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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 14:22-23

22. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.

22. Tu fidem habes? apud teipsum habe coram Deo. Beatus qui non judicat seipsum in eo quod examinat.

23. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

23. Qui verb dijudicat si comederit condemnatus est; quia non ex fide: quicquid vero non est ex fide, peccatum est.

22. Hast thou faith? In order to conclude, he shows in what consists the advantage of Christian liberty: it hence appears, that they boast falsely of liberty who know not how to make a right use of it. He then says, that liberty really understood, as it is that of faith, has properly a regard to God; so that he who is endued with a conviction of this kind, ought to be satisfied with peace of conscience before God; nor is it needful for him to show before men that he possesses it. It hence follows, that if we offend our weak brethren by eating meats, it is through a perverse opinion; for there is no necessity to constrain us.

It is also plainly evident how strangely perverted is this passage by some, who hence conclude, that it is not material how devoted any one may be to the observance of foolish and superstitious ceremonies, provided the conscience remains pure before God. Paul indeed intended nothing less, as the context clearly shows; for ceremonies are appointed for the worship of God, and they are also a part of our confession: they then who tear off faith from confession, take away from the sun its own heat. But Paul handles nothing of this kind in this place, but only speaks of our liberty in the use of meat and drink.

Happy is he who condemns not himself, etc. Here he means to teach us, first, how we may lawfully use the gifts of God; and, secondly, how great an impediment ignorance is; and he thus teaches us, lest we should urge the uninstructed beyond the limits of their infirmity. But he lays down a general truth, which extends to all actions, -- |Happy,| he says, |is he who is not conscious of doing wrong, when he rightly examines his own deeds.| For it happens, that many commit the worst of crimes without any scruple of conscience; but this happens, because they rashly abandon themselves, with closed eyes, to any course to which the blind and violent intemperance of the flesh may lead them; for there is much difference between insensibility and a right judgment. He then who examines things is happy, provided he is not bitten by an accusing conscience, after having honestly considered and weighed matters; for this assurance alone can render our works pleasing to God. Thus is removed that vain excuse which many allege on the ground of ignorance; inasmuch as their error is connected with insensibility and sloth: for if what they call good intention is sufficient, their examination, according to which the Spirit of God estimates the deeds of men, is superfluous.

23. But he who is undecided, etc. He very fitly expresses in one word the character of that mind which vacillates and is uncertain as to what ought to be done; for he who is undecided undergoes alternate changes, and in the midst of his various deliberations is held suspended by uncertainty. As then the main thing in a good work is the persuasion of a mind conscious of being right before God, and as it were a calm assurance, nothing is more opposed to the acceptance of our works than vacillation. And, oh! that this truth were fixed in the minds of men, that nothing ought to be attempted except what the mind feels assured is acceptable to God, men would not then make such an uproar, as they often do now, nor waver, nor blindly hurry onward wherever their own imagination may lead them. For if our way of living is to be confined to this moderation, that no one is to touch a morsel of meat with a doubting conscience, how much greater caution is to be exercised in the greatest things?

And whatever is not from faith, etc. The reason for this condemnation is, that every work, however splendid and excellent in appearance, is counted as sin, except it be founded on a right conscience; for God regards not the outward display, but the inward obedience of the heart, by this alone is an estimate made of our works. Besides, how can that be obedience, when any one undertakes what he is not persuaded is approved by God? Where then such a doubt exists, the individual is justly charged with prevarication; for he proceeds in opposition to the testimony of his, own conscience.

The word faith is to be taken here for a fixed persuasion of the mind, or, so to speak, for a firm assurance, and not that of any kind, but what is derived from the truth of God. Hence doubt or uncertainty vitiates all our actions, however specious they may otherwise be. Now, since a pious mind can never acquiesce with certainty in anything but the word of God, all fictitious modes of worship do in this case vanish away, and whatever works there may be which originate in the brains of men; for while everything which is not from faith is condemned, rejected is whatever is not supported and approved by God's word. It is at the same time by no means sufficient that what we do is approved by the word of God, except the mind, relying on this persuasion, prepares itself cheerfully to do its work. Hence the first thing in a right conduct, in order that our minds may at no time fluctuate, is this, that we, depending on God's word, confidently proceed wherever it may call us.

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