser principle of it, if I may be allowed the expression, may predominate at the first; and the finer principles of it may grow into establishment afterwards. The good things may be done, somewhat doggedly as it were, at the will of another; but the assiduous doing of t.he hand may at length carry along with it the delight of the heart, and the same good things be done at our own will. It may become at length a more spontaneous and pleasurable service; and this certainly marks a stage of higher and more saintly advancement in personal Christianity. It evinces a growing assimilation to God - who does what is right, not in force of anothers authority; but who does what is right, in force of the free and original propensities of His own nature to all that is excellent.
And in like manner does it forward our resemblance to Him - when, on our first becoming subject to His imperative control, we at length like the service which we aforetime laboured in - when that way, to which at His word of command we have betaken ourselves, becomes a way of pleasantness - when that path, to which we constrained our footsteps because He had prescribed it, is felt by us to be a path of peace. By such a blessed progress of sanctification as this, do we at length cease to be servants and become sons; the Spirit of adoption is shed upon us; and we feel, even here, somewhat of the glorious liberty of Gods own children. A thing of labour is transformed into a thing of love.Our duty becomes our inclination. And, by the heart and spirit being enlisted thereinto, what was before of constraint is now of congeniality and most willing accord. The feeling of bondage wears away; and that which might once have been felt as a burden, is now felt as the very beatitude of the soul.
It is thus that the process of the text is realised; and when the transition is so made that the work of servitude becomes a work of felicity and freedom - then is it that man becomes like unto God, and holy even as He is holy. One most important use to be drawn from this argument is, that you are not to suspend the workof literal obedience, till you are prepared by the renewal that has taken effect on the inner man, for rendering unto God a thoroughly spiritual obedience. There are some who are positively afraid of putting forth their hand on the work of the commandments at all, till they are qualified for the service of God on sound and evangelical principles.
Now, in every case, it is right to be always doing what is agreeable to the will of God. There may be a mixture at first of the spirit of bondage - there may be a remainder and taint of the leaven of legalism - there may be so much of natures corrupt ingredient in it at the outset, that the apostle would say of these babes in Christ who had just set forth on their new career, "I speak unto you not as unto spiritual but as unto carnal." Yet still it is good to give yourselves over, amid all the crude and embryo and infant conceptions of a young disciple, to the direct service of God. Break loose from your iniquities at this moment. Turn you to all that is palpably on the side of Gods law. Struggle your way to the performance of what is virtuous, through all those elements of obscurity and disorder which may fluctuate long in the bosom of a convert. Do plainly what God bids, and on the direct impulse too of Gods authority; and the fruit of your thus entering upon His service, will be the perfecting at length of your own holiness - such a holiness as shall be without spot and wrinkle - purified from the flaw of legal bondage, or of mercenary selfishness - a holiness that finds its enjoyment in the service itself, and not in any remuneration that is distinct from or subsequent to the service - a holiness that is upheld, not by the future hope of the great reward which is to come after the keeping of the commandments; but a holiness upheld by the present experience, that in the keeping of the commandments there is a great reward. Yet mark it well, my brethren, that not till you are made free from sin, can you enter even upon the first rudiments of a fruitful and acceptable obedience - not till you are delivered from him, who, like the executioner for a debt, could at anytime seize upon all your gains, and thus render all care and effort and industry on your part of no avail.
The analogy holds between him who has the power of pursuing you with diligence, because of what you owe; and him who has the power of inflicting death as the condemnatory sentence upon you, because of what you have incurred as a transgressor of the law. The man who has not gotten his discharge, is bereft of every motive to economy or to labour - because the creditor is on his watch, to lay hold of the entire proceeds; and, by every movement he makes towards him, he can add to the expense of the business, and so plunge him into more hopeless and irretrievable circumstances than before. And so it is of the great adversary of human souls - invested with power as the grim executioner of the sentence; -and invested also with the power of aggravating that sentence, by the corrupt sway that he has over the affections of his enslaved votaries, by the command which belongs to him as the god of this world over all the elements of temptation, by his ill-gotten empire in the heartsof the fallen posterity of a fallen ancestor.
To be freed from this hateful tyranny, there must be recourse to Christ as your surety - so that this arch-bailiff shall no longer have the right to pursueyou, for the heavy arrears of all the negligence and all the misconduct that are past; and there must also be recourse upon Christ as your strength and sanctifier - so that this arch-betrayer, shall be as little able to subjugate you to the power of sin as to exact from you its punishment. So that faith, and justification by faith, and our interest in that promise of the Spirit which is given to faith - this after all forms the great introductory step to a life of hearty, because to a life of hopeful obedience. A more literal obedience at the first, maybe the stepping-stone to a more spiritual obedience afterwards - but faith is the essential stepping-stone to all obedience.
Without faith, the sense of a debt, from which you are not yet free, will ever continue to haunt and to paralyse you. Without faith, God remains the object., not of love, but of dread; and thus an immovable interdict is laid upon the service of the affections. Without faith, all the helps and facilities of obedience are withheld from the soul; and the weary unproductive struggle of him who is not yet freed from the law which is the strength of sin, terminates, either in a deceitful formality, or in the abandonment of a task now felt to be impracticable, or finally in the utter wretchedness of despair. Faith opens a gate of conveyance through all these obstructions. It cancels the bond that was before felt as a dead weight on all the energies of an aspiring reformation. It gives the feeling that now obedience is not in vain; and that the labour of serving God, instead of having all its acquisitions wrested away as by the hand of an unrelenting creditor on the moment that they are made, is now productive of a fruit that is realised in time and that endures through eternity. Like the discharged bankrupt, can the believer who is freed from sin, now count upon the gains of his diligence, and may therefore set himself anew to save and to strive for treasure that he is permitted to enjoy. Faith is the starting-post of obedience; but what I want is that you start immediately - that you wait not for more light to spiritualise your obedience; but that you work for more light, by yielding a present obedience up to the present light which you possess - that you stir up all the gift which is now in you; and this is the way to have the gift enlarged - that whatever your hand findeth to do in the way of service toGod, you now do it with all your might:
And the very fruit of doing it because of His authority, is that you will at length do it because of your own renovated taste. As you persevere in the labours of His service, you will grow in the likeness of His character. The graces of holiness will both brighten and multiply upon you. These will be your treasures, and treasures for heaven too, - the delights of which mainly consist in the affections and feelings and congenial employments of the new creature.We gather from the text, what is the great and practical business of a Christian in the world. It is to perfect his holiness. The promises he lays hold of by faith. The future blessedness and the present sanctification are both held out to him as a gift, at the very moment of his first contact with the overtures of the gospel. There is a free pardon - there is an all-perfect righteousness for his valid claim upon Gods favour - there is a renewing and a strengthening spirit - All these are gratuitously stretched forth to him for his acceptance; and his business, and the business of you all, is now, even now, to put on the investiture of these various privileges.
And mark how the apostle lays down the career of activity for a disciple, as a thing subsequent to all this, and emanating out of all this - " Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting our holiness in the fear of God."
And it is of importance to advert here, to the place that the fear of God has in this process of your advancing sanctification - as harmonising with the text, that, by becoming the servants of God ye have your fruit unto holiness. You begin the new obedience of the gospel, more at first in the spirit and with the fearfulness of servants - more under the impulse of Gods rightful authority over you - more perhaps at His bidding than at your inclination - more from a sense of duty to your hands in the employment of an instant task, to which you may perhaps feel prompted at the outset by something even of a legal fear towards God. But no matter - should it be the task that goes to perfect your holiness, it will perfect also your love; and then will you be conclusively delivered from the spirit of all legalism or bondage or carnality, and have that affection in your bosom which casteth out fear.
And I should like you to know the precise import of the term holiness. It has been defined to be all moral and spiritual excellence. But this does not just exhaust the meaning of the term. It is not just virtue, even in the most comprehensive sense of the word, as including in it all that one absolutely ought to be, both in reference to God and to all the creatures of God. To turn virtue into holiness, a reference must be had to the opposite of virtue - even sin; and then does virtue become holiness, when, in addition to its own positive qualities, we behold with what sudden and sensitive aversion it recoils from the contamination of its opposite.
Thus it is, my brethren, that had there been no sin there would have been no sacredness. There might have been love and rectitude and truth, exalted to all that infinity which they have in the Godhead; and filling too, according to the measure of his capacity, every one being that had sprung from the creative hand of the Divinity. But, in order that the Divinity or any subordinate creature shall make an exhibition of sacredness - it must be seen how it is that he stands affected by.the contemplation of sin; or by the approach of sin to his presence. And then it is that we witness the characteristic display of God in the holiness, or of God in the sacredness that belongs to Him - when we read of the eyes which are so pure that they cannot look upon iniquity - when we read of a sanctuary so remote from all fellowship with evil, that it is there impossible for evil to dwell - when we read of God in the awful jealousies, and of God in the unconquerable repugnance of His nature to sin; of the grief and the hostility and the indignation wherewith it is regarded bythe Spirit of the Deity - So that should it offer to draw nigh, all Heaven would shrink at its coming; or fire would go forth from the place where His Honour dwelleth, to burn up and to destroy.
Holiness is virtue, regarded in the one aspectof its separation from all that is opposite to virtue.It is thus that the attributes of clean and pureand untainted are given to it - free from all spot, because free from all mixture or vicinity with sinfulness. The vessels of the temple were holy, because, set apart from common use, they were consecrated, and that exclusively, to the solemn and separate services of a divine ritual.
But the most striking of all the historical demonstrations that we have, of the deep and determined recoil that there is between a holy God and a sinful world, is, when He gave it in charge to set bounds about mount Sinai and to sanctify it - through which neither the priests nor the people were to pass, lest the Lord should break forth upon them.
From this explanation, you will see how the fruit of holiness arises out of the cleansing of yourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit.The deeds of impurity must be given up at Gods bidding, even though the urgency of His command should carry you beyond what you would have been carried to, by your own detestation of impurity. You, at the outset of your new course, make a wider departure from iniquity than your own dislike to iniquity would prompt you to. But then, this reformation of the outer man will tell upon the inner man. As you keep your fearful distance from evil, your dread and your delicacy against it will augment upon you; and it is just by this reflex influence of the habit upon the heart that its holiness is perfected. And this view of holiness, as consisting of virtue or moral excellence in its quality of uncompromising and unappeasable enmity to sin, harmonises with the character that is held out of heaven - as being a place so inviolably sacred that nothing unclean or unrighteouscan enter thereinto. 0 how it ought to chase away from our spirit all the delusions of antinomianism - when told, as we are, what is the atmosphere of that place whither the disciples of Jesus are going; and how it is not possible for sin so much as to breathe in it! What a spur to diligence in the great work of purifying ourselves even as that upper paradise is pure, in which we hope to spend an eternity; and how busy might we be at all the branches of our spiritual education, when we think that we shall be found unmeet for admittance into the great spiritual family, unless we are found without spot and blameless in the day of Jesus Christ!
It is thus that in our text, holiness here is the essential stepping-stone, or the indispensable path of conveyance to heaven hereafter. And as surely as the end of sin is death, so surely the end of holiness is life everlasting.We have already adverted to the spiritual character of hell; and have affirmed that the wretchedness thereof, was mainly composed of spiritual elements. And, in like manner may we advert to the spiritual character of heaven; and as surely affirm of it, that the happiness which is felt and circulated there, is mainly composed of spiritual elements. It lies in the play and exercise of pleasurable affections - in the possession of a heart now thoroughly emancipated from all its idolatries, and attuned to the love of that which is most worthyof love - in the well-poised and well-constituted mechanism of the soul, that now moves in duteous and delightful conformity to the will of that mighty Being on whom all is suspended - in the conscious enjoyment of His favour, sensibly expressed by such indications of benignity and regard, as will pour into the bosom unutterable extacy in the raptured contemplation of all the glory and all the gracefulness, that are spread out before the mental eye on the character of the Divinity - in the willing accordancy of honour and blessing and praise, not merely to Him who sitteth supreme on a throne of majesty, but to Him who paved for sinners a way of access into heaven, and consecrated it by His blood. And songs of eternal gratitude and gladness will ever and anon be lifted there; and it will be the spiritual jubilee of beatified spirits that is held there; and the clear ethereal element of holiness will be all that is breathed there; and, altogether, it will not be a sensual, but a moral paradise - where righteousness will be the alone recreation, and the service of God be the very cordial and nutriment of the soul.
And how is it possible, we again ask, that there can be any other way to such a habitation there, than the way here of aspiring and progressive holiness! What other education can fit us for such an eternity as this - but the education of virtuous discipline, and guarded purity, and determined watchfulness against that sin wherewith the sacredness of the upper regions can have no fellowship? If heaven above would recoil from all contact with the pollutions of the world that is below, then surely, we who are aspiring toward that heaven, should keep our assiduous distance from them. The way of the disciple here, should be as distinct and as distinguishable from that of a child of this world, as the places are in which they will spend their eternity; and if it be through the way of sin that the one reaches his abode of death and condemnation, so surely must the other keep on the way of holiness, ere he can reach the abode of life everlasting.
Ver. 23. It is of importance here to remark the contrast which the apostle expresses in this verse, as to the manner of these two successions - how it is, on the one hand, that death follows in the train of sin; and how it is that everlasting life follows in the train of holiness. He had before likened the transition from the one state to the other, to a transition from the service of one master to the service of another master. And he before told us that he had done so, on a principle of accommodation to the yet remaining carnality of their feelings and conceptions upon the whole subject. They were still infected with the spirit of legalism.They were still most familiar with the illustration of work and wages; and, accustomed as they were to the transition of a bond slave from one master to another, they could readily seize on that comparison - by which Paul urged upon them their emancipation from the authority of sin regarded as their old tyrant, and their allegiance to righteousness regarded as their new and lawful superior.
But he now adverts to a difference between the two services, which it is of importance for us all to apprehend. The death that comes after sin comes as the wages of sin. Everlasting life, coming though it must do, after holiness, comes not as the wages of holiness. It is a gift. On this footing must it be received at the last; and on this footing must it now be looked forward to by the expectants of immortality. As to the first of these successions, namely sin and death as the wages of sin, - the very term wages, is expressive of the one, as being the fit remuneration of the other. We are thereby informed of death being rightfully the punishment of sin, or being due to it in the way of desert.
I have already endeavoured to show, that there is nothing in the tyranny of sin over the affections, that can at all exempt us, its helpless slaves, from the condemnation to which sinners are liable - that the very strength of our inclinations to that which is evil just makes us the more atrocious, and therefore the more punishable - that had the necessity in question been a necessity against the will to do wickedly, there might have been cause shown why sentence of death should not be passed against us; but when that necessity just lies in the very bent and determination of the will towards wickedness, then is it a circumstance of aggravation, instead of an apology, for our transgressions against the lawof God. Let no man say because of the depravity of his own heart, and the unresisted ascendancy of sin over it, that he is tempted of God. The fact is that he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed; and the death, which is laid upon him as a penalty, is as much the natural as it is the penal effect of his own conduct.
In being enveloped with the atmosphere of hell on the other side of the grave, because of his character on this side of it, he is simply filled with the fruit of his own ways - he is just reaping that which he has sown. And as necessarily as anger disquiets, and envy corrodes, and avarice chills, and inordinate desire shakes the spirit into phrensy - as necessarily as the fierce or malignant passions of our nature, like so many tormentors whips, serve to scourge or to agonise - so necessarily, as well as meritoriously, does their entrance into hell hereafter, follow in the train of all the iniquity that is unrepented of and unturned from. And as hell is just the place suited naturally for sin, so heaven is just the place that is naturally suited for holiness. But while hell is both naturally and meritoriously the place for sin - heaven is naturally only and not meritoriously the place for holiness. Heaven is not so earned by man. It is given to him. And you should advert to the distinction so palpably, here held out by the apostle - that whereas death is rendered to the sinner on the footing of wages that are due to him, eternal life is rendered to the believer on the footing of a gift that is simply and freely bestowed upon him.
But mark in the first place - that the circumstance of heaven being a gift, does not supersede the necessity that there is for holiness going before it. It may take away from the merit of holiness; but it does not take away from the need of holiness.The man who comes to the marriage feast must have on the marriage garment; though it is not the simple act of putting on that garment, which entitles him to a seat among the guests. His titlethere is simply the invitation that he has gotten; and yet it is quite indispensable that he comes suitably arrayed. He may not be able even to purchase the requisite vestments; and should these too have to be provided for him - should even the very dress in which he comes have to be given to him, as well as the entertainment that is set before him after he does come - It may both be true, that without the dress he could not have been admitted; and also, that, poor and defenceless outcast as he was, he owes nothing whatever to himsel f - that all had to be given; and he, ere he could partake of that feast by which heaven is represented. in the New Testament, had to be clothed by anothers wealth as well as regaled by anothers bounty.
Now this is just the way in which the everlasting life, that none can obtain without being holy, is nevertheless a gift. It is of grace and not at all of works. It is all of grace from the first to the last - for the very holiness is given; and while of all sin it may be said that it is our own, because drawn away to it of our own lusts and enticed - of holiness it may be said that it is not of ourselves, but that good and perfect gift which cometh down from above. And as eternal life being a gift, does not supersede the need of holiness - so holiness being a gift, does not supersede the need that there is for your own stirring, and your own painstaking, and all the diligence both of your performances and your prayers. Still the progress is just as has already been set forth to you, from such small doings as you are able for at the first, to your growth in grace and in holiness afterward.
And yet, even for the small doings, an influence from on high must have been made to rest upon you. It is by power from heaven that the work is begun; and it is by power from the same quarter that the work is carried forward, even unto perfection. In other words you cannot pray too early. Turn me and I shall be turned, may be a most pertinent and a most availing cry even at the outset of your conversion. You cannot too soon mix up dependence upon more grace, with diligence in the use of all the grace that has already been imparted. When you do whatever your hand findeth to do, you are only stirring up the gift that is in you; and if faithful in turning to account all that you do have, and watchful and prayerful for more, it is thus, that, from the more rude and literal services which you are enabled to render at the outset of your new obedience, you are conducted to the higher attainments of the spiritual character, and have your fruit unto an ever-advancing holiness.
And Christ is all in all throughout this entire process. He purchased the inheritance, and He makes you meet for it. He has gone to prepare a place for you there, and He prepares you here for the place. It is through Him that the Spirit is given in answer to your prayers; and while nothing more true than that you must have the fruit of holiness ere you can have eternal life, it is just as true that eternal life, both in its preparations and in its rewards, is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Go to Lecture 38
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