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Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Epistle
ROMANS 12:1-5
Consecration to God; Duty towards God; Duty towards Ourselves; Due Exercise of Spiritual Gifts; Duty towards Our Brethren; Brotherly Love; Love to Enemies. A. D. 58.
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 

We may observe here, according to the scheme mentioned in the contents, the apostle's exhortations,

I. Concerning our duty to God, We see what is godliness.

1. It is to surrender ourselves to God, and so to lay a good foundation. We must first give our own selves unto the Lord, 2 Cor. viii. 5. This is here pressed as the spring of all duty and obedience, v. 1, 2. Man consists of body and soul, Gen. ii. 7; Eccl. xii. 7.

(1.) The body must be presented to him, v. 1. The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, 1 Cor. vi. 13, 14. The exhortation is here introduced very pathetically: I beseech you, brethren. Though he was a great apostle, yet he calls the meanest Christians brethren, a term of affection and concern. He uses entreaty; this is the gospel way: As though God did beseech you by us, 2 Cor. v. 20. Though he might with authority command, yet for love's sake he rather beseeches, Philem. 8, 9. The poor useth entreaty, Prov. xviii. 23. This is to insinuate the exhortation, that it might come with the more pleasing power. Many are sooner wrought upon if they be accosted kindly, are more easily led than driven. Now observe,

[1.] The duty pressed--to present our bodies a living sacrifice, alluding to the sacrifices under the law, which were presented or set before God at the altar, ready to be offered to him. Your bodies--your whole selves; so expressed because under the law the bodies of beasts were offered in sacrifice, 1 Cor. vi. 20. Our bodies and spirits are intended. The offering was sacrificed by the priest, but presented by the offerer, who transferred to God all his right, title, and interest in it, by laying his hand on the head of it. Sacrifice is here taken for whatsoever is by God's own appointment dedicated to himself; see 1 Pet. ii. 5. We are temple, priest, and sacrifice, as Christ was in his peculiar sacrificing. There were sacrifices of atonement and sacrifices of acknowledgment. Christ, who was once offered to bear the sins of many, is the only sacrifice of atonement; but our persons and performances, tendered to God through Christ our priest, are as sacrifices of acknowledgment to the honour of God. Presenting them denotes a voluntary act, done by virtue of that absolute despotic power which the will has over the body and all the members of it. It must be a free-will offering. Your bodies; not your beasts. Those legal offerings, as they had their power from Christ, so they had their period in Christ. The presenting of the body to God implies not only the avoiding of the sins that are committed with or against the body, but the using of the body as a servant of the soul in the service of God. It is to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. vi. 20), to engage our bodies in the duties of immediate worship, and in a diligent attendance to our particular callings, and be willing to suffer for God with our bodies, when we are called to it. It is to yield the members of our bodies as instruments of righteousness, ch. vi. 13. Though bodily exercise alone profits little, yet in its place it is a proof and product of the dedication of our souls to God. First, Present them a living sacrifice; not killed, as the sacrifices under the law. A Christian makes his body a sacrifice to God, though he does not give it to be burned. A body sincerely devoted to God is a living sacrifice. A living sacrifice, by way of allusion--that which was dead of itself might not be eaten, much less sacrificed, Deut. xiv. 21; and by ways of opposition--"The sacrifice was to be slain, but you may be sacrificed, and yet live on"--an unbloody sacrifice. The barbarous heathen sacrificed their children to their idol-gods, not living, but slain sacrifices: but God will have mercy, and not such sacrifice, though life is forfeited to him. A living sacrifice, that is, inspired with the spiritual life of the soul. It is Christ living in the soul by faith that makes the body a living sacrifice, Gal. ii. 20. Holy love kindles the sacrifices, puts life into the duties; see ch. vi. 13. Alive, that is, to God, v. 11. Secondly, They must be holy. There is a relative holiness in every sacrifice, as dedicated to God. But, besides this, there must be that real holiness which consists in an entire rectitude of heart and life, by which we are conformed in both to the nature and will of God: even our bodies must not be made the instruments of sin and uncleanness, but set apart for God, and put to holy uses, as the vessels of the tabernacle were holy, being devoted to God's service. It is the soul that is the proper subject of holiness; but a sanctified soul communicates a holiness to the body it actuates and animates. That is holy which is according to the will of God; when the bodily actions are no, the body is holy. They are the temples of the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. vi. 19. Possess the body in sanctification, 1 Thess. iv. 4, 5.

[2.] The arguments to enforce this, which are three:--First, Consider the mercies of God: I beseech you by the mercies of God. An affectionate obtestation, and which should melt us into a compliance: dia ton oiktirmon tou Theou. This is an argument most sweetly cogent. There is the mercy that is in God and the mercy that is from God--mercy in the spring and mercy in the streams: both are included here; but especially gospel-mercies (mentioned ch. ix.), the transferring of what the Jews forfeited and lost by their unbelief unto us Gentiles (Eph. iii. 4-6): the sure mercies of David, Isa. lv. 3. God is a merciful God, therefore let us present our bodies to him; he will be sure to use them kindly, and knows how to consider the frames of them, for he is of infinite compassion. We receive from him every day the fruits of his mercy, particularly mercy to our bodies: he made them, he maintains them, he bought them, he has put a great dignity upon them. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, that our souls are held in life; and the greatest mercy of all is that Christ hath made not his body only, but his soul, an offering for sin, that he gave himself for us and gives himself to us. Now surely we cannot but be studying what we shall render to the Lord for all this. And what shall we render? Let us render ourselves as an acknowledgment of all these favours--all we are, all we have, all we can do; and, after all, it is but very poor returns for very rich receivings: and yet, because it is what we have, Secondly, It is acceptable to God. The great end we should all labour after is to be accepted of the Lord (2 Cor. v. 9), to have him well-pleased with our persons and performances. Now these living sacrifices are acceptable to God; while the sacrifices of the wicked, though fat and costly, are an abomination to the Lord. It is God's great condescension that he will vouchsafe to accept of any thing in us; and we can desire no more to make us happy; and, if the presenting of ourselves will but please him, we may easily conclude that we cannot bestow ourselves better. Thirdly, It is our reasonable service. There is an act of reason in it; for it is the soul that presents the body. Blind devotion, that has ignorance for the mother and nurse of it, is fit to be paid only to those dunghill-gods that have eyes and see not. Our God must be served in the spirit and with the understanding. There is all the reason in the world for it, and no good reason can possibly be produced against it. Come now, and let us reason together, Isa. i. 18. God does not impose upon us any thing hard or unreasonable, but that which is altogether agreeable to the principles of right reason. Ten logiken latreian hymon--your service according to the word; so it may be read. The word of God does not leave out the body in holy worship. That service only is acceptable to God which is according to the written word. It must be gospel worship, spiritual worship. That is a reasonable service which we are able and ready to give a reason for, in which we understand ourselves. God deals with us as with rational creatures, and will have us so to deal with him. Thus must the body be presented to God.

(2.) The mind must be renewed for him. This is pressed (v. 2): "Be you transformed by the renewing of your mind; see to it that there be a saving change wrought in you, and that it be carried on." Conversion and sanctification are the renewing of the mind, a change not of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. It is the same with making a new heart and a new spirit--new dispositions and inclinations, new sympathies and antipathies; the understanding enlightened, the conscience softened, the thoughts rectified; the will bowed to the will of God, and the affections made spiritual and heavenly: so that the man is not what he was--old things are passed away, all things are become new; he acts from new principles, by new rules, with new designs. The mind is the acting ruling part of us; so that the renewing of the mind is the renewing of the whole man, for out of it are the issues of life, Prov. iv. 23. The progress of sanctification, dying to sin more and more and living to righteousness more and more, is the carrying on of this renewing work, till it be perfected in glory. This is called the transforming of us; it is like putting on a new shape and figure. Metamorphousthe--Be you metamorphosed. The transfiguration of Christ is expressed by this word (Matt. xvii. 2), when he put on a heavenly glory, which made his face to shine like the sun; and the same word is used 2 Cor. iii. 18, where we are said to be changed into the same image from glory to glory. This transformation is here pressed as a duty; not that we can work such a change ourselves: we could as soon make a new world as make a new heart by any power of our own; it is God's work, Ezek. xi. 19; xxxvi. 26, 27. But be you transformed, that is, "use the means which God hath appointed and ordained for it." It is God that turns us, and then we are turned; but we must frame our doings to turn, Hos. v. 4. "Lay your souls under the changing transforming influences of the blessed Spirit; seek unto God for grace in the use of all the means of grace." Though the new man be created of God, yet we must put it on (Eph. iv. 24), and be pressing forward towards perfection. Now in this verse we may further observe,

[1.] What is the great enemy to this renewing, which we must avoid; and that is, conformity to this world: Be not conformed to this world. All the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus must be nonconformists to this world. Me syschematizesthe--Do not fashion yourselves according to the world. We must not conform to the things of the world; they are mutable, and the fashion of them is passing away. Do not conform either to the lusts of the flesh or the lusts of the eye. We must not conform to the men of the world, of that world which lies in wickedness, not walk according to the course of this world (Eph. ii. 2); that is, we must not follow a multitude to do evil, Exod. xxiii. 2. If sinners entice us, we must not consent to them, but in our places witness against them. Nay, even in things indifferent, and which are not in themselves sinful, we must so far not conform to the custom and way of the world as not to act by the world's dictates as our chief rule, nor to aim at the world's favours as our highest end. True Christianity consists much in a sober singularity. Yet we must take heed of the extreme of affected rudeness and moroseness, which some run into. In civil things, the light of nature and the custom of nations are intended for our guidance; and the rule of the gospel in those cases is a rule of direction, not a rule of contrariety.

[2.] What is the great effect of this renewing, which we must labour after: That you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. by the will of God here we are to understand his revealed will concerning our duty, what the Lord our God requires of us. This is the will of God in general, even our sanctification, that will which we pray may be done by us as it is done by the angels; especially his will as it is revealed in the New Testament, where he hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son. First, The will of God is good, and acceptable, and perfect; three excellent properties of a law. It is good (Mic. vi. 8); it is exactly consonant to the eternal reason of good and evil. It is good in itself. It is good for us. Some think the evangelical law is here called good, in distinction from the ceremonial law, which consisted of statutes that were not good, Ezek. xx. 25. It is acceptable, it is pleasing to God; that and that only is so which is prescribed by him. The only way to attain his favour as the end is to conform to his will as the rule. It is perfect, to which nothing can be added. The revealed will of God is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, containing all things which tend to the perfection of the man of God, to furnish us thoroughly to every good work, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. Secondly, That it concerns Christians to prove what is that will of God which is good, and acceptable, and perfect; that is, to know it with judgment and approbation, to know it experimentally, to know the excellency of the will of God by the experience of a conformity to it. It is to approve things that are excellent (Phil. i. 10); it is dokimazein (the same word that is used here) to try things that differ, in doubtful cases readily to apprehend what the will of God is and to close in with it. It is to be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, Isa. xi. 3. Thirdly, That those are best able to prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, who are transformed by the renewing of their mind. A living principle of grace is in the soul, as far as it prevails, an unbiassed unprejudiced judgment concerning the things of God. It disposes the soul to receive and entertain the revelations of the divine will. The promise is (John vii. 17), If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine. A good wit can dispute and distinguish about the will of God; while an honest, humble heart, that has spiritual senses exercised, and is delivered into the mould of the word, loves it, and practises it, and has the relish and savour of it. Thus to be godly is to surrender ourselves to God.

2. When this is done, to serve him in all manner of gospel obedience. Some hints of this we have here (v. 11, 12), Serving the Lord. Wherefore do we present ourselves to him, but that we may serve him? Acts xxvii. 23, Whose I am; and then it follows, whom I serve. To be religious is to serve God. How? (1.) We must make a business of it, and not be slothful in that business. Not slothful in business. There is the business of the world, that of our particular calling, in which we must not be slothful, 1 Thess. iv. 11. But this seems to be meant of the business of serving the Lord, our Father's business, Luke ii. 49. Those that would approve themselves Christians indeed must make religion their business--must choose it, and learn it, and give themselves to it; they must love it, and employ themselves in it, and abide by it, as their great and main business. And, having made it our business, we must not be slothful in it: not desire our own ease, and consult that, when it comes in competition with our duty. We must not drive on slowly in religion. Slothful servants will be reckoned with us wicked servants. (2.) We must be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. God must be served with the spirit (ch. i. 9; John iv. 24), under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Whatever we do in religion it is pleasing to God no further than it is done with our spirits wrought upon by the Spirit of God. And there must be fervency in the spirit--a holy zeal, and warmth, and ardency of affection in all we do, as those that love God not only with the heart and soul, but with all our hearts, and with all our souls. This is the holy fire that kindles the sacrifice, and carries it up to heaven, an offering of a sweet-smelling savour.--Serving the Lord. To kairo douleuontes (so some copies read it), serving the time, that is, improving your opportunities and making the best of them, complying with the present seasons of grace. (3.) Rejoicing in hope. God is worshipped and honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope, take a complacency in that confidence, which argues a great assurance of the reality and a great esteem of the excellency of the good hoped for. (4.) Patient in tribulation. Thus also God is served, not only by working for him when he calls us to work, but by sitting still quietly when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God's sake, and with an eye to his will and glory, is true piety. Observe, Those that rejoice in hope are likely to be patient in tribulation. It is a believing prospect of the joy set before us that bears up the spirit under all outward pressure. (5.) Continuing instant in prayer. Prayer is a friend to hope and patience, and we do in it serve the Lord. Proskarterountes. It signifies both fervency and perseverance in prayer. We should not be cold in the duty, nor soon weary of it, Luke xviii. 1; 1 Thess. v. 17; Eph. vi. 18; Col. iv. 2. This is our duty which immediately respects God.

II. Concerning our duty which respects ourselves; this is sobriety.

1. A sober opinion of ourselves, v. 3. It is ushered in with a solemn preface: I say, through the grace given unto me: the grace f wisdom, by which he understood the necessity and excellency of this duty; the grace of apostleship, by which he had authority to press and enjoin it. "I say it, who am commissioned to say it, in God's name. I say it, and it is not for you to gainsay it." It is said to every one of us, one as well as another. Pride is a sin that is bred in the bone of all of us, and we have therefore each of us need to be cautioned and armed against it.--Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. We must take heed of having too great an opinion of ourselves, or putting too high a valuation upon our own judgments, abilities, persons, performances. We must not be self-conceited, nor esteem too much our own wisdom and other attainments, not think ourselves to be something, Gal. vi. 3. There is a high thought of ourselves which we may and must have to think ourselves too good to be the slaves of sin and drudges to this world. But, on the other hand, we should think soberly, that is, we must have a low and modest opinion of ourselves and our own abilities, our gifts and graces, according to what we have received from God, and not otherwise. We must not be confident and hot in matters of doubtful disputation; not stretch ourselves beyond our line; not judge and censure those that differ from us; not desire to make a fair show in the flesh. These and the like are the fruits of a sober opinion of ourselves. The words will bear yet another sense agreeable enough. Of himself is not in the original; therefore it may be read, That no man be wise above what he ought to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety. We must not exercise ourselves in things too high for us (Ps. cxxxi. 1, 2), not intrude into those things which we have not seen (Col. ii. 18), those secret things which belong not to us (Deut. xxix. 29), not covet to be wise above what is written. There is a knowledge that puffs up, which reaches after forbidden fruit. We must take heed of this, and labour after that knowledge which tends to sobriety, to the rectifying of the heart and the reforming of the life. Some understand it of the sobriety which keeps us in our own place and station, from intruding into the gifts and offices of others. See an instance of this sober modest care in the exercise of the greatest spiritual gifts, 2 Cor. x. 13-15. To this head refers also that exhortation (v. 16), Be not wise in your own conceits. It is good to be wise, but it is bad to think ourselves so; for there is more hope of a fool than of him that is wise in his own eyes. It was an excellent thing for Moses to have his face shine and not know it. Now the reasons why we must have such a sober opinion of ourselves, our own abilities and attainments, are these:--

(1.) Because whatever we have that is good, God hath dealt it to us; every good and perfect gift comes from above, James i. 17. What have we that we have not received? And, if we have received it, why then do we boast? 1 Cor. iv. 7. The best and most useful man in the world is no more, no better, than what the free grace of God makes him every day. When we are thinking of ourselves, we must remember to think not how we attained, as though our might and the power of our hand had gotten us these gifts; but think how kind God hath been to us, for it is he that gives us power to do any thing that is good, and in him is all our sufficiency.

(2.) Because God deals out his gifts in a certain measure: According to the measure of faith. Observe, The measure of spiritual gifts he calls the measure of faith, for this is the radical grace. What we have and do that is good is so far right and acceptable as it is founded in faith, and flows from faith, and no further. Now faith, and other spiritual gifts with it, are dealt by measure, according as Infinite Wisdom sees meet for us. Christ had the Spirit given him without measure, John iii. 34. But the saints have it by measure; see Eph. iv. 7. Christ, who had gifts without measure, was meek and lowly; and shall we, that are stinted, be proud and self-conceited?

(3.) Because God has dealt out gifts to others as well as to us: Dealt to every man. Had we the monopoly of the Spirit, or a patent to be sole proprietors of spiritual gifts, there might be some pretence for this conceitedness of ourselves; but others have their share as well as we. God is a common Father, and Christ a common root, to all the saints, who all drive virtue from him; and therefore it ill becomes us to lift up ourselves, and to despise others, as if we only were the people in favour with heaven, and wisdom should die with us. This reasoning he illustrates by a comparison taken from the members of the natural body (as 1 Cor. xii. 12; Eph. iv. 16): As we have many members in one body, &c., v. 4, 5. Here observe, [1.] All the saints make up one body in Christ, who is the head of the body, and the common centre of their unity. Believers lie not in the world as a confused disorderly heap, but are organized and knit together, as they are united to one common head, and actuated and animated by one common Spirit. [2.] Particular believers are members of this body, constituent parts, which speak them less than the whole, and in relation to the whole, deriving life and spirits from the head. Some members in the body are bigger and more useful than others, and each receives spirits from the head according to its proportion. If the little finger should receive as much nourishment as the leg, how unseemly and prejudicial would it be! We must remember that we are not the whole; we think above what is meet if we think so; we are but parts and members. [3.] All the members have not the same office (v. 4), but each hath its respective place and work assigned it. The office of the eye is to see, the office of the hand is to work, &c. So in the mystical body, some are qualified for, and called to, one sort of work; others are, in like manner, fitted for, and called to, another sort of work. Magistrates, ministers, people, in a Christian commonwealth, have their several offices, and must not intrude one upon another, nor clash in the discharge of their several offices. [4.] Each member hath its place and office, for the good and benefit of the whole, and of every other member. We are not only members of Christ, but we are members one of another, v. 5. We stand in relation one to another; we are engaged to do all the good we can one to another, and to act in conjunction for the common benefit. See this illustrated at large, 1 Cor. xii. 14, &c. Therefore we must not be puffed up with a conceit of our own attainments, because, whatever we have, as we received it, so we received it not for ourselves, but for the good of others...