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These files are public domain.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-corinthians-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 8:1-13
How as touching things offered to idols.
Liberty and love
1. The question about meats necessarily arose in a society partly heathen and partly Christian. Every meal was dedicated to the household gods by laying some portion of it on the family altar. On a birthday, a marriage, or a safe return from sea, &c., it was customary to sacrifice in some public temple. And after the legs of the victim, enclosed in fat, and the entrails had been burnt on the altar, the worshipper received the remainder, and invited iris friends to partake of it either in the temple itself, or in the surrounding grove, or at home. A convert might therefore naturally ask himself whether he was justified in conforming to this custom. Thus personal friendships and the harmony of family life were threatened; and on public occasions the Christian was in danger of branding himself as no good citizen, or by compliance of seeming unfaithful to Christ.
2. Apparently a good deal of ill-feeling had been engendered by the different views taken, as is always the case with morally indifferent matters. They do little harm if each holds his own opinion genially and endeavours to influence others in a friendly way. But in most instances it happens as in Corinth: those who saw that they could eat without contamination scorned those who had scruples; while the scrupulous judged the eaters to be worldly time-servers.
3. As a first step towards the settlement of this matter, Paul makes the largest concession to the party of liberty. Their clear perception that an idol was nothing in the world was sound and commendable. “But do not,” says the apostle, “think that you have settled the question by reiterating that you are better instructed than your brethren. You must add love, consideration of your neighbour, to your knowledge.” Men of ready insight into truth are prone to despise less enlightened spirits; but however such vaunt themselves as the men of progress and the hope of the Church, it is not by knowledge alone the Church can ever solidly grow. Knowledge does produce a puffing-up, an unhealthy, morbid, mushroom growth; but that which builds up the Church stone by stone, a strong, enduring edifice, is love. It is a good thing to have clear views of Christian liberty; but exercise it without love, and you become a poor inflated creature, puffed up with a noxious gas destructive of all higher life in yourself and in others.
4. It is easy to imagine how all this would be exemplified at a Corinthian table. Three Christians are invited to a party in the house of a heathen friend. One is weakly scrupulous, the others are men of ampler view and more enlightened conscience. As the meal goes on the weak brother discerns some mark Which identifies the meat as sacrificial, or, fearing it may be so, he inquires of the servant, and finds it has been offered in the temple, and at once says to his friends, “This has been offered to idols.” One of them, knowing that heathen eyes are watching, and wishing to show how superior to all such scruples the enlightened Christian is, and how genial and free the religion of Christ is, smiles at his friend’s scruples, and accepts the meat. The other, more generous and truly courageous, declines the dish, lest by leaving the scrupulous man without support he should tempt him to follow their example, contrary to his own conviction, and so lead him into sin. It need not be said which of these men conies nearest to the Christian principle of Paul.
5. In our own society similar cases necessarily arise. I, as a Christian man, and knowing that the earth and its fulness are the Lord’s, may feel at perfect liberty to drink wine. But I must consider the effect my conduct will have on others. There may be some among my friends whose temptation lies that way, and whose conscience bids them refrain. If by my example such persons are encouraged to silence their conscience, then I incur the guilt of helping to destroy a brother for whom Christ died. Or again, a lad brought up in a Puritanic household has been taught, e.g., that the influence of the theatre is demoralising; but on entering the life of a great city he is soon brought in contact with some genuine Christians who visit the theatre without the slightest twinge of conscience. Now either of two things will probably happen. The young man’s ideas of Christian liberty may become clearer; or being daunted by overpowering example and chafing under the raillery of his companions, may do as others do, though still uneasy in his own conscience. What is to he observed is that the emboldening of conscience is one thing, its enlightenment quite another. Constantly it happens that men who once shrank from certain practices now freely engage in them, and they will tell you that at first they felt as if they were stealing the indulgence, and that they had to drown the voice of conscience by the louder voice of example. The results of this are disastrous. Conscience is dethroned. The ship no longer obeys her helm, and lies in the trough of the sea swept by every wave and driven by every wind. It may indeed be said, What harm can come of persons less enlightened being emboldened to do as we do if what we do is right? The harm is this, that if the weak brother does a right thing while his conscience tells him it is wrong, to him it is wrong. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Note two permanent lessons--
I. The sacredness or supremacy of conscience. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” A man may possibly do a wrong thing when he obeys conscience; he is certainly wrong when he acts contrary to conscience. He may be helped to a decision by the advice of others, but it is his own decision by which he must abide. His conscience may not be as enlightened as it ought to be. Still his duty is to enlighten, not to violate, it. It is the guide God has given us, and we must not choose another.
II. That we must ever use our Christian liberty with Christian consideration of others. Love must mingle with all we do. There are many things which are lawful for Christian, but which are not compulsory or obligatory, and which he may refrain from doing on cause shown. Duties he must, of course, discharge, regardless of the effect his conduct may have on others. But where conscience says, not “You must,” but only “You may,” then we must consider the effect our using our liberty will have on others. We must forego our liberty to do this or that if by doing it we should shock a weak brother or encourage him to overstep his conscience. As the Arctic voyager who has been frozen up all winter does not seize the first opportunity to escape, but waits till his weaker companions gain strength enough to accompany him, so must the Christian accommodate himself to the weaknesses of others, lest by using his liberty he should injure him for whom Christ died. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.--
A twofold knowledge
I. A pride generating knowledge. “Knowledge puffeth up.” One that is--
1. Merely intellectual. A stock of mental conceptions, concerning objects material or spiritual, referring to the creature or to the Creator. Now such knowledge tends to self-conceit.
2. Essentially superficial. The more superficial mere intellectual knowledge the stronger its tendency. The men who go farthest into the essence of things, take the widest view of the domain of knowledge, will be the least disposed to self-elation.
II. A man-edifying knowledge.
1. “Charity,” or love to God, is the true knowledge. Love is the life and soul of all true science. Love is the root of the universe, and you must have love rightly to interpret love.
2. This true knowledge builds up the soul; not as a house is built up, by putting dead stones and timber together, but as the oak is built up, by the appropriating force of its own life, compelling nature to deepen its roots, extend its bulk, multiply its branches, and push it higher towards the heavens.
3. This true knowledge insures the approval of God (1 Corinthians 8:3). In the last day, Christ will say to those who have not this love, “I never knew”--i.e., approved of--“you.” This love for God in the heart converts the tree of intellectual knowledge into the tree of life. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The difference between Christian and secular knowledge
A great controversy is going on in the matter of education. One partly extols the value of instruction, the other insists that secular education without religion is worse than useless: Paul spoke of both as secular and worthless without love. That knowledge which he treated so slightingly was--
I. Knowledge without humility. It is not so much what is known as the spirit in which it is acquired which makes the difference between secular and Christian knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:2). The greatest of modern philosophers and historians, Humboldt and Niebuhr, were both eminently humble men. So, too, you will find that real talent among mechanics is generally united to great humility. Whereas those puffed up by knowledge are those who have a few religious maxims and shallow doctrines. There are two ways therefore of knowing. One is that of the man who loves to calculate how far he is advanced beyond others; the other, that of the man who feels how infinite knowledge is, and how little he knows.
II. Liberty without reverence. The men whom the apostle rebukes were free from many superstitions. An idol, they said, was nothing in the world. But it is not merely freedom from superstition which is worship of God, but loving dependence on Him; the surrender of self. “If any man love God, the same is known of Him,” i.e., God acknowledges the likeness of spirit. There is much of the spirit of these Corinthians now. Men throw off what they call the trammels of superstitions, and then call themselves free: they think it grand thing to reverence nothing. This is not high knowledge. It is a great thing to be free from mental slavery, but suppose you are still a slave to your passions? From bonds of the spirit Christianity has freed us, but it has bound us to God (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). The true freedom from superstition is free service to religion: the real emancipation from false gods is reverence for the true God. And not merely is this the only real knowledge, but no other knowledge “buildeth up” the soul. “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Separate from love, the more we know, the profounder the mystery of life, and the more dreary existence becomes. I can conceive no dying hour more awful than that of one who has aspired to know instead of to love, and finds himself at last amidst a world of barren facts and lifeless theories.
III. Comprehension without love to man. These Corinthians had got a most clear conception of what Christianity was (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). “Well,” said the apostle, “and what signifies your profession of that, if you look down with supreme contempt on your ignorant brothers, who cannot reach to these sublime contemplations?” Knowledge such as this is not advance, but retrogression. How immeasurably superior in the sight of God is some benighted Romanist who has gone about doing good, or some ignorant, narrow religionist who has sacrificed time and property to Christ, to the most correct theologian in whose heart there is no love for his fellow-men. Breadth of view is not breadth of heart; the substance of Christianity is love to God and man. Hence it is a precious fact that St. Paul, the apostle of liberty, whose burning intellect expounded the whole philosophy of Christianity, should have been the one to say that knowledge is nothing compared to charity, nay, worse than nothing without it: should have been the one to declare that “knowledge shall vanish away, but love never faileth.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Knowledge and charity
No person ever entertained a higher idea of true wisdom than St. Paul, but he saw that learning makes not the man of God perfect, and that the complete scholar may fall short at last of the kingdom of heaven. He saw that spiritual, like bodily wealth, unless used for the benefit of others, would prove no blessing to its owner. And therefore, that the wise man might not glory in his wisdom, the apostle determines that, not only human learning, but the knowledge of all prophecies and mysteries, will profit nothing if charity be not superadded.
I. Knowledge without charity endeth in pride.
1. It produces an inflation in the mind, which, like a tumour in the body, carries the appearance of solidity, but has in reality nothing within, and only indicates a distempered habit. And, indeed, knowledge, as well as faith, if it be alone, is vain--it is dead. For all knowledge is given as a means to some end. The means, abstracted from their end, cease to be means, and answer no purpose whatsoever. The end of knowledge is action (John 13:17). Every article of the creed involves in it a correspondent duty, and it is practice alone that gives life to faith and realises knowledge. “The manifestation of the Spirit (as that Spirit Himself testifies) is given to every man to profit withal.” Otherwise it is of no effect, and the man becomes “a cloud without water”; raised aloft it sails before the wind, proudly swelling in the sufficiency of its own emptiness, instead of dropping plenty on the lands over which it passes.
2. Consider the instances of this truth.
(1) Ascend into heaven and there view the glories that once encircled Lucifer (cf. Ezekiel 28:12). He saw, he knew; but he loved not, and through pride he fell. A proof, to the learned of all ages, that knowledge without charity will turn a good angel into an evil one.
(2) Yet this has all along been the fatal mistake, and the tree of knowledge still proved the occasion of a fall. Knowledge wrought destruction by pride. “The serpent,” says Eve, “beguiled me”; lit., elated, puffed me up. All the fruits of error and vice have sprung from the same root of bitterness.
(3) Take the case of the Gentiles (Romans 1:21). Lack of knowledge was not their original fault; “they knew God.” But knowledge in the understanding for want of charity in the heart did not operate to a holy obedience. “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.”
(4) Turn to the Jew. “Having the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law.” Yet knowledge puffed him up; his privileges became an occasion of boasting himself against his brethren, and envy ate out his charity. “Going about to establish his own righteousness” upon the strength of his own wisdom, he rejected the Lord his righteousness, and nailed Him, who is the source of wisdom, to the Cross.
(5) When the distinction of Jew and Gentile ceased, and one Church comprehended all believers, knowledge puffed men up into heretics and schismatics. Pride made them rather choose to see themselves exalted at the head of a faction, than the Church edified by their labours in an inferior station. This was the case in the Church of Corinth, and has been the cause of every heresy and schism since.
II. Charity directeth knowledge to its right end--the edification of the Church. This will be seen in some instances the reverse of the foregoing.
1. If we ascend a second time into heaven, we shall find that the principle which triumphed over the proud knowledge of Lucifer was the wisdom of God actuated by love. In our redemption, wisdom contrived, power executed, but love set all to work, and perfected and crowned the whole.
2. To reverse the sad effects of a vain thirst after knowledge in our first parent, Divine love became incarnate. All that He did and suffered was because He loved us. Because man, by the temptation of knowledge, was seduced to infidelity and disobedience, He encountered and overcame the tempter by the Word of God, and by love keeping the commandments. The treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Him were not suffered to rust and canker, locked up from the public by a supercilious reservedness, but out of them He continually dispersed abroad, and gave to the poor in spirit. On the Cross love regained what pride had lost, and the wound made in our nature by the fruit of the tree of knowledge was healed by the leaves of the tree of life.
3. To combat the vain wisdom of the Greek, and the self-justifying arrogance of the Jew, the apostles were sent forth. The strongholds of false knowledge could not stand before the gospel. Blasted by the lightning of inspired eloquence, the arm of false philosophy withered and lost all its holds on the minds of men. “The Roman empire wondered to see itself Christian; to see the Cross exalted in triumph over the globe, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. But what was it that gained this victory over the pride of earth and hell? What, but the same all-suffering, and, therefore, all-subduing charity which taught the disciples of a crucified Jesus, after His example, to endure all things for the salvation of their brethren?
4. If we view the unity of a primitive church, as opposed to the sad divisions and distractions since produced by heresy and schism, it will appear that charity built up that solid and durable edifice. As at its formation, the Spirit descended upon the disciples, when “they were all with one accord in one place,” so, in like manner, after more were added to them, it is remarked that “the multitude of the believers were of one heart and one mind.” The spirit of unity knit all the members together, insomuch that if one member suffered the rest sympathised with it, And thus they “grew up into Him in all things, even Christ … made increase of the body to the edifying itself in love.” (Bp. Horne.)
Knowledge and love
I. Knowledge puffeth up.
1. This applies to all knowledge, whether human or Divine, when unaccompanied with love to God.
2. Its effect is--
(1) To inflate men’s notions of the powers of human reason and the importance of human knowledge.
(2) To encourage self-confidence and conceit.
3. The reason--
(1) Knowledge without faith acts upon the intellect, but leaves the heart untouched.
II. Love edifieth.
(1) Depends on faith.
(2) Implies confidence, submission, obedience, sacrifice.
2. Its effect. It edifies--
(1) By strengthening the understanding and the will.
(2) By building up the moral character.
(3) By elevating the spirit.
(4) By bringing man into direct communion with God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Knowledge and love
This knowledge is not secular as distinguished from Divine and theological, but knowledge of Divine things without love--knowledge by itself as distinguished from the knowledge of Divine things with love. The same contrast is drawn out more at length in chap. 13.; but as there he is led to speak of it chiefly by insisting on the superiority of active usefulness to spiritual ecstasies, so here he is led to speak of it by insisting on the superiority of that love which shows a regard for the consciences of others, over that knowledge which rests satisfied in its own enlightened insight into the folly of human superstition. Knowledge such as this may indeed expand the mind, but it is a mere inflation, as of a bubble, which bursts and vanishes away. Love alone succeeds in building up an edifice tier above tier, solid alike in superstructure and in basis, so as to last for ever. (Dean Stanley.)
The two guides--knowledge and love
I. They are both excellent.
1. The pupil of Gamaliel would have been the last to speak slightingly of real knowledge. How much has knowledge accomplished in the world! Ignorance is a fool’s paradise; knowledge is power.
2. And how excellent is love. How dull and sad and more prolific in crime the world would be without it! One’s only regret is that there is so little of it. Herein heaven and earth contrast. The triumphs of knowledge are great, but greater are the victories of love.
II. They are complementary.
1. Knowledge without love leads to--
(4) Injury to others.
(5) Many blunders in thought, feeling, and action.
2. Love without knowledge leads to moral catastrophe. Knowledge is necessary to determine within what limits we may rightly act; love determines what within the limits of the” lawful “we should choose.
3. Knowledge and love united lead to that more perfect, penetrating, true practical knowledge, the opposite of that described in 1 Corinthians 13:2. E.g., a man may know God as God--have some conception of the Divine attributes, &c., but when he loves God his knowledge makes incalculable strides. (W. E. Hurndall, M. A.)
Knowledge and love
These beautiful words are introduced into a discussion which has long ceased to have any practical interest. In pagan Corinth the banquet and the sacrifice were part of the same proceeding. The animal was slain and offered to the gods. Then the priest claimed his part, and the rest was taken home and used in providing a feast. To these feasts the pagans invited their friends, and some of these friends might be Christians. The question was, Could they conscientiously go? Some, the most simple, honest, earnest souls, said, No. It was recognising idolatry, it was disloyalty to Christ; or, to say the best of it that could be said, it was going into evil associations and temptation. Others who prided themselves on their superior knowledge laughed at these scruples. We know, they said, that there are no gods except One. The offering of the sacrifice to them is an empty farce. The meat has not been polluted at all. We have discernment enough to share in the feast without recognising the occasion of it. We can rejoice with these pagans, and at the same time smile at their superstitions. It is only weak, ignorant natures that will hold aloof from these harmless enjoyments through the fear of being drawn into sin. The pride of knowledge and its accompanying disdain and want of consideration towards their less-instructed brethren were their distinguishing features. Knowledge puffeth up, charity edifieth. Knowledge passeth away, charity abides for ever. Knowledge sees through coloured glass darkly, love sees face to face. Knowledge may be greatest in devils, love makes angels and saints. Knowledge is temporal and earthly, ever changing with the fashions of earth; love is God-like, heavenly, immortal, enduring like the mercy of the Lord for ever. Now, if any other of the apostles had written in this way about knowledge, men would have been found ready to quote against him the old fable of AEsop about the grapes. Untutored peasants and fishermen lifting up their voices in disparagement of knowledge would have furnished the intellectual scorner with a convenient sarcasm. Ah, yes, these men were ignorant! Knowledge was beyond their reach, and therefore they depreciated it. Singularly enough, however, it is St. Paul, the one learned man in the apostolic band, who talks in this way. Never once did those unlearned fishermen, Peter, James, and John, write slightingly of knowledge. That was left to Paul, the scholarly man. Had not his own learning made him a hard, haughty, cruel Pharisee, shutting out the vision of God, hiding from him the beauty of Jesus Christ, filling him with violent prejudice and hatred against all men save those of his own class? With all his knowledge, he had been blind to whatsoever things were lovely, and just, and reverent, and Divine. He had reason, indeed, to write, Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. Knowledge puffeth up. Yes, from the raw schoolgirl to the man of greatest literary attainments, this is the effect of knowledge when it is found without the warm and generous and tender emotions of the heart. There is the young man with his smattering of literary attainments, with little more than an outward daub of culture. He has little reason to be proud; not a bit of that knowledge of which he makes his boast has been his own discovering. It has been drilled into him by patient, painstaking teachers. There is no more reason to be proud of knowledge received from another person than there is for a beggar to be proud of receiving alms. How wise he thinks himself in dealing with religious things, in measuring the preacher, in criticising the Bible, in disposing of questions of faith, in setting down the old-fashioned people who in their simple ignorance have been content to believe all that has been taught them! You see it in literary circles, and in the utterances of the scientist. How conspicuous by its absence is the grace of humility! Because they know something more about letters, and words, and cells, and germs, and rocks, and chemical elements than other people, they write and talk as if their judgments on all subjects were to be received ex cathedra as authoritative and unquestionable. Their word on all the great subjects of morality, faith, inspiration, the Bible, God, is to be deemed final and conclusive. They write as if all men were fools who dare to dispute their conclusions. Yet there is more genius, insight, and real vision in one of David’s psalms than there is in all the books they have written. An artist or a poet who has none of their knowledge will see more of beauty and glory and reality in a moment than they would see in a thousand years. We are always boasting that knowledge is power, that knowledge has enriched the world, that knowledge has done wonderful things for humanity. It is the idlest of delusions. Knowledge by itself has done very little. Even the greatest material inventions have come through men who had rather the swift insight of genius than the lore of the schools. They were not knowing men who gave us the railway, the steam-engine, the telegraph. Still less were they knowing men who enriched the world with the sweetest poems, with the noblest pictures, with the most charming stories. Titian, and Raphael, and Shakespeare, and Bunyan, and Burns, and Thomas a Kempis, not to speak of Homer, and David, and Isaiah, and the evangelists, and the fishermen, Peter and John--from these men, who had less knowledge on most things than any undergraduate of the present day, we have inherited the wisdom and the immortal thoughts and words which are beyond all wealth. They were men with great hearts, seeing things with the keen, clear eyes of love, rather than men whose heads had gathered a large stock of culture. Heart rather than head has given to humanity its noble inheritance; love rather than knowledge. Think of the martyrs, the reformers, the defenders of liberty, the philanthropists, the missionaries. And who are doing the best work in the world now?--its purifying, saving, uplifting work? Not the men who call themselves the cultured class. No; knowledge for the most part sits in judgment on the work of others, criticises, and sneers; while love goes on its way, its loins girded for service with quenchless faith in God, and hope which nothing can discourage. It is love, not knowledge, that carries light and sweetness and health into the dark, foul places of city life; it is love, not knowledge, that generates all the power of sweet activities. In the highest kind of knowledge what the world calls knowledge breaks down utterly. What can mere intellect know about God ? His greatness infinitely transcends the grasp of the most cultured mind. Before His wisdom the profoundest reaches of the human intellect are folly. Yes, it is to the pure, gentle, tender heart that God tells His secrets. You can hardly prove the simple fact of God’s existence, still less the supremely good, loving, and tender character of God, except to those whose hearts by their very likeness to Him beget their own witness of Him. His own love helps him to grasp the love Divine. So with immortality. All the knowledge of Butler and Plato could not prove it. Men who are only wise in the things of nature never find it there. But when the heart of man has found by experience the measureless power of its own love, found out what a human soul is capable of in long-suffering, patience, self-forgetfulness--how great, how even infinite the soul is in the power of loving--then the proof comes. God could not have made the soul thus and not made it immortal. And the loving heart, too, understands the mystery of sorrow and pain as the head does not and never can. The heart which loves God, and feels His love, knows that beyond all the sorrows and the darkness there is brightness and joy. So give me love and not knowledge, for knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Think of love--
I. As the essential spirit of all other graces. It is the life, beauty, strength, very soul of them all. Consider its position in the circle of the Divine attributes. Truth, justice, purity, &c., are perfections of the Divine character; but “God is love.” A similar position does love occupy in the ideal character of His true children.
II. As the bond of christian unity. Keenness of spiritual insight, zeal for truth, fidelity to conscience, may of themselves have a separating effect; but love draws and cements men together in a real fellowship. Differences in opinion, &c., become of comparatively small account.
III. As an incentive to christian activity. “Love is the fulfilling of the law,” the end of the commandment. Get your soul filled with love, and you will never want for an effectual motive to all noble living. As the materials of the building arrange themselves and rise into their finished form in obedience to the thought and will of the architect; as the notes fall, as if by an instinct of their own, into their due place according to the inspiration of the musician; as the words flow in rhythmic cadence in answer to the mood of the poet’s genius; as the grass, flowers, and corn grow by the spontaneous energy of the creative and formative mind that animates them all--so will you rear for yourself the structure of a beautiful and useful Christian life, if your heart is filled with love.
IV. As the mightiest of all instruments of blessing to others. By the sweet constraint of His love Christ wins the heart of those for whom He died. By the almightiness of His love He will ultimately conquer the world and build up that glorious temple to His praise--a redeemed humanity. Let His love be the inspiration of our life, and we wield a moral force akin to His and share His triumph. (J. Waits, B. A.)
1 Corinthians 8:2
If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
Pride vitiates religious knowledge
St. Paul would teach those who placed a high estimate upon a philosophical comprehension of religious truth, and who therefore were liable to a spurious kind of knowledge, that if any one of them conceitedly imagined himself to comprehend the gospel mysteries, he was in reality utterly ignorant concerning them. Pride injures our religious knowledge as to--
I. Its quantity or extent. The apostle refers to that disposition which leads a man, when he has made some addition to his stock of knowledge, to stop and review it, and boast of it. These Corinthians were anxious to get the credit of superior insight into Christian doctrine, hence St. Paul says to them, “If any man among you,” &c. (1 Corinthians 3:18-20). Such a self-complacent spirit prevents a man from surveying and travelling over the whole field. It is like a traveller among the Alps, who, having ascended the first range of hills, and seeing the lower valleys, should “think” that he had exhausted Switzerland. The instant a Christian begins to dwell upon his knowledge of God, or of himself, with any degree of self-complacency, he creates an eddy in the flowing stream of his self-reflection, and whirls round instead of moving onward. And unless the volume of water starts once more, and gets out of this whirlpool; unless the Christian ceases to think of how much he knows, and to boast of it, he will never know any more than he now knows. And even the little knowledge, over which he has boasted, will be absorbed in the pride of the heart and disappear. But he who contemplates the character of God, e.g., with no side glances at himself, and bows down before it in reverence and awe, is carried forward from one vision to another. So with the knowledge of our own heart, of the atonement, &c.
II. Its quality, or depth. The moment the mind begins to compute the distance it has gone, it stops going. If, therefore, under the influence of pride it pauses to see how profound it has become, and to tell the world its success, it adopts a suicidal course. Suppose that a man fixes his attention upon some one sinful habit, and begins to see plainly its odiousness. The longer this process continues, the deeper and clearer is his view. Now suppose that his attention is diverted from his sin itself, to the consideration of the fact that he has been exploring it, his sense of the iniquity of his sin will begin to grow more shallow, and he will come up to the surface of his heart again, instead of penetrating to its recesses. The sin will not appear so odious to him; he will know nothing as he ought to know.
III. Its practicality. The great purpose of religions truth is, that we may be made better by it. We ought not to desire to know God except that we may become like Him. We ought not to make any scrutiny into our own sin except to get rid of it. When religious knowledge loses this practicality, it degenerates into mere speculation, and hardens the heart instead of melting it into sorrow and love. Man’s first duty on obtaining some new view of Divine truth is to apply it. But nothing so interferes with this as pride or selfgratulation. “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him.” When a man feels himself destitute of knowledge, instruction can be imparted. But when he thinks that he comprehends the whole subject, the prospect of his becoming enlightened is hopeless. Conclusion: Spiritual pride--
1. Is the most subtle of sins. It is the sin of Satan. He fell from a purely intellectual temptation, and his wickedness was “spiritual wickedness.” In wrestling against it, we “wrestle not against flesh and blood,” &c. (Ephesians 6:12). When the believer proves to be on his guard against the more common and outward temptations of earth, then the arch-deceiver fills him with the conceit of holiness and of knowledge.
2. Especially requires the aid and influence of the Holy Ghost to overcome it. No spirit is a match for the subtlety of Satan but the Eternal Spirit. (Prof. Shedd.)
The pride of intellect
I. Its indications.
3. Contempt of the opinion of others.
II. Its rebuke. Human knowledge is--
1. Very limited.
2. Mixed with much error.
3. Morally defective. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The modesty of true knowledge
The wisest men feel that they know nothing compared with what they are capable of knowing. I was struck with a remark that a man once made to me on this subject. To my mind he was a marvel of learning. He seemed thoroughly educated in every direction. As now there is not a tree in the forest which, if you tap it, will not run sap, so there was not a side on which you could touch him where his knowledge did not seem complete. I said to him one day, “If I knew a tithe of what you know, I should think myself very fortunate.” Said he, “Henry, I seem to myself like a basket in which are being carried away the fragments of a hotel--a bit of this, the fag-end of that, and all sorts of things jumbled up together. I do not know anything except little fragmentary parts of this, that, and the other.” (H. W. Beecher.)
1 Corinthians 8:3
But if any man love God, the same is known of Him.
Love the medium of Divine knowledge
I. Its nature.
1. Whence it proceeds.
2. What it implies.
3. What its fruits.
II. Its privilege. It secures--
1. The favour of God.
2. Fellowship with Him.
3. The enlightening influence of His Holy Spirit. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Superiority of love to knowledge
“Papa,” said the son of Bishop Berkeley, “what is the meaning of the words ‘cherubim’ and ‘seraphim,’ which we meet with in the Holy Scriptures?” “Cherubim,” replied his father, “is a Hebrew word, signifying knowledge; seraphim is another word of the same language, and signifies flame. Whence it is supposed that the cherubim are angels who excel in knowledge, and that the seraphim are angels likewise who excel in loving God.” “I hope, then,” said the little boy, “when I die I shall be a seraph; for I would rather love God than know all things.”
The love and knowledge of God
From the love of man, which must be the sense of the word in 1 Corinthians 8:1 (see 1 Corinthians 13:1), the apostle passes insensibly to the love of God, partly because God is the implied, though not expressed, subject of the previous clause, partly because He is the only worthy and adequate object of Christian love.
I. For the connection of knowledge and love (1 John 4:7-8). St. Paul substitutes “is known of Him,” for “knows Him,” to express that man can, in this life, hardly be said, in any sense, to know God. It is sufficient to be the object of His knowledge, which in itself implies that we are brought into so close a relation with Him, as to be the object of His care and love, and ultimately, therefore, to know Him.
II. For the identification of God’s knowledge with His love compare Exodus 33:17; John 10:3.
III. For the identification of God’s knowledge of man with man’s knowledge of God compare the similar blending of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God in Romans 8:15-16; 1 Corinthians 2:11; also John 10:15. “As the Father knoweth me, even so I the Father.”
IV. For the general turn of the whole expression, as implying that every part of our redemption, but especially our knowledge of God, is more properly His act than ours see 1 Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 4:9; Philippians 3:12. For the unexpected substitution of one thought and word for another see 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Corinthians 10:18. (Dean Stanley.)
Known of God
I. The character that is here presented to us, the man that loves God. This love will be manifested by--
1. The state of the heart.
2. The tenor of the thoughts.
3. The influence of God’s Word.
4. Delight in holy pursuits.
II. The privilege asserted. “The same is known of Him”--
1. This knowledge is individual and personal.
2. It embraces all the circumstances of his present state.
3. It is a loving, parental delight in him.
4. It is a pledge of final acknowledgment.
1. What a source of pure and solid delight!
2. What a powerful incentive to holiness! (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Known of God
This verse is the antithesis of 1 Corinthians 10:2. Without love, no knowledge; with love, true knowledge. But why instead of “The same knoweth God,” does the apostle say, “The same is known of God”? Does he mean to deny the first of these two ideas? Assuredly not. But he clears, as it were, this first stage, which is self-understood, to rise at a bound to the higher stage which implies it. To be known of God is more than to know Him (Galatians 4:9). In a residence every one knows the monarch; but every one is not known by him. This second stage of knowledge supposes personal intimacy, familiarity of a kind; a character which is foreign from the first. We need not therefore take “known of God” as equivalent to “acknowledged by,” or “approved of,” or “put into the possession of the knowledge of,” God. The word “know” is taken in the same sense as in Psalms 1:6. The eye of God can penetrate into the heart that loves Him and His light, to illuminate it. In this light an intimate communion is formed between him and God; and this communion is the condition of all true knowledge--of man’s being known by God as of God’s being known by man. (Prof. Godet.)
God’s knowledge of us
Sinner, let this be thy comfort, that God sees thee when thou beginnest to repent, He does not see thee with His usual gaze, with which He looks on all men, but He sees thee with an eye of intense interest. He has been looking on thee in all thy sin, and in all thy sorrow, hoping that thou wouldst repent, and when He sees the first gleam of grace, He beholds it with joy. Never warder on the lonely castle-top saw the first gray light of morning with more joy than that with which God beholds the first desire in thy heart. Never physician rejoiced more when he saw the first heaving of the lungs in one that was supposed to be dead, than God doth rejoice over thee, now that He sees the first token for good. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Intimacy between God and man
I. Its condition. It is a condition--
1. Which could scarcely occur to man apart from revelation. Men fear, reverence, worship, seek to avert the wrath of God; but to love Him is not an exercise of mind which seems congruous to the relation between the Creator and His creatures.
2. Which Christianity makes possible and natural. By revealing God as love, by bringing that love home to the heart in Christ’s atonement and sacrifice it makes a claim upon human love.
3. Capable of universal fulfilment, “If any man.” There are many whose natural powers of body and mind are very limited; but there is none who has not the capacity of love.
II. Its character. Love is represented as leading to, as involving knowledge.
1. On the side of God Himself knowledge is often used as equivalent to favour. Of course the Omniscient knows all His creatures; but He has a Fatherly, affectionate knowledge of those who love Him. He knows them to watch over, keep, guide, govern, strengthen, and save them.
2. On the side of man. This is the implicit statement of the text; for he who in the sense affirmed is known by God also knows God. How true it is that he who loves God knows Him too! We cannot know our earthly friends thoroughly unless we love them. Love opens the doors of knowledge. It creates that sympathy which gives intensity to the intuitive gaze of the soul. Thus it is that while many learned minds are ignorant of God, many lowly saints whose hearts are quickened with love, live in hallowed intimacy with Him. (Prof. J. H. Thomson.)
The man who loves God known of Him
You and I would dearly like to be known of God. Day by day we would like to be consciously at peace with God. We may know that there is no condemnation for us, that the gulf of spiritual death is behind and not in front of us, that life and immortality brought to light by the gospel are ours through grace, if love for God and our brethren reigns supreme within us. And now let us look, each one, into his heart and conscience, and examine himself as to how far he can truthfully say and feel, “I love God: I am known of Him.” “We love God, because He first loved us.” He, in the first instance, did so infinitely much that a rightly affected person could not possibly dwell upon without loving Him. And again, the statement of the inspired apostle bears yet another sense. We cannot love God without the Holy Spirit having been first given to, and dwelling within us, as His consecrated temples. But, again, let me press home the question, “Do we love God?” I think we seem to fall back into the days of our childhood again when we answer this question truly and profitably. In our memories of those earliest years we shall certainly find experiences of our past feelings treasured up that will help us in our endeavour to find an answer to it. Those of us who had good, loving parents dearly loved them in return. We grew up beneath the sunshine of their smiles, and thrilled at the sound of their loving words. We strove to do all things that we knew would give them pleasure. We tried to obey all their commandments. We knew, too, what would please them, even though they did not ask us to study closely everything that they wanted of us. Our love for them was not fickle or changeable. Now and then, indeed, we had our naughty, rebellious passions hindering the outward flow of our love for them, but, underneath the strong torrent of those passions, our love for our good parents lingered on calm and unmoved, just as, fathoms down below the storm-tossed waves of the sea, the water is calm and still. And when our childhood’s offences had been atoned for by our soul-felt tears of penitence, then we were ready enough to inveigh against ourselves as having been solely to blame for the interruption of the happy interchange of parental and filial love, with a great joy we threw ourselves into our fathers’ or mothers’ arms again, when we saw that they had forgiven our offence completely, and again our hearts welled forth their love for them, and all was once more peace and joy within us. Now have you these sacred memories of your childhood to help you to reply to my question? If so, it is very well, for are not God’s people as just so many little children in His sight? And will they not then be happiest when they act towards Him, in all His dealings with them in providence and grace, as well disposed little children act towards their earthly parents? Will they not then feel consciously that they love God, and that God loves them? (J. C. Boyce.)
Known to God although unknown to the world
In the midst of His glory the Almighty is not inattentive to the meanest of His subjects. Neither obscurity of station, nor imperfection of knowledge sinks those below His regard who worship and obey Him. Every prayer which they send up from their secret retirements is listened to by Him; and every work of charity which they perform, how unknown soever to the world, attracts His notice. (J. Blair.)
Known of God
Thick on the moors, pushing up through the mosses, side by side where the blueberries grow, sprang up and blossomed the wild rose. There was no one to see its beauty, to breathe its fragrance. Mile after mile spread the moor, purple in the dawn glowing in the noontide, rosy in the sunset after-glow, yet there was none to see. Overhead there was the blue vault, soft and deep and silent. The wild, sweet breath of the sea swept over the moors, and tenderly touched the cheek of the wild rose. “In thy heart, O Rose,” it said, “what beauty, in thy form what loveliness! Yet there is none to see. Wherefore, O Rose, give thy fulness of bloom where no eye may see, where nought looketh down but the sun and the stars, and no voice save mine may whisper to thee?” “God looketh down,” answered the Rose. “He seeth me, and remembereth His gracious promise, ‘The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.’ In the day when He turneth the captivity of His people Israel and His ransomed shall come to Zion with everlasting joy, shall my mission be fulfilled. But now, I look up to God and whisper, ‘Though He tarry, wait.’ Even so I praise Him and magnify Him for ever.” (Christian Age.)
1 Corinthians 8:4-7
We know that an idol is nothing in the world.
An idol nothing in the world
A singular phenomenon, known as the Spectre of the Brocken, is seen on a certain mountain in Germany. The traveller who at dawn stands on the topmost ridge beholds a colossal shadowy spectre, moving on the summits of the distant hills. But, in fact, it is only his own shadow projected upon the morning mists by the rising sun; and it imitates, of course, every movement of its creator. So heathen nations have mistaken their own image for Deity. Their gods display human frailties and passions and scanty virtues, projected and magnified upon the heavens, just as the small figures on the slide of a magic-lantern are projected, magnified, and illuminated upon a white sheet.
I. Its folly.
1. An idol is a thing of the imagination.
2. For there is but one God.
3. He is incapable of any representation.
II. Its forms. Manifold.
1. Among the heathen.
2. Among professed Christians, as--
(1) Love of the world.
(2) Undue attachment or subservience to the creature.
(3) Forgetfulness of God.
III. Its antidote Consider--
1. His true character.
2. His relation to His people.
3. His revelation in Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. In Its General History. Notice--
1. The awful principle in which it originated (Romans 1:28)--aversion to God. But the knowledge of its origin may direct as to the means of its overthrow. Nothing in earth or heaven can effectually overcome it but the power and grace of Christ; not force of arms nor power of reasoning.
2. The degraded objects to which it was outwardly paid (Psalms 115:1-18.; Romans 1:1-32.). Surely, then, those who worship them demand our pity, our prayers, and our exertions for their reclamation.
3. The infernal spirit to whom it was really directed (1 Corinthians 10:20).
4. The amazing wealth and power by which it has hitherto been upheld. Talk we of the magnificence of some of the churches of Christendom. Think of the temple of Diana at Ephesus. Let rich Christians, who have it in their power to do so much for the propagation of their religion, but who do so little, let them turn to Isaiah 46:6, and learn a lesson of liberality worthy of a better cause.
II. In that particular view presented in the text. The objector to missionary exertions may possibly be ready to say that if an idol be nothing, there is no need of the efforts, sacrifices, and prayers on which you have been insisting. How slightly he must have considered the matter who does not perceive that this very fact furnishes one of the strongest grounds of appeal on behalf of the unenlightened heathen! If an idol is nothing it follows--
1. That the religious offerings of idolaters have not only been useless, but an abomination.
2. That the very religion of idolaters has promoted the honour and glory of Satan.
3. That the dying prayers of idolaters have been a delusion and a lie. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
And that there is none other God but one.--
The unity of God
1. What it implies.
2. What are its evidences.
3. What is its bearing upon faith and practice. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The unity of God is demonstrated
1. By reason.
2. By creation and providence.
3. By revelation. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Unity of God
A little boy being asked, “How many gods are there?” replied “One.” “How do you know that?” “Because,” said the boy, “there is only room for one; for He fills heaven and earth.”
Aspects of responsibility
(1 Corinthians 8:4-13):--Note--
I. That the moral obligations of all men are determined by their relation to the one God and His son. There are many objects that men call gods, but they are really nothing; they therefore impose no moral obligation.
1. There is One, however, and only One, from your relation to whom there grows up all moral obligations. “One God.” Monotheism is demonstrated by nature; conscience, and the Bible.
(1) He is a Father. The Creator of the universe, but the Father of spirits.
(2) He is the Source of all things.
(3) He is our end. “We in” or “unto Him.” The supreme end of our existence, and object of our love.
2. In connection with Him there is “One Lord Jesus Christ, who was not only His creative Agent, “by whom are all things,” but His redemptive Agent, the Mediator, “and we by” or “through Him.” As Christians, we are what we are through Him.
3. Now the wilt of this One God, as coming through Christ to us, we are morally bound to fulfil--an obligation which can never be abrogated or modified.
II. That what might be wrong for one man to do might not be so for another. The apostle teaches that those who felt that an idol was nothing in the world, and that consequently there was no harm to them personally in eating meat offered to it, would commit no wrong in doing so. The meat had not been corrupted by that, and their consciences not being against it, there would be no wrong in eating it (verse 8). On the other hand, those who had a superstitious idea that they ought not to eat it would commit wrong in doing so (verse 7). That which is against a man’s conscience may not be against the eternal law of right, but is against his own sense of right, and therefore should be avoided. Here is the principle, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Therefore, “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
III. That to offend the conscience of a good man, however weak, is a wrong in all (verse 9). Respect for the weak consciences of good men.
1. May require self-denial on our part.
2. Is urged on the strongest considerations.
(1) The lack of it may inflict serious injuries on the weak.
(a) It may “become a stumbling-block to them that are weak”--i.e., an occasion of sin. Their faith may be shaken, and they may become apostates.
(b) They may be “emboldened,” encouraged to do the wrong. Without your moral strength they will imitate you and will be ruined (verse 10).
(2) The lack of it is a sin both against the weak brethren and against Christ (verse 12).
3. Is exemplified in the sublime resolve of the apostle (verse 13). Here is benevolent expediency, the strongest ground on which the temperance reformation can be wisely and effectively advocated. Give up all rather than ruin souls. Such an utterance as this is characteristic of Paul (Romans 9:3). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
But though there be that are called gods,… to us there is one God, the Father,… and one Lord Jesus Christ.--
1. Its numerous forms.
2. Awful prevalence.
3. Manifest absurdity.
4. Abominable wickedness. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The unity of God
The apostle had been trained in the monotheism which had from the first been the belief of his race, and from which they had now not swerved for centuries. The unity of God--
I. Is contrasted with polytheistic belief and worship.
1. The heathen deities are “called,” but are not, gods (verse 4).
2. These deities are deemed “gods” and “lords.” They were, and still are, in heathen lands thought supernatural, and are invested by the imagination with claims to the homage and service of men.
3. They are many in number, every natural object, &c., having its deity.
4. They have their several ranks and realms. The superior Olympian deities are “in heaven”; the inferior numina nymphs, fauns, dryads, &c., haunt this “earth.”
II. Furnishes a centre and aim for the new religious life of men.
1. In Himself He is “the one God, the Father.” This was a glorious revelation, and in Christ provision is made for its wide promulgation and acceptance.
2. He is the Creator and Upholder of all; “Of whom are all things.”
3. He is the object of our faith, love, and devotion. We are “for,” “unto Him.” It is at this point that the great revelation of the new theology becomes the great motive of the new religion. Polytheism distracted the mind, and made it impossible that faith in God should become the inspiration of a new and better life. For it was a question, What measure of reverence and of service should be offered to this deity, and what to that? But Christianity revealed one God, in whom are all perfections, and who is the Creator, Governor, and Saviour of mankind. They who live to serve this God have an elevating, purifying, powerful aim in the conduct of their life.
III. Furnishes the noblest motive to the new religious life.
1. The one God is made known by the one Lord Jesus Christ, as the Word reveals the utterer, the Son the Father, which conflicts in no sense with monotheism.
2. Christ is the universal Mediator, “by whom are all things”--the moral as well as the physical creation. All blessings which the Father destines for humanity He has resolved to confer by Christ.
3. We, as Christians, are what we are “through Him.” As in the former clause we recognised the great aim, so here we see the great means and motive of the new, the distinctively Christian life. The Divine nature and mediation of Immanuel, so far from obscuring our belief in the Divine unity, is the most effectual support of it. Even as Jesus said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”; and “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
The unity of God
The term “unity” is difficult to define. It may mean merely the numerical basis of calculation; the contrast between one thing and two or more things of the same kind. But if used in the sense of a unit, it is clear that every one thing is made up of many parts, possesses many qualities, stands in various relations, and though in itself only one thing, is also a part of many other things. By unity is often meant more than the antithesis of many. Though the unity of God means that there is one God, in opposition to the claims of lords many and gods many, yet the phrase implies that whatever internal distinctions there may be in the essence of the Most High, that essence is one essence--a whole, a unity in itself. Unity is individuality, in spite of the recognition of the multiplicity of elements of which it is compounded. Thus a crystal of quartz is a unity distinct from all other crystals, and from the hand that holds it. It possesses a multitude of curious properties as long as it remains one thing; but let me break it into a thousand pieces, and it might soon be proved that every fragment possessed in a measure all those properties. Yet those fragments, though many, previously formed one whole. Consider, again, a tree or plant; its root, stem, branches, leaves, flowers, and seed form one whole of mysterious beauty; and though each twig and leaflet is a perfect creation, having an independent life in itself, yet the many parts do not fail to form a unity. Farther, playing in the branches of the tree there is a world of more mysterious life. Every leaf has its colony of insects, every bough its parasitical growth; the bees are humming in its fragrant flowers, and the birds are building their nests in its branches. But each lichen, moss, insect, and bird is as wonderful in its mysterious combination of many opposites, and dependent structures, and wondrous balancing of powers, as was the tree itself. But while I am considering crystal and tree, and insect and bird, I find that I myself am just such a combination of many parts, faculties, passions, and relations, each of which is sufficiently individual, and yet the whole of which seem all but indispensable to constitute my self-conscious unity. I am a strange combination of body, soul, and spirit; and yet I am reckoned as one man. My senses, reflections, and passions; my body, understanding, and will seem at times capable of individualisation, and to be unities in themselves; but it is the mutual relation and dependence of the parts that constitute the unity of the whole. With this self-consciousness of multiplicity in unity to help me, the revelation that God has made of His threefold nature is less perplexing than it otherwise would be. The unity of the Divine nature, like the unity of all other things, is a unity consistent with the self-inclusions of various constituent elements. (J. W. Reynolds, M. A.)
One God, one Lord
I. The one God. The oneness of Deity is here emphasised. It is insisted on throughout the Scriptures. The conflict, confusion, and absurdity conspicuous in polytheism find no place in Judaism or Christianity. This oneness is confirmed by nature, providence, and the moral sense. The one God is--
1. The Source of all things. We know not how; the manner is not revealed to us; the fact is. God may have left much to man’s scientific instinct to discover. He may have intended not a little to remain in mystery. We may travel reverently along the lines of true knowledge till they cease for us; then the great truth remains still for our enlightenment and comfort. The march backward of science is towards unity; revelation began with it.
2. The end of all things. “We unto,” not “in,” “Him.” What is here asserted of some of God’s works applies to all (Colossians 1:16). The whole universe looks God-wards. So far as intelligent creatures do not find the end of their existence in God and seek His glory, so far they fall out of harmony with the rest of creation and bring failure into their lives.
II. The one Lord. The Head of the Church was the active power in creation. This verse teaches the Divinity of Christ in a very impressive manner. The administrative, mediating position occupied by Christ is recognised; but the assertion that “through Him” all things were, is only explicable on the supposition of His Deity. Moreover, this very expression is applied elsewhere to God (Rom 9:36; Hebrews 2:10), and the expression “unto Him” is in Colossians 1:15 applied to Christ. Paul is speaking about idols as “gods and lords.” These were all regarded as deities. In carrying over the same terms to the realm of Christianity, there is nothing which should lead us to suppose that “Lord” is less Divine than “God.”
III. The special relations subsisting between believers and the one Lord and one God.
1. They are “through” Christ--as creatures, amongst “all things”; but the additional “we through Him” indicates special relationship. Believers are such through Christ; they believe in Him. Through Him they are separated from “all things,” and made a peculiar people. Apart from Christ believers are nothing; through Him they become “heirs of God.”
2. They are “unto God” in a special sense, and through Christ. They show forth the Divine glories as others cannot. They reflect the Divine love manifested in redemption. They are presented to God as the fruits of Divine grace. Once rebellious, they are now obedient; once defiled, they are now purified, &c.
3. God is their Father. In a certain sense He is the Father of all, but in a spiritual sense He is not so. Of some Christ said, “Ye are of your father the devil.” But the believer has received the adoption through Christ. (W. E. Hurndall, M. A.)
The many gods and the one God
I. The world’s many gods. To make gods for himself has been man’s great object all along. Every nation has had its gods, and every age. Is there no god-making still, even in our day? Money, business, pleasure, lusts, luxuries! Will they prove more helpful in the day of trouble than Baal, or Jupiter, or Buddha? Will they forgive, and save, and comfort?
II. The saint’s one God. Yes; one only, the living and the true God. Jehovah is His name. With undistracted eye the Christian looks but to one, not many; with undivided heart he fixes on one, not many; and that one sufficient to fill his whole heart, and soul, and being. How the thought of that one God--infinite, eternal, and unchangeable--makes all that are called gods to vanish utterly away! “Jehovah is my portion, saith my soul.” We need no other; we need no more.
III. The saint’s one Christ. “To us there is but one Lord Jesus Christ.” As there are many beings who go under the name of God, so are there many who go under the name of Christ, yet there is but one Christ, not two, nor many. The tendency of the present day is to multiply Christs. A Christ as the impersonation or representative of humanity is quite in accordance with the spirit of the age. But every one wants to have his own Christ, just as each heathen wanted to have his own god; the Christ that suits his own fancy, or his own philosophy, or his own intellect, or his own circumstances. Some want a Christ who is not God; others a Christ who is not a sacrifice; a Christ without a cross, and without blood; a Christ who will teach but not expiate sin; a Christ whose life and death are an example of self-surrender to the utmost, but not an atonement; a Christ who is not a judge, nor a law-giver, nor a priest, and only a prophet in the sense of teacher. If thus, then, there is but one Christ, then there is but--
1. One Cross.
2. One Priest.
3. One altar.
4. One sacrifice.
5. One way to the kingdom. (H. Bonar.)
1 Corinthians 8:7-13
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge.
1. Great ignorance may consist with genuine piety.
2. Is a source of much unnecessary anxiety and peril.
3. Is to be deplored and pitied.
4. May find relief in the study of Divine truth. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Its nature.
1. Implies freedom of action in things indifferent.
2. Depends on knowledge.
3. Requires conscientious conviction.
II. Its limits--
1. Defined by a brother’s weakness.
2. By love to Christ.
3. By self-sacrificing love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For some with conscience of the idol … eat … and their conscience being weak is defiled.--
The law of Christian conscience
I. The exposition of the law itself (1 Corinthians 8:7-8). The apostle tells the strong-minded Corinthians that the superstitious of their weaker brethren are unquestionably wrong (1 Corinthians 8:8); but he also tells them that “there is not in every man that knowledge,” &c. (1 Corinthians 8:7), i.e., some have an ignorant, mistaken conscience; and yet he insists that this conscience, so ill-informed, yet binds the possessor of it: “and their conscience being weak, is defiled.” Here, then, we have the distinction between absolute and relative right and wrong. Absolute right and wrong are unalterable. But the right or wrong of any action done by any particular man is a matter relative to his particular circumstances. That charity and self-denial, e.g., are right--this we see recognised in almost every nation. But when and how far self-denial is right, and what are the bounds of charity, this is for different circumstances to determine. And so it will be found that there is a different standard among different nations and in different ages, e.g., the standard among the Israelites in the early ages was very different from that recognised by the later prophets. And the standard in the third and fourth centuries was an entirely different one from that recognised among ourselves. The principle laid down by the apostle is this. That which seems to a man to be right is, in a certain sense, right to him; and that which seems to a man to be wrong, in a certain sense is wrong to him (Romans 5:14; Romans 14:14).
II. The applications which arise out of it.
1. Personally. Do what seems to you to be right: it is only so that you will at last learn by the grace of God to see clearly what is right. A man is responsible for the opinions he holds, and still more for the way in which he arrived at them--whether in a slothful and selfish, or in an honest and truth-seeking manner; but being now his soul’s convictions, you can give no other law than this--“You must obey your conscience.” For no man’s conscience gets so seared by doing what is wrong unknowingly as by doing that which appears to be wrong to his conscience.
2. To others. To the large, free, enlightened mind of Paul, all these scruples and superstitions must have seemed mean and trivial. But conscience was far more sacred to him than even liberty. The scruple may he small and foolish, but it may be impossible to uproot it without tearing up the feeling of the sanctity of conscience, and of reverence to the law of God, associated with this scruple. And therefore the Apostle Paul counsels these men to abridge their Christian liberty, and not to eat of those things which had been sacrificed to idols, hut to have compassion upon the scruples of their weaker brethren. And this for two reasons.
(1) Christian feeling. It might cause exquisite pain to sensitive minds to see those things which appeared to them to be wrong done by Christian brethren. Take a parallel case. There is no doubt that it causes much pain to many Christians to see a carriage used on the Lord’s day. But you, with higher views of the spirit of Christianity, can exercise your liberty. But is it not your duty to abridge your Christian liberty, and to go through rain, and mud, and snow, rather than give pain to one Christian conscience?
(2) It might even lead their brethren into sin. If any man should eat of the flesh offered to an idol, feeling himself justified by his conscience, it were well: but if any man, overborne by authority or interest, were to do this against conscience, his compliance would as much damage his moral sense as if the act had been wrong in itself.
1. Distinguish between this tenderness for a brother’s conscience and mere time-serving. This same apostle whom we here see so gracefully giving way upon the ground of expediency, stood firm as a rock when anything was demanded which trenched upon Christian principle (Galatians 2:5).
2. This abridgment of liberty is a duty especially incumbent upon all who are possessed of influence. If the landlord uses his authority and influence to induce his tenant to vote against his conscience, it may be he has secured one voice to the principle which is right; but he has gained that single voice at the sacrifice and expense of a brother’s soul. Or again, if for the sake of ensuring personal attention, the rich man puts a gratuity into the hand of a servant of some company which has forbidden him to receive it, he gains the attention at the expense of a man and a Christian brother.
3. How possible it is to mix manliness with charity! No man ever breathed so freely the atmosphere of heaven as Paul--no man ever soared so high above all scruples as he: and yet no man ever bound himself as St. Paul bound himself to the scruples of his brethren. So that, what in other cases was infirmity, imbecility, and superstition, gathered round it in his case the pure high spirit of Christian delicacy. And now, out of the sayings of those who loudly proclaim “the rights of man” and “the rights of liberty,” match us if you can with one sentence so sublime as 1 Corinthians 8:13. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
A weak conscience, i.e.,
as we might say “diseased,” incapable of forming a sound healthy judgment. As we speak of weak nerves the apostle speaks of a weak conscience. A person who has been taught when a child to believe in ghosts, will sometimes be seized with dread if he is alone at night, though his reason has long since convinced him that spectres do not appear. Similarly, though the moral reason of a Christian tells him that the heathen deities which he formerly worshipped do not exist, yet it requires spiritual knowledge of the true God to allay his dread. Cf. 1 Timothy 1:5, where the apostle joins “a good conscience” with “faith unfeigned.” (Principal Edwards.)
Abstinence for the sake of others
Of the flesh of beasts slain by the heathen priests in the service of their gods only a portion being required for the religious rites, the remainder was consumed as food by the priests or exposed for sale in the public markets. Entertainments were sometimes given in localities more or less closely associated with the idolatrous worship, and these meats were offered to the guests. Was it right to partake of such food? There may be at least four different methods of treating a question of that sort. It may be determined merely upon considerations of personal inclination and enjoyment. “Those are the only considerations,” some might say. “If the meat is good, and I want it, why refuse it?” With others the case would be at once submitted to the judgment of society: “What is the custom? How do my associates dispose of the problem?” A third and manifestly higher method asks, “What is right? What does an enlightened conscience approve?” Here are three entirely distinct methods of dealing with a question of practical morality. But neither of these schemes suit Paul. There is a larger question of charity: “How might my habit affect others, and especially my religious associates?”
I. In this golden sentence is seen the sensitiveness of Christianity with regard to the weak and the obscure. Such a sentiment was practically new. “Christianity for the first time made charity a rudimentary virtue,” says Lecky, the historian of European morals. How strange was this method is apparent also from the early criticisms of Christianity--that of Celsus, for example. “Why,” said he, “woollen-manufacturers, shoemakers, and curriers, the most uneducated and boorish of men, are zealous advocates of this religion!” By the apostle, however, the opprobrium was turned into a sort of boast: “Ye see your calling, brethren … God hath chosen the weak things to confound the mighty.” These “weak things” Paul never made the mistake of despising. We, too, shall deal most successfully with similar cases of conscience when we are nearest to Paul’s Master and ours, having most of his life in us, his mind of love. Many a boy proudly drops his bat and ball to run and serve his mother or his sister. Such surrenders love counts among its privileges and joys. And if the earthly affection can easily do this, is it likely that a mightier passion will fail?
II. We are taught, further, that the individual is of less consequence than society. That seems too plain to need reiteration. But practically it is not always acknowledged. Writers like Mill put the stress upon personal liberty. They are slow to justify legal measures or social laws which in any degree abridge the privileges of the individual. Such invasion of rights they would condemn, except under the greatest necessity. They seem to estimate a man too high, and mankind too low. But Providence does not make such estimates. What we call the laws of nature constantly subordinate us to the general good. The progress of history is achieved through suffering and martyrdom. Father and mother must deny themselves for the family. Sons and brothers die that the republic may live. Science and invention go forward through unrequited sacrifices. In the fact that men have so often tried to reverse God’s computations, and make the one to be worth more than the many, lies the secret of much of the misery of the human race. Along the lines of this vicious calculation rivers of blood have flowed. Think of the kings and princes who from thrones of gold have looked down upon the millions of their subjects only as the small dust of the balance.
III. It is also to be remembered that in the comparison of thess opposite methods, and in determining the issues which they involve, is to be found an important element of education. The settlement of moral questions to which we are daily summoned is designed for our discipline, a means both of testing and increasing our love for the Master and for His people. With a child we are best satisfied not when he promptly obeys an express command, but when, left to choose for himself, he deliberately prefers another’s pleasure to his own. That shows, and at the same time develops, the kindness of his heart. It is often objected, however, that the requirements of such a charity may become unreasonable, and oppressive--that there are narrow-minded and captious persons who, upon any pretext, will seek to obstruct our freedom and spoil our innocent pleasures. Where, then, shall the line be drawn? The only answer must be that a line cannot be definitely drawn. We are left to the impulses of our natural or gracious hearts. They will put their own constructions upon every principle laid down for guidance. The problem is not, “Who is technically right?” nor, “Who has the better head and the more enlightened conscience?” nor, “Who is more prominent in the world’s work? “This is not a matter of pride, but of self-forgetting charity. The stress and point lie in the question, “What will save this brother whom my liberty might offend.?” The more unreasonable the prejudice, likewise, to which we yield, the weaker the opinion to which we make our offering of peace and goodwill, the more tenderly will” God be sure to regard it. We may be thankful if instead of being among those who ask for concessions, we have reached the high place of those who are delighted to grant them.
IV. The superiority of “love as a law” is manifest, therefore. Such a force is not only disciplinary, but it is in the highest degree disciplinary; it secures the best advantage and growth. “This law is not arbitrary. It is no law of fanaticism or enthusiasm or self-torture.” In preferring it we only surrender a lower, because we seek a manifestly higher, good. “To work from fear is slavery; to work under the compulsion of animal want is a hardship, and if not a positive yet a relative curse; to work for personal ends, as for pride or ambition or the accumulation of property, either for its own sake or our own sake, is compatible with freedom, but has in it nothing either purifying or ennobling; it finds and leaves the soul dry and hard. But activity from love is the perfection of freedom and of joy.” We are never so high and great as when for love we can easily make sacrifices to advance the unity and power of Christ’s Church or the welfare of those for whom He died.
V. How various are the problems of our modern life which this lesson touches we may readily discover. Shall I drink wine? What shall be my attitude toward the theatre and the opera? How shall I deal with the question as to promiscuous dancing? Shall I on Sunday patronise the street-railway? What games shall I approve? How far may I indulge a taste for personal adornment, particularly in places of public worship? What principles and limitations of expenditure are to be preferred in building, beautifying, and administering a home? These and a thousand like inquiries are to be treated in the spirit with which Paul approached the Corinthian problem about meat. They are not merely ethical, but Christian, problems. (H. A. Edson, D. D.)
Abstinence for the sake of others
Slight acts may loose vast forces, as a shout starts an Alpine avalanche. Insignificant questions may involve great principles. So was it with the Corinthian Church. The body of Christ was torn about a piece of meat; but the strife involved solemn matters--love for Christ and dying souls.
I. The law of knowledge. We commonly reckon knowledge to be a product of the intellect, including the powers by which we learn facts, reason upon them, and draw conclusions. The kind of knowledge determines the instrument by which we are to acquire it. Pure mathematics, abstract logic, may seem to use only the seeing eye and reasoning mind. But really to know a thing, the student must have some affinity for the object. It must find him, must stir a response in his nature. True of nature and art, this is more commandingly true of our fellow man. We cannot know him or any truth concerning his life and character except as we love him. This is the only way to get God’s way of looking at him, God’s ideal for him. Love is the discoverer, love is the interpreter, love the guide. Knowledge without love is the turbine without waterfall, wire without electricity. Love without knowledge is cataract minus wheel, loose lightning in the heavens. Love with knowledge is the servant and benefactor of mankind. Love has chemic tests, microscope, clairvoyance. It is the expert picking up the pebble a settler’s child is playing with and telling the man he is farming over a gold mine. Knowledge despises his ignorance and leaves him to its poverty. The characteristic of modern charity is the combination of scientific method with personal devotion. It studies the case with minute pains, then helps it with cool head and steady hand as well as warm heart. The worst enemy of true charity is indiscriminate giving; and true giving means personal contact. It is so much cheaper to give money than to give one’s self, and the reward is correspondingly small. This is the law: True knowledge includes love; it comes through head and heart together.
II. The law of conscience. But what law can there be to a faculty divided against itself, that, seeing two men doing the same thing, smiles upon one and smites the other? Which of them is right? How can any one ever be sure he is right? Conscience is called the voice of God in the soul of man; but can God say Yea and Nay together? The faculty we name conscience is not simple, but complex. It includes the impulse which commands, Do right; when you know the light, do it, whatever the cost. But back of this lies the judgment which tells us what is right. Not attempting the philosophical definitions, call the one moral impulse, the other moral judgment. The first of these is essentially the same in all sound souls, while differing in force and accepted control. The second differs according to birth, training, personal experience. Plainly, then, persons equally anxious to do right may differ as to the right or wrong of a specific act. Equally conscientious, they conscientiously disagree. Each, trying to do right, does what the other condemns. They agree in moral impulse, but disagree in moral judgment. The difficulty is great, and to recognise its occasion does not remove it. Two precepts are to be urged--
1. Cultivate the moral impulse, which insists upon obedience to known right. Guard this high conception of the majesty of righteousness. Listen to the whispers of conscience rather than to the shouts of interest or songs of pleasure. Protect the sensitiveness of moral discernment as a piano tuner guards the accuracy of his ear. Recur constantly to the invariable standard. Crowd forward conviction into action.
2. Train the moral judgment, which decides whether a specific act is right or wrong. Extend the control of conscience to the formation of opinions. Educators of the moral judgment are--
(1) Revelation. A clear word from God is end of debate.
(2) The teachings of reason, vitalised by love.
(3) Experience; our own, that of the wise and good, and the broad testimony of history.
(4) A spiritual life. Constant fellowship with Christ, effort to grow like Him and to win others to Him, furnish the finest tests and incitements to right moral decisions. We can have God’s wisdom for the asking, the especial illumination of the Holy Spirit. Changes of conviction will issue in changes of practice, and with these may come a period of unrest, while the moral sense is becoming adjusted to the judgment. The immorality of false opinions and virtue of right convictions are often discredited; but they make life, character, destiny. This is the law of conscience: Cultivate a sensitive and positive moral impulse; train the moral judgment to clear and spiritual views.
III. The law of conduct. Conduct has two relations--between myself and God, and between myself and my neighbour. An act done in the sight of others becomes example, and what is innocent kept to myself alone may be hurtful if indiscriminately followed. Unfortunately, doing in secret what is condemned in public savours of insincerity and hurts a delicate honour. As a rule, what is good for me is good for my neighbour, and what hurts him is bad for me. Which of us has suffered much from giving the weak brother, the holy Christ, the benefit of the doubt? That weak brother, he is ever with us; what shall we do about him? Would that he were strong! How we admire the well-poised man, clear head at the top and firmly set feet beneath; physical passions and temper and tongue following obediently at the heel of sound reason; warm heart and positive will, handmaids of a sensitive and proud conscience! Such there are, and how simple to them is life! But they are as rare as admirable. The weak brother, whose claim is mainly his weakness--he ought to train his moral judgment, be fully persuaded in his own mind, then be content to stand or fall to his own Master; but it is not so with him. He keeps looking to see what we do, putting us on a pedestal we have no wish to occupy. Have not we rights also? Yes; and what right higher than to surrender rights to gain blessings? To hesitate between tickling one’s palate and saving a soul from death would be worse than brutish. Grant that this means surrender of what we might claim but for this weak brother, are we losers? Am I impoverished by putting helpfulness above self-assertion? What is self-denial but choosing the nobler and better part? Give the weak brother and the spiritual life the benefit of the doubt. The example of abstinence involves no risks. Grow rich by giving up, gain life by dying to self and the world. While this law is general, its application in a temperance lesson is peculiarly clear. Here, of all cases, abstinence involves no risks; and appeals to the weaker without example of abstinence come to nothing. (Charles M. Southgate.)
Abstinence for the sake of others
Not a few of the church members in Corinth reserved the right to purchase and partake of these meats. Where is the flaw in their argument? The apostle meets and controverts it with great clearness.
I. He alleges that charity is better than knowledge. “We all,” says he, “have knowledge.” We are all able to make a showing of reasonableness for our foibles and prejudices. The poorest cause may be bolstered by an argument. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth, literally buildeth up. Self-vindication makes us conceited and dogmatic; but charity helps both us and others. The charity here referred to is the largest of the Christian graces. It is the Greek ἀγάπη, the Vulgate charitas; it is love in its broadest and deepest sense. It includes love towards God as well as towards men. It is like the constant commerce which is going on between the waters of the heavens and the earth; the rills trickle into the brooks, the brooks murmur towards the rivers, the rivers roll onward to the sea, and the seas are exhaled into the clouds above to distil again in grateful showers and morning dews. So love is the constant means and communion between God and His children. “We know our franchise,” said the Christian banqueters of Corinth; “we have knowledge as to the true character of idols and idol-worship, and are therefore in no danger of being led astray.” “Knowledge! knowledge!” replies the apostle, “but what about love? If any man love God the same is known unto Him, and that is the knowledge worth having.” All the wisdom of the schools is not to be valued with the assurance that we love God; and “the same may be known unto us.”
II. The Apostle Turns, Secondly, To A Consideration Of Individual Freedom. For these Corinthian Christians were disposed to stand upon their rights. They said in effect, “There is no specific injunction as to these idol-meats in Scripture. The question is left to the individual conscience. Our consciences are clear; the meats do not injure us. We therefore propose to do as we please about them.” “Granted,” says Paul, “I do not dispute your rights in these premises; but there are some important facts which you are in danger of losing sight of.” He then reminds them--
1. That the mere matter of eating or abstaining is in itself of slight consequence; “for meat commendeth us not to God; neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the worse.” So small a matter therefore as a dish upon one’s table should not be permitted to jeopardise the spiritual interests of any.
2. There are some weaker brethren who have less knowledge. These weaker brethren must not be left out of the reckoning. We are in a measure responsible for them. Am I, then, my brother’s keeper? Aye, and if he fall over a stumbling-block of my making, I shall be held responsible for it.
3. Rights are relative. Some of them must bow down to others, as did the lesser stars to the greater in the patriarch’s dream. A man’s lowest right is to please himself; his highest is to deny himself for others. Rights may conflict, but duties never; and duty always has the highest and uttermost claim.
4. As to individual freedom there is no such thing. If there were only one man in the universe he might be absolutely free to serve his own pleasure, but the moment you introduce another man there is a mutual restriction. Each is now free only so far as his freedom does not infringe upon the other. It is a mistake to think of freedom as license. There is, in fact, nothing in the world more circumscribed than true freedom. It is not lawlessness nor deliverance from restraint. Its best definition is, “Perfect obedience to perfect law.” True, “we are no longer children of the bond-woman, but of the free.” He who comes forth from the bondage of the law into the liberty of the gospel bows down, at the very threshold of his new life, and gives himself as a slave to serve the interests of his fellow men.
III. This leads us, thirdly, to consider with the apostle the example of Christ Himself. “Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?” For whom Christ died! Is it true, then, that Jesus stooped to the infirmity of the least of His little ones? Aye, and here are we, followers of His, haggling about meats and drinks! God forgive us, that we fall so far short of the mind that was in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Philippians 2:7 occurs a word about which there is much controversy. The word is kenosis; it means an “utter emptying,” and is applied to Christ’s humiliation. When He crossed the threshold of heaven to undertake His redemptive work He laid aside crown, royal robes, heavenly retinue, everything, that He might restore the race of fallen men. He was free to remain where He was; but He put away His freedom and took upon Himself the form of a servant for our sake. Oh, by the love and devotion of our Lord, let us cease our clamouring for rights, and begin to ask, “How may we empty ourselves as He did for the uplifting of the children of men?” The point at which humanity comes nearest to Deity is self-denial. Its best illustration is at Calvary, where God stoops down to embrace His penitent children. The summit of human character is reached when a man gives himself for others. Christ did it. We also, for Christ’s sake, must do it. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 8:11-13
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
Suffering, the measure of worth
I. The “weak brother” is not of much value in himself; but he is made valuable by the fact that Christ died for him.
1. How much of themselves men will give for one another, measures the worth in which that other is held. “I love you,” may mean only “you are my plaything,” or “I love myself”; but true love will give up for another’s sake time and convenience. It will employ all the resources of its being for the sake of that friend. And when, in some great exigency, all this will not avail, then love, in the glory of its power, goes to death as to the consummation of itself, and leaves a witness to itself which all mankind recognises (John 15:13).
2. Even when this is the fruit of instinct, it is impressive. The bear that dies defending its cubs, the hound that pines and dies on its master’s grave, the little sparrow that fights the hawk and owl, not for itself, but its nest--one must be heartless indeed to feel no admiration for these fidelities of love.
3. But how much more when one’s love and suffering spring from a perception of excellence in an object loved? The greater the nature that suffers, the higher is the estimate which his example gives of that for which he suffers. And by this analogue, the suffering and sacrifice of a Divine Being carries out the witness to its utmost conceivable extent.
4. We see at once a new element in the hands of the apostles after this testimony of the Master. No sooner was He gone up than they began to preach that man was valuable on account of what Christ suffered for him. A man for whom Christ died became a very different creature from a man before Christ had died for him. The fact that Christ died for a man made him worth protecting if he was weak.
5. This suffering was not founded upon man’s character. It would be a testimony to the value of good character if Christ had come to die for it; but that was the very point of conflict between Him and the Pharisees. They held that Christ ought to suffer and identify Himself with them; but He most scornfully rejected that, and said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. I came to give My life for the lowest and worst men.” He more sharply than any other discriminated between good and bad character; yet there was something behind character to which Christ was bearing witness, viz., the abstract original value which inheres in human life. The death of Christ is a testimony to the value of man in his very substance, if I may so say; so that the least and the lowest have the essence of value in them.
II. The effect which this fact has of determining man’s place, his rights, and his worth.
1. Consider what the world’s way of estimation has been in judging men. Earliest, men measured physical power. Now the habit of society is to classify men into relative ranks of value by the effects which they are able to produce; by what they are worth to society. Therefore, when a great man dies men say, “The world has met with a great loss.” If a poor man dies, men say, “The world has one less incumbrance.” The dog that hunts well is better than a pauper that does not do anything, in the estimation of men. If a race are not able to hold their own against aggressive peoples men say, “There is no help for it; they must go.” They judge men by the standard of political economy. There is no such contempt on the globe for anything as man has for man. We need therefore to go back to this testimony of our Master’s example, who came by His suffering and death to bear a testimony of that element in human nature which every man has like every other.
2. This view interprets the future. A man in the lowest condition here is not the man that he is to be; and when you have measured and weighed him, you have not estimated what he is worth in the kingdom to come. He has before him another world; and we are told most solemnly by our Saviour that the men who are the most regarded here will be worth the least there. “The first shall be last, the last first.” Many of the plants of our northern summer come up quickly, and do exceedingly well; but they are coarse and rank at that. And there are many seeds that I plant by the side of them every spring, which in the first summer only grow a few leaves high. There is not sun enough to make them do what it is in them to do. But if I put them in some sheltered hot-house, and give them the continuous growth of autumn and winter, and then, the next summer, put them out once more, they gather strength by this second planting, and lift up their arms and spread out the abundance of their blossoms. The plants that grew quickest the year before, are now called weeds by their side. And I doubt not that there is many a man who rushes up to a rank growth in the soil of this world, and of whom men seeing him, say, “That is a great man,” but there are many poor, feeble creatures in this world who will be carried safely on and up, and rooted in a better clime; and then, lifting up their whole nature, they will come out into that glorious summer of fervent love in heaven, where they will be more majestic, more fruitful, than those who so far surpass them here.
III. The effects which this doctrine will have upon our feelings and conduct to our fellow-men.
1. Let us suppose that we are in full possession of the Christian feeling--Christ died for that man. It will be a powerful restraint upon lawless liberty, and will bring us into such sympathy with all our fellow men, that, at the sacrifice of our own convenience and rights, it will be a privilege and a pleasure for us to serve them. Some men go through life, saying, “I will take care of myself, and you must take care of yourself”; and they feel that they have a right to go through life thus. Now no one who has drunk deeply of the spirit of the Master will refuse to accept the injunction, “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.” It is as if a strong swimmer should turn back and lend a helping hand to buoy up and lift across the flood one that was weaker or less able to swim than himself. We have no right to disregard, much less to hinder, the welfare of any human being. Have I a right to go tramp, tramp, tramp, according to the law of my physical strength, among little children? If I have had better privileges than others, and have come to conclusions which they cannot understand, have I a right to scatter sceptical notions through society? A man is bound to hold his knowledge, his conscience, his pleasures, &c., subject to this great law: “Christ died for men, and I must live for men, and restrain my power, and forego my rights, even for their sake.” We have a right to employ men, of course; but there is a habit which prevails in society of thinking that a man has a right to just so much of his fellow-men as he is able to extract from them. A man may fleece a hundred men during the week, and take the communion on Sunday, and nobody thinks that there is any violation of good-fellowship or of orthodoxy. But that great law of fellowship which knits every man to every other man on the globe says not only “Thou art his brother,” but, “Thou art responsible for his weal as well as thine own. Thou shalt not in any wise harm him.”
2. This is one of the most precious of doctrines to those that look and long for a better period of the world. It was almost the only thing we could urge when slavery rent our land. The single strand that held against the storms of avarice and the fire of lurid lusts was the single argument, “For these Christ died.” And that held; and the most wonderful change toward regeneration that the world ever saw has taken place by the simple operation of that great law. And what have we now for the weak races? Men of a hard heart and an iron-shod foot are preparing to tread these people down and deny them their rights. And I take my stand by the side of every weak creature, whatever his nationality may be, and I say, “For him Christ died.” Give men at the bottom a chance to come up. God, the highest, bowed down His head and came upon the earth and suffered for the weakest and the worst.
3. Christian brethren, we must arm ourselves betimes. The seeds of a better public sentiment must be sown. Then let no man be discouraged because he is labouring with a very much neglected class. There is no material in this world which is un-promising. No man is beyond salvation since “Christ died” for him. (H. W. Beecher.)
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.--
Sin against Christ
It is a proof of the intimate character of the relation between Christ and His people that it should be the very climax of reproach against Christians because of any course they followed, to charge them with sin against Christ. Language like this could be used of no merely human teacher and leader. To act without due charity is a sin against Christ because it is--
I. To offend against Christ’s commandment, viz., to love one another. This was to be the test of Christian discipleship.
II. To contradict Christ’s example. What Christ enjoined He exemplified in His whole life, and at last in His death.
III. To injure Christ in the person of one of His little ones. Christ so identified Himself with His disciples as to regard what was done to them as done to Himself. Whosoever is indifferent to the welfare of the Lord’s servants, sins against the Lord Himself, and shall not be held guiltless. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
Wounding a weak conscience
I. What a weak conscience is.
1. Such a conscience is improperly called tender; for tenderness imports quickness and exactness of sense, which is the perfection of this faculty, whose duty it is to be a spiritual watch to give us warning of whatsoever concerns us. It is opposed to a hard or seared conscience; but a weak conscience is opposed to a strong, which very strength consists in the tenderness or quickness of its discerning power.
2. The weakness of conscience here spoken of is opposed to faith (Romans 14:2), by which is not meant that act by which a man is justified, but signifies the same with knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 8:10). The clear discernment of what is unlawful, and what is only indifferent, together with a firm persuasion of the lawful use of such indifferent things, all circumstances being duly observed in the using of them. And therefore, on the other side, the weak conscience is such a one as judges otherwise of the nature of things than indeed it is, supposing that to be unlawful in itself which really is not so.
3. From whence it follows that weakness of conscience implies--
(1) An ignorance of the lawfulness of some certain thing or action. That ignorance must be such a one as is not willing.
(a) Because it must be such a one as renders it in some degree excusable; but so far as any defect is resolved into the will, it is in that degree inexcusable.
(b) Because it must be such an ignorance as renders the person having it the object of compassion.
But no man pities another for any evil lying upon him, which he would not help, but which he could not. And consequently it must be resolved into the natural weakness of the understanding faculty, or else the want of opportunities or means of knowledge. Either of which makes ignorance necessary, as it is impossible for him to see who wants eyes, and equally impossible for him who wants light.
(2) A suspicion of the unlawfulness of any thing or action.
(3) A religious abstinence from the use of that thing of the lawfulness whereof it is thus ignorant or suspicious. It brings a man to that condition in Colossians 2:21.
II. What it is to wound or sin against it.
1. To afflict or discompose it; i.e., to rob it of its peace. For there is that concernment for God’s honour dwelling in every truly pious heart which makes it troubled at the sight of any action by which it supposes God to be dishonoured. And as piety commands us not to offend God, so charity enjoins us not to grieve our neighbour.
2. To encourage or embolden it to act against its present judgment or persuasion: which is, in other terms, to offend, or cast a stumbling-block before it: i.e., to do something which may administer to it an occasion of falling or bringing itself under the guilt of sin. So that as the former was a breach upon the peace, this is properly a wound upon the purity of the conscience.
3. The conscience may be induced to act counter to its present persuasion.
(1) By example; which is the case here expressly mentioned, and principally intended.
(2) By command; as when a person in power enjoins the doing something, of the lawfulness of which a man is not persuaded. (R. South, D. D.)
Dissuasives against an undue use of Christian liberty
1. A weak conscience is easily wounded.
2. The infliction of such a wound is a violation of the law of love.
3. It is a sin against Christ Himself. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth.--
The great argument for abstinence
I. Arguments for abstinence are often grounded on.
1. Danger to ourselves.
(1) We may be led to excess.
(2) We may injure ourselves, physically or morally.
3. Intrinsical wrongness.
II. Such arguments frequently lack cogency.
1. The third will have no application to a large class of things indifferent in themselves, and it is generally in respect of such that the war is waged.
2. The others are open to question. Conflicting facts will be adduced, and where knowledge is imperfect the contest is likely to continue. And the argument often acts as a temptation, for when human nature is warned of peril it often delights to show how brave and steadfast it can be.
III. The apostolic argument. St. Paul--
1. Enlarges the view so that others are included as well as ourselves. Abstinence is sometimes not for ourselves at all, but only for our fellows (Philippians 2:4). We are units, but united units. We cannot legislate for that little area which we ourselves occupy.
2. Recognises the influence of example. Our words are a spider’s web; our acts are a cable. Men do what we show them, not what we tell them. And we cannot persuade men that we are strong and they weak.
3. Asserts the obligation of self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. That which is “indifferent” becomes anything but that if our indulgence is injurious to others. Our sacrifice is small indeed compared with their possible loss. This argument has special force for Christians.
(1) They have the example of self-sacrifice in their Master (verse 12). They have a more impressive view of the issues involved in the fall of a fellow-creature.
(2) Their non-abstinence may be a sin against a fellow-Christian (verse 11). The fall may be, not of an unbeliever, but of a brother associated in Christian fellowship and service, and thus be--
(3) A sin against the brethren (verse 12), i.e., the Church, bringing scandal and disgrace through a brother’s fall. And also--
(4) A sin against Christ (verse 12). For Christ and Christians are one--He the Head and they the members.
(5) They have in their ears such utterances of their Master’s as Matthew 18:6; Matthew 25:40. (W. E. Hurndall, M. A.)
Personal sacrifice is
1. Not only in meats and drinks, but in many other things.
2. To avoid offence.
II. Is obligatory--
1. On Christians.
2. By the law of love, and--
3. The example of Christ.
III. Is magnanimous. It is--
1. A conquest of self.
2. An act of benevolence.
3. A feature of renewed nature.
IV. Will be abundantly compensated.
1. By the approval of conscience.
2. The benefit of others.
3. The approbation of God.
4. Final reward. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Abstaining for the good of others
Do you not think, dear friends, that though it may be quite proper for you to take a glass of wine or a glass of beer, and there is no sin in the thing at all, your example may be injurious to somebody to whom it would be a sin to take it? Perhaps some persons cannot take a glass without taking two, three, four, five, or six glasses. You can stop, you know; but if your example leads them to start, and they cannot stop, is it right to set them going? Though you have a clear head, and can stand in a dangerous place, I would not recommend you to go there if somebody else would thus be placed in danger. If I were walking by the cliffs of Dover, and I happened to have a very fine cool head, yet, if I had my sons with me, and I knew that they had ordinary kinds of heads, I should not like to go and stand just on a jutting piece of crag so as to induce them to try the same position. No; I should feel, “Though I can stand here, you cannot; and if I stand here, perhaps you will attempt it, and fall, and I shall be guilty of your blood.” Let us treat men as we would treat our sons; and let us be weak to their weakness, and deny ourselves for their sakes. Is not that good and proper reasoning? It seems to me that it is. If it is not good reasoning, it is safe. I never have asked God to forgive me for my sin in going without strong drink. I have never seen any commandment in Scripture showing that I am bound to take it. I feel free to do as I like about abstaining; but especially free when for the good of others I prefer to abstain altogether. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christian consideration for others
Now you may say to me if you please as a man, “Mr. Gough, I am a moderate drinker; I use these things in moderation, and therefore I set you a good example.” I say at once, “Sir, you do not.” “Well, if I drink one glass and there stop, is not that an example for others?” “No, sir; no, sir; no more than if there was a bridge built over a gulf, to fall into which was utter ruin, and that bridge will bear 150 lbs., and you weigh 1501bs., and you say to that young man (and he weighs 200 lbs.), ‘Follow my example.’--‘I don’t like the look of that bridge.’ ‘Don’t be a fool, I have walked it forty years; proved it perfectly safe; never cracked with me; never sprung with me; perfectly safe.’--‘But I don’t like it.’ ‘Don’t be foolish; you can do that which I can do; now I am setting you a good example; follow me step by step.’ That young man attempts to follow it; he sets his foot on the centre; crash! crash! down he goes, with a shriek, into destruction. Now, did you set a good example? No, because you didn’t take into consideration the difference of weight.” Before you can say to a young man, “I set you a good example,” you must take into consideration the difference between his temperament and yours, his susceptibility and yours. (J. B. Gough.)