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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

1 Corinthians 5

Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The persons, or the people blamed. The famous church of Corinth has fornication, nay, incest, charged upon her. Heinous sins may creep into the best and purest churches, yet doth not a church presently cease to be a true church; nor are Christians presently to separate from the communion of a church, because heinous sins and scandalous offences are found in it. This church of Corinth was a true church, and it was schismatical to separate from her communion, although erroneous principles and scandalous practices were found amongst the members of it.

Observe, 2. The crime charged upon them; namely, that fornication was found amongst them, yea, the highest degree of fornication; to wit, incest. By the general name of fornication, all uncleanness is forbidden, all unlawful conjunctions and sinful mixtures are condemned. By incest is to be understood to uncleanness of a person with some near relation, as a mother, a sister, &c.

Observe, 3. The crime of incest is not barely expressed, but amplified and aggravated by its heinousness, such as was not named among the Gentiles. Not but that many of the more brutish Gentiles were guilty of this sin, but the more civilized amongst the Gentiles did by the light of nature detest and abhor it, condemn and forbid it.

Lord! how sad is it, that what is not so much as named among the heathens should be practised among Christians! whereas such sins ought not to be so much as named among Christians, which are practised among the heathen.

Observe, 4. The notoriousness of the crime: It is commonly reported; the fame, or rather the infamy, of the fact, spread far and near; the sin became so public, that it could not be coloured, much less concealed. All sin is a work of darkness. Uncleanness particularly delights in darkness; therefore the notoriety of the act bespoke the impudence of the agent.

Ah, sad day! when men declare their sin like Sodom, they hide it not. When both shame and fear are cast off, sin hath a hard forehead, a brazen brow.

Verse 2

Here note, 1. The fault charged upon the church: they did not censure this offender, therefore the apostle censures them. The tolerating of scandalous sins in particular members of churches, is a thing very displeasing to Christ, and offensive to his ministers.

Note, 2. As they did not censure the offenders, so neither did they mourn for the offence, as they should and ought to have done.

Learn, That the falls of particular members of churches are a just cause of mourning to the whole church: as members of the same body, we should sympathize with one another; what the natural members do, the mystical members ought to do.

Note, 3. The cause of both, why they did neither censure the offender, nor mourn for the offence: they were puffed up; partly with pride of their own gifts, and partly with vain-glory, upon account of their admired teachers. Now this pride hindered their sorrow; a proud man is seldom a compassionate man; true humility will teach us to lament and bewail others' frailty. Ye are puffed up, and have not mourned; the original word, to mourn, seems to refer to a custom in the primitive time, when Christians put on solemnly mourning attire, and bewailed excommunicate persons as those that are dead. These Corinthians being puffed up with pride, were so far from their compassionate mourning over this incestuous person, that they rather rejoiced at it, and insulted over that party to whom this person belonged. So prone are persons to rejoice at the downfall of others, either by sin, or by affliction!

Verse 3

As if the apostle had said, "Although I am absent from you in body, yet in mind and consent I am present with you, and also by my discerning spirit, by which I am enabled to discern things done at a distance; and accordingly by the authority and power given me by our Lord Jesus Christ, I have already determined, that when you are solemnly gathered together in the name of Christ, and have my spirit concurring with you, and the power of Christ confirming the sentence pronounced by you, that you deliver this incestuous person unto Satan, by casting him out of the church, and leaving him to God's executioner to inflict destructive punishment on his body, to bring him to repentance on his body, to bring him to repentance for the saving of his soul."

Here note, 1. The censure and sentence pronounced: excommunication, which consisteth of two parts,

(1) Privative, in a separation from the communion of saints.

(2) Positive, which is here expressed by delivering unto Satan, who had then a power over the excommunicated person's body to torment it with diseases; which power though now ceased, yet the Christian church has at this day a power to exclude enormous offenders from the ordinary means of grace and salvation, and to expose them to the malice and temptations of their grand adversary the devil, by depriving them of church communion, which is a more dreadful punishment than persons are sensible of.

Note, 2. The person inflicting this censure, St. Paul, I have judged already. He pronounced it judicially, and requires the Corinthians to denounce it solemnly. I have judged already; implying that he did not determine rashly and suddenly, but advisedly, as became a judge.

And mark, they must denounce solemnly what he had determined judicially, and this in the face of the whole church, when ye are gathered together; that is, in the presence of the chief pastor, and all his flock at Corinth.

A public crime must have a public doom, that others may hear and fear: yet remark, the congregation or church were witnesses of the censure, but they did not judge and determine it: the apostle did that. The power of the keys is in the hand of the church only, quoad khreysin not quoad khteysin: that the church may have the benefit of them, not the managing of them, for that is committed to the pastors only, as appears, Matthew 16:17-Proverbs :.

Note, 3. The solemn and awful manner in which the censure and excommunication was and ought to be pronounced, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, having first, in a solemn manner, called upon the Lord Jesus Christ for his direction and benediction; or, in the name of our Lord Jesus, that is, according to the command of Christ, by the power and authority of Christ, and with an eye to the glory of Christ; this should be the ends, in denouncing church censures: and then Christ will by at the consistory, and his co-operation will make good the censure, as his commission was our warrant to pronounce it; and then the penitent may and ought to dread the sentence, as coming out of Christ's own mouth, and to be inflicted by Christ's own hand.

Note, 4. The miserable case and state which the person that is duly excommunicated is in: by is then delivered unto Satan, as God's executioner, to inflict severe punishments on the person's body, now cast out of God's special protection, deprived of the church's communion, and exposed to the temptations and snares of our grand adversary, Satan. St. Austin in his time declared, that it was then thought gravius quam gladio feriri, much more grievous to be excommunicated than to be beheaded.

But, Lord! where are the persons at this day, who tremble when their sins have brought them into this miserable case and state?

Note, 5. That persons ought not to be in this severe and solemn manner proceeded against, but for notorious, scandalous sins. To denounce this awful censure upon every slight and trivial occasion, is to prostitute one of the most venerable ordinances of Christ to contempt and scorn.

Note, 6. The great and special end for which the ordinance of excommunication was instituted by Christ in his church, and executed by his apostles; namely, to recover the fallen person by repentance, and to be a warning to others. The reforming, and not the ruining of men, was the intention of this ordinance: the censure is not mortal, but medicinal.

It is, 1. For the destruction of the flesh, so lasciviant in him; for the mortifying his lusts, by afflicting him with grief and sorrow.

2. For the saving of his spirit, that is, his soul, that this may be recovered out of the snare of the devil.

Lastly, The time is expressed, when the penitent person shall find the benefit of this painful ordinance; namely, in the day of the Lord Jesus; not but that a penitent in this life shall find some ease in his conscience, and satisfaction in his spirit: but the full benefit of ecclesiastical censure is reserved to the day of the Lord, the day of judgment: then will Christ manifest to the church triumphant the good effect of the power of the keys, which he hath committed to his ministers, to be exercised publicly in the church militant; he will then reveal how all stand bound in heaven, whom his church never loosed on earth; and all whom his church hath loosed on earth, shall then appear to be loosed in heaven.

Verse 6

As if the apostle had said, "You Corinthians are prone to pride yourselves, in the numbers of wise and wealthy men that are found among you; you glory that Corinth is the eye of Greece, and Greece the eye of the world; but what do you glory in this for? When you have such a scandalous person among you, (the incestuous man,) who is a blot and a blemish to your whole society, know ye not that as a little leaven leaveneth and soureth the whole lump; so such a member continued among you, will defile the whole body or society of Christians with you? Therefore purge out this old leaven, (cast this scandalous person out of your communion,) that ye may be a new lump (your whole church an holy society) as ye are unleavened; that is, forasmuch as ye are by your profession of Christianity obliged to be unleavened, that is, separated from sin and sinners."

Learn hence, 1. That all sin in general, but the sin of uncleanness in particular, is as leaven in regard of its spreading and diffusive nature: old leaven it is here called, because the Corinthians had been long infamous for this sin of uncleanness, even to a proverb.

Observe next, That the apostle having used this similitude of leaven, he pursues it in allusion to the Jewish custom before the celebration of the passover, who were to cast all leaven out of their houses with detestation and cursing, upon penalty of being cut off from the congregation of Israel. Thus the holy profession of Christianity obliges every one of us to cut off every notorious sinner from our society, every lust from our hearts, every member of the old Adam, that we may be a new lump, answering our holy and heavenly calling.

Observe here, The apostle's reason why the old leaven of uncleanness and malicious wickedness should be put away by us; namely, because Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. We should therefore be as careful to put away sinful lusts out of our hearts, as the Jews were to cast the material leaven out of their houses.

Learn hence, 1. That Christ is our passover, or paschal lamb, in allusion to which he is often called a lamb in the New Testament. We do not find him expressed in the New Testament by the name of any other animals which typified him, but only this of a lamb, this being more significant of his innocency and sufficiency than any other. John 1:29 He is called God's lamb; here he is called our passover or paschal lamb; God's in regard of the author, ours in regard to the end; God's in regard of designation, ours in regard of acceptation.

Learn, 2. That Christ is our sacrifice. A sacrifice was necessary for a sinful creature, to atone divine displeasure: a sacrifice for sin must be pure and sinless; no such sacrifice could be found but the eternal Son of God; for whatever any creature could do or suffer, had been but a debt or duty, and that could never have made compensation or satisfaction for a debt of rebellion.

Learn, 3. That Christ was a sacrifice for us, not for himself; for being perfectly sinless, he needed no sacrifice. Now the notion of all sacrifices, both among Jews and heathens, was this, that they were substituted in the room and place of the offender, to appease an offended deity, and exempt the guilty person from punishment.

Accordingly our sins were imputed to Christ, and he died under the imputed guilt of them, as a reputed sinner; for we cannot conceive how divine justice should inflict the punishment upon Christ, had it not first considered him under guilt. The weight of all our sin was laid upon his innocent shoulders: our guilt became his, by a voluntary susception of the punishment, and consequently the sufferings of this sacrifice are imputed to us. He took our sins upon himself, as if he had actually sinned; and gave us the benefit of his sufferings, as if we had actually suffered and satisfied.

Observe next, The inference drawn by the apostle from Christ's dying a sacrifice for us: Therefore let us keep the feast; not an anniversary, or yearly, but a daily feast, even all the days of our Christian life; let the whole of our lives be as the Jewish feast of passover was, free from leaven, from the leaven of malice and wickedness, and full of sincerity and uprightness both towards God and man.

Learn hence, The duty of every particular and individual Christian; seeing Christ has died as a sacrifice for his sin, his duty is to live unto Christ, by living up to the rule which Christ has given him, abhorring all malice, abandoning all wickedness, acting all that sincerity towards God, and exercising that truth and uprightness towards man, which will be an ornament to our profession whilst we are upon earth, and will bring us at length to the fruition of God in heaven.

Verse 9

Here our apostle tells them, that he had written to them in this, or some other epistle, before he was fully acquainted with their affairs, not to company with fornicators; that is, to shun all intimacy and familiarity with infidels: but he did not mean or intend that they should have no converse or commerce with them, because they lived among unbelievers, and could not go out of the world.

But now since he heard of the miscarriage of this incestuous person, who was certainly a Christian, and probably a doctor or teacher among them, he warns them to avoid all brotherly intimacy and familiarity with scandalous Christians, lest the church be thought to favour such: With such an one, says he, no, not to eat; admit not such to your own table, much less to Christ's.

Learn from hence, 1. That all necessary society, and intimate familiarity with scandalous professors, ought to be avoided, that religion may not be thought to favour them, and the church may not suffer by them.

Learn, 2. That as it ought to be the church's care to purge out such, and separate them from her communion; so is it every private Christian's duty to avoid that familiarity with them which is in their power, even that which lieth in friendly eating with them.

Learn, 3. If civil eating with scandalous professors of religion be forbidden at our own table, much less ought any church to permit and suffer them a religious eating at the Lord's table, which was never spread for such guests.

Verse 12

As if the apostle had said, "My jurisdiction extendeth not to the heathens, I have nothing to do to judge and censure them that are without the church: but such as are within the pale of the church, your own members, who own your jurisdiction, these you have an undoubted right and power to judge, leaving the other to the judgment of God: therefore I advise, nay, charge you, to put away from yourselves that wicked and incestuous person, by excommunicating and banishing him from your communion."

As banishment is a civil excommunication, so excommunication is a spiritual banishment: magistrates must drive malefactors out of civil societies, and church officers must expel enormous offenders out of their religious societies; for they who are unfit for civil converse, are much more unfit for spiritual communion.

The last words, Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person, help us clearly to understand the former precept, 1 Corinthians 5:7. Purge out the old leaven, &c that they are not in their first and proper sense to be interpreted of particular persons purging out their lusts, and mortifying their corruptions, though that be a very necessary duty; but it is to be understood of every Christian church's duty to pruge out from among them all flagitious and enormous offenders.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1700-1703.