As he had previously exhorted them to follow after the more excellent gifts, (1 Corinthians 12:31,) so he exhorts them now to follow after love, (806) for that was the distinguished excellence, (807) which he had promised that he would show them. They will, therefore, regulate themselves with propriety in the use of gifts, if love prevails among them. For he tacitly reproves the want of love, as appearing in this — that they had hitherto abused their gifts, and, inferring from what goes before, that where they do not assign to love the chief place, they do not take the right road to the attainment of true excellence, he shows them how foolish their ambition is, which frustrates their hopes and desires.
1. Covet spiritual gifts. Lest the Corinthians should object that they wronged God, if they despised his gifts, the Apostle anticipates this objection by declaring, that it was not his design to draw them away even from those gifts that they had abused — nay rather he commends the pursuit of them, and wishes them to have a place in the Church. And assuredly, as they had been conferred for the advantage of the Church, man’s abuse of them ought not to give occasion for their being thrown away as useless or injurious, but in the meantime he commends prophecy above all other gifts, as it was the most useful of them all. He observes, therefore, an admirable medium, by disapproving of nothing that was useful, while at the same time he exhorts them not to prefer, by an absurd zeal, things of less consequence to what was of primary importance. Now he assigns the first place to prophecy. Covet, therefore, spiritual gifts —that is, “Neglect no gift, for I exhort you to seek after them all, provided only prophecy holds the first place.”
2.For he that speaketh in another (808) tongue, speaketh, etc. He now shows from the effect, why it was that he preferred prophecy to other gifts, and he compares it with the gift of tongues, in which it is probable the Corinthians exercised themselves the more, because it had more of show connected with it, for when persons hear a man speaking in a foreign tongue, their admiration is commonly excited. He accordingly shows, from principles already assumed, how perverse a thing this is, inasmuch as it does not at all contribute to the edifying of the Church. He says in the outset — He that speaketh in another tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God: that is, according to the proverb, “He sings to himself and to the Muses.” (809) In the use of the word tongue, there is not a pleonasm, (810) as in those expressions — “She spake thus with her mouth,” and “I caught the sound with these ears.” The term denotes a foreign language. The reason why he does not speak to men is — because no one heareth, that is, as an articulate voice. For all hear a sound, but they do not understand what is said.
He speaketh in the Spirit — that is, “by a spiritual gift, (for in this way I interpret it along with Chrysostom.) He speaketh mysteries and hidden things, and things, therefore, that are of no profit.” Chrysostom understands mysteries here in a good sense, as meaning — special revelations from God. I understand the term, however, in a bad sense, as meaning — dark sayings, that are obscure and involved, as if he had said, “He speaks what no one understands.”
3.He that prophesieth, speaketh unto men “Prophecy,” says he, “is profitable to all, while a foreign language is a treasure hid in the earth. What great folly, then, it is to spend all one’s time in what is useless, and, on the other hand, to neglect what appears to be most useful!” To speak to edification, is to speak what contains doctrine fitted to edify. For I understand this term to mean doctrine, by which we are trained to piety, to faith, to the worship and fear of God, and the duties of holiness and righteousness. As, however, we have for the most part need of goads, while others are pressed down by afflictions, or labor under weakness, he adds to doctrine, exhortation and consolation It appears from this passage, and from what goes before, that prophecy does not mean the gift of foretelling future events: but as I have said this once before, I do not repeat it.
4.He that speaketh in another tongue, edifieth himself. In place of what he had said before — that he speaketh unto God, he now says — he speaketh to himself But whatever is done in the Church, ought to be for the common benefit. Away, then, with that misdirected ambition, which gives occasion for the advantage of the people generally being hindered! Besides, Paul speaks by way of concession: for when ambition makes use of such empty vauntings, (811) there is inwardly no desire of doing good; but Paul does, in effect, order away from the common society of believers those men of mere show, who look only to themselves.
5.I would that ye all spake with tongues Again he declares that he does not give such a preference to prophecy, as not to leave some place for foreign tongues. This must be carefully observed. For God has conferred nothing upon his Church in vain, and languages were of some benefit. (812) Hence, although the Corinthians, by a misdirected eagerness for show, had rendered that gift partly useless and worthless, and partly even injurious, yet Paul, nevertheless, commends the use of tongues. So far is he from wishing them abolished or thrown away. At the present day, while a knowledge of languages is more than simply necessary, and while God has at this time, in his wonderful kindness, brought them forward from darkness into light, there are at present great theologians, who declaim against them with furious zeal. As it is certain, that the Holy Spirit has here honored the use of tongues with never-dying praise, we may very readily gather, what is the kind of spirit that actuates those reformers, (813) who level as many reproaches as they can against the pursuit of them. At the same time the cases are very different. For Paul takes in languages of any sort — such as served merely for the publication of the gospel among all nations. They, on the other hand, condemn those languages, from which, as fountains, the pure truth of scripture is to be drawn. An exception is added — that we must not be so taken up with the use of languages, as to treat with neglect prophecy, which ought to have the first place.
Unless he interpret. For if interpretation is added, there will then be prophecy. You must not, however, understand Paul to give liberty here to any one to take up the time of the Church to no profit by muttering words in a foreign tongue. For how ridiculous it were, to repeat the same thing in a variety of languages without any necessity! But it often happens, that the use of a foreign tongue is seasonable. In short, let us simply have an eye to this as our end — that edification may redound to the Church.
6.Now, brethren, if I should come. He proposes himself as an example, because in his person the case was exhibited more strikingly (814) The Corinthians experienced in themselves abundant fruit from his doctrine. He asks them, then, of what advantage it would be to them, if he were to make use of foreign languages among them. He shows them by this instance, how much better it were to apply their minds to prophesyings. Besides, it was less invidious to reprove this vice in his own person, than in that of another.
He mentions, however, four different kinds of edification — revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine As there are a variety of opinions among interpreters respecting them, let me be permitted, also, to bring forward my conjecture. As, however, it is but a conjecture, I leave my readers to judge of it. Revelation and prophesying I put in one class, and I am of opinion that the latter is the administration of the former. I am of the same opinion as to knowledge and doctrine What, therefore, any one has obtained by revelation, he dispenses by prophesying. Doctrine is the way of communicating knowledge. Thus a Prophet will be — one who interprets and administers revelation. This is rather in favor of the definition that I have given above, than at variance with it. For we have said that prophesying does not consist of a simple and bare interpretation of Scripture, but includes also knowledge for applying it to present use — which is obtained only by revelation, and the special inspiration of God.
7.Nay even things without life. He brings forward similitudes, first from musical instruments, and then afterwards from the nature of things generally, there being no voice that has not some peculiarity, suitable for distinction. (815) “Even things without life,” says he, “instruct us.” There are, it is true, many random sounds or crashes, without any modulation, (816) but Paul speaks here of voices in which there is something of art, as though he had said — “A man cannot give life to a harp or flute, but he makes it give forth a sound that is regulated in such a manner, that it can be distinguished. How absurd then it is, that even men, endowed with intelligence, should utter a confused, indistinguishable sound!”
We must not, however, enter here upon any minute discussion as to musical harmonies, inasmuch as Paul has merely taken what is commonly understood; as, for example, the sound of the trumpet, (817) of which he speaks shortly afterwards; for it is so much calculated to raise the spirits, that it rouses up — not only men, but even horses. Hence it is related in historical records, that the Lacedemonians, when joining battle, preferred the use of the flute, (818) lest the army should, at the first charge, rush forward upon the enemy with too keen an onset. (819) In fine, we all know by experience what power music has in exciting men’s feelings, so that Plato affirms, and not without good reason, that music has very much effect in influencing, in one way or another, the manners of a state. To speak into the air is to beat the air (1 Corinthians 9:26) to no purpose. “Thy voice will not reach either God or man, but will vanish into air.”
10.None of them dumb (820) He now speaks in a more general way, for he now takes in the natural voices of animals. He uses the term dumb here, to mean confused — as opposed to an articulate voice; for the barking of dogs differs from the neighing of horses, and the roaring of lions from the braying of asses. Every kind of bird, too, has its own particular way of singing and chirping. The whole order of nature, therefore, as appointed by God, invites us to observe a distinction. (821)
11.I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian (822) The tongue ought to be an index of the mind — not merely in the sense of the proverb, but in the sense that is explained by Aristotle in the commencement of his book — “On Interpretation.” (823) How foolish then it is and preposterous in a man, to utter in an assembly a voice of which the hearer understands nothing — in which he perceives no token from which he may learn what the person means! It is not without good reason, therefore, that Paul views it as the height of absurdity, that a man should be a barbarian to the hearers, by chattering in an unknown tongue, and at the same time he elegantly treats with derision the foolish ambition of the Corinthians, who were eager to obtain praise and fame by this means. “This reward,” says he, “you will earn — that you will be a barbarian.” For the term barbarian, whether it be an artificial one, (as Strabo thinks, (824)) or derived from some other origin, is taken in a bad sense. Hence the Greeks, who looked upon themselves as the only persons who were good speakers, and had a polished language, gave to all others the name of barbarians, from their rude and rustic dialect. No language, however, is so cultivated as not to be reckoned barbarous, when it is not understood. “He that heareth,” says Paul, “will be unto me a barbarian, and I will be so to him in return.” By these words he intimates, that to speak in an unknown tongue, is not to hold fellowship with the Church, but rather to keep aloof from it, and that he who will act this part, will be deservedly despised by others, because he first despises them.
12.Since you are in pursuit of spiritual gifts Paul concludes that the gift of tongues has not been conferred with the view of giving occasion of boasting to a few, without yielding advantage to the Church. “If spiritual gifts,” says he, “delight you, let the end be edification. Then only may you reckon, that you have attained an excellence that is true and praiseworthy — when the Church receives advantage from you. Paul, however, does not hereby give permission to any one to cherish an ambition to excel, even to the benefit of the Church, but by correcting the fault, he shows how far short they come of what they are in pursuit of, and at the same time lets them know who they are that should be most highly esteemed. He would have a man to be held in higher estimation, in proportion as he devotes himself with eagerness to promote edification. In the meantime, it is our part to have this one object in view — that the Lord may be exalted, and that his kingdom may be, from day to day, enlarged.
The term spirits, (825) he employs here, by metonymy, to denote spiritual gifts, as the spirit of doctrine, or of understanding, or of judgment, is employed to denote spiritual doctrine, or understanding, or judgment. Otherwise we must keep in view what he stated previously, that it is one and the same Spirit, who distributeth to every man various gifts according to his will. (1 Corinthians 12:11.)
13.Wherefore let him that speaketh in another tongue This is an anticipation, by way of reply to a question which might very readily be proposed to him. “If any one, therefore, is able to speak a foreign language, will the gift be useless? Why should that be kept back, which might be brought out to light, to the glory of God?” He shows the remedy. “Let him,” says he, “ask from God the gift of interpretation also. If he is without this, let him abstain in the meantime from ostentation.” (826)
14.For if I pray in another tongue. (827) While this example, too, serves to confirm what he has previously maintained, it forms, at the same time, in my opinion, an additional particular. For it is probable that the Corinthians had been in fault in this respect also, that, as they discoursed, so they also prayed in foreign tongues. At the same time, both abuses took their rise from the same source, as indeed they were comprehended under one class. What is meant by praying in a tongue, (828) appears from what goes before — to frame a prayer in a foreign language.
The meaning of the term spirit, however, is not so easily explained. The idea of Ambrose, who refers it to the Spirit that we receive in baptism, has not only no foundation, but has not even the appearance of it. Augustine takes it in a more refined way, as denoting that apprehension, which conceives ideas and signs of things, so that it is a faculty of the soul that is inferior to the understanding. There is more plausibility in the opinion of those who interpret it as meaning the breathing of the throat — that is, the breath. This interpretation, however, does not accord with the meaning which the term invariably bears in Paul’s discussion in this place: nay more, it appears to have been repeated the oftener by way of concession. For they gloried in that honorary distinction, which Paul, it is true, allows them, while, on the other hand, he shows how preposterous it is to abuse (829) a thing that is good and excellent. It is as though he had said — “Thou makest thy boast to me of spirit, but to what purpose, if it is useless?” From this consideration, I am led to agree with Chrysostom, as to the meaning of this term, who explains it, as in the previous instance, (1 Corinthians 14:12,) to mean a spiritual gift. Thus my spirit will mean — the gift conferred upon me. (830)
But here a new question arises; for it is not credible (at least we nowhere read of it) that any spoke under the influence of the Spirit in a language that was to themselves unknown. For the gift of tongues was conferred — not for the mere purpose of uttering a sound, but, on the contrary, with the view of making a communication. For how ridiculous a thing it would be, that the tongue of a Roman should be framed by the Spirit of God to pronounce Greek words, which were altogether unknown to the speaker, as parrots, magpies, and crows, are taught to mimic human voices! If, on the other hand, the man who was endowed with the gift of tongues, did not speak without sense and understanding, Paul would have had no occasion to say, that the spirit prays, but the understanding is unfruitful, for the understanding must have been conjoined with the spirit
I answer, that Paul here, for the sake of illustration, makes a supposition, that had no reality, in this way: “If the gift of tongues be disjoined from the understanding, so that he who speaks is a barbarian to himself, as well as to others, what good would he do by babbling in this manner?” For it does not, appear that the mind is here said to be unfruitful, ( ἄκαρπον ) on the ground of no advantage accruing to the Church, inasmuch as Paul is here speaking of the private prayers of an individual. Let us therefore keep it in view, that things that are connected with each other are here disjoined for the sake of illustration — not on the ground that it either can, or usually does, so happen. The meaning is now obvious. “If, therefore, I frame prayers in a language that is not understood by me, and the spirit supplies me with words, the spirit indeed itself, which regulates my tongue, will in that case pray, but my mind will either be wandering somewhere else, or at least will have no part in the prayer.”
Let us take notice, that Paul reckons it a great fault if the mind is not occupied in prayer. And no wonder; for what else do we in prayer, but pour out our thoughts and desires before God? Farther, as prayer is the spiritual worship of God, what is more at variance with the nature of it, than that it should proceed merely from the lips, and not from the inmost soul? And these things must have been perfectly familiar to every mind, had not the devil besotted the world to such a degree, as to make men believe that they pray aright, when they merely make their lips move. So obstinate, too, are Papists in their madness, that they do not merely justify the making of prayers without understanding, but even prefer that the unlearned should mutter in unknown mumblings. (831) Meanwhile they mock God by an acute sophism (832) — that the final intention is enough, or, in other words, that it is an acceptable service to God, if a Spaniard curses God in the German language, while in his mind he is tossed with various profane cares, provided only he shall, by setting himself to his form of prayer, make up matters with God by means of a thought that quickly vanishes. (833)
15.I will pray with the spirit Lest any one should ask, by way of objection, “Will the spirit then be useless in prayer?” he teaches, that it is lawful, indeed, to pray with the spirit, provided the mind be at the same time employed, that is, the understanding He allows, therefore, and sanctions the use of a spiritual gift in prayer, but requires, what is the main thing, that the mind be not unemployed. (834)
When he says, I will sing Psalms, or, I will sing, he makes use of a particular instance, instead of a general statement. For, as the praises of God were the subject-matter of the Psalms, he means by the singing of Psalms (835) — blessing God, or rendering thanks to him, for in our supplications, we either ask something from God, or we acknowledge some blessing that has been conferred upon us. From this passage, however, we at the same time infer, that the custom of singing was, even at that time, in use among believers, as appears, also, from Pliny, who, writing at least forty years, or thereabouts, after the death of Paul, mentions, that the Christians were accustomed to sing Psalms to Christ before day-break. (836) I have also no doubt, that, from the very first, they followed the custom of the Jewish Church in singing Psalms.
16Else, if thou wilt bless with the spirit. Hitherto he has been showing, that the prayers of every one of us will be vain and unfruitful, if the understanding does not go along with the voice. He now comes to speak of public prayers also. “If he that frames or utters forth prayers in the name of the people is not understood by the assembly, how will the common people add an expression of their desires in the close, so as to take part in them? For there is no fellowship in prayer, unless when all with one mind unite in the same desires. The same remark applies to blessing, or giving thanks to God.”
Paul’s expression, however, intimates, (837) that some one of the ministers uttered or pronounced prayers in a distinct voice, and that the whole assembly followed in their minds the words of that one person, until he had come to a close, and then they all said Amen — to intimate, that the prayer offered up by that one person was that of all of them in common. (838) It is known, that Amen is a Hebrew word, derived from the same term from which comes the word that signifies faithfulness or truth. (839) It is, accordingly, a token of confirmation, (840) both in alarming, and in desiring. (841) Farther, as the word was, from long use, familiar among the Jews, it made its way from them to the Gentiles, and the Greeks made use of it as if it had belonged originally to their own language. Hence it came to be a term in common use among all nations. Now Paul says — “If in public prayer thou makest use of a foreign tongue, that is not understood by theunlearned and the common people among whom thou speakest, there will be no fellowship, and thy prayer or blessing will be no longer a public one.” “Why?” “No one,” says he, “can add his Amen to thy prayer or psalm, if he does not understand it.”
Papists, on the other hand, reckon that to be a sacred and legitimate observance, which Paul so decidedly rejects. In this they discover an amazing impudence. Nay more, this is a clear token from which we learn how grievously, and with what unbridled liberty, Satan rages in the dogmas of Popery. (842) For what can be clearer than those words of Paul — than an unlearned person cannot take any part in public prayer if he does not understand what is said? What can be plainer than this prohibition — “let not prayers or thanksgivings be offered up in public, except in the vernacular tongue.” In doing every day, what Paul says should not, or even cannot, be done, do they not reckon him to be illiterate ? In observing with the utmost strictness what he forbids, do they not deliberately contemn God? We see, then, how Satan sports among them with impunity. Their diabolical obstinacy shows itself in this — that, when admonished, they are so far from repenting, that they defend this gross abuse by fire and sword.
18.I thank, etc. As there are many that detract from another’s excellencies, in which they cannot themselves have distinction, Paul, that he might not seem to depreciate, through malignity or envy, the gift of tongues, anticipates that suspicion, by showing that he is, in this respect, superior to them all. “See,” says he, “how little occasion you have to suspect the design of my discourse, as if I depreciated what I myself lacked; for if we were to contend as to tongues, there is not one of you that could bear comparison with me. While, however, I might display myself to advantage in this department., I am more concerned for edification.” Paul’s doctrine derives no small weight from the circumstance, that he has not an eye to himself. Lest, however, he should appear excessively arrogant, in preferring himself before all others, he ascribes it all to God. Thus he tempers his boasting with modesty.
19.I would rather speak five words. This is spoken hyperbolically, unless you understand five words, as meaning five sentences. Now as Paul, who might otherwise have exulted loftily in his power of speaking with tongues, voluntarily abstains from it, and, without any show, aims at edification exclusively, he reproves, by this means, the empty ambition of those, that are eagerly desirous to show themselves off with empty tinkling. (1 Corinthians 13:1.) The authority of the Apostle ought, also, to have no little weight in drawing them off from vanity of this kind.
20.Brethren, be not children in understanding He proceeds a step farther; for he shows that the Corinthians are so infatuated, that they, of their own accord. draw down upon themselves, and eagerly desire, as though it were a singular benefit, what the Lord threatens that he will send, when he designs to inflict upon his people the severest punishment. What dreadful madness is this — to pursue eagerly with their whole desire, what, in the sight of God, is regarded as a curse! That we may, however, understand more accurately Paul’s meaning, we must, observe, that this statement is grounded on the testimony of Isaiah, which he immediately afterwards subjoins. (Isaiah 28:11.) And as interpreters have been misled, from not observing the connection to be of this nature, to prevent all mistake, we shall first explain the passage in Isaiah, and then we shall come to Paul’s words.
In that chapter the Prophet, inveighs with severity against the ten tribes, which had abandoned themselves to every kind of wickedness. The only consolation is, that God had still a people uncorrupted in the tribe of Judah; but straightway he deplores the corruption of that tribe also; and he does so the more sharply, because there was no hope of amendment. For thus he speaks in the name of God — Whom shall I teach knowledge? those that are weaned from their mother? those that are drawn from the breasts By this he means, that they are no more capable of instruction than little children but lately weaned.
It is added — Precept upon precept, instruction upon instruction, charge upon charge, direction upon direction, here a little, and there a little In these words he expresses, in the style of a mimic, (843) the slowness and carelessness by which they were kept back. “In teaching them, I lose my labor, for they make no progress, because they are beyond measure uncultivated, and what they had been taught by means of long-continued labor, they in a single moment forget.”
It is added still farther — He that speaketh to that people is like one that maketh use of stammering lips, and a foreign language This is the passage that Paul quotes. Now the meaning is, (844) that the people have been visited with such blindness and madness, that they no more understand God when speaking to them, than they would some barbarian or foreigner, stammering in an unknown tongue — which is a dreadful curse. He has not, however, quoted the Prophet’s words with exactness, because he reckoned it enough to make a pointed reference to the passage, that the Corinthians, on being admonished, might attentively consider it. As to his saying that it was written in the law, (845) this is not at variance with common usage; for the Prophets had not a ministry distinct from the law, but were the interpreters of the law, and their doctrine is, as it were, a sort of appendage to it; hence the law included the whole body of Scripture, up to the advent of Christ. Now Paul from this infers as follows — “Brethren, it is necessary to guard against that childishness, which is so severely reproved by the Prophet — that the word of God sounds in your ears without any fruit. Now, when you reject prophecy, which is placed within your reach, and prefer to stand amazed at empty sound, is not this voluntarily to incur the curse of God? (846)
Farther, lest the Corinthians should say in reply, that to be spiritually children, is elsewhere commended, (Matthew 18:4,) Paul anticipates this objection, and exhorts them, indeed, to be children in malice, but to beware of being children in understanding Hence we infer how shameless a part those act, who make Christian simplicity consist in ignorance. Paul would have all believers to be, as far as possible, in full maturity as to understanding The Pope, inasmuch as it is easier to govern asses than men, gives orders, under pretext of simplicity, that all under him shall remain uninstructed. (847) Let us from this draw a comparison between the dominion of Popery, and the institution of Christ, and see how far they agree. (848)
22.Therefore tongues are for a sign This passage may be explained in two ways, by considering the word therefore as referring merely to the preceding sentence, or as having a bearing generally on the whole of the foregoing discussion. If it is a particular inference, the meaning will be — “ You see, brethren, that what you so eagerly desire is not a blessing bestowed by God upon believers, but a punishment, by which he inflicts vengeance upon unbelievers.” In this way, Paul would not be viewed as taking in the use of tongues under all circumstances, but simply as touching upon what had in one instance occurred. Should any one, however, prefer to extend it to the whole discussion, I have no objection, though I do not dislike the former interpretation.
Taking it in a general way, the meaning will be “Tongues, in so far as they are given for a sign — that is, for a miracle — are appointed not properly for believers, but for unbelievers.” The advantages derived from tongues were various. They provided against necessity — that diversity of tongues might not prevent the Apostles from disseminating the gospel over the whole world: there was, consequently, no nation with which they could not hold fellowship. They served also to move or terrify unbelievers by the sight of a miracle — for the design of this miracle, equally with others, was to prepare those who were as yet at a distance from Christ for rendering obedience to him. Believers, who had already devoted themselves to his doctrine, did not stand so much in need of such preparation. Hence, the Corinthians brought forward that gift improperly and out of its right place, allowing prophecy in the meantime to be neglected, which was peculiarly and specially set apart for believers, and ought, therefore, to be familiar to them, for in tongues they looked to nothing farther than the miracle.
23.If therefore the whole Church come together As they did not see their fault, in consequence of having their minds pre-occupied with a foolish and depraved desire, he tells them that they will be exposed to the scorn of the wicked or the unlearned, if any, on coming into their assembly, should hear them uttering a sound, but not speaking. For what unlearned person will not reckon those to be out of their right mind, who, in place of speech, utter empty sound, and are taken up with that vanity, while they were gathered together for the purpose of hearing the doctrine of God? This statement has much that is cutting: “You applaud yourselves in your own sleeve; but the wicked and the unlearned laugh at your fooleries. You do not, therefore, see what to the unlearned and unbelieving is perfectly manifest.”
Here Chrysostom starts a question’ “If tongues were given to unbelievers for a sign, why does the Apostle say now, that they will be derided by them?” He answers, that they are for a sign to fill them with astonishment — not to instruct them, or to reform them. At the same time he adds, that it is owing to their wickedness, that they look upon the sign as madness. This explanation does not satisfy me; for however an unbeliever or unlearned person may be affected by a miracle, and may regard with reverence the gift of God, he does not cease on that account to deride and condemn an unseasonable abuse of the gift, (849) and think thus with himself: “What do these men mean, by wearying out themselves and others to no purpose? Of what avail is their speaking, if nothing is to be learned from it?” Paul’s meaning, therefore, is — that the Corinthians would be justly convicted of madness by the unbelieving and unlearned, however much they might please themselves. (850)
24.But if all prophesy As he had previously showed them, how much more advantageous prophecy is to those that are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) than the gift of tongues, so he now shows that it would be useful also to those that are without. (1 Corinthians 5:13.) This is a most powerful consideration for showing the Corinthians their error. For what a base part it is to depreciate a gift that is most useful both within and without, and to be wholly taken up with another gift which is useless to those that are within the house; and, in addition to this, gives occasion of offense to those that are without. He sets before them this advantage of prophecy, that it summons the consciences of the wicked to the tribunal of God, and strikes them with a lively apprehension of divine judgment in such a manner, that he who before in utter regardlessness despised sound doctrine, is constrained to give glory to God.
We shall find it, however, much easier to understand this passage, if we compare it with another that occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12.)
The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow — a discerner of the thoughts of the heart. (851)
For in both passages, it is the same kind of efficacy of the Word of God that is spoken of: only in that other passage it is spoken of more fully and distinctly. So far as the passage before us is concerned, it is not difficult to understand now, what is meant by being convinced and judged. The consciences of men are in a torpid state, (852) and are not touched with any feeling of dissatisfaction on account of their sins, so long as they are enveloped in the darkness of ignorance. In short, unbelief is like a lethargy that takes away feeling. But the Word of God penetrates even to the farthest recesses of the mind, and by introducing, as it were, a light, dispels darkness, and drives away that deadly torpor. Thus, then, unbelievers are convinced, inasmuch as they are seriously affected and alarmed, on coming to know that they have to do with God; and, in like manner, they are judged in this respect, that whereas they were previously involved in darkness, and did not perceive their own wretchedness and baseness, they are now brought into the light of day, and are constrained to bear witness against themselves.
When he says, that they are judged and convinced by all, you must understand him as meaning all that prophesy; for he had said a little before, If ye all prophesy, (1 Corinthians 14:24.) He has expressly made use of a general term, with the view of removing the dislike that they felt for prophecy. (853) The unbeliever, I say, is convinced — not as if the Prophet pronounced a judgment upon him either silently in the mind, or openly with the mouth, but because the conscience of the hearer apprehends from the doctrine his own judgment. He is judged, inasmuch as he descends into himself, and, after thorough examination, comes to know himself, while previously he was unmindful of himself. To the same purpose, too, is that saying of Christ:
The Spirit, when he is come, will convince the world of sin,
and this is what he immediately adds — that the secrets of his heart are made manifest For he does not mean, in my opinion, that it becomes manifest to others what sort of person he is, but rather that his own conscience is aroused, so that he perceives his sins, which previously lay hid from his view.
Here again Chrysostom asks, how it comes to pass that prophecy is so effectual for arousing unbelievers, while Paul had said a little before that it was not given to them. He answers, that it was not given to them as a useless sign, but for the purpose of instructing them. For my part, however, I think that it will be simpler, and therefore more suitable, to say that it was not given to unbelievers, who perish, whose hearts
Satan has blinded, that they may not see the light which shines forth from it.
(2 Corinthians 4:3.)
It will also suit better to connect this statement with the prophecy (854) of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:11,) because the Prophet speaks of unbelievers, among whom prophecy is of no profit or advantage.
25.Falling down on his face, he will worship For it is only the knowledge of God that can bring down the pride of the flesh. To that, prophecy brings us. Hence, it is its proper effect and nature to bring down men from their loftiness, that they may, with prostrate homage, render worship to God. To many, however, prophecy also is of no benefit — nay more, they are made worse by what they hear. Nor was it even Paul’s intention to ascribe this effect to prophecy, as if it were always the result of it. He simply designed to show how much advantage is derived from it, and what is its office. It is therefore a singular commendation, that it extorts from unbelievers this confession — that God is present with his people, and that his majesty shines forth in the midst of their assembly.
26.What is it then? He now shows the way in which they may remedy those evils. In the first place, each gift must have its place, but in order and in measure. Farther, the Church must not be taken up to no purpose with unprofitable exercises, but must, in whatever is done, have an eye to edification. He speaks, however, in the first place of edification in this way: “Let every one, according as he has been endowed with some particular gift, make it his aim to lay it out for the advantage of all.” For it is in this way that we must understand the word rendered every one — that no one may take it as implying universality, as though all to a man were endowed with some such gift.
27.If any one speak in another tongue He now describes the order and limits the measure. “If you have a mind to speak with other tongues,let only two speak, or, at most, not more than three, and let there be at the same time an interpreter sitting by Without an interpreter, tongues are of no advantage: let them, therefore be dispensed with.” It is to be observed, however, that he does not command, but merely permits; for the Church can, without any inconvenience, dispense with tongues, except in so far as they are helps to prophecy, as the Hebrew and Greek languages are at this day. Paul, however, makes this concession, that he may not seem to deprive the assembly of believers of any gift of the Spirit.
At the same time, it might seem as if even this were not agreeable to reason, inasmuch as he said before, (1 Corinthians 14:22,) that tongues, in so far as they are for a sign, are suited to unbelievers. I answer, that, while a miracle may be performed more particularly with a view to unbelievers, it, nevertheless, does not follow, that it may not be of some advantage to believers also. If you understand, that an unknown tongue is a sign to unbelievers in the sense that Isaiah’s words (857) bear, the method of procedure, which Paul here prescribes, is different. For he allows of other tongues in such a way that, interpretation being joined with them, nothing is left obscure. He observes, therefore, a most admirable medium in correcting the fault of the Corinthians. On the one hand, he does not at all set aside any gift of God whatever, (858) in order that all his benefits may be seen among believers. On the other hand he makes a limitation — that ambition do not usurp the place that is due to the glory of God, and that no gift of inferior importance stand in the way of those that are of chief moment; and he adds the sauce (859) — that there be no mere ostentation, devoid of advantage.
28.Let him speak to himself and to God “Let him enjoy,” says he, “his gift in his own conscience, and let him give thanks to God.” For in this way I explain the expression to speak to himself and to God, as meaning — to recognize in his own mind with thanksgiving the favor conferred upon him, (860) and to enjoy it as his own, when there is not an opportunity for bringing it forward in a public manner. For he draws a contrast between this secret way of speaking, and speaking publicly in the Church — which he forbids. (861)
29.Prophets, two or three. As to prophecy, too, he prescribes limits, because “multitude,” as they commonly say, “breeds confusion.” This is true, for we know it by every day’s experience. He does not, however, restrict the number so definitely, as when he was treating of tongues, for there is less danger, in the event of their applying themselves for a longer time to prophesyings, nay more, continued application would be the most desirable thing of all; but Paul considered what the weakness of men could bear.
There still remains, however, a question — why it is that he assigns the like number to prophesyings and to tongues, except that, as to the latter, he adds particularly — at the most, for if tongues are less useful, there ought assuredly to be a more sparing use of them? I answer, that even in tongues, as he takes the term, prophecy is included; for tongues were made use of either for discourses, (862) or for prayers. In the former department, the interpreter was in the place of the prophet: thus it was the principal and more frequent exercise of it. Only he limits the measure of it, lest it should fall into contempt through a feeling of disgust, and lest those who were less skillful should prevent those that were better qualified from having time and opportunity of speaking; for he would, undoubtedly, have those to whom he assigns the duty of speaking, to be of the more select class, and appointed by their common suffrages. (863) None, however, are more inclined to push themselves forward, than those who have but a slight smattering of learning, so that the proverb holds good, “Ignorance is pert.” (864) Paul had it in view to remedy this evil, by assigning the office of speaking to two orthree
Let the others judge. Lest he should give any occasion to the others to complain — as though he were desirous that the gift of God (865) should be suppressed among them and buried, he shows in what way they may lawfully make use of it for the benefit of the Church, even by keeping silence — if they set themselves tojudge of what is said by others. For it is of no small advantage, that there should be some that are skillful in judging, who will not allow sound doctrine to be perverted by the impostures of Satan, or to be otherwise corrupted by silly trifles. Paul, accordingly, teaches that the other prophets will be useful to the Church, even by keeping silence.
It may seem, however, to be absurd that men should have liberty given them to judge of the doctrine of God, which ought to be placed beyond all controversy. I answer, that the doctrine of God is not subjected to the scrutiny of men, but there is simply permission given them to judge by the Spirit of God, whether it is his word that is set before them, or whether human inventions are, without any authority, set off under this pretext, as we shall have occasion to notice again ere long.
30.But if anything be revealed to another. Here is another advantage — that whenever there will be occasion, the way will also be open to them. (866) Hence they have no longer any occasion to complain, that the Spirit is bound, or that his mouth is shut. For all have opportunity and liberty allowed them of speaking, when there is occasion for it, provided only no one unseasonably intrudes — having it in view to please himself, rather than to serve some useful purpose. Now he requires this modesty on the part of all — that every one in his place shall give way to another that has something better to bring forward. (867) For this only is the true liberty of the Spirit — not that every one be allowed to blab out rashly whatever he pleases, but that all, from the highest to the lowest, voluntarily allow themselves to be under control, and that the one Spirit be listened to, by whatever mouth he speaks. As to the certainty of the revelation, we shall see ere long.
31.You can all, one by one. In the first place, when he says all, he does not include believers universally, but only those that were endowed with this gift. Farther, he does not mean that all ought to have equally their turn, but that, according as it might be for the advantage of the people, each one should come forward to speak either more frequently or more seldom. (868) “No one will remain always unemployed; but an opportunity of speaking will present itself, sometimes to one and at other times to another.”
He adds, that all may learn. This is applicable, it is true, to the whole of the people, but it is particularly suited to the Prophets, and Paul more especially refers to them. For no one will ever be a good teacher, who does not show himself to be teachable, as no one will ever be found who has, in himself alone, such an overflowing in respect of perfection of doctrine, as not to derive benefit from listening to others. Let all, therefore, undertake the office of teaching on this principle, that they do not refuse or grudge, to be scholars to each other in their turn, whenever there shall be afforded to others the means of edifying the Church.
He says, in the second place, that all may receive consolation. Hence we may infer, that the ministers of Christ, so far from envying, should rather rejoice with all their heart, that they are not the only persons that excel, but have fellow-partakers of the same gift — a disposition which Moses discovered, as is related in sacred history. (Numbers 11:28.) For when his servant, inflamed with a foolish jealousy, was greatly displeased, because the gift of prophecy was conferred upon others also, he reproves him: “Nay,” says he, “would that all the people of God were sharers with me in this superior gift!” And, undoubtedly, it is a special consolation for pious ministers, to see the Spirit of God, whose instruments they are, working in others also, and they derive also from this no small confirmation. It is a consolation, too, that it contributes to the spread of the word of God, the more it has of ministers and witnesses.
As, however, the word παρακαλεῖσθαι, which Paul here employs, is of doubtful signification, (869) it might also be rendered may receive exhortation. (870) Nor would this be unsuitable, for it is sometimes of advantage to listen to others, that we may be more powerfully stirred up to duty.
32.And the spirits of the Prophets. This, too, is one of the reasons, why it is necessary for them to take turns — because it will sometimes happen that, in the doctrine of one Prophet, the others may find something to reprove. “It is not reasonable,” says he, “that any one should be beyond the sphere of scrutiny. In this way it will sometimes come to a person’s turn to speak, who was among the audience and was sitting silent.”
This passage has been misunderstood by some, as if Paul had said, that the Lord’s Prophets were not like persons taken with a sudden frenzy, who, when a divine impulse ( ἐνθουσιασμὸς) had once seized them, (871) were no longer masters of themselves. (872) It is indeed true that God’s Prophets are not disordered in mind; but this has nothing to do with this passage of Paul’s writings. For it means, as I have already stated, that no one is exempted from the scrutiny of others, but that all must be listened to, with this understanding, that their doctrine is, nevertheless, to be subjected to examination. It is not, however, without difficulty, for the Apostle declares that their spirits are subject. Though it is of gifts that he speaks, how can prophecy, which is given by the Holy Spirit, be judged of by men, so that the Spirit himself is not judged by them? In this manner, even the word of God, which is revealed by the Spirit; will be subjected to examination. The unseemliness of this needs not be pointed out, for it is of itself abundantly evident. I maintain, however, that neither the Spirit of God nor his word is restrained by a scrutiny of this kind. The Holy Spirit, I say, retains his majesty unimpaired, so as to
judge all things, while he is judged by no one.
(1 Corinthians 2:15.)
The sacred word of God, too, retains the respect due to it, so that it is received without any disputation, as soon as it is presented.
“What is it, then,” you will say, “that is subjected to examination?”’ I answer — If any one were furnished with a full revelation, that man would undoubtedly, along with his gift, be above all scrutiny. There is, I say, no subjection, where there is a plenitude of revelation; but as God has distributed his spirit to every one in a certain measure, in such a way that, even amidst the greatest abundance, there is always something wanting, it is not to be wondered, if no one is elevated to such a height, as to look down from aloft upon all others, and have no one to pass judgment upon him. We may now see how it is, that, without any dishonor to the Holy Spirit, his gifts admit of being examined. Nay more, where, after full examination, nothing is found that is worthy of reproof, there will still be something, that stands in need of polishing. The sum of all, therefore, is this — that the gift is subjected to examination in such a way, that whatever is set forth, the Prophets consider as to it — whether it has proceeded from the Spirit of God; for if it shall appear that the Spirit is the author of it, there is no room left for hesitation.
It is, however still farther asked — “What rule is to be made use of in examining?” This question is answered in part by the mouth of Paul, who, in Romans 12:6, requires that prophecy be regulated according to the proportion of faith. As to the passing of judgment, however, there is no doubt, that it ought to be regulated by the word and Spirit of God — that nothing may be approved of, but what is discovered to be from God — that nothing may be found fault with but in accordance with his word — in fine, that God alone may preside in this judgment, and that men may be merely his heralds.
From this passage of Paul’s writings, we may conjecture how very illustrious that Church was, in respect of an extraordinary abundance and variety of spiritual gifts. There were colleges of Prophets, so that pains had to be taken, that they might have their respective turns. There was so great a diversity of gifts, that there was a superabundance. We now see our leanness, nay, our poverty; but in this we have a just punishment, sent to requite our ingratitude. For neither are the riches of God exhausted, nor is his benignity lessened; but we are neither deserving of his bounty, nor capable of receiving his liberality. Still we have an ample sufficiency of light and doctrine, provided there were no deficiency in respect of the cultivation of piety, and the fruits that spring from it.
“Non comtaee mansere comae; sed pectus anhelum,
Et rabie fera corda tument: majorque videri,
Nee mortale sonans, attlata est numine quando
Jam propiore dei.”
“But when the headstrong god, not yet appeased,
With holy frenzy had the Sibyl seized,
Terror froze up her grisly hair; her breast
Throbbing with holy fury, still expressed
A greater horror, and she bigger seems,
Swoln with the afflatus, whilst in holy screams
She unfolds the hidden mysteries of fate.”
Virg. Aen.VI. 48-51. — Ed.
33.For God is not of confusion. (873) We must understand the word Author, or some term of that kind. (874) Here we have a most valuable statement, by which we are taught, that we do not serve God unless in the event of our being lovers of peace, and eager to promote it. Whenever, therefore, there is a disposition to quarrel, there, it is certain, God does not reign. And how easy it is to say this! How very generally all have it in their mouths! Yet, in the meantime, the most of persons fly into a rage about nothing, or they trouble the Church, from a desire that they may, by some means, rise into view, and may seem to be somewhat. (Galatians 2:6.)
Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that, in judging as to the servants of Christ, this mark must be kept in view — whether or not they aim at peace and concord, and, by conducting themselves peaceably, avoid contentions to the utmost of their power, provided, however, we understand by this a peace of which the truth of God is the bond. For if we are called to contend against wicked doctrines, even though heaven and earth should come together, we must, nevertheless, persevere in the contest. We must, indeed, in the first place, make it our aim, that the truth of God may, without contention, maintain its ground; but if the wicked resist, we must set our face against them, and have no fear, lest the blame of the disturbances should be laid to our charge. For accursed is that peace of which revolt from God is the bond, and blessed are those contentions by which it is neces sary to maintain the kingdom of Christ.
As in all the Churches. The comparison (875) does not refer merely to what was said immediately before, but to the whole of the foregoing representation. “I have hitherto enjoined upon you nothing that is not observed in all the Churches, and, in this manner, they are maintained in peace. Let it be your care, therefore, to borrow, what other Churches have found by experience to be salutary, and most profitable for maintaining peace.” His explicit mention of the term saints is emphatic — as if with the view of exempting rightly constituted Churches from a mark of disgrace. (876)
It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.
34.Let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “For what is there,” some one will say, “to hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching (877) is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside (878) over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent — If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. (879) And unquestionably, (880) wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly. Nay more, while originally they had permission given to them at Rome to plead before a court, (881) the effrontery of Caia Afrania (882) led to their being interdicted, even from this. Paul’s reasoning, however, is simple — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.
35.If they wish to learn any thing. That he may not seem, by this means, to shut out women from opportunities of learning, he desires them, if they are in doubt as to anything, to inquire in private, that they may not stir up any disputation in public. When he says, husbands, he does not prohibit them from consulting the Prophets themselves, if necessary. For all husbands are not competent to give an answer in such a case; but, as he is reasoning here as to external polity, he reckons it sufficient to point out what is unseemly, that the Corinthians may guard against it. In the meantime, it is the part of the prudent reader to consider, that the things of which he here treats are intermediate and indifferent, in which there is nothing unlawful, but what is at variance with propriety and edification.
36Did the word of God come out from you? This is a somewhat sharper reproof, but nothing more than was needful for beating down the haughtiness of the Corinthians. They were, beyond measure, self-complacent. They could not endure that either themselves, or what belonged to them, should be found fault with in anything. He asks, accordingly, whether they are the only Christians in the world; nay, farther, whether they are the first, or are to be the last? “Did the word of God,” says he, “come out from you?” that is, “Did it originate with you?” “Has it ended with you?” that is, “Will it spread no farther?” The design of the admonition is this — that they may not, without having any regard to others, please themselves in their own contrivances or customs. And this is a doctrine of general application; for no Church should be taken up with itself exclusively, to the neglect of others; but on the contrary, they ought all, in their turn, to hold out the right hand to each other, in the way of cherishing mutual fellowship, and accommodating themselves to each other, in so far as a regard to harmony requires. (883)
But here it is asked, whether every Church, according as it has had the precedence of another in the order of time, (884) has it also in its power to bind it to observe its institutions. (885) For Paul seems to intimate this in what he says. For example, Jerusalem was the mother of all the Churches, inasmuch as the word of the Lord had come out from it Was she then at liberty to assume to herself a superior right, so as to bind all others to follow her? I answer, that Paul here does not employ an argument of universal application, but one that was specially applicable to the Corinthians, as is frequently the case. He had, therefore, an eye to individuals, rather than to the thing itself. Hence it does not necessarily follow, that Churches that are of later origin must be bound to observe, in every point, the institutions of the earlier ones, inasmuch as even Paul himself did not bind himself by this rule, so as to obtrude upon other Churches the customs that were in use at Jerusalem. Let there be nothing of ambition — let there be nothing of obstinacy — let there be nothing of pride and contempt for other Churches — let there be, on the other hand, a desire to edify — let there be moderation and prudence; and in that case, amidst a diversity of observances, there will be nothing that is worthy of reproof.
Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that the haughtiness of the Corinthians is here reproved, who, concerned for themselves exclusively, (886) showed no respect to the Churches of earlier origin, from which they had received the gospel, and did not endeavor to accommodate themselves to other Churches, to which the gospel had flowed out from them. Would to God that there were no Corinth in our times, in respect of this fault, as well as of others! But we see how savage men, who have never tasted the gospel, (Hebrews 6:5,) trouble the Churches of the saints by a tyrannical enforcement of their own laws. (887)
37.If any one thinks himself. Mark here the judgment, which he had previously assigned to the Prophets — that they should receive what they recognised as being from God. He does not, however, desire them to inquire as to his doctrine, as though it were a doubtful matter, but to receive it as the sure word of God, inasmuch as they will recognize it as the word of God, if they judge rightly. Farther, it is in virtue of apostolical authority, that he takes it upon himself to prescribe to them the sentence which they ought to pronounce. (888)
There is still greater confidence in what he immediately adds — He that is ignorant, let him be ignorant. This, it is true, was allowable for Paul, who was fully assured as to the revelation that he had received from God, and he ought also to have been well known to the Corinthians, so that they should have looked upon him in no other light, than as an Apostle of the Lord. It is not, however, for every one to advance such a claim for himself, or if he does, he will, by his boasting, throw himself open to merited derision, for then only is there ground for such confidence, when what is affirmed with the mouth shows itself in reality. It was with truth that Paul affirmed, that his precepts were those of the Lord. Many will be prepared to pretend the same thing on false grounds. His great object is this — that it may be clearly perceived, that he who does not allow himself to be under control, speaks as from the Holy Spirit, not from his own brain. That man, therefore, who is no other than a pure organ of the Holy Spirit, will have the courage to declare fearlessly with Paul, that those who shall reject his doctrine, are not Prophets or spiritual persons; and this he will do in virtue of a right that belongs to him, in accordance with what we had in the beginning of the Epistle — he that is spiritual, judgeth all things. (1 Corinthians 2:15.)
But it may be asked here, how it is that Paul declares those things to be commandments of the Lord, as to which no statement is to be found in the Scriptures? Besides this, there is also another difficulty that presents itself — that if they are the commandments of the Lord, they are necessary to be observed, and they bind the conscience, and yet they are rites connected with polity, as to the observance of which no such necessity exists. Paul, however, merely says, that he enjoins nothing, but what is in accordance with the will of God. Now God endowed him with wisdom, that he might recommend this order in external things at Corinth, and in other places — not that it might be an inviolable law, like those that relate to the spiritual worship of God, but that it might be a useful directory to all the sons of God, and not by any means to be despised.
38.But if any man be ignorant The old translation reads thus: He that knows not this, will be unknown; (889) but this is a mistake. For Paul had it in view to cut off every handle from contentious persons, who make no end of disputing, and that, under the pretense of inquiring — as if the matter were not yet clear; or at least he intimates in general terms, that he regarded as of no account any one that would call in question what he said. “If any one is ignorant, I do not stop to take notice of his doubts, for the certainty of my doctrine is not at all impaired thereby. Let him go then, whoever he may be. As for you, do not the less on that account give credit to Christ, as speaking by me.” In fine, he intimates, that sceptics, contentious persons, and subtle disputants; (890) do not by the questions they raise diminish, in any degree, the authority of sound doctrine, and of that truth as to which believers ought to feel assured, and at the same time he admonishes us, not to allow their doubts to be any hindrance in our way. That elevation of mind, however, which despises all human judgments, ought to be founded on ascertained truth. Hence, as it would be the part of perverse rashness, either to maintain pertinaciously, in opposition to the views of all others, an opinion that has once been taken up, or audaciously to cling to it, while others are in doubt, so, on the other hand, when we have felt assured that it is God that speaks, let us fearlessly break through all human impediments and all difficulties. (891)
39.Wherefore, brethren This is the conclusion in connection with the principal question — that prophecy is to be preferred to other gifts, because it is the most useful gift of all, while at the same time other gifts ought not to be despised. We must observe, however, his manner of speaking. For he intimates, that prophecy is worthy of being eagerly and ardently aspired at by all. In the meantime, he exhorts them not to envy others the rarer gift, (892) which is not so much to be desired; nay more, to allow them the praise that is due to them, divesting themselves of all envy.
40.All things decently and in order Here we have a more general conclusion, which does not merely include, in short compass, the entire case, but also the different parts. Nay farther, it is a rule by which we must regulate (893) everything, that has to do with external polity. As he had discoursed, in various instances, as to rites, he wished to sum up everything here in a brief summary — that decorum should be observed — that confusion should be avoided. This statement shows, that he did not wish to bind consciences by the foregoing precepts, as if they were in themselves necessary, but only in so far as they were subservient to propriety and peace. Hence we gather (as I have said) a doctrine that is always in force, as to the purpose to which the polity of the Church ought to be directed. The Lord has left external rites in our choice with this view — that we may not think that his worship consists wholly in these things.
In the meantime, he has not allowed us a rambling and unbridled liberty, but has inclosed it (so to speak) with railings, (894) or at least has laid a restriction upon the liberty granted by him in such a manner, that it is after all only from his word that we can judge as to what is right. This passage, therefore, when duly considered, will show the difference between the tyrannical edicts of the Pope, which oppress men’s consciences with a dreadful bondage, and the godly regulations of the Church, by which discipline and order are maintained. Nay farther, we may readily infer from this, that the latter are not to be looked upon as human traditions, inasmuch as they are founded upon this general injunction, and have a manifest approval, as it were, from the mouth of Christ himself.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter