Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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acceptable to God, as being according to His will.
This is the obvious teaching of the passage; but
that we may fully understand it in its implica-
tions and shades it will be desirable to look at it in
its context.

The eighth chapter of Romans is an outburst


of humble triumph on the Apostle's part, on real-
izing that the conflict of the Christian life as de-
picted in the seventh chapter issues in victory,
through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Evil
may be entrenched in our members ; but the power
of God unto salvation has entered our hearts by
the Holy Ghost and by the prevalent working of
that Holy Spirit in us we are enabled to cry Abba,
Father; and being made sons of God are consti-
tuted His heirs and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.
Not as if, indeed, we are to be borne withbut
effort of our own into this glorious inheritance —
"to be carried to the skies on flowery beds of
ease." No! "Surely we must fight, if we would
win." For, after all, the Christian life is a pil-
grimage to be endured, a journey to be accom-
plished, a fight to be won. Least of all men was
the Apostle Paul, whose life was in labours more
abundant and in trials above measure, liable to
forget this. It is out of the experiences of his own
life as well as out of the nature of the thing that he
adds, therefore, to his cry of triumph a warning
of the nature of the life which, nevertheless, we
must still live in the flesh. If "the Spirit Him-
self beareth witness with our Spirits that we are
the Sons of God," and the glorious sequence fol-
lows, "and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and
joint heirs with Christ," no less do we need to be
reminded further of the condition underlying the
victory — "if so be that we suffer with Him that


we may also be glorified with Him." To share
with Christ His glory implies sharing with Him
His sufferings. "Must Jesus tread the path alone
and all the world go free.^" Union with Him im-
plies taking part in all His life experiences, and we
can ascend the throne with Him only by treading
with Him the pathway by which He ascended the
throne. It was from the cross that He rose to

The rest of this marvellous chapter seems to be
devoted to encouraging the saint in his struggles
as he treads the thorny path with Christ. The
first encouragement is drawn from the relative
greatness of the sufferings here and the glory yon-
der; the second, from the assistance in the jour-
ney received from the Holy Ghost; and the third
from the gracious oversight of God over the whole
progress of the journey. This whole section of
the chapter, therefore, appears as Paul's word of
encouragement to the believer as he struggles on
in his pilgrimage — in his "Pilgrim's Progress" —
in view of the hardships and sufferings and trials
attendant in this sinful world on the life in Christ.
It is substantially, therefore, an Apostolic com-
mentary on our Lord's words, "If any man would
come after me, let him deny himself and take up
his cross and follow me;" "he that doth not take
up his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of
me." These sufferings, says Paul, are inevitable;
no cross, no crown. But he would strengthen us


in enduring the cross by keeping our eye on the
crown, by assuring us of the presence of the
Holy Spirit as our ever-present helper, and
by reminding us of the Divine direction of it
all. Thus he would alleviate the trials of the

Our text then takes its place as one of these en-
couragements to steadfast constancy, endurance,
in the Christian life — to what we call to-day
"perseverance." The "weakness," "infirmity,"
to which it refers is to be taken, therefore, in the
broadest sense. No doubt its primary reference
may be to the remnant of indwelling sin, not yet
eradicated and the source of all the Christian's
weaknesses. But it is not confined to this. It
includes all that comes to a Christian as he suffers
with Christ; all that is included in our Lord's
requirement of denying ourselves and taking up
our cross. Paul's life of suffering for the Gospel's
sake may be taken by us, as it, doubtless, was felt
by him as he penned these words, as an illustra-
tion of the breadth of the meaning of the word.
He who would live godly must in every age suffer
a species of persecution; a species, differing in
kind with the tone and temper and quality of
each age, but always persecution. He who would
follow after Christ must meet with many opposers.
A strenuous life is the Christian life in the world;
it is appropriately designated a warfare, a fight.
But we are weak. And the weakness meant is in-


elusive of all human weaknesses in the stress of
the great battle.

The encouragement which Paul offers us in this
our confessed weakness, is the ever-present aid of
the Holy Ghost. We are not to be left to tread
the path, to fight the fight, alone; the Spirit ever
"helpeth" our weakness, "takes our burden on
Himself, in our stead and yet along with us," as
the double compound word expresses. He does
not take it away from us and bear it wholly Him-
self, but comes to our aid in bearing it, receiving
it also on His shoulders along with us. In giving
this encouragement of the ever-present aid of the
Spirit in our weakness, the Apostle adds an illus-
tration of it. And it is exceedingly striking that,
in seeking an illustration of it, the Apostle thinks
at once of the sphere of prayer. It shows his
estimate of the place of prayer in the Christian
struggle, that in his eye, prayer is really "the
Christian's vital breath." Our weakness, he
seems to say, is helped primarily by the Spirit
through His inditing our prayers for us. Per-
haps this will not seem strange to us if we will fitly
consider what the Christian life is, in its depend-
ence on God; and what prayer is, in its attitude of
dependence on God. Prayer is, in a word, the
correlate of religion. The prayerful attitude is
the religious attitude. And that man is religious
who habitually holds toward God, in life and
thought, in act and word, the attitude of prayer.


Is it not fitting, after all, that Paul should encour-
age the Christian man, striving to live a Chris-
tian life — denying himself and taking up his
cross and following Christ — by assuring him
primarily that the Holy Ghost is ever present,
helping him in his weakness, to this effect that his
attitude towards God in his conscious dependence
on Him, should be kept straight? For this it is
to help us in prayer.

Nor can it seem strange to us that Paul adverts
to our need of aid in prayer in the very matter of
our petitions. It is worth noting how very vitally
he writes here, doubtless, again out of his own ex-
perience. "We know not what we should pray
for," he says, "in each time of need" — according,
that is, to the needs of each occasion. It is not
lack of purpose — it is lack of wisdom, that he in-
timates. We may have every desire to serve God
and every willingness to serve Him at our imme-
diate expense, but do we know what we need at
each moment.? The wisest and best of men must
needs fail here. So Paul found, when he asked
thrice that the thorn in the flesh might be re-
moved and stayed not till the Lord had told him
explicitly that His grace was sufficient for him.
How often we would rather escape the suffering
that lies in our path than receive of the grace of
God! Nay, a greater than Paul may here be our
example. Did not our Lord Himself say, "Now
ismy soul troubled; and what shall I say.? Father,


save me from this hour." Quick though came the
response back from His own soul, "But for this
cause came I unto this hour: Father, glorify thy
name," yet may we not see even in this momentary
hesitation a hint of that uncertainty of which all
are more or less the prey? It is not merely in the
recalcitrances of the Christian life — God knows
we have need enough there ! — but it is not only in
the recalcitrances and the mere unwillingnesses of
the Christian life that the Spirit aids us; but in the
perplexities of the Christian life too. Under His
leading we shall not only be saved from sins, but
also from mistakes, in the will of God. And thus
He leads us not only to pray, but to pray "ac-
cording to the will of God."

And now, how does the Spirit thus aid us in
praying according to the will of God.^ Paul calls
it a making of intercession for us with groanings
which cannot be uttered; making intercession for
us or in addition to us, for the word could have
either meaning. It is clear from the whole pas-
sage that this is not an objective intercession in
our behalf — made in heaven as Christ our Medi-
ator intercedes for us. That the Spirit makes in-
tercession for us is known to God not as God in
heaven, but as "searcher of hearts." It is
equally clear that it is not an intercession through
us as mere conduits, unengaged in the intercession
ourselves; it is an intercession made by the Spirit
as our helper and not as our substitute. It is


equally clear that it is not merely in our natural
powers that the Spirit speaks; it is a groaning of
which the Spirit is the author and "over and
above" our own praying. It is clear then that
it is subjective and yet not to be confused with our
owTi prayings. Due to the Spirit's working in
our hearts we conceive what we need in each hour
of need and ask God for it with unutterable
strength of desire. The Spirit intercedes for us
then by working in us right desires for each time
of need; and by deepening these desires into un-
utterable groans. They are our desires, and our
groans. But not apart from the Spirit. They
are His; \\Tought in us by Him. And God, who
searches the heart, sees these unutterable desires
and "knows the mind of the Spirit that He is
making intercession for the saints according to the
will of God."

Thus, then, the Spirit helps our weakness. By
His hidden, inner influences He quickens us to the
perception of our real need; He frames in us an
infinite desire for this needed thing; He leads us
to bring this desire in all its unutterable strength
before God; who, seeing it within our hearts, can-
not but grant it, as accordant with His will.
Is not this a very present help in time of trouble.^
As prevalent a help as if we were miraculously
rescued from any danger? And yet a help
wrought through the means of God's own appoint-
ment, that is, our attitude of constant dependence


on Him and our prayer to Him for His aid? And
could Paul here have devised a better encourage-
ment to the saints to go on in their holy course and
fight the battle bravely to the end?


Rom. 8:28: — "And we know that to them that love God all
things work together for good, even to them that are called
according to his purpose."

There is a sense in which this verse marks the
climax of this glorious eighth chapter of Romans.
The whole chapter may properly be looked upon
as the reaction from the depths of the seventh
chapter. The key-note of that chapter is sounded
in the despairing cry, "O wretched man that I
am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this
death." The key-note of this is sounded in the
blessed shout, "If God is for us, who is against
us?" In the seventh chapter Paul uncovers the
horror of indwelling sin; in the eighth he reveals
the glory of the indwelling Spirit. The Christian
life on earth is a conflict with sin. And therein is
the dreadfulness of our situation on earth dis-
played. But we are not left to fight the battle
alone. The Christian life is a conflict of God —
not of us — w^ith sin. And therein is the joy and
glory of our situation on earth manifested. As
sinners we are in terrible plight. As the ser-
vants of God, fighting His battle, we are in glori-
ous case.

The whole eighth chapter of the Romans is a


development of the blessedness which arises from
the discovery of the Holy Spirit within us, as the
real power making for righteousness which is in
conflict with indwelling sin. It opens with the
proclamation that the liberation of the sinner is
effected by the presence in him of the "law of the
spirit of life." It proceeds by dwelling on the
blessings that are ours by virtue of this great fact
of the indwelling Spirit. First, a new and uncon-
querable principle of life and holiness is implanted
in us (1-11); next, a new relationship to God, as
His sons and heirs, is revealed to us (12-17);
still further, a new and unquenchable hope is
made ours (18-25), which has respect amid what-
ever sufferings attend us here to the supreme
greatness of the reward. Lastly, a new support
in our present weakness is granted us (26-30).

The section from verse 26 to verse 30 is thus re-
vealed to us as one of the grounds of the Chris-
tian's encouragement amidst the evils of life.
It was not enough for Paul to paint the coming
glory. Even in the present weakness we are not
left without efficient aid. It is true that in this
weakness — it is part of the very weakness — we
cannot be sure what we need and cannot even
pray articulately; we can only, like nature itself
(vs. 22), groan and travail in pain, for we scarcely
know what. But there is one who knows. In
these very inarticulate groans the Spirit's hand
is active; and the searcher of hearts according to


whose appointment it is that the Spirit inter-
cedes for saints, understands and knows. There
is no danger, then, that we shall fail of the needed
help. Maybe we do not know what we need —
God does. He can and will read off our groans
of pain and longing in terms of intelligence and of
love. "For we know that with those that love
God, God co-worketh in respect to all things unto
good." There is nothing that can befall us which
is undirected by Him; and nothing will befall
those that love Him, therefore, which is not di-
rected by Him to their good.

The fundamental thought is the universal gov-
ernment of God. All that comes to you is under
His controlling hand. The secondary thought is
the favour of God to those that love Him. If He
governs all, then nothing but good can befall those
to whom He would do good. The consolation
lies in the shelter which we may thus find beneath
His almighty arms. We are weak, we are blind;
He is strong and He is wise. Though we are too
weak to help ourselves and too blind to ask for
what we need, and can only groan in unformed
longings. He is the author in us of these very
longings — He knows what they really mean —
and He will so govern all things that we shall reap
only good from all that befalls us. All, though for
the present it seems grievous; all, though it be
our sin itself, as Augustine properly saw and as
the context demands (for is not the misery of the


seventh chapter the misery of indwelling sin, and
is not the joy of the closing verses of the eighth
chapter the joy of salvation from sin?) — all, there
is no exception allowed: in all things God co-
operates so with us that it can conduce only to
our good. Our eternal good, obviously; be-
cause it is throughout the good of the soul, the
good of the eternal salvation in Christ, that is in

We say this is the climax of the eighth chapter
of Romans. After this nothing remains but the
psean of victory that fills the concludmg verses.
If there is not only a power withm us making for
righteousness to which the final victory is as-
sured; not only an inheritance far surpassing the
present evil, awaiting us; but also everything that
befalls us is so governed that it, everything, is for
our good and befalls us only because it is for our
good; why we certainly are m excellent case.

It is possible to say, indeed, that there is noth-
ing revealed here which deserves to be thought of
as the culmination of a specifically Christian en-
couragement. What, indeed, is here announced
that devout souls have not always possessed.?
In what does this fervent declaration, for example,
go beyond the philosophy of Joseph in the world's
early prime — in the simple days of patriarchal
faith— when, looking back on the fortunes of his
own chequered life, on the plots of his brethren
against his person when sold by them into Egypt,


and the marvellous befallings which came to him
there, he said to them at the last, "As for you, ye
meant evil against me; but God meant it for
good, to bring to pass as it is this day ? " Did not
Joseph already hold the secret of Paul's consola-
tion — that God is Lord of all, that nothing comes
to us except by His ordering, that therefore to
those who serve Him, all that occurs to them, black
as it may seem to their short vision, is meant for
good and will bring to pass the peaceable fruits of
joy and righteousness? Nay, did not that half-
heathen Jew, the son of Sirach, who wrote the
book of Ecclesiasticus, have adequate under-
standing of the whole matter, when he wrote, in a
context which magnifies the all-reaching power of
God, "For the good are good things created from
the beginning ... all these things are for good to
the godly," adding on the other hand, that evil
things are equally created for sinners and what is
good for the godly is turned into evil for sinners?
Lideed, is there anything here to which the
heathen themselves could not attain.^ Can we
forget, for example, that beautiful discussion in
the tenth book of the Republic in which Socrates
reasons with Glaucon on the rewards of virtue.^
Must we not suppose, he urges, that the gods accu-
rately estimate the characters of men, and know
thoroughly both the just and the unjust? And
must we not suppose that they look with friendly
eye upon the just and with enmity upon the un-


righteous? And must we not suppose, still further,
that they will be good to those whom they recog-
nize as their friends, and grant them every good —
excepting, of course, only such evil as is the con-
sequence of their former sins? "Then, this,"
Socrates continues, "must be our notion of the
just man, that even when he is in poverty or sick-
ness, or any other seeming misfortune, all things
will in the end work together for good to him in
life and death : for the gods have a care for anyone
whose desire is to become just and to be like God,
as far as man can attain His likeness by the pur-
suit of virtue." What is there in Paul's assevera-
tion that goes beyond this calmly expressed con-
viction — the very language of which is so closely
assimilated to Paul's — except a little characteristic
fervency of tone?

Well, it is to be admitted at once that there is
much in Paul's great statement which is not pe-
culiar to it. The assurance of God's providential
conduct of the whole complex of the universe that
He has made; the conviction that in His control
of the details of life He will not forget those who
are specially well-pleasing to Him; the firm faith
therefore that the path of happiness is to see to it
that we are well-pleasing to God ; that, as all that
occurs is of God's ordering, so all that occurs to
the friends of God will work out good to them —
this is, of course, of the very essence of natural
religion, and he who really believes in a personal


God clothed with ethical attributes, must needs
believe it. All the more shame, then, when men
who profess to believe in such a God — to be The-
ists — relax the height of this great and most fun-
damental faith, as many of the heathen have done;
as some even of our modern Christian teachers
have done, asking doubtfully or denyingly, for
example, whether God sends trouble, as if trouble
could come to one of God's beloved ones without
His behest, — and totally failing to retain, we will
not say Paul's height, but even the height of the
higher heathenism, which could see that it is a
higher as well as a truer view that trouble is an in-
strument of God's good to God's friends. Never-
theless, there is more in Paul's statement than was
reached by the heathen sage; something more even
perhaps than underlies the more enlightened and
more penetrating view of Joseph.

We cannot stop to develop the differences in
detail. But we may note briefly at least one of
the most fundamental of them, one so funda-
mental that it transforms everything.

This is the difference in the ground of the assur-
ance which is cherished. The ground on which
the heathen sage founded his conviction was the
essential righteousness of the expectation. God
owes to those who love Him different treatment
from that accorded to those who hate Him. Pos-
sibly we may think that the modern heathen rise
a step higher when they substitute the idea of


goodness for that of bare righteousness, and say
that God will do good to those who love Him be-
cause He is essentially love and will do good to all
men. The ground of Paul's assurance is some-
thing far higher. It is not merely an inference
from a conception of God not obviously validated
by a broad survey of His works. It is not even
an inference from the ineradicable and thoroughly
authenticated conviction that He is righteous. It
is an express declaration of God's own. It is a
"revelation from heaven" spoken by the lips of
prophets and of the Son Himself.

To the heathen God is to bless His friends be-
cause they are His friends; to Paul they are His
friends because God blesses them. The whole
basis of the heathen's conviction is a judgment in
righteousness; it is purely abstract; if a man is
righteous then God must treat him as such.
Granted. But, is a man righteous .^^ I — am I
righteous.'^ If a man is righteous, God will, un-
doubtedly, treat him as such; God owes him good
and not evil. But I — I myself — how will God
treat me? Will that depend on whether I am now
righteous? And on what my past sins deserve?
Well, w^ho is now righteous? And what do my
past sins deserve? For the righteous man — who
has no present and no past sins to come into con-
sideration — this may be satisfactory enough. But
where is that righteous man? This is what we
mean by saying that the heathen's proposition is


purely abstract. It is true enough; but it is of
no personal interest to sinners.

Paul was thinking not of righteous men but of
sinners. It is concerning sinners that he is talk-
ing, concerning those who had had and were having
the experience of the seventh chapter of Romans.
Essentially different, his good tidings to sinners
from the cold deduction of reason which Plato
offers to the just! And this is the exact differ-
ence: righteous men amid the evils of earth seek
a theodicy — they want a justification of God;
sinners do not need a theodicy — all too clear to
them is the reason of their sufferings — they want
a consolation, a justification from God. Paul's
words are in essence, then, not a theodicy but a
consolation. Such a consolation can rest on noth-
ing but a revelation; and Paul founds it on a rev-
elation which he represents as of immanent knowl-
edge in the Church: "We know," says he, "that
all things work together for good to them that
love God." We bless God that we know it! For
we are sinners, and what hope have we save in a
God who is gracious rather than merely just?


1 Cor. 3:5-9:— "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul?
Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave
to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that water-
eth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and
he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward
according to his own labour. For we are God's fellow- workers: ye
are God's husbandry, God's building."

These verses form a natural section of this
Epistle. The Corinthians had sent a letter to
the Apostle, making inquiries on several important
matters. But when the Apostle came to make
reply, he had matters to speak to them about
which were far more important than any of the
questions asked in their letter. Trusty friends
had reported to him the serious deterioration
which the Corinthian Church was undergoing,
the strange, as we may think them, and certainly
outbreaking, immoralities into which they were
falling. Chiefest of these, because most funda-

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 12 of 27)