Introduction to William Romaine's Treatises


There is nothing of which some readers of religious books complain more grievously than that they should be exposed to a constant and wearisome reiteration of the same truths. This objection has sometimes been urged against Mr. Romaine's excellent Treatises on Faith (The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith).

Now, Paul himself admitted that to write the same things was not grievous to himself, however grievous it may have been felt by those whom he was in the habit of addressing. And lest they should have felt his repetitions to be matter of offence or of annoyance, he tries to reconcile them to these repetitions, by affirming that whether they were agreeable or not, at least they were safe. ‘To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.'

A process of reasoning gives a most agreeable play and exercise to the faculties. Yet how soon would such a process, if often repeated, feel stale to the intellectual taste. After having once carried the conviction, it ceases to be any longer needful - and as to the recreation which is thereby afforded to the intellectual powers, nothing is more certain than that the enjoyment would speedily decay, should the very same reasoning and the very same truths be often presented to the notice of the mind, so as, at length, to flatten into a thing of such utter listlessness that no one pleasure could be given and no one power could be awakened by it.

And what is true of a train of argument addressed to the reason is also true of those images and illustrations which are addressed to the fancy. We know of nothing more exquisite than the sensation that is felt when the light of some unexpected analogy, or of some apt and beautiful similitude makes its first entry into the mind. And yet there is a limit to the enjoyment - nor would the attempt to ply the imagination at frequent intervals with one and the same picture be long endured. Both the reason and the fancy of man must have variety to feed upon; and, wanting this, the constant reiteration of the same principles, and the constant recital of the same poetry, would indeed be grievous.

Yet are there certain appetites of the mind which have no such demand for variety. It is not with the affections or the moral feelings as it is with other principles of our nature. The desire of companionship, for example, may find its abundant and full gratification in the society of a very few friends - and often may it happen of an individual that his presence never tires - that his smile is the sunshine of a perpetual gladness to the heart - that in his looks and accents of kindness there is a charm that is perennial and unfading - that the utterance of his name is at all times pleasing to the ear; and the thought of his worth or friendship is felt as a cordial by the hourly and habitual ministration of which the soul is upheld.

When the heart is desolated by affliction, or harassed with care, or aggrieved by injustice and calumny, or even burdened under the weight of a solitude which it feels to be a weariness, who would ever think of apprehending lest the daily visit of your best friend should be grievous because it was the daily application of the same thing? Would not you, in these circumstances, fondly cling to his person, or, if at a distance, would not your heart as fondly cling to the remembrance of him? Would not you be glad to bear up the downward and desponding tendencies of the heart by the thought of that unalterable affection which survived the wreck of your other earthly hopes and earthly interests? Would not you feel it a service if any acquaintance of yours were to conduct him in person to your chamber; and there to bring upon you the very smiles that a thousand times before had gladdened your bosom, and the very accents of tenderness that had often, in days which are past, soothed and tranquillised you? Or, if he cannot make him present to you in person, is not a service still rendered if he make him present to your thoughts? You have no doubt of the alleged friendship, but Nature is forgetful, and for the time being it may not be adverting to that truth which, of all others, is most fitted to pacify and to console it. The memory needs to be awakened to it. The belief of it may never have been extinguished; but the conception of it may be absent from the mind, and for the purpose of recalling it the voice of a remembrancer may be necessary. It is thus that the opportune suggestion of a truth, which has long been known and often repeated, may still the tumults of an agitated spirit, and cause light to arise out of darkness. And who can object to sameness, and to reiteration, in such a case as this?

The same holds true of a moral principle. The announcement of it needs not to be repeated with a view to inform; but it may be repeated with a view to influence, and that on every occurrence of temptation or necessity. Were it our only business with virtue to learn what it is, it were superfluous to be told oftener than once that anger degrades and discomposes him who is carried away by it, and ought to be resisted as alike a violation of duty and of dignity. But as our main business with virtue is to practise it, the very same thing of which by one utterance we have been sufficiently informed, might be often uttered with propriety and effect, in order that we should be reminded of it.

The doctrine of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, which forms the principal and pervading theme in Romaine's Treatises, possesses a prominent claim to a place in our habitual recollections. It is this which ushers into the mind of a sinner the sense of God as his friend and his reconciled Father. That mind which is so apt to be overborne by this world's engrossments; or to lapse into the dread and distrust of a conscious offender; or to go back again to nature's lethargy, and nature's alienation: or to lose itself in quest of a righteousness of its own, by which it might challenge the reward of a blissful eternity, stands in need of a daily visitor who, by his presence, might dissipate the gloom, or clear away the perplexity in which these strong and practical tendencies of the human constitution are so ready to involve it. There is with man an obstinate forgetfulness of God; so that the Being who made him is habitually away from his thoughts. That he may again be brought nigh, there must be an open door of entry by which the mind of man can welcome the idea of God, and willingly entertain it - by which the imagination of Deity might become supportable, and even pleasing to the soul; so that, when present to our remembrance, there should be the felt presence of one who loves and is at peace with us. Now it is only by the doctrine of the cross that man can thus delight himself in God, and, at the same time, be free from delusion. This is the way of access for man entering into friendship with God, and for the thought of God, as a friend, entering into the heart of man. And thus it is that the sound of his Saviour's love carries with it such a fresh and unfailing charm to a believer s ear. It is the precursor to an act of mental fellowship with God, and is hailed as the sound of the aproaching footsteps of Him whom you know to be your friend.

When the mind, abandoned to itself, takes its own spontaneous and undirected way, it is sure to wander from God; and hence, if without effort and without watchfulness, will it lapse into a state of insensibility in regard to him. While in the corrupt and earthly frame of our present tabernacle there is a constant gravitation of the heart towards ungodliness; and, against this tendency, there needs to be applied the counterpoise of such a force as shall either act without intermission, or by frequent and repeated impulses. The belief that God is your friend in Christ Jesus, is just the restorative by which the soul is brought back again from the lethargy into which it had fallen; and the great preservative by which it is upheld from sinking anew into the depths of its natural alienation. It is by cherishing this belief, and by a constant recurrence of the mind to that great truth which is the object of it, that a sense of reconciliation, or the felt nearness of God as your friend, is kept up in the bosom. And if the mind will not, by its own energies, constantly recur to the truth, it is good that the truth should be frequently obtruded on the notice of the mind.

And there is a perpetual tendency in nature not only to forget God, but also to misconceive Him. There is nothing more firmly interwoven with the moral constitution of man than a legal spirit towards God, with its aspirings, and its jealousies, and its fears. Let the conscience be at all enlightened, and a sense of manifold deficiencies from the rule of perfect obedience is altogether unavoidable; and so there is ever lurking in the recesses of our heart a dread and a misgiving about God - the secret apprehension of Him as our enemy - a certain distrust of Him, or feeling of precariousness; so that we have little comfort and little satisfaction while we entertain the thought of Him. Were that a mere intellectual error by which we hold the favour of God to be a purchase with the righteousness of man, and so failing in the establishment of such a righteousness, we remained without hope in the world; or were that a mere intellectual error by which we continued blind to the offered righteousness of Christ, and so, declining the offer, kept our distance from the only ground on which God and man can walk in amity together; then, like any other error of the understanding, it might be done conclusively away by one statement or one demonstration.

But when, instead of a fault in the judgment, which might thus be satisfied by a single announcement, it is a perverse constitutional bias that needs to be at all times plied against, by the operation of a contrary influence - then it might not be on the strength of one deliverance only, but by dint of its strenuous and repeated asseveration, that the sense of God as both a just God and a Saviour is upheld in the soul. This might just be the aliment by which the soul is kept from pining under a sense of its own poverty and nakedness - the bread of life which it receives by faith, and delights at all times to feed upon: and just as hunger does not refuse the same viands by which, a thousand times before, it has been met and satisfied, so may the doctrine of Christ crucified be that spiritual food which is ever welcomed by the hungry and heavy-laden soul, and is ever felt to be precious.

The Bible supposes a tendency in man to let slip its truths from his recollection, and, in opposition to this, it bids him keep them in memory, else he might have believed them in vain. It is not enough that they may, at one time, have been received. They must be at all times remembered. ‘And therefore, says Peter, ‘I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them and be established in the present truth.' To know and to be assured is not enough, it would appear. They may at one time have consented to the words which were spoken, but the apostle presented them anew, in order that they might be mindful of the words which were spoken. Those doctrines of religion which speak comfort, or have an attendant moral influence upon the soul, must at first be learned; but not, like many of the doctrines of science, consigned to a place of dormancy among the old and forgotten acquisitions of the understanding. They stand in place of a kind and valuable friend, of whom it is not enough that he has once been introduced to your acquaintance, but with whom you hold it precious to have daily fellowship, and to be in your habitual remembrance. And this is eminently true of that doctrine which is so frequently reiterated in these Treatises, ‘that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures' .

It is the portal through which the light of God s reconciled countenance is let in upon the soul. It is the visitor that ushers there the peace and glory of heaven, and, forcing its way through all those cold and heavy obstructions by which the legal spirit has beset the heart of proud yet impotent man - it is the alone truth that can at once hush the fears of guilt, and command a reverence for the offended sovereign. No wonder then that its presence should be so much courted by all who have been touched with the reality and the magnitude of eternal things - by all who have ever made the question of their acceptance with God a matter of earnest and home-felt application; and who, urged on the one hand, by the authority of a law that must be vindicated, and on the other, by the sense of a condemnation that, to the eye of nature, appears inextricable, must give supreme welcome to the message that can assure them of a way by which both God may be glorified and the sinner may be safe. It is the blood of Christ which resolves this mystery, and it is by the daily application of this blood to the conscience that peace is daily upheld there. When the propitiation by Christ is out of the mind, then, on the strength of its old propensities, does it lapse either into the forgetfulness of God, or into a fearful distrust of Him. And therefore it is, that every aspiring Christian prizes every intimation and every token of remembrance by which to recall to his mind the thought of a crucified Saviour. And he no more quarrels with a perpetual sense of Him who poured Out His soul unto the death, than he would with the perpetual sunshine of a brilliant and exhilarating day; and just as a joy and a thankfulness are felt at every time when the sun breaks out from the clouds which lie scattered over the firmament - so is that beam of gladness which enters with the very name of Christ, when it finds its way through that dark and disturbed atmosphere which is ever apt to gather around the soul. The light of beauty is not more constantly pleasant to the eye - the ointment that is poured forth not more constantly agreeable in its odour - the relished and wholesome food not more constantly palatable to the ever-recurring appetite of hunger - the benignant smile of tried and approved friendship not more constantly delicious to the heart of man, than is the sense of a Saviour's sufficiency to him of spiritual and new-born desires, who now hungers and thirsts after righteousness.

We know of no Treatises where this evangelical infusion so pervades the whole substance of them as those of Romaine. Though there is no train of consecutive argument - though there is no great power or variety of illustration - though we cannot allege in their behalf much richness of imagery, or even much depth of Christian experience. And, besides, though we were to take up any of his paragraphs at random, we should find that, with some little variation in the workmanship of each, there was mainly one ground or substratum for them all - yet the precious and consoling truths, which he ever and anon presents, must endear them to those who are anxious to maintain in their minds a rejoicing sense of God as their reconciled Father. He never ceases to make mention of Christ and His righteousness - and it is by the constant droppings of this elixir that the whole charm and interest of his writings are upheld. With a man whose ambition and delight it was to master the difficulties of an argument; or with a man whose chief enjoyment it was to range at will over the domains of poetry, we can conceive nothing more tasteless or tame than these Treatises that are now offered to the public.

Yet, in despite of that literary nakedness which they may exhibit to the eye of the natural man, who possesses no spiritual taste,and no spiritual discernment, let such a man have his eye opened to the hidden glories of that theme which of all others was dear to the bosom of their author; and whether from the press or from the pulpit, was the one theme on which he ever loved to expatiate - let the sense of guilt but fasten upon his conscience, and the sure but simple remedy of faith in the blood of Christ recommend itself as that power of God which alone is able to dissolve it - let him be made to feel the suitableness that there is between this precious application and that inward disease of which the malignity and the soreness have now been revealed to him - then, like as it is at all times pleasing when there is laid over a bodily wound the emolient that relieves it, so is it at all time pleasing, whenever the spiritual malady is felt, to have recourse upon that unction by the sprinkling of which it is washed away.. A feeling of joy in the Redeemer will be ever prompting to the same contemplations, and to the utterance of the same things. To a regenerated spirit, that never can be a weariness in time, which is to form the song of eternity.

But it is of importance to remark that the theme on which Mr. Romaine so much loves to expatiate is a purifying as well as a pleasing theme. It is not only not grievous to indulge in it, but, most assuredly, to every true-hearted Christian, it is safe. We are aware of the alleged danger which some entertain of the tendency to such a full and free exhibition of the grace of the gospel, to produce Antinomianism. But the way to avert this is not by casting any part of gospel truth into the shade. it is to spread open the whole of it, and give to every one part the relief and the prominency that it has in Scripture. We are not to mitigate the doctrines of a justifying faith, and an all- perfect righteousness, because of the abuse that has been made of them by hypocrites - but, leaving to these doctrines all their prominency, we are to place by their side the no less important and undeniable truths, that heaven is the abode of holy creatures, and that ere we are qualified for admittance there we must become holy and heavenly ourselves. Nor is there a likelier way of speeding this practical transformation upon our souls than by keeping up there, through the blood of Christ, a peace in the conscience, which is never truly done without a love in the heart being kept up along with it. Those who are justified by faith in the righteousness of Christ, and, in consequence of which, have that peace with God which this Author labours so earnestly to maintain in the mind, walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and that man s faith in the offered Saviour is not real, nor has he given a cordial acceptance to that grace which is so freely revealed in the gospel, if he do not demonstrate the existence of this faith in his heart by its operation in his character. A hypocrite may pervert the grace of the gospel, as he will seek a shelter for his iniquities, wherever it can be found. But because he receives it deceitfully, this is no reason why it should be withheld from those who receive it in truth. The truths which he abuses to his own destruction are nevertheless the very truths which serve to aliment the gratitude and the new obedience of every honest believer, who gives welcome acceptance to all things whatsoever that are written in the book of God s counsel, and finds room enough in his moral system for both of the positions, that he is justified by faith, and that he is judged by works.

[Romaine's Treatises on Faith are now in print once again, published by Jas. Clarke at 30/-, with a new Life of Romaine by P. Toon.]

From The Gospel Magazine January 1970

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