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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 38 - Romans 1:14 - Paul the Debtor Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


Paul has many names for himself; none of them lofty, all of them lowly; the highest, simply "an apostle." Sometimes it is Paul "the servant of Jesus Christ"; sometimes, Paul "the aged"; sometimes, Paul "the prisoner"; sometimes it is "less than the least of all saints"; sometimes, the "chief of sinners." Here it is another, "a debtor." It is then of Paul the debtor we are to speak. It is himself that takes the name; he proclaims his debts; no man lays them to his charge; God does not accuse him. It is some profound, inexpressible feeling that leads him to cry out, "I am debtor."

I. To whom is he a debtor? Not to self; not to the flesh; not to the law. He owes nothing to these. We might say, he is debtor to God; to Christ; to the cross. But these are not now in his mind. It is to Greek and Jew, wise and unwise; men of all nations; the whole fallen world, that he feels himself a debtor. He seems to stand on some high eminence, and looking round on all kingdoms, and nations, and tongues, with all their uncounted millions, he says, "To all these I am debtor, and I must pay the debt." They have done nothing for him indeed; they have persecuted, stoned, condemned, reviled him; yet that does not alter his position or cancel his debt. Do to him what they hike,—hate him, imprison him, scourge him, bind him,—he is their debtor still. His debt to them is founded on something which all this ill-usage, this malice cannot alter. He loves them still; pities them, pleads with them, beseeches them to be reconciled to God; confesses himself to be their debtor in spite of all. We speak of the world being a debtor to Paul; so, in one sense, it was; but in another, Paul is a debtor to the world. Yes, a Christian is debtor to the world,—not to his family only, or his nation,—but to the whole world. Let this thought dwell in us, and work in us; expanding and enlarging us; elevating our vision; throwing back our horizon, delivering us from all narrow heartedness on the one hand, and all false liberality on the other. We speak of the world being debtor to the church; let us never forget that according to Paul's way of thinking, and to the mind of the Holy Spirit, the church is debtor to the world.

II. When and how he became a debtor. Even as a Jew he was a debtor; for he possessed something which the world did not; and the moment I come into possession of something which my neighbor or my fellow man has not, I become debtor to that fellow man! This is God's way of reckoning, though it is not man's; for God's thoughts are not our thoughts; and it is love only that can teach us to feel and reason thus. Yet it is true reasoning, it is divine logic. It was when Paul became possessed of the unsearchable riches of Christ that he felt himself a debtor to the world. He had found a treasure, and he could not conceal it; he must speak out; he must tell abroad what he felt. He was surrounded by needy fellow men, in a poor empty world: Should he keep the treasure to himself? No. As the lepers of Samaria felt themselves debtors to the starving city, so did Paul to a famishing world. But there is much more than this,—a higher "when" and "how." Who had done all this for him, and made him to differ? It was God,—Christ Jesus. It is to God, then, that in the first place he feels himself an infinite debtor in the fullest sense. To God Himself he cannot pay this debt directly, but he can indirectly, by pouring out the God-given treasure upon others. His debt directly is to God; but then, indirectly, it is to the world. Thus the Christian man feels his debt,—his obligation to the world because of his obligation to God. But then a man must know that he has the treasure himself before he can be quickened into a feeling of his responsibility to others. The love of Christ must constrain us; a sense of what we owe to him must impel and stimulate us. Do you know yourself to be the possessor of this infinite treasure? and under the expanding pressure of this, are you roused to feel your infinite debt to all?

III. How he pays the debt. By carrying to them that gospel which he had received. That gospel, or the gift which that gospel reveals, has enriched himself infinitely, he takes these riches to others; and so he endeavors to pay his debt to God by enriching the world. He goes to Corinth,—doing what? Paying there a part of his infinite debt. He goes to Athens, to Thessalonica, to Rome,—doing what? Paying in each place part of the infinite debt which he owes to God, for his love, his pardon, and the hope of the glory. He is a rich man, and can afford to give!

We pay our debt,

(1.) By making known the gospel to others. Speak out the glad tidings, wherever you go. You are debtors. Thus pay the debt.

(2.) By prayer for others. We can reach millions by prayer, otherwise inaccessible to us. Pray for others; not your own circle only, but the world. Go round the world. Embrace all nations in your intercessions.

(3.) By our givings. In giving let us remember what we are doing, paying our debt to God. Shew your sense of his love, his gifts, by your generosity.

(4.) By our consistent life. This, at least, is expected of us. Do not misrepresent the gospel. Be a true and faithful witness for God.

Yes, you are debtors to all. Shew that you feel this. Be constrained by a loving sense of your infinite obligations and responsibilities to Him who loved you.