1 Corinthians 4:1
So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Ministers of ChristE. Hurndall 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2
Spiritual StewardshipJ.R. Thomson 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2
The Christian Teacher a StewardR. Tuck 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2
A True and a False Estimate of Genuine Ministers of the GospelD. Thomas, D. D.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Clergy and LaityJ. Beeby.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Faithful StewardshipJ. Parsons.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
FaithfulnessWeekly Pulpit1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Man a StewardJ. Harding, M. A.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Ministerial StewardshipD. Thomas, D. D.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Ministers and StewardsCanon Evans.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Character of Gospel MinistersJ. Guyse, D. D.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Christian MinistryR. Walker.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Ministerial TrustJ. Duncan.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Ministers of ChristH. Bremner 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The MinistryM. Dods, D. D.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Mysteries of GodCanon Liddon.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Steward of God's MysteriesJ. N. Norton, D. D.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The True Estimate of the Christian MinistryF. W. Robertson, M. A.1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Ministers as StewardsC. Lipscomb 1 Corinthians 4:1-7

The idea of the ministry as a Divine institution, set apart as a peculiar calling and charged with an infinite trust, cannot as yet relax its hold on St. Paul's mind. Tenacity of a great truth is not altogether a matter of our volition. At first the will has much to do in directing attention to a truth and keeping it fixed; but in no long time, if the man has trained himself to reflect, and, above all, if he is an earnest man, the truth recurs by some process of self suggestion. After a while, indeed, it happens with many who give themselves to profound investigations, that the subject gains a certain mastery over them, so that it costs more effort to dismiss it than was originally needed to concentrate attention. No capacity of the mind is so pliant as the capacity to be absorbed in an object of thought, and it seems independent of idiosyncrasy. Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Walter Scott both refer to the difficulty they had in discharging a topic from their minds if it had enlisted their interest. St. Paul had said much on the office of the ministry, but the theme was by no means exhausted. One aspect, a special one, remained, viz. 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.

Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
So keenly alive is Paul to the danger and folly of party-spirit, that he has still one more word of rebuke to utter.


1. The question therefore was, were they faithful? not, were they eloquent or philosophical? Criticism no preacher need expect to escape. Sometimes one might suppose sermons were of no other use than to furnish material for discussion. But who shall say which style is most edifying to the Church and which teacher is most faithfully serving his Master?

2. With him who is conscious that he must give account to his Master, "it is a very small thing to be judged of man's judgment," whether for applause or condemnation. A teacher who thinks for himself is compelled to utter truths which he knows will be misunderstood by many; but so long as he is conscious of his fidelity this does not trouble him. And, on the other hand, the applause of men comes to him only as a reminder that there is no finality in man's judgment, and that it is only Christ's approval which avails to give permanent satisfaction.

II. GREAT DIFFICULTY HAS ALWAYS BEEN EXPERIENCED IN TRACING THE SIMILARITIES AND DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN THE APOSTLES AND THE ORDINARY MINISTRY, and had Paul been writing in our own day he would have spoken more definitely. For what makes union hopeless in Christendom at present is not that parties are formed round individual leaders, but that Churches are based on diametrically opposed opinions regarding the ministry itself.

1. As in the State a prince, though legitimate, does not succeed to the throne without formal coronation, so in the Church there is needed a formal recognition of the title which any one claims to office.

2. It would therefore seem to be every one's duty to inquire, before he gives himself to another profession or business, whether Christ is not claiming him to serve in His Church.

III. Paul concludes this portion of his Epistle with a pathetic COMPARISON OF HIS CONDITION AS AN APOSTLE WITH THE CONDITION OF THOSE IN CORINTH WHO WERE GLORYING IN THIS OR THAT TEACHER (ver. 8). With the frothy spirit of young converts, they are full of a triumph which they despise Paul for not inculcating. While they thus triumphed, he who had begotten them in Christ was being treated as the offscouring and filth of the world.

1. Paul can only compare himself and the other apostles to those gladiators who came into the arena last, after the spectators had been sated with bloodless performances (ver. 9). While others sat comfortably looking on, they were in the arena, exposed to ill-usage and death. Life became no easier, the world no kinder, to Paul as time went on (ver. 11). Here is the finest mind, the noblest spirit, on earth; and this is how he is treated. And yet he goes on with his work, and lets nothing interrupt that (vers. 12, 13). Nay, it is a life which he is so far from giving up himself, that he will call to it the easy-going Christians of Corinth (ver. 16).

2. And if the contrast between Paul's self-sacrificing life and the luxurious life of the Corinthians might be expected to shame them into Christian service, a similar contrast should accomplish some good results in us. Already the Corinthians were accepting that pernicious conception of Christianity which looks upon it as merely a new luxury. They recognised how happy a thing it is to be forgiven, to be at peace with God, to have a sure hope of life everlasting. As yet they had not caught a glimpse of what is involved in becoming holy as Christ is holy. Are there none still who listen to Christianity rather as a voice soothing their fears than as a bugle summoning them to conflict? Paul does not summon the Church to be outcast from all joy; but when he says, "Be ye followers of me," he means that there is not one standard of duty for him and another for us. All is wrong with us until we are made somehow to recognise that we have no right to selfishly aggrandise while Paul is driven through life with scarcely one day's bread provided. If we be Christ's, as Paul was, it must inevitably come to this with us: that we cordially yield to Him all we are and have. If our hearts be His, this is inevitable and delightful; unless they be so, it is impossible, and seems extravagant.

3. It was Christ's own self-sacrifice that threw such a spell over the apostles and gave them so new a feeling towards their fellow-men and so new an estimate of their deepest needs. After seeing how Christ lived, they could never again justify themselves in living for self. And it is because we are so sunk in self-seeking and worldliness that we continue so unapostolic.

4. It might encourage us to bring our life more nearly into the line of Paul's were we to see clearly that the cause he served is really inclusive of all that is worth working for. We can scarcely apprehend this with any clearness without feeling some enthusiasm for it. You have seen men become so enamoured of a cause that they will literally sell all they have to forward it, and when such a cause is worthy the men who adopt it seem to lead the only lives which have some semblance of glory in them. Our Lord, by claiming our service, gives us the opportunity of sinking our selfishness, which is in the last analysis our sin, and of living for a worthier object than our own pleasure or our own careful preservation. When He tells us to live for Him and to seek the things that are His, He but tells us in other words and in a more attractive and practical form to seek the common good. We seek the things that are Christ's when we act as Christ would act were He in our place.

(M. Dods, D. D.)

I. ITS UNDUE GLORIFICATION. The Christian minister may be made an idol of —

1. By party worship of the man. This was the particular danger here. Let us take the cases the apostle selects (ver. 6) as specimens of all.(1) Paul and Apollos each taught a truth that had taken possession of his soul, and so with modern teachers. Well, this truth commends itself to kindred spirits; it expresses their difficulties, it is a flood of light on many a dark passage of their history. No wonder that they view with gratitude and enthusiasm the messenger of this blessedness. And no wonder that the truth thus taught becomes at last the chief, almost the sole, truth proclaimed by him. Because —

(a)Every man has but one mind, and must, therefore, repeat himself.

(b)That which has won attachment from his congregation can scarcely be made subordinate in subsequent teaching without losing that attachment; so that ministers and congregations often narrow into a party, and hold one truth especially.And so far they do well; but when they hold that truth to the exclusion of all other truths it is not well; and then, when with bitter and jealous antagonism, party-men watch all other religious factions but their own, the sectarian work is done: the minister is at once the idol and the slave of the party.(2) Now St. Paul meets this with his usual delicacy (ver. 6). Think you that he knew nothing of that which is so dear to many a minister in our day — the power of gaining the confidence of his people, the power of having his every word accepted as infallible? Yet hear him — I am a minister, a steward only. I dare not be a party leader, for I am the servant of Him who came to make all one.

2. By attributing supernatural powers and imaginary gifts to the office. When one claiming the power of the keys, and pretending to the power of miraculous conveyance of grace in the sacraments; or, declaring that he has an especial power to receive confession and to forgive sins; then, grave men, who would turn contemptuously from the tricks of the mere preacher, are sometimes subdued before those of the priest. And yet this is but the same thing in another form; for pride and vanity sometimes appear in the very guise of humility. Who would not depreciate himself if, by magnifying his office, he obtained the power he loved? Bernard, professing to be unsecular, yet ruled the secular affairs of the world, and many others have reigned in their sackcloth with a power which the imperial purple never gave.


1. There is a way common enough in which the minister is viewed simply as a very useful regulation, on a par with the magistracy and the police. In this light his chief duty is to lecture the poor, and of all the texts which bear on politics to preach from only two, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," and, "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers"; to be the treasurer of charitable institutions, and to bless the rich man's banquet. Thus the office is simply considered a profession, a "living" for the younger branches of noble houses, and an advance for the sons of those of a lower grade. In this view a degrading compact is made between the minister and society. If he will not interfere with abuses and only echo current conventionalisms, then shall there be shown to him the condescending patronage which comes from men who stand by the Church as they would stand by any other old time-honoured institution; who would think it ill-bred to take God's name in vain in the presence of a clergyman, and unmanly to insult a man whose profession prevents his resenting indignities. Now it is enough to quote the apostle's view (ver. 1), and at once you are in a different atmosphere of thought.

2. The other way is to measure, as the Corinthians did, teachers by their gifts, and in proportion to their acceptability to them. Men seem to look on the ministry as an institution intended for their comfort, for their gratification, nay, even for their pastime. In this way the preaching of the gospel seems to be something like a lecture, professional or popular; a free arena for light discussion and flippant criticism. Now St. Paul (ver. 3) simply refuses to submit his authority to any judgment; and this you will say, perchance, was priestly pride. It was profound humility; he was to be judged before a tribunal far more awful than Corinthian society. Fidelity is the chief excellence in a steward, and fidelity is precisely that which men cannot judge (vers. 4, 5). Another Eye had seen, and He could tell how far the sentence was framed for man's applause; how far the unpleasant truth was softened, not for love's sake, but simply from cowardice; how far independence was only another name for stubbornness; how far even avoidance of sectarianism is merely a proud resolve not to interfere with any other man's ministry, or to allow any man to interfere with his.Conclusion: Learn —

1. Not to judge, for we do not know the secrets of the heart. We judge men by gifts, or by a correspondence with our own peculiarities; but God judges by fidelity. Many a dull sermon is the result of humble powers, honestly cultivated, whilst many a brilliant discourse arises merely from a love of display. Many a diligent and active ministry proceeds from the love of power.

2. To be neither depressed unduly by blame nor to be too much exalted by praise. Man's judgment will not last, but God's will.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)


1. They are ministers of Christ.(1) They derive their commission from Christ (1 Timothy 1:12; Ephesians 4:8-13; Matthew 28:20).(2) They are under Christ's direction and command. They ought not to go until He sends them, and they ought to go whenever and wherever His providence and the voice of His Church call them.(3) They are employed in Christ's service, to act under His authority, to publish and enforce His law and His gospel, to keep the ordinances of His house, and by all appointed means to subserve His work of grace and holiness and the interests of His kingdom and glory in the world.(4) Christ Himself is the great subject of their ministrations. They are to preach Christ Jesus the Lord; and all the lines of their ministry are one way or another to centre in Him.(5) They receive their furniture for Christ's work, and their assistance in it, from Him.(a) As to their temporal concerns, that they may be subsisted in His service, He has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. And He takes care, in His providence, to protect them from the rage of their enemies, so long as He has any work to do by them (Acts 18:9, 10).(b) And as to their gifts and graces, He is exalted to fill the officers of His Church with such supplies as are necessary for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:7); He distributes His gifts with great variety for different administrations by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11); and is with them alway to the end of the world.(6) All the success and reward of their ministry proceeds from Christ. They can speak only to the ear, but He speaks to the heart, and adds such energy to their words as turns them into spirit and life.

2. They are stewards of the mysteries of God.(1) What their stewardship relates to. The mysteries of God. The doctrines of the gospel may be called the mysteries of God on various accounts.(a) They were secret in God till He revealed them, first more obscurely under the Old Testament and afterwards more clearly under the New (Romans 16:25, 26).(b) And even after these things are revealed in New Testament light there are mysteries in them still, especially with relation to the manner of their existence or of their operation (1 Timothy 3:16; John 3:8).(c) After all the revelation which is made of them unrenewed souls do not see their excellence and beauty till Christ opens their understandings to understand the Scriptures, and they come to view them in the transforming light of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).(2) Their stewardship itself.(a) They are not lords of the affairs which are under their management. A steward is but a servant to his Lord, and under Him; and so are all the ministers of Christ (Matthew 23. 10). They are not authors of the mysteries they dispense, but are to preach only that gospel which they have received from Him.(b) Their stewardship intimates that what they are concerned in is committed to them as a trust, which they must give an account of to God (1 Corinthians 9:16, 17; 2 Timothy 1:13, 14).(c) Their stewardship intimates that faithfulness, care, and diligence are to be used in discharging their trust (ver. 2). They must be faithful to Christ, to truth, and to their own and others' souls.

II. THE REGARD THAT IS TO BE SHOWN TO GOSPEL MINISTERS. "Let a man so account of us," &c. You should consider them all —

1. As servants and stewards, that you may not raise them too high in your account of them.

2. As the servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, that you may not sink them too low in your account of them.

(J. Guyse, D. D.)

Here we have —


1. They are servants of Christ. There are some who regard them as servants of their Church. The Churches guarantee their stipend, and they require that their dogmas shall be propounded and their laws obeyed. He who yields to such an expectation degrades his position. The true servant of Christ will feel and act as the moral leader and commander of the people. "Obey them that have the rule over you," &c. There is no office on this earth so dignified and royal as this.

2. As servants of Christ they are responsible. "Stewards of the mysteries of God." The gospel is a mystery not in the sense of incomprehensibility, but in the sense of progressive unfoldment. It is a mystery to the man who at first begins its study, but as he gets on it becomes more and mere clear. The true minister is to translate these mysteries into intelligible ideas, and dispense them to the people. As a steward of such things his position is one of transcendent responsibility.

3. As servants of Christ they are faithful —(1) To their trust; not abuse it, but use it according to the directions of its Owner.(2) To their hearers; seeking no man's applause, fearing no man's frown, "commending himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

4. As servants of Christ they are independent (ver. 3). Whilst no true minister will despise the favour or court the contempt of men, they will not be concerned about their judgment so long as they are faithful to God Paul indicates three reasons for this independency.(1) His own consciousness of faithfulness (ver. 5). "Others may accuse me, but I am not conscious of that which should condemn me, or render me unworthy of this office."(2) His confidence in the judgment of God. "But He that judgeth me is the Lord." I am content to abide by His judgment.(3) His belief in a full revelation of that judgment (ver. 5). Do not let us judge one another; do not let us even trust too much to our own judgment of ourselves. Let us await heaven's judgment.

(a)There is a period appointed for that judgment.

(b)At that period there will be a full revelation of our characters.

(c)At that period, too, every man shall have his due.

II. A FALSE ESTIMATE (ver. 6). Paul speaks of himself and Apollos to show the impropriety of one minister being pitted against another. The Corinthians seemed to estimate ministers —

1. In proportion as they met their views and feelings. Every true preacher preaches the gospel as it has passed through his own mind, and as it passes through his own mind, it will, of course, be more interesting to the minds most in harmony with his own. Hence, in the Corinthian Church those who preferred Peter's preaching thought no one was like Peter, &c. It is so now. Thus it is that some of the most inferior preachers are over-rated, and the most devoted degraded; whereas all true ministers are "servants of Christ," the "stewards of the mysteries of God," and as such should be honoured.

2. According to the greatness of their natural endowments (ver. 7). Between the natural endowments of Paul, Apollos, and Peter there was a great difference, and, indeed, between all ministers of the gospel. But what of that? There is nothing in those for boasting, for they all came from God. No man or angel deserves credit on account of natural abilities.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

A party in the Church at Corinth said they were of Christ. They pretended to be so much under His immediate influence that they had no need of other teachers. "What," said they, "is Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas to us? We are of Christ." For the reproof and instruction of such, as thus undervalued, as well as for the reproof and instruction of the other parties who were disposed to exalt the ministers of Christ, the apostle says, "Let a man," &c.


1. A steward is set over a certain household for the purpose of superintending its affairs. Sustaining, then, the character of rulers in God's house, and representatives of the majesty of heaven, the office with which ministers of the gospel are clothed must be an honourable one. The apostle, humble as he was, magnified his office, and enjoined that it should be respected and esteemed by others.

2. But the office is no less subordinate; it is held under him who is the lord of the steward. In correspondence with this, ministers are but servants of Christ. Sovereignty in the holy hill of Zion is that glory which He will not give to another. From Him they receive their appointment and all those qualifications which are necessary for the effectual discharge of their office. He, too, allots them their respective fields of labour, and assigns the measure of their success.

II. STEWARDS HAVE A TRUST COMMITTED TO THEM. The office of a steward is to take charge of the estate of his lord. Agreeably to this, ministers of the gospel have a trust of all others the most important. Time, talents, opportunities, and spheres of usefulness are a portion of the goods committed to their charge. But the trust delivered to them is the mysteries of God, the whole of Divine truth contained in the Scriptures.

1. The gospel is denominated a mystery (Mark 4:11; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Colossians 1:26). Because —(1) Its gracious doctrines would have remained hid-in the mind of God had it not pleased Him to have made a revelation of them to man.(2) It was but obscurely and partially revealed under the Old Testament economy.(3) It can only be properly understood through the teaching of the Spirit of God. In the gospel there is a variety of mysteries, and accordingly the word is used in the plural number. There are mysteries —(a) Which, though disclosed in Scripture as to their existence and reality, are not level to, but far above the comprehension of a finite mind. Such are the doctrines of the Trinity.(b) Which, having been revealed, may in some measure be understood and explained. Such are the doctrines of the fall, the atonement, justification, &c., &c.(c) Which, though not at present comprehended by the believer, will be fully disclosed to him in heaven, to which, "At that day, ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you." "Now we see through a glass darkly," &c.

2. Of these mysteries ministers are the stewards. In making known the mysteries of the gospel, they are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.


1. They are not his own, but his lord's goods that a steward has in his custody, and therefore he must be careful not to embezzle or squander them, but to lay out the whole to the best advantage. In agreement with this, it is required from ministers to be found faithful.

2. No such thing as faithfulness could be displayed by a worldly steward had he no correct knowledge of the estate, or of the goods that were consigned to his care. In like manner, it is impossible that those stewards of the mysteries of God can be faithful to their trust who do not give all diligence in perusing the Scriptures, to become scribes well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

3. It is the duty of a worldly steward to provide food for, and to distribute it among the members of the house over which he is set. In correspondence with this, it is the duty of those who are stewards of the mysteries of God to be attentive to the spiritual wants of those among whom they labour, and to make careful provision of what is requisite for the supplyment of these. Fidelity also requires an impartial distribution of the Word of Life. Saints and sinners are alike to have the Word of Truth rightly divided among them. The former need to be comforted and assisted; the latter to be cautioned and directed by it.

4. It is the duty of a worldly steward vigilantly to watch, and anxiously to protect from spoliation the property which his lord has committed to his trust. In like manner it is the duty of the stewards of Divine mysteries to watch over them, and to guard them against the attacks of their enemies.

5. The steward of the mysteries of God who is faithful to his trust must be decidedly a man of God.

IV. STEWARDS ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE TRUST THAT HAS BEEN COMMITTED TO THEM. Both just and unjust stewards may look forward with certainty to a day of reckoning. In agreement with this, ministers of the gospel are accountable for the solemn trust which has been committed to them. An account will be demanded from them of their time, how it was spent by them — of their gifts, how they improved them — of the gospel, how they preached it — and of precious souls as to the concern manifested, and the efforts made by them for their salvation. Conclusion: Who is sufficient for these things? None, in their own strength. Your sufficiency is only of God.

(J. Duncan.)

Ministers here means "under-rowers," as pulling together in one galley where Christ sits at the helm, the vessel being the Church, and the passengers the members of the Church. Not only is disunion in the crew fatal to progress and a thing tending to shipwreck, but the fact of Christ's presidency and magisterium should exalt high above petty partisanship, especially when the supreme owner of the sacred galley is God. Here the house-stewards of God and dispensers of His mysteries are said to be strictly such, as being servants or underlings of Christ; for between the Father of the household or Church and the distributors of the spiritual goods stands the Son In fact the image is again a stair of three steps. The Father delivers the Divine decrees or eternal ideas, elsewhere called the hidden wisdom of God, to the Incarnate Son. He in turn communicates them to His apostles, selected by Himself to dispense and apportion with wise judgment these secret counsels or mysteries of God to the members of the household. The house of God, an idea latent in the word "household," denotes the Christian theocracy (1 Timothy 3:16) of which Christ is the nearer Head, God (the Head of Christ) the more remote. It appears certain from some of the deeper texts of Scripture that all that has taken place in the world through all the ages is but the historical evolution in time of the manifold and marvellous counsel of Triune Deity, willed in a remote eternity. These archetypal ideas, both of creation and redemption, were in part only and by degrees revealed to Paul, and of that part he himself has communicated to the Church a part only: for that he knew more than he wrote is clear enough from his occasional ejaculations of wonder, followed by no elucidations: to such an inspired mind teeming with supernatural mysteries, no marvel that all human science pales and waxes dim before a single ray of Divine wisdom!

(Canon Evans.)

The Church at Corinth were divided into rival factions, arrayed under party leaders; and unprofitable controversies and unbecoming tempers were the natural results. The idea of the Christian ministry as a Divine institution was lost sight of, while the man who held the office was invested with undue importance. St. Paul endeavours to correct this state of things by showing that the office was distinct from any qualities or attractions which might belong to the man. The apostle himself was both learned and eloquent, but this did not constitute him a minister of Christ. So far as the man was concerned, he was satisfied to be esteemed "the least," and even "the servant of all," but when the office was brought into view it was a different matter. A hundred men. in any county, may write a better hand than the "county clerk," and yet his hand and seal are indispensable for the validity of certain acts. Shall so much depend on office, in worldly things, and can it be supposed that the Divine Head of the Church has taken less precaution to secure the interests of the soul?


1. Derive their commission from Him (John 20:21). The apostles went forth in His name, and never pleaded any authority for what they said, or did, but His. As an ambassador is duly authorised to make and ratify treaties in his king's name. and to act concerning measures involving the weal or woe of millions, so is Christ's ambassador clothed with power to proclaim the terms of reconciliation with God.

2. Are rulers in God's kingdom. "All power" was given unto the Saviour in heaven and earth, and this authority He dispenses to His servants, who are sent forth to execute His will. They are to awe men into obedience, not by implements of temporal dominion, but by weapons from God's own armoury.

3. They become the comforters of the sorrowing, and physicians of the broken-hearted.

4. Intercede with God for His people. All Christians of course discharge this duty (James 5:16), but more especially those who are commissioned by the Most High to serve at His altar.


1. They are conservators, expounders, and dispensers of all those things once hidden, but now revealed.

2. They are the dispensers of His grace through the ordinances of the gospel.

3. As such it is required of them to be faithful —(1) To their heavenly Master, not following ways agreeable to themselves, but meekly receiving their Lord's instructions and doing their utmost to carry them into effect. Worldly hopes and fears must not influence them, and all they say and do should have reference to their final account.(2) To their fellow-servants. "Gospel ministers," says Bishop Hall, "should not only be like dials on watches, or mite-stones upon the road, but like clocks and larums, to sound the alarm to sinners. Aaron wore bells as well as pomegranates, and the prophets were commanded to lift up their voice like a trumpet. A sleeping sentinel may be the loss of the city." A dying nobleman once sent for his minister, and said to him, "You know that I have been living a very wicked life, and yet you have never warned me of my danger." "Yes, my lord," was the constrained and sickening response, "your manner of living was not unknown to me; but great personal kindness to me made me unwilling to offend you bywords of reproof." "Oh, how wicked! how cruel in you!" cried the dying man. "The provision which I made for you and your family ought to have prompted care and fidelity. You neglected to warn and instruct me; and now, my soul is lost!"Conclusion: Christians —

1. Be thankful for the provision which has been made for your instruction and guidance.

2. Be careful to improve it.

(J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Note —

I. THE TRUST IMPLIED. Of what are we stewards? All, in fact, that we are and have, but sin. Health, reason, property, influence, &c., &c. "All things, O Lord, come of Thee," &c., &c. This trust is —

1. Undeniable. The moral reason of humanity binds man to acknowledge that all he has he holds in trust. He is not the proprietor, but the trustee.

2. Ever-increasing. Mercies increase every hour, and with the increase obligation accumulates.


1. A good man uses all under a sense of his responsibility to God.

2. In the right discharge of this trust man —

(1)Blesses himself.

(2)Serves his generation.

(3)Wins the approbation of his God.

III. THE TRUST ABUSED. We read of some —

1. That waste their Lord's goods.

2. That are unprofitable servants. "Many will say unto Me in that day."

(J. Harding, M. A.)

Consider —


1. Ministers.(1) The word in the original signifies an "under-rower." Our Lord is the Pilot of the vessel of His Church, and the clergy are the rowers under His command. He from heaven still guides his Church below; but, under His guidance, and by His own appointment, a distinct share of the work is allotted to His ministers.(2) Strictly speaking, the clergy are not the ministers of the congregation, and it is not their primary duty to try and please the people. They are "ministers of Christ"; and they must count it "a very small thing" that they should be "judged of man's judgment," remembering that "He that judgeth them is the Lord."

2. Stewards. A steward is one who is appointed by an owner of estates to deal on his behalf with his tenants, manage his property, rule in his absence, dispense his bounty. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the owner of the estate of His Church, and the clergy are the officers appointed by Him to represent Him in matters affecting His people. As the power of a steward is not inherent, but only delegated, so the authority of "the stewards of the mysteries of God" has its origin in, and depends for its continuance on, the will of Christ their Lord. Now it is obvious that a steward —(1) Must receive some external appointment, and must be able to produce his credentials. It is not enough that a man should call himself a steward. "No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God."(2) Must have somewhat committed to his charge, some official acts to perform, and some bounty to dispense. And to the clergy, as "stewards," are committed "the mysteries of God." It is their business to defend and promulgate the "truth as it is in Jesus," not preaching themselves — i.e., their own theories and fancies — but "the faith once for all delivered to the saints."(3) Is not only representative of his master to the tenants, but that equally is he representative of the tenants to his master. And so it is the high privilege of the clergy as "stewards," to become intimately acquainted with the circumstances, needs, perplexities, and sorrows of Christ's people; it is their duty to find out all about them. and then, on their behalf, to go to the throne of grace and intercede. Certainly if the dignity of "the ministers of Christ" is great their responsibility is greater still.

II. HOW THE LAITY SHOULD REGARD THEM — "Account of them," &c. And if you do so you will —

1. Esteem them very highly, not for their own, but for their work's sake. Lose sight of the man in the office, and prove your esteem by receiving at his hands "the mysteries of the kingdom of God," for thus you will —

2. Encourage them. And probably there is no class of men who more greatly need encouragement. Recognising their difficulties, and wishing to encourage them, you will be led —

3. To pray for them.(1) That the words spoken by them may have success.(2) That they may be preserved from all the dangers peculiar to the position which they hold.(3) Lest that by any means when they have preached to others they themselves should be castaways!

(J. Beeby.)

There can be no doubt that this word "mystery" rouses a certain feeling of mental discomfort, almost amounting to suspicion and dislike, in the mind of an ordinary Englishman when he first hears it. In the ordinary use of language, too, the word has got into bad odour by the force of bad association. A mystery is frequently understood to mean something that will not bear the light; something that is wanting in the qualities of straightforwardness and explicitness; something that belongs to the region of charlatanism, intrigue, ignorance, superstition. It would be curious to ascertain the idea which the word "mystery" suggests to the first five men whom we meet in the street. One man would probably say, "I mean by mystery something confused and unintelligible"; and another, "Something involving a plain contradiction"; and another, "A statement which is chiefly distinguished by its defiance of reason"; and another, "Some physical or even moral impossibility"; and another, "That which is believed to be true because there is no real reason for disbelieving it." And if these, or anything like these, are the ideas which are associated by us with the word "mystery," what wonder that the word is regarded with a certain dislike and suspicion when we find it in the region of religious truth? What, then, let us ask, is the true account of this word "mystery." The word "mystery" in the Bible is a purely Greek word, the termination only being changed. In Greece for many centuries it meant a religious or sacred secret into which, after due preparation, men were initiated by solemn rites. At Eleusis, near Athens, to give only one of the most famous examples, there were for centuries mysteries of this description, and there has been much controversy in the learned world as to their exact origin and object, the most probable account of them being that they were designed to preserve and hand on certain truths which formed part of the earliest religion of Greece, and which were lost sight of or denied, or denounced by the popular religion of a later day. A tenet thus concealed and thus disclosed was called a "mystery," because, after disclosure, it was still concealed from the general public, because it had been concealed even from the initiated up to the moment of initiation, and because, probably, it was of a character to suggest that, however much truth it might convey, there was more to which it pointed, but which still remained unknown. This was the general sense which the word had acquired at the time when the New Testament was written. Now the apostles of Christ, in order to make their Divine message to the souls of men as clear as might be, took the words in common use which most nearly answered their purpose — did the best they could with them, giving them, so to speak, a new turn, inspiring them with a new and a higher significance. What, then, is the meaning of the word "mystery" in the New Testament? It is used to describe not a fancy, not a contradiction, not an impossibility, but always a truth, yet a truth which has been or which is more or less hidden. There are some truths on which the mind's eye rests directly, just as the bodily eye rests on the sun in a cloudless sky; and there are other truths of the reality of which the mind is assured by seeing something else which satisfies it that they are there, just as the bodily eye sees the strong ray which pours forth in a stream of brilliancy from behind a cloud and reports to the understanding that if only the cloud were to be removed the sun would itself be seen. Now "mysteries" in religion, as we commonly use the word, are of this description; we see enough to know that there is more which we do not see, and, in this state of existence, which we shall not directly see. We see the ray which implies the sun behind the cloud. And thus to look upon apparent truth, which certainly implies truth which is not apparent, is to be in the presence of mystery. Why, it is asked, should there be in religion this element of mystery? Why should there be this outlying, this transcendental margin traced round the doctrines and the rites of Christianity — this margin within which the Church whispers of mystery, but which seems to provide a natural home for illusion? This is probably what Toland, by no means the least capable of the English deists, thought when he undertook at the beginning of the last century the somewhat desperate enterprise of showing that Christianity is not mysterious. To strip Christianity of mystery was to do it, he conceived, an essential service — to bring it, in the phraseology of his day, "within the conditions of nature," within the rules of that world of sensible experience in which we live. Is it, then, the case that the natural world around us is so entirely free from that element of mystery which attaches so closely to the doctrines and the rites of Christianity? Before long spring will be here again, and probably some of you will try in some sort to keep step with the expansions of its beautiful life even here in London by putting a hyacinth bulb into a glass jar of water, and watching day by day the leaves and the bud unfold above, and the roots develop below, as the days get warmer and brighter, until at last, about Easter-time, it bursts into full and beautiful bloom. Why should the bulb thus break out into flower, and leaf, and root, before your eyes? "Why," some one says, "they always do." Yes, but why do they? What is the motive power at work which thus breaks up the bulb, and which almost violently issues into a flower of such beauty, in perfect conformity to a general type, and yet with a variety that is all its own? You say it is the law of growth; yes, but what do you mean by the law of growth? You do not explain it by merely labelling it — you explain neither what it is in itself, nor why it should be at work here, or under these conditions. You cannot deny its existence, and yet the moment you endeavour to penetrate below the surface it altogether eludes you. What is this but to have ascertained that here is a fact, a truth, hidden behind the cloud that is formed by the surface aspect of nature? What is this but to be in the presence of mystery? The philosopher Locke laid down the doctrine which has been often quoted since his time, that we cannot acquiesce in any proposition unless we fully understand all that is conveyed by each of its terms, and hence he inferred that when a man tells us that any mystery is true, he is stating that to which we cannot assent, because a mystery, from its nature, is said to be a hidden, and, therefore, uncomprehended truth. This, at first, seems plausible enough; but in fact we may, and do, assent reasonably enough to a great many propositions respecting the terms of which we have only an obscure or an incomplete idea. A man born blind may, I take it, reasonably assent to the descriptions of objects which we who have the blessing of sight see with our eyes, although probably no description could possibly give him an adequate impression of the reality. Locke himself, like the strong thinker that he was, admitted, could not but admit, the infinite divisibility of matter; yet had he, has any man, an adequate conception of what this means? It, too, belongs to the sphere of mystery. To treat nature as not mysterious is to mistake that superficial, thoughtless familiarity with nature for a knowledge based on observation and reflection. And the mysterious creed of Christendom corresponds with nature, which is thus constantly mysterious, while both are only what we should expect in revelation. And nature, too, in its way, is a revelation of the infinite God. Suppose, if you can, that a religion claiming to come from God were wholly divested of this element of mystery; suppose that it spoke of a God whose attributes we could understand as perfectly as the character of our next-door neighbour; and of a government of the world which presented no more difficulties than the administration of a small joint-stock company; and of prayer, and rules of worship, which meant no more than the conventional usages and ceremonies of human society. Should we not say — you and I — "Certainly this is very intelligible; it is wholly free from the infection of mystery; but is it really a message from a higher world? Is it not too obviously an accommodation to our poor, dwarfed conceptions? Does it not somewhere in its system carry the trade mark of a human manufactory?" After all, we may dislike and resent mystery in our lower and captious, as distinct from our better and thoughtful, moods; but we know on reflection that it is the inevitable robe of a real revelation of the Infinite Being, and that, if the great truths and ordinances of Christianity shade off, as they do, into regions where we cannot hope to follow them, this is only what was to be expected if Christianity is what it claims to be.

(Canon Liddon.)

It is required in stewards that a mall be found faithful.

1. Divinely commissioned. A call to the ministry is a call from God, or it has in it no worth or authority. Let a man possess the consciousness of this commission, then he will go forth with authority and power. Without it his lips will falter and his heart fail.

2. Divinely qualified. There must be —(1) Mental fitness. A minister must be "apt to teach."(2) Moral fitness. The first condition is conversion of heart; the next, holiness of life. How lifeless and barren a ministry without this!

3. Divinely sustained. With all the help and happiness of such outward encouragements as it is the duty of Churches to give, ministers feel that they need Divine strength.


1. To expound it. Expository preaching has not received sufficient attention.

2. To apply it. It is not sufficient to elucidate the principles of the gospel, they must be enforced. The gospel —(1) Makes known the pardon which has been provided for sinners; and it is incumbent on the stewards of God to beseech them to be reconciled to God.(2) Is a trumpet-call to Christian perfection. To transform men we must be persuasive — intensely practical.

3. To defend it.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)


1. The ministry of the word is in all essential points the same ever since it was ordained as an employment. At the same time it is plain that several circumstances attending it are considerably varied. The ordinary call to the office, which now takes place, is very different from the miraculous mission by which men were consecrated to it in former times. Their vocation was more immediate, more striking, attended with more ample powers, as well as more splendid effects. The pastors of the Christian Church, in these later ages, are neither possessed of the immediate inspiration nor of the power of working miracles enjoyed by the apostles. They are now men in all respects like yourselves. When we speak of a faithful minister we speak of the rare and happy union of ability and attention, of zeal and knowledge, of meekness and firmness, in the same character; for all these are necessary to sustain the office with propriety. And are these qualities to be attained with a slight degree of application?

2. But you are not to imagine that while such high obligations are laid on the ministers of the gospel, no duties are, on the ether hand, required of you towards those who hold that station.(1) The same authority which lays such arduous obligations on your pastors, requires of you to entertain a spirit of equity and candour towards them.(2) This rule of equity and candour is transgressed in a still higher degree when you expect of us to preach doctrines accommodated to your passions, or to refrain from delivering those truths which are unacceptable or alarming.

II. YOU ARE REQUIRER TO ENTERTAIN A JUST ESTEEM FOR THE OFFICE AND CHARACTER WHICH WE BEAR. We claim no obsequious homage, we arrogate no dominion over your faith; but we expect that no man should despise us.


(R. Walker.)

Consider —

I. THE STATION WHICH IS OCCUPIED. The station of a steward — one who has a delegated authority — who acts in subserviency to another — and who is required to account for the manner in which he has conducted himself while holding that responsible station. The term applies originally to the ministers of the gospel; yet we may safely found upon them a general argument and appeal. You have each of you received various gifts, which you are to hold as stewards of God, and for which you have to render a final account.

1. Intellectual faculties.

2. Temporal blessings, such as —

(1)Property, and opulence, and rank, and those things which give men such influence in the sphere in which they move.

(2)National distinction.

(3)Civil and religious liberty.

3. Spiritual mercies.

(1)The Scriptures.

(2)Holy ordinances.

(3)The ministry of the gospel.

(4)The gift of the Spirit to convince, convert, sanctify, &c.Every Christian attainment, hope, enjoyment, makes the person who possesses it steward, and involves the highest responsibility.

II. THE CHARACTER BY WHICH THE OCCUPATION OF THIS STATION SHOULD BE ATTENDED. The steward is called upon to "be faithful" to his Master's property, and whatever is committed to his trust.

1. Abundant facts prove that men are generally reckless in regard to all the privileges enumerated.

2. Consider, then, in what this fidelity consists. The great basis of all duty is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," &c. Now, in order to answer to the character described in the text, there must be sincere repentance, an entire reliance on the one only foundation of hope, and an earnest striving for the salvation of the immortal soul by the diligent use of the means prescribed. It is your duty —(1) To work out your salvation with fear and trembling. There must be employed for this every natural and intellectual power: for this Sabbaths were hallowed, the Book of God given, the ministry instituted, &c.(2) To attend to what pertains to the Divine honour and glory in the world in which we live. While we attend diligently to the common business of life we must not forget what we owe to God, on whose bounty we live, in whose presence we stand, and before whom we must soon appear.(3) This part of the subject may be applied —

(a)To those who occupy private stations in the Church of Christ. What have you done in the way of desire, in the way of effort, in the way of prayer?

(b)To ministers.

III. THE SOLEMN CONSIDERATIONS BY WHICH THE EXHIBITION OF SUCH A CHARACTER MAY BE ENFORCED. A steward must reckon on a day of final account. This will be a day of reckoning —

1. For rewards of glory.

2. For punishment also.

(J. Parsons.)

Weekly Pulpit.
St. Paul accepted the full responsibility of his office. God has nowhere placed on the human heart such a high trust as the ministry of the gospel. We do not think lightly of the responsibilities of the statesman, the warrior, the philanthropist, the teacher; but the ambassador of the Cross stands in the Saviour's place, and speaks in His name. On his office depends the salvation of mankind. The minister must feel the responsibility of his office, and so must those to whom he ministers. The congregation that demands topics and forms to gratify taste or emotion cannot be sensible of the fact that God speaks, and not man. Micaiah said, "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak." The man who helps sinners to build on a false foundation is a source of greater danger than the company of evildoers.


1. It is possible to fancy what mighty things we would do had we the opportunity. Some thoughts of this nature must have crossed the mind of the man who received only one talent. Exchange these grated probabilities for actual possibilities. God has given us to do what we can, and expects us to do it.

2. "He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much," &c. Look into every department of life, and see that he who has faithfully filled the humbler situation, has both fitted himself for, and been promoted to a higher. Joseph the slave became the premier of Egypt. The captive Hebrew youths were made presidents of Chaldea. The history of those men is not more marvellous than "From Log Cabin to White House," or from the shoemaker's bench to the mission-field of India. Seeing that the Church of Christ is burdened with duties, we long to see the day when every Christian shall be an active worker.


1. To-morrow will not have a moment to spare for duties that are neglected to-day. Duty says — "Now or never." Nature, the lives of men of mark, and our own experience are decisive as to this. "Procrastination is the thief of time." To put off duty to a more convenient season is done with impunity. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," &c. Every hour has its duty, and every duty its pleasure.

2. To further enforce diligence in this matter, observe that our very safety in time to come is secured by fidelity to present trust. Negligence is a preparation for temptation (2 Peter 1:10). The path of duty is the path of safety.

III. LET US DO OVER WORK IN THE RIGHT SPIRIT. It is impossible to be faithful considering the difficulties in the way, without willingness and love. To be forced to work for Jesus by fear is to destroy the greatest condition of success.

IV. LET OUR WORK BE DONE UNDER A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. The work is not ours. We do not supply the materials. We are all responsible to God. The day of account is coming. Shall we meet it with joy, or with grief?

(Weekly Pulpit.)

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