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[1 Corinthians 11:1 belongs to chap. 10, where see. Evans (in Speaker), Stanley, and others divide this chapter at 1 Corinthians 11:16, not 1 Corinthians 11:17, making 1 Corinthians 11:16 introduce the new topic]
1 Corinthians 11:2. I praise you … all things.—Not qualified or limited by 1 Corinthians 11:17, which refers to a new point, which had arisen in practice, outside the “all things already delivered,” whether orally, when Paul was at Corinth, or by the (possible) lost letter. Courteous, and no doubt true of the Church as a whole, though there were factious and rebellious exceptions. Certainly they deferred to his authority, when they submitted for his decision the questions the answers to which occupy so much of this letter. See also how this loyal feeling asserted itself in consequence of this letter (2 Corinthians 7:11 sqq.). Ordinances.—“Traditions” (R.V. and all Commentaries). “The delivered instructions, … directions in matters of discipline as well as of doctrine” (Evans). Ellicott suggests such (esoteric) topics as 1 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:5. Beet adds a new idea: “Probably the more or less definite instructions given by Christ to the apostles for the Church. Samples in 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3.” Important to note (as Stanley): “Always delivered, not ‘traditionally’ through many links, but direct from the teacher to the taught.” Hence entirely without analogy to the technical traditions of, e.g., the Romish ecclesiastical theology: “Not merely such acts and words as were supposed to have descended from Christ and His apostles, although orally transmitted instead of recorded in writing; but also the whole circle of dogmas and practices which had been instituted by Church councils and recognised by the Church” (Luthardt, Saving Truths, lect. viii.); which became an authority concurrent with Scripture. All verbal or written Apostolic directions which are needed in order to a statement of God’s will, complete for the purposes of Christian practice, have been put on permanent record in Scripture.
1 Corinthians 11:3.—As to husband and wife and the illustrative force of their relationship, cf. throughout Ephesians 5:22-33. There the stress lies upon their intimateness, their unity of relationship, and the obligation of mutual helpfulness and sympathy. In 1 Corinthians 11:33 her subordination to him is introduced, and is here the prominent point dealt with. Head.—Above the Body (Colossians 1:18), though, in a true sense, belonging to it; in close, living, life-giving union; directing it, and so every particular “man” in it. Man is woman’s “immediate head” (Beet), for Christ is her head too; in the Body there is “no male nor female.” Also distinguish between her equality and parallelism with man in her relation to Christ in regard to her personal spiritual life (1 Corinthians 11:11), and her social subordination to man (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27, 1 Corinthians 3:23). “The meaning of ‘head’ must not be unduly limited or unduly extended. The general idea is that of supremacy or pre-eminence, but the particular character of that supremacy or pre-eminence must in each case be determined by the context and by the nature of the things specified. Thus, in the first member, [it] is in regard of nature and of headship of the whole human family; in the second, in regard of divinely appointed order and authority (Genesis 2:22-23; Genesis 3:16; see below, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9); in the third, in regard of priority and office,—the pre-eminence of the Father, as Bishop Pearson says, ‘undeniably consisting in this, that He is God not of any other but Himself, and that there is no other person who is God but is God of Him’ ” (Ellicott).
1 Corinthians 11:4.—The Romans and Jews prayed with covered heads, the Greeks with uncovered. Hence no suggestion that the men at Corinth did draw over their heads any sort of covering, e.g. the loose lap or fold of the outer “wrap,” like a Moorish haik. The Greek Christian would do by mere habit what profound Christian truth declared to be right for Jew or Gentile men. To cover his head was to assume openly the woman’s condition of subordination, and to disavow his manly right to stand with unveiled face before Christ. He thus dishonours his head (i.e. his manly self, culminating there), and dishonours also that other Head in Whom he has, and to Whose work he owes, his own honour as a man.
1 Corinthians 11:5. Prayeth or prophesieth.—Acts 2:18; Acts 21:9. In apparent contrast see 1 Corinthians 14:33. Sanctified good sense would draw a distinction between (say) a full, formal meeting of the whole Church for worship, where propriety dictated that she should ordinarily be silent, and smaller, half-social gatherings of Christian people in “prayer meetings”; or between her liberty at the family altar or in a gathering of women, and her seemly restriction in mixed or public gatherings. [Observe the antithesis, “the men … the women” in 1 Timothy 2:8-9.] In any case, whenever her praying is in any degree in public, let her not be “unveiled,” unsexing herself and making herself “masculine,” bearing herself like a short-haired man; she might as well go the whole length and be “cropped” [shorn] like a man. “Modesty is the conscience of the body.” A Corinthian woman’s veil would be the peplum, worn over the shoulders in the house, drawn over the face in public. [At Corinth a “shorn” woman would be a harlot.]
1 Corinthians 11:7.—Note, not merely “made in the image”; he “is the image and glory of God.” Note also, “woman is” [not “the image,” but only] “the glory of man.” She also—but the thought is outside of Paul’s view here—is “man made in the image of God.” “The male sex, as holding the highest power on earth and exercising undisputed sway over all else, is a visible pattern of God and a shining forth of His splendour” (Beet). Being what he is, man glorifies God Who made him thus; being what she is, woman glorifies man, to whom God has given her for a help-meet. The dependence found in both cases, of origin and relation, exalts and brings dignity to God and man respectively.
1 Corinthians 11:10.—Very difficult text; a crux interpretum.
(1) Pretty general agreement that “power” means her “veil,” the sign of man’s authority over woman. [Perhaps also: “It is a piece of natural fitness that nature herself should have put on the woman, in her long hair, a natural sign of subordination”; though this fits with still greater difficulty into the next clause.]
(2) Because of the angels.—Choose between (a) “Good angels,” present in the Christian assemblies, who will be grieved by anything disorderly or unseemly. In favour of this are: the far-fetched, obscure, precariously based, character of the argument involved in (b) below; the general use of Scripture, where “angels” means “good angels,” unless the contrary is made clear in some way; the wide concurrence of the Greek Fathers in this interpretation; the constant assertion in the New Testament of the vivid interest which these take in all that belongs to man and his redemption. Also, the worshipping heavenly company, of which good angels form a large part, and the companies of earthly worshippers, are really one great body of worshippers at the same throne of the same God, though locally divided or distributed—part here, part yonder; the human worshippers must do nothing unworthy of the angelic part of the great adoring company. (b) “Evil angels;” as many, from Tertullian to Farrar, who suppose Paul to refer to [and believe in!] the Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 6:2. In favour of this are many Rabbinic sayings, and some fantastic Mahometan stories; against it, the consideration that a veil could hide nothing from spiritual beings, even though evil ones, and would neither defend the woman from their gaze nor shield them from temptation to which they might again at least desire to yield. To suppose that the veil is to defend the good angels [or the “angels of the Churches (Revelation 2:3)] from temptation (I) is to suppose them “weaker, in the matter of sensual desire, than average Englishmen now” (Beet). [The matter is of very little homiletic use in any detail.]
1 Corinthians 11:12.—God’s glory is His creature, man; man’s glory is his companion, woman; woman’s glory is her covering, her hair and its symbolised modesty of subordination.
1 Corinthians 11:16. Seemeth.—Not in the usual sense of the frequent translation of the Greek word, “thinketh that he is”; but, “is so pertinacious in disputing upon this point that, to put it kindly, he appears to others to contend, for the mere love of being in opposition. It would be true to observed facts of human nature to translate and expound “thinks that he is, and is rather proud of being.” We.—As distinguished from “the Churches of God” will mean “we apostles.” Custom.—Viz. “of women praying with unveiled heads.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 11:2-16
The Women’s Veils.
I. “Solemn trifling,” cries somebody, “to think of putting these nugæ Paulinœ on permanent record as a piece of God’s revelation!” But in God’s works, and in God’s words, we are no competent judges of what are nugæ. This a sample case of how to deal with and decide the many small points of Church order and worship; e.g. such as, in mission-fields, or in communities for the first time becoming organised and civilised on Christian lines, often get an accidental significance and importance. As the same “laws” give shape to a globe and a rain-drop, so the same great principles apply to and regulate the gravest or the most trivial matters of Christian practice. There is no limit, upward, or downward, to the concern God takes in whatever bears upon His redeeming work for the race of mankind. Everything connected with His Church may be brought to some of the tests suggested here.
1. Customary observance and Church rule. There is a power in the very idea of a Great, Whole Community feeling its oneness, and showing it, by some observance which is its universal badge and token. E.g. the eating of bread and the drinking of wine at a supper in connection with the death of Christ and the Christian covenant, and in faith and hope of His second coming, is everywhere—amidst all the varieties of ritual and interpretation—a differentiating custom, as between Christian and non-Christian; a uniting custom, as between Christian and Christian of all types, and creeds, and ages, and lands. The Church sees its oneness at the Table. This indeed is no custom of optional observance. But, to take another, not thus binding: For centuries, almost as far back as the very beginning of the Church, there has never been a day on which, somewhere, Christian voices have not uplifted Psalms 95:0 to God in public worship. The sections of the Christian Church are far enough removed from each other; in doctrine, in practice, very often in spirit also, they have been as widely sundered as they could well be, to belong to the same Body at all. Yet in the use of this psalm one common life thrills through from Church to Church. The diversities and divisions are real and deep, but they do not destroy the unity, deepest when all are at worship. Thus, then, when Churches which as separate communions are but of yesterday, sing this psalm, which has been interwoven for ages with the prayers and praises of the Churches of, at all events, all Western lands, hoary some of them with the associations of ages, the gulf of time is bridged over by the “custom”; the Church of the present avows its oneness with the Church of the past, and each Church claims its place in the great company of the Christian worshippers of the One God and Father. [The unity of worship even goes further. The Jew in his Friday evening synagogue service begins his Sabbath worship with this same psalm.] This is poetry, sentiment; but any thing which manifests, and makes real, the sense of unity is not lightly to be regarded. That woman, that Church, would be ill-advised who went in the face of the “custom” of all the Churches of Christ. If the uncovered head for the man, and the veiled head for the woman, be the universal Christian custom, that is worth something as a test by which to decide such a question as had been raised at Corinth. [So Burial—not necessarily Interment—v. Cremation.] Christian custom should prevail, as against personal “fad” or the freak of undisciplined individuality. If there be no good reason against, “fall into line” with the universal Church. And this the more when there is reason as well as custom in the practice.
2. Universal instinct of propriety as against any unnatural, perverted, temporary fashion, or the “crank” of some “contentious man,” fond of, glorying in, being “on the other side,” and in a minority—himself against the world. “Propriety,” indeed, may in regard to some points be read in the most opposite senses. To the Jew it means that a man cover his head with his hat, or turban, or tallith, when he prays. And that Jew would be censurable who in the synagogue, in mere freak or self-willed preference of his own course [= “heresy,” 1 Corinthians 11:19], should go against the received proprieties of the place and of his co-religionists by praying with bared head. [“In your prayers, in Churches and places of Religion, use reverent postures, great attention, grave ceremony, the lowest postures of humility; remembering that we speak to God, in our reverence to whom we cannot possibly exceed; but that the expression of this reverence be according to the law or custom, and the example of the most prudent and pious persons; that is, let it be the best of its kind to the best of essences” (Jeremy Taylor, “Holy Living,” ii., § 5).] But there are “proprieties” which are universal. The modesty which is the body’s conscience may, like the sense of sin which belongs to the soul’s conscience, be so violated and sinned against that it seems gone; but it is there, ineradicably deep in human nature, and can be awakened and appealed to in all. Nature has a voice, and can be heard speaking in her very physical differencing of the sexes. Long hair for the woman, shorter for the man; this is not fashion, it is of no one age or nation. “Fall then into line with” Nature in your rule for Church order. “Your Jew and your Roman covers his head when he worships. He does not understand, as you Christians do, the headship of man in and with Christ. But even he does not tolerate that his women should worship with uncovered head.” Paul’s principle appeals to the universal womanly instincts and fine perceptions. In extraordinary circumstances a woman, like Philip’s daughters, may “prophesy”; the gift brings with it its own call for exercise, and overrules many prudential or conventional considerations. In quasi-domestic life she may “pray” (1 Corinthians 11:5) openly and as the leader of the devotions of others. But the proprieties as well as the custom of the Churches will make this the exception (1 Corinthians 14:33), only to be departed from under the clearest necessity. Woman’s place and work and open participation in the conduct of worship are all to be decided and adjusted in conformity with this second test. A local impropriety at Corinth made a “shorn” head, or uncovered, “a shame” to a woman. Even this local conventionalism must not needlessly be offended against by a Christian woman anxious to assert her equality with the men as before Christ. Even the Gentiles must be “pleased,” if possible (1 Corinthians 10:32). And in many another small detail of Church order, an instinct which works for fitness and propriety is a criterion not to be left unused. The “angels,” too, have their sense of fitness which should have consideration. But this belongs rather to the next criterion.
3. Revealed truth is, however, the supreme standard of appeal. Where there are no express directions there may be exemplar facts. There may be “leading cases,” each of them carrying a principle. Yet example, even Apostolic example and practice, if certainly established, is not necessarily Church law, unless the apostles have made it so. [An argument often urged in the controversy re Episcopal v. Presbyterian system of government.] The Apostolic example may sometimes be more honoured in forsaking the literal and exact and mechanical copying of it, whilst seizing the essential principle and adapting its form and embodiment to the changed environment and necessities of a new time or a new world. The true law may lie deeper than the letter of their practice. But any practice of theirs put on permanent record in the Scripture is, with this proviso, legislation and Divine direction for the Churches (1 Corinthians 11:16, “we have no such custom”). The histories of the Bible are didactic; they may be legislatory also; they are parts of the revelation, one of the methods of the revelation, of the mind and will of God. Nature, with its long and short hair for the two sexes—how comes it thus? Who made “Nature”? Who made such a detail of “her” arrangements so significant? How has it happened that “a mere resultant of the processes which have evolved sex” is ethical, and finds something innate in man and woman responsive to its dictate? “All things of God” (1 Corinthians 11:12). Go back to Eden and the Creation story. See the finished work of the creative “week” (1 Corinthians 11:7-11):—
“Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honour clad,
In naked majesty, seemed lords of all,
And worthy seemed; for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone,
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude, severe and pure,
Whence true authority in men; though both
Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;
For contemplation he and valour formed;
For softness she and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him:
His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad;
She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadornèd golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved,
As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amiable delay.”
—Paradise Lost, iv. 288–311.
Not in this particular case only, but in all, let men get back to God’s facts; let them dig down beneath the accretions of speculation, or fashion, or error, until in God’s own utterance of His will, above all in Revelation, they get to rock. In everything, not, “What thinkest thou?” but, “What seest, hearest, readest, thou of the works of God?” That only is final; the supreme arbiter of all, whether in actual use or only proposed, in connection with the order of the Church or the life of His people. [Revelation and propriety combine in the appeal made by Paul to the presence of angelic spectators, who are also, as is suggested in Critical Notes, co-worshippers in the great company of adoring ones to which believers “are come” already (Hebrews 12:22), and with which in a glorious reality they are already associated in the one joint homage of Heaven and Earth. But so obscure is the whole matter, so small a corner of the veil is drawn back, so momentary and partial is the glimpse we get of these angelic critics of the proprieties of Christian observance and worship, that very little practical use can be made of the motive Paul appeals to. We dare take in the obscurity no step, except the one we here take with our inspired guide, in the unfamiliar world within the veil, where we have, indeed, planted our foot, but we hardly know what it is we see. Yet more thought and honour might perhaps be paid to the “big brothers” told off, “sent forth,” to take charge of us (Hebrews 1:14), without our running into all the fanciful, Rabbinic, and apocryphal poetising about each man’s “guardian angel,” and the like.]
1 Corinthians 11:11. Man and Woman.—How all the arguments, 1 Corinthians 11:2-15, assume the historic truth of the story of Genesis 1:0,
2. Paul, it is admitted, does so; to him the relation of the sexes, the order of the family life, originated in the history, and rest upon it. Possible to admit the truth of all the teaching here about the relative positions of man and woman, and to regard the history as myth. But in that case the truth stands without known basis, or without any unchallengeable basis. A mere “happy” use of an old myth will hardly afford an argument such as—not Paul only, but—the inspiring Spirit might employ. The creation facts, and the physical facts of everyday knowledge, say that, subordinate as she is, the man needs the woman; and that, though he has headship, the man is made for the woman, and not alone for himself or his God.
1. Man and woman both are needed, to exhibit manhood in its perfection of idea; neither without the other. Fitted respectively for restless activity and quiet retirement; to fight in the battles of life, to heal the wounds of the combatants; the stronger mind, the better-disposed heart; men arriving at truth by slow reasoning, women by quick intuitions; men consequently gaining more by the way, but oftener missing their way altogether (Luthardt); hence men oftener sceptical, women “naturally” more religious; [“an irreligious woman is a man spoilt, and doubly corrupting to those men over whom she acquires influence” (Luthardt);] man’s the initiative, generative, originating mind, woman’s the receptive and reproductive mind. Broadly true, and correspondent to, and founded in, physical differences; but with many exceptions in detail.
2. The distinction and the unification mount higher.—God is both Father and Mother in His love. No woman ever misses anything in Him because He is “Father.” He is ideal Parenthood. So, too, the painters are guided by a right instinct when they give to the face of their ideals of Christ a somewhat feminine (not effeminate) manhood. He is Man and Woman; in Him neither is without the other. No girl ever feels that Christ does not understand her because He was “only a boy”; no woman ever feels that He is not for her because He is a man. His “sex” never occurs to the mind or heart. He is man and woman, strength and tenderness; the wisdom of both types of mind and heart are in Him; perfect Manhood.
3. The perfectly rounded Christian character combines and exhibits the best characteristics of both. If women are “more religious” than men, it is because it is easier for them to enter by “Little-children Gate” into the Kingdom. Dependence, docility, belief in what comes on authority,—all that makes the little child typical of the character which alone can enter, all these are nearer akin to the woman’s character and habit than to the man’s. The man enters the kingdom “not without the woman,” developed, or submitted to, in him. The perfect manhood of grace needs, however, to add to faith “virtue” (perhaps = “courage”). As between man and God there is no room in man for self-reliance, but, as between man and man, and in doing the work of God in the world, there is room and need for “the man.”
III. Christianity, the Church, the work of God, each needs, and has availed itself of, both “man” and “woman.”—It would never have succeeded, it will never succeed, so far as human conditions of success are concerned, unless by the employment of both. The presence and interaction of the sexes is a valuable element in the educational effect of the Church upon its members. Sanctified family life, with the reciprocal, incessant, little-adverted-to, training of husband and wife, brothers and sisters, is the seminal instance and example of the training given by, and gained from, the brotherhood and sisterhood in the Church of Christ. Each sex has its gifts and capabilities complementary to, lacking in, those of the other. Woman can reach where man is excluded; man can dare where woman may not go. Wisest Church organisers utilise both to the utmost of possibility. Romans 16:0 is a picture of an early Church, and is full of women who, like the men, are “in the Lord.” Nor are they simply receivers of blessing; they “labour,” and even “labour much in the Lord”; they can with their husbands lay down their own necks in running risks and daring death to save an apostle’s life. Indeed, Priscilla may precede Aquila; possibly just as in a Church to-day there are godly women who, without unwomanly obtrusiveness, have so much more of initiative than their equally godly and devoted, but quieter, husbands, that every one says, or thinks, “Mrs. and Mr. ——.” “In the Lord,” in the sphere and realm where He is supreme, and where everything bears the stamp of His lordship and ownership, “Woman” and “Man” are both required. Neither is without the other. In the new creation in the soul, in that other new creation, the “kingdom of God” on earth, the original, natural order of the Creator’s idea is being perfectly restored.
NEW TOPIC: THE LORD’S SUPPER AND THE LOVE-FEASTS
1 Corinthians 11:17.—Backward reference: the directions just given, and the general praise of 1 Corinthians 11:2, are not to be taken to carry with them “praise” in regard to this further matter. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 11:16 precludes it, for in this they are out of line with the holier manner and “custom” of other Churches. Better … worse.—“Not for edification and spiritual improvement, but the reverse.”
1 Corinthians 11:18. First of all.—Not formally completed by any “second” topic; perhaps 1 Corinthians 11:34, “the rest,” covers all Paul had in his mind when he here says “first of all.” In the Church.—Of course not any building so called; only in “due and formal Church assembly.” Divisions are again “schisms” as in 1 Corinthians 1:10 [though not necessarily here the Church parties; perhaps only divisions of feeling arising from diversity of wealth and social position], 1 Corinthians 12:25. Partly.—Courteous, but serious; “charity hopeth all things.”
1 Corinthians 11:19. Must.—; Not stronger than in (say) Matthew 18:7. “Fallen human nature being what it is, it is certain and inevitable that,” etc. So, whether we shall say, “with the result that” or “in order that,” goes down to the roots of things, as to the co-working of the free wills of God and of man. No doubt the Hebrew mind saw all history so full of God that it connected His will very closely indeed with the course of events, inclining always to “in order that”; to ordaining rather than merely overruling. A close parallel is in Matthew 10:34-35. “I am come … to send a sword,” “to set … at variance,” etc.
1 Corinthians 11:19. Heresies.—Not yet in the technical sense; only divisions arising out of the choice of self-willed hearts, showing itself in open unbrotherliness, dissension, division. Approved.—As usual (e.g. Romans 16:10) those whom the testing shows to be the pure metal, genuine, true, loyal, to Paul, to the Church, to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Corinthians 13:7; James 1:12.)
1 Corinthians 11:20.—Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23; Acts 1:15; Acts 2:44; Acts 3:1; quite general, perhaps including not only “place,” but time and purpose. Choose between:
(1) “Your way of doing things may be ‘eating a supper,’ but it is no ‘Lord’s supper’ ”; and
(2) “Such love-feast suppers as yours, conducted as they are, cannot suitably lead up to the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Decision turns upon the historical question whether the Lord’s Supper itself was made a meal capable of (more than) satisfying hunger and including (even excessive and intoxicating, 1 Corinthians 11:21) use of wine; or whether it was associated with (preceded by) such a substantial meal. Further—
1 Corinthians 11:21.—Note, “other” is an insertion, depending in part for its warrant upon the decision as to the historical question. Choose between
(1) “Takes beforehand, with a greedy eagerness which will not even wait for the whole company to be gathered and the proper Church ordinance to begin, but ‘falls to’ forthwith, so soon as the place is entered, upon ‘its own supper,’ brought to the feast”; and
(2) “Takes first with selfish preference its own (rich man’s) supper; whilst the poor man, with his poor and scanty supper, must wait the rich men’s convenience and pleasure before partaking of anything they had professed to bring towards a communion meal.”
1 Corinthians 11:22.—Either way, the communion idea is sinned against and lost. “Hungry” and “drunken” sit side by side at the Lord’s table! Private meals should be eaten in private houses; natural hunger and thirst should be satisfied at home. [The historical questions involved are most variously decided upon, sometimes under (unconscious) theological bias. The facts are few; their interpretation is often still sub lite. (E.g. some would make the edict of Trajan [112, or earlier] occasioned by the well-known letter of Pliny the Younger,—that the “simple and harmless” meal of the Bithynian Christians, taken in the evening of the Lord’s Day, should cease,—the occasion of the disuse of the Love-feast, and of a morning use of the [distinctive] Lord’s Supper. But it is not agreed that the meal which he forbade was really taken in the evening, at a second meeting, in addition to the morning one which he so fully describes.) For homiletical purposes one important point is clear: the ordinance is to every participant’s thought and apprehension a Supper set out upon a Table. Whatever other meanings might lie latent—or even then be understood—in the eating of bread and wine together at Christ’s supper table, it was certainly a Meal, not without analogies to the feats in heathen temples, or to the Jewish peace-offering banquets, or (more appositely) to the actual “last supper” of Christ. The analogy of this last may lend some support to the frequent exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17-20, that an ordinary meal (in part also reminiscent of the early community in Jerusalem, Acts 2:4, Acts 2:6): preceded the more definite “Supper,” as in Christ’s own instance. Without insisting too strongly upon “we break” (1 Corinthians 10:16) or “every one taketh” (1 Corinthians 11:21), it is also clear that this, like many more things in the Church, has not yet attained to much definiteness of form and manner of observance; there is little or no “rubric” as yet; differentiation of officials, and between Love-feast and Supper, is only in an inchoate stage.]
1 Corinthians 11:23. Received.—Two interpretations:
(1) “Hearsay” theory;
(2) “Inspiration” theory.
(1) supposes from, e.g., Peter during the fortnight of Galatians 1:18, and asks where the necessity was of any independent narrative, straight from the risen Christ to Paul;
(2) Evans (in opposition to Meyer) insists upon the meaning of the Greek for “of,” though this again need not necessarily imply oral communication from Christ to Paul. At all events,
(2) is preferable, and gives an independent, original account (which may have influenced the closely similar one in Luke 22:19 sqq.) of the institution of the Supper. I also delivered.—The two links in the chain, “received,” “delivered,” solemnly certified and vouched for as being duly in order. Note, “I delivered … was being delivered.” Bread.—A cake of bread, a loaf; one of those lying on the table, so far as appears.
1 Corinthians 11:24.—Note the shortened, correct reading (seen in R.V.). Therefore “broken,” though true and suggested by the facts, does not exhaust the significance for His people’s life and salvation of the fact that He had a real human body. Still, this “broken” is the pre-eminent serviceableness “for you” of His having become an incarnate Saviour. This do.—Viz. “Take, give thanks, break, [take, eat,] as I have done, in remembrance of Me.” Himself, in all the developing discoveries of their reverent, Spirit-guided inquiry, is to be the object of thought and faith.
1 Corinthians 11:25. In like manner.—Viz. Taking, giving thanks, and giving to them. Observe this was “after supper”; the bread apparently being “during supper.” The “Last Supper,” then, would not set a very close precedent for any (assumed) sequence of definitely distinguished Agapæ meal and Lord’s Supper. Is.—Spoken of “the cup”; the Cup IS the Covenant; exegetical of “is” in 1 Corinthians 11:24. This do ye.—As in 1 Corinthians 11:24. Peculiar to this narrative, in connection with the cup. As oft as.—Contemplates the continuance of the ordinance. [Are we to prefer, as verbally more exact, this particular record of Christ’s words over the bread and over the cup?]
1 Corinthians 11:26.—Communion (1 Corinthians 10:14-21); Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25); now also Commemoration. (For this and other points, see Separate Homily on 1 Corinthians 11:20.) Until He come “to be Executor as well as Testator” (Evans).
1 Corinthians 11:27.—With no “worthy” appreciation of its meaning, or, this appreciated, with no care to behave in a manner “worthy” of what he believes, and of what the Supper is, Guilty of.—A fourfold use of the Greek word in New Testament; see
(1) Hebrews 2:15. “subject to bondage”;
(2) Mark 3:29, “guilty of eternal sin”;
(3) Matthew 26:11, “guilty of death”;
(4) here, approximating to
(2). Held bound to the responsibility for the act, and to pay the penalty of it; in this case, of dishonour done to Christ, almost in the manner of the apostates in Hebrews 10:29—“hath counted the blood of the covenant … a (merely) common thing.” If the Corinthians evacuated the ordinance of its high and holy meaning, they made the bread and wine only the historical reminders of a malefactor who once was (perhaps justly) crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. What was this but to assent to His crucifixion—in fact, to “crucify Him afresh”; as He deserved, if He be not a Saviour Whose Supper has the full significance which Paul has expounded.
1 Corinthians 11:28. So.—I.e. having examined [“proved,” cognate with “approved” (1 Corinthians 11:19)] his heart, and his intention in partaking of the Supper; then, with all the personal unworthiness he no doubt discovers, but with a real desire to use the Supper as the Lord intended, “let him eat.”
1 Corinthians 11:29. Damnation.—“Judgment,” “condemnation”; but these also include, not only the verdict upon the sinner, but the penalty. At Corinth this last was sickness, and in many cases death (1 Corinthians 11:30). (Cf. Acts 5:5; Acts 13:11.)
1 Corinthians 11:31.—shows the verbal connection with 1 Corinthians 11:29. When will we choose to have ourselves appraised, and our true position and character estimated? Now, or at “the Day”? And by whom—ourselves, or the Judge? Punishment now is chastisement, which may chasten the “worldliness” out of our heart and thought, so that we shall not come into the world’s irreversible condemnation. [“He (Noah) condemned the world,” Hebrews 11:7.]
1 Corinthians 11:33.—Coming back to, as it might seem, the trivial piece of unseemly disorder out of which all this solemn profanity arose, with its sad sequel of punishment; disorder which also was symptomatic of their moral blindness to the meaning of the Supper.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 11:17-34
[The specific subject of the section is dealt with under 1 Corinthians 11:20. A general grouping of the many topics may be made around three nuclei of arrangement. Thus:—]
I. Evil mingling with good.
II. Good arising out of evil.
III. A good thing—only, and of many-sided good.
I. Their assembling for public worship, and even their “coming together” for “the Supper of the Lord,” issues in evil, not in help to man or glory to God,—“not for the better, but for the worse.” The fires of party “divisions,” always smouldering in the hearts of fellow-Corinthians, and fellow-Christians, are stirred into a fierce blaze so soon as they find themselves together within the same place of assembly, and are made to burn intensely by the behaviour of some of the rich towards the poor, as they sit down for the holy feast. Thus the place and the worship and its central ordinance—that which above all should be the sign and the bond of “communion”—are profaned, and the crucified Lord, Whose broken body and Whose poured-out blood they profess thankfully to remember as the foundation of all their common hope, is dishonoured. Can there be no “truce of God” from their “divisions” there, where of all other places should be peace? Is the distinction between rich and poor to be offensively obtruded, and their poverty flung in the faces of the poorer saints [? even “houseless” ones (1 Corinthians 11:22)] at that table where one [“wedding garment” of] undistinguishing redeeming love invests every guest alike, and covers and hides all such social rank and distinction? If there be one occasion in which should stand out conspicuous that glory of the Church of Christ as the home of all comers, of all races, ranks, ages, of both sexes, all sinners, all adopted children of God, alike,—it should be at the Table of their common Elder Brother. To accentuate there the inevitable social distinctions of the secular life outside—there, of all places—is the offence against the brotherhood the grossest; there, of all places, is the “worldliness” of such hearts shown up most staringly as sin against the Lord and Host of the Feast. How utterly “unworthy” is such “eating and drinking”! Do they, no better than that, “discern” and discriminate and judge between the covenant supper, where the Lord Himself is the true Passover Lamb, and the common meal in their own houses? Or, indeed, are they as heathenish still as those who eat at the table “of idols,” “of devils”? If their partisanship thus sins against the very idea of the unity; if their offensive flouting of the hungry poor of Christ’s flock by their greedy, selfish haste to demolish the heap of provisions they have brought to the common table, thus sins against the brotherhood; if such utter unpreparedness of heart and thought thus sins against the very Lord Himself, around whom they “come together,”—is it any wonder that His “judgments” are abroad amongst them? Any wonder that their very eating and drinking thus only brings “condemnation” upon them? Any wonder that sickness is abroad, and that even the “sleep” of death has fallen upon some most conspicuous offenders? They did not connect the disorder and the deaths? They did not trace any connection between the prevalent sickness and the “undiscerning,” “unworthy” communicating? Very likely not. “The world” never does. It stops at natural causes; had perhaps its (crude) sanitary theory of the epidemic sickness at Corinth; could perfectly account for every death in the membership; knew exactly what had carried off each particular man or woman. If they shared in the ignorance of the undiscerning “world” which does not see God in such things, and in the practical heathenism which made the gathering nothing but “a guild supper,” such as abounded around them, was it any wonder that they were “condemned with the world”? (1 Corinthians 11:32). “They come together,” indeed, “for the worse.” A Church in Corinth not three years old, a Church of Christ not fifty years old, and its most solemn assemblings have here come to this! Evil springing up amidst the good! “The world is out of joint!”
II. Good springing out of evil,—
1. Just as these two consummately important and valuable Epistles have found their occasion, if not their cause, in these miserable factions and these shocking disorders in the Corinthian Church. “All things have indeed thus worked together for good,” for the Church of all lands and of all ages. The apologist of to-day comes to these two Epistles for his weapons of defence, for his facts of cogent significance and value (e.g. chap. 15). The theologian comes to them for full and explicit and far-leading revelations of truth upon some of the deepest themes of the Christian faith. The humble believer finds every line in some pages full of “meat to eat” that the world, and even some of the apologists and theologues, “know not of.” How great is the worth to the Church of this earliest-written account of the Lord’s last supper, of His own solemn expository words of institution, and those derived from the Lord Himself. And yet Paul rises to this universally precious, monumental, declaration and testimony, from the temporary and local and personal. Dictated to his amanuensis as he sat working at his trade in some humble lodging in Ephesus, there falls from his pen a palmary document of the Christian faith: “received of the Lord, delivered unto” the truly Catholic Church! “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him!” (Psalms 76:10). “The world is out of joint” indeed; God’s fair order is sadly disturbed and marred. But every man can see, and can say, “He meant it not so; He Who did so much that was manifestly intended to work for good, never left His work so nearly finished and yet so mischievously incomplete, so admirably designed and yet so imperfect in its actual working.” And the wondering, grateful heart of His Church sees in a thousand instances God’s self-vindication for those who have hearts to feel its force and open eyes to see its facts; how He makes evil the seed-plot from whose very bosom good springs up; how not only parallel with evil, but occasioned by it, and helped forward by it, there arises the good. It is God working toward the restored order, the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), towards which the most potently effectual contribution are the Redemption and the Church in whose midst is the significant Supper so profaned at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11:19 is a particular example of the working of this ceaseless drift and movement of the Divine government of the world towards; “restitution” of the disturbed original order. It reads strongly: “There must be heresies … in order that.” How and where do the Human and the Divine meet and work together? Who can tell? There is a Holy of Holies of secrecy within which the most adventurous human inquiry or analysis or speculation have never yet been able to set foot. [Kindred with the question: “How and where do the Material and the Spiritual meet in Creation; e.g. in the chemistry, and the mechanics, and the mathematics, which are inwrought into the very structure of the natural world?”] In the Incarnation, for example? In Inspiration, for example? In the Answer of Prayer? And, as here, in the Providential rule of the will of God over, and in, and through, creaturely wills, created by Himself as free as His own? It is one and the same problem, worked with many sets of data, and insoluble for the same reason in each particular case. Approach the meeting, the midway, reconciling point from one side, and all is Man, his free activity, his passions, his plans, his limitations, his sins; so much Man that there seems no room—naturally, intellectually, morally—for God. Approach from the other, and all is God; so entirely God that it is difficult to find room for man’s freedom of thought and action, and for his responsibility or guilt. Yet it is noteworthy how seldom the heart raises or feels the difficulty. To the, not all unintelligent, bulk of God’s people, the every-day working hypothesis of life includes both: “Much is of man; all is of God.” The speculative difficulty is felt now and again, but the combination of man and God which defies intellectual analysis is a working principle which as a matter of fact does serve for the practical need of life. [How many readers, for example, or how many Jerusalem Christians in (say) A.D. 67 or 68, ever stopped to find any speculative difficulty in their Lord’s command, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter”? And yet how many lines of military, and political, and domestic plan and arrangement must converge; how many “accidents” of the weather, of the year, of the month, of the week; of the longer or briefer resistance of an army or a city, advancing or retarding the march of a general, and opening or closing the gates of a city; must concur—with chances simply infinite, mathematically calculated, against all the needed elements of a secure flight, in mild weather, to an open Pella of refuge, being found in combination—in order that the prayer might be answered.] “In order that” is for the understanding a problem of bottomless darkness, here and in all similar cases. But we do see a little way down. If we cannot always dissect out and exhibit in their distinctness Purpose and Result, we are oftentimes moved to deep and thankful wonder as we see Good resulting from Evil. For example:
2. Open evil keeps good on the alert.—If only the Adversary were absolutely wise, he would oftener see that the game to play if he would win, is that of the subtle veiling of evil. The man, or the Church, that can, and does, “withstand” and struggle nobly and victoriously “in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13), often needs the emphatic caution, “And having done all, to stand.” When Evil has drawn off its beaten forces from the field, and the hard-pressed victor for faith, or principle, or public morality is breathing hard but freely, now that there seems a moment’s leisure, then is the need that watchfulness shall not be relaxed the greatest. It is not the evil which stands revealed as a “heresy,” from which a Church has most to fear, but that which puts on the guise of the most perfect congruity with the highest aspirations and work of a Church, or which robes itself in some innocent or friendly phraseology. Troy is still captured by the harmless horse of wood, which forsooth “is really a thing devoted to the patron god of Troy!” The world and its mischief are often hidden away in the harmless, innocent piece of “politic concession” to the needs of the age, or to the necessities of the young people “whom we must keep with us, you know”; in the offered assistance to the activities of the Church, which though not exactly claiming to be “Christian,” really “is working, you see, towards the same end as yourselves.” “Let us help you,” said the enemies of Jerusalem in the days of Zerubbabel, “to build your temple; we seek your God as ye do” (Ezra 4:2). Zerubbabel and Jeshua would have no such “help”! The alliance, not the “heresy,” is to be feared. The “heresy” means that the uniforms of the opposing ranks are become more distinctive. When Confederate and Federal troops could hardly tell by speech or uniform whether friend or foe was stealing upon them and emerging from the mist, then was the peril of surprise and snatch-defeats. So again:
3. Defections and desertions have benefited the Church.—Such defections stiffen faithfulness; not by provoking any mere dogged “other-side-ishness,” but by leading to heart-searching as to personal loyalty or unfaithfulness, to truth and Christ, by inducing new consecration on the part of the “approved” ones, by occasioning new inquiry into the meaning and worth of what is being assailed and defended. The diminished numbers close up their ranks and feel themselves the fitter for the fight. [See how, at the supper table, Christ Himself “opened up” to the “approved” eleven after Judas had withdrawn, as if even He breathed more freely where now all were faithful. “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” etc. (John 13:31). The underlying idea of “approved” is well expounded e converso in 1 John 2:19 : “[The many antichrists] went out from us that they might be made manifest that they were not of us.” The deep essential cleavage which all along had divided the Church stood revealed. It was seen that they who were not for Christ were against Him. They stood out ἀδόκιμοι, “reprobate,” sifted out from the “approved,” the δόκιμοι. In this instance the separation is made manifest by the secession of the antichrist party. In 2 Timothy 2:19; 2 Timothy 2:21 the secession is to be the action of the faithful party. Two “heretics”—where the word is beginning to take on its later ecclesiastical colour and associations—are specified, Hymenæus and Philetus. They had gone greatly wrong in doctrine (1 Corinthians 11:18), and perhaps also in morals (1 Corinthians 11:16); they were heretics who at least tended to become “ungodly,” immoral, heretics. They had gone out from the Church, or had been cast out; or, if not so much of separation had yet taken place, their “error” (1 Corinthians 11:18) ranged them as not really belonging to the Great House. They had never really belonged to it, or had ceased to do so. It was only a human reckoning, which was originally imperfect, or which had become so by their falling away in doctrine and heart, that had accounted them so. Either man’s hasty work had built in stones which never were “living stones,” or they had ceased to “live,” and so fell out from their place in the living temple, the “spiritual House,” to which they had ceased in any true sense to belong (1 Peter 2:4-5). So far as they had any connection with the Great House, it was that of “vessels unto dishonor”—[not made to be broken in pieces; what house has any such?],—the “vessels” which are needed to carry away from the house its sweepings and gathered impurities. [The heavenly Jerusalem, like the earthly; the Church, like the literal city; have their Gehenna outside the walls (Matthew 13:41). In the history of Churches, and of The Church, it is simple matter of observation that from time to time evil, error, disorder, and wilful, self-pleasing teaching seem to have gathered and gravitated toward some “vessel unto dishonour.” In some secessions—“heretical” or other—it has seemed as if the leaders have carried away with them the elements of turbulence and scandal. They have done good, indirectly. The vessel which carries away what cannot longer, for health or happiness, be suffered in the house, serves a useful turn. The Church has been left united, cleared in doctrine and life, purer and at peace, its “approved” ones “appearing” such to all.
4. It is an extension of the same principle to say that heresies (in the technical sense, not in Paul’s sense here) have served the good end that what is “approved” truth has stood out in clearer light and appreciation. The early Church found itself occupying its heritage of Truth, much as some pioneer settlers in a new land may plant themselves in the midst of a vast, vague territory whose limits are not easy to define; nor for a little while does any necessity to define them seem to press upon them. But as neighbours come and plant themselves in the same region, “Mine and Thine” must needs be ascertained and marked off. Sometimes claim is set up or occupation attempted where the first comer believes that he has already exclusive right. With much discussion, perhaps with more than a little of heat and temper, the matter is threshed out, and at last a boundary-mark is planted where the verdict determines that rightful Occupancy and wrongful Claim are parted. In the end the process has been repeated on all sides, until the original seat of our settlers is girdled with a series of boundary-posts, which have become a complete definition of their holding. So, beginning with a body of truth rather held experimentally than formulated for the intellect, the Christian Church had from time to time to investigate the claim, the pretension, of this teaching or that to be part of the Truth; and so, very often with heat and struggle, it became clear that thus far was Truth, beyond was Error; on this side and on that, in this direction and in that, the boundary-marks got planted, until a definition of doctrine more or less complete was arrived at. [E.g. truly God, perfectly man, without confusion two natures, without division one person, are four such boundary-posts, marking the limits within which the truth that takes in all the facts and declarations of Scripture has been ascertained to lie, and beyond which lie “heresies” in the ecclesiastical sense; sometimes imperfect or crude attempts after truth, which have overstated one aspect of the whole, or have omitted some of the data for determining the whole.] Heterodoxy has cleared Orthodoxy. The “heresies” have necessitated the Creeds. “That they which are approved”—the truths which have endured the scrutiny and the test and the fire of discussion and controversy—“may be made manifest among you.” An accommodation of Paul’s word, “heresy,” of course; but a legitimate application of the principle of the sentence.
III. Good, and only good.—
1. How restful the atmosphere of these verses (23–25). We are escaped where God “hides His people in a pavilion from the strife of tongues” (Psalms 31:20); escaped from the noisy factions of Corinth into the calm of the upper room in Jerusalem, where every word of the Master of the Feast seems to come from within the penumbra of that Shadow which is creeping over His path, and into whose inmost darkness He will enter on the following day. Sitting at table in full health, He talks to His fellows at the table of His blood, the price, the pledge, of a “new,” better “covenant.” Still with them, He speaks of the days when it shall be “remembrance,” not “enjoyment,” of His presence, of Himself; as if with the accent of a dying parent or friend, giving last injunctions, and making, with a calmness hardly shared by any who stand around the bed, the little final arrangements for the days when all is over and he is gone. Still living, still the Teacher and Friend in their midst, yet His own hands give out and distribute “His body” the body of a true Passover Lamb,—a Sacrifice of redemption and deliverance, the Provision of a Supper whose strength shall be for the pilgrimage of God’s new, ransomed Israel. To these men, who had once heard Him declare Himself the true, the original, the archetypal “Bread from Heaven” (John 6:0); and who had seen, and shared in, the hushed perplexity with which men that morning listened in the synagogue of Capernaum, and at last said, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”—to these He says, “Take, eat.”
2. “As oft as ye shall drink it”; His words look forward through the long vista of years before His Church, as, each time they sit down at His table, they look backward down the years. “He is with them always,—all the days.” The Supper board is never spread but He takes His place as the Head of the table. [As He who sat quietly eating, the invited guest in the inn at Emmaus, suddenly, significantly, took their bread into His hands, and did the host’s part, blessing and breaking, and vanishing! (Luke 24:30-31). See Appended Note.]
3. And they are not to allow the simple feast to be dissevered from Himself, and their grateful, believing “remembrance” of His whole work. “As oft as ye do this, do it in remembrance.” No other meaning is to be attached to, to be accreted round, the simple arrangement; Himself, their “communion” in Him, “the covenant in His blood,”—these are to be “remembered,” not repeated, nor extended, nor forgotten. They may institute, may disuse, [like Moravians and Methodists] may restore, love-feast suppers in the Churches, as matters of prudential, profitable arrangement and order; simple fellowship meals. But only He can institute in “remembrance”—in this fullest sense—a supper; and so long, so often, as they profess to continue His supper, they must always take care that this significance is attached to it. It must not be so stripped of meaning that it becomes only the simple love-feast, or the sub-Pentecostal common table of the Christian brotherhood.
4. Only He could institute it, and only He can abolish it. There will be a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper, somewhere, somewhen. How happy that company “eating and drinking” when the Son of Man comes,—by His lightning-sudden appearing breaking in with startling abruptness upon all the medley of human employment (Matthew 24:38),—if they are “eating and drinking” at His table; a celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” interrupted by the coming of the Lord! And even then the fit word will hardly be “abolish.” The analogy of the creation history, and of the redemption history, in the past will again be followed, and the only abolition will be that of the temporary, accidental clothing of the Idea. The “Lord’s Supper” is but one form of, one testimony to, the Communion between God and man in Christ, towards which “the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11) have all been convergently working. All the persistently repeated supper-imagery of the Gospel parables concerning the future bliss of the saved will be fulfilled when, and where, “the Lord’s Supper” has given place to His “drinking of the new wine with us in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 26:29, etc.). The words will have had their suggestive, anticipatory fulfilments all along; these may suffice “until He come” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
5. When He comes, the Lord of the feast will declare the feast ended; the Heavenly Supper begins. The witness of the Supper to the faith of His Church, that the Unseen Lord is only unseen, not dead, and that He will one day again step out from behind the veil and appear with a visible intervention in human affairs, will be crowned with its triumphant vindication. It will need the vindication. Christ shall step forth just when Antichrist is lording it over men with fullest-blown blasphemy; when the love of many shall have waxed cold; when faith shall be hard to find in the earth, a few poor embers of its old fire almost smothered beneath the heap of ashes of men’s dead beliefs (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Matthew 24:12; Luke 18:8). “Till He come.” Happy the dwindling band who still spread the table, and eat the supper, “preparing it in the midst of their enemies” (Psalms 23:5), with dogged faith looking out for Him who is “their hope” (1 Timothy 1:1); “waiting for the Lord, as they that watch for the morning,”—not only as eagerly, but in as assured certainty that the morning whose breaking delays longest nevertheless will dawn (Psalms 130:6).
6. “In the midst of, and in spite of, evil.” And how the repeated celebration of the little supper will have sustained faith. [The old argument of Leslie in his Short and Easy Method with the Deists is essentially sound wherever there are:
(1) A fact of the past, near or remote, e.g. the Exodus of Israel;
(2) An ordinance, repeatedly celebrated, in professed commemoration of the fact, e.g. the Passover;
(3) the connection between the fact and the ordinance, asserted and embodied in a record, written or other, whose repetition is part of the commemorative rite; and
(4) this repetition resting upon a command to that effect which professes to go back to the time of the original institution, e.g. Exodus 12:26. He shows how impossible it is to conceive of a nation accepting the fact on the joint evidence of
(3), unless on the supposition of its truth, seeing that
(4) guards against the subsequent attachment of a pretended significant connection with
(1)—whether this also be pretended or be real—to an existing ordinance of a different or unknown origin. Could a newly-devised Passover feast have been, at any but the contemporary date, offered to, or accepted by, a nation as an original and ancient memorial of the events connected with an Exodus itself perhaps a myth? Or, supposing that the only new thing was the asserted memorial significance, then with what success could those who propagated this, hope to attempt to attach it to a really ancient feast, when part of their assertion was also that the feast always had been celebrated with this commemorative meaning; and that, from the first, at least the instructions for celebrating it had included a prescribed question and answer expressly connecting the events and the festival? Presuming, that is, that this direction had always been obeyed, and that there had been no considerable periods during which the observance had not been kept up, Leslie’s argument was strong, and has close correspondence with the argument often built up upon the fact and manner of the observance of the Supper in the Christian Church.] This undisputed letter of St. Paul is the first of a long series of testimonies, patristic and other, that from the first the Church of Christ has celebrated a supper with this significance. Moreover, in the four great families of Liturgies, the Oriental, the Alexandrian, the Roman, the Gallican and Spanish, can be found evidence mounting up to the fourth century, and almost to the third, that the bread has always been broken and the wine poured out in connection with a memorial use of the original words of institution. Very strong historical evidence this that, even though in this last particular we cannot make the ascending chain of evidence demonstrably link itself to the use of the institutory formula by Christ Himself, yet the lines so manifestly converge, that they must have a meeting-place in a fact, which—reversing the direction of thought—is also their common point of origin. [For a brief, popular, accurate sketch of this argument and its foundation facts, see Present Day Tracts, No. 36, by Sir William Muir.]
7. Indeed, the solemn tone of the opening words of the account in 1 Corinthians 11:23, it is suggested, betrays an already fixed “monumental” form of the teaching as to the origin and meaning of the supper. It is suffused with a tender solemnity, as it recalls in briefest suggestiveness the origin of the simple acts. Every stroke tells: “The Lord Jesus”; “In the same night that He was betrayed.” Jesus is in the foreground of the picture; but Judas is also there in the gloom of the background. “Took up a loaf,” and afterwards “a cup.” We can see His uplifted eyes; His as yet unpierced hands; we can hear His voice, “giving thanks,” even then, and the “betrayal” so nigh! “In the same night,” when selfishness touched the lowest depth it ever reached, and treachery sold the Lord of heaven for a slave’s paltry price, in that night and no other, did unselfish, atoning, redeeming Love solemnly devote itself to death for the lost objects of its benevolence. On that night, when death was so nigh, and the toils of the hunters were every moment being drawn closer round the Object of human and devilish hatred, was His heart “at leisure from itself,” not only to speak words of comfort and instruction to a sorrowing company in an upper room in Jerusalem, but also to take care for a Church in all ages and places and peoples, and to institute His tenderest, simplest memorial to the understanding and the heart, of Himself. Good uplifting itself in undimmed, immaculate, undefilable beauty in the midst of Evil. Light shining in the very midnight of black, defiling darkness. We who read will at least “give thanks … in remembrance of” Him and of His Supper table and its grace and love.
1 Corinthians 11:20. “The Lord’s supper.”
1. The proper, Scriptural name of the ordinance. Jewish Christians familiar with the idea. Judaism had its supper. The birthday supper of their nation and “Church.” The Supper, the Sabbath, the Holy Place, the Circumcision-rite [with exactly the same continuity of “development” which obtains between successive stages of God’s creative work—neither less nor more close], have been brought forward into Christianity, but modified—preserving the basal principle, their raison d’être—and stamped with the seal of Christ, “the Lord.” In these “days of the Son of Man” everything has become “the Lord’s,” implicitly or expressly. We have “the Lord’s Day”; “Church” is [etymologically (see Skeat, Dict.) and in fact] “the Lord’s House”; Baptism is (at least closely connected with) the “Circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11); in our chapter occur “the Lord’s Table, Cup, and Supper.” He had taken one of the many cups drunk at the Passover supper; and of it, with a simple loaf from the table, had made His own new Supper, belonging to a new order of things in which “the Lord Christ” is all, and in all.
2. Not a sacrifice.—
(1) A very large, historically important section of the Church affirms it is. “Body and blood, soul and divinity, of the Lord Jesus Christ, bread and wine no longer remaining.” (Conc. Trid., Can., § 13, 1.) A transformation the more marvellous because not cognisable or verifiable by any of the senses. Men who alone can effect it are of a special order—“priests”; the service they conduct is a “sacrifice” of this “body,” etc.,—a real sacrifice, making expiation for the sins of the living, and (if they please) of the dead; in connection with it and with auricular confession of sins, they claim the power to remit (and, by consequence, to withhold) the “temporal” penalty of sin.
(2) Basis of all this is, “This is My body.” But cf. “This cup”—not even the wine in it—“is the New Testament in My blood” (Luke 22:20). Rigid literalism of interpretation carried consistently through ends in absurdity of interpretation.
(3) The Epistle to the Hebrews negatives all this. In it Christianity knows only one altar (1 Corinthians 13:10), one sacrifice for sins (1 Corinthians 10:12), one Priest to offer it (1 Corinthians 10:21). Many priests, repeated sacrifices, belonged only to the imperfection of the type. But even the type was right in this: one only place for offering this atoning sacrifice. Synagogues (in later days) were everywhere; but in Damascus, or Tarsus, or Rome, or (the later) Babylon, for an altar and a priest and an atoning sacrifice, a devout Jew must look toward, or visit, Jerusalem. On that one spot only might such a sacrifice be found. So in every place the Christian worshipper must turn to the Heavenly Sanctuary only, trusting that there the One High Priest, long ago “entered within the veil,” is presenting His one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for sins. No priest, then, at an altar, but a fellow-guest,—representing, perhaps, the great Host Himself,—at a supper table:—the minister.
II. Three words gather up the teaching of the New Testament as to the ordinance:
(1) Luke 22:19 : “This do, in remembrance” (spoken when distributing the bread); revealed to Paul, “Do this, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance” (as He gave the cup). Paul adds the inspired comment: “As often as ye eat … ye do show the Lord’s death until He come.” The act looks backward to Calvary [as well as forward to the Second Coming. In the face of denials of the resurrection—and of His resurrection—or the scoffer who asks, “Where is the promise of His coming?” the Church at the Table proclaims, “We look for Him to appear the second time,” etc. (Hebrews 9:28); and we purpose to proclaim our hope and confident expectation “until He come”]. The Church at the Supper says: “We believe in Jesus Christ, … Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, … crucified, dead, and buried, … rose again, … ascended, … sitteth.” The Creed, with its facts of History, is implied in the celebration of the Supper.
(2) The very fact of the observance of such a Supper does something to prove our faith reasonable. [And, given the past facts, the hope for the future is reasonable too.] Impossible, travelling backward, to find an age when the Church did not meet to break bread together, and that as a token of faith in the Cross and its Atonement; all but impossible to account for their doing it—above all with this meaning—unless on the supposition that the events commemorated are really historical. These are reasons of no slight force on which may rest the faith of the heart of the Church of Christ.
(3) “The heart”; for this no mere commemoration of a fact of history. Conceivable that an annual public reading of the narratives, perhaps with some suitable ceremonial accompaniment, might have sufficed for that. The Lord made the commemoration one for the heart, as well as for the understanding, when He made the celebration itself symbolise the truths to be kept in view and enshrined in the history. The broken bread, the poured-out wine, lift the heart’s eyes to the body broken with scourge, thorn, nail, spear; to the blood poured forth to secure remission of sins. “The Lord’s death” is not merely the crucifying of one Jesus of Nazareth at a particular date, outside the walls of Jerusalem, but “God setting forth Christ Jesus a propitiation,” etc. (Romans 3:25-26); “setting Him forth” in full view of three worlds—angelic, infernal, human; in full view of the heart of the guest at the Supper. So from age to age the Church hands on the deposit of testimony—to the history and to the meaning of it—which each generation receives from its preceding one; [each generation receives the torch of Hope from its predecessor, and in turn hands it on to the waiting next one; only to be quenched when He comes].
(1) Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 10:16. Significant in the East, and not without meaning in the colder, prosaic West, to eat food together; it very early meant to establish a compact of peace, friendship, mutual defence. The persecuted Church of early ages felt vividly how sitting side by side at a common meal was an avowal of their unity in the face of heathen neighbours and kindred, and a pledging of themselves to love and fidelity each to other. The little Christian host, warring in an enemy’s country, at the Supper table join hands, and go forth again to fight [“strengthened as with bread of life”], to stand shoulder to shoulder, back to back, foursquare to the assault of the world and sin. “The club-feast of the Christian society” (Ecce Homo); this, though more. A periodical reunion of all believers in Christ, which may remind them of their separateness from the world, and of their close-drawn brotherhood and association for common aims, work, help, and in a common hope. [Here the close resemblance to the Love-feast, which was the “club-feast” and no more. Hence their conjoint, confluent celebration in early times; especially remembering how the first Lord’s Supper was the emphasising of a particular point in the course of a prolonged meal.]
(2) This satisfies, lawfully, the craving for some continuous linking with the Early Church, and for some visible linking with the world-wide Church of to-day, or of any one century. The gulf of nearly nineteen centuries is bridged over by an unbroken succession of little companies, who—kneeling, sitting, with gorgeous ritual, or with none at all—have broken bread and drunk wine together in memory of their common Lord and Founder. At the Supper table the humblest Christian joins hands with apostles and martyrs; with the living, fighting, working Church, in all Churches and lands to-day; with the living, resting, glorified Church of those “who have departed this life in His faith and fear.” The front ranks of God’s great sacramental host—one in every time and place—have long ago, or recently, passed into the skies; rear ranks are not yet come into view; midway at the Supper the Christian of to-day vindicates and confesses his place in the host. [No rank, or social distinction, known at the Table. Master, servant, children, all there.] “Ye being many,” etc. (1 Corinthians 10:17).
(3) “Partakers of that one body.” This to be noted. Not only association, brotherhood, fellowship, but all these resting upon, rooted in, a “communion,” a common sharing in the One Lord. He called the personal appropriation of Himself, so as to make Him the strength and sustenance of our spiritual life, “eating His flesh,” “drinking His blood” (John 6:0), “living by eating Him.” The same Holy Ghost—the Life of the Body, Who dwelt in a Corinthian Christian, dwells in a Christian in a foreign land to-day, dwells in the English Christian who sits at the “Communion” Supper.
(1) The Covenant significance, announced in Christ’s words of institution, and in Paul’s report upon the matter, makes the Supper a Sacrament. [In old Church Latin, a symbol of some hidden truth.] Conceivably, as matter of expedient ceremonial and teaching, a man might have instituted a custom of a united supper as a memorial and communion ordinance. But only Christ could say Luke 22:20, or Matthew 26:28.
(2) The writer of the Hebrews (1 Corinthians 9:19-20) carries back exegesis and thought to Exodus 24:6-8. Under shadow of Sinai, newly given law read in hearing of Israel; that done, the book, with its precepts inwritten, the altar, the people, were sprinkled with the blood of their [own provision of] peace offerings. Moses cried, “The blood of the covenant.” etc. “The blood of the Old Testament”; “the blood of the New Testament.” The people provided the offerings; Moses, on behalf of God, ordained, accepted, used, the shed blood. God and Israel entered into covenant. They were pledged to obedience; God was pledged to faithfulness in blessing. As it means the Creed; so the Supper involves on man’s side the Commandments; and, on God’s side their preface, “I am the Lord thy God,” interpreted as in Luke 20:38.
(3) So, though we provide the materials for the meal, it is “the Lord’s Supper.” We procure,—He directs that we shall, and accepts and uses,—the bread and the wine; and He, as really as we are, is covenanted. Hence 1 Corinthians 11:28 : “So let him eat”; i.e. having examined himself; having renounced the sin he finds; purposing to avoid it by the covenanted help of Christ.
(4) No special appropriateness then for this Supper to a dying hour or a sick-chamber. Certainly no passport thence to a surer heaven; the bread is no heathenish obolus on the tongue, to fee some other-world ferryman or doorkeeper. Also, no special privilege of “good people” as such. All living in covenant communion with God in Christ, or seeking to do so; all sincere penitents “trying” to cast themselves with all reliance upon Christ; may come, guests welcome to the Supper, and may there learn to know, or to know better, the Lord Whose guests they are.
1 Corinthians 11:31. Self-judgment.
I. “If we would.”—Why do we not?
1. We are too indolent.—It is troublesome to go thoroughly into an incessant analysis of motives and inclinations and desires. These are often not single and undivided, but exceedingly complex. “A motive” is the resultant of the interaction of a whole set of motives. It is easier, it disturbs our comfortable adjustment of ourselves to our social environment less, it involves no inconvenient, “ungentlemanly” necessity of condemning what our “good sort” of neighbours are and do, to accept some ready-made, external, customary standard of character and behaviour, and to be content, in our own case at all events, with a tolerably close approximation to even this—so close that we pass muster with, it may be, not a little credit amongst our fellows. Yet such a standard must needs be concerned only with the outside of the man; the judgments of which it is the instrument must needs be somewhat “rough estimates.” It convicts only the few specially prominent points which it touches. All the detail of the outer life, and all the inner life, it ignores. So long as we are content to live outside our true self, and to be only on terms of acquaintance and not intimacy with ourself, the average or minimum character which passes muster in our “set,” whether Christian or “worldly,” may satisfy us. But we do not know the man whom that other Judge knows.
2. We are too proud.—Such experiment as men do sometimes make, under the constraint of that “moral honesty” which is really part of the Holy Spirit’s preliminary work in the human soul, so constantly ends in very uncomfortable, disquieting, unsatisfactory discoveries, that they will go no further. Now and then some unusually marked incident of moral failure forces upon them what is to them an amazing revelation; for a moment there yawns within them, and they must look down into, a moral abyss of darkness and defiling sin, such as they never suspected or believed was possible. Their new discovery may issue in a penitent, self-loathing prostration of the man at the feet of Him who can “create a clean heart” within; or it may be followed by a refusal to look any longer, or to learn any more; by a resolute endeavour to forget what has been seen and to avert the mind’s glance altogether from the direction in which such unwelcome discoveries may again by possibility lie. The natural heart rebels against the accusation, and still more against the conviction, of sin. Pride will not let men “judge themselves.”
3. Moral inability.—Not any original inability. “If we would” assumes that, normally, men may. There is, as a matter of fact, no total blindness, no total ignorance of God’s moral standard, no utter want of spiritual power; the grace of a Redeemer has secured some measure of these for every man—enough to “begin upon.” And this restored, gracious power of perception and judgment may grow by exercise; it will be increased on every act of obedience to its decisions; but it may also be disregarded and disobeyed until it is lost. The inner standards of right and wrong may be depraved, and the power to apply them be lost altogether. Blind man could not have given himself again an eye to see, or light to see by; but these given, he can create darkness for himself and renew his blindness. Too many cannot “judge themselves,” because the standard is lost and the faculty for applying it gone. But, short of that, there are, in varying degrees, the obscuration, the deadening, the blunting of the moral sensibility or sensitiveness, till, even with the objective standard in the Word of God still clearly legible, and comparison with it inevitable and constant, many men are, in popular phrase, “no judges of themselves.” They are in David’s case, who for more than nine months after the murder of Uriah the Hittite seems to have lived in happy enjoyment of his shameful possession of the murdered man’s wife, and to have occupied himself with the ordinary round of royal duty and pleasure, without any sense of remorse or of sin at all; conscience silent [or forcibly silenced: cf. Psalms 32:3-5, which usually are connected with this episode in David’s career]; fear of God’s wrath hardly, if at all, felt. Such sensuality as that of Corinth, if even only allowed to enter and contaminate the imagination, thus dulls the moral sensibility and weakens the moral “judgment,” with fearfully cumulative effect. “If we would” means living with such a guard upon ourselves, that nothing is tolerated, encouraged, cultivated, which will interfere with the instant readiness of conscience to judge, with a growing fineness of perception, our actions, and our whole position before God.
II. What if we will not?—Then we come before another Judge, Whose decision goes a stage further than our own would do. Ours is the judgment of the jury—the verdict; His is the judgment both of the jury and of the judge—verdict and sentence and penalty. At Corinth it came as physical evil—sickness, and even death in many cases. But His penalties on this side the grave are not irrevocable nor merely penal; they may be corrective, reformatory, if with them a man will seek to have and to use the grace of God; the chastenings of a Father, not the punishments of a King, “condemning the world.” Three stages are marked out:
(1) Come into condemnation at your own court of first instance within, and then it may be you will not need to come into God’s condemnation.
(2) Come under the temporal, reformatory chastisements of a Divine Father. If these are tried and fail, if neither He nor your heart is suffered to rebuke, convict, reform, then
(3) You come into condemnation, to a judgment which knows no issue but the doom of “the world.” (Cf. the obscure passage, 1 Corinthians 5:5.)
1 Corinthians 11:30. The connection between moral and physical evil is:—
I. Clearly revealed.
II. Daily exemplified.
III. In accordance with true philosophy.
IV. Should be an incentive to holiness.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 11:30-32. Temporal judgments are:—
I. Usually occasioned by sin; yet the absence of them is no proof of innocence (Luke 13:1-5).
II. Mercifully designed to save us from final condemnation.
III. May possibly be averted by faithful dealing with ourselves.—[J. L.]
Note the suggestion of some upon 1 Corinthians 10:31, that the Lord’s Supper is [only] the highest instance of the sanctification of even the lowliest, most material, most nearly animal, part of our common life. Note also how at Emmaus the ordinary supper which is in progress is in a moment glorified into, at any rate, a suggestion of the “Last Supper.” Note how, similarly, in 1 Corinthians 11:25, the express statement of time makes the blessing, etc., of the bread to have taken place during supper, and the differentiating of the meal from the sacrament to have only become patent in connection with the sanctification of the cup to its new use. Well illustrated by the incident told of Fletcher of Madeley by James Rogers, the husband of the well-known Hester Ann Rogers: “I had long desired to converse with … Mr. Fletcher, and now an opportunity offered itself. Stopping at Bristol for a few days to rest myself and horse, I heard of his being at Mr. Ireland’s, about three miles off, in a poor state of health, and, with two of my brethren, took a ride to see him. When we came there, he was returning from a ride.… Dismounting from his horse, he came towards us with arms spread open and eyes lifted up to heaven, His apostolic appearance, with the whole of his deportment, amazingly affected us.” [Then, after a brief conversation, all in keeping with his habitual spirituality of mind], “We were about to take our leave, when Mr. Ireland sent his footman into the yard with a bottle of red wine and some slices of bread upon a waiter; we all uncovered our heads, whilst Mr. Fletcher craved a blessing upon the same; which he had no sooner done, than he handed first the bread to each, and then, lifting up his eyes to heaven, pronounced these words: ‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.’ Afterwards, handing the wine, he repeated in like manner, ‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ etc. But such a sacrament I never had before. A sense of the Divine presence rested upon us all; and we were melted into floods of tears. His worthy friend, Mr. Ireland, grieved to see him exhaust his little strength by so much speaking, took him by the arm, and almost forced him into the house; while he kept looking wishfully, and speaking to us, as long as we could see him. We then mounted our horses and rode away.”—Early Methodist Preachers, iv. 301–303.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29