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Romans, xiv. 17.
FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOT MEAT AND DRINK :
BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND PEACE, AND JOY IN THE HOLY GHOST.
FOR this masterly description of true
religion, of its sanctifying nature, and blessed consequences, we are indebted to a dissension which arose in the apostolic church at Rome. Some weak brethren, laying an undue stress on those laws of Moses, which were then absorbed in a higher dispensation, scrupulously insisted upon abstinence from certain kinds of food. Others, of a stronger judgment, but deficient in the spirit of Christian love, prided themselves on their freedom from what they deemed an unreasonable prejudice. Hence arose contention, strife, and mutual recrimination. The weak judged the strong. The strong despised the weak. Candour, and forbearance, and charity waxed cold. And it is difficult to conjecture what mischiefs might have arisen, if St. Paul had not interposed the mild exhortation of a brother, the chastened authority of a father in Christ. His entire discourse on this occasion, as delivered in the fourteenth chapter to the Romans, is a model of persuasive eloquence ; deriving the most powerful motives, from the deepest principles of Christianity ; but especially from that grand principle, which it is my present purpose to illustrate ; that “ the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
The kingdom of God, that is, the Christian religion, is not 'meat and drink, is not any thing outward or ceremonial. This simple truth, received in its full import and extent, would destroy numberless delusions, subterfuges, and evasions. For, it has ever been the prevalent error of false religion, in various shapes and degrees, to substitute things outward and ceremonial, for things inward and spiritual. (1) To this unhallowed source, we may trace some of the worst enormities of the heathen world ; men, enslaved to their vices and passions, sacrificing their very sons and daughters at the call of a savage and gloomy superstition; giving their firstborn for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul. To this we may attribute that hypocritical union of scrupulous exactness in trifles, with unshrinking hardihood in great crimes, which degraded and destroyed the Jewish nation (2); making clean the outside of the cup and platter ; never eating with unwashen hands; tithing the most insignificant herbs in their garden ; but neglecting judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God; glorying in the most unprincipled extortion; rejoicing in the most relentless persecution ; starv. ing their parents, while they pretended to feed the poor ; indulging their malignant passions, under the pretext of religious zeal ; crucifying the Lord of life ; and with dreadfully deliberate imprecations, calling down his blood upon themselves, and upon their children. To this we may attribute that cold, comfortless, inanimate shadow of Christianity, so prevalent in the world at this very day; as if God could be honoured by the lips, while the heart is far from him ; as if the mere form of religion could be available, without its spirit and power; as if it were worthily magnifying the great God of heaven and earth, to drag our bodies to his temple, while our souls are occupied and engrossed by the world ; as if it were possible, with an indevout, unfeeling, careless heart, to unite ourselves in holy and acceptable service, with angels, and arch-angels, and all the company of heaven. It is against such gross delusion that the Apostle warns us. “ The kingdom of God is not meat and drink.” It
is not form; but substance, and spirit, and life, and soul. It is “ righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
The kingdom of God is righteousness. It is the glorious distinction of Christianity, to provide for the complete establishment of holiness in the hearts of men. If any law could have given this inward life, then, we are assured, righteousness should have been by the law of Moses. But laws cannot alter the constitution of the soul. Laws cannot implant new desires, infuse new habits, communicate new powers. They may, indeed, by an outward force, restrain our outward actions. But they cannot move the interior springs of our conduct : for our natural dispositions are stronger than any law. Here, then, is the triumph of Christianity. For “ what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in