Personal Responsibility
Romans 14:11-12
For it is written, As I live, said the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.…

These words assert with great precision individual responsibility. This dealing in judgment with each separate soul according to its special history makes the judgment incomparably more awful. For not only does it imply a closer act of scrutiny, but it also individualises the shame which will belong to the wicked in that day. This truth of individual accountability needs, however, to be vindicated from the misapprehensions which are apt to cloud it.

I. LET US REGARD THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO HIMSELF. "Every one of us shall give account of himself." The exact meaning of the words is more specific: it is concerning himself, just as if a steward were called to give account of the particular properties entrusted to his management. God has laid to every man's charge the care of himself; not to each man the care of some other man; the dying flesh, but above all the never-dying soul. I do not mean that each man's care is to be a selfish one for himself alone, or that we are not called to labour for other men's souls as well as for our own. But this still springs from our solemn charge of ourselves. It must be our opportunities and powers, not the opportunities and powers of other men, of which we must make use. It is still the right use of ourselves, though it be for the good of others, for which we are responsible.

II. LET US LOOK AT THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO OTHER MEN, and to our actions in common with other men. Man can never act alone, and least of all in this age of associated effort. We act together, and thus we gain an idea of common action in which we drown out of sight our individual responsibility. However devout a congregation may be, for instance, there will be cause lament over some careless faces some unbended knees, some silent tongues. Think you that, were each of them placed singly face to face with the awfulness of God, they would dare to act in His presence if they stood alone, as they act in His house amid the general crowd of worshippers? Or, to take another case, can we doubt that the vastness of the number of unsaved souls in the world diminishes to each man's consciousness the awfulness of being an unsaved soul? In reality the number fearfully increases it, for Heaven might weep over such a spectacle as a world of lost souls.

III. LET US LOOK AT THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO GOD AND TO THE DUTY THAT HE OWES HIM. For here another common error at once starts to view. It is the notion of some men that the individual obligation of work and toil and self-sacrifice for God is lessened, because others share the obligation with ourselves. It is our duty to do our share, we say, but why should we take more than our fair proportion of the burden? Thus we are led, instead of doing each one his best in the service of our Master, to measure out just what we think to be our own share of the common work. Whether it be money, or labour, or talent, or time, we are asked to contribute, let us do it, each one for himself and to the utmost of his opportunity. If each man did his duty all men would do their duty.

IV. THERE YET REMAINS ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE MATTER, WHICH BELONGS EQUALLY TO ALL THESE THREE RELATIONS. It suggests the motive, graciously supplied in the rich harmony of the Divine dealings, which shall stimulate the effort that it sweetens. For the doctrine of individual accountability has its complement in the doctrine of individual recompense. If the obligation be personal, so will be the reward which will crown the discharge of it.

(Canon Garbett.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

WEB: For it is written, "'As I live,' says the Lord, 'to me every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess to God.'"

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