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1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
So keenly alive is Paul to the danger and folly of party-spirit, that he has still one more word of rebuke to utter.
I. Paul and the rest were servants and stewards.
1. The question therefore was, were they faithful? not, were they eloquent or philosophical? Criticism no preacher need expect to escape. Sometimes one might suppose sermons were of no other use than to furnish material for discussion. But who shall say which style is most edifying to the Church and which teacher is most faithfully serving his Master?
2. With him who is conscious that he must give account to his Master, “it is a very small thing to be judged of man’s judgment,” whether for applause or condemnation. A teacher who thinks for himself is compelled to utter truths which he knows will be misunderstood by many; but so long as he is conscious of his fidelity this does not trouble him. And, on the other hand, the applause of men comes to him only as a reminder that there is no finality in man’s judgment, and that it is only Christ’s approval which avails to give permanent satisfaction.
II. Great difficulty has always been experienced in tracing the similarities and distinctions between the apostles and the ordinary ministry, and had Paul been writing in our own day he would have spoken more definitely. For what makes union hopeless in Christendom at present is not that parties are formed round individual leaders, but that Churches are based on diametrically opposed opinions regarding the ministry itself.
1. As in the State a prince, though legitimate, does not succeed to the throne without formal coronation, so in the Church there is needed a formal recognition of the title which any one claims to office.
2. It would therefore seem to be every one’s duty to inquire, before he gives himself to another profession or business, whether Christ is not claiming him to serve in His Church.
III. Paul concludes this portion of his Epistle with a pathetic comparison of his condition as an apostle with the condition of those in Corinth who were glorying in this or that teacher (1 Corinthians 4:8). With the frothy spirit of young converts, they are full of a triumph which they despise Paul for not inculcating. While they thus triumphed, he who had begotten them in Christ was being treated as the offscouring and filth of the world.
1. Paul can only compare himself and the other apostles to those gladiators who came into the arena last, after the spectators had been sated with bloodless performances (1 Corinthians 4:9). While others sat comfortably looking on, they were in the arena, exposed to ill-usage and death. Life became no easier, the world no kinder, to Paul as time went on (1 Corinthians 4:11). Here is the finest mind, the noblest spirit, on earth; and this is how he is treated. And yet he goes on with his work, and lets nothing interrupt that (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). Nay, it is a life which he is so far from giving up himself, that he will call to it the easy-going Christians of Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:16).
2. And if the contrast between Paul’s self-sacrificing life and the luxurious life of the Corinthians might be expected to shame them into Christian service, a similar contrast should accomplish some good results in us. Already the Corinthians were accepting that pernicious conception of Christianity which looks upon it as merely a new luxury. They recognised how happy a thing it is to be forgiven, to be at peace with God, to have a sure hope of life everlasting. As yet they had not caught a glimpse of what is involved in becoming holy as Christ is holy. Are there none still who listen to Christianity rather as a voice soothing their fears than as a bugle summoning them to conflict? Paul does not summon the Church to be outcast from all joy; but when he says, “Be ye followers of me,” he means that there is not one standard of duty for him and another for us. All is wrong with us until we are made somehow to recognise that we have no right to selfishly aggrandise while Paul is driven through life with scarcely one day’s bread provided. If we be Christ’s, as Paul was, it must inevitably come to this with us: that we cordially yield to Him all we are and have. If our hearts be His, this is inevitable and delightful; unless they be so, it is impossible, and seems extravagant.
3. It was Christ’s own self-sacrifice that threw such a spell over the apostles and gave them so new a feeling towards their fellow-men and so new an estimate of their deepest needs. After seeing how Christ lived, they could never again justify themselves in living for self. And it is because we are so sunk in self-seeking and worldliness that we continue so unapostolic.
4. It might encourage us to bring our life more nearly into the line of Paul’s were we to see clearly that the cause he served is really inclusive of all that is worth working for. We can scarcely apprehend this with any clearness without feeling some enthusiasm for it. You have seen men become so enamoured of a cause that they will literally sell all they have to forward it, and when such a cause is worthy the men who adopt it seem to lead the only lives which have some semblance of glory in them. Our Lord, by claiming our service, gives us the opportunity of sinking our selfishness, which is in the last analysis our sin, and of living for a worthier object than our own pleasure or our own careful preservation. When He tells us to live for Him and to seek the things that are His, He but tells us in other words and in a more attractive and practical form to seek the common good. We seek the things that are Christ’s when we act as Christ would act were He in our place. (M. Dods, D. D.)
The true estimate of the Christian ministry
I. Its undue glorification. The Christian minister may be made an idol of--
1. By party worship of the man. This was the particular danger here. Let us take the cases the apostle selects (1 Corinthians 4:6) as specimens of all.
(1) Paul and Apollos each taught a truth that had taken possession of his soul, and so with modern teachers. Well, this truth commends itself to kindred spirits; it expresses their difficulties, it is a flood of light on many a dark passage of their history. No wonder that they view with gratitude and enthusiasm the messenger of this blessedness. And no wonder that the truth thus taught becomes at last the chief, almost the sole, truth proclaimed by him. Because--
(a) Every man has but one mind, and must, therefore, repeat himself.
(b) That which has won attachment from his congregation can scarcely be made subordinate in subsequent teaching without losing that attachment; so that ministers and congregations often narrow into a party, and hold one truth especially.
And so far they do well; but when they hold that truth to the exclusion of all other truths it is not well; and then, when with bitter and jealous antagonism, party-men watch all other religious factions but their own, the sectarian work is done: the minister is at once the idol and the slave of the party.
(2) Now St. Paul meets this with his usual delicacy (1 Corinthians 4:6). Think you that he knew nothing of that which is so dear to many a minister in our day--the power of gaining the confidence of his people, the power of having his every word accepted as infallible? Yet hear him--I am a minister, a steward only. I dare not be a party leader, for I am the servant of Him who came to make all one.
2. By attributing supernatural powers and imaginary gifts to the office. When one claiming the power of the keys, and pretending to the power of miraculous conveyance of grace in the sacraments; or, declaring that he has an especial power to receive confession and to forgive sins; then, grave men, who would turn contemptuously from the tricks of the mere preacher, are sometimes subdued before those of the priest. And yet this is but the same thing in another form; for pride and vanity sometimes appear in the very guise of humility. Who would not depreciate himself if, by magnifying his office, he obtained the power he loved? Bernard, professing to be unsecular, yet ruled the secular affairs of the world, and many others have reigned in their sackcloth with a power which the imperial purple never gave.
II. Its depreciation.
1. There is a way common enough in which the minister is viewed simply as a very useful regulation, on a par with the magistracy and the police. In this light his chief duty is to lecture the poor, and of all the texts which bear on politics to preach from only two, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” and, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers”; to be the treasurer of charitable institutions, and to bless the rich man’s banquet. Thus the office is simply considered a profession, a “living” for the younger branches of noble houses, and an advance for the sons of those of a lower grade. In this view a degrading compact is made between the minister and society. If he will not interfere with abuses and only echo current conventionalisms, then shall there be shown to him the condescending patronage which comes from men who stand by the Church as they would stand by any other old time-honoured institution; who would think it ill-bred to take God’s name in vain in the presence of a clergyman, and unmanly to insult a man whose profession prevents his resenting indignities. Now it is enough to quote the apostle’s view (1 Corinthians 4:1), and at once you are in a different atmosphere of thought.
2. The other way is to measure, as the Corinthians did, teachers by their gifts, and in proportion to their acceptability to them. Men seem to look on the ministry as an institution intended for their comfort, for their gratification, nay, even for their pastime. In this way the preaching of the gospel seems to be something like a lecture, professional or popular; a free arena for light discussion and flippant criticism. Now St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:3) simply refuses to submit his authority to any judgment; and this you will say, perchance, was priestly pride. It was profound humility; he was to be judged before a tribunal far more awful than Corinthian society. Fidelity is the chief excellence in a steward, and fidelity is precisely that which men cannot judge (1 Corinthians 4:4-5). Another Eye had seen, and He could tell how far the sentence was framed for man’s applause; how far the unpleasant truth was softened, not for love’s sake, but simply from cowardice; how far independence was only another name for stubbornness; how far even avoidance of sectarianism is merely a proud resolve not to interfere with any other man’s ministry, or to allow any man to interfere with his.
1. Not to judge, for we do not know the secrets of the heart. We judge men by gifts, or by a correspondence with our own peculiarities; but God judges by fidelity. Many a dull sermon is the result of humble powers, honestly cultivated, whilst many a brilliant discourse arises merely from a love of display. Many a diligent and active ministry proceeds from the love of power.
2. To be neither depressed unduly by blame nor to be too much exalted by praise. Man’s judgment will not last, but God’s will. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The character of gospel ministers
I. The character of gospel ministers.
1. They are ministers of Christ.
(1) They derive their commission from Christ (1 Timothy 1:12; Ephesians 4:8-13; Matthew 28:20).
(2) They are under Christ’s direction and command. They ought not to go until He sends them, and they ought to go whenever and wherever His providence and the voice of His Church call them.
(3) They are employed in Christ’s service, to act under His authority, to publish and enforce His law and His gospel, to keep the ordinances of His house, and by all appointed means to subserve His work of grace and holiness and the interests of His kingdom and glory in the world.
(4) Christ Himself is the great subject of their ministrations. They are to preach Christ Jesus the Lord; and all the lines of their ministry are one way or another to centre in Him.
(5) They receive their furniture for Christ’s work, and their assistance in it, from Him.
(a) As to their temporal concerns, that they may be subsisted in His service, He has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. And He takes care, in His providence, to protect them from the rage of their enemies, so long as He has any work to do by them (Acts 18:9-10).
(b) And as to their gifts and graces, He is exalted to fill the officers of His Church with such supplies as are necessary for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:7); He distributes His gifts with great variety for different administrations by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11); and is with them alway to the end of the world.
(6) All the success and reward of their ministry proceeds from Christ. They can speak only to the ear, but He speaks to the heart, and adds such energy to their words as turns them into spirit and life.
2. They are stewards of the mysteries of God.
(1) What their stewardship relates to. The mysteries of God. The doctrines of the gospel may be called the mysteries of God on various accounts.
(a) They were secret in God till He revealed them, first more obscurely under the Old Testament and afterwards more clearly under the New (Romans 16:25-26).
(b) And even after these things are revealed in New Testament light there are mysteries in them still, especially with relation to the manner of their existence or of their operation (1 Timothy 3:16; John 3:8).
(c) After all the revelation which is made of them unrenewed souls do not see their excellence and beauty till Christ opens their understandings to understand the Scriptures, and they come to view them in the transforming light of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
(2) Their stewardship itself.
(a) They are not lords of the affairs which are under their management. A steward is but a servant to his Lord, and under Him; and so are all the ministers of Christ (Matthew 23:10). They are not authors of the mysteries they dispense, but are to preach only that gospel which they have received from Him.
(b) Their stewardship intimates that what they are concerned in is committed to them as a trust, which they must give an account of to God (1 Corinthians 9:16-17; 2 Timothy 1:13-14).
(c) Their stewardship intimates that faithfulness, care, and diligence are to be used in discharging their trust (1 Corinthians 4:2). They must be faithful to Christ, to truth, and to their own and others’ souls.
II. The regard that is to be shown to gospel ministers. “Let a man so account of us,” &c. You should consider them all--
1. As servants and stewards, that you may not raise them too high in your account of them.
2. As the servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, that you may not sink them too low in your account of them. (J. Guyse, D. D.)
A true and a false estimate of genuine ministers of the gospel
Here we have--
I. A true estimate.
1. They are servants of Christ. There are some who regard them as servants of their Church. The Churches guarantee their stipend, and they require that their dogmas shall be propounded and their laws obeyed. He who yields to such an expectation degrades his position. The true servant of Christ will feel and act as the moral leader and commander of the people. “Obey them that have the rule over you,” &c. There is no office on this earth so dignified and royal as this.
2. As servants of Christ they are responsible. “Stewards of the mysteries of God.” The gospel is a mystery not in the sense of incomprehensibility, but in the sense of progressive unfoldment. It is a mystery to the man who at first begins its study, but as he gets on it becomes more and mere clear. The true minister is to translate these mysteries into intelligible ideas, and dispense them to the people. As a steward of such things his position is one of transcendent responsibility.
3. As servants of Christ they are faithful--
(1) To their trust; not abuse it, but use it according to the directions of its Owner.
(2) To their hearers; seeking no man’s applause, fearing no man’s frown, “commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
4. As servants of Christ they are independent (1 Corinthians 4:3). Whilst no true minister will despise the favour or court the contempt of men, they will not be concerned about their judgment so long as they are faithful to God Paul indicates three reasons for this independency.
(1) His own consciousness of faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:5). “Others may accuse me, but I am not conscious of that which should condemn me, or render me unworthy of this office.”
(2) His confidence in the judgment of God. “But He that judgeth me is the Lord.” I am content to abide by His judgment.
(3) His belief in a full revelation of that judgment (1 Corinthians 4:5). Do not let us judge one another; do not let us even trust too much to our own judgment of ourselves. Let us await heaven’s judgment.
(a) There is a period appointed for that judgment.
(b) At that period there will be a full revelation of our characters.
(c) At that period, too, every man shall have his due.
II. A false estimate (1 Corinthians 4:6). Paul speaks of himself and Apollos to show the impropriety of one minister being pitted against another. The Corinthians seemed to estimate ministers--
1. In proportion as they met their views and feelings. Every true preacher preaches the gospel as it has passed through his own mind, and as it passes through his own mind, it will, of course, be more interesting to the minds most in harmony with his own. Hence, in the Corinthian Church those who preferred Peter’s preaching thought no one was like Peter, &c. It is so now. Thus it is that some of the most inferior preachers are over-rated, and the most devoted degraded; whereas all true ministers are “servants of Christ,” the “stewards of the mysteries of God,” and as such should be honoured.
2. According to the greatness of their natural endowments (1 Corinthians 4:7). Between the natural endowments of Paul, Apollos, and Peter there was a great difference, and, indeed, between all ministers of the gospel. But what of that? There is nothing in those for boasting, for they all came from God. No man or angel deserves credit on account of natural abilities. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The ministerial trust
A party in the Church at Corinth said they were of Christ. They pretended to be so much under His immediate influence that they had no need of other teachers. “What,” said they, “is Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas to us? We are of Christ.” For the reproof and instruction of such, as thus undervalued, as well as for the reproof and instruction of the other parties who were disposed to exalt the ministers of Christ, the apostle says, “Let a man,” &c.
I. Stewards fill an honourable but subordinate office.
1. A steward is set over a certain household for the purpose of superintending its affairs. Sustaining, then, the character of rulers in God’s house, and representatives of the majesty of heaven, the office with which ministers of the gospel are clothed must be an honourable one. The apostle, humble as he was, magnified his office, and enjoined that it should be respected and esteemed by others.
2. But the office is no less subordinate; it is held under him who is the lord of the steward. In correspondence with this, ministers are but servants of Christ. Sovereignty in the holy hill of Zion is that glory which He will not give to another. From Him they receive their appointment and all those qualifications which are necessary for the effectual discharge of their office. He, too, allots them their respective fields of labour, and assigns the measure of their success.
II. Stewards have a trust committed to them. The office of a steward is to take charge of the estate of his lord. Agreeably to this, ministers of the gospel have a trust of all others the most important. Time, talents, opportunities, and spheres of usefulness are a portion of the goods committed to their charge. But the trust delivered to them is the mysteries of God, the whole of Divine truth contained in the Scriptures.
1. The gospel is denominated a mystery (Mark 4:11; Rom 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Colossians 1:26). Because--
(1) Its gracious doctrines would have remained hid-in the mind of God had it not pleased Him to have made a revelation of them to man.
(2) It was but obscurely and partially revealed under the Old Testament economy.
(3) It can only be properly understood through the teaching of the Spirit of God. In the gospel there is a variety of mysteries, and accordingly the word is used in the plural number. There are mysteries--
(a) Which, though disclosed in Scripture as to their existence and reality, are not level to, but far above the comprehension of a finite mind. Such are the doctrines of the Trinity.
(b) Which, having been revealed, may in some measure be understood and explained. Such are the doctrines of the fall, the atonement, justification, &c., &c.
(c) Which, though not at present comprehended by the believer, will be fully disclosed to him in heaven, to which, “At that day, ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” “Now we see through a glass darkly,” &c.
2. Of these mysteries ministers are the stewards. In making known the mysteries of the gospel, they are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.
III. Stewards are required to be faithful to their trust (1 Corinthians 4:2).
1. They are not his own, but his lord’s goods that a steward has in his custody, and therefore he must be careful not to embezzle or squander them, but to lay out the whole to the best advantage. In agreement with this, it is required from ministers to be found faithful.
2. No such thing as faithfulness could be displayed by a worldly steward had he no correct knowledge of the estate, or of the goods that were consigned to his care. In like manner, it is impossible that those stewards of the mysteries of God can be faithful to their trust who do not give all diligence in perusing the Scriptures, to become scribes well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
3. It is the duty of a worldly steward to provide food for, and to distribute it among the members of the house over which he is set. In correspondence with this, it is the duty of those who are stewards of the mysteries of God to be attentive to the spiritual wants of those among whom they labour, and to make careful provision of what is requisite for the supplyment of these. Fidelity also requires an impartial distribution of the Word of Life. Saints and sinners are alike to have the Word of Truth rightly divided among them. The former need to be comforted and assisted; the latter to be cautioned and directed by it.
4. It is the duty of a worldly steward vigilantly to watch, and anxiously to protect from spoliation the property which his lord has committed to his trust. In like manner it is the duty of the stewards of Divine mysteries to watch over them, and to guard them against the attacks of their enemies.
5. The steward of the mysteries of God who is faithful to his trust must be decidedly a man of God.
IV. Stewards are accountable for the trust that has been committed to them. Both just and unjust stewards may look forward with certainty to a day of reckoning. In agreement with this, ministers of the gospel are accountable for the solemn trust which has been committed to them. An account will be demanded from them of their time, how it was spent by them--of their gifts, how they improved them--of the gospel, how they preached it--and of precious souls as to the concern manifested, and the efforts made by them for their salvation. Conclusion: Who is sufficient for these things? None, in their own strength. Your sufficiency is only of God. (J. Duncan.)
Ministers and stewards
Ministers here means “under-rowers,” as pulling together in one galley where Christ sits at the helm, the vessel being the Church, and the passengers the members of the Church. Not only is disunion in the crew fatal to progress and a thing tending to shipwreck, but the fact of Christ’s presidency and magisterium should exalt high above petty partisanship, especially when the supreme owner of the sacred galley is God. Here the house-stewards of God and dispensers of His mysteries are said to be strictly such, as being servants or underlings of Christ; for between the Father of the household or Church and the distributors of the spiritual goods stands the Son In fact the image is again a stair of three steps. The Father delivers the Divine decrees or eternal ideas, elsewhere called the hidden wisdom of God, to the Incarnate Son. He in turn communicates them to His apostles, selected by Himself to dispense and apportion with wise judgment these secret counsels or mysteries of God to the members of the household. The house of God, an idea latent in the word “household,” denotes the Christian theocracy (1 Timothy 3:16) of which Christ is the nearer Head, God (the Head of Christ) the more remote. It appears certain from some of the deeper texts of Scripture that all that has taken place in the world through all the ages is but the historical evolution in time of the manifold and marvellous counsel of Triune Deity, willed in a remote eternity. These archetypal ideas, both of creation and redemption, were in part only and by degrees revealed to Paul, and of that part he himself has communicated to the Church a part only: for that he knew more than he wrote is clear enough from his occasional ejaculations of wonder, followed by no elucidations: to such an inspired mind teeming with supernatural mysteries, no marvel that all human science pales and waxes dim before a single ray of Divine wisdom! (Canon Evans.)
The steward of God’s mysteries
The Church at Corinth were divided into rival factions, arrayed under party leaders; and unprofitable controversies and unbecoming tempers were the natural results. The idea of the Christian ministry as a Divine institution was lost sight of, while the man who held the office was invested with undue importance. St. Paul endeavours to correct this state of things by showing that the office was distinct from any qualities or attractions which might belong to the man. The apostle himself was both learned and eloquent, but this did not constitute him a minister of Christ. So far as the man was concerned, he was satisfied to be esteemed “the least,” and even “the servant of all,” but when the office was brought into view it was a different matter. A hundred men in any county, may write a better hand than the “county clerk,” and yet his hand and seal are indispensable for the validity of certain acts. Shall so much depend on office, in worldly things, and can it be supposed that the Divine Head of the Church has taken less precaution to secure the interests of the soul?
I. “Ministers of Christ.”
1. Derive their commission from Him (John 20:21). The apostles went forth in His name, and never pleaded any authority for what they said, or did, but His. As an ambassador is duly authorised to make and ratify treaties in his king’s name and to act concerning measures involving the weal or woe of millions, so is Christ’s ambassador clothed with power to proclaim the terms of reconciliation with God.
2. Are rulers in God’s kingdom. “All power” was given unto the Saviour in heaven and earth, and this authority He dispenses to His servants, who are sent forth to execute His will. They are to awe men into obedience, not by implements of temporal dominion, but by weapons from God’s own armoury.
3. They become the comforters of the sorrowing, and physicians of the broken-hearted.
4. Intercede with God for His people. All Christians of course discharge this duty (James 5:16), but more especially those who are commissioned by the Most High to serve at His altar.
II. “Stewards of the mysteries of God.”
1. They are conservators, expounders, and dispensers of all those things once hidden, but now revealed.
2. They are the dispensers of His grace through the ordinances of the gospel.
3. As such it is required of them to be faithful--
(1) To their heavenly Master, not following ways agreeable to themselves, but meekly receiving their Lord’s instructions and doing their utmost to carry them into effect. Worldly hopes and fears must not influence them, and all they say and do should have reference to their final account.
(2) To their fellow-servants. “Gospel ministers,” says Bishop Hall, “should not only be like dials on watches, or mite-stones upon the road, but like clocks and larums, to sound the alarm to sinners. Aaron wore bells as well as pomegranates, and the prophets were commanded to lift up their voice like a trumpet. A sleeping sentinel may be the loss of the city.” A dying nobleman once sent for his minister, and said to him, “You know that I have been living a very wicked life, and yet you have never warned me of my danger.” “Yes, my lord,” was the constrained and sickening response, “your manner of living was not unknown to me; but great personal kindness to me made me unwilling to offend you bywords of reproof.” “Oh, how wicked! how cruel in you!” cried the dying man. “The provision which I made for you and your family ought to have prompted care and fidelity. You neglected to warn and instruct me; and now, my soul is lost!”
1. Be thankful for the provision which has been made for your instruction and guidance.
2. Be careful to improve it. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Man a steward
I. The trust implied. Of what are we stewards? All, in fact, that we are and have, but sin. Health, reason, property, influence, &c., &c. “All things, O Lord, come of Thee,” &c., &c. This trust is--
1. Undeniable. The moral reason of humanity binds man to acknowledge that all he has he holds in trust. He is not the proprietor, but the trustee.
2. Ever-increasing. Mercies increase every hour, and with the increase obligation accumulates.
II. The trust discharged.
1. A good man uses all under a sense of his responsibility to God.
2. In the right discharge of this trust man--
(1) Blesses himself.
(2) Serves his generation.
(3) Wins the approbation of his God.
III. The trust abused. We read of some--
1. That waste their Lord’s goods.
2. That are unprofitable servants. “Many will say unto Me in that day.” (J. Harding, M. A.)
Clergy and laity
I. What the clergy are.
(1) The word in the original signifies an “under-rower.” Our Lord is the Pilot of the vessel of His Church, and the clergy are the rowers under His command. He from heaven still guides his Church below; but, under His guidance, and by His own appointment, a distinct share of the work is allotted to His ministers.
(2) Strictly speaking, the clergy are not the ministers of the congregation, and it is not their primary duty to try and please the people. They are “ministers of Christ”; and they must count it “a very small thing” that they should be “judged of man’s judgment,” remembering that “He that judgeth them is the Lord.”
2. Stewards. A steward is one who is appointed by an owner of estates to deal on his behalf with his tenants, manage his property, rule in his absence, dispense his bounty. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the owner of the estate of His Church, and the clergy are the officers appointed by Him to represent Him in matters affecting His people. As the power of a steward is not inherent, but only delegated, so the authority of “the stewards of the mysteries of God” has its origin in, and depends for its continuance on, the will of Christ their Lord. Now it is obvious that a steward--
(1) Must receive some external appointment, and must be able to produce his credentials. It is not enough that a man should call himself a steward. “No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God.”
(2) Must have somewhat committed to his charge, some official acts to perform, and some bounty to dispense. And to the clergy, as “stewards,” are committed “the mysteries of God.” It is their business to defend and promulgate the “truth as it is in Jesus,” not preaching themselves--i.e., their own theories and fancies--but “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
(3) Is not only representative of his master to the tenants, but that equally is he representative of the tenants to his master. And so it is the high privilege of the clergy as “stewards,” to become intimately acquainted with the circumstances, needs, perplexities, and sorrows of Christ’s people; it is their duty to find out all about them and then, on their behalf, to go to the throne of grace and intercede. Certainly if the dignity of “the ministers of Christ” is great their responsibility is greater still.
II. How the laity should regard them--“Account of them,” &c. And if you do so you will--
1. Esteem them very highly, not for their own, but for their work’s sake. Lose sight of the man in the office, and prove your esteem by receiving at his hands “the mysteries of the kingdom of God,” for thus you will--
2. Encourage them. And probably there is no class of men who more greatly need encouragement. Recognising their difficulties, and wishing to encourage them, you will be led--
3. To pray for them.
(1) That the words spoken by them may have success.
(2) That they may be preserved from all the dangers peculiar to the position which they hold.
(3) Lest that by any means when they have preached to others they themselves should be castaways! (J. Beeby.)
“The mysteries of God”
There can be no doubt that this word “mystery” rouses a certain feeling of mental discomfort, almost amounting to suspicion and dislike, in the mind of an ordinary Englishman when he first hears it. In the ordinary use of language, too, the word has got into bad odour by the force of bad association. A mystery is frequently understood to mean something that will not bear the light; something that is wanting in the qualities of straightforwardness and explicitness; something that belongs to the region of charlatanism, intrigue, ignorance, superstition. It would be curious to ascertain the idea which the word “mystery” suggests to the first five men whom we meet in the street. One man would probably say, “I mean by mystery something confused and unintelligible”; and another, “Something involving a plain contradiction”; and another, “A statement which is chiefly distinguished by its defiance of reason”; and another, “Some physical or even moral impossibility”; and another, “That which is believed to be true because there is no real reason for disbelieving it.” And if these, or anything like these, are the ideas which are associated by us with the word “mystery,” what wonder that the word is regarded with a certain dislike and suspicion when we find it in the region of religious truth? What, then, let us ask, is the true account of this word “mystery.” The word “mystery” in the Bible is a purely Greek word, the termination only being changed. In Greece for many centuries it meant a religious or sacred secret into which, after due preparation, men were initiated by solemn rites. At Eleusis, near Athens, to give only one of the most famous examples, there were for centuries mysteries of this description, and there has been much controversy in the learned world as to their exact origin and object, the most probable account of them being that they were designed to preserve and hand on certain truths which formed part of the earliest religion of Greece, and which were lost sight of or denied, or denounced by the popular religion of a later day. A tenet thus concealed and thus disclosed was called a “mystery,” because, after disclosure, it was still concealed from the general public, because it had been concealed even from the initiated up to the moment of initiation, and because, probably, it was of a character to suggest that, however much truth it might convey, there was more to which it pointed, but which still remained unknown. This was the general sense which the word had acquired at the time when the New Testament was written. Now the apostles of Christ, in order to make their Divine message to the souls of men as clear as might be, took the words in common use which most nearly answered their purpose--did the best they could with them, giving them, so to speak, a new turn, inspiring them with a new and a higher significance. What, then, is the meaning of the word “mystery” in the New Testament? It is used to describe not a fancy, not a contradiction, not an impossibility, but always a truth, yet a truth which has been or which is more or less hidden. There are some truths on which the mind’s eye rests directly, just as the bodily eye rests on the sun in a cloudless sky; and there are other truths of the reality of which the mind is assured by seeing something else which satisfies it that they are there, just as the bodily eye sees the strong ray which pours forth in a stream of brilliancy from behind a cloud and reports to the understanding that if only the cloud were to be removed the sun would itself be seen. Now “mysteries” in religion, as we commonly use the word, are of this description; we see enough to know that there is more which we do not see, and, in this state of existence, which we shall not directly see. We see the ray which implies the sun behind the cloud. And thus to look upon apparent truth, which certainly implies truth which is not apparent, is to be in the presence of mystery. Why, it is asked, should there be in religion this element of mystery? Why should there be this outlying, this transcendental margin traced round the doctrines and the rites of Christianity--this margin within which the Church whispers of mystery, but which seems to provide a natural home for illusion? This is probably what Toland, by no means the least capable of the English deists, thought when he undertook at the beginning of the last century the somewhat desperate enterprise of showing that Christianity is not mysterious. To strip Christianity of mystery was to do it, he conceived, an essential service--to bring it, in the phraseology of his day, “within the conditions of nature,” within the rules of that world of sensible experience in which we live. Is it, then, the case that the natural world around us is so entirely free from that element of mystery which attaches so closely to the doctrines and the rites of Christianity? Before long spring will be here again, and probably some of you will try in some sort to keep step with the expansions of its beautiful life even here in London by putting a hyacinth bulb into a glass jar of water, and watching day by day the leaves and the bud unfold above, and the roots develop below, as the days get warmer and brighter, until at last, about Easter-time, it bursts into full and beautiful bloom. Why should the bulb thus break out into flower, and leaf, and root, before your eyes? “Why,” some one says, “they always do.” Yes, but why do they? What is the motive power at work which thus breaks up the bulb, and which almost violently issues into a flower of such beauty, in perfect conformity to a general type, and yet with a variety that is all its own? You say it is the law of growth; yes, but what do you mean by the law of growth? You do not explain it by merely labelling it--you explain neither what it is in itself, nor why it should be at work here, or under these conditions. You cannot deny its existence, and yet the moment you endeavour to penetrate below the surface it altogether eludes you. What is this but to have ascertained that here is a fact, a truth, hidden behind the cloud that is formed by the surface aspect of nature? What is this but to be in the presence of mystery? The philosopher Locke laid down the doctrine which has been often quoted since his time, that we cannot acquiesce in any proposition unless we fully understand all that is conveyed by each of its terms, and hence he inferred that when a man tells us that any mystery is true, he is stating that to which we cannot assent, because a mystery, from its nature, is said to be a hidden, and, therefore, uncomprehended truth. This, at first, seems plausible enough; but in fact we may, and do, assent reasonably enough to a great many propositions respecting the terms of which we have only an obscure or an incomplete idea. A man born blind may, I take it, reasonably assent to the descriptions of objects which we who have the blessing of sight see with our eyes, although probably no description could possibly give him an adequate impression of the reality. Locke himself, like the strong thinker that he was, admitted, could not but admit, the infinite divisibility of matter; yet had he, has any man, an adequate conception of what this means? It, too, belongs to the sphere of mystery. To treat nature as not mysterious is to mistake that superficial, thoughtless familiarity with nature for a knowledge based on observation and reflection. And the mysterious creed of Christendom corresponds with nature, which is thus constantly mysterious, while both are only what we should expect in revelation. And nature, too, in its way, is a revelation of the infinite God. Suppose, if you can, that a religion claiming to come from God were wholly divested of this element of mystery; suppose that it spoke of a God whose attributes we could understand as perfectly as the character of our next-door neighbour; and of a government of the world which presented no more difficulties than the administration of a small joint-stock company; and of prayer, and rules of worship, which meant no more than the conventional usages and ceremonies of human society. Should we not say--you and I--“Certainly this is very intelligible; it is wholly free from the infection of mystery; but is it really a message from a higher world? Is it not too obviously an accommodation to our poor, dwarfed conceptions? Does it not somewhere in its system carry the trade mark of a human manufactory?” After all, we may dislike and resent mystery in our lower and captious, as distinct from our better and thoughtful, moods; but we know on reflection that it is the inevitable robe of a real revelation of the Infinite Being, and that, if the great truths and ordinances of Christianity shade off, as they do, into regions where we cannot hope to follow them, this is only what was to be expected if Christianity is what it claims to be. (Canon Liddon.)
It is required in stewards that a mall be found faithful.--
I. Ministers the stewards of God.
1. Divinely commissioned. A call to the ministry is a call from God, or it has in it no worth or authority. Let a man possess the consciousness of this commission, then he will go forth with authority and power. Without it his lips will falter and his heart fail.
2. Divinely qualified. There must be--
(1) Mental fitness. A minister must be “apt to teach.”
(2) Moral fitness. The first condition is conversion of heart; the next, holiness of life. How lifeless and barren a ministry without this!
3. Divinely sustained. With all the help and happiness of such outward encouragements as it is the duty of Churches to give, ministers feel that they need Divine strength.
II. As ministers, we are entrusted with the gospel. It is our duty--
1. To expound it. Expository preaching has not received sufficient attention.
2. To apply it. It is not sufficient to elucidate the principles of the gospel, they must be enforced. The gospel--
(1) Makes known the pardon which has been provided for sinners; and it is incumbent on the stewards of God to beseech them to be reconciled to God.
(2) Is a trumpet-call to Christian perfection. To transform men we must be persuasive--intensely practical.
3. To defend it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Christian ministry
I. The account given in the text of the nature of our office as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
1. The ministry of the word is in all essential points the same ever since it was ordained as an employment. At the same time it is plain that several circumstances attending it are considerably varied. The ordinary call to the office, which now takes place, is very different from the miraculous mission by which men were consecrated to it in former times. Their vocation was more immediate, more striking, attended with more ample powers, as well as more splendid effects. The pastors of the Christian Church, in these later ages, are neither possessed of the immediate inspiration nor of the power of working miracles enjoyed by the apostles. They are now men in all respects like yourselves. When we speak of a faithful minister we speak of the rare and happy union of ability and attention, of zeal and knowledge, of meekness and firmness, in the same character; for all these are necessary to sustain the office with propriety. And are these qualities to be attained with a slight degree of application?
2. But you are not to imagine that while such high obligations are laid on the ministers of the gospel, no duties are, on the ether hand, required of you towards those who hold that station.
(1) The same authority which lays such arduous obligations on your pastors, requires of you to entertain a spirit of equity and candour towards them.
(2) This rule of equity and candour is transgressed in a still higher degree when you expect of us to preach doctrines accommodated to your passions, or to refrain from delivering those truths which are unacceptable or alarming.
II. You are requirer to entertain a just esteem for the office and character which we bear. We claim no obsequious homage, we arrogate no dominion over your faith; but we expect that no man should despise us.
III. Make a proper improvement of the truths which we deliver. (R. Walker.)
I. The station which is occupied. The station of a steward--one who has a delegated authority--who acts in subserviency to another--and who is required to account for the manner in which he has conducted himself while holding that responsible station. The term applies originally to the ministers of the gospel; yet we may safely found upon them a general argument and appeal. You have each of you received various gifts, which you are to hold as stewards of God, and for which you have to render a final account.
1. Intellectual faculties.
2. Temporal blessings, such as--
(1) Property, and opulence, and rank, and those things which give men such influence in the sphere in which they move.
(2) National distinction.
(3) Civil and religious liberty.
3. Spiritual mercies.
(1) The Scriptures.
(2) Holy ordinances.
(3) The ministry of the gospel.
(4) The gift of the Spirit to convince, convert, sanctify, &c.
Every Christian attainment, hope, enjoyment, makes the person who possesses it steward, and involves the highest responsibility.
II. The character by which the occupation of this station should be attended. The steward is called upon to “be faithful” to his Master’s property, and whatever is committed to his trust.
1. Abundant facts prove that men are generally reckless in regard to all the privileges enumerated.
2. Consider, then, in what this fidelity consists. The great basis of all duty is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” &c. Now, in order to answer to the character described in the text, there must be sincere repentance, an entire reliance on the one only foundation of hope, and an earnest striving for the salvation of the immortal soul by the diligent use of the means prescribed. It is your duty--
(1) To work out your salvation with fear and trembling. There must be employed for this every natural and intellectual power: for this Sabbaths were hallowed, the Book of God given, the ministry instituted, &c.
(2) To attend to what pertains to the Divine honour and glory in the world in which we live. While we attend diligently to the common business of life we must not forget what we owe to God, on whose bounty we live, in whose presence we stand, and before whom we must soon appear.
(3) This part of the subject may be applied--
(a) To those who occupy private stations in the Church of Christ. What have you done in the way of desire, in the way of effort, in the way of prayer?
(b) To ministers.
III. The solemn considerations by which the exhibition of such a character may be enforced. A steward must reckon on a day of final account. This will be a day of reckoning--
1. For rewards of glory.
2. For punishment also. (J. Parsons.)
St. Paul accepted the full responsibility of his office. God has nowhere placed on the human heart such a high trust as the ministry of the gospel. We do not think lightly of the responsibilities of the statesman, the warrior, the philanthropist, the teacher; but the ambassador of the Cross stands in the Saviour’s place, and speaks in His name. On his office depends the salvation of mankind. The minister must feel the responsibility of his office, and so must those to whom he ministers. The congregation that demands topics and forms to gratify taste or emotion cannot be sensible of the fact that God speaks, and not man. Micaiah said, “As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak.” The man who helps sinners to build on a false foundation is a source of greater danger than the company of evildoers.
I. Let us do what we can.
1. It is possible to fancy what mighty things we would do had we the opportunity. Some thoughts of this nature must have crossed the mind of the man who received only one talent. Exchange these grated probabilities for actual possibilities. God has given us to do what we can, and expects us to do it.
2. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much,” &c. Look into every department of life, and see that he who has faithfully filled the humbler situation, has both fitted himself for, and been promoted to a higher. Joseph the slave became the premier of Egypt. The captive Hebrew youths were made presidents of Chaldea. The history of those men is not more marvellous than “From Log Cabin to White House,” or from the shoemaker’s bench to the mission-field of India. Seeing that the Church of Christ is burdened with duties, we long to see the day when every Christian shall be an active worker.
II. Let us do every work in its own time.
1. To-morrow will not have a moment to spare for duties that are neglected to-day. Duty says--“Now or never.” Nature, the lives of men of mark, and our own experience are decisive as to this. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” To put off duty to a more convenient season is done with impunity. “Boast not thyself of to-morrow,” &c. Every hour has its duty, and every duty its pleasure.
2. To further enforce diligence in this matter, observe that our very safety in time to come is secured by fidelity to present trust. Negligence is a preparation for temptation (2 Peter 1:10). The path of duty is the path of safety.
III. Let us do over work in the right spirit. It is impossible to be faithful considering the difficulties in the way, without willingness and love. To be forced to work for Jesus by fear is to destroy the greatest condition of success.
IV. Let our work be done under a sense of responsibility. The work is not ours. We do not supply the materials. We are all responsible to God. The day of account is coming. Shall we meet it with joy, or with grief? (Weekly Pulpit.)
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small think that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment.
I. Is the prerogative of God.
1. It belongs not to man.
2. Not to ourselves.
3. But the Lord.
II. Is premature in this life. Because--
1. Many things are hidden.
2. There is no universal and absolute standard.
3. None capable of applying it.
III. Is reserved to the coming of christ.
1. To Him all judgment is committed.
2. By Him all hearts shall be disclosed.
3. From Him every man shall receive his reward. (Family Churchman.)
I. Of man is of title value. Because--
1. Without authority.
2. Seldom just.
3. Always transient.
II. Of our conscience is deceptive. Because--
1. We are ignorant.
2. It cannot justify us.
III. Of the lord is decisive.
3. Final. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Many are in the habit of reversing the apostle’s words; and what is most surprising is that great numbers who would be shocked at the thought are nevertheless really more governed by the opinions of men than by the Word of God. The truth is, the fear of man grows up with us from our infancy, is often encouraged by education, and is disguised under fair names, or mixed up with something allowable, so that we become enslaved to it without suspicion. Combined with this passages of Scripture are passed lightly over, which pronounce it to be a bad sign when all men speak well of us. Let us see--
I. What the case actually is.
1. The foundation of a great part of the evil is the want of accustoming children to be influenced by the love or fear of God. On the contrary, they have too often no other motives placed before them than those of pleasing their parents, of being well thought of by their friends. Besides, it is natural to wish to be thought well of by others, because we often derive solid benefits from a good reputation, and great inconvenience from a bad one. This leads to the great evil of substituting an idol for God; and this idol often applauds what God condemns, and condemns what God approves. And rather than sacrifice this idol men will go to great lengths--even to murder and suicide.
2. But it may be said that he who is indifferent to the opinion of others must lose one great check on his vices, and that men, in proportion as they despise the judgment of others, magnify themselves in their own conceits. True, they who are without God can but go from one extreme to another; and indeed it is better to fear other men than to fear no one, and there is worse selfishness and pride in consulting only our own judgment than in following after the praise of others. But all this is excluded if we submit to the judgment of God. Here is a check upon carelessness and hardness to reproof, and here, too, is freedom from all unworthy compliances, and a freedom which can nowhere else be found pure from pride and contempt of our neighbours.
II. How far the scripture allows us to desire or care for the good opinion of others.
1. It is clear that to gain a good character with men must never be our chief object; if it is, the praise of men will be our only reward. So parents should teach their children to secure the approbation of God first; then they will know that in trying to please them they are obeying God, who has commanded them to honour their parents.
2. The approbation of good and wise men should be received with thankfulness. On secular matters bad men can judge as well as good; but in all matters of right and wrong, no opinion but that of a Christian is worth a moment’s notice. They have the mind of Christ, and their praise or censure is really our interpretation of God’s.
3. But the judgment of God is the final appeal. To our own Master we stand or fall. (T. Arnold, D. D.)
Judgment of ministers
I. Ministers of Christ must expect to be made the subjects of human judgment. They are like a city set on an hill, and every action they perform will be weighed, and every word they speak will be examined. Nor can there be any doubt about the right of men to judge the ministers of Christ. Ministers come to them professing to be commissioned from God, to deal with them about the concerns of their souls, and have they not a right to examine the truth of their statement, their qualifications for their work, and the manner in which they discharge the duties of their high office? That the right of judging ministers is often grossly abused cannot be denied. But this can never be assigned as a reason why they should be deprived of it altogether. Those who hear the gospel are commanded to prove all things, and to hold fast only that which is good.
II. Though the judgment of man should not re entirely overlooked, it is a matter of comparatively small importance. Many ministers pay far too little attention to the good opinion of their people. But though the judgment of man should not be overlooked, yet it is a matter of comparatively small importance. The opinions which men form about ministers are often prejudiced, unjust, and fluctuating; and it is not by their judgment that they shall be tried at the last day. Their applause need not flatter our vanity; their condemnation need not make us sad.
III. Ministers must not rest satisfied with the favourable opinions which they may be inclined to form of themselves. Paul says, “I judge not mine own self.” This expression must refer to his ministerial character. As a believer in Christ he knew much of himself, and bitterly bewailed the existence of sin within him. But as a minister of Christ he was not conscious in himself of having been negligent, partial, or unfaithful. He was able to make solemn appeal to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:18-21). But though he knew nothing of which he could accuse himself, “yet,” he says, “am I not hereby justified.” The opinion which I have of myself does not determine my character, nor shall it determine my condition. But if Paul did not justify himself, how shall we justify ourselves? Who will have the presumption to compare himself in zeal, in faithfulness, in ability, in diligence, in success, with this holy apostle? Are we not commonly blind to our faults? Are we not equally prone to overrate our virtues? But however much we may be disposed to conceal our faults from ourselves and others; however much we may be disposed to overrate our virtues, still the opinion which we may form of ourselves will have no influence in determining our everlasting condition. The Lord shall judge righteous judgment. It is not impossible that we may be proud even of our faults, and may think that a ground of self-justification which in the sight of God is a ground of condemnation. We should tremble at the thought of deceiving ourselves. If men deceive us as to the affairs of this world, future watchfulness and diligence may repair all the damage which we have sustained, but if we deceive our own souls the consequences may be eternally ruinous.
IV. We must look chiefly to the judgment of God, and under an abiding sense of its justice and impartiality endeavour to regulate our own conduct.
1. He is perfectly acquainted with our character and conduct. What is the judgment of our own mind when compared with the judgment of Him whose “eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good”?
2. The opinion which He forms of us determines our character. We are in reality what He sees us to be. Prejudice, passion, interest, partiality, can have no influence upon His mind: He sees things as they really are. The world may approve--but what is this if the Lord condemn?
3. His judgment shall fix our everlasting condition. In the present world the wheat and the tares grow together. But when the Lord shall come to judgment, the unclean shall be separated from the clean, the unfaithful from the faithful ministers of Christ; and upon each a different sentence shall be passed.
V. It becomes us to regulate our whole behaviour by these solemn and important truths. If we daily remember that we shall be judged by the Lord, we shall be--
1. Excited to faithfulness. We must boldly and resolutely publish the whole counsel of God. We must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long-suffering, and doctrine,” whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.
2. This will prove a powerful antidote to trifling with the concerns of immortal souls.
3. The remembrance of this will render our conduct the more becoming.
4. The remembrance of this will support us under the unjust censures and calumnies of men. The reproach which you bear for Christ will ultimately redound to your glory. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.”
5. The remembrance of this will support us under that neglect into which our talents and performances may undeservedly fall. Ministers of the most eminent talents and faithfulness and piety are often neglected. That love of novelty which is so prevalent in the human heart, and which, if not laid under proper restraints, is attended with such serious consequences, is apt to render the labours of the same individual tiresome. When this temper of mind is produced prejudice, and not reason, becomes the judge. But when this happens, and it has happened often and will certainly happen again, a faithful minister rejoices that it is but a light matter to be judged of man’s judgment, but that He that judgeth him is the Lord. (W. S. Smart.)
The judgment of men compared with the judgment of God
1. When two parties meet to adjust their respective claims, the principles on which they proceed must depend on the relation in which they stand to each other; and there is no more fatal delusion than that by which the principles applicable to the case of a man entering into judgment with his fellow-men are transferred to the case of man’s entering into judgment with his God.
2. blow a man may have the judgment of his fellows, and yet be utterly unfit for contending in judgment with God; and it is possible to build on the applause of man the sandy foundation of a confidence before God. Have we never met with men esteemed in society who find scriptural views of humanity to be beyond their comprehension, and with whom the voice of God is deafened by the testimony of men? And thus many live in the habitual neglect of a salvation which they cannot see that they require. To do away this delusion, we shall advert to the distinction between the judgment of men and that of God.
I. Founded upon the claims of God when compared with man’s.
1. People have no right to complain, but are willing, indeed, to applaud if I give to every man his own. In an unfallen world this virtue would not at all signalise me, but it so happens that I live in a world where deceit and dishonesty are common. But again, I may give to others more than their own, and thus earn the credit of other virtues. A man may, without any sensible surrender of enjoyment at all, stand out to the eye of others in a blaze of moral reputation. And even when the man can appeal to some mighty reduction of wealth, as the measure of his beneficence, is there not still left to him that without which all is nothingness? A thousand avenues of enjoyment are still open to him, and he is free to all the common blessings of nature, and freer still to all the consolations and privileges of the gospel.
2. Thus it appears, that after I have fulfilled more than all the claims of men, and men are filled with delight and admiration, the footing on which I stand with God still remains to be attended to, and His claims to be adjusted. While not one claim which your neighbours can prefer is not met most readily, the great claims of the Creator may lie altogether unheeded. God is not man, nor can we measure what is due to Him by what is due to our fellows in society. Amid all the praise we give and receive from each other, we may have no claims to that substantial praise which cometh from God only.
3. A just sense of the extent of claim which God has upon His own creatures would lead us to see that we may earn a cheap and easy credit for such virtues as will satisfy the world, and be utter strangers to the self-denial and the spirituality and the affection for the things that are above--all of which graces enter as essential ingredients into the sanctification of the gospel.
II. Founded on God’s clearer and more elevated sense of that holiness without which no man shall see His face, and without which we are utterly unfit for the society of heaven.
1. Man’s sense of right and wrong may be clear and intelligent enough, in so far as that part of character is concerned which renders us fit for the society of earth. Those virtues, without which a community could not be held together, are both urgently demanded, and highly appreciated. And even without any exquisite refinement of these virtues, many an ordinary character will pass; and should he be deformed by levity, or even by profligacy, he may still bear his part among the good men of society. And if such indulgence be extended to the iniquities of the outer man, let us not wonder that the errors of the inner man should find indulgence. What else can we look for than that the man who feels no tenderness towards God will tolerate in another an equally entire habit of ungodliness? And with a man whose rights I have never invaded, and who shares equally with myself in nature’s blindness and propensities, I will not be afraid of entering into judgment.
2. Man and man may judge each other in mutual complacency. But between man and God there is another principle and standard of examination. There is a claim of justice on the part of the Creator, totally distinct from any human claim; and while the one will tolerate all that is consistent with society upon earth, the other can tolerate nothing that is inconsistent with society in heaven. God made us for eternity. He formed us after His own likeness; and ere we can be re-admitted into paradise, we must be created anew in the image of God. Heaven is the place into which nothing that is unholy can enter; and we are not preparing for our inheritance unless there be gathering upon us the lineaments of a celestial character. Think then of the delight which God takes in the contemplation of what is pure and righteous; think how one great object of His creation was to diffuse over the face of it a multiplied resemblance of Himself; and that, therefore, however fit you may be for sustaining your part in the alienated community of this world, you are most assuredly unfit for the assembly of the spirits of just men made perfect, if, unlike unto God who is in the midst of them, you have no congenial delight with the Father of all, in the contemplation of spiritual excellence. Take the case of Job. In reference to his fellows, he could make a triumphant appeal to the honour and the humanity which adorned him. But when God at length revealed Himself, and brought His claims to bear upon his conscience, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and in ashes. It is indeed a small matter to be judged of man’s judgment. The testimony of our fellows will as little avail us in the day of judgment, as the help of our fellows will avail us in the hour of death. He who judges us is God; and from this judgment there is no escape. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
This is the language of a man exposed to sharp and unfriendly criticism. There were some busy persons at work by whom everything that the apostle did or said was misrepresented. Besides this, there was much going on which called for a sharp exercise of the apostolical authority, and we all know that the exercise of authority creates opposition. So St. Paul’s enemies succeeded in creating a body of public opinion against him. Consider--
I. The nature and authority of public opinion. No sooner are men formed into society than, in order to keep this society together, the members instinctively secrete a certain deposit of thought and feeling about their common interests. To this deposit everybody contributes something, and by it everybody tacitly understands that they are to be bound. Thus every family has its public opinion. Thus every village and every town has its public opinion. Again, classes and professions have a public opinion, which in some cases is tyrannical. And, above all this, arises a larger public opinion, to which they all contribute, and by which they are each in turn controlled, the public opinion of the country. And this, we all know, is a tremendous force. Then, again, as civilisation advances, as nations come to know more and more of each other, there springs up the opinion of the civilised world. This will probably be more felt in days to come than it is now. So Churches have a public opinion of their own. Outside the faith, which rests upon God’s authority, there is a large margin of questions upon which the opinion of Christians is incessantly taking form; and this is by no means certain to be always well-informed or just. It was with this that St. Paul here stood face to face.
II. The apostle’s independence of it. Not that he had any pleasure in feeling or proclaiming this independence; but as matters stood, he felt that he could not hope to be of service unless he were perfectly candid and independent. It is sometimes assumed that when a man blames public opinion he must necessarily be right, as it is an act of conscience requiring courage and resolution; but an eccentric man may defy public opinion simply to give play to his personal peculiarities. Public opinion often smiles good-naturedly at such, rating them at their proper value. But, again, a criminal is at war with public opinion; for public opinion asserts as much of moral truth as is necessary to keep society together; and a criminal offends against some part of that moral truth which society defends. Looked at from its moral and religious point, public opinion is at best a compromise. It affirms not the whole law of God, but just so much as may be useful for social purposes. It strikes an average from the impulses it receives from above and from below--between the good and bad elements of human society. The criminal makes war upon public opinion because he is below it; the true Christian is at war with it because he is above it. St. Paul was opposed to the public opinion of the Church of Corinth in this latter sense. If that public opinion had been successful the apostle would have had all heart taken out of him; for it denied the virtue of the Redeemer’s work, and restricted the universal Church of God within national frontiers. St. Paul did not care how he was judged by a public opinion intent upon such purposes as these.
III. The considerations that sustained St. Paul in his independence. To a good man it can never be a pleasure to find himself differing from other people; because it means that one side must be wrong. The precept, “As much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men,” implies that a Christian should do his best to keep in harmony with the common opinion of his fellow men. But there are times and circumstances when such agreement is impossible, and such was St. Paul’s case. He had heard as it were the hum of unfriendly voices which pronounced him a faithless steward of the Divine mysteries. Not in contempt or scorn did the great apostle say, “For me it is a small thing to be judged of you or of man’s judgment.” He spoke out of another world. He was in spirit with God. He did not venture to judge himself. He knew nothing against himself; but he did not feel his ignorance to be a certificate of acquittal. He felt that in his own mysterious being there were unsuspected depths, which God alone could fathom. But the All-seeing he knew was also the All-merciful; and if there were that in His servant which moved Him to displeasure, so also there was in Himself that which would cancel it. God knew the purity of the apostle’s intention, and it was the sense of this Divine judgment which made him feel the worthlessness of those judgments of the Corinthian Church. There can be no doubt that any man who serves God must expect, sooner or later, to be judged hardly by public opinion. It is the average public opinion which blames those whose crimes would, if they could, destroy society; and so, on the other hand, it condemns those who, not content with so much of moral and religious life, desire to have as much of holiness as they can. So it was with Noah, in his time; so it was with Abraham, Moses, and the great representative prophets. And our Lord warned us that we must not expect the world to change; “If the world hate you, it hated Me before it hated you”; and again, “If ye were of the world,” &c. Thus the apostle concludes that whoever will live godly must suffer persecution. So it has ever happened, from the time of the apostles, that the Church has been at war with public opinion. The history of all the martyrs is a history of this conflict of public opinion pushed to its last extremity. But before a man steels himself against the judgment even of a section of his fellow men, he ought to be very sure of his ground. A man may hold the truth, not as God’s voice in him, but as a personal prejudice or passion of his own. This spirit will reproduce, not the temper of Paul, but the temper of the Pharisee. But on the other hand, when on the one side there is human error, and on the other eternal truth, then to give way is to be a slave and a coward. Conclusion: St. Paul’s words remind us of two classes who suffer because of public opinion.
1. Take the case of a public man who is convinced that a certain line of legislation is for the true interests of his country. He hopes that his countrymen will share his convictions, but, alas! he is disappointed. The judgment formed of him becomes more and more unfavourable. It may be that there are documents which would at once restore confidence; but these for reasons of public policy cannot be published for years to come, and then only to vindicate his memory. He whispers to himself, “There is a witness of my intentions--one who hereafter will make my righteousness as clear as noonday. He is my strength.” And as he passes out from public scenes he can say to the nation which is dismissing him, “For me it is a small thing,” &c.
2. Look at the young man who has just come up to London to begin life. He finds himself among three or four hundred companions of his own age. He is a member of a society which has a public opinion of its own. If he be going to cling unflinchingly to what he knows to be right, he will have to reckon, sooner or later, with that opinion. Many young men would go bravely through fire who cannot stand ridicule; and ridicule is the weapon which a narrow and rude public opinion invariably uses in enforcing or trying to enforce its assertions. Sooner or later that young man will have to say, “For me it is a small thing to be judged of you or of man’s judgment”; but yet let him remember that he may say it in the spirit of the Pharisee or in the spirit of the Christian. I cannot say that he will escape suffering; but he can, like the apostle, turn from the hard words of man unto the love of God. There is an old Latin maxim, “Don’t let us say hard things about the dead.” Why not? Because they have already been judged, and have learnt what awaits them at the general judgment. Remember always that there are two judgments--the human and the Divine. Let us not ignore man’s judgment; but let us not forget that upon the greatest of subjects it is sometimes likely to be mistaken, and that beyond it there is another judgment which cannot err. (Canon Liddon.)
Some person reported to the amiable poet, Tasso, that a malicious enemy spoke ill of him to all the world. “Let him persevere,” said Tasso; “his rancour gives me no pain. How much better it is that he should speak ill of me to all the world than that all the world should speak ill of me to him!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I Judge not mine own self.--
I. Fallible. Because--
2. Founded in ignorance of ourselves, and of the true standard of judgment.
1. It may condemn.
2. But cannot justify us.
III. Without authority.
1. The Lord is our Judge.
2. He knoweth all things. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me is the Lord.--
Conscience the approver, but not the justifier of the Christian
1. Man is God’s masterpiece, but conscience is the masterpiece of man. It is clear, both from Scripture and from the experience of our own hearts, that every man is a partaker of this wonderful faculty. But this natural conscience is in every unconverted man an accusing conscience. It witnesses against him; it condemns him. The sense of sin on the natural conscience is one of Satan’s strongest chains. While a man is under it he will only run further into sin. We may see how it worked in Adam, the first sinner, directly he had broken God’s commandment, and his conscience accused him as guilty. It drove him to fly from God, and when called out to appear before his Judge, drove him to excuse himself. And so in every man a guilty conscience leads into more sin; and the more surely he believes God to be a holy God, that hates sin, and a just God, that will surely punish it, like the devils, he believes and trembles. And he never can get peace by any effort of his own. The criminal who knows that he has broken the laws of his country, and that his life is forfeited to the justice of his country, can have no peace while he knows that. The gospel discovers to us the only way by which sin can be pardoned. Thus the tidings which the gospel brings can alone give peace to the conscience of any man.
2. Now St. Paul had found the blessing of this way of peace in the gospel. And from the hour that Christ manifested Himself to him, to his soul, it was his continual endeavour to “keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and man.” And that, by the grace of God, which was given him, he had not endeavoured after this in vain, our text shows. Observe--
I. That St. Paul had kept a “conscience void of offence, both towards God and man.” “I know nothing against myself.” There was no permitted sin allowed in his mind. He had known the deep corruption of his own heart (Romans 7:18). He found that without Christ he could do nothing; that he had no power of himself to think anything of himself”; therefore by the Spirit he sought strength out of himself, and by that Spirit was enabled to do what his conscience, cleansed by Christ’s blood and enlightened by Christ’s Spirit, bade him do, and to avoid what it taught him to avoid (2 Corinthians 1:12). “His heart did not condemn him.” He knew that he had endeavoured as in the sight of God to speak and to live in Christ; and thus at the very close of his life he wrote 2 Timothy 4:7.
II. That notwithstanding this, he was not hereby justified. Now this is the very opposite of what the worldly moral man and nominal Christian say. Their ground of confidence is just that which St. Paul declares was no ground of confidence in him. “I have done my duty; thank God I have nothing to fear.” Done their duty! St. Paul had done more than them, and yet he did not say what these say. This was not that on which he rested his hope of acceptance before God, though it was a proof that God had accepted him, and, as such, a subject of rejoicing and a ground of thankfulness. He felt, that after all he had done, he was an unprofitable servant, and that he had done nothing by himself, but only the grace of God that was with him. His only ground of hope and confidence was Christ (Philippians 3:8). (W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
It is then possible that a man’s conscience may think that all is well with it; and yet all may be very ill. St. Paul had declined all judgments of men. One only can judge the heart, He who made it. Man can judge from the surface only. In the very plainest cases he may be mistaken. Human praise and blame are mostly valueless, because men know not the whole which they praise or blame (1 Corinthians 2:11). But neither must man trust wholly his judgments of himself. Since even an apostle said, that although he “knew nothing of himself,” he was not thereby justified, what a vast abyss then must the unexamined conscience of a sinner be!
I. There are two sorts of peaceful and of troubled consciences.
1. There is a good conscience which is peaceful, because it mourns its past sin for love of Him who loved us; it resists present temptation, in His might who overcame the evil one; it trusts in Him who never fails those who trust Him. This is a foretaste of paradise (Philippians 4:7).
2. But peace, as it is the blessing of the good conscience, so it is the curse of the bad conscience. A troubled, remorseful conscience has life. There is hope of a man amid any mass of sins, if he hates them; but a conscience wholly at peace and yet sinning is not alive, but dead. The eye of the soul is blind; the ear has been stopped; the heart has been drugged (1 Timothy 4:2).
II. How then may we know whether our peace is the false or the true?
1. False peace needs but that a man should follow his passions; true peace requires that a man should have resisted them. True peace rests on the knowledge and love of God; false peace relies on ignorance of God and of itself.
2. It is something to see that there is such a thing as false peace. It is something to know that all is not, of a necessity, well with a man, because he is at peace with himself. For this is his very delusion. “I have nothing against myself; my conscience does not reproach me.” Take some instances.
(1) How was David at rest for a whole year after his sins of adultery and murder! His conscience was alive as to the injustice of taking away a poor man’s ewe-lamb; it was dead to his own.
(2) How did Balaam blind his conscience! He did speak God’s words in his office as a prophet; as a man, he gave the devilish counsel to seduce Israel to idolatry by the beauty of the daughters of Midian, and fell in the battle with the people whom, in the name of God, he had blessed.
(3) How did Simeon and Levi blind their conscience by their passion in their treacherous vengeance! Yet they themselves had no doubt that they were justified (Genesis 34:31).
(4) Esau justified himself by looking away from himself, and calling Jacob a supplanter.
(5) Saul, in his first act of disobedience, did violence to himself; in the second he justified himself. When he consulted the witch it was on the plea of necessity, and when he murdered himself, religion was still in his mouth, “lest the uncircumcised should abuse me.”
(6) Samson deceived himself by tampering as to the secret of his strength, making as though he had betrayed it, when he did not, until at the end, when he did betray it.
(7) Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and held himself justified, while he inquired not how Jezebel would give it to him.
3. But since there has been such a large reign of self-deceit, how may any of us know that we are not deceived now?
(1) Men have thought they did God service while they murdered God’s servants. It is not enough, then, to think that we do God service.
(2) A conscience, healthfully at peace, has been kept in peace, through believing in God, loving God, serving God, and, by the grace of God, conquering self for the love of God. A conscience, falsely at peace, arrived at its peace, through ignorance of God and of itself, amid the dislike to look into God’s Word or to compare its own ways with it, persuading itself that what it likes is not contrary to the law of God, stifling doubts, that it may not be according to the law of God.
(3) That is a false peace, which would be broken, if man knew the whole heart and the whole life. Any moment might break it; if not broken before, it will be broken more terribly in the day of judgment.
(4) A false peace is founded on false maxims, such as--“Why should I not do what others do? Why should I be singular?”
(5) A false peace is gained by looking at this or that fault of another. “This thing cannot be so bad, because such an one does it.” These may be tests to you. Has thy peace come to thee, while looking into thyself, or looking away from thyself? by taking up with corrupt maxims of the world, or while looking into the law of God? while listening to conscience, or while escaping from it? while encouraging thyself by the sins of those around thee, or while looking to Jesus to forgive thee the past, to keep thee by His Spirit and give thee power over thy sins?
1. Look well then whether, at the beginning, thy conscience followed thy desires, or thy desires thy conscience. Granted that there is nothing about which you reproach yourself, that your desires and your conscience are at one, how was the peace made--which gave way? People begin mostly in little things. They take some little thing which is not theirs, or which seems of no great value to its owner, or which, it is thought, he will not miss. Conscience remonstrates, “Thou shalt not steal.” And then the will cozens the conscience, and says, it is but “this and that.” The deed is done again. Conscience again forbids. Then it is put off. “Only this once; I cannot help it now. I have begun. I cannot draw back,” Conscience is thrust back again, wounded, murmuring. When next conscience forbids, it is put off to a more convenient time, or the passion turns away from it, or tells it to its face, “I will do it.” And then, to avoid conscience, the soul buries itself amid any tumult of pleasure, or thought, or care. In this way does the soul inure itself to break every commandment. The conscience is first dulled; then drugged to sleep; then stupefied; then seared and past feeling. Look at the first step and the last! Who in the first act of self-indulgence could picture the bloated drunkard? Who could picture the remorseless hardened sinner in the first forced stifling of remorse?
2. But conscience has an inextinguishable life. It cannot be destroyed. It will awake again once; here, or in eternity. Pitiable it is, when it wakes on the death-bed, and says to the dying sinner, “Behold thyself.” Miserable and pitiable as this would be, it would be a great mercy of God. If the soul is awakened even on the death-bed, it may yet be saved by the grace of God. Too often, if it has slept till then, it seems then to sleep the sleep of death. But miserable and pitiable as this awakening of conscience would be then, at the the last, there is what is more miserable still, that it should not awaken, What would it be if your conscience were to awake first at the judgment-seat of Christ? (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The only true Judge
I. Christ and not man the only judge of human conduct.
1. Human judges are imperfect in knowledge and wisdom.
2. They are often unrighteous in their purpose.
3. Their ability to punish or reward is limited.
II. Christ’s qualifications as a judge.
1. He is our Master.
2. He is the head of the family to which we as Christians belong.
3. He has perfect knowledge of the law by which we are to be judged.
4. He knows all about every one of us.
5. He has absolute power to enforce His decisions. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The terror of the day of judgment as arising from its justice
I. Terrible are the outward circumstances of the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:10; Matthew 24:29), because they imply some great displeasure of God. But not against things inanimate could that displeasure be (Habakkuk 3:8). Through that mysterious law whereby the creation is bound up with the lot of man (Psalms 107:34; Romans 8:22), the visitation of this our dwelling-place indicates displeasure against ourselves. But it will be terrible to those only whom the judgment shall condemn.
II. The terror of terrors in that day is, that it is judgment. Of all the attributes of God, that which is, above all, terrible is--His justice. Man can bear to look on His holiness, and even on His majesty and almightiness: these are not of necessity directed against him; he can even endure to think of His wrath against sin, His heavy displeasure against the sinner. To be passed over-might imply that God knew the soul to be dross from which the refiner’s fire could extract no gold. The most awful severity of God were a token of love, that God had not abandoned us. But justice! It is terrible, because God Himself is, as it were, bound by it (Acts 10:34). He cannot show favour, where it is a question of justice.
III. The day of judgment, as the summary of all particular judgments on individual souls, is the great justification of God; the unfolding of the righteousness of His judgments. We know that there is to be a final parting between the righteous and the wicked. We know too that they who have made most diligent use of the talents committed to them shall have higher rewards, and that among the lost there will be degrees of punishment. And since all these on both sides will vary with each several soul, so each must come into its own distinct judgment, that it and all besides, men and angels, may know why God assigned to it its place; why He could not, without violating His own justice, assign it to any other. All nations and each individual will be judged (Matthew 25:31-32; Romans 14:10-12; Revelation 20:12-13). Until God brings home to the soul the value of a soul, mankind seems such an uninteresting mass. Those ever-renewed millions of China are born, live, die, and are to us as one man. We think of them as “the Chinese.” It never even occurs to most of us that they have any individual character. So as to those hordes, who, at any time, overran the world. In God’s sight they are individual souls, each with its own separate history, by which they have been or shall be judged. But then how fine and minute and appreciating an attribute that justice must be which will allot to every soul of man its own place, its own degree of bliss or of suffering, relatively to every other! For this belongs to exact justice. There can be no ground of complaint there. We could not there wish it otherwise; for it were to wish that God were less just. We shall be judged according to our works; not the works of one period of life only, but all (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10); not of one age only, but of all; not good alone, but bad also; nor deeds only, but the “idle word”; nor by these alone, but “by the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
IV. The day of judgment will be a great surprise, because most of us, at the best, know so little of ourselves. “The foolish virgins” will expect that the door will be opened; and they will find it shut. They think that they stand in a relation to Him, as their Lord; He knows, owns them not. They shall be amazed at their exclusion. Even among the saved, St. Paul speaks of what must be the most agonising surprise, short of the loss of the soul itself, the loss of the soul’s imagined store with God (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
V. The day of judgment will also be a great reversal. “Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Every human standard will simply cease in that day; everything, whereby we can estimate our fellow-men; all which is admired, looked up to, idolised, will be of no account. One question alone there will be then, What use has been made of all and each? Every gift of God well used will have its appropriate reward; but one question will anticipate all, “Whom, according to your light, have you loved and obeyed?”
VI. The day of judgment will be a great disclosure. How few outstanding things will even a strict sifting of the conscience disclose! You see the countenance marked with vanity or cunning or contempt or sensuality, &c.
how many thousand, thousand indulged thoughts or acts must have gone to stamp that expression on the countenance which was formed to be the image of God. They are forgotten, dead, buried: but there is the terrible resurrection. His sins of omission, who can ever imagine? One has but to name the word “prayer,” and with what a countless multitude of omissions it encompasses us! Yet even sins of omission are in some degree imaginable, but what about graces neglected or despised! And then the calls of God’s providence any one of which might have led to a lasting conversion to God, where have they left us? “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” What we have had, might have made glorious saints of those who have had less. Who will be able to bear the sight of all his neglected privileges? Embrace them, then, this day, and so prepare for that day. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Therefore Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.--
Premature judging forbidden
The apostle here teaches us that all pretensions to a certain knowledge of other men’s sincerity in religion are rash and unwarrantable.
1. We are in some cases more competent judges of the wickedness than of the goodness of men’s hearts. Particular acts of sin are incident to good men. But the habitual indulgence of sin is characteristic of the wicked only. But then, on the other hand, we cannot with equal certainty pronounce any man to be holy; for worldly motives may operate on corrupt hearts to produce the appearance of holiness.
2. Though we cannot absolutely determine any man’s godly sincerity, yet we may form such a charitable judgment concerning our fellow Christians, as is sufficient to religious communion. We may have different degrees of evidence in favour of different persons, arising from their different attainments, or from our different acquaintance with them. But our judgment must always incline to the favourable side. We are to hope every man a saint, till we have conclusive evidence that he is not such. Having stated the doctrine in the text, note some arguments in support of it.
I. The knowledge of men’s hearts is God’s prerogative. “I, the Lord, search the hearts,” &c. It is on this ground that the apostle cautions us not to judge anything before the time. For us to judge the heart is to invade His throne.
II. It is no easy matter for men to know their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things,… who can know it?” So the apostle says, “I judge not my own self,” &c. We are cautioned not to deceive ourselves, nor to be deceived.
III. We can judge the hearts of others only by external indications. In conversing with a friend we may be much pleased with his doctrinal knowledge, religious sentiments, and professed experience. This, however, is but external evidence. We know not but he aims to deceive us, or may be deceived himself. Such works as are the proper fruits of faith are more solid evidence; for in these there is less room for dissimulation. But we may misjudge even here; for it is but a small part of any man’s life which falls under our observation.
IV. The scripture gives us many instances of the uncertainty of human judgment in this matter. All the disciples were deceived by the hypocrisy of Judas; and none of the first believers in Jerusalem could discern the sincerity of Paul. What arrogance, then, must it be in us to assume the bold pretension of ascertaining the existence of grace in other men’s hearts! Wise is the caution given in the text. Conclusion: The subject suggests some useful remarks.
1. The spirit and temper of the primitive disciples afford a substantial evidence of the truth of our religion. They were not credulous, but cautious; not hasty in their judgment, but deliberate in their inquiries.
2. Worthy of our imitation is the prudence of the early Christians in regard to those whom they received as teachers of religion. In admitting members into the Church, they were liberal and candid; but in receiving public teachers they acted with great caution. They required, not only a present personal profession, but a testimony from others of previous good conduct.
3. The sentiment entertained by some, that there is in true Christians a kind of sympathy or fellowship, by which they infallibly know one another, appears to be irrational and unscriptural.
4. It is dangerous hastily to pronounce men in a converted state. This is judging before the time. As we cannot know others infallibly, so neither can we form a probable judgment of them speedily.
5. We cannot be sure of forming a pure Church on earth. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
Premature judgments discouraged
How necessary it is to make charitable judgments of our fellow-men! We cannot wholly know them now. We see the husk of the man only, the kernel is not yet fully revealed. We must wait. In looking at our fellow-men we are sometimes like as though we were walking through a friend’s orchard in the autumn. We see a tree with only a few scrawny apples upon it. We have only contempt for such a specimen, and say to the owner, “Why don’t you cut that tree down? It does not deserve a place here.” But the owner replies: “Cut that tree down! Why it is one of my best varieties, but the season has been against it. First of all, the rabbits almost barked it, then it was almost uprooted by a storm, but it is coming round, and next year I will show you some of the finest fruit in my orchard from that tree.” So we, in looking upon a human life, judging from a few imperfect specimens of its character that circumstances largely controlled, may possibly condemn it as being unworthy. But perhaps the Great Husbandman is saying, “Circumstances have been against him for awhile, but a high quality of life is there; it is growing to something better than now appears, and in spite of adverse influences, it is even now a worthier life than many of loftier pretensions. (S. Pascoe.)
The Church of Corinth was largely turned into a school of ill-natured criticism.
1. Each of the parties was occupied in finding fault with the names appealed to by the others; and thus some taunted those who clung especially to St. Paul with the suggestion that their much-loved apostle might be an active teacher and organiser, a great letter-writer, an ingenious disputant; but he was not faithful: he was wanting in that sincerity of purpose which is indispensable in a public servant of Christ. St. Paul here deals with this charge. No doubt a steward must be before all things faithful; but whether the Corinthians or any other men think him faithful or not matters very little to him, since he does not venture to decide even for himself. His conscience, indeed, accuses him of unfaithfulness; but then he does not see very far, and he is judged by One who knows all. Therefore the Corinthians had better give up their habit of judging “until the Lord come.”
2. This precept often occurs in the Bible. Our Lord says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”; and St. Paul warns the Romans: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest.”
I. What is the import of this precept?
1. It is not meant that we are to form and express no judgment whatever upon human conduct. For--
(1) Many judgments are inevitable if we think at all. Judgments of some kind issue from us just as naturally as flour does from a working corn-mill. How can it be otherwise?
(a) God has given us a moral sense, and if this be alive it must judge with utter antipathy that which is in contradiction with this governing law; not to do this is to capitulate to the forces of evil, and to cancel the law of right within us.
(b) God has given us also a law or sense of truth. As to what is true, some of us are better informed than others. We are, e.g., instructed Christians, who know and believe the whole body of truth taught by our Lord and His apostles; and so we approve of agreement and disapprove of disagreement, to what we hold for truth. In our days men sometimes think it good-natured to treat truth and falsehood as at bottom much the same thing; but this cannot be done with impunity.
(2) Holy Scripture stimulates and trains the judicial faculty within us. The great servants of God in the Bible are intended to rouse us to admire and to imitate them; the sinners in the Bible are intended to create in us moral repulsion for their crimes. And what is this but an inward judgment? And as the Jewish law, by its higher standard, makes the judicial faculty in man more active than it was in the case of the heathen, so Christianity, with a higher standard still, makes it more active in the Christian than it was in the Jew. A Christian cannot help condemning acts that violate the law of Christ; not to do so is to renounce that law as a rule of thought and conduct. A Christian ought, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to have his moral senses exercised so as to discern between good and evil. Evidently the apostle wished the faculty of moral judgment to be very active at Corinth in the case of the incestuous person.
(3) Human society has always found it necessary to lay upon some of its members the duty of judging others. Every day of term causes are heard and judged in our Law Courts before the time. Is this to contravene the teaching of St. Paul? Is it not clear that without some such officer as a judge associated human life would be impossible? No, a judge, so far from being an unchristian functionary, is the organ, within certain limits, of the judgment of the human and Christian conscience.
2. What, then, is the apostle’s exact meaning--what is the class of judgments no one of which is permitted to a Christian? Some of the Corinthians undertook to decide what was the character and worth of Paul’s motive, and therefore he bids them judge nothing, i.e., of this purely internal character, “until the Lord come.” Our Lord would drag bad motives from their obscurity and show in the full light of day the real motives upon which all before His throne had acted. It is, then, the judgment of that which does not meet the eye, the judgment of the characters as distinct from acts, which is forbidden. If we witness an act of theft, we must say that it is an act of theft, and that Almighty God will punish it. If we are asked to say further what is the moral condition of a thief before God, the answer is by no means so easy.
II. The reasons which make it difficult for all of us to judge the characters as distinguished from the acts of other men equitably.
1. We have our likes and dislikes; only those who have a very strong sense of justice keep these tendencies well in hand before they speak or act in relation to others.
(1) We do not welcome virtues which condemn ourselves. If our tendency be to vanity, we find it hard to do justice to the humble, &c., &c.
(2) We assume that the virtues which cost us little or nothing to practise are the most important, and that the vices which contradict these virtues ought to be judged with the greatest severity. A bias like this disqualifies us for equitable judgment and warns us not to attempt to judge character “before the Lord come.”
2. We are necessarily ignorant of circumstances, which, if they do not decide our action, they do, nevertheless, influence it very seriously. One eye only can take a full account of circumstances. He knew what had been the circumstances of the penitent thief when He said: “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” He knew what had been the circumstances of Judas when He said, “It were better for that man if he had never been born.” As for us we do not know, and therefore we had better “judge nothing” as to character “until the Lord come.”
3. We see only the outside of character in those whom we know most intimately. Sometimes, under most unpromising appearances, there is a fund of hidden good. On the other hand, outward appearances may be uniformly fair while concealing some deep secret evil that is eating out the very heart of the soul, like the disease which is at work upon the constitution while the bloom of health still lingers on the cheek. Every man who is trying to serve God must deplore the contrast between his real life and the favourable reputation which he enjoys among his friends, and must experience something like relief when, now and then, he gets abused, it may be quite unjustly, since in this way he feels the appraisement is partly redressed. We cannot anticipate God’s judgments in either direction. He looked of old on a pagan and He said, “Lo! I have not found so great faith; no, not in Israel.” He called some who had the greatest reputation for goodness “whited sepulchres,” &c. He said that the first on earth would often be the last hereafter, and that the last would be first. You may here remind me of our Lord’s words, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Yes; but He is speaking of false prophets, and He tells us that the goodness or badness of human actions is a guide to the worth of the systems which produce them; He is giving us a test of doctrines. As for character it is by no means almost or adequately to be measured by acts. The Pharisee’s good acts were more numerous and indisputable than those of the publican, but the publican’s inward disposition was his justification before God.
4. Once more, there is the soul of every action, the intention with which it is done. Apart from this an act is merely the product of an animated machine. Many actions in themselves excellent are corrupted by a bad motive. Prayer is a good action, so is fasting, so is almsgiving; but we remember what our Lord said of those who prayed or gave alms, or fasted to be seen of men. On the other hand, a good motive cannot transform an act in itself bad into a good act. A lie remains a lie, even if we tell it with a pious motive. Oh, what a mysterious unknown world is the world of motives! Human law has little to do with it; it touches the fringe of it, but reluctantly now and then, as when it essays to distinguish between manslaughter and murder. But do we really know about it? and, in our ignorance, how can we possibly undertake to judge the inward life of others before the time? On two occasions St. Paul seems to have violated his own precept: when he denounced Elymas and Ananias. But he was acting under the guidance of an inspiration which discovered to him the real character of these men, but which it would be contrary to humility and good sense in us to assume that we were possessed of. If our Lord said to His hearers, “Ye hypocrites,” He saw the men through and through, so that there was not a trace of possible injustice in His description.
III. When the Lord comes there will be a judgment at once adequate and universal.
1. Well it is for us that we have not to trust to any of the phrases that are sometimes proffered us as substitutes for the last judgment--the judgment of posterity. Posterity, the chances are, will know nothing whatever about us. Posterity does judge the few eminences of a past age, but whether posterity is right or wrong what does it matter to those most concerned? They hear nothing of its favourable or unfavourable verdict, they have long since passed before a higher tribunal. And what about the millions of whom posterity never hears? Surely it is well that we may look forward to something better than a judgment of posterity.
2. “Until the Lord come.” Yes; He can do that which we cannot do; He can judge men as they really are. There is no warp in His perfect humanity that can for a moment affect the balance of His judgment; there is no sin or weakness to which He has a subtle inclination, or of which He will ever exaggerate the evil. He is acquainted with any circumstances that excuse or enhance the guilt of each who stands before His throne. He has had His eye all along upon each one of us. He can form not merely an outward but an inward estimate of us; He is never misled by appearances; and therefore, when He does come, His judgment will be neither superficial nor inequitable; it will carry its own certificate of perfect justice into the inmost conscience of those whom it condemns. (Canon Liddon.)
General Grant, speaking of charges of cowardice, says, “The distant rear of an army engaged in battle is not the best place to judge what is going on. The stragglers in the rear are not to make us forget the intrepid soldiers in front.” But how many judge the Christian Church and religion by its worst representatives! (H. O. Mackey.)
Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.--
The processes of the last judgment
This is a very simple description of the last judgment, only a brief statement of some things to be done by the Judge, without any of those details which address themselves irresistibly to the imagination.
I. Christ will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.
1. Now such is the imperfectness of the strictest human legislation that a great deal of crime passes undiscovered. The effect of this is to encourage many to commit it in hope of impunity. If it were certain that every breaker of the law would be visited with its penalties, there would be few violations of its statutes.
2. But this holds good not only in regard to legal offences which cover only a limited range of wickedness. There are many sins which a man may commit without exposing himself to any legal penalty, but not, if the commission be known, without suffering in his good name or reputation. You have only to bring it about, that public odium shall be attached to a certain action, and you may almost reckon on it becoming comparatively unknown. But then public opinion, as well as the law, maybe altogether evaded through concealment. There are so many ways of hiding vice, so many chances against being found out. There is hardly anything so powerful as an encouragement to sin as the expectation of concealment.
3. Yet the very publicity to which we attribute such power may be affirmed in regard of all of us. The moment you recognise the Divine omnipresence you make the very notion of secrecy absurd. And yet so powerful is practical unbelief that the very things which men would not dare to do, if they thought themselves observed by a human being, they do without scruple if observed only by God.
4. But let us see whether it be of any real advantage that the inspection is that of God and not that of man. We will suppose it known that on this day twelvemonth there shall be made a revelation of the actions of every man’s life: now would not the prospect of this have a vast influence on a man; would not those actions which he would not have dared to commit, had he not looked for concealment, press on his mind and cause him deep agony; and would he not instantly set about the work of reformation, that he might reduce as much as possible what would have to be disclosed? It is not, then, the temporary impunity which induces a man to commit what would bring him to shame if it were but disclosed--it is the hope of escaping altogether. And it is no imaginary case which we thus bring to convict you of the worst infatuation, if you could be content with hiding from your fellow-men what is faulty in your actions; this is the very ease which is actually to come to pass.
5. We do not see why it should practically make any difference to you, that this revelation is not to take place until after death. Except that you should be vastly more affected than if it occurred during your life; for if you dread the revelation because of punishment which may follow, you should dread it the more when the punishment is eternal; and if it be the shame that you fear, where would your exposure be so terrible as in the presence of myriads of angels, and of the whole human race? And now we want to know why the very men, on whom the prospect of such a revelation would tell with awful force, if it were certain to take place during their natural lives, can regard it with the most utter indifference, because not to take place until they have passed into eternity? It must, we think, be that they do not associate such a revelation with the business of the last judgment. We need not suppose there is any one of you who has secretly transgressed the laws of the land, in such sense, that if his actions were exposed, they would bring on him judicial interference; but we may suppose that there are numbers who would be horror-struck with the idea of having their lives laid bare, so that every man might know whatever they had done. Does the merchant allow himself to be guilty of practices not strictly honourable, &c., &c.? Why you would sink into the earth for very shame if this revelation of yourselves were to take place now in the face of the congregation! Oh! then, think, Shall we be able to bear it better when spirits innumerable from every district of the universe shall look with searching gaze on all our hidden doings? If the disgrace of exposure would make you long now to hide yourselves in the depths of the earth, shall you not then be of those who will call passionately on the rocks and mountains to cover them?--passionately, but vainly--for there shall be no more darkness but the darkness of hell, and that is the darkness of a fire which cannot conceal because it cannot consume.
II. Christ will make manifest the counsels of the heart. But there are many who might venture to live in public; so high are their morals, so amiable their tempers. These men will not fear exposure. But if there be some who might venture on submitting their lives, who is there that would venture OH submitting his thoughts? Active sin bears hardly any proportion to imagined sin; for whilst a thousand things may put restraint on the actions, there is nothing whatever to control the imagination, save an earnestness to obey, by God’s help, the injunction, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Compassed, as we all are, with infirmity, there is no diligence which can keep watch over an ever active fancy; so that almost before we are aware, there will be defilement within, whilst all is yet purity without. But there will be a scrutiny going down into the heart out of which proceeds evil thoughts, adulteries, &c. Well might Malachi exclaim, “Who can abide the day of His coming?” This ought completely to overturn every confidence, except that which is based on the mediation of Christ. We do not see how any self-righteousness could think of submitting to such a trial as is here spread before us. No living man can endure such a scrutiny, unless he has applied, by faith, to the conscience, that blood which cleanses from all sin. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Hidden things revealed
The hydrometer is an instrument by which the strength of spirit is determined, or, rather, by which the quantity of water mixed with the spirit is ascertained: and the dependence which may be placed on its accuracy once gave rise to a curious scene in China. A merchant sold to the purser of a ship a quantity of distilled spirit, according to a sample shown; but not standing in awe of conscience, he afterwards, in the privacy of his storehouse, added a quantity of water to each cask. The article having been delivered on board, and tried by the hydrometer, was discovered to be wanting in strength. When the vendor was charged with the fraud, he stoutly denied it; but on the exact quantity of water which had been mixed with the spirit being named, he was confounded; for he knew of no human means by which the discovery could have been made, and, trembling, he confessed his roguery. If the ingenuity of man is thus able to detect the iniquity of a fellow-creature, and to expose his secret practices, how shall we escape the all-seeing eye of the Almighty, that omniscient Being, “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart”?
Hidden impressions revealed
Place on a cold polished metal, such as a new razor, a wafer. Breathe on it; and though, when the wafer is removed, no trace of the wafer whatever will be discovered, breathe again, and a spectral image of the wafer will come plainly into view. And as often as you repeat the breathing, the image will appear. More than this, if the polished metal be carefully put aside where nothing can deteriorate its surface, though it remains for many months, breathing on it again will cause a shadowy form to emerge. Indeed, a shadow never falls upon a wall without leaving thereupon a permanent trace, a trace which might be made visible by reverting to proper processes. In photography, peoples, palaces, churches, landscapes, &c., may lay hidden from the eye on the sensitive surface for years, and reappear in all their freshness, reality, and proportion, as soon as the proper developers are applied. It is thus with mental impressions. No impression once made upon the mind is ever lost. Like the wafer image on the polished metal, or the picture on the sensitive plate, it may lay concealed; but a mere breath, or beam, or particle will call it forth in all its reality, and thus on for ever. A man commits a trifling sin; the act falls as a mere wafer on the surface of his soul; but the impression of that wafer is more lasting than the stars. But God has given to the human soul a quality which no polished metal or sensitive plate possesses. No impression made thereon is ever obliterated, though it is multiplied on millions of millions of times. Every impression is vividly and imperishably fixed in all its own distinctiveness, and so it would be well for us to reflect as we look or think or act. (The Homilist.)
And then shall every man have praise of God.--
God glorified in the judgment
It is evident enough from the connection that the apostle does not mean that every man, whosoever he may be, shall obtain praise of God. This taking for granted the excellence of the individual would be distinctly opposed to all his reasoning. He can only mean that every man, whose conduct has been acceptable to God, shall be openly approved, and that in exact proportion to his piety and zeal. But when you consider the text as containing generally a description of the last assize, you cannot fail to be struck with the largeness of the assertion. By no perverse ingenuity can the words be made to sanction the wild notion of universal salvation, for those who indulge in the idle dream would not venture to talk of having praise of God. But, nevertheless, it would seem as if there might be some sense in which all, without exception, shall have praise of God, viz., in the sense that all are to be made to glorify God. It will be for the fulfilling this end that any receive commendation; and so far then as every man may at length be said to fulfil it, every man may be spoken of as in the position of one praised. And whether or not it be a groundless conjecture, that the praise given to every man may denote that every man will be made to glorify God, we know, at least, that this latter is not supposition but fact. We can never weary of endeavouring to expel the delusion that God is too merciful to inflict lasting pain, and that He never will, therefore, exact what His Word threatens. The delusion is based on a manifest fallacy. It supposes that it must be at variance with the Divine nature. But God will be glorified in punishing the rebellious, as well as in pardoning the penitent. God has made all things for Himself. He is His own end, and it is Godlike in Him to do and allow whatsoever promotes His own glory. For this it was that thousands of worlds glittered through infinite space; for this it was that earth, sea, air, teemed with animated beings; for this it was that He sent His own Son as the surety of the lost; for this it was that He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; aye, and for this it was that He appointed the prison of hell to all despisers. You are wrong in thinking that He has nothing to gain in condemning you. He has glory to gain; more glory than in releasing you, if you die in your sins; for this were to compromise, whilst the other is to display all His attributes. Examine the terms of salvation through Christ; comply with them, and then shall every man literally have praise of God: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
1 Corinthians 4:6
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes.
Apostolic delicacy and tact
St. Paul means that in the preceding passage (from 1 Corinthians 3:5) he has presented, while applying them to himself and Apollos, the principles regarding the ministry which he was concerned to remind them of, in view of certain preachers of the Church which misunderstood them. He did not wish to designate those preachers by name, lest he should shock susceptibilities already awakened. He explains this method, which he felt called to use in the delicate circumstances, by the words “for your sakes,” which here signify “the more easily to gain your acceptance of the truth thus presented.” Expressions like “Paul is nothing, Apollos is nothing,” applied to other leading persons at Corinth, would have seemed injurious, while in the form used by Paul the truth declared lost all character of personal hostility. Hence it follows that “these things” applies solely to the last passage concerning the ministry, and not at all to the previous passages regarding the nature of the gospel. It is therefore a mistake to find here a proof in favour of applying to Apollos or his partisans the polemic against human wisdom in chaps, 1. and 2. The passage rather shows how thoroughly Paul felt himself one with Apollos, seeing he could treat him as a second self, and distinguish him so pointedly from teachers who opposed him at Corinth. (Prof. Godet.)
How the apostle reproves the pride of the Corinthian Church
I. By example (1 Corinthians 4:6).
II. By argument (1 Corinthians 4:7).
III. By sarcasm (1 Corinthians 4:8),
IV. By the consideration of god’s procedure (1 Corinthians 4:9).
V. By contrast (1 Corinthians 4:10).
VI. By an enumeration of apostolic humiliations and sufferings (Verses 11-13). (Prof. Godet.)
That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written.--
The true standard of the gospel ministry
The apostle means by “what is written,” the Scriptures of the Old Testament; not that he refers to any particular passage, but to the general spirit and point of view of the Divine revelation. The facts which he has delivered to the Corinthians are “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). He claims the same allegiance to the Old Testament on behalf of Apollos, who was “strong in the Scriptures.” The words are another undesigned vindication of himself and Apollos from the charge of being party leaders. Both kept close to the teaching of Scripture. The faithfulness of the steward (1 Corinthians 4:2) turns out to be loyalty to the Word of God; and, as the faithful servant fears not the judgment of men, so also the pride of his self-conceit is quelled by the subjection of his spirit to God’s revelation. Both qualities are the opposite of the tortuous intellectual cleverness of the Corinthians. Both are the surest safeguard of transparent, direct, honest simplicity of character, which, in turn, is the best preservative of Church order, and the only remedy against faction. (Principal Edwards.)
That not one of you be puffed up for one against another.--
“Be not puffed up one above another” (comp. in the Greek 1 Thessalonians 5:11). The followers of Apollos exalted themselves over those of Paul, and those of Paul over those of Cephas. One exalted himself above another and against him. He not only thought himself better than his brother, but assumed a hostile attitude towards him. This view is confirmed by the next verse, which is directed against the self-conceit of the Corinthians and not against their zeal for their teachers. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The evil of pride exhibited
I. By direct exposure.
1. It is an over-estimation of self (1 Corinthians 4:6).
2. Ignores its dependence upon God (1 Corinthians 4:7).
3. Is inflated with imaginary superiority (1 Corinthians 4:8).
II. By contrast with apostolic example.
1. Apostles esteemed themselves the least, the proud think themselves the greatest (1 Corinthians 4:9-10).
2. Apostles willingly endured for Christ’s sake, the proud shun all self-sacrifice (1 Corinthians 4:11-12).
3. Apostles maintained under their afflictions a spirit of forbearance and love, the proud are easily offended, &c. (1 Corinthians 6:13). (Family Churchwoman.)
1 Corinthians 4:7
For who maketh thee to differ from another?
and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?
Why cannot we write poetry like John Milton, or paint like Raphael? One man seems to be good without an effort; another man says he cannot be good do what he will. We differ intellectually. There is Jedediah Buxton, a common ploughman; give him the size of a wheel, and he would tell you on the spot how many circumvolutions it would make in going round the globe. Of Streleczki, a Polish count, it is said that “from the colonial capacities of Australia to the diameter of an extinct crater in one of the Polynesian islands, from the details of an Irish poor taw to the chemical composition of malachite,” he was perfectly at home. How different from ourselves! Let us come around this subject determined to find out what we can of its deep and holy meaning. Let me first address myself--
I. To those who may be inclined to despair. They fix their eye upon brilliant examples, and say, “How is it that we are not glorious and powerful like these?” Now this thing is really not so bad as it looks. There are compensations. You wish to be like the great calculator I have named. Let me tell you that on almost every subject but numbers Jedediah Buxton was little better than an imbecile. His admirers once took him to the opera, and when he came back he said, “Wonderful, she took so many steps in so many minutes!” Now will you change with him? And as for the Polish count he knew everything, but he built nothing, was brilliant but not solid. You should set one thing over against another. Every daisy has its own little bit of colour. Remember the tortoise and the hare. Instead of dwelling on your defects dwell on your gifts. If you have little you might have had less. If you stammer you might have been dumb. Though you have no wings you have good strong limbs.
II. To those who pride themselves on their gifts and powers. The apostle referred to these, and asks a question of those who are puffed up, which might well make them modest and thoughtful: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” He makes every man a debtor. Strength is from God, so is skill, so is opportunity. But one man has ten thousand a year, and another man can hardly live; what about such contrasts as these? Let me tell you.
1. A man may require a ladder ten thousand steps high before he can see any Providence at all, and another man can see God in the raiment of the lilies and the livelihood of birds.
2. One man may be able to bear the prosperity represented by ten thousand a year, and another might be crushed by the golden load.
3. And wholly apart from all such considerations, it still remains graciously true that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
III. To those who wonder how it is that one man is saved, and another man is lost.
1. God is far more concerned for the salvation of the human family than it is possible for man to be. He will do all that can be done. Let me leave the awful problem in His good hands.
2. The judgments of God are founded upon the gifts of God. When much is given, much will be required; where little has been given, little will be required.
3. It is not for me to say who will be saved, and who will not. I may not ask, “Lord, are there few that be saved? “or He will instantly answer: Strive to enter in at the straight gate! He will throw me back on my own obligations, and withdraw me from problems too deep for my immature and presumptuous mind. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Pride is the inherent sin of man, and yet it is of all sins the most foolish. A thousand arguments might be used to show its absurdity; but none of these would be sufficient to quench its vitality. Take for instance the argument of creation. We are the thing formed; shall we say of ourselves that we deserve honour because God hath formed us wondrously? What are we, after all, but as grasshoppers in God’s sight? But surely if this prevail not to clip the pinions of our pride, the Christian man may at least bind its wings with arguments derived from the distinguishing love and peculiar mercies of God. Observe--
I. Wherein God hath made us to differ.
1. Many of us differ from others in God’s providential dealings towards us. Many of God’s beloved children are in the depths of poverty, while some of us who are here have all that heart can wish. Let us gratefully ask, “Who maketh us to differ?” Perhaps none of us can ever know, until the great day shall reveal it, how much some of God’s servants are tried, and if God hath made our path more pleasant, it is owing only to His grace, and we will not be high-minded, but condescend to men of low estate. The more God has given us the more we are in debt. Why should a man boast because he is deeper in debt than another? But the best way for you to feel this is to go into the hospital; then go round the neighbourhood to the sick who have lain for years upon the same bed, and after that go and visit some of God’s poverty-stricken children.
2. Many differ in regard to God’s gracious dealings.
(1) Ask yourself, Why am I not at this very hour hearing the Word with my outward ear, but rejecting it in my inward heart? Have I made myself to differ? God forbid that such a proud thought should defile our hearts. The only reason is because He hath made thee to differ. Who are more hardened than those to whom we have alluded?
(2) There are some of whose salvation, if it were to be wrought by man, we must indeed utterly despair for their hearts are harder than the most stubborn steel. How is it that my heart is melted, my conscience is tender, and that I know how to pray and to groan before God on account of sin?
(3) But the lowest class of sinners do not mingle with our congregations, but are to be seen in our streets and lanes. How frightful are the sins of drunkenness, of blasphemy, of lasciviousness! “Who maketh thee to differ?” Some of you have experienced redemption from these very iniquities.
(4) How is it that the minister has not forsaken his profession? How is it that the deacons have not turned aside unto crooked ways? How is it that so many members of this Church have been kept so that the wicked one toucheth them not? Let Abraham be deserted by God, he equivocates and denies his wife. Let Noah be deserted, he becomes a drunkard. Let David be left, and Uriah’s wife shall soon show the world that the man after God’s own heart hath still an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Then give all glory to the only wise God your Saviour who has kept you thus.
(5) Since you and I have joined the Church how many who were once our companions have been damned whilst we have been saved? Oh, why is it you are not already a fiend; who is it that has given you a good hope through grace?
II. Now what shall we say to these things? If God has made you to differ--
1. You should pray, “Lord, humble us. Take away pride out of us. O God, forgive us, that we should ever be proud.”
2. Why may He not make others to differ toot “After the Lord saved me,” said one, “I never despaired of anybody.” Will you ever give up praying for anybody now that you are saved? Let me serve Him more than others. “What do ye more than others?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All blessings come from God
I. I begin with reminding you that every blessing we possess is the gift of God, and that we have nothing which we did not receive from Him. That this is the case with respect to natural endowments will readily be admitted. A quick apprehension, a retentive memory, a lively imagination, and other mental powers are favours which the great Author of our being dispenseth to whom, and in what measure, it pleaseth Him; and never was any man so arrogant as to pretend that he bestowed these qualities upon himself. It is no less evident that the light of Divine revelation is an additional blessing which flows immediately from the same fountain of beneficence. We see every day that earthly things are estimated, not by their use, but by their scarcity; though, in fact, the things that are truly precious, because most necessary, instead of being rare, are scattered abroad with the greatest profusion. Thus doth God dispense temporal benefits: the best, that is the most useful, are universally given out in greatest abundance. And it may justly be affirmed that spiritual blessings are dispensed in the same way. The most comprehensive blessing, the unspeakable gift of Jesus Christ, is of all others the most free and liberal. In like manner the great rules of duty, and the truths that are best adapted to purify our hearts, and reform our practice, are dispersed, as it were, around us in the greatest plenty and variety. This affords a glorious display of the wisdom and goodness of our great Lawgiver and Judge. But, alas! we thwart His merciful intentions. Overlooking what is near, we roam abroad in quest of other things that lie at the remotest distance from us, and have the feeblest influence upon out’ temper and practice. To correct this false taste, by recalling men’s attention to the most simple and practical truths, ought, in my apprehension, to be the principal aim of a gospel minister. Life is short, and souls are precious, and therefore things of eternal consequence ought in all reason to be preferred.
II. To select some practical lessons was the second thing proposed, to which I now proceed.
1. If all the blessings we possess be the gifts of God, the effects of His free and unmerited bounty, then surely we ought to be humble.
2. From the same principle, with equal ease and certainty, we may deduce our obligation to thankfulness and praise.
3. To humility and gratitude I add resignation to the will of God. Surely if no wrong be done us, we have no right to complain. We ought rather to adore that goodness which at first bestowed the gift, gave us the comfortable enjoyment of it, and continued it with us so long.
4. Did we attend to this truth we should not dare to employ any means that are unlawful for improving our circumstances, or acquiring the good things that belong to a present world, and even in using the means that are lawful, we should constantly look up to God for success, and implore His blessing upon our honest endeavours.
5. The importance of enjoying the blessing of God, with all the gifts which His bounty bestows upon us. From this alone ariseth their value, and nothing else can impart to them that sweetness which renders the possession of them truly desirable. (R. Walker.)
The free grace and gifts of God
These are questions which strike at the very root of human pride. They teach us the absolutely dependent condition of every one upon earth. Why some should be rich, others poor; why some should be strong, others weak; some blessed with the highest powers of thought and understanding, and others deprived of reason, of this great gift of God; why some should be endowed with many excellent graces of the soul; why some should be cut off in the very midst of their sins, whilst we have been spared--are difficulties which human reason could never explain. We require something infinitely beyond all human authority to explain these things, and to teach them as truths to be reconciled with the gracious attributes of the Supreme Being--and this want is well supplied. From Scripture we learn, that as God is the Creator of all things, so He has the unquestionable right of disposing and adapting everything according to His own free will, both in the moral and natural world. His holy Word very plainly tells us that He is the sole Author of all good (John 3:27; John 6:65; Jam 1:17; 1 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Philippians 2:13). There are other passages which teach us that God deals out His mercies according to His own free grace, without regard to any real merit on the part of those, His fallen creatures, who are the objects of His gracious and Fatherly care (Acts 17:24-25; Acts 17:28; Exodus 33:19; Isaiah 65:1; Matthew 20:15; Luke 19:10; Romans 9:16; Romans 11:33; Ephesians 2:8-9).
1. Of this doctrine of God’s free grace in the distribution of His manifold gifts, the following practical uses may be made. First, we are never to suffer our not being able to understand the counsels of God to perplex our minds, or to prevent us from fulfilling the various duties which He hath given us to perform. We know enough of God’s moral government over us to know this great truth, that whatever comes from Him must be right and good, however unable we may be to explain all His dealings towards the children of men. We are therefore to go on with the work of God, the salvation of our immortal souls, with constancy and holy zeal.
2. We are, secondly, to rest satisfied with what hath been already made known to us, waiting for more perfect knowledge of the ways of God in the world to come. (H. Marriot.)
The inequalities of life
1. That inequalities do exist is one of the most patent and enduring of facts. And we cannot but reflect that it might have been otherwise. The moral law, indeed, could not have been other than it is consistently with the nature of its Author; but we might conceivably have had a world upon which a law of equality might have been stamped as plainly as it is in fact everywhere absent. Nor is grace in this matter the antithesis of nature.
2. The great truth which the apostle suggests is that the author of differences is the infinitely wise and good God. It is not chance; it is not a fatal outcome of inexorable law. We differ from one another--
I. In external circumstances.
1. Of these inequalities, England is, perhaps, beyond any country in Europe, the great example. The contrast presented by the east and west ends of the metropolis is probably not to be found in any other capital; and, considering the small area and vast population of this country, the actual distribution of land and wealth might seem to approach the proportions of a social danger, and to threaten some form of destructive change.
2. There are answers enough to the apostle’s question. These differences, we are told, are begotten of ancient injustice; they are a legacy of feudalism, or they are traceable to more recent eras of misgovernment; they represent the traditional selfishness of one class and the chronic inertness and degradation of another. Let the truth of all this, here and there, be granted, yet vast differences will still remain, due to the simple fact that God makes one man to differ from another in productive power, and hence there is inevitably a corresponding difference in the amount produced. If to-morrow you could cut up the land into strips, that every Englishman should have his tiny share in it, a fortnight would not pass before the reign of inequality would have begun again. Nature and fact would assert themselves against theory; and property varying in amount concomitantly with each man’s productive power, would find its way into the hands of a minority--though, no doubt, a new minority--of the people.
3. What is this, then, but the old story of the Church ever upholding privilege against right, wealth against poverty, the few against the many? What is this but an endeavour to stereotype wrong by making God responsible for it, and by interposing Divine sanctions between it and its correction? And if we point in reply to a future in which inequalities will be for ever redressed, we are fiercely warned that this faith of ours in a future stands in the way of efforts to improve man’s present lot. No, you misunderstand us. If property be of a kind to make crime almost the instinct of self-preservation; if the lack of education means no ruling moral principles in the conscience; if human beings are huddled together into dwellings which deny to purity its simplest safeguards, then, most assuredly, the Church of Christ would be false to her Master if she did not, at whatever risks, urge a remedy. Nay, more, whenever Christianity is really believed and acted on, it tends to lessen the general inequalities of life. Its charities throw bridges over the abysses which separate classes; its spirit of self-sacrifice prompts the free abandonment of wealth and station for the sake of others. Yet when all that can be done in this direction has been done, great inequalities must remain, because they are due to inherited differences of personal capacity.
II. In the personal endowments with which our Creator has sent us into the world.
1. Race differs so widely from race, that these differences have been exaggerated into one of the stock arguments against the unity of the human family. But members of the same race often differ from each other scarcely, if at all, less widely. Not seldom does this original inequality traverse, as if with a disdainful irony, the other inequalities of external circumstances which you have inherited from those who have transmitted to you their name and blood.
2. Here we are encountered by the doctrine of heredity. We are told that every quality in the individual has its roots and germs in the ancestral past. Undoubtedly this doctrine rests on a basis of fact; but if you say that most of the differences between man and man can be explained by it, does this do anything more than postpone the larger question which lies behind? Why should a given individual have this particular ancestry? Nay, why should there be anything to be transmitted, or any law of type to govern its transmission? In presence of these questions, science is wisely silent; but religion is not silent. And the answer to them leaves man, as he was of old, in the pre-scientific days, face to face with the Almighty Creator.
III. In the religious advantages and opportunities which have been bestowed on us. Our homes are, in this respect, very different; in some God is practically ignored, in others His will and honour are made a first consideration. The schools to which we have been sent are very different; in some religion is all but forgotten, in others it is the life and soul of the whole system. Our friendships are very different; and there are times in life when, religiously speaking, a friendship may have decisive consequences. Who maketh thee to differ from another? Who stands behind the opportunities of youth, behind the intellectual and moral environments of manhood, behind the subtle predispositions, which from the early days of life exercise a propelling influence in this direction or in that? Who gave his mother to St. Augustine, and his father to John Stuart Mill? These differences come from God; and if we ask why they should exist, we find ourselves face to face with abysmal mysteries, cut of which issues the warning, “Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?”
1. But is not this disappointing? Might we not have hoped that Christ, in whom all are brethren, and who makes all free indeed, would also have made us equal? But let us note that inequality of gift does not imply that God loves less those to whom He gives less. He gives as we can bear His gifts; He withholds, as He bestows, in love. Nay, underlying the great differences there is a much truer equality than we may think. As in a well-ordered state all are equal before the law, so in the Church all are equal before their Maker and Redeemer. We are equal, in that--
(1) We all have before us the solemn moment of death.
(2) We shall all be judged relatively to the gifts and opportunities we have enjoyed.
(3) We must all of us be washed in the precious blood of Christ, and sanctified by the Eternal Spirit.
(4) We are all of us receivers, although some of us may have received five talents, and others one.
2. What hast thou that thou hast not received? Is there nothing? Yes, one thing, only one--sin.
3. The temper in which we should think and act in view of the truth before us has three characteristics.
(1) Disinterestedness. Any gift, possessed by others, and used for the glory of the Giver, should excite in a Christian pure and disinterested pleasure. If He has not given them to us individually, what does that matter, so far as our appreciating them is concerned?
(2) Anxiety. Anxiety for others lest they should misuse God’s bounty; but great anxiety for ourselves, if any of us have reason to think that we have been entrusted with anything considerable. “Be not high-minded, but fear.”
(3) Self-consecration. It may be little that you can give, give it to God; it may be what men deem much, give it unreservedly. (Canon Liddon.)
A catechism for the proud
1. The Corinthian Church was exceedingly gifted: Alas! its grace was not in proportion to its gifts, and consequently a proud spirit was developed. Parties were formed who gloried in men that other men might glory in them.
2. There is great wisdom in Paul’s rebuke. He did not cry down their talents. You very seldom lower a man’s opinion of himself by undervaluing his gifts. He remembers the fable of the fox and the sour grapes. Pride is not to be cured by injustice: one devil will not drive out another. Pride often finds fuel for itself in that which was intended to damp its flame. The apostle follows a far more sensible course; he asks where the talent comes from.
3. The questions of the text may well humble us; but to this end we need the assistance of the Holy Ghost, for nothing is more difficult than to overcome our self-conceit. Pride hides itself under numberless disguises. Many take a pride in what they call having no pride about them. When Diogenes trampled on his valuable carpets and said, “I trample upon the pride of Plato!” “Yes,” said Plato, “and with greater pride.” Note--
I. A great and comprehensive truth. “Every good gift,” &c.
1. Temporal advantages. Men boast of--
(1) Strength and beauty; but these are gifts, not virtues. Some consider the strongest man to be the best, forgetting that horses and elephants can bear greater loads, and lions and tigers can be fiercer in fight. As for beauty, one of its most potent charms lies in its modest unconsciousness. These personal advantages are distributed at the Divine pleasure. The Lord has made one athletic while another is born a cripple, &c.
(2) Position. But what determined the circumstances of our birth? and after all we are all on a level if we trace our pedigrees to their common meeting-place. Some claim to have made their own position; nay, to have made themselves. Yes, and worship their supposed maker. But “who gave you your opportunity and the force of character which have brought you to the front?”
(3) Talent and knowledge; but to whom do they owe those natural predilections and talents which have been denied to others who have been equally industrious? Whence also has come the health which has enabled the student to persevere in laborious research?
(4) Wealth. Certainly it is to a man’s credit that he has not squandered his money in waste and self-indulgence; but still, what has he that he did not receive? His habits and discretions may be traced to training, or to force of mind, or to happy example, and they are, therefore, things received. And then his success, it is not alone due to industry, for sickness or accident might have made him unable to earn his bread. “Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.”
2. Gracious privileges. Those who have been saved by Divine grace differ greatly from what they used to be, and from others still unregenerate. How comes this? It has been by the hearing of the gospel as the means, but we must ascribe it to Divine grace, and not to chance, that we were born where the gospel was preached, and not left under the influence of heathenism. The sovereignty of God is to be seen, again, in the fact that one should be found under a cold, dead ministry, and another should hear a soul-saving preacher. Yet further, there were some who heard the same sermons as you did and were not converted, and you were. How came that about? It is true you did pay more earnest attention, but what led you to do so?
3. Spiritual blessings. Conviction of sin; did that arise spontaneously, or did the Spirit convince you of sin? Repentance towards God--was that wrought in you by the Holy Spirit, or was it the outgrowth of your own free will? You have faith, but faith is the gift of God. Since your conversion you have exhibited some measure of holiness, but was that wrought in you by the Spirit, or is it the fruit of your natural excellence? Who distinguishes thee now? Suppose thou wert left to thyself, couldst thou continue in thy state of grace? And who shall make us to differ in days to come? Are we our own keepers?
II. Its teachings.
1. It is a rebuke to pride. Let any one of us look back to our first estate, and we shall surely be compelled to silence every boast for ever. Think of what we should be if grace left us!
2. An excitement to gratitude. If all I have and am is due to the distinguishing grace of God, then let me bless the Lord in the depths of my soul. This gratitude should take the shape of continual obedience.
3. A reminder of responsibilities. Where much is given much will be required. It is to be deeply regretted that some of those who have the most ability to do good are doing the least.
4. A suggestion of great tenderness in dealing with others. “Who maketh thee to differ?” You met the other day with a man fast bound with bad habits, and you said, “Nothing can be done with such a wreck. I will not waste words upon him.” It would be better to drink into the spirit of John Bradford, who, when he saw a condemned malefactor, was wont to say, “There goes John Bradford but for the grace of God.” I have never despaired of the salvation of any man since the Lord saved me.
5. An encouragement for seekers. Now, you know some eminent Christians; remember that there is nothing good in them but what they have received from God. The Lord can give the like grace to you. “Then what have I to do?” Simply, according to the text, to be a receiver; and that is the easiest thing in the world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Pride catechised and condemned
Pride cannot endure honest questioning, and so Paul tried it by the Socratic method, and put it through a catechism. We have here--
I. A question to be answered with ease. When we are asked, “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” the answer is,” God”: and if we are asked, “What hast thou that thou didst net receive?” we reply, “We have nothing but our sin.” We are the more glad to hear Paul say this, because he was what is nowadays styled a “self-made” man. Yet though he was “not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles,” he said, “I be nothing.” “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Our question is easy to answer, whether it be applied to natural gifts or to spiritual ones.
II. A question to be answered with shame. “If thou didst receive it,” &c. When we glory in anything we have received--
1. We rob God of His honour. Every particle of praise we take to ourselves is so much stolen out of the revenues of the King of kings.
2. We leave our truthful position. When I confess myself to be weak, helpless, and ascribe all I have to grace, then I stand in the truth; but if I take the remotest praise to myself, I stand in a lie.
3. We are sure to esteem our Lord less. If Christ goes up self goes down; and if self rises Jesus falls in our esteem.
4. We undervalue our fellow Christians, and that is a great sin. “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones”; but if we over-estimate ourselves we do so.
5. We miss the right course as to our gifts, and forget that they are only lent us to be used for our Master. It is required of stewards that they be found faithful, not that they vaunt themselves and deck themselves in their Master’s goods. Some boast--
(1) Because God has placed them in office. What mighty airs some give themselves! “Honour to whom honour is due”--they have learned by heart, and seen a personal inference in it.
(2) About their experience. This also is vanity. Let the man who does this remember that he has gone nowhere except as the Lord’s hand has borne him onward. Suppose a garden were proud, and boasted of its fruitfulness!
III. Other questions which these questions suggest.
1. Have I ever given to God His due place in the matter of my salvation?
2. Have I the spirit of humble gratitude?
3. Seeing I have been a receiver, what have I done towards giving out again? They make in the north of England earthenware saving boxes for the children. You can put what you like in, but you cannot get it out until you break the box; and there are persons of that sort among us. Some have died lately, and their estates have been reported in the Probate Court. We ought not to be as a stagnant pond, but like the great lakes of America which receive the mighty rivers and pour them out again, and consequently keep fresh and clear.
4. Since what I have had I have received by God’s grace, might I not receive more? Covet earnestly the best gifts.
5. If all that Christians have they have received, sinner, why should not you receive as well as they? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nothing to be proud of
In “Ethics for Young People,” Professor C. C. Everett tells of a question he asked when a small boy. He says: “A lady was talking with me about ‘easily besetting sins.’ She said that her besetting sin was pride. I looked at her in innocent wonder and exclaimed, ‘Why, what have you to be proud of?’ I saw at once by her confusion that I had made a very impudent and unlucky speech.” We cannot ask this question of others; but if any one who is disposed to be proud should ask himself the question, “What have you to be proud of?” and answer it truly, it might do him good.
The inflation of pride
Jehan Hering, who was a close observer of ants and their doings, once gave an account of a battle royal which he watched between two of the smallest of the species. It took place on the stem of a leaf; the cause was a scrap of food. The contestants fought until one killed the other. “The victor,” says Hering, “then strutted to and fro in view of the other ants. Napoleon could not have been more sure of his own mighty place in creation. ‘For me,’ he seemed to say, ‘was this world made.’ The mite was actually inflated with vanity.” An observer watching the throng of human beings passing along our crowded thoroughfares, would often be reminded of Hering’s ant. So many are the men and women who express in their walk, their manner, their voice, a sense of their own importance. Here is a middle-aged tradesman who has just driven a sharp bargain; there is a schoolboy who ran a winning race last week; yonder is a young man who is pushing his way successfully into business or into fashionable society, and here comes a young girl whose only claim to distinction is a new hat. These are not strong proofs of superiority to the swarming millions of people on the earth. Yet these men and women bear themselves as if, like the ant, each of them thought, “This world was made for me!” Theodore Hook, viewing a vain member of his college strutting along in cap and gown, approached presently, and timidly demanded, “If you please, sir, are you anybody in particular?” How many of us, when most secure in our vanity, could stand that probing question? The men and women who have real work in life as a rule forget themselves, and acquire that total lack of self-consciousness which is the basis of the finest manners.
I. To those who fostered the personal worship of the ministers--that is, of themselves.
1. The qualities which are requisite for the higher part of the ministry are--great powers of sympathy; humbleness; wisdom to direct; knowledge of the world; and a knowledge of evil which comes rather from repulsion from it. But those which adapt a man for the merely showy parts are of an inferior order: fluency, self-confidence, tact, a certain histrionic power of conceiving feelings, and expressing them. Now, it was precisely to this class of qualities that Christianity opened a new field in places such as Corinth. Men who had been unknown suddenly found an opportunity for public addresses, activity, and leadership. They became fluent talkers; and the more shallow and self-sufficient they were, the more likely it was that they would become the leaders of a faction. And how did the apostle meet this? By inculcating (verse 7) Christian dependence: “Who maketh thee to differ?” Christian responsibility: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”
2. This tendency besets us ever. Even at school brilliancy is admired, whilst plodding industry is sneered at. Yet which of these Would St. Paul approve? Which shows fidelity? The dull mediocre talent faithfully used, or the bright talent used only for glitter and display? St. Paul did not sneer at eloquence, &c.; but he said, These are your responsibilities. You are a steward: you have received. Beware that you be found faithful. Woe, if the gifts and manner that have made you acceptable have done no more. In truth, this independence of God is man’s fall. Adam tried to be independent; and just as all things are ours if we be Christ’s, so, if we be not Christ’s, then our pleasures, gifts, honours are all stolen; “we glory as if we had not received.”
II. To those who unduly magnified the office.
1. There were men who exercised lordship over the congregations. Place verses 8 and 9 side by side, and think, first of all, of these teachers--admired, flattered, made rich, and then going on to rule as autocrats, so that when a Corinthian entertained his minister, he entertained his oracle, his very religion. And then turn to the apostolic life. If the one be an apostle, what is the other? If one be the high, the Christian life, how can the other be a life to boast of?
2. Remark here the irony. People who look upon Christianity as a mere passive, strengthless thing, must needs be perplexed with passages such as these. But remark how gracefully it turns with Paul from loving though angry irony, to loving earnestness: “I would to God ye did reign.” Would to God that the time for triumph were come indeed, that these factions might cease, and we be kings together!
3. See here the true doctrine of the apostolical succession. The apostolical office is one thing; the apostolical character is quite another. And just as the true children of Abraham were not his lineal descendants, but the inheritors of his faith, so the true apostolical succession consists not in what these men pride themselves upon--their office, attainments, &c.; but rather in a life of truth, and in the suffering which inevitably comes as the result of being true.
4. Now, therefore, we can understand the passage with which he ends: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (verse 16). Only do not misread it. You have here no mere partisan trying to outbid and outvie others. He says that the life he had just described was the one for them to follow. In this--“Be ye followers of me,” he declares the life of suffering, in the cause of duty, to be higher than the life of popularity and self-indulgence. He says that the dignity of a minister, and the majesty of a man, consists not in “Most Reverend,” or “Most Noble,” prefixed to his name; but it lies in being through and through a man, according to the Divine idea; a man whose chief privilege it is to be a minister, a follower of Him who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
1 Corinthians 4:8-13
Now ye are full … rich … as kings.
The difference between the counterfeit and the real Christian
I. The counterfeit--
1. Is so replenished with Divine knowledge that he needs no teacher.
2. Is so rich in grace that he exalts himself above the spiritually poor.
3. Is so confident in himself that he would rule the consciences of others.
II. The real--
1. Regards himself as the least (1 Corinthians 4:9-10).
2. Submits willingly to toil and suffering for the sake of Christ.
3. Recompenses evil with good. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The state of the Corinthians contrasted with that of the apostles
I. The state of the Corinthians. They were
1. Full of the good things of this world.
2. As kings, reigning.
3. But their condition spiritually was such as to demand earnest prayer.
II. The state of the apostles.
1. Poor in worldly things--rich in faith.
2. A spectacle both to angels and to men; a sight of misery to men; a spectacle of sorrow to angels. But their reward is not far distant. (J. H. Tasson.)
I. Exposes pride.
1. It is empty, yet imagines itself full of wisdom.
2. Poor, yet regards itself as rich in every good gift.
3. Dependent, yet would reign as a king.
II. Condemns it--
1. By an indirect assertion of its folly.
2. By an implied consciousness of personal insufficiency. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Apostolic treatment of vanity
Vanity is a state of mind at once the most prevalent and detestable, it is a plant that springs from self-ignorance, and is disgusting to the spectator in all its forms and fruits. The apostle treats it with--
I. Withering sarcasm. “Now ye are full,” &c. The Bible furnishes us with many instances of irony (1 Kings 18:27; Job 12:2), but nowhere have we it more forceful than here. Here are three metaphors, the first taken from persons filled with food, the second from persons so rich that they required no more, the third from those who have reached the highest elevation, obtained a throne. Paul seems to say to these conceited teachers that they were so great that they did not require such services as his. We scarcely know of a more effective way of treating vanity than by sarcasm. Treat the vain, swaggering man before you not according to your judgment of him, but according to his estimate of himself. Speak to him as one as stupendous as he believes himself to be, and your irony will stab him to the quick. Sarcasm often becomes the instrument of a great manly soul roused into indignation.
II. A noble generosity. “I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.” Here the north wind of sarcasm gives way to the south breezes of love. What he means is a wish that they were as truly full, rich, and royal as they thought themselves to be. The irony of a Christly man, however pungent, is not malign, but generous. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.--
Before the footlights
1. A man may imagine it to be an easy matter to appear before an audience; but to stand before the footlights, when every turn of one’s features are plainly to be seen, is a strain on the nerves which is hard to bear.
2. The Christian life is, however, more trying than any performance on the stage. The actor appears before a few hundred spectators who are willing to be pleased, and he is under the glare of the footlights for only two or three hours at a time; but the Christian is a spectacle to his many neighbours and also to the angelic hosts, and his part continues for life.
3. The apostle refers to the spectacles in the Colosseum at Rome. On some days, when about eighty thousand persons were assembled in its galleries, the first show in the arena would be men fighting with hungry lions and tigers, but in this performance the men were allowed to wear armour. In the pause after the first show, the vast crowd would refresh themselves with grapes, wine, and food, and then the second performance began, consisting of naked men fighting with each other, and without anything to defend themselves except their swords, the result being that the slightest touch of their weapons inflicted a gash. The most horrid regulation, however, was that he who preserved his own life should not be released but kept for slaughter another day. These men, therefore, that were actors in the last performance might well be called men appointed to death.
4. Of course everybody in his senses when he appears before the footlights of life, that is, when other people can see him, does his best. It is only the drunkard, the insane, or the woman that has lost all sense of shame, who label their sins before the eyes of others like a sign-board stating what they are. If an ordinary man have something that is bad within him, he tries to hide it from his fellow-men. Let the spectacle of your life be--
I. An embodiment of mercy.
II. Exhibit the essence of truth. Learn to love the truth because it is the truth, and do it because it is right. Some people are not afraid to do wrong; all they are afraid of is being “found out.”
III. Embody charity in your deeds to your fellow--men. Follow the charity of God, who keeps open the gates of heaven day and night. (W. Birch.)
A wonderful spectacle
I. The spectacle.
1. The actors were Divinely called. They appeared on the stage in answer to the behest of the highest will, guided in the selection by perfect wisdom. He who called David from the flock to preside over Israel, called these men from their daily avocations to preside over the affairs of the kingdom of heaven.
2. The actors were Divinely commissioned. The mission of apostolic life was special (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
3. The actors were subjected to intense sufferings, and to cruel death. This was not accidental, but a part of their mission. They suffered in the tragedy to enforce its lessons (Matthew 10:16-18). It is almost certain that they all suffered martyrdom, except St. John.
II. The spectators.
1. Angels. We cannot say how their pure minds were affected, or what emotions throbbed in their breast. It appears from Ephesians 3:10-11, that they gather lessons from the life of the Church militant.
(1) They saw the power of truth in lifting man above circumstances. By this they discovered that he had a nobler nature than they had been wont to ascribe to him.
(2) The apostles gloried in tribulation, and this went beyond their experience and joy. They returned from the theatre inflamed with a greater degree of devotion.
(3) That spectacle had something to do with their final safety. They had often ministered to the apostles in their trials, which taught them more perfect submission, and warmer obedience. No part of the audience realised the spectacle better than the angels.
2. Men. We have no difficulty in understanding the lessons which apostolic life teach us.
(1) Entire consecration of life to the service of Christ. The apostles were not half-hearted or indifferent, but threw their heart and soul into the work. Can we look at this spectacle, and not be moved?
(2) That the Christian life will surely vanquish difficulties. The boldness of faith is the same as that which encouraged the apostles to say--“We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
A spectacle to angels
In its widest reference the text teaches that our world is a theatre or arena, whereon men act their various parts, as in a drama--“a spectacle to angels.” And this thought is at one with all Bible testimony. It teaches that from the first our planet has been an object of absorbing interest to all spiritual beings.
I. The drama of human life has been cast in three great moral acts. And as displaying the Divine attributes, the angels are represented as bending down to study all of them.
1. The first scene was one of blissful and holy human life. And endowed, as the first man was, with every power of perseverance in holiness, and plied with every motive to retain it, that first act in the drama of human life was fittingly “a spectacle to angels.”
2. The second scene is a world apostate and accursed. An exhibition is now to be made of the terrible nature of sin, as seen alike in the malice of the tempter and the misery of the tempted. And when you consider the whole plot and progress of the drama--all the exhibitions of moral character under this fearful inspiration of sin, the whole wondrous development of redemption, from the first promise down through those ages of antediluvian depravity, through all those slowly evolving ritualisms to the tragic scene of Calvary, through all the gospel’s subsequent triumphs--then this second act seems not unworthily “a spectacle to angels.”
3. But on this scene the curtain falls. And when it rises again, it will be upon an arena worthier angelic regard. Out of the wreck and ruin of the present system of things, as a platform fitted for the manifestation of triumphant holiness, shall come forth the “new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
II. Its special and practical application to ourselves. It is a plain truth of revelation that these glorious beings are ever around us. They are represented not only as “ministering unto the heirs of salvation,” but as watchful of even their seemingly most trivial interests, “bearing them up, lest they dash their foot against a stone.” Let us consider this--
1. For encouragement and consolation amid the trials of life. This is the application Paul gives it in the context. In a life wherein so few occasions are ours to do great things for God, and whose great law is suffering, it is blessed to think that it is especially when in sorrow, and agony, and death, we are “a spectacle to angels.” They come on their bright wings to our desolate homes, our sick-beds, our death-beds, and every whisper of submissive Christian love sounds out as a grand hallelujah to the Infinite Glory, and every gentle tear in the eye of faith flashes as a gem of immense price in the diadem of their God.
2. As a ground of exhortation. We are all “a spectacle to angels.” And how are we acting?
(1) You may be this day an impenitent man; and if so, the part you are acting is one solemn beyond all conception--the part of an imperilled man with an immortal soul to save! For just such acting is this life-stage fitted. Oh, what solemn scenery it arranges around you! Here Sinai with its fire, and there Calvary with its Cross. And now tell me, you that live as if there were no God, and no judgment, sporting with the soul and salvation, if you are acting well your part before this great cloud of witnesses! Hath it not been with gestures of astonishment and indignation they have watched you?
(2) Or you may be a true child of God; and then the part you are acting, if less terrible, is scarcely less solemn; for it is that of a redeemed man in the service of the Redeemer. In reference to this thought, Paul speaks of the believer as having “put on Christ”--i e., as a tragedian assumes that of the hero he personates. Thus, to personate the Lord Jesus is the part you are to act, as “a spectacle to angels.” And for such acting, also, is the world-stage fitted. For it is the self-same world wherein He personally acted. The same sinful and suffering humanity is ever around you. The same realities of eternity rise in transparencies beyond you. And tell me, if you seem unto yourselves acting your magnificent part well?
III. As thus a spectacle to angels, it may be said, in one sense, we can choose the parts we are to act in their presence. There are some things common and certain to us all, and in regard of them we can choose at least our own style of acting.
1. Take one set order--
1. A death-scene! A darkened chamber. A company of heartbroken relatives keeping watch. The actor is a poor lover of pleasure, who put his eternity carefully away from him, living only for this world. Now witness his acting as it seems unto angels. Behold those feeble hands, lifted as to repel some shape of terror. Listen! That cry of anguish: “Oh, do not let me die!” “I cannot die!” “I rejected the Saviour!” “I am lost, lost, lost!”
(2) The next is a judgment scene! And again this poor worldling appears upon the stage, “a spectacle to angels.” And see it--that look of hopeless anguish, as there falls on the shrinking sense the appalling sentence--“Depart!--depart!”
(3) The last scene is in eternity! Go, ponder it as pictured in God’s solemn Book.
2. This is one style of acting. Consider, in contrast, the other! The same stage; the same scenery; but all else different!
(1) Again the death-scene! See the radiant fire in the eye! the rapturous smile on the lip! Hear those words, feeble, yet joyous in faith and love: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” &c. Behold that fixed look heavenward, as the ransomed spirit spreads wing for its place in the many mansions!
(2) The same scene of judgment! Note that look of triumph, that cry of rapture, at the approving sentence: “Come, ye blessed of My Father,” &c.
(3) Again, a scene laid in eternity! But here, stage, scenery, acting, all different. Such, shortly, are the two styles of human action on the great theatre of life. And for each of us, just behind this massive curtain, are stage and scenery being prepared! And we are here to choose, each for himself, the style of his performance. And now, tell me how you will act your solemn part--O immortal man! as “a spectacle to angels.” (C. Wadsworth.)
Humanity watched by angels
The word spectacle is from the Greek word theatron.
I. Implies the existence of angelic intelligences. No one who believes in the Bible can doubt this. Its pages are almost as full of angels as those of Homer are full of gods. They are represented as--
1. Overwhelming in numbers of various orders and gradations, possessing life, power, intelligence, holiness, celerity, transcending all that is human.
2. As the special ministers of the Great Monarch of the universe, executing His judgment and distributing His favours. They have eyes to mark my movements, ears to catch my words, hearts to sympathise with my lonely history, and power to lift me up, or to press me down.
II. Argues the importance of human life. Would those transcendent intelligences watch creatures of no or little worth?
1. They may know the extraordinary relation of man to God. Not merely the creatures of His power, the subject of His government, but the redeemed of His Son. They see human nature in personal connection with Christ, uplifted to the centre of the universe. Thus they study God through man, and through man they have loftier views of the Infinite, than from a universe of blazing systems, and of unfallen intelligences.
2. They may know the wonderful possibilities of his nature. What thoughts he can originate, what discoveries he can make, what works he can invent, what good he can accomplish, what evil he can effect.
3. They may know the influence of his life. They may see the thoughts and words and deeds of his life, spreading in ever widening circles over the great world of spirits. They may see from one man’s life many hells created and many heavens produced. To our fellow-men we are insignificant, but to angels we are of transcendent importance.
III. Urges circumspection in human conduct. Men are generally cautious in their conduct when they feel even a human eye upon them, especially if that eye be keen, intelligent, and pure. The unexpected glance of a child has paralysed the arm of a burglar before now. But who would not be circumspect if we felt that the eyes of angels were ever on us, on us in our most private chamber and in our public walks? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Man an object of angelic observation
If the eye of such intelligences are constantly upon us, what are the practical conclusions?
I. That our conduct here concerns the universe. No man lives unto himself; each unit is a link in being’s endless chain. His actions must tell banefully or beneficently on the creation; hence all loving and loyal intelligences direct their attention to him with deep and unabating interest. Besides, men and angels are offsprings of the same Father, participators of the same nature, subjects of the same moral government. No wonder they are so concerned.
II. That our part should be carefully played. It behoves every man to be cautious how he acts in the presence of his fellow-creatures, whether they are children or adults, plebeians or princes; but how much more cautious should he be when he knows that angels, whose pure natures loathe sin in all its forms, have their keenest gaze fastened ever on his life!
III. That there is no chance of concealing our sin. The attempt to cloak or dissemble our sins is absurdly futile. Whilst there is One who reads the heart, there may be millions who mark all our overt acts, whether in darkness or in light.
IV. That we may expect help in all holy endeavours. Those celestial spirits are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. They helped Abraham on the plains of Mamre, and Lot in his flight towards Zoar; they freed the apostle from the prison; they bore the spirit of Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 4:10-14
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ.
The folly of Paul
The better to serve Christ, Paul refrained from making acquirement of knowledge his chief aim. And many others have renounced a path which might have led to literary eminence in order to devote their entire energies to evangelical work. Again, by abstaining from teaching mere human learning and by preaching a gospel which in the eyes of men was folly, Paul became, and felt himself to be, in their view, a foolish man. In other words, because of his loyalty to Christ he passed among men as one destitute of wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2)
. (Prof. Beet.)
Paul and the Corinthians: a contrast
The contrast between the two situations enunciated in 1 Corinthians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27 is expressed here in three antitheses, which are, as it were, so many blows for the proud Corinthians. The text is addressed especially to the principal men of the Church, but at the same time to all its members who share in the pretensions of these proud party leaders. And--
I. As to teaching. The apostles had to face the reputation of foolishness which the gospel brings on them, while at Corinth there is found a way of preaching Christ so as to procure a name for wisdom, the reputation of profound philosophers and men of most reliable judgment. As a Rabbi Paul might have become as eminent a savant as Gamaliel; for Christ he consented to pass as a fool. The Corinthians knew better how to manage: they make the teaching even of the gospel a means of gaining celebrity for their lofty wisdom.
II. As to conduct. They came before their public with the feeling of their strength: there is in them neither hesitation nor timidity. The apostles do not know these grand lordly airs. Witness 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
III. As to the welcome received from the world. The Corinthians are honoured, feted, regarded as the ornament of cultivated circles; there is a rivalry to do them honour. The apostles are scarcely judged worthy of attention; nay, rather reviled and calumniated. In this last contrast the apostle reverses the order of the two terms, and puts the apostles in the second place. This is by way of transition to one or two traits of detail in the apostolic life he is about to draw. Indeed “despised” is the theme of the following verses. (Prof. Godet.)
Paul’s treatment of self conceited teachers
The Corinthian teachers were “puffed up” with conceit. Paul treats them here with--
I. An ironic appeal (1 Corinthians 2:10). “Ye have glory, but we have dishonour; we know nothing, you know everything; we are timid and feeble, but ye are strong and fearless; you are thought a deal of, but we are despised.” How would our little penny-a-liners feel if such a man as Carlyle were to speak in this way? If they had any sense remaining, they would quiver into nothingness. How much more would those small pretentious teachers feel this stroke of satire from the grand apostle!
II. A personal history.
1. Here he refers to--
(1) His privations (1 Corinthians 2:11)--without nourishment, clothing, and the shelter of a home.
(2) His labours (1 Corinthians 2:12).
(3) His persecutions (1 Corinthians 2:13).
(4) The spirit in which he endured the sufferings (1 Corinthians 2:12).
2. Why did he state all this? Not for the sake of parade, but for the sake of bringing these proud teachers to their senses. They could not fail to feel that he was a pre-eminent minister of Christ; notwithstanding this, in the world he was treated with cruelty and contempt. What, then, had they to be proud of as ministers? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst.--
I. What it costs.
II. What it secures.
1. Companionship with the best of men.
2. The approbation of God.
3. A certain and glorious reward. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And labour, working with our own hands.--
1. Is no disgrace.
2. Is a sign of true independence.
3. Is acceptable to God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Mammal labour gentlemanly
When Bishop Patteson went among the South Sea Islanders they were surprised to see that he was ready to put his hand to anything. He would do a piece of carpentering, wash up things after meals, and teach the little blacks to wash and dress themselves. Other white men wanted to put all the work on the negroes; so in order to mark the difference, they called the bishop a “gentleman-gentleman,” and the others “pig-gentlemen.” Jesus Christ, “the first true gentleman that ever breathed,” was when on earth called “the Carpenter,” and if one of His chief apostles, St. Paul, worked with his hands as a tent-maker, manual labour ought never to be thought derogatory to the dignity of a gentleman.
A honourable occupation
There are three vitally important choices to be made by young men, about which a few plain hints may be pertinent and useful. The first one is his occupation. “He who does not bring up his son for a trade brings up a boy for the devil,” is an ancient Jewish provers. In America, too, many of the native-born youths eschew a mechanical trade as vulgar, and go scouring about for some easier “situation.” If Benjamin Franklin, the printer, and Roger Sherman, the shoemaker, were alive now, they would tell their young countrymen what a foolish mistake many of them are making. So would Vice-President Wilson and Governor Banks, who said that he “graduated from an institution which had a factory-bell on the roof and a water-wheel at the bottom.” In selecting your occupation, endeavour first to find out what the Creator made you for. Consult your natural bent and talent. If you have a talent for trade, then you may venture into a counting-room or store. If you have a native skill in chemistry, and are made for a doctor, then study medicine. If your mathematical capacity fit you for it, you may be an engineer. No one ever fails in life who understands his forte, and few ever succeeded in life who did not understand it. Seek for a useful, productive calling, and steer clear of a career of “speculation” as you would a gambling den or a glass of gin. Don’t be ashamed to begin at the bottom and work up. Remember that every occupation is honourable in which you can serve God and your fellow-men, and keep a clean conscience. (T. L. Cuyler.)
Being reviled we bless.--
I. What the true Christian must expect.
II. Why he must expect it. Because of--
1. The experience of others.
2. The unaltered spirit of the world.
III. How he ought to bear it.
3. Christianly. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The triumph of the true Christian
I. Over the hatred of the world. Which is--
3. Variously manifested.
3. Love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
Paul an example to parents and teachers
I. With love.
1. Not as a schoolmaster, but as a father.
2. Not to shame, but to warn.
3. Not to threaten, but encourage (1 Corinthians 4:16).
4. Not to punish, but to supply suitable help (1 Corinthians 4:17).
II. With firmness.
1. He discourages the perverse (1 Corinthians 4:18).
2. Exposes the false.
3. Exalts the true.
4. Submits the choice of a rod or love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Christian training is
I. Loving in its aim and procedure (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
II. Prudent in its choice (1 Corinthians 4:17).
III. Firm in its purpose (1 Corinthians 4:18-21). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The true minister is the father of his flock
I. His relative position.
1. Not a mere instructor, but the instrument of communicating new life.
2. This cannot be accomplished by severity, but by a loving proclamation of the truth.
II. His influence--
1. Depends upon example (1 Corinthians 4:16).
2. Supposes that he is in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17).
3. Will generally succeed where precept and example are combined. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Censoriousness and faithfulness contrasted
“He that would be a good man must have either a friend to admonish him or an enemy to watch over him.” Censoriousness--
I. Is a nimrod, a mighty hunter for faults (Jeremiah 20:10; Psalms 56:6). Faithfulness does not delight to dwell on a fault, but censoriousness does.
II. A mighty creator It makes faults where there are none; it puts the worst construction on words and actions. Examples: The Pharisees and disciples going through the corn-fields. Eliab to David. It calls zeal rashness--Michael to David. Faithfulness is discreet in its decisions.
III. Is an easy reliever where he is not an inventor of faults. Examples: The two false witnesses against Christ. The people of Ephesus when Demetrius slandered Paul. The Israelites when the spies returned and brought the evil report which the Israelites believed. Faithfulness is not credulous; it believes not every spirit, but “tries the spirits.”
IV. Is a kind of optician. It magnifies small things, makes a man an offender for a word, carries magnifying-glasses with it. Faithfulness endeavours to mitigate the offence (1 Peter 4:8).
V. Is a kind of crier. It propagates the faults of men where they are not known. Example: Ham (Genesis 9:20-22). Faithfulness concealeth the matter (Genesis 9:23; Proverbs 11:13).
VI. Delights to dwell on a fault (Psalms 102:8). Faithfulness grieves and laments the failings of others (Proverbs 24:17).
VII. Is very supercilious in its reproofs (Isaiah 55:5; Luke 18:11). Faithfulness is tender of the reputation of others, and desires to reclaim and restore them. (Homilist.)
Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers.
The pedagogue and the father
The word “pedagogues”--who in most cases were charged with constant attendance on boys till they came of age--here denotes in a figure the later workers in the Corinthian Church. Of this Church St. Paul has been termed the founder, his successors the after-builders; he the planter, they the waterers: now he is father, they the tutors. The apostle here merely wishes to remind his readers of his own paternal rights, which can never be invalidated by subsequent labourers in the same field. Observe that they are called “tutors in Christ,” but he “father in Christ Jesus”--i.e., a host of tutors ye may have in the sphere of knowing about Christ; but into the life of knowing Christ as Saviour, none but I begot you by my preaching of the gospel. “I” is emphatic: mine was a moral begetting unto salvation; this took place once for all; teachers after me are not spiritual fathers, but educators in the faith which I sowed. (Canon Evans.)
The spiritual father
I. Is more than an instructor.
II. Is the medium of a new life.
2. By the Spirit of Christ, who originates life into the soul.
III. Is bound to his children by indissolubleties.
IV. Has special claims on their love and obedience.
V. Should be the object of imitation. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. That one may become the spiritual father of another. This is--
1. Something more than to become the father of one’s ideas. There are gifted men who generate the leading ideas in the minds of their contemporaries, by their conversation, speeches, writings. But these are mere schoolmasters or teachers. Coleridge and Carlyle arc examples of this.
2. Something more than the author of a certain style of thinking. Aristotle, Bacon, &c., are examples.
3. One who generates in another his own spirit, sympathies, and aims; one who transforms the character of another into his own image.
II. That the noblest spiritual father is he who begets in another the Christly character. Many are the moral characters prevalent among men--the sensual, the sceptical, the selfish. The Christly character stands in sublime contrast to these; it is disinterested, spiritual, Divine. The man who generates in others this character--
1. Imparts the highest good. To be like Christ is the highest end of being; it is the summum bonum of souls.
2. Creates the highest mutual affection. Paul called Timothy his “beloved son,” and speaks with inexpressible tenderness of his converts as his little children with whom he travailed in birth (Galatians 4:10).
III. That the Christly character is only begotten by the gospel of Christ. Natural religion cannot do it; Judaism, Mohammedanism, heathenism cannot do it; no speculative creeds, moral codes, ritualistic religions can do it. The gospel alone is the power to generate in man the true Christly character; it is that transformative glass into which as we look we get changed into the same image from “glory to glory.” Conclusion: Learn from this--
1. The supreme interest of man. What is that? Learning, wealth, fame? No; Christliness. He who has this, has everything; all things are his. He who has not this, has “nothing,” says Paul.
2. The grandest distinctions amongst men. What are they? Sages, soldiers, sovereigns? No; spiritual sires. The man who generates in another the Christly character has done a greater work than any sage or king has ever done. Every man may, and ought to, become a spiritual father. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
As a child who has been kept in ignorance of his parentage rejoices to know those who have given him life, so we in times of evil condition and days of questioning may be made glad in the knowledge that we belong to a noble race.
I. The records and memorials of the Christian family.
1. The propagating power of the Divine life in men is one of the distinctive features of Christ’s religion. Other systems have made provision for carrying down their tenets, but the office of the Spirit of God is to recreate. The Founder of Christianity and His disciples claimed those in their day as “children,” those who had been born again into a new family circle.
2. In looking up the genealogy of any line, the fact that there were known to be numerous descendants gives us the best evidence that we shall be able to trace the branches to the parent stock. The Church has as well authenticated outlines from the time of Constantine, in 325, as have the governments of the greatest nations of the past or their ruling houses.
3. You will realise, however, that a Church which has reached this stage of organisation and influence must have some time allowance for its crystallisation. Your scientist wants you to grant him thousands of years for the erosion of the bed of Niagara and the glacier tracts and deposits of natural forces. He must not deny some fair period of Christianising energy to cut the channel in which we find the love of God moving within the visible Church, so that the gospel might spread as it had done from India to Spain and Britain. The graves of the saints would bridge the gulf from Constantine to Polycarp, if there were no other records. Their inscriptions of the Christian virtues, hopes of immortality, and faith in Jesus would restore the materials for our family history, and the types by which we could trace our ancestry if all other lines should fail.
II. Proofs of our spiritual lineage.
1. Paul traces his own new birth and life to Jesus, so that we may consider the great apostle to the Genthes as a representative of what men had begun to he in the line of Christian descent, and compare ourselves with him. We are told what was the character of other people before they also were changed (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In order to set forth more clearly the type of the new family, an example is given of one of Paul’s pupils (1 Corinthians 4:17). Timothy is, as it were, a spiritual grandson of Jesus. We can tell what the gospel was as it worked in the son, sire, and founder of our faith. Then Timothy is particular not to teach doctrines only, but to put the people in remembrance of Paul’s ways. They could see whether the child’s walk and features were like those of the parent, and were “in Christ.”
2. There are many varieties of temperament among children of the same household, and the Christian family presents us those with differing and peculiar traits. But does any candid man dare to say he cannot find to-day the type of those who formed the early Church in spirit, love, and works? If the men of the kingdom come short of your ideal, ask yourself where you received this noble image of the mind save from the gospel history. It should not be a matter of surprise that grotesque forms come to us from the isolated frontier communities of the world. The wonder is that they have preserved any likeness to our great ancestors. Select the best examples of faith and service in our world to-day, and you will be careful how you say you cannot find Christ, or His truth, or His will for you to obey. Through all the ages of darkness, idolatry, and persecution, the Spirit has been among men.
III. An invitation to join the Christian family. “Be ye imitators of Me.” (W. R. Campbell.)
In my fernery I have some ferns which have little ones growing on the ends of their fronds; and as they are fine specimens, there are great numbers of the baby-ferns. Probably as many as three or four hundred complete ferns have sprung up out of each mother-fern, all of them having tiny roots, and everything necessary to their growth, so that you have nothing to do but to pick them off, put them in a little silver sand, and they will grow, and by and by become mother-ferns themselves. Every one of them, if broken off the frond, will live and grow; but you need not break them off, for they will continue to grow without being separated from their mother, for they are all alive, and they do not appear, by their existence, to cause any damage to the original plant from which they spring. The baby-ferns will keep on living and growing as long as the frond of the mother-fern lives; and even when the frond dies, each baby-fern, if it is planted, will live and thrive, and in its turn will become a mother-fern, producing its hundreds of children to perpetuate the species. There are other plants that are somewhat similar to the mother-fern in this respect. I saw at Mentone a very fine specimen of a flowering aloe. It sent up its blossom high into the air, and in due season the little aloes fell off, and dropped into the ground, and wherever they fell they grew after the manner of the mother-plant. I picked one up, and brought it home; and now it is growing into quite a large plant. These little aloes are born alive; they do not come in a seed, like a bird in an egg, but they come from the plant--living things falling from the living parent. Now, is not this a good illustration of what a Christian should be? It is well to be a living Christian yourself; but it is better to have springing from you many others that are your offshoots, each one ready to start on his own account, and to take root, and multiply to almost any extent. If you and I are living, acting, serving, growing Christians ourselves, maintaining a high degree of spiritual life, we may be the means, by the blessing of God, of imparting life to many others. Those to whom we are thus blessed will be to us what Paul’s converts were to him, “our glory and joy.” Every true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ leaves an influence for good behind him when he is taken away; but it is better still if his influence is also felt while he lives. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me.--
Teaching by example
I. Is God’s method.
2. Scriptural examples.
II. Is incumbent on all, especially ministers, parents, teachers, &c.
III. Supposes some proficiency in the teacher--principle, practice, motive.
IV. Is most certain and effective. It is more simple, persuasive, powerful. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The force of example
1. It is our duty and concernment to regard the practices of good men, and to follow their example. It is the manner of the apostles on all occasions to inculcate the duty of imitating the examples of the good.
2. That we might have worthy patterns to imitate, God hath raised up in all ages excellent persons to lead us by good example in the paths of righteousness.
3. It was a special design of God’s providence in recording and recommending to our regard the sacred histories. They were not framed as monuments of a fruitless memory; they were not proposed to us as entertainments of our curiosity; but they are set before us as copies to transcribe, as lights to guide us in our way to happiness.
4. Good example is of exceeding advantage to practice on many accounts.
I. It more compendiously, easily, and pleasantly informs our minds and directs our practice than precepts or any other instrument of discipline. Who would not more readily learn to build by viewing carefully a well-contrived structure, than by a studious inquiry into the rules of architecture? or to draw by setting a good picture before him, than by merely speculating on the laws of perspective? Neither is the case much different in moral concernments; one good example may represent more fully and clearly the nature of a virtue than any verbose description. E.g.--
1. If we desire to know what faith is, and how we should rely on the Divine Providence, let us propose to our consideration the practice of Abraham.
2. He that would learn how to demean himself in resisting the assaults of temptation, let him consider that one carriage of Joseph.
3. Would we learn wisdom, constancy, and resolution in the conduct of honest and worthy designs, let us set before our eyes the pattern of Moses.
4. Would you be instructed how faithfully to discharge the ministerial or any other office? With a steadfast attention then behold the excellent pattern of St. Paul.
5. I might in like manner instance how Elias’s practice might teach us to be zealous champions for truth and righteousness; how they who would be good judges, or honest patriots, may receive direction from the carriage of Samuel, Daniel, and Nehemiah.
II. It persuades and inclines our reason to good practice, commending it to us by plausible authority. For that wise and virtuous persons do anything is a very probable argument that we are concerned to do the like. It is obvious in temporal concernments how boldly men adventure their dearest interests in following such whom they deem honest and able to guide them.
III. It incites our passions and impels them to the performance of duty.
1. It raises hope, by discovering to us the possibility of success in undertaking good designs, and that by the best and most convincing of arguments, experience. “The example,” saith St. Bernard, “of a work done is a lively and efficacious oration, easily persuading what we intend by proving that feasible which we strive to persuade unto.”
2. It inflames courage. So the apostle to the Hebrews signified when he set before them the examples of the patriarchs. How many persons, timorous and averse from dangerous undertakings, have notwithstanding become very bold and adventurous in war by the discipline and influence of an exemplary valour!
3. It provokes emulation, moving us earnestly to desire, and thence eagerly to pursue, whatever good, privilege, or advantage we see another to enjoy. Shall he, a man like myself, by noble dispositions and worthy performances, render himself highly considerable, while I, by sordid qualities and unworthy practices, render myself despicable? Shall a stripling David gloriously triumph over giants, while I basely am vanquished by dwarfs?
4. It works on modesty, that preserver and guardian of virtue, as Cicero calls it. For every good action of another doth upbraid and shame him who acteth not conformably thereto.
5. It awakens that curiosity which is of no mean efficacy on our actions. For whatever we see done, we are apt to inquire why and to what purpose it is done, what the grounds are, and what the fruits of the performance.
6. It pleases the mind and fancy in contemplation, thence drawing a considerable influence on practice. No kind of studious entertainment doth so generally delight as history, or the tradition of remarkable examples. Conclusion: Consider that God hath provided and recommended to us one example, as a perfect standard of good practice: the example of our Lord, the which declareth the use and efficacy of good example as one principal instrument of piety. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
A teacher must not set an imperfect example
The teacher must be himself his own illustration. And he must aim at the highest. His example will be their standard. This is natural. A pupil teacher at school used to gain a good deal of popularity by writing a line or two on the copy-books of the children in his class. One day the head teacher said, “Do you know Why the boys like you to write the first line in their copy-books?” “I suppose it is because they think I am a good writer,” replied the conceited youth. “No; it is because they know you are a bad one,” was the answer. “The headline is perfect, and hard to follow. Yours is such a poor copy, that any one can imitate it quite easily.”
1 Corinthians 4:17-20
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus.
I. The visitor.
2. Beloved in Christ.
II. His worn;.
1. To remind--
2. Of old truths.
3. In Christ.
III. The design. To secure unity. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
I. Pride is a fruitful source of mischief in the Church.
II. Often exhibits itself in reflections upon God’s ministers.
1. Their motives are impugned.
2. Forbearance is regarded as weakness.
3. Delay as want of purpose.
III. Must be fairly met--
1. In the Spirit of Christ.
2. In dependence upon the will of God.
IV. Must be wisely--
2. Rebuked. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The disciplinary office of the Christian minister
I. Its requirements--
1. Firmness, and sincerity of purpose (1 Corinthians 4:18).
2. Submission to the will of God (1 Corinthians 4:19).
3. Wise discernment (1 Corinthians 4:20).
II. Its means.
1. In harmony with the kingdom of God.
2. Especially the Word of God.
3. Accompanied with power.
III. Its christian character. It is--
3. Kind. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The worthless, the subordinate, and the vital in personal Christianity
1. The spirit that should regulate all our purposes.
2. The liability of the best men to disappointments. The words suggest--
I. The worthless. They said that Paul would not venture to visit Corinth again. And when they heard that he was sending Timothy instead they boasted, maybe, that Paul was afraid to come himself. They were “puffed up” with the idea that they knew more about Paul’s feeling and intention than their fellow-members. They were inflated with the spirit of vanity. Now there has always been, and still is, a great deal of this in professors of religion. What is called the Christian world seems to be as rife with “puffs” as the world of commerce, literature, or politics. Some are “puffed up” on account of--
1. The superior contributions they are able to make to the cause of charity and religion. Having more of this world’s goods than others, their names stand pre-eminent on subscription lists, are emblazoned in reports, and are loudly trumpeted on platforms. The more they give the more they are praised, and the more they are praised the more they are “puffed up.”
2. Their superior intellectual endowments. Not a few in our churches imagine themselves as possessing mental faculties and furniture far superior to the majority, and they are “puffed up.” But the very fact that they are “puffed up” on this ground proves the inferiority of their mental endowments. As a rule, the higher they are the more humble they will be.
3. The extensive popularity they have obtained. Those who are acquainted to any extent with the tastes and sentiments of the populace will scarcely be disposed to render great honour to the man who will attract the greatest numbers. The most miserable prints have the largest circulation, the most empty talkers attract the largest audiences.
4. The supposed superiority of the Church or sect to which they belong. Such people are constantly glorifying “our Church,” “our denomination,” “our body.” He who is impressed with the greatness of the universe, still more with the greatness of God, could hardly consider any human institution great.
5. The assumption that they and their community are the special favourites of heaven. This “puffing-up” spirit is the “canker of religion”; it gnaws like a worm at the root, and when we look for the harvest it is dust and bitterness.
II. The subordinate. What is the subordinate? The “word.” “The kingdom of God is not in word.” Take the “word” here as representing profession in religion.
1. There should be a “word” or profession, but this is not religion. A profession of true religion is important in itself inasmuch as it is--
(1) A duty. “Whosoever shall confess Me before men,” &c. But it is a duty only where the reality exists. The man who has not religion sins and acts in violation of duty, and his profession is hypocrisy.
(2) An aid to religion itself. It is possible, it may be, for religion to exist in the soul, where there is no public profession of it. It may be like a seed germinating under the soil, but in this state it must be very weak as well as uninfluential. The man who has the real thing in him, however weak, and makes a declaration of it, strengthens and develops it thereby.
2. The “word,” therefore, or confession of religion, is of value, but its value is subordinate. Nicodemus was a disciple, though a secret one. Profession without possession is a sin and a hindrance. Profession with possession is a duty and a help.
III. The vital. The kingdom of God is--
1. A “power.” It is the “power”--
(1) Of truth over the intellect.
(2) Of love over the heart.
(3) Of right over the conscience.
2. A reigning power, “kingdom.”
3. The Divine power. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
But I will come unto you shortly if the Lord will.--
1. Are suspended on the Divine purposes.
2. Should be entertained in submission to the Divine will.
3. Should be committed to the direction of the Divine Providence. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And will know, not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.--
A boaster may be known
1. By his prating.
2. By his lack of power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God is not in word, hut in power.
The kingdom of God not word, but power
The kingdom of God--
I. Is not in word. It is one of the leading features of the age to make the gospel consist in phrases. It is a kind of pious fashion to formulate religious truths like the definitions of an exact science, and satisfy ourselves, and condemn others, only as they agree or not with the vernacular of party. There is a grievous lack of earnest originality, a suspicious amount of spiritual plagiarism in colloquial Christianity. Men adopt current phrases as a hypochondriac imagines the normal symptoms of a disease. Falsehoods often repeated at length impress their author with a vague belief of their veracity. And so the hypocrite or the formalist rehearse the spiritual phraseology of faith till they believe themselves believers. During the last century the besetting sin of the Church was a lifeless formality. Men have since learned to lay stress on forms of words in lieu of forms of worship.
II. Is in power. But what kind of power? Not natural, nor moral, nor intellectual power. In these all men vary, but in the power of the text all who are the subjects of it are alike; for “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Note--
1. Its commencement in believers in Christ, to “whom gave He power to become the sons of God.”
2. In its continuance in them, as they are “kept by the power of God unto salvation.”
3. Its influence, so that this Divine “strength is made perfect in our weakness.” When I am weak, then I am strong.”
4. Its extent, including the final destiny of the body, which is “sown in weakness, but raised in power.”
5. Its duration. Christ’s people, like their Lord, being kings and priests after the order of Melchisedek, are “made after the power of an endless life.”
1. By this power St. Paul would gauge the professions of his rivals. Not by their speech, though they might have had “the knowledge which puffeth up”; nor by their gifts, for they might have gifts without grace, or they might have grace without the gifts. So he would try professors now; for “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” &c. And the solemn inquiry is, Have we “the form of godliness without the power”? If our personal religion have not power enough within us to subdue our besetments, with all its tongues of men and angels, its mysteries, and knowledge, and prophecy, and it may be, “all faith,” it is the “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.” It is not the professing, but the putting on Christ, and by necessary consequence “the putting off as concerning the former conversation the old man with his deeds.”
2. A day is coming when the critical inquiry will be, not what doctrinal system we professed, but what was its influence on our hearts and lives? (J. B. Owen, M. A.)
The kingdom of God in word and in power
I. Its instrument--revealed truth. Although the word may be present without power, wherever the power is put forth it employs the word as its instrument: although the letter is sometimes dead, it is by that letter, when it lives, that all the real work is done.
II. Its essence--Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24). Here is the fountain-head of all the force which, through the preaching of the truth, can be brought to bear upon the hearts and lives of men. The word and ordinances stand ready to convey the power, but the redemption that is in Christ is the power which must be led to men’s hearts and led on.
III. Its application is effected by the ministry of the Spirit. Before His ascension our Lord promised this, and at Pentecost the promise was fulfilled. Then the kingdom came in power to a multitude who had previously known it in word only. From that day to this, with a ministry sometimes silent as the dew, and sometimes terrible as a tempest, the same Spirit has been working in the world.
IV. Its effects.
1. It subdues. It seizes Saul, and in a moment Jays him prostrate on the earth. It makes him blind, and again gives him light. It strips him of his own righteousness, and forthwith clothes him in another. The soldier is compelled to change his side, and without even putting off his armour marches under another Captain to fight another foe. The conquest, as might have been expected, is more complete than any which earthly powers can achieve (2 Corinthians 10:5). Other monarchs rule men’s actions; Christ is King of thoughts.
2. It comforts. It is as much the peculiar prerogative of royalty to make peace, as to declare war. “Peace I leave with you,” &c. These are kingly words; only One has the right to use them.
3. It levies tribute. This is the sure mark of a real kingdom. Once the king of Britain claimed to be also king of France. In France his kingdom consisted in word only; in Britain and Ireland it came in power. Here tribute flowed into the royal treasury; there not a penny was paid. Christ’s kingdom, wherever it is real, puts forth the taxing power. Tribute, bearing the image and superscription of earthly kings, flows into its treasury to maintain its machinery and extend its bounds; but the self of the subject is the coin in which the King best likes the tribute to be paid. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The kingdom of God in power
The kingdom of God is--
I. A government of authority in distinction from legislation and representation. A government of absolute authority is characterised--
1. By certainty in the righteousness of its requirements. Human governments cannot be certain here; they arise from finite intelligence; but the government of God arises from infinite intelligence and righteousness, and hence it is absolutely certain. We are so constituted as to accept with entire confidence that condensation of the Divine government known as the Tea Commandments. If a reformer were to propose to change these laws, they could not be accepted by the human character which God has created. In this certainty we see the distinction between the Divine and a merely verbal government.
2. By certainty in the reach of its prerogative. This is not possible to human governments. There are of necessity questions of prerogatives with regard to territories and dynasties, and consequently wars arise over questions of prerogative. There can, however, be no doubt with regard to the reach of the Divine prerogatives. He is the creator of all men, and hence has the sovereign right to govern all. And the omnipresence and omniscience of the sovereign power settles the question.
3. By certainty in the execution of penalties. This is not possible of human governments, for witnesses may be incompetent, and juries may be mistaken. But there is a perfectness in the administration of the Divine justice which renders evasion and error impossible.
II. It is a government of absolute and of available conditions, and is therefore remedy in distinction from inexorable doom. It is one kind of power, having imposed penalties, to inflict them; it is another kind of power to maintain the authority of the government, and yet extend the grace of God. Because Jesus died and ever liveth to make intercession for us, we are called to receive the forgiveness of sins. When the pardon is announced from God, the repenting, believing sinner is able to say, “Being justified by faith, I am at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is man dead in trespasses and sins, but under the power of the quickening Spirit the soul is brought to life again. There are the stains which sin has made upon our souls, but “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all unrighteousness.” This is the remedy. You thus see the power of God’s govermnent rising above all mere nominal definitions in the great change of heart and change of life which the gospel works upon the souls of men. This is the government of remedy, and hence the government of power.
III. It is a life in distinction from a doctrine. The potency of the Divine kingdom appears in the fact that it accomplishes what all other forms of power fail to achieve. It is the power not of mere creed, but the power of God within the soul; and hence springs up a life that is “hid with Christ in God.” It is a new life, for it is life that flows from Jesus Christ through the faith that is operative in the soul. “Old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new.” This is a life of obedience, purity, and benevolence. Let me not be misunderstood as depreciating or undervaluing dogmatic theology; the kingdom, however, is not the doctrine whatever may be its form or its correctness. To take in the words of the Lord Jesus as He utters them is spirit and life, and inclusive of the kingdom; but the words of which we speak are the words of men having only a representative authority with regard to truth. If you ask me, Where is the kingdom? It is within you. If you ask me, What is the kingdom? I answer, It is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Bp. J. T. Peck.)
The nature of religion
I. It is the kingdom of God. A kingdom which He hath erected in the hearts of men.
1. Of this kingdom God is the Sovereign. He hath laid the foundations of it, and He therefore of right presides over it, commanding a ready obedience to His will, taking effectual care of its real interests, and administering all its affairs with infinite wisdom and goodness.
2. As the heart is the place where He hath erected His throne, so the powers of it, the understanding, will, and affections, are the proper subjects over which He sways His sceptre.
3. Nor need we be at any loss to determine what are the means or instruments by which the soul of man, restored to the dominion of its rightful Sovereign, is ruled and governed. By the sacred Scriptures the man of religion would have his opinions, affections, and conduct directed, governed, and tried.
4. We are led to contemplate the beauty, order, and harmony of this spiritual kingdom, which is another idea the metaphor naturally conveys.
5. If such be the nature and tendency of religion, how great are the privileges and immunities annexed to this spiritual kingdom!
6. Its stability and duration. It is a kingdom that shall not be moved. The foundation of it is laid in the purpose and grace of Him who wants neither means nor inclination to support and defend it.
II. It is not in word, but in power. It is not “in word,” it does not consist in notions, professions, or external forms--things wherein men are too apt to place the essence of it; but “in power,” it is an inward spiritual vital principle, which takes hold of the heart and diffuses its influence through the life. It may in general be described as a principle of Divine and spiritual life. If it be considered in reference to the understanding it expresses itself in our perceptions, reasonings, and reflections about spiritual objects; if in regard to the conscience, in a lively impression of the truth and importance of Divine things; if as respecting the judgment, in an approbation of the things which are excellent; if the will, in a concurrence with whatever appears to be the pleasure of God, and in one word, if it be considered in reference to the affections, it consists in the direction of them to their proper objects. The result of all which will be such a course of behaviour as is in the general answerable to this state of the mind. And now with hew much reason may we--
1. Appeal to the judgments and consciences of all men, whether there is not a real excellency in what we have thus been describing! How much then--
2. Is it to be lamented that so little of real religion is to be found in our world!
3. Of what importance is it that we each of us seriously examine ourselves upon this question, whether God hath erected His kingdom in our hearts, and in what it consists, whether in word or in power! (S. Stennett, D. D.)
The kingdom of God in power
The kingdom of God is the substance and the order of the gospel, and of the gospel dispensation.
1. In a kingdom the subjects become connected with each other and with their king. Salvation connects man with man, and man with God.
2. In a kingdom there is strength. Many kingdoms are powerful, but this is more so than the whole of them.
3. The kingdom of God is not in word; it is not in “enticing words of man’s wisdom.” Words pertain to the kingdom, but they are not its power--words are the clothing; power is in the body where truth lies. Fallen angels are mighty and have possession of man’s fallen nature; the angels must be subdued, and man must be changed. What words are adequate for such a performance?
4. The kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of men, where the power is in the voice of the people: here the power is in the king, and of the king.
5. The power of this kingdom is exercised in the people of God. A new nature is formed in them by an almighty power. The power that will raise the dead in the last day is now exercised in raising the spiritually dead into a life of holiness. The grace received is not in word, but in power: the man does not talk of repentance merely, but departs from iniquity: he does not speak of faith merely, but believes in Christ, and gives himself to Him. The power of the kingdom makes strong the weakest.
6. The power of the kingdom is engaged on behalf of the subjects. The power of their King was engaged for the subjects here on earth, when He stood as their surety. Out of the treasures of holiness in Christ the power of God draws when engaged in the sinner’s sanctification. The might and the holiness of God are alike infinite.
7. The power of God is sovereign in its exercise. A greater degree of success attended the preaching of fishermen in one day, than had been produced by the ministry of Christ Himself in three years and a half. Paul had the same gifts in preaching in every place, but not the same success.
8. The power of the kingdom is exercised against the enemies of the Church, and it reduces the creation into order. Sin and Satan are the great authors of disorder, and this kingdom is opposed to them; and its power will bring down whatever will rise up against it.
9. It will be the power of the kingdom that will appear in the great day. The Lord Jesus Christ will “judge the quick and the dead, at His appearing and His kingdom.” Thenceforth the very world of perdition will be in order: then the chief author of disorder will be reduced to eternal order. Not many words will be used on the occasion, but power. (D. Charles.)
The relation of word to power
God has put truth into word, and so given us a Bible, for the purpose of making the Divine a practical working factor inside each man’s own individual life; so that by virtue of it we become organs of God, and young incarnations. A man is not a man fully and fairly until his own energies gain their final touch of effectiveness through the power of God working within him to will and to do of the Divine good pleasure. Inspiration is permanent; only in one case it covers the Spirit of God going forth into the forms of lettered truth; in another into forms of thought, feeling, purpose, and power through personal instrumentality. Inspired power to write a Divine Bible; inspired power to live a Divine life; inspired power to conceive or achieve a Divine purpose--each of them is as a separate coloured ray that issues into the air after its passage through the prism of the human spirit; but one of these just as much as another sprung out of the original white beam of the Spirit of God. To be a Christian, then, is to live with a Divine life; and to secure that result is the object which God had in giving to us a book--an instrument, therefore, whose prime value lies only in its competency to contribute to the realisation and maintenance in men of the Spirit of God as the law and the material of life. (C. H. Parkhurst, D.D.)
The distinction between word and power
The written pages from Matthew to Revelation did not make Christianity; Christianity made those pages. Words are the accident of the matter. It is easier to carry a book around in our pocket than it is to carry God’s Spirit around in cur life. But gospel is power; it is life, Divine life. Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; the whole thing. And to be a Christian is not to know a book, but to be knit into the Son of God. There was no book in St. John’s piety, or in St. Peter’s, or in St. Paul’s. I know whom, not what “I have believed.” This, of course, is not to depreciate the Christian Scriptures. They serve a necessary purpose. They are a highway over which men are to be led to Christ. The error does not lie in using the written records as an instrument, but in treating them as a finality, as a substitute for Christ. We are in danger of trying to live on an inspired description of Christ and a verbal photograph of Him instead of succeeding in living on Christ. We cannot live on a history--even an inspired history. Christ told His disciples that it was expedient for them that Pie go away; to their advantage that He go away, because He would send His Spirit instead. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
The power of the gospel
1. The text does not mean that words have no place in the kingdom of God. No man made a more marvellous use of language than St. Paul. A man who has a perfect command of words has a very great command of things, because words are things in reality.
2. Yet it is true that the kingdom of God is not in words but in power, as it is that the glory of the picture is not in its frame, but in the picture itself. The gospel is in power. Men write and speak about it, some for and some against it; and in either case there is evidence of its power. Nothing in Europe to-day has such power over the minds of men as the New Testament. Millions of people believe the gospel, and are endeavouring in a manner to conform their lives to its requirements. Then people who are in trouble all love it. You have no idea what a power it has over them. What is the reason? I attribute the power of the gospel--
I. To the charm of the life of Jesus. You have read all manner of lives, but as a rule you do not read a man’s biography twice. But how many times have you read the life of Christ? You say, “But it is in the Bible, and is inspired.” You do not read it because of that. The main secret is in the charm of the history itself. There are certain elements of it that must always have a wonderful power over man.
1. Its truth and naturalness. Some men love error, but our nature loves reality, and any man that is brave enough to be natural and true will be loved, and people will gather around him. No age was ever more real than this. Everywhere men are inclined to discover the reality of things, whether in the heavens or in the earth. Look at the sorrowful earnestness of writers in the daily journals. In the New Testament you meet a man who speaks fresh from the glory of God; you come in contact with reality and truth, qualities which will always have a charm.
2. Its perfect goodness and love. All that is rich, sweet, and inspiring in the vegetable world is concentrated in the fruit of the vine. Jesus said, “I am the Vine”; and all the virtues are found in Him. It is this that gives a power and a charm to the gospel.
3. Its supernatural majesty. Take one or two instances. There arose a great storm, and He said, “Peace be still.” There followed a great calm. He sees people burdened with sin and sorrow, and He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When sin and death came into the family of friends, He said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the man came forth from the tomb. You may write splendid essays to prove that miracles are outside experience; but as long as you have this supernaturalism mingled with goodness, and all founded upon truth and naturalness, you will have a power which will always have a charm for the minds of men.
II. To the manner in which our Lord makes good His doctrine of the Divine interest in us. Science is bringing marvellous facts to light. Why then not make a religion of science, and make thoroughly scientific men the priests of that religion, and let its disciples worship the cosmos? You cannot. Science does not touch the heart deep enough. Why not make a religion of philosophy? Why not worship the Absolute One which underlies all things? The answer again is you cannot. Philosophy does not touch the heart deep enough to cause it to worship. Splendid as it is, still it seems cold as the northern lights that play around the pole. Why has the gospel a power over us? It brings God near to the heart, and enables us to believe in, to love, and to worship Him.
III. To its doctrine of eternal life. All that we are and all that we have are summed up in the word “life.” Hence men love life so dearly. “All that a man hath will he give for his life.” We say of some people that they love riches, but it is not gold the people love. It is the position, the influence, the enjoyments, the independency that wealth gives. Men love wealth because it can make their life deeper, richer, broader. These are seeking the tree of life if they only knew it, but in the wrong way, in a way in which they never can find it. The gospel has a charm over us because it speaks certainly concerning eternal life. If you could take away all desire of knowledge from man, then you might shut up all the libraries of the world, for books would have no power. Books appeal to the love of knowledge. If we could lock out this thirst for life, if we could reduce the human mind to contentment, so that it should cease to desire an endless, blessed existence, then might the gospel become a dead letter. But whilst we thirst for eternal life, the message “I give unto you eternal life” shall always be welcome. (T. Jones, D. D.)
Profession and action
These words may be--
1. When they are employed to weaken the outward institutions of piety. Some would so refine religion as to render it unsuited for human beings. We have to worship God in spirit, but we must not forget that we have bodies. There may be the form of godliness without the power, but while we are here the power cannot be manifested without the form. Even the practical duties of life are better discharged by those who wait upon God in His appointed means. It is a dangerous delusion that leads people to the neglect of those means and forms which God, who knoweth our frame, has enjoined us to use.
2. When we fail to regulate our religion by the rule of God’s Word. Impulse is good, but requires guidance. Zeal may cause our good to be evil spoken of, and even produce evil. One duty must not defraud another. There are some who would even use the text to do away with social distinctions.
II. Improved by applying them--
1. To judging ourselves. Is religion a power in our lives? Does faith work by love? Professions or intentions do not make piety.
2. To judging others. Men differ in temperament. We often consider an individual who speaks much on religion as a zealous Christian, when, if we followed him through life, we should find him as zealous in worldly concerns. So also we meet with a man who shrinks from notice, and set him down as not “fervent in spirit,” when it is only his natural timidity that restrains him from more active exertion. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
The spiritual mind
I. If we would form a just notion how far we are influenced by the power of the gospel, we must put aside everything which we do merely in imitation of others, and not from religious principles.
1. Let a man consider the number of times he has attended public worship because others do; or the number of times he has found himself unequal to temptations when they came, which beforehand he and others made light of, and he must own that his outward conduct shapes itself unconsciously by the manners of those with whom he lives.
2. Now, I am not condemning all that we do without thinking expressly of the duty of obedience at the very time we are doing it. It is natural to a religious man to obey, and therefore he will do it naturally, i.e., without effort or deliberation. Separate acts of faith aid us only while we are unstable. As we get strength, but one extended act of faith (so to call it) influences us all through the day, and our whole day is but one act of obedience also. Our will runs parallel to God’s. We are moved by God dwelling in us, and need not but act on instinct.
3. How different is this high obedience from that random unawares way of doing right, which to so many men seems to constitute a religious life! The one is obedience on habit, the other obedience on custom; the one is of the heart, the other of the lips; the one is in power, the other in word; the one cannot be acquired without much and Constant vigilance, generally not without much pain and trouble; the other is the result of a mere passive imitation of those whom we fall in with. Have we then received the kingdom of God more than externally?
II. We may have received it in a higher sense than in word merely, and yet in no real sense in power. Our obedience may be in some sort religious, and yet hardly deserve the title of Christian.
1. It is possible, according to St. Peter, to fear God and work righteousness without being Christians. Is it not the way of men to dwell with satisfaction on their good deeds? They never harmed any one, they have not given in to a profligate life; they can speak of their honesty, industry, conscientiousness, &c. Now all this is really praiseworthy, and, when a man from want of opportunity knows no more, really acceptable to God; yet it determines nothing about his having received the gospel of Christ in power.
2. To be Christians, surely it is not enough to be that which we must be, even without Christ; not enough to be no better than good heathens. I am not wishing to frighten these imperfect Christians, but to lead them on; to open their minds to the greatness of the work before them, to dissipate the meagre and carnal views in which the gospel has come to them, to warn them that they must never be contented with themselves, but must go on unto perfection; that till they are much more than they are at present, they have received the kingdom of God in word, not in power.
3. What is it, then, that they lack? Read 2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:12-16; Galatians 4:6; Luke 9:23. Now it is plain that this is a very different mode of obedience from any which natural reason and conscience tell us of. Observe in what respect it is different from that lower degree of religion which we may possess without entering into the mind of the gospel.
(1) In its faith; which is placed, not simply in God, but in God as manifested in Christ, according to His own words, “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”
(2) We must adore Christ as our Lord and Master, and love Him as our most gracious Redeemer.
(3) We must, for His sake, aim at a noble and unusual strictness of life, perfecting holiness in His fear, destroying our sins, mastering our whole soul, and bringing it into captivity to His law, exercising a profound humility, and an unbounded, never-failing love, and shunning irreligious men. This is to be a Christian. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
1. This “kingdom” is not God’s government among the nations; nor the outward dispensation of the gospel, a kingdom which is “preached” unto us; nor the sphere of celestial bliss, to which we are “called.” It is spiritual. “It cometh not with observation.” It is “within us.” We can only “see” it and “enter” it by being “born again.” It is not ceremonial observance, but “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Its “mystery” can alone be appreciated by subjection to it. It is so inestimable that we must “seek it first.”
2. This kingdom is not in “word,” a mere proclamation--it is in power. This is a thing very difficult to define. To tell us that it is ability, capacity, strength, is idle repetition. It will better reveal its true meaning in the facts which the text will identify.
I. Religion in its hold and operation upon the heart is nothing less than the kingdom of God.
1. You must lay aside all notion of empires and thrones. You must remove all your ideas to the soul which once belonged to the kingdom of Satan. In our conversion God’s reign begins. The atonement slays our enmity, and gives us our true and perfect law of liberty. We are “willing in the day of His power.”
2. The kingdom of God supposes the corn stunt operation of authority, and of the sense of law. To the most sinless creatures this is the ever-present idea. There can be no excellence without such guide and commandment. In keeping such commandment is heaven’s great reward. Heaven is a kingdom, and only they who do His commandments have right to its tree of life.
3. It is well known with what a graceful fervour human fealty has often borne itself. A generous devotion has sustained it. The darker the eclipse which greatness suffered, the steadier was its faith. And does not such loyalty shame our coldness, little short of treason, to Jesus our King? Where are our efforts and sacrifices for His throne? Would we die in His cause?
II. This kingdom rests in a mighty influence.
1. The ultimate sanction of every government is force. But that force is indicated by pageantry and weapon. Yet is it, at a very early stage, a barren spectacle. Carried to its furthest, it can kill the body. Within the still smaller limit its command is feeble. It cannot decide opinion or fetter conscience. If benevolent, few are the blessings which it can supply; if tyrannic, as few are the ills which it can inflict. It is a narrow thing. The soul defies it. But the kingdom of God in an embodiment of august ascendency. It is not indebted to the adventitious and the external appendage. It wants not palaces, courts, armies. It is great in the greatness, it is strong in the strength, of its King.
2. Christianity made its early boast of this attribute. A signal power attended its outset. The Saviour taught as having authority. His favourite disciples did not taste of death till they had seen the kingdom of God come with power. Glorious victories were won. It was the visitation of a new life. Nothing withstood it. It grew up into a vast intellectual and moral dominion, diverse from every other government, having no local confines, brooking no selfish jealousies, converting the rebel soul and restoring it to God it was in power.
3. We would not for a moment suppress the fact that if the gospel comes not in word only, but in power, it is because it comes in the Holy Ghost, the “Spirit of power!” But the “power” which is ascribed to the kingdom of God in the text, though always depending upon the Divine influence, is not the same with it. It belongs to the theme itself. It grows out of it, and is its legitimate due. It is a moral power. And there is power of the highest created order wherever there is mind. Knowledge is power (Proverbs 24:5). How mind acts upon mind! It is impossible to measure that impetus and confirmation which Christianity has given already to human intellect. It alone awakens man. Through its precepts he gets understanding. The entire soul is knitted into strength. The religion of Christ alone brings out the stamina of our mental and moral constitution. We can do all things through Christ Jesus strengthening us.
4. But in contending for the moral power inherent in the gospel of the kingdom, we may be asked, What can be the influence of the mere word? Let us illustrate. The great masters of antiquity have long since passed away. But their lore and eloquence have found some record. It is dead letter, it is mere word. But do they not exercise a mighty dominion over nations of which they had not heard? Paul penned his arguments and censures. “His letters, said they, are powerful.” So all that belongs to our religion, even that which is most external, is m power. Its words, they are spirit and they are life.
III. The qualities of this power.
1. It is a power of truth. “The truth” is its sublime designation. The gospel founds itself upon facts. “With great power,” therefore, “gave the apostles” their “witness.” “The word of the truth of the gospel” impresses its own seal upon our soul. So adapted is it, that the Spirit of truth exclusively employs it in the new birth. And it is equally operative in the growth of Christian character and experience; when we receive it “not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God,” then “it worketh effectually in us who believe.”
2. It is a power of authority. It is Divine obligation.
(1) The authority of the gospel alone can impart confidence. It is God’s provision; here is our security: it is God’s will; here is our warrant: it is God’s command; here is our duty.
(2) It will manifest itself in our exertions to promote it. Content yourselves with the idea that Christianity would be a general blessing, that its extension is therefore desirable, and what would be the vigour of our missionary institutions? But when we feel that “the mystery is to be made known to all nations according to the commandment of the everlasting God,” we cry, “Necessity is laid upon us,” &c.
3. It is a power of realisation. It affects strongly and vividly. It arouses every earnest feeling. It substantiates its own truths and places them in a distinct perceptibleness. It realises God, and we “endure as seeing Him who is invisible.” It realises futurity, and “faith is the Substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
4. It is a power of intuition. Though man is grossly self-ignorant, yet he feels the truth when brought home to him. We see ourselves as in a glass. The secrets of man’s heart are made manifest. He wonders at the detection and exposure: “Whence knowest thou me?” “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did.”
5. It is a power of relief. With royal liberality Christianity makes full provision for all the wants of all. There is no escape nor exemption which the sinner needs, but it secures. There is no remorse nor shame which he suffers, but it soothes. It is a feast for the hungry, a fountain to the thirsty, a wardrobe for the naked.
6. It is a power of exemplification. Sign and wonder attest it. But there is a still more decisive corroboration. A change has ever been going on in countless minds which science, legislation, moral suasion, never could achieve.
7. It is a power of absorption. It takes hold of man’s soul, occupies and engrosses it. Like the leaven, it assimilates the mass into which it is thrown.
8. It is a power of courage. Christianity is the parent and nurse of the true heroic. It is great and it excites greatness. Its language is to reiteration, Be strong. It trains us to hardness; to the sacrifice of life when higher interests are at stake. Pusillanimity may be too natural to us, but it belongs not to our cause. True to it, we faint not.
9. It is the power of support. Afflictions are not held back from the Christian: but “strong consolation” only feebly expresses his support. He glories in tribulation. He is more than a conqueror. We are partakers of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.
10. It is the power of influence. The gospel clothes its believers with an incalculable ascendency. It is impossible to limit their power of doing good. Who can measure the usefulness of a thought, the efficacy of a prayer?
11. It is the power of diffusion. In Christianity there is nothing sluggish and inert, nothing cold and narrow, but all is glowing, intense, stirring, and expansive. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
Polish without power
The other Saturday evening, feeling tired and overworked, I went to the Turkish Baths to get freshened up for the Sunday services. I sat in the beautifully-furnished heating-room, quietly waiting my turn to go through the mysterious process of cleansing, when my attention was called to two gentlemen, whose conversation I was obliged to hear. “Well,” said the shorter of the two, “I don’t get much out of his preaching now.” “How is that?” asked the other; “does he neglect the sermon preparation?” “No. I think he prepares too much; he says he wants more time for study, and he can’t visit the old folks like he did when he came fresh from college.” “Perhaps he feels running dry,” significantly remarked the little man, as he wiped the perspiration from his face. “I tell you what it is, Mr. S ,” said the first speaker, with emphasis, “our minister thinks a lot too much about polish; he makes splendid sentences, but there’s no power in them. He used to quote the Scriptures at first, now he puts in bits of poetry: all are very nice and pretty, but no power. What is the good of preaching when there’s no power about it? I like polish, but I like it on something.” I went to take my turn in the bath, but not to forget the old man’s words about polish and power. (Sword and Trowel.)
The power of the gospel
In the city of Shanghai, a convert to the gospel kept a store for selling rice for the daily food of the purchasers. When he was received into the Church he was told he could not sell rice on the Sabbath, he must close his store on that day. This would endanger his business, as his patrons, if they could not buy at his store on the Sabbath, would go to some other one, and would not come back to him. He, however, kept the Sabbath, and, to the surprise of others as well as himself, his business increased on the other days of the week, and he prospered. As he gained some money, he determined to build a church in which to preach the gospel to those who did not believe. He built the church at his own expense; and, as he has grown in knowledge of the gospel, as well as prospered in his business, he himself preaches in this church every Sunday, and thus gives, not only his money, but his own personal labour, to the extension of the gospel of our Lord. This shows that this gospel is the power of God wherever it is preached, to the Gentile as well as the Jew, and that it everywhere brings forth fruit to the praise of Divine grace. (S. S. Chronicle.)
What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod or in love?--
I. The occasion of this appeal; pride, contention, &c. (see foregoing chapters).
II. The spirit of it. The apostle speaks as a father.
1. With love.
2. With authority.
III. The design. To produce--
2. Amendment. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Discipline in the Church
1. The apostle had the power of using the rod.
2. This is sometimes needful.
3. It is a ministerial duty.
4. It was reluctantly employed by Paul, and should be spared where possible.
5. Must be administered in the spirit of love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/