The Love of Christ Constrains Us
The First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York was organized in 1760, and is now a part of the Presbyterian Church in America. But according to one account, were it not for the ministry of Rev. John B. Romeyn, the church might not exist today. In late 1803, when Rev. Romeyn accepted a call to serve the church, he found the church deeply divided. The only thing the factions could agree on was that they all wanted him for their pastor. Though he was only there for a year, by the time he left, the church had become harmonious once more, and the problems that once faced the church had faded into the past.
John Brodhead Romeyn was the son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, and he himself pastored several Dutch Reformed churches. John was born in 1777, educated at the Academy that later became Union College and placed into the senior class at Columbia College. Skipping over some of his career, he arrived at the Cedar Street Presbyterian church in New York in 1809, and this was his last church. Declining health later forced a year’s respite on the Continent, but he returned in 1814 and continued to serve that church until his death on February 22, 1825, at the age of 47.
John Romeyn grew up in a godly home, and he obviously had great advantages and learned well at his father’s side. He must have been quite mature for his age, to take a troubled church and turn it around in a year’s time. Two volumes of his sermons were published posthumously, and I can think of no better way to gain some insight into a pastor and his theology than by looking at his sermons. What follows is from the opening few pages of one of Rev. Romeyn’s sermons, this one on the text of 2 Cor. 5:14-17 [you can read more of his sermons here. Regrettably on volume 2 is available at that site.]
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:14-17, KJV)
“Festus, the Roman governor, when Paul defended himself against the charges of his enemies, said unto him “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:24-25, KJV). The great apostle of the Gentiles spake what he knew, and testified what he had seen. Because he was not deceived himself, he could not deceive others. His testimony, however, though it could not be disproved, was rejected. The Roman governor descended to the use of invective—of calumny—of ridicule. Similar views and feelings influenced certain persons in the Corinthian Church, to exhibit Paul as a weak zealot. His spotless integrity, his disinterested activity, repelled the suspicion of fraud. They therefore charged him with being “beside himself.” He acted so contrary to the principles of worldly wisdom, that there appeared some plausibility in the charge. But the moment he speaks and unfolds the motives of his conduct, that plausibility vanishes. We look for it, and wonder what it was, that for a moment made it in the least credible amongst professors of Jesus. “The love of Christ,” saith he meekly, in answer to the malice of his foes, “constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead : and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh : yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we hiim no more. Therefore is any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are become new.” Thus, by manifestation of the truth, he commended himself, not only to the understanding, but to the conscience of every man in the sight of God. The appeal which he makes is irresistible, for the reason which he offers is irrefutable.
“The love of Christ was the spring which set in motion all his affections, and gave rise to those astonishing displays which he exhibited of almost every virtue. This spring operated in the hearts of the other apostles, and still operates in the heart of every sincere minister. The love of Christ is the burden of his exhortations, as well as the principle motive which he offers for holy living. Every Christian feels this motive; it destroys selfishness; it produces holiness. It is the grand principle of a new life; of a life of religion, and of the purest morals.
“The Gospel ministry which dwells much on this love, is not unfrequently blamed, as tending to loosen our obligations to morality. So far is this from the fact, that, on the contrary, a Gospel ministry, which loses sight of this love, or does not enlarge on it, and often bring it into view, really injures the interests of morality. The love of Christ is the great and truly constraining motive to the exercise of all those virtues which, whilst they meliorate the state of man, adorn and dignify his character.…”