Romans 16:17

There might, however, be some advent amongst them of a malign influence that should mar this brotherly love, and he must say one warning word. How had the trail of the serpent been on his path! At Galatia, in Corinth, and elsewhere, false teachers had come in, seeking to undo his work; those Judaizers, who sought to corrupt the young believers from the simplicity of the gospel. And would they not seek to undo the work at Rome? Yes, verily; for the obedience of the Roman Christians had come abroad unto all men, and the tidings of their obedience of faith would be but the signal to these destroyers for a new errand of cunning and greed. He warns them.

I. THE WARNING. The work of these false teachers is spoken of first in Acts 15:1, where we read, "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved:" "false brethren," the apostle calls them in Galatians 2:4," who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." And the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, and large part of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, were occupied in the endeavour to counteract their poisonous representations. Their aim was to make the Gentiles enter the Christian Church by the Jewish door, becoming indeed but an appendage of Judaic Christianity. A yet baser aim, as we learn here, and from 2 Corinthians 11:20 and Philippians 3:2, 19, was their own sensual aggrandizement: they served their own belly. They would come to Rome, for they possessed truly a missionary zeal, without missionary love; they would come to Rome, and "their smooth and fair speech" might easily "beguile the hearts of the innocent." That these presentiments were sadly fulfilled, we learn from Philippians 1:15-17, and over these false teachers he weeps, as he tells us, in Philippians 3:18, 19. What was to be the attitude and action of the Romans? The prescription was a simple one: they could tell from their observance of other Churches the fruit of their teaching, viz. "divisions and occasions of stumbling," and by their fruits they were to know them. And knowing them? to "turn from them." There was to be no parleying, no disputation; the bird was not to catch the glare of the serpent's eye, lest it be fascinated and drawn into the jaws of death! "Wise unto that which is good' they might be, using their powers of thought to advance themselves in all well-doing. But "simple unto that which is evil;" for any argumentation here is fatal, and a strong, sharp, unhesitating stroke is needed, that shall sunder us for ever from the deadly peril. Such was to be their act on. an absolute avoidance of him who was obviously, at first sight, Satan, but who, if they tarried to gaze and hearken, might soon be "transformed into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).

II. THE PROMISE. What! was he against them? Yes, the great foe. They well might tremble. But there was a greater One for them, even God himself; and the ancient promise of Genesis 3:15 should be fulfilled to them, if they had faith in God. "The God of peace," who will conserve the harmony of his people, and the peace of the believer's heart, if there be faith in him; who can control all the confusions and malice of his foes, to work out his designs of good - he shall soon bruise Satan under them! The battle now may seem long, but when we look back from the heights of our triumph, it will be "but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Then

"Fight, nor think the battle long;
Soon shall victory tune your song!" And meanwhile, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." - T.F.L.

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions.

1. Cause divisions.

2. Occasion offences.

3. Pervert doctrines.


1. Their motives are impure.

2. Their words deceptive.

3. Their victims the simple.


1. Obedience.

2. Wisdom.

3. Purity.

IV. THEIR DESTRUCTION CERTAIN. Enemies of the God of peace, they will perish with Satan whom they serve shortly.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

Some of the old Roman walls are compacted with such excellent cement that it would be almost impossible to separate one stone from another; in fact, the whole mass has become so consolidated that you cannot distinguish one stone from another. Happy the Church thus built up, where each cares not only for his own prosperity, but for the prosperity of all. And yet, what are some Churches but semi-religious clubs, mere conventions of people gathered together? They have not in them that holy soul which is the essence of unity. The body would soon become disjointed if the soul were not in it; and if the Spirit of Christ be absent, the whole fabric of the outward Church falls to pieces; for where there is no life there can be no true union.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

If two ships at sea, being of the same squadron, be scattered by storm from each other, how should they come to the relief of each other? If, again, they clash together, and fall foul, how should the one endanger the other and herself too? It was of old the Dutch device of two earthern pots swimming upon the water, with this motto, "If we knock together, we sink together."

(J. Spencer.)

"The disposition to grumble" seriously threatened the well-being of the Church, it formed the gravest danger it had yet to encounter. The earth is exposed to two perils — the first arises from the storms bearing upon it from without; the second from volcanic forces assailing it from within. Of the two, the most dangerous is the volcanic force: Let the winds break as they will, the earth continues firm under our tread and steadfast in its orbit. But when internal fires burst forth, the earth quakes to its foundations, and the solid rocks shiver and split. The gravest danger to the Church arises from within; it is the spirit of discontent in the members.

(S. Jones.)

The Jesuits who came to Germany were called "Spanish priests." They took possession of the universities. "They conquered us," says Ranke, "on our own ground, in our own homes, and stripped us of a part of our country." This, the acute historian proceeds to say, "sprang certainly from the want of understanding among the Protestant theologians, and of sufficient enlargement of mind to tolerate unessential differences. The violent opposition among each other left the way open to these cunning strangers, who taught a doctrine not open to dispute."


It is said that when the cranes fall out among themselves, the fight is so fierce that they beat down one another, and so are taken as they fight.

(J. Spencer.)

And offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them
The question is not whether a doctrine is beautiful, but whether it is true. When we want to go to a place, we don't ask whether the road leads through a pretty country, but whether it is the right road, the road pointed out by authority, the turnpike-road.

(Archdeacon Hare.)

Sin is like the bale of goods which came from the East to this city in the olden time, which brought the pest in it. Probably it was but a small bale, but yet it contained in it the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants of London. In those days one piece of rag carried the infection into a whole town. So, if you permit one sin or false doctrine in a Church knowingly and wittingly, none can tell the extent to which that evil may ultimately go. The Church, therefore, is to be purged of practical and doctrinal evil as diligently as possible. That sour and corrupting thing which God abhors must be purged out, and it is to be the business of the Christian minister, and of all his fellow helpers, to keep the Church free from it.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Let us beware of the first wrong direction of thought and feeling; however minute the degree, fearful may be the after-deviations. The voyager enters a current which seems propitious; there is no apparent diversion from his course; his bark speeds well; his oar does not toil, nor his sail strain; in his confidence all promises success. But, while he examines, scarcely does it seem that he has advanced. Much again and again reminds him of what he has noticed just before. A strange familiarity impresses his sense. Still, current flows into current; while onward and buoyant is his track. Soon he feels an unnatural vibration. Where he glided, he now whirls along. The truth seizes upon him; he is sweeping a whirlpool. Long since, he has entered the verge of a maelstrom, and he is now the sport of its gyrations. No power is left his helm or mast; he is the trembling, unresisting prey. He hears the roar; he is drawn into the suck of the vortex. Not only the circle lessens, the very surface slopes; the central funnel and abyss, dark-heaving, smooth, vitreous, yawns. The mariner shrieks, the skiff is swallowed up, where the waters only separate to close, where the outermost attraction was but the minister to the famine of this devouring maw.

(R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)

To separate such as agree in the truth of Christ is an impious and sacrilegious divorce; but to defend a conspiracy for promoting lies and impious doctrines, under the pretext of peace and unity, is a shameless calumny. The Papists have no foundation for exciting, by artful guile, an unfavourable impression and low opinion of us believers, from this passage; for we do not attack and confute the gospel of Christ, but the falsehoods of the devil by which it has hitherto been obscured.

(J. Calvin.)

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly
1. Their motive.

2. Their procedure.

3. Their victims.


1. They serve not the Lord Jesus.(1) Their motive and profession was insincere. Our motive in religious matters to be carefully examined. Satan often served in Christ's uniform.(2) Christ is entitled to our service —

(a)As God.

(b)As Mediator.

(c)From gratitude to Him and obedience to the Divine command.(3) To serve Christ is —

(a)To aim at His glory.

(b)To promote His interest.

(c)To do His will.(4) Christ is to be served with all our powers.

2. They serve their own belly. Merely to get a living and for their own personal gain (2 Corinthians 11:12, 20; Philippians 3:18, 19; Galatians 6:12; Titus 1:10, 11). Private interests served under the pretence of Christian zeal. Men can make a gain of godliness instead of making godliness a gain.


1. Good words. Pretending a great interest in your welfare (Psalm 55:21). Satan transferred into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).

2. Fair speeches, lit. blessing; a stronger word than the former. Speaking well of you; promising well to you. Having men's persons in admiration for advantage (Jude 1:16). Showing not only a bland spirit, but an affected piety. The foulest errors are often introduced under the fairest promises. Satan is a skilful fowler and knows well how to set his snare. Soul destroyers are remarkable for seductive address (Genesis 3:2, etc.; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Flatterers should be always suspected. Sweet tastes are not always wholesome.


1. Deceiving. Deceived themselves they seek to deceive others. Deceiver, Satan's most characteristic title (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9). He practises his deception through his deceived followers. Deceivers more to be feared than open persecutors.

2. The simple, innocent, unsuspecting, inexperienced — those who are not sufficiently guarded and grounded in the truth. More distinguished for honesty than penetration; without malice themselves and suspecting none in others, and so the natural prey of designing men (2 Peter 2:14; 2 Timothy 3:6).

(T. Robinson.)

The French have grown so clever at imitating pearls, that a jeweller in the Exhibition shows a necklace which purports to be a mixture of true pearls and false; and he challenges his customers to single out the real ones if he can. Nobody has yet succeeded We are told that there is only one way by which they can be detected, and that is by their specific weight; the false are much lighter than the real pearls.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men
1. Consists in a hearty reception of the gospel and compliance with its teachings.

2. Is a source of great satisfaction to every faithful minister.

3. Needs to be confirmed by wisdom and simplicity.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

But yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil
"But yet." Obedience is good, but needs to be guarded. Teachableness needs discretion for its companion. Pliable tempers require a double guard. The greater the grace received the more need of caution. The richest vessels carry the strongest convoys. Living Churches and Christians Satan's most coveted prey. Holy joy in others leads to holy jealousy over them (2 Corinthians 11:2).

I. WISE UNTO GOOD. Wisdom is to know what is good, to embrace it, to hold it fast, to practise it, and to promote it. It includes understanding, discrimination, prudence, and discretion, and is necessary to avoid being ensnared by the crafty. The Roman Christians had already perhaps been none too cautious. The good includes doctrine, practice, and experience. The highest wisdom is to know the will of God and to do it, and the most profitable that which makes us wise unto salvation.


1. Simplicity is —(1) Harmlessness; like an animal without horns. Believers, in respect of evil, are to be as children (1 Corinthians 14:20), wise as serpents but harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).(2) As contrasted with "wise" — without cunning, dexterity, or skill. Unknowing and unpractised in the ways of evil; ignorant of the depths of Satan (Revelation 2:24).

2. Evil is —(1) Moral, i.e., sin.(2) Harm done to others.

(T. Robinson, D. D.)

If this Epistle had been lost in the streets of Rome, and had been picked up by some Roman philosopher, after reading all the wonderful things which would have filled his mind with amazement, I think he would have called this a golden sentence. What a comprehensive and beautiful wish.


1. "Wise to that which is good" includes —(1) An intelligent comprehension of the nature of acceptable goodness, which is neither morality without religion nor religion without morality. It is neither secular virtue without any root in religious faith, nor is it the mere profession of religious truth, or the mere enjoyment of religious excitement, or the mere attention upon religious ceremonies distinct from real, downright morality of life. These two things must be combined; and then there is a perfection about the human character that the man who has to do with God cannot but have to do with man under the influence of feelings that belong to God.(2) The application of this knowledge to practical life; for wisdom is the practical application of knowledge. To be wise unto that which is good is to see to it that the principle of religious faith shall be the root and spring of holy moral action. Yet how many professors are very knowing as to the theory, but want the "wisdom" of the manifestation of the thing as a practical law.(3) The being alive to whatever will promote or retard this. Most men are like horses to a chariot, one dragging and another backing, one starting aside and another standing still. But where there is a predominant principle, it will subordinate everything to itself, and make obstacles stepping-stones to the object. Now, if a Christian man has for his ruling principle a desire to advance in acceptable goodness, and if he is "wise" in relation to it, he will be alive to favourable circumstances. Aye, and how "wise" such a man will become in relation to self-knowledge! He will draw upon his memory and upon his experience. From past failures he will draw principles of caution. He will be "wise" to understand his weakness as well as his strength, and, guarding against weakness and seeking to increase strength, there will be a practical wisdom perpetually manifested in the way in which he will seek to improve opportunities and avoid hindrances.(4) Promptitude and tact in doing good. And the man that is really "wise to that which is good" will acquire a talent for saying and doing things without giving the least offence, leaving an impression upon men which shall lead them to God.

2. "Simple concerning evil."(1) The happy simplicity of ignorance. Often the knowledge of evil is evil, and many a man has lived to regret that he has had any acquaintance with it.(2) Perfect candour, guilelessness, simplicity of purpose and manner and language. How unenviable is the reputation of some men, who seem to be perpetually acting upon the principle of language being given "to conceal the thoughts." It is painful to have to do with such people.(3) Thinking no evil of our brother. Some men are ever suspecting and acting with every man as if he might one day be an adversary. Let us have more faith in one another. Even though we may sometimes be deceived, still do not let us give up faith in man.(4) Steady simplicity of purpose in the resistance of evil. Man cannot say with his Master, "The evil one cometh and hath nothing in me"; but by the grace of God there must be perfect clearness of character, unspottedness from the world. No paltering with evil, but a manly front, arising from the rectitude of purpose, with which we desire to glorify God.


1. Frequent, deep, and devout meditation upon the ultimate object of religion. That object is not numbers, faith, profession, religious pleasure, all this it gives, but it gives and demands something more. Everything is to terminate in more and more practical "fruits of the Spirit" and a holy likeness to the God that gave it. Now Christian men should meditate upon it, and that would aid them in realising it.

2. Steady, constant, and conscientious use of the means of grace as means. Not to find the end in the mere coming in contact with the means, and in the pleasure which they produce; but to use these things as means to strengthen and nourish faith, holy feeling, and motives, and to lead the man from the Church into the family and all the thoroughfares of the world, there to act and to live out the principles which the means of grace cherish and strengthen within him.

3. Act the text. The really doing a good thing has a happy reflex operation, both upon a man's understanding and heart. Get over some suggestion of selfishness or feeling of revenge, go and forgive thy brother, or visit the wretched and poor, go with simplicity of purpose and desire to manifest thy love; and then come and read thy Bible. It is wonderful how beautiful thou wilt perceive the truth to be; and how every word from that very preparation of the heart will come with power upon thy soul, and strengthen within thee every holy purpose. But come from your hours of dissipation, your places of frivolous amusement, come after actually committing some act of violence, and read thy Bible; how it will strengthen the sceptic within thee! how it will cloud thine eye! how it will make thee find reasons, or attempt to find them, for denying and disbelieving this Divine thing!Conclusion:

1. Not only is the gospel pre-eminently a practical thing, but, whether Christianity be true or false, it will be blessedness to the world for its spirit to become practically universal.

2. Christianity bears upon it, in these attributes, the indications of the source from which it comes. Take the character that the world admires; why, if that spirit were to become universal, if there were nothing to counteract it in the virtues of Christian men, the world would become like the infernal pit.

3. Admitting that a great many Christians are far inferior to the demands of the Book, a vast many of them are superior to the world. "The fruits of the Spirit" do appear in some degree; and after all, what would the world be if there were not a Christian Church with a Bible in it in the midst of them?

(T. Binney.)

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