THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY RELIGION
1 Corinthians 7:16. What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
WE, who live under laws generally known and acknowledged, have little conception what difficulties arose to the Church in the apostolic age, from the licentious habits of many upon their first conversion to Christianity. Those who had been brought up as heathens saw no evil in concubinage: and those who had been educated as Jews imagined that they were still at liberty to put away those with whom they had been united in the bonds of matrimony. In some respects, the very habits and ordinances of pious men amongst the Jews tended to confirm the Christian converts in their errors. They were not aware, that some things were tolerated among the Jews, and, on some particular occasions, even enjoined, which yet were positively forbidden by the Christian code. It will be remembered, that, after the Babylonish Captivity, many of the Jews who had returned to Canaan “took wives of the people of the land,” and thereby greatly provoked the Lord to anger. On that occasion, Ezra commanded all of them to put away their wives and children [Note: Ezra 9:2-4; Ezra 10:2; Ezra 10:10-11; Ezra 10:44.]. Hence, when persons had been converted to Christianity, a doubt arose in their minds, whether they were not bound, or at least authorised, to separate themselves from their unbelieving partners. This case had been stated to the Apostle, for his opinion respecting it: and he, by God’s special command, forbad any such measure. Even if a person, being a Christian, had so far forgot his duty to God as to connect himself in marriage with an unconverted person, he was not at liberty to divorce her from him; but he must exert himself to the uttermost to effect the conversion of his unbelieving partner. This was the line prescribed equally to all, whether men or women: and agreeably to that rule they were all bound to conduct themselves, whatever difficulties might lie in their way.
The words thus explained will lead me to shew you,
I. The duty of persons in wedded life—
Persons once brought into a marriage union should from thenceforth live, as it were, altogether for each other, even as the Lord Jesus Christ is incessantly occupied in promoting the welfare of his Church: and, as the Church is ever seeking to advance the honour of her divine Head, each should seek continually the other’s salvation—
[If there be a oneness of sentiment between the parties, this will be easy. But whatever diversity of sentiment there may be between them, the duty is still the same; and it should be performed with unremitting diligence. It is not to be supposed that such unions will often be found, as existed frequently in the primitive Church, when, through the conversion of one party to the Christian faith, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, a believer and an infidel, were joined together. But between Christians, as converted to Christ or yet in a state of unregeneracy, there is scarcely a less difference than between persons of different religions. And this difference exists to a great extent wherever the Gospel is preached in sincerity and truth; and the duty of each party is then precisely the same as that which bound the converts from Judaism or idolatry to their unconverted partners. The utmost possible forbearance was to be exercised towards the person who was yet under the power of heathen darkness or Jewish superstition: and so should it be towards one who is yet in bondage to the world; and who, perhaps, is irritated and enraged at the change that has been wrought in the mind of his dearest companion. Great allowance should be made for him. We must not expect him to see with our eyes: and, if he express grief or vexation at our conduct, we must consider how we should have felt, if the change had been wrought in him, and we had yet continued under our former blindness. Grateful to God for the mercy vouchsafed to us, we should implore the same in his behalf: yea, we should “labour earnestly in prayer for him night and day,” that God may open his eyes, and impart to him the salvation which we have experienced. We should remember, that the change has been wrought in us; and that therefore there is, so to speak, a ground for complaint on his side, who still retains his former sentiments and habits: and we must be prepared to endure unkindness from him, on whom we have inflicted so deep a wound. We must possess our souls in patience; and labour, by meekness and by love, to win him, whose heart has never submitted to the preached word [Note: 1 Peter 3:1.].]
To this the most distant prospect of success should be a sufficient inducement—
[Whatever the state of our partner may be, God is able to effect a change: “there is nothing impossible with him:” he can “quicken the dead,” and “call forth into existence that which had no being.” And great beyond conception is the power of prayer. The person that continues instant in prayer is almost sure to succeed at last. And what if success should be granted, even though it were after years of suffering and of supplication? would not that be a very abundant recompence for all? Yes: years of labour would be well repaid by such an issue. And how knowest thou, O husband, or O wife, whether this shall not be the issue of thy prayers? How knowest thou, whether thou shalt not be the happy instrument of saving thine unbelieving partner? Surely a mere possibility of such an event should be sufficient to call forth our utmost endeavours; and we should with patient perseverance hold on to the end, “instructing in meekness him that opposes us, if God peradventure may give him repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and he may at last recover himself out of the snare of the devil, by whom he has been led captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25-26.].”]
But the questions need not be restricted to those in wedded life: they shew us equally,
II. The duty of persons, in whatever relation they may stand to each other—
Manifold are the relations of civil and social life; and in all of them, the same concern for the salvation of others becomes us. Such is our duty,
1. In our own families—
[A person at the head of a family should consider all under his roof as committed to his care, to be brought up for God. It was said by God himself, with special approbation, respecting Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord [Note: Genesis 18:19.].” The same attention will he approve in us also: and the more we know of the evil of the heart, and of the danger of dying in an unconverted state, the more earnest should we be in the performance of this duty. And what if we be successful in one single instance; will it not richly repay all the labour we can bestow on this good work? Even as it respects this present life, what a bond of union exists between a man and his spiritual offspring! What sweet counsel they take with each other, when going to the house of God as friends, or in the more retired intercourse of domestic life! But, if we take eternity into the account, what shall we then say? Think of saving an immortal soul! What an honour! what a joy! O cease not, any of you, from this good work; but go on steadily, with much patience, much forbearance, much earnestness, if by any means you may be honoured with “turning one soul from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”]
2. In the Church of God—
[The Church is one great family; amongst whom there is yet very ample occasion for mutual forbearance, and for mutual aid. All who believe in Christ are, in fact, one body; and every member should take a deep interest in the welfare of the whole. It is to be lamented, that, even in the apostolic age, there were divisions and bitter animosities amongst those who ought to have been united in the bonds of brotherly affection: and so it is at this time. Many, because of a diversity of sentiment on some points, and frequently on points of inferior importance, are really separated from one another more widely than from the unconverted world. But such a disposition ill becomes the family of which Christ is the Head. We should all have but one object in view; and labour with incessant care so to watch over each other: and we should “become all things to all men, if by any means we may save some [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:20-22.]” — — —]
3. In the world at large—
[Wherever there is an immortal soul, there should be an object of our care and love. We should not ask, in reference to any human being, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We all have a debt of love, which we should be paying to every child of man. Especially should we be concerned for the salvation of their souls, and be using all the means in our power to advance it. The unconverted heathen, the unbelieving Jew, and the scoffing infidel, should be objects of our tenderest compassion, as should also be the careless and ungodly all around us; and, both by secret prayer and benevolent efforts, of whatever kind, we should seek their salvation. And what if we be the means of saving one single soul? Verily I say to you, that we shall cause all heaven to rejoice: for “there is joy among the angels in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Know ye this, brethren; “know, that whoso converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins [Note: James 5:19-20.].” Shall not such a prospect stimulate us to exertion? You will say, you are not sure to succeed in your efforts. True: but are you sure that you shall not succeed? “How knowest thou, O man,” what God shall be pleased to effect by thy means? Thou mayest be among the weakest of the people; yet that should not discourage thee: for God delights to honour those who honour him; and “he will perfect his own strength in thy weakness.” But, at all events, if we should fail in doing good to others, shall none accrue to ourselves? This cannot be: for “God will reward every man according to his own labour [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.];” and he who “watered others, shall be watered also himself.”]
ABIDING IN OUR CALLING
1 Corinthians 7:24. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
THE state of the Church, at the first introduction of Christianity, was full of embarrassment: the Jewish converts knew not how to conduct themselves in reference to the Mosaic law,, which was now abrogated; nor did the Gentile converts find it easy to submit to a moral discipline so different from that to which they had been hitherto accustomed, and so strict as that which Christianity imposed. The union also of Jews and Gentiles in the same society, like that of two contending elements, was a source of continual discord. The persecutions too, which each were called to endure, tended yet further to make their path of duty more intricate; so that not even the wisdom and authority of St. Paul himself were sufficient to adjust the difficulties which arose, without a special appeal to the whole college of Apostles, and the public sanction of their united authority. The epistle before us gives a great insight into the state of things as existing at that day, and shews how much there was to be rectified in the whole Christian Church. But, not to notice the various evils which prevailed in the Church at large, we will fix our attention on some difficulties which the Corinthians had submitted to the Apostle for his advice. Many, who had been converted in the married state, had to encounter the most painful opposition from their unconverted relatives: the husband being filled with resentment against his wife, and the wife against her husband. Hence arose a question, whether it was not expedient for the two to separate, rather than, by continued feuds, to embitter each other’s life. On this subject they wrote to him for his advice. The Jewish and Gentile converts also consulted him how they might best satisfy their own minds under their respective circumstances, and most approve themselves to that God whom they desired to serve. Doubts also arose amongst believing servants, whether they ought not, at any risk, to leave the masters who were hostile to the religion they had embraced. To each of these the Apostle gives an appropriate answer: and then lays down as a general rule, that “whereinsoever any man was called, he should not think of leaving his calling, but should abide therein with God.” This rule he twice prescribes, within the space of a few verses [Note: ver. 20, 24.]: and therefore we may well regard it as deserving the most attentive consideration.
For the elucidation of the whole subject, I shall endeavour to mark,
I. The feelings which the Gospel is apt, under peculiar circumstances, to engender—
There is, as we all know, a great difference between the states and conditions of different men—
[The Jews, for instance, were, for the space of fifteen hundred years, distinguished above all the rest of the human race, by the light of revelation, and by ordinances of divine appointment: and, from the apostolic age, the followers of Christ have, in like manner, been honoured as the depositories of the Gospel, whereby alone we are instructed how to obtain favour with God, and secure to ourselves the possession of an eternal inheritance. If we compare the state of Mahometans or Pagans with that of the Christian Church, we shall see how greatly we are favoured; and what reason we have to adore our God for that light which we enjoy, and of which they have no just conception.
And as there is a difference in men with respect to religious privileges, so also is there in relation to their civil advantages. Some are rich, and possessed of extensive authority; whilst others are poor, and altogether subjected to the will of their superiors. Some enjoy the blessings of a liberal education, whereby their knowledge is expanded and enlarged; whilst others are shut up in ignorance, and, by a continued necessity for bodily labour, are precluded from all opportunity of enriching their minds by intellectual pursuits. Some enjoy, without labour, all that the world can give; whilst others are scarcely able, even by the most unwearied exertions, to obtain what is necessary for the support of themselves and families; or perhaps even to get employment for their industry, or to subsist at all, except by a degrading supply of eleemosynary aid.]
Now, to the natural man, these distinctions are an occasion of much murmuring and complaint—
[Men see that such a state of things exists; and they feel the inconveniences arising from it: and, inasmuch as it arises, for the most part, neither from any exalted merit in the higher classes, nor any peculiar demerit in the lower, they view it with an envious eye and a repining heart. They do not understand what necessity there is for such a state of things, nor how connected it is, for the most part, with civilization and the liberal arts. They are not aware, that if the whole system were subverted, and all men were reduced to perfect equality, the same inequality would soon arise, and greater evils ensue than those which had been already experienced. The disparity alone is felt; and no wonder if, in an inconsiderate mind, it create a measure of uneasiness and discontent.]
For a season, even the Gospel itself, instead of removing this feeling, is calculated rather to engender it—
[Doubtless, in itself, the Gospel is fitted only to reconcile the mind to every dispensation of providence: but, till it has gained a due ascendant over us, it may, through the corruption of our nature, operate rather as affording an additional ground it— for discontent: for it brings eternity to view: and a person, once beginning to feel the value of his soul and the importance of eternity, contemplates with more than common interest the advantages which men of learning and of leisure have, for the acquisition of knowledge, and the advancement of their eternal interests. A bond-slave, for instance, whose every hour is devoted to some laborious task, and to whom the very means of grace are denied by a cruel master, what prospect, it may be said, has he of attaining salvation, in comparison of one whose wealth and independence place within his reach every assistance that he can stand in need of? Can we wonder if a person so circumstanced murmur and repine at his hard lot? Such, no doubt, was the state of many, both of wives and servants, whom the Apostle speaks of in the preceding context. And hence arose the necessity for the encouragement which he affords the bond-slave, saying, “If thou art called, being a servant, care not for it:” and for the direction which, with an emphatical repetition, he gives to all; “Whereinsoever any man is called, let him therein abide with God.”]
A juster view of the Gospel, therefore, will lead us to contemplate,
II. The conduct which it ought rather to inspire—
A relinquishment of our calling is not that which the Gospel recommends. A continuance in it is rather enjoined, whether to those who are unhappily yoked to an unbelieving partner, or to those who are subjected even to the most oppressive bondage: for though it admits, that liberty, if tendered, is rather to be preferred, it still requires that no unlawful effort be made to obtain it. In whatever state a man be called to the knowledge of the truth, he should abide therein with God; that is,
1. In submission to his will—
[Every state should be regarded as appointed us of God. Whatever be the means which are instrumental to the fixing of our lot, still it must be considered as disposed altogether by Him who “doeth all things after the counsel of his own will.” There was not a tribe, no, nor an individual, in all Israel, whose inheritance was not appointed of the Lord. And so it is in every age, and every place. Now, we know that God orders every thing with perfect wisdom: and, whether we see the reasons of his dispensations or not, he will shew, in due season, that he has done all things well. He acts in reference to mankind at large, as he has done in reference to our natural body. He has given us many members; and has endued every member with faculties suited to its state, and proper for the discharge of its peculiar office. All the parts have not the powers of the eye or of the ear: but some have a higher, and others a lower, office assigned to them, so as most to conduce to the good of the whole. And thus it is in the body politic; the whole of which is benefited by a just distribution of powers and offices assigned to the different members: nor has any member any just occasion to complain of its situation or use, since all are necessary to the perfection of the whole, and all subservient to the good of the whole. The collective welfare, rather than its own individual use, should be the ambition and the happiness of every part.]
2. In dependence on his grace—
[In every station we may serve the Lord. Doubtless it is more difficult to maintain our integrity in some situations than in others; but yet, whatever be our trials, “the grace of Christ is sufficient for us;” and God has promised that we shall have no temptation without a way to escape, or ability to bear it [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.].” We should, therefore, not sit down in despair, as though our calling were such as that God could not be served in it. If we cannot do all that we could wish in a way of active service, we may yet bear and sustain his will: and passive obedience is no less acceptable to him than active; yea, it is in some respects the more acceptable, because it is the more difficult. A man may shut us up in prison, and prevent our intercourse with men: but can he intercept our flight to heaven, or prevent the descent of God into our souls? Can he rob us of the communications of grace and peace, which our heavenly Father has bestowed? No: we may laugh him to scorn, and defy his utmost efforts. The utmost that he can do is, to kill the body: he cannot, for a moment, touch the soul, or obstruct its happiness. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Only let God be our refuge and our hope, and no situation under heaven can prevent us from discharging the very offices which he has assigned us, or from drinking deeply of the “streams which refresh and gladden the whole city of God.”]
3. In endeavours to promote his glory—
[As God may be served by all, so may he be glorified in all. It matters not what the particular service be to which we are called, if only we endeavour to honour him by it. The bond-slave honours him as much by a meek submission to his will, as the greatest potentate on earth does by the most diffusive benevolence. It is not in great things only that God is glorified: for, as he has told us, “whether we eat or drink, to do all to his glory,” we may be sure that, even in the most common acts that can be performed, this blessed end may be attained. Aim, then, at this: keep your eye steadily fixed on this, under every circumstance of life: seek “that in all things God may be glorified, through Jesus Christ:” and if this end be attained, you need not care whether it be by action or suffering, “by life or death.”]
A question, however, of great importance here occurs: Are we forbidden, under any circumstances, to change our calling?
[I apprehend not. The Apostle’s rule is general, not universal. Were the rule absolutely universal, no converted person could marry, or assume the pastoral office, or perform many other duties, which must, without such a change, be totally neglected. But no man should change merely on account of the difficulties that attend his present calling. We should guard exceedingly against fickleness of mind, and a cowardly desertion of our post on account of the trials which we meet with in the way of duty. Who ever sustained heavier conflicts than the Apostle Paul? Yet did he not account them any reason for abandoning his apostolic office. We should rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion be; and be ready, when dissuaded or discouraged, to reply, “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy.” There may, however, be occasions whereon we may be “moved by the Holy Ghost” to give up a calling, that is purely temporal, for one that is spiritual: yet, in reference to such calls, I confess that the greatest jealousy over ourselves is desirable, and the utmost watchfulness that we deceive not our own souls. That many have taken upon themselves the ministerial office, who were never truly called to it, I have no doubt: but that many have relinquished other callings, and devoted themselves to this, to the great advantage of God’s Church, is certain. To lay down rules by which every case should be determined, and every difficulty solved, would be impracticable, because of the infinite diversity of circumstances which must be taken into consideration in every different case: but, in every prospect of change, recourse should be add to prayer, for God’s special direction: nor should we move, till we have some evidence that the pillar of the cloud is moving before us. One thing, under all circumstances, is necessary: whether we change our calling or not, we should be careful to “abide with God.” We must walk with him; we must go in and out before him; we must approve ourselves to him; we must bear in mind the solemn account which we must shortly give to him at the judgment-seat of Christ. Whilst we look to him in such a mind as this, we need not fear but that he will lead us aright, and prosper us in our ways, and conduct us in safety to his heavenly kingdom.]
MODERATION IN THE USE OF EARTHLY THINGS INCULCATED
1 Corinthians 7:29-31. This I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that hare wives be as though they had none; and they that Keep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
IT is no inconsiderable part of Christian wisdom to distinguish clearly between things lawful, things expedient, and things necessary: since many things must be reduced under one or other of these heads according to the circumstances connected with them. The Apostle is writing upon the subject of marriage; and gives it as his opinion, that though at all times lawful, and to some persons necessary, it was, at that particular season, inexpedient for those who could conveniently abstain from it; because the cares necessarily attendant on a married life would increase their difficulties during the present persecuted and afflicted state of the Church. But, while they were all left at liberty respecting the line of conduct they would pursue in relation to this, he solemnly warns them, that the same abstraction from worldly cares, and indifference to worldly pleasure, were necessary for all who would approve themselves to God. As his words equally concern the Church of God in all ages, it will be proper to consider,
I. The direction given us with respect to the things of time and sense—
It is but too obvious that men’s regards to this world are, for the most part, inordinate and excessive—
[If all do not set their hearts upon the same object, there is something which every unconverted man regards with an idolatrous attachment. Has he some prospect of attaining it? his mind goes forth to it in warm and eager desire. Is there reason to apprehend a disappointment respecting it? he is kept in anxious suspense, as though all his happiness were bound up in it. Is he brought to the possession of it? he congratulates himself as having reached the summit of his wishes, and thinks he can never lend himself too much to the enjoyment of his newly acquired comforts. Is he by any means bereaved of his beloved idol? what vexation of mind, and what dissatisfaction with the dispensations of Providence does he feel! He is so entirely swallowed up in sorrow for his loss, as to be insensible of all his remaining blessings. Of course, men will differ widely as to the particular gratification which they affect: some find their delight centered in their wife or children; others in their wealth and honour; others in their ease and pleasure; and others again in some indulgences, which habit has rendered essential to their happiness: but the same love of carnal things, however diversified as to its objects, pervades mankind of all ages and of all descriptions.]
But we should maintain an equableness of mind under all circumstances, however pleasing or afflictive—
[We are not required to exercise a stoical apathy under the various events of life; we may rejoice or weep, according as the occurrences of the day are suited to excite the affection of joy or sorrow. But “our moderation should be known unto all men;” nor should any thing of a temporal nature so occupy our minds, as to make us forget that we have concerns of infinitely greater importance. Have we “formed a connexion” that promises us the highest bliss? we should so enjoy the creature as to be ready to surrender it up again to God, whensoever he may be pleased to call for it. Are we “weeping” for the loss of a dear relative, or on account of any other calamity? we should not so give way to sorrow as to forget that we have God for our friend, and heaven for our inheritance. Has any thing of a very “joyous” nature befallen us? we should still remember, how unsatisfying it is in its nature, how contracted in its use, how precarious in its continuance, and how short in its duration; and we should regulate our joy by such considerations as these. Have we been blessed with such success, that we are enabled to “purchase” great possessions? we should be watchful over our spirits, that we do not say, like the fool in the Gospel, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry [Note: Luke 12:18-19.].” And while we “use” our good things with thankfulness to the Donor, we should be careful never to “abuse” them to the purposes of pride, intemperance, and carnal ease.]
This direction derives great force and importance from,
II. The reason with which it is enforced—
Every thing here below is transient and of short duration—
[“Time is short:” if our days be extended to seventy or eighty years, the whole period of our existence will appear but, as it were, “a span long,” when we come to the close of it: or, if we compare it with eternity, it is no more than the twinkling of an eye. Moreover, while our lives, like a sail that is in the act of being furled, are every moment contracting, every thing around us also is drawing to a close [Note: συνεσταλμένοςtranslatione e Velis sumpta—Beza.]. As actors on the stage perform the part assigned them, and each succeeding scene brings their fictitious joys or sorrows to a speedy termination, so we make our appearance on the stage of life; and, having sustained the character allotted us by the Disposer of all events, we soon bid adieu to all these transient scenes, and enter on a state of everlasting bliss or woe [Note: σχῆμα is thought by some to convey this idea: others think it refers rather to a passing spectacle.]. Or as men please themselves with some empty show, that passes in procession before their eyes, but it is scarcely come fully into view before it begins to recede, and in a little time totally disappears; so we scarcely behold the glare and glitter of this vain world, before the enchanting prospect vanishes, and the phantom passes onward, to astonish and delude succeeding generations.]
Can there be any stronger argument for sitting loose to the things of time and sense?—
[Were either our joys or our sorrows permanent, there would be some reason for having our minds deeply affected with them: but when we know that a few months or years must put an end to every present sensation, does it become us to be much elated with what is pleasing, or much depressed with what is painful? Should not the infinitely greater importance of eternal things so engross our minds, as to render every temporal concern comparatively trivial? Should not the prospect of appearing before the judgment-seat of Christ cause us to estimate our happiness by a far different standard, and to consider ourselves in a blessed or miserable state, not so much by what we enjoy or suffer in this present world, as by our preparation to give up our account to God, and our hope of an approving sentence from the Judge of quick and dead? Let then the transitoriness of earthly things moderate our affection to them, that whether we attain and enjoy them, or lose and want them, we may still have God as our abiding and all-sufficient portion.]
1. The young and inexperienced—
[You are ready to imagine that some change in your circumstances, to which you look forward, or perhaps which you rather wish for than expect, would make your cup to overflow with joy, and perfectly satisfy your most enlarged desires. But be assured that, if you could at this moment possess all that your heart can wish, you would be quickly constrained to confirm the testimony of Solomon, that it is “all vanity and vexation of spirit.” Happy would it be for you if you could be prevailed upon to purchase your experience at the expense of others; and not, like those who have gone before you, grasp at a shadow till you lose the substance. Ask those who are old and grey-headed, whether they have not found the world to be “a vain show, wherein men disquiet themselves in vain [Note: Psalms 37:6.]?” And ask the godly in particular, whether they who fear God have not a truer enjoyment even of this present world, than the votaries of gain or pleasure [Note: 1 Timothy 6:17. Matthew 5:5.]?” Or rather we would say, attend to God’s expostulation, and obey his voice; “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness [Note: Isaiah 55:2.].”]
2. Those who have grown old in the service of the world—
[Lamentable it is, that the very persons who have found the insufficiency of the world to make them happy, are still as regardless of the eternal world, as those who are just entering on the delusive path. If age or experience have blunted the edge of their feelings with respect to present things, they are as insensible as ever either of pain or pleasure from spiritual concerns: nor are they at all more stimulated to improve the time that remains to them, than if their eternal interests were of no value. Yea, age has often no other effect than to confirm the errors, and rivet the prejudices, of their former years. Inquire, brethren, whether you have profited by your experience; and whether you be now “setting your affections on things above, and not upon things below [Note: Colossians 3:2.]?” You have hitherto regarded the blessed Saviour, and your own immortal soul, as though you regarded them not; and suffered your whole heart to be occupied about the world. Now reverse your conduct, and all will yet be well: let the greatest concerns of time and sense make but a light impression on your minds; and let an interest in Christ, and the salvation of your soul, be regarded henceforth as the one thing needful. “Be no longer fools, but wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil [Note: Ephesians 5:15-16.]:” and while the fashion of this world is passing away, endeavour to secure an “incorruptible inheritance in heaven.”]
1 Corinthians 7:32. I would have you without carefulness.
THERE were, as might be expected, subjects of great difficulty and delicacy submitted, from time to time, to the Apostle Paul, for his decision. In matters of expediency was he consulted, no less than of duty. Of that nature was the question which was proposed to him from Corinth, on the subject of marriage. Of the lawfulness of that holy ordinance there could be no doubt, since it was instituted by God himself, even in the time of man’s innocency in Paradise. But of the expediency of embarking in the engagements of matrimony, under the circumstances of the Church in that day of trial and persecution, reasonable doubts might well be entertained. His opinion upon it therefore was asked; and he gave his judgment with all the tenderness that the occasion required. “In that season of distress [Note: ver. 26.],” he thought that persons of either sex would do well to keep themselves unmarried; since they would be more at liberty to act, or suffer, for the Lord, than if they were involved in the cares and duties of a family. And as to the general question, whilst he left all to judge and act for themselves, he thought that, where no very urgent reason existed for engaging in the matrimonial contract, it would be found more easy to serve the Lord fully in a single state, than in a state which must necessarily be attended with some “distraction” and embarrassment.
Upon this particular question I have no design to enter. But the basis upon which the Apostle framed his decision, is alike applicable to all cases, and in all ages: “I would have you without carefulness.” Dismissing, therefore, from our minds the subject proposed to him, and which, in fact, must depend altogether upon the personal feelings and peculiar circumstances of every distinct individual, I will proceed to shew you,
I. The evil and danger of “carefulness”—
Every kind of care is not evil; but only that care which is attended with anxiety. And this is evil,
1. As distracting our mind—
[It is surprising how even a small matter, upon which we set our hearts, will incapacitate us for attending to our spiritual concerns. Some object to be attained, or some trial to be avoided, or some difficulty to be overcome, though in itself of very trifling moment, will so dwell upon the mind as to indispose us for reading the word of God; and will even so disturb our repose by night, as to unfit us for any mental exertion — — — The injury which this must do to the soul is obvious — — —]
2. As impeding our progress—
[The eastern dress is calculated to impede the movements of him that wears it: and hence Elijah girded up his robes, when he ran before Ahab [Note: 1 Kings 18:46.]. To this the Apostle refers, when he speaks of “our laying aside every weight, and the sin that more easily besets us [Note: Hebrews 12:1.].” Any care operates in this way, as a weight upon the feet, and an obstacle to our progress, even in temporal duties, and much more in those which are of a spiritual nature. Our blessed Lord illustrates this by another image, taken from agriculture; and tells us, that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the good seed that has been sown within us, and prevent it from growing up to perfection [Note: Matthew 13:22.]” — — —]
3. As tending to turn us from the path of strict integrity—
[Whatever engages the affections strongly, will warp the judgment, and produce a strong bias upon the mind. Duties, which would interfere with the prosecution of our object, will be neglected; and measures, which may facilitate the attainment of it, will be adopted, without any scrupulous attention to their exact legality. Truth, honour, probity, will be sacrificed, rather than the favourite object be lost. And what need I say more, to mark the evil and danger of inordinate desire? To whatever it have respect, it is a root and source of evil, which, if not corrected, will destroy the soul [Note: 1 Timothy 6:9-10.].]
You will then, of course, desire to be informed,
II. How we may most effectually divest ourselves of it—
Much might be spoken upon this subject: but two hints only shall suffice:
1. Get a deep sense of the obligations which God has laid on us—
[See what your God has already given you in the blessings of creation — — — in the care of his providence — — — and, above all, in the wonders of redemption — — — What can you wish for more? Should not a reflection on these things fill you with unutterable joy? What can any thing else be in comparison of these stupendous mercies? Verily, whatever it be that is the object of your desire, it can be no more than the dust upon the balance, when weighed against the inconceivable blessings already conferred upon you — — —]
2. Get a lively sense of the obligations which he has laid upon himself also respecting us—
[He has bound himself to us by covenant and by oath, that “we shall want no manner of thing that is good.” If only we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, every earthly blessing shall be added unto us.” We have only to “make our requests known to him, and all that we want shall be done unto us [Note: Philippians 4:6.].” We have no more real occasion for carefulness than the birds of the air [Note: Matthew 6:25-34.], or than the child in the mother’s arms. The clouds, the rock, the very ravens, should supply our wants, and for forty years together, rather than we should be destitute of any thing that is good. Only call to mind how the Almighty God cares for you, and you will feel no difficulty in casting your care on him [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.] — — —]
[Dear brethren, I would have you all like Mary; who, when her sister “Martha was careful and cumbered about many things, was intent only on the one thing needful,” In relation to the concerns of eternity, be as careful as ye will. In reference to these things, the Apostle approves of, and applauds, our care [Note: He uses the same word in reference to both, and no less than five times: ver. 32–34.] — — — And, if only in this matter ye will be “as wise as the children of this world,” ye shall never fail of obtaining all that your souls can desire — — —]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany