1 Corinthians 7:1-40
Answers to the inquiries of the Corinthians respecting marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:1-11
The lawfulness of marriage, and its duties.
1 Corinthians 7:1
Now concerning. This refers to questions of the Corinthians. It is good for a man not to touch a woman. The word used is not agathon, good, but kalon, fair; "an excellent thing." In 1 Corinthians 7:26 he limits the word by the clause, "good for the present necessity." There is no limitation here, and it is probable that St. Paul is quoting the actual words of the letter which he had received from Corinth. There had sprung up among them some antinomians, who, perhaps by perverting his own teaching or that of Apollos, had made liberty a cloak of lasciviousness. In indignant reaction against such laxity, others, perhaps, with Essene proclivities, had been led to disparage matrimony as involving an inevitable stain. Gnosticism, and the spirit which led to it, oscillated between the two extremes of asceticism and uncleanness. Both extremes were grounded on the assertion that matter is inherently evil. Ascetic Gnostics, therefore, strove to destroy by severity every carnal impulse; antinomian Gnostics argued that the life of the spirit was so utterly independent of the flesh that what the flesh did was of no consequence. We find the germs of Gnostic heresy long before the name appeared. Theoretically, St. Paul inclines to the ascetic view, not in the abstract, but in view of the near advent of Christ, and of the cares, distractions, and even trials which marriage involved in days of struggle and persecution. Yet his wisdom is shown in the cautious moderation with which he expresses himself. The tone of the letter written by Gregory the Great to Augustine with reference to similar inquiries about Saxon converts is very different. The example of St. Paul should have shown the mediaeval moralists and even the later Fathers how wrong it is "to give themselves airs of certainty on points where certainty is not to be had." Not to touch a woman. St. Paul means generally "not to marry" (comp. Genesis 20:4 [LXX.]). Celibacy under the then existing conditions of the Christian world is, he admits, in itself an honourable and morally salutary thing, though, for the majority, marriage may be a positive duty. He is not dreaming of the nominal marriages of mediaeval ascetics, for he assumes and directs that all who marry should live in conjugal union.
1 Corinthians 7:2
Nevertheless. In this single word St. Paul practically refutes all the dangerous and unwarrantable inferences drawn by St. Jerome and others from the previous clause. St. Jerome argues: "If it is good for a man not to touch a woman, it must be bad to do so, and therefore celibacy is a holier state than marriage." He also says, "I suspect the goodness of a thing which the greatness of another evil enforces as a lesser evil." Such reasoning shows:
1. The danger of pressing words to the full extent of the logical inferences which may be deduced from them.
2. The errors which always arise from arguing upon isolated texts dissevered from their context, and from all consideration of the circumstances under which they were written.
3. The necessity of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit when he shows, by history and experience, the need for altering precepts with reference to altered conditions. There is in celibacy a moral beauty—it is kalon; there are cases in which it becomes a duty. But in most cases marriage, being no less a duty, as St. Paul proceeds to show, is even fairer and more excellent. Neither state, the wedded or the unwedded, is in itself more holy than the other. Each has its own honour and loveliness, and can only be judged of in connection with surrounding circumstances. Those who make St. Paul judge slightingly of marriage contradict his own express rules and statements (Ephesians 5:24, Ephesians 5:31, Ephesians 5:32; 1 Timothy 2:15), and make him speak the current heathen language of heathen epicures, who, to the great injury of morals, treated marriage as a disagreeable necessity, which was, if possible, to be avoided. If the "it is a good thing" of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1 were to be taken absolutely, it would have to be corrected
1. That the reason which he assigns is a true reason in itself, and with reference to the masses of mankind; for which reason it is adopted by our Church in her Marriage Service.
2. He is addressing those who were living in a corrupt and semi-heathen atmosphere.
3. He is not here speaking of the idealized and spiritual aspect of marriage, but only of large practical necessities. When he speaks of marriage as a high Christian mystery (as in 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33), he adopts a very different tone. Let every man have. A rule, not a mere permission. He here implies the truth that married love bears no analogy whatever to the vagae libidines of those who live like "natural brute beasts." In marriage the sensuous impulse, by being controlled and placed under religious sanctions is refined and purified from a degradation into a sacrament. Instead of being any longer the source of untold curses to mankind, it becomes the condition of their continuance and an element in their peace, because it is then placed under the blessing of God and of his Church.
1 Corinthians 7:3
Due benevolence. An euphemistic and needless modification by the copyists of the pure and simple expression of St. Paul, which, as shown by the best manuscripts, is "her due"—debitum tori. St. Paul is evidently entering on these subjects, not out of any love for them; but because all kinds of extreme views—immoral indifference and over scrupulous asceticism—had claimed dominance among the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 7:4
The wife hath not power, Marriage is not a capricious union, but a holy bond. "They two" become "one flesh."
1 Corinthians 7:5
Defraud ye not. St. Paul purposely leaves the expression general. Primarily he is thinking of "the due" or "the power" which each has over the other, as is shown by the next verse; but he does not confine the expression to this. Except it be; literally, unless by chance. The exception he regards as something possible, but not normal. For a time. By this and the next words he disparages, by anticipation, the celibate and separate married lives which, in a corrupt age, were so much and so unwisely admired in the ascetic saints of the Middle Ages. Temporary separation for special reasons had been recognized from the earliest times (Exodus 19:15; 1 Samuel 21:4). Ye may give yourselves; rather, ye may have leisure. The verb is in the aorist, which shows that the "leisure" contemplated was for brief periods, not during continuous years. It was altered to the present by the officious copyists, who believed in external and mechanical rules of holiness. To fasting and prayer. "Fasting" is an ascetic interpolation, not found in א, A, B, C, D, F. On this interpolation, and perhaps on the analogy of the rule given by Moses at Sinai (Exodus 19:15), rose the practice of married persons living apart at Lent (Stanley). Come together again. The prepossessions of ascetic scribes have again tampered with the text. The true reading is, "be together again" ( ῆτε), not "come together" ( συνέρχησθε). For your incontinency; rather, because of. Their past lives and their present temptations were a warning that they could not lay on themselves burdens which God did not require. They should not strive
"...to wind themsleves to high
For sinful man beneath the sky."
Violent, unnatural, self tormenting, repressions beyond what God demands, and adopted without reference to the strength or the circumstances of individual natures, only tend, as all ascetics have confessed, to increase rather than to diminish the force of sensual temptations.
1 Corinthians 7:6
I speak this. The "this" applies to his advice in general, but especially to the last verse. By permission. This phrase is generally misunderstood. It does not mean that St. Paul was permitted though not commanded to give this advice, but that his gentle advice was given "by way of permission" to Christians, not "by way of injunction." He means to say that he leaves the details of their lives, whether celibate or married, to their individual consciences, though with large hearted wisdom and charity he would emancipate them from human and unauthorized restrictions. The clause is not, therefore, a parallel to the restrictions on the authority of his utterances, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 7:12, 1 Corinthians 7:29, 1 Corinthians 7:40, and in 2 Corinthians 8:10; 2 Corinthians 11:17.
1 Corinthians 7:7
For I would. The verb here used is thelo (will). In 1 Timothy 5:14 he says, "I prefer (boulomai) that the younger women marry." Even as I myself; endowed, that is, with the gift of continence, which would (in the expected nearness of Christ's coming) render marriage needless, and the condition of man like that of the angels in heaven, who neither marry nor are given in marriage. His proper gift. The "gifts" alluded to are the "graces" (charismata) of the Holy Spirit; and the grace of perfect continence does not exist equally in all (Matthew 19:11). One after this manner, and another after that. The remark is general, but also has its special application to continence and marriage (Matthew 19:12).
1 Corinthians 7:8
To the unmarried; including widowers. In my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:75-82, I have given my reasons for believing that St. Paul was a widower. It is good for them. It is an expedient, honourable, and morally "beautiful thing," but, as he so distinctly points out further on, there might be a "better" even to the "good." Even as I. In the unmarried state, whether as one who had never married, or, as I infer from various circumstances, as a widower (so too Clemens of Alexandria, Grotius, Luther, Ewald, etc.); see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:169). Tertullian and Jerome (both of them biassed witnesses, and with no certain support of tradition) say that St. Paul was never married.
1 Corinthians 7:9
If they cannot contain; rather, if they have not continency. Let them marry. In 1 Timothy 5:14 he lays down and justifies the same rule with reference to young widows. It is better to marry than to burn. The original tenses give greater force and beauty to this obvious rule of Christian common sense and morality. The "marry" is in the aorist—"to marry once for all," and live in holy married union; the "burn" is in the present—"to be on fire with concupiscence." Marriage once for all is better than continuous lust; the former is permitted, the latter sinful.
1 Corinthians 7:10
And; rather, but. Unto the married; to Christians who have already married. I command. This is an injunction, not a mere permission as in 1 Corinthians 7:6. Not I, but the Lord. Because the rule had been laid down by Christ himself. Let not the wife depart. By divorce or otherwise. The wife is mentioned, perhaps, because the Christian wife, in the new sense of dignity and sacredness which Christianity had bestowed upon her, might be led to claim this spurious freedom; or perhaps the Christian women of Corinth had been more impressed than their husbands by the Essene notions of purity. The exception of divorce being permissible in case of fornication is assumed (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
1 Corinthians 7:11
If she depart. The reference throughout the verse is to separation due to incompatibility of temper, etc.; not to legal divorce.
1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Directions about mixed marriages.
1 Corinthians 7:12
To the rest. That is, to those who are married, but are heathen. They were the remaining class about whose duties the Corinthians had made inquiry. Not the Lord. The Lord had made no express reference to such eases, since it had been no part of his mission to lay down minute details which would be duly settled from age to age by the wisdom taught by the Holy Ghost. She be pleased to dwell with him. It is assumed that, if she did not please, the poor Christian convert would have no protection of his fights; pagan courts would regard conversion as a sufficient reason for breaking off marriages.
1 Corinthians 7:13
Let her not leave him. The verb is the same as in the clause rendered "let him not put her away."
1 Corinthians 7:14
Is sanctified; literally, has been sanctified, the status has been rendered (so to speak) theoretically clean. By the wife; literally, in the wife. The bond is still holy; its holiness rests in the believing wife or husband. The reasoning would remove any scruples which Jewish Christians might derive from Deuteronomy 7:3, etc. By the husband; rather, in the brother. The liberty implied by these remarks, contrasting so strongly with the rigid rules laid down in the days of Ezra (Ezra 9:1-15.; Nehemiah 9:1-38.) recall the change of dispensation. Unclean; i.e. not placed in immediate covenant relation to God. But now are they holy. This does not necessarily imply that they were baptized as infants, but only that they were hallowed as the fruit of a hallowed union. See the remarkable words of Malachi (Malachi 2:15). "If the root be holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16).
1 Corinthians 7:15
If the unbelieving depart. The sense of the word rendered "depart" is rather "wishes to be separated." Is not under bondage; literally, has not been enslaved. Our Lord assumes one cause alone—unfaithfulness—as adequate for the disruption of the marriage tie; but he was not contemplating, as St. Paul is, the case of mixed marriages. To peace; rather, in peace. Peace is to be the sphere in which the calling comes, and in which it issues. Milton, in his 'Tetrachordon,' quotes Maimonides to the effect that "divorce was permitted by Moses to preserve peace in marriage and quiet in the family." Similarly, a voluntary separation might be the only possible means of preserving moral peace where the union was between souls separated from each other by so vast a gulf as those of a pagan and a Christian.
1 Corinthians 7:16
For what knowest thou, O wife, etc.? The meaning is as follows:—You may, perhaps, plead that, by refusing to sever the union, the believing partner may convert the unbelieving; but that possibility is too distant and uncertain on which to act. St. Peter does indeed show that so blessed a result is possible; but he is only speaking of cases in which the unbelieving husband did not wish the union to be dissolved. The ancient misinterpretation of the passage (due to neglect of the context and of the argument as a whole) viewed it as an argument for mixed marriages, founded on the chance of thereby winning souls. Most misinterpretations of Scripture have done deadly harm; this one, however, has been overruled for good, and led, as Dean Stanley points out, to such happy marriages as that of Clotilde with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert of Kent.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
Corroborative instances of the duty of remaining in the state wherein each was called.
1 Corinthians 7:17
But; literally, if not. The phrase introduces a caution. The rule is that the circumstances of our lives are regulated by the providence of God, and must not be arbitrarily altered at our own caprice. Christ allotted his portion to each Christian, God hath called each man; that lot and that call are to guide his life. "Qua positus fueris in statione mane" (Ovid). Hath distributed; rather, apportioned. So ordain I in all Churches. He proceeds to give specific instances to which his rule applies.
1 Corinthians 7:18
Being circumcised. The first instance he gives is that of Judaism and paganism. The circumcised Jew is to remain circumcised; the uncircumcised Gentile is not to undergo circumcision. Become uncircumcised. The Hellenising Jews in the days of the priest Menelaus (l Macc 1 Corinthians 1:15; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12.5, 1) had discovered a process for obliterating the appearance of circumcision; such persons were known as masochim. St. Paul does not permit the adoption of this course. In the rebellion of Barcocheba many obliterated the sign of circumcision, and were afterwards, at great danger to themselves, recircumcised. ('Yevamoth,' tel. 72, 1). Let him not be circumcised. This rule was of much more practical significance than the other. The early fortunes of Christianity had been almost shipwrecked by the attempt of Jewish rigorists to enforce this odious bondage on the Gentiles, and their deliverance flora it had been due almost solely to St. Paul. It was his inspired insight which had swayed the decision of the synod at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-41.); and at a later period his Epistle to the Galatians was the manifesto of Gentile emancipation. He proved that after Christ's death "circumcision" (peritome) became to Gentiles a mere physical mutilation (katatome) (Philippians 3:2).
1 Corinthians 7:19
Circumcision is nothing. The Jews regarded it as everything; and to make this assertion at so early an epoch of Christian history, required all the courage of St. Paul, and proved his grand originality. He was the first to prove to the Jews that circumcision had become a thing intrinsically indifferent, which might, under some circumstances, be desirable (as in the ease of Timothy), but could never be reckoned among essentials. And uncircumcision is nothing. The same sentence occurs three times in St. Paul, summing up, as it were, the liberty which it had cost him endless peril and anguish to achieve. Each time he concludes it with a weighty clause to show what is everything: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Corinthians 7:19); "... but faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); "... but a new creation" (Galatians 6:15). But the keeping of the commandments. So St. John says, "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."
1 Corinthians 7:20
Let every man abide in the same calling, etc. In accordance with this general principle, which illustrates the distinction between Christianity and violent social revolutions, St. John the Baptist had not bidden publicans or soldiers to abandon their callings, but to do their duty in that state of life to which God had called them (Luke 3:12-14). The "calling" alluded to is not what is described as "a vocation," a calling in life, but the condition in which we are when we are called by God.
1 Corinthians 7:21
Being a servant. This is the second instance of the rule. One who was converted whilst he was a slave is not to strive over anxiously for freedom. The word "emancipation" sometimes seems (as in the letter to Philemon) to be "trembling on Paul's lips," but he never utters it, because to do so would have been to kindle social revolt, and lead to the total overthrow of Christianity at the very commencement of its career. Our Lord had taught the apostles to adapt means to ends; and the method of Christianity was to inculcate great principles, the acceptance of which involved, with all the certainty of a law, the ultimate regeneration of the world. Christianity came into the world as the dawn, not as the noon—a shining light, which brightened more and more unto the perfect day. Care not for it. Do not be troubled by the fact, because in Christ "there is neither bond nor free" (Galatians 3:28), and because earthly freedom is as nothing in comparison with the freedom which Christ gives (John 8:36). But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The words may mean,
1. By the strict interpretation of the Greek particles.
2. By the entire context, which turns on the rule that each man should stay in the earthly condition in which he first received God's call.
3. By the fact that even the Stoic moralists—like Epictetus, who was himself a slave—gave similar advice (Epict., 'Dissert.,' 3:26; 'Enchir.,' 1 Corinthians 10:32.)
4. By the indifference which St. Paul felt and expressed towards mere earthly conditions (Galatians 3:28), as things of no real significance (Colossians 3:22).
5. By his appeal to the nearness of the day of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
6. By the preponderance of high authorities—Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, etc.—in favour of this view
7. By its parallelism to the advice given to Christian slaves in 1 Timothy 6:2, where they are urged to serve Christian masters all the more zealously because they were brethren.
8. Lastly, all the apparent harshness of the advice is removed when we remember that St. Paul was probably thinking only of the Christian slaves of Christian masters, between whom the relation might be as happy as that of Philemon to the forgiven Onesimus.
1 Corinthians 7:22
Is the Lord's freeman; rather, freedman. Clearly the entire bearing of this verse favours the view which we have taken of the previous verse. Christ's servant. The sharp antithesis of this verse was often present to the mind of the early Christians. They knew that the bondage of Satan was so crushing that mere earthly bondage was, in comparison, as nothing; and that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, though it might seem to take the form of service, was the sole perfect freedom. The freedmen of sin are the most hopeless slaves; the servants of God alone are free (see Romans 6:22; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 2:16).
1 Corinthians 7:23
Ye are bought with a price; rather, ye were bought, namely, by Christ; and the price paid for you was his blood (see 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19). Be not ye; rather, become not. The servants of men. There is a grand play of words in the advice to them not to become slaves, at the very moment when he is advising them to continue in slavery. In that which the world called "slavery" the Christian slave might enjoy absolute liberty. The price which a master paid for them was but an unmeaning shadow; they had been bought once and eternally by an infinitely nobler price, and that purchase was the pledge of absolute emancipation.
1 Corinthians 7:24
Therein abide with God. The verse is a summary and reiteration of the advice contained in the whole paragraph. "With God;" literally, by the side of God; "as in God's sight;" "doing service as to the Lord;" "for conscience towards God." The words sum up the essence of all apostolic counsels to Christian slaves in Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Timothy 6:1, 1 Timothy 6:2; Titus 2:9, Titus 2:10; 1 Peter 2:18, 1 Peter 2:19, etc.
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Advice respecting the unmarried.
1 Corinthians 7:25
Now concerning virgins. This is doubtless another reference to questions contained in the letter from Corinth. No commandment of the Lord. Christ had never directly dealt with this subject. I give my judgment. The word "commandment'' is rendered in the Vulgate consillum, and the word "judgment" praeceptum; and thus, as Stanley points out, has originated the modern Romish distinction between "precepts" and "counsels of perfection," which, however, have clearly no connection with the real meaning of the passage. To be faithful. As a steward of his Word, which is the first essential of true ministry (1 Timothy 1:12). "Faith makes a true casuist" (Bengel).
1 Corinthians 7:26
I suppose. St. Paul only states this modestly, and somewhat hesitatingly, as his personal opinion. For the present distress; rather, on account of the pressing necessity; in the urgent and trying conditions which at the present moment surround the Christian's life, and which were the prophesied "woes of the Messiah" (Matthew 24:3, etc.). For a man; rather, for a person—whether man or woman. Be to be; that is, unmarried. The words are not improbably a quotation from the Corinthian letter. Otherwise we might explain the "so" to mean "as he is—whether married or unmarried."
1 Corinthians 7:27
Seek not a wife. It is entirely alien from St. Paul's purpose to take this as an abstract or universal rule. He gives his reasons for it as a temporary necessity.
1 Corinthians 7:28
But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. This advice merely touches on the question of expediency, not on questions of absolute right and wrong. Such. Those who marry. Trouble in the flesh. Their marriage will in these days necessarily involve much trouble and discomfort. Common experience shows that in days of "trouble and rebuke and blasphemy" the cares and anxieties of those who have to bear the burden of many besides themselves, and those dearer to them than their own selves, are far the most trying. Perhaps St. Paul was thinking of the "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days," of our Lord (Luke 21:23). But I spare you. I desire to spare you from adding to the inevitable distress which will fall upon you in "the great tribulation"—"the travail throes of the Messiah," which we all expect.
1 Corinthians 7:29
But this I say. I will not dwell on those coming trials, but will only remind you that they are imminent, and that when they come all earthly distinctions will vanish into insignifiance. The time is short; literally, the season has been contracted; in other words, "The end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7). The word sunestalmenos cannot mean "disastrous." The verb is used for "folding up" in Acts 5:6; "Tempus in collecto est" (Tertullian). It remaineth, that. The reading and punctuation are here uncertain. The best reading seems to be "The time has been shortened henceforth, in order that," etc. The very object of the hastened end is that Christians should sit loose to earthly interests. As though they had none. They would thus be nearer to the condition of the "angels in heaven."
1 Corinthians 7:30
They that weep, etc. Earthly sorrow and joy and wealth are things which are merely transient and unreal when compared with the awful, eternal, permanent realities which we shall all soon have to face.
1 Corinthians 7:31
As not abusing it; rather, as not using it to the full—not draining dry the cup of earthly advantages. Like Gideon's true heroes, we must not fling ourselves down to drink greedily of the river of earthly gifts, but drink them sparingly, and as it were with the palm of the hand. The fashion of this world passeth away. So St. John says, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof" (1 John 1:1-10 :18). It is but as the shifting scene of a theatre, or as a melting vapour (James 4:14).
1 Corinthians 7:32
But I would have you without carefulness. In these words he reverts to 1 Corinthians 7:28, after the digression about the transiency of earthly relations. If they were "overcharged... with cares of this life," the day of the Lord might easily "come upon them unawares" (Luke 21:34).
1 Corinthians 7:33
Careth for the things that are of the world. St. Paul's language must not be extravagantly pressed. It only applies absolutely to times in which the conditions are the same as they then were. The "anxious cares" which marriage involves may be more innocent and less distracting than those which attack the celibate condition; and when that is the case, marriage, on St. Paul's own principle, becomes a duty. Thus some of the best and greatest of our missionaries have found their usefulness as God's messengers vastly increased by marriage, in spite of the awful trials which marriage often involves. The apostles and brethren of the Lord felt the same. St. Paul's opinions here are, as he tells us, opinions only, and admit of many modifications. Advice given to men and women when Christians believed that the Lord was coming, perhaps in that very age, to judge the world, is not universally applicable to all ages. In St. Paul's later Epistles he does not revert to this advice, but assumes that marriage is the normal condition.
1 Corinthians 7:34
There is difference also, etc. The reading, punctuation, and exact sense are surrounded with uncertainty, which does not, however, affect the general meaning. This is probably given correctly in our English Version. He implies that the married woman must of necessity be more of a Martha than a Mary. Nevertheless, two things are certain:
It is probable that most, if not all, of the apostles were married men (1 Corinthians 9:5). The spirit of St. Paul's advice—the avoidance of distraction, and the determination that our duty to God shall not be impaired by earthly relationships—remains eternally significant. Another common way of punctuating the words is, "The married man cares.., how he may please his wife, and is divided [in interests]."
1 Corinthians 7:35
For your own profit. My advice turns simply on questions of expedience. Not that I may cast a snare upon you. He does not wish to "fling a noose" over them to win them over to his own private views, and entangle them in rules which they might not be able to bear. That which is comely. Seemliness; "the beauty of holiness" (Romans 13:13). Without distraction. The phrases used in this clause make it probable that St. Paul had heard how Martha was "anxious" and distracted ( περιεσπᾶτο) about much serving, while Mary sat at Jesus' feet (Luke 10:39-41).
1 Corinthians 7:36
Uncomely. If any father thinks, by keeping his virgin daughter unmarried, he is acting in a way which may cause sin or scandal, then let him permit her to marry her suitor. The word "uncomeliness" is terribly illustrated in Romans 1:27. (For "comely," see 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 12:24.) His virgin. Obviously a daughter or ward. Pass the flower of her age. If she be more than twenty years old, which the ancients regarded as the acme of the woman's life. And need so require. If there be some moral obligation or necessity in the case. Let them marry. The "them" means the virgin and her unmarried lover.
1 Corinthians 7:37
Steadfast. The general meaning of the verse is that the father, who, from high motives, remained unshaken in the resolve to dedicate his daughter (as Philip did) to the virgin life, doeth well, though neither Jews nor pagans thought so. Having no necessity. Because the maiden did not wish to marry or was not sought in marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:38
Doeth well. Because" marriage is honourable in all." Doeth better. Obviously not morally, because, if one course be morally better than another, we are bound to take it; but "better" with reference to expediency in "the urgent necessity" which rested on the Christian world in that day. It is quite clear that, if these words are meant to disparage matrimony in comparison with celibacy, or to treat celibacy in the abstract as a holier state that marriage, they have been set aside by the universal practice and theory of the Christian world. But, as we have seen, they are expressed by St. Paul only as a relative and diffident opinion. It is remarkable that not one word is said as to the choice of the virgin herself in the matter, which is one of the most essential points on which the decision must turn. St. Paul, no doubt, assumes the acquiescence or preference of the maiden as one of the elements in the absence of any "need" for her marriage; but also he writes after lifelong familiarity with the all but absolute control exercised by Jewish parents over their youthful daughters.
1 Corinthians 7:39
Only in the Lord. The second marriage of the Christian widow must be a holy and a Christian marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14).
1 Corinthians 7:40
Happier. Freer from cares, distractions, and entanglements. If she so abide. If she remain a widow. I think also that I have the Spirit of God; rather, I think that I also, as well as the other teachers who have claimed spiritual authority for the rules they have given you about these subjects. The claim to authoritative decision is obviously less emphatic than it is in 1 Corinthians 14:37; still, it is an expression of personal conviction that he has the Spirit, not an implied doubt of the fact.
1 Corinthians 7:1-14, 1 Corinthians 7:25-28, 1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Paul's conception of marriage.
"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me," etc. All that Paul here says of marriage is in answer to some communication which the Church had addressed to him On the subject, and what he says he declares is not "of commandment," that is, not by Divine authority, but by "permission." All Scripture is therefore not inspired, even all the counsels of St. Paul do not seem to have been so. So desirous did he seem to be that all he says on this subject should be regarded as coming from himself without any inspiration of God, that he declares it not only in the sixth verse, but also in the twenty-fifth verse, in which he says, "I have no commandment of the Lord." My purpose now is to gather up from all these verses Paul's personal ideas of marriage. His idea seems to be—
I. That marriage is not a DUTY BINDING ON MANKIND. It is not a moral obligation, like "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. He says, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Corinthians 7:1); again. "I would that all men were even as I myself" (1 Corinthians 7:7); and again, "It is good for them if they abide even as I" (1 Corinthians 7:8). In referring to the widow, he says, "She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 7:40). So Paul seems to teach that the question of marriage is optional, not obligatory. Some may feel that celibacy is best for them, then let them remain single; others think that marriage is the most desirable state, then let them enter into that relationship. Now, it does strike one as something marvellous that this condition of life on which the very continuation of the human race depends should remain thus open and optional. Suppose that today every individual of the human race determined not to enter into this relationship, and to have no intercourse with the opposite sex, sixty years hence, at most, the race would be extinct; no man, woman, or child would be found on the earth. The earth would be as it once was, without a man, a school without a student, a theatre without a spectator, a temple without a worshipper. The answer to the question which some may give is this, that there is no reason for a written command on this subject—it is a law of nature. God does not command us to eat and drink, because it is not necessary—the law of our nature urges us to it. For the same reason he does not command us to marry. However, so it is, and it is a wonderful thought that upon the volition of this generation on this question, depends the continuation or noncontinuation of the race.
II. That marriage is PRIMARILY FOR SPIRITUAL ENDS. "The unbelieving husband is sanctified," etc. (1 Corinthians 7:14). The view given of the end of marriage in the Marriage Service, viz. the "procreation of children," is evidently not the idea that Paul had, and it is a somewhat degrading one. Paul's idea throughout seems to be that the grand purpose of marriage is mutual spiritual influence, correcting faults, removing unbelief, establishing faith, serving the Lord. Those who enter on this relationship from fleshly impulses and with fleshly ends misunderstand the ordinance and are never truly married. There is not only no union of soul, but an inner division. True marriage means such a mutual spiritual affection as welds two souls into one moral personality.
III. That marriage INVOLVES MUTUAL OBLIGATIONS THE MOST SACRED,
1. Mutual benevolence. "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife to the husband." Benevolence, a hearty well wishing, each wishing the well being of the other. The New Version drops the word "benevolence."
2. Mutual identification. "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." The both are one. The equal rights of wife and husband are everywhere recognized in the Bible.
3. Mutual honesty. "Defraud ye not one the other." Deception is inimical to the true union of souls. Nothing cuts united hearts asunder so easily and effectively as artfulness and deception.
4. Mutual forbearance. "if any brother have a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwelt with her, let her not leave him" (1 Corinthians 7:12, 1 Corinthians 7:13). Should difference of opinion on religious subjects crop up, should the faith of one or the other in religious matters be shaken or wane, forbear, do not separate on that account, for the right may correct the wrong, the believing correct the unbelieving.
5. Mutual concession of personal freedom. "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace" (1 Corinthians 7:15). If the wife feels it in her conscience to be a duty to leave her husband, he should not coerce her, nor should she employ compulsion, should he feel it his duty to withdraw.
CONCLUSION. Such are roughly and briefly some of Paul's personal opinions on the question of marriage. They seem to be on the whole wise and just. We have made marriage a civil contract, and we bind two persons together for life who never possessed those mutual affinities which are the essence of marriage. The essence of marriage is this—the strongest mutual sympathies and aims that one being can have for another; the bond of marriage is the solemn mutual pledge. Those who are thus married are united by a cord stronger than adamant, finer than the finest web, too weak to fetter, yet too strong to break.
1 Corinthians 7:15-24
Abide in Christliness, whatever the condition in life.
"But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart," etc. As St. Paul seems desirous that most of his utterances in this chapter should not be regarded as the language of inspiration, but rather that of his own private judgment (for twice he gives the assurance), we may be justified in criticizing his opinions. His opinions here refer to three conditions in man's existence on earth: matrimonial life, ecclesiastical connection, and domestic slavery; and concerning each of these, he says, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," Now, if by "calling" here he means that condition of life in which we find ourselves, irrespective of our choice, or into which we have entered by depraved choice, I can scarcely think that his principle here can be accepted. Apply it for example to—
I. MATRIMONIAL LIFE. If two persons have entered into this, of all relationships the most solemn, whose temperaments, beliefs, tendencies, tastes, and habits are soon found to be so antipathetic as to produce nothing but constant quarrellings and mutual miseries, are they to "abide" in that state? If Paul means this, we cannot accept his counsel, for such unions are not marriages at all. But he does not mean that, for in the fifteenth and other verses of this chapter he seems to authorize a separation. "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." Chain two vessels together on the ocean, allowing them to be some yards or even feet apart, and in the storm they will soon tear themselves to pieces and go down into the depths. But if you so rivet them together that the twain will be one, they will be mutual helps, and they will stand the tempest. So in marriage. Unless the two souls are so tightly riveted or clasped together by the strongest mutual affection, it is better to separate. If they are only joined by a chain forged by civil or ecclesiastical law, the speedier that chain is snapped asunder the better for both. Philanthropy is justified in promoting the divorce of such, and in this age methinks, it will find plenty of this merciful work to do.
II. ECCLESIASTICAL CONNECTION. "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised." Does Paul mean by this—If you find yourself in an ecclesiastical system which has worthless or pernicious rites and ceremonies, abide in it, make no effort to abolish the unspiritual institutions? If you are in a Church which exalts ceremonies and creeds, works for money and by money, and thus misrepresents the sublime genius of the gospel, continue where you are? If he does, we cannot accept his advice. But he does not mean this, for it is opposed, not only to his own teaching, but to his own religious life.
III. DOMESTIC SLAVERY. "Art thou called being a servant [slave]?" Does Paul mean—If you find yourself the legal property of another, and treated by your master as mere goods and chattels, make no effort to break your bonds and to win your freedom? If he meant this, we repudiate his doctrine; it strikes against those aspirations for liberty, which are as deep as the human soul and as wide as humanity. But he does not mean this, as the history of his life and the genius of his teaching show. What, then, does he mean? The principle, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," he here lays down in connection with these three things—matrimonial life, ecclesiastical connection, and. domestic slavery. And if he means by "calling," condition of life, it cannot apply to either. But by "calling" Paul does not mean this. "'Calling' here must not be regarded in the modern sense of profession or condition of life; it is nowhere so used in the New Testament, but always signifies God calling to us (see Romans 11:29; Ephesians 1:18). Continue to be Christians of the kind which God's call to Christianity made you. If you were circumcised, and so God's call into the Christian Church made you a circumcised Christian, continue so; don't do anything which would seem to imply, that some other change in addition to your call was necessary to complete your admission to the Church." Understanding the "calling" here, as I do, to be personal religion, or Christliness, which is elsewhere called the "heavenly calling," Paul's advice to abide in that state, in whatever relationship or condition we are found, is intelligible and right. In relation to matrimony, it will then mean this—Though you feel your conjugal relation to be such a bondage and misery that you break away from it, sever your connection with your partner, don't fail to "abide in your calling" or in your religion. Whatever your domestic grievances and storms and separations, hold fast to your religion. Though you lose your wife or your husband, hold fast your religion, your "calling." In relation to ecclesiastical connections, it will mean this—Whether you are "circumcised" or uncircumcised, whether you continue in your old Church connections or break away from them, "abide in your calling," your religion; that is something that is independent of all ecclesiastical institutions and ceremonies, can live with or without them. In relation to domestic slavery, it will mean this—Whether you are satisfied with your bondage, and settle down in it, or struggle to break your fetters and rise into full freedom, "abide in your calling," your religion. Personal Christianity may exist in all conditions of life; it is independent of family relations, independent of ecclesiastical institutions, independent of social distinctions, whether slave or master, rich or poor, and where it exists it should be retained amidst all changes and at all costs. "Abide in your calling."
1 Corinthians 7:22-24
Personal Christianity for the bond and the free.
"For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." Although the remarks in our previous sketch include these three verses, there is sufficient meaning in them to justify, if not to require, a separate notice. Understanding, as before intimated, the expression, "called in the Lord," and again, "abide with God," to mean personal Christianity, the verses include three general truths.
I. That personal Christianity may be possessed BY THOSE IS SLAVERY AS WELL AS BY THOSE IS FREEDOM. "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant [a slave], is the Lord's freeman." Slavery under the Greek and Roman governments was an established institution. In Corinth slaves abounded. Many of these had been converted by the gospel, and 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 on the subject of their enfranchisement, but rather to be anxious to "abide" in their "calling," their religion. Christianity is for man as man, not for him as rich or poor, erudite or rude, bond or free, but for him as a man; 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—free to think, to resolve, to worship, and it is with the soul that Christianity has to do. Hence religion in slavery is not an uncommon fact. Slaves were members of many of the first Churches, and religion reigned amongst a large number of those who were held in bondage in the Southern States of America.
II. That the possession of personal Christianity, whether by the bond or the free, INVESTS MAN WITH THE HIGHEST LIBERTY. He is the "Lord's freeman," whoever he is; the Lord has emancipated his soul, however firmly manacled his bodily limbs. All the inner chains that bound his soul, to mere earthly influence, fleshly pleasures, and sinful pursuits, are snapped asunder, and he revels in the liberty wherewith "Christ makes his people free." What freedom like this freedom from the dominion and consequences of moral wrong? This is the "glorious liberty of the children of God."
"He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves besides."
III. That the possession of the highest liberty LESSENS NO MAN'S MIGHTY OBLIGATION TO SERVE CHRIST. "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." All creatures are the property of the Creator. 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. "Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." This being the case, however free and independent of men, you must ever be the servant of Christ; serve him heartily, faithfully, loyally, and forever. His service is perfect freedom, his service is heaven.
CONCLUSION. See how Christianity is to work out necessary reformations for the world, not by force but by influence, not from without but from within, by working from the centre to the circumference. "There are," says F. W. Robertson, "two mistakes which are often made upon this subject: one is the error of supposing that outward institutions are unnecessary for the formation Of character, and the other that of supposing that they are all that is required to form the human soul. If we rightly understand the duty of a Christian man, it is this—to make his brethren free inwardly and outwardly: first inwardly, so that they may become masters of themselves, rulers of their passions, having the power of self rule and self control; and then outwardly, so that there may be every power and opportunity of developing the inward life; in the language of the prophet, "to break the rod of oppression, and let the oppressed go free."
"Who are the free?
They who have scorn'd the tyrant and his rod,
And bow'd in worship unto none but God;
They who have made the conqueror's glory dim,
Unchain'd in soul though manacled in limb,
Unwarp'd by prejudice, unawed by wrong,
Friends to the weak, and fearless of the strong;
They who could change not with the changing hour,
The self same man in peril and in power;
True to the law of right, as warmly prone
To grant another's as maintain their own;
Foes of oppression wheresoe'er it be;
These are the proudly free."
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
1 Corinthians 7:1-11
Views concerning marriage: the institution in itself and in relation to circumstances, obligations, and duties.
We have seen what a meeting place Corinth was for the schools of philosophy and Judaism—a sort of metropolitan Coliseum, in which the gladiators of intellect were in unceasing combat. Neither Rome, nor Athens, nor Jerusalem, afforded such a field of contention as this proud and sensual city, where worldly culture and elegance existed side by side with commercial wealth and luxury. Now, we know what occurs when the waters of the Gulf Stream, bearing northward its immense store of heat from the Gulf of Mexico, come in contact off Newfoundland with the Polar currents, and what a vast bank of fog rises from the condensation of warm vapour in a cold atmosphere. This may symbolize what was going on in Corinth at this time. A century before, the world had been agitated by the ideas and schemes of Julius Caesar, the foremost man of his age, and quite as great a revolutionizer of men's ways of thinking as of political institutions. Imperialism was now in the ascendancy, and the nations were ostensibly a nation—a colossal Rome. But the quickening of thought remained, and this inured to the advantage of Christianity. There was not only external tranquillity, but the precise kind of tranquillity which St. Paul needed; and, though local disturbances often arose and at times violent commotions, yet the Roman law was his best earthly friend. At Corinth he had taught and preached and founded a Church. For three years he had been absent, and, meantime, what collisions had set in, and, amidst the surging to and fro of opinions and prejudices and enmities, what disorders had been tolerated! Over everything and everywhere was felt the chilly mist, a twilight to some, a midnight to others, a bewildering gloom to all. This, however, was providential. Teachers must remand pupils to themselves. Such a new and singular force as St. Paul was in the world—such pre-eminently as he had shown himself in Corinth by his opposition to the views of Greeks and Jews, and by his uncompromising zeal in behalf of the distinctive tenets of the gospel—must be suffered to do its work independently of his presence and immediate oversight. And we now see in this chapter, more fully than before, what conflicts of intellect and passion were in progress, what strange alienations had transpired, and how far gone many of his disciples were from the path in which he had expected their feet to tread. Had anything escaped this billowy sweep of strife? It was even dashing against the institution of marriage, which men had agreed to honour as the most important and the most venerable of earthly interests. Incest had been tolerated in the Church, and St. Paul had found it necessary to argue on the highest religious ground against the sensual evils of fornication. Of late we have heard much concerning a scientific basis of morality. If, however, we follow St. Paul, who never contradicts history, we see that even enlightened instincts cannot be trusted when withdrawn from the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit. Men may theorize as they please. One thing, nevertheless, is certain, and that one thing is, that whenever practical men deal with social questions, they accept St. Paul as the thinker of humanity. Even instincts need God to control them. Proceeding to discuss the questions submitted to him by the Corinthians, he begins this chapter by considering marriage in that aspect which was under debate just then at Corinth. Marriage in the abstract is only in view so far as recurrence is necessary, in the conduct of the argument, to the fundamental principles inseparable from the relation. He treats it, in view of existing circumstances, as a matter to be decided by expediency, each one judging what is best. Whether the unmarried shall be married or not must be determined by themselves in the light of their personal organization, and by the indications of Providence and the Spirit. Freedom within the bounds of law is freedom to deny the use of lawful rights and privileges—so St. Paul had just argued—and marriage comes under this provision. But here as everywhere, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," and so reverential is he in his attitude towards humanity, that in the application of expediency to marriage, he will go no further than offer advice. Under the circumstances, it was the only proper course for him to adopt. No sympathy could he feel with the reaction against marriage in itself, which had set in more than a century before among the Romans, and, while an effect, was also a cause of the widespread demoralization of the age. Doubtless the cares of a family in that troubled period, and the supposed nearness of Christ's advent, had their influence on his mind, and yet he is well aware that, in the lowest view of marriage, it was a protection against vice. Too well he knew the evils which were cursing society because of the popular freethinking on this subject. For five hundred and twenty years not a divorce had been known in Rome, but we may form some idea of the effect of class wealth and debauching leisure if we recall the facts that in the last days of the republic, Cato of Utica, a religious fanatic in his way, had separated from his wife because a friend wished to marry her and, after his friend's death, had made her his wife again. "On the whole," says Mr. Lecky, "it is probable that the Roman matron was from the earliest period a name of honour; that the beautiful sentence of a jurisconsult of the empire, who defined marriage as a lifelong fellowship of all Divine and human rights, expressed most faithfully the feelings of the people; and that female virtue shone in every age conspicuously in Roman biographies." But a deplorable change had set in, such a change that Augustus had found it necessary to take measures for the encouragement of marriage. Nowhere was this corruption more rife than in Corinth, that only repeated on a larger scale the social enormities daily witnessed at Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. Now, in this state of free thinking, with its attendant wickedness, St. Paul's duty was not without embarrassment. Towards the evil itself and its utter grossness his course was plain enough. On the other hand, there were questions of casuistry to be considered. Marriage as a safeguard of virtue, marriage as a union of hearts, marriage as the highest type of human oneness, marriage in its spiritual import—all involved in it as a Divine institution and as the basis, vitality, security, of all other institutions—this was realized then and always in his apostleship. But there were pure and honest minded persons among his Corinthian converts, who were troubled by doubts and misgivings, and to whom duty was by no means clear. The instincts of nature had something to say, end their voice was entitled to a hearing. And, at the same time, prudence and conscience were not to be dogmatically silenced. St. Paul saw what to do, and he did it. He was profoundly sensitive to principles, he was thoroughly sympathetic with persons, and his judgment was the product of a wise consideration of gospel truth and of the facts at Corinth with which he was dealing. There is an ideal view to which he refers in the opening verse of this chapter, but the practical view in contrast with it is that, in order to be guarded against temptation and escape falling into the worst of social sins, "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." For, as Neander says, "we must not overlook the fact that Paul is here, not treating of marriage in general, but only in its relation to the condition of things at Corinth, where he feared the effect of moral prejudices concerning celibacy." Nor does he hesitate to say, "I would that all men were even as myself," and yet he qualifies this by stating that "every man hath his proper gift of God," a gift of grace, "one after this manner, and another after that;" so that, whether married or single, the "gift of God" must be recognized, since, as Bengel remarks, "that which in the natural man is a natural habit, becomes in the saints a gift of grace."—L.
1 Corinthians 7:12-28
"To the rest," those cases in which one party was a believer and the other not, "speak I, not the Lord." Yet, while St. Paul does not claim to expound and apply a formal law, he must not be considered as abnegating for the time his apostolic office and giving an opinion simply personal. The decision pronounced here is a very weighty one, and obviously it is an utterance of God's will. "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, what shall he do? That depends on the wife herself. The initiative step is not with the husband: "If she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away." So of the wife with respect to her husband. Obviously, then, personal will is contemplated, and the difference between marriage where both parties are Christians, and marriage where only one party is a Christian, lies in the fact that, in the latter instance, the continuance of the relationship is contingent on the adaptiveness of the parties each to the other and their ready disposition to be a mutual source of happiness. The will of the Lord is that they keep together, and they should endeavour to fulfil this will, but if controversies exist and the true ends of marriage are not only not met, but cannot be met, then at the option of the wife, the husband may put her away. The converse holds good, so that in the case of either party, individual will may interpose a bar to the continued union. "God hath called us to peace." In such a solemn act, no wilfulness, no passion, no worldly and selfish motives, must have place. "Peace," and "peace" only, can warrant the step. And in connection with "peace" he presents two views, one antecedent, the other subsequent, to the statement, that "a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." A Christian husband or wife sanctifies the marriage tie, and accordingly it was pleasing to God that the relationship should be perpetuated. "I am not the rose," says a Persian proverb, "but I live with the rose, and am therefore sweet" What grace comes to us through the tender associations of life, much of it unconscious, silent and secret, asking no leave, provoking no resistance, floating into us on the air and mingling with our blood, sweetening and purifying we know not how, and all the more precious because our agency is for a while quietly set aside, and the Spirit of the blessed Jesus asserts his Divine supremacy! "Children" too! The declaration is strong and unequivocal: "They are holy" Age was before the Fall; childhood came after; and childhood had net been possible but for the promise of the "Seed of the woman" antedating her other offspring. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven. Baptism does not create this holiness, but acknowledges its existence, and testifies, on the part of God and on behalf of the Church, that "your children" are in Christ and therefore "holy." What a motive this, that the marriage relation in these "mixed marriages" should be maintained! What an appeal to instinct, to memory and hope, to all the truest and noblest sentiments which are the strength and stay of home! All the grandest influences of Christianity come from the heart of Christ to our hearts; and whenever intellect is perplexed and doubts arise and logic confesses its weakness, we fall back on the great, sure, primal instincts of the heart, and work thence and upward into light and assurance. "Your heart shall live forever," and because it shall "live forever," it lives now amidst intellectual conflicts and bewildering questions with an inherent testimony to Christ and his truth such as could only spring from the immovable consciousness of its mortal birthright. Turn now to the subsequent statement contained in the sixteenth verse. Hatred and contentions may arise; if incurable, "peace" must be had by separation. But St. Paul is exceedingly anxious to prevent a severance of the marriage tie, and hence appeals to the believing husband or wife to continue in the holy relationship in view of the possible salvation of the unbelieving partner. By some learned men this interpretation is contested. According to their view, St. Paul meant to express uncertainty, to throw doubt on the sacred utility of the marriage union with regard to its prospective bearing on the salvation of the unbelieving party, and virtually to advise the believer to look after his or her own spiritual interest. This is not like St. Paul. It is not in accord with his generous solicitude to impress upon the parties the sanctity of their union. It is at variance with the declaration that Christianity recognizes the sanctification of the unbelieving party by the believing. It conflicts with his statement concerning the "holy" children, or at least abates much of its force as a reason why the marriage should not he disrupted. Congruity must be maintained, and congruity in this instance—so it seems to us—demands that this verse, "What knowest thou," etc., should be construed in close sympathy with the context. A break here would not only be at the expense of the general argument, but a violation of unity at its most essential point, viz. as a nexus between what precedes and what follows. Understand what the time was. Outwardly the sceptre of Rome ruled, tranquillity was maintained, and the disturbances which came on some years later scarcely gave a threatening sign of their approach. But, notwithstanding this condition of things, the foundations of society were undermined, and the instincts of men, though unable to foresee the changes that were to occur, were conscious of impending revolutions. Unrest was common, and unrest never appears alone. A host of apprehensions, an undefinable dread, a disposition to exaggerate dangers, never fail to attend it. St. Paul's disciples could not escape this atmospheric feverishness, and consequently one of his solicitudes was to keep them contented with their allotments in life. If Christianity proposed to regenerate human society, one of the conditions on which this vast result rested was: "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called" to be a Christian. Whether circumcised or uncircumcised, let him remain satisfied. Was he a servant? "Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather." Providence that had the past on its side was the best providence for them. "Therein abide with God," Was not this contentment one of the elements of that sanctification in marriage, and one of the means of holiness in children, and again one of the agencies for the furtherance of the Spirit's work in the unbelieving husband or wife? To this one point all the lines of his thought converge, viz. let peace be your object, and, in order to attain it, be contented with your position. Beyond question, St. Paul ardently desired to see certain of these positions changed, but he would not have his disciples to be agitators and revolutionizers. Is this a plea for blind conservatism, for an Oriental lethargy, for an unaspiring and unhoping slavishness to things as they were? Does the argument forestall progress? Nay, at that very moment a mighty revolution was going on in society. Christianity guarded all rights and interests; Christianity protected the marriage institution; Christianity, in due time, would make the slave a freedman. But "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," and Christianity must be left to do its work according to God's method.—L.
1 Corinthians 7:29-40
Apostolic counsels for the times, and general principles applied now as before.
Some minds are so organized as to be peculiarly open to those impressions which the local and circumstantial produce on thought and feeling. If these become excessive, they are almost sure to trench on principles. Such persons are devotees of sectionality; their prudence is shrewd, but not sagacious; intelligence is narrowed down to time, place, and immediate results; and expediency is with them "the previous question." St. Paul was not one of these men. Other minds, fond of abstractions and habituated to cloistered thinking, lose the helps of the senses and especially that very important culture, derived from contact with the open world, which teaches us to adjust principles to measures and measures to occasions. Expediency is seldom in their view. St. Paul was not one of these men. A marked fact about his conversion to Christianity was that he ceased to be an intellectual extremist; not only his opinions and convictions were radically changed, but likewise his method of looking at all things. We see in this chapter a man who adheres firmly to his ideal of the Christian Church, and, at the same time, a man who is thoroughly sensible of the uses of expediency. With him, nothing that Christ had settled could be unsettled. Nothing wrong could be expedient, and, in every case, expediency was to render homage to fundamental principles, so that the Spirit of Christ should manifest its purity and beauty. Such an expediency is always morally safe, because it rests, not on self gratification, but on self denial. This is the temper of his argument in the paragraph now under notice. "No commandment of the Lord;" and yet "my judgment" as an apostle is entitled to respect and confidence; the truth none the less a truth, and worthy of this consideration because the utterance of one who had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." That great transparency was not then glowing as in special hours with the resplendency behind it; but the same Divine illumination was there, and every line, touched by the almighty hand, faithfully represented the original. "Mercy to be faithful;" fidelity to truth just as much in advice and counsel as in direct and authoritative command; ay, this is "mercy" indeed, since it shows the dignity of spiritual intellect, and what importance men should attach to its daily offices in life. "The time is shortened:" here is his starting point; and this abridged time is applied instantly to a certain state of mind, which St. Paul would have his converts to cultivate with regard to the world and its relations. Future time is not ordinary future time. It has been narrowed, in order that you Corinthians and all other believers may have an intenser conception of opportunity, a deeper sense of Christ in time, and so learn to look upon human existence under this aspect of its solemnity. First of all, the domestic relation; this most beautiful, tender, and noble of all earthly relationships, whose spirit refuses to be limited by what its loving arms embrace, and is ever reaching towards a loftier ideal, and even when its arms are paralyzed still symbolizes alike in memory and hope the immortality of affection,—this holy relation must be made holier by the fact, the time is shortened. If true of this, it is true of all else. Sorrow may be, to some extent, pure and noble, and yet, unawares to ourselves, it may contain a selfish element, and, in the degree this is present, we mourn over ourselves as losers rather than over the object lost. A sorrow truly pure and noble hides its tears from the world, takes up the cross of daily work, feels its loneliness and bears it silently, and toils on with serene patience. To be a Divine discipline—the most purifying and exalting of which we are capable—it must loosen us from earthly things and raise our hearts to God. The death of others, even of our dearest friends, is thus overruled by Providence, as the death in some measure of our pleasure loving nature. "Perfect through suffering" was said of Christ, and in so far as we realize perfection, it is only attained in this way. Our joy must not engross us so as to impair our lively sense of things spiritual. Business must leave us free for meditation and devout exercises. And in whatever way we use the world, whether the world of home, of culture, of trade and commerce, or of professional activity, it must be used in moderation and with due regard to its moral significance. "The earth hath he given to the children of men," that they may be more than earthly. "All things are yours." that ye may thereby be richer in Christ Jesus. Viewed in this light, it may not be proper to say that these things are "means of grace," but they are helpers and auxiliaries to goodness, and give us no small furtherance in the life Divine. Much, very much, in this worm is capable of a most blessed utility. Much of it will live forever, not in itself, but taken into us and assimilated and glorified. Bodily, how much that is bodily, is ever becoming eternally mental and spiritual! It is the immortal soul, born of God, redeemed by Christ, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, that saves material nature from being a picturesque show and a deceptions sham. Plentifully, indeed, she meets our physical wants, quite as lavishly our wishes, generously too our tastes, and yet, while guaranteeing her economic and intellectual uses with a royal magnificence, she is looking beyond and a far, and her thought is of the blessings that are imperishable. "The body is... for the Lord," and through the pathways of the body, the gates of the senses, the "vaults," the galleries," and passage ways that physiology assures us exist beneath the grey matter of the upper brain;—through these as highways what vast processions are daily moving heavenwards! Beauty and sublimity have not terminated their offices when they have flashed to the canvas of the painter or breathed themselves into the marble of the sculptor. Poetry has not finished her task when she has found a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Milton. Music has not been exhausted in the act of creating Mozart and Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Every one of these influences is what it is in itself, because of man's immortality. The training we get in the body and through the body, such as the subjugation of the material organization to the organism of the man, the clear common sense won by experience from toil and enterprise, the swift energy, the mastering will of achievement, the patience of endeavour, the heroism that works and waits, and the discipline of the social and rational man,—all this complicated training, which suffers no constituent of manhood to evade its grasp, has a reference distinctly providential to the future man. The idea of a Christian probation as altogether different from other conceivable probations, and as standing specifically by itself in the dispensations of the universe, runs through all the economic arrangements of our world. And hence the words of St. Paul, "Use this world as not abusing it," using it not to the full of the senses and the intellect and the sensibilities as if it were all, but using it as a world even now moving from beneath your feet, and which has no permanency except in the moral and spiritual impressions left by it upon your souls. "The fashion of this world passeth away;" the whole structure, the modes of existence, the relations of existence in their variety and multiplicity, all present objects, the totality which no mind can compute,—all this is in motion, the duration has been shortened, and the end is near at hand. Reviewing this argument of the apostle, may we not claim that it presents time in a light altogether new, that its estimate of duration is something intrinsically different from that measured by the time keeper of the heavens, and that it inspires our sense of successional moments in a way peculiar to itself? Nothing in us is more closely connected with the external framework of the universe than our sensibility to time. Yet, while this natural capacity is subjected to an outward machinery, it is also dominant over that machinery, so that an instant may be expanded into an hour or an hour into days. In this respect, moods assert a mastering force, emotions are well nigh omnipotent, and the heavenly orbs take their motions from our pulses. If Christianity took no knowledge of this phenomenon of experience, it would be strangely exceptional to its method of operating on man, which allows no recess of his being to remain unvisited by its light and warmth. Its teaching is, "The time is shortened," and it makes its doctrine available to practise us in the highest moral wisdom, using the world without abusing its relations. Now, it is worthy of notice that the civilization of our century has advanced in no direction more remarkably than in victory over time. The era opened with the steam engine, and has progressed with the telegraph and telephone, and, in each case, the triumph has been in a fuller control of time. Time has been shortened and yet lengthened, so that we do in weeks what our grandfathers required years to accomplish. Time has been intensified. Today in Europe is today in the backwoods of America, and the yesterday of China and Egypt is a part of the breakfast table talk of this morning. Obviously, sensuous life, in its connections and sympathies, gets the most, at present, of this stimulation. One, however, who takes a broad view of providence, cannot think that the tendency of this increased sensuousness is necessarily downwards into sensualism. For, indeed, Christianity is often most active where we least suspect its presence, since the "kingdom of God," in civilization as in all else, "cometh not with observation." This enhanced sensuousness, if we read aright the signs of the times, is gathering together a vast fund of raw materials for transformation into a more capacious and robust Christian manhood. Within the realm of natural law, Christianity is signalizing its power more and more, and the day is not distant when "uniformity," "evolution," "homologies," will have a wider and profounder interpretation than they have now. "The earth helped the woman;" it still helps the woman; and age by age the apocalyptic wonder reveals fresh wonders. Silently, unobserved by the multitude, hidden even front scientific thinkers, God is reclaiming nature for his Son; and he who, eighteen hundred years age, multiplied bread for the hungry, healed diseases, and established his claim as the Lord of nature, is making ready to reaffirm that sovereignty in a manner more resplendent than by miracles. And as to this matter of shortened and intensified time, who but the Lord Jesus as Son of man was the first sublime instance of ascendancy over the limitations of time? Thirty years of seclusion, three years of work, young manhood cut short in its prime, and yet those three years giving birth to centuries which, amid manifold evils, have yet steadily progressed in the direction of a regenerated humanity. For him, indeed, time was shortened, and his is the perfect example of using the world without the slightest abuse. And just in the proportion we have his Spirit, shall we feel that the soul has a calendar of days unknown in the chronometry of the material universe.—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
1 Corinthians 7:2
Christianity and marriage.
The human mind is influenced by the law of action and reaction, and hence human opinion tends to extremes. Corinth was a city famous, or rather infamous, for its licentiousness; not only was society corrupt; religion sanctioned and spread the prevalent moral corruption. No place was more remarkable for the union between splendour and impurity. When a Christian community was formed at Corinth, it was natural enough that some of the old leaven of sensuality should appear and threaten to corrupt the mass. Hence the tolerance of fornication and, in one case, even of adultery and incest. But what is remarkable is that in the very same society there should be a faction or a tendency of thought and sentiment in the direction of asceticism. There were those who represented all sexual intercourse as impure, and beneath the dignity and unworldliness of spiritual men. Paul himself, though his language was afterwards coloured by sectarian transcribers of his Epistle, was evidently somewhat inclined to severity in his judgment upon the relations between man and woman. Yet in this verse he honours and authorizes the estate of marriage.
I. MARRIAGE IS AN INSTITUTION AND RELATIONSHIP BASED UPON THE DIVINE COMMAND. This cannot be questioned by those who accept the Scriptures as credible and authoritative. The primeval commandment stands upon record, and witnesses both against the unrestrained and licentious intercourse which some have defended as natural, but which is really unnatural and debasing, and also against the ascetic doctrine, to which now and again religious societies have inclined, that all sexual feeling is sinful. It is noticeable that our Lord Jesus himself repeats and sanctions the original commandment as to the lawfulness and inviolability of marriage.
II. THE EXPRESS COMMAND IS IN HARMONY WITH THE CONSTITUTION AND NATURAL ADAPTATION OF THE SEXES. There is nothing arbitrary and meaningless in the provisions of the moral law. That law is written upon the heart and conscience, upon the very bodily frame of man, and is not simply uttered in the voice of the Divine Lawgiver. Whoever studies the human constitution in body and in mind cannot fail to recognize and admire the adaptation which is embodied in the sacred ordinance of matrimony.
III. MARRIAGE IS PROMOTIVE OF SOME OF THE BEST AND PUREST AFFECTIONS OF HUMAN NATURE IN THOSE WHOM IT UNITES. There is no institution which so emphatically strikes at the very root of selfishness. The man is weaned away from the too common practice of self gratification; the woman has called forth all the latent affection and devotion of her being; and the family becomes the sphere of self denial and self sacrifice, of mutual forbearance and helpfulness. That such is always the case is not asserted; but such is the proper, and to a very large extent the actual, tendency of this institution. True, there are those among the unmarried who cherish love which animates them to many labours; but there is no room for comparison between the virtues of the married and the unmarried, inasmuch as, amongst men, those who shrink from marriage usually do so avowedly to escape serious obligations and to indulge unbridled desires.
IV. MARRIAGE IS THE BEST PRESERVATIVE AGAINST VICE AND THE BEST AID TO VIRTUE. Paul seems to have admitted the contention of his Corinthian correspondents, that in some cases it was expedient to avoid marriage, and that such a course might be admirable in the passionless and peculiarly spiritual. But what in modern English is called "common sense" was very strong in the apostle, and he gives a very plain reason for a very plain precept. In the presence of the voluptuousness of Corinth there could be little need for many words; Paul's words are few and pungent. And whilst human nature is what it is, his counsels will hold good, and those of superfine and ascetic moralists will be discredited by the facts of human life.
V. BY MARRIAGE ARE SECURED THE WELFARE OF SOCIETY AND THE PROSPERITY OF THE CHURCH. The family is the true unit in human society, and the enemy of marriage is the enemy of humanity. It is in the family that virtuous and honourable citizens are bred and reared, and there principles are instilled which are at the foundation of national stability. And the old saying is equally true, that by marriage heaven itself is replenished. It is hence that the Church draws its members and its officers; it is here that the natural life anti the eternal life are alike commenced and nurtured.—T.
1 Corinthians 7:7
Paul had peculiar natural powers, adapting him for a life of consecration and a life of 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; such resemblance might be naturally pleasing to him, but his was too noble a nature to constrain him to see and judge all through his own medium. In fellow labourers he recognized adaptation for usefulness, and was evidently convinced that the distribution of Divine gifts was appointed by the wisdom and beneficence of the great Head over all things to the Church.
I. HUMAN ENDOWMENTS ARE DIVINE GIFTS. It is characteristic of a religious and devout mind to look up to the Source and Author of all. If to God we are to attribute the providential favours we enjoy, shall we suppose that even higher gifts are to be traced to an inferior source? Inspiration enabled our great teachers to see the Giver in the gift. The word here used is indeed often used to denote those special supernatural powers, such as healing, tongues, prophecy, which were bestowed upon members of the primitive Church for a season and for a purpose. But the context shows that those gifts which are ordinary are as justly to be traced to the favour and bounty of Heaven as those which are extraordinary. Indeed, it may asked of every Christian, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
II. DIVINE GIFTS ARE BESTOWED UPON MEN IN GREAT DIVERSITY AND VARIETY. "Every man hath his proper gift of God." It is so in bodily constitution—one has muscular strength, another constitutional endurance, a third manual dexterity, etc. It is so in temperament—one is calm and. wise, another is tender and sympathetic, a third is impulsive and commanding. It is so in intellectual character—one reasons with force, another persuades with fervour, a third speaks with eloquence. Where are two leaves of the forest alike, or two faces indistinguishable? So in the Church of Christ—one has the gift to rule, another the gift to teach, another the gift to console. One is fitted for a pastor, another for an evangelist. One is called to a public position, another is adapted to the service of the one Redeemer in private life.
III. THESE GIFTS ARE COMPLEMENTARY TO ONE ANOTHER, AND IN THEIR EXERCISE COOPERATE TO THE GENERAL GOOD, None can be spared. There is generosity, but no lavish waste, in the liberality of the Divine Giver. On the other hand, there is no deficiency, no grudging and withholding. Pray for the qualified workman, and the work shall not be left undone for want of the necessary helper, Because all things are Christ's, all things are ours. One supplies another's lack, and mutual sympathy and common ministrations subserve the general good.
1. Gratitude should be cultivated as due to him who is 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 only that.—T.
1 Corinthians 7:16
Earthly relationships sanctified to heavenly uses.
There were several obvious and powerful reasons why a Christian husband or wife should not leave a partner who was married in days when both were unbelievers, and who had not experienced conversion from heathenism or Judaism to Christianity. And to some extent the same reasons hold good when one has passed from merely nominal to real and spiritual Christianity.
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 a cruel outrage to suspend or check. And then, in addition, there is the reason given in the text.
4. The continuance of the union may make the Christian husband or wife the minister of spiritual blessing to the "unconverted" consort.
I. AN ATTRACTIVE REPRESENTATION MAY RE FURNISHED OF THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. The standard of moral excellence presented in the Word of God is indeed singularly high and admirable. But morality in a book is one thing, morality embodied in the life is quite another thing, Morality proclaimed from a pulpit is far less impressive than morality speaking from the domestic hearth. There are such virtues as truth, meekness, pity, patience, and charity, which are peculiarly Christian; and the exhibition of these is likely to lead to the inquiry—Whence come these traits of character? What is the secret of a life so different from the life of the selfish and the ungoverned? How many a husband has been won to Christ, beholding in his Christian wife a "a chaste conversation coupled with fear"!
II. AN UNCONSCIOUS INFLUENCE IN FAVOUR OF TRUE RELIGION MAY BE EXERCISED BY ONE PRAYERFULLY SOLICITOUS FOR THE SALVATION OF A SPOUSE. 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 intercessory prayer. And there is a dignity, a gentleness, a spirituality, of manner and of language, which cannot escape the observation of such as are associated in the tenderest intimacies of life. There is no desire and prayer so all penetrating and all influential, as the desire and prayer for the spiritual and eternal welfare of those who are nearest and dearest, united by the most sacred and endearing of earthly ties.
III. AN OPPORTUNITY IS GIVEN IN THESE RELATIONSHIPS FOR EXPRESS INSTRUCTION AND PERSUASION WHICH MAY ISSUE IN SPIRITUAL GOOD. In many instances it may be unwise to make a special and formal effort to convince and to persuade; it may be better to leave religion to tell its own tale and do its own work. But cases do occur in which Providence makes an opening for an effort. Stanley's remark upon this verse is well worth quoting: "The verse so understood has probably conduced to the frequent instances of the conversion of unbelieving husbands by believing wives. Even the stern severity of Chrysostom relaxes in its presence into the declaration, 'that no teacher has such an effect in conversion as a wife,' and this passage, thus interpreted, probably had a direct influence on the marriage of Clotilde with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert, and consequently on the subsequent conversion of the two great kingdoms of France and England to the Christian faith." There are few Christian ministers who from their own observation could not tell of similar instances in lowlier life, where God has blessed the influence of wife to husband, or of husband to wife, so that they have become heirs together of the grace of life. Whilst, on the one hand, the mere hope of exercising such influence should never lead a man or a woman to marry an unbeliever, on the other hand, when unequal unions have been formed, the possibility opened up in this verse should lead to wise and affectionate effort, and to earnest and unwearying prayer.—T.
1 Corinthians 7:19
Obedience is everything.
One great result of the introduction of Christianity into the world was to diminish the importance of trifles and to elevate great things into their due prominence. True religion thus acts by restoring to all things their due proportions, by putting all things in their due perspective. In religions of human device the greatest stress is laid upon what is valueless and things of supreme moment are ignored, in nothing is the religion of Christ more signally in contrast with and in advance of the religions of the heathen than in this vital point.
I. THE INDIFFERENCE OF OUTWARD POSITION AND OBSERVANCE. The great distinction in the time of the apostles and in the society in which they moved was the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, or, as it was the custom to express it, between the circumcision and the uncircumcision. But this distinction stands before us as representative of all external lines of demarcation, of all parties sundered by associations and observances amongst men. When the apostle says that circumcision and uncircumcision are "nothing," he uses very strong language, but he thus sets forth the insignificance of a man's birth, religious associations, reputation in this world, compared with his personal character. A lesson this which we find also in his Epistle to the Galatians, who, like the Corinthians, were assailed by false teachers who nought to substitute formality for spirituality. The inference is valid from this instance to all instances embraced in the general principle. It is to be observed that this apostolic teaching has two applications.
1. Those who insist upon forms are blamed for their narrowness.
2. Those who insist upon the neglect of forms are equally blamed for their intolerance. Neither one way nor the other is it allowable for one to dictate to another or to boast over another. The temperaments, habits, education, opinions, of Christians will probably decide whether or not they incline to express their religion in ceremonies or to dispense with such.
II. THE ALL IMPORTANCE OF AN OBEDIENT HEART AND LIFE. When it is affirmed that circumcision and uncircumcision are "nothing," it is suggested that the keeping of the Divine commandments is everything—that this is the one thing of supreme importance.
1. There is implied the evangelical motive to Christian obedience. Certainly Paul was the last to teach that the mere outward compliance and conformity were sufficient. The prohibitions of the Law may be Observed, yet the Searcher of hearts is not satisfied if the soul be not surrendered and devoted to him. And our Lord Jesus has very clearly and pointedly shown the relation between motive, and practice in his saving. "If love me, keep my commandments;" "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
2. Them is implied the supreme and righteous authority of God. It is too common, in representing the Creator as the Bestower of all gifts and as the Source of all grace, to overlook the very important and scriptural view of God as the just Governor and King of men. He has a right to command; all his ordinances and directions are in perfect harmony with the eternal and flawless moral law. It is not merely a superior power, it is a rightful authority to which we are bidden to submit, and to this our own reason and conscience unequivocally testify.
3. There is implied the universal range and sphere of the religious life. Not in an occasional act, not in an exceptional observance, lies our conformity to the Divine will. The commandments of God apply to the whole moral life of man, leave nothing untouched, unblest—they are "exceeding broad." All the activities of our nature and all the aspects of our life are contemplated and included in this comprehensive condition of true religion. The Jew and the Gentile, the young and the old, the learned and the illiterate, however they may be related to ceremonial observances, are all one in this—all can recognize the obligation to Christian obedience, and all can find in their several positions and avocations and relationships abundant opportunity for practically and cheerfully fulfilling the obligation they are alike in acknowledging.—T.
1 Corinthians 7:22, 1 Corinthians 7:23
Freedom and bondage.
To the mind of the apostle spiritual and immortal relations seemed so vast and momentous that they dwarfed those relations which are earthly and temporary. It may appear to some readers of this passage of the Epistle as if Paul did not attach enough importance to the conditions of life in which Christians may find themselves. But the fact is that the friendship of Christ and the hopes of eternity were so real and precious to him that all beside seemed insignificant; whilst the uncertainty attaching to the period of the present dispensation was so present to his mind that he could not concern himself very feelingly with what might so soon forever pass away.
I. THE BONDMAN'S FREEDOM. It is well known how very large a proportion of the Roman empire were slaves, and how pitiable was the condition of the whole class, how wretched and hopeless the condition of a large portion of the class. We cannot wonder that the gospel of Jesus Christ found so cordial and grateful a welcome from the bondmen in many cities of the empire. In many instances Christianity actually ameliorated the let of the slave; in many more it enabled the unfortunate to bear their trials with patience, and to look beyond them to the glorious liberty of the children of God. The Epistle to Philemon gives us an insight into the relations between a Christian master and a Christian slave. What was the secret of the change which began so auspiciously, and which has proceeded so surely and so beneficially with the lapse of centuries? That Christianity had from the first a tendency to put an end to such inequality, none can doubt. But deeper than the social movement was a spiritual energy which displayed itself in the individual life. Liberty of spirit compensated the yoke of bondage. The humblest slave cherished the assurance that he was the Lord's freeman. This honourable distinction, the privileges and immunities it brought, the hopes it inspired, made the heart contented and the life tranquil and bright. The same process may take place in cases very different, yet allied. There are in every state of society those whose position is lowly and whose earthly prospects are cheerless, who may nevertheless enjoy the conviction that the Lord, the Son, has made them free, so that they are free indeed, in the enjoyment of a spiritual liberty and all its privileges and anticipations.
II. THE FREEMAN'S BONDAGE. The passage contains a twofold paradox: it presents us with a slave enfranchised, and with a freeman in bonds. If the poor slave was encouraged not to allow his chains to tie him in spirit to the earth, the freeman was reminded that, "called in the Lord," he was captive to a Divine will and consecrated to a Divine service.
1. The cause and explanation of this servitude. The Christian is reminded that he is "bought with a price." Brought into a new bondage by the purchase of a Saviour's blood, he is no more his own. Thus Christ and his sufferings are represented as the source of the new obligations which the ransomed have contracted.
2. The negative side of the change thus effected. It is a grand and stirring appeal of the apostle: "Be not ye the servants of men." Alas! what multitudes subject themselves to a base thraldom, in accepting the chains of human slavery, whilst they disdain the easy yoke of the Redeemer! But it is the prerogative of the Christian to be superior alike to human judgment and to human authority.
3. The positive side. He is "Christ's servant" who is called in the Lord, although free in a civil sense. From Paul's own biography we are able to form a judgment as to the value which he set on Roman citizenship. But his highest honour was to subject and devote his powers to his Saviour. So far from there being any degradation, any ignominy in such service, it is most honourable, most illustrious. Yet it must be something more than a name; it involves the bringing, not of the life only, but of every thought, "into captivity to the obedience of Jesus Christ."—T.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
"The time is short."
There is, and there ought to be, a marked difference between the conduct of the Christian and that of the unbeliever. This difference originates primarily in the new principles with which the mind of the disciple of Christ is possessed and by which it is governed; the faith and gratitude towards the Saviour which constitute and mark the man a Christian make him a new man. Yet there is another, beside this loftiest reason, for the outward differences in this the apostle refers; the rapidly approaching end of the present dispensation, when really expected, must exercise considerable influence over the Christian's life.
I. THE TRANSITORINESS AND PERISHABLENESS OF THE PRESENT STATE AND OF ALL THAT PERTAINS TO IT IS A POWERFUL MOTIVE OVER THE CHRISTIAN'S MIND AND LIFE. The apostle puts this matter in two lights.
1. The time is short, contracted into a small compass. This must be taken in connection with the eternity of God, with whom "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;" and also in connection with the mortality of man, whose days on earth are as a shadow whose life passes as the swift ships. The season, or dispensation, in which our earthly work is to be done and our earthly witness borne, is fleeting. "The day and the hour knoweth no man; yet our Lord's language is ever, "Watch!"
2. "The fashion of this world passeth away." It is like a cloud shadow on the sea, a wind wave on the corn, a meteor in the sky. Of this pathetic truth all human history is a proof, and the events of every generation an illustration that to the reflective cannot fail to be impressive. Nothing continueth in one stay. The first Christians seem sometimes to have been possessed with the conviction that the end of the age and the advent of the Lord were very near. Nearer still are they to us, who are admonished to live under the influence of the sublime expectation.
II. HUMAN LIFE ABOUNDS WITH OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXHIBITING THE PRACTICAL POWER OF THIS PRINCIPLE AND MOTIVE.
1. Human relationships are influenced by the considerations adduced. The apostle refers especially to marriage, because it was the question concerning the expediency of matrimony which occasioned the introduction of the great principle of the passage. On account of present uncertainties and the pressure of the time, Paul thought it well for some Christians not to marry, and for the married to be on their guard against absorption in family cares.
2. Human emotions should be moderated by the same considerations. There is no room for extreme joy or sorrow when the events which occasion these feelings are themselves upon the wing. The emotions are not forbidden, but excessive indulgence of them is deprecated.
3. Human business cannot be allowed to be too absorbing; for property will soon be valueless, and the worm itself will vanish and be no more seen. How obvious the duty to hold earthly possessions with a light hand, and to use the world and all it contains with a wise discretion, and to avoid misusing what is so little able to afford a lasting satisfaction!—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:2, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 1 Corinthians 7:25-35
Celibacy and marriage.
The Corinthian Christians had written to the apostle for direction respecting the relative desirability and recumbency of single and wedded life. Probably some of them regarded marriage as obligatory, and others perhaps looked upon it as an evil. Amongst Gentiles there was at this period strong tendency towards celibacy. The reputation of Corinth was, moreover, an unenviable for wantonness and uncleanness. There was therefore great need for full and explicit statement, supplemented by apostolic authority.
I. THE APOSTLE DECLARES EACH STATE TO BE LAWFUL. This is apparent from the two opening verses of the chapter. In itself it is no sin to marry; it is no sin to remain unmarried. Perhaps specially to those regarding marriage as obligatory, the apostle says "It is good [expedient, profitable] for a man not to touch a woman;" and to those all for celibacy—speaking generally, "Let every man have his own wife." Both conditions are honourable. We are left to choose between the two. But rules are laid down for guidance.
II. CHOICE BETWEEN THE TWO SHOULD BE LARGELY DETERMINED BY CONDITION AND CIRCUMSTANCE. From 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 1 Corinthians 7:8, 1 Corinthians 7:38, it has been too hastily concluded by some that Paul decidedly favours celibacy per se. But 1 Corinthians 7:7 is ambiguous, and is thought by not a few to refer to the gift of continence, which qualifies a man for single or wedded life, as circumstances may determine; and the ether verses, together with this verse, must not be dissevered from 1 Corinthians 7:26, which qualifies the whole chapter. Paul has vividly before his mind the surroundings of the Christian Church in his own age. What was expedient in the "present distress" might not be desirable under other conditions. And similarly, the "better" might cease to be so under changed circumstances. We read elsewhere (Hebrews 13:4) that "marriage is honourable in all." And it is the Apostle Paul himself who elevates marriage to the loftiest position by employing it as a type of the union between Christ and believers (Ephesians 5:25-32). It is also the same apostle who pronounces, the prohibition of marriage to be one of the signs of the great apostacy (1 Timothy 4:3). "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). On Paul's communication to the Corinthians it has been aptly said, "The truth is that the apostle writes to the Corinthians as he would do to an army about to enter on a most unequal conflict in an enemy's country and for a protracted period. He tells them, 'This is no time for you to think of marriage. You have a right to marry. And in general it is best that all men should marry. But in your circumstances marriage can only lead to embarrassment and suffering.'" This is putting the matter bluntly. Perhaps it goes a little beyond the apostle's expressed counsel, yet it shows the drift of his advice. It would seem that choice is to be determined by:
1. Condition or qualification. Celibacy is not commended to any except those who have the gift of continence. To many it would prove a snare—an occasion of the most serious evil. It is not at all "good" for the generality, since most men do not possess the necessary qualification. Thus the almost universal injunction in the second verse follows and qualifies the commendation in the first. Even under adverse temporal circumstances it may thus be better for some to marry. The apostle is most cautious upon this point, and is in great contrast to Romanists, who relegate to celibacy the entire priesthood.
2. Circumstances. The "present distress," because of the sorrows, perplexities, and sufferings which it occasioned in so large a degree to those having upon them the responsibilities of married life, inclined the apostle to commend celibacy to those qualified to practise it. We have here valuable suggestions. Marriage is not to be rashly entered upon. Temporal surroundings and prospects are to be taken into account. Prudence is to be observed in affairs matrimonial. What woeful results have followed imprudent unions! Many who fall into love seem to fall out of their senses at the same time. Not a few regard marriage as a goal to be reached at all hazards. They display infinitely more anxiety to get to it than they do to get to heaven. Evidently they regard it as a most perfect paradise, but when they reach it by the road of folly they generally find that there is a serpent in that garden as in the one of old.
III. THE APOSTLE DIRECTS OUR THOUGHTS TO THE RELATIVE ADVANTAGES OF THE TWO STATES.
1. Celibacy has less care attaching to it, especially in troublous times. The unmarried have more leisure to attend to the things of the Lord. The married must concern themselves more about things temporal, and this may prove a distraction injurious to higher duties. A loving wife tends to occupy her mind very largely about her husband, and a loving husband about his wife. There is danger here lest the claims of One who should be far more to us than husband or wife be neglected. This is especially so in days of persecution and of violent and sudden change. The beloved object may be threatened with suffering; the price of escape may be unfaithfulness to God. Here is the pinch; felt terribly in days of darkness. It is easier for many to suffer themselves than to see their dear ones suffer. And we are apt to excuse conduct which has for its object the welfare of another—when we should be bound to condemn it if we only were concerned. Shall I see my wife and children exposed to nameless insult and hideous cruelty, or forswear the faith? This was the dread alternative set before many a married man in the days of Paul. As we have seen, a celibate may devote himself entirely to the Lord and his service. I do not understand the apostle to say that this is impossible in one who is married, but that human claims may come into conflict with Divine. In happy peaceful times the conflict might never arise; in days of persecution it might be severe. Note: There is here no commendation of monastic or isolated celibacy. The apostle would doubtless expect the celibate to exhibit his devotion to God very largely by works of usefulness amongst his fellow men (as in the ease of Paul himself). Observe: The single state is not to be sneered at. It has special opportunities, Those who adopt it from right motives are worthy of all esteem. And those who are compelled to it by circumstances, if they use its advantages, are to be held in honour. Frequently, however, they are considered the fittest objects for ridicule. Yet "old maids" are sometimes the best of maids. And men unfettered by wedded responsibilities have frequently been patterns of excellence and usefulness.
2. Marriage is the safer condition morally. (1 Corinthians 7:2.) It is freer from temptation. It is the condition appropriate for a large number. And let us not forget that God has so made us that the generality find their true place in the domestic circle (1 Corinthians 7:7). "It is not good that the man should be alone" has very extensive application. Marriage is needful for the replenishing of the earth. There are some who under any external circumstances will find it easier to serve God in the married state. Marriage is a great support and source of strength to many. The home influence is felt wherever a man journeys, and often upholds him in good resolution, and animates him when despondent. It expands his sympathies. It draws him out of himself. Celibacy presents many perils even for those who are naturally qualified for it. Tendencies towards narrowness, selfishness, lack of sympathy, have to be carefully guarded against. Domestic life of the right kind supplies an antidote. And in the home and in its duties we may truly serve God. When we rightly "care" for those near and dear to us we are offering acceptable service to the Most High. The home may and should be a true sanctuary. It will be seen that this applies chiefly to quiet times. In times of disturbance and insecurity, "home" exists often only as a name, and the advantages of married life are turned into serious disadvantages. Its powers for good assume then the form of perils. Finally, whichever state we choose, we must ever remember the "shortness of the time" (1 Corinthians 7:29), and must not settle down in this world as though it were our abiding place. Eternity has opened upon our view. For that we are chiefly to live. With an eye to that we must determine our conduct and choices. Time, in which we marry and are given in marriage, is but a flash (though it is the flash of preparation); eternity is our life.—H.
1 Corinthians 7:2-6, 1 Corinthians 7:10-17
Marriage: its nature and duties.
1. It is the union of one man and one woman. (1 Corinthians 7:2.) Polygamy and polyandry are rigorously excluded from the sanction of the Christian faith. The former was tolerated by God in early times, but never enjoined or commended. The first union, in Eden, was of the Christian order. The wisdom of the dictum of Christianity has been exemplified by universal experience. All other arrangements are prolific of evils.
2. It is a union for life. (1 Corinthians 7:39.) No hint is given of temporary wedlock.
3. It is a bond not to be lightly severed.
4. It is an exclusive union. It is to avoid fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2).
5. Those who enter upon it must do so prudently. This is developed in the apostle's argument as to the respective advantages of celibacy and marriage. And:
6. In the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39) will apply to all cases. Marriages are to be continued with the ungodly, but not to be commenced. Of our choice we are not to be "unequally yoked." We are not to marry in order to convert. Many do this and, soon discover their mistake. They are like the woman who journeyed to Rome to convert the pope, but instead of converting his holiness, his holiness converted her!
1. The body of one is to be surrendered to the other. (1 Corinthians 7:4.) Cohabitation may be suspended for a time by mutual consent, for special purposes, but with distinct recognition of speedy reunion. Care must here be exercised, lest temptation be occasioned. There is no command for this temporary separation; it is permitted, not enjoined or even recommended.
2. Mutual pleasing. (1 Corinthians 7:33, 1 Corinthians 7:34.) This, referred to as a natural result, may be regarded as an implied injunction. Corroborated by Ephesians 5:21-25. It is evidently needful. But it has limits; we must not displease God in order to please husband or wife.
3. The highest spiritual interests of one to be sought by the other. (Ephesians 5:16.) A special ease is supposed, which, however, opens up a wide question of home influences. How earnestly should we desire the salvation of those most closely united to us! How terrible the thought of final separation! The home presents the best opportunities of winning the ungodly to Christ. Not by words so much as by life. The influence is very continuous, and is exercised by those nearest and often dearest. Still, much grace is needed for such a ministry as this. Faults, jealously concealed in public, are often undisguised and freed from check in the household. We may do great harm as well as great good in the home; we may drive from Christ as well as draw towards him. The converted husband or wife is the pastor of the unconverted. Solemn responsibility! Care for the higher interests involve care for the lower. In all things those united in marriage should seek each other's good. This will involve much—
(1) self. restraint,
1 Corinthians 7:20-24
Christianity and staves.
Christianity found slavery in existence. Proceeded upon wise lines for its extermination. Not by revolutionary violence. Worked from within rather than from without. Inculcated moral principles which, when fully realized and practically observed, involved the doom of slavery. Such passages as Matthew 7:12 are in point. Occasionally there is more direct attack, as in the condemnation of men stealers in 1 Timothy 1:10. What message had Christianity to the slaves? It said—
I. SERVE GOD AS YOU ARE. As a slave you may do a good and important work. Your condition has some special opportunities. It will be something for the world to see a pious, conscientious, faithful slave. This you can be, for with all shackles you may be "the Lord's freedman." A lesson for us. We often try to change our condition instead of glorifying God in it. All men seem to have fallen into the wrong places! For all men seem intensely anxious to change their condition. The powers, opportunities, time, of not a few are practically absorbed in this endeavour. And the craze is continuous. When the change is secured, another change is desired, and so on interminably. Men are used up in this insane struggle. It is not necessary to change our condition before we can do anything. The true way to the more favourable condition may be our glorifying God in the less favourable. The sterling piety of a slave became a strong protest against slavery itself. In various conditions the world needs to see the same faith and the same life. A man need care comparatively little about his external condition in this world, who is freed from the bondage of Satan and who tastes the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free. That is nothing compared with this. No human shackles can bind the soul. The slave with all his bonds could not be hindered from coming to Christ. No one can stop us. Not all men. Not all devils, Not all adverse circumstances. We can come if we will, whoever or whatever we are or in whatsoever condition. The responsibility is upon our shoulders, None shall say at last that they could not come. God hath not permitted man so to bind his fellow that the journey to the cross is an impossibility.
II. IF YOU CAN OBTAIN YOUR FREEDOM BY RIGHTEOUS MEANS, DO SO. Not "do evil that good may come." But embrace any legitimate opportunity, for as a freedman you have generally more opportunities of service and less perils. When freed, you may make it more apparent, perhaps, that you are "Christ's bondservant." To us: seek a freer position when opportunity is presented, since in that you may more abundantly serve God. That is the object which you must ever have in mind. Let not the freer position be for self, but for God. A more comfortable condition is not always a more useful one. When we are taking off one shackle we may be putting on another. It may be a heavier one.
III. DO NOT BECOME SLAVES. It may be your duty to continue slaves, not to become such. This would be throwing away most important advantages. You are Christ's, bought with a price; have by choice no other bonds upon you than your Master's. To us: never seek a position in which service to Christ may be prejudiced, Here is a crucial test.
1. A rise in the social scale may impair our usefulness. The new house may tax our purse and check our charity, the numerous engagements our time, the atmosphere our piety, We may become "bondservants of men," and very miserable ones.
2. A more lucrative post may entail loss rather than gain—greater occupation of time, larger demands upon our strength, even the shortening of our lives. All such things come into the account.
3. The removal to a more pleasant place of residence may mean the arrest of Christian activity. People remove from where they are wanted to where nobody wants them. God places them in the field to labour, where there is much to be done, but they contract a fondness for mountain air and scenery, and off they go, leaving their appointed work to take care of itself. And when they get to the mountain of delights there is nothing for them to do but to grumble, and this, it must be acknowledged, they do with most unflagging zeal. Christians seem to think they are their own masters, and can come and go for little reason or for none, and without any reference to the great work to which every Christian is pledged, viz. seeking to extend the kingdom of Christ among men. "My Father's business" should be first with the disciple, as it was with his Lord. Instead of this, it is often practically lost sight of altogether, and people go without a thought or care from where the Father's business is urgent and almost overwhelming in imporlance, to where in comparison it can be prosecuted only upon a most limited scale. Men listen to the "call" of inclination, not to the "call" of God (note 1 Timothy 1:20, 24). We must ever beware of running into bonds, Many of these are golden. Not the less binding. In whatever circumstances we may be placed we must refuse to be such bondservants of men as to impair our relation to God. At all costs, in every condition, his will and glory must be supreme.—H.
1 Corinthians 7:36-40
Duties of parents to children as to marriage.
The apostle's words apply directly to daughters only. Among Jews and Greeks the disposal of the daughters of the family rested with the father. What is said, however, may extend very largely to sons as well.
I. MARRIAGE IS NOT TO BE INSISTED UPON. It too commonly is in many circles, especially in the case of daughters, and thus becomes prolific of evils. The apostle rather commends the father who does not give his daughter in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:38). Doubtless with an eye to the "present distress," but assuredly in opposition to any forcing of the inclination, and to any notion that marriage is universally desirable. It is not the parent's wish so much as the child's which should be consulted. Spheres should be opened for unmarried females. This has been done largely of late years, but a greater extension is one urgent need of the times.
II. CONSENT TO MARRIAGE IS NOT TO BE CAPRICIOUSLY WITHHELD. (1 Corinthians 7:36.) The dread of refusal of consent has often led to rash acts involving much subsequent suffering. Parents often blame their children for marrying without consent when they should blame themselves for withholding it. Some parents seem to think that their convenience and predilections are the chief things concerned, as though it were their marriage and not their child's.
III. THE CHILD'S WISHES SHOULD BE CONSULTED. This seems to be involved in "Let them marry," as though a specific attachment was supposed. "Having no necessity" (1 Corinthians 7:37) and "behaveth himself uncomely" (1 Corinthians 7:36) bear also upon this point. Certainly obtains in case of widows (1 Corinthians 7:39). The child's wish, not only as to marriage itself, but as to the one with whom a union is proposed should never be left out of account. Parental counsel and guidance are wise and well; parental compulsion is gross folly. Consent to marriage may be withheld, and must be, if there are sufficient grounds, but to in any way force a union is to pave the way for misery, if not for something worse. Modern usages much more favour consultation of the child's wish than ancient, but in some circles there seems to be a tendency to revert to barbaric customs. In the land where there are no slaves, daughters are in many cases as truly sold to the highest bidder as was ever an African upon an American auction block. When parental selfishness and folly run to such lengths, divorce courts are likely to be in great request and never to lack causes.
IV. CHRISTIAN PARENTS SHOULD DESIRE T. HE MARRIAGE OF THEIR CHILDREN "ONLY IN THE LORD." Alas! how many professedly Christian parents seem to have but little regard for this! Position, wealth, influence, titles,—if these, or any one of them, can be attained, there is not only satisfaction but jubilation. Yet what possible joy should there be to a Christian parent in giving his child to be the lifelong companion of an enemy of Christ? He may not be able to prevent such a union, but to rejoice in it is quite another matter. A suitor's spiritual position should be weighed as well as his temporal. A union with an unbeliever may promise much, as men judge, for this world, but it promises very little for the next. Such marriages are not "made in heaven," nor can they be expected to lead thither. But a godly husband wonderfully aids the spiritual life of a godly wife, and vice versa; and they walk well together, because they are "agreed." Mixed marriages seem generally to end in an "agreement" to give up attendance at the house of God on the sabbath, and to care nothing for the God of the house during the week. Yet many parents scarcely consider for a moment whether they are giving their daughter to a child of God or to a child of the devil. And sons are congratulated if they succeed in making "a good match," which is very possibly one of the worst matches they could have made. Parents should give the supreme place to the spiritual interests of their children.—H.
HOMILIES BY E. BREMNER
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Celibacy and marriage.
Hitherto the apostle has been treating of abuses in the Church at Corinth, which had come to his knowledge, either through the household of Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11) or through common report (1 Corinthians 5:1). He passes now to deal with certain matters regarding which the Corinthians had asked his advice by letter; and the first of these is marriage, with other related subjects. While treating the whole chapter homiletically, the preacher will do well to exercise a wise delicacy in introducing many of the points to a mixed congregation.
I. CELIBACY. The preference apparently given to celibacy in this chapter calls for careful consideration.
1. In what sense is it called "good"? It is not good in the sense of being in itself and always superior to marriage. Elsewhere Paul speaks of the married state with the greatest respect, as an image of the union between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:23-25), and gives it as a mark of the false teachers of later times that they "forbid to marry" (1 Timothy 4:3). The law of consistency, then, bids us interpret his 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" here must always be read in view 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 in some cases may render marriage imprudent or even culpable, three answers to our question may be gathered from this chapter.
2. If a man has not the gift of continency, there is in that a clear indication that it is his duty to marry (Genesis 2:9); if he possesses this gift, then he is free to give weight to other 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. Hence her cultivation of monastic and conventual life, and the imposition of celibacy on the clergy. There is no warrant for this in the teaching of the apostle here; while experience testifies to the dreadful evils to which it leads.
1. Marriage is a safeguard against incontinence. The apostle is not here treating of marriage in general or presenting it in its higher aspects and bearings. The pure union of man and woman in wedlock is a communion of soul and body in love, a fulfilment of the Divine intention clearly expressed in our nature. Husband and wife thus united "in the Lord"—the one being the complement of the other, and set "like perfect music unto noble words"—are joined by a bond so holy, so exalted, so mysterious, that it is the earthly reflex of the spousal union between Christ and his Church. Still, the use here referred to by the apostle is not to be overlooked, especially in view of such licentiousness as prevailed at Corinth. God never bids us eradicate any natural appetite, as asceticism does, but provides for its gratification in a way consonant to our nature and destiny.
2. It implies the rendering of conjugal duty. (Genesis 2:3, Genesis 2:4.) The one party exists for the other, and for the other alone—the twain having become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
3. Marriage is a union between one man and one woman. In polygamy the true idea of marriage is lost. The original appointment was the union of two persons only, Adam having only one Eve; and the departure from this was due to sin. The testimony of Scripture, alike in precept and in its purest examples, is all in favour of monogamy (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4, Matthew 19:5; 1 Timothy 3:2); and the statements of the apostle here take this for granted. The domestic bliss of which poets sing is not to be found in the homes of polygamy.
"Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights
His constant lamp. and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels."
('Paradise Lost,' 4:763-765.)
"Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
Of Paradise, that has survived the Fall!…
Thou art the nurse of virtue; in thine arms
She smiles, appearing, as in truth she is,
Heaven born, and destined to the skies again."
1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Divorce: mixed marriages.
Having spoken of celibacy and marriage, and having presented considerations for their guidance in the choice of the one or the other, the apostle proceeds to speak of persons already married. And here two different cases are dealt with:
I. WHERE BOTH PARTIES ARE CHRISTIAN. In this case the Lord Jesus, in his recorded teaching, had already given a decision, and Paul refers them to his words (vide Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
1. The marriage bond is indissoluble. It is a union for life, which cannot be broken up without sin. It is not to be dissolved at the mere will of the parties, nor for any frivolous reason. This perpetuity arises from the relationship itself, as well as from the Divine appointment. Husband and wife are ideally one, and their separation is the disrupting of a bond which has no parallel in this world. An additional sacredness attaches to the marriage covenant in the case of Christians, who invoke the blessing of God upon their union.
2. Separation is not to be final. The case supposed is that of a wife leaving her husband on the ground of harsh and cruel treatment or for some similar reason. The cause of separation may or may not be sufficient to justify it, but in either case it must not be regarded as severing the marriage tie. Only two alternatives are open. The wife thus separated must remain unmarried, since a new union would imply that the previous one was null and void; or she must be reconciled to her husband and return to live with him. This last is in every way the desirable course, and every means should be used to bring it about. Husband and wife cannot go apart without sin and scandal to the Christian name, and their religious profession requires them to reconsider their position and remove every barrier to reunion. The apostle is not here speaking of adultery, which is of itself a dissolution of the marriage bond and a sufficient ground for divorce (Matthew 19:9), but simply of the general rule that married persons are bound to each other for life. With what prayerful deliberation should such a union be contracted! A step that cannot be retraced should not be taken without thought.
II. WHERE ONE OF THE PARTIES IS CHRISTIANS AND THE OTHERS HEATHEN. The case supposed is not that of a Christian entering into wedlock with a heathen spouse, which Paul in another place forbids (2 Corinthians 6:14); but the case where one of the parties, already married, is converted to Christianity. This must have frequently happened in the early history of the Church, just as it is of constant occurrence in modern missions among the heathen. How does this complication affect the sanctity of the marriage bond? Is it not a union of the dead and the living, between whom there is a great gulf? The Lord Jesus had given no utterance on the subject of mixed marriages, and therefore the apostle gives his inspired judgment regarding it. If the unbelieving partner is content to remain, the Christian partner is not to seek a separation. If the unbelieving partner refuses to remain, the Christian partner is not to hinder separation.
1. Consider the case where the unbelieving partner is content to remain. The Christian spouse is not to seek a separation as if the marriage were unholy; "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband" (1 Corinthians 7:14). The apostle does not mean that an unbeliever, in virtue of conjugal union with a believer, becomes personally holy; but that he or she is thereby consecrated or hallowed. As the altar sanctifies the gift that is laid upon it (Matthew 23:19), so the Christian reflects something of his own character upon everything connected with him. His property, his business, his 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 husband or wife is a privileged person on the ground of union with a Christian spouse. The tares in the wheat field are sacred for the sake of the wheat (Matthew 13:29); the ungodly men in Israel were privileged because they belonged to a holy nation. The reason adduced by Paul in support of this position is very significant. "Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14). It was an accepted maxim that the children of such mixed marriages were born within the Church. This principle was recognized among the Jews, as the case of Timothy shows (Acts 16:1-3). But if the children of such a marriage are reckoned holy, the marriage whence they spring cannot be unholy or inconsistent with the Law of God. "If the root is holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16); and, conversely, "If the branches are holy, so is the root." The children take their standing from the Christian parent, who is regarded as the nobler of the two.
2. Consider the case where the unbelieving partner refuses to remain. In this case the Christian partner is not to insist on maintaining the union, but to let the other depart. For:
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:
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
Christianity and the relations of life.
From the special case with which he has just dealt, the apostle proceeds to lay down a general principle. To understand the need for this, we have only to remember the circumstances of the time and the bearing upon these of the doctrines of the gospel. To many minds Christianity must have appeared to be revolutionary in its tendency. It proclaimed the equality of all men in the sight of God, the temporary nature of earthly things, the approaching advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, when a new era was to dawn; and men who drank in these views as the new wine of life were apt to become intoxicated. They were ready to cast off family obligations, disrupt social ties, and break up every earthly relationship. Against this tendency Paul here warns them. Christianity was not meant to revolutionize society in this violent way. On the contrary, it adapts itself to every position and relation in life in which men may be placed.
I. A GENERAL RULE. This rule is thrice repeated with slight variations (1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 7:20, 1 Corinthians 7:24). "Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called."
1. The Christian view of life.
2. The Christian's duty in relation to his lot or calling in life. The general rule is—Remain where you are. This follows from the view of life just presented; for it is our duty to abide by the Lord's appointment, and conversion does not necessarily change our secular vocation. If he finds you at the plough, or at the desk, or engaged in trade, or in the married state, or in the service of another,—serve him where he finds you. Christianity is a hardy plant that thrives in every clime. Do not imagine that if you were in a different line of things it would be easier for you to follow Christ. Nothing is more needed in our day titan a consistent exhibition of Christian principle in the common walks of life—the family, the workshop, the office, the exchange, etc. Let your light shine where it is first kindled, continuing there "with God" (1 Corinthians 7:24). To this rule, however, there are two obvious exceptions.
II. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE RULE. TO show how the rule applies, Paul takes two illustrative examples—the one from religious position, the other from social position.
1. Circumcision. If a Jew is called, let him not attempt to efface the mark of the covenant; if a Gentile is called, let him not think it needful to be circumcised. To do otherwise in either case would be to attach a value to external forms which they do not possess. Paul's own practice in circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3), and refusing to circumcise Titus (Galatians 2:3, Galatians 2:4), throws light upon this. To have acted otherwise in the case of Timothy would have been to attach importance to the omission of the rite, since one of his parents was a Jew and the other a Greek. To have allowed it in the case of Titus, whose parents were both Gentiles, would have been to attach importance to the performance of the rite, and so to submit to the yoke which the "false brethren" sought to impose. By acting as he did he showed that both circumcision and uncircumcision were to him matters of indifference. Religion is not an affair of outward ceremonies, but of spiritual obedience. Comp. verse 19 with Galatians 5:6 and Galatians 6:15, in all which the first clause is the same. In opposition to such matters of ritual observance, he places:
2. Slavery. If there is any institution to which we should have expected Christianity to show itself hostile, it is just this. Slavery strikes at the root idea of humanity, denying to man his proper dignity as a person; and is therefore in collision with the axiom on which the gospel proceeds, that "He made of one every nation of men" (Acts 17:26). At the time when Paul wrote, it was the great "open sore" of the world, and was frequently accompanied with great hardship and cruelty. Yet he does not counsel the Christian slaves—a numerous class—to rise in rebellion and throw off their bondage. He bids them "care not for it" (verse 21). Freedom, indeed, is to be preferred if you can obtain it; but you can serve God as a bondservant as truly as if you were free. It was not by dint of hacking and cutting that the fetters were to be struck off, but by a surer and more excellent method. As the frost fetters of winter give way before the warm breath of spring, so Christianity was to loosen the bonds of the slave wherever it came. And this principle was to regulate individual action. For:
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Concerning virgins and widows.
Paul now passes to another question referred to him, viz. the marriage of virgins and widows. This has been briefly touched upon already (1 Corinthians 7:8), and is now dealt with more in detail. Here also the apostle has no express commandment of the Lord to adduce, and he therefore proceeds to give his own inspired judgment on the matter, "as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." This judgment is not in the form of explicit injunction, but of an advice given in view of existing circumstances.
I. ADVICE TO THE UNMARRIED OF BOTH SEXES. In the previous sections the apostle has argued against the disrupting of social ties, even when these are of so unpleasant a character as being bound to a heathen spouse or subject to the yoke of slavery. Here he gives similar counsel, advising against a change of condition. This applies to married persons, who are not to seek a dissolution of the bond; but especially to the unmarried, whom he advises to remain as they are. This advice does not proceed from a disparagement of marriage in itself or from an absolute preference of celibacy (comp. homily on 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, above), but is based upon special reasons which are afterwards mentioned.
1. The present distress. (1 Corinthians 7:26.) This may refer to persecution already commenced, as that under Nero (A.D. 64), or to the troubles which were to usher in the second advent (comp. Matthew 24:1-51.). In view of this impending crisis, it is better not to marry. The apostolic advice will hold in all similar cases; as when a soldier is called to dangerous military duty, or a man is approaching death, or during the prevalence of famine and pestilence.
2. Tribulation in the flesh. (1 Corinthians 7:28.) This arises out of the external distress, which bears more hardly upon the married than the single. It is to spare them this affliction that Paul advises the unmarried to remain as they are.
3. The shortness of the time. (1 Corinthians 7:29.) Here again the apostle has in view the advent, which seemed to be drawing near. Marriage belongs to a transitory condition of things—the passing fashion of this world. Life is short, just that our affections may not be set on earthly things. They that have wives must soon leave them, and the remembrance of this should render marriage or celibacy a matter of comparatively little moment.
4. The cares incident to the married slate. (1 Corinthians 7:32.) The husband is bound to protect and provide for his family, and in troubled times this causes much anxiety. Husband and wife, moreover, have to consult each other's wishes, considering how they may please each other. From these cares the unmarried are free, and can therefore consider "the things of the Lord" with less division of heart. This does not mean that marriage is less favourable to holiness than celibacy: experience warrants no such statement. The apostle compares the two conditions only in respect of their freedom from worldly care, and in this the unmarried have the advantage. It does not lie in his way to indicate counterbalancing benefits belonging to the married state. His aim is to deliver us from distraction in attending upon the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35). We are not to be like Martha, "cumbered about much serving," "anxious and troubled about many things;" but like Mary, sitting with undivided heart at the Lord's feet (Luke 10:38-42).
II. ADVICE TO FATHERS REGARDING THEIR UNMARRIED DAUGHTERS. In the East, marriages are arranged by parents much more exclusively than with us, and hence the obligation here laid on the father of judging when it is becoming for his daughter to marry. Very much depends upon the Christian wisdom of parents in this matter. How often are the highest interests sacrificed for the sake of a union that offers worldly attractions! Faithful and prudent parental guidance may prevent an unholy alliance and lead to a happy union "in the Lord." The point before the apostle now is the direction of fathers as to when they may grant, and when withhold, permission for their daughters to marry.
1. When permission to marry should be granted. (1 Corinthians 7:36.) Generally, when the refusal would lead to anything unseemly. In particular, if the daughter has come to full marriageable age, if she and her lover are bent upon the union; in that case, for the father to enforce celibacy would be to put temptation in his daughter's way. The general advice not to marry because of present distress, is overborne by stronger considerations (see 1 Corinthians 7:2); and in view of these the father will do well to put no barrier in the way.
2. When permission may be withheld. The father is required to look at all the circumstances of the case, and judge accordingly. The elements determining his judgment will be such as these:
III. ADVICE TO WIDOWS. This proceeds on the same lines as the advice to unmarried persons. The wife whose husband has "fallen asleep" is no longer bound (comp. Romans 7:1-3), but is free to remarry if she chooses. The only restriction is that she marry "in the Lord," i.e. that she marry a Christian, and that her whole conduct in the matter be in keeping with her profession. Yet here also the apostle advises against a second marriage, on grounds already adduced in the case of virgins. A widow may marry again, but she will be more free from care and trouble if she remain as she is.
1. The application of abiding principles is modified by changing circumstances. This must be remembered in considering how far the advice given here is generally applicable. What is prudent in a Christian country, with a settled government, and at peace, may be imprudent where the conditions are the reverse. There is a wide sphere for the exercise of true wisdom in the practical conduct of such matters.
2. Christians should marry "only in the Lord." On its lower side, marriage is the same to all men, irrespective of creed and character; but the Christian is called to consider the interests of his higher life. He is to enter upon this relationship as a follower of Christ, and seeking therein the glory of God.—B.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The shortness of the time.
Very impressive is the apostle's manner in always rising above the mere details of duty to great ruling verities. Throughout this chapter there is a constant reference from rules to principles, and nowhere is this more conspicuous than in these verses.
I. THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF THIS LIFE.
1. "The time is shortened." The apostle seems to have in view the coming of Christ, of which the troubles of the time appeared to be the harbingers. Any day the "sign of the Sea of man" might be seen in the heavens, so brief was the interval. Long centuries have rolled away since then, and the strained eyes of the Church have not yet beheld that sign. Still, the utterance of the apostle is not mistaken. Though the horizon that bounded his vision has been widening with the ages, the time is still short. For us the practical truth is that our life span here is brief, whether its boundary be the Lord's coming to us or our going to him.
2. "The fashion of this world passeth away?" (1 Corinthians 7:31). It is like a scene in a theatre—vanishing while you gaze on it.
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players."
('As You Like It,' act 2, sc. 5.)
Within a single lifetime what changes do we see! Nations rise and fall; governments come and go; public men play their parts and then pass out of sight. How few of the friends of our youth and manhood remain with us till old age! New actors are ever coming on the stage and the old disappearing. The customs of society, modes of living, the whole environment of life, are like so many shifting scenes.
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE BREVITY OF LIFE. The time has been shortened that we may sit loosely to all earthly things. Their temporary character is to be remembered in all our relations to them. This is illustrated in several particulars.
1. The married life. "That those that have wives may be as though they had none." The apostle does not say that celibacy is a more spiritual condition than marriage. There is no asceticism in his teaching here or elsewhere. The married are to be as the unmarried, remembering that marriage is one of those things that are passing away. While loving husband and wife, we are not to forget that the time is short. This stage of existence is but preparatory to another, where "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35).
2. Sorrow. "Those that weep, as though they wept not? Tears are not forbidden to the Christian. This is no stoical precept, bidding us refrain from weeping as inconsistent with our dignity. Grief is human, and all that is purely human Christianity encourages. "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). The liker we are to him, the more tender of heart, the mere sympathetic shall we become. But we are to weep remembering that the time is short. Sorrow also is transitory. It must not master us or break our hearts. Whatever touches the spring of tears—bereavement, loss, pain, the sufferings of others—belongs to the temporary condition of things. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5); "And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes," etc. (Ro 21:4). Therefore weep as though you wept not.
3. Joy. "Those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not." Christianity does not frown upon earthly happiness. It is the part of Satan to represent the religious life as one of gloom, and the teaching of some Christians gives colour to the falsehood. Nature, literature, the arts, society, domestic fellowship,—all may pour their tributaries into the stream of our gladness. None should enjoy God's world like God's own child. But here the tempering thought comes in—"The time is short." Even this is not our highest joy, for it springs from a source that will soon be dried up. The "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8) belongs to the region of faith, and flows from those things which faith alone apprehends. Apply this to amusements. Pure and wholesome entertainments are to be encouraged, especially for the young. But whatever will not bear the thought of the brevity of life is not good for a Christian. Instead of the sword of Damocles or the death's head, the believer moderates his joy with the thought that "the Lord is at hand."
4. Possessions. "Those that buy, as though they possessed not." Christians are not forbidden to engage in trade or merchandise with a view to the acquisition of property. Every lawful calling is open to them. They are not prohibited from possessing wealth. The real question is—What place has it in the heart? Earthly possessions are to be held under the recollection that they belong to a transitory state of things. The man of substance is to sit loosely to what he possesses, not forgetting that "the things which are seen are temporal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
5. The use of the world. "Those that use the world, as not abusing it." All that God gives us of this world is to be used as ministering to our need. The thing to be guarded against is the wrong use of it. It is to be our servant, not our master. God has put it under our feet (Psalms 8:6), and we must keep it there. We abuse the world
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Corinthians 7:24
Quietness of spirit.
St. Paul knew how to hold the balance between the stirring forces of Christianity, and. its calming, soothing power. He exemplified the combination in his own character; for he was ever moving yet never restless, ever aspiring yet always content, ever fighting, and that not as one that beats the air, and yet always breathing and making peace. The application of Christianity to actual conditions of society in ancient Greece raised many questions on which the Corinthian Church needed apostolic guidance. Such were the continual obligation of marriage after husband or wife had become a Christian; the question whether Judaism should yield to Gentilism, or vice versa, in the new community; and the problem of domestic slavery. St. Paul had no express command from the Lord Jesus on such matters, but guided, as he firmly believed, by the Spirit of God, he handled these three points with rare wisdom and foresight.
I. THE LESSON FOR THE FIRST CENTURY. The introduction of the Christian faith into such cities as Corinth could not but operate as a disturbing, unsettling force. It was therefore the duty of the Christians to avoid as far as possible giving alarm to rulers, by abruptly or violently assailing the forms of life and the established institutions round about them. If their religion should present itself to the eye of observers as mainly an agitation or social revolution, it would be put on a false issue, and would give to its adversaries a strong argument for its suppression. Therefore, though the apostle hated all social injustice, he perceived and taught that precipitate action, even with the best intentions, would be a serious mistake; and that the only sound policy was to work on men's consciences and subdue their hearts, and gradually lift them up into a condition of moral feeling and a love of righteousness which could, no longer brook such institutions as Greek and Roman slaveholding. On this topic, therefore, he checked impatience. The first thing needful was to bring Jesus Christ into every station and walk of human life. When Christ should dwell among and in men, society would take to new moulds by an inward necessity, not from any outward dictation. This was the best course to be taken even with regard to slavery. The endurance of it was hard; for St. Paul wrote at a period when the rich in Greece and Italy were cruel and contemptuous to their slaves, and it was possible for a Roman emperor to give their flesh to feed his pet fishes. But the institution was so familiar to the public mind that it was regarded as indispensable; and so Christianity was not to assail it directly, but to teach masters to give to their slaves what was just and equal, and slaves to be faithful and. honest in service. If a slave could get his liberty, he was to take it joyfully—"use it rather." If not, he was to abide with God in that calling. His spirit was with God in a far loftier sphere than could be conceived of by the heathen master, who probably treated him with scorn. The Christian slave was the Lord's freeman.
II. THE LESSON FOR THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
2. Positively. The text sets a wholesome check on self regarding ambition. The great problem of life is not bow to step up from one calling or station to another, but how, in this calling or that station, to abide in communion with God and advance his glory. No doubt, one position appears to great advantage over another, for happiness and for usefulness; but the difference is seldom so great as appears. That which has outward facilities has special risks and anxieties, and that which has disadvantage in one respect has compensation in another. But to "abide with God," not when apart from our worldly calling, gathered into a church on a holy day, but in our calling,—this is the problem. To have him with us and in us by the Holy Spirit; to walk up and down in his Name; to work and to rest as in his sight; to have his light shining on our path; to have his grace working in us both to will and to do; to have our labour lightened, our care relieved, our leisure sweetened, by his love! This, indeed, is life—high life. Oh, to abide in our calling calmly with God—our minds and hearts open to his impulse and direction—our wills submissive to his! This is what will baffle the tempter and silence the gainsayer, by proving that our religion is no mere selfish hope of future enjoyment, but a power deep seated in the soul, which can conquer passion and covetousness, and diffuse over the life a sweet serenity. To quote an English poet of the sixteenth century, now little known
"He most of all doth bathe in bliss
That hath a quiet mind."
1 Corinthians 7:32
Free from cares.
I. NOTE THE PRECISE MEANING AND DRIFT OF THIS SHORT SENTENCE. It refers to the anxieties of married life. Neither in Old Testament nor New is any disrespect shown to the state of matrimony. St. Paul himself, when writing of the reciprocal duties of life, gives most sympathetic counsels to husbands and wives; and, far from placing marriage in an unfavourable light as compared with celibacy, describes it as a sign of the sacred union of Christ and the Church, But, in this part of his letter, he is replying to a question put to him from Corinth regarding the course most expedient in the special circumstances of the time, i.e. in view of impending persecution and distress. Should unmarried persons marry at such a time? Should parents give their daughters in marriage? Should married Christians, if joined to heathens, remain in the marriage bond? These questions the apostle deals with, giving his opinion, not for all time, but for a time of trouble. It was no sin, or even fault, in any one to marry; but it would be wise to form no new ties at such a crisis, not to burden one's self with new anxieties. In this sense the text is not for us, except in special emergencies and exceptional circumstances. It is hardly needful to say that a man who is about to start on a dangerous expedition, or one who is involved in serious pecuniary difficulty, or one who has some arduous task to accomplish by a given date which will require incessant attention, ought not to marry. Men in such conditions ought not to drag another into their difficulties or dangers, nor should they gratuitously add to their own anxieties. Let them keep their minds undistracted, and defer marriage to some easier and more auspicious day.
II. DEDUCE A PRINCIPLE WHICH WILL APPLY TO ALL OCCASIONS. It is this: the Christian life ought not to be hampered with cares. Well for it to move on simple lines, as much as possible free from distraction and solicitude. Novelists and poets have said much against over anxiety and the black curse of care. Spenser describes care as forging iron wedges day and night.
"Those be unquiet thoughts that careful minds invade."
"Care is no cure, but rather corrosive,
For things that are not to be remedied."
Another writes of "low-thoughted care." And it is easy to show that it clouds the judgment and defeats itself by restlessness and over anxiety which betray men into ruinous mistakes. But after all that has been said against care, it is not shaken off—no, not by those moralists and poets themselves. Every man we meet has some vexing care about money, or reputation, or health, about the conduct or misconduct of others. We want some deeper teaching and some stronger help. We have both in and from our Master Jesus Christ—the most profound teaching and the most timely and effectual help.
1. The life without care. Our Lord spoke of it in the Sermon on the mount. His disciples should not be anxious about food, or raiment, or the possible mishaps of tomorrow. Such wisdom they might learn from the birds and from the flowers, that are fed and clothed by God. If it be rejoined that the life and wants of birds and flowers are very much more limited than ours, who have to run so many risks and are vulnerable at so many points, the reply is obvious. We ought so to conduct our lives as to keep our grounds of anxiety at the lowest possible limit; in short, to simplify our habits, restrain our self tormenting bustle, and, reducing our external wants, give more voice to those which are inward and spiritual.
2. The modal of that life. It is Christ himself; for the perfect Teacher lived all his doctrines, practised all he preached. The way of human life which the Son of God selected, and to which he adhered, was the best for the purpose of developing a model humanity. We pass over the station in which he was born, because we have no discretionary power over our own birth. But we take note of this, that he grew up in a home of piety, remote from those excitements and temptations that render our modern town bred youth so precocious. He had. a quiet time among the hills and valleys round Nazareth, to let his thoughts grow large and his character acquire deliberate strength. Then, when the time was ripe for opening his prophetic mission, he kept his personal life as simple as possible, and allowed no room for anxieties on his own account. He also surrounded himself with friends who were of simple habits and little worldly ambition. He taught them as they walked from one village to another or rowed their boat upon the lake, and did good everywhere without a particle of ostentation. And so he went on to the end, implicitly trusting and obeying the heavenly Father who had sent him and was always with him. Thus was he always calm and self possessed. No dust of brooding care lay upon his heart. And, indeed, it was because he held himself so free of petty entanglements, that he could be and was so engrossed with the work which the Father gave him to do. Easily satisfied as to food, and raiment, and lodgings, and things that perish, he devoted all the strength of his thought and purpose to the supreme object for which he had come into the world. It may be urged that this, though admirable in hint, is really no model for us. We cannot lead anything like that simple, untrammelled, unconventional life of which we read in the Gospels. Now, no one alleges that in form we can live as our Saviour lived, or his servant Paul. But we do maintain that Christians ought to catch the spirit and principle of the life of Christ, and therefore should not let artificial wants multiply or needless anxieties entangle their hearts. Unless pains be taken to prevent it, life becomes in modern times very much of a grind—heart wearing and perplexing. Our hones and brains are weary. Our time slips away from us, and with all our fagging, we find our work drag. We are caught in the tyrannical grasp of the conventional, and go on in a laborious fashion, not happy, certainly not Christ like. They are the wisest and the happiest who lay down simple lines for themselves, reducing the cumbrousness of the outward life in order to cultivate more fully the inward life of faith, hope, and charity.
3. The principle of the care renouncing life. It is faith in God. Lot us cast our care on him, for he cares for us. On this principle the Man Christ Jesus walked, believing that the Father heard him always and compassed his path. On this principle he assured his followers that the very hairs of their heads were numbered. On this principle have all patient and humble Christian lives been sustained. "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." The thirty-seventh psalm teaches it well. Art thou anxious about temporal wants? "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shall thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed" (Psalms 37:3). Art thou keen and eager for a lawful object? "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart' (Psalms 37:4). Art thou concerned about the issue of a matter? "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass" (Psalms 37:5). Art thou hindered or discouraged by the success of unscrupulous rivals? "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him, fret not thyself" etc. (Psalms 37:7). With these simple directions laid to heart and obeyed, one may go through the greatest vicissitudes and most exhausting toils with a spirit cheerful and serene,
"There are, in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of th' everlasting chime,
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat."
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
1 Corinthians 7:1-7
Advice on details of Christian conduct.
In dealing with these verses, it should be noticed:
1. That, concerning such matters of practical detail, St. Paul gives his advice, he does not lay down authoritative commands.
2. The apostle's mission concerned principles, not details, which are properly regarded as well within the control of cultured Christian thought and judgment. Inspiration is wisely limited to subjects which, for any reason, are out of ordinary human reach. None of us need. precise authoritative guidance of the common incidents and relations of life. We can ourselves sufficiently apply Christian principles.
3. Principles are better left without minute applications, as they can then be variously adapted to the differing conditions of society in each age.
4. St. Paul, when induced to give advice, takes care to bring out and impress the related principle; and, if possible, he presents his own example for imitation. The principles with which he deals in these verses concern:
1 Corinthians 7:8-16
The marriage tie.
When Christianity spread abroad among the heathen, very often, in a family, "one would be taken and another left," and much family and social difficulty was made when a heathen husband or a heathen wife was converted, and the other partner remained in heathen darkness. There could be no doubt that Christianity demanded separation from heathenism, and even declared a social connection with heathen people to be morally perilous; and it might very readily be inferred that this applied to the heathen husband or the heathen wife, and that divorce from them should at once follow upon Christian profession. It seems that the heathen in ancient times held the marriage bond very loosely, as do the heathen in many countries now. There is no more fruitful source of national immorality than ease in procuring divorce. Christianity has exerted such an ennobling influence on the European nations, in part because it has testified so firmly to the sacredness of the marriage bond. Christianity treats marriage as the main foundation of moral relations, and the proper preventive and cure of social evils. The relation must, therefore, be anxiously sustained, and almost every other consideration must be made subservient to its maintenance. Its various claims must be duly met; its various duties must be properly performed:
1. For the Christian partner's own sake, whether the other be Christian or not. If not, then maintaining faithfully the marriage relation will prove a spiritual discipline.
2. For the sake of the children of the mixed marriage, over whom the Christian partner can exercise a holy influence.
3. And even for the heathen partner's sake, since he or she may be won by the "chaste conversation" and holy example of the fellow partner. Impress that the principle applied to marriage has wide applications. Whatever our spheres and relations may be, the man in Christ ought to master and mould and use them by the force of his new life in Christ.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 7:14
"But now are they holy."
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THIS STATEMENT. It is an acknowledgment of their virtual Church membership.
II. THE BEARING OF THIS DOCTRINE ON THE BAPTISM OF INFANTS. By this act of baptism the Church
III. GENERAL INFERENCES CONCERNING CHRISTIAN BAPTISM.
1. It is only an external sign.
2. Where persons are not baptized as infants, they should not afterwards be submitted to the rite except as intelligent believers in Christ.
3. As to the mode of baptism, it may be performed in any decent, possible way.
4. It may be administered by any one qualified or appointed to represent the Christian Church.
5. It should be consummated by an early admission to the Lord's table.
6. The duty of those who were never baptized in infancy.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 7:24
Abiding as called.
Observe the peril of Christianity, as it spread among the nations, disturbing the social conditions, customs, and relations. Yet Christianity never directly attacks social evils, war, slavery, etc. There was also a constant danger of men's conceiving Christianity as a ceremonial and outward, and not as a spiritual and inward, religion. Our Lord had constantly to resist the expectation that he would prove a new Maccabeus, a national Messiah. And so the apostles had to assert constantly that Christianity is not, first of all, an ordering of conduct, but a life, an inward spiritual thing, that can gain expression in all circumstances and through all relations. A man may "abide" in whatever state he is when "called," seeing that he can there live out the Christian spirit and the Christian life.
I. THE LORD'S CALL. Notice:
1. Its form. It comes through human agency.
2. Its effectuality. It is accompanied by the witness and the sealing of the Holy Ghost.
II. THE CONDITIONS IN WHICH THE LORD'S CALL MAY FIND US. Illustrate:
1. The personal conditions, as suggested by the distinction of circumcised and uncircumcised.
2. The relative conditions. We may be bond slave or freeman, master or servant.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S DUTY IN RELATION TO THE CONDITIONS HE IS IN WHEN CALLED. As a rule, he had better remain in them. The new life in Christ should not make men restless concerning their circumstances. It is always a far nobler thing to conquer circumstances of disability by the power of Christian principle and Christian life, than merely to change our circumstances, and shake ourselves free from the disability.
Press, in conclusion, that God's presence is not conditioned by any outward positions in which we may be placed. He dwells with contrite hearts everywhere, and pays no heed to the presence or absence of the brand marks of the slave.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 7:24
Religion and business.
The apostle, in this and the connected chapters, is giving to the Corinthian Christians a variety of counsels respecting the various relationships of life which they were called to sustain. The gospel of Jesus Christ, which brings its influence first to bear on the individual, next exerts its power on the family and social relations; and we can well understand how, in those early days, a number of serious practical questions would arise and demand consideration. One of these questions concerned the condition of servitude, serfdom, in which many of the early converts were placed. The apostle points out that personal religion is independent of calling or of social position. Whatever our earthly lot may be, we can be truly godly as we fulfil it; and St. Paul recommends that every one should continue in the business which he happened to be pursuing when the grace of God came to him, provided it was an honest and honourable business. His one counsel is that, whatever may be their place or their work, they should therein abide with God, in fellowship with God, in obedience to the will of God, in openness to the leadings of the Spirit of God, and in reliance upon the daily strength of God. Regarding the text in this light, it may direct us to consider the practical influence of Christianity on a man's business. We dwell on three points.
1. Religion is above business.
2. Religion comes into business.
3. Religion must not be lost in business.
I. RELIGION IS ABOVE BUSINESS. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
1. Religion is above business in its character. Its interests are different; its aims are different; its prevailing spirit is different and nobler. It is the heavenly occupation and the heavenly spirit.
2. Religion is above business in its demands. Business calls for the exercise of mind and skill; it asks the culture of our bodily powers—it develops skill of hand, promptness of judgment, keenness of insight, and perseverance in effort. It goes even further than this, and calls out certain moral qualities, the more simple and natural qualities, such as honesty, integrity, diligence, and truthfulness. But religion demands more, even purity, unselfishness, a fine consideration for the well being of others, rightness of motive, and the inspiration of a supreme purpose to glorify God. Business does not touch the affections. Yet we are only cold, grasping, self seeking creatures, if life and conduct are not toned by affections; and the religion which purifies and nourishes our affections must be above business.
3. Religion is above business in its issues. Business results are a certain measure of worldly comfort in our home, a share of the pleasures which the world can afford, and a position of respect and influence among our fellow men. What more than this can the most successful business bring? It wins nothing that can go through the "great gates" with us. Its issues have rather to do with quantity than with quality; they are bounded by life, and have no out teachings into eternity. Religion is above it, since "godliness hath both the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Religion shines down on common life all the golden rays that make the beauty of the present prospect, and it assures us that all it can shed now are but a few scattered rays of an "exceeding and eternal weight of glory," which will shine forever on the "good and faithful servants."
II. RELIGION COMES DOWN INTO BUSINESS. Because it is higher than business, it claims to take it up into its grasp and glorify it, breathing its own noble spirit into all business relations. Some men do not hesitate to say that religion and business occupy separate spheres. Ward Beecher says, "How hateful is that religion which says, 'Business is business, and politics are politics, and religion is religion'! Religion is using everything for God. But many men dedicate business to the devil, and shove religion into the cracks and crevices of time, and make it the hypocritical outcrawling of their leisure and laziness."
1. Religion comes into business as a new force, nourishing diligence. William Jay used to say that Christian tradesmen ought to be the best tradesmen, and Christian servants should be the best servants, and he would sometimes quaintly add, "There's many a good woman who is not a good washer woman.'
2. Religion comes as a Divine help in bearing disappointment and loss. Many by the troubles of business life are made reckless and bard. It is a great tiring that religion, in a world where "man is born to trouble," should help us to suffer well.
3. Religion comes into business to elevate our standards of honesty and uprightness. We need not affirm that integrity is only connected with religion; but we may fully admit that the high standards are maintained by religion, and that it stands foremost among the forces that preserve business morality.
4. And religion comes into business as a spirit attempering business relations. It makes men more gentle, considerate, and gracious towards others; and elevates the tone of masterhood and servanthood, establishing mutual helpfulness as the ruling feature in all relationships.
III. RELIGION MUST NOT BE LOST IN BUSINESS. This it may be in two ways.
1. By excess of ambition and exertion preventing due attention to religious duties and personal culture (see 2 Timothy 2:4).
2. By the wealth getting spirit spoiling the Christian spirit. Illustrate by our Lord's saying, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!"—R.T.
1 Corinthians 7:29-40
An argument from the shortness of the time.
It is impossible to understand a large number of the apostolic allusions unless we recognize the early Church conception that the Christian dispensation would be very brief, and in all probability closed and completed in the first century, by the expected reappearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. This idea certainly prevailed among the disciples. To some extent at least it was shared by the apostles; but it is evident that they found it necessary to check a tendency to extravagance and fanaticism, and in some quarters the sentiment was allowed to nourish an antinomian spirit, which seriously imperilled the Christian morality. The notion of our Lord's second coming in some kind of earthly manifestation could only have been entertained by those who failed to understand that the words which he spake were "spirit and life," and were to be spiritually understood. "The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life." Yet there is a proper sense in which the Christian should be impressed with the "shortness of the time." Life at the longest is but brief. Life, in comparison with eternity, is but as a passing breath to the long day. To the Christian, life is so full of solemn claims and responsibilities that it seems impossible to fulfil them all in the narrow limits of an uncertain earthly career. The apostle argues here that a sense of the "shortness of time" should influence—
I. OUR HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS. Having this particular influence on them, that it prevents our being wholly absorbed in them, and helps us to the right use of them. St. Paul's principle is that we should "use this world as not abusing it." Here Christianity stands between the worldly spirit and the narrow religious spirit. The worldly spirit says, "Time is short; take your fill; live while you can." The narrow religious spirit says, "All the pleasure here is a snare, and dangerous; keep out of it altogether." In opposition to this narrow spirit, Christianity says, "Use the world;" and in opposition to the worldly spirit, "Do not abuse it. All things are yours. Take them and use them; but never let them interfere with the higher life which you are called on to lead. 'A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth'" (F. W. Robertson). Illustrate, in relation to wives, the early notions of the value of celibacy, and show that the married state can be preserved without interfering with the soul's culture, and that; indeed, the married state is found, for most men, singularly helpful to the religious life.
II. OUR HUMAN JOYS AND SORROWS. Explain what an amelioration of both is found in the fact that they are strictly limited. Joys soon fade. Affliction is but for a moment. For both the "time is short," and we need not, therefore, be unduly affected by either. We may gratefully accept the pleasure and patiently bear the trouble; for "we soon fly away" to be at rest.
III. OUR EARTHLY TOILS. St. Paul argues, from the shortness of the time, that "those who buy" should be "as though they possessed not." Resisting the tendency to fix thought and heart on what we can gain, and realizing that we can take nothing of it away with us. Moderation and sobriety may well mark our very acquisitions. The energy that wins success needs to be kept within reasonable bounds. Though not in precisely the sense in which St. Paul used the term, still for us also the "time is short," and we may therefore wisely sit loosely from all earthly things, and remember that where our treasure is there will our heart be also, and that, as Christians, our treasure is in heaven.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 7:31
The passing world.
"For the fashion of this world passeth away." The figure used by the apostle is that of a shifting scene in a theatre. We may better realize the figure by applying it to a moving panorama. On, on it goes, ever new scenes coming into view, moving across, and then passing forever away. Such life appears to us when we can seem to step aside and look at it. Sometimes it has been likened to the river, which bears the vessel on from the harbour among the hills, down past ever varying scenes, and out into the great ocean. Poetic souls are touched with a fine melancholy as they see the "stately ships pass on," and feel how each resembles a human life. Time is short; the voyage is brief, and the ocean is so vast, so unexplored, so unknown. "The word 'fashion' has not here the popular meaning which has been generally assigned to it. It does not refer to those customs and conventionalities which vary in different nations and different ages,—all these pass away; but the word refers here to all that is external upon earth; all that has form and shape and scenery; all that is visible in contradistinction to that which is invisible." Work cut and illustrate two things.
I. IT IS ONLY THE FASHION OF THE WORLD THAT PASSES AWAY. This we should feel if we could rightly understand what the "fashion of the world" is. Clearly distinguish between the "essence" and the "accident" of a thing. It may he quite true that the "essence" escapes us; it is beyond our present vision. But we can realize it in thought. We know that within appearances are undying realities, and that appearances may change and pass, but the reality is eternal. Phenomena are but the utterance of eternal things, so that under our present sense limitations we may know something of them. This is best apprehended by reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was "God manifest" in our sense spheres. The mere fashion of him, as the Fellow man, with whom we might have sense relations, may pass away—it did pass away—but such passing in no way touched the reality of his abiding presence with us. So we seem every day to be losing things, but we only lose the fashion of them, the outward show. Whatever they have really been to us, for good or for bad, they are still, and they shall be forever. We ourselves must presently pass away; but it is only the fashion that passes; we remain. With reverence it may even be said of us, that "our years are throughout all generations." Then we can loose from our grasp the merely "seen and temporal," if we have for our possession the "unseen and eternal."
II. IT IS THE REALITY OF THE WORLD THAT IS ABIDING. If we can only find out what that reality is. And surely it is this—the character of the beings that pass under its thousandfold influences. There is nothing else that is abiding, The physical world is ever changing and passing away. We talk of the everlasting mountains, while they are crumbling and being washed down into the plains. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever," and he alone. The reality of the world is just that unseen spiritual sphere in which Christ's soul and the Christian soul lives. You may call it earth or call it heaven, according to the fashion in which it is apprehended. So the apostle urges his practical point—Do not even try to satisfy your souls in the merely sensuous spheres that so surely pass away. Break all these bonds of the sensual, if you are now bound with them. Keep away from these bonds of the sensual, it in any form they are likely to entangle you. Live in the Spirit. "Walk in the Spirit; and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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