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Romans 6:15-23 - Homilies By T.f. Lockyer

Servants to obey.

A slight but suggestive difference between the question of Romans 6:15 and that with which the chapter opens. "Shall we continue in sin," the apostle had asked, "that grace may abound?" And he had flung away such a thought by the presentation of the believer's new life as a life pledged to God through Christ. In Romans 6:12-14 also he had insisted on the consistent fulfilment of the pledge. But now he supposes another and more subtle question—Shall we, not "continue" in sin, but sin, once and again, as we may please, presuming on the easily procured pardon of a gracious God? Alas! how this question insinuates itself into the Christian consciousness: how readily we condone our carelessness by thoughts of the restoring mercy of God! But we are grievously wrong if we think to ourselves that sin and obedience may be played with. We have the dread power to choose our master; but he is a master, and our choice in either case commits us to a course, and. to a consequence. The train may be turned on to this line or that, but the line must be followed, and the destinations are wide as the poles apart. Let us look at these three thoughts—A choice, a course, a consequence.

I. A CHOICE . The false doctrine of law in the necessarian scheme of morals—so many weights upon the scale. But man's will is not a dead scale, determined by weights; it is a living thing, and unless its peculiar life be taken into account all calculations must be wrong. True, if we know the causes, we can predict the result, And certain teachers have said—These are the causes: man's own susceptible nature, and the divers influences which play upon it. Therefore, given the temperament and the influences, we can predict the result. Very plausible. True, if these are the only causes, the result may thus be known. But the cause of causes is the will itself. This is the great factor in the problem. And, after all, when the most scientific calculations have been made, this self-determining power in man may defy all your calculations to predict a right result. Let us not attempt to prove this freedom by elaborate arguments; we need but appeal to each one's consciousness. "I know that I am free; I have power of choice; when I have willed, I know that I might have willed otherwise." This must be each one's true confession. Just as surely as we know that we exist, by the same intuition, which is deeper and truer than all reasoning, do we know that we can yield ourselves to any one of all the manifold motives that are playing upon our will. Does not the history of the Fall illustrate this freedom? For what is the essential truth of that history, but that man had it in his power, either to obey God or to gratify himself, and that he chose self-gratification rather than obedience? But the results were not by any means so transient as the choice itself might seem to be. In the highest sense, freedom was gone. There still remained freedom of choice among the various objects of self-gratification, but there was no longer the power to serve God as before. A great gulf was fixed between man and God. And in this consists what is called the total depravity of man: totally separated from God, and without the power to return. And certain, moreover, to drift from bad to worse. But under the redeeming influences with which God visits the heart of man, and more especially in view of the great redeeming fact with which God has visited the world, this total depravity becomes in some sense neutralized, man's enfeebled will receives new power, and it is once more possible for him to place his choice on God. The freedom of true duty is once more within his reach; from the depths he may yet climb back to God. So, then, taking men as they now are, and especially taking them as we find them in contact with the redeeming truths of the gospel of Christ, we see that each has his alternative choice between godliness and ungodliness, truth and falseness: the right and good, and the wrong and bad, or, in the words of St. Paul, between obedience and sin. "Ye yield yourselves:" the supreme fact of every one's life is wrapped up in those words. From childhood upwards good and bad influences contend for the mastery. God and sin ask for our service, and we cannot but "yield ourselves" to the one or the other. We make our choice, whether consciously and with full deliberatenes of purpose, or well-nigh unconsciously and with careless neglect. We choose sin, and thereby' set the seal on our own death; or we choose God, and thereby rise to newness of life. But in either case our own choice determines our course, and the course to which we commit ourselves works out its inevitable consequence.

II. A COURSE . Let us now consider the course to which our choice in either case commits us.

1. In the one case we become servants, or slaves, of sin. Our Lord's words ( John 8:32-36 ). Man may refuse to bow to sin; but when he does bow, sin holds him fast. Nay, he may yet rise from his thraldom and be free; but every yielding is the taking on of a new chain, and every continuance in sin is the rivetting of the chain. The slave of sin? Oh, it is no fiction! The man who yields to sin is led captive by a master stronger than himself. So with the inebriate, the man of passion, the miser. Yes; dragged in chains. And yet it is a "free" man, forsooth, who has thus sold himself to serve sin!

2. In the other case we become servants, or slaves, of obedience. The same law works, whatever the material of its working. Hence the degrading slavery of the servant of sin is but the dark side of the result of that same law which, in its brighter results, is the safeguard and glory of our righteousness. But is not the result slavery still? Ah! let us ask, what is slavery? Mere service—intent, earnest, unremitting service—is not. Service is slavery when it is forced. Contrast the service of a Crusader, and that of a captive among the Moors. It is slavery also when, even if not forced, it is degrading and low. Contrast slave-trader, and pure, virtuous man enthralled. So Epictetus. The service of sin, then, is slavery because it is degrading and base; whereas, to yield obedience to God, and thenceforth to serve him with unremitting ardour and with the enthusiasm of lofty joy, that is not slavery, that is freedom of the highest kind (so John 8:36 ). Yes; this the secret of liberty: the "spirit of a son" ( Galatians 4:6 , Galatians 4:7 ).

III. A CONSEQUENCE . But now let us consider the consequence to which such a course of conduct in either case must lead.

1. "Sin unto death. " Yes, towards this inevitable result the service of sin must tend. A fixity of corrupt character. Recovery of freedom possible now; not always. Death—the death of man's best nature,—this the doom which the service of sin ensures. The victims of Circe: so the slaves of sin. But no wizardry can undo that death!

2. "Obedience unto righteousness. " A fixity again. This the process of all true moral life. So was it to have been with the first man; so was it with the second ("yet learned he obedience "). So, doubtless, with the angels. And so with us: we are fighting towards the crown which Paul desired ( Philippians 3:12 ; 2 Timothy 4:7 , 2 Timothy 4:8 ), the crown of a consummate righteousness, or, in other words Revelation 2:10 ), "the crown of life." Such the two consequences of the two courses, to one or other of which each man, by his free choice, commits himself. But whereas death is the wages of sin, the eternal life is God's free gift.

And to all of us, in words of hope, the voice from heaven says, "Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life! "—T.F.L.

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