While preaching through Romans 12 the last couple of months I was reminded how helpful Calvin’s commentaries are. Here are a few of my favorite sections of his comments on Romans 12:19-21:
…He [Paul] commands here that however grievously we may be injured, we are not to seek revenge, but to commit it to the Lord. …But he prohibits here, not only that we are not to execute revenge with our own hands, but that our hearts also are not to be influenced by a desire of this kind….
Though it be not indeed lawful for us to pray to God for vengeance on our enemies, but to pray for their conversion, that they may become friends; yet if they proceed in their impiety, what is to happen to the despisers of God will happen to them.
Whatsoever then may be thine ability, in whatever business thy enemy may want [lack] either thy wealth, or thy counsel, or thy efforts, thou oughtest to help him. But he calls him our enemy, not whom we regard with hatred, but him who entertains enmity towards us. And if they are to be helped according to the flesh, much less is their salvation to be opposed by imprecating vengeance on them.
…He who attempts to overcome evil with evil, may perhaps surpass his enemy in doing injury, but it is to his own ruin; for by acting thus he carries on war for the devil.
Romans 12:9a says, “Love must be without hypocrisy” (NET). Matthew Henry said this love is affectionate and respectful. Concerning the latter he wrote,
2) A respectful love: In honor preferring one another (v10b). Instead of contending for superiority, let us be forward to give to others the pre-eminence. This is explained in Phil. 2:3, Let each esteem other better than themselves.
And there is this good reason for it, because, if we know our own hearts, we know more evil by ourselves than we do by any one else in the world. We should be forward to take notice of the gifts, and graces, and performances of our brethren, and value them accordingly, be more forward to praise another, and more pleased to hear another praised, than ourselves….
One of John Newton’s lesser known works is called “A Review of Ecclesiastical History.” It’s a book that basicaly summarizes church history from Christ’s birth until the end of the apostolic era. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I do recommend it.
In one section, Newton discusses the character of the apostle Paul (book 2, chapter 2). This is a great chapter for pastors to read! Here’s a helpful quote by Newton on Paul’s love for Christ – applied to Christian pastors today:
Supported and animated by this love [for Christ], he [Paul] exerted himself to the utmost, in promoting the knowledge of Him whom he loved, and bearing testimony of His power and grace. Nothing could dishearted, or weary or terrify, or bribe him from his duty: and this must and will be universally the leading principle of a faithful minister.
Should a man possess the tongue of men and angels, the finest genius, and the most admired accomplishments, if he is not constrained and directed by the love of Christ, he will either do nothing, or nothing to the purpose; he will be unable to support either the frowns or the smiles of the world. His studies and endeavors will certainly be influenced by low and selfish views. Interest or a desire of applause may stimulate him to shine as a scholar, a critic, or a philosopher – but til the love of Christ rules in his heart, he will neither have inclination nor power to exert himself for the glory of God or the good of souls.
The inseparable effect, and one of the surest evidences of love to Christ, is a love to his people. Of this likewise our apostle exhibits an instructive and an affecting example….”
Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (NASB). Among other things, this verse teaches the value and benefit of self-control. Or, as W. G. T. Shedd preached, this is a “certain kind of temper which should be possessed and cherished by the people of God…in a word, Christian moderation.” In discussing this topic, Shedd noted the source of Christian moderation: love. Note how he talks about the “power of a new affection” and “something strangely powerful and transforming in love.”
Such a spirit [of moderation] as we have been speaking of must have its root in love. The secret of such an even temper is charity; the “charity that suffereth long and is kind, that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil.” No man can have this large-minded, comprehensive, and unshaken equilibrium, who does not love God supremely and his neighbor as himself.
We have already noticed that the wise pagan thinkers had an idea of some such well-balanced temper and spirit. They were painfully conscious of the passionateness of the human soul, and its inclination to rush into extremes—extremes of physical license, and extremes of intellectual license. But they knew no method of curing the evil, and they never cured it. And there was a good reason. They could not generate holy love in their own hearts, or in the hearts of others. The human heart is carnal, and thereby at enmity with God; it is selfish, and thereby at enmity with man.
So long as this is the character of man, it is impossible for him to be “slow to anger” and to “rule his spirit.” The physical appetite will be constantly breaking over its proper limits, the imagination will be lawless, and the understanding proud and opinionated. But the instant the enmity ceases and the charity begins, the selfish passionateness and license disappear. You cannot rule your impulsive spirit, you cannot curb and control your lawless appetites, by a mere volition. You cannot bring all your mental and physical powers into equilibrium by a dead lift. The means is not adequate to the end.
Nothing but the power of a new affection; nothing but the love of God shed abroad in your heart, and the love of Christ sweetly swaying and constraining you, can permanently and perfectly reduce all the restlessness and recklessness of your nature to order and harmony. And this can do it. There is something strangely powerful and transforming in love. It is not limited in its influence to any one part of the soul, but it penetrates and pervades the whole of it, as quicksilver penetrates the pores of gold. A conception is confined to the understanding; a volition stops with the will; but an affection like heavenly charity diffuses itself through the entire man. Head and heart, reason, will, and imagination, are all modified by it.
The revolutionizing effect of this feeling within the sphere of human relations is well understood. …When this [love] springs up in the soul, all the thoughts, all the purposes, all the passions, and all the faculties of the soul are changed by it. And particularly is its influence seen in rectifying the disorder and lawlessness of the soul. Heavenly charity cannot be resisted. Pride melts away under its warm breath; selfishness disappears under its glowing influence; anger cannot stand before its gentle force. Whatever be the form of sin that offers resistance, it inevitably yields before “love unfeigned; love out of a pure heart.” “Charity never faileth,” says the Apostle Paul
There are times in the Christian life when, for various reasons, we don’t feel God’s love. Sometimes the Christian doesn’t feel loved by God because of certain sins committed, because of a brutal affliction that weighs heavy, or because of something else. Andrew Peterson put it this way in his song “Just As I Am”:
“All of my life I’ve held on to this fear / these thistles and vines ensnare and entwine / what flowers appear / it’s the fear that I’ll fall / one too many times / it’s the fear that His love / is no better than mine.”
In a sermon on Micah 7:18-20 Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) answered this fear as he reflected on God’s great mercy (the sermon is called “The Matchless Mercy”). Below is the part of the sermon where Sibbes comments on the phrase in verse 19, “He will again have compassion on us”:
The use hereof is, first, reproof unto such who say, that if their peace be once lost, oh! they shall never have it again, they shall never have comfort, favour, or feeling of God’s love.
But mark our error: we in this case judge God to be like unto a man, who will say, Oh! I will never again love this man, who hath deceived me.
But let us remember that God did foresee all our errors and sins that ever we should commit, before we did commit the same. Now if these our sins, before our calling, which in the course of our life we were to commit, being all before God’s face, could not hinder his love unto us, what folly is it to think that now, after our effectual calling, our sins which he foresaw can stay his mercies from us.
This the apostle aimeth at, Rom. 5:10, ‘For if, whilst we were enemies, we were reconciled unto God by the death of his son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’ So that most certain it is he will turn again and have compassion.
One of my favorite shorter articles on Christian ethics is John Murray’s contribution simply called, “The Christian Ethic.” At one point in this article he discussed how God’s law and love relate in Christian ethics. He gave three specifics: The primacy of love, the priority in love, and the specific nature of the correlation of law and love.
The section I’ll post below made me think of legalism. Legalists are very law-heavy and quick to judge others when it comes to the details of the law. Legalists will quickly condemn Christians, preachers, books, Christian music, and so forth if these things do not measure up to their law-heavy and detailed standards. Legalists are always upset with someone or something and they rarely encourage, help, or share the burden of those who are (in their eyes) inferior. They are quick to complain and condemn, but slow to encourage and help. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say this: the more legalistic a person is, the less he or she truly loves others. The opposite is also true.
Here’s Murray’s discussion of the primacy of love in the law:
Love is primary because only by love can the commandments be fulfilled. Love is emotive, motive, impulsive, and expulsive. It is emotive in that it constrains affection for its object, motive because it is the spring of action, impulsive because it impels to action, expulsive in that it expels what is alien to the interests of its object. We know only too well what a grievous burden is formal compliance with commandments when there is no love. Why is labor so distasteful, why so much heartlessness, and with heartlessness deterioration in quality and the mark of dishonesty on the product? It is because there is no love. Most tragic of all is the evidence of this in the highest of vocations [callings] and the discharge of the most sacred functions. The apostle reminds us: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” [NASB].
Christians mess up and make mistakes. Followers of Jesus sin and don’t always act in a kind and loving way. Sometimes Christians are even difficult to love! However, we as God’s people are called to love each other with a fervent and forgiving love (Col. 3:12-14). Whether in a marriage or between family and friends, Christians must love each other. I like how Thomas Watson talked about this on page 82 of All Things for Good:
We love a saint, though he has many personal failings. There is no perfection here. In some, rash anger prevails; in some, inconstancy; in some, too much love of the world. A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him.
A saint is like a fair face with a scar; we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it. The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars have their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings. You that cannot love one another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?