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The characteristic Greek tendency to factions was threatening to rend the Corinthian Church, and each faction was swearing by a favourite teacher. Paul and his companion, Apollos, had been taken as the figureheads of two of these parties, and so he sets himself in the context, first of all to show that neither of the two was of any real importance in regard to the Church’s life. They were like a couple of gardeners, one of whom did the planting, and the other the watering; but neither the man that put the little plant into the ground, nor the man that came after him with a watering-pot, had anything to do with originating the mystery of the life by which the plant grew. That was God’s work, and the pair that had planted and watered were nothing. So what was the use of fighting which of two nothings was the greater?
But then he bethinks himself that that is not quite all. The man that plants and the man that waters are something after all. They do not communicate life, but they do provide for its nourishment. And more than that, the two operations-that of the man with the dibble and that of the man with the watering-pot-are one in issue; and so they are partners, and in some respects may be regarded as one. Then what is the sense of pitting them against each other?
But even that is not quite all; though united in operation, they are separate in responsibility and activity, and will be separate in reward. And even that is not all; for, being nothing and yet something, being united and yet separate, they are taken into participation and co-operation with God; and as my text puts it, in what is almost a presumptuous phrase, they are ‘labourers together with Him.’ That partnership of co-operation is not merely a partnership of the two, but it is a partnership of the three-God and the two who, in some senses, are one.
Now whilst this text is primarily spoken in regard to the apostolic and evangelistic work of these early teachers, the principle which it embodies is a very wide one, and it applies in all regions of life and activity, intellectual, scholastic, philanthropic, social. Where-ever men are thinking God’s thoughts and trying to carry into effect any phase or side of God’s manifold purposes of good and blessing to the world, there it is true. We claim no special or exclusive prerogative for the Christian teacher. Every man that is trying to make men understand God’s thought, whether it is expressed in creation, or whether it is written in history, or whether it is carven in half-obliterated letters on the constitution of human nature, every man who, in any region of society or life, is seeking to effect the great designs of the universal loving Father-can take to himself, in the measure and according to the manner of his special activity, the great encouragement of my text, and feel that he, too, in his little way, is a fellow-helper to the truth and a fellow-worker with God. But then, of course, according to New Testament teaching, and according to the realities of the case, the highest form in which men thus can co-operate with God, and carry into effect His purposes is that in which men devote themselves, either directly or indirectly, to spreading throughout the whole world the name and the power of the Saviour Jesus Christ, in whom all God’s will is gathered, and through whom all God’s blessings are communicated to mankind. So the thought of my text comes appropriately when I have to bring before you the claims of our missionary operations.
Now, the first way in which I desire to look at this great idea expressed in these words, is that we find in it
I. A solemn thought.
‘Labourers together with God.’ Cannot He do it all Himself? No. God needs men to carry out His purposes. True, on the Cross, Jesus spoke the triumphant word, ‘It is finished!’ He did not thereby simply mean that He had completed all His suffering; but He meant that He had then done all which the world needed to have done in order that it should be a redeemed world. But for the distribution and application of that finished work God depends on men. You all know, in your own daily businesses, how there must be a middleman between the mill and the consumer. The question of organising a distributing agency is quite as important as any other part of the manufacturer’s business. The great reservoir is full, but there has to be a system of irrigating-channels by which the water is carried into every corner of the field that is to be watered. Christian men individually, and the Church collectively, supply-may I call it the missing link?-between a redeeming Saviour and the world which He has redeemed in act, but which is not actually redeemed, until it has received the message of the great Redemption that is wrought. The supernatural is implanted in the very heart of the mass of leaven by the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ; but the spreading of that supernatural revelation is left in the hands of men who work through natural processes, and who thus become labourers together with God, and enable Christ to be to single souls, in blessed reality, what He is potentially to the world, and has been ever since. He died upon the Cross. ‘It is finished.’ Yes-because it is finished, our work begins.
Let me remind you of the profound symbolism in that incident where our Lord for once appeared conspicuously, and almost ostentatiously, before Israel as its true King. He had need-as He Himself said-of the meek beast on which He rode. He cannot pass, in His coronation procession, through the world unless He has us, by whom He may be carried into every corner of the earth. So ‘the Lord has need’ of us, and we are ‘fellow-labourers with Him.’
But this same thought suggests another point. We have here a solemn call addressed to every Christian man and woman.
Do not let us run away with the idea that, because here the Apostle is speaking in regard to himself and Apollos, he is enunciating a truth which applies only to Apostles and evangelists. It is true of all Christians. My knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ as my own personal Saviour impose upon me the obligation, in so far as my opportunities and capacities extend, thus to co-operate with Him in spreading His great Name. Every Christian man, just because he is a Christian, is invested with the power-and power to its last particle is duty-and is, therefore, burdened with the honourable obligation to work for God. There is such a thing as ‘coming to the help of the Lord,’ though that phrase seems to reverse altogether the true relation. It is the duty of every Christian, partly because of loyalty to Jesus, and partly because of the responsibility which the very constitution of society lays upon every one of us, to diffuse what he possesses, and to be a distributing agent for the life that he himself enjoys. Brethren! there is no possibility of Christian men or women being fully faithful to the Saviour, unless they recognise that the duty of being a fellow-labourer with God inevitably follows on being a possessor of Christ’s salvation; and that no Apostle, no official, no minister, no missionary, has any more necessity laid upon him to preach the Gospel, nor pulls down any heavier woe on himself if he is unfaithful, than has and does each one of Christ’s servants.
So ‘we are fellow-labourers with God.’ Alas! alas! how poorly the average Christian realises-I do not say discharges, but realises-that obligation! Brethren, I do not wish to find fault, but I do beseech you to ask yourselves whether, if you are Christians, you are doing anything the least like what my text contemplates as the duty of all Christians.
May I say a word or two with regard to another aspect of this solemn call? Does not the thought of working along with God prescribe for us the sort of work that we ought to do? We ought to work in God’s fashion, and if we wish to know what God’s fashion is, we have but to look at Jesus Christ. We ought to work in Jesus Christ’s fashion. We all know what that involved of self-sacrifice, of pain, of weariness, of utter self-oblivious devotion, of gentleness, of tenderness, of infinite pity, of love running over. ‘The master’s eye makes a good servant.’ The Master’s hand working along with the servant ought to make the servant work after the Master’s fashion. ‘As My Father hath sent Me, so send I you.’ If we felt that side by side with us, like two sailors hauling on one rope, ‘the Servant of the Lord’ was toiling, do you not think it would burn up all our selfishness, and light up all our indifference, and make us spend ourselves in His service? A fellow-labourer with God will surely never be lazy and selfish. Thus my text has in it, to begin with, a solemn call.
II. A signal honour.
Suppose a great painter, a Raphael or a Turner, taking a little boy that cleaned his brushes, and saying to him, ‘Come into my studio, and I will let you do a bit of work upon my picture.’ Suppose an aspirant, an apprentice in any walk of life, honoured by being permitted to work along with some one who was recognised all over the world as being at the very top of that special profession. Would it not be a feather in the boy’s cap all his life? And would he not think it the greatest honour that ever had been done him that he was allowed to co-operate, in however inferior a fashion, with such an one? Jesus Christ says to us, ‘Come and work here side by side with Me,’ But Christian men, plenty of them, answer, ‘It is a perpetual nuisance, this continual application for money! money! money! work! work! work! It is never-ending, and it is a burden!’ Yes, it is a burden, just because it is an honour. Do you know that the Hebrew word which means ‘glory’ literally means ‘weight’ ? There is a great truth in that. You cannot get true honours unless you are prepared to carry them as burdens. And the highest honour that Jesus Christ gives to men when He says to them, not only ‘Go work to-day in My vineyard,’ but ‘Come, work here side by side with Me,’ is a heavy weight which can only be lightened by a cheerful heart.
Is it not the right way to look at all the various forms of Christian activity which are made imperative upon Christian people, by their possession of Christianity as being tokens of Christ’s love to us? Do you remember that this same Apostle said, ‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ?’ He could speak about burdens and heavy tasks, and being ‘persecuted but not forsaken,’ almost crushed down and yet not in despair, and about the weights that came upon him daily, ‘the care of all the churches,’ but far beneath all the sense of his heavy load lay the thrill of thankful wonder that to him, of all men in the world, knowing as he did better than anybody else could do his own imperfection and insufficiency, this distinguishing honour had been bestowed, that he was made the Apostle to the Gentiles. That is the way in which the true man will always look at what the selfish man, and the half-and-half Christian, look at as being a weight and a weariness, or a disagreeable duty, which is to be done as perfunctorily as possible. One question that a great many who call themselves Christians ask is, ‘With how little service can I pass muster?’ Ah, it is because we have so little of the Spirit of Christ in us that we feel burdened by His command, ‘Go ye into all the world,’ as being so heavy; and that so many of us-I leave you to judge if you are in the class-so many of us make it criminally light if we do not ignore it altogether. I believe that, if it were possible to conceive of the duty and privilege of spreading Christ’s name in the world being withdrawn from the Church, all His real servants would soon be yearning to have it back again. It is a token of His love; it is a source of infinite blessings to ourselves; ‘if the house be not worthy, your peace shall return to you again.’
And now, lastly, we have suggested by this text
III. A strong encouragement.
‘Fellow-labourers with God’-then, God is a Fellow-labourer with us. The co-operation works both ways, and no man who is seeking to spread that great salvation, to distribute that great wealth, to irrigate some little corner of the field by some little channel that he has dug, needs to feel that he is labouring alone. If I am working with God, God is working with me. Do you remember that most striking picture which is drawn in the verses appended to Mark’s Gospel, which tells how the universe seemed parted into two halves, and up above in the serene the Lord ‘sat on the right hand of God,’ while below, in the murky and obscure, ‘they went everywhere preaching the Word.’ The separation seems complete, but the two halves are brought together by the next word-’The Lord also,’ sitting up yonder, ‘working with them’ the wandering preachers down here, ‘confirming the words with signs following.’ Ascended on high, entered into His rest, having finished His work, He yet is working with us, if we are labourers together with God. If we turn to the last book of Scripture, which draws back the curtain from the invisible world which is all filled with the glorified Christ, and shows its relations to the earthly militant church, we read no longer of a Christ enthroned in apparent ease, but of a Christ walking amidst the candlesticks, and of a Lamb standing in the midst of the Throne, and opening the seals, launching forth into the world the sequences of the world’s history, and of the Word of God charging His enemies on His white horse, and behind Him the armies of God following. The workers who labour with God have the ascended Christ labouring with them.
But if God works with us, success is sure. Then comes the old question that Gideon asked with bitterness of heart, when he was threshing out his handful of wheat in a corner to avoid the oppressors, ‘If the Lord be with us, wherefore is all this come upon us? Will any one say that the progress of the Gospel in the world has been at the rate which its early believers expected, or at the rate which its own powers warranted them to expect? Certainly not. And so it comes to this, that whilst every true labourer has God working with him, and therefore success is certain, the planter and the waterer can delay the growth of the plant by their unfaithfulness, by not expecting success, by not so working as to make it likely, or by neutralising their evangelistic efforts by their worldly lives. When Jesus Christ was on earth, it is recorded, ‘He could there do no mighty works because of their unbelief, save that He laid His hands on a few sick folk and healed them.’ A faithless Church, a worldly Church, a lazy Church, an unspiritual Church, an un-Christlike Church-which, to a large extent, is the designation of the so-called Church of to day-can clog His chariot-wheels, can thwart the work, can hamper the Divine Worker. If the Christians of Manchester were revived, they could win Manchester for Jesus. If the Christians of England lived their Christianity, they could make England what it never has been but in name-a Christian country. If the Church universal were revived, it could win the world. If the single labourer, or the community of such, is labouring ‘in the Lord,’ their labour will not be in vain; and if they thus plant and water, God will give the increase.
THE TESTING FIRE
1Co_3:12 - 1Co_3:13 .
Before I enter upon the ideas which the words suggest, my exegetical conscience binds me to point out that the original application of the text is not exactly that which I purpose to make of it now. The context shows that the Apostle is thinking about the special subject of Christian teachers and their work, and that the builders of whom he speaks are the men in the Corinthian Church, some of them his allies and some of them his rivals, who were superimposing upon the foundation of the preaching of Jesus Christ other doctrines and principles. The ‘wood, hay, stubble’ are the vapid and trivial doctrines which the false teachers were introducing into the Church. The ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ are the solid and substantial verities which Paul and his friends were proclaiming. And it is about these, and not about the Christian life in the general, that the tremendous metaphors of my text are uttered.
But whilst that is true, the principles involved have a much wider range than the one case to which the Apostle applies them. And, though I may be slightly deflecting the text from its original direction, I am not doing violence to it, if I take it as declaring some very plain and solemn truths applicable to all Christian people, in their task of building up a life and character on the foundation of Jesus Christ; truths which are a great deal too much forgotten in our modern popular Christianity, and which it concerns us all very clearly to keep in view. There are three things here that I wish to say a word about-the patchwork building, the testing fire, the fate of the builders.
I. First, the patchwork structure.
‘If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.’ In the original application of the metaphor, Paul is thinking of all these teachers in that church at Corinth as being engaged in building the one structure-I venture to deflect here, and to regard each of us as rearing our own structure of life and character on the foundation of the preached and accepted Christ.
Now, what the Apostle says is that these builders were, some of them, laying valuable things like gold and silver and costly stones-by which he does not mean jewels, but marbles, alabasters, polished porphyry or granite, and the like; sumptuous building materials, which were employed in great palaces or temples-and that some of them were bringing timber, hay, stubble, reeds gathered from the marshes or the like, and filling in with such trash as that. That is a picture of what a great many Christian people are doing in their own lives-the same man building one course of squared and solid and precious stones, and topping them with rubbish. You will see in the walls of Jerusalem, at the base, five or six courses of those massive blocks which are the wonders of the world yet; well jointed, well laid, well cemented, and then on the top of them a mass of poor stuff, heaped together anyhow; scamped work-may I use a modern vulgarism?-’jerry-building.’ You may go to some modern village, on an ancient historic site, and you will find built into the mud walls of the hovels in which the people are living, a marble slab with fair carving on it, or the drum of a great column of veined marble, and on the top of that, timber and clay mixed together.
That is the type of the sort of life that hosts of Christian people are living. For, mark, all the builders are on the foundation. Paul is not speaking about mere professed Christians who had no faith at all in them, and no real union with Jesus Christ. These builders were ‘on the foundation’; they were building on the foundation, there was a principle deep down in their lives-which really lay at the bottom of their lives-and yet had not come to such dominating power as to mould and purify and make harmonious with itself the life that was reared upon it. We all know that that is the condition of many men, that they have what really are the fundamental bases of their lives, in belief and aim and direction; and which yet are not strong enough to master the whole of the life, and to manifest themselves through it. Especially it is the condition of some Christian people. They have a real faith, but it is of the feeblest and most rudimentary kind. They are on the foundation, but their lives are interlaced with the most heterogeneous mixty-maxty of good and evil, of lofty, high, self-sacrificing thoughts and heavenward aspirations, of resolutions never carried out into practice; and side by side with these there shall be meannesses, selfishnesses, tempers, dispositions all contradictory of the former impulses. One moment they are all fire and love, the next moment ice and selfishness. One day they are all for God, the next day all for the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jacob sees the open heavens and the face of God and vows; to-morrow he meets Laban and drops to shifty ways. Peter leaves all and follows his Master, and in a little while the fervour has gone, and the fire has died down into grey ashes, and a flippant servant-girl’s tongue leads him to say ‘I know not the man.’ ‘Gold, silver, precious stones,’ and topping them, ‘wood, hay, stubble!’
The inconsistencies of the Christian life are what my text, in the application that I am venturing to make of it, suggests to us. Ah, dear friends! we do not need to go to Jacob and Peter; let us look at our own hearts, and if we will honestly examine one day of our lives, I think we shall understand how it is possible for a man, on the foundation, yet to build upon it these worthless and combustible things, ‘wood, hay, stubble.’
We are not to suppose that one man builds only ‘gold, silver, precious stones.’ There is none of us that does that. And we are not to suppose that any man who is on the foundations has so little grasp of it, as that he builds only ‘wood, hay, stubble.’
There is none of us who has not intermingled his building, and there is none of us, if we are Christians at all, who has not sometimes laid a course of ‘precious stones.’ If your faith is doing nothing for you except bringing to you a belief that you are not going to hell when you die, then it is no faith at all. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ So there is a mingling in the best, and-thank God!-there is a mingling of good with evil, in the worst of real Christian people.
II. Note here, the testing fire.
Paul points to two things, the day and the fire.
‘The day shall declare it,’ that is the day on which Jesus Christ comes to be the Judge; and it, that is ‘the day,’ ‘shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work.’ Now, it is to be noticed that here we are moving altogether in the region of lofty symbolism, and that the metaphor of the testing fire is suggested by the previous enumeration of building materials, gold and silver being capable of being assayed by flame; and ‘wood, hay, stubble’ being combustible, and sure to be destroyed thereby. The fire here is not an emblem of punishment; it is not an emblem of cleansing. There is no reference to anything in the nature of what Roman Catholics call purgatorial fires. The allusion is simply to some stringent and searching means of testing the quality of a man’s work, and of revealing that quality.
So then, we come just to this, that for people ‘on the foundation,’ there is a Day of revelation and testing of their life’s work. It is a great misfortune that so-called Evangelical Christianity does not say as much as the New Testament says about the judgment that is to be passed on ‘the house of God.’ People seem to think that the great doctrine of salvation, ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy,’ is, somehow or other, interfered with when we proclaim, as Paul proclaims, speaking to Christian people, ‘We must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ,’ and declares that ‘Every man will receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.’ Paul saw no contradiction, and there is no contradiction. But a great many professing Christians seem to think that the great blessing of their salvation by faith is, that they are exempt from that future revelation and testing and judgment of their acts. That is not the New Testament teaching. But, on the contrary, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,’ was originally said to a church of Christian people. And here we come full front against that solemn truth, that the Lord will ‘gather together His saints, those that have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice, that He may judge His people.’ Never mind about the drapery, the symbolism, the expression in material forms with which that future judgment is arranged, in order that we may the more easily grasp it. Remember that these pictures in the New Testament of a future judgment are highly symbolical, and not to be interpreted as if they were plain prose; but also remember that the heart of them is this, that there comes for Christian people as for all others, a time when the light will shine down upon their past, and will flash its rays into the dark chambers of memory, and when men will-to themselves if not to others-be revealed ‘in the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of men according to my Gospel.’
We have all experience enough of how but a few years, a change of circumstances, or a growth into another stage of development, give us fresh eyes with which to estimate the moral quality of our past. Many a thing, which we thought to be all right at the time when we did it, looks to us now very questionable and a plain mistake. And when we shift our stations to up yonder, and get rid of all this blinding medium of flesh and sense, and have the issues of our acts in our possession, and before our sight-ah! we shall think very differently of a great many things from what we think of them now. Judgment will begin at the house of God.
And there is the other thought, that the fire which reveals and tests has also in it a power of destruction. Gold and silver will lose no atom of their weight, and will be brightened into greater lustre as they flash back the beams. The timber and the stubble will go up in a flare, and die down into black ashes. That is highly metaphorical, of course. What does it mean? It means that some men’s work will be crumpled up and perish, and be as of none effect, leaving a great, black sorrowful gap in the continuity of the structure, and that other men’s work will stand. Everything that we do is, in one sense, immortal, because it is represented in our final character and condition, just as a thin stratum of rock will represent forests of ferns that grew for one summer millenniums ago, or clouds of insects that danced for an hour in the sun. But whilst that is so, and nothing human ever dies, on the other hand, deeds which have been in accordance, as it were, with the great stream that sweeps the universe on its bosom will float on that surface and never sink. Acts which have gone against the rush of God’s will through creation will be like a child’s go-cart that comes against the engine of an express train-be reduced, first, to stillness, all the motion knocked out of them, and then will be crushed to atoms. Deeds which stand the test will abide in blessed issue for the doer, and deeds which do not will pass away in smoke, and leave only ashes. Some of us, building on the foundation, have built more rubbish than solid work, and that will be
‘Cast as rubbish to the void
When God has made the pile complete.’
III. So, lastly, we have here the fate of the two builders.
The one man gets wages. That is not the bare notion of salvation, for both builders are conceived of as on the foundation, and both are saved. He gets wages. Yes, of course! The architect has to give his certificate before the builder gets his cheque. The weaver, who has been working his hand-loom at his own house, has to take his web to the counting-house and have it overlooked before he gets his pay. And the man who has built ‘gold, silver, precious stones,’ will have-over and above the initial salvation-in himself the blessed consequences, and unfold the large results, of his faithful service; while the other man, inasmuch as he has not such work, cannot have the consequences of it, and gets no wages; or at least his pay is subject to heavy deductions for the spoiled bits in the cloth, and for the gaps in the wall.
The Apostle employs a tremendous metaphor here, which is masked in our Authorised Version, but is restored in the Revised. ‘He shall be saved, yet so as’ not ‘by’ but ‘through fire’; the picture being that of a man surrounded by a conflagration, and making a rush through the flames to get to a place of safety. Paul says that he will get through, because down below all inconsistency and worldliness, there was a little of that which ought to have been above all the inconsistency and the worldliness-a true faith in Jesus Christ. But because it was so imperfect, so feeble, so little operative in his life as that it could not keep him from piling up inconsistencies into his wall, therefore his salvation is so as through the fire.
Brethren, I dare not enlarge upon that great metaphor. It is meant for us professing Christians, real and imperfect Christians-it is meant for us; and it just tells us that there are degrees in that future blessedness proportioned to present faithfulness. We begin there where we left off here. That future is not a dead level; and they who have earnestly striven to work out their faith into their lives shall ‘summer high upon the hills of God.’ One man, like Paul in his shipwreck, shall lose ship and lading, though ‘on broken pieces of the ship’ he may ‘escape safe to land’; and another shall make the harbour with full cargo of works of faith, to be turned into gold when he lands. If we build, as we all may, ‘on that foundation, gold and silver and precious stones,’ an entrance ‘shall be ministered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’; whilst if we bring a preponderance of ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ we shall be ‘saved, yet so as through the fire.’
TEMPLES OF GOD
The great purpose of Christianity is to make men like Jesus Christ. As He is the image of the invisible God we are to be the images of the unseen Christ. The Scripture is very bold and emphatic in attributing to Christ’s followers likeness to Him, in nature, in character, in relation to the world, in office, and in ultimate destiny. Is He the anointed of God? We are anointed-Christs in Him. Is He the Son of God? We in Him receive the adoption of sons. Is He the Light of the world? We in Him are lights of the world too. Is He a King? A Priest? He hath made us to be kings and priests.
Here we have the Apostle making the same solemn assertion in regard to Christian men, ‘Know ye not that ye are’-as your Master, and because your Master is-’that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’
Of course the allusion in my text is to the whole aggregate of believers-what we call the Catholic Church, as being collectively the habitation of God. But God cannot dwell in an aggregate of men, unless He dwells in the individuals that compose the aggregate. And God has nothing to do with institutions except through the people who make the institutions. And so, if the Church as a whole is a Temple, it is only because all its members are temples of God.
Therefore, without forgetting the great blessed lesson of the unity of the Church which is taught in these words, I want rather to deal with them in their individual application now; and to try and lay upon your consciences, dear brethren, the solemn obligations and the intense practical power which this Apostle associated with the thought that each Christian man was, in very deed, a temple of God.
It would be very easy to say eloquent things about this text, but that is no part of my purpose.
I. Let me deal, first of all, and only for a moment or two, with the underlying thought that is here-that every Christian is a dwelling-place of God.
Now, do not run away with the idea that that is a metaphor. It was the outward temple that was the metaphor. The reality is that which you and I, if we are God’s children in Jesus Christ, experience. There was no real sense in which that Mighty One whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain, dwelt in any house made with hands. But the Temple, and all the outward worship, were but symbolical of the facts of the Christian life, and the realities of our inward experience. These are the truths whereof the other is the shadow. We use words to which it is difficult for us to attach any meaning, when we talk about God as being locally present in any material building; but we do not use words to which it is so difficult to attach a meaning, when we talk about the Infinite Spirit as being present and abiding in a spirit shaped to hold Him, and made on purpose to touch Him and be filled by Him.
All creatures have God dwelling in them in the measure of their capacity. The stone that you kick on the road would not be there if there were not a present God. Nothing would happen if there were not abiding in creatures the force, at any rate, which is God. But just as in this great atmosphere in which we all live and move and have our being, the eye discerns undulations which make light, and the ear catches vibrations which make sound, and the nostrils are recipient of motions which bring fragrance, and all these are in the one atmosphere, and the sense that apprehends one is utterly unconscious of the other, so God’s creatures, each through some little narrow slit, and in the measure of their capacity, get a straggling beam from Him into their being, and therefore they are.
But high above all other ways in which creatures can lie patent to God, and open for the influx of a Divine Indweller, lies the way of faith and love. Whosoever opens his heart in these divinely-taught emotions, and fixes them upon the Christ in whom God dwells, receives into the very roots of his being-as the water that trickles through the soil to the rootlets of the tree-the very Godhead Himself. ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’
That God shall dwell in my heart is possible only from the fact that He dwelt in all His fulness in Christ, through whom I touch Him. That Temple consecrates all heart-shrines; and all worshippers that keep near to Him, partake with Him of the Father that dwelt in Him.
Only remember that in Christ God dwelt completely, all ‘the fulness of the Godhead bodily’ was there, but in us it is but partially; that in Christ, therefore, the divine indwelling was uniform and invariable, but in us it fluctuates, and sometimes is more intimate and blessed, and sometimes He leaves the habitation when we leave Him; that in Christ, therefore, there was no progress in the divine indwelling, but that in us, if there be any true inhabitation of our souls by God, that abiding will become more and more, until every corner of our being is hallowed and filled with the searching effulgence of the all-pervasive Light. And let us remember that God dwelt in Christ, but that in us it is God in Christ who dwells. So to Him we owe it all, that our poor hearts are made the dwelling-place of God; or, as this Apostle puts it, in other words conveying the same idea, ‘Ye are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth . . . for a habitation of God through the Spirit.’
II. Now then, turning from this underlying idea of the passage, let us look, for a moment, at some of the many applications of which the great thought is susceptible. I remark, then, in the second place, that as temples all Christians are to be manifesters of God.
The meaning of the Temple as of all temples was, that there the indwelling Deity should reveal Himself; and if it be true that we Christian men and women are, in this deep and blessed reality of which I have been speaking, the abiding places and habitations of God, then it follows that we shall stand in the world as the great means by which God is manifested and made known, and that in a two-fold way; to ourselves and to other people .
The real revelation of God to our hearts must be His abiding in our hearts. We do not learn God until we possess God. He must fill our souls before we know His sweetness. The answer that our Lord made to one of His disciples is full of the deepest truth. ‘How is it,’ said one of them in his blundering way, ‘how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself to us?’ And the answer was, ‘We will come and make Our abode with him.’ You do not know God until, if I might so say, He sits at your fireside and talks with you in your hearts. Just as some wife may have a husband whom the world knows as hero, or sage, or orator, but she knows him as nobody else can; so the outside, and if I may so say, the public character of God is but the surface of the revelation that He makes to us, when in the deepest secrecy of our own hearts He pours Himself into our waiting spirits. O brethren! it is within the curtains of the Holiest of all that the Shekinah flashes; it is within our own hearts, shrined and templed there, that God reveals Himself to us, as He does not unto the world.
And then, further, Christian men, as the temples and habitations of God, are appointed to be the great means of making Him known to the world around. The eye that cannot look at the sun can look at the rosy clouds that lie on either side of it, and herald its rising; their opalescent tints and pearly lights are beautiful to dim vision, to which the sun itself is too bright to be looked upon. Men will believe in a gentle Christ when they see you gentle. They will believe in a righteous love when they see it manifesting itself in you. You are ‘the secretaries of God’s praise,’ as George Herbert has it. He dwells in your hearts that out of your lives He may be revealed. The pictures in a book of travels, or the diagrams in a mathematical work, tell a great deal more in half a dozen lines than can be put into as many pages of dry words. And it is not books of theology nor eloquent sermons, but it is a Church glowing with the glory of God, and manifestly all flushed with His light and majesty, that will have power to draw men to believe in the God whom it reveals. When explorers land upon some untravelled island and meet the gentle inhabitants with armlets of rough gold upon their wrists, they say there must be many a gold-bearing rock of quartz crystal in the interior of the land. And if you present yourselves, Christian men and women, to the world with the likeness of your Master plain upon you, then people will believe in the Christianity that you profess. You have to popularise the Gospel in the fashion in which go-betweens and middlemen between students and the populace popularise science. You have to make it possible for men to believe in the Christ because they see Christ in you. ‘Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God?’ Let His light shine from you.
III. I remark again that as temples all Christian lives should be places of sacrifice.
What is the use of a temple without worship? And what kind of worship is that in which the centre point is not an altar? That is the sort of temple that a great many professing Christians are. They have forgotten the altar in their spiritual architecture. Have you got one in your heart? It is but a poor, half-furnished sanctuary that has not. Where is yours? The key and the secret of all noble life is to yield up one’s own will, to sacrifice oneself. There never was anything done in this world worth doing, and there never will be till the end of time, of which sacrifice is not the centre and inspiration. And the difference between all other and lesser nobilities of life, and the supreme beauty of a true Christian life is that the sacrifice of the Christian is properly a sacrifice -that is, an offering to God , done for the sake of the great love wherewith He has loved us. As Christ is the one true Temple, and we become so by partaking of Him, so He is the one Sacrifice for sins for ever, and we become sacrifices only through Him. If there be any lesson which comes out of this great truth of Christians as temples, it is not a lesson of pluming ourselves on our dignity, or losing ourselves in the mysticisms which lie near this truth, but it is the hard lesson-If a temple, then an altar; if an altar, then a sacrifice. ‘Ye are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, that ye may offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God’-sacrifice, priest, temple, all in one; and all for the sake and by the might of that dear Lord who has given Himself a bleeding Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, that we might offer a Eucharistic sacrifice of thanks and praise and self-surrender unto Him, and to His Father God.
IV. And, lastly, this great truth of my text enforces the solemn lesson of the necessary sanctity of the Christian life.
‘The temple of God,’ says the context, ‘the temple of God is holy, which holy persons ye are.’ The plain first idea of the temple is a place set apart and consecrated to God.
Hence, of course, follows the idea of purity, but the parent idea of ‘holiness’ is not purity, which is the consequence, but consecration or separation to God, which is the root.
And so in very various applications, on which I have not time to dwell now, this idea of the necessary sanctity of the Temple is put forth in these two letters to the Corinthian Church. Corinth was a city honeycombed with the grossest immoralities; and hence, perhaps, to some extent the great emphasis and earnestness and even severity of the Apostle in dealing with some forms of evil.
But without dwelling on the details, let me just point you to three directions in which this general notion of sanctity is applied. There is that of our context here ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, and such ye are.’
He is thinking here mainly, I suppose, about the devastation and destruction of this temple of God, which was caused by schismatical and heretical teaching, and by the habit of forming parties, ‘one of Paul, one of Apollos, one of Cephas, one of Christ,’ which was rending that Corinthian Church into pieces. But we may apply it more widely than that, and say that anything which corrupts and defiles the Christian life and the Christian character assumes a darker tint of evil when we think that it is sacrilege-the profanation of the temple, the pollution of that which ought to be pure as He who dwells in it.
Christian men and women, how that thought darkens the blackness of all sin! How solemnly there peals out the warning, ‘If any man destroy or impair the temple,’ by any form of pollution, ‘him’ with retribution in kind, ‘him shall God destroy.’ Keep the temple clear; keep it clean. Let Him come with His scourge of small cords and His merciful rebuke. You Manchester men know what it is to let the money-changers into the sanctuary. Beware lest, beginning with making your hearts ‘houses of merchandise,’ you should end by making them ‘dens of thieves.’
And then, still further, there is another application of this same principle, in the second of these Epistles. ‘What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?’ ‘Ye are the temple of the living God.’
Christianity is intolerant. There is to be one image in the shrine. One of the old Roman Stoic Emperors had a pantheon in his palace with Jesus Christ upon one pedestal and Plato on the one beside Him. And some of us are trying the same kind of thing. Christ there, and somebody else here. Remember, Christ must be everything or nothing! Stars may be sown by millions, but for the earth there is one sun. And you and I are to shrine one dear Guest, and one only, in the inmost recesses of our hearts.
And there is another application of this metaphor also in our letter. ‘Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?’ Christianity despises ‘the flesh’; Christianity reverences the body; and would teach us all that, being robed in that most wonderful work of God’s hands, which becomes a shrine for God Himself if He dwell in our hearts, all purity, all chastisement and subjugation of animal passion is our duty. Drunkenness, and gluttony, lusts of every kind, impurity of conduct, and impurity of word and look and thought, all these assume a still darker tint when they are thought of as not only crimes against the physical constitution and the moral law of humanity, but insults flung in the face of the God that would inhabit the shrine.
And in regard to sins of this kind, which it is so difficult to speak of in public, and which grow unchecked in secrecy, and are ruining hundreds of young lives, the words of this context are grimly true, ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.’ I speak now mainly in brotherly or fatherly warning to young men-did you ever read this, ‘His bones are full of the iniquities of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust’ ? ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?’
And so, brethren, our text tells us what we may all be. There is no heart without its deity. Alas! alas! for the many listening to me now whose spirits are like some of those Egyptian temples, which had in the inmost shrine a coiled-up serpent, the mummy of a monkey, or some other form as animal and obscene.
Oh! turn to Christ and cry, ‘Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the ark of Thy strength.’ Open your hearts and let Christ come in. And before Him, as of old, the bestial Dagon will be found, dejected and truncated, lying on the sill there; and all the vain, cruel, lustful gods that have held riot and carnival in your hearts will flee away into the darkness, like some foul ghosts at cock-crow. ‘If any man hear My voice and open the door I will come in.’ And the glory of the Lord shall fill the house.
SERVANTS AND LORDS
DEATH, THE FRIEND
1Co_3:21 - 1Co_3:22 .
What Jesus Christ is to a man settles what everything else is to Him. Our relation to Jesus determines our relation to the universe. If we belong to Him, everything belongs to us. If we are His servants, all things are our servants. The household of Jesus, which is the whole Creation, is not divided against itself, and the fellow-servants do not beat one another. Two bodies moving in the same direction, and under the impulse of the same force, cannot come into collision, and since ‘all things work together,’ according to the counsel of His will, ‘all things work together for good’ to His lovers. The triumphant words of my text are no piece of empty rhetoric, but the plain result of two facts-Christ’s rule and the Christian’s submission. ‘All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s,’ so the stars in their courses fight against those who fight against Him, and if we are at peace with Him we shall ‘make a league with the beasts of the field, and the stones of the field,’ which otherwise would be hindrances and stumbling-blocks, ‘shall be at peace with’ us.
The Apostle carries his confidence in the subservience of all things to Christ’s servants very far, and the words of my text, in which he dares to suggest that ‘the Shadow feared of man’ is, after all, a veiled friend, are hard to believe, when we are brought face to face with death, either when we meditate on our own end, or when our hearts are sore and our hands are empty. Then the question comes, and often is asked with tears of blood, Is it true that this awful force, which we cannot command, does indeed serve us? Did it serve those whom it dragged from our sides; and in serving them, did it serve us? Paul rings out his ‘Yes’; and if we have as firm a hold of Paul’s Lord as Paul had, our answer will be the same. Let me, then, deal with this great thought that lies here, of the conversion of the last enemy into a friend, the assurance that we may all have that death is ours, though not in the sense that we can command it, yet in the sense that it ministers to our highest good.
That thought may be true about ourselves when it comes to our turn to die, and, thank God, has been true about all those who have departed in His faith and fear. Some of you may have seen two very striking engravings by a great, though somewhat unknown artist, representing Death as the Destroyer, and Death as the Friend. In the one case he comes into a scene of wild revelry, and there at his feet lie, stark and stiff, corpses in their gay clothing and with garlands on their brows, and feasters and musicians are flying in terror from the cowled Skeleton. In the other he comes into a quiet church belfry, where an aged saint sits with folded arms and closed eyes, and an open Bible by his side, and endless peace upon the wearied face. The window is flung wide to the sunrise, and on its sill perches a bird that gives forth its morning song. The cowled figure has brought rest to the weary, and the glad dawning of a new life to the aged, and is a friend. The two pictures are better than all the poor words that I can say. It depends on the people to whom he comes, whether he comes as a destroyer or as a helper. Of course, for all of us the mere physical facts remain the same, the pangs and the pain, the slow torture of the loosing of the bond, or the sharp agony of its instantaneous rending apart. But we have gone but a very little way into life and its experiences, if we have not learnt that identity of circumstances may cover profound difference of essentials, and that the same experiences may have wholly different messages and meanings to two people who are equally implicated in them. Thus, while the physical fact remains the same for all, the whole bearing of it may so differ that Death to one man will be a Destroyer, while to another it is a Friend.
For, if we come to analyse the thoughts of humanity about the last act in human life on earth, what is it that makes the dread darkness of death, which all men know, though they so seldom think of it? I suppose, first of all, if we seek to question our feelings, that which makes Death a foe to the ordinary experience is, that it is like a step off the edge of a precipice in a fog; a step into a dim condition of which the imagination can form no conception, because it has no experience, and all imagination’s pictures are painted with pigments drawn from our past. Because it is impossible for a man to have any clear vision of what it is that is coming to meet him, and he cannot tell ‘in that sleep what dreams may come,’ he shrinks, as we all shrink, from a step into the vast Inane, the dim Unknown. But the Gospel comes and says, ‘It is a land of great darkness,’ but ‘To the people that sit in darkness a great light hath shined.’
‘Our knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim.’
But faith has an eye, and there is light, and this we can see-One face whose brightness scatters all the gloom, One Person who has not ceased to be the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His beams, even in the darkness of the grave. Therefore, one at least of the repellent features which, to the timorous heart, makes Death a foe, is gone, when we know that the known Christ fills the Unknown.
Then, again, another of the elements, as I suppose, which constitute the hostile aspect that Death assumes to most of us, is that it apparently hales us away from all the wholesome activities and occupations of life, and bans us into a state of apparent inaction. The thought that death is rest does sometimes attract the weary or harassed, or they fancy it does, but that is a morbid feeling, and much more common in sentimental epitaphs than among the usual thoughts of men. To most of us there is no joy, but a chill, in the anticipation that all the forms of activity which have so occupied, and often enriched, our lives here, are to be cut off at once. ‘What am I to do if I have no books?’ says the student. ‘What am I to do if I have no mill?’ says the spinner. ‘What am I to do if I have no nursery or kitchen?’ say the women. What are you to do? There is only one quieting answer to such questions. It tells us that what we are doing here is learning our trade, and that we are to be moved into another workshop there, to practise it. Nothing can bereave us of the force we made our own, being here; and ‘there is nobler work for us to do’ when the Master of all the servants stoops from His Throne and says: ‘Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; have thou authority over ten cities.’ Then the faithfulness of the steward will be exchanged for the authority of the ruler, and the toil of the servant for a share in the joy of the Lord.
So another of the elements which make Death an enemy is turned into an element which makes it a friend, and instead of the separation from this earthly body, the organ of our activity and the medium of our connection with the external universe being the condemnation of the naked spirit to inaction, it is the emancipation of the spirit into greater activity. For nothing drops away at death that does not make a man the richer for its loss, and when the dross is purged from the silver, there remains ‘a vessel unto honour, fit for the Master’s use.’ This mightier activity is the contribution to our blessedness, which Death makes to them who use their activities here in Christ’s service.
Then, still further, another of the elements which is converted from being a terror into a joy is that Death, the separator, becomes to Christ’s servants Death, the uniter. We all know how that function of death is perhaps the one that makes us shrink from it the most, dread it the most, and sometimes hate it the most. But it will be with us as it was with those who were to be initiated into ancient religious rites. Blindfolded, they were led by a hand that grasped theirs but was not seen, through dark, narrow, devious passages, but they were led into a great company in a mighty hall. Seen from this side, the ministry of Death parts a man from dear ones, but, oh! if we could see round the turn in the corridor, we should see that the solitude is but for a moment, and that the true office of Death is not so much to part from those beloved on earth as to carry to, and unite with, Him that is best Beloved in the heavens, and in Him with all His saints. They that are joined to Christ, as they who pass from earth are joined, are thereby joined to all who, in like manner, are knit to Him. Although other dear bonds are loosed by the bony fingers of the Skeleton, his very loosing of them ties more closely the bond that unites us to Jesus, and when the dull ear of the dying has ceased to hear the voices of earth that used to thrill it in their lowest whisper, I suppose it hears another Voice that says: ‘When thou passest through the fire I will be with thee, and through the waters they shall not overflow thee.’ Thus the Separator unites, first to Jesus, and then to ‘the general assembly and Church of the first-born,’ and leads into the city of the living God, the pilgrims who long have lived, often isolated, in the desert.
There is a last element in Death which is changed for the Christian, and that is that to men generally, when they think about it, there is an instinctive recoil from Death, because there is an instinctive suspicion that after Death is the Judgment, and that, somehow or other-never mind about the drapery in which the idea may be embodied for our weakness-when a man dies he passes to a state where he will reap the consequences of what he has sown here. But to Christ’s servant that last thought is robbed of its sting, and all the poison sucked out of it, for he can say: ‘He that died for me makes it possible for me to die undreading, and to pass thither, knowing that I shall meet as my Judge Him whom I have trusted as my Saviour, and so may have boldness before Him in the Day of Judgment.’
Knit these four contrasts together. Death as a step into a dim unknown versus Death as a step into a region lighted by Jesus; Death as the cessation of activity versus Death as the introduction to nobler opportunities, and the endowment with nobler capacities of service; Death as the separator and isolator versus Death as uniting to Jesus and all His lovers; Death as haling us to the judgment-seat of the adversary versus Death as bringing us to the tribunal of the Christ; and I think we can understand how Christians can venture to say, ‘All things are ours, whether life or death’ which leads to a better life.
And now let me add one word more. All this that I have been saying, and all the blessed strength for ourselves and calming in our sorrows which result therefrom, stand or fall with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing else that makes these things certain. There are, of course, instincts, peradventures, hopes, fears, doubts. But in this region, and in regard to all this cycle of truths, the same thing applies which applies round the whole horizon of Christian Revelation-if you want not speculations but certainties, you have to go to Jesus Christ for them. There were many men who thought that there were islands of the sea beyond the setting sun that dyed the western waves, but Columbus went and came back again, and brought their products-and then the thought became a fact. Unless you believe that Jesus Christ has come back from ‘the bourne from which no traveller returns,’ and has come laden with the gifts of ‘happy isles of Eden’ far beyond the sea, there is no certitude upon which a dying man can lay his head, or by which a bleeding heart can be staunched. But when He draws near, alive from the dead, and says to us, as He did to the disciples on the evening of the day of Resurrection, ‘Peace be unto you,’ and shows us His hands and His side, then we do not only speculate or think a future life possible or probable, or hesitate to deny it, or hope or fear, as the case may be, but we know , and we can say: ‘All things are ours . . . death’ amongst others. The fact that Jesus Christ has died changes the whole aspect of death to His servant, inasmuch as in that great solitude he has a companion, and in the valley of the shadow of death sees footsteps that tell him of One that went before.
Nor need I do more than remind you how the manner of our Lord’s death shows that He is Lord not only of the dead but of the Death that makes them dead. For His own tremendous assertion, ‘I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again,’ was confirmed by His attitude and His words at the last, as is hinted at by the very expressions with which the Evangelists record the fact of His death: ‘He yielded up His spirit,’ ‘He gave up the ghost,’ ‘He breathed out His life.’ It is confirmed to us by such words as those remarkable ones of the Apocalypse, which speak of Him as ‘the Living One,’ who, by His own will, ‘became dead.’ He died because He would, and He would die because He loved you and me. And in dying, He showed Himself to be, not the Victim, but the Conqueror, of the Death to which He submitted. The Jewish king on the fatal field of Gilboa called his sword-bearer, and the servant came, and Saul bade him smite, and when his trembling hand shrank from such an act, the king fell on his own sword. The Lord of life and death summoned His servant Death, and He came obedient, but Jesus died not by Death’s stroke, but by His own act. So that Lord of Death, who died because He would, is the Lord who has the keys of death and the grave. In regard to one servant He says, ‘I will that he tarry till I come,’ and that man lives through a century, and in regard to another He says, ‘Follow thou Me,’ and that man dies on a cross. The dying Lord is Lord of Death, and the living Lord is for us all the Prince of Life.
Brethren, we have to take His yoke upon us by the act of faith which leads to a love that issues in an obedience which will become more and more complete, as we become more fully Christ’s. Then death will be ours, for then we shall count that the highest good for us will be fuller union with, a fuller possession of, and a completer conformity to, Jesus Christ our King, and that whatever brings us these, even though it brings also pain and sorrow and much from which we shrink, is all on our side. It is possible-may it be so with each of us!-that for us Death may be, not an enemy that bans us into darkness and inactivity, or hales us to a judgment-seat, but the Angel who wakes us, at whose touch the chains fall off, and who leads us through ‘the iron gate that opens of its own accord,’ and brings us into the City.
SERVANTS AND LORDS
1Co_3:21 - 1Co_3:23 .
The Corinthian Christians seem to have carried into the Church some of the worst vices of Greek-and English-political life. They were split up into wrangling factions, each swearing by the name of some person. Paul was the battle-cry of one set; Apollos of another. Paul and Apollos were very good friends, their admirers bitter foes-according to a very common experience. The springs lie close together up in the hills, the rivers may be parted by half a continent.
These feuds were all the more detestable to the Apostle because his name was dragged into them; and so he sets himself, in the first part of this letter, with all his might, to shame and to argue the Corinthian Christians out of their wrangling. This great text is one of the considerations which he adduces with that purpose. In effect he says, ‘To pin your faith to any one teacher is a wilful narrowing of the sources of your blessing and your wisdom. You say you are Paul’s men. Has Apollos got nothing that he could teach you? and may you not get any good out of brave brother Cephas? Take them all; they were all meant for your good. Let no man glory in individuals.’
That is all that his argument required him to say. But in his impetuous way he goes on into regions far beyond. His thought, like some swiftly revolving wheel, catches fire of its own rapid motion; and he blazes up into this triumphant enumeration of all the things that serve the soul which serves Jesus Christ. ‘You are lords of men, of the world of time, of death, of eternity; but you are not lords of yourselves. You belong to Jesus, and in the measure in which you belong to Him do all things belong to you.’
I. I think, then, that I shall best bring out the fulness of these words by simply following them as they lie before us, and asking you to consider, first, how Christ’s servants are men’s lords.
‘All things are yours, Paul, Apollos, Cephas.’ These three teachers were all lights kindled at the central Light, and therefore shining. They were fragments of His wisdom, of Him that spoke; varying, but yet harmonious, and mutually complementary aspects of the one infinite Truth had been committed to them. Each was but a part of the mighty whole, a little segment of the circle
‘They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord! art more than they.’
And in the measure, therefore, in which men adhere to Christ, and have taken Him for theirs; in that measure are they delivered from all undue dependence on, still more from all slavish submission to, any single individual teacher or aspect of truth. To have Christ for ours, and to be His, which are only the opposite sides of the same thing, mean, in brief, to take Jesus Christ for the source of all knowledge of moral and religious truth. His Word is the Christian’s creed, His Person and the truths that lie in Him, are the fountains of all our knowledge of God and man. To be Christ’s is to take Him as the master who has absolute authority over conduct and practice. His commandment is the Christian’s duty; His pattern the Christian’s all-sufficient example; His smile the Christian’s reward. To be Christ’s is to take Him for the home of our hearts, in whose gracious and sweet love we find all sufficiency and a rest for our seeking affections. And so, if ye are His, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, all men are yours; in the sense that you are delivered from all undue dependence upon them; and in the sense that they subserve your highest good.
So the true democracy of Christianity, which abjures swearing by the words of any teacher, is simply the result of loyal adherence to the teaching of Jesus Christ. And that proud independence which some of you seek to cultivate, and on the strength of which you declare that no man is your master upon earth, is an unwholesome and dangerous independence, unless it be conjoined with the bowing down of the whole nature, in loyal submission, to the absolute authority of the only lips that ever spoke truth, truth only, and truth always. If Christ be our Master, if we take our creed from Him, if we accept His words and His revelation of the Father as our faith and our objective religion, then all the slavery to favourite names, all the taking of truth second-hand from the lips that we honour, all the partisanship for one against another which has been the shame and the ruin of the Christian Church, and is working untold mischiefs in it to-day, are ended at once. ‘One is your Master, even Christ.’ ‘Call no man Rabbi! upon earth; but bow before Him, the Incarnate and the Personal Truth.’
And in like manner they who are Christ’s are delivered from all temptations to make men’s maxims and practices and approbation the law of their conduct. Society presses upon each of us; what we call public opinion, which is generally the clatter of the half-dozen people that happen to stand nearest us, rules us; and it needs to be said very emphatically to all Christian men and women-Take your law of conduct from His lips, and from nobody else’s.
‘They say. What say they? Let them say.’ If we take Christ’s commandment for our absolute law, and Christ’s approbation for our highest aim and all-sufficient reward, we shall then be able to brush aside other maxims and other people’s opinions of us, safely and humbly, and to say, ‘With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.’
The envoy of some foreign power cares very little what the inhabitants of the land to which he is ambassador may think of him and his doings; it is his sovereign’s good opinion that he seeks to secure. The soldier’s reward is his commander’s praise, the slave’s joy is the master’s smile, and for us it ought to be the law of our lives, and in the measure in which we really belong to Christ it will be the law of our lives, that ‘we labour that, whether present or absent, we may be pleasing to Him.’
So, brethren, as teachers, as patterns, as objects of love which is only too apt to be exclusive and to master us, we can only take one another in subordination to our supreme submission to Christ, and if we are His, our duty, as our joy, is to count no man necessary to our wellbeing, but to hang only on the one Man, whom it is safe and blessed to believe utterly, to obey abjectly, and to love with all our strength, because He is more than man, even God manifest in the flesh.
II. And now let us pass to the next idea here, secondly, Christ’s servants are the lords of ‘the world.’
That phrase is used here, no doubt, as meaning the external material universe. These creatures around us, they belong to us, if we belong to Jesus Christ. That man owns the world who despises it. There are plenty of rich men in Manchester who say they possess so many thousand pounds. Turn the sentence about and it would be a great deal truer-the thousands of pounds possess them. They are the slaves of their own possessions, and every man who counts any material thing as indispensable to his wellbeing, and regards it as the chiefest good, is the slave-servant of that thing. He owns the world who turns it to the highest use of growing his soul by it. All material things are given, and, I was going to say, were created, for the growth of men, or at all events their highest purpose is that men should, by them, grow. And therefore, as the scaffolding is swept away when the building is finished, so God will sweep away this material universe with all its wonders of beauty and of contrivance, when men have been grown by means of it. The material is less than the soul, and he is master of the world, and owns it, who has got thoughts out of it, truth out of it, impulses out of it, visions of God out of it, who has by it been led nearer to his divine Master. If I look out upon a fair landscape, and the man who draws the rents of it is standing by my side, and I suck more sweetness, and deeper impulses, and larger and loftier thoughts out of it than he does, it belongs to me far more than it does to him. The world is his who from it has learned to despise it, to know himself and to know God. He owns the world who uses it as the arena, or wrestling ground, on which, by labour, he may gain strength, and in which he may do service. Antagonism helps to develop muscle, and the best use of the outward frame of things is that we shall take it as the field upon which we can serve God.
And now all these three things-the contempt of earth, the use of earth for growing souls, and the use of earth as the field of service-all these things belong most truly to the man who belongs to Christ. The world is His, and if we live near Him and cultivate fellowship with Him, and see His face gleaming through all the Material, and are led up nearer to Him by everything around us, then we own the world and wring the sweetness to the last drop out of it, though we may have but little of that outward relation to its goods which short-sighted men call possessing them. We may solve the paradox of those who, ‘having nothing, yet have all,’ if we belong to Christ the Lord of all things, and so have co-possession with Him of all His riches.
III. Further, my text tells us, in the third place, that Christian men, who belong to Jesus Christ, are the lords and masters of ‘life and death.’
Both of these words are here used, as it seems to me, in their simple, physical sense, natural life and natural death. You may say, ‘Well, everybody is lord of life in that sense.’ Yes, of course, in a fashion we all possess it, seeing that we are all alive. But that mysterious gift of personality, that awful gift of conscious existence, only belongs, in the deepest sense, to the men who belong to Jesus Christ. I do not call that man the owner of his own life who is not the lord of his own spirit. I do not see in what, except in the mere animal sense in which a fly, or a spider, or a toad may be called the master of its life, that man owns himself who has not given up himself to Jesus Christ. The only way to get a real hold of yourselves is to yield yourselves to Him who gives you back Himself, and yourself along with Him. The true ownership of life depends upon self-control, and self-control depends upon letting Jesus Christ govern us wholly. So the measure in which it is true of me that ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ is the measure in which the lower life of sense really belongs to us, and ministers to our highest good.
And then turn to the other member of this wonderful antithesis, ‘whether life or death .’ Surely if there is anything over which no man can become lord, except by sinfully taking his fate into his own hands, it is death. And yet even death, in which we seem to be abjectly passive, and by which so many of us are dragged away reluctantly from everything that we care to possess, may become a matter of consent and therefore a moral act. Animals expire; a Christian man may yield his soul to his Saviour, who is the Lord both of the dead and of the living. If thus we feel our dependence upon Him, and yield up our lives to Him, and can say, ‘Living or dying we are the Lord’s,’ then we may be quite sure that death, too, will be our servant, and that our wills will be concerned even in passing out of life.
Still more, if you and I, dear brethren, belong to Jesus Christ, then death is our fellow-servant who comes to call us out of this ill-lighted workshop into the presence of the King. And at His magic cold touch, cares and toils and sorrows are stiffened into silence, like noisy streams bound in white frost; and we are lifted clean up out of all the hubbub and the toil into eternal calm. Death is ours because it fulfils our deepest desires, and comes as a messenger to paupers to tell them they have a great estate. Death is ours if we be Christ’s.
IV. And lastly, Christ’s servants are the lords of time and eternity, ‘things present or things to come.’
Our Apostle’s division, in this catalogue of his, is rhetorical rather than logical; and we need not seek to separate the first of this final pair from others which we have already encountered in our study of the words, but still we may draw a distinction. The whole mass of ‘things present,’ including not only that material universe which we call the world, but all the events and circumstances of our lives, over these we may exercise supreme control. If we are bowing in humble submission to Jesus Christ, they will all subserve our highest good. Every weather will be right; night and day equally desirable; the darkness will be good for eyes that have been tired of brightness and that need repose, the light will be good. The howling tempests of winter and its white snows, the sharp winds of spring and its bursting sunshine; the calm steady heat of June and the mellowing days of August, all serve to ripen the grain. And so all ‘things present,’ the light and the dark, the hopes fulfilled and the hopes disappointed, the gains and the losses, the prayers answered and the prayers unanswered, they will all be recognised, if we have the wisdom that comes from submission to Jesus Christ’s will, as being ours and ministering to our highest blessing.
We shall be their lords too inasmuch as we shall be able to control them. We need not be ‘anvils but hammers.’ We need not let outward circumstances dominate and tyrannise over us. We need not be like the mosses in the stream, that lie whichever way the current sets, nor like some poor little sailing boat that is at the mercy of the winds and the waves, but may carry an inward impulse like some great ocean-going steamer, the throb of whose power shall drive us straight forward on our course, whatever beats against us. That we may have this inward power and mastery over things present, and not be shaped and moulded and made by them, let us yield ourselves to Christ, and He will help us to rule them.
And then, all ‘things to come,’ the dim, vague future, shall be for each of us like some sunlit ocean stretching shoreless to the horizon; every little ripple flashing with its own bright sunshine, and all bearing us onwards to the great Throne that stands on the sea of glass mingled with fire.
Then, my brother, ask yourselves what your future is if you have not Christ for your Friend.
‘I backward cast mine eye
On prospects drear;
And forward though I cannot see,
I guess and fear.’
So I beseech you, yield yourselves to Jesus Christ, He died to win us. He bears our sins that they may be all forgiven. If we give ourselves to Him who has given Himself to us, then we shall be lords of men, of the world, of life and death, of time and eternity.
In the old days conquerors used to bestow upon their followers lands and broad dominions on condition of their doing suit and service, and bringing homage to them. Christ, the King of the universe, makes His subjects kings, and will give us to share in His dominion, so that to each of us may be fulfilled that boundless and almost unbelievable promise: ‘He that overcometh shall inherit all things.’ ‘All are yours if ye are Christ’s.’
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany