Meditations on Practical Christianity

Romans 12:9  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Verse 9. " Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." The apostle now enters a wider field, and looks at the Christian's path more generally. Hitherto we have been meditating on the position of the Christian as a member of the body of Christ, and the ministries of love which flow from that blessed relationship; but the apostle does not stop here; Christianity must have a broader range; and now his exhortations bear not so much on the church collectively, as on the Christian individually. This we may call practical Christianity. In all places, under all circumstances, and in every sphere of life, he is exhorted to the discharge of all christian duties, and that not merely in outward form, but according to the Spirit and truth of the divine precept.
" Let love be without dissimulation." This is the first of the apostle's general admonitions, and may be considered the foundation and summary of all the others. He who shines in this grace will abound in every good work. But here, on the threshold of this fresh line of truth, thou mayest well pause for a little, Ο my soul, and meditate on a love that is free from all dissimulation and guile. Wondrous sight in a world of hollow pretense! But where is it to be found in practical exercise, thou wilt inquire? God only is its source; " for love is of God." It is Himself; God is love; not merely loving, but love. And should not His children be the expression of His nature—of His moral character? "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." And faith goes on to say, " We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." Here, mark well, my soul, the true character of communion, and the power of walking in love. " He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God; and God in him" This is christian communion, but who could explain it? Still, the Christian should be a genuine expression of the real spirit and character of that love in which he dwells. He is formed, sustained, and perfected in love. 1 John 4:7-197Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 17Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7‑19).
In this portion of the word, we have divine love manifested in the conversion of the sinner, the communion of the saint, [and in his complete conformity to Christ forever. Love meets him as a lost sinner, makes him like Christ, fits him for communion with God while here, and perfects him for the coming day of judgment, so that he has nothing to fear. He sees his way clear into the glory beyond the tribunal of Christ, where love alone remains, for heaven is its home.
Surely then, thou wilt say, the exhortation of the apostle is a most reasonable one. " Let love be without dissimulation." What else could a Christian be but pure hearted in his love. He dwells at the fountain of eternal love, feeds upon it, delights in it, and ought to be its full and fair reflection. What could excuse him for allowing a feigned, dissembling love to take the place and usurp the name of christian affection? A love so high in its source, so divine in its nature, so pure in its character, should be guarded by us with all holy jealousy. It is surely of the very deepest moment, that every Christian should be true before God, in the expression and the assertion of his love towards others, whether within or outside the church. To mislead, or gain an advantage over others, by a fair but false profession of love, has a character of iniquity peculiarly its own. The corruption of that which is so pure in its source, is an evil which we should constantly and diligently watch against.
But was there need for such an exhortation in the apostle's day, and is there need in ours? Alas, alas, what is it that Christians so fail in as the truthful expression in words of the inmost state of the heart? So few speak or write exactly what they are. Only one could say in answer to the question, " Who art thou?.... Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning." He could appeal to His words and say, "I am what I speak." There never was in His words the appearance of what He was not; He was absolutely, and in every particular, what He said. (John 8:2525Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. (John 8:25).) But of none, save the blessed Jesus, could this be said. So deceitful is the human heart, and so false is the world, that nothing but the Holy Spirit, revealing Christ to our souls through the word, and enabling us to walk in the light as God is in the light, keeps us even as believers from departing from the truth, from slipping into misrepresentation, from saying what we are not, and what we mean not.*
(* See "Introductory Lectures to the Gospels," p. 517, by W.K.)
Know then, Ο my soul, and fail not to remember, that the apostle declares that only to be genuine love which is sincere and free from all guile. Nothing is more common in society generally than the manifestation of love where even an opposite disposition exists. But the Christian is to be far, far above all such hollow pretensions. Jesus is the truth, and so should His disciple also be. Self-judgment is especially called for here. Naturally we are unreal. But everyone can best judge for himself whether he entertains any feeling in his heart contrary to the outward manifestation of affection. It is quite true that habit may mislead without any intention to deceive; such as the common amenities of life, the inscriptions, the contents, and the signatures of our letters. Still, we must have respect to truth in the heart even when so much form prevails. It is only in the light that we are free from selfishness and dissimulation. May the Lord ever keep us there for His own name's sake.
"Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." There is an intimate connection between the first and the last two members of this verse—unfeigned love, hating evil, cleaving to good. Where love is real, there must be the abhorrence of evil—especially if that evil touches the object of our affections—and the most persevering devotion to the injured one. To reach the full meaning of this verse, we must rise to Christ. He is before the mind of the Spirit, and of faith. In the Old Testament (Isa. 1:11The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (Isaiah 1:1)G, 17) we read, " Cease to do evil; learn to do well." The language in the New is much stronger; Christ is in question. The words to abhor and to cleave to, express the highest degree of hatred on the one hand, and the most devoted attachment on the other.
Every doctrine or movement, in what is called the religious world, which tends to set aside the claims, or in any way to obscure the glory of Christ, is to be avoided by us as an evil that we abhor. So says the word of God; but what says the religious world? Any person daring so to speak, would be denounced as uncharitable, narrow, and bigoted. Scarcely any term of reproach would be strong enough to express their abhorrence of his views. The one sanctions and encourages what the other abhors, and both are Christians. Which is right? Who is to judge? The word of God. Let the reader examine and decide in the light of that word alone.
The plausible sentiment that proposes to sink all outward differences amongst Christians, to love as brethren, and to work together for the advancement of the gospel, is latitudinarian in its character, and really means a spirit of indifference towards unsound doctrine, and false views of the Person of Christ. Nothing can be worse in principle: but we are told that the end justifies the means. So have the Catholics said for more than a thousand years. " Good, in the eyes of the Papacy, meant what was good for the church; Evil, whatever was bad for the church." The difference between modern Laodiceanism and ancient Catholicism is small in principle. Neither has Christ as its one, grand, exclusive object.
May the Lord give us grace to make Himself our standard and center, and neither the church nor the gospel, blessed as they are, and dear to our hearts, in their own subordinate place to Him.