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PREACHING THE GOSPEL
1 Corinthians 9:16. Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!
RESPECTING men’s call to the ministerial office, it would be difficult to speak with any degree of certainty. That of the Apostles was clear and unquestionable: that of individuals, amongst ourselves, must be judged of by many circumstances, known only to the persons themselves, and but indistinctly known even to them. But the obligation to discharge the office with fidelity, when once it has been undertaken, is as manifest in relation to us, as it was in reference to St. Paul himself: a dispensation having been committed to us, we may every one of us say, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!”
In discoursing on these words, I will endeavour to explain,
The office of ministers—
This, in one word, is to “preach the Gospel.” And here let us distinctly mark,
What is meant by the Gospel—
[The Gospel imports glad tidings; and it is particularly to be understood of the glad tidings which are brought to men respecting a salvation provided for them, a salvation through the blood and righteousness of our incarnate God. Such a salvation has been effected for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, who expiated our guilt upon the cross — — — and now lives in heaven to complete the work which he began on earth — — — and offers salvation to all who will believe in him — — — This is the Gospel: nor does any thing but this deserve the name — — —]
The duty of ministers in relation to it—
[They must preach it, as God’s heralds and ambassadors: they must preach it fully, in all its parts; freely, without any mixture of self-righteous conceits; and constantly, making it the one subject of all their ministrations. If they preach the law, it must be in order to prepare men for the reception of the Gospel. If they preach obedience, as doubtless they must, is must be as flowing from the united influence of faith and love. They must speak to men nearly in the same strain as they would if they had received a commission to preach to those who are already suffering the penalty due to their sins. They should not flatter men with any conceits about their own goodness, or the ability which they possess to deliver themselves; but should offer them mercy through the atonement made for them upon the cross, and call them to accept it as the free gift of God for Christ’s sake — — —]
Supposing us to have undertaken this office, let us notice,
The indispensable necessity of discharging it with fidelity—
“Woe is unto us if we preach not this Gospel” faithfully. For if, from any consideration whatever, we forbear to do so, what account shall we give,
To God, who has committed this office to us?
[If we have neglected it, through the fear of man, or the love of this present evil world, or through mere indolence, what shall we say, when summoned to give an account of our stewardship? Should we have loved any thing in comparison of Him? or feared any besides Him? or counted any thing too much to do for Him? How vain will all our excuses appear in that day!]
To the souls whom, by our unfaithfulness, we have betrayed?
[Men may now say to us, “Prophesy unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits;” and they may be pleased with our compliance. But when they meet us in judgment, how bitter will be their reproaches, and how loud their complaints against us! — — — The very persons whose favour we courted when on earth, will be among the first to cry out for vengeance on our souls.]
To the Saviour, whose dying love we should have made known?
[What shall we say, when the Saviour shall remind us of all that he has done for the salvation of our souls? Is it thus that we should have requited him? Did he come from heaven for us, and die upon the cross for us, and confer on us the honour of being his ambassadors to a ruined world; and have we felt no more regard for him, and his interests in the world? How shall we call on the rocks and mountains to cover us from his merited indignation!]
To ourselves, who have trifled thus with our own salvation?
[Now any foolish excuse will satisfy us: but how will our conduct appear in that day? Methinks our self-reproach will be the bitterest ingredient in that cup of bitterness which we shall have to drink for ever.]
But let us not close the subject without reflecting on what is evidently implied in it—
The woe which awaits those who embrace not the Gospel—
[If we are bound to preach it, no doubt you also are bound to receive it with all humility of mind, and with the gratitude which such tidings call for at your hands. You must not think that you have discharged your duty, when you have merely heard the word: you must receive it as the word of God to your souls: you must embrace it, as suited to your necessities, and sufficient for your wants. You must contemplate it, and rely upon it, and glory in it, and get your souls poured, as it were, into the very mould of the Gospel; that so it may have its perfect work upon you. This you must do: and if you do it not, it will prove to you, “not a savour of life unto life, but a savour of death” to your heavier condemnation. Remember, then, your own responsibility: and, whilst you pray for your minister, that he may be found faithful, be exceeding urgent with God in prayer, that the word ye hear may take effect, and prove the power of God to the salvation of your souls.]
The blessedness of those who discharge their ministry aright—
[They may meet with much opposition from an ungodly world: but they are truly happy, in the hope that “they shall both save themselves and those who hear them.” Sweet is the thought which a faithful minister has in looking forward to the time of meeting his people at the judgment-seat of Christ. The sight of many whom he shall then have to present to God as his spiritual children, saying, “Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me;” and the prospect, that, to all eternity, he shall have them as “his joy and crown of rejoicing” before his God; say, is not this delightful? Will not this be a rich reward for all his labours, and for all that he had suffered in the discharge of his high office? Yes, verily, if he had died a thousand deaths for them, this would be an abundant recompence: and this blessedness assuredly awaits the laborious minister, the faithful servant of his God [Note: If this were the subject of an Ordination or Visitation Sermon, here, of course, would be the place for encouraging ministers to labour diligently in their high and holy calling.].]
THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY
1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Though I be free from all men, yet hare I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
IT is a favourite sentiment with some, that the epistles of St. Paul, having been written to particular Churches and on particular occasions, are of little importance to us at this day. And, of all the epistles, this before us is most open to that objection, as having been, more than any other, written for the correction of some existing abuses, and in answer to some specific questions. But God, by whom the Apostle was inspired, knew that, whether the same specific points should again arise or not, the general principles by which they were to be determined would be of use to the Church in all ages: and accordingly we find, that the views and sentiments which were elicited from the Apostle on these occasions give us a deeper insight into the Christian character than we could otherwise have obtained. We are here instructed not merely by general and abstract principles, but by a practical application of those principles to circumstances fitted for the illustration of them. And we cannot but account it a great blessing to the Church, that the enemies of the Gospel were permitted so to assault the character of the Apostle, as to extort from him a vindication of it, and thereby to obtain for the Church in all ages a complete exposition of practical Christianity.
The words before us open with extraordinary precision the nature and extent of Christian liberty: for the fuller explanation of which we shall distinctly mark,
Its proper boundaries—
Liberty cannot exist without restrictions; for, if unlimited, it would degenerate into licentiousness. Besides, if every man were at liberty to act agreeably to his own corrupt wishes without any controul, the weaker would be a prey to their more powerful neighbours, and would be the constant victims of tyranny and oppression. St. Paul, though at liberty to vary his conduct according to circumstances, was still under a law by which his liberty was restricted: “he was not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” Christian liberty is a right to do or forbear any thing,
Which is not evil in itself—
[What is evil in itself can be warranted by no circumstances under heaven: “We must not do evil that good may come,” even though the good which we promise ourselves be ever so great. We must not do it for the gratification of others. If our dearest friends and relatives endeavour to persuade us, we must be alike deaf to their menaces or entreaties. We must “not love father or mother more than Christ;” yea, we must even “hate them in comparison of Christ;” that is, we must, when their will comes in competition with that of Christ, act as if we hated them, giving no more heed to them than we would to an avowed enemy. The plain answer to be given to all who would wish us to act contrary to any command of God, is this; “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”
Neither must we do evil for our own advantage. If an act be sinful, we must, like the Hebrew Youths, refuse to do it, even though we saw the fiery furnace, already burning with seven-fold intenseness, ready to destroy us. So likewise, if a duty be clear, we must not be deterred from the performance of it, even though we knew that the consequence of our perseverance must be an immediate incarceration in the den of lions: like Daniel, we must prefer the maintenance of a good conscience to the preservation of courtly favour, and the avoidance of a cruel death [Note: Daniel 6:10.]. In all such circumstances we must embrace the proffered alternative, and surrender up our lives rather than violate a command of God.]
Which is not evil in its consequences—
[An act perfectly innocent, in itself may, by the circumstances in which we are placed, become no longer innocent. If, for instance, the eating of meat offered to an idol be likely to prove a temptation or a stumbling-block to a weak brother, we are then no longer at liberty to eat it, notwithstanding in itself it is a matter of perfect indifference. We are bound to have respect to his weakness, and to abstain from a thing which may become an occasion of sin to him: and, if we do not abstain from it, “we sin against him,” and “we sin against Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:8-12.].”
So likewise, if a thing would be injurious to ourselves, we must not do it, even though others might be at liberty to do it. Suppose, for instance, we know from experience, that splendid equipage or apparel administers to, and calls forth into exercise, the pride and vanity of our hearts; or that a luxurious table is apt to lead us to intemperance; or that some particular amusement operates as an incitement to covetousness, or a provocative to wrath; we should deny ourselves in those particulars, and not seek an indulgence that we have reason to fear will become an occasion of sin. The express command of God in all such cases is, “Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil it in the lusts thereof [Note: Romans 13:14.].”
Thus under a variety of circumstances is our liberty abridged, even in things that are, under other circumstances, indifferent: for though all things may be lawful, they may not be expedient; and we must not so “be brought under the power of any,” as not to be able to forego them, if the welfare either of ourselves or others demands the sacrifice [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:12.].]
Such, we apprehend, are the limits beyond which Christian liberty has no existence. But within these limits there is abundant scope for,
Its legitimate operations—
In all that we do, we should keep in view the best interests of mankind—
[Whatever Paul did, or whatever he forebore, his one object was to promote the salvation of his fellow-men. This he tells us six times in the short space of four verses: and in another place he tells us, that he had the same object in view in all that he suffered: “We endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10.].” Such must be our object also in all that we do. We must not be seeking merely to please men; for “if we please men, we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ:” in as far as we seek to “please them, it must be solely for their good to edification [Note: Romans 15:2.].” To remove their prejudices, to conciliate their regards, to “choose out acceptable words,” to accommodate ourselves to their apprehensions, are all legitimate methods of gaining a more easy access to their minds, in order that we may ultimately “win their souls:” and, as we administer milk or meat to persons according to their capacity to profit by it, with a view to the sustenance of their bodies, so we may do for the benefit of their souls: and, if only we keep this end in view, we shall in all that we do “be approved and accepted both of God and man [Note: Romans 14:18.].”]
For this end our liberty may be used without reserve—
[It is delightful to see how free and unembarrassed the Apostle was in all his intercourse with mankind, and how studiously he adapted himself to all their varied prejudices or necessities. Was he with a Jew;—he submitted freely to the yoke which Moses had imposed, though he well knew that the Gospel had freed him from it. On the other hand, was he with Gentiles who had never been subjected to the law of Moses;—he readily conformed himself to their habits. If he was with one that was weak in faith, he cheerfully bore with all his weaknesses and infirmities, and acted, as he would have done, if his own mind had been under the influence of the same doubts and fears as agitated the mind of his weaker brother. In a word, “he became all things to all men.”
Now this is the very course which we should pursue: we should seek the welfare of our brethren precisely as he did, namely, in a way of self-denying restraint, and in a way of condescending compliance.
We should seek it in a way of self-denying restraint. Not again to recur to the mention of eating meats offered to idols, which “the Apostle would not do as long as the world should stand, if it should make his brother to offend [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.];” we may see in the chapter before us how determinately he refused to accept the support to which both by the laws of God and man he was justly entitled [Note: ver. 12, 15.]. Such concessions are most lovely; and would be productive of incalculable good in the Church of God. In a family, for instance, the governing part of it is not willing that all which an inferior member of it may think conducive to his benefit shall be allowed to him: it would become the inferior to evince a self-denying spirit, and cheerfully to concede a part of his privileges, that he may not irritate and embitter the minds of his superiors. It may be asked, perhaps, “What, am I to sacrifice any thing which I think profitable to my soul?” I answer, Yes: and God would repay you for so doing, provided you did it purely from a tender concern for the welfare of your superior: the very self-denial, which such an act would call forth, would itself be a more substantial benefit to the soul, than all the gratification which would have followed from self-indulgence: and St. Paul himself has set us an example of this conduct: “I,” says he, “please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:33.].”
We should further seek it in a way of condescending compliance. Paul, in order to meet the prejudices of the Jews, and to gain the easier access to their minds, circumcised Timothy: and with the same view he submitted to the tedious rites and ceremonies which attended the performance of the Nazarite’s vow [Note: Acts 21:26.]. And if we were more willing to meet the wishes of those who are prejudiced against the truth, we might greatly allay their hostility, and often win their souls. There is in many young Christians an unreasonable stiffness in relation to matters of pure indifference; and they will often plead conscience for their non-compliance, when it proceeds solely from a want of compassion for the ignorance of others, and of due concern for their souls. They will please themselves, however much their enemies be offended, when by kindness and condescension they might have operated a favourable change upon their minds.
Well do we know, that these principles may be easily perverted; and that it will often be extremely difficult to know how far, and in what manner, they are to be called forth into action. Nevertheless, the principles themselves are good, and indispensably necessary to be embraced and cultivated by all who would adorn the Gospel of Christ: and, if only we look well to the motive by which we are actuated, we shall not be likely to err very materially in the application of them. The main point to guard against is, the doing any thing which is in itself sinful, or any thing, the lawfulness of which we ourselves doubt: for we ought certainly to be fully persuaded in our minds, that the restraint which we impose on ourselves, or the concession which we make, be not contrary to any express command of God. Where the concession which others require at our hands is forbidden of God, there the rule must be observed; “We must obey God rather than man.”]
From the whole view of this subject, we cannot but remark,
Of what infinite importance is the salvation of the soul!
[Whence was it that the Apostle laboured so indefatigably in every possible way to save the souls of men? Whence was it that he even “wished himself accursed from Christ, or after the example of Christ, for his brethren’s sake?” Did it not proceed from a conviction, that the souls of men were of infinite value, and that, if he could but “by any means save some,” he would be richly repaid? But think of all that Christ did and suffered — — — and then say, whether your souls are not of more value than ten thousand worlds; and whether any labour, any self-denial, any sacrifice can be too great for the advancement of their eternal welfare? — — —]
How exalted is the morality which we are called to practise, if ever we would attain salvation!
[Doubtless it is through Christ alone, even through his blood and righteousness, that we must find acceptance with God: but we must serve Christ as well as believe in him. He has indeed fulfilled the law for us; but he has not therefore dispensed with its requirements: on the contrary, “we are under the law to Christ;” and are to fulfil his will precisely as the Apostle Paul did; having our hearts filled with zeal for his glory, and with love to the souls of men. We quite mistake, if we imagine, that Christian morality consists in a mere abstinence from outward sins, or a compliance with outward observances: the heart must be given up to God, and the whole soul be engaged in seeking his glory. It is well known, that by nature we are altogether selfish, and desirous that every thing should bend to our will, and every person should consult it: but grace teaches us to have our own will mortified and subdued; and “to live no longer to ourselves, but altogether to our God.” O brethren, aim at this: be satisfied with nothing short of this: and be aspiring after this blessed attainment daily, and with your whole hearts: for it is in this way only that you call “be partakers of the Gospel,” and of the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: ver. 23.]. It is by this that you will approve yourselves “followers of Paul, as he was of Christ.”]
How greatly do we need to be guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit!
[Who is sufficient for these things? These attainments are high and difficult; and the very way to them is dark and slippery. It is easy to think ourselves upright in our intentions, when we are in reality actuated by a desire of man’s applause, or a fear of his displeasure. It is easy also to fancy that we are sacrificing our own wishes for the good of others, when we are only gratifying our own earthly and carnal desires. In these things none but God can keep us from error; none but God can “perfect that which concerneth us.” Pray then, that the Holy Spirit may guide you into all truth. Pray, that He, who upheld the Saviour in all his arduous work, may “form in you the mind that was in Christ Jesus.” Thus you may hope to be preserved blameless amidst all the difficulties with which you are encompassed, and to win by your conversation many, who would never have been won by the word alone.]
DIRECTIONS FOR RUNNING OUR RACE
1 Corinthians 9:24. So run, that ye may obtain.
THERE is not any thing around us from which we may not draw some hints for our spiritual instruction. The habits and customs of the world, if duly improved, will afford us many valuable lessons. A reference to these is peculiarly useful when we wish to convey instruction to others; because it strikes the imagination more forcibly, and carries stronger conviction to the judgment. St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, availed himself of the Isthmian games which were celebrated there, to illustrate their duty with respect to their souls. Amongst other sports, that of the foot-race was held in high estimation; and great preparations were made by those who engaged in them, in order to qualify them for their extraordinary exertions. In reference to these the Apostle speaks of himself as running in this race; and proposes himself to the Corinthians as a pattern for their imitation, if they were desirous to win the prize.
We shall consider,
The direction here given—
The words of the text are not a mere exhortation to run our race, but a special direction respecting the manner in which we are to run it [Note: οὔτω refers to the manner in which the Apostle ran; and ῖνα to the end for which such exertion was necessary. To enter into the full meaning of the text, the whole chapter should be borne in mind: and in that view it will unfold to us a subject of no ordinary importance. This should be distinctly marked in all the passages that are referred to in this chapter.]. We should be, like the Apostle,
Disentangled from worldly cares—
[St. Paul, as he tells us in the foregoing context, had equal liberty with others to marry, and to take a wife with him in his journies. But he knew that such a step would involve him in many cares, and impede his exertions in the cause of Christ. He therefore lived in celibacy himself, and recommended it to others, both men and women, especially during those seasons of persecution, when they were liable every day and hour to be called to lay down their lives for the Gospel’s sake [Note: ver. 5. with 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:7-8; 1 Corinthians 7:26-27.]. Now, though there is not any necessity for us to imitate him in this individual act, yet we must admit the principle in its fullest extent, and live under its influence continually. We must study to be “without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32.].” We must endeavour to “serve the Lord as much as possible without distraction [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:35.].” We must “not entangle ourselves more than is necessary with the affairs of this life [Note: 2 Timothy 2:4.],” or multiply our cares in such a way as to rob our souls of the attention due to them. To do this would be as absurd as to “load our feet with thick clay [Note: Habakkuk 2:6.],” when we were about to run a race. On the contrary, we should endeavour to “lay aside every weight [Note: Hebrews 12:1.],” conscious that cares of every kind impede our progress in the divine life, and, if suffered to increase, will endanger our ultimate success [Note: Matthew 13:22.].]
Divested of selfish principles—
[Never was a selfish spirit more subdued and mortified, than in the Apostle Paul. Instead of claiming from the Corinthian Church that support, which God himself had assigned to every minister of the Gospel, he endured numberless wants and hardships, in order to set an example of disinterestedness to others [Note: ver 12–15]. And, when he himself was perfectly acquainted with the extent of Christian liberty, he “made himself the servant of all,” becoming all things to all men, that by all means he might save some [Note: ver. 19–22.]. Thus did he forego what he might have justly claimed, and consent, as it were, to pay, what none had any right to demand: he willingly sacrificed both his pecuniary rights, yea, and his Christian liberty too (as far as conscientiously he could) for the benefit of immortal souls.
Such is the way in which we are to run. But O, how many professors of religion have been retarded (yea, and have cast stumbling-blocks also in the way of others) by a rigorous exaction of their dues, or by an unwillingness to sacrifice their worldly interests! How many also have been kept from making a progress themselves, and from helping forward their fellow-sinners, by an unyielding zeal for Christian liberty on the one hand, or a bigoted attachment to human forms on the other! Happy would it be for every individual in the Church of Christ, if a desire of advancement in the Divine life disposed them to “look, not on their own things only, but also on the things of others [Note: Philippians 2:4.];” and “to seek the welfare of others not only in conjunction with, but (to a certain degree) in preference to, their own [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:24.].”]
Determined, if possible, to win the prize—
[They who proposed to contend in the race, maintained, for a long time before, the strictest temperance [Note: ver. 25.], and habituated themselves to the most laborious exertions. In reference to them, St. Paul tells us how careful he was to keep under his body, and to bring it into subjection, in order that he might be the fitter to run the Christian race [Note: ver. 27.]. Thus must we be trained both in body and mind, in order that we may run well and “endure unto the end.” We must accustom ourselves to labour and self-denial, mortifying every corrupt affection, and “giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure [Note: 2 Peter 1:10.]” — — —]
Let us next turn our attention to,
The argument with which it is enforced—
The Apostle’s expression is concise: but there is much implied in it:
We cannot win the race without running in this manner—
[However persons strove for the mastery in the games, they were not crowned, unless they strove according to the laws prescribed them [Note: 2 Timothy 2:5.]. Thus, however earnest we may be in running for heaven, we never can gain the prize, unless we conform to the rules that have been laid down. This is the course that we are to run over. It abounds indeed with rough places, and steep ascents: but we must not deviate from it. We may easily find a smoother path; but we must run in that which is marked out for us, and abide in it to the end — — —
Let us then inquire, whether we be treading in the Apostle s steps — — — And let the fear of coming short at last, stimulate us to unremitting exertions [Note: ver. 27.] — — —]
If we run in this manner, we are sure of winning the race—
[Of those who contended in the race, one only could win the prize [Note: ver. 24.]: but it is not so in the race that we run: every one that enters the lists, and exerts himself according to the directions given him, must succeed. None have any reason to despond on account of their own weakness; on the contrary, those who are the weakest in their own apprehension, are most certain of success — — — Only let us not be satisfied with “running well for a season;” but let us “hold on our way,” till we reach the goal [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.]. Then we need not fear but that we shall “finish our course with joy, and obtain a crown of righteousness, from the hands of our righteous Judge [Note: Col 3:23-24 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8.]” — — —]
The prize, when obtained, will amply compensate for all our labour—
[Poor and worthless as the prize was to him that won the race, the hope of obtaining it stimulated many to contend for it. How much more then should the prize held forth to us, together with the certainty of obtaining it, call forth our exertions! Compare our prize with theirs in respect of honour, value and duration; how infinitely superior is it in every view! Theirs was but the breath of man’s applause; ours is honour coming from God himself. Theirs was a green chaplet, that withered in an hour; ours is an incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading inheritance in heaven [Note: ver. 25.] — — —]
Let every one that is engaged in the race, survey the prize. Let him at the same time contemplate the consequence of coming short, (not a transient disappointment, or loss of some desirable object, but everlasting misery in hell,) and the labour necessary to attain it will appear as nothing. None that have succeeded, now regret the pains they took to accomplish that great object: though thousands that have refused to run, now curse their folly with fruitless remorse — — — Let not any then relax their speed: but all attend to the directions given; and “so run, that they may obtain the prize.”]
THE MANNER IN WHICH ST. PAUL SOUGHT FOR HEAVEN
1 Corinthians 9:26-27. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I hare preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.
THE Scripture teaches us no less by examples than by precepts. Doubless the great exemplar, which all are to follow, is the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom there was no sin at all. But, next to him, the Apostles deserve our regard. St. Paul frequently exhorts us to be imitators of him: but he always limits that counsel by the superior regard which we owe to Christ; and bids us to follow him, so far only as he followed Christ. In this view he introduces the passage which we have just read. He has been recommending to the Corinthians a holy self-denying conduct. To enforce his exhortation, he states to them how he acted under a variety of difficult circumstances: and lastly, in reference to the Isthmian Games which were celebrated in that city, he gives them, in the words before us, a very animated view of his own experience, which he proposes to them for their imitation.
We may notice in these words,
The manner in which the Apostle exerted himself—
It is scarcely necessary to say, that heaven was the prize for which he contended. For this he laboured,
With careful attention [Note: The precise sense of the text cannot easily be determined. Ὠς οὐκ ἀδήλως may mean, “Not without distinguishing himself;” and ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα ὀέρων may mean, “Not as one that misses his blow.” The Author has given what he apprehends to be a just sense, without taking upon him to determine between the opinions of contending commentators. See Doddridge (on the place), who throws a beautiful light on the last clause of the text.]—
[As the course was precisely marked out for those who ran in the race, so there were certain rules prescribed in every one of the games; in allusion to which St. Paul elsewhere says, “If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully [Note: 2 Timothy 2:5.].” Now in running the Christian race, there are rules indispensably necessary to be observed, if we would have the prize adjudged to us. One rule in particular we mention, because it is expressly specified by the Apostle, and because it virtually includes all others: it is, that we must “look unto Jesus,” as the pattern for our imitation, as the source of our strength, as the medium of our acceptance, “as the Author and the Finisher of our faith [Note: Hebrews 12:1-2.].” Now the Apostle did not run as a person regardless of the rules, but as one who was determined in all things to observe them.
For want of this care, many who appear desirous of getting to heaven, fall short of it at last: they are not sufficiently instructed, especially in relation to the rule that has been specified: they are apt to satisfy themselves with rules of their own devising; and on this account they are found at last to have “spent their strength for nought.”]
With ardent zeal—
[A person who should be brandishing, as it were, his arms, and should “beat the air” in a way of sportive exercise, would be very unlike to one who was engaged in actual combat. Such a difference exists between those who merely profess to engage with their spiritual enemies, and those who are really “warring a good warfare:” nor is this difference less visible in the Christian world, than it would have been on the stage where such spectacles were exhibited. Now the Apostle was not a mere pretender to religion: he saw too much of the importance of eternal things to waste his time in empty professions: he knew that, if he did not vanquish his enemies, his enemies would destroy him; and therefore he strove to “fight a good fight,” and to “quit himself like a man,” who would rather die than yield.]
With absolute self-denial—
[Those who intended to engage in the different games, used much self-denial in the whole of their diet and mode of living, in order that they might be the better able to endure the fatigues and hardships which they must inevitably experience in the contest: and, when they came to the trial, they put forth all their strength, that they might gain the victory. The enemies with which the Apostle contended, were numerous and mighty. Those which he particularly refers to in the text, were, his own indwelling corruptions. He found that, in common with all others, he had “lusts warring in his members,” yea, “warring against his soul.” To subdue these, it was necessary that he should put forth all his strength. He had already gained a great advantage over them, as a man who had got his antagonist’s head under his arm, and was beating him in the face with all his might [Note: This seems to be implied in ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα.]. He would not give them any liberty to regain their former ascendancy, but was determined to subdue them utterly.]
We shall easily account for these exertions, when we call to mind,
The considerations by which he was actuated—
It is painful to see how persons, who are enslaved by human systems, will wrest the Scriptures, to make them coincide with their own views. Did the Apostle mean to say, that he exerted himself thus, merely lest he should by any means be betrayed into some fault, which should cause him to be disapproved of men? Had he not respect to God also, and to his eternal state? No man living, whose judgment was not warped by a predilection for a system of his own, could doubt one moment but that the Apostle was actuated by two considerations;
A hope of gaining the prize—
[This is manifestly implied in his words: and such a hope is the main spring of activity to every Christian that is under heaven. The Apostle well knew, how infinitely an unfading crown of glory surpasses the perishable chaplets that were awarded to the victors in the different games. He could not endure the idea, that others should take so much pains to obtain a corruptible crown, which vet only one would win; and that he himself should be remiss in seeking an incorruptible crown, which all who contended earnestly for it must obtain. The securing of this he felt to be the one thing needful; and therefore he determined to make it the one object of his ambition.]
A fear of losing it—
[The person who executed the office of herald in the different games, introduced others, and encouraged them to the contest, but did not contend himself. But the Christian herald, who stirs up and encourages others to engage in the race or combat, must himself both run and fight: and, if he do not engage with his whole heart, however he may have animated others, he himself will not be deemed worthy of the prize. Now the Apostle felt that the same exertions were necessary for him as for all others; and that peculiar guilt and shame would attach to him, if he, after having preached successfully to others, should at last fail of success himself. On this account therefore he laboured to “destroy the whole body of sin.” He was conscious that the smallest advantage gained by his bodily appetites might be attended with the most fatal consequences; and therefore he strove to “mortify his earthly members,” and to “crucify his flesh with its affections and lusts.”]
Those who are satisfied with the name and profession of Christianity—
[Were such a life as yours sufficient to obtain the prize, there were no propriety in such figures as the Apostle has used in the text. Be assured, that, if St. Paul found such exertions necessary for himself, they are no less so for you: and, that if he could not get to heaven without them, much less can you.]
Those who have relaxed their exertions—
[It is not the beginning well, but the enduring to the end, that will avail to the saving of the soul. Some indeed will say, “Once a child of God, and always so:” but God warns you, that if any man turn back, his soul shall have no pleasure in him. It is only by a patient continuance in well-doing that you can obtain the glory and honour and immortality which you profess to seek for. The labour that has been bestowed upon you is all in vain, if you do not maintain your steadfastness even to the end. “Be not weary therefore in well-doing; for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not.”]
Those who are discouraged through apprehensions of failure—
[Well might all be discouraged, if success depended on our own strength. But “God has laid help upon One that is mighty;” and it is our privilege to be “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” However weak therefore you yourselves are, and however powerful your enemies, you have no reason to despond, since, “through the strength of Christ you can do all things.”]
Those who are “contending earnestly for the faith” and practice of the Gospel—
[You know not indeed the precise measure of your course: but it is pleasing to reflect, that it may very soon be terminated, and that the prize shall be adjudged, not to the one who surpasses all others, but to all who “run their race with patience.” Methinks, the Saviour, the Judge of all, is holding forth the prize to you; and the whole host of heaven are witnesses of your exertions. Consider the countless multitudes that are already crowned, and that have bid an everlasting adieu to all the dangers of warfare, and the fatigues of running. Soon your hour also shall arrive: only, whenever it may arrive, let it find you exerting yourselves with all your might; that you may be able to say with your dying breath, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me; and not unto me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25