Living for God!
Edward Griffin, 1807
"For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself. For if we live we live for the Lord; or if we die we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die we are the Lord's." Romans 14:7-8
This is a comprehensive description of the Christian character. It is of real Christians that the apostle is speaking. He supposes them capable of differing on smaller matters; one is weak and another strong; "one believes that he may eat all things another eats only herbs." The baptized Jew regarded as sacred the days which had been set apart for the feasts of the Old Testament while the believing Gentile considered that distinction done away. In all these secondary matters, the apostle exhorted Christians to bear with each other, and not to assume the office of their Master by judging their brethren.
He enforced this exhortation by the consideration that with all their minor differences they were essentially alike in their devotedness to the Lord Jesus Christ. "For none of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself. For whether we live we live unto the Lord; and whether we die we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore, or die we are the Lord's."
There is as real selfishness in the contentions and distance of different sects of Christians, not divided by essential points as in the collisions of the men of the world. I hail with all my heart the dawn of a brighter day. These base jealousies and rivalries are at length yielding to the more expanded and generous emotion of Christian love. The different sects into which Christ was split are at last uniting on the common ground of Christianity, and combining their influence to extend the light of life to a benighted world. This is a union which gives delight to every heart in Heaven, and spreads dismay and terror through the regions of Hell. It is a glorious triumph of Christian magnanimity and kindness over the littleness and baseness of a selfish heart a selfish heart entrenched behind the Christian name. Let us cherish this noble and heavenly temper with the utmost exertion of our talents and influence, and never return back to the sordid and carnal spirit of sectarian bigotry.
Among all the sects who have not essentially subverted the Gospel, there are probably real Christians. And wherever Christians are found, they agree in the grand feature drawn in the text: "For none of us lives to himself and no man dies to himself." By whatever denomination or errors godly men may be distinguished, by whatever imperfections they may be marred there is not a Christian on earth lives to himself or dies to himself; but whether he lives he lives unto the Lord, and whether he dies he dies unto the Lord. In his opinions he may be erroneous, in his character he may be imperfect but in this essential distinction he cannot fail. It becomes then a matter of infinite importance to understand precisely what is implied in the character here drawn, and to rouse ourselves to the cultivation of a temper so magnanimous and divine. I will therefore
I. Endeavor to explain what is meant by living for ourselves and dying for ourselves and what by living for God and dying for God.
II. Show that there is no religion without the character here drawn, and that there is just as much religion as there is of this, because this and nothing else is true Christian religion.
III. Exhibit some motives which ought to awaken us to such a spirit and character.
I. What is meant by living for ourselves and dying for ourselves and what by living for God and dying for God?
To live to ourselves is to make the support of our lives, and the gratification of our personal and social tastes the governing aim of our conduct. It is to consult our own ease, or honor, or pleasure, or advantage as the leading object of our wishes. It is to make ourselves and our families the center of our chief cares and affections.
There are two classes of men who do this; first, the man of the world, and secondly, the false professor, who, however correct his creed, however regular his life, however devout makes himself and his family the center of almost all his cares from morning to night, from day to day, from year to year. He has scarcely any other calculation than to spend each day in his own affairs, and to bestow all he can earn upon himself and his family. If he has any care about the eternal world it is that he and his family may be happy, with little concern for the salvation of others, for the redemption of a world going down to eternal death, and none for the glory of God.
It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to have certain religious commotions, to profess his faith and taking his shape from the habits and opinions of cultivated society, to lead a regular life, without any more self-denial than an infidel! With his views of his own interest for both worlds it would really be a self-denial for him to be less devout or less moral. He is still living to himself.
To live for God, is to regard His will as the rule and ground of our conduct, and His glory as our supreme object. Not merely one day in a week but in our general course to act from a reference to His authority.
To live for God, is to choose our calling, to pursue our business, to frame our habits, to regulate our actions from hour to hour from a regard to His will and honor.
To live for God, is to feel and act as those who are not at liberty to live to themselves, but have their work daily assigned them by a heavenly Master.
To live for God, is to move about under a sense that we are not our own not our own masters, not our own proprietors, not at our own disposal.
To live for God, is to live as though our time, talents, influence, property, and all that we are and have are God's.
To live for God, is to hold everything in readiness to use for Him, or resign to Him as He shall direct.
To live for God, is to to be submissive under afflictions, and willing to be at His disposal in all our trials.
To live for God, is to to be ready to deny ourselves for Him in every way which His Word or Providence may point out.
The service of God, let it be distinctly remarked, does not consist in fastening our cares on ourselves, and referring to His will only so far as to prevent our selfishness from openly trespassing on the rights of others. This is probably the sad mistake of thousands, who, finding that they have some respect to the divine will, flatter themselves that they are Christians. No, the service of God consists in the exercise and fruits of that love which "seeks not her own," of that benevolence which extends its most earnest cares to a perishing world. It is not that good will which spends itself in frames and feelings which cost us nothing, in saying, "be warmed and filled," but that which can put forth a hand to relieve, which can deny ourselves, and part with our substance, our ease, our comfort, for the benefit and salvation of others. It is not that parsimonious and reluctant charity which hangs back, and gives just enough to obtain, as is thought, a passport to Heaven; but that warm, tender, sincere benevolence which loves our neighbor in some good measure as ourselves, and is ready to give, or labor, or suffer according to the wants of others and our own ability.
This is the service of God of that God who Himself is infinite and active benevolence, and who has set such an example of self-denial for the happiness of others in the sacrifice of His own Son.
To die for God, is to expose ourselves to sufferings, hazards, and death for His sake as the primitive Christians were delivered to death and died daily through their exposures and sufferings for the Gospel. It is also to feel ourselves to be the property and servants of God for both worlds, to consent to be at His disposal in death as well as in life, to be willing that He should appoint the time and manner of our decease, to wish for death not so much that we may be "unclothed," not so much that we may be delivered from the trials of life as to honor and enjoy God, and finally to be ready to die as martyrs to His cause.
Thus Paul felt: "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus." "If I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all."
Thus Epaphroditus felt, when "for the work of Christ he was near unto death, not regarding his life." It was the "earnest expectation and hope" of Paul, that Christ might "be magnified" in his body, "whether by life or by death." Martyrdom was the death by which Peter was to "glorify God."
II. There is no religion without the character which has been described. There is just as much religion, as there is of this character because this and nothing else is true religion.
The depravity of man consists in the dominion of his selfish passions. One man is impelled by self interest, to outbreaking crimes. Another man trembles under the divine threatenings, and in a certain view of his character and state, to profess religion, and to lead an orderly life. But one equally with the other, lives to himself and makes himself the center. His own advantage for one or both worlds is his supreme care; and his temper of course, into whatever frames it may be cast, with whatever hopes, and joys, and gratitude it may be attended is prepared to defend his own interest against all other beings, and when he sees that finally prostrated, to gnash upon God with his teeth.
Such a temper can be rendered placid and even grateful, by gifts and hopes but it still encloses a principle of hostility to the universe, and wants nothing but provocation to rise upon God with the spirit of a devil. Nothing can change its nature but the introduction of another ruling passion, another supreme object.
But in the universe there is not another object which can rival self but God and His kingdom. Nothing therefore can cure a depraved heart, but that heavenly love which, while it acts supremely towards God, goes forth under the impulse of His authority to all other beings. This is that love which is "the fulfilling of the law," and than which of course the law can require no more. This is that love to God and our neighbor on which "hang all the law and the prophets," which in its active nature and fruits, comprehends all obedience, and constitutes the vital principle by which faith operates. This is that love without which "the tongues of men and of angels" are "as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal," without which "all knowledge," and "all faith " and the gift of all our goods "to feed the poor," and of our "body to be burned" for Christ, are "nothing."
There are many forms which selfishness assumes some of them very sacred and capable of deceiving, if it were possible, the very elect. But there is on true religion that does not break the dominion of this principle by introducing another ruling passion. Whatever be our frames, hopes, and transports there is no sanctification further than the heart is raised above the domination of self-interest. An escape from this tyranny by transferring the heart to God and His kingdom is the very sanctification itself.
An ingenious writer remarks that there is just as much religion as there is self-denial. And certain it is, that there is just as much religion as there is a subjection of self-interest to the glory of God and the good of His kingdom. Our religion is exactly in proportion as we are borne away by the love of God and His creatures from self and stand ready, from that heavenly principle, to sacrifice personal ease, comfort, and property, to advance the kingdom of righteousness and truth. Our religion is exactly in proportion as we cease to live for ourselves and live for God alone.
The only evidence of attachment to Him on which we can rely, is that we make it our design and care to promote His glory and the accomplishment of His benevolent purposes, not now and then, but in the general tenor of our lives. Nothing less than this will establish the general character of His servants; and by general character we are to be approved or condemned.
In all its promises and threatenings, the Bible speaks only of general character. As the particular end determines the quality of an action, so the general scope decides the nature of our state. The goal at which we steadily aim designates the way in which we run. Self-seekers, no more than murderers, have any part in the kingdom of Christ.
The very core of all true religion is not to live to ourselves but to God; not to consider ourselves our own but the property and the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ; not to feel as though we are set up in the world to work for ourselves, to spend the most of our time in promoting what is termed our innocent gratifications but to hold our time, powers, influence, and property as talents entrusted to us to be used for Christ, keeping our eye on His lips to learn His will, and aiming habitually to please and honor Him. This, and nothing but this, is true Christianity!
Whatever be our creed and frames if we possess this spirit we are Christians. Whatever our creed is if this is not our character then all our religion is vain. The world has long enough been cumbered with professors, who, with the Gospel of Christ on their lips have never extended their cares beyond their own circle; who, claiming to be the children of the God of universal love, have looked on composedly and seen a miserable world sink by thousands a day into Hell without putting forth their hand to arrest the mighty ruin! The world has long enough been lumbered with griping professors, who spend their lives in scraping together all they can and never have a cent to give to Christ; who dream that they can go to Heaven without paying tribute to their Divine King, though the page is often spread before them on which they read, "Sell what you have, and give alms"; "for this you know, that no covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." I have read of Christians who had many slips and some falls but in all the Word of God, I never read of a covetous Christian.
III. Let us contemplate some of the MOTIVES which should awaken us to the spirit and character which have been described.
1. "You do not belong to yourself for God bought you with a high price!" 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect!" 1 Peter 1:18-19
"And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again!" 2 Corinthians 5:15
"He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Titus 2:14
The Lord Jesus Christ, who created you and redeemed you from eternal damnation is your Proprietor, Master, and King.
Whom else then should you serve?
To whom else should you devote your lives?
Whose interest should you rather seek?
That interest He received as a reward for redeeming you; and does it not befit you to aid in bringing to Him that reward since you have nothing of your own to give? All that you are and have are His. You owe Him your whole selves. Will you linger in your own affairs and leave His inheritance to take care of itself? Thus He did not leave you when you were in need.
2. The only way to improve your heart, is to carry it from home. While it is lingering there, and brooding over your own interest even of a spiritual nature, it is settling into all the habits which it derived from its low and polluted birth. Send it abroad to travel, if you would refine it. The best means of sanctification is to accustom yourselves to care and do for others, not from mere humanity -but from the love of Christ. While your hearts are moved for the miseries of your brethren they burst their own chains, and before you are aware they are free. While striving to dispel the darkness from other minds or other lands your own darkness scatters. While you water you are watered also yourselves.
The missionaries who have left all for Christ, and those benevolent men at home who yearly cast one-tenth of their income into the treasury of the Lord, of all men are likely to find the way to Heaven the least obstructed, and to enjoy the greatest light and peace.
3. The heart-breaking necessities of a world in spiritual darkness ought to rouse us from our selfish stupor. To say nothing of the multitudes who are swarming the way to death in the most favored regions; to say nothing of whole nations in the Flemish and Greek churches, who though they bear the Christian-name, are apparently living without God in the world; to say nothing of hundreds of thousands of nominal Christians scattered through Asia and Africa, who scarcely retain anything of Christianity but the name; to say nothing of three millions Jews! It is a distressing truth, that more than two-thirds of the population of the globe are still buried under pagan or Mohammedan darkness, and are as abominably wicked as sin can make them!
Of that wretched portion of our race, it can be computed that less than twenty thousand die daily, and seven and a half million a year. To think of twenty thousand moral agents dropping into eternal perdition daily, and a population as great as that of the United States every year, only from pagan and Mohammedan countries and that because Christians will not send the Bible to them! O this is a thing almost to make Heaven weep!
Think of eight or nine hundred from those countries dropping into the bottomless pit every hour! Thus it has been from generation to generation, while the Christian world have been sleeping away their lives at home. Ought another moment to be lost to stop that current of souls which is constantly discharging itself into the burning lake of fire? If we wait until tomorrow then twenty thousand more will be gone. If we linger an hour then eight or nine hundred are beyond our reach. While I am speaking they are bursting forth to meet their eternal doom.
It certainly is the duty of every person in a gospel land to rack his invention to devise means, and to strain the last nerve of its strength to rescue those perishing nations, as he would to deliver his family from a burning house! O if we loved those heathen as we do our children! but we ought to love them as we love ourselves.
Heretofore we knew not how it was possible to reach them; but now a way is opened by which we may operate upon them with as much ease as though they lived at our door. If we drop a dollar into the treasury of the American Bible Society then it will turn to a Bible, and find its way to India, and will travel while we sleep. If we deposit another it will become a Bible, and make its way to South America without postage or risk. Thus God has opened a door by which we may pour upon the heathen the blessings of the Gospel as fast as we please, and need not be bounded by any other limit than our ability and inclination. One Bible will shed upon a benighted family, a light which will radiate through a neighborhood, and descend from generation to generation.
Who is too poor to give a Bible? It has been computed that no less than five hundred thousand Bibles are needed in the United States to furnish each family with one that each man may have a Bible to lay upon his dying pillow. Do we hear this and shall we sleep?
There ought to be two Bible Societies, one of males and the other of females, formed in every town, and village, and hamlet in America. And into one of these, every person but actual paupers ought to come. Every hand in Christendom, but those which are stretched out for alms ought to give one Bible a year, until the needs of a world are supplied. It is a tax which the God of Heaven has laid upon the whole population of Christian countries. Let the laboring poor work an hour longer each day, and retrench some unnecessary expenses and they need not be excluded from this glorious work of regenerating a world.
But the coffers of the rich it is only when such a view passes before my mind, that I covet wealth, and now I could grasp the treasures of Croesus. What has sealed the coffers of the rich? That they should roll in luxury and pave the way to their theaters with gold, when six or seven hundred million sinners are without a Bible! There is superfluous wealth enough in a few of our cities and larger towns to convey the Gospel in a short time to every family on earth! May God Almighty open their hearts, that they may pour out their treasures by hundreds and by thousands, until the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea!
My brethren, let us no longer live to ourselves. Let us arise, and put our hands to the great work in which the nations are now moving. Wondrous things are taking place in the four quarters of the globe. The world is waking up after a long sleep, and is teeming with projects and efforts to extend the empire of truth and happiness. This is the day of which the prophets sung. Let us not sleep, while all others are rousing themselves to action. Let every soul come up to the help of the Lord. Let not one be left behind. He who has absolutely nothing to give let him pray! Let no one be idle. This is a great day, and the Lord requires every hand in the work.