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1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
I. Is not necessary for all (1 Corinthians 7:1).
1. Instituted by God, sanctified by Christ, it is pure and holy.
2. Yet circumstances, such as times of calamity, personal duty, &c., may render it undesirable
II. Is advisable for many (1 Corinthians 7:2-5). Because--
1. Of the force of natural passion.
2. It is a shelter from temptation.
III. It is nevertheless a matter of choice (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).
1. Paul only counsels, does not command
2. The choice must be determined by the gift of God, which may render celibacy preferable, but every one must carefully estimate his case. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
There are two preliminary considerations which throw some light on this passage.
1. Paul had to speak about marriage as he found it. Hence he makes no allusion to that which with us is the main argument and motive, viz., love. In the marriages of Jews and Greeks, love had, as a rule, little to do. The marriage was arranged by the parents.
2. He was here only giving answers to some special questions, and not discussing the whole subject (1 Corinthians 7:1). Certain scruples about marriage had arisen. Among the Jews marriage was a duty, “so much so that he who at the age of twenty had not married was considered to have sinned.” Among the Gentiles the tendency to celibacy was so strong that it was considered necessary to counteract it by legal enactment. The questions referred to Paul resolve themselves into two. So we have--
I. Paul’s counsel to the unmarried. This is summed up in 1 Corinthians 7:8, “It is good for them if they abide even as I”; i.e., unmarried. But if any man’s temperament be such that he cannot settle to his work without marrying; and if he is so full of natural cravings which make him feel sure he would be less distracted in married life--then, says Paul, let such an one by all means marry. But he adds, I do not say you ought to marry; I say you may, and in certain circumstances ought. Those among you who say a man sins if he do not marry, talk nonsense. Those among you who feel a quiet superiority because you are married are much mistaken. Personally, I would that all men were even as I myself, only I know that to many men it is not so easy as it is to me to live unmarried; and therefore I do not advise them to a single life.
1. This proceeds, not from any ascetic tendency, but from the practical bias of Paul’s mind. He merely thought that unmarried men were likely to be most available for the work of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:32-33). No doubt a good wife may stimulate a man to liberality, and may greatly increase his tenderness towards deserving objects; but he who has seven mouths to fill cannot have so much to give away as if he had but, one. With the unmarried man there need be no other consideration than this: How can I best serve Christ? With the married man there must always be other considerations. It is therefore to the unmarried that the State looks for the manning of the army and navy, that society looks for the nursing of the sick and for the filling of posts of danger, that the Church depends for a large part of her work, from teaching in Sunday schools to occupying precarious outposts in the mission field.
2. But Paul says also, Beware how you individually think yourself a hero, and able to forego marriage. Beware lest, by choosing a part which you are not fit for, you give Satan an advantage over you (1Co 7:35, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:7). What is good for one man is not good for another; every man must ascertain for himself what is best for him. And this is precisely what is lacking in popular feeling about marriage. People start, and are encouraged to start in life, on the understanding that their happiness cannot be complete till they are married. Now, on the contrary, they should be taught to consider their own make and bent, and not to take this for granted. Marriage is but one path to happiness, and it is possible celibacy may be the straightest path for some. Above all life is very wide and multifarious, and to effect His ends God needs persons of all kinds and conditions.
3. This not only illustrates the judicial balance of the apostle’s mind, but gives us the key to the whole chapter. The capacity for celibacy is a gift of God which may be of eminent service, but no moral value can be attached to it. There are many gifts of immense value which may belong to bad as well as to good men. In the Roman Church celibacy is regarded as a virtue in itself, so that men with no natural gift for it have been encouraged to aim at it, with what results we need not say. But while there is no virtue in remaining unmarried, there is virtue in remaining unmarried for the sake of serving Christ better. Some persons are kept single by mere selfishness; but all honour to that eldest son of an orphaned family who sees that it is not for him to please himself, but to work for those who have none to look to but him! There are here and there persons who from the highest motives decline marriage: persons conscious of some hereditary weakness, &c. We may be thankful that there are men and women of sufficiently heroic mould to exemplify the wisdom of the apostle’s counsel. Such devotion is not for every one. There are persons of a domestic temperament who need the comforts of home-life, and nothing can be more ill-advised than to encourage such persons to turn their life into a channel in which it was never intended to run. But it is equally to be lamented that, where there are women quite capable of a life of self-devotion to some noble work, they should be discouraged from such a life by the false, foolish, and petty notions of society. No calling is nobler than marriage; but it is not the only calling.
II. St. Paul’s counsel to the married.
1. Some of the Corinthians seem to have thought that, because they were new creatures in Christ, their old relations should be abandoned. Paul had shrewdness enough to see that if a Christian might separate from an unbelieving wife on the sole ground that he was a Christian, this easy mode of divorce might lead to a large influx of pretended Christians into the Church. He therefore lays down the law that the power of separation is to rest with the unbelieving, and not with the believing, partner (1 Corinthians 7:12-15). It frequently happened in the early ages that when a man was converted in middle life, and judged he could serve God better without the encumbrance of a family, he forsook his wife and children and betook himself to a monastery. This directly contravened the law here laid down (1 Corinthians 7:20), which is of wide application (1 Corinthians 7:21, &c.).
2. But the principle to which Paul chiefly trusts he enounces in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. Whatever is temporary in our relation to the present world it is foolish so to set our heart on, for death may end all our joy and usefulness. The man who is sent abroad for five years would consider it folly to accumulate a large collection of the luxuries of life; how many times five years do we expect to live, that we should be much concerned to amass goods which we cannot remove to another world? This world is a means, and not an end; and those use it best who use it in relation to what is to be. It is the thought of our great future which alone gives us sufficient courage and wisdom to deal with present things in earnest. The very intensity of our interests and affections reminds us that we cannot root ourselves in this present life, but need a larger room. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Paul’s conception of marriage
I. Is not a duty binding upon mankind--not a moral obligation like “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” &c. (1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:7-8; 1 Corinthians 7:40). Some may feel that celibacy is best for them, then let them remain single; others that marriage is most desirable, then let them marry Now does it seem strange that a condition upon which the continuation of the race depends should be thus left open? For were celibacy to rule, in about sixty years mankind would be extinct. But it may be replied that marriage is a law of nature and does not require a command any more than eating or drinking.
II. Is primarily for spiritual ends (1 Corinthians 7:14). Those who enter on this relation from fleshly impulses and with fleshly ends misunderstand the ordinance. True marriage means such a mutual spiritual affection as welds two souls into one moral personality.
III. Involves mutual obligations the most sacred. Mutual--
1. Benevolence (1 Corinthians 7:3), each wishing the well-being of the other.
2. Identification (1 Corinthians 7:4). The two are one. The equal rights of husband and wife are everywhere recognised in the Bible.
3. Honesty (1 Corinthians 7:5). Deception is inimical to the true union of souls. Nothing cuts united hearts asunder so easily and effectually as artfulness.
4. Forbearance (1 Corinthians 7:12; 1 Corinthians 7:14). Should difference of religious opinion crop up, do not separate; for the believing may correct the unbelieving.
5. Concession of personal freedom (1 Corinthians 7:15). Conclusion: Paul’s conception is wise and just. We have made marriage simply a civil contract; but its essence is the strongest sympathies and aims that one can have for another; the bond of marriage is the solemn mutual pledge. Those who are thus married are united by a cord finer than the finest web; too weak to fetter, yet too strong to break. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s view of celibacy
It is necessary to remember--
I. That we have here only half of the apostolic mind. Had this passage stood alone, we might then have been justified in taking it as an absolute preference of the single state. But inasmuch as Colossians 3:18-19; Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:4 speak of marriage with high commendation, it is obvious that this passage expresses only one side of the truth. And it is also clear that it is this passage which must be qualified by the others and vice versa, inasmuch as he is here addressing himself to the answer of a particular question put under particular circumstances; in the others he is speaking without reserve on the general duties of a Christian life. This conclusion is confirmed by a consideration of this passage in detail. The preference for celibacy, although stated absolutely at first (verses 1, 7, 8), is afterwards expressly founded on the impending calamities (verses 26-31), and, apparently in connection with this, on the greater freedom thereby afforded from worldly cares (verses 32-35). In one instance, that of recommending widows not to marry (verses 8, 40). We have a precept (1 Timothy 4:14) reversing this; and whilst there is no trace here of the superior sanctity of celibacy, the prohibition of marriage on that ground is in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 classed among the signs of a false and dangerous system.
II. That the apostle’s preference must be taken with three strong qualifications.
1. As being the expression of his natural temperament (verse 7). But he never confounds his individual peculiarity with Christianity itself. He warns us that it is he who speaks and not Christ, and claims for his recommendation no higher authority than the requirements of the time.
2. As given in expectation of calamities.
3. As given without regard to the moral purposes of marriage, To a certain extent the highest form of Roman marriage was a union for high moral purposes; and the same may be said of the Jewish marriages in the Old Testament and Apocrypha. But even in these the sterner rather than the gentler affections were called forth; and in the Greek and Eastern provinces generally marriage was little more than what the apostle describes it, good only as preventing great evils. And just as his denunciations of Greek wisdom must not be extended without qualification to that higher philosophy of Socrates and Plato; so his denunciations of marriage must not be extended without qualification to that intimate union of pure domestic affections which rose out of the combination of the Teutonic and Christian elements.
III. That taking this preference as it stands two practical inferences may be deduced.
1. That there are ordinary circumstances in Christian as well as in political life, under which the ordinary rules of right and expediency may be suspended or superseded by a higher claim. Philosophical historians have truly felt that the monastic system was to a great extent excused, if not justified, by the fact that it originated in an age when it seemed the only refuge from the dissolution of the existing fabric of society. An absolute dictatorship, whether of pope or emperor, has often been defended on the ground that it met the emergencies of a crisis of danger and transition. The enforcement of the celibacy of the clergy in the Middle Ages doubtless in part arose from the just instinct that they would else have sunk into an hereditary feudal caste. No one can deny that domestic ties must occasionally be severed by extraordinary calls, political, military, or religious. All these are instances of the adoption of a rule in peculiar circumstances which St. Paul’s advice teaches us not to condemn at once, even though it may seem at variance with the broader principles of Christian life laid down elsewhere in the New Testament. Note in exact correspondence with this passage the declaration of Queen Elizabeth that “England was her husband and all Englishmen her children,” and that she “desired no higher character or fairer remembrance of her than this inscription on her tombstone, ‘Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a maiden queen.’”
2. That the highest duties of Christianity are compatible with every lawful condition of life. If the state of slavery be consistent with the cultivation of the true spirit of Christian liberty, if the great religious divisions of Jew and Gentile be alike compatible with the true service of God, then in all other states of life the spirit of the apostolic injunctions may be observed where, in the letter, they seem disregarded. Freedom from earthly cares may be maintained in the married as well as in the single state; indifference to worldly gain may exist in riches, no less than m poverty; our nearness to God depends not on our desertion of one religious community for another, but on our keeping His commandments. (Dean Stanley.)
Celibacy and marriage
1. In what sense is it called good? Not in the sense of being in itself and always superior to marriage which is the image of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:23-25). “Forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:3) is a mark of false teaching. The law of consistency, then, bids us interpret Paul’s statements here as in no sense depreciatory of the Divine ordinance of marriage. A single life is good in the sense of being in itself honourable, and in certain circumstances expedient. The apostle’s “good” must always be read in the light of the “not good” of Genesis 2:18.
2. When is it to be preferred to marriage? Leaving out of view considerations of physical health, which may in certain cases render marriage imprudent or culpable, three answers are given in this chapter.
(1) In circumstances of peculiar distress (verse 26). In times of persecution or dearth it may be wise not to marry.
(2) When called to some peculiar service for the Lord (verses 32, 33; cf. Matthew 19:12).
(3) Both these considerations must be taken with that in ver.
7. If a man has not the gift of continency, then his duty to marry is clear (verse 9); if he has the gift, then he is free to give weight to reasons which may turn the balance in favour of celibacy. Even then, however, the higher ends of wedlock are not to be overlooked.
3. It is not to be made obligatory. The Church of Rome ascribes a peculiar excellence to the celibate state, as fitted to promote greater sanctity. There is no warrant for this here; while experience testifies to the dreadful evils to which it leads.
1. Is a safeguard against incontinence. The apostle is not treating of it in general, or in its higher aspects. Still the use here referred to is not to be overlooked in view of such licentiousness as prevailed at Corinth.
2. Implies the rendering of conjugal duty (verses 3, 4). The one party exists for the other, and the other alone the twain having become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
3. It is a union between one man and one woman. In polygamy the true idea of marriage is lost. The testimony of Scripture is all in favour of monogamy (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:2); and the statements of the apostle here take this for granted. Domestic bliss is not to be found in the haunts of polygamy. (H. Bremner, B. D.)
1 Corinthians 7:6-9
I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
I. By permission.
1. Is still Divine and therefore authoritative.
2. Respects matters of expediency and private application.
II. By commandment.
1. Is absolute.
2. Of immeasurable importance.
3. Universally binding. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For I would that all men were even as myself.--
The happiness of single life
I. Exemplified by paul.
1. Freedom from earthly care.
2. Entire devotedness to the service of God.
II. Depends on special gift.
1. The gift of continence.
2. Not conferred upon all.
3. Associated generally with special grace.
III. Must not be inculcated upon all.
1. Would violate the ordination of Providence.
2. Breed mischief and immorality. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
But every man hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that.--
Paul had peculiar natural powers, adapting him for a life of consecration and service. But it was a beautiful feature in his character that he did not expect or wish all Christians to resemble himself in all things. In fellow-labourers he recognised adaptation for usefulness.
I. Human endowments are Divine gifts. The devout mind naturally looks up to the source of all. If to God we are to attribute providential favours, shall we attribute higher gifts to an inferior source?
II. Divine gifts are bestowed upon men in great variety.
1. It is so in bodily constitution. One has muscular strength, another manual dexterity, &c.
2. It is so in temperament. One is calm and wise, another tender and sympathetic, a third impulsive and commanding.
3. It is so in intellectual character. One reasons with force, another persuades with fervour, a third speaks with eloquence. Where are two leaves, two faces alike? So in the Church--one has the gift to rule, another to teach, or to console, &c. One is fitted for a pastor, another for an evangelist. One is called to a public, another to a private position.
III. These gifts are complementary and co-operate to the general good. None can be spared. There is generosity, but not waste in the Divine benefactions. Pray for the qualified workman, and the work shall not be undone for the want of him. Because all things are Christ’s, all things are ours. One supplies another’s lack, and mutual sympathy and ministrations subserve the general good. Conclusion:
1. Gratitude should be cultivated as due to Him who is the Giver of all.
2. Pride should be repressed; for if one has his gift he has to remember that it is a gift bestowed in grace.
3. Forbearance and toleration are requisite. It is vain to expect all gifts to centre in the same person, to look for what God has not bestowed, to complain because a man has his proper gift and that only. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
1 Corinthians 7:10-17
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.
The marriage union: how disturbances of it are to be alleviated
I. If both parties are believers--according to our Lord’s command.
1. Not by divorce.
2. But by mutual conciliation.
II. If one party is an unbeliever--according to apostolic prescription.
1. Not by divorce.
2. But by patience in the believing party, that by example, &c., the unbelieving party and the children may be saved.
III. If the unbelieving party brings about a separation.
1. By submission, love to God must predominate.
2. God can overrule it for good.
3. Everyone must content himself with the appointments of Providence. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Unity in marriage
The Cherokee marriage ceremony is very expressive. The man and woman join hands over running water, to indicate that their lives are thenceforth to flow in one stream.
I. A sad evidence of human depravity. Except in the case of confirmed lunacy--
1. It originates--
(1) In marrying out of impure motives.
(2) In the loss of affection,
(3) In the unfaithfulness of one or both parties.
2. Is opposed
(1) To the express command of our Lord (Matthew 5:31; Matthew 19:1-12), which is founded on the deep significance of the marriage bond (Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:32).
(2) To the diffusion of the kingdom of God, as exerting a deleterious influence on the general welfare of mankind.
II. Cannot be entirely disallowed.
1. The Lord permits it in certain instances (Matthew 5:39), and the apostle extends the permission m an exceptional case (1 Corinthians 7:15).
2. Yet so long as there is hope of reconciliation, every means must be used to maintain an unbroken union.
3. Separation is therefore allowable when it is evident that a perpetuated union will only be a source of sin, or that it will prove perilous to the salvation of the innocent party. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Divorce: mixed marriages
Having spoken of celibacy and marriage, the apostle now deals with the case of those already married.
I. Where both parties are Christian. In this case Christ has decided, and Paul refers them to His words (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
1. The marriage bond is indissoluble. This arises from the relationship itself, as well as from the Divine appointment. Husband and wife are ideally one; the bond has no parallel in the world; God has made the union sacred by blessing it.
2. Separation is not to be final. The cause of separation (ill-treatment, &c.) may or may not be sufficient to justify it, but it must not be regarded as severing the tie. The wife must remain unmarried, or she must be reconciled to her husband. The latter is the desirable course, inasmuch as husband and wife cannot go apart without scandal to the Christian name. Let them reconsider their position, and remove every barrier to union.
II. Where one party is Christian and the other heathen. Christ had given no utterance on mixed marriages, and therefore Paul gives his inspired judgment regarding them. Consider the case where--
1. The unbelieving partner is content to remain. The Christian spouse is not to seek a separation as if the marriage were unholy (1 Corinthians 7:14). The apostle does not mean that an unbeliever by conjugal union with a believer becomes personally holy; but that he or she is consecrated. As the altar sanctifies the gift (Matthew 23:19), so the Christian reflects something of his character on everything connected with him. His property, business, family, are all in a sense holy as belonging to one who is in covenant with God, and are under His special protection. Hence the pagan partner is a privileged person on the ground of union with a Christian. The reason is significant (1 Corinthians 7:14). It was an accepted maxim that the children of such marriages were born within the Church. This principle was recognised among the Jews, as the case of Timothy shows (Acts 16:1-3). If, then, the children of such marriage are reckoned holy, the marriage from which they spring cannot be inconsistent with the law of God (Romans 11:6 and conversely). The children take their standing from the Christian parent, who is regarded as the nobler of the two.
2. The unbelieving partner refuses to remain. In this case the Christian is to acquiesce. For--
(1) He or she “is not under bondage” (1 Corinthians 7:15). The marriage is not to be dissolved at the instance of the believing partner; but if the other refuses to remain, the contract is no longer binding. It would be a case of bondage if the one were held to a union which the other has wilfully broken up.
(2) “God hath called us in peace.” The gospel is not intended to produce strife; but if this be the result of the heathen partner continuing to dwell with the Christian, it were better to let him have his wish.
(3) The Christian partner is not to prevent the departure of the other in the hope of being instrumental to conversion. This is at best uncertain, and peace is not to be hazarded therefore. And if such a union is not to be maintained for the sake of a possible conversion, much less is it to be contracted with that view. Conclusion:
1. This passage is generally adduced as the Bible warrant for the view that wilful desertion is a sufficient reason for divorce. Such desertion is a de facto rupture of the marriage bond, and stands on the same footing as adultery.
2. The evil of mixed marriages. They--
(1) Render the complete fellowship of husband and wife impossible.
(2) Break up domestic peace.
(3) Prevent family religion.
(4) Interfere with the religious training of children. (H. Bremner, B. D.)
1. St. Paul makes a distinction between those things which he speaks by commandment and by permission; between what he says as being taught of God, and that which he speaks only as a servant, “called of the Lord and faithful.”
2. It is plain that there are many questions in which right and wrong are fixed; while there are others where these terms depend on circumstances, e.g., there may be circumstances in which it is the duty of a Christian to be married, and others remain unmarried. In the case of a missionary it may be right to be married; in the case of a pauper, unable to maintain a family, it may be proper to remain unmarried. No fixed law can be laid down upon this subject.
3. These, therefore, are questions of casuistry, which depend upon the particular case: from which “casuistry” is derived. On these points the apostle speaks not by commandment, but by permission. This distinction is not between inspired and uninspired, but between a decision in matters of Christian duty, and advice in matters of Christian prudence. God cannot give advice; He can only issue a command. When we come to advice the human element is introduced.
4. There are three main questions on which the apostle here gives his inspired decision.
I. Concerning the sanctity of the marriage bond between two Christians (1 Corinthians 7:10).
1. Of all earthly unions almost this is the only one permitting of no change but that of death. It is that engagement in which man exerts his most awful and solemn power--that of parting with his freedom. And yet it is perhaps that relationship which is spoken of and entered into most carelessly. It is not an union merely between two creature, but between two spirits; and the intention of that bond is to perfect the nature of both, by giving to each sex those excellences in which it is naturally deficient.
2. There is no earthly relationship which has so much power to ennoble (1 Corinthians 7:16). The very power of saving belongs to it, and that of ruin too. For there are two rocks on which the soul must either anchor or be wrecked. The one is the “Rock of Ages,” on which if the human soul anchors, it lives the blessed life of faith; against which if the soul be dashed, there ensues atheism--the worst ruin of the soul. The other rock is of another character. Blessed is the man or woman whose life-experience has taught a confiding belief in the excellences of the sex opposite to their own. And the ruin is second only to perdition. And it is the worst of these alternatives which the young risk when they form an inconsiderate union, and which parents risk when they bring up their children with no higher view than that of a rich and honourable marriage.
II. The sanctity of the marriage bond between a Christian and a heathen.
1. The question arose, Is not the marriage null and void? As if it were an union between one dead and one living. And that perpetual contact with a heathen, and therefore an enemy of God, is not that defilement? The apostle decides this with his usual inspired wisdom--the marriage bond is sacred still (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
2. Now for us the decision is not of so much importance as the reason in support of it, which amounts to this: If this were no marriage, but an unhallowed alliance, it would follow that the offspring could not be the children of God; but it is the instinctive conviction of every Christian parent, “My child is a child of God,” or, in the Jewish form of expression, “My child is clean” (1 Corinthians 7:14). It follows if the children are holy in this sense of dedicated to God, then the marriage relation was not unhallowed, but sacred and indissoluble. The value of this argument in the present day depends on its relation to baptism. This question is whether we are baptized because we are the children of God, or, whether we are the children of God because we are baptized. Here the apostle’s argument is unanswerable. He does not say that these children were Christian, or clean, because they were baptized, but because they were the children of one Christian parent.
3. Observe also the important truth which comes out collaterally from this argument--namely, the sacredness of impression, which arises from the close connection between parent and child. Possibly from the very first moments of consciousness we begin to impress ourselves on our children. There is scarcely one here who cannot trace back his religious character to some impression from one or other of his parents--a tone, a look, a word, a habit, or even, it may be, a bitter exclamation of remorse.
III. Existing relations (1Co 7:17; 1 Corinthians 7:20; 1 Corinthians 7:24). Christian men were to remain in them, and in them to develop the Christian life. Paul applies this principle in two ways.
1. Ecclesiastically (1 Corinthians 7:18). The Jews, after their conversion, were to continue Jews, if they would. Christianity required no change in these outward things. Paul circumcised Timothy, and used Jewish customs. It was not the duty of a Christian to overthrow the Jewish system, but to throw into it a Christian feeling. Let us apply this to modern duties. The great desire among men now appears to be to alter, and so have perfect institutions, as if they would make perfect men. Mark the difference between this feeling and that of the apostle (verse 20). No man will get true rest for his soul in these days of controversy, until he has learned the significance of these wise words.
2. Civilly--to that relationship which, of all others, was the most difficult to harmonise with Christianity--slavery (verse 21). Recollect--
(1) That Christianity had made much way among slaves. No wonder that they embraced with joy a religion which taught the dignity of the human soul, and declared that rich and poor, master and slave, were equal in the sight of God. And yet it was to be feared lest men should be tempted to compel their masters and oppressors to do them right.
(2) That all this occurred in an age in which slavery had reached its worst and most fearful form. And yet fearful as it was, the apostle says, “Care not for it.” And hence we understand the way in which Christianity was to work. No doubt it will at length abolish slavery, war, &c., but there is not one case where we find Christianity interfering with institutions, as such: Onesimus Paul sent back to his master, but he told him of a higher feeling that would make him free with the shackle upon his arm. And so it was possible for the Christian then, as it is now, to be possessed of the highest liberty even under tyranny. It many times occurred that Christian men found themselves placed under an unjust government, and compelled to pay unjust taxes. The Son of Man showed His freedom not by refusing, but by paying them. His glorious liberty could do so without any feeling of degradation. Conclusion: It is possible from all this to draw a most inaccurate conclusion. Some men have spoken of Christianity as if it was entirely indifferent about public questions. This indifference is not to be found in the Apostle Paul. While he asserts that inward liberty is the only true liberty, he still goes on to say, “If thou mayest be free use it rather.” Christianity gave to the slave the feeling of his dignity as a man, at the same time it gave to the Christian master a new view of his relation to his slave, and taught him to regard him “not now as a servant, but a brother beloved.” And so by degrees slavery passed into freed servitude, and freed servitude, under God’s blessing, may pass into something else. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord.--
The distinction here is not between his uninspired and inspired commands. If we say that he usually writes under Divine inspiration, but that when he speaks about celibacy it fails him, to return suddenly when he enters on the question of divorce, again to desert him when he writes on the case of mixed marriages, inspiration becomes at once
(1) arbitrary, because there is nothing in the nature of the subjects to account for the difference; and
(2) mechanical, because it comes and goes independently of the writer’s mental activity. The explanation is that on the question of divorce Christ had legislated (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9); but on the other questions gave no direct decision. The question of divorce touches the inmost nature of marriage, as it was instituted by God at the beginning, and afterwards connected by Christianity with the union between Christ and the Church. For this reason Christ, as the Divine lawgiver, rescinded the Mosaic permission to divorce for other causes than adultery, and restored the original idea of marriage. Paul never dared to rescind a law of Moses. Yet the apostle draws various inferences from the words of Christ. One distinction between the teaching of Christ and of His apostles must necessarily be that Christ always commands. He never arrived at a conclusion through a process of reasoning, much less discussed a question and left it unanswered. This absolute certitude is essential in the revelation of central principles. But it would be destructive of all that is valuable in human effort if it extended to the minute details of life; if it decided beforehand every possible case of conscience, and reduced our moral activity to a mechanical conformity with unswerving and merely authoritative regulations. The danger attaches to all books of casuistry; but in a book accepted by the doubting conscience as containing Divinely-inspired casuistry, the effect is fatal. The writings of the apostles abound, on the other hand, in argument and inference, which sometimes end in practical decisions, sometimes only in the expression of an opinion. The decision is often left to the enlightened conscience of the spiritual man (cf. verse 25)
. But apart from the teaching of Christ, the fons et origo of revelation, the inspiration of the apostles would have been an altogether different thing from what it is. We need not suppose that Christ gave the apostle an immediate revelation on the question of divorce. The general tradition of the Early Church and the narrative in the Acts points to an intimate connection between Paul and Luke. Indeed, our Lord’s doctrine on that subject was in that age singular, and cannot fail to have been known among Christians throughout the world. (Principal Edwards.)
1 Corinthians 7:14-16
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife.
The sanctification of an unbelieving partner
The Christian wife lays her heathen husband upon the altar of God; and in all her intercourse with him acts as God’s servant, striving ever to accomplish His purposes. Therefore, whatever the husband may be in himself, he, in the subjective world of her thought and life, is a holy object; and her treatment of him is a sacrifice to God. Such intercourse cannot defile. Therefore his heathenism is not in itself a reason for separation. (Prof. Beet.)
The sanctification of mixed marriage relations
The unbelieving husband (or wife) is externally sanctified. His status is a hallowed one. For he dwells no longer in the profane and godless world, but stands upon the sacred threshold of the Church. Both he and his wife are in God’s commonwealth: she incorporated, he merely attached; hers is a dedication of self, his a consecration of position; his surroundings only are hallowed; brought oat of darkness he is in the light, but the light is not in him. United to a saintly consort he is in daily contact with saintly conduct; holy association may become holy assimilation, and the sanctity which ever environs may at last penetrate; for it is drop upon drop that hollows the rock and makes it a cistern; the circumstances are such that the man’s will may be reached by God’s grace, which by a Divine law moves in the sphere of theocratic consecration. But the man’s conversion is not a condition necessary to the sanctity of the subsisting conjugal union. This being so, the children being the offspring of a hallowed union are themselves hallowed, i.e., in a position meet for dedication to God’s service in Holy Baptism. It is not easy to sound the deeper sense of this. We may imagine three concentric circles: the innermost circle of spiritual light, environed by a margin of theocratic twilight, the suburbs of the city of God; embracing this twofold sphere is the immense margin of outer cosmic darkness. Better the twilight than the outer darkness, for it is a state of hope and transition from the bad to the good, and one that furnishes opportunities of grace, and makes salvation accessible. The deeper causes of these boundary lines lie in the secret laws of the Divine government of the universe, and in the unknown partition of mundane realms among angels and spirits, good and evil. (Canon Evans.)
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?--
The conversion of an unbelieving husband or wife
1. Especially concerns those to whom they are united by marriage ties.
2. Should be intensely desired.
3. Should be earnestly attempted.
4. Confidently hoped for.
5. Thankfully acknowledged. (J. Lyth. D. D.)
Advice to a pious wife
A lady in Germany, who was a sincere follower of ChriSt, but whose husband was still unrenewed, was very much afflicted on his account, and told a clergyman that she had done all in her power in persuading and beseeching him to turn from his evil practices, to no effect. “Madam,” said he, “talk more to God about your husband, and less to your husband about God.” A few weeks after, the lady called upon him, full of joy that her prayers to God had been heard, and that a change was wrought upon her husband.
Earthly relationships sanctified to heavenly uses
There were several weighty reasons why a Christian husband or wife should not leave an unbeliever partner; and the same hold good to-day.
1. An obligation has been undertaken from which only flagrant immorality can liberate either party.
2. Children may have been born during the union whose welfare depends upon its continuance.
3. Affection may have sprung up which it would be an outrage to check.
4. The continuance of the union may make the Christian the minister of spiritual blessing to the unconverted consort.
I. An attractive representation may be furnished of the Christian character. Moral excellence, as presented in the Bible or any other book, or from the pulpit, is far less impressive than when, embodied in a life, it speaks from the domestic hearth: Some virtues are peculiarly Christian, and their exhibition is likely to give rise to the inquiry, What is the secret of such a life? How many a husband has been won to Christ by his wife!
II. An unconscious influence may be exercised. Who can know, unmoved, that a dear consort is seeking his spiritual welfare? There is a tone imparted to the intercourse of daily life by the habit of prayer. And there is a dignity, gentleness, and spirituality of manner and language which cannot fail to be observed and to have due effect.
III. An opportunity is given for express persuasion which may issue in spiritual good. In many instances it is unwise to make formal effort; it may be better to leave religion to tell its own tale and do its own work. But Providence not unfrequently will open the way for effort. There are few ministers who could not tell of instances in which God has blessed the effort of husband or wife so that both have become heirs together of the grace of life. Yet all this being said, the mere hope of exerting such influence should never lead to an unequal union. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.
Every Christian at his post
1. God appoints every man his station and condition in life.
2. Has called him in it.
3. Requires him faithfully to fulfil its duties.
4. Allows of no exception unless when compliance is sinful. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The dignity of the true Christian
He rises above the circumstances--
I. Of caste.
1. Externals are nothing.
2. Only conformity to the will of God gives true dignity.
II. Of station.
1. As a servant he is free; serving God in his calling, contented to leave the improvement of his position to Divine Providence, rejoicing in the liberty of Christ.
2. As free he is unaffected by external advantage, and glories in being a servant of Christ.
III. Of human servility.
1. He is redeemed by Christ.
2. Therefore not the servant of man.
3. Can in every condition abide with God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Our religious privileges.
2. Our earthly condition.
II. Arises out of the conviction--
1. That we are redeemed.
2. Can serve Christ.
3. Enjoy fellowship with God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The true freedom and dependence of every Christian
I. His true freedom.
1. From an over-estimate of externals.
2. From pride of condition and false shame.
3. From servility.
4. In the service of Christ.
II. His true dependence.
1. He knows that self-dependence is impossible.
2. Regards himself as Christ’s property.
3. Accounts it his highest honour to abide in God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised.--
The external and the real in religion
1. God calls us without any reference to our former condition.
2. Puts no value upon religious externals.
3. Requires holiness of heart and life.
4. Hence anxiety about mere forms is reprehensible. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Why Christians should be contented with their circumstances
1. External circumstances are of no importance in the sight of God (1 Corinthians 7:18-19).
2. God overrules them for our advantage (1 Corinthians 7:20-22).
3. By seeking to change them we may easily forget Christ and become the servants of men (1 Corinthians 7:23-24). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Circumcision is nothing … but keeping the commandments of God.--
Forms versus character
(text, Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15):--The great controversy which embittered Paul’s life turned upon the question whether a heathen could come into the Church by the door of faith, or of circumcision. Time, which settles all controversies, has settled that. But the principles are eternal, though the forms vary with every varying age. The Ritualist and the Puritan represent permanent tendencies of human nature. These three passages are Paul’s deliverance on the question of the comparative value of external rites and spiritual character. Note--
I. The emphatic proclamation of the nullity of outward rites.
1. Circumcision neither is anything nor does anything. Paul speaks about baptism, in chap. 1., in a precisely similar tone and for precisely the same reason.
(1) Forms have their value. A man prays all the better if he bow his head, &c. Forms help us to the realisation of the truths which they express. Music may waft our souls to the heavens, and pictures may stir deep thoughts.
(2) But then external rights tend to usurp more than belongs to them, and in our weakness we are apt, instead of using them as means to lift us higher, to stay in them, and to mistake the mere gratification of taste and the excitement of the sensibilities for worship, if there be as much form as will embody the spirit, that is all that we want. What is more is dangerous. All form in worship is like fire, it is a good servant but it is a bad master. Now, when men say about Christian rites that they are necessary, then it is needful to take up Paul’s ground and to say, “No! they are nothing!” If you say that grace is miraculously conveyed through them, then it is needful to declare their nullity for the highest purpose, that of making that spiritual character which alone is essential.
2. Uncircumcision is nothing. It is very hard for a man who has been delivered from the dependence upon forms not to fancy that his formlessness is what the other people think that their forms are. The Puritan who does not believe that a man can be a good man because he is a Ritualist or a Roman Catholic, is committing the very same error as the Ritualist or the Roman Catholic. There may be as much idolatry in reliance upon the bare worship as the ornate; and many a Nonconformist who fancies that he has “never bowed the knee to Baal” is as true an idol-worshipper as the men who trust in Ritualism.
II. The threefold variety of the designation of essentials.
1. By “keeping the commandments” the apostle does not mean merely external obedience, but conformity to the will of God. That is the perfection of a man’s nature, when his will fits on to God’s like one of Euclid’s triangles superimposed upon another, and line for line coincides. When his will allows a free passage to the will of God, without resistance or deflection, as light travels through transparent glass; when his will responds to the touch of God’s fingers upon the keys, like the telegraphic needle to the operator’s hand, then man has attained all that God and religion can do for him, all that his nature is capable of; and’ far beneath his feet may be the ladders of ceremonies and forms and outward acts by which he climbed to that serene and blessed height.
2. But I can fancy a man saying, “That is all very well, but how can I attain to that? “Well, take Galatians 6:15. If we are ever to keep the will of God we must be made over again. Our own consciences and the history of all the efforts that ever we have made, tell us that there needs to be a stronger hand than ours to come into the fight if it is ever to be won by us. But in that word, “a new creature,” lies a promise from God; for a creature implies a Creator. We may have our spirits moulded into His likeness, and new tastes, desires, and capacities infused into us, so as that we shall not be left with our own poor powers to try and force ourselves into obedience to God’s will, but that submission and holiness, and love that keeps the commandments of God, will spring up in our renewed spirits as their natural product and growth.
3. And so we come to Galatians 5:6. If we are to be made over again, we must have faith in Christ. We have got to the root now. External rites cannot make men partakers of a new nature. He that trusts Christ opens his heart to Christ, who comes with His new-creating Spirit, and makes us willing in the day of His power to keep His commandments; and faith shows itself living, because it leads us to love, and through love it produces its effects upon conduct. The keeping of the commandments will be easy where there is love in the heart. The will will bow where there is love in the heart. Paul and James shake hands here. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The one threefold essential
As with all deeply earnest men, the teaching of St. Paul grew out of the special events of his life. The crisis called out the struggle, and the struggle called out the word of command. For some years of his life St. Paul passed through a strange experience. The man who to us is a saint, the very type of all that is most exalted, the very man who now keeps the conscience of Christendom, and of whom it is a commonplace to say, “Follow him, as he followed Christ,” this man, while he lived, was for many years regarded by religious men, and doubtless by devout women also, as a dangerous man, as lacking true reverence in things pertaining to God, as what we might call in these days an innovator and latitudinarian. “Circumcision,” in the eyes of St. Paul’s opponents, was the symbol of what they reverenced and what they accused him, rightly or wrongly, of disparaging. He called himself the Apostle of the Gentiles. He turned his back on his own race and training. He seemed eager not to bridge over the chasm which separated the new from the old, but to glory in the conviction, which, indeed, in one of these four Epistles he expressly enunciated, that “in Christ old things had passed away; behold, all things had become new.” Now, how did St. Paul bear such comments, and the consciousness that they came not only from unscrupulous partisans, but also doubtless from devout and aggrieved souls? I think we may say that among all his manifold troubles he had no heavier cross to bear than this. It led him not only to justify himself--not only in various ways and at various times to make an Apologia pro vita sua--but to dwell earnestly, solemnly, may we not also say wistfully, and with something of a holy impatience, on the real stake at issue. Why all this battling about symbols, about outward things, about the things below, instead of the things above? Circumcision and uncircumcision, symbol and no symbol, conformity with the past, or no conformity, what were they in the sight of Him who is a Spirit, and knows no difference between Gerizim and Jerusalem? The essential thing is this--the keeping of the commandments of God; faith which worketh by love; a new creature, We may regard these as three essentials, or as one essential; but here we have from a master of the spiritual life, at a time when he was attacked on every side by misrepresentation, besides that which came upon him daily, “ the care of all the churches,” an emphatic declaration of the essence of true Christianity; obedience to God’s commands, faith working by love, a new creature.
I. Whatever else may be important or unimportant in Christian teaching or discipline, this at least is essential, the keeping of the commandments of God. The expression may mean almost anything, or almost nothing, according to our rank in the school of Christ. To the ripe scholar it means almost everything. “The keeping of the commandments of God.” “Which be they?” “The same which God spake in the 20th chapter of Exodus?” Yes, of course, and much more. The same which the life and death of Christ have written, not on tables of stone, but on tables of the heart and conscience. The commandments which every development of thought, every discovery or half-discovery as to the origin or the mysterious interdependence of mind and body, nay, every acceptance, general or partial, of some moral half-truth or even honest heresy, have concurred in stamping upon an enlightened conscience. Wherever the spirit of the age is in harmony with the Spirit of God, wherever the increase of thought and knowledge points to wider sympathies and enlarged fields of human service, there are fresh provinces marked out for the empire of “the commandments of God.” To learn these commandments, to accept them with ardour and intelligence, with the mind as well as with the heart--to “do them” ourselves and to “teach men so”--this is one of the essentials of a true Christian faith.
II. “In Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.” We are not content, surely, that these should remain merely technical words; we would have them living forces. To St. Paul faith is that outgoing of the whole being--mind, heart, spirit--which attaches itself to a Person; believes in Him, “clings to Him, trusts Him, worships Him; finds in His will, and even more in His assured sympathy, the plainest guarantee of duty, and cannot, even in imagination, separate itself from His presence and His indwelling. By this test may we know whether we are Christ’s disciples. In Christ Jesus faith working through love is an essential. We cannot live without regard to Him, as though He were nothing mow to us beyond an illustrious Example. We cannot look at Him, speak of Him, criticise Him as from outside. We cannot think of Him as the citizens of a neutral power might think of the ruler or the general of some belligerent nation, sympathising perhaps in part with his policy, but still regarding it as outside their own. No! we are not outsiders. We are servants of One who has used the strongest language as to His claims upon His servants; One who has said, “He that is not with Me is against Me”; and again, “Abide in Me, and I in you; as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me”; and again, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” “Faith which works by love,” perfect trust in Jesus Christ showing forth its devotion by sympathy with those whom He calls His brethren--this is life eternal; this can never disappoint, never betray the soul that trusts it.
III. “Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” It is not easy, nay, it is morally perilous, to try to analyse, as in a laboratory, the essence of an expression wrung, one might dare to say, from the very heart, and steeped in the very life-blood of this great soldier of Christ, a “new creature,” a “new creation.” One thing is clear--we may interpret at least, if we hesitate to apply--that St. Paul must have meant to express by this phrase the greatest of all changes, not a mere improvement, the lopping off of a vice here, and an ambition there; not a taming down of the old wild nature under the yoke of some humanising and civilising charm: nothing so small as this, but a change comparable to a new birth, a new order of being, a new manifestation of life, with new aims, new conceptions, new ideals, new organ, new powers. To become a Christian, then, whether the change were from heathendom or Judaism, must, of course, have been something different from what it can be to the sons of Christian parents in the nineteenth century of the Christian Church, and at a place like this where the very stones are witnesses to the reforming and re-creating power of the name of Christ. But even now I venture to say that we do not know what true Christianity is unless we are able to recognise it as “a new creature.” It is the “new creature” which “through peril, toil and pain,” was to “overcome the world.” It was the “new creature” which was to root out gradually all that was vile and refuse in humanity, and to present to Christ a changed society, worthy to be called His own bride, “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” (H. M. Butler, D. D.)
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was calleth--
On the choice of a profession
In seasons of unusual religious excitement and earnestness men are tempted to regard all political and social distinctions, and all ordinary secular employments, as abolished or suspended. This apostolic injunction may be considered as directed in principle against a twofold form of error prevalent at such times.
1. In the first place it is directed against the error of making religion a business or profession by itself, leaving us no time or thought for anything else. Who is the best Christian? Not he who makes the loudest professions of Christianity, nor he who gives the most time to thinking about it, nor yet he who best understands its principles; but he who best succeeds in applying these principles to his daily cares and duties, and in filling his place in society, whatever it may be, in a Christ-like spirit.
2. Again, the injunction in the text is directed generally, and in principle, against the kindred error of supposing that there are many lawful callings or professions in which it is impossible to lead a Christian life. More difficult it may be, but not impossible, the difficulty only enhancing the virtue which has strength and resolution enough to overcome it. On the other hand, the clerical profession, to those who are fit for it, is generally thought, in a moral and religious point of view, to promise best of all; because the special business and object of the calling coincide so entirely with what ought to be the highest business and object of us all. But here also there is difficulty and drawback, showing that the difference in the eligibility of the various professions on moral grounds is not so great as is often supposed. Where the profession is religious, the danger is that the religion will become professional. Then, too, looking merely at the effect of his labours, I believe it is often possible for a layman to do more for religion than a clergyman, from the very fact that he cannot be suspected of a professional bias or bribe. We arrive, then, at the conclusion that all the great professions are open to choice, and that there is nothing in any one of them, in itself considered, to hinder a good man in certain cases from choosing it. But it by no means follows that all professions are equally eligible in themselves; much less, that all are equally eligible to every person and under all circumstances. All are open to choice; but this does not exclude the duty of making a wise choice, as being that on which, more perhaps than on any other one thing, a man’s usefulness and happiness will depend. Let me begin by observing, that if the time for choosing a profession has come, it is not well, as a general rule, to postpone it by unnecessary delays. If you say, your mind is unsettled; I reply, in the first place, that in practical matters the will has more to do in settling the mind than arguments; and, secondly, that the probable effect of another year spent without an object will only be to unsettle your minds still more. To enter on the practice of any profession without being duly prepared for it is, I admit, a great error; but this is a reason for beginning the preparation as soon as may be; certainly it is no reason for unnecessary delays. So much impressed was Dr. Johnson with the mischief of fickleness on this subject, that he is half inclined to recommend that every one’s calling should be determined by his parents or guardian; at any rate, he does not hesitate to conclude, “that of two states of life equally consistent with religion and virtue, he who chooses earliest chooses best.” Another preliminary suggestion is, that in choosing a profession we should take care not to allow too much weight to local and temporary considerations;--considerations which will have no bearing on our future progress, except perhaps to narrow and limit it. I suppose there are those who can give no better reason for being in one profession rather than another than this, that they found it easier to get into it. But certainly our success and happiness are to depend, not on our getting into a profession, but on our getting on in it; that is to say, on our being able to fill it honourably and well. I know the common excuse. It will be said, that we are often placed in circumstances where we must do, not as we would, but as we can. We talk about what we can do, and what we cannot; but, after all, this is, for the most part, an arbitrary distinction. What one man calls impossible, another man calls merely difficult; and, with minds which are made of the right sort of stuff, difficulties do not repel or dishearten; they only stimulate to new and greater efforts. Hence we conclude, that every young man owes it to himself, at any sacrifice consistent with virtue and religion, to find, as soon as may be, his proper place and calling, meaning thereby the place and calling in which, with his education and abilities, he is most likely to become useful and happy. But how is he to find it? that is the great question. I answer generally, By considering what he was made for, taking into view, at the same time, his intellectual aptitudes, and his moral needs and dangers. As regards intellectual or mental aptitudes, or what is sometimes called the natural bent of one’s genius, two extreme opinions have found supporters, which seem to me to be almost equally removed from practical wisdom. The first is that of those who contend that a strong tendency to one profession rather than to another is to be considered; but only, that it may be crossed and overruled. Thus, if a person early manifests extraordinary talents for business and affairs, this is a reason why he should not be, by profession, a man of business and affairs, for he is enough of that already: he ought rather to go into the army or the Church, which will have the effect to call forth his latent qualities. I hardly need say that this doctrine, plausible as it may seem to some minds, is theoretically false, and practically absurd. It is theoretically false; for, though balance and harmony of character enter into the theory of what a man ought to be, these have nothing to do with an equal, or even with a proportionate development of his faculties. Moreover, to pursue this course would be practically absurd. Every man would do what he is least fitted to do; and the consequence would be, that the whole work of life would, be done in the worst possible manner and under the greatest possible disadvantages. Nor is this all; for the subject has its religious aspects. When we refer to a man’s profession as being his vocation, or calling, we suppose him to be called. Every man is calmly and impartially to consider what he was made for, what by the constitution of his mind and character he is best fitted to become, and to look upon this as a call from God--the voice of God speaking in his own nature, which, when distinct and emphatic, he has no right to disregard. Often, however, and I suppose I may say generally, the call is not distinct and emphatic, at least as regards most professions; and this leads me to notice the other of the two extreme opinions referred to above. It consists in supposing that every man has his place, and that everything depends on his finding that particular place, a mistake here being final and fatal. No such thing. We are not born with adaptations, but with adaptabilities; and these are such in most men that they can fit themselves as well, or nearly as well, for one as another of several professions. Leaving out of view eminence in the fine arts, which seems to require at the start a peculiar nervous organisation, I do not believe there is one man in ten whom nature has endowed with aptitudes and predispositions so special and marked that he might not succeed perfectly well in any one out of several pursuits. In a large majority of cases the battle of life is won, not by natural, but by personal qualities; by those personal qualities which invite favour and inspire confidence and insure courage and persistency in whatever is undertaken. Neither your profession nor your circumstances, but the quick eye, and the strong arm, and the iron will must work out for you the great problem of life. These qualities, however, are little better than brute force, unless inspired and directed by a high moral purpose; and this high moral purpose little better than a breath of air, unless it rests on religious faith; and this religious faith “unstable as water,” unless accepted as the revealed will of God. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (J. Walker, D. D.)
Abide in your calling,
if it is an honest one.
1. It is God’s own appointment.
2. God has blessed you in it.
3. It can be no impediment to a holy life.
4. Affords ample scope for the development of Christian character.
5. May be dignified by fidelity. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Christianity universally applicable
I. Adapted to every rank and condition.
II. Interferes with no honest calling, but rather alleviates, dignifies, and makes it subservient to the noblest ends.
III. Teaches universal contentment.
1. In the recognition of the Divine will.
2. By the enjoyment of the Divine blessing. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Art thou called, being a servant?
The Christian slave
I. His privilege--called.
II. His duty--contentment.
III. His emancipation--a lawful object of ambition. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Does not consist in independence.
1. A slave may be free.
2. The freeman a slave.
II. It consists in the subjection of the heart to Christ who--
1. Makes the hardest service freedom.
2. Subjects the freest will by the force of love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Emancipates the slave.
2. Captivates the free. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The common lot the best sphere
In the “Records” of Dr. Raleigh’s Life we meet with some striking thoughts suggested while he journeyed in Palestine. The following remarks are interesting and instructive: “It seems strange that events so great should transpire in a geographical area so small. Palestine is not much larger than Wales, to which, in some parts, it is not unlike, and not only is it small, but rugged, even what men call ‘common.’ Some travellers come back almost oppressed with the commonness of what they have seen. God does not need much earthly space, nor that the little should be of what men esteem the best, on which to prepare the scenes of the great drama, historical and celestial, which has been there unfolded. He does not want a continent with far-stretching plains and ship-bearing rivers. He wants only a strip of land running along the sea shore; a confused mass of mountain and high land and plain; a single river of moderate size, a lake, and a Dead Sea. Only so much--and the great drama may go on which has already culminated in a tragedy, and which is destined, on some future day, to end in a world-wide triumph. God has repeated that type and method of action often. Egypt is a river-bed. Greece is little else than rock and sea. Montenegro is an eagle’s nest. Grandly the Divine action shows against a background of plainness! Beautifully the Divine idea is worked out in scenes of common life! The fisherman in his boat on the sea; the shepherd leading his flock along the hillside; sisters dwelling in a brother’s house in a village--these, and such as these, are the characters illuminated for ever for the instruction of all the world. What can we do better than construct our life, and seek to have it inspired after the model of God’s own action? Do our souls begin to hanker after the fat pastures, the broad acres, the rich estate, the ample, well-furnished house? And do we dislike the commonness, the ruggedness through which we must work our way? We are wrong, we need much less than we are apt to imagine, we must correct our ideal. We need only foothold--room to begin. We do not need selected and auspicious circumstances--we need just such as come. We may take the commonness and glorify it by our temper and spirit. We may vanquish the hardships of life by courage and industry, and fill all its scenes with a gentle and noble simplicity. We may put righteousness into it, strong as the bars of the mountains round about Jerusalem, and love in the heart of it, rising ever more like the waters of Shiloah, and so all our life will be a Holy Land.”
For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.--
Deliverance from slavery
I. The bondage supposed by the gospel, and which calls for its interference. It is a bondage--
1. In which all are born.
2. Produced and perpetuated by an awfully evil agency from without. Satan exercises his dominion in a secret way, by adapting it to our own perverted inclinations. He moves us, not violently, but by means of exciting in a natural way, our depraved powers and propensities.
3. Toilsome and painful, profitless and punishable.
II. The nature of that freedom from it, which the gospel effects in the case of all its converts. Every such one is “the Lord’s freeman” Of this freedom the Lord Jesus is the author. He is the meritorious cause of its being bestowed; the agent of effecting it by His Spirit, and the leader of all who partake of it. It is a freedom of three steps and degrees,
1. It is a deliverance from the rightful power and custody of Satan.
(1) Our bondage, because voluntary, is our crime. Satan does not force, but only draws, and we obey. Hence guilt is contracted, and guilt renders us amenable to the Divine justice. Thus guilt brings us under condemnation, and gives Satan a rightful power and custody over us, as the permitted executioner of the Divine displeasure. Such a power the law gives a jailer over the prisoner under sentence.
(2) This is the state of which we are made aware when convinced of sire Nor can we think of any plea for mitigating or removing the sentence of Divine justice. Finding ourselves in this dilemma, we are prepared for the revelation of Divine mercy. Jesus steps forth as an Almighty Deliverer. We see Him in the gospel offering His life, paying it into the hands of justice as a ransom for the deliverance of sinners. But this deliverance must be sued by us, accompanied with a reference by faith to the great ransom presented. Then it becomes applied, and we are set free.
(3) Our sentence being cancelled, Satan loses his rightful power over us. He retains his vexing, tempting, accusing power; but his right is g, no. By the removal of condemnation we are taken out of his custody for ever (Romans 8:1).
2. It is a deliverance from inbred sin, by means of new and holy tastes, inclinations, and principles. The faith by which we obtain deliverance from guilt and the power of Satan is a holy principle. There is a law in the mind now, stronger than the law of sin in the members, and overcoming its dictates (Romans 8:2).
3. It is a freedom of acting and moving in a noble and elevated condition. The converted person is the Lord’s freeman. He serves Him in obeying His laws, reverencing His institutions, cherishing His image, cultivating His worship, and promoting His glory. This service is perfect freedom. It is the soul moving in its proper element, and feeling the pleasure which every creature enjoys so moving.
1. Observe the noble character of Christianity.
2. Those who are partakers of the spiritual freedom of the gospel have three appropriate exercises allotted to them.
(1) They should promote the natural and civil freedom of men, according to the dictates of the gospel, and in its spirit. The genius of the gospel is opposed to bondage and vassalage of every kind.
(2) By teaching men in the highest ranks to be just, they can hold none of their fellow-creatures in slavish and ignominious subjection. The reign of Christianity, therefore, must be productive of liberty.
(3) Anticipate for yourselves the liberty of heaven, and exult in the prospect. Your freedom is here only begun. You shall enter into full redemption. (J. Leifchild, D. D.)
Liberty and slavery
The ideas are antithetical; they therefore explain each other. We cannot understand the liberty spoken of until we understand the bondage, and vice versa. Liberty is not freedom from restraint or authority. No creature is thus free. All rational beings are under the authority of reason and right. And as these are in infinite subjection to God, all creatures are under absolute subjection to Him. And this is the highest liberty. Consider--
I. Man’s servile state,
1. In renouncing subjection to God man lost his liberty and became--
(1) The slave of sin. This subjection is bondage because--
(a) It has no right to rule. It does not belong to our normal state, and is inconsistent with the end of being.
(b) It is independent of the will. We cannot throw it off.
(2) The slave of the law. He is under the obligation of satisfying its demands or of bearing its penalty. This--
(a) Is inexorable.
(b) Reveals itself in the conscience.
(c) Produces the slavish spirit--fear and anxious looking for of judgment.
(3) The slave of Satan. We are in his power, subject to his control.
2. This subjection manifests itself in various ways.
(1) It destroys the balance and power of the soul.
(2) Not being subject to God, and being unable to guide itself, it submits to the world and public opinion, and to the priesthood and the Church.
II. Man’s free state. Christ is our Redeemer, and the author of our liberty. They only are truly free whom He makes free. He frees us--
1. From condemnation. Until this is done nothing is done. A man in prison under sentence of death must be freed or he cannot be delivered from other evils.
2. From the law or the obligation of fulfilling its demands.
3. From the authority and power of Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15).
4. From the reigning power of sin.
5. From a slavish spirit.
6. From all undue subjection to men.
(1) By bringing the reason under subjection to His truth we are freed from their authority as to doctrine.
(2) As we are subject to Him alone, as to the conscience, we cannot be subject to any other authority in deciding what is morally right or wrong.
(3) As we have through Him deliverance from condemnation and acceptance with God, we are free from the priesthood.
(4) As all we do is done in obedience to Him, lawful subjection to men is part of our liberty. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Slaves and free
This remarkable saying occurs in a remarkable connection, and is used for a remarkable purpose. The apostle has been laying down the principle that the effect of true Christianity is greatly to diminish the importance of outward circumstance. Paul says, “You will better yourself by getting nearer God, and if you secure that--art thou a slave? care not for it; if thou mayest be free, use it rather. Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed? seek not to be bound. Art thou circumcised? seek not to be uncircumcised. Never mind about externals: the main thing is our relation to Jesus Christ, because in that there is what will be compensation for all the disadvantages of circumstances.”
I. First, then, note how, according to the one-half of the antithesis, Christ’s freed men are slaves. Now the way in which the New Testament deals with that awful wickedness of a man held in bondage by a man is extremely remarkable. It might seem as if such a hideous piece of immorality were altogether incapable of yielding any lessons of good, But the apostles have no hesitation whatever in taking slavery as a clear picture of the relation in which all Christian people stand to Jesus Christ their Lord. He is the owner and we are the slaves. And all the ugly associations which gather round the word are transported bodily into the Christian region, and there, instead of being hideous, take on a shape of beauty, and become expressions of the most blessed truths. And what is the centre idea that lies in this metaphor, if you like to call it so? It is this: absolute authority, which has for its correlative--for the thing in us that answers to it--unconditional submission. Jesus Christ has the perfect right to command each of us, and we are bound to bow ourselves, unreluctant, unmurmuring, unhesitating, with complete submission at His feet. And His authority, and our submission, go far, far deeper than the most despotic sway of the most tyrannous master, or than the most abject submission of the most downtrodden slave. For no man can coerce another man’s will, and no man can require more, or can ever get more, than the outward obedience, which may be rendered with the most sullen and fixed rebellion of a hating heart and obstinate will. Absolute submission is not all that makes a disciple, but depend upon it there is no discipleship worth calling by the name without it. Bow your obstinate wills, surrender yourselves and accept Him as absolute, dominant Lord over your whole being! Are you Christians after that pattern? Being freemen, are you Christ’s slaves? What does it matter what you and I are set to do? Nothing! And so why need we struggle and wear our hearts out to get into conspicuous places, or to do work that shall bring some revenue of praise and glory to ourselves? “Play well thy part; there all the honour lies,” the world can say. Serve Christ in anything, and it is all alike in His sight. The slave-owner had absolute power of life and death over his dependents. He could split up families; he could sell away dear ones; he could part husband and wife, parent and child. And Jesus Christ, the Lord of the household, the Lord of providence, can say to this one, “Go! “and he goes into the mists and shadows of death. And He could say to those that are most closely united, “Loose your hands! I have need of one of you yonder. I have need of the other one here.” And if we are wise, if we are His servants in any real deep sense, we shall not kick against the appointments of His supreme and yet most loving providence. The slave-owner owned all that the slave owned. He gave him a little cottage, with some humble sticks of furniture in it, and a bit of ground on which to grow his vegetables for his family. But he to whom the owner of the vegetables and the stools belonged owned them too. And if we are Christ’s servants, our banker’s book is Christ’s, and our purse is Christ’s, and our investments are Christ’s; and our mills, and our warehouses, and our shops, and our businesses are His. We are not His slaves if we arrogate to ourselves the right of doing what we like with His possessions. And then, still further, there comes into our apostle’s picture here yet another point of resemblance between slaves and the disciples of Jesus. For what follows my text immediately is, “Ye are bought with a price.” Jesus Christ has won us for Himself. There is only one price that can buy a heart, and that is a heart. There is only one way of getting a man to be mine, and that is by giving myself to be his. And so we come to the very vital, palpitating centre of all Christianity when we say, “He gave Himself for us, that He might acquire to Himself a people for His possession.” The one bright point in the hideous institution of slavery was that it bound the master to provide for the slave, and though that was degrading to the inferior, it made his life a careless, childlike, merry life, even amidst the many cruelties and abominations of the system. If I am Christ’s slave it is His business to take care of His own property, and I do not need to trouble myself much about it.
II. Then there is the other side, about which I must say, secondly, a word or two; and that is, the freedom of Christ’s slaves. As the text puts it, he that is called, being a servant, is the Lord’s freedman. A freeman was one who was emancipated, and who therefore stood in a relation of gratitude to his emancipator and patron. So in the very word “freedman” there is contained the idea of submission to Him who has struck off the fetters. I do not forget how wisdom and truth, and noble aims, and high purposes, and culture of various kinds have, in lower degrees and partially, emancipated men from self and flesh and sin and the world and all the other fetters that bind us. But sure I am that the process is never so completely and so assuredly effected as by the simple way of absolute submission to Jesus Christ, taking Him for the supreme and unconditional Arbiter and Sovereign of a life. If we do that, if we really yield ourselves to Him, in heart and will, in life and conduct, submitting our understanding to His infallible Word, and our wills to His authority, regulating our conduct by His perfect pattern, and in all things seeking to serve Him, and to realise His presence, then be sure of this, we shall be set free from the one real bondage, and that is the bondage of our own wicked selves. There is no such tyranny as mob tyranny; and there is no such slavery as to be ruled by the mob of our own passions and lusts. And that is the only way by which a man can be delivered from the bondage of dependence upon outward things. Christian faith does so, because it brings into a life a sufficient compensation for all losses, limitations, and sorrows, and a good which is the reality of which all earthly goods are but shadows. So the slave may be free in Christ, and the poor man may be rich in Him, and the sad man may be joyful, and the joyful man may be delivered from excess of gladness, and the rich man kept from the temptations and sins of wealth, and the freeman taught to surrender his liberty to the Lord who makes him free. And if we are the servants of Christ we shall be set free, in the measure in which we are His, from the slavery which daily becomes more oppressive as the means of communication become more complete, the slavery to popular opinion, and to men round about us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Freedom through Christ
Freedom! What a word! It has in it the music of the trumpet and psaltery, the harp, the loud cymbals and the high sounding cymbals of heaven and earth!
I. Ambition speaks out boldly. Feeling fettered by our present lot, our poverty, hard toil, obscure position and such like, we indulge the animus of discontent, pine to rise above penury, grinding toil and isolation. Independence affirms that freedom is her legitimate offspring. The boy at home, curbed in many ways, feels under restraint and dreams of liberty. And this spirit of reckless independence belongs to us all. One of our ruling passions is a desire to be our own master--to do as we like--set up on our own account--throw off all Divine control.
II. But some will say, to be free is to be educated. There is but one thing needed, we are told, to roll back the dark cloud of bondage from the race and cause the stars of liberty to stud every man’s blue vault, viz., intelligence. Give the people a profound learning, a broad culture, and you give them freedom. All will concede the great blessing of education and the utter impossibility of lifting men up without it. But it must be borne in mind that never yet have a people been made free, m any true sense, by mere intellectual culture, however profound. I appeal to Greece of old, with her high scholarship represented by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and to France in modern history with her Voltaire, Diderot, Beaumarchais, and Rousseau. After all their learning, Greece ended in corruption, and France in the horrors of revolution. Examples we have of men, bound in hand and foot and heart by chains of vice and ill-formed habits, bearing the most crushing yoke of bondage, yet highly educated in the sense in which the term is here used. Julius Caesar was a great scholar, but he borrowed money, which he never paid back, to bribe the people in election times, and he made common traffic of female virtues. Aristotle was profoundly educated, but he classed working men with brutes, and made lewdness in woman excusable so long as she thereby accumulated wealth. Cardinal de Richelieu was one of the brightest intellectual stars of his age, yet he lived an immoral life, being a helpless slave to intemperance and uncleanness. And what are we to say of the defaulters, rogues, impostors, and backsliders from integrity so numerous in our midst and all over the country? Looking at the facts of the case, is it not the wildest absurdity to speak of education as the ultimate source of freedom?
III. Once more, government aspires to be the true liberator of the race. Now it is an absolute monarchy for which the high claim is made, now limited monarchy, now an oligarchy, now a republic. In the name of freedom has every government of earth been set up. From the capitals of all the States and the seats of power of all nations has floated the silken banner of freedom. But oh, how often the breezes that have carried out these folds from the flag-staff have brought to the people themselves a pestilence of corruption, self-seeking, intrigue, and imperialism--bondage in its worst forms!
IV. Over against government, education, ambition, vaunting independence, and every other such thing, I place the declaration of the old sage of Tarsus as the only real source of true freedom: “For he that is called of the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.” When a man is called of Jesus Christ into His kingdom as a regenerated soul through the power of the Holy Spirit, such an one is free, has come into possession of that liberty which knows no trammels save what his duty to God and to man puts upon him. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” But what is the freedom here taught? First of all, it is from sin. The essential element of all servitude and degradation and bone and heart crushing forces is sin. Here, then, is the first thing from which Jesus Christ gives freedom. But Christ in the soul not only emancipates from the polluting and condemning power of sin, but secures for us the joy and exercise of the highest freedom, notwithstanding the most hampering earthly circumstances. Paul had in mind this thought. He was thinking about what the gospel did even for slaves. In short, Paul says: “It makes no difference what your calling is or what your circumstances are; if Christ is in you, you are a free man, and your duty is to serve Him.” How this argument rebuts what many affirm, that they cannot be Christians because of their peculiar lot in life; or they cannot serve the Lord because the state of their affairs will not permit them. Some plead poverty as an excuse for not being Christians, or for taking no part in the service of Christ and the work of the Church. Not a few say they have no time for these things. Others again parade the wrong-doing of others, the hindrances placed in their way, it may be, by domestic infelicities. Over against this, the Scriptures declare that the grace of God is sufficient to save us, no matter what our lot or fortune may be, and being saved, we are, therefore, free men in Christ, and hence His servants. Art thou called being a slave--a poor person, a man crushed with cares and toil, a heart-broken husband or wife, mother or father--care nothing for it. Remember that God is greater than adverse circumstances, and He can straighten every one of them and make you free to enjoy and serve Him. Nothing is any more a thraldom when the soul has been born into the light and liberty of the gospel. With this liberty comes the duty of serving the Lord--a duty which is never irksome, but always a glorious delight, as all obligations springing out of a sense of true freedom ever are. “He that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.” My text also involves freedom from all ecclesiastical trammels and sectarian and denominational rigidities. Not that we are to condemn Church forms and laws and observances, but these are not to hamper us in our service of Christ or, in any way, keep us from the largest possible usefulness. Then, too, political freedom is found in Christ. “Of one thing I am convinced,” remarked a Brahmin, “do what we will, oppose it as we may, it is the Christian’s Bible that will work the regeneration of India. Wise indeed is this confession of the learned Oriental. Applicable to every nation is the thing he says. The Bible is the world’s emancipator. (A. H. Moment.)
In Christ, the servant the Lord’s freeman: the free man Christ’s servant
In Christ there is neither bond nor free. It is not what they are with respect to man that is thought of, but what they are with respect to Christ. Thus considered, the servant is the Lord’s free man, the free man is Christ’s servant. The apostle speaks to the bond as free. The man who is called being a servant, may remain so. And then in some sense he is still the servant of his earthly master, and in some sense he is not so. His freedom consists in his being Christ’s. That one thing, while it sets him free from the dominion of sin, and thus brings him into the glorious liberty of the children of God, changes the nature of that service which he pays to his earthly master, and gives the character of liberty to that also. For in reality he has but one master, i.e., the Lord; and the service which he now most dutifully renders to his master on earth, is but a part of the service which he pays to his Master in heaven. It may be still called service from the nature of the work, but it is freedom from the spirit in which it is done. As the servant of man, he once found his work drudgery, and did it unwillingly. But as the Lord’s freeman, he finds it liberty, and does it with delight. He then served through fear. He now serves through love, and therefore performs every part of his duty better than ever he did. His joy is to approve himself to the Master whose he is, and whom he loves, as well as serves. His service is uniform, because Jesus is always the same, whatever be the changing humour of an earthly master. But now let us pass to him who has been called, being free. Of him it is said, Chat he is Christ’s servant. He also is reminded that he has a master. In fact, he that is called being a servant, and he that is called being free, are both, after their calling, exactly in the same circumstances. Both are under the law to Christ, and neither of them under the law to man any further than the law of Christ permits. The servant, therefore, is bound no further than the superior will of Christ requires; and so far the free man, when he becomes the servant of Christ, is bound also. He is no longer his own. He has not himself only to please. He has talents committed to him, and he must employ them according to the will of Him who committed them. His time is not to be idled away, nor his health and strength wasted in frivolous employments, nor his substance squandered in selfish gratifications. And these, whether they be professional, or mercantile, or agricultural, are all appointed of God; and by them the servants of Christ, though they serve no one earthly master, serve the public at the command of their Master. Thus those who are not servants to men, are servants to Christ. They have to serve their generation by His will; and they have to receive the law from Him. And now let us endeavour to review the subject in as practical a manner as we may be enabled to do. We have already observed, that to be the servant of Christ, and to be the Lord’s free man, are one and the same thing. Thus both were the servants of Christ, and both were free, because the service of both was a service of love. A service of love must be a free service, because it is childlike and willing, delighting to do what pleases him whose person is loved, as well as his authority owned. But whence arises this love which makes the servant of Christ thus affectionately dutiful, the free man of the Lord thus willingly laborious? It is faith. The servant of Christ can then only be satisfied when he is conscious of being where he is, and doing what he does, according to the will of Christ. Hence will arise two benefits.
1. It is obvious that this habitual reference to the will of his Lord will very much tend to give him assurance, and to prevent doubts concerning his state. And it is absolutely necessary to this end. It is impossible for a man to hope assuredly who lives negligently. They who habitually acknowledge Christ as a Master will also steadily hope in Him as a Saviour.
2. And as this spirit of obedience, which leads a man habitually to consider himself as Christ’s servant, is the best evidence of that faith and interest in Christ with which salvation is connected, so it gives a nobleness to every station of life, and every work of man, which is thus conducted. The magistrate on his bench, or even the monarch on his throne, has the most exalted, as well as the most just views of his office, when he considers himself as the minister of God, as the servant of Jesus Christ.
3. Lastly, I may observe, that Christ is too good a Master to let His servants obey Him for nothing. (J. Fawcett.)
Personal Christianity for the bond and the free
I. May be possessed by both bond and free (verse 22). Many slaves were in connection with the Corinthian Church. Naturally enough some would desire their emancipation, and the more so as Christianity gave them a sublime sense of their manhood. Paul’s advice is not to be too anxious about their enfranchisement, but rather to be anxious to “abide” in their “calling,” their religion. Christianity is for man as man, not for him as bond or free; it comes to him as outward nature comes to him, with equal freeness and fitness for all. The physical, civil, or ecclesiastical condition of a man, therefore, in this life is no excuse for his not becoming a Christian; though bound in chains, his soul is free, and it is with the soul that Christianity has to do. Slaves were members of many of the first Churches, and religion reigned amongst a large number of American slaves.
II. Its possession, whether by the bond or the free, invests man with the highest liberty. He is the “Lord’s freeman,” however manacled his bodily limbs. There is no freedom like this from the dominion and consequences of moral wrong--the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”
III. This highest liberty augments man’s obligation to serve Christ (verse 23). No creature owns itself. The highest angel has nothing in him that he can call his own. Man is not merely the property of God on the ground of creatureship, but on the ground of Christ’s interposition (1 Corinthians 6:19). This being the case, however free and independent of men, you must ever serve Christ heartily, faithfully, loyally, and for ever. His service is perfect freedom, it is heaven. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The subordination of love
Slavery is the subordination of one will to another will under the influence of fear; loyalty is the subordination of one will to another will under the inspiration of love. Here are two soldiers: one has been dragged by conscription and put in the army, and fights for fear, because there is a bayonet behind him; and beside him another man who loves his country, his flag, and he courts danger and death for love’s sake--fear there, loyalty here. Here are two pupils sitting side by side in school: one afraid of his teacher, with his mind half on his book and half on his sports, eyeing his teacher and dreading the rod--slave, he! at his side another pupil who reveres the teacher, whose ambition it is to be such a scholar as this teacher and such a man as this man is--loyal pupil, he! Subordination to a larger, nobler, diviner will for reverence’ sake and for love’s sake is not slavery; it is the great emancipator of the world. The men who have believed in Divine sovereignty have not been the world’s slaves, they have been the world’s freemen. When a man has a conscience behind his will, and God behind his conscience, no man can put manacles upon his wrists. Submission is not the weak, invertebrate, jellyfish quality that men imagine it to be. Submission to fear is. But submission to love and loyalty is not. Men tell us that if a man yields his will to the sovereign and supreme will of Christ, he will be made gentle, amiable, peaceful, kindly, meek, but the heroic will be taken out of him. Ask history to answer the question. What sort of men were the Scotch Presbyterians? Not famous for meekness and gentleness and invertebrate qualities. What sort of men were the Swiss Calvinists? Not men famous for truckling and letting other people walk over them. What sort of people were the New England Puritans? Men who were strong because their will had behind it the Divine will, and they willed to do the will of Another, A weak will is one thing, and an obedient will is another and a very different thing. To be a Christian is to take the Divine will as your will. (Lyman Abbott.)
If you are His servants you are free from all besides; if you give yourselves up to Jesus Christ, in the measure in which you give yourselves up to Him, you will be set at liberty from the worst of all slaveries, that is the slavery of your own will and your own weakness, and your own tastes and fancies. You will be set at liberty from the dependence upon men, from thinking about their opinion. You will be set at liberty from your dependence upon externals, from feeling as if you could not live unless you had this, that, or the other person or thing. You will be emancipated from fears and hopes which torture the men who strike their roots no deeper than this visible film of time which floats upon the surface of the great invisible abyss of Eternity. If you have Christ for your Master you will be the masters of the world, and of time and sense and men and all besides; and so, being triumphed over by Him, you will share in His triumph. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men (see on 1 Corinthians 6:20).
I. The import of the apostle’s counsel. “Be not under bondage to men.”
1. This excludes--
(1) Slavish fear.
(3) Unlawful submission.
2. A servant must maintain his Christian dignity as serving the Lord Christ.
II. The motive by which he enforces it. Christ’s claim upon us secured by redeeming grace--by the price of blood. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 7:24
Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
The Christian calling
1. The word “calling” in a Christian sense is a condensed confession of faith. It means that our life is governed by a will above it, and is capable of receiving influences of attraction from the Spirit of God.
2. In its secular use, as a man’s common employment, it discovers the same origin. It must have sprung up in days when it was believed that each man’s business was sacred, and that he himself was on a Divine errand.
3. The expression stirs some feeling of mystery; yet a life without the sense of God calling it is far more perplexing than with that key to its changes. For severed from a Father it is not only a mystery but a contradiction, an enigma which neither genius nor sensuality nor stoicism, nor suicide can solve: Earnest minds, however, find rational comfort in it, and only triflers will ignore it altogether. So true is this that the world’s great men have represented themselves as led on by a power beyond themselves--a genius, a destiny, or a deity. But the apostle refers to something higher and holier than this dreamy sentiment. It is God who calls. Christ has lived, and He asks living followers. He has died, and asks the spirit of sacrifice.
4. It is remarkable how perseveringly the New Testament clings to this conception (see Concordance on “called” and “calling”). Note its prominent teachings.
I. The business of a Christian life is something special and distinctive.
1. It is a “calling” by itself. It is to be distinguished from all other occupations, systems, &c. It springs from its own root, grows by its own laws, bears its own peculiar fruit.
2. It is a Divine calling. Paul speaks as if no pursuit were to he thought of in comparison with it.
II. This idea of a calling individualises the Christian person. Paul had no conception of a social Christianity apart from the personal righteousness of the men who make up society, and therefore he uses personal language. It is quite vain for us to congratulate ourselves on a state of general integrity and order, if we tolerate depravity in ourselves, or excuse it in the usages of the class to which we belong. If we have a community of a thousand people, in which we want to see the Christian graces flourishing, our only way is to go to work and turn one and another into a Christian person, each beginning with himself. How weary God must be at hearing these Pharisaic praises of a Christian country, legislation, &c., from those who allow Christianity to conquer no one of their propensities.
III. Notwithstanding all this, the calling is of universal application. It is not meant for a class here and there. “Whosoever will”; and its speciality is the very ground of its universality. For it addresses men--
1. Of all kinds of mental equipment.
2. Of all varieties of outward fortune.
3. In every time.
Conclusion: The text appeals to--
3. Men of action. (Bp. Huntington.)
Abiding in our calling
The Christian must appear in the man of business. He is to abide with God.
I. By the moderation of his desires and exertions; not entangling himself in the affairs of this life; diligent in business, but not, by multiplication and complexity, injuring the health of his body and the peace of his mind, and compelling himself, if not to omit, to curtail his religious duties.
II. By unvariable conscientiousness; not content to keep himself within the precincts of legal obligation, but shunning everything that is mean and over-reaching; and exemplifying everything that is fair and honourable.
III. By a devout temper and habit that will remind him of the presence of God; that will keep him from planning any enterprise without dependence upon Heaven; practically owning the agency of Providence in all the contingencies of his affairs; ascribing all to the blessing of the Lord. Conclusion: This secular life is Christianised, and the bounds of religion enlarged far beyond the district of what we commonly mean by devotion. In all situations, the cares of life demand the vaster part of his time and attention; but he must always walk before the Lord in the land of the living; and whether he eats or drinks, or whatever he does, he may do all to the glory of God. The spirit of devotion actuates him in the absence of its forms; and this principle, as is reported of the philosopher’s stone, turns all it touches into gold. Thus his natural actions become moral; his civil duties become religious; the field or the warehouse is holy ground; and the man of business is the “man of God.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
How to walk with God in our calling
I. A good calling is a great mercy, whether you take the word “calling” for the calling of condition, or for the calling of employment. For--
1. A man is thereby kept--
(1) From idleness, which is the nurse of all wickedness.
(2) From busy-bodiedness. The more idle a man is the more apt he is to be meddling with others’ matters (2 Thessalonians 3:11).
2. A lawful calling is God’s ground, inasmuch as no calling or an unlawful one is the devil’s ground.
II. A man having a good calling is to abide therein,
1. Therefore there is an aptness in us to change or lay down our callings, or why should the apostle three times call upon us to abide in them?
2. But it is not absolutely unlawful for a man to leave or to change his calling.” For possibly a man--
(1) May be qualified for higher employments. In this case, David left his calling of a shepherd and became a king; the apostles left the calling of their fishing and became apostles.
(2) May see the same hand of God leading him out of his calling which did bring him into it. So when Noah had the same command to go out of the ark that he had to go in, then he went out.
(3) May be forced through want to change his calling. Paul, though a preacher and apostle, was sometimes forced to work with his hands.
3. Though it he lawful in some cases to do so, yet ordinarily a man is to abide in his calling, for a good calling is the Lord’s gift.
(1) It is God that calls a man to it, and is it likely that God will bless him who deserts it?
(2) There is no calling but God may be served and enjoyed therein (1 Corinthians 7:22).
4. But, says one, that is the reason why I would lay down my calling, because I cannot serve God so well therein. Are you sure of that? Luther tells us of a certain man that was given to anger, and who to avoid provocation would go live alone as an hermit; and going to the well with his pitcher something displeased him, and he threw clown his pitcher, and he broke it in anger; which when he had done, he said, Well, now I see it is not in my condition, but in my heart, that doth cause provocation; therefore I will return to my calling again.
III. It is the duty of every man to walk with God in his calling, and not barely to abide therein.
1. It was so from the beginning. Adam had a calling in the state of innocency, and therein he was to walk with God.
2. And if a man do not walk with God in his calling, how can he walk with God at all? A man is not said to walk with God because he prays in the morning or evening; walking is a constant thing.
3. Thereby a man is distinguished from men of the world. A man is not of another world because he deserts his calling that he may give himself unto his devotions. Christ Himself was in the world, “but not of the world.”
4. This is that which will sweeten and elevate your callings: everything is raised or depressed as God is present with it or absent from it.
5. Every man is as he is in his calling; a man hath no more grace than he may or can use in his calling; and though I have all parts and gifts, yet if I be not gracious in my calling, they are but sounding brass and as tinkling cymbal.
IV. What should a man do that he may walk with God in his calling?
(1) You must not be ignorant of the way of your calling; for if you take up a calling, and are ignorant of it, you may tempt God therein. Every man should be the master of his art.
(2) You must not be negligent. Diligence in our callings is commanded, commended, and rewarded in Scripture.
(3) You must not deal unjustly with men (Micah 6:8).
(4) You must not be too fond of your calling, or you will forget the God of your calling. You will go with an apron into your shop that you may keep your clothes clean, and hath not your soul as much need of an apron in your calling? If the ivy clings too close unto the oak it hindereth its growth; so if your callings cling too close to you, and you to your callings, it will hinder your spiritual growth.
(1) You must observe what those temptations are that are incident to your calling, and take heed thereof (1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Corinthians 7:35).
(2) You must live by faith in your callings. Thereby you shall be kept from covetousness and love of the world. “This is our victory,” &c.
(3) Whatever you do therein, do all to the glory of God.
(4) Be sure that you so manage your calling that your general calling may not be a hindrance, but a help to your particular; and thus your particular calling may be no hindrance, but a help to your general calling.
(5) Be sure that you turn as God turns, sweetly complying with His dispensations in the way of your calling.
(6) You must judge of things in your calling as God judges.
(7) You must spiritualise your particular calling with heavenly things; not put all upon a morning and an evening prayer. Conclusion: If you walk with God in your particular calling, God will walk with you in your general calling.
1. Then shall your calling be a blessing to you indeed, and you shall have a greater reward than the wealth of your calling.
2. Thereby the knots and difficulties of your callings shall be taken off, and your way made easy.
3. Thereby you shall be kept from the sins and temptations of your calling.
4. Thereby shall your way of godliness be convincing and winning. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
The dignity of the secular calling
1. It is unfortunate that this chapter is mainly occupied with subjects the public discussion of which is in these days hardly possible. Few portions of his Epistles more largely reveal the far-sighted wisdom of St. Paul. He was the foremost statesman of the kingdom of heaven. The golden mean between extreme opinions to him was clear. How firmly he held the balance between asceticism and license!
2. The subject here is most difficult and delicate. Fanatics on either side were watching eagerly for a word which might support their views. A less able, wise, and self-controlled man might easily, with such a force as the gospel, have shattered the whole framework of civilisation. Well was it for the world that this tremendous power of revolution was in hands so wise, so calm, so firm. Note--
I. The earnest desire of St. Paul that there should be no violent, visible change in the relations of classes and the organisation of society. “These men, that have turned the world upside-down, are come hither also.” But the marvel is that practically they overturned so little, and left so much peacefully and patiently to grow. Whatever has come forth from Christianity for human welfare and progress has come, not from without, by any rearrangement of classes or orders, but from within, by the renewing and reordering of individual arts. Christianity introduced an idea absolutely new into the world: “There is neither Greek nor Jew … for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Here was explosive matter enough to shatter society. This issue Paul’s wisdom and firmness averted. Read the Epistle to Philemon. What a world of practical wisdom is there. Take this great question of slavery. The slaves bore the yoke uneasily, and in fact slavery in those days was eating out the very heart of the empire. Throw this new thought into their minds, It is hateful to God and wrong; all are equal before Him, and have the right from Him to contend for equality. It might have originated a new and more awful servile war, which would have reduced to ruin the whole structure of Roman society, ages before the German races were trained to occupy its room. But the gospel announced the principle, and yet maintained the order.
II. Paul’s deep conviction that no external change in the condition and relations of men is worth anything unless it grow out of and clothe a change deep down in individual souls. Nothing can be more fallacious than the notion that in different circumstances you would be a different man. A bad slave would be a bad master; a bad child a bad parent; a bad man would be bad everywhere. Man cannot be content with the world as it is. But he dreams that the mischief is in things. God says it is in souls. And God sets up His kingdom in souls--in the heart of the mischief. The Jews thought the evil was in their condition, so they dreamed of a splendid Messiah’s kingdom. God saw that it was in their spirits, and said, “the kingdom of God is within you.” Paul would have had little hope of any great ultimate good if he could simply have struck the sceptre out of the hand of the brutal Nero, emancipated every slave in the broad Roman dominion; while no new life-blood was poured into the exhausted veins of society. No! it must go on struggling, suffering, while the inward renewing was working; then it might be lifted bodily into a clearer and brighter heaven.
III. That the condition of a man in his particular calling is just the instrument which God has furnished, by the use of which he may train himself for yet higher things. Do not be content to aspire, but grow. Do not demand things as abstract rights, win them by manifest power. Do not talk of being, or boast of calling, but be, and thus make your calling and election sure. And this runs through the whole scale of life. Have you capacity for higher things? Prove it by doing the lower more perfectly. Throw all your soul into your work; you are surely training yourself for the highest work of heaven (Luke 19:16-17). Despising the one talent it the most fatal folly. All faculty is like seed. Planted in work, it grows, and fills wide neighbourhoods with shade and fruit. The condition wherein a man is called is God’s best school for him. Not by wriggling hastily out of it, but by working bravely and patiently in it, he is helping the progress of his own being and of mankind.
IV. But a man may say, It is poor work after all. Is it? “Therein abide with God.” Let the poorest remember that God abode with it; and that all that is most blessed for the universe came to it out of a poor workman’s home. But the lot is a very humble one! Be it so. It is humble with Him. What is it to abide in our lot with God? Surely it means, Let a man abide in it with the full consciousness of all that he is, all that he has, all that he shall have, in Christ Jesus.
1. Let him dismiss all fretful impatience at the meanness of his figure and the poorness of his pay. Such matters are not, cannot be, vital to a man who is so rich in hope. He must calmly wait God’s time.
2. Let him know that the Lord abides with him in his lot, and has a deeper interest and joy in his daily labour than in the debates of the world’s most famous congresses, and the acts of its most splendid kings.
3. The man who abides with God in the lowliest condition makes that condition illustrious by the patient, strenuous discharge of its duties, and manly resistance to the temptations which beset it, and which drag many a helpless worldling down.
4. Such a man will wait for God’s word, and not man’s, to “go up higher.”
5. Wherever he is, he will abide with dignity and patience, because assured of the supreme promotion at last. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Godliness in all conditions of life
The text teaches--
I. That men are found in various conditions of life. Some are free men, some are slaves, &c. This variety--
1. Affords scope for benevolent activity. If all men were in precisely identical worldly conditions, there would be manifestly no sphere for it.
2. Creates a bond of social unity. Gratitude is one of the strongest social ties, and hence the relation between the giver and the receiver, the helper and the helped, is generally close, tender, and strong. Were all men in exactly the same condition, there would be a spirit of reckless independency, and a state of social disorder.
3. Invests society with social charms. Variety is one of the charms of existence.
II. That some of the conditions of life are of Divine appointment. Of some this cannot be said. People are found in--
1. Matrimonial relations which God has not appointed. Two people are brought together for life whose instincts, temperaments, habits, are antagonistic.
2. Ecclesiastical positions which God has not appointed.
3. Commercial engagements which God has not appointed. Those who turn the ores of the earth into implements of destruction, and distil the fruits of the earth into liquids that drown the reason, ruin the health, and destroy the morals of a community, are not “called” to their sphere.
III. That in every condition of life men should practise godliness. What is it to “abide with God”? It means constancy of supreme love and obedience to Him, and of devotion to His cause. Godliness is--
1. Binding in all conditions of life. As much so in the market as in the chamber or the temple. God is every- where, and your relation to Him remains intact in all circumstances.
2. Possible. Let no man say his conditions are such that he cannot be religious. If they really are, he must come out of them. If lawful, God knows them, and will help you in them. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Christian life
Three times within the compass of a very few verses this injunction is repeated (verses 17, 20, 24).
1. The reason for this emphatic reiteration is that there were strong temptations to restlessness besetting the early Christians. The great change from heathenism to Christianity would seem to loosen the joints of all life. Hence would tend to come the rupture of family ties, the Jewish convert seeking to become like a Gentile, and vice versa, and the slave trying to be free. To all three the apostle says, Stop where you are. For if Christianity had become the mere instrument of social revolution, its development would have been thrown back for centuries, and the whole worth and power of it, for those who first apprehended it, would have been lost. Paul believed in the diffusion of the principles which he proclaimed, and the mighty name which he served, as able to girdle the poison-tree, and to take the bark off it, and the rest--the slow dying--might be left to time.
2. But, besides this more especial application of the text, it carries with it a large general principle that applies to all. Our maxim is, “Get on!” Paul’s is, “Never mind about getting on, get up!” Our notion is, “Try to make the circumstances what I would like to have them.” Paul’s is, “Leave circumstances to take care of themselves--or rather leave God to take care of the circumstances--and everything else will right itself.”
I. Our chief effort in life ought to be union with God. “Abide with God” means--
1. Constant communion, the occupation of all our nature with Him. As we go to our work to-morrow, what difference would obedience to this precept make upon our lives? Before all else, we should think of that Divine Mind that is waiting to illumine our darkness; we should feel the glow of that perfect Love which, in the midst of change, treachery, is ready to fill our hearts with tenderness and tranquillity; we should bow before that Will which is “the good pleasure of His goodness and the counsel of His grace.” And with such a God ever in our thoughts, love, and obedience, what room would there be for agitations and distractions? They die in the fruition of a present God all-sufficient, even as the sun when it is risen may wither the weeds that grow about the fruitful tree whose deeper roots are but warmed by the rays that ripen the rich clusters which it bears.
2. And then there will follow the recognition of God’s will as operating in and determining all circumstances. When our whole soul is occupied with Him, we shall see Him everywhere, and connect everything which befalls ourselves and the world with Him.
II. Such union with God will lead to contented continuance in our place, whatever it be. You have been “called” in such and such worldly circumstances, which proves that these circumstances do not obstruct the highest and richest blessings. And that is the one point of view from which we can bear to look upon the world and not be bewildered and overmastered by it. Peace, a true appreciation of all outward good and a charm against the bitterest sting of outward evils, a patient continuance in the place where He has set us, are all ours--when by fellowship with Him we look upon our work as doing His will, and upon all our possessions and conditions as means for making us like Himself. The only question worth asking in regard to the externals of our life is, How far does each thing help me to be a good man, and open my understanding to apprehend God, and prepare me for the world beyond? Is there any other more satisfying, more majestic thought of life than this--the scaffolding by which souls are built up into the temple of God! And to care whether a thing is painful or pleasant is as absurd as to care whether the bricklayer’s trowel is knocking the sharp corner off a brick, or plastering mortar on the one below it before he lays it carefully on its course. Is the building getting on? That is the one question that is worth thinking about. If, then, we have once got hold of that principle that all the antitheses of life are the product of His will, the manifestation of His mind, His means for our discipline, then we have the talisman which will preserve us from the fever of desire and the shivering fits of anxiety as to things which perish.
III. Such contented continuance in our place is the dictate of the truest wisdom.
1. Though you may change about as much as you like, there is a pretty substantial equipoise and identity in the amount of pain and pleasure in all external conditions. The total length of day and night all the year round is the same at the North Pole and at the Equator. It does not matter much at what degrees between the two we live, when the thing comes to be made up we shall be all pretty much upon an equality. What is the use of such eager desires to change our condition, when every condition has disadvantages attending its advantages, as certainly as a shadow; and when all have pretty nearly the same quantity of the raw material of pain and pleasure, and when the amount of either actually experienced by us depends not on where we are, but on What we are?
2. Whilst the portion of external pain and pleasure summed up comes pretty much to the same in everybody’s life, any condition may yield the fruit of devout fellowship with God.
3. What is the need for my troubling myself about outward changes, when in Christ I can get all the peculiarities which make any given position desirable to me? Hear how Paul talks to slaves wanting to be set free (verses 21, 22). If a man is a slave he may be free in Christ. If free, he may have the joy of utter submission to an absolute master in Christ. If you and I are lonely we may feel all the delights of society by union with Him. If distracted by companionship, and seeking for seclusion, we may get all the peace of perfect privacy in fellowship with Him. If we are rich and think that if we were poorer we should be less tempted, we may find all for which we covet poverty in communion with Him. If we are poor and fancy that if we had a little more we should be happier, we may find all tranquillity in Him.
4. Think seriously of the antagonism between these principles and the maxims current in the world. Our text is a revolutionary one. It is dead against the watchwords that you fathers give your children--“push,” “energy,” “advancement,” “get on whatever you do.” If you, by God’s grace, lay hold of these principles, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you will have to make up your minds to let the big prizes of your trade go into other people’s hands, and be contented to say, “I live by peaceful, high, pure, Christ-like thoughts.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I want to take the general principle Paul lays down here and draw from it some lessons which I think it plainly teaches.
1. In the first place, then, we learn that our daily work may be work to which we are divinely called. Now that: is not how many men think of their work. We may admit that the prophet, the reformer, or the patriot receive their calling from above--that a John Knox, a Joan of Arc, were called to their vocations in life; but to most people it seems a little ridiculous to say that a painter, a sailor, a manufacturer, or merchant has been called by God to do the work he is doing. The reason we think this is, I suppose, because of the hard definition we make between the sacred and the secular. That distinction should not by any means be an absolute distinction. In the tabernacle, in the Jewish temple, there was a “holy” and a “holy of holies,” and yet they were both under the same roof, and formed part Of the great Temple of God; and so it is with the things we call sacred and the things we call secular. We must admit that much of God’s work is what we would call secular. He makes the sun to shine, the rivers to flow, the grass to spring: and if God is interested in work like that, the man ought not to feel he is bemeaning himself if God calls upon him to be a fellow-labourer in the same vineyard. For instance, we talk of God supplying us with food. But when we come to ask how it is that the world is provided with its meat, we find that God calls in human agencies. The farmer who grows the grain, the miller who grinds it, and the baker who makes the bread, have all been called by God.
2. There is another great lesson to be drawn from this principle, and it is--if this be true we ought to have a plain call to the occupation we follow, because it must be admitted that every occupation is not a Divine occupation. Sometimes a man is engaged in a particular form of business which his conscience tells him is wrong; such a man cannot think he is Divinely called. Again, a young man may be employed in a business that is worked on wrong principles. Another man may be employed in quite an honest calling, yet for which he is unsuited--sometimes a square man gets into a round hole--and if he gets a change to a vocation he likes, he should take the opportunity and enter into the calling he really cares for. How does God call upon us? Well, sometimes He gives us a bias for a special business. Another way in which God’s guiding hand comes in is in our outward circumstances, because we must remember these circumstances are shaped by God’s own hand, and sometimes our way is made pretty clear by circumstances alone. Another way in which God’s voice can be heard is in the advice of our friends, and we ought to take the advice of those who can look at our character and work from a different standpoint than that we ourselves occupy. And now let me say this--that we should all choose our calling in the full light of the Word of God, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Then we must remember prayer. Remember that more things are done by prayer than people think of; that if we lift up our voices in prayer for guidance, that guidance will come. Again, I would remark that when we have received our calling we should abide in it. “Let every man abide in the calling wherewith he is called.” No doubt, the statement might be twisted into a wrong meaning. It might be said that this was an advocacy of the great fallacy that whatever is, is right, teaching that man should have no aspirations after better things. Christianity is something that has the principle of revolution in it; and yet though Christianity has the revolutionary principle inside of it, it does not make its followers revolutionists. And now in the last place we are taught that, abiding in our callings, we should therein abide with God. It matters not what your duties are, however common, however merely secular, do them as under your great Master’s eyes. (J. C. Lambert.)
We are the subjects of two callings. There is our “high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” that is the calling of grace; and there is our outward situation in life, that is the calling of Providence. In the text both these callings are mentioned, our temporal and our spiritual calling; and we are directed to abide in the same temporal calling, wherein we may be, when we are spiritually called. A Christian man is not to murmur or be fretful and restless in that situation which the providence of God has assigned to him, but to be patient, quiet, submissive, and cheerful in it. Grace, when it takes possession of a man, does not alter his place in society, nor annul the obligations that pertain to it, unless it be intrinsically wrong and sinful, requiring of him a course of action which is immoral and injurious. If that be its character, it is the devil’s calling and not God’s, and we cannot too promptly abandon it at whatever sacrifice. Now what I wish to impress upon you is that our temporal condition, with that peculiar form of life which it imposes, is a calling, and is such because God has called us into it. I would remind you that the fashion of our existence in this world is not an accident, not the fruit of chance, nor of our own will, nor of the will of other men. God has assigned us our place. Whether we shall work with our brains or our hands, and in which of the various departments of human activity that belong to either, He has determined. How important, indeed, is the truth which we express in the naming our work in this world our vocation, or which is the same, finding utterance in homelier Anglo-Saxon, our calling. What a calming, elevating, solemnising view of the tasks which we find ourselves set in this world to do, this word would give us if we did but realise it to the full. What a help is this thought to enable us to appreciate justly the dignity of our work, though it were far humbler work even in the eyes of men, than that of any one of us present! What an assistance in calming unsettled thoughts and desires, such as would make us wish to be something else than that which we are! What a source of confidence when we are tempted to lose heart, and to doubt whether we shall be able to carry through our work with any blessing or profit to ourselves or others l It is our vocation, our calling; and He who called us to it will fit us for it and strengthen us in it. That the circumstances which frame our outward condition into its actual fashion are of God’s ordering, none will doubt, who believe in the presence and agency of God in the affairs of the world. Our parentage, the period of our birth, the associations of our childhood, the events that betide us in our early days, the influences that act upon us as we advance to manhood, all the causes that cooperate to fasten upon our life the form it finally and permanently assumes, are of God’s ordering and fixing. And thus the whole sum of society, in all its complicated framework, its mutual relations and dependences, its necessary gradations and shares of honour and advantage, will appear to be a visible outgoing of the Divine will, instinct throughout with a Divine presence, a Divine authority, and a Divine blessing; and every member of the same, in his own proper station and work, his special “vocation and ministry,” believing God made his place for him and him for his place, will be enabled to walk in it with God, without pride in elevation, with self-respect in inferiority, in a spirit of cheerful submission, conscientious fidelity, and lowly hope. What we contend for is that every Christian should believe himself called to every work in which he finds his occupation and his livelihood; and that, except he believes this, the work of life, whatever it may be outwardly, will be unholy and cheerless, lack its best stimulus and its purest support and comfort, and be pursued without confidence in God, or any expectation of high and worthy fruit. The rich man who is exempt from the necessity of relying on some trade or profession for a living, is not so exempt in order that he may be an idler. He also has a calling, and a calling has always a work, and the work of his calling is by no means the least arduous and difficult; and if, because he is not driven to it by the stern pressure of necessity, he leaves it undone, and dies a mere loiterer, his will be the fearful reckoning of one who wrapped not one but many talents in a napkin and hid them in the earth. This view of our work as a calling communicates dignity and comfort to life, and this not in some of its ranges, but in all of them. The precious ointment on the head goes down to the skirts of the garments. There is no valley in life so low that the dew of Divine service does not visit and refresh it. The honour of the noble head pervades the family, stops not at the favourite of the lord, or chief officer of the household, but goes on till it reaches the bottom of the social fabric; and the lowest menial shines in the reflected lustre of his Master. And surely there can be no debasement in filling any station which God has created and assigned to us. It is an honour to serve Him in any place. It is looking upon our lot in life apart from God, viewing ourselves as the sport of a blind chance, or the victim of human tyranny, caprice, or injustice, that makes us despise and scorn it, view it with a bitter contempt and an indignant hatred. Only let us look at it as our calling, the utterance of God’s will, and the appointment of God’s wisdom, and we shall respect it and ourselves in it; for we shall sea that we are parts of a system, in which it is an honour to hold any position, of a mechanism so glorious, that the cog of the smallest wheel, or the cord of the obscurest pulley that is needful to its well-being and well-working, is honoured by its function. Nothing has so elevating an influence on men as to feel that they are members of a Divine economy in which honour depends not upon place, but upon faithfulness; so that some who are far down in it, may be higher in the estimation of Him whose judgment is its only rule of eminence, than many that are outwardly above them, as sweet violets lie low and nestle in the sod, overhung and hidden by tall, thrifty, but idle weeds, and gaudy but scentless blossoms. But if this view of the work of life as a calling confers on life a dignity that relieves and gladdens it, so does it also load it with a weight of responsibility which communicates to it a tincture of seriousness and solemnity. Seeing that all stations are of God, it is indeed a grave and awful thing to live in any station. God does not ask at our hands volunteer services, but prescribed and ordered services; and if in the final reckoning we undertake to recite our performances of the former kind, we shall be cut short with the inquiry, Who hath required this at your hand? how did you fill your station? A soldier who is appointed to stand sentry will not escape censure if he has left his post to reconnoitre the enemy’s camp, or capture a solitary straggler. Nor will a farmer be satisfied with his servant who leaves his field unploughed to instruct his neighbour in agricultural science. When every man does his own work, the specific service of his place, then is the welfare of society most advanced, God’s will best done, the gospel best recommended, and the souls of men best fitted for eternal life. (R. A. Hallam.)
I. What the religion of Jesus Christ really is. The godly man is the man who “abides with God.” We use the term “religious” very loosely, meaning by it the observance of certain ceremonies or the reception of certain opinions, but religion in deed and in truth consists in a right state and action of the soul towards God. It is our knowledge of God in Jesus Christ leading us to aim at a Christ-like life.
II. Religion so understood is a right and a reasonable thing. It is the exercise of our powers upon Him who is infinitely worthy of them all. It is the rendering to God His own what He is pleased to ask and require. The eye is no more fitted to see or the ear to hear than is the constitution of your nature fitted for religion; and just as the formation of the eye tells us that though there may be blindness, nevertheless, we were made to see, and just as the formation of the ear tells us that though there may be deafness the ear was constructed that men should hear, just so the very structure of our moral nature teaches us that, in spite of all the wanderings of the intellect and the worse wanderings of the heart, we are made, it is the very end of our being, to love and honour God. Regarded as a life, religion is the life a man is fitted to live. Regarded as a work, religion is the work a man is adapted and intended to perform. A man is not a man in the full sense of the term unless he is religious; he is other than he ought to be, he is less than he ought to be if he is not religious. He is a ground not tilled, a seed not sown, a perversion of power.
III. This religion may be a matter of every-day life with us is every condition of life a man may be called to occupy. If it consisted in the observance of certain rites, then it would be a thing of times and places; but since it is a life, it cannot be restricted to times and places and conditions. Even slaves are told that whatsoever they do they do heartily as unto the Lord. Well, now, if the bard service of slaves may be a service of God, is it not perfectly clear that every-day religion must be possible to each one of us? (J. Vaughan Pryce, M. A.)
Home life and duties
(Mark 5:19, and text):--
1. The first text is the reply of Jesus to the maniac out of whom He had cast a legion of devils. This man certainly had passed through a very remarkable experience; and we might reasonably expect that so remarkable a case would be made much of by Jesus. This man will at once be sent out into the world as a witness to the power of his Saviour. The man seems to have thought that something of this sort was called for in his case. He prays to be always with Jesus. But instead he is met by the quiet, tame words, “Go home to thy friends. They saw you go wrong, and are the ones, above all others, to be moved by the sight of your restoration. Go back to your former life, and from that centre work outward.”
2. The same thought lies in the second text. The early Christians thought that in their conversion something unearthly, prodigious, had happened, and expected a complete translation from their past life. They had caught the significance of Jesus’ words, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” No disruption of your life in the world is proposed, but simply to conduct that life to nobler issues by purified and sanctified spirit. So the apostle says to these restless Corinthians, “Go home to your friends and to your occupation.” Your relations to your fellow-beings in the household, in the state, in the market and shop, are the very points of contact at which your new spiritual life is to get access to the gross life of the world. Let every man, therefore, abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
3. There is something perennial in the mistake of this maniac and the early Church, and it arises from a total misconception of our life. We have not two lives, but life. We have not two sides to our life any more than a ray of light or a current of electricity has sides. We live; that is all. If you would see the absurdity of this division of our life, carry it up to God, our Father. He is a Spirit, yet He is constantly carrying on the affairs of a material universe. Now has God two lives--one spiritual, when He is lost in self-contemplation, or when receiving the adorations of the heavenly hosts? The other life material, when He is conducting the minute affairs of a world or a constellation, tempering its climates, mixing its soils, ordering wars and overturnings here, prosperity and abundance there? All actions of a spiritual being are spiritual. We are the children of God, and to divide our life and call one part earthly, the other heavenly, is just as absurd as to attempt to draw such a line through the life of God our Father.
4. Now, this being so, it follows that the practical life is the only point of vital, spiritual contact with the world, and if you are to make yourself felt as a spiritual power, it must be in the practical life. What is the world to you and to me? It is just our own small circle of the daily life. Now just that is our point of contact with the great round world. A tree is a mighty growth, with thousands of leaves, presenting to the sun and atmosphere a vast area of surface. Now suppose a single leaf should busy itself with thinking of that vast surface of absorption and radiation, and forget that its own daily life was its world of absorption and radiation. And having made this mistake, it hastens to make another. It forgets that its own stem is the nexus, the point of vital contact with the great life of the tree, and whatever transactions it may have with light and air, the results must be communicated to the great life of the tree through its own stem. Our point of living union with the great life of the world is our daily practical life; that is the stem which joins us to the mighty tree. Whatever dealings we may have with the heavens, the result must be communicated to the world through that one point of union, that leaf-stalk, the practical life. E.g., here is an humble, honourable craft--shoemaking. Now the average Christian shoemaker says to himself, My secular life lies in my craft. But my spiritual life lies in another realm. I must go apart there to do my praying and meditating, and get my spiritual nourishment. Now Christ meets that man in his so-called spiritual realm, and orders him off at once. “Go home to thy friends.” And the apostle re-echoes the words of his Lord. You are joined to the great world at the point of your daily life. The need of the world for shoes is just as imperative, therefore as sacred, as its need for praying, and singing, and Bible-reading. If it imperatively needs shoes, it just as imperatively needs good shoes. You are called of God to minister to that honourable need. The principal part of your time, your thought, your labour, is held to that one point. If you are not spiritual there, then the principal part of your life is unspiritual. If you fail of a spiritual impression there, you have failed altogether, and any fine talk or earthly experiences which you may bring to your fellow-men from some other dreamy spiritual realm will be to them as chaff and dust. They turn upon you in just wrath, saying, Away with your religion. I needed you. I had a right to demand of you, and all that I asked of you was good work. You have lost your chance on me. And so the man loses his chance of spiritual influence upon the world. See to it that spiritual power goes into your work, through it and with it as it passes from your hands into the world. Genuine material, honest work; clean and sound thought and speech; these are the vehicles for transmitting spiritual power to the world. St. Paul was a tent-maker. I pledge you he made the best tents to be had in the country. (J. H. Ecob, D. D.)
I. The danger.
1. Of becoming discontented with our calling.
2. This is common.
3. It may be excited by the more enlightened views produced by conversion.
II. The duty. “To abide,” &c.
1. This does not mean--
(1) That a slave may not seek his liberty.
(2) That a man must not relinquish a nefarious occupation.
(3) That a Christian may not desire a position of greater advantage and usefulness.
(1) Inculcates contentment.
(2) Teaches that every honest calling affords scope for Christian development, and that we should serve God in our calling.
III. The motive. God--
1. Has appointed your condition.
2. Blesses you in it.
3. Can easily improve it if desirable. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The need, choice, and use of a calling
The Christian calling doth not at all prejudice, much less overthrow, it rather strengtheneth those interests that arise from natural relations, or from voluntary contracts betwixt man and man. I desired to speak, and judged expedient for you to hear, concerning--
1. The necessity.
2. The choice.
3. The use of particular callings.
Points, if ever need to be taught, certainly in these days most. Wherein some habituated in idleness will not betake themselves to any calling: like a heavy jade that is good at bit and nought else. These would be soundly spurred up and whipped on end. Other some, through weakness, do not make good choice of a fit calling: like a young unbroken thing that hath mettle and is free, but is ever wrying the wrong way. These would be fairly checked, turned into the right way, and guided with a steady and skilful hand. A third sort, through unsettledness, or discontentedness, or other untoward humour, walk not soberly and uprightly and orderly in their calling: like an unruly colt that will over hedge and ditch, no ground will hold him, no fence turn him. The first sort are to be taught the necessity of a calling; the second, to be directed for the choice of their calling; the third, to be limited in the exercise of their calling. Of which three, in their order; and of the first--
I. The necessity of a calling. The necessity whereof you are to imagine not an absolute and positive, but a conditional and suppositive necessity. Not as if no man could be without one, de facto, but because, de jure, no man should be without one. And this necessity we are now to prove. And that--First, from the obedience we owe to God’s ordinances, and the account we must render for every one of God’s gifts. Amongst those ordinances this is one, and one of the first, that in the sweat of our faces every man of us should eat our bread (Genesis 3:19; Ephesians 4:28), and woe to us if we neglect it. But say there were no such express command for it; the very distribution of God’s gifts were enough to lay upon us this necessity. Where God bestoweth He bindeth; and to whom anything is given, of him something shall be required. We may not think the God of nature’ doth bestow abilities whereof He intendeth no use, for that were to bestow them in vain. Secondly, the necessity of a calling is great in regard of a man’s self, and that more ways than one. For man being by nature active, so he must be doing. There is no Cross, no holy water, no exorcism so powerful to drive away and to conjure down the fiend, as faithful labour in some honest calling. Thirdly, life must be preserved, families maintained, the poor relieved; this cannot be done without bread, and bread cannot be gotten honestly but in a lawful vocation or calling. Fourthly and lastly, a calling is necessary in regard of the public. God hath made us sociable creatures; contrived us into commonwealths; made us fellow-members of one body. Every man should put to his helping hand to advance the common good. For which reason the ancient renowned commonwealths were so careful to ordain that no man should live bug in some profession. It is the sin of many of the gentry whom God hath furnished with means and abilities to do much good, to spend their whole days and lives in an unprofitable course of doing either nothing, or as good as nothing, or worse than nothing. Manual, and servile, and mechanic trades and arts are for men of a lower condition; but yet no man is born, no man should be bred unto idleness. There are generous, and ingenuous, and liberal employments sortable to the greatest births and educations. But for our gallants who live in no settled course of life, but spend half the day in sleeping, half the night in gaming, and the rest of their time in other pleasures and vanities to as little purpose as they can devise, as if they were born for nothing else but to eat and drink and sport. The third sort of those that live unprofitably and without a calling, are our sturdy rogues and vagrant towns-end beggars; the very filth and vermin of the commonwealth. I mean such as have health and strength and limbs, and are in some measure able to work and take pains for their living. God is just, and will not call any man to that which is not honest and good. God is all-sufficient, and will not call any man to that which is above the proportion of his strength. God is wonderful in His providence, and will not call any man to that whereto He will not open him a fair and orderly passage. Somewhat by your patience of each of these. And first, of the course we intend. Wherein let these be our inquiries--First, whether the thing be simply and in itself lawful or no. Secondly, whether it be lawful so as to be made a calling or no. Thirdly, whether it will be profitable or rather hurtful to the commonwealth. Now observe the rules.
II. Our first care past, which concerneth the calling itself, our next care in our choice must be to inquire into ourselves, what calling is most fit for us and we for it. Wherein our inquiry must rest especially upon three things; our inclination, our gifts, and our education.
III. Remaineth now the third and last point proposed, the use of a man’s calling. Let him walk in it (verse 17). Let him abide in it (verse 20). Let him abide therein with God. It may seem he would have us stick to a course; and when we are in a calling, not to forsake it, nor change it, no, not for a better, no, not upon any terms. Perhaps some have taken it so, but certainly the apostle never meant it so. It is lawful to change it, so it be done with due caution. It is lawful, first, in subordinate callings. How should we do for generals for the wars if colonels, and lieutenants, and captains, and common soldiers might not relinquish their charges? It is lawful, secondly, yea, necessary, when the very calling itself, though in itself good and useful, doth yet by accident become unlawful or unuseful. As when some manufacture is prohibited by the State. It is lawful, thirdly, when a man by some accident becometh unable for the duties of his calling, as by age, blindness, maim, decay of estate, and sundry other impediments which daily occur. It is lawful, fourthly, where there is a want of sufficient men, or not a sufficient number of them in some callings, for the necessities of the State and country; in such cases authority may interpose. But then it must be done with due cautions. As first, not out of a desultory lightness. Nor, secondly, out of the greediness of a covetous or ambitious lust. Thirdly, nor out of sullenness, or a discontentedness at thy present condition. Much less, fourthly, out of an evil eye against thy neighbour that liveth by thee. But, fifthly, be sure thou change not, if thy calling be of that nature that it may not be changed. Wheresoever thy calling is, therein abide; be content with it. The second is faithfulness and industry and diligence. What is here called abiding in it, is at verse 17 called walking in it, and in Romans 12:17, waiting on it. The third is sobriety, that we keep ourselves within the proper bounds and limits of our callings. For how doth he abide in his calling that is ever and anon flying out of it, and starting beyond it? like an extravagant soldier that is always breaking rank. But yet abide with God. The clause was not added for nothing; it teacheth thee also some duties. First, so to demean thyself in thy particular calling as that thou do nothing but what may stand with thy general calling. Magistrate, or minister, or lawyer, or merchant, or artificer, or whatsoever other thou art, remember thou art withal a Christian. God is the author of both callings. Do not think He hath called thee to service in the one, and to liberty in the other; to justice in the one, and to cosenage in the other; to simplicity in the one, and to dissimulation in the other: to holiness in the one, and to profaneness in the other. It teacheth thee, secondly, not to ingulf thyself so wholly into the business of thy particular calling as to abridge thyself of convenient opportunities to the exercise of those religious duties which thou art bound to perform by virtue of thy general calling, as prayer, confession, thanksgiving, meditation, &c. God alloweth thee to serve thyself, but He commandeth thee to serve Him too. It teacheth thee, thirdly, to watch over the special sins of thy particular calling. Sins, I mean not that cleave necessarily to the calling, for then the very calling itself should be unlawful; but sins unto the temptations whereof the condition of thy calling layeth thee open more than it doth unto other sins, or more than some other callings would do unto the same sins. (Bishop Sanderson.)
Christianity diffusive, not revolutionary
Paul reminds us of the moral act which has the power of sanctifying and ennobling every external position: the eye fixed on God, walking in His presence. This is what preserves the believer from the temptations arising from his situation, and what raises his humblest duties to the supreme dignity of acts of worship. This principle has been of incalculable importance in the development of the Church. It is by means of it that Christianity has been able to become a moral power, at once sufficiently firm and sufficiently elastic to adapt itself to all human situations, personal, domestic, national, and social. Thereby it is that without revolution it has worked the greatest revolutions, accepting everything to transform everything, submitting to everything to rise above everything, renewing the world from top to bottom, while condemning all violent subversion. Whence has the apostle derived this principle in which there meet the most unconquerable faith and the most consummate ability (see Romans 12:3)? Wisdom from on high did not less direct Paul the pastor than Paul the teacher; and it is not improbable that he was acquainted with the parable of the leaven. (Prof. Godet.)
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord.
Concerning virgins and widows
The apostle advises--
I. The unmarried of both sexes. As he has argued against the disruption of the ties between slave and master, Christian and heathen, so Paul now advises the unmarried to remain as they are. Not that he disparages marriage, but special circumstances make it inadvisable.
1. The present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26). This may refer to the Neronian persecution already commenced (a.d. 64), or to the troubles which were to usher in the second advent (cf. Matthew 24:1-51.)
. The injunction will hold in all similar cases; as when the soldier is called to dangerous duty, or when a man is approaching death, or during the prevalence of famine or pestilence.
2. Tribulation in the flesh (1 Corinthians 7:28), i.e., distress which bears more hardly on the married than on the single.
3. The shortness of time (1 Corinthians 7:29).
4. The cares incident to the married state (1 Corinthians 7:32).
II. Fathers regarding unmarried daughters. In the East marriages are arranged by parents much more than with us: but how much even with us depends on the Christian wisdom of parents, who may sacrifice the highest interests for the sake of a union that offers worldly attractions. Faithful parental guidance may prevent an unholy alliance and lead to a happy union “in the Lord.” The point before the apostle is--
1. When permission to marry may be granted (1 Corinthians 7:36).
(1) Generally, when the refusal would lead to anything unseemly.
(2) In particular, if the girl is of marriageable age, and if she and her lover are bent on union, to enforce celibacy would be to put temptation in her way. The general advice not to marry because of present distress is overborne by stronger considerations (1 Corinthians 7:2); and in view of these the father will do well to put no barriers in the way.
2. When permission may be withheld. The elements determining judgment will be--
(1) The presence or absence of the considerations mentioned in the previous case.
(2) The temperament or inclination of the daughter in reference to marriage.
(3) Her fitness for Christ’s service in the single state.
(4) Her general well-being temporal and spiritual. If in view of these he judges it best for his daughter not to marry he may resist the solicitations of her suitors.
III. Widows. This proceeds on the same lines as the advice to the unmarried. She is free, but she must only marry “in the Lord.” Yet the apostle advises against a second marriage, on grounds already adduced in the case of virgins. A widow will be more free from care if she remain as she is. Conclusion:
1. The application of abiding principles is modified by changing circumstances. What is prudent in a Christian country may be imprudent elsewhere.
2. Christians should only marry “in the Lord.” (H. Bremner, B. D.)
Works of supererogation and counsels of perfection
Theologians have inferred that Christians have power not only to give adequate obedience to the moral law, but also to do works of supererogation. This doctrine rests upon two assumptions--
1. That God requires in His creatures, not perfect conformity with moral law, but only sincerity of endeavour.
2. That the actions supposed to be counselled but not commanded are moral, and not merely indifferent. But both assumptions destroy the essential nature of moral law, which must, in its very idea, be obligatory; and whatever is not obligatory is no part of morality, but belongs to the class of indifferent things. It follows that if the apostle imposes no command but simply gives advice in reference to abstention from marriage such abstention is not to be reckoned a work of supererogation. This distinction, however, between obligatory and supererogatory moral obedience must not be confounded with the distinction between precepts and counsels of perfection--the latter so called from the vulgate rendering of γνώμη in this verse.
Counsels of perfection differ from works of supererogation in two points--
1. They have always reference, not to actions in themselves moral, but to actions in themselves indifferent.
2. They are to be sought not in the words of Christ, but in the words of His apostles. Whatever Christ says in reference to practice is a command which men disobey at their peril. But the apostles, though they may often have authority to command, may be unable on occasion to arrive at a decision and, therefore rest content with the expression of an opinion, which Christians may, if they so judge, lay aside. The present passage is an instance of this. We need not discard the name “counsels of perfection.” There are undoubted cases in which celibacy is helpful to spiritual progress, and other cases in which marriage is essential to it. The apostle says, “I give my advice, not frivolously nor as a wise man of this world, but with all the faithfulness and sincerity of one that has had the grace of salvation and apostleship.” The advice is given with manifest reluctance. He is careful to prepare their minds for it by telling them that it is simply his own opinion, not the Lord’s command, and that, on the other hand, he has formed his judgment under a sense of responsibility attaching to his office. (Principal Edwards.)
How to judge in difficult matters
I. Modestly (1 Corinthians 7:25).
1. Not dogmatically as if we had a right to command.
2. Yet faithfully.
3. In dependence upon the mercy of God.
1. With delicacy and discrimination (1 Corinthians 7:26-28).
2. With a due knowledge of times, circumstances, &c.
III. In the fear and love of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
1. Even in ordinary life earthly ends are not to be the rule of action.
2. The glory of God must be the supreme aim.
IV. Kindly (1 Corinthians 7:35-40).
1. Not assuming anything to ourselves.
2. But respecting the liberty of our neighbour. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
How to give advice
I. Modestly--not with an assumption of authority.
II. Humbly--as a matter of judgment, which must be tested by the Word of God.
III. In a Christian spirit--as those who have been forgiven.
IV. Faithfully--as the servants of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none.
The time is short
I. For the domestic connections of the world (1 Corinthians 7:29).
1. Man is the creature of the family. He is nursed and trained under its influence. When called to leave his first home the domestic instinct impels him to become the head of a family himself. And then amidst the infirmities of old age he becomes again the subject of domestic solicitude and sway. A well-organised family is earth’s chief nursery and highest type of heaven.
2. But this relationship “is short.” Few husbands and wives are allowed to climb the hill together, and fewer still hand-in-hand “to totter down.”
3. If family connections are thus so transient, how ought the members to live in vital connection with that gospel which immortalises all human friendships.
II. For the sorrows and joys of the world (1 Corinthians 7:30).
1. There are a weeping and rejoicing that will never end. The lost sinner will weep for ever; and the joy of a commending conscience will never end.
2. But there is a sorrow and a rejoicing that will end with life--the tear of worldly anxiety, and the joy of worldly success. This transitoriness is--
(1) A consolatory thought to the good man; for all his sorrows end here, and all unsatisfactory joys.
(2) A terrible thought to the wicked. Many of the sorrows he has now will make way for greater ones, and all the pleasures he has now will end for ever.
III. For the mercantile transactions of the world. “They that buy,” &c.
1. The principle of commerce is adapted to unite men together; and by the exchange of the material commodities, to exchange kind and improving thoughts. Were London tradesmen all religious, they could export religion with their goods--the market would be the best Missionary Society for converting the world.
2. This material commerce will soon be over, but mental and spiritual commerce may go on for ever. Make, then, this temporary business subservient to your spiritual welfare; make the market a means of grace. In all your getting get that “wisdom which is the principal thing.”
IV. For the right using of the world (1 Corinthians 7:31).
1. The world is abused when it is used chiefly--
(1) With a sensuous end. To the brute, indeed, the world has no relation but to the senses.
(2) With a secular end. When men value it on account of its fruit and minerals, i.e., so far as it can be turned into money, then they abuse it.
(3) With an intellectual end. The world teems with Divine thoughts, which it is our duty and interest to study. But to make this the end is to abuse it.
2. To “use” it rightly is to use it chiefly with a religious end. Religion warrants us to use it sensuously, for we have senses; secularly, for we need worldly good; intellectually, for we require truth; but it demands that we should subordinate it to the salvation of the soul--make it the means of grace--the temple of worship.
3. This religious use of the world makes it ours. The difference between the world to the worldly and to the Christian is, that the former is possessed by it, the other possesses it.
V. For the fashion of the world.
1. The world literally has a “fashion” that is passing away. The phenomena and forms of the world are ever shifting.
2. The fashion of the human world passeth away.
(1) The political world has its fashions which get out of fashion, and others appear on the stage to meet the times.
(2) The social world has its fashions, &c., they become obsolete, and others take their place.
(3) The religious world has its fashions. Now one ism is in vogue, and now another. Now one popular preacher, and then another. Thus, there is nothing fixed. Conclusion: Let us not, then, put our confidence in forms, but in substances. You know that though the world changes, there are certain principles that remain for ever. It is for ever true, that without virtue there is no happiness, and that without Jesus there is no virtue; that “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The time is short
I. “The time is short.” All things tell us so.
1. The year tells it in its rapid flight. The seasons, how they come and go!
2. Life tells it. Look back, you who can remember many years! What seem they now? As a dream when one awaketh.
3. The grave tells it, opening for one after another of our friends.
4. Sickness and weakness, the body’s gradual decay, tell it.
5. Every day, stealing by us so quickly and imperceptibly, giving us warning. We go forth in the morning; and in a few brief hours our work is done, and we lie down again to rest.
II. What gives to this truth its vast importance?
1. Because time is the entrance to eternity. If we were formed for this world only, we might as well join with those who say, Let us have a short time and merry one. But this life has dread responsibilities, when viewed in relation to a life which is to come. To every one of us is committed the solemn trust, to have this immortal being prepared for its appearance before God.
2. And how may this be done? The way is revealed to us in the gospel.
III. What practical lessons does it enforce?
1. Use this world as not abusing it.
(1) To live in sin is an abuse of this life. Sin is a horrible disorder, brought into the world which God made good.
(2) All who care only for the body, are abusing this life; who work, and eat, and drink, and sleep, and do no more. Why! the horse and the ass are as good as they--nay, better; for the brutes fulfil the purpose of God.
(3) If we set our affections on the things of this world, we are abusing them.
2. Be not weary in well doing: for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not.
3. Whatever good “thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The time is short
I. The time of the world. Christ is at hand to judge the quick and the dead.
II. The time of our little world; our particular judgment is near at hand. It shall be with us at the latter day as it is when we die.
III. The season of the time. The opportunity of time is shorter than the time of life; for we have not opportunity of time all our life.
1. The time is short for doing and taking good.
2. It is uncertain; we cannot tell how short. If it were told any that within two days he shall die, it would make us look about us: but who of us all knows certainly that he shall live two hours?
3. It is irrecoverable when it is gone. It is a precious thing, given for great purposes; let us take heed what we do in it. We may do that in a little time that we may rue for eternity. We may do and get that good in a little time that may stand by us world without end.
Conclusion: There are three main parts of this little time.
1. The time that is gone; let us repent of it, if it have not been spent well.
2. The time present is to do good in.
3. For the time to come, it is out of our power. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
Time: flight of
When young, our years are ages; in mature life, they are three hundred and sixty-five days; in old age, they have dwindled to a few weeks. Time is, indeed, the ‘messenger with wings at his feet. Yesterday, he took my wife; to-day, my son; to-morrow, he will take me. (Madame de Gasparin.)
Time: how to use it
I. Know the use of time; that it is a seed-time, wherein thou must go forth and sow, though in tears and showers. An husbandman will not lose his seed-time whatever weather it prove, True, our life is a moment, but on which eternity dependeth. And it is a time of traffic till the Master come: and is the Master’s absence for eating, drinking, or smiting the fellow-servants?
II. Know the worth of time, before the want of time. It is a very folly to be niggards of wealth and prodigal of time. It is the great sin of some that they cast away their short time in doing evil, or doing nought to the purpose: as little children who spend their candle in play, and are glad to go to bed by dark, and never perceive their childish folly till it be too late. But Christian wisdom is to set such a price on time as not to let it slip without making ourselves gainers of something better than itself. (J. Taylor, D. D.)
Time: its rapid flight
A Chinese preacher, wishing to impress upon his hearers the idea that time seems to pass more swiftly as we get older, used a telling illustration drawn from the incense-pan. The incense-pan is an article of furniture familiar to every Chinaman, young and old. It is a stand made to hold a great length of incense, coiled up like a clock-spring. The outer coils are by far the largest, the outermost being fifteen or eighteen inches in circumference; while the inner coils get gradually shorter, the innermost of all not being more than, perhaps, three inches in circumference. This spiral incense being fixed on the frame and lighted, the first round takes a long time to burn; the second round, being shorter, is completed quicker; the third round is completed more quickly still; and so, with accelerated pace, the smoking point courses round the shortening coils till the last is reached, which, being the shortest of all, is travelled round in a fraction of the time that was taken to consume the first. In the same way, said the Chinaman, our years seem to go, flying more swiftly the nearer we get to the end of our life.
The shortness of life
1. The tone in which a man speaks often helps us to understand his meaning. “Brethren, the time is short,” writes St. Paul, and there is no tremor of dismay or sadness in his voice. He was in the midst of work, full of the joy of living, and he quietly said, “This is not going to last long.” It is what men often say to themselves with terror, clutching the things they hold all the more closely, as if they would hold them for ever. There is nothing of that about St. Paul. And on the other hand, there is no hatred of life which makes him want to be away. There is no mad impatience for the things which lie beyond.
2. It does not matter what St. Paul was thinking of. He may have had his mind upon death or the coming of Christ. And perhaps the very vagueness helps us to his meaning. For he is not, evidently, dwelling upon the nature of the event which is to limit the “time,” only upon the simple fact that there is a limit.
I. What is the shortness of life? To the ephemera it looks like an eternity; to God it looks like an instant. How shall human life seem, then, to man? It depends upon where he stands to look at it. If he stands with the ephemera, his life looks long; if with God, his life looks short. If a man is able, that is, to conceive of immortality, he thinks his life on earth is short--and that we can do so is the pledge and witness of our nobility.
II. The shortness of life is bound up with its fulness. The day crawls to the idler, and flies to the busy worker. The shortness of life is closely associated, not merely with the greatest hopes of the future, but with the real vitality of the present. What then? If you and I complain how short life is, how quick it flies, we are complaining of that which is the necessary consequence of our vitality. And does not then the shortness of life cease to be our lamentation and become our privilege and glory?
III. Suppose a man has accepted the shortness of life as a conviction, what effect will that conviction have upon his life?
1. Must it not make a man try to sift the things that offer themselves to him, and try to find out what his things are? Epictetus said that for each of men there is one great classification of the universe, into the things which concern him and the things which do not concern him. To how many men that classification is all vague. Many men’s souls are like omnibuses, stopping to take up every interest or task that holds up its finger and beckons them from the side walk. Such indiscriminateness is almost legitimate and necessary in childhood. Then life seems endless. Then the quick experimenting senses are ready for whatever strikes them. But as the course goes on, as its limit comes in sight and we see how short it is, the elective system must come in. Out of the mass of things which we have touched, we must choose these which are ours--books, friends, pleasures, usefulness, &c., before we go. We come to be like a party of travellers left at a great city railway station for a couple of hours. All cannot see everything in town. Each has to choose according to his tastes what he will see.
2. It brings a power of freedom in dealing with the things which we do take to be our own (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Not that they should not marry, &c. The shortness of life was not to paralyse life like that. But they were to do these things with a soul above their details, and in the principles and motives which lay beyond them. He who has only an hour to stay m some great foreign city will not puzzle himself with the intricacies of its streets or the small particulars of its life. He will try simply to catch its general spirit, to see what sort of town it is, and learn its lessons. He must tread its pavements, talk with its people, &c.; but he will not do these things as the citizens do them. He will do them as if he did them not. Just so he who knows he is in the world for a very little while, is not like a man who is to live here for ever.
3. In the shortness of life the great emotions and experiences assume their largest power and act with their most ennobling influence. Think, e.g., of a great bereavement coming to a man. It comes in two forms. One is in the change of circumstances; the other is in the mystery of death and the distress of love. Now if the man who is bereaved sees nothing in the distance, but one stretch of living, it is the first of these aspects that is the most real. He multiplies the circumstances of his bereavement into all these coming years. But if, when we stand to watch the spirit which has gone away to heaven it seems but a very little time before we shall go too, then our grief is exalted to its largest form. Men’s griefs are as different as men’s lives. To the man who is all wrapt up in this world, grief comes as the ghosts come to the poor narrow-minded churl--to plague and tease him. To him to whom life is but an episode, grief comes as angels came to the tent of Abraham. The soul takes the grief in as a guest, and listens reverently for what it has to say about the God from whom it came.
4. The criticalness of life is bound up with its shortness. That thought belongs to every limited period of being which opens into something greater. A boy feels the probation character of his youth just in proportion as he vividly realises the approach of his majority. And man is made so that some sense of criticalness is necessary to the best life always. Let me feel that nothing but this moment depends upon this moment’s action, and I am very apt to let this moment act pretty much as it will. Let me see the spirits of the moments yet unborn watching it anxiously, and I must watch it also for their sakes. And it is in this that the strongest moral power of life is found. Now ask yourself, Could this have been if life had seemed so long to men as never to suggest its limits? It is when the brook begins to hear the great river calling it, and knows that its time is short, that it begins to hurry over the rocks and toss its foam into the air and make straight for the valley. Life that never thinks of its end lives in a present, and loses the flow and movement of responsibility.
5. When we know that our time of intercourse is short with any man, our relations with that man grow true and deep. Two men who have lived side by side for years, with business and social life between them, with a multitude of suspicions and concealments, let them know that they have only an hour more to live together, and, as they look into each other’s eyes, do not the suspicions and concealments clear away? Oh, you who are letting miserable misunderstandings run on from year to year, meaning to clear them up some day; or letting your friend’s heart ache for a word of appreciation or sympathy, which you mean to give him some day--if you could only know, all of a sudden, that “the time is short,” how it would break the spell! How you would go instantly and do the thing which you might never have another chance to do. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
No Christian will receive this as a sad announcement, or who has lost those whom he loves, and has a good hope beyond the grave. His only ground of regret is that the work he has to do is too great for the space in which he has to do it. And this is the thought which the word “short” most literally conveys. It means “shut in,” “straitened for room.” And this thought was natural to a mind like Paul’s--so full, so busy, with large undertakings.
I. There are three reasons why time is short.
1. To the eye that has been dwelling on eternity, all time, everything we can measure, must be short.
2. Good occupations make shortness. There is a great deal to do. Alas! for the man who finds any day of his life too long.
3. No happy man complains that the hours run sluggishly; and happiness is every man’s duty. To those who are infinitely happy there is no time at all.
II. I speak to those who wish it to be short.
1. “This I say, brethren, the time is short,” before the Elder Brother comes. The time is short for all your earthly brotherhood; and soon will be the heavenly brotherhood, when the whole family will meet in their Father’s house. Already Jesus is on His way, and He travels quickly.
2. What makes time longer than it is, is to clog it with the past or encumber it with the future. If you desire that time should feel short, live straight to the present; the present duties, joys, trials. You have nothing to do but with the passing moment. Don’t be long about anything. What is to be said, say it; what is to be done, do it; what is to be thought, think it; what is to be prayed, pray it; what is to be suffered, suffer it. Concentrate. Many persons are too long in their religious duties; they may do better by more condensation.
3. The time is too short--
(1) To trifle with.
(2) To be speculative; what we want is to be exceedingly practical.
(3) For fretting about little things. The future we care about may never come; and if it comes will be only for a little while.
(4) To hoard up, when “this night thy soul may be required of thee.”
(5) To quarrel, when we are all about to go in together to stand before His judgment seat.
(6) To mourn for those who are gone when they will so soon come back again.
(7) To weep--when God is so soon to “wipe away all tears from our eyes.”
4. But it is not too short--
(1) To pause and feel its shortness.
(2) To do something for God before we “finish the work which He has given us to do.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Brief life is here our portion
The text does not say that time is short. That were very true. Compared with eternity, time at the very longest is but as a point. But the text says “The time is short,” i.e., the time of our life and opportunity. This is a truth which everybody believes; yet how few of us act as if we believed it! “All men think all men mortal but themselves.” Ask the angel what he thinks of the life of a mortal, and he will tell you “Like the grass, scarcely have I gazed upon them ere they are cut down, withered, and gone.” Or if you interrogate the oak or the elm they will tell you that man is but an infant of to-day. Or take counsel of the old man and he will tell you that when he was a boy he thought he had a wealth of time before him. Yet now he remembers when, as it were but yesterday, he was himself a little child, and his grandsire clasped him to his bosom. And yet, perhaps, some of you hoary veterans need to be reminded that the time is short. Should five, or even ten years more be granted you, how quickly they must pass when seventy so rapidly have fled! Be parsimonious of minutes now, though you may have been once prodigal of years. But to estimate this oracle truly we must turn to the years of the right hand of the Most High. “A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday,” &c. “The time is short.”
I. It warns. If ye knew the sterling worth of time ye would shrink from the smallest waste of so precious an article. It is too short--
1. To squander upon unprofitable amusements. While recreation is needful to keep the mental and physical powers in working order, we can give no countenance to such gambols and gamblings as rather tend to enervate than to invigorate.
2. To lose it in senseless talk, idle gossip, or domestic scandals.
3. To plan a round of empty frivolities to while away an afternoon or an evening, as the manner of some is. It is said of Henry Martin that he never wasted an hour. I wish it could be said of us, that we wasted neither an hour of our own time, nor of other people’s.
4. For indecision and vacillation. Your resolving and retracting, your planning and scheming, your sleeping and dreaming, are a mockery of life, and a wilful murder of time. If God be God, serve Him. Decide quick, speak sharp. If not, take the alternative--serve Baal.
5. For speculating upon nice points of controversial theology. You know how the school-men used to debate how many angels could stand on the point of a needle. There is a little of the spirit abroad now. Ministers will devote whole sermons to the discussion of some crotchet. I have generally noticed that the less important the point is, the more savagely will some persons defend it. I would sooner be able to proclaim the Cross and explain the Gospels than decipher the imagery of Ezekiel, or the symbols of the Apocalypse.
II. It suggests. Surely, then, I have some opportunity to follow out the work of faith, the patience of hope and the labour of love, though not the opportunity I once had. Some of you can never hope to receive the greeting that awaits such a faithful servant. You have lost the golden opportunity. But are there not children here to whom this is possible? I solemnly charge each young man to foster this aspiration. Prepare for the good fight of faith. Live to the utmost possible consecration of your entire manhood. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
III. It inspires. Now is the accepted time. The time to do the deeds that thou must do, or leave them undone, flies swiftly past.
1. Are your children converted? Pray with them to-night. “The time is short” for others as well as yourself. Do not wait, young man, to preach Jesus till you have had more instruction. You that mean to do something for the poor when you have hoarded up some more money, spend your money now. Be your own executors. “The time is short.” Let it inspire you to pray for immediate conversions.
2. Seeing the time is short, let us bear with patience the ills that vex us. Are we very poor? Is consumption beginning to prey on our trembling frame? Have we to bear evil treatment from an ungenerous world? Why trouble yourselves about what you will do a month or two hence? You will probably not be here; you will be in heaven. Worldly-mindedness ill becomes us who have confessed that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
IV. It alarms. And well indeed it may. It is a dismal knell I have to toll for the unconverted man, to whom life has been a joy, for he has prospered in the world. But what have you not done? You have not found salvation. How few the opportunities that remain! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Length of life
Ten thousand human beings set forth together on their journey. After ten years, one-third, at least, have disappeared. At the middle point of the common measures of life but half are still upon the road. Faster and faster, as the ranks grow thinner, they that remain till now become weary, and lie down, and rise no more. At three-score and ten, a band of some four hundred yet struggle on. At ninety, these have been reduced to a handful of thirty trembling patriarchs. Year after year, they fall in diminishing numbers. One lingers, perhaps, a lonely marvel, till the century is over. We look again, and the work of death is finished. (Bp. Burgess.)
Only a little while
The attitude of people towards a temporary state of affairs is very different from their attitude towards something permanent. No man fits up his room at an hotel as he does his home. When one is waiting in the vestibule of a public hall he does not give much thought to the inconveniences of his situation. The thing for which he has come is behind those doors. When a man rides in a street-car he would rather have a seat and less crowding; but he never thinks of making a serious matter of that. His object is to get down to business. Now do we recognise the larger applications of the same principle? Suppose we set this life of sixty or seventy years over against the eternal life of the future. The two spaces are related to each other as the vestibule to the hall, the transit on the car to the day’s business. But remember that Paul does not use the fact of the shortness of life to encourage a sense of indifference to life’s duties. There may be in the ante-chamber some beautiful pictures and sculptures, &c. These things are for us: we may and ought to enjoy them. We are not excused from the courtesies of life, even on a street-car. The other world may be, and is, the prime fact; but this world is a fact, too, though a secondary one. If Paul says, “It remaineth that those who have wives be as though they had none,” we are not to conclude that because a man expects to depart for heaven in a short time, he is therefore to treat his wife as though she were not. This being premised, note the bearing of this fact on--
I. Our domestic relations (verse 29). These are the nearest and dearest of all earthly ties; they call out our deepest affections, our best energies. And God Himself instituted them, and Christ sanctified them at Cans; and Paul chooses them to illustrate the love of Christ for the Church. Yet it remaineth, that they that have wives be as though they had none.
1. If our earthly homes crowd out the attractions of the heavenly home, we are misusing them. When home ceases to be the nursery of consecrated power, a scene of preparation for heaven, and becomes, instead, a base for fashion and shallow pleasure, then it is time to face the hour when a voice shall call us forth from these beloved doors, to return no more.
2. And then, too, we know that often the family relation is not the type of heaven. We know how men make it the instrument of fostering their pride of birth, and how, for the sake of preserving a family name, loveliness and innocence are allied with senility and debauchery.
3. On the contrary, in the New Testament domestic life is always treated with special reference to the life to come. The institution of the family, beyond any human institution, points up to God. God Himself takes the name of the family head; marriage is to be in the Lord; children are to be trained in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
II. The sorrow of this world (verse 30).
1. Let us confine ourselves to one element--injustice. The innocent suffer; the bad prosper. Away back in the far past we find Job wrestling with the question. On the one hand, the reasoner asks, “How did it come to pass? Why is it allowed?” On the other hand, the man who is trying to live rightly asks, “What shall I do with it? How shall I adjust myself to it?”
2. Note the answers which are given to the latter question.
(1) Rousseau tells us it is all the result of false training. Human nature is good; and, if you only educate it properly, its evil will be checked, and we shall have a reign of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The value of Rousseau’s answer may be estimated in the lurid light of the French Revolution.
(2) The communist says, “Only do away with all private interest, and merge all in the public, and all will be well.” But, unfortunately, the history of Nihilism has some significant stories to tell of that experiment.
(3) There was the Stoic, who steeled himself against injustice, and cultivated insensibility to pain, anger, and pity alike.
(4) There was the Epicurean, saying, “I will keep out of all such relations with men as will engender injustice or cruelty.”
3. All these views are strictly bounded by this life, and are opposed by that which is represented in our text. For the New Testament--
(1) Shows no sympathy with Rousseau’s view. It treats injustice as an evil that will exist so long as human society is not under the power of Divine love.
(2) Does not give us a picture of any favoured man who escapes the world’s injustice. On the contrary, the better its men the more they suffer at the world’s hands.
(3) Gives us no men of iron, insensible to suffering. The victims of the world’s cruelty are real sufferers.
(4) Puts every Christian in a positive attitude towards this fact. He cannot evade it; he must feel towards it in the right way. And if, as the gospel everywhere assumes, this state of things is passing away to give place to a better and more permanent one, then let the injustice and cruelty and sorrow be measured by the proportions of that larger life (2 Corinthians 4:17). We can be as though we wept not; i.e., we can be as useful and as kindly as if we had no cause to weep. We may have lost what is ours; but the time is short, and heaven will give it back with interest.
III. Our joys (verse 30). Not that we are to pass this life in gloom and sullenness because it is short. When the train goes through the tunnel let us be all the more cheerful because the sunlight will pour in by and by. But if there is grander joy in the life beyond this, it is not the part of wisdom to be too much absorbed in earthly joy.
IV. The buying and selling, the possessing and use of the world in general (verse 31). All these things, in New Testament thought, have their value determined by two facts--the shortness of this life, and the overshadowing, transcendent grandeur of the life to come. Does it not become us to hold this world lightly in view of these two truths--so little time left, and eternity approaching? An old woman sat one day beside her apple-stand in a great thoroughfare. A well-known judge walked up and stopped for an apple. “Well, Molly,” said he, “don’t you get tired of sitting here these cold, dismal days?” “It’s only a little while, sir,” was the answer. “And the hot, dusty days?” “Only a little while, sir.” “And the rainy, drizzly days, and your sick, rheumatic days?” “It’s only a little while, sir.” “And what then, Molly?” “Then, sir, I shall enter into that rest which remains for the people of God; and the troublesomeness of the way there don’t pester nor fret me. It’s only a little while.” “But,” said the judge, “what makes you so sure, Molly?” “How can I help being sure, since Christ is the way., and I am His? Now I only feel Him along the way; I shall see Him as He is in a little while, sir.” “Ah!” said the judge, “you’ve got more than the law ever taught me.” “Yes, sir, because I went to the gospel.” “Well,” said he, as he took up his apple, and began to walk off, “I must look into these things.” “There’s only a little while, sir.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Life, its shadows and its substance
Is it, then, the aim of Christianity to turn this world into a dream-land? Are we to undervalue life’s sweetest affections and deepest sentiments as if they were but appearances? Surely no! Such an interpretation misconceives this passage alone and the whole Bible teaching; for no other book is more intensely realistic than the Word of God, and nothing places more value on common life.
I. Let us look around and recall some of our experiences to see whether we may not find a clue to this remarkable passage.
1. When, on some summer afternoon, parents watch the sports of their children and perceive their realisation of the game, do they not feel that to the child there is value in these things? And yet, when they consider the after-life of the child, do they not smile at his dream-land? It is to the parents as if it were not. And when the children grow up they feel that, when compared with the larger experience into which they have entered, that early joy was unsubstantial. In like manner, it is in the power of the ripened mind to look forward toward a coming state whose glory and perfectness shall cast all present realisations into such relative inferiority that they shall seem to be but shadows.
2. There are two states of mind in which men have an experience in business. The reality and importance of business is solemnly to be affirmed. And yet there are times when men feel disgust at wealth, and at all the means by which it is sought. But there are hours in which men feel, not that earthly treasure is despicable, but that there is a kind of treasure with which that which the earth affords bears no comparison.
3. He who has built a palace for his affections knows two experiences of the like kind. The earnest reality of heart-life--nothing can take from its importance. But there are times when there is a vision of the coming love in comparison with which all that we here knew in respect to heart-love is but a germ, or a plant in its early years.
4. Some there are who will tell you that in sorrow there is a like experience. The reality, the power, and the dominion of sorrow no man disputes. Yet, as in storms, sometimes there are moments when the clouds part and let through the whole gush of the sun; so, out of anguish, often, the soul rises to a vision of the work which sorrow does for men. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous,” &c. And in these higher moods we look back upon sorrows as if they had been no sorrows. Who remembers, when once his feet are upon land again, those weary storms that well-nigh rocked the life out of him but yesterday?
5. Thus in joy too we learn to rejoice as though we rejoiced not. We learn, blessed and beautiful as is the present, to wait for the more glorious disclosure that is just beyond. Have we not, then, in these and like experiences, the interpretation of this sublime truth of the sacred Scriptures? In another way John comes at the same truth, where he says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” You are to live as if all things here below were transient. You are not to rest in them as though you were satisfied with them. Let us live as though all these symbols of the life to come were but shadows and dreams.
II. In view of these illustrations consider how the deepening and ennobling of human life depends, not on the idolatry of its present low estate, but on so employing its earthly letter as to descry what it is going to be.
1. Take love, the finest feeling. We are to lift up our conceptions to a state in which our character will turn on this feeling, not occasionally, but as an ordinary experience. And when we have thus raised the ideal that ideal comes back to teach us how pure and noble it ought to be.
2. Nothing else is a better guard against immoderation and the vulgarising tendencies of business than that habit of mind which the apostle here indicates. We take business too often as an ultimate end. We do not let it prophesy anything to us. The wickedness of this world is not that men are addicted to business, but that they look at it only on the earth side; that they fail to hear its testimony of higher things. So soon as a man is satisfied that there is higher wealth than this world affords; that his life consists not of the abundance of the things which he possesses, he is fitted to acquire wealth and administer it.
3. All the experiences which we have in our varied life of this habit of mind which the apostle enjoins, will tend, not to destroy our conscious enjoyment in the present sources of innocent good, but to give us a finer joy. Men, for the most part, do not know how to find the honey in the things of this world. You will never suspect where the honey of a flower is; or, if you did, too large is your hand to be thrust in to get it. But the bee draws out the hidden stores. Its very fineness gives to it what your coarseness withholds from you. We are not fine enough to discover the joy that is hidden in many of the relations of this life.
4. So, too, cares and disappointments, such as waste life, are forestalled and resisted by this habit of mind. “For I would have you without carefulness.” Not without occupation, but without corrosive anxieties. He that feels that his life here is but transient, and that his true life is craning to him lives above those annoyances. The higher our conception of life the easier will life become.
5. This view lifts us above those fluxes and refluxes of pain and suffering that come from death. What is death? When the apple-tree blossoms you laugh, and you do not cry when you pick the apple; but when man blossoms man laughs, and then, when God picks the fruit, he cries. In winter I planted under glass, and depended upon artificial heat, and waited for the time when I might remove my early plants. But now, in these June days, I have taken them into the broad, exposed garden, and put them where they are to blossom, and they did not weep when I put them there. Now God has raised us under glass, and nurtured us there, that we might bear transplanting into another and better sphere, and when He comes, and takes us, and plants us out in His open garden, is that the time for us to cry? Now let us thank God, not that men die, but that they live. Let us mourn as though we mourned not. (H. W. Beecher.)
The shortness of time
“The time is short.” To the serious Christian there is much of consolatory as well as exhortatory nature in this solemn declaration. There is much that meets the anxious sorrows of the weary and heavy laden; and much that meets the circumstances of a sleeping, loitering pilgrim on the road to Zion.
I. It remaineth that they that have wives be as though they had none. The apostle would here caution Christians against the undue encroachment of domestic cares. We must take care that our affection does not degenerate into idolatry; that we love our partners and our children with a subordinate regard; fearing lest our hearts should be overcharged with the cares of this life, and so the day of our departure come upon us unawares. We must only sip at the stream as we hasten through the valley, and beware how we linger on its banks.
II. The shortness of time should lead those that weep to be as though they wept not. There must be weeping of one kind or other in such a world as this. We must weep over the death of relatives: we must mourn the failure of our favourite projects, the treachery of professed friends, the pains and diseases of a corruptible body, the weariness and helplessness of old age. And however free we may be from immediate causes of distress, we must often mourn from sympathy, “weep with those that weep.” But the most fruitful source of a Christian’s tears is his sin. But the time is short; and it remaineth that those that weep be as though they wept not. I might well weep rivers of tears on the very possibility of losing my immortal soul and an eternity of bliss; but for the loss of everything in this world, surely there should be a sorrow commensurate with the narrow limits of its duration. What though we witness the departure of friends? They are only called home a little before ourselves, and soon we shall be for ever with each other and the Lord. What though we feel the adversities of life? Who can fret over a momentary privation, who has a good hope through grace of an inheritance in heaven? What though we feel the earthly house of this tabernacle dissolving? We have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, where the inhabitants no more say, I am sick.
III. The shortness of time should lead those that rejoice to be as though they rejoiced not. To a certain extent many have a real enjoyment of human life. There is a temporary absence of disturbance, and a considerable competence of what nature relishes. Things wear a prosperous and a pleasurable aspect; and for a season at least men seem at liberty to rejoice, and to let their hearts cheer them. But let us pause and be sober-minded. What is it that we are so fondly handling? Perhaps the cockatrice’s egg. The object of our endearment is filled with the seeds of misery, and vanity, and corruption. We are leaning on a feeble reed. The longest season of earthly pleasure is, after all, but a fleeting summer’s day. Let us rejoice with trembling, and only suffer our unrestrained elevation of spirit to be given to these objects, which will never fail us. Rejoicing in Christ Jesus--rejoicing in hope--rejoicing in the testimony of our conscience--here is a wide and satisfying field--here we may fearlessly rejoice, even with a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
IV. The shortness of time should lead those that buy to be as those who possessed not. Suspect something seriously wrong if you begin to think yourselves at home in this world. After all, you are but tenants of a day, and here have no continuing city. Let your loins then be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.
V. The shortness of time should lead us to use this world as not abusing it. Such is the depraved propensity of human nature, that it turns into a curse what was intended for a blessing, Riches are abused to the purposes of covetousness or extravagance. The advantages of talents and education are abused to the furtherance of infidelity and error on the one hand, or pride and self-conceit on the other. Time, health, and every other possession are liable to the same alienation from its proper service. It is the fault and the misery of our nature that it is always making the creature the object of idolatrous regard. But we must watch against this propensity. We must reflect upon our situation. The time is short. We are hastening on our journey. We are travelling to our home. And shall we be unduly pleasing ourselves with the comforts of the inn of this world? or wantonly and excessively partaking of its provision, or longing to abide in it: (W. C. Wilson, B. A.)
The narrowed opportunity
If a woman take leaven and hide it in meal, the meal will be changed into bread; but the meal must work before the bread can be made. The end is a good end, but the process by which it is reached is not pleasant and seemly. The meal will heave and labour, and must. In like manner, when a new principle of life is infused into human society, when, for example, the gospel of Christ is brought into vital contact with a society like that of ancient Corinth, the new quickening principle must work in and upon it before it can be changed, and in order that it may be changed, into more wholesome and happier forms. To hasten the process, and to make the bread all the sweeter when it came, St. Paul threw in the salt of his good counsel. He answers the questions by which the Corinthians were troubled, and which they were not able to answer for themselves. A grown man, who is governed solely by maxims and rules, not by reasons and principles, is a pedant or a slave rather than a man.
I. Use the world, but don’t abuse it. This is the broad general principle which covers, modifies, sanctifies all the details of practical life. Christ had said, “Be not of this world”; He had revealed a larger, fairer, more enduring world than the outward set of phenomena and conditions by which we are surrounded. And when the gospel came to the Corinthians, that spiritual world, which in its perfection is also a future world, seemed so attractive to some of them, so near, so momentous, that they heartily despised this present world and all that had once endeared it to them. This was one view of the case. And the other was: “If time be so short, and the world so near its end, let us make the most of them while they last, and take our fill of pleasure as long as we can. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Both these conclusions, opposite as they are, were drawn from the same premises; and each of them is equally remote from the true conclusion. St. Paul rebukes them both. To the Stoic conclusion, “Renounce the world,” he replies, “Nay, but use the world”; to the Epicurean conclusion, “Live only to enjoy this world,” he replies, “Nay, do not abuse the world.” To all who held them he says, “All things are yours. You may use and enjoy them all. But give the best things the best place in your thoughts. Let that which is largest, fairest, most enduring, take the deepest, strongest hold upon your hearts.”
II. The apostle assigns two reasons for thus using the world as not abusing it.
1. The brevity of time. “This I say, brethren, the time is short in order that henceforth … we may use the world as not abusing it.” Time is a word whose value wholly depends on our construction of it. It is variable as a chameleon, and takes its hue from the moods in which we regard it. An hour is much to a child, little to a man. To the same man an hour at a merry Christmas feast is one thing, and an hour on the rack of pain or expectation is a very different thing. Nay, so purely relative is time, that its length contracts or expands according as we look before or after. It is of little use talking to you of the brevity of the time to be; but look back on the years that have gone, and confess that “the time is short,” that now, if ever, you must bring your life under law to God.
“The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the bird is on the wing.”
But the words rendered “the time is short” mean literally “the season is contracted, the opportunity lessened.” Every year, every season of life, brings its own opportunities with it, and these, once neglected, never return. Every day, moreover, carries off with it an indelible record of how you have either used or abused it--a record which can never be obliterated, or even modified. As an old Persian poet finely says--
“The moving finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety and wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
2. The second reason which the apostle assigns for a wise use of life is the transitoriness of the world. In the Pauline vocabulary the word “world” includes nature, human society, and ecclesiastical forms, or, rather, it denotes all the visible and perishable elements of them. And all these change, and live by change. The more delicate and sensitive phenomena of nature vary even as we look upon them. The bare boughs put forth ]eaves of a tender green; the green shifts into yellows, browns, and crimsons; then the leaves fall, and the boughs are bare again. The birds come and go. The clouds shift and fly. The wind veers from point to point. The very rocks crumble. The sea eats away the land. The ice splits the mountains. And men change. The boy grows up into the man, the man marries and has children, sickens, dies. One generation goeth and another cometh. Modes of thought and government and the customs of society are for ever on the flux; “the old order changeth, giving place to the new.” And we ourselves change. Our deepest impressions are fleeting unless they are continually recalled and retouched. Our most intense delight, whether drawn from some beautiful scene in nature, or from sacred human affections, or from fellowship with God, loses its edge and keenness as the months go by. There is no affection so sharp, there is no joy so pure, but that time dulls it. Let us, therefore, use the world as not abusing it. To-morrow becomes to-day so fast, and to-day yesterday, that we dare not attach ourselves to the present moment, and should not fail to avail ourselves of whatever grace or opportunity it may bring. We, changeful as we are, have an abiding life beneath all our changes, and though the world be changeful too, yet its various phenomena are the passing forms of an external substance. And the question for us is--Which shall we care most for, for which shall we most habitually and earnestly provide, that which is changeful and perishable in us and in the world around us, or that which liveth and abideth for ever? (S. Cox, D. D.)
The message of the closing year
Like the traveller who goes to sleep in the course of a long journey, and awakes astonished to find that he has traversed such a distance, so have we felt, when the approach of the year’s end roused us to give attention to the matter. Here are two statements, and a series of practical inferences drawn from them.
I. The first statement is pre-eminent for its brief point and solemn suggestiveness: “The time is short.” Time, as every one knows, is simply duration; but it may be either the duration of the world itself, or the brief space of an individual’s life on earth; or it may be employed to specify the precise date of some important occurrence.
1. It is short, in itself considered; for, as the Psalmist sings, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”; and this is rather the outmost limit than the general average of life.
2. It is short in comparison with the duration of the material universe.
3. The time of our life, again, is short as compared with the years of those who lived in the days before the flood, or even with those of the patriarchs immediately thereafter. They reckoned by hundreds; we do now, at most, by scores.
4. Again, the time of our life is short in comparison with the work we have to do in it. The old painters had an adage, which they derived from Hippocrates, the father of medicine, “Art is, long, and life is brief.” They felt in their pursuits what our great lexicographer has expressed, when he declares, in reference to some matters about his dictionary, “that a whole lifetime might be devoted to them, and even a whole lifetime would not be sufficient.” And so every true Christian feels regarding the work that is set before him.
5. But once more here, the time of our life is brief in comparison with eternity.
II. The second statement here made is, that “The fashion of this world passeth away?” The figure has been taken, as is commonly supposed, from theatrical exhibitions. How rapidly, in a drama, does scene follow scene, and act succeed to act! Battles are fought and won, empires lost and gained, sudden elevation followed by swift misfortune, and the events of many years compressed into a few short hours; and then, after the foot-lights are extinguished, the place where, shortly before, there have been pomp and pageantry, is hushed in the silence of complete desertion; while, if you follow the actors to their homes, you may discover that he who stalked across the stage with the port of an emperor, ties down to sleep in an empty attic, or on the cold damp floor of a cheerless cellar. And such, indeed, is life: its changes as rapid, its possessions as fleeting, its joys as transient, and after it is over, there may be seen many contrasts far more striking than that between the actor in his sparkling finery on the stage, and the same man shivering in the cold nakedness of his home. In the estimation of others, however, the figure here is taken, not from the theatre, but from a public profession. But such a procession the whole race of mankind upon the earth has been. On the page of history men pass on and on in ceaseless motion; the costumes vary as the times do change; yet still we gaze, and still they pass: and then, when we come down to the day in which we live, we too fall in and follow them, joining thus “the innumerable caravan that moves” to the pale realms of shade. Thus it has ever been, thus it shall ever be. In solemn procession the race is moving on to death. “Passing away”--let us affix these words to the ornaments we delight to look upon, and the works of art we love to see. Briefly let us pass on now to the consideration of the practical inferences which are here drawn from these two solemn truths.
1. The first has respect to the relationships of life--“It remaineth that they who have wives be as though they had none.” But let us not misunderstand our apostle. He does not mean that a man should desert his wife and children, and leave them to the cold cheer of the workhouse, or to the still more uncertain mercy of precarious charity. That is one way in which a man--nay, let me rather call him a human brute--having a wife, may be as though he had none; but that is not obeying the apostle’s precept. Neither does he menu that a man should spend all his time out of his own house--whether in the fashionable club-room, or the genteel hotel, or the low public-house. That is another way in which he who has a wife may be as though he had none; but that is not obedience to the apostle’s precept. Neither does he mean that a man should come to his home after business cross, testy, and cantankerous, so that he cannot be spoken to; and should sit down to his newspaper or book, with a foot on either side the fire, utterly oblivious that there is one by his side whom he has solemnly sworn to love. The meaning is that wife, and children, and earthly relationships in general, must all be subordinated to God. We must not build ourselves upon them, as if they were to be always with us, or we always with them. We must build thus on God alone.
2. The next inferences have respect to the sorrows and the joys of earth--“They that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.” Here, again, we must beware of supposing that Paul means to inculcate that stoical indifference to which all things come alike, and which can neither be melted to tears nor won into a smile. This was not the example which the Saviour set; for He joined in the mirth of a marriage feast, dropped a tear over the grave of Lazarus, and wept over the lost Jerusalem. He means that we must not allow ourselves to be swallowed up of sorrow, we must not nurse our grief until it become too strong for us to rise above it, nor brood over our sadness until it become murmuring.
3. The next inference has respect to the business of life “They that buy, as though they possessed not.” This, of course, does not mean that possessions impose no obligation, or involve no responsibility. The vastness of their possessions is to cause no pride; for what is it, after all, to the infinitude of God? The smallness of their earthly portion is to cause no envy; for, having God, what cause have they to complain?
4. Finally, these truths have an influence on the enjoyment of this world’s goods--“They that use this world, as not abusing it.” There is thus a legitimate use of the world. I have no sympathy with those who cry out against a proper employment and enjoyment of the good things of this life. No man has so good a right to enjoy these things as a Christian. The things of the world are not in themselves evil. They become so only when, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, we seek to put them in an improper place; when we derive our entire enjoyment from them, or find our entire happiness in them. But, on the other hand, our noblest use of them is to employ them in the service of the Lord. If you have money, use it; do not let it lie rotting in idleness, but let it be employed in the promotion of God’s glory, and the well-being of your fellows. If you have position, or rank, do not throw its weight into the scale of evil, neither seek to denude yourself entirely of it; but abide in it, and employ all the influence it gives you on the side of God. (W. M. Taylor.)
A drama in five acts
1. Holy Scripture gives not a special rule for each particular case, but rather instructs us by general principles applicable to all cases, otherwise a library would be required rather than a volume. The apostle had to answer several questions with regard to marriage. These he answers with an “I suppose,” or again, “Howbeit, for this speak I, not the Lord”; as if he felt himself quite unequal to meet every case; but he lands here on sure ground, and seems to say, “Of this one thing I am quite sure; that the time is short, and therefore, whether ye are married or not, &c., &c., ye should act in all these things as knowing their temporary character.”
2. This morning we shall go to a play, for the word “fashion” is borrowed from the changing scenes of the drama.
I. The drama as witnessed by the worldling.
Act I. introduces those that have wives.
Scene 1. is a wedding.
Scene 2. Domestic happiness and prosperity.
Scene 3. Children climbing the father’s knee and lisping their mother’s name. “Now,” says our companion, “I crave for nothing more than this.” He is right in valuing the blessing, but wrong in making it his all. Will he see his error before the curtain falls?
Scene 4. A cemetery, and the headstone, with “Here he lies.” Alas, deluded wordling! Where hast thou now a home? What family hast thou now to care for? The first act is over; “This also is vanity.”
Act II. introduces “they that weep.” The cloudy and dark days have come. A beloved child dies. Anon, the merchant suffers a tremendous loss. Then the wife is smitten. Our man of the world, much moved, foreseeing his own sorrows therein, cries, “Surely this is real; you cannot call this a fleeting sorrow or a light affliction. Everything worth living for is gone!” Sympathising deeply, we nevertheless venture to say that these trials to the Christian are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Let the curtain drop--let us enter into an eternal state, and what and where are these temporary griefs?
Act III. presents us with a view of those who rejoice. The first-born son has come of age, or it is the daughter’s wedding, or it is a gain in business, and the man is full of rejoicing. Our friend is smiling at this sunny picture. “There,” says he, “is not that real? What more do you want?” If we gently hint to our friend that all this passes away he laughs us to scorn.
Act IV. they that buy demand our attention. The merchant is neither a mourner nor a man of mirth; he is attending to the one thing needful, the most substantial of all concerns. There are his money-bags, the rolls of bonds, the banker’s books, the title-deeds, &c. He has made a good thing of life, and still he adheres to business, and is still piling up his heap, adding field to field and estate to estate. “Is that all a shadow?” says our friend. “It will satisfy me at any rate.” Alas, poor fool, the snow melts not sooner than the joy of wealth, and the smoke of the chimney is as solid as the comfort of riches.
Act V. the rich man whom lately we saw married, then saw in trouble, then rejoicing and then prospering in business, has entered upon a green old age; he has retired, and has now come to use the world. Now he keeps a liberal table, excellent horses, and many servants, &c., and our friend says, “Ay, there is something very real here; what do you think of this?” When we hint that the grey hairs of the owner of all these riches betoken that his time is short, and that if this be all he has he is a very poor man, our friend replies, “Ah! ah! you are always talking in this way.” O world, thou hast line actors, to cheat men so well. The whole matter is a mere show, but yet men give their souls to win it. “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?”
II. The christian view of this drama. Life is real; life is earnest to the Christian for activity for God; in the solemn responsibility which it brings; in the gratitude which we owe to God. The unreality of this world to him is found in the fact that time is short. This is the wand which touches the substance and makes it, before the eye of wisdom, dissolve into a shade.
1. When the apostle declares that they that have wives should be as though they had none, he does not teach us to despise the married state, but not to seek our heaven in it, nor let it hinder our serving the Lord. It is supposed that a man without a wife--
(1) Can give his time to the cause of God: the man with a wife should do the same, and so he will if God hath blessed him with one who will second his holy endeavours.
(2) Has no care: a man with a wife Should have none, for he should cast all his cares on God who careth for him.
(3) Will find it easier to die, for there will be none of that sorrow at leaving his beloved family: the man with a wife and family should, by faith, find it just as easy since the promise runs, “Leave thy fatherless children, and let thy widows trust in Me.”
2. Every Christian man must weep; but the apostle says that our sorrows are to be regarded by us, because time is short, as though they were no sorrows at all. A man who knows that his trials will not last long, can be cheerful under them.
3. The Christian has his rejoicings, indeed, he is commanded to rejoice. But still, believer, in all thy joys, remember to hold them with a loose hand.
4. So, too, in the matter of buying and possessing. It is not wrong for a Christian to trade and to trade well. But, still, while we buy and sell it should always be thus--“This is not my real trade; for my treasure is beyond the skies, where moth devours not, and where rust cannot consume.”
5. The creatures of God are given us to be used, but the Christian must use them as though he did not use them, and learn in whatsoever state he is to be content. That man is the full-grown and true Christian whom circumstances cannot alter!
III. The curtain which is soon to drop bears the device, “Time is short.” At what a rate we whirl along! Childhood seems to travel in a waggon, but manhood at express speed. As we grow older the speed increases till the grey-headed old man looks back upon all his life as but a day. We heard of one who had seen Wesley preach, and he knew others in his youth who told him of the yet older time, and going through the history of some ten or twelve persons you are carried back to the days of the Conqueror. But while time is thus short its end is absolutely sure. That curtain yonder must fall soon! It must fall; it is inevitable, and it may be very near. How soon it may be we cannot tell! And to those who have no God, death, while inevitable and very near, will be most awful. When men buy property on a short lease they will not give much for it; wherefore spendest thou thy soul to buy this world? What will it profit thee, if thou gain it, if thy soul be lost?
IV. Let us walk out of this theatre of unreal show and see something real and lasting. There is--
1. The soul. Then let me see to it and make my calling and election sure; for I shall have been of all fools the most mad if I shall have trifled with these things and yet have neglected my soul. The Roman emperor, Claudius, invaded Britain, but his performance only consisted of gathering pebbles and shells from the sea-coast. This shall be my triumph, if here in this world I live only to gather wealth.
2. Other men’s souls. What am I doing for them? Dig up your buried talents and work while it is called day.
3. Christ’s Church. The Church that is to shine like the stars in heaven for ever, what am I doing for her? As a member, do I contribute to its strength?
4. Christ Himself. Am I glorifying Him here on earth? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Men are often carried away by the desire for things inferior and insignificant, while they fail to realise the true value of things all-important. Note--
I. The objects specifically mentioned.
1. Social attachments. These are not to be despised. The relationship of husband and wife was sanctified even by our Lord Himself. The apostle was no ascetic. But even domestic love must not interfere with preparation for eternity.
2. Worldly sorrows. There is nothing more thoroughly wrecks a man than this. Hence the apostle saw it necessary to specify it as a special ground of danger against which the Christian man must guard. It manifests a worldliness which is incompatible with true piety, an idolatry which is inconsistent with one who fully worships God.
3. Worldly joy. There are many legitimate sources of joy. But if these are to be the only motive-powers of life, they will lead to a sorry end. It is quite possible to use them and not to be so engrossed by them. A man in a railway carnage enjoys the scenery, but he is not of it as is the owner or the farmer who is cultivating the fields.
4. Worldly business. This, perhaps, engrosses men’s thoughts more intensely than anything else. It is engrossing in itself, and more particularly in its results; in many cases it is a sort of gaming for large stakes. This is not the Christian’s view of trade.
5. The use of the world. There is no obligation to give up our use of the world as citizens, &c. For whom was this beautiful earth created if not for the Christian? But he must not prostitute it for his own pleasures or: debasement. It is his. “All things are yours,” but only in the higher sense.
II. The arguments by which this course is enforced.
1. The brevity of life. It is short in comparison with the age of the world and with the development of earthly things. It is more particularly short in comparison with eternity. The average duration of life is only thirty-five years. A retrospect of life shows us painfully bow terribly brief is its duration.
2. The changeableness of temporal things. The world is only a play. One after another the scenes pass away. What madness, then, to give our love and energies to that which must pass away from us when we step out of the doors of the playhouse, and we shall retain nothing more than the remembrance! Our duty is to attend to that real business of our existence--the eternal interests of our soul. (J. J. S. Bird, M. A.)
Moderation is everything
I. What it implies.
1. That our affections are subordinated to the love of God.
2. That our sorrow does not interrupt our joy in Him.
3. That our earthly joy is controlled by a consciousness of His presence.
4. That our transactions are governed by His will.
5. That our use of the world is regulated by His law.
II. How it is to be attained. By remembering--
1. That the world is evanescent.
2. That it is not the end of our existence.
3. That it must be used for the glory of God.
4. That it will soon come to an end, when every man will have to give an account before the judgment seat of Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Christ had said of His disciples, “They are not of the world.” It was a question therefore, Can a Christian lawfully enter the married state? Can he remain a slave and be a Christian too? &c. The apostle says in effect, You may, but I cannot judge for you; you must judge for yourselves. All that I lay down is, you must in spirit live above the love of earthly things.
2. Christianity is a spirit; it is not a mapping out of the chart of life, with every shoal and rock, and the exact line of the ship’s course laid down. It does not say, Do not go to this, abstain from that, wear this, &c., &c. A principle is announced; but the application of that principle is left to each man’s own conscience.
3. Herein Christianity differed from Judaism. Judaism was the education of the spiritual child, Christianity that of the spiritual man. You must teach a child by rules, but a man governed by rules is a pedant or a slave. Note--
I. The motives for Christian unworldliness.
1. The shortness of time. That mysterious word “time,” which is a matter of sensation, dependent on the flight of ideas, may be long to one and short to another. The butterfly’s life is long compared with the ephemeron’s, short compared with the cedar’s. An hour is long to a child, a year little to a man. Shortness a term relative--
(1) To the way in which we look on Time. Time past is a dream, time to come seems immense; the longest night, which seemed as if it would never drag through, is but a speck of memory when it is gone. At sixty-five a man has on an average five years to live; yet his imagination obstinately attaches stability to them, though the sixty-five seem but a moment. To the young life is an inexhaustible treasure. But ask the old man what he thinks of the past.
(2) To opportunities. Literally these words mean--“The opportunity is compressed--narrowed,” i.e., every season has its own opportunity, which never comes back. The autumn sun shines as brightly as that of spring, but the seed of spring cannot be sown in autumn. The work of boyhood cannot be done in manhood. There is a solemn feeling, in beginning any new work, in the thought, shall I ever complete it?
(3) To eternity. The great idea brought out by Christianity was immortality. With-this the Corinthian Church was struggling. The thought arose, “Oh! in comparison of that great Hereafter, this little life shrivels into nothingness!” All deep minds have felt this at some period or other of their career. Let but a man possess his soul with this idea of Time, and then unworldliness will be the native atmosphere he breathes.
2. The changefulness of the external world: “The fashion of this world passeth away.” The word refers here to all that has form, and shape, and scenery; the visible in contradistinction to the invisible.
(1) God has written decay on all around us. On the hills their outlines changing within the memory of man. On the sea-coast. On our own frames. Even in the infant the progress of dissolution has visibly begun. We stand amidst the ruins of other days, and as they moulder before our eyes they tell us of generations which have mouldered before them, and of nations which have crossed the theatre of life and have disappeared. We join in the gladness of the baptism, and the years roll on so rapidly that we are almost startled to find ourselves standing at the wedding. But pass on a few years more, and the young heart for which there was so much gladness in the future drops silently into the grave to make way for others. One of our deepest thinkers has told us, “All the world’s a stage,” &c. Look at our own neighbourhood. Those with whom we walked in youth are gone and others have filled their places. Every day new circumstances are occurring which call upon us to act promptly; for the past is gone.
(2) “The fashion of the world” passes away in us. Our very minds change. All except the perpetually repeated sensations of eternity, space, time, alters. There is no affliction so sharp, no joy so bright, no shock so severe, but Time modifies and cures all. Our memories are like monumental brasses: the deepest graven inscription becomes at last illegible. Of such a world the apostle seems to ask, Is this a world for an immortal being to waste itself upon?
II. Its nature.
1. The spirit or principle of unworldliness; to use this world as not abusing it. The worldly spirit says, “Time is short; take your fill; live while you can.” The narrow religious spirit says, “All pleasure is a snare; keep out of it altogether.” In opposition to the one, Christianity says, “Use the world,” and to the other, “Do not abuse it.” Unworldliness is not to put life and God’s lovely world aside with self-torturing hand. It is to have the world, and not to let the world have you; to be its master, and not its slave.
2. The application of this principle--
(1) To domestic life. The idea was just then beginning to be discussed, which was the higher state, the single or the married. In after ages this question was decided in a very disastrous way; for it was taught that celibacy was the only really pure and angelic life. Marriage was regarded as earthly and sensual, unfit for those who were to serve as priests. Now observe the apostolic wisdom. He does not say celibacy is the saintly, and marriage the earthlier state. He says, “In whatever state you can most undistractedly serve God, that is the unworldly one to you.” God made man for domestic life, and he who would be wiser than his Maker is only wise in appearance. He is not the highest Christian who lives alone and single, but he who, whether single or married, lives superior to this earth.
(2) To sorrow. This unworldliness consists of two parts:
(a) The duty and the right of sorrow. “Weep?” Christianity does not sear the human heart; it softens it. If joy be felt in the presence of the loved object, grief must be felt in its absence. Christianity destroys selfishness, makes a man quick and sensitive for others. Moreover, it imparts something of its own infinitude to every feeling.. The Master wept. We may admire the stern old Roman heart; but we must not forget that the Roman stoicism is not of the spirit of Christianity.
(b) The limitation of sorrow, “as though they wept not”; that is, as though God had already removed their grief. Familiarity with eternal things subdues grief, gives it a true perspective. Have you lost a dear relative? Well, you may weep; but even while weeping Christ comes to you and says, “Thy brother shall rise again.”
(3) To joy--earthly joy; for, if it had been spiritual joy, the apostle could not have put any limitation to it. Therefore Christians may have earthly joy. Christ had no sympathy with that tone of mind which scowls on human happiness: His first manifestation of power was at a marriage feast. Look round this beautiful world of God’s. You cannot, except wilfully, misread its meaning. God says, “Be glad!” But now everlasting considerations are to come in, not to sadden joy, but to moderate its transports. We are to sit loose to all these sources of enjoyment, masters of ourselves. Respecting worldly amusements, the apostle does not say, You must avoid this or that, but he lays down broad principles. If your enjoyments are such that the thought of passing Time and coming Eternity presents itself as an intrusive thought, which has no business there; if you become secularised, excited, and artificial; then it is at your own peril that you say, All is left open to me, and permitted. Unworldly you must become--or die.
(4) To the acquisition of property. Unworldliness is not measured by what you possess, but by the spirit in which you possess it. It is not said, “Do not buy,” but rather “Buy--possess.” You may be a large merchant, &c., if only your heart be separate from the love of these earthly things, with God’s love paramount within. The amount of property is purely a relative consideration. You go into a regal palace, and perhaps, unaccustomed to the splendour, you say, “All this is worldliness.” But the poor man comes to your house, and to him this seems worldliness too. No! we must take another test. The Christian is one who, if a shipwreck or a fire were to take all luxury away, could descend, without being crushed, into the valley. He wears all this on the outside, carelessly, and could say, “My all was not laid there.” Conclusion:
1. Let there be no censoriousness. How others live, and what they permit themselves, judge not. It is work enough for any one of us to save his own soul.
2. Let there be no self-deception. This subject gives large latitude, and any one may abuse it if he will. “Remember, however, that worldliness is a more decisive test of a man’s spiritual state than even sin. Sin may be sudden, the result of temptation, yet afterwards hated--forsaken. But if a man be at home in the world’s pleasure and pursuits, happy if they could but last for ever, is not his state, genealogy, and character clearly stamped? Therefore does St. John draw the distinction--“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father”;--but “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Let those that have wives be as though they had none.--
The marriage state, right views of
“Let those that have wives be as though they had none.” What! to use them as if they had none? To care for them as if they had none? No; “but to be as if they had none.” That is, let them be as resolute for God’s truth as if they had no wives to hinder them; as willing to suffer crosses, as ready to good duties. Let them avoid distracting cares and worldly incumbrances, as if they had none; let them not pretend their marriage for baseness and worldliness, and for avoiding of afflictions when God is pleased to call them unto them; let them not pretend marriage for their doubling in religion and dissembling, “I shall undo my wife and children,” “Let them be as if they had none,” for Christ hath given us direction to hate all for Christ. A man is not worthy of Christ that undervalues not wife and children and all, for the gospel. If things stand in question, whether shall I stick to them or to Christ, my chief husband; I must stick to Christ. The reason is, the bond of religion is above all bonds. And the bond that binds us to Christ it abides when all bonds cease; for all bonds between husband and wife, between father and children, end in death; but the bond of Christ is eternal. Every bond must serve the main bond. We must so labour to please others, that we displease not our chief Husband. For the time will be when we shall neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but we shall be as the angels (Matthew 22:30); and that time shall be without bounds and limits, for eternity; and we must look to that. You know how it fared with him in the gospel, that pretended this, for his not coming to Christ; he that was married saith, “I cannot come.” His excuse was more peremptory than the rest, “he could not.” (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
How to use the world so as not to abuse it
I. I begin with remarking the wisdom of the apostle in teaching us now to bear the loss of friends, by first teaching us how to enjoy them. These two points are very closely connected. If a man has enjoyed prosperity in a proper Christian manner, he will be prepared to suffer adversity with the least degree of distress. As he will not rejoice, like one intoxicated, with extravagant joy, so he will not be depressed by a grief that overwhelms him with intolerable anguish. On the other hand, I would remark also, that the proper use of adversity teaches us to bear prosperity aright. The Christian principle, then, to which I have alluded as equally enabling us to bear prosperity and adversity, is faith. By this we are taught to feel the vanity, the shortness, the emptiness of everything in this world, and to realise the views of eternal things which are given us in Scripture. A Christian is one who looks not at things which are seen, but at those which are unseen. But in order that this view of eternal things should have any considerable influence upon the mind, it is necessary that it should have two qualities.
1. It should be abiding. However vivid our impression of eternal things may be for a time, yet we know that such is the nature of the human mind that the very strongest impression will soon wear away if not repeated. Nay, a very slight impression, frequently repeated, will have more effect upon us than any single impression, however strong. New the things of this life are perpetually before our eyes. They are, in this respect, like a force which is constantly acting. Will not the consideration of eternal things, therefore, require to be often set before the mind in order to counteract this force? From this constitution of things arises ,the necessity of continually hearing and reading the Word of God. It is therefore of the utmost importance to keep up a lively impression of eternal things on the soul; and this cannot be done without daily retirement, meditation, and prayer.
2. But in order that the things of the eternal world may become frequently the objects of contemplation, it is absolutely necessary that the view of them should be pleasant to us. No man loves to dwell upon painful or unpleasing objects: no man loves to meditate upon the shortness of life, whose prospects of happiness terminate here below. A man must therefore have a good hope beyond the grave before he can accustom himself to extend his view to this close of his earthly, hopes. He that is afraid of God will not often meditate upon His power and His omnipresence. Now it is the business of the gospel, and of the gospel alone, to render the thoughts of death, of eternity, and of God, pleasing to the soul. Christ is there held up to our view as having made atonement for our sins and procured reconciliation with the Father, in order that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” But it will be asked, What has the consideration of the next world to do with our concerns in this? I answer, Much. The proper use of this world depends wholly upon our “views of that which is to come.
II. This principle, then, rightly felt, will teach us how to use the world without abusing it; how to enjoy the society of our nearest connections, and how to sorrow in their loss. In the enjoyment of domestic relations, the rule laid down, “Let those who have wives be as though they had none,” is not to be understood as if it excluded the gratification of social feeling, the pleasures of tenderness, or the indulgence of domestic happiness. But how, then, are we to be preserved from worldliness of mind, and from misery when we are deprived of our comforts? I answer, By the principle already laid down; by a deep and abiding impression of the superiority of things spiritual and eternal. Let me, therefore, while I enjoy all my domestic and temporal comforts with pleasure, and with additional pleasure because I receive them from Thee; let me still consider them as but subordinate and inferior to the blessings which Christ has purchased. While I have them, let me consider well their nature: they are transitory and vain; let the chief desire of my soul, therefore, be towards those things that are above. Apply the same principle to the losses we must expect to meet with in life. Let me address your feelings. You know that you hold all your temporal enjoyments by a precarious tenure. You that have wives, and in them all that gives enjoyment to life, consider how soon the stroke of death may tear them from you. (J. Venn, M. A.)
And they that weep as though they wept not.--
Religion in its relation to common life
I. To its sorrows.
1. It prepares for them.
2. Moderates their effect.
3. Mixes them with hope.
II. To its joys. It teaches us--
1. To regard them as the gilt of God.
2. To use them moderately.
3. To employ them as a means to invigorate us for the more serious business of life.
III. To business. It inculcates--
3. The vanity of earthly gain. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 7:31
And they that use this world, as not abusing it.
Using this world
1. It is the duty of a Christian, so long as he is a citizen of this world, to take a part in its concerns. “I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world,” &c. (1 Corinthians 5:10). How can salt season, or yeast leaven, if it do not come in contact with that which it is to season or to raise?
2. Christ was removed above all the conventionalities and systems of this world; and yet He conformed to them all. He touched on the political questions; He had teachings about Church and State, and gave His authority to the great principle of taxation. And yet how heavenly the tone of every word and act!
I. The believer “uses” the world, which conveys the ideas of--
1. Elevation. What I “use,” I am above. It is the implement I employ, and not the power I obey. That is just what the world is to a Christian.
2. Intention. What I “use” is never final. It is to work up to an end. Say it is an amusement I use it, it is to fit me for something I have yet to do. Say it is money, it is that I may have greater power to do good. Say it is influence, it is that I may the better extend truth. Say it is public life, it is that I may throw weight into the side of good. Or say it is the whole world, it is with an eye to eternity, to make myself or others ready, for a higher state that is coming.
II. What, then, is it to “abuse”?
1. If the world rule you, and you do not rule it--if you do not keep it within fixed bounds which your own conscience lays down--if you have not a further end in every natural thing beyond the immediate gratification--if that end is not worthy--then you are abusing the world.
2. If it separate you from Him to whom this whole world belongs, or if you use any part of it for any other end but the glory of the great Proprietor, you abuse the world.
Conclusion: Now for present duty. In this representative country every man both legislates and governs. Therefore, it is no simple thing to exercise the franchise.
1. You will “abuse” and not “use” the power which the law has given you if you do not accept it as a solemn trust which has been committed to you by God, to be exercised for Him. Great things are at stake, and in your degree God has made you the arbiter of them. Therefore--
(1) Discharge the duty calmly, according to your real conviction, bringing the best reflection you can to bear upon it, as before God.
(2) Pray for a right judgment in this matter.
(3) This done, it will help your decision, as to what line of policy will best promote the great ends that all have in view. Assuredly, the religious aspect of every subject ought to be the first considered. Therefore, regard should certainly be had to the religious character of the man whom you would entrust with power. He who would put first the glory of God, cannot rest in devolving high trust to one who has no such aim.
2. Let all be done with charity of judgment. Let no personal feeling embitter a great work. And then, whatever be the result, accept it as the will of God to you. And though the course of events may run counter with your wishes, still honour God by taking loving views of man, and trusting views of the future. And be they what they may, be loyal to the powers that be. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The use of the world--
I. is lawful. Its enjoyments, associations, business, &c., must be made subservient to the purposes of life and salvation.
II. May become sinful--
1. By excess.
2. By abuse.
3. By making it the end of existence.
III. Is enforced by the consideration of its vanity.
1. Its fashion changes.
2. Its joys wither.
3. Its glory must ultimately perish. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The use and abuse of the world
I. The reason why we should not abuse this world: the fashion of it passes away; literally, the scene changes.
1. The world itself is a stable thing. Its face changes, but its matter and laws are fixed. The same mountain-tops point toward the sky to-day that seemed to touch it when we were children. The same plain stretches out from the Pyramids that the Pharaohs saw from their summits. The inhabitant is often changed; the habitation remains the same.
2. But it does not remain the same to me. The green grass looks not so lightsome when those whom I loved are laid beneath it. This is not the world on which I trod so lightly when I was a child. It was a brighter world then. That fashion went out, and the one that came in after it, was hard and busy. Faster and faster it moved, and I moved with it, until I became giddy with the whirl. At the next change of fashion the breathless runner is left behind.
3. But, besides those which time inexorably brings to all, there are other changes peculiar to each.
(1) The owner of a beautiful estate was conducting a visitor through his park. At a bend in the path a lofty beech-tree suddenly hove in sight, wanting one hemisphere of its once symmetrical and stately head. In the last winter’s blast one of these twin boughs had been rent off, and the survivor, bare on the side where his marrow grew, seemed a stricken, widowed thing. “See,” said the visitor, “the emblem of a husband standing alone in the world, after death has torn away the wife of his youth!” Then a stifled sigh revealed to the speaker that he had unconsciously hurt, by touching, a wound still green in his companion’s side.
(2) How many living victims are kept in continual torture! Clinging to wealth, when wealth is taking wings; to the trappings of beauty, when the beauty has gone; to the gaiety of youth, when age, unwelcome, unconfessed, is stealing quietly, quickly on. If you allow your heart-strings to twine around the fashion of the world, you are torn and tortured every day you live; for the fashion of the world is moving past you. The only possible method of living either pleasantly or safely on a shifting scene is to sit loosely on its surface.
II. The abuse of this world which the text forbids. When the gifts are turned aside from their wise and kind intent, the Giver takes it ill (Ezekiel 16:19). The abuses of the world cannot be all named; let two or three suffice.
1. Day and night are precious constituents of “this world.” To shuffle them out of their places is to abuse them. An assembly of dancing men and women in a heated hall, a merchant leaning over his ledger in the counting-house, a student before his lamp in the silent chamber, are all guilty of abusing the world, if they occupy the long dark night, and sleep on the morrow while the sun is running his race rejoicing.
2. The fruitful earth is systematically and to a great extent compelled to minister to the vice of men. Nothing in nature is lovelier than the poppy-fields of India. The best land, in the most sheltered situation, is appropriate to the cultivation of the plant, and its product--opium--is a most precious medicine. But when we presume to use it as an indulgence to an unhealthy craving, and force it upon an unwilling people on whom its effects can be only baneful, then we abuse it. At home, too, in a similar way, we abuse the world, by converting a large portion of the grain which it brings forth for the food of man, into a stimulant which is chiefly employed in ministering to his vices.
3. Civilised nations have long abused in the gross a whole continent of the world. Instead of buying from the Africans the products of the soil, so stimulating arts and industry, we bought the people--the weak from the strong--so stimulating war and rapine.
III. The use of this world which the text permits and enjoins. Observe how God uses this world, that we may fall in with His purpose. He has made it the dwelling-place of creatures formed after His own image, and capable of communion with Himself; but the grandest use of the habitation was made after the inhabitant fell by sin. Leaving behind all the shining worlds, the Son of God lived here; here the sons and daughters of the Lord obtained their birthright, and are prepared for their inheritance. Such are the purposes for which the Father employs this world; and for these chiefly the dear child values it. This earth shines only in the sunlight: if it were dark it would be also barren.
So, morally for man, the world in which we live owes its beauty and its worth to the light which reaches it from heaven. Christians--
1. May use the world. Practical religion does not consist in denying ourselves the use of temporal good, or in tasting it with terror. Every creature of God is good. A Christian, with a clear mind and a good conscience, tastes more sweetness in this world than he who has no other portion. The relations of the family, e.g., are touched in the context. He who has entered the family of God, has not thereby forfeited his place or his rights in the families of men. Make one thing sure, that it is the use of the world, not the abuse of it; and then use it with a will.
2. Must use it. Don’t permit the riches, e.g., to lie so long still that they shall rust. Whatever God may have given you of personal qualification, or social position, or material means, take the use of it yourself, and let your neighbours participate in the benefit. Conclusion: In vain do you tell a man that the fashion of this world passeth away, if you have nothing more to tell. A drowning man will grasp straws; and you cannot put an end to the useless effort by standing on the river’s brink and proving that straws will not avail to make his body buoyant. How shall we persuade him to let them go? Heave him a life-buoy, and no persuasion will be necessary. When he feels the contact of the better preserver, he will throw away the worse. So no demonstration of the world’s changefulness will keep a human soul from cleaving to its dust. Nothing but faith’s possession of the better portion can wean our hearts from the worse. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The use and abuse of the world
To “use” anything is to turn it to account in the direction of those ends for which it is really needed. To “abuse” is simply to turn a thing away from its true and proper use. This “world” has its “uses.” According to the original purpose of God, it is a servant to minister to our wants, not a tyrant to oppress or degrade us. It may become a dangerous foe; but only when we stand in false relations to it. This world is designed to aid--
I. In revealing god to us. “The heavens declare His glory, &c.” What an “abuse,” then, of the world it is, when men employ it to conceal God! An astronomer once said that what he found in the study of the starry sky was the “glory” of Newton, &c., and not the “glory of God.” And it would seem as if some men deliberately try to forget God, by busying themselves about the things which God has made. They plunge into business and into politics, as if they would forget that the Most High has anything to do either with the growth of cotton or the growth of nations. Even the faces of their little children cease to speak to them of “The Father”; the selfish, worldly love they have for them becomes a pretext for ignoring the claims and commands of God.
II. In the formation and development of spiritual character. The material exists for the sake of the spiritual. This earth has been furnished as a school for man’s education. The monastic life is just a kinder “playing truant.” The true “use” of a school cannot be to run away from it. On the other hand, there are those who turn the schoolroom into a playground--who seek to convert the means of education and training into the instruments of mere selfish gratification. Some men are like little children burning their lesson-books for the momentary pleasure of the blaze! Others are like children trying to carve out their names on forms and desks of the school, when they ought to be learning lessons. Others are like children, with heads bent over their books, making a show of diligence, in order to conceal an indolent frivolity. And others, alas I are like children who, through self-willed folly, break their limbs in the very gymnasium which was intended and adapted to strengthen them! Oh what an “abuse” is here! A whole world made for men--and, all the while, men living as if they had been made for the world!
III. In serving God. He appoints us duties to discharge, and burdens to bear. His holy and loving commandment meets us everywhere--at home and in the market, &c.; and not a day passes in which He does not give us opportunities of expressing our loyalty to His law. Only see, again, how men “abuse” the world! They convert it into a sphere of disobedience. Suppose that, in order to secure a higher kind of service from an employee you were to promote him to a confidential position--giving him full access to your books, and an insight into the secrets of your business; and suppose that he were forthwith to employ the knowledge thus obtained in order to injure your business or embezzle your property! And yet this is but a faint emblem of your own conduct towards the Heavenly Master! You take the bread which He places on your table; you come out into His sunshine; you breathe His air; and then, with the health and strength you thus obtain, you pollute His air with words that ought never to be spoken, or commit actions too foul to bear the light of His sun. God reveals to you some of those wondrous secrets which He has lodged in the bosom of Nature, and then you go, perhaps, and employ this very knowledge for the retarding of His spiritual kingdom. You take the subtle electricity, and with it you flash your lying, fraudulent message along the wire--breaking God’s own law of truth and justice with God’s own mysterious forces! He gives you wife and children and friends; and lo! you make them do the devil’s work. Here is one man whom God’s Providence places in a position of power. How that man might use his power in the cause of truth and justice and liberty! But, instead of this, he becomes tyrannical. Here is another man who bus been placed in a position of wealth. How that man might multiply manifestations of loyalty to God! But, instead of this, he practically worships his gold, and employs it to corrupt and degrade others, and to supply fuel for his own lusts. Conclusion: “The fashion of this world passeth away.” Let us, then, not live as if the visible were the eternal. And let us remember that we do not necessarily escape worldliness, by belonging to what is called “the religious world.” Men may seem to be engaged in the service of God, and yet all the while be only serving themselves. A selfish ambition does not cease to be worldly merely because it is ecclesiastical. Slander and spite do not cease to be worldly merely because they appear in a “religious newspaper.” “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” do not cease to be worldly, even in a household that is daily summoned to family prayers. (T. C. Finlayson.)
The use and abuse of the world.--
I. Paul’s present observation about this world. That its “fashion” “passeth away.” It passes away--
1. Before our eyes.
2. To our hearts.
II. The use which Paul makes of this fact. That they that use this world should use it as not abusing it.
1. The world is abused when we suffer it--
(1) To supplant in our hearts its Creator;
(2) To banish other worlds from the sphere of our attraction;
(3) To overcome us;
(4) To make us carry the lawful use of it to excess.
2. The world should be used with--
(1) A pilgrim’s;
(2) A godly;
(3) A free and independent;
(4) A generous and holy spirit. (S. Martin.)
On the use and abuse of the world
The world is always represented in Scripture as the great scene of trial to a Christian. The part which is proper for him to act may be comprised in these two expressive words of the text; “using the world, and not abusing it”; the significancy and extent of which I propose now to explain. The subject is of the higher importance, as in the world we must live; and according as we use or abuse it, it will prove either our friend or our greatest foe. It is natural to begin with observing that the Christian is here supposed to “use the world”; by which we must certainly understand the apostle to mean maintaining intercourse and connection with the world; living in it as one of the members of human society, assuming that rank which belongs to his station. No one can be said to use the world who lives not thus. Hence it follows that sequestration from the world is no part of Christian duty. Instead of employing their influence to regulate and temper the pleasures of the world by a moderate participation of those that are innocent, they deliver up all the entertainments of society into the hands of the louse and giddy. It may be assumed, therefore, as a principle justified by the text, and by the whole strain of Scripture, that to use, and in a certain degree to enjoy, the world, is altogether consistent with religion. We shall have a clearer view of the proper use of the world when we contrast it with that abuse of the world which we too often observe. Those abuses manifest themselves in various forms; but in general may be classed under three great heads.
I. They are abusers of the world who intemperately give themselves up to its pleasures, and lead a life of licentiousness, riot, and dissipation. Amidst the wealth and luxury of the present age, it will be admitted that persons of this description are not unfrequent, who, being opulent in fortune, and perhaps high in rank, think themselves entitled to pass their days in a careless manner, without any other object in view than the gratification of their senses and passions. By the train of life which they lead they defeat every purpose for which Providence bestowed on them the blessings of prosperity. They sink every talent which they possess into useless insignificancy. They corrupt the public manners by their example, and diffuse among others the spirit of extravagance and folly. They behave in a manner altogether unsuitable to the condition of the world in which we live. With indignant eyes the sober and thinking part of mankind view the luxury and riot of those abusers of the world. To them are owing the discontents of the poor, their disaffection to their superiors, their proneness to disturb the peace of the world. The conduct of such abusers of the world is not only pernicious to the welfare of society and to the interests of virtue, it is equally ruinous to themselves. At the bottom of the hearts of all men there lies a secret sense of propriety, virtue, and honour. This sense may be so far blunted as to lose its influence in guiding men to what is right, while yet it retains its power of making them feel that they are acting wrong. Hence remorse often gnaws the heart which affects to appear light and gay before the world. Retreat, then, from your dishonourable courses, ye who by licentiousness, extravagance, and vice, are abusers of the world! You are degrading, you are ruining yourselves. You are grossly misemploying the gifts of God, and the Giver will not fail to punish.
II. The world is abused, not only by an intemperate pursuit of its pleasures, but by a sordid attachment to its gains. This respects a set of men of a very different description from the former, more decent in their carriage, and less flagrant in their vices, but corrupted by the world in no less a degree. For the world is often abused by the men of business as much as by the men of pleasure. The world, with its advantages, is a lawful object of pursuit to a Christian. He may seek, by fair industry, to render his circumstance affluent. His care is, not merely to amass and possess, but to use his possessions well, as one who is accountable to God. He is not a slave, either to the hopes or the fears of the world. He would rather forfeit any present advantage than obtain it at the expense of violating the Divine law or neglecting his duty. This is using the world like a good man. This is living in it as a subject of God and a member of the great community of mankind. Very opposite to this is the character of the worldly-minded. To them the mere attainment of earthly possessions is an ultimate aim. They cannot be said to use the world; for to possess, not to use or enjoy, is their object. He is an abuser of the world who cannot occasionally retreat from it to consider what character he bears in the sight of God, and to what issue his conduct will bring him at last. In a word, the world is then properly used when it is generously and beneficially enjoyed; neither hoarded up by avarice, nor squandered by ostentation.
III. The world is abused by those who employ its advantages to the injury or oppression of their brethren. Under this class are included the worst and most criminal abusers of the world, who turn against their fellow-creatures those advantages with which it has pleased Heaven to distinguish them. The licentious, the avaricious, and the insolent, form the three great classes of abusers of the world. Let not those who are in wealthy and flourishing circumstances complain of the restraints which religious doctrine attempts to impose on their enjoyments. For to what do these restraints amount? To no more than this, that, by their pleasures, they would neither injure themselves nor injure others. (H. Blair. D. D.)
The use and abuse of the world
I. A good man may make use of the world.
1. The persons of the world.
2. The things of the world, for they are his own: “All things are yours.” It is an incivility and unthankfulness not to make use of a gift, and the things of this world are God’s gift. We are all travellers to another country, so far therefore as things are necessary for our journey, we may make use thereof.
II. But we must use the world as though we used it not. As wicked men do use the things of God, and of the other world, so a good man should use the things of this world. A wicked man prays as if he prayed not, and hears as if he heard not, because his mind is upon other things. “Set your affections on things that are above.” As good men are where they yet are not, namely in heaven, so they are not where they now are, namely on earth, for your conversation is in heaven. The things of this world are but to serve a purpose, and are not to be enjoyed for themselves. Clothes are but to cover nakedness; meat and drink but to serve hunger and thirst; only God is to be enjoyed; therefore why should we not use the world as ii we used it not? And then the world uses us as if it used us not, and cares for us as if it cared not for us.
III. What are those particular concernments wherein we are to use the world as if we used it not?
1. Our relations (1 Corinthians 7:29). Be as zealous for the truth and as ready to suffer for the cause of Christ as if you had none.
2. Grief (1 Corinthians 7:20). It is lawful to grieve, but we must not weep too much, or otherwise it will argue that we have too much love to the world. If we are to “rejoice in the Lord evermore,” then surely we are to weep as if we wept not.
3. Joy. Why should I joy much in that which I cannot enjoy? God only is to be enjoyed. There is a crack in the finest crystal.
4. Our possessions (1 Corinthians 7:30). How can a man be patient in the loss of things if he be not weaned from them while he hath them. And if good men have greater possessions to mind, and they cannot intensively mind both, then surely they must so possess, as if they possessed not.
IV. What is there in these reasons of the apostle that may ,enforce the exhortation?
1. The time is short. We have a great business to do, and but little time to do it in. If a citizen go into the country about some business that concerns his life, will he run up and down to catch butterflies, when all his time is but little enough for to do his business in?
2. The fashion of this world, it is but a piece of pageantry, a stage--one goes off and another comes on. As that is a fashion to-day which was not yesterday, that is a fashion to-day which is none to-morrow; so the fashion of the world passeth away. Will you instance a natural, civil, sinful, religious, or comfortable fashion of the world that does not pass away?
V. When may a man be said so to use the world as if he used it not? When a man so uses the world as to walk with God in the use thereof: when one man walks with another he turns as he turns; so when a man walks with God in the world, he turns as God turns. When God calls to joy, he joys; when God calls to grief, he grieves, &c.
VI. Suppose i do not use the world as if i used it not, what then?
1. You do want this character of a good man.
2. You are not dead to the world, and if not dead to the world, then not dead with Christ.
3. You are defiled by the world.
4. Your hearts will reproach you when you come to die.
5. You cannot more prejudice the thing you love, nor wrong yourselves more, than by loving it too much. A man leans upon a slender stick, and both breaks the stick and runs it into his hand.
VII. What shall we do that we may get our hearts into this gracious and holy frame? Note--
1. What that man does that uses the world as if he used it not.
(1) He will be sure to use grace in the use of the world.
(2) He will be ready to give up that part of the world unto God wherein his affections are most engaged.
(3) He will stand at a distance from the world, in the getting as well as in the keeping.
(4) He will not place his religion in a morning and in an evening duty, but in his walking with God in his place.
2. The means.
(1) Labour to possess your hearts much with God’s all-sufficiency (Psalms 62:10-11).
(2) Look upon the world with the prospective of the Scripture, not with the world’s multiplying glass.
(3) Never fall in love with any condition for itself, but for the good of the condition.
(4) Take all God’s alarums of death, and mingle those with the consideration of the death of Christ, and then you will die to the world.
(5) Afford the world and the things thereof, so much of your love, as better things do leave.
(6) Let the name of the Lord be very precious in your hearts and in your eyes.
(7) Go to the Lord and beg of the Lord to fulfil His promises.
(8) Consider what a good thing it is to use this world as if we used it not. Thereby--
(a) You shall be able to want and to part with the world with ease: “I know how to want,” saith Paul, and “I know how to abound.”
(b) You shall have more of the world, and have it in a better edition, in a better impression, for it will be sanctified unto you.
(c) you shall have that which is better than all, the mind of Christ. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
For the fashion of this world passeth away.--
The fashion of the world
The words contain--
I. A metaphorical allusion to a public exhibition or a dramatic representation.
1. The state and constitution of things as they now exist pass away; not so much the world itself, as to its material substance, as its fashion with respect to us. Do we now behold a beautiful appearance of nature or art? To us they will soon be as the reminiscence of a giddy dream.
2. Our employments and pursuits here. In these we are as the actors of a drama. Some assume fictitious characters; our possessions and enjoyments change; our feelings change, not only as to their nature, but their keenness.
3. Our present ties and connections. These pass away to assume another fashion. In the world to come “we shall know no man after the flesh.”
II. Doctrine truth.
1. The present world bears evident marks of imperfection; but “God is a rock, His work is perfect.”
2. The present world does not exhibit that discrimination which exists between the righteous and the wicked.
3. The grand end of all revelation is to prepare men for another life. Why have human beings an intelligent existence? Why did Jehovah style Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Why select a people and inspire prophets to instruct them? Why send His Son to live, &c.? Why alarm the fears or excite the hopes? Verily there is an after state, &c.
III. A practical application.
1. All are equally concerned in it. Young persons of robust constitution must die as well as the greyheaded and infirm. The knowing or witty must all pass away.
2. This alone is our state of probation. Fleeting as this state is, when once gone it returns no more; “time is short,” not so eternity. “Behold, now is the accepted time,” &c.
3. The change of worlds, with respect to the righteous, will be highly advantageous.
4. The change of worlds to the unconverted distressing and terrible. What will become of the proud? (Malachi 4:1.) Of the worldly person? (James 5:1-3.) Of the carnally minded? (Romans 8:6.) Of the vain and giddy? (Luke 6:25.) In a word “If the righteous scarcely are saved,” &c. Conclusion: Does the fashion of the world pass away? Then let us improve every occurrence which may tend to loosen our attachment to this world, and every means to prepare us for a better. (Homilist.)
The passing nature of this world
I. By this world we are to understand the visible, in opposition to the invisible state of existence. For into these two the whole world, or entire system of the creation, is resolved: the world that is unseen, and is in its nature eternal; and the world that is seen, and is in its constitution temporal. And by the attention that every man pays to the one or the other, his character is determined and his lot is fixed. He is either carnally or spiritually minded, and his recompense accordingly, death or life (Romans 8:6). Here things look quite otherwise than they are. Mourning and poverty bear the face of misery; mirth and riches appear to be happiness; fame and preferment are styled honour; slander and oppression are accounted disgrace; hypocrisy has the face of devotion; pride the mask of humility; vanity the air of greatness. In short, truth is currently counterfeited and concealed under false colours; and, as the Psalmist sings, man spends his life in a vain show. Yet, in truth, they may be blessed that mourn--they may be happy that are poor--they may be truly honourable that are in disgrace in this world--they may be great and good who look mean. And, on the contrary, they may be worthless, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked, who are accounted rich, and great, and famous among men. Here things have no solid bottom. All moves in a perpetual tendency to another state, where false appearances shall for ever vanish away, and everything appear as it really is. The whole frame of things here is continually hastening to a dissolution--continually shifting place and time.
II. This world is in its nature a fluctuating and transitory state of things.
1. Time is the element in which all creatures below are calculated to exist; in which they begin, go on, and end: and an element continually changing; always in motion, never resting, never returning.
2. The numberless creatures that exist in time, and compose this world, are continually changing with time, and passing away.
III. The use we should make of this important and extensive truth.
1. To avoid all anxious care and immoderate concern about the things of this life.
2. To be moderate in the use of worldly enjoyments.
3. To be contented with our lot in the world.
4. Here we have read a lesson that redeems poverty from contempt, and reduces riches to little.
5. Hence we may observe the sin and folly of those who trust to their riches for supporting their life, credit, and comfort in this world.
6. From this subject we should learn patience under afflictions. They cannot last in a world continually changing and passing away. A little time longer will either end or amend them.
7. We should study to wean our affections from the things of time; to leave the world as fast as it leaves us; to be more and more indifferent about the pains or pleasures of it, the longer we live in it.
8. What we have heard serves to abate the love of life and the terrors of death, which naturally keep the mind of man under bondage.
9. Here Christians may read consolation under the loss of Christian friends, relations, or acquaintances.
10. Let us bless God with thankful hearts that we have another and a better world to look for, a state that can never know either time or change (Wm. Beet.)
On the fashion of the world passing away
I. The fashion of the world passeth away, as the opinions, ideas, and manners of men are always changing. We look in vain for a standard to ascertain and fix any of these; in vain expect that what has been approved and established for a while, is always to endure. Principles which were of high authority among our ancestors are now exploded. When we read an account of the manners and occupations, of the studies and opinions, even of our own countrymen, in some remote age, we seem to be reading the history of a different world from what we now inhabit. Coming downwards, through some generations, a new face of things appears. As one wave effaces the ridge which the former had made on the sand by the sea-shore, so every succeeding age obliterates the opinions and modes of the age which had gone before it. Let us only think of the changes which out” own ideas and opinions undergo in the progress of life. One man differs not more from another, than the same man varies from himself in different periods of his age, and in different situations of fortune. In youth and in opulence everything appears smiling and gay. But let some more years have passed over our heads, or let disappointments in the world have depressed our spirits; and what a change takes place! The world itself remains the same. But its form, its appearance, is changed to our view; its fashion, as to us, hath passed away.
II. While our opinions and ideas are thus changing within, the condition of all external things is, at the same time, ever changing without us and around us. Wherever we cast our eyes over the face of nature, or the monuments of art, we discern the marks of alteration and vicissitude. We cannot travel far upon the earth without being presented with many a striking memorial of the changes made by time. What was once a flourishing city is now a neglected village. When from the public scene we turn our eye to our own private connections, the changes which have taken place in the fashion of the world must touch every reflecting mind with a more tender sensibility. For where are now many of the companions of our early years?
III. Not only our connections with all things around us change, but our own life, through all its stages and conditions, is ever passing away. As the life of man, considered in its duration, thus fleets and passes away, so, during the time it lasts, its condition is perpetually changing. It affords us nothing on which we can set up our rest; no enjoyment or possession which we can properly call our own.
IV. That the world itself in which we dwell, the basis of all our present enjoyments, is itself contrived for change, and designed to pass away. There are three fixed and permanent objects to which I must now call your attention, as the great supports of human constancy amidst this fugitive state.
1. Virtue and goodness never change. Let opinions and manners, conditions and situations, in public and in private life, alter as they will, virtue is ever the same. It rests on the immovable basis of eternal truth. Every terrestrial glory sparkles only for a little, with transient brightness. But virtue shines with eternal and unalterable splendour. It derives its origin from heaven; and partakes both of the lustre and the stability of celestial objects.
2. God never changes. Amidst the unceasing vicissitude of earthly things, there remains at the head of the universe an Eternal Protector of virtue, whose throne is established for ever. With Him there is no variableness, neither any shadow of turning; no inconstancy of purpose, and no decay of wisdom or of power. How much soever worldly things may change in themselves, they are all united in His plan; they constitute one great system or whole of which He is the author; and which, at its final completion, shall appear to be perfect. His dominion holds together, in a continued chain, the successive variety of human events; gives stability to things that in themselves are fluctuating; gives constancy even to the fashion of the world while it is passing away.
3. Heaven and immortality pass not away. The fleeting scenes of this life are to be considered as no more than an introduction to a nobler and more permanent order of things, when man shall have attained the maturity of his being. (H. Blair, D. D.)
The changing nature of worldly things
I. All things around us are changing. The visible heavens daily vary their appearance, the seasons walk their rounds, and in each we experience a great variety in the temperature. Nature is continually diversifying her dress. Time makes observable changes in the surface of our globe. Every age introduces great alterations in the bounds of empires, in the politics and commerce of nations. Families, as well as nations, are changing. New ones are forming as elder ones pass away. The lands which have been acquired, and the property which has been accumulated, by the industry of the proprietor, are often alienated by the misfortune or folly of the descendants. The condition of every person is in continual mutation. As we advance in life, our Views and apprehensions of men and things, and our taste and inclination for the objects around us, greatly alter. The inhabitants of the world are changing. There is a mighty change which awaits us all.
II. Let us improve the sentiment. The mutable condition of the world may lead us--
1. To contemplate the immutability of the Creator (Hebrews 1:10-12).
2. To see much of the wisdom and goodness of God.
(1) The mutability of things is on the whole a source of enjoyment. We are formed to love variety. The traveller passing over a level plain where, all along, a train of similar objects meets his eyes, soon finds the scene tedious. Let a man choose his own condition, and place himself in the most agreeable circumstances; will he enjoy it? No, not for a single week. There must be something new, or every pleasure becomes insipid.
(2) As our pleasures are heightened, so our pains are mitigated, by variety. On the roughest roads there is some smooth way where we can walk with ease, Many are the troubles of the world, but they are intermixed with pleasures. And our troubles are not always the same; one passes away as another comes. We find some relief by shifting it from shoulder to shoulder.
3. To direct our thoughts to a future state of existence. One change leads to another. Each season is preparatory to the next. Youth is preparatory to manhood, and this to old age. We may naturally then conclude that death is introductory to a new state of existence. Pain, in this state, usually precedes high enjoyment; the humiliating circumstances of death are preludes to glory and immortality.
4. To rejoice as if we rejoiced not, and weep as if we wept not.
5. To remember our great change. When we see the fashion of the world passing away, it becomes us to realise that we are passing away also, and have here no continuing city. The seaman, in a feeble bark, tossed on the tumultuous ocean, surely will not imagine himself on firm ground, nor forget his danger of being swallowed up in the deep.
6. To direct our thoughts to heaven, where none of the painful vicissitudes of the present stage will attend us. Changes there will be in heaven, but they will be only changes for the better, from glory to glory, from perfection to perfection. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The world changes
Ah, this beautiful world! I know not what to think of it. Sometimes it is all sunshine and gladness, and heaven itself lies not far off; and then it suddenly changes, and is dark and sorrowful, and the clouds shut out the day. In the lives of the saddest of us there are bright days like this, when we feel as if we could take the great world in our arms. Then come gloomy hours, when the fire will not burn on our hearths, and all without and within is dismal, cold, and dark. Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and ofttimes we call a man cold when he is only sad. (H. W. Longfellow.)
The fashion of the world passeth away
The crust of the globe is constantly changing in some form or other in all places. It is true in a material sense that the fashion of the world passeth away. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Eternal things and fleeting
Afar off one Can hardly tell which is mountain and which is cloud. The clouds rise with peaks and summits, all apparently as solid, and certainly as glistening, as the snow-clad Alps, so that the clearest eye might readily be deceived. Yet the mountain is unsubstantial as the cloud, and the cloud is never permanent as the mountain. So do the things of time appear to be all-important, far-reaching and enduring, arid eternal things are not always of equal weight to the soul with those nearer at hand. Yet, despite all our instinctive judgments may suggest to the contrary, nothing earthly can ever be lasting, nothing in time can be worth considering compared with eternity. The cloudy philosophies of men may assume the shape of eternal truth, but the wind shall scatter them, while the great mountains of the Divine Word shall stand fast for ever and ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Corinthians 7:32-40
But I would have you without carefulness.
I. By avoiding those states which involve carefulness. Take, e.g.
1. The question of marriage. Paul bids Christians, in the first place, not to marry.
(1) But that was a time of persecution. The Christian man who had no family could flee in a moment if it was right to flee, and if caught he had not to think about his wife and fatherless children. Paul wished the Church to be like an army which is not encumbered with baggage; his own consisted of half a dozen needles and a reel of thread. He was thus without carefulness.
(2) But to-day the circumstances are decidedly different, and we are to follow the principle rather than the particular instance. I have known brethren who had a great deal more care before than after marriage, and who served God better in the married estate. That is the rule to judge by. But numbers of you never judge at all in this way. Many men and women rush into marriage when they know that it must involve them in all sorts of care and hinder them in the Master’s service.
2. Increased worldly business. Now, if you can serve God better by having a dozen shops, have a dozen; but I have known persons whom God blessed in one shop, and they lost the blessing when they opened two or three. When invited to take their part in the Lord’s work, they replied--“You see, I cannot get out,” or “I am so tied.” But as the disability is entirely of your own creation, how can it excuse you? Do not fill your pocket at the expense of your soul. God can prosper you and make you happy with a more manageable business, and he can make you miserable if you wilfully increase your cares. Remember how Napoleon tried to do too much, and did it, and did for himself.
3. Public engagements. Everything which concerns man concerns a Christian, and God never wished His servants to leave the government of this realm to all the place-hunters who look for a seat in Parliament. To abandon law-making to the worst of men would be infamous. So with everything which concerns the public weal. But let the rule be--first God, and then our fellow-men. Ye are the servants of God; do not make yourselves the Slaves of men.
4. Occupations prevent attendance at the house of God. When a young man with a moderate salary, and the whole Sabbath and some week-evenings to himself, is offered twice as much in a place Where he must be shut out from worship and service, I hope he will look long before he makes the bargain. For Christians, the best place is where they can do most for Jesus.
II. By keeping away from those pursuits which naturally foster it:
1. When a man makes the gaining of riches the first thing in life he cannot be without carefulness. Where his treasure is, there will his heart be also.
2. If you live with the view of gaining honour among men, you will be full of cares. To please everybody is as impossible as to make ice and bake bread at the same moment in one oven.
3. Those who are ambitions to be very respectable will never be without carefulness; they have a pound coming in, but they spend a guinea. Some have a favourite object in life--not God; and these cannot be without carefulness. Dear mother, love your children by all means, but if that little one has become an idol, you cannot be without carefulness. Lots of children have suffered a martyrdom from too much nursing, and excessive carefulness has created cause for care. If anything else becomes the hobby of life, a horse, a dog, a flower, a painting, it will entangle you in nets of care.
III. By exercising a childlike faith in God. He sends you troubles and trials, but be without carefulness--
1. By never trying to anticipate them. Never meet them half-way. Commit your way unto the Lord, and then be without carefulness.
2. By being quite content with the Lord’s will. Do your best and leave business, health, friends, &c., in the hands of God.
3. By being quite sure about the love of God. He cannot make a mistake, and He cannot fail His people. If the worst thing, as it seems to us, should happen, it must be the right thing, because God has sent it.
4. By believing in the power of prayer, and in the fact that God does actually answer it.
5. By giving all our thought and care to this one object--How can I live as Christ would have lived? You never find Jesus worrying. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The evil and danger of “carefulness.” Every kind of care is not evil; but only that care which is attended with anxiety. And this is evil--
1. As distracting our mind.
2. As impeding our progress.
3. As tending, to turn us from the path of strict integrity.
II. How we may most effectually divest ourselves of it. We must get--
1. A deep sense of the obligations which God has laid upon us.
2. A lively sense of the obligations which He has laid upon Himself also respecting us. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Free from cares
I. Why should we be “free from cares”?--
1. The approach of the end.
(1) “The time is shortened,” between now and the Lord’s coming; or--
(2) Between now and our last hour.
2. The transiency of all earthly things. “The fashion of this world passeth away.” Do not many of the circumstances of past life, that were then subjects of absorbing anxiety, look now like so many shifting scenes of a stage play?
II. How should we be “free from cares”?
1. By contentment with our present lot. This is the lesson of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:27; 1 Corinthians 7:18; 1 Corinthians 7:21, &c. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20).
2. By using all temporal relations without worldly absorption in them.
(1) All relative duties--husband and-wife an example.
(2) All sorrowful and joyous events.
(3) All acquisitions.
3. By using all temporal relations with a view of pleasing God (1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 7:34-35). (Clerical World.)
Torment of little cares
One of the most cruel torments of the Inquisition was to place a poor victim beneath a tap, and let the cold water fall upon the head drop by drop. This was not felt at first, but at last the monotony of the water dropping always on one spot became almost unendurable; the agony was too great to be expressed. It is just so with little cares. When they keep constantly falling drop by drop upon one individual they tend to produce irritation, calculated to make life well-nigh insupportable. (Clerical Library.)
He that is unmarried … but he that is married.--
The cares of married life
I. Are unavoidable. Marriage involves not merely new anxieties and troubles, but new claims which may interfere with our duty to God.
II. May be moderated.
1. By considering the sinfulness of excessive care.
2. By a supreme aim to please God.
3. By pleasing the partner of our life for good to edification. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
This I speak for your own profit.--
Advice should be given
I. With a pure motive--for another’s profit.
II. In a Christian spirit--So as not to overrule conscience and bring a snare.
III. For a wise end--to secure what is honourable and subservient to piety. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Characteristics of Christianity
The apostle here specifies in dealing with one particular subject some of the grand features which commend the Christian life. The expansion of the text is not unwarrantable, for religion is--
I. True profit. “This I speak for your profit” might preface nearly every Biblical injunction; for godliness in its widest scope and minutest details is “profitable unto all things.” This fact appeals to the practical side of our nature, and should have some force in this utilitarian age.
II. Perfect freedom. The last thing Paul had in view was to cast a noose over the Corinthians, or to lay a restraint on them. The very key note of his teaching, as of the whole gospel, is “liberty.” This appeals to the volitional side of our nature, and should arrest the attention of an age one of whose loudest watchwords is “freedom”--of thought, trade, &c. Religion fetters us in nothing, but in that which would restrict our true liberty. Hence it is “a perfect law of liberty.”
III. Real beauty. “That which is comely.” Much which goes by the name is unreal because unsubstantial and fading. One of the synonyms of Christianity is “grace”--what is becoming the uncreated beauty of ‘God, and what becomes the creature made in His image. By the common consent of all who are entitled to judge, the most beautiful characters are those who are formed on the model of Him who is “the altogether lovely.” Religion thus appeals to the aesthetic side of nature, and should gain an hearing in an age which has witnessed a wonderful revival of art.
IV. Happy service. “That ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” To attend upon anything with- out distraction is a desideratum in this busy age. The lowest and simplest services bring their cares, and men and women are overwhelmed with them. Religion sanctifies these and would have us at home, and in the world, “without carefulness.” But in the highest and most difficult service--work for God, and for the eternal interests of man--here anxiety is often the acutest. Paul’s contention is that this should not, must not be. And when we consider the nature of the work, its issues, and its helps, we shall say with our Master “I delight to do Thy will, O My God.” Conclusion: What more can be added to commend religion? Seemingly two things. The great questions yet remain--Is it reasonable? Is it right? But these are answered already practically. A thing that is profitable, liberating, beautiful, useful and blessed cannot be irrational and wrong. (J. W. Burn.)
Power over his own will--
What is your conception of the best manhood? Clearly, there may be various conceptions of it, each with much to say for itself. One may think to discover it in the domain of mind, where the mellow and perfect culture of a vigorous understanding claims and wins homage. Another detects it in physical beauty and vigour, and in that delightful condition of body which makes it the obedient and ready organ of the spirit. Another, again, finds it in the moral nature of man. The best is the manliest. The purest, gentlest, kindest, truest, tenderest; he is the most worthy, and therefore the most admirable. But surely our text has the real key to the question. It is in the quality, and use, and dominance of the will that the test of manhood is to be discovered. It has been well said that every act is made up of a purpose, a method, and a power. But the purpose comes first. Also, what is true of an act is doubly true of a life. If the will is the mechanical force of the soul, before all things let it be strong. Only a strong will can make a strong man. If the will initiates action in purposing it, it must persevere in it for the accomplishing of the purpose; and, perhaps, even more needful than the volition that starts an act is the firmness that stays. What we all want in life is staying power. The beginning of the race is brisk, facile, and pleasant; but it needs more than high spirits and a vivid fancy to go on to the far end. See, oh, clearly see, that it is not from force of will, so much as from weakness of it, that the world breeds its miseries and its failures. Of course a strong will misdirected is bad. The apostle, you observe, is careful to add “his own will.” Perhaps in nothing is a real man’s individuality so marked as in his own will. Each man, as says Shelley, must “be himself alone,” and he is most specifically himself by his will. If it deserves the name, your will differs from mine, and every other man’s, in its surroundings, its flexibility, and original force; and we have to do the best with it that we can. For if you say, as well you may, is not will an inheritance by birth, God’s original gift, as much as brain, or animal strength, or those surroundings which make such a difference in our start--I say, in a degree, yes: but not so as to justify us in a base despair because our pound is but one, when our neighbour has five. Like memory, like reason, like the brain itself, which they say grows all through a man’s life with the steady work that does it honour, it is made stronger by regular, definite, and repeated use. Then there is the control of the will, which St. Paul describes as power over it, or as the Revised Version gives it, power touching it. To rule the will, we must first consecrate it, in surrendering it with the entire being which it both commands and energises at the footstool of the most high God. You remember of Him, who lived as no other man lived, and died as no other man died, what He said about His will--His human will--a will like yours and mine, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” To give our will back, up to Him who has bestowed it upon us, with its terrible honourable freedom, is at once our dignity and our blessedness. Our dignity, because thereby we recognise the Divine Fatherhood, and plead our own sonship, as the children of God. Our blessedness, for sometimes the noblest use of liberty is to surrender it: and what St. James calls the perfect law of liberty, is only learnt in the school of love. “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price. Wherefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” To rule it, again, implies that we use it. By using it I mean giving it a first place in the continuous activities of life; not only about plans, but about details; not only for what gets credit, but for what no one sees but God; not only for the problems of the thinker, but for the homely plodding tasks of the honest student, who wanting but his degree, sees Alps that he must climb before he can reach it, yes means to reach it. Not for any one department, or corner, or phase, or period of life, but for the whole. A strong man resolves, sometimes it must be admitted with precipitateness, and an incomplete knowledge of resources. Then he suffers, and perhaps others as well. But is it not far better in the end to suffer for over-much doing--a rare fault, and one which has a knack of taking its own cure with it--than to suffer for too little doing, which usually results, if not in a paralysis of our finer powers, certainly in a deterioration of them? and it is deterioration, so subtle, so easy, so rapid, so hidden, that we all of us, but especially those who are in the autumn of our years, have so much to dread. Power over the will also means the regulating it, in its impulses, prejudices and resolves. By impulse I mean its first ideas and stirrings, which if not watched and restrained will sometimes land us in inextricable disaster. Prejudice it must examine and allow for; neither ignore, nor too much dread. Every intelligent human being is constantly and inevitably storing up in his mind those final and essential and condensed results of his past, which tend, and ought to tend, to bias him in this direction rather than that; and which swaying conduct with an invisible but potent influence, a wise man will recognise and make allowance for, just as the navigator of an iron vessel is careful to have his compasses verified before he goes to sea; then goes, and feels safe. Intention, too, needs regulating, sometimes in the way not only of modifying it, but even of surrendering it, should altered circumstances make it expedient. Self-will has nothing strong about it, though it affects, and even caricatures, firmness. But what is the area of this will over which we are to claim and exercise power? First, it moves about faith; for if St. Paul be correct, both the will in God and the will in man have a concurrent share in what touches our salvation--salvation being a condition of the entire being, and not only one part of it; as much of the intellect which ponders and accepts truth, as of the conscience that feels after righteousness. Let us instantly admit that the will must not be suffered an undue preponderance in the dealings of the mind, with what we call revelation. Our first question is not what do I wish truth to be, but what truth is actually found to be; not what I hope can be proved, but what by the evidence suitable to the question is capable of proof. Keep your will set on truth; still seek it, desire it, wait for it, pray for it, more than for your necessary food. Do not despise it as if it was not worth waiting for; do not despair about it, as if it would never come. Then for culture is not the will required to keep men from dreaming, instead of thinking; to stir this one to study, that one to ambition? Surely will has its place here, with its function of selection, and its duty of application, with its aim in concentration, and with its reward in power. Once more, see what the will has to do with character. An apostle of culture, who describes Salvation as “a harmonious perfection only to be won by unreservedly cultivating many sides in us,” admits that “conduct, not culture, is three parts of human life.” If there is one rule more than another that I wish to leave in your minds it is the will for goodness. The one sentence that I impress on you about it is “to keep yourselves unspotted from the world.” Remember how all grossness and self-indulgence go to weaken the physical powers, and degrade your personal dignity, and wait for their implacable revenge, when the autumn of life arrives, and, almost worst of all, spoil that fine instinctive sense of goodness which is the reward of a soul that has never stained its whiteness, which goes, never quite to come back even after years of devotedness and sanctity: and so with all the power of your will, and with all the passion of your heart, and with all the conviction of your reason, and with all the weight of your conscience, say, when the tempter comes--I may not, I must not, I will not, I cannot, for am not I the child of God, the brother of Jesus Christ? Lastly, the will of the Father, the will of the Son, the will of the Holy Ghost are all for you. The will of the Father about you and your life in front will open out in the way of His providence as the years go on. Trust it. The will of His Son, Jesus Christ; is for you. From His place of glory He looks down and thinks of you all, some with fear, some with delight--all with unspeakable love. His will is to bless you. Is it your will to be blessed? And the will of the Holy Ghost is to give you strength, to sanctify you in body, soul, and spirit, and dignify and irradiate your studies with His divine presence, to stir your thirst for knowledge--all knowledge--but supremely that which manifests the face of God. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” And then this power over your own will shall mean in a perfect and joyous freedom the service of men and the fruition of God. (Bishop Thorold.)
1 Corinthians 7:39-40
She is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
I. Explain and justify the rule laid down in the text.
1. To be in the Lord is to be a believer in Christ, to be united to Him by a living faith, and to be interested by reason of that, in all the blessings of His great salvation. In short, believers in Christ should marry believers, and none other. Now, this law does not require--
(1) Perfect unanimity in religious sentiment. Creeds may differ, but hearts may be the same.
(2) That both should be members of the same religious society. This is, however, exceedingly desirable, for it is unseemly, indeed, when they who are together in all the most endearing intercourse of life, go as solitary individuals to the sanctuary.
(3) That both or either of the parties should be in full communion with any Christian Church. Now, I believe that a man who lives in the neglect of such communion lives in the violation of a positive command, and in the abandonment of a precious privilege, and, by so doing, subjects his Christianity to suspicion by the Church, and to animadversion from the world. Yet still, there are some who, notwithstanding this serious drawback, we are compelled to believe love the Saviour.
2. Having thus ascertained the rule, we proceed to justify it by an appeal--
(1) To the reasonings of Scripture (Joshua 23:11, &c.; Ezra 9:1-2; Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Now, if such a principle as this was thus established under a dispensation comparatively lax and dim, how much more reasonable and binding must it appear as a law of Christianity (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
(2) To history, observation, and experience. With all the excuses persons have made, and all the disinterested motives they have assigned for their conduct, did you ever know any good come of it? Scripture and the Church are big with examples of domestic misery and spiritual ruin, the result of these monstrous and unnatural connections. What became of the daughters of Lot, who preferred the sons of Sodom to the sons of God? Was there ever a greater monster, a more fearful prodigy of vice than Ahab? (see also Nehemiah 13:23-27).
3. To analogy. If you wished for a commercial partner, would you choose a man utterly averse to, or totally ignorant of, trade? Would you choose for the companion of a long journey a man whose disposition and principles were opposite to your own? Would you, as a man of taste and of education, prefer being shut up for weeks in a carriage with a fool or a clown?
4. To acknowledged obligation (1 Corinthians 6:20). And how is such a marriage to promote the glory of God?
5. To conscience--whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Now, is this of faith, the union of a believer with an infidel?--of a friend of Jesus with an enemy?
II. Consider and expose some of the most obvious temptations to its violation and the most common excuses for it.
1. Fortune. It is this which constitutes a good match.
2. Rank and station.
3. Parental advice.
4. An ill-directed but sincere attachment.
5. But some are ready to say, the object of my attachment has everything but real religion. Well, and wanting that, everything is wanting.
III. Some hints of caution and advice.
1. There may be marriages within the letter of the apostolic rule, which yet are neither lovely nor of good report. There may be piety in both parties, yet--
(1) Such discrepancies of age as to render the union odious.
(2) Such an evident impropriety in the connection as to render it a subject of grief to the Church, and animadversion to the world.
(3) Such indecorous haste in the formation of a new alliance, immediately after the dissolution of an old one, as to excite the grievest censure.
2. There may be marriages in which the law of Scripture is observed with regard to piety, but the dictates of prudence utterly disregarded. There may be marriages where there is neither strength of affection, suitableness of character, adaptation of temper, or similarity of views, sufficient to ensure permanent happiness and domestic harmony.
3. There may be cases in which it is difficult to apply the rule of Scripture, and to determine in what way to act. There may be a most distressing ambiguity about a character. It is impossible to tell how far the influence of circumstances, so peculiarly interesting, may give a more favourable appearance than actual principle would warrant: the mind perpetually alternates between hope and fear, and dares not to decide. In such a case it were well to wait and watch, and, after all, if there should be error, to err on the side of conscience and of safety. Finally, let the husband and wife, who neither of them fear God, think how terrible a thing it is to walk hand in hand to hell. Let the pious husband who has an unbelieving wife, or the pious wife who has an unbelieving husband, strive by all means, by meekness, gentleness, and affection, to win the unbelieving party to the truth (1 Corinthians 7:16). (T. Raffles, LL. D.)
I. This command must be explained.
1. In what respects it allows freedom. A believer may marry--
(1) A second time. This is the particular case here referred to.
(2) Under various circumstances of inequality. If he marry “in the Lord,” he “is at liberty to marry whom he will.” There may be inequality of mind, age, station in life. Marrying “in the Lord” is of such infinite importance that in comparison with it every other consideration is almost trivial. Yet it should be seriously considered that any great inequality, though not expressly forbidden, is yet very undesirable. The God of grace is also the God of nature--the God of order, too, and not of confusion. “All these things are lawful for me, but all these things are not expedient.”
2. In what respect it binds. “Only in the Lord.”
(1) Only to a Christian. For a believer to marry an unconverted person may be to marry in carnality, or in covetousness, or in pride, or in the world; but certainly not in the Lord. It is against the Lord; in opposition to one of His plainest commandments, and also to all reason and propriety. Such a junction (for union it cannot be) partakes of the monstrous. For the difference between a regenerate and an unregenerate person is next to infinite (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
(2) Only as a Christian--religiously and with the fear of God. They, there-fore, who anxiously desire to marry only in the Lord, will remember that “a prudent wife (or husband) cometh from Him”; they will, therefore, by prayer seek this good gift from the only Giver.
II. This command must be enforced. Obedience here--
1. Tends to the glory of God. God is glorified in this world by the visible holiness of His people. When professors marry persons “of the world,” for money, or connection, or personal attraction, how is the mouth of the ungodly opened, the Church scandalised, and the cause of Christ dishonoured!
2. Prevents many most deplorable evils. He who obeys this precept will be saved from the shame of inconsistency before the world, from the loss of the esteem of holy persons, and from the remorse of his own conscience. Even in those cases of mixed marriages where the professing partner is not drawn aside by the other into apostacy; usually, he suffers great spiritual loss, and loses all zeal in doing good. And should there be children, the mischief spreads.
3. Promotes the true interest and happiness of those who obey it. The advantages that attend the spiritual and holy union of two believing persons are inestimable. They walk together, for they are agreed. They are helpers of each other’s faith and joy, being made, through grace, the instruments of each other’s spiritual growth in fruitfulness and happiness. They have their sorrows; but these they lessen by dividing them, bearing each other’s burden. They have their faults; but these “they confess, the one to the other, and pray one for another, that they may be healed.” But among all the changing scenes of life, they have a look that penetrates “within the veil,” where their union will be perfected, and crowned with immortality. Hence they habitually walk, “as being heirs together of the grace of life.” If children are given to them, they cordially unite in the work of bringing them up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Exhortations:
1. To Christians who are yet free to obey this command. You see what the will of the Lord is. Regard with horror the thought of being united to an unconverted person.
2. To those who have already transgressed this command. If, by having married inconsistently, you have awakened in your partner’s mind the suspicion that your religion is all a delusion, now seek to dislodge that suspicion, and to implant in its stead the conviction that religion is a great reality.
3. To those who have married in accordance with this precept. “Happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment.
The widow’s happiness
I. Is conditional.
1. Upon her union with Christ.
2. Upon times and circumstances.
II. Consists in--
1. Freedom and care.
2. Holy service.
3. The assurance of the Divine protection and blessing.
III. Is confirmed by--
1. Apostolic judgment.
2. Enlightened by the Spirit of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And I think also that I have the Spirit of God.--
Degrees of apostolical authority
The apostle on this point does not arrogate more to himself than a view, an advice, the value of which every one can appraise at pleasure. It is evident how far he was removed from that exaltation which makes fanatics take all their ideas for revelations. Nevertheless, he certainly claims an inspiration, and traces it to the Divine Spirit. But we must beware of concluding that he did not claim, besides this, revelations of a wholly special kind. In other cases he is careful to affirm that his directions proceed “from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Corinthians 7:17). And if he thus expresses himself in connection with simple directions about public worship or Christian practice, how much more conscious was he of being the organ of a Divine revelation of a wholly personal kind when the matter in question was the very essence of “his gospel”! We are led, therefore, to distinguish three degrees of authority.
I. The Direct Commands Of The Lord, which He gave during His sojourn on earth, and which Paul merely quotes without discussing their grounds (1 Corinthians 7:10).
II. The apostolic commands of the apostle, which are imposed on Churches subject to his jurisdiction, and which he gives them as the organ of a higher illumination attached to his special mission. As to these he is careful to expound their reasons, being unwilling to ask his brethren to give a blind obedience (1 Corinthians 7:12-17; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:15).
III. The directions which he gives as a simple Christian, which he himself declares to be optional, and which he leaves to the judgment of every believer (1 Corinthians 7:25). In the text there is a vein of irony. “Now, I hope, however, even if my apostolic authority is disputed among you, that you will not deny to me the possession of the Divine Spirit, such as you recognise in all Christians, and specially in the numerous spiritual guides to whom you give your confidence.” (Prof. Godet.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29