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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

1 Corinthians 5

Verse 6


1 Corinthians 5:6. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

THAT ungodly men may glory in their shame, may easily be conceived: but that persons professing godliness should ever be led to do so, can scarcely be imagined. Yet, such is the force of habit, that it may blind the eyes of persons who are not otherwise destitute of discernment; and may lead them to vindicate proceedings, which, on a calmer view, they would judge deserving of utter abhorrence. The Corinthians, in their heathen state, had been proverbially addicted to lewdness of every kind. But, behold, a man after having embraced Christianity, had become guilty of incest: and when the Apostle protested against this, as an act of gross impiety, the elders of the Church at Corinth espoused the cause of the incestuous man, and refused to execute upon him the censure which his crime demanded. This conduct the Apostle justly reproved, both as detestable in itself, and as likely to prove exceedingly injurious to the whole Church: “Your glorying is not good: know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”
Now in this expostulation we may see,


The malignant nature of sin—

The operations and effects of leaven are well known in every family: and it will serve, therefore, to illustrate, in the clearest manner, the nature of sin. It is,



[The purest dough that was ever made has no sooner a portion of leaven blended with it, than it ferments, and becomes sour. And such was the effect of sin upon the soul of our first parent. Adam, when he came out of his Creator’s hands, was formed in the perfect image of his God: not an evil propensity of any kind was found in him. But behold him as soon as sin entered into his soul: instantly he became so alienated from his God, that he fled from him, and strove to hide himself amongst the trees of the garden: and when interrogated by God respecting the act which he had committed, he cast the blame of it upon God himself. The sin which he had committed was as small as any that could be conceived; it was not a breach of morals, properly so called; but only a transgression of a positive precept, which rendered that sinful, which, if not particularly prohibited, would have been perfectly innocent: yet did this small leaven so leaven his whole soul, that he became altogether corrupt; and the image of God was changed, as we shall see presently, almost into the image of an incarnate fiend — — —]



[However large the mass of dough may be, the smallest leaven will leaven it throughout. And thus did sin operate on the soul of Adam. His understanding was rendered dark; his will, perverse; his affections, sensual; his conscience, treacherous and partial. Not a member of his body, or a faculty of his soul, retained its original purity: but, as the prophet says of the Jewish people, “The whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint: from the sole of the foot even to the head there was no soundness in him; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” God’s own testimony, respecting man in his fallen state, is, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” — — —]



[The whole of the dough is by leaven changed, and will produce the same change on any other mass with which it may come in contact. So “Adam begat a son in his own fallen likeness;” and all who have proceeded from him inherit the very same depravity which sin had produced in him. In every age, and every place, human nature is the same: there is, in all, the same alienation from God, and the same idolatrous regard to self. Education may make a difference in the habits of men; but in their propensities there is no difference. There is, in all, the same “filthiness, both of flesh and spirit;” the same love to sensual indulgence; and the same disposition to pride, envy, malice, wrath, and all uncharitableness. In every living man, whether civilized or savage, there is that “wisdom only which is from beneath, which is earthly, sensual, devilish [Note: James 3:15.].”]

The appeal which the Apostle makes on this subject leads us to consider,


The importance of having just conceptions respecting it—

It is no curious speculation that is here suggested; but a fact, that is confirmed by universal experience, and the knowledge of which is of great importance,


For the preservation of the Church—

[The Church of Christ is in continual danger, both from error and corruption: and, in reference to both of these, the Apostle gave the same salutary warning. The Galatian Church were in danger of seduction by Judaizing teachers: indeed, even Barnabas himself had been seduced by Peter’s dissimulation. To them, therefore, St. Paul suggested this salutary admonition, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump [Note: Galatians 5:9.]:” and in numberless instances has the truth of that saying been evinced. Aaron’s calf became an object of worship to all Israel: and Jeroboam’s calves perverted all the tribes that were submitted to his government; and continued to pervert them, till they were all destroyed. The little leaven that, from time to time, was found amongst holy men in the primitive Church, wrought gradually to the production of all the abominations that have for centuries prevailed in the Church of Rome. And in the great majority of Protestant Churches has one error or another crept in, till all their members have become infected with it, and vital godliness been banished from their souls.

In the passage before us, the warning refers more particularly to morals; and intimates, what experience so fully proves, that “evil communications will corrupt good manners.” To illustrate this amongst the ungodly world is unnecessary, because it is too obvious to have escaped the observation of any. But amongst the Apostles themselves we may behold it on several occasions. Let a little leaven of pride [Note: Matthew 20:21; Matthew 20:24-27.], of covetousness [Note: John 12:3-6. compared with Matthew 26:8.], of self-confidence [Note: Matthew 26:35.], or cowardice [Note: Matthew 26:56.], be brought amongst them, and they all immediately catch its baneful influence, and betray the weakness of their better principles. And wherever the Gospel is preached in its purity, the same awful tendency is seen and felt: one person or another indulges a proud, conceited, or contentious spirit; and “his word will soon eat as doth a canker [Note: 2 Timothy 2:17.].”]


For the preservation of our own souls—

[The recollection of this fact will prove extremely serviceable to every child of God. For who is there that has not felt the bitter consequences of omitting to resist the very first incursion of an evil thought? It was but a glance which David caught of Bathsheba; and we all know what sad effects it produced, to the dishonour of God, and well nigh to the destruction of his own soul. “The man after God’s own heart” became, in a degree that was scarcely ever exceeded, a man after the very heart of Beelzebub himself. And if this idea teaches us to resist the first motions of sin, how much more strongly does it guard us against the harbouring of any evil in the heart! How affectingly does it warn us to “pluck out the right eye, and to cut off the right hand or foot,” lest our whole body be contaminated, and be consigned, as utterly irrecoverable, to the flames of hell [Note: Mark 9:43-48.]! Nor does it less forcibly instruct us to guard against the means of evil, and the temptations to it. A man in the midst of many combustibles will dread the approach of fire. And who that considers how soon a fire may be kindled within him, and burn even to the lowest hell, will needlessly venture himself into those scenes of temptation, where every thing around him has a direct tendency to inflame and consume his soul? Who, that considers “how great a matter a little fire kindleth [Note: Jam 3:5],” will be indifferent respecting the company with which he mixes, the conversation in which he engages, the books he reads, the thoughts he indulges in his heart? Verily, if we would retain a purity of heart and life, we must never forget that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” If we pray to God not to lead us into temptation, we must take care that we run not needlessly into it ourselves.]

What now shall I say? Beloved brethren,

“Purge out,” with all imaginable care, “the leaven that is within you”—

[This is St. Paul’s own improvement of the subject [Note: ver. 7, 8.]. The Jews, at their passover, were wont to search every corner of their houses with candles, in order to get rid of any leaven that might be found there; that so they might keep the feast with unleavened bread, according to the commandment. And is “Christ our Passover sacrificed for us,” and shall not we exercise the same care to “keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth?” I call you, then, to the utmost possible vigilance in relation to this matter. Guard against every thing that is evil, whether in principle or practice; that so you may not be an occasion of corrupting others, and “may yourselves be preserved blameless unto the kingdom of your God.”]


Endeavour to get your souls altogether leavened by divine grace—

[There is a leaven that proceeds from God himself, that is intended to operate through the whole world, and to assimilate every human being to the very image of his, God [Note: Matthew 13:33.]. Entreat of God to impregnate your souls with that. See to it, that its operation be progressive, through all your faculties and powers: and never rest till it has had its perfect work within you, and “changed you into your Saviour’s image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]

Verses 7-8


1 Corinthians 5:7-8. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

CHRISTIANITY affords us not only new grounds of hope, but also new motives to action, yea, the only motives that are capable of giving an uniform direction to our conduct. The arguments derived from the excellency of virtue, the fitness of things, or even the certainty of rewards and punishments, never could produce any effects comparable to those, which have been wrought by the exhibition of a crucified Saviour. St. Paul, well knowing the efficacy of this topic, proposed it on all occasions. If he would enforce the duties of love, beneficence, or zeal, the love of Christ was both his pattern, and his plea. Thus, in the passage before us, having enjoined the Corinthian Church to excommunicate their incestuous member, he reminds them of the sacrifice of Christ; and, in allusion to their accustomed method of eating the Paschal Lamb, exhorts them to celebrate the Christian passover with becoming purity, both as to outward discipline, and inward affection. In considering his words we shall notice,


The representation here given of Christ—

Christ is here said to have been “sacrificed for us”—
[Sacrifices were appointed of God from the very fall of Adam as means of conciliating his favour, and expiating any offences which had been committed against him. The creatures sacrificed were put to death, and were always considered as dying in the place of the offender, who, by his transgression, had forfeited his life to divine justice. Precisely in this way has Christ been sacrificed for us: “he died, the just for the unjust;” he was put to death not merely for our good, but in our stead: and in his sufferings we may behold a figurative representation of what we had merited by our transgressions.]

In this view he is called “our Passover”—
[The paschal lamb was sacrificed in a peculiar manner, and on a most extraordinary occasion. God had determined to destroy the Egyptian first-born, but to spare his own people: He appointed the Jews to kill a lamb, to sprinkle its blood upon the door-posts, and to eat its flesh roasted with fire, taking also with it some bitter herbs [Note: Exodus 12:3-9.]. Upon their due observation of this ordinance God promised to interpose for their deliverance, and not to suffer the destroyer to involve so much as one of them in the common ruin. Thus are we obnoxious to the wrath that is coming upon the ungodly world: but Jesus, that spotless Lamb, has, on the very same month, day, and hour, that the passover was first killed, and in the midst of most inconceivable agonies both of body and soul, yet without the breaking of a bone, been slain for us [Note: Exodus 12:46. with John 19:33; John 19:36.]; and we are by faith to sprinkle our hearts with his precious blood: we are also to feed upon his body and blood; and, in so doing, are as sure of the divine protection as if we were already in heaven. Though “thousands should fall beside us, and ten thousand at our right hand, the sword of the avenger should not come nigh us.”]

That we may rightly improve this glorious truth, let us consider,


The exhortation grounded upon it—

While the occasion of Christ’s death affords us ground for the deepest humiliation, the deliverance effected by it should ever be remembered with joy—
[The Jews were commanded to “keep” an annual “feast” in commemoration of their deliverance from the destroying angel [Note: Such a feast is the Lord’s Supper to us: as they fed on the Paschal Lamb, so do we on the body and blood of Christ, represented to us in the bread and wine.]. And, as their feast was a memorial of the mercies they had received, so is ours to be, to the latest generations. Indeed our whole lives should be kept as a holy solemnity, because we are daily and hourly experiencing the saving virtue of the Redeemer’s blood.]

The peculiar manner in which the Jews were to observe their passover, was a figurative representation of the manner in which ours also should be observed—
The Jews were enjoined on pain of death to forbear the use of leaven, and to put it out of their houses for seven days [Note: Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:19.]: and they were to eat the lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Thus is the leaven of sin to be purged out of our hearts with the greatest care; and while we feed by faith on the spotless Lamb of God, we must partake also of the bitter herbs of repentance and “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” As for the “old leaven” of Gentile uncleanness, or of Jewish pride and malignity, it must be wholly put away: the scrupulosity with which the Jews searched and swept their houses to purge out all leaven, is an admirable pattern for our imitation. A sincere desire to know the will of God, a full and unreserved determination to do it, together with a corresponding meekness in our spirits, purity in our thoughts, sincerity in our words, and integrity in our actions—this, this is the Christian temper; this is the frame in which our whole lives should be kept as a feast unto the Lord. Moreover as the Jews were to eat the passover in haste, with their shoes on their feet, and their loins girt, so must we be in a continual readiness to go towards the promised land.]

From this most instructive subject we may observe—

How plain is the way of salvation!—

[Ask of every one that was saved that night, To what he was indebted for his preservation? Would there be two opinions throughout the whole nation of Israel? Would there be so much as one that would ascribe it to his own wisdom, or power, or goodness? No, not one. All without exception would say, I owe it to the blood of the Paschal Lamb sprinkled upon my door-posts. That was God’s ordinance: and by the observance of that alone I was kept from the sword of the destroying angel, who was constrained to pass over every house where that blood was seen. Let us then see ourselves doomed to perish on account of our sins; but, through the application of the blood of Christ to our souls, preserved from death: and we have a perfect view of the Gospel salvation. Nothing can be conceived more simple or more intelligible even to the meanest capacity.]


How beautiful is the Christian life!—

[It is one continued feast; a feast upon the body and blood of our great Sacrifice [Note: John 6:53-57.]. True, it must be eaten “with bitter herbs.” But who is there amongst us who does not need to have his joys tempered with penitential sorrow? It must be eaten too “with unleavened bread:” for if there be in us any allowed guile, we can never hope to escape the wrath of God [Note: Psalms 32:2.]. We must eat it also with our loins girt, and our staff in our hands, ready every moment to proceed on our journey to the promised land. Compare this state with that of those who were to be left behind in Egypt, wholly ignorant of these high privileges, and altogether destitute of these exalted hopes: truly of the Christian, whoever he be, it may well be said, “Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 33:29.]?”]


How certain and glorious is the effect of faith!—

[The whole that was prescribed to Israel was one act of faith. The killing of the sacrifice, the sprinkling of its blood, the feeding on its flesh, the uniting with it the bitter herbs of penitence, and the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, and the habitual readiness to depart, were all, I say, one act of faith. And of its success we are fully informed. Of the whole nation not so much as one was lost. If any one had refused to comply with the appointed ordinance, he would have perished: but in all Israel not so much as one was slain. So, beloved, it shall be with you, if you live by faith upon the Son of God. Sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than the least or meanest of true believers shall perish. Be assured of this; and you shall have even now a foretaste of the blessedness that awaits you in the worlds above.]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.