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Romans 7:14-25 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar

The principle of progress through antagonism.

In last section we saw how the soul is awakened through the Law. This Law-work is a necessity of our times. And now we have to notice how the soul is kept awake by the antagonism going on within. For the gospel is not intended to promote at any time satisfaction with self. So far from this, it is a plan for subordinating self to its rightful Sovereign, the Saviour. And so we are not only put out of conceit with ourselves in conviction and conversion, but kept out of self-conceit by the law of Christian progress. In this section, as in other portions of his Epistles, the apostle reveals this law as that of antagonism. The impaired Spirit proves himself a militant Spirit. The special tendencies in the wild heart of man are met and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and to this war within the Christian has to reconcile himself. In fact, he is not right until this campaign of the Spirit is begun. It will help us to the proper idea to look at the law of antagonism as it obtains in the larger sphere of Christianity. To special and undesirable tendencies on the part of men, Christianity will be found to have presented such opposition as proved in due season victorious. A few leading illustrations must suffice. Take, for example, the case of those rude invaders who broke the power of imperial Rome to pieces. We call them "Vandals." Now, they were wandering soldiers, who loved war, but hated work. They were attached to military chiefs, and so were a constant menace to the peace of Europe. The problem for the Christianity of that early age was how to curb this wandering and idle disposition and settle the nomads in Europe. And the needful antagonism was supplied in feudalism, by which the soldiers were transformed into serfs and united to their chiefs by the mutual ownership of land. And it can be shown that from this feudalism modern patriotism properly so called has sprung. In Greece, for example, in pagan times all that passed for patriotism was love of a city. No man apparently had the comprehensive love which can embrace a whole land. They were Spartans, or Athenians, but not patriots in the wider sense. But in the wake of feudalism true patriotism came, and vast nations were formed at last who were ready to die for their fatherlands. Thus Christianity antagonized the selfishness which was so rampant in pagan times. But under feudalism arose serfdom, which proved to be only a shade better than pagan slavery. How did Christianity antagonize these evils? Now, the necessity for serfs under feudalism and of slavery under paganism arose from the mischievous and mistaken idea that work is degrading. Christianity, accordingly, in the dark ages, which were not nearly so dark as some men make them, £ set itself to consecrate manual labour by the example of the monks. Devoted men in religious houses made manual labour, agriculture, and work of all kinds a holy thing, and so prepared the way for the industrial movement of later times. Gradually it dawned on the European mind that it is not a noble thing to have nothing in the world to do; that it is not a degrading thing to have to work; and that work may and ought to be a consecrated and noble thing. Having thus antagonized the natural indolence of men, Christianity had next to combat his unwillingness to think for himself, and this was through the Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther. The problem of the sixteenth century was to get men, instead of leaving to others to think out the plan of salvation for them, and as priests to undertake their salvation, to think the question out for themselves, and to have as their Advocate and Mediator the one great High Priest, Christ Jesus. Luther, in his stirring treatise on the freedom of a Christian man ('Von der Freiheit einer Christen-Menschen'), brought out in his admirable way that every believing Christian is himself a priest; and so he enfranchised human minds and gave dignity to the race. £ Now, this law of antagonism, which we have seen on the larger scale in Christianity, will be found in individual experience. This is evidently the idea of the present section of the Epistle. And here let us notice—

I. THE LAW OF GOD PROVING DELIGHTFUL TO THE CONVERTED SOUL . ( Romans 7:14 , Romans 7:22 .) The apostle shows that he had attained to the conviction that "the Law is spiritual;" and he could say with simple truth, "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man. This is a grand attainment. The renewed soul alone can say so. God's Law is seen to enter into the very secrets of the soul, to discern the desires and motives of the heart, and to furnish the perfect standard. It supplies the ideal. Like the copperplate copy at the head of the schoolboy's writing-book, God's Law is a perfect ideal set to each struggling soul to stimulate attainment. The secret of progress in penmanship is in having the perfect copy set, not in having the standard lowered. And so God supplies us in his Law with a perfect and ideal standard of attainment, and it is a great thing gained when we have been led to delight in the spirituality and thoroughness and perfection of God's Law.

II. THE CONSTANT SENSE OF FALLING SHORT OF THE IDEAL , The renewed soul feels that it somehow cannot do what it would. It never hits the bull's-eye. The good that it had hoped to do is never reached; the evil it had hoped to avoid somehow gets accomplished. There is a sense of failure all through. To recur to the illustration from penmanship, the copy is found to be always very different indeed from the original. But the schoolboy does not, in consequence, insist on lowering the standard. He does not insist that the master will write him a head-line only a little better than he can write himself, and thus let him improve by easy stages. He wisely accepts the perfect pattern of what penmanship should be, and laments that he is coming towards it only by very tardy steps. In the same way, the wholesome sense of failure abides in the soul; the perfect Law antagonizes imperfect attainment, and the soul walks very softly before the Lord, and strives to please him.

III. THE CAUSE OF THE FAILURE IS FOUND IN THE BODY OF DEATH . The delight in the perfect Law and the desire after it is accompanied by a painful sense of another law counter-working what is good. It is called "sin," that is, indwelling sin. It is called the "flesh," that carnal part of man which militates against what is spiritual. It is called "a law in our members warring against the law of our mind." It is called "the law of sin;" it is called "the body of this death," or "this body of death." Now, what a gain it is for us to rise against this old nature within, to take God's side against it, to take the field against this old self! We are never right till by repentance we take God's side against ourselves. The old nature has to be crucified, slain, overcome. Antagonism is thus begun. We find there is no use in blaming our progenitors, or circumstances, or environment. What we have got to do is to fight the old self in the interests of God and of that "better self" which he has given us.

IV. IN THIS HOLY WAR JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY DELIVERER . The apostle was ready to cry in his antagonism to indwelling sin, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The more progress made, the more intense the antipathy to the evil nature within! But the Deliverer is found in Jesus. He comes to dwell within us and be a "better self." He dwells within us by his Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is not only militant, but victorious. The mind is reinforced, and the flesh is combated, and the result is progress through antagonism. We follow Christ to victory over ourselves. £ —R.M.E.

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