Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
stewardship. Ministers are "stewards of the mysteries of God;" if so, fidelity is their highest duty, or rather the soul of every duty. If the preacher had to set forth so unpopular a doctrine as Christ crucified, so obnoxious to worldly culture, so alien to the civilization of the age, then this "foolishness of preaching" was a very urgent reason for faithfulness. What need of watchfulness here! "Who can understand his errors," and especially these errors? Apostles were "men of like passions" with others; and this very likeness, while fraught with dangers both obvious and occult, made them fit, under God, for their work. The idea of stewardship was familiar to these Corinthians, perhaps keenly so to some of them; for in the business of that day much had to be entrusted to agents. Now, the master in such cases cannot give detailed instructions to his stewards, and hence a good deal must be left to their judgment. The hazard, let it be observed, is not on the side of the understanding; no rare intellectual outfit was requisite in this instance; the one supreme doctrine of Christ crucified had wisdom and power sufficient to impart truth of thought and emotion to all subordinate doctrines. But the danger lay in a want of fidelity. And had not St. Paul evinced this faithfulness while with these Corinthians? Yet, whether they admired or blamed, whether acquitted or condemned, what was that to him? "A very small thing was man's judgment;" nor, forsooth, would he judge himself, but leave all judgment to the Lord Jesus. Spiritual discernment has its functions; insight is a glorious gift; but the Lord reserves judgment to himself. That judgment awaits its day of revelation, when "the hidden things of darkness" and the "counsels of the hearts" shall be made manifest. Then, indeed, men shall see themselves as Christ sees them. Here, in this world, even in our most enlightened state, consciousness is partial. Much of a man lies far down in unillumined depths; the secrets of motives and impulses evade his personal cognizance; only in fragments can he realize himself; how much less can he comprehend others! And, "therefore, judge nothing before the time." Obviously, then, humility of judgment is not only an intellectual excellence but a spiritual virtue. It is a Divine discernment of our limitations, a Divine insight into the fact that there is an unconscious man no less than a conscious one in every human being, and that, meantime, fidelity stands free of all restrictions and abatements. Does fidelity look at office? It does not see popularity, honour, preferment, but duty, duty alone, duty ever; and this sense of duty, inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost, educates the man in tact and skill, in diligence and patience. Does fidelity look at others? It neither exaggerates nor depreciates them, nor can it regard them as rivals, since no man can possibly have a sense of rivalry who realizes Christ in the most essential fact of work, viz. brotherhood. And consequently, one of the many beautiful provisions of Christianity to secure fidelity is found in the brotherhood of Christians. Does fidelity look into its own heart? Even then infirmity clings to its energetic searching. On its good side it may be too self exacting, morbid, harshly critical of itself; on its weak side it may be lenient and over indulgent. And hence St. Paul, while conscious of knowing nothing against himself, declares, "Yet am I not hereby justified," and relies solely on the justification of Christ at that great assize, which, among all its wonders, shall surprise men most of all by its divinely revealed estimates of human character. "For your sakes," so he argues, "I have been thus explicit and emphatic, transferring these things to myself and Apollos," in order that the Corinthians might clearly see his own disinterestedness. This point assured, the way is open for remonstrance. Why are ye puffed up? If we are recipients; if Paul and Apollos are mere stewards of the Master's riches; if self judgments and judgments of others are impossible to men under the limitations of consciousness and observation; if "the counsels of the hearts" keep out of sight and hold their latency intact for the final day; and if, meantime, fidelity to duty is the supreme concern and adequate to call out and employ all the spiritual resources of our nature under grace; and, finally, if you owe all your means of acting on one another and the world to the brotherhood of the Church; - why do ye stand arrayed in sharp hostility against one another and rend asunder the Lord's body? - L.
I. THE SUBORDINATE POSITION OF CHRISTIAN TEACHERS. None need deem it a denudation or an undue humiliation to stand where the apostle stood; indeed, Paul is an acknowledged and admired model to all who work for the kingdom.
1. They are, in relation to Christ himself, ministers. They serve him, and count it an honour so to do. For his sake, and in his Name, they act as servants to their fellow men.
2. They are, in relation to the truth they promulgate, stewards. That is to say, the truth is not revealed by them, but to them; it is held not as their property, but as their trust; it is not appropriated to their own use, but dispensed by them for the benefit of others; they are not at liberty to do as they like with it - they are accountable to the Lord of all for the way in which they deal with it.
3. This being so, faithfulness is the virtue they are bound to cultivate and display. Whilst those who are independent are not especially bound to this duty, all who have derived from another, and are accountable to that other, are emphatically called to be faithful. Such is the position of all the ministers of Christ.
II. THE TRUE DIGNITY OF SPIRITUAL SERVANTS ARISES FROM THEIR RELATION TO THEIR LORD AND TO HIS WORD. There is a contrast between the service and the Master, between the stewardship and the mystery. The minister cannot think too lowlily of himself or too loftily of his theme and trust.
1. If they are ministers, they are ministers of Christ. An ambassador may be a person of lowly birth and feeble powers, but if he is an ambassador, his relation to his sovereign and the credentials and commission he has received entitle his message to peculiar consideration. And however the pastor, teacher, or evangelist may in himself be lacking in claims upon the respect of the superficial society called "the world," however he may be destitute of the shining gifts which command the admiration of the Church, still neither he nor those whose welfare he seeks are ever at liberty to forget that he is an ambassador from heaven, that he is commissioned and authorized by the King of kings.
2. If they are stewards, they are stewards of the mysteries of God. By mysteries the apostle meant truths which had in the past been hidden but were now revealed. Revealed in Christ, the Divine purposes of grace, salvation and life to all mankind, were published by the apostles and. their fellow labourers. And the declaration of the mind and heart of God was well worthy of being regarded as the impartation of a mystery compared with which all the wonders of Eleusis sank into insignificance. Of this Paul was conscious, and it would be well if every preacher of the gospel were ever to have this before his mind. We have this treasure, though "in earthen vessels." The solemnity of publishing Divine truth and the responsibility of hearing it are alike by these considerations brought very vividly before the mind. Thus are ministers unto some a savour of life unto life, unto others a savour of death unto death. - T.
I. WHAT THEY ARE.
1. Ministers. Not masters; servants, not lords. The word means literally "under rower," or common sailor, and is generally used of the lower class of servants. Ministers are the mere servants of Christ; they have no authority save that which they may receive from him. "Be not ye called Rabbi" (Matthew 23:8). A domineering despotic spirit is altogether out of place. If any will be chief, he must be servant of all. Many ministers have trouble with their Churches because of their own masterful spirit. Like Rehoboam, they do not heed the sage counsel, "If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever" (1 Kings 12:7). Some of the Corinthians had unduly exalted their teachers (1 Corinthians 1:12); others perhaps had regarded them as utterly insignificant ("I of Christ"); Paul defines the legitimate position. Ministerial activity is hinted at; ministers are to be workers, not idlers.
2. Ministers of Christ. This makes their calling most honourable. They are servants of the Church, servants of their fellows, but not primarily. They serve the Church and their fellow men because they desire to stove Christ. They are
(1) appointed by Christ;
(2) responsible to him;
(3) to be judged by him;
(4) to be devoted to him;
(5) to speak in his Name;
(6) to preach him and his redemption;
(7) to rely upon his help;
(8) to take orders from him;
(9) not to originate, but to ascertain his mind.
3. Stewards. A position
(1) of trust and confidence;
(2) of influence;
(3) of responsibility;
(4) of some peril;
(5) of much honour.
4. Stewards of the mysteries of God. "Mystery" in the New Testament does not mean something incomprehensible, but something beyond the reach of unaided human intelligence. The "mysteries of God" are thus "hidden" (1 Corinthians 2:7) until revealed by him. They are the truths of the gospel - "the truth as it is in Jesus." Ministers have special charge concerning these truths -
(1) to preserve them;
(2) to dispense them.
As stewards, they should be deeply impressed with
(1) the vast importance of the "riches" entrusted to them;
(2) the need of utmost care in discharging the duties of their office;
(3) the awful issues to themselves and others if they are remiss.
Many are satisfied if self approved or if praised by others; but Paul looked to the judgment of Christ (ver. 4). We are not to be despondent if we are "unpopular" with men, so that we are approved by our Lord. Though "unpopularity" with men is very far from being an argument that we please our Master: "The common people heard him gladly," and probably would so hear us if we were more like him.
II. A NECESSARY QUALIFICATION. Faithfulness. This is a first requisite in those who are "stewards of the mysteries of God." Stewards must not use their lord's goods for their own advantage. What evils result from unfaithfulness in an earthly stewardship I who can estimate the evils flowing from an unfaithful ministry! A minister should be faithful:
1. To Christ, in
2. To his flock.
(1) Preaching unadulterated doctrine. Not corrupting the Word of God. Not substituting something else for it.
(2) Rightly dividing the word of truth.
(3) Reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long suffering and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
(4) Striving "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28). - H.
I. HOW MINISTERS ARE TO BE REGARDED. They are:
1. Servants of Christ. They are not "lords over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3), the chiefs of the kingdom. Their true dignity lies in serving the Lord Jesus, from whom they take their orders. They have no authority beyond that which is committed to them. Nor are they the servants of men. Obedience to their own Master delivers them from subjection to every ether (comp. on 1 Corinthians 3:5).
2. Stewards of the mysteries of God. The Church is God's house, in which he alone is Master; apostles and other teachers being dispensers of the good things of the house, the great doctrines of the faith. Every man is a steward, being entrusted with the laying out of the gifts conferred upon him, and the improving of the opportunities put in his way. But this is true in a special sense of the Christian minister. He is entrusted with the dispensation of the Divine mysteries to men. He is not called to deal out his own things, but the saving truth of God, giving to each his portion of meat in due season. How responsible an office! This view of the Christian ministry should guard us against two common extremes. On the one side, ministers are not lords, endowed with a kind of supernatural power, and set to rule the consciences of men. On the other side, ministers are not the servants of the people, appointed to teach only some favourite type of doctrine. They are the servants of Christ, charged to deliver his truth, whether men will hear it or not.
II. FAITHFULNESS THE GREAT REQUISITE. Every steward must give account of his stewardship, and the chief thing required is fidelity. Men ask of a preacher, "Is he able, eloquent, attractive?" God asks, "Is he faithful?" Fidelity does not depend on the quality or quantity of the original gifts, but on the use to which they are put. The man with two talents receives the same reward as the man with five, because he has been equally faithful (Matthew 25:21, 23). Nor is fidelity measured by what men call success, since it is often incompatible with popularity. Let the much gifted minister beware; let the little gifted take comfort. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
III. THE MINISTER'S JUDGE.
1. Not the congregation. It was a very small thing in Paul's view to be judged of men. The verdict of the people on a minister's discharge of duty is not to be lightly laid aside. If they praise, let us beware of being satisfied with this; if they condemn, let us the more thoroughly search ourselves. But from this verdict there must ever be an appeal to a higher tribunal. Men cannot read the motives that lie behind the outward act, nor can they gauge the proportion between a minister's powers and the use he makes of them. Their measure of fidelity must always be imperfect.
2. Not the minister himself. The apostle disclaims being his own judge. He cannot charge himself with any remissness in duty, but he does not regard this as an unfailing proof of fidelity. He distrusts his own verdict. Let those who think themselves perfect ponder this statement. A good conscience is very precious, but let us not run into the folly of measuring ourselves by ourselves. Conscience is not the final judge in the matter.
3. The Lord is his Judge. "Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4). This is man's judgment day; let us wait "until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts." The verdict of that day will proceed upon a perfect knowledge of the whole case, and every steward shall receive the praise of God according to the just award of the Judge. Wherefore:
(1) Do all your work remembering that Christ is your Judge. He knows your weakness as well as your strength, and sees the honest desire to serve him beneath many an apparent failure.
(2) Do not sit in judgment upon, others. Christ will judge his own servants. - B.
serves Christ among his people, and serves the people for Christ's sake. Our Lord himself said, "I am among you as he that serveth;" and St. Paul says to his converts, "Ye serve the Lord Christ." We propose now to dwell more fully on the figure of the steward. A Christian teacher is to be thought of as a "steward of the mysteries of God." The word "steward" is used in England for a "land bailiff;" but in the East it was employed for a person put in trust of all his master's goods - "such as was Eliezer in the house of Abraham (Genesis 24:2-12), and Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4). It was one of the main duties of such a steward to dispense their portions of food to the different members of the household (Luke 12:42), to give the slaves or servants their "portion in due season." Compare the words "housekeeper," "house ruler," "house feeder," and see Matthew 24:45. The apostle's point is that the Christian teacher is not to be esteemed for any particular qualifications which he may have of his own, but simply for his faithfulness in doing his work as the servant of God. Christian congregations may fall into either of two errors; the "Christian minister may be glorified, or made an idol of, in two ways - by party worship of the man, or by attaching a mystical or supernatural power to the office." Both the minister himself, and those among whom he labours, do well to keep ever in mind that he is but a steward, only Christ's servant, to minister to them in Divine things. We consider, then -
I. THE STEWARD'S TRUSTS. "The mysteries of God." Mysteries were familiar things to those whom the apostle addressed. "The word 'mysteries' is derived from a word signifying to close, to shut, and was in the old Greek civilization used to denote those rites which were only permitted to the initiated, and were kept a strict secret from the outside world. Of such a kind were the well known Eleusinian mysteries, which were kept every fifth year at Eleusis, in Attica; the rites of the Bona Dea, which were observed at Rome; and those of Isis and Mithras, which were of Egyptian and Persian origin." It should be noticed that the word "mystery" is used in the Scriptures in two distinct senses:
(1) for things that are hidden from the ordinary understanding; and
(2) for things that in past times were unknown, but are now revealed to those who believe the gospel. The term is chiefly used in this latter sense. When St. Paul exclaims, "Great is the mystery of godliness," he means the "revealed mystery," of which he immediately speaks, even God, or Christ, being "manifest in the flesh." The trust of the Christian teacher is, then, the revealed mystery of the gospel, and this may be said to have three centres round which it gathers:
(1) the Incarnation;
(2) the Sacrifice;
(3) the Resurrection.
The Incarnation reveals the mysteries of God and of man; the Sacrifice reveals the mysteries of sin and of redemption from sin; and the Resurrection reveals the mysteries of immortality and of sanctification. So these are the great truths and trusts of which the Christian teachers are "stewards." Their work is to minister these truths, in all their varied adaptations and applications, to the people of their charge. Happy, indeed, are they who can close their ministry pleading as St. Paul did, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God."
II. THE STEWARD'S RESPONSE TO HIS TRUSTS. "Found faithful." The thought of St. Paul seems to have been that due inquiry is made into the character and trustworthiness of a man before he is put into the office of a steward; as he elsewhere says, "Let them first be proved." But we may fairly include under his language the reasonable expectation that the man who is entrusted with a responsible position and work will be "found faithful" in his doing of it. Then we must inquire what should be the faithfulness of a Christian teacher, or indeed of the Christian man, to whom the gospel mysteries have been revealed. It should be manifest in three departments:
1. He must be faithful to his Master, God; seeking his service only, and his glory only.
2. He must be faithful to the truths he has received; carefully setting them, and not any mere ideas he may have about them, before the people; and seeking to set the whole of them, and not merely portions in which he may be personally interested, before his congregation.
3. He must be faithful to the people to whom God may have sent him; taking up the burden of their spiritual needs on his own heart; feeling ever as did good Samuel Rutherford when he said, "God is my witness, that your salvation would be two salvations to me, and your heaven two heavens to me!" Impress that the more deeply we feel the greatness of our trusts, as having had the great religious mysteries in part revealed to us, the more serious becomes for us the question of our "faithfulness;" and the more shall we feel the need for solemn times of self searching and self criticism. It is an unspeakable honour to be entrusted with the "mysteries" of God and of Christ and of redemption from sin; but all true and humble souls say with the apostle, "But who is sufficient for these things? " - R.T.
I. THAT IT IS INDEPENDENT OF WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF THE POSITIONS WE OCCUPY AND THE MATTERS WITH WHICH WE HAVE TO DEAL. What we call the trivial and commonplace affairs of life are quite as effectual a test of moral faithfulness as the greater; often more so. We are prone to treat lightly what seem to us to be "little things," and for that very reason they are often the truest revealers of our character. Our real dispositions come out most clearly in the way in which we deal with them, because then our behaviour is most spontaneous, unpremeditated, free from artifice. If you want to know what a man really is, don't judge of him as he appears on the broad open platform of public life, but follow him into his more private ways, and see how he speaks and acts when he feels himself to be beyond the ear and eye of the world, and in matters on which no great consequence seems to hang. It is quite possible to raise a purely artificial standard of moral obligation, and to magnify unwisely certain scruples of conscience. But a really conscientious man will be conscientious in everything. And as a feather or a straw will show which way the stream is flowing, so do the trivial circumstances of life reveal the moral drift of our being. (Note the bearing of this on the probation to which Adam was subject: "Thou shalt not eat," etc.) What is daily life to every one of us but a series of silent tests of our inward fidelity? We are hedged in by little restrictions, called to take upon us manfully the burden of many unwelcome duties; to suffer many abstinences, rebukes, self mortifications. And when we are disposed to overstep the boundary, because at certain points it seems so narrow or so low, we show that we have not learnt the full surrender of the spirit of obedience. "Offending in one point" of the law of our allegiance, we betray a spirit that is "guilty of all." So as regards the right use of faculty and passing opportunities of doing good. The temptations that belong to a low order of personal faculty and a narrow range of personal influence are often greater than those that belong to the highest and the largest. You do nothing because the utmost you can do is so little; or you do carelessly and half heartedly what, as it seems to you, for anything the world would really be the better for it, you might neglect to do at all. The spirit that dictates this is one that would trifle with the loftiest powers and abuse the noblest possibilities of life. "He that is faithful in that which is least," etc. (Luke 16:10).
II. ALL PRACTICAL FIDELITY IN THE STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE HAS A TENDENCY TO DEVELOP INTO HIGHER CAPACITY AND NOBLER DEED. Note here the power of habit. Accustom yourself with an earnest spirit to meet the claims of every day duty as in the Master's sight, and you call to your aid a power and obey a law of life by which the highest moral victories shall ultimately, be won. Let our children be trained to act from principle and not from mere passion or policy, to habits of self surrender, to simple forms of Christian service, and they will become so habituated to the right way that when the heavier responsibilities of life begin to fall upon them they will be prepared bravely to meet them - the "yoke will be easy and the burden light." Thus is it given to us all to educate ourselves for what awaits us in the future. The Jews say of David that "God tried him first with those few sheep in the wilderness, and then, because he faithfully and bravely kept them, took him from the sheepfolds to feed his people Israel." Only use manfully whatever moral power you possess, and you need not fear any strain that shall ever be put upon it. Cast yourself freely upon your faith, and though it be now but as a "grain of mustard seed," it shall be mighty enough one day "to remove mountains."
III. SUCH FIDELITY LEADS TO BLESSED ISSUES IN THE GREAT FUTURITY. It is not given to us to trace the path of moral threes very far in this world. Our judgments are often at fault, our forecasts often strangely falsified. Only very imperfectly and with cautious hesitating steps can we follow the winding and widening stream of earthly issues. And who shall say how some of the unnoticed doings of every human life, and the results that grow out of them, will appear in the all revealing light of the day when "God will bring every work into judgment and every secret thing, whether it be good or bad"? But of this we may be perfectly well assured, that to a lifelong endeavour to serve and please the Lord Jesus Christ there must be a blessed eternal reward. Let our life be a faithful one, a work faithfully wrought out in his Name, and we need not fear but that it will prove itself to be a life worth living and that ends well "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). - W.
I. THE JUDGMENT WHICH IS DEPRECATED. This is the judgment:
1. Of our fallible fellow men. For they have not the necessary material or the due knowledge and opportunity for forming a just judgment. Men are influenced in the opinions they form of one another by their prejudices and prepossessions. We judge our friends too favourably, and are too severe in our censure of our opponents. Hence our Lord has warned us, "Judge not!"
2. That which is passed at this present time. This is the time for work, not the time for judging and for recompense. No man's work can be Girly judged until it is completed. And beside this, we cannot see life in its true proportions when we look at it from a point of view so near. To judge now is to judge "before the time."
II. THE JUDGMENT WHICH IS ANTICIPATED.
1. This is God's judgment. He will bring every work into judgment. His acquaintance with all who shall appear before his bar is perfect. His material for forming a judgment is complete. His mind is unclouded by human prejudices. He is infinitely just.
2. This shall take place upon our Lord's return. His parousia, is what the Church looks forward to with affectionate interest and hope. Her children offer the frequent prayer: That at thy whom God hath appointed to judge the quick and the dead."
3. This shall be accompanied by revelation. There are hidden things of darkness which must be brought to light; virtues and vices of which the world has taken little or no note, but which must be brought forward and taken into account, in order to a just decision and award, There are counsels of the heart to be made manifest; for whilst men necessarily judge by the conduct, God will take into account the secret intentions and motives of those who have laboured for him, both good and evil.
4. This will be by a perfect discrimination. The hypocrite shall be distinguished from the sincere, the diligent from the idle, the time server and men pleaser from the true servant of God.
5. This will be the occasion of recompense. The case of the utterly unfaithful is left out of view as irrelevant in this connection. But among the faithful it is presumed that there are degrees of fidelity; and every man shall have his praise from God. This implies that each has a special need for special service; and it also implies that praise shall be accompanied by a substantial and everlasting recompense. It is well, therefore, to work "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye," to avoid judging one's self, to be indifferent to the partial judgment of men, and to wait for the revelation and the awards of eternity. - T.
I. REFLECT THAT HUMAN JUDGMENT IS FALLIBLE. It is needful to remember this. Many laugh at "infallibility" when it affects a pope at Rome, but are much disposed to believe in it when it affects a pope at home. We should not forget that
(1) our powers are limited;
(2) our information often very defective;
(3) our minds very subject to bias. Our fallibility should lead us:
1. To take heed how we pronounce final judgments. There are some things about which we should not judge at all, as altogether transcending our powers and province. About many things we are compelled to form judgments, and to act upon the judgments formed. But finality of judgment may often be profitably avoided. We should particularly observe this when our judgments affect:
(1) The providence and dealings of God.
(2) The character, motives, deserts, of our fellows. We see the deeds, and may pronounce upon them as such, but we must remember that the heart is hidden from us.
(3) Certain matters connected with ourselves, it may be well to judge ourselves severely, since our tendency is to take too favourable a view of our own conduct. We may acquit ourselves when we ought to condemn ourselves. Implicit faith cannot be reposed in the voice of conscience; it may be perverted. Our judgment of ourselves should command our confidence only when we feel sure that our judgment agrees with God's judgment.
2. Not to be disconcerted if harshly judged by our fellows. If an enlightened conscience does not condemn, fallible human judgment should not greatly depress us. We should value human judgment, not overvalue it. Rightly estimated, it is under such conditions "a very small thing;" under all conditions, a very small thing compared with the judgment of God. To our own Master we stand or fall. So fallible is human judgment that often the best men have been counted the worst, and the worst the best.
II. REFLECT THAT DIVINE JUDGMENT IS INFALLIBLE. That judgment will be exercised upon us and all around us when the Lord comes; or rather, that judgment is now being exercised, and then will be declared. The day of the Lord will be a day of universal and infallible judgment. When the Lord comes:
1. Hidden things of darkness will be brought into the light. So much is hidden from us; nothing will be hidden from him. We judge from part; he sees all. No darkness can hide from him; no hiding can baffle him.
2. There will be heart revelation. How carefully veiled the heart often is now! How different the counsels of the heart from the expressions of the lips and the actions of the hand! Heart revelation must bring widespread condemnation. Yet may we not say also that often, if we had known the counsels of the heart, we should have more favourably estimated the conduct? The whole man will be disclosed at the day of the Lord.
3. There wilt be award. Praise will be administered - "due praise;" for so the rendering might be. Therefore valuable, for unmerited praise is of nothing worth. When God judges, the result will not be all condemnation by any means. There will be praise as well as blame - "due praise," and, let us not forget, "due blame." The reference, however, is not to our salvation, but to God's judgment of our conduct as his servants. Live for the judgment of "the day of the Lord," not for the judgment of "man's day" (for so "man's judgment" may be rendered). The one "a small thing" indeed! The other how great! When the Lord comes, some praised of men will be censured, and not a few blamed of men will be praised. - H.
I. MAN'S JUDGMENT. We must all do our work with the feeling that, at least, our fellow men have their eyes upon us, and form their opinions concerning us. Illustrate how we form estimates of one another. When great men die, the judgments which their contemporaries formed of their work finds expression in numerous articles and books; and when the friends of simpler folk meet at their funerals, their talk shows how the tone and character of the dead man's life has been fully - sometimes fairly, and at other times unfairly - estimated. Now, such judgments of our fellow men may be helpful to us when they find expression in our lifetime.
(1) They are if they help to increase our sense of the seriousness of our duty;
(2) they are if they lead us to know ourselves better, to see and to correct our mistakes;
(3) they are if they make us more anxious to win men's approval by a higher faithfulness to our duty. But the thought of man's judgment may be mischievous if it
(1) makes us nervously sensitive to merely human opinion;
(2) if it makes us self conscious; and
(3) if it makes us in any sense or degree more anxious about the praise of men than the praise of God. We may value men's good opinion as an encouragement; we may consider men's severe judgments as helping us to see our faults; but we may not permit our settled life work to be hindered by men's opinion, nor our hearts to be depressed by men's criticisms. We serve the Lord, not men.
II. SELF JUDGMENT. St. Paul says, "I judge not mine own self." Show how important to all Christian workers is self knowledge, and the power to fairly weigh and estimate one's own doings. So many fail because, while heeding everybody's criticism, they fail to criticize themselves. But wise and helpful self judgments are
(1) very dependent on natural disposition;
(2) on particular bodily and mental moods; and
(3) on the measure and degree of a man's self love.
The duty is plainly taught by the apostle when he said, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31).
III. THE LORD'S JUDGMENT, "He that judgeth me is the Lord." That judgment is stricter than any man's, and than any which we can make concerning ourselves. These points may be illustrated as impressing the superiority of the Lord's judgment.
(1) It is most searching;
(2) it concerns even our motives;
(3) it is infallibly correct;
(4) it is going on every day now;
(5) it is in measure revealed to us now;
(6) it is in measure kept from us now, that our freedom may not be unduly limited;
(7) it will be fully revealed to us by and by; and
(8) on it our allotments of place and work in the "eternities" must entirely depend. - R.T.
I. A COGENT ARGUMENT. "For who maketh thee to differ?" If we are better than our neighbours, or possess gifts which they do not possess, we have God to thank for it. This question should be asked in view of all earthly privileges - health, wealth, position, education. More especially with regard to spiritual benefits. Who maketh thee to differ from that reeling drunkard, that erring sister, that condemned felon, that poor imbecile, that blind heathen? "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). The thoughts awakened by such an inquiry should silence all boastfulness, and call forth praise to him to whom we owe all. Spiritual pride robs God of his glory.
II. AN IRONICAL PICTURE. "Already are ye filled, already ye are become rich, ye have reigned without us." You speak as if you had already attained perfection and participated in the millennial glory. You are not only rich, but seated as kings upon the throne. I would it were really so, for then we also might share in your glory; but alas! ye reign without us. You fortunate ones are exalted, but we poor apostles are still suffering on the earth. Thus does Paul hold up the self conceit of the Corinthians to derision. A warning for all time to those who run off with a part of the truth as if it were the whole. Like the perfectionists of our day, these Corinthians had fallen into the delusion that they had reached the goal. Spiritual pride is very subtle and very dangerous. This picture is suggestive when viewed in connection with the low morality prevalent in the Christian community at Corinth. Note here the legitimate use of irony, as in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 18:27) and Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9, etc.). Evil has its ludicrous side, and the exhibition of this is sometimes more effective than plain argument. Irony, however, is a dangerous weapon, and needs to be handled with skill. The anger that pours ridicule upon an opponent must have behind it a heart of love, if its wounds are to prove wholesome.
III. A PATHETIC CONTRAST. With the proud position of the Corinthians, Paul contrasts the suffering condition of himself and his brother apostles. Consider:
1. The general picture. "For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death." He seems to have in view the exhibitions given in the amphitheatre, at the close of which criminals condemned to death were brought in to fight with wild beasts or with one another. The sufferings of the apostles were a spectacle to the world, men and angels beholding them with interest. And what was true of these servants of Christ is true in part of every believer. We are wrestlers in the arena, fighting for dear life, with a myriad eyes upon us (comp. Hebrews 12:1).
2. The details of the picture. Very touching is this description of apostolic life, supplemented by the fuller details in the Second Epistle (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Follow the steps of the homeless evangelist as he goes from place to place, earning his own bread while preaching the gospel, suffering many privations, exposed to many perils, and treated as the refuse of the world. No wonder if men called him a fool. Looked at from the outside, scarcely any life could appear more miserable; but all is changed when we know that it was lived "for Christ's sake." Love to him made the fellowship of his sufferings a matter to boast of. Are we willing to endure hardship for the Lord's sake? Are we taking up the cross he lays athwart our path?
IV. A CHRIST LIKE SPIRIT. Suffering for Christ is also suffering with Christ. He too was despised and rejected of men; and where he is there must also his servant be. In addition to this we have here suffering endured in the Spirit of Christ. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure, being defamed, we entreat." This was according to the Lord's commandment (Matthew 5:44), and after his example (1 Peter 2:23). How really noble is such a life! The truly strong man is he who can rise above the reproach and hate of men, and regard them with Christ like compassion. Contrast this humble following of Jesus with the proud boasting of the Corinthians. - B.
any minister. All teachers are but men, and all are to be esteemed for the Divine gifts that may be entrusted to their charge. We may not "glory in man," only in God, who distributeth to each man severally as he wills, using this man and that for whatever service he may please. F.W. Robertson, speaking of the Christian ministry, well says, "The qualities which are requisite for the higher part of the ministry are - great powers of sympathy; a mind masculine in its power, feminine in its tenderness; humbleness; wisdom to direct; that knowledge of the world which the Bible calls the wisdom of the serpent; and a knowledge of evil that comes rather from repulsion from it than from personal contact with it. But those qualifications which adapt a man for the merely showy parts of the Christian ministry are of an inferior order - fluency, self confidence, tact, a certain histrionic power of conceiving feelings, and expressing them. Now, it was precisely to this class of qualities that Christianity opened a new field in places such as Corinth. Men who had been unknown in their trades suddenly found an opportunity for public addresses, for activity, and for leadership. They became fluent and ready talkers; and the more shallow and self sufficient they were, the more likely it was that they would become the leaders of a faction." The correction of this evil is indicated in our text. The humble sense of grace received, and the burden of responsibility in so high a trust, should keep all Christian teachers in their right place. Recognizing the differences of men's gifts according to the grace they have received, we should value each man for what gift and grace he may have; but we should take care never to make contrasting estimates, nor allow ourselves to be "puffed up for one against another." The following points may receive illustration from other portions of St. Paul's Epistles, especially from the two to the Corinthians, and from those known as the "Pastoral Epistles" (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus): -
I. THE DIVERSITY OF GIFTS ENTRUSTED TO CHRISTIAN TEACHERS, The work to which they are called is very various in its forms and demands. In the family there must be a variety of services, and ability for each; and in the state a variety of offices, and a fitness for each. So in the Christian Church. For its upbuilding there is needed the gift of architect, and carver, and mason, and labourer, and carpenter. The gift of the preacher differs from that of the teacher, and that again from the gift of the organizer. If we once fully admit that all gifts are of grace, and each an unspeakable honour and an overwhelming responsibility for him to whom it is entrusted, envy of each other would pass for ever away, and we should thankfully use each man for the service God has fitted him to render.
II. ALL DIVINE GIFTS ARE UNTO EDIFICATION. God never bestows anything on any man that he may get praise of men or worldly honour for it. All God's gifts are for use. All are entrusted to us for the sake of others. All bear upon the "fully furnishing of our fellow men unto all good works."
III. ALL, TOGETHER, WILL BE FOUND TO MAKE UP A COMPLETE CIRCLE OF THE MEANS OF GRACE. We fail in:
1. The effort to bring out the various gifts of men into use. The Church is everywhere rich with the gifted unknowns, and the gifted idler.
2. In the due recognition of the spiritual completeness which God, in his providential leadings, brings to our Churches.
3. In the consequent freeing of men from duties for which they are unfitted, that they may fully cultivate and use their special gift. Impress that the thankful recipiency and use of the Divine provisions for our spiritual needs should master all personal feeling towards individuals. We should honour the Master who arranges the gifts, and honour the servants only for his sake. - R.T.
(1) that every minister and teacher has a special blessing for the Church; and
(2) that all such agents are but messengers from the court of heaven, and distributors of the blessings of God.
I. WE MAY TAKE CREDIT TO OURSELVES ONLY FOR OUR WANTS AND FOR OUR CAPACITY. Why should any man be proud, when he remembers that he was born a helpless babe; that he was dependent upon the kind services of others for the preservation of life; that he has learned nothing which he was not taught; that he enjoys nothing except through the good offices of his fellow men? And why should any Christian be "puffed up" with spiritual conceit, when he remembers that all he brought to the Scriptures, to the Church, to the Lord, was just his necessities and his capacity to receive spiritual blessings?
II. WE ARE INDEBTED FOR ALL THINGS TO HUMAN MINISTRATIONS. When we regard our circumstances, our worldly possessions, our education, our position in life, our family, our friends, this fact is obvious enough. But the same is true of our religious advantages, our spiritual blessings. The Bible was secured to us by human efforts and labours; the gospel was preached to us by human lips; the Church has been to us the fellowship of our human teachers and brethren; our religious knowledge has been conveyed to us by human interpreters; our piety has been inspired by human examples,
III. DIVINE MERCY HAS MADE HUMAN MINISTRIES SUBSERVIENT TO OUR SPIRITUAL WANTS. It is not wise or just to discriminate too nicely between human gifts and Divine. The human gifts are Divine gifts bestowed by human hands. It is the privilege of the devout and enlightened mind to look through the seen to the unseen; to recognize in every Christian helper and friend the messenger of God, the minister of Christ. The form, the voice, may be earthly, but there is behind a spiritual presence and a Divine power. It is the Giver of every good gift and every perfect gift who is so near. - T.
I. REFLECT UPON THE FACT. Are apt to forget it altogether. So anomaly is often presented of our quarrelling over "possessions" which do not belong to us, and boasting of that to which we have no title. The air we breathe, the world we dwell upon, our food, clothing, and shelter, our "prosperity" as we fondly call it, - these things are lent to us by God. So also our powers - yea, our very existence is not of ourselves, but of God. If we were to have taken away from ourselves all that we have received through the free benevolence of God, what would be left? Our salvation, our spiritual joys, our glad prospects, are also of him.
II. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL HELP TO CHECK PRIDE. We are apt to regard things as though we had not received them - as though they were our own in some other sense than as received from God. Thus we become proud of our attain merits and belongings, and glory in ourselves as possessors, if not originators, and not in God. For the luxury of boasting we easily delude ourselves. A gracious recollection of the actual state of the case should do something in the way of shaking the throne of conceit and vain glory. Pride is great folly as well as great sin, and when we indulge in it we have to smother our common sense. And of all pride, "spiritual pride" is the most reprehensible and the most absurd.
III. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS MAY INCLINE US TO USE ARIGHT WHAT WE HAVE RECEIVED. Instead of pride, we should feel responsibility. Instead of boasting, we should desire to employ wisely and well the Divine benefaction. The things which we handle, see, and have, are not ours, but God's. We are stewards, and presently shall have to give an account of our stewardship. We should ask, For what are these things given? What does God wish us to do with them?
IV. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL TEND TO INSPIRE GRATITUDE AND LOVE. He distinguishes us by his bounty. All we receive is of pure benevolence; we have done no work for it, we have not merited it. If only a little had been withheld, we should have lived in misery. Our joy and usefulness are dependent upon Divine gift. We thus get glimpses of the love of God, and, as he has first loved us, we should also love him.
V. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL TEND TO QUICKEN FAITH. How much God has done for us! We have not to trust for that! It has come to pass. And will not the Unchangeable continue to help us and to supply all our need? We have the promises, and the past tells us of no broken promise. Past experience should speak death to present doubt and fear. - H.
I. SCRIPTURE WARRANTS THE USE OF IRONY IN CERTAIN CASES. Scripture is here fully at one with common sense and experience. There are certain conditions which can be most successfully touched by the shafts of ridicule: certain positions which can be carried most effectually by light artillery. In the Old Testament the folly of idolatry is often exhibited in ludicrous lights. Take, for example, Elijah's words on Carmel (1 Kings 18:27). Here Paul employs the weapon of satire. The Corinthians, in their carnality, conceived themselves to be at the very height of spirituality, They had attained already - and that without much knowledge of the daily cross. They had reached the goal suspiciously early, They were full; their knowledge was complete. They were rich; never were there such amply endowed Christians. They reigned as kings - none so high as they - monarchs of all they surveyed. And all this without the insignificant aid of such a very commonplace teacher as Paul! They had far transcended their early master. They were now so wise that he in comparison was quite a fool (ver. 10). They were strong, impregnable, triumphant; he evidently was weak, very weak still. Had he not been with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3)? Was not that a very common condition for him to be in? Upon them crowded honour, dignity; they were "all honourable men." He was despised and despicable; clearly they were in paradise. In the paradise of fools! and with majestic simplicity, but with keenest irony, Paul states the case as it appeared to them, and as it necessarily resulted from the position which they had assumed. If that did not open their eyes, they were blind for evermore. The Corinthians resembled the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:17).
II. BUT IRONY IS A KEEN AND DANGEROUS WEAPON, AND SHOULD BE EMPLOYED WITH GREAT CARE. A suitable weapon for the hands of Paul, not of necessity for ours. Appropriate for some occasions, not for all.
1. Its use should be limited. We may easily run to excess. Irony is rather a pleasant weapon to use. Its employment in Scripture is not frequent. In this Epistle it is, indeed, used, but only occasionally.
2. It may profitably be accompanied by sober argument. So we have it here.
3. It should be employed in a spirit of love and with sincere desire to benefit. Not to make men ridiculous for the sake of making them so. Not for our own diversion. It should not be bitter. Paul was intensely solicitous to benefit the Corinthians; he had no pleasure in causing them pain. Note how in the midst of ironical utterances he expresses his fervent longing, "Yea and I would that ye did reign" (ver. 8), The object of his irony is to lead them from a mock kingship to a true. - H.
I. GOD'S MISSION FOR APOSTLES, LOOKED AT, KINDLES ENTHUSIASM. "We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Watching such a devoted, self sacrificing, heroic life as that St. Paul lived ought to stir us up to enthusiastic efforts to follow so noble an example. Illustrate how the story of great martyrs and great missionaries has, in all ages, been used to inspire lesser men to noble things. "Lives of great men all remind us," etc.
II. GOD'S MISSION FOR APOSTLES, CARRIED OUT, AWAKENS SYMPATHY. (Vers. 11, 12.) Fully detail the sufferings which St. Paul underwent, and the bodily frailty which made those sufferings so exceedingly trying (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-30). After our Lord in his closing sufferings, no man so awakens our tenderest sympathy as does the Apostle of the Gentiles. Illustrate how, in modern missions, the Pattesons and Livingstones have excited world wide sympathy. Illustrate also how their constant sufferings made Baxter's and Robert Hall's continued and devoted labours so affecting to us. Or refer to the power, on his little audience, of Adolphe Monod's talks from his bed of suffering and death. St. Paul shows what made his sufferings so interesting to us - they were borne as submissive obedience unto God; and as vicarious for us; and this ought to give him a persuasive power and a full right to advise, and reprove, and correct, and warn, and teach. - R.T.
I. THE GRANDEUR AND SUBLIMITY OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR ADMIRATION. They were not as slaves cast to the lions. They were men who might have led a quiet and peaceful, and some of them an honourable and distinguished, life. But they gave their hearts to Christ, and having done so gave up all for him. There was no exaggeration in the apostle's language. On the contrary, he spoke the plain truth when he represented himself as standing before the universe as a witness to the Lord Christ. The position was one of dignity and moral impressiveness; the angels felt it then, and the world of humanity has come to feel it now.
II. THE PATHOS OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR SYMPATHY. We observe the bodily privations, the homelessness, the physical toil, the ignominy, the persecutions, the general contempt, which the apostles passed through; and we cannot observe all this unmoved. Doubtless it touched the heart of that Divine Saviour who was made perfect through sufferings; doubtless there were those who wept with their leaders when these were constrained to weep. Nothing in all human history is more profoundly affecting.
III. THE MORAL PURPOSE OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR APPRECIATION. The motives that induced Paul and his colleagues voluntarily to submit to such experience as they relate were two - fidelity to Christ and pity for men. Christ the Master had condescended himself to be upon the cross a spectacle to the world; and those who benefited by his redemption and shared his Spirit were ready to follow his example. They were the true followers of him who "endured the cross, despising the shame." And their aim and hope was to bring the world to the foot of the Saviour's cross. For this end they "counted not their life dear unto them." It was for the sake of their fellow men that they consented to brave the scorn of the philosopher and the jeer of the multitude.
IV. THE MORAL LESSONS OF THEIR POSITION DEMAND OUR STUDY.
1. It is a rebuke to self indulgence and ease. Shall we be satisfied and enjoy our ease in the midst of the world's errors and sins, when we call to mind the heroic and pathetic sufferings of our Lord's first followers?
2. It is a consolation under any contumely and discredit we may endure in the Christian profession and vocation for Christ's sake. "The like afflictions have befallen our brethren who are in the world."
3. It points on to the glory which shall be revealed. "Through much tribulation ye must enter into the kingdom of heaven." The apostles have ended their struggles, and now enjoy their victory; the Church militant will soon become the Church triumphant. - T.
I. HISTORY AND PERSONAL OBSERVATION TEACH US THIS. Read Hebrews 11:35-38. Paul's case is a striking illustration. Note the
(3) strangeness, of the apostolic afflictions.
See also another list (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
II. LET US LEARN THAT:
1. Affliction is not always significant of Divine displeasure. Often we have chastisement because of our sins, but sometimes sorrow comes to us when most firmly we tread the path of duty. Under such circumstances it should not dismay or depress us.
2. Suffering - even severe suffering - is not always a valid reason for relinquishing active service. Some people are too anxious to "retire." Work done under suffering is sometimes marvellously effective, Our woes fit us to deal with the woe begone. When under great stress we feel that we can do nothing, we sometimes become Samsons; when we feel that we can do everything, we are generally mere Philistines.
3. Much affliction need not necessarily be even a hindrance to us in our work. Paul's sufferings did not make him less active in the cause of Christ. He abounded in toil whilst he abounded in sorrow.
4. Affliction comes to us in the path of duty, it should not drive us from that path. Most of Paul's sorrows were caused by his zeal and faithfulness. He would preach Christ. To choose an easier path would not have been wise for him - is not wise for us.
5. Affliction is sanctified to God's faithful servants. Beyond all doubt Paul was greatly the better for his many sorrows. Humanly speaking, he could never have been Paul without them. That which seems likely to hinder may help. Men who have to do much have generally to suffer much. Biography furnishes multitudinous illustrations of this.
6. Extraordinary sufferings sometimes bear with them the promise of unusual usefulness. Idlers have thus been made remarkably diligent, sleepers have been awakened, the worldly have become consecrated. The first true and inspiring view of Christian service has been obtained from the flame of the furnace. The apprenticeship of some "of whom the world was not worthy" has been served in the fires. Some great lives have begun with martyrdom.
7. Affliction should be received in a spirit of meekness, even when it comes directly from men who have no reason to use us ill. Paul, when reviled, blessed; when persecuted, calmly endured it, without after retaliation; when defamed, he entreated (perhaps God to pardon his enemies). Herein Paul was like Christ. He employed conquering kindness. To imitate him will require much grace. It is often much easier to take affliction from the hands of God than from the hands of men. - H.
"Mischievous foul sin in chiding sin;" but it would be a poor compliment to the apostle to say that he was not one of this class. What is most truly to his honour is his purpose to make the Corinthians sensible of the wrong to their better nature, and quicken from that side of their character the feeling of repentance. This brings out the sentiment of his soul in the words, "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you;" and again the master thought of all his thinking recurs - Christ Jesus - in whom he had begotten them through the gospel, urging them to be imitators of Christ in him. To be genuinely serviceable, imitation must not be mechanical and servile, not be the literal copying of a pattern or model, but an education in the art of discriminating, and particularly a sense of the ideal in those whom we follow. For this reason, that they may be reminded of his "ways which be in Christ," he has sent Timotheus unto them. Prudence dictated this course. Circumstances were such as that absence would be his most effective presence - one of those occasions when a man's thoughts had better do their work unattended by the emphasis of eye and voice. But would they misinterpret this and attribute it to cowardice? "I will come to you shortly," leaving the time to the will of the Lord, for in executing a grave purpose it is not enough that we have the Spirit in our motive and aim, but we must wait patiently on the providence of the Spirit, which is often our best discipline. St. Paul's expectations were rarely fulfilled promptly, instance his visit to Rome; hope grew more reverent by delay; and in no aspect is his career more interesting than in that which shows how postponed gratification of desire ennobled the desire itself and secured a larger good to others. Fruit must grow, ripen, mellow, especially inward fruits, and St. Paul prized the mellowing touch of time. Many a lesson he gives us unawares in psychology, many an insight into the philosophy of true feeling, many a revelation of the soul, which but for him would have been a "hidden mystery." But, while waiting for "time and place to cohere," he utters his opinions strongly as to those who are "puffed up." What an ever recurring sense of cardinal principles! Great truths are never long out of sight, and hence the declaration, "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." Did he underrate language? Nay; who ever spoke of language in a higher strain than he who did not hesitate to allude to his own preaching as not in the "words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth"? But the idle and impotent word, the word of swelling vanity, the word that dishonoured the Word, - for this he had only rebuke and condemnation. Such use was stolen use, the gift turned against the Giver, a redeemed gift wrested from the Redeemer, a recognized organ of the Holy Ghost taken from its only Sanctifier. For this must be said of language, that it is not merely or chiefly a medium of acting on others, but that it reacts on the man himself. Apart from its conventional functions, it is an instrument of communion with self, of stating self to self, of inspiring, while defining faculty to faculty in the mind's solitary cognizance of its own powers. Language is far mightier for introverted conception, for images that never escape the picturesque world in which they have their birth and life and death, for emotions and affections to which silence is the most precious of blessings - far mightier, we say, is language in this respect than in its economic uses. From the lexicon we learn the language that gives us inter. course with men. From our own souls and by conversing with them we learn the language by menus of which we compare "spiritual things with spiritual." Even on the plane of common life, the former is confined to communication. Expression is a very different thing from bald communication. Expression is due to the ability of the Spirit to vitalize words by imparting its own life to them. Something individual, something distinctly personal, imparts itself in expression. Hyperboles are matters of fact to the inmost consciousness, and all eloquence and poetry are but symbols of what the soul sees and can only intimate in this half articulate way. "I will know when I come" - so St. Paul reasons - "whether your speech is empty words, the wisdom which man's wisdom teacheth and is foolishness to God, or the power of the Spirit." This is the test - God's power. Only through that power can these Corinthians advance the kingdom of God; for only through it can they have oneness with Christ and fellowship with his disciples. Come to them St. Paul will - come to them as a father - the acknowledgment of them as sons, beloved sons, precedes him, and he will not forget his relation to them; but how shall he come? With a father's rod or in love? Will they relieve him of the necessity of discipline? And the thought of love lingers in his mind, amplifies itself, seeks fuller utterance, and the father's heart throbs once more in the associated clause - "the spirit of meekness." - L.
but it would be a poor compliment to the apostle to say that he was not one of this class. What is most truly to his honour is his purpose to make the Corinthians sensible of the wrong to their better nature, and quicken from that side of their character the feeling of repentance. This brings out the sentiment of his soul in the words, "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you;" and again the master thought of all his thinking recurs - Christ Jesus - in whom he had begotten them through the gospel, urging them to be imitators of Christ in him. To be genuinely serviceable, imitation must not be mechanical and servile, not be the literal copying of a pattern or model, but an education in the art of discriminating, and particularly a sense of the ideal in those whom we follow. For this reason, that they may be reminded of his "ways which be in Christ," he has sent Timotheus unto them. Prudence dictated this course. Circumstances were such as that absence would be his most effective presence - one of those occasions when a man's thoughts had better do their work unattended by the emphasis of eye and voice. But would they misinterpret this and attribute it to cowardice? "I will come to you shortly," leaving the time to the will of the Lord, for in executing a grave purpose it is not enough that we have the Spirit in our motive and aim, but we must wait patiently on the providence of the Spirit, which is often our best discipline. St. Paul's expectations were rarely fulfilled promptly, instance his visit to Rome; hope grew more reverent by delay; and in no aspect is his career more interesting than in that which shows how postponed gratification of desire ennobled the desire itself and secured a larger good to others. Fruit must grow, ripen, mellow, especially inward fruits, and St. Paul prized the mellowing touch of time. Many a lesson he gives us unawares in psychology, many an insight into the philosophy of true feeling, many a revelation of the soul, which but for him would have been a "hidden mystery." But, while waiting for "time and place to cohere," he utters his opinions strongly as to those who are "puffed up." What an ever recurring sense of cardinal principles! Great truths are never long out of sight, and hence the declaration, "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." Did he underrate language? Nay; who ever spoke of language in a higher strain than he who did not hesitate to allude to his own preaching as not in the "words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth"? But the idle and impotent word, the word of swelling vanity, the word that dishonoured the Word, - for this he had only rebuke and condemnation. Such use was stolen use, the gift turned against the Giver, a redeemed gift wrested from the Redeemer, a recognized organ of the Holy Ghost taken from its only Sanctifier. For this must be said of language, that it is not merely or chiefly a medium of acting on others, but that it reacts on the man himself. Apart from its conventional functions, it is an instrument of communion with self, of stating self to self, of inspiring, while defining faculty to faculty in the mind's solitary cognizance of its own powers. Language is far mightier for introverted conception, for images that never escape the picturesque world in which they have their birth and life and death, for emotions and affections to which silence is the most precious of blessings - far mightier, we say, is language in this respect than in its economic uses. From the lexicon we learn the language that gives us inter. course with men. From our own souls and by conversing with them we learn the language by menus of which we compare "spiritual things with spiritual." Even on the plane of common life, the former is confined to communication. Expression is a very different thing from bald communication. Expression is due to the ability of the Spirit to vitalize words by imparting its own life to them. Something individual, something distinctly personal, imparts itself in expression. Hyperboles are matters of fact to the inmost consciousness, and all eloquence and poetry are but symbols of what the soul sees and can only intimate in this half articulate way. "I will know when I come" - so St. Paul reasons - "whether your speech is empty words, the wisdom which man's wisdom teacheth and is foolishness to God, or the power of the Spirit." This is the test - God's power. Only through that power can these Corinthians advance the kingdom of God; for only through it can they have oneness with Christ and fellowship with his disciples. Come to them St. Paul will - come to them as a father - the acknowledgment of them as sons, beloved sons, precedes him, and he will not forget his relation to them; but how shall he come? With a father's rod or in love? Will they relieve him of the necessity of discipline? And the thought of love lingers in his mind, amplifies itself, seeks fuller utterance, and the father's heart throbs once more in the associated clause - "the spirit of meekness." - L.
I. A VERY TENDER RELATIONSHIP. Paul notices:
1. The way in which the relationship is formed. (Ver. 15.) The spiritual father
(1) "begets" his children
(2) in Christ Jesus
(3) through the gospel.
He finds them "strangers to the covenant of promise," strangers to Christ, strangers to the Church; but under the preaching of the truth they are led by the Spirit to lay hold of salvation: they become in Christ "new creatures," are "born again;" and he who has been the instrument employed in their conversion becomes their spiritual father. This relationship is a limited one, but nevertheless deeply interesting and important.
2. That it differs from the relationship existing between a mere teacher and learner. None can be to us what those are who have brought us to Christ. They have a peculiar claim upon our love and gratitude. "Ten thousand instructors make not one father." We may love our teachers, but they are not our parents.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE FATHER TO HIS SPIRITUAL CHILDREN.
1. He should be watchful over them. As Paul was. They need much care; they should not be left to shift for themselves. A pernicious opinion is rife, that when people are "converted" no further trouble need be taken about them. As though when a child is "born" it is to be cast adrift and left to take care of itself! No wonder that there are so many spiritual cripples, so many diseased, so many weaklings, and not a few religious imbeciles. Fathers should look after their spiritual children; as far as possible we should see that our converts, if not under ours, are under good influences.
2. He should manifest a loving spirit towards them. They should be peculiarly dear to him. In many ways they may try his patience, but it should bear the trial. He should cherish them. Paul fed the Corinthian babes with milk; he did not discard them because they were not what he would have had them to be. He did not indulge in undue severity; fathers are not "to provoke their children to wrath" (Ephesians 6:4).
3. He should be faithful, ever inclining towards tenderness, but not sparing the rod when it is called for. (Ver. 21.) Willing to rebuke when rebuke is necessary, but not fond of rebuking. Paul was gentle but decisive. He sought to nip evil in the bud. Foolish fondness lets the evil grow till it is too great to cope with. Correction must be wise, or it will be pernicious. Sometimes the placing of a faithful child amongst the unfaithful may be very efficacious for the latter. Paul sent Timothy (ver. 17).
4. Acting and living so as to be a fit example. We have no right to expect our spiritual children to follow us closely unless we are following Christ closely. Paul could say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). He does not exhort them to follow him as a party leader, but to imitate him as he sought to imitate Christ. He set a good example. It is what we are rather than what we say that has influence. Spiritual children have quick eyes. - H.
I. SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD.
1. How constituted. "For in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." Conversion is the beginning of a new life, the birth by which we enter on spiritual being. This change is wrought by the agency of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ's redemptive work; the Spirit's instrument is the Word, the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23); and this Word is administered by servants of the gospel. In a subordinate sense, Paul could speak of himself as the father of the Corinthian Church, inasmuch as he was the means of introducing them to the Christian life. The relationship is a peculiarly tender one, carrying with it much honour and much responsibility.
2. How distinguished. "For though ye should have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers." The teachers who succeeded Paul at Corinth, and of whom they made so much, were like pedagogues who superintended the education of children. Theirs was an important work, but it did not alter the fact that the apostle was their spiritual father. They built on the foundation which he had laid. There is no disparagement of those who minister to the culture of the Christian life, as compared with those who are instrumental in commencing it. The evangelist and the teacher have each his own place in the Divine economy. Yet the relation of spiritual fatherhood is one by itself, different from that subsisting between teacher and scholar. Often the two go together, the pastor being also the father.
3. Implies the duty of admonition. It is the part of a father to "reprove, rebuke, exhort," in all fidelity. Spiritual fathers must not be blind to the faults of their children. Love must patiently instruct, affectionately entreat, sharply chastise. Witness the paternal severity of the apostle in this Epistle as he "admonishes his beloved children."
4. Implies the setting of a worthy example. "Be ye imitators of me." The eyes of the children are towards the lather, and they cannot help copying him. Example is powerful in all spheres, and most of all in a sphere so conspicuous as the Christian ministry. It confirms the truth taught, encourages believers, rebukes the ungodly, draws inquirers to the Saviour. Every servant of Christ should be able to say, "Follow me." Yet our imitation of other Christians, even the most eminent, has its limits. Men are imperfect, reflecting but brokenly the image of Christ; and no wise teacher will desire to see his own peculiar mannerisms reflected in his people. Human example is useful only in so far as it helps us to imitate Jesus.
II. SOLICITUDE FOR THE CHURCH'S SPIRITUAL INSTRUCTION. Like a true father, the absent apostle desires to further the spiritual growth of his converts, and with this view sends to them a personal deputy.
1. The mission. In order to promote their imitation of his humble, self denying life, he sends a messenger to recall to them "his ways in Christ." The remembrance of a good man's life is a help to piety. The memory of some departed saint has often proved a guiding star. And so is the recollection of truth already learned. It is part of the preacher's work to press home old truths and deepen their hold of the heart and conscience.
2. The missionary. There was wisdom in sending a deputy, and in the choice of Timothy for the mission. As the apostle's "beloved and faithful child," he stood in the same spiritual relation to him as did the converts at Corinth. He could speak to them as a brother of their common father's doctrine and life. The visits of wise and faithful servants of Christ are often instrumental in reviving the Church's life.
III. APOSTOLIC VISITATION.
1. Carried out in the face of detraction. Those who sought to undermine Paul's authority asserted that he would not again venture to visit Corinth; but in spite of this he declares his intention of doing so. The servant of Christ needs courage.
2. Subject to Divine direction. "if the Lord will" (comp. James 4:15). Man proposes, but God disposes. All our plans for the future must be subject to his control.
3. To test spiritual profession. The proud boasters at Corinth were great in talk, and Paul wished to show whether there was reality behind it. For power is the chief thing, not mere speech. The kingdom of God, i.e. genuine Christianity, is not an affair of words, but of living power. "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Profession must be tested by practice. A religion of the lip is vain without the religion of the life.
4. Proceeds according to circumstances. Whether Paul was to come with a rod or in love depended on themselves, The discipline of the Church takes its complexion from the character of the persons with whom it deals, being severe or tender, as the case requires. A combination of fatherly love and wisdom is required in those who are called to deal with the erring. - B.
I. GENERALLY SPEAKING, CHRISTIANS MAY BE DESCRIBED AS CHILDREN.
1. Like the Corinthians, most members of the Church of Christ need constant and watchful care. Providence has appointed that children should be born more dependent than the offspring of the inferior animals upon parental attention and devotion. From infancy unfit the approach of manhood and womanhood, human beings stand in need of the supervision and assistance of their parents. So is it with the members of Christ's Church. They are in need of pastoral care and kindness, and without this are not likely either to grow in Christian character or to escape the assaults of their foes.
2. In addition to care, they need wise and fatherly counsel. It would be well if spiritual pastors bore in mind the inexperience of a large proportion of the flock. Paul was a faithful counsellor, and in writing to these Christians at Corinth he warned them very faithfully against the faults and errors they were in danger of falling into. Not with severity, but with directness and earnestness, he admonished his spiritual children, and entreated them to render obedience to his advice and directions. Even sincere disciples of Christ are often in peril by reason of their own want of knowledge and experience, and by reason of the temptations which beset them in this world. Hence the importance of such pastoral admonitions as those of which Paul here gives an example.
II. THERE ARE IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST THOSE WHO MAY BE DESIGNATED SPIRITUAL FATHERS. At Corinth the apostle occupied a pre-eminently honourable and influential position. He claims in this passage to have been, what the history of the Acts shows that he was, the planter of the vineyard, the founder of the edifice, the father of the family. It was by his labours, his bravery, his perseverance, that the Christian community came into existence. In the highest sense, of course, the Father was God himself, who gives the Spirit of adoption to all his people. But instrumentally, the apostle was blessed by God, through the preaching of the gospel, to the begetting and birth, so to speak, of this congregation, this spiritual household. This relationship involved the obligation on their part to reverence, honour, obey, and gratefully to love and rejoice in, one to whom they were, under God, so immeasurably indebted. For his was a unique position with regard to them. No other could claim to stand in the same relation, and Paul was bold to tell them so. Still are there those who are honoured by the calling of God to this spiritual fatherhood; and such should meet with that respectful and grateful recognition which is the due of benefactors so signally favoured by God himself.
III. TUTORS AND INSTRUCTORS IN CHRIST OCCUPY IN THE CHURCH A POSITION ONLY INFERIOR TO THAT OF SPIRITUAL FATHERS. At Corinth the charisma of teaching seems to have been imparted and exercised in a measure almost embarrassing in its abundance. Paul speaks hyperbolically of the "myriads" of tutors who followed up his apostolic labours. The same Spirit bestows gifts in multiplicity and variety. Let Christians be grateful for all the "means of grace," and especially for the holy and devout ministrations of the learned, the wise, the sympathetic, and the strong. For thus is it appointed that the Church should grow in grace. - T.
imitating is the work of the unintelligent; it is represented by the mere reproduction of sounds and manners such as we have in the parrot or the monkey, or more fully in the child. For men, all mere imitations are either signs of mental and moral weakness, or they are the accidents attending on an intelligent acceptance of the principles which another man exhibits in conduct. We are not, in the limited sense of the word, even to imitate Christ; we are to "copy his example," and to "follow in his steps;" but when more fully and worthily apprehended, we find that what we really are to do is to "let that mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus." In the passage now before us St. Paul has been speaking of his relationship to the Corinthian Christians. He was their father in Christ; "For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." And he is really pleading with them to preserve the family likeness which should accompany such a relation. But it may be said - Are we ever justified in following or imitating our fellow men? We reply - Yes, so far as men are Christ like, we may; so far as they are more Christ like than ourselves; so far as they have reached any Christly virtue or grace beyond us, we may. And since there is a sense in which Christ must ever seem to us out of reach; since of his virtue we must ever say, "It is high, I cannot attain unto it;" - it may often be really helpful to us to see his virtue reflected in a fellow man, and manifestly brought within the reach of human attainment. This may help us while we are weak, but when we more fully grasp the truth of our Lord's humanity, we shall realize that Divine virtues were shown by him in a human life precisely that we might feel the possibility, of attaining them, and so seek to be "changed into his image." After dwelling on the "imitative faculty," its uses and abuses, consider that -
I. GOOD MEN MAY BECOME MODELS FOR US. Observe:
1. That in every age some men have risen above their fellows in moral virtues; and some have been set in prominent positions so as to attract the attention of their fellows.
2. From the Scripture models which are preserved to us, learn:
(1) That no merely human being can present his entire human life, the whole circle of his doings, for our imitation. "There is none righteous; no, not one." Illustrate the sides of moral infirmity in all Scripture characters - Abraham, Moses, David, Hezekiah, Peter, Paul, etc.
(2) That each becomes a model of some one characteristic feature; e.g. Abraham of faith, Moses of disinterestedness, David of habits of personal piety, Paul of singular loyalty to the living Christ. So with modern saints, and the holy ones from our own circles; in some one thing each is strong, and just in that one thing each may be a model.
II. GOOD MEN'S MODELS ABE, AT THE BEST, BUT IMPERFECT. Sensible of this, David says in his prayer before God, "My goodness extendeth not to thee; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent." Even in the one thing in which they are strong, God can find weakness. When we most admire, we are compelled sadly to feel that the "trail of the serpent is over it all." So we must use men's examples as but incomplete copies of the Divine, and remember that our aim is to transcend any previous human attainments, and to be "perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect." Whatever there is in men that is imitable is but a reflection of Christ, and we may have shining on us what they have in measure caught, even the very light of Christ himself. We may "follow his example, who did no sin?
III. CHRIST IS OUR GREAT MODEL, AND MEN ARE MODELS ONLY SO FAR AS THEY BRING HIM NEAR AND GLORIFY HIM TO OUR THOUGHT. We must take this knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus, and have, in measure, caught his likeness. Impress that we may fully copy Christ's life, but only very seldom can we copy men's actions; we can only seek to be possessed and ruled by the same principles. - R.T.
2 Corinthians 1:15-17; 2 Corinthians 2:1. There evidently had been some uncertainty about his visit, of which his opponents took undue advantage.
I. SPEECH WITHOUT POWER. A mere gift of fluent talk is granted to some men. It is seldom associated with vigorous mental power, and is a perilous gift because it can be so readily misused. Such speech may be pleasant to listen to, as is the murmur of a flowing stream. It may be popular; it may be exciting to mere sentiment; it may be boastful. Its influence is small and temporary. It bears very little relation to the correction of moral evils, or the culture of the godly life.
II. SPEECH WITH POWER. Speech which is
(1) the utterance of thought;
(2) which bears the "accent of conviction;"
(3) which is carefully set in adaptation to the hearer; and
(4) which is uttered in dependence on Divine leadings and inspirations.
Here the word is used by St. Paul especially to mean "the power that is derived from Christ, which he himself possesses to influence the heart of man. It includes, no doubt, the power of working miracles, for, with one or two exceptions, the miracles of the gospel were manifestations of Christ's power to deliver humanity from the dominion of evil and its consequences." Speech with power is that kind of speech which directly influences the heart and the conscience, and leads to the fuller apprehension of truth, the conviction of sin, or the discovery of neglected duty. It may comfort, instruct, counsel, or warn. Dr. Horace Bushnell says, "Three distinct elements must be included in preaching which has the genuine power.
(1) A descent to human nature in its lower plane of self love and interested motive, and a beginning made with the conscience, the fears, and the boding expectation of guiltiness.
(2) The due exhibition of the Christian facts. In the Apostles' Creed nothing is included but the simple facts of Christ's life. Too little by a thousandfold is made of these facts. How much easier to preach the decoction (doctrine), and let the dried herbs of the story go! It might be so if they were really dry; but since they are all alive, fresh and fragrant as a bank of roses, how much better to go and breathe among them, and catch the quickening odours!
(3) The right conception of the gospel, and the fit presentation of it, under the altar forms provided for it." And Canon Liddon, in his 'Bampton Lectures,' pp. 168, 169, has the following passage: - Picture to yourselves a teacher who is not merely under the official obligation to say something, but who is morally convinced that he has something to say. Imagine one who believes alike in the truth of his message, and in the reality of his mission to deliver it. Let his message combine those moral contrasts which give permanency and true force to a doctrine, and which the gospel only has combined in their perfection. Let this teacher be tender, yet searching; let him win the hearts of men by his kindly humanity, while he probes, ay, to the quick, their moral sores. Let him be uniformly calm, yet manifestly moved by the fire of repressed passion. Let him be stern yet not unloving, and resolute without sacrificing the elasticity of his sympathy, and genial without condescending to be the weakly accomplice of moral mischief. Let him pursue and expose the latent evil of the human heart, through all the mazes of its unrivalled deceitfulness, without sullying his own purity, and without forfeiting his strong belief in the present capacity of every human being for goodness. Let him know 'what is in man,' and yet, with this knowledge clearly before him, let him not only not despair of humanity, but respect it, nay, love it even enthusiastically. Above all, let this teacher be perfectly independent. Let him be independent of the voice of the multitude; independent of the enthusiasm and promptings of his disciples; independent even when face to face with the bitter criticism and scorn of his antagonists; independent of all save God and his conscience. In a word, conceive a case in which moral authority and moral beauty combine to elicit a simultaneous tribute of reverence and of love. Clearly such a teacher must be a moral power." Impress that such teachers we should seek to find; such was the Apostle Paul; and under the power such can exert we may hope to grow into the "stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus." - R.T.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD'S KINGDOM PROVES THAT IT CANNOT BE MERELY IN WORD.
1. A kingdom implies authority exercised, obedience rendered. Although a kingdom not of this world, not maintained and supported by human means, by laws and arms, still God's empire is a reality. Christ is the King and Head; his laws are binding and stringent, although the motives that inspire obedience are gratitude and love - his subjects are willing and submissive.
2. Such a kingdom is incompatible with the reign of words. To be a subject of Christ is not
(1) to be merely by verbal assent, as by confirmation or any other form of admission to Church privileges, associated with the society of Christians; nor is it
(2) to make any kind of profession; nor
(3) to recite and maintain the great Christian creeds; nor
(4) to utter words expressive of devotion. Men may make use of many and sacred words, and be none the nearer the kingdom of heaven. A nominal and verbal kingdom is weak and despicable; such is not the spiritual kingdom of our Lord.
II. THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE POWER OF THE KINGDOM.
1. Words may be only from man; power is from God. All natural and physical power originates in him. But moral power is either good or evil; and the good only but always is from God. Christ is "the Power of God."
2. When we contemplate this spiritual power which pervades the new kingdom, what do we find it to be? The power of truth, the power of goodness, the power of pity and of love.
III. WHERE AND HOW THIS POWER DISPLAYS ITSELF.
1. Its seat is the soul; there it first enthrones itself, and thence it spreads until it pervades the whole nature, changing the beliefs, the feelings, the principles, and the habits. For "the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
2. The power of this kingdom manifests itself through the whole realm of human nature and life; both by the forces, obstacles, and oppositions it overcomes, and by the results it produces. We observe these effects especially in
(1) the newness of life which is characteristic of the kingdom, as emphatically in the case of the first disciples, brought out of Judaism and paganism into the marvellous light of the gospel;
(2) in the social results, which were exhibited in the cities where the gospel took root, and where the sentiment of brotherhood proved a new power in humanity, sanctifying society within and attracting elements from without.
(3) We have a proof of this power in the case of those martyrs who for Christ's sake were content to lay down their life; for here we have evidently a new spiritual force, capable of inspiring with a fortitude in the cause of an unseen Lord which surpassed the heroic devotion of a Roman to his country's good.
(4) The progress and perpetuity of this power stamps it as Divine, as the one great prevalent and successful force working in human society for its purification, its elevation, its lasting and highest welfare. - T.
I. ITS MEMBERSHIP. Not a question of professed creed, or ritual observance, or forms of godliness; but of the energy of a Divine life in the soul, transforming the whole being of a man into a "new creature." "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit," etc. (John 3:5); "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink," etc. (Romans 14:17); "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision," etc. (Galatians 6:15).
II. ITS MINISTRY. Not by the utterance of mere forms of speech, the establishment of ecclesiastical systems, the multiplication of the means of Christian culture; but by the diffusion of the living force of truth, and the silent sovereign power of the Spirit of God. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth," etc. (John 6:63); "Our gospel came unto you not in word only," etc. (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
III. ITS ADMINISTRATION. Not by hollow pretence, or blatant assumption, or self constituted officialism; but by the authority that lies in real personal capacity, distinguished goodness, saintly character, effective spiritual power (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). - W.
The contrast between word and power is familiar to our minds. To say of a man that he is a stickier for the letter, a pedant about forms, a zealot for words, is to say that he is shallow and tiresome. A wise man looks beneath the skin and shape of things to their substance. An effective man goes in for power. Yet the world is governed by words as the expressions of thought and purpose. Education is conducted, opinion is formed, all human combinations of knowledge and practical force are got together, and held together, by means of fit words. The kingdom of God itself is introduced by the Word of testimony. What avails not is mere repetition of words after the manner of a charm, or "vain jangling" about verbal forms. Especially irksome must all such metallic clatter of words without profit have been to a man so much in earnest as St. Paul. No doubt there was much of it among the Christians at Corinth, where to the minute pedantry of Jews was added the inveterate disputation of Greeks. The apostle wished to discourage their sharp word contests, and gave notice that, on his next visit, he would probe the arrogant pretensions of certain talkers very closely. Their speech would avail them little if they failed in spiritual power. Such cautions against religious verbalism are needed constantly. Just because Christianity owes so much to true and faithful utterances, rests on testimony, and requires much teaching, it is peculiarly liable to be weakened by hollow, pretentious, or disputatious speaking. Therefore must we emphasize the futility of religious words without the informing Spirit of life and power. The great characteristic of the kingdom of God, as announced by Jesus Christ, and spread abroad by his apostles, was its penetrating and elevating dynamic. It had a quiet but potent energy. It could "turn the world upside down;" could break off Jews from self righteousness and Gentiles from idolatry, abase the proud and exalt the lowly, make the wise simple and the simple wise. And what was this power? It was the force of truth, the diffusive element of light, the majesty of righteousness, the sublime persuasiveness of love. It was all this, and more. It was the heart piercing and enthralling energy of the Holy Ghost, working with and by the Word. God gave the increase. In the light of St. Paul's compact and weighty saying, look at -
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD AMONG OURSELVES. We speak not of a particular Church, but of the kingdom moving forwards in the midst of Churches variously constituted and administered. Church usages and appointments may, and indeed must, change. It is not possible or desirable to reproduce in the nineteenth century, and in the West, the very Church of the first century in the East. But the kingdom of God must be, and is, the same. It is "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Wherever these are found, they betoken the presence of a heavenly power. But a Church may appear strong, and yet be at heart cold and weak. It may be irreproachable in word and form, clothed with venerable traditions as some old wall is mantled with ivy; it may be exemplary in all the routine of prayer and preaching, and yet be barren and ineffective, because it has nothing but forms and words; and "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." It is quite impossible to overcome the world, abase the proud, sober the frivolous, arrest the mind that is busy with a thousand trifles, or lift up the spirit that has debased itself to avaricious deceits or to those fleshly vices which civilization cannot overcome, by words ever so well chosen, services ever so comely, forms of godliness ever so correct. What is wanted is the kingdom of God in power.
II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD ELSEWHERE - EVERYWHERE. Even if we take a very hopeful survey of missionary work, we must confess that Churches have been too languid in purpose, too pedantic in method, and in some places too jealous of one another, too ready to cry, "Lo, here!" "Lo, there!" It is the kingdom of God which should be preached; and if only its power comes to be felt, we might all keep our minds comparatively easy about the moulds into which new life may flow, or the forms under which Christian activity may organize itself throughout the world. It is a startling and mournful fact that in countries where our faith has been professed for centuries, we have yet to discuss the evidences of Christianity. Christian literature has reached an almost prodigious development; and Christian teaching and preaching are not scarce. Yet the world does not believe or obey the gospel. Surely there is a hiding of power. Rise up, Christians! gird up the loins of your mind. Be evidences of Christianity, known and read of all. There is no witness so luminous and so irresistibly convincing as that which comes from the practical effect of the gospel on the minds, consciences, dispositions, and conduct of the men and women who profess to believe it. - F.
them whether he came to them "with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness." A brief outline will sufficiently guide thought on this subject.
I. ADAPTATION INVOLVES KNOWLEDGE.
1. General knowledge of human nature.
2. Particular knowledge of those to whom we minister.
3. Sufficient knowledge of the measure of our authority and influence.
4. Practical knowledge of the corrective instruments which we may use.
II. ADAPTATION INVOLVES DISCERNMENT.
1. Discrimination of the precise condition in which those we influence are at the time.
2. Of the differences in which each one may stand related to the evil we reprove.
3. Of the limitations to which reproof may be wisely subject, and of the time when the tone may be changed to one of encouragement.
III. ADAPTATION MAY DEMAND SEVERITY. Which may be very trying to our feelings, and very difficult in view of our disposition; but must be made to characterize our relations, if we would be found faithful. The severity of gentle souls is the mightiest persuasive to goodness. It was quite out of St. Paul's way to be severe, but, for that very reason, we feel his severity the more.
IV. ADAPTATION PREFERS COMMENDATION. So St. Paul writes, urging the Corinthians to remove the evils before he comes, for he would so much rather have only kindly and encouraging things to say. Impress that, as we are to God, he must show himself to us. See Psalm 18:24-26. And in the same way, as we are in godly habits, in moral and spiritual condition, so - in precise adaptation - must our faithful teachers be. - R.T.