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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-corinthians-9.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 9:1-22
Am I not an apostle?
Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?
Signs of apostleship
Why should Paul, departing from his usual custom, speak here of himself and his claims? Undoubtedly because these were questioned. Now wishing to incite the Corinthians to self-denial, Paul exemplified this virtue; but to make this effective it was necessary that he should assert and vindicate his position and rights. If he had no special commission from Christ, there was no virtue in renouncing privileges which never were his. The signs of his apostleship were--
I. The vision of christ. Not that every one who saw Jesus became an apostle; but that none became an apostle who had not seen and been commissioned by Him. No doubt he had been contrasted with the twelve to his disadvantage in these respects. But Paul would not submit to an imputation which must needs weaken his authority. He had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus, had heard His voice, and been entrusted with a special mission to the Gentiles. He had not been preaching the gospel at the instigation of his own inclinations, but in obedience to the authority of Christ.
II. Success in apostolic labour. The craftsman proves his ability by the work he does; the sailor by his navigation of the vessel; the soldier by his courage and skill. So the apostle acknowledges the justice of the practical test.
1. Paul appealed to his work. Labour is misspent when no results ensue. But his labour had not been in vain.
2. The workmanship of the apostle was also his seal, i.e., it bore the mark and witness of his character, ability and office. A competent judge, looking to the Churches Paul had founded, would admit them to be evidence of his apostleship.
3. The signs were manifest in the very community where his authority was questioned. There is irony and force in the appeal made to the Corinthians. Whoever raised a question they should not. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
The leading characteristics of a truly great gospel minister
The greater minister of Christ
I. The More Independent Of Ceremonial Restrictions. Paul was an apostle, and had “seen Christ,” a qualification that distinguished him as a minister from all but eleven others. Besides this, his natural and acquired endowments placed him in the first rank of reasoners, scholars, and orators. He was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, &c. But see how he regarded the mere conventionalities of religious society. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free?”--referring to the eating of meat offered to idols, &c. (1 Corinthians 8:13). The greater the man, always the more independent he is of forms, fashions, customs. Hezekiah called that which his countrymen worshipped “Nehushtan,” a piece of brass. Cromwell called that glittering insignia of authority on the table of the House of Commons a “bauble,” Thomas Carlyle called all the pageantry of office and the glitter of wealth “shams.” Burns called the swaggering lordling a “coof.” A famous French preacher began his funeral address over the coffin of his sovereign with “There is nothing great but God.” What cared Elijah for kings? Nothing. Felix trembled before the moral majesty of Paul, even in chains.
II. The higher the services he renders to society (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). “He that converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, &c. What work approaches this in grandeur and importance? And the man who succeeds in accomplishing it demonstrates the divinity of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:3).
III. The more independent he is of the innocent enjoyments of life (1 Corinthians 9:4-5). Paul claims the privilege to eat and drink as he pleased, and to marry or not.
IV. The more claim he has to the temporal support of those whom he spiritually serves (1 Corinthians 9:6-14). The reasons are--
1. The general usage of mankind (1 Corinthians 9:7). He illustrates the equity of the principle from the cases of the soldier, the agriculturist, and the shepherd.
2. The principle of the Jewish law (1 Corinthians 9:8-9). “Doth God take care for oxen?” Yes; but is not man greater than the ox? And shall he work and be deprived of temporal supplies?
3. The principles of common equity (1 Corinthians 9:11).
4. Other apostles and their wives were thus supported (1 Corinthians 9:6-12). Have we done less? Is our authority inferior?
5. The support of the Jewish priesthood (1 Corinthians 9:13).
6. The ordination of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:14; cf. Matthew 10:10). Looking at all that Paul says on that question here, the conviction cannot be avoided that no man has a stronger claim to a temporal recompense than a true gospel minister. Albeit no claims are so universally ignored. Call the money you pay to your butcher, baker, lawyer, doctor, “charity”; but in the name of all that is just, do not call that charity which you tender to the man who consecrates his entire being and time to impart to you the elements of eternal life.
V. The more ready to surrender his claims for the sake of usefulness. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A true minister
We see in these verses--
I. What it is that constitutes a true minister.
1. Communion with Christ. “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”
2. Souls won for Christ. “Are not ye my work in the Lord?”
II. The true minister ought to be recognised by his people.
1. Courtesy demands it.
2. His message demands it.
3. His work requires it.
4. Their consciousness declares it.
III. It is often better to answer foolish questions than to pass them by.
1. For the sake of individual character.
2. For the sake of the Christian Church.
3. For the sake of mankind. (A. F. Barfield.)
The claims of the Christian minister
I. Are founded--
1. Upon his character as--
(1) A messenger of Christ.
(2) A man.
(3) A Christian.
2. Upon his work.
1. The common rights of man.
2. The particular right to a just compensation for his labour.
III. Should be enforced--
1. With moderation.
2. With a due regard for the interests of the gospel.
IV. Ought to be relinquished rather than occasion reproach: still the right remains, and will finally be established. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Maintenance of the ministry
In the preceding chapter Paul has disposed of the question as to meats offered in sacrifice to idols. He has inculcated the duty of accommodating ourselves to the consciences of others, and is prepared to abridge his own Christian liberty. But keeping pace, as he always does, with the thought of his readers, it at once occurs to him that his opponents will declare that his apostleship stands on so insecure a basis that he has no option in the matter, but must curry favour with all parties. The original apostles may reasonably claim exemption from manual labour, and demand maintenance both for themselves and their wives; but Paul has no such claim to maintenance, and is aware that his apostleship is doubtful. He therefore--
I. Asserts his right to the same privileges and maintenance as the other apostles (1-14). He rests his claim on--
1. His apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1-6). No one could be an apostle who had not seen Christ after His resurrection. Paul therefore, both in his speeches and in his letters, insists that on the way to Damascus he had seen the risen Lord. But an apostle was also one who was commissioned to bear witness to this fact; and that Paul had been thus commissioned he thinks the Corinthians may conclude from the results among themselves of his preaching. In presence of the finished structure that draws the world to gaze, it is too late to ask if he who built it is an architect.
2. The principle of remuneration everywhere observed in human affairs (1 Corinthians 9:7). However difficult it is to lay down an absolute law of wages, it may be affirmed as a natural principle that labour must be so paid as to maintain the labourer in life and efficiency; as to enable him to bring up a family which shall be useful and not burdensome to society, and as to secure for him some reserve of leisure for his own enjoyment and advantage. Paul anticipates the objection that these secular principles have no application to sacred things (1 Corinthians 9:8-9). But this law is two-edged. If a man produce what the community needs, he should himself profit by the production; but, on the other hand, if a man will not work, neither should he eat.
3. Ordinary gratitude (1 Corinthians 9:11). And some of the Churches founded by Paul felt that the benefit they had derived from him could not be stated in terms of money; but prompted by irrepressible gratitude, they could not but seek to relieve him from manual labour and set him free for higher work. The method of gauging the amount of spiritual benefit absorbed, by its overflow in material aid given to the propagation of the gospel would, I daresay, scarcely be relished by that monstrous development the niggardly Christian.
4. The Levitical usage (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). That evils may result from the existence of a paid ministry no one will be disposed to deny. But if the work of the ministry is to be thoroughly done, men must give their whole time to it; and therefore must be paid for it; a circumstance which is not likely to lead to much evil while the great mass of ministers are paid as they are.
II. Gives the true season for foregoing his lawful claim. Paul felt the more free to urge them because his custom was to forego them (1 Corinthians 9:15). How apt are self-denying men to spoil their self-denial by dropping a sneer at the weaker souls that cannot follow their heroic example. Not so Paul. He first fights the battle of the weak for them, and then disclaims all participation in the spoils. Nor does he consider that his self-denial is at all meritorious. On the contrary, he makes it appear as if no choice were left to him. His fear was that if he took remuneration, he “should hinder the gospel of Christ.” Some of the best incomes in Greece were made by clever lecturers; Paul was resolved he should never be mistaken for one of these. And no doubt his success was partly due to the fact that men recognised that his teaching was a labour of love, Every man finds an audience who speaks, not because he is paid for doing so, but because there is that in him which must find utterance. Paul felt that on him lay the gravest responsibilities. Had he complained of bad usage, and stipulated for higher terms, and withdrawn, who could have taken up the task he laid down? But while Paul could not but be conscious of his importance, he would arrogate to himself no credit. Whether he does his work willingly or unwillingly, still he must do it. If he does it willingly, he has a reward; if he does it unwillingly, still he is entrusted with a stewardship he dare not neglect. What, then, is the reward? The satisfaction of knowing that, having freely received, he had freely given (1 Corinthians 9:18).
III. Reaffirms the principle on which he has uniformly acted. It was from Paul (1 Corinthians 9:19) that Luther derived the keynote of his blast “on Christian Liberty” with which he stirred Europe into new life: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” But Paul was no mere latitudinarian. While accommodating himself to the practice of those around him in all matters (1 Corinthians 9:20-23) in all matters of mere outward observance, he held very definite opinions on the chief articles of the Christian creed. No liberality can ever induce a thoughtful man to discourage the formation of opinion on all matters of importance. No doubt righteousness of life is better than soundness of creed. But is it not possible to have both? Again, Paul had an end in view which preserved his liberality from degenerating (1 Corinthians 9:22). In order to remove a man’s difficulties, you must look at them from his point of view and feel the pressure he feels. In order to “gain” men, you must credit them with some desire to see the truth, and you must have sympathy enough to see with their eyes. Parents sometimes weaken their influence with their children by inability to look at things with the eyes of youth. Put yourself in the place of the inquiring, perplexed, embittered soul, find out the good that is in it, patiently accommodate yourself to its ways so far as you legitimately may, and you will be rewarded by “gaining some.” (M. Dods, D. D.)
Abstinence from rightful privileges
Verse 27 is commonly quoted in the Calvinistic Controversy, to prove the possibility of the believer’s final fall. In reality, it has nothing whatever to do with it. The word “castaway,” is literally “reprobate,” that which, being tested, fails. “Reprobate silver shall men call them.” St. Paul says, “Lest when I have preached to others, I myself, when tried by the same standard, should fail.” In chap. 8. Paul had laid down the principle that it was good to respect the scruples of weaker brethren (1 Corinthians 8:13). But to this teaching an objection might be raised. Does the apostle practise what he preaches? Or it is merely a fine sentiment? Does he preach to others, himself being a castaway, i.e., one who being tested is found wanting? The whole of the chapter is an assertion of his consistency. Note:--
I. Paul’s right to certain privileges, viz., domestic solaces and ministerial maintenance. This right he bases on four arguments:
1. By a principle universally recognised in human practice. A king warring on behalf of a people, wars at their charge--a planter of a vineyard expects to eat of the fruit--a shepherd is entitled to the milk of the flock. All who toil for the good of others derive an equivalent from them. Gratuitous devotion of life is nowhere considered obligatory.
2. By a principle implied in a Scriptural enactment (1 Corinthians 8:9). The ox was provided for, not because it was an ex, but because it was a labourer.
3. By a principle of fairness and reciprocity. Great services establish a claim. If they owed to the apostle their souls, his time had a claim on their gold.
4. By the law of the Temple Service. The whole institution of Levites and priests implied the principle that there are two kinds of labour--of hand and of brain: and that the toilers with the brain, though not producers, have a claim on the community. They are essential to its well-being, and are not mere drones.
II. His valiant abstinence from these privileges (2 Corinthians 8:12; 2 Corinthians 8:15). Note--
1. His reasons.
(1) He was forced to preach the gospel, and for the preaching of it, therefore, no thanks were due. But he turned his necessity to glorious gain. By forfeiting pay he got reward: and in doing freely what he must do, he became free. When “I must” is changed into “I will,” you are free.
(2) His object was to gain others (verse 19) His whole life was one great illustration of this principle: free from all, he became the servant of all.
2. The general principles of our human life. You cannot run as you will; there are conditions (verse 24). You cannot go on saying, I have a right to do this, therefore I will do it. You must think how it will appear, not for the sake of mere respectability, or to obtain a character for consistency, but for the sake of others. And its conditions are as those of a wrestling march--you must be temperate in all things--i.e., abstain from even lawful indulgences. Remember no man liveth to himself. The cry, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is met by St. Paul’s clear, steadfast answer, “You are.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
If I be not an apostle unto others … I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.--
The successful minister
I. His happiness.
2. Divine attestation.
II. His claims upon--
1. The respect.
4. Support of his charge. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The seal of apostleship
I. Consists in actual success--in the conviction and conversion of sinners.
II. Establishes the claim to apostleship--because it--
1. Indicates the Divine call and blessing.
2. Is of more value than human authorisation.
III. Entitles a minister to the special regard of those to whose spiritual benefit he has contributed. If no claim on others--yet on you for sympathy, love, support. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Mine answer to those that do examine me is this.--
I. Attempts are often made to limit the free action of Christian ministers; as in apostolic times, so now.
II. These attempts should be resisted with Christian dignity and in a Christian spirit--Paul’s answer--he excludes all interference with--
1. His manner of life.
2. His personal and domestic associations. His mode of working. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The right of the ministry to support
I. The occasion of the apostle’s appeal.
1. Not selfish (1 Corinthians 8:12).
2. Some disputed his apostleship and its rights (1 Corinthians 8:3).
II. His assertion of his right--
1. To support for himself--for his wife if he thought proper to marry.
2. Sufficient to free him from the necessity of manual labour.
III. His defence of his right--is sustained by an appeal to--
1. Human justice.
2. The law.
3. The sense of gratitude.
4. Divine ordination under the law, under the gospel. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 9:7-14
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?
The baffle of life
We have here--
I. An inspiriting metaphor. When life is represented as a warfare, some peaceful minds may feel a little alarmed, yet there are others who feel their blood pulsing the stronger at the thought that life is to be one continued contest. It were ill for us if our love of peace, as a nation, should degenerate into a fear of danger or an indifference to exploits. For me the battle-field has no charms; but I buckle on my armour at the very thought that life is to be a conflict in which it behoves me to get the mastery.
1. It is wise to begin the battle of life early. We have all so little time to live, and our first years are so evidently the best, that it is a pity to waste them.
2. We have to fight with that trinity of enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil.
3. This is not an engagement to be quickly terminated. Unlike the laconic despatch of the ancient Roman--“Veni, vidi, vici,” this is a continuous fight. Like the old knights who slept in their armour, you must be prepared for reprisals--always watchful, and ready to resist.
4. You may hope to conquer, for others have done so before you (Revelation 3:21; Revelation 7:14).
5. You may be defeated. Make bankruptcy in your secular business, why, you can start again; but once make bankruptcy in soul affairs, and there is no second life in which to start afresh. If you are defeated in the battle of life you can never begin again, or turn the defeat into a victory. If you go down to your grave a captive of sin, the iron hands will be about you for ever.
II. A kindly hint. There are charges in this life-battle. Let us just glance at some of them. If any man shall get up to heaven he will have to meet a demand for--
1. Courage. How many enemies he must face!
2. Patience. How he must bear and forbear!
The difficulties of an expedition may be intensely aggravated by a lack of knowledge as to the country to be invaded; and in the battle of life who knows what lies next before him? Hence I beseech you to consider the greatness of the charge of this warfare. Our British soldiers must press forward, though they are landed on a blazing beach, before steep mountains, dismal swamps, or savage tribes. But in our eventful battle of life the checks and bars to progress are more than I can describe. No marvel that Pliable should say, as he turned back, “You may have the brave country yourself for me,” Apart from Divine strength Pliable was a wise man. There is no “royal road” to heaven, except that the King’s highway leads there. There is no road skilfully levelled or scientifically macadamised. The labour is too exhaustive, the difficulties are too serious, unless God Himself come to our help. Who, then, can go this warfare at his own charges?
III. A gracious reminder. You cannot go this warfare in your own strength. Then do not try it. If you do you will rue it. But you may rely on God to help you. You may reckon on--
1. His watchful Providence. You little know how easy the Almighty can make a path which otherwise would have been difficult and dangerous. All things shall work together for good to them that love God.
2. The help of Christ. He will be always present to revive you with His precious blood, to sprinkle your hearts from an evil conscience, to wash your bodies with pure water.
3. The assistance of the Spirit. There is nothing too obdurate for the Spirit of the Lord to overcome.
Conclusion: Let me urge upon those who are beginning this battle--
1. The wisdom of diffidence. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
2. The dignity of reliance upon God.
3. The importance of prayer. If all our charges in the life-war are to be paid us by the Paymaster, let us go to the treasury.
4. The necessity of holiness.
5. The power of faith. The beginning of true spiritual life is here--trusting what Christ has wrought for us. The continuation of spiritual life is here--trusting still in what Christ has done and is doing. The consummation of spiritual life on earth is still the same--trusting still, trusting ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ present with His servants
About two centuries ago, during the persecutions in Scotland, Margaret Wilson, a girl of eighteen, along with an aged widow of sixty-three, was doomed to die for insisting that Christ alone was the Head of the Church. They were to be fastened to stakes driven into the oozy sand that covered the beach, and left to perish in the rising tide. The stake to which the aged woman was fastened was farther down the beach than that of the young woman, in order that, being sooner destroyed, her expiring sufferings might shake the firmness of Margaret Wilson. The tide began to flow, the waters swelled and mounted to the chin of the old woman, and when almost stifled by the rising tide, they put to the girl the question, “What think you of your friend now?” “What do I see,” she answered, “but Christ in one of His members, wrestling there? Think you that we are the sufferers? No; it is Christ in us, He who sendeth us not a warfare on our own charges.”
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?.
Principles of equity
1. Commend themselves to human reason.
2. Are enforced by the law of God.
3. Are of universal application.
4. Contribute by their operation to the best interests of all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Human consciousness of the right
1. Is but an echo of the Divine law.
2. Is only explicable on the principle of moral government.
3. Establishes the authority of the law. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For it is written in the law of Moses.--
The inspiration of the law of Moses is established by
1. Its ascription to God.
2. Its moral bearing.
3. Its comprehensive application.
4. Its beneficial tendency. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Doth God take care for oxen?--
This is a favourite text with Paul (1 Timothy 5:17-18). If Paul wrote this twice we may be sure the words were often on his lips; and if the Holy Spirit has twice put this fragment of the old law into the New Testament, we may be sure the lesson is an important one. The text is racy and suggestive.
I. Ministers and their work.
1. They are a distinct class. Have a function all their own like oxen.
2. Their work is humble.
3. And hard.
4. And requiring patient routine.
5. And withal of vital importance.
II. The saviour has taken care for their support. They have the same wants as other men, but are not at liberty to supply them in the same way: they are oxen whose strength is spent in the service of others. Therefore the Master laid down His will as to their temporal support. “The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Both charity and ordinary bargain are excluded by this rule: the matter is raised to a higher level altogether.
III. The rule is reasonable (1 Corinthians 9:11). Whatever a man pays for his Bible there is no kind of proportion between the money given and the thing got: the wealth of the world could not buy one text of the Word of God: the money is the equivalent only of paper, printing, binding. So conversion, sanctification, organised fellowship, godly training of the young, the Lord’s Day, the sacraments, comfort in sickness and death--are things which man cannot buy, because man cannot give them. All the more reasonable, therefore, that the simple and inexpensive channel by which God dispenses them to us and sends them on to coming generations should be maintained.
IV. The support should be generous. While the ox is working he will not be the worse for all he can eat: let him not be muzzled. Muzzling is poor economy, and not even just. All the more should this part of Bible teaching be plainly uttered, because the true minister will be ready to forego even righteous claims rather than allow God’s message of love with which he is charged to be discredited by urging these (1 Corinthians 9:15-19). The minister should receive freely--not what his education, time, gifts, may be worth in the market, for gain and bargain have no place here--but what is needed to maintain his position. There should be nothing so grand about him as to estrange him from the poorest, and nothing so mean about his dress or personal habits as to render him unfit for the most refined society; for, like the gospel, he belongs to no one class of society, but stands equally related to all (Philippians 4:10-19). (A. M. Symington, D. D.)
That he that plougheth should plough in hope.--
Ploughing in hope
When you go into the country and see the farmers driving their ploughs, you have no occasion to ask them why they are turning up the soil. You understand as well as they that it is the crop they have in view. If it were not for the hope of the harvest they would forego this toil. And what is true of the farmer is true of the mechanic, of the manufacturer, of the tradesman, of people of all occupations and conditions. Men are swayed by an endless variety of motives, good and bad; but the one element which blends with all other springs of action is hope--the desire and expectation of future good. St. Paul takes the plougher as a representative character. It may be useful to us to consider the same principle in its application to the religious life and the service of God generally. The spiritual, no less than the natural husbandman, has ample reason to go on with his work in hope. That is to say, in doing the Divine will we have ground to hope for a beneficial result. It may be just the result at which we have been aiming. Herein the case differs from that of the ploughman, who can always forecast the nature of his crop from the seed. And yet the difference is rather apparent than real. For the spiritual husbandman does after all reap what he sows if we inquire into the grounds of that hope which should animate all true workers in this field, it may be observed that they are doing what their Heavenly Father has directed them to do. Our Saviour said, on a certain occasion, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” We are every one of us sent into the world on a similar errand--i.e., to do the will of Him who placed us here. The few who do try to conform to it are fulfilling the end of their being. They are living not for themselves, but for God. We affirm the right of the believer, and of all who have their faces Zionward, to labour or suffer for God in hope, because He “cannot deny Himself.” In His infinite condescension He has been pleased to link His own glory with the toils and trials, the prayers and praises, of His people. To an eye capable of taking in its vast proportions, our globe must present a busy scene. We may not assert that the overthrow of an empire or the founding of a dynasty is a matter of no moment to God; but we are warranted in saying that events of this kind are of small moment with Him as compared with changes in the condition of the Church; and, indeed, that He orders or permits those very events, with a continual reference to His Church. We are sure, then, that He looks with approbation upon the efforts of His people to follow and to serve Him; and that in doing this they have more reason to be hopeful than in attempting any other service whatever. Let us rather consider the lesson of the text in its bearing upon various parts of the Christian life. To begin at the beginning--our first plougher shall be one who is just awaking from the sleep of sin, and pondering the question, Shall I now attend to the matter of my personal salvation? Can I hope to secure this greatest of blessings? Many an one, brought to this point, has been discouraged by the apparent obstacles in the way, and declined the effort. Had it been an earthly scheme they would not have abandoned it. Men do not so lightly forego the prospect of wealth and honour. But where the soul is concerned the quest is too often relinquished on the vague report that “there is a lion in the way.” Without striving there is no entering in at the strait gate. But is this peculiar to religion? Do you win any earthly prize without striving? Why, then, complain that Christianity denies its treasures to the torpid and the indifferent? The blessings it proposes to us are as much superior to the noblest distinctions of the world as the heavens are higher than the earth. There is nothing a man may go about more hopefully than an honest and faithful endeavour to obtain forgiveness and reconciliation to God. How can you help seeing this? For what means this day of rest, this house of worship, these Christian ordinances, this precious Bible revealing a crucified Saviour, a throne of grace, and an ever-present compassionate Spirit? If, with these testimonies around you, you cannot “plough in hope,” you will be likely to wait until all that now invites you to hope gives place to remediless despair. But coming to Christ is only the first step: it is simply securing the charter and the gracious equipment which prepare us to begin the work of life. The ploughing must go on. The field is large, and much of the soil intractable. But the allotted task can be accomplished, provided only we keep up a good heart as we tread the weary furrows, and “abound in hope.” You will know what is meant by this “intractable soil.” Look at the human heart, even the renewed heart, and see what a work is to be done there before it can “bear the image of the heavenly!” This whole work of self-discipline must needs be arduous and painful, because it is in the face of nature. Its aim is the subjugation of nature. We need this conviction as a stimulus to effort. You have to deal, e.g., with some wayward passion, some obliquity of temper, some inexorable habit. You are well aware that it is more than a match for your own strength. But you must also understand that you henceforth bring into the contest auxiliaries which insure your ultimate victory. It is part of His plan that “you should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” And what He proposes, He can and will accomplish. There is nothing in the case which need discourage them. Let them “plough in hope.” We have all seen the proudest men clothed with humility; the profane become patterns of godliness; the passionate put on the gentleness of the lamb; even the parsimonious turned into generous givers. They “ploughed in hope,” and were made “partakers of their hope.” And thus it will be with all who tread in their steps. We may extend the application of this principle. It deeply concerns parents and teachers to understand it, and all who have to do with the training of the young. How disheartening this work is may be seen in the ill success which so often attends it. What is done frequently is to leave them to themselves. The fruit answers to the culture. Their early infirmities have ripened into vices; and the habits which were barely endurable in their youth are intolerable in their manhood. The Scriptures teach “a more excellent way”: “That he that plougheth, should plough in hope.” It will be conceded that the field here indicated is not very attractive. One would not choose for his ploughing a common that was overrun with brambles, or a hill imbedded with stones and matted roots. But if that happens to be your only inheritance, you have no alternative. And many a farmer has transformed just such a plantation into a scene of surpassing fertility. These uninteresting children, so dull and torpid; these malicious children; these deceitful children; these coarse, unkempt children; it matters not what they are, they belong to your patrimony: at least they are, for the time, committed to your guardianship. It is idle to look abroad and say, with a sigh, “Oh, that this or that child had been confided to me instead!” God has given you this field to plough; and however ungenial the task, He has bid you “plough in hope.” For consider that He who made nothing in vain could not have designed that these children should remain in perpetual bondage to their wayward tempers and repulsive habits. And is there anything in the sort of problems here presented which should prevent your “ploughing in hope”? The question may be answered by another: “Is there anything too hard for the Almighty?” For no one expects these children to be roused into action, to be toned down into submission, to be cured of their vicious propensities, to be moulded into shapes of symmetry and beauty, except by the help of a superhuman arm. But God can do it. And He can do it through your agency. And if it be thus with teachers and parents, so also with ministers of the gospel. No one can understand, except from experience, the greatness of their work, or the trials and discouragements which are incident to it. But what can they do? What ought they to do? They hear a Divine commission. They preach a Divine gospel. The truth they proclaim is precisely suited to its end. It is the only cure for the world’s maladies, the only means for bringing men back to God. They must publish it. And they may well publish it in hope. Appearances may be adverse. But there is no alternative. And precisely such conditions as these have often been followed by a generous harvest. It has proved thus even amidst the appalling wastes of paganism. Let them “plough in hope.” The cause they have at heart is God’s cause. His eye is upon them. His ear hearkens to their intercessions. Especially will this be the case with those who make it a part of the real business of life to seek the conversion of their fellow-sinners. There are such Christians. They are always on the alert for opportunities of this kind. And they who do this, who make the conversion of sinners one of the cherished ends of life, not only have full warrant to “plough in hope,” but uniformly avail themselves of it. Hopefulness is of their very nature. There is another field for the application of this maxim, covering too many broad acres to be traversed now; but we may just glance at it. I refer to the multitudes of sufferers--those who are struggling with inward conflicts, with poverty, with misfortune. There is a lesson in our text even for these sufferers. It is not in mockery of their troubles, but with a full appreciation of them, we say, in the face of these trials, you must “plough in hope.” Despair will ruin you. Despondency will paralyze you. Hope will bring peace and strength. These troubles have not come by chance. They are from the hand of an infinitely wise and merciful God. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). Satan will if possible prevent this, Still another wide sphere invites our notice in connection with the text, merely glanced at in the opening of this sermon--viz., the importance of this principle to the young in prosecuting even their secular plans. It is, under God, one of the great secrets of success, this “ploughing in hope.” No one quality has been more uniformly characteristic of the world’s heroes, both its benefactors and its scourges, than hopefulness. The main thing is to assure yourselves that you are in the right path; that your ends and aims have been sought in the fear of God, and your powers dedicated to Him. With this condition precedent, you may and should be hopeful. You will encounter difficulties. But never despond. Look to God for succour, and “plough in hope.” I feel that I have done injustice to this text by restricting it so much to the present life, to immediate, or at least palpable, success, whether in temporal or spiritual things. But you will all contemplate it in its higher and nobler aspect. It is the blood-bought privilege of the Christian always and everywhere to “plough in hope,” because he may be certain of his harvest hereafter, even if it fail here. Nothing he does for Christ can miss its fruitage there. There is one hope, and only one, that never misleads and never disappoints. Its foundation is laid in the blood and righteousness of Christ. Its object is the friendship of God and the glories of the heavenly state. (H. A. Boardman, D. D.)
Ploughing in hope
Ploughing the land may properly be considered as one of the most laborious of those services to which husbandmen are called: much strength, skill, and perseverance are required. The same field must be frequently retraced by weary steps, till the whole is regularly and deeply furrowed. But arduous, difficult, and wearisome as this employment is, we find persons cheerfully and habitually engaged in it, although it yields no immediate return of profit, and is only preparatory to their other toils. Hope animates their exertions, not the expectation of a direct benefit, but the hope of suitable weather for sowing; the blessing of heaven on the springing of the seed; and, remotely, the returns of harvest. It will be our purpose to illustrate this one position--that those more difficult duties of religion which do not promise immediate advantage, yet should be promptly and perseveringly engaged in. “He that plougheth should plough in hope.”
1. We shall see the propriety of applying the sentiment of our text, primarily, to repentance towards God. This is indeed the gift of God, but clearly the duty of man. Painful, tedious, and distressing as this toil is, it is preparatory to that state of rich cultivation which is the honour of the Christian character. Then those of you who are convinced of sin, and are sorrowing in the bitterness of your spirits, persevere.
2. May not the sentiment of these words be considered as applicable to that reformation and regulation of heart and life which invariably accompany, yea, may be considered as essential parts of true repentance--as the necessary products of genuine contrition? Self-inquiry, like the searching and separating ploughshare, will be driven over every part of the heart: irksome as the service may appear, no nook or corner of that barren field shall be left unbroken.
3. There are numerous acts of self-denial required by Him who for our sakes bare His Cross and hung thereon. These, like the toils of tillage to which our text alludes, require much skill and perseverance in their discharge; and but for a better hope would be in every case neglected.
4. Various are the duties of benevolence He performed towards His fellow immortals.
Not only are we called to cultivate our own hearts, but to labour for the good of others, that they may not be barren and unfruitful in knowledge of our Lord and Saviour: but frequently this toil is so irksome, and the advantage, if any, so remote, that but for the principle presented in our text, we should refuse to commence our work, or cease in the midst of our labours.
1. Are there any here who must be charged and convicted of having put their hand to the plough and looked back?
2. Let me offer consolation to such as have long toiled, and have hitherto wrought unrewarded in the field of exertion.
3. I congratulate such as patiently persevere, even where success appears withheld. (W. Clayton.)
He that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.--
The toils of the field are succeeded by those of the flail: and perhaps the peasant has no employment more laborious than threshing; indeed, none to equal it in severity of exertion, but ploughing; for which reason St. Paul, in the verse before us, selects these two branches of agriculture to illustrate the work of a minister.
I. On entering a barn and seeing the thresher beat the corn with his flail, a casual observer would almost conclude the grain would be materially injured, Censures, in ignorance of the process, might be heard; and ministerial efforts are open to this misconstruction (Isaiah 41:15-16; 2 Corinthians 7:8-16).
II. He who thresheth intends, and hopes, to succeed in separating the grain from the husk; and he does succeed. So shall the Word of God be, by it character is detected and displayed. After our Lord had urged the necessity of self-denial, from that time many walked no more with Him, they were offended at His doctrine: while His genuine followers became by the same means more confirmed in their attachment, and renewed their allegiance to their chosen sovereign. Labours for the spiritual good of others must be discriminating to be successful: each must receive his portion of meat, or medicine, as the case may require, in due season.
III. Does not the toil of the thresher receive a remarkable and instructive commendation in the removal of the chaff when the corn is winnowed? He hopes that he shall so thresh as that the subsequent process of the fan shall thoroughly purge the floor. Terrible will be the sanction that God, the Judge of all, will give to every rejected message: the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous: they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
IV. The termination of ministerial toil is suggested by this metaphor: when the husks and chaff are separated from the grain, the husbandman threshes it no longer. Further, this specific toil of all who labour for the immortal welfare of others shall cease for ever when the number of the elect is accomplished: the dusty and tedious process of threshing is not needed in our garners; and it is in hope of this remoter happiness that he that plougheth and he that thresheth engage in their respective labours; they shall rejoice together. To conclude, let it ever be remembered that though the Word of God is the ordinary threshing instrument, yet it is not the only one; for there is a variety of implements used for this purpose (Isaiah 28:27). So where the Word fails of producing the desired effect, He will try the flail of adversity; by this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away sin. (G. Clayton.)
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?--
I. Are sowers.
1. They toil and cast in the seed.
2. In obedience to their Master’s command.
3. The result depends on the soil and the Divine blessing.
II. Bear precious seed. Spiritual things as--
III. Have a right to participate in the fruit. The reasonableness of some return is shown by--
2. Justice. (H. H. Beamish, M. A.)
The obligation of the Churches to support the ministry
I. The Divine appointment, that Churches should support their ministers.
1. Under the Mosaic dispensation.
2. As enjoined by Christ under the gospel.
3. As the dictate of natural religion.
II. The various modes adopted to attain this instituted end.
3. Voluntary support.
III. The extent to which this duty should be carried.
1. To satisfy the claims of justice.
2. To accord with the language of Scripture.
3. To promote the highest interests of the Church.
4. To promote in the best way the conversion of the world.
IV. The agents by which this work must be accomplished.
1. The deacons.
2. The people. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
The Christian ministry
Had the preaching of the gospel been committed to the ministry of angels, their superior natures would have rendered them incapable of receiving those services of gratitude which are evidences and effects of faith and obedience. But when men, subject to wants and griefs, come to us in the name of the Lord, we feel ourselves called upon to consult their temporal comfort.
I. From the nature and design of the ministerial office, forcible arguments result for the gratitude and liberality of those for whose benefit it is employed. “We sow unto you spiritual things.” We are the ministers of a spiritual dispensation which has for its object the present happiness and everlasting salvation of mankind; we endeavour to implant in your mind those sacred principles which, when nourished by Divine influence, ripen into all the fruits of righteousness and peace; we willingly spend our strength for your improvement. Just is the plea, good men will reply. From your ministrations we have enjoyed advantages which we can never repay; through your instrumentality we have, by Divine grace, been rescued from the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity; have learned the vanity of created joys, and been taught to set our affections on the nobler things which are above. We know, indeed, that to the God of all grace belongs the supreme unrivalled praise of those supports and joys we have experienced. But ye are the servants of the Most High, who have shown unto us the way of salvation, and as such we honour you; ye have administered to us benefits far more valuable than all the honours and treasures and joys of time. And what can we render you in return? What can we do for you, or for your sons or daughters?
II. The stated labours of a regular ministry are of much importance to the community. The preservation of a state depends far more upon the prevention of crimes than upon the punishment of them. Civil legislation needs to be aided by an authority which reaches the heart, by a dominion over man which extends to his sentiments and pursuits, and by considerations calculated to subdue his worst dispositions, to restrain him from every evil work, and to regulate by internal and governing principles the whole tenor of his conduct. This is the empire which religion establishes. If this representation of the importance of religion to human society is just, it becomes a prudent measure in all well-regulated governments to secure a succession of persons who are qualified by education, by talents, by principle, and by conduct, for explaining the rules of piety and morality; and for recommending that glorious scheme of salvation which Christianity reveals to us--that blessed doctrine of salvation which came down from heaven, which alone can conquer the depravity of human nature, which alone can secure the reign of tranquillity on earth.
III. The labours of a regular ministry are of much importance to individuals, A faithful pastor, dwelling amongst his people, observing their tempers and their habits, and enjoying their confidence and affection, feels himself sincerely interested in the welfare and happiness of every individual committed to his charge. He regards them as his family, and the evidences of his pastoral care will bear a proportion to the variety of their situations. Animated by his careful inspection, and awed by his reproofs, the young are trained up to habits of application, temperance, and subordination; and thus are fitted for appearing with advantage in the station which Providence allots them. In estimating the advantages of religious institutions to individuals, keep it in remembrance that ministers of religion are messengers of consolation to the afflicted. The trials of life are far too numerous to be mentioned in detail; suffice it to remark that the consolations of the gospel extend to all the variety of human woes. Another evidence of the importance of pastoral ministrations to individuals is taken from their tendency to prepare them for everlasting happiness.
IV. The hardships and difficulties which ministers have to encounter vindicate the reasonableness of the expectation expressed in my text. Long before they enter on their sacred employment, they look forward to it with the mingled emotions of hope and fear. They enter on the arduous work with the solicitude of men who know that earth and hell unite to impede their progress and to ensnare their steps. They perceive the importance of preparing new and diversified instruction for their people. (A. Bonar.)
The duty of ministerial support
I. The work of the minister is costly to himself.
1. All the energies of the minister must be devoted to his work, or it cannot be well done.
2. The minister’s work is relatively expensive. He occupies a position which exposes him to expenses that cannot be met with small means.
3. Then there are the public meetings of the churches and councils, all necessary for the good of Zion, yet they cost something to the minister. He must also read much; he must therefore have at hand all necessary facilities for the study and illustration of truth.
4. The work of the ministry requires a large amount of skill and a sound judgment, and imposes great responsibility upon the minister.
II. The minister’s services are valuable to the people. The pulpit is in no wise indebted to its supporters. It gives them many times more in temporal good than it costs. It has ever been the first, the most important, means of civilisation and social refinement; of gathering around the family home the tokens of thrift and comfort; of the increase of wealth, and of the productive value of real estate. Life and property are more secure under the influence of an evangelical ministry than where the gospel is not preached.
III. The standing and reputation of a minister is affected by his compensation.
IV. Justice requires that ministers should be paid like other men.
V. The system so prevalent of supporting the minister as a gratuity degrades the ministry in the estimation of the people and tends to make the minister servile.
1. To avoid misapprehension, it is proper to say that this discourse refers to the duty of churches in forming their estimate of a minister’s claims; not of the minister’s duty to preach, whether paid or not. Necessity is laid upon him, he must preach the gospel; but it does not follow that he must give his services to those who able to pay him.
2. Ministers should preach to their own people on this subject.
3. Churches may not expect the rich effusion of Divine grace while they do not acknowledge their just obligations to their minister.
4. If the church that is able to pay a just compensation to their minister does not and will not do it, their minister should leave them. (M. H. Wilder.)
If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power.--
Rights asserted and foregone
I. The just rights which the apostle asserted--that like other teachers he had a claim upon his scholars for recompense and support.
1. He supports this by striking illustrations (1 Corinthians 9:7) and by Scriptural proof (1 Corinthians 9:8-9).
2. He urges the superiority of the advantages bestowed by the teacher over those which he is justified in expecting by way of acknowledgment if not of return (1 Corinthians 9:11).
3. This right he claims for all ministers, himself included.
II. The nobility of spirit with which the apostle was wont deliberately to forego these rights. Observe--
1. The fact. Paul had acted on this principle from the beginning, and remembered that it involved hard manual labour. Like every Jew he had been taught a trade; he wove the Cilician goat’s hair into the fabric used for tents and sails. It was a tax upon his energies whilst he was thinking, writing, and preaching, to spend part of the day in hard rough toil.
2. The exception. From the Macedonian Churches, for a special reason, he consented to receive a gift (Philippians 4:1-23.).
3. The motive.
(1) Not pride: whilst preaching was a necessity in his case, so that he could take no credit and make no boast for his ministry, he gave up the right of maintenance that he might have the pleasure of a voluntary sacrifice, a ground of lowly glorying.
(2) That there might be no hindrance to the progress of the gospel. It might have been thought that he preached for gain, and such a supposition would render his hearers suspicious and unreceptive. (Prof. J. R. Thompson.)
But suffer all things lest we should hinder the gospel.--
How Christians may hinder the gospel
1. In one sense the gospel cannot be hindered. As well speak of hindering the advance of the sun, or of an avalanche. God has promised, “My word shall not return unto Me void,” &c., and Christian history is but the fulfilment of this prediction.
2. But whilst this is true it is not less true that the work of sinner’s salvation may be impeded. I will not refer to so-called hindrances by the enemies of truth, for these have often been the most effective aids to its advancement; nor to the major hindrances such as Romanism, superstition, hypocrisy, rationalism, &c., for these are so prominent that we cannot overlook them. But I call attention to some serious obstacles which are too much overlooked.
I. Churches may hinder the gospel.
1. By the want of a clear and definite line between the Church and the world. During the first three centuries this was distinct enough, and then the Church prospered. And if this distinction is less manifest to-day it is not because the world has become less carnal. A false respectability is threatening the spiritual life of the Church. A cause is often accounted prosperous according as its finances are large and the hearers influential. This cold respectability does not believe much in conversions or aggressive effort.
2. By the want of self-denial. Instead of “suffering all things” for the advancement of the gospel, is there one single thing that we really suffer? The manifold artifices we have to adopt, the violent efforts we have to make to raise the means of spreading the gospel are an evidence of the unreality of much religious profession and a powerful hindrance to the truth. How different in those early days amid the glow of the Church’s first love, when they that had money brought it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3. By the refusal of personal and active service. We speak, indeed, with anxious concern of the heathen abroad and at home, pray for their evangelisation, and bid God-speed to the official labourers among them; but something more than this is required before these masses will be brought under the power of the gospel. As in the early days the responsibility must be felt by the entire Church; every believer must be a herald and an evangelist. The Epistle to the Hebrews rebukes those who are still babes in Christ, but ought to be teachers; and if the day is to come when it will be no longer necessary to say “Know the Lord,” because all shall know Him, it will only come by every one teaching his neighbour that knowledge. The living Church has not yet stretched herself Elijah-like upon the dead body whose quickening she prays for. Like the atmosphere she must press with equal force on all the surfaces of society; like the sea flow into every nook of humanity; and like the sun shine on all things foul and low as well as fair and high, if she is to accomplish that for which she has been commissioned and equipped.
4. By self-complacency and spiritual pride.
5. By a spirit of captiousness, ever ready to pick faults with existing arrangements, but doing nothing to make them better.
6. By our failure to recognise the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of souls.
7. By our want of humble dependence on the Holy Spirit and our neglect of earnest persevering prayer.
II. Ministers may hinder the gospel. If Paul felt the possibility of this, why may not we?
1. By a cold perfunctoriness in the discharge of our duties. It is no easy matter to escape this. To address to the same people every week the same verities and still retain freshness and power, can only be done by sustained communion with God and living contact with the realities of which we speak. Incessant preaching apart from careful cultivation of the inner life will make us little better than sermon machines.
2. By forgetfulness of our absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit, and by reliance on human strength.
3. By the assumption of a certain distinctness of order from our people. Our office, authority, and work are all spiritual. We have no priesthood in any other sense than that all believers are priests. The more we make our people feel that we are not above them, but of them, the more influence will oar preaching exert upon them.
4. By our want of confidence in the success of the gospel. How many sermons have we preached of which we have never seen any fruit because we never really looked for it?
5. By our want of the spirit of self-sacrifice and consecration indicated in the text. (Thain Davidson, D. D.)
They which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar.--
Partakers with the altar
Archdeacon Farrar says that Mr. Gladstone once told the late Bishop Magee that he had never heard a sermon preached on the text, “They who wait at the altar are partakers with the altar.” The bishop thereupon promised to preach on the text, and on the occasion Mr. Gladstone was present. Most preachers would have seen nothing in the text but a sermon on the right of ministers to maintenance. But Dr. Magee drew from it a sermon on the congruity between the nature of a man’s life and the results he reaps from it. “I shall never forget,” says Dr. Farrar, “one passage, in which he described the bitter disappointment and disillusionment of the man who had lived for sense, for pleasure, and for self. He described such a man--his own worthless idol--in his hoary and dishonoured age seeking in vain for comfort and sustenance from the source of his idolatry; the hungry worshipper holding out his withered hand to his dead idol, and holding it out in vain.”
Do ye not know that they … which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.--
The pastor’s duty and claims
I. The business of the pastor is implied: he is to “preach the gospel.” Note--
1. The subject of his ministry--“the gospel,” i.e., all the gospel fairly implies, its promises, commands, &c. The term taken thus comprehensively, clearly instructs us in--
(1) The fallen condition of mankind.
(2) God’s great pity on our fallen race (John 3:16).
(3) The obligation of those who believe to act worthy of their relation to the Saviour.
2. His duty with regard to it. He is to preach “the gospel.” Every pastor is bound to do this out of regard to--
(1) The honour of Christ.
(2) The edification of the Church.
(3) The conversion of sinners.
II. The duty of the flock pointed out, viz., to support their pastor. There are two ways of doing this, either by compulsory laws or by voluntary contribution. The former has, indeed, some advantages. It renders the minister independent, and if his flock is destitute of principle it is well for him that the law compels them to the performance of duty. But the law of Christ binds the people voluntarily to the support of their minister, i.e., it binds them to the duty, but leaves the amount to them according to the rule in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and Matthew 10:8. Now this is to be done--
1. From a principle of justice. It is not benevolence, but equity, and he is not just who withholds from the minister the due remuneration of his labours (verse 7). The person who refuses to meet the just claims of the physician is reckoned dishonest, and is he less so who withholds from the pastor his equitable support?
2. From a regard to our own advantage. We all know that our prosperity depends on the Divine blessing; and should we not be chiefly concerned respecting soul prosperity? God’s blessing may be hoped for in the use of the means when those means are suitably valued and employed. But are they so when the support we could give is sinfully withheld? (2 Corinthians 4:6-10).
3. From a regard to our final account. (J. Dorrington.)
Ministers, pay of
Ministers are not as well paid as cricket-players, and for a good reason--religion is not the national game. The utmost a minister can say is what the farmer said of his cow when grazing on the bare top of a lofty hill, “If she has a poor pasture, she has a fine prospect.” (J. A. Macfadyen, D. D.)
Paying the ministry
In 1662 the town of Eastham agreed that a part of every whale cast on shore be appropriated for the support of the ministry. The ministers must have sat on the cliffs in every storm, and watched the shore with anxiety. And, for my part, if I were a minister, I would rather trust to the bowels of the billows to cast up a whale for me than to the generosity of many a country parish that I know. (Thoreau.)
Payment of ministers
It must be remembered as among the anomalies of Welsh religious life, that it combines an insatiable appetite for sermons with a marvellous disregard for the temporal comfort of the preacher. On one occasion a woman said to Mr. Evans, as he came out of the pulpit, “Well, Christmas Evans, we are back with your stipend; but I hope you will be paid at the resurrection. You have given us a wonderful sermon.” “Yes, yes,” was his quick reply; “no doubt of that; but what am I to do till I get there? And there is the old white mare that carries me--what will she do? For her there will be no resurrection. But what will you do? What reward will you get for your unfaithfulness at the resurrection? It’s hard, but I shall get on at the resurrection; but you, who got on so well in the world, may change places with me at the resurrection.” (Paxton Hood.)
Support of the ministry
A clergyman in Wales was appointed by an ordaining council to address the people who had impoverished their former pastor and were now to receive a new one. He recommended in his address that Jacob’s ladder be let down from the skies to that Welsh parish, in order that the new minister might “go into heaven on the sabbath evening after preaching, and remain there all the week: then he would come down so spiritually minded and so full of heaven, that he would preach almost like an angel.” Now, the people insisted on having their pastor with them on other days than the sabbath. “That may be,” replied the speaker; “but then, if he remain among you, he must have something to eat.” The dignity of the angels was not inconsistent with their ascending and descending on a wooden ladder; and one ladder on which our ministering angels may go up to their heavenly studies is such a material sustenance as will make it unnecessary for them to grovel in the earth. (Prof. Park.)
1 Corinthians 9:15-16
But I have used none of these things.
I. Does not establish a general rule. Because--
1. He maintains his right.
2. Voluntarily concedes it.
3. Under particular circumstances.
II. Commends disinterested effort. The desire of personal advantage--
1. Should never be the motive of Christian effort.
2. Is unworthy of the Christian character.
3. Robs us of our true glory. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The man who has adopted the Church as a profession, as other men adopt the law, the army, or the navy, and goes through the routine of its duties with the coldness of a mere official--filled by him, the pulpit seems filled by the ghastly form of a skeleton that, in its cold and bony fingers, holds a burning lamp. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me.--
Preaching the gospel
is to preach Christ in His fulness, in His attributes, in His relations to men; is to preach His life as the pattern of Christian morals; His atonement as the substance of Christian doctrine; His resurrection as the source of Christian assurance; and His coming again as the fountain of hope and joy. (Bp. Thorold.)
Preach the gospel
I. What is it to preach the gospel?
1. To state every doctrine contained in God’s Word, and to give every truth its proper prominence. Men may preach a part of the gospel. I would not say that a man did not preach the gospel if he did but maintain the doctrine of justification by faith, but he would not preach the whole gospel. No man can be said to do that who leaves out one single truth. Some men purposely confine themselves to four or five topics and make an iron ring of their doctrines, and he who dares to step beyond that narrow circle is not reckoned orthodox. God bless heretics, then, and send us more of them!
2. To exalt Jesus Christ. A great many preachers tell poor convinced sinners, “You must go home and pray and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry,” and so on. I would not direct to prayer, &c., but simply to faith. Not that I despise prayer, &c.
that must come after faith. None of those things are the way of salvation.
3. To give every class of character his due. He who preaches solely to saints, or solely to the sinner, does not preach the whole of the gospel. We have amalgamation here. We have the saint who is full of assurance and strong; we have the saint who is weak and low in faith; we have the young convert; we have the man halting between two opinions; we have the moral man; we have the sinner; we have the reprobate; we have the outcast. Let each have a word.
4. Not to preach certain truths about the gospel, not to preach about the people, but to preach to the people. To preach the gospel is to preach it into the heart, not by your own might, but by the influence of the Holy Ghost.
II. How is it that ministers are not allowed to glory? Because--
1. They are conscious of their own imperfections.
2. All their gifts are borrowed. The life, the voice, the talent are the gift of God; and he who has the greatest gifts must feel that unto God belongs the glory.
3. They are absolutely dependent on the Holy Ghost.
III. What is that necessity which is laid upon us to preach the gospel?
1. The call itself. If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it. He must preach.
2. The sad destitution of this poor fallen world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Every Christian a preacher
I. The obligation of speech. No doubt the apostle had, in a special sense, a “necessity laid upon” him. But though he differs from us in his direct supernatural commission, in the width of his sphere and in the splendour of his gifts, he does not differ from us in the reality of the obligation. The commission does not depend upon apostolic dignity. Christ said, “Go ye into all the world,” &c., to all generations of His Church.
1. That commandment is permanent, it is exactly contemporaneous with the duration of the promise which is appended to it. Nay, the promise is made conditional upon the discharge of the duty.
2. Just because this commission is given to the whole Church it is binding on every individual member of the Church. The whole Church is nothing more than the sum total of all its members, and nothing is incumbent upon it which is not incumbent upon each of them. You cannot buy yourselves out of the ranks, as they used to be able to do out of the militia, by paying for a substitute. We all, if we know anything of Christ and His love and His power, are bound to tell it to those whom we can reach. You cannot all stand up and preach in the sense in which I do it. But the word does not imply a pulpit, a set discourse, a gathered multitude; it simply implies a herald’s task of proclaiming. Everybody who has found Christ can say, “I have found the Messias,” and everybody who knows Him can say, “Come and hear, and I will tell what the Lord hath done for my soul.” No man can force you. But if Christ says to me, “Go!” and I say, “I had rather not,” Christ and I have to settle accounts between us.
3. This command makes very short work of a number of excuses.
(1) There is a great deal in the tone of this generation which tends to chill the missionary spirit. We know more about the heathen, and familiarity diminishes horror. We have taken up, many of us, milder ideas about the condition of those who die without knowing the name of Christ. We have taken to the study of comparative religion, forgetting sometimes that the thing that we are studying as a science is spreading a dark cloud of ignorance and apathy over millions of men. And all these reasons somewhat sap the strength and cool the fervour of a good many Christian people nowadays. Jesus Christ’s commandment remains just as it was.
(2) Then some of us say, “I prefer working at home!” Well, if you are doing all that you can there, the great principle of division of labour comes in to warrant your not entering upon other fields; but unless you are, there is no reason why you should do nothing in the other direction. Jesus Christ still says, “Go ye into all the world.”
(3) Then some of you say, “Well, I do not much believe in your missionary societies. There is a great deal of waste of money about them. I have heard stories about missionaries taking too much pay, and doing too little work.” Be that as it may, does that indictment draw a wet sponge across the commandment of Jesus Christ?
4. I sometimes venture to think that the day will come when the condition of being received into and retained in the Church will be obedience to that commandment. Why, even bees have the sense at a given time of the year to turn the drones out of the hives. Whether it is a condition of Church membership or not, sure I am that it is a condition of fellowship with Christ, and a condition, therefore, of health in the Christian life.
II. The penalty of silence. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
1. If you are a dumb and idle professor of Christ’s truth, depend upon it that your dumb idleness will rob you of much communion with Christ. There are many Christians who would be ever so much happier and more assured if they would go and talk about Christ to other people. Like the mist, which will be blown away with the least puff of fresh air, there lie doleful dampnesses, in their sooty folds, over many a Christian heart, shutting out the sun, and a little whiff of wholesome activity in Christ’s cause would clear them all away, and the sun would shine again.
2. The woe of the loss of sympathies, and the gain of all the discomforts and miseries of a self absorbed life.
3. The woe of the loss of one of the best ways of confirming one’s own faith in the truth--viz., that of seeking to impart it to others. If you want to learn a thing, teach it.
4. The woe of having none that can look to you and say, “I owe myself to thee.”
5. Aye! but that is not all. There is a future to be taken into account. Though we know, and therefore dare say, little about that future, take this to heart, that he who there can stand before God, and say, “Behold! I and the children whom God hath given me” will wear a crown brighter than the starless ones of those who saved themselves and have brought none with them.
III. The glad obedience which transcends the limits of obligation. “If I do this thing willingly I have a reward.” Paul desired to bring a little more than was required, in token of his love to his Master and of his thankful acceptance of the obligation. The artist who loves his work will put more work into his picture than is absolutely needed, and will linger over it, lavishing diligence and care upon it, because he is in love with his task. The servant that seeks to do as little as he can scrape through with without rebuke is actuated by no high motives. The trader that barely puts as much into the scale as will balance the weight in the other is grudging in his dealings; but he who, with liberal hand, gives “shaken down, pressed together, and running over” measure, gives because he delights in the giving. And so it is in the Christian life. There are many of us whose question seems to be, “How little can I get off with?” And what does that mean? It means that we are slaves. It means that if we durst we would give nothing and do nothing. And what does that mean? It means that we do not care for the Lord, and have no joy in oar work. And what does that mean? It means that our work deserves no praise, and will get no reward. If we love Christ we shall be anxious, if it were possible, to do more than He commands us. Of course He has the right to all our work; but yet there are heights of Christian consecration and self-sacrifice which a man will not be blamed if he has not climbed, and will be praised if he has. What we want is extravagances of service. Judas may say, “To what purpose is this waste?” but Jesus will say, “He hath wrought a good work on Me.” And the fragrance of the ointment will smell sweet through the centuries. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The true pulpit
From this verse we infer that the true preacher--
I. Preaches the gospel as his grand mission. The essence of this good news is that God loves man, though a sinner, and that Christ is the demonstration and medium of this love. This is the heart of the gospel, and to preach this is the grand mission of the true preacher.
1. In contradistinction to natural religion. Natural religion does not reveal Divine love for sinners. The volume was written before sin existed.
2. In contradistinction to human theologies. Neither Calvinism, Arminianism, nor any other “ism,” constitute the gospel.
3. In contradistinction to legal maledictions. A terrible condemnation, it is true, hangs over the sinner, but the terrors of the judgment, &c., are not gospel.
II. Disclaims all praise in the discharge of his mission. “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of.”
1. There is everything in the nature of the subjects to prevent self-glory. It is--
(1) Undiscoverable by human reason.
(2) Declaratory of human degradation.
(3) Demonstrative of infinite condescension.
2. There is everything in the nature of the work to prevent self-glory. Every true preacher must feel a consciousness--
(1) Of unworthiness for such a high honour. “Unto me, who am least of all saints,” &c.
(2) Of incompetency for such a work. “Who is sufficient for these things?” &c.
(3) Of utter inability to realise success. Whatever he does, however well he preaches, he cannot guarantee efficiency. “Paul plants, and Apollos waters,” &c.
3. There is everything in the nature of his inspiration to prevent self-glory. What was the feeling that prompted him to undertake it? “The love of Christ that constrained” him. It was scarcely optional with him. He was drawn to it by this new and heavenly afflatus. Man cannot praise himself for loving. Does a mother take credit for loving her child? &c.
III. Is impelled by an inward necessity in the prosecution of his mission. “Necessity is laid upon me,” &c. This necessity was a force working from within, not a pressure from without. It was the force--
1. Of ingratitude. Christ had appeared to him, rescued his soul from hell, and given him a commission. Gratitude bound him to the service of such a deliverer.
2. Of justice. The gospel had been given to him in trust. He was a steward. It was given to him not to monopolise, but to communicate. “He was a debtor,” &c.
3. Of compassion. He knew that souls were dying, and he had the panacea in the gospel. Such were the necessities that bound him to his work. He felt he could not but do it; felt a horrid woe over him if he dared neglect it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The ministry and its responsibilities
We have here--
I. A declaration of an existing office--to preach the gospel.
1. The gospel is a simple statement of glad tidings to a perishing world. To speak merely of the nature of moral duties, to discuss the various attributes of God, to describe Christian virtues, to speak of a future state and its retributions, is very well in its place, but it is not the gospel. If there be not warm statements of the atonement then there is a blank in the “counsel of God”!
2. With regard to the manner in which we are to discharge our duty. These principles are to be made known to all within our reach. The minister of Christ is to allow no limitations or restrictions to his message. He must “warn every man, and teach every man,” &c.
3. This gospel must be “a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death,” to those who hear it.
II. The renouncement of all right to self-exaltation on account of that office, “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me.” There is in man a powerful tendency to self-exaltation. The same principle would fain accompany us in our Work of preaching the gospel; but ministers have nothing to boast of.
1. Because we are under the bond of absolute necessity. For the apostle says, “Necessity is laid upon me.” There is--
(1) The positive command of God: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
(2) The constraining influence of love to the Redeemer.
(3) A sense of the necessities of men around us.
2. Because, whatever talents we possess, they are given us entirely by God.
3. Because all our success is entirely from the agency of Heaven. The preacher remembers to have been told, “My son, beware of the bribe of talent”; this was understood--“Beware of the bribe of applause,” and this was understood. But then there was another caution, which was a secret--“Beware of the bribe of usefulness”; this could not be understood. We are apt to say, “My success! My usefulness!” and so Satan overcomes us. Now, the gospel goes to destroy this tendency. It says, “Not by might,” &c.
III. A sense of certain consequences resulting from infidelity in this cause. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
1. Why should he have this woe?
(1) Because it is an intrusion upon an office which God would have occupied only by His own servants.
(2) Because it is an act of absolute wickedness to undertake so important an office and not perform it.
(3) Because it is an attempt to sustain the weight of immortal souls without being able to bear it.
2. What is this woe?
(1) We should encounter the censure of all good men.
(2) Our death-beds can else be nothing but desertion and misery.
(3) The contemplation of condemnation on the judgment-day. (J. Parsons.)
The burden of the ministry
I. What is it to preach the gospel? The gospel is the revelation of God’s mercy to mankind, disclosing the Divinely-appointed method whereby a lost and degenerate race may be restored to the favour of their Creator. Consequently it cannot be rightly understood, or fully preached, until there be a distinct exhibition of man--
1. As fallen in Adam.
2. As renewed in Christ.
II. Why woe is unto the minister, if he preach not the gospel.
1. Professing that he thinks himself moved by the Holy Ghost to undertake the solemn office of clergyman; and having bound his soul by the most awful vows; if he deliver a false message, and inculcate a strange worship, then he violates, with flagrant audacity, the most sacred of all obligations, and is a thousand times a fouler traitor than if sent on an embassage by his earthly monarch, he had sold that monarch or bartered his honour.
2. Woe is unto him who preaches not the gospel, because he deludes into error the souls of his hearers; and at his hands shall their blood be required. (H. Melvill, D. D.)
The watchword of the true minister
I. The function of the true minister is to preach the gospel. Paul was not a politician, to turn the church into a party club, and the pulpit into a hustings--not a mere orator, to give his hearers an hour’s entertainment; not a devotee of science; not a philologist, to spread out before immortal souls scholastic criticisms; not a mere moralist, to discourse of flowers that never grew around the Cross. No! his was a nobler and more difficult work, viz., to preach the gospel! To do this is--
1. To proclaim all the precious doctrines, promises, precepts, and duties recorded in the Scriptures. Some confine themselves to a few favourite topics. They are afraid to preach the whole gospel, lest its truths contradict each other. Away with such idle fears! One truth can no more clash with another truth than one sunbeam can quench another sunbeam.
2. To preach Christ crucified. Some excuse their non-preaching of Christ on the ground that He is not in the text. I should not like to live in a village from which there was not a road to London; and I should not take a text from which there was not a way to Christ.
3. To preach to all. A deacon once said to a minister, “If you go into that pulpit, you are only to preach to God’s dear people.” The minister replied, “Have you marked them all on the back, so that I may know them?” The gospel is a boon to a lost world, and I dare not monopolise it.
II. The true minister is impelled to his holy vocation. Paul did not preach the gospel on the ground of expediency, or to gain human applause, but because of an irresistible inspiration, a celestial impulse. No minister is now called in the miraculous way Paul was, but every true minister feels the same necessity. John Newton was summoned from the deck of the slave ship to the pulpit. Thomas Scott threw aside his shepherd’s frock to put on the mantle of the prophet. The true minister cannot help preaching. “If I were out of prison to-day,” said Bunyan, “I would preach the gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God.” You might as well try to uproot the mountains, roll back the rivers, tame the wild ocean, or arrest the stars, as attempt to silence the man whose mouth God has opened. It is said that ministers are all hypocrites; and when a specious professor stands unmasked the cry is raised, “They are all the same.” Are they? Nay, there are thousands who would march bravely to the stake to-morrow, if it were necessary.
III. The true minister is miserable if unengaged in his sacred calling. To an unselfish mind personal security is not always perfect felicity. The apostle stood on the serene elevation of personal assurance. “I am persuaded that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ; but oh! this great heaviness for Israel--my kinsmen!” The man who would go to heaven alone shall never get there. Paul longed and laboured to save others. He thought on the multitudes that were dying in their sins. Christ bled for sinners--shall I not labour for them? He lived and died for me--shall I do nothing for Him? Perish the thought! (W. Anderson.)
Necessity is laid upon me
We need not ministers that may or will, but that must preach, and members not that may or will, but that must live, the gospel. Consider--
I. The work: what they do. They preach the gospel. The terms point to the public ministry of the word; but it is as certainly applicable to every Christian. Responsibility is diversified not in kind, but only in degree. By two short links every believer is bound to minister for the Lord. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” We have heard the word of life, and therefore we should speak it. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Without opening his lips to teach, every one who bears Christ’s name may help the gospel--
1. By his spirit and his life. As we thread life’s promiscuous throng we are touching right and left immortal beings, giving them a bias by the contact to the right or the left.
2. By word and work. The methods and opportunities are manifold. “She hath done what she could” is the standard of measurement.
(1) The more obvious methods are--a Sabbath-school, a mission or tract district.
(2) Private doors are also open. You might make yourself useful in a time of distress; and your word would then go deeper than in the public assembly. As to work for the Lord, the rule is the same as in getting from the Lord: “Seek, and ye shall find.”
(3) But a sphere lies open to those who shrink from even the most private walks. If you cannot make up to other people, you may have your hands filled with remunerative labour at home. If you are bashful in presence of others, you may surely be bold in dealing with yourself. Here is an opportunity of doing mission-work. The kingdom of God is within you: go work in that vineyard. If that field become ripe, seed from it will be carried away on the wings of the wind to make the desert fruitful.
II. The motive: what compels them to do it. “Necessity is laid upon me,” &c. The apostle confesses frankly he was kept at his work as a slave is by the sound of the whip. Is any one startled at this representation? See if it be not God’s way of keeping His servants to their work, and if His way be not very good? The pain of a wound is our Maker’s messenger to send us forth quickly in search of a cure; the pain of thirst, His messenger to send us forth quickly in search of water. So it is consonant with God’s ways to keep His creature busy with useful work by pressing him with pain if he indolently or ignorantly cease. By the secret line fixed in the conscience, which God in heaven holds in His own hand, many a man is compelled to run errands of benevolence who otherwise would sit at home in indolent ease. I knew a boy once who was asked for an alms by a passing beggar. The boy refused; the beggar passed, piercing the youth by a look from a pale face and a drooping eye. The youth continued his work mechanically, scarcely knowing what he did. Woe, woe was upon his soul, because he had not given the beggar a penny. This woe increased and accumulated until it became unbearable. The boy threw his instrument on the ground, and ran after the wearied beggar, and silently placed the penny in the beggar’s hand, and ran home again to his work. The woe lashed him to duty, and then left him light of heart as the birds that sang beside him on the tree. Look to some of the particular forces which press a human soul to diligence in the work of the Lord.
1. The constraining love of Christ. Paul could not help going forward through every difficulty and danger, any more than a ship can help going forward through the billows when its sails are full and its helm held aright. His affections rose from earth to heaven, because a pressure was upon his heart, as great as the pressure that compels the waters of the sea to rise and constitute the clouds.
2. The new appetite of the new creature. The Lord Himself was borne forward in this manner, and owned it. “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”
3. The need of a sinning, suffering world. A brother ready to perish lies heavier than lead upon a loyal, loving heart, and produces that haste to the rescue at which the giddy world, ignorant of the moving power, gazes as an inexplicable phenomenon. Ah, if the secret machinery of the Christian life within us were well oiled and free of rust, we should move quickly in these days; for the appropriate kind of power is playing on us in a mighty volume all the day long. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
A passion for preaching
Dr. Parker, in an address to local preachers, City Temple, June 1,1885, said: “A lady asked me the other day, ‘What is your hobby?’ Said I, ‘Preaching.’ ‘But apart from that?’ said she. ‘There is nothing apart from that,’ I replied. All poetry, all beauty, all nature, all love, all history, the whole future are included in preaching. The preacher should never be away from his work, and never can be if his spirit is what it ought to be. Unless you make this preaching the very crown of your lives you will be very poor preachers.”
Constrained to preach
In lecturing one day to the students of his college--by no means the least important monument of his sanctified genius, enterprise, and industry--Mr. Spurgeon said: “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way.” No doubt it has always been more or less true, though never more so than in these days of earnest faith and equally pertinacious scepticism, that the preacher, or Christian worker of any kind, whose heart does not feel the fire of spiritual earnestness, who has no enthusiastic love for his work, will soon succumb, and either leave the unavailing drudgery or move on in sullen discontent, burdened with a monotony as tiresome as that of a blind horse on a farmyard saw-mill. Beneath and behind all high and fruitful exertion of the human soul there must be moral earnestness. Horace, in his “Ars Poetics,” tells the poet that if he wants the people to weep over his poetry, he must weep with them. And the coldest, hardest, most self-contained pleader at the bar knows he must have his heart in his ease if he is to convince the jury. One of the greatest of actors laid bare the whole secret of his power in a tragic part he was accustomed to play with incomparable success by saying that through force of imagination he did actually tremble under the terror which he excited in the audience. To young versifiers who had scored some success in poetry and asked his opinion as to the advisability of devoting their time and energies to poetry, Ruskin was accustomed to say, “Don’t if you can help it.”
Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.--
The responsibility of gospel preaching
1. There are some with whom an exclamation of this kind is almost conventional, with whom it implies nothing more than annoyance. But this is not the case with the deeply serious apostle. The exclamation which occurs nowhere else in his writings has a history. Under its cover the prophets called down penal suffering upon opponents of God’s will. And our Lord invoked it upon the scribes and Pharisees, &c. The word does not change its character when it is invoked by a psalmist, prophet, or apostle, upon himself. St. Paul, then, is employing an expression of acknowledged solemnity, which for him had not lost its freshness.
2. But is not the apostle exaggerating somewhat? It was a grand thing to preach the gospel as he did. But supposing that he had settled down quietly as a private Christian, why should he think that any great harm would happen to him? There are multitudes with natural capacity for this or that kind of work, who, somehow or other, never come to undertake it. It is a misfortune, no doubt, but if we were to hear a man say, “Woe is me if I do not practise medicine; if I do not plead at the bar, &c., we should say to him, “It is a pity you are not making the best of yourself; but there are other things besides that on which you have set your heart, and it is better to take a quieter view of your case.” Now why may not something of this kind be said of St. Paul? Ah! why? Because St. Paul felt that if he were not to preach the gospel he would--
I. Do a violence to his sense of justice. The gospel was not his in such a sense that he had any right to keep it to himself.
1. The word implied that man was in a bad case, and needed something to reassure and to help him; that mankind was ill at ease, and was looking out for a deliverer. We often know that we are ill without knowing precisely what is the matter with us, and this was the case with the pre-Christian world. And, therefore, God opened the eyes of men to see what their case really was. Nature and conscience did something in this way for the heathen nations; the law of Moses did a great deal more for the Jews. But man’s misery was only made more intense by becoming intelligent. And then came the real cure, “God so loved the world” that He gave His Son to save it.
2. Now this is the essence of the gospel, and clearly such a gospel was not meant for a company of men, or for a favoured nation, but for the race. Like the natural sun in the heavens the incarnate Sun of Righteousness is the property of all men. And not to preach the gospel, to treat it as if it were the luxury of a small clique, was to offend against the sense of natural justice; it was to incur the woe which, as Nature herself whispers, is sooner or later inseparable from doing this.
II. Sin against the law of gratitude. That which strikes St. Paul in the redemption, and makes his heart captive, is the extraordinary generosity of the Divine Redeemer. What was there in the race, in the single sinner, in himself, to invite such an effusion of Divine love? Even the heathen counted the obligations of gratitude as imperative; and the lower animals make practical acknowledgment of kindnesses received at the hand of man. And such a sentence as “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” measures St. Paul’s sense of his obligation to his Saviour; and if this sense is to take a practical form, it could only be by his extending among men the knowledge and the love of the redemption.
III. Be false to the imperious commands of truth. The gospel came to St. Paul as it comes to all of us, as a body of truth which could only be really held on condition of its being propagated. Not to do something towards this is already not to believe it; it is to treat the gospel as at best only partially true; and the gospel is nothing if it is not the universal religion. It is different with false religions, with human views. To hold them is one thing, to make efforts to disseminate them is quite another; to believe the gospel and to do nothing for its acceptance among men is a contradiction in terms. Unless you can separate, in fact as well as in idea, the convex and concave sides of a circular vase, you must, when you believe a religion which, being absolutely true, is also, and therefore, the universal religion, do what you may to induce others to believe it also. Conclusion: This surely is a motto for every member of the Church of Christ. Not seldom in her history has she been tempted to proclaim something other or less than the gospel.
1. There were clever and accomplished Greeks at Corinth, feeling much sympathy with many sides of Christianity, but withheld from conversion by what seemed to them to be the strange and repulsive doctrine of Christ crucified. And what was St. Paul’s reply? “We preach Christ crucified, to the Greeks,” &c. (1 Corinthians 1:23). He could say nothing else. Woe to him had he preached not the gospel! And so it was again in the fourth century. Arianism tempted the Church to say something less on the subject of our Lord’s adorable person than she had said and had believed since Pentecost. And what was her reply? It was the famous sentence which we repeat in the Nicene Creed … I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” &c. She could have said nothing else, nothing less. Woe to her had she not preached the gospel!
2. And so it was in the fifteenth century. The old literature of Greece and Rome had been just rediscovered, and Christians actually professed themselves ashamed of the jargon of St. Paul, and unable to express even their religious ideas excepting in the phrases of Cicero and of Plato. The Church was bidden by the Renaissance to refashion herself upon the model of Paganism which, a thousand years before, she had conquered by suffering. The reply of Christendom took different forms, but its spirit was substantially “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
3. And in our own day the old temptation presents itself, but in an altered form. There is much good still in Christianity--so we are told; but if it is to keep on good terms with the modern world, Christians must give up the supernatural--they must be content with a Christ who is perfect, if you will, but simply human, with a Calvary that is the scene of a self-sacrifice, but not a world-redeeming atonement, &c. And what are we to say to all this? Ah! what but that which the apostle said eighteen hundred years ago? (Canon Liddon.)
The preacher and his mission
Simple as the words appear, the exact meaning of the passage in which our text occurs is not easy to determine. One thing is clear, viz., that the idea of “glory” or “glorying” which is brought out in the 15th verse is the key with which the passage must be opened, but even then the manner of using this key remains to be discovered. What is there that we can conceive of Paul as glorying in to such an extent that he says with impassioned vehemence: “It is good for me rather to die than that any man should make my glorying void”? Surely he would not use such language about some little question of independence that lay on the fringe of his life; most certainly he would not use it in opposition to the grand compelling power which he was conscious of in his Christ-begotten life. Nay, rather, it was in this very compelling power, and in this alone that Paul felt the true glory of his life to consist. This was his one glory which he would rather die than lose, that God had imposed upon him a sacred stewardship. All else must be subservient to the fulfilment of that.
I. The gospel of the true preacher. In the impassioned assertion: “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” the gospel is intimately and intensely related to Paul’s inner self. Truth is not an external label to be affixed to a glass case to mark a fossil inside, but a living movement in a living man, God ever revealing Himself in clearer and clearer forms to the soul that seeks Him. It will go hard at any rate if he be not superior to an embalmed and preserved mummy. There is no doubt that the reassertion of the subjectivity of truth has given new freshness, beauty, and unity to the history of the world, and to the place of revelation in that history. It has united the old and new dispensations in a living embrace, it has connected us by closer links with prophet and apostle, and revealed that all the world in all ages has been held in the grasp of one great Divine movement. But we must remember that this assertion of subjectivity is also one-sided, and, as in all eases of reaction there is a danger of swinging back to the other extreme, so there is certainly a tendency in much that is written and spoken now, to advocate a doctrine of extreme subjectivity which contains far greater peril for the truth than the most dogmatic applications of credal orthodoxy. The gospel must be a system of objective truth, and my gospel, if it is to be a gospel at all, must not be in opposition to that, but must rather be that very gospel, or a portion of it, having passed through the crucible of my life. The Jesus that was revealed to Paul was revealed also in him.
II. The egotism of the true preacher. What does the apostle mean by saying, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel?” There is one answer that will be ready on all your lips, and as far as it goes it is perfectly true. He meant that there was a Divine impulse within him that he could not resist. The fire that blazed within would have burnt deep scars upon his heart if his mouth had kept silence. The “burden” of the Lord would have grown too heavy to be borne if it had not been imparted to the people. And I believe that this is substantially true of all that have really a prophetic mission for their generation. But Paul’s impassioned words quiver with a yet deeper meaning, and it is to this that we apply par excellence the phrase. “The egotism of the true preacher.” To Paul’s eye the fiery hieroglyphics of God’s moral government, of the great over-arching heaven of eternal righteousness, contained primarily a message for himself. It was not merely that he would feel inward pain if he refused to preach the gospel, but he felt the universe to be in battle-array against him if he gave no voice to his great mission. Herein lies the prophet’s power and authority that he utters the mandate of creation--the mandate of God--that he feels the full tides of the universal roll through his soul, and must move with them or perish. But, further, this intense spiritual consciousness of the true preacher not only causes him most emphatically to relate himself to the universal government of God, but also to fling all his energies into the heart of human life. In this respect also the self of the preacher must be large: it must be profoundly related to universal humanity. He must be a microcosm--a miniature of the great macrocosm of human joy and sorrow. He must know himself a debtor to all sorts and conditions of men, by feeling the surging tides of the world’s needs and aspirations rush through his own life, and by thus knowing that he must find his life by giving it up to the larger life of the world. The prophet of the age is the man that can speak the thought, the passion, the aspiration of the people, and give them their Divinest setting. He must have the subtle sympathy and the Pentecostal tongue of flame that can speak to the people in their native language--the language of their hearts. Him will the people hear; for they are part of his life, and he is part of theirs.
III. The deep-seated faith of the true preacher. To say that “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” is to recognise the gospel as eternally victorious. For nothing can be really a woe to me except my being out of harmony with those forces that are to be eternally triumphant. Only the truth itself can revenge the insult which I offer it by rejecting it. The qualifications of the true preacher consist, therefore, in a profound faith in the Divineness of the gospel, in the heart-recognition of it as the eternal truth of God. These two things, then, are necessary to enable us to enter into the fellowship of the apostle’s words. We must be under the absolute sway of the gospel of Christ, and we must identify this rule with the eternal government of God. (John Thomas, M. A.)
1 Corinthians 9:17-19
For if I do this thing willingly I have a reward.
Purity of motive required in every Christian minister
I. Wherein it consists.
1. A willing service.
2. Without respect to fee or reward.
3. He may receive but must not bargain for it.
II. Its importance.
1. If pure, Christ will reward him.
2. If impure, his service is merely professional and has its reward.
III. Its present recompense.
1. Freedom from all imputation of mercenary motives.
2. The free dispensation of the gospel.
3. The consciousness of his own integrity. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Aspects of St. Paul’s ministry
His preaching was no ground of boasting (1 Corinthians 9:16). If he preached willingly, i.e., if it were optional with him to preach or not to preach, then it would be a ground of boasting; but if he did it unwillingly, i.e., if it were not optional with him (as was in fact the case), he was only discharging an official duty, and had nothing to boast of. That Paul preached the gospel willingly, that he esteemed it his highest joy and glory, is abundantly evident (Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 1:15-16; Ephesians 3:8). The difference, therefore, here expressed between “willing” and “unwilling,” is not the difference between cheerfully and reluctantly, but between optional and obligatory. He says he had a “dispensation” or stewardship committed to him. Stewards were commonly slaves. There is a great difference between what a slave does in obedience to a command, and what a man volunteers to do of his own accord. And this is the difference to which the apostle refers. So Paul was commanded to preach the gospel, and he did it with his whole heart; but he was not commanded to refuse to receive a support from the churches. The former, therefore, was not a ground of boasting, not a thing for which he could claim the reward of special confidence; the latter was. He could appeal to it as a proof, not only of his obedience, but of the purity of the motive which prompted that obedience. A physician may attend the sick from the highest motives, though he receives a remuneration for his services. But when he attends the poor gratuitously, though the motives may be no higher, the evidence of their purity is placed beyond question. Paul’s ground of glorying, therefore, was not preaching, for that was a matter of obligation; but his preaching gratuitously, which was altogether optional. He gained something by it. He gained the confidence even of his enemies. But as preaching was not optional but obligatory, he did not gain confidence by it. The principle on which the apostle’s argument is founded is recognised by our Lord in Luke 17:10. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Ministers and wealth
Rev. T. Hancocks, of Chatham, formerly a Pastors’ College student, relates the following reminiscence of Mr. Spurgeon, introduced by the late president into one of his lectures to his students, and which is particularly interesting in the light of his last will and testament: Men sometimes say, “Spurgeon’s making a good thing of it.” To which I reply, “You are perfectly right, for I serve a Master who is no niggard, but who rewards me daily with both hands.” But if they mean that I am saving money--well, they will know when I’m gone. I give away all I can get, and could wisely use more.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.--
True ministerial independence
I. Its nature. Freedom--
1. As far as possible from personal obligation.
2. In the declaration of Divine truth.
3. In the conscientious discharge of duty.
II. Its use. In the service of all--
1. By patient toil.
2. By forbearance.
3. By Christian compliances.
III. Its motive.
1. Christ’s honour.
2. In the gain of souls. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The highest service of man earth
The services of men on earth embrace a large variety. There is the service of the agriculturist, the mechanic, the mariner, the merchant, the scientist, the legislator, the king, &c. Men esteem these services as differing widely in respectability and honour; but the service referred to in the text stands infinitely above all. Four thoughts are suggested concerning this service.
I. It is a service for the gaining of men. “That I might gain the more.” The “more” what? Not the gaining the more wealth, fame, or pleasure; but the gaining of men. Christ says, “Thou hast gained thy brother.” There is a way of winning a man. Morally man is lost. No work in the universe is higher than this--to gain a man, to recover him to the true spirit and mission of life.
II. It is a service independent of men. “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all.” Oh, how this high service has been degraded by the crowds of craven and mercenary souls that have pushed themselves into it! I am “free from all men,” says Paul. “I made myself servant.” I was not made by human authority, I was not pushed into it by others, “I made myself.” A man by God’s grace must make himself for the work.
III. It is a service for universal man. “Unto all.” All men, not to any particular tribe, sect, or nation, but to all, rich and poor, high and low, cultured and rude. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 9:20-22
Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.
The flexibility of Christianity
In Paul’s hands the Christian ministry was like the Gift of Tongues. The gift was one; but it fell upon the ear of the Roman in Latin, upon the ear of the Egyptian in Coptic. Not a bad emblem of the manner in which the dispensation should adapt itself to the various forms of human character and phases of human society. While never sacrificing truth or principle, yet, so far as truth and principle admitted it, the apostle wore the guise and spoke in the accents of the persons whom he addressed. Recognising circumcision as a national mark of distinction, while utterly denying its necessity to salvation, he circumcised Timothy. Owing allegiance as a Jew to the Mosaic ritual, so long as God suffered it to exist, he took legal vows, and was scrupulous in paying them. Among Gentiles, he drew illustrations from the Grecian games, although they were heathen festivals; he quoted truths which had been proclaimed by heathen poets, and founded his appeals on natural religion. How totally different in its topics, as well as in its form, is his address on Mars’ Hill from that in the synagogue at Antioch! The genius of the gospel was free. It was felt, from the first, that its fixed truths were capable of being presented in aspects almost innumerable. Note then:--
I. The plastic character of Christianity. This is seen in--
1. Its documents.
(1) The history of our Lord has been transmitted to us by four distinct authors, who evidently write from four points of view, and address distinct classes of readers.
(2) Peter, Paul, James and John--men of widely different characters and circumstances--were all employed in the doctrinal writings of the New Testament, and thus Christian doctrine comes to us distilled through the alembics of four human minds. If God had desired to teach a Christian minister that he should study the age, characters, society, with which he has to deal, how could He have done it otherwise?
2. Its precepts, how broadly they are stated, and with an obvious avoidance of those particulars which might limit their application. Take, e.g. “Pray without ceasing”--evidently a principle and not a rule, and, because a principle capable of application to an infinite variety of circumstances.
3. Its doctrines. The Fatherhood of God; the Incarnation, the sacrifice of the Cross, the gift of the Spirit, the brotherhood of men in Christ’s Church, and the resurrection; these are evidently doctrines whose import is as wide as the race, and which correspond to the instincts of the human heart, under whatever garb it beats.
II. How this character should determine the conduct of our clergy in setting it forth.
1. It is in vain to hope to revive any type of Christianity which has obviously had its day.
(1) Let us not attempt to revive mediaevalism; all that was true, deep, and touching in that really survives still, only the fashion of it has passed away to return no more. Let us cherish its devout spirit, and endeavour to imbue with it our circle of society, while we throw off its superficial costume, which, like all mere costume, must in the nature of things become antiquated.
(2) Let us not seek to revive the precise form of the Evangelicalism of seventy years ago. Here again there was much which, because it was the very truth of God, can never pass away. But while we endeavour to inhale its spirit, let us not entangle ourselves in its trammels, which are not adapted to the present day.
2. But to pass to more positive counsels. Ours is an age--
(1) Of much superficial knowledge on the subject of religion. For a thousand persons who discuss religion freely in society there is not one who ever digested a spiritual truth. Now in dealing with this state of mind you must not content yourself with a few Sunday platitudes; the people will tell you that they know all that as well as you. You must oppose erudition to their flimsy knowledge, and be a man of thought as opposed to their superficiality.
(2) Of latitudinarianism which is making the most insidious inroads on the faith. Now an indignant repudiation of scepticism, with but a partial insight into its real views is little likely to reclaim the sceptic. Let us seek to appreciate his difficulty, and to draw forth from the repository of Divine truth a solution of it: and in doing so it may be that we shall occasionally have to retract--not indeed one iota of Scriptural truth--but our notions of what the Scripture has said. Might it not be well too if our clergy would acquaint themselves, not merely with the general platform on which infidelity is conducting its attacks, but specially with those sciences whose progress is always attended with much danger in minds which are not well settled in the faith? But remember that our Lord bids us, as scribes, instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, to bring forth out of our treasury things new and old--old in the substance, which must always abide; new in the form, which ever changes with time and with the manners of men. Mark the emphatic word “his treasury.” It is not from any repository of truth external to ourselves. No amount of learning in a Christian minister can for a moment compensate for the absence of an experimental religion. God’s Word must be brought forth from our own treasury, not stolen from that of our neighbours. Prayer must go hand in hand with study. (Dean Goulburn.)
Being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.--
The Christian law
I. Its nature.
2. Given by God.
3. Confirmed by Christ.
4. Written by the Holy Spirit on the heart.
II. Its authority.
1. Comprehends the whole law.
2. Extends to the heart.
3. Is enforced by love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.--
All things to all men
1. St. Paul was a cosmopolitan in the best sense, the world was his country, mankind his brethren, truth his business, the church his family, and Christ his Lord. His catholic impartiality credited alike Jew and Greek with whatever amount of truth they severally held.
2. Love is the true expositor of the text. It is the sterling politeness which gracefully bends itself into “all things” within the perpendicular of truth and equity, “to all men” in order to their profit and salvation. Like a tender mother, lisping to her babe, reading with her boys, sympathising with the early trials of her girls, following with her wistful prayers the absent ones, nor ceasing a maternal interest in the elder branches settled in life, and so in her motherly heart is all things to all members of her family so the earnest Christian has a large-hearted family power of interestedness in whatever concerns the soul of every fellow-being. Being “all things to all men,” only to gain them to Christ, implies a sacred uniformity of purpose, which--
I. Sanctions nothing inconsistent with divine conformity. “All things to all men”--
1. Sanctions no versatility which is evangelical with low church, sacramental with high church, indefinite with broad church, and indifferent with no church; though it does imply a courteous, loving, conciliatory tone of address to every church, always with a view to gaining them for the Church of Christ.
2. Implies no sinking the Christian to meet the worldling. The Christian is no chameleon, taking his hue from every incident he feeds on; but rather like the sunlight of his heavenly Father--the evil and the good are the better for his shining. Apply the rule to places of amusement. Can we imagine ourselves meeting Christ there, as He sat at the festival in Cana, &c.? We can realise His presence on occasions of innocent festivity; but there are others at which, if we could suppose His eye falling upon us, as it did on Peter in the hall of his denial, we should be ashamed to meet Him. I noticed in France pictures of the Crucifixion in streets and public galleries, in Hotel de Ville and Palais de Justice, but never one in a Cafe Chantant or the opera. As believers, you are Christ’s living images, and would be as much out of place in a Casino or a playhouse. There is a rubicon between the carnal and the spiritual man which needs no Caesar to cross it from one side (that is, from the church to the world); but it requires a Christ to ford it, from the world to the church. Attempt it alone, and like Peter on the lake, you would sink in the act, unless His mighty hand bear you through.
3. Is no text for the pusillanimous concessions implied in the maxim, “When you are at Rome, do as Rome does.” Paul did not; he was as much “Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ” in Caesar’s household as in his own. Still he who gave Roman officers their respect, and magistrates their titles, who gathered sticks with the barbarians, and received the grateful courtesies of Publius, taught us to eschew rudeness or eccentricity in circumstantials, and to be peculiar only in essentials. In whatever shape you are gratuitously singular, you will be unpopular, and therefore the less useful. Hence, cultivate a conciliating not a litigious tone--suggest, rather than challenge. A well-oiled and tempered blade cuts deeper than a hacked or rusty one. Be as much at home with people as you can, that they may be at their ease with you. Let things indifferent be indifferent, that none of your earnestness and usefulness may be spent on trifles, but all concentrated on the main thing--saving souls and glorifying their Saviour.
II. Justifies anything becoming a manly Christianity. By this is not meant a Christianity indigenous to man; but a robust, open-hearted, large-minded view of sinners, and of the means to be employed for their salvation. “All things to all men.”
1. Means religious toleration having “proved all things, hold fast that which is good.” Stand out for your own convictions. “Be strong and quit you like men.” At the same time, fidelity to your own opinions is perfectly compatible with the most respectful toleration of those of others. You believe in election; another man sees only open universal salvation. Be it so. You both believe in Christ and in His Holy Spirit: then work and pray together on those grounds in which you agree, and you will get nearer to God and to each other than by incessant debate upon your points of difference,
2. Implies the use of all lawful means of “preaching the word in season and out of season,” e.g., if a Romanist won’t listen to our translation of the Bible, converse with him out of his own. The Douay version obscures some doctrines, but it can’t extinguish Christ. On the same ground controversy is justified. Let the obvious love of souls, and loyalty to Christ so distinguish the spirit ill which you wield controversial weapons that men may see “they are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds.”
3. Suggests a gentle forbearance with men’s tempers, infirmities, and even sins. Much self-denial is needed for the duty of reproof, both as to the mode of doing it, and the doing it at all. “Bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ” is not the least self-denying form of taking up the cross. To bear with the magnanimity of Christian love the irritating annoyances and petty insults of an ungodly circle is no easy trial; but its effect upon those around us, though imperceptible, is real.
4. Imports the diligent use of many means, notwithstanding few results. There is a noble contentedness in expending all our means on the prospect of only “some” return.
1. Neither “all things to all men,” nor anything to any man, is either safe or possible without God. You dare not be “all things to” some men, lest, burning incense with Korah, you be swallowed up with his company. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Your life must be your testimony, where direct association would only compromise or quench it.
2. Make Christ your model. “Set the Lord alway before you.” Let your first question be, “What would He have done?” He was in the best sense, and ever will be, “all things to all men,” “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” And He would be nothing to any man except to save him. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)
As a general rule compromises of every description are to be regarded with distrust. Taken at the best they are of the nature of sacrifices, as each party is supposed to give up something which he considers of more or less importance. And this is not all. A plan or policy which is the result of a compromise is not a single plan or policy, but a mixture of plans, a mixture of policies. Now the several parts, instead of aiding and sustaining each other, will be very likely to interfere with and obstruct each other. Accordingly, if a compromise is called for, the first question we should ask ourselves is, whether the occasion for making it may not be avoided altogether. Many of our associations are entirely voluntary. But all our associations are not voluntary in the sense here intended. The family, for example, is not a voluntary, but a necessary association; and so likewise, in a certain sense and to a certain extent, is the neighbourhood, the Church, the State. Every man must live in society. I do not say in this or that society, but in some society. Concessions, then, we must make; but what concessions? How far can we carry the spirit of compromise without trenching at the same time on the laws of Christian truth and righteousness? To this question I reply, first, by observing that we are in no danger of trenching on the laws of Christian truth and righteousness so long as our compromises do not involve anything more than the giving up of our own tastes, our own convenience, our own innocent pleasures, our own interests, even our own rights, out of regard to others, and in the spirit of Christian concession and self sacrifice. To say that we have a right to give up our rights may sound to some like contradiction; but it is a contradiction in sound, in appearance, only. Indeed, not to give up our rights is to give up nothing; for why talk about giving up what we have no right to retain if we would? At the same time it is proper to add that our right to give up our rights depends on their being ours exclusively. We have no right to give up our neighbours’ rights without their consent, express or implied. A parent, for example, might be willing to give up one or more of his own rights if he were sure the loss would fall on him alone; but if, on the contrary, he knows that, directly or indirectly, it will fall on the whole family, he will feel that they also have a voice in the matter. Again, a right may be held in common, and require to be maintained in common, and all therefore may be in some sense pledged to its defence in common, as in the case of civil or religious liberty. Here, as before, no individual can honestly act as if he alone were interested in the event. And this brings me to what may be called the pinch of the question. Have we a right, under any circumstances whatever, to go contrary to our duty for the sake of peace, or to meet those we must act with half-way, or on the plea that in a choice of evils we should take the least, or in the hope that in the end virtue and humanity will be gainers by such a course? Thus stated, it seems to me that the question answers itself. We have no such right. But we must not think that the annunciation of a moral truism like this will go far to clear up the great practical difficulty we are considering. The question disappears in one form, it is true, but only to come up in another. In a sharp collision of opinions and interests, of rights and duties, of reciprocal benefits and mutual obligations, may not my duty itself become changed? Let me suppose a case. A community, bound together by a multitude of reciprocal affections, interests, and obligations, fall into irreconcilable difference respecting a single question, and that a moral one. What are they to do? Some may think to cut the matter short by insisting that the party which is right ought not to give up, ought not to make the smallest concessions. And this is true, supposing it to be known and conceded which party is right; but unhappily this is the very point in dispute. The question is not what the party shall do is right, but what the party shall do which thinks itself right. And if you still answer, “Not concede one jot nor tittle,” then you have no ground of complaint against your opponents for not conceding one jot nor tittle to you, for they also think themselves right. If, therefore, we persist in shutting our eyes on these obvious facts, that is to say, pay no regard to the judgment and the consciences of others, but proceed to act on our own as if we were infallible, when we know we are not, the mistake, if we fall into one, does not make wrong to be right even for us; nay, is no excuse for the wrong. It is not mistake, properly so called, but obstinacy; and obstinacy is no excuse for delinquency of any kind. Another ground sometimes taken is, that where two parties are at variance, only one can be right; and consequently that a compromise supposes a departure from the right course on one side or the other. This, however, does not follow. I admit that where two parties are at variance, both cannot be right; but it does not follow that either is so, that is, wholly right. Both parties cannot be right, but both parties may be wrong; at least more or less so. And if so, it would seem that each party has something of wrong to give up, and the compromise that should consist of mutual concessions of this sort would evidently result, not in a departure from right on either side, but in an approximation to right on both sides. I have spoken of compromises in general, not of any particular compromise. I am aware that there is often less difficulty in laying down general principles than in applying them with the limitations and qualifications which the circumstances of the case require. Still something is gained by clearly apprehending the principles--the applications must be left to the occasion as it arises; and let me add, that a right application of the principles in the most perplexing circumstances will mainly depend, not on a morbid sensitiveness to the question at issue, nor yet on casuistical subtlety, but on downright honesty of purpose, a sound understanding, and a truly generous and magnanimous spirit. (J. Walker, D. D.)
This is an expression which might easily be mistaken, and has been so before now; as though St. Paul recommended, by his advice and example, a sort of craft in religious matters--pretending to agree with men when you really do not, humouring them in bad ways, concurring with them tea certain length in what you know or fear to be wrong; but all the while for their benefit, and with a view of doing, on the whole, more good in the end. Are not many marriages made by this rule, or, at least, defended by this excuse? and how do they commonly turn out? A much lighter error, but yet an error of the same kind, was that which St. Paul himself had once to correct in St. Peter, when, rather than give present dissatisfaction to certain Jewish converts which were there, he separated himself from the Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11), and so encouraged a division in the Church, and encouraged also the low notion that believers were still under the law of Moses. But this of St. Paul in the text is very different; it is an example, not a warning. And the difference may be put in one word: it is not accommodation which St. Paul encourages, but sympathy. He does not say that he practised what would please others, to win them, but he says that he always had an eye to them; he put himself into their place. He thought with himself, Were I a heathen, or a Jew, a young man or an old, an advanced or an imperfect Christian, a rich man or a poor, a master or a servant, what would my thoughts and feelings and fancies be when such and such holy truths or Divine commandments were made known to me? And according to what his wise and charitable heart, guided by the Holy Spirit, told him, of the needs and feelings of other persons, so he ordered his ways towards them, and his manner of speaking to them, and dealing with them. To take the instances which the apostle himself had been enumerating just before the text: “Unto the Jews,” first, “I became,” says he, “as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” How was this? for we know how earnestly St. Paul opposed himself to the Jewish prejudice, that circumcision and keeping the ceremonies of the law were at all necessary to salvation. How, then, did he become as a Jew to the Jews? Look at that letter of his, in which he most opposes their ceremonies; look at the Epistle to the Romans, and see how he speaks of them there. “I also am an Israelite.” “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.” “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” Look in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:2; Acts 28:17; Acts 22:17) and see what trouble he took, how he went out of the way to show them that he reverenced the Mosaical ceremonies, and did not hold them wicked, though he would not have them reckoned part of the Christian law. As to the Gentiles, them also he mentions just before the text, saying, “To them which are without law I became as without law, that I might gain them that are without law.” That is, he put himself in the place of the Gentiles, and said and did what their condition required; as when, writing to the Corinthians, he so greatly slighted human wisdom, which he knew they were inclined to think too much of; also as when, speaking to the Athenians, he made use of their own poets, their own altars, their own customs, and the like; whereby to bring them to attend to the truth of Christ. But towards the people of Derbe and Lystra, who were in the very act of idolising himself, he spake with all vehemence, as the case required, seeing it was the only thing which could hinder them from offering sacrifice to him. In neither case did he flatter or beguile, or at all encourage them in anything wrong, no not with a view of greater good hereafter, as we, in our short-sighted self-sufficient plans, are so often tempted to do; but he used that gift which God gave him, of entering into their minds and feelings to edify them, whether by soothing or contradiction, as might be needed. And as it was with him in respect to Jew or Gentile, so also in respect of rich and poor, and the other distinctions of life; to masters and servants, husbands and wives, in short, all sorts of people, he speaks as one who had the power, by the Divine Spirit which was in him, to feel not only with them but for them--not only what they would like, but what their condition would most require. Now St. Paul was a representative, what we may in some sense call a type, of the Church or kingdom of Christ in action and warfare. His teaching seems especially recorded as the completest standard and model of her teaching. May it then be truly said that the Church is made all things to all men? Surely it may; the mystical body of our Lord Jesus Christ, animated by His Spirit, has a word of seasonable instruction, and an aid of seasonable grace, for every one, even the meanest of His members. Surely there is no person, rich or poor, young or old, good or bad, wise or foolish, for whom the Church, as she speaks in our Prayer Book, has not a word of comfort or censure, of warning or encouragement, in their season. And as this is the temper of St. Paul himself, and of the Church which he served, so also should it be the temper of each particular Christian, among his own friends and acquaintance, and all whom the Providence of God puts in his way. He will account it a part of charity to become all things to all men; to enter into their notions and feelings, not for any vain fancy of pleasing them and obtaining their good word, hut for their profit, if haply by God’s mercy he may be permitted to do something towards the salvation of a brother. And truly it is a strange power which God’s Holy Spirit gives to faithful, self-denying persons, to enter into the thoughts and tempers and passions of those for whom they are concerned, even of those who are most unlike themselves; guarding them by a kind of instinct against those sins and temptations which would seem to be furthest from their own feeling and knowledge; as God and good angels guard them, knowing, and in a manner feeling for the sinner, without any sort of communion in the sin. Once more; if it be asked what is the way by which frail, imperfect men may be enabled to understand the thoughts of the wicked so as to perceive their tendency, and to pray and strive against them, the answer is, we must be very single in our aims-not looking, much less turning, back after we have once given in our names to Jesus Christ to be His soldiers and servants. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
“By all means save some”
I. Why is this passion for saving others implanted in the breasts of the saved? For God’s glory.
(1) It is greatly to the glory of God that He should use humble instruments for the accomplishment of His grand purposes. When Quintin Matsys had executed a wonderful well-cover in iron, it was the more notable because he had little more than his hammer.
(2) It brings glory to God also that He should take us sinful men and make us partakers of His compassionate and loving nature. That an angel should cleave the air to perform his message is simple enough, but that a Saul, an enemy of Christ, should live and die for the winning of souls to Jesus, is a memorable illustration of the grace of God.
(3) In this way the Lord gets great glory over the Arch-enemy, for He can say to Satan, “I have defeated thee, not by the sword of Michael, but by the words and prayers of My humble servants.” Then is the enemy smitten in the house of his former friends. Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat, but Peter sifted him in return on the day of Pentecost.
2. For the church’s good. The passion for winning souls--
(1) Expends the Church’s energy in a healthy manner. There is a certain quantity of steam generated in the community, and if we do not let it off in the right way, it will blow up and do infinite mischief. Talents unused are sure to rust, and this kind of rust is a deadly poison to peace, an acrid irritant which eats into the heart of the Church.
(2) Draws forth the strength of the Church, awakens her latent energies, and arouses her noblest faculties. Many a commonplace man has been rendered great by being thoroughly absorbed by a noble pursuit, and what can be nobler than turning men to Christ?
(3) Knits us together. I have been blest of God to the salvation of my hearer, but that hearer was first brought here by a friend, and so we become sharers in the joy. And, moreover, when new converts are brought into the Church, the fact that they are brought in by instrumentality tends to make their fusion with the Church an easy matter.
3. For the good of the individual possessing it.
(1) It makes us Godlike.
(2) It provides a vent for love to God as well as to men. Loving God makes us sorrow that all men do not love Him too.
(3) It revives our first love. When I see an inquirer penitent for sin, I recollect the birthday of my own soul.
(4) It strengthens faith. If you begin to doubt the gospel’s power, go to work among the poor and ignorant.
(5) It draws forth all the faculties of a man. One strong passion will frequently bring the whole man into play, like a skilful minstrel whose hand brings music from every chord. If we love others, we shall become wise to attract them, and discover in ourselves talents which else had been hidden in the ground.
(6) It gives the highest joys beneath the stars.
II. How does this passion exercise itself? Differently in different persons, and at different periods.
1. By tender anxiety. The moment a man is saved he begins to be anxious about his relatives, and that anxiety leads him at once to pray for them.
2. In the intense joy exhibited when news reaches us of their conversion.
3. In private efforts, sacrifices, prayers, and agonies for the spread of the gospel. A word may often bless those whom a sermon fails to reach, and a personal letter may do far more than a printed book.
4. In the more public agencies of the Church.
5. In adapting ourselves to the condition and capacity of others for their good. Paul became a Jew to the Jews. He did not preach against Judaism, but showed them Jesus as the fulfiller of its types. When he met with a heathen he did not revile the gods, but taught him the true God. He did not carry about with him one sermon for all places, but adapted his speech to his audience. If you have to talk to children, be children, and do not expect them to be men. If you have to comfort the aged, enter into their infirmities, and do not speak to them as if they were still in the full vigour of life. Are you called to labour among the educated? Then choose out excellent words. Do you work among the illiterate? Speak their mother tongue. Are you cast among people with strange prejudices? Do not unnecessarily jar with them, but take them as you find them. All men are not to be reached in the same way, or by the same means.
III. Why is not this passion more largely developed among Christians? Is it not that we have but very little grace? That is the fountain of all the mischief. But to come to particulars.
1. One-sided views of gospel doctrines. “God will save His own.” Yes, but His own do not talk in that fashion; they do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since idleness wants an excuse, men dare to abuse this sacred truth to stultify their consciences.
2. Worldliness. Men are too fond of gain to care for saving souls.
3. Want of faith. Men do not believe that God will bless their efforts, and therefore they make none.
4. Want of sympathy with God.
IV. How can this passion be more fully aroused?
1. By our obtaining a higher life. I do not believe in a man’s trying to pump himself up beyond his level. The man must be up, and then all that comes out of the man will have risen. If love to God glows in your soul, it must show itself in your concern for others.
2. By full cognisance of men’s misery and degradation. How differently one feels after seeing with one’s own eyes the poverty, filth, and vice of this city. Your fellow-countrymen are living in neglect of your Saviour, and in jeopardy of their immortal souls; if you did but realise this it would quicken you by all means to save some.
3. By a sense of our own solemn obligations. If we are what we profess to be, we are redeemed by the heart’s blood of the Son of God; do we not owe something to Christ for this? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All things dared for souls
In Switzerland, where land is very precious because rock abounds and the rugged soil is chary in its yieldings, you see the husbandman looking after a little tuft of grass growing on one of the edges of a lofty cliff. From the valley he had caught a sight of it, and thought of clambering up to where it grew, but the rock was all too steep. From a ledge nearer the top of the precipitous wall he looked down, but could see no pathway to the coveted morsel of green. That armful of grass would feed his goat, or help to fill the cottage loft with winter fodder for the cow. Every armful is an item, and he cannot forego that tempting clump. He looks, and looks, and looks again, but looks in vain. By and by he fetches his bold boy, who can follow wherever a chamois can climb, but the boy after a hard scramble comes back with the tidings, “Father, it cannot be done.” Father’s answer is, “Boy, it must be done.” It is only an armful, and would not be worth a farthing to us, but to the poor mountaineer even a farthing or a farthing’s worth is precious. The grass waves its flowers in the breeze and scorns the daring climbers from below; but where there is a will, there is a way; and what cannot be reached from below may be gained from above. With a rope slung round him, or firmly grasped in his accustomed hand, with a stout stake or tree to hold it up above, the Switzer is let down till he gets to the jutting crag; there he stands with his sickle, reaps the grass, ties it into a bundle, puts it under his arm, and climbing back again, joyfully returns with his little harvest. Poor pay, you think, for such dangerous toil; but, fellow worker for Jesus, I wish we were as venturesome for souls, and as careful of them, as these poor peasants are concerning miserable bundles of grass. I wish that we sometimes looked up or down upon apparently inaccessible spots, and resolved to reach immortal souls who are to be found there, and pined to bring them to Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Soul saving our one business
It is a grand thing to see a man thoroughly possessed with one master-passion. Lives with many aims are like water trickling through innumerable streams, none of which is wide enough or deep enough to float the merest cockleshell; but a life with one object is like a mighty river flowing between its banks, bearing to the ocean a multitude of ships, and spreading fertility on either side. Note--
I. Paul’s great object in life--“To save some.”
1. Some preach with the view of amusing men. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd.
2. Others think that the object of Christian effort should be to educate men. Education is an exceedingly valuable thing, but if the Church thinks that it is sent into the world merely to train the mental faculties, it has made a very serious mistake. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, and on the same errand has He sent His Church.
3. Paul did not try to moralise men. Dr. Chalmers, in his first parish, preached morality, and saw no good; but as soon as he preached Christ crucified, grace prevailed. He who wishes for perfumes must grow the flowers; he who desires to promote morality must have men saved.
4. What did Paul mean by saying that he desired to save some?
(1) That some should be born again; for no man is saved until he is made a new creature in Christ Jesus.
(2) That some might be cleansed from their past iniquity through the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. No man can be saved from his sin except by the atonement.
(3) That they might also be purified and made holy; for a man is not saved while he lives in sin.
II. The apostle’s reasons for electing such an object.
1. The honour of God. Did you ever think over the amount of dishonour that is done to the Lord in London in any one hour of the day?
2. The extreme misery of this our human race. It would be a very dreadful thing if you could get any idea of the aggregate of the misery of London at the present moment in the hospital and the workhouse.
3. The terrible future of impenitent souls. But if they be saved, observe the contrast.
III. The great methods which the apostle used.
1. The simple preaching of the gospel. He did not attempt to create a sensation by startling statements, neither did he preach erroneous doctrine in order to obtain the assent of the multitude. To keep ,back any part of the gospel is not the true method for saving men. Give the people every truth baptised in holy fire, and each truth will have its own useful effect upon the mind. But the great truth is the Cross, the truth that “God so loved the world,” &c.
2. Much prayer. A great painter said he mixed his colours with brains. A preacher ought to mix truth with prayer. When a man was breaking granite by the roadside, a minister passing by said, “Ah, my friend, your work is just like mine; you have to break stones, and so do I.” “Yes,” said the man, “and if you manage to break stony hearts, you will have to do it as I do, go down on your knees.”
3. An intense sympathy which made him adapt himself to each case. He was all things to all men, that he might by all means save some. Mr. Hudson Taylor finds it helpful to dress as a Chinaman, and wear a pigtail. This seems to me to be a truly wise policy. To sink myself to save others is the idea of the apostle. Never may any whim or conventionality of ours keep a soul from considering the gospel. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sacrifice for souls
All things are easy which are done for the love of God and of the souls which He loves. A lady who had a most sensitive ear for music--so much so, that a note out of tune caused her intense discomfort--joined one of our English Sisterhoods. Being visited one day by a friend, she was found placidly seated in an outhouse, in the midst of a most horrible din, raised by a number of lads whom she was forming into a drum and fife band. “How can you possibly endure this noise?” asked her friend. “Oh,” was the sweet reply, “it’s very good for souls!”
Adaptation essential to persuasion
It is said that Kossuth had an inimitable power of adaptation: a keen sense of the fitness of things. So adroit was his oratory that coming to a new country he would soon master its language, had forensic arguments for the bar, prose and poetry for women, statistics for merchants, and an assortment of local allusions for the respective towns and villages in which he pleaded his cause. (H. O. Mackey.)
Adaptation essential to soul winning
While Edward Irving was assistant to Dr. Chalmers he called upon a shoemaker, a thorough-going infidel of a most disagreeable temper. All who had previously called upon him were met by cold shoulder and a “Hump!” Irving, knowing his man, took up a piece of patent leather, and expatiated on it. This he could do admirably, as his father was a tanner, and he knew the process well. The shoemaker did not look up, but said roughly, “What do you ken about leather?” Irving, unabashed, went on, and described how shoes were being made by machinery. Then the shoemaker slackened up his work, and looked up, and said, “Od, you’re a decent kind o’ a fellow; do you preach?” Next Sabbath the shoemaker was at church. On the Monday Irving met him in the Gallow Gate, and walked arm-in-arm with him along the street. He was overcome, and became a friend instead of a foe to Christianity; and ever after, when taunted with his change, justified himself by saying, “He’s a sensible man, yon; he kens about leather.” (Mrs. Oliphaut.)
Adaptation in a minister
“We use the language of the market,” said Whitefield, and this was much to his honour; yet when he stood in the drawing-room of the Countess of Huntingdon, and his speech entranced the infidel nobleman whom she brought to hear him, he adopted another style. His language was equally plain in each case, because it was equally familiar to the audience: he did not use the ipsissima verba, or his language would have lost its plainness in the one case or the other, and would either have been slang to the nobility or Greek to the crowd. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wisdom of adaptation
He alone is wise who can accommodate himself to all the contingencies of life; but the fool contends, and is struggling like a swimmer against the stream.
Wisdom needed for usefulness
In order to reach men’s hearts on Divine things Lord Haddo strove to cultivate the art of conciliating even the careless and indifferent, by talking to them, in the first instance, on subjects in which they would be interested; and in this taught a precious lesson, which all who are engaged in evangelistic labour would do well to learn and exemplify. When acting as a regular district visitor in Whitechapel, London, he happened to visit a currier, to whom he was unknown, and his knowledge of the various processes of tanning and the preparation of leather, elicited the remark, “Ah, I see you are in the trade yourself, sir.” (A. Duff, D. D.)
The law of spiritual accommodation
(Text and 1 Corinthians 10:33). Here is the supreme secret of service to human souls; and the two passages must be taken together to get the beauty of the whole thought. It is an accommodation--
I. To all men; to Jew, to Gentile; to weak, to strong--
1. By way of identification; as though himself just what they were. This means an Englishman becoming an Irishman to save an Irishman; a man of culture becoming an ignorant fool to save a fool--going down to the slums to save the inmates of the slums--becoming a slave to save slaves.
2. By way of self-denial and self-oblivion; not seeking one’s own pleasure or even “profit,” that others may be saved. A renunciation of self-gratification and even self-advancement and advantage for their sakes.
II. In all things--wherever it implies no wrong. The question is, What will remove a stumbling-block out of others’ way? What will serve others? (1 Corinthians 9:19).
III. In order to save others. Everybody may not be benefited. “Duty is ours; results are God’s.” But what is offered to Him is not lost, although it may seem to be wasted. We never get to the true platform of service until what we do we do unto the Lord, and are not disturbed by its apparent unfruitfulness. He values it just as highly, without regard to obvious results. (Hom. Monthly.)
There are those to whom it is painful to have to accost a stranger even on pressing business; and most men arc only quite at home in their own set--among men of the same class or profession as themselves. But the life he had chosen brought Paul into contact with men of every kind, and he had constantly to be introducing to strangers the business with which he was charged. He might be addressing a king or a consul the one hour and a roomful of slaves or common soldiers the next. One day he had to speak in the synagogue of the Jews, another among a crowd of Athenian philosophers, another to the inhabitants of some provincial town far from the seats of culture. But he could adapt himself to every man and every audience. To the Jews he spoke as a rabbi out of the Old Testament Scriptures; to the Greeks he quoted the words of their own poets; and to the barbarians he talked of the God who giveth rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. When a weak or insincere man attempts to be all things to all men, he ends by being nothing to anybody. But, living on this principle, Paul found entrance for the gospel everywhere, and at the same time won for himself the esteem and love of those to whom he stooped. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Fish must be angled for with the right bait
Speaking of fishing in Persian rivers, a recent traveller says, “The river Lar is famed for its speckled trout, and we encamped on its banks, well provided with the best rods and flies the English market could afford. We found the trout fickle enough as elsewhere, and could never tell when or where to find them. Some days ‘coy and hard to please,’ and other days abundant. We soon discovered that a trait peculiar to these Persian trout was an indifference, amounting to contempt, for the daintiest flies we coaxingly threw in their way. But when we baited our hooks with young grasshoppers or frogs we discovered the favourite weakness of these epicures of the Lar.” (H. O. Mackey.)
Moral identification with others--a qualification of the evangel
This verse is sometimes taken as expressive of the accommodating spirit of the apostle. Hence he is regarded as acting in a somewhat Jesuitical way, taking men as it were by guile. Such a view is utterly untrue. From his very constitution, he could not bend to any temporising expediency. All that the apostle means is, that he endeavoured to put himself into the place, or rather into the views and feelings, of those whom he endeavoured to win to Christ. Now this is both right and wise. As a debater, whether in politics, philosophy, or religion, he only acts fairly and with power who acts in this way. This power implies--
I. A highly imaginative temperament. The phlegmatic man, whose nature is incapable of taking fire, who moves with the creeping legs of logic rather than on the wings of moral intuition, would find it all but impossible to realise another man’s experiences.
II. A knowledge of human life. It is necessary that we should make ourselves acquainted not merely with the outward circumstances of men, but with their inner life--their modes of thought, their strongest proclivities. This requires study of men, not as they appear in books, but as they appear in their circle, and men, not in the mass, but in their individual character and idiosyncrasies.
III. A passionate love for souls. Nothing but the constraining love of Christ can invest man either with the disposition or the power for such a work--a work requiring self-sacrifice, patience, tenderness, invincible determination, and hallowed devotion. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Power of tact
A little management will often avoid resistance, which a vast force will strive in vain to overcome. (Colton.)
1 Corinthians 9:24
They which run in a race, run all, hut one receiveth the prize.
The Greek athletic festivals and their lessons
1. Of these the most famous was that held every fifth year at Olympia in the west of Peloponnese. Very famous and ancient also was the Isthmian festival held every two years at the Isthmus, about eight miles from, and in full view of, the city of Corinth. Similar festivals were held at Nemea and Delphi. But in these the athletic element was less conspicuous. All these were instituted before the dawn of history. Other festivals, in imitation of them, were held in Paul’s day in many cities of Asia, e.g., at Tarsus, and notably at Antioch in Syria.
2. All athletes, i.e., competitors for prizes, had ten months’ training, under the direction of appointed teachers and under various restrictions of diet. At the beginning of the festival they were required to prove to the judges that they were of pure Greek blood, had not forfeited by misconduct the right of citizenship, and had undergone the necessary training. Then began the various contests, in an appointed order. Of these, the oldest and most famous was the footrace. Others were wrestling, boxing, chariot and horse racing. The prize was a wreath (or crown) of olive at Olympia, and of pine leaves (at one time of olive) at the Isthmus. The giving of the prizes was followed by processions and sacrifices, and by a public banquet to the conquerors. The whole festival at Olympia lasted five days.
3. The importance of these athletic festivals in the eyes of the ancient Greeks it is difficult to appreciate now. They were the great family gatherings of the nation, held under the auspices, and under the shadow of the temples, of their gods. The laws regulating them were held as binding by the various independent states of Greece. The month in which they were held was called the sacred month, and was solemnly announced. And all war between Greek states ceased, under pain of the displeasure of their gods, while the festival lasted. The festivals were attended by immense crowds from all the Greek states, and from even the most distant colonies. The various states sent embassies, and vied with each other in the splendour of them and of the gifts they brought. The greatest cities thought themselves honoured by the victory of a citizen. The victor was received home with a triumphal procession, entered the city by a new opening broken for him through the walls, was taken in a chariot to the temple of its guardian deity, and welcomed with songs. In some cases a reward in money was given, and release from taxation. In honour of the successful athlete poems were written; of which we have specimens in the poems of Pindar. A statue of the victor was permitted to be placed, and in many cases was placed, by townsmen or friends, in the sacred grove of the presiding deity. An avenue of these statues, shadowed by an avenue of pine-trees, leading up to the temple of Poseidon, which stood within two hundred yards of the racecourse at the Isthmus of Corinth, is mentioned by Pausanias (bk. 2:1, 7). Close by this temple with its avenue of statues Paul probably passed on his way from Athens to Corinth. The Olympic festival, which survived the longest, was abolished in A.D. 394, four years after the public suppression of paganism in the Roman Empire. The Greek athletic festivals must be carefully distinguished from the bloody Roman gladiatorial combats. That these athletic festivals permeated and moulded the thought both of classic writers and of the apostle to the Gentiles, we have abundant proof. Eternal life is to be obtained only by contest and victory (Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:7 f; cf. Luke 13:24; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11. The Christian life is both a preparation for conflict (verse 25; 2 Timothy 2:5), a race (verse 24; Philippians 3:12; Acts 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:7); a boxing (verse 27); and a wrestling (Ephesians 6:12), Paul’s converts will be his crown in the great day (1 Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 4:1). And, just as the athlete, victorious but not yet crowned, lay down to rest on the evening after conflict, waiting for the glories of the morrow, so Paul (2 Timothy 4:7 f). This metaphor--
I. Presents a needful complement of Paul’s doctrine of justification by grace and through faith. Though eternal life is altogether a free gift of God, it is given only to those who strive for it with all their powers. Therefore we must ever ask, not only whether an action open to us is lawful, but whether it will increase or lessen our spiritual strength. Just so, an athlete would forego many things otherwise harmless, and some not even forbidden by the laws for athletes, simply because he was striving for a prize.
II. Receives in turn its needful complement in the doctrine of the holy spirit. Had we to contend for life in our own strength, we might be doubtful of the result, as was many a resolute athlete on the morning of the contest. But in us is the might of God, crushing (Romans 16:20; 1 John 4:4) our adversary under our feet, and carrying us (1 Kings 18:46) forward to the goal. Therefore, day by day we go down into the arena, to fight with foes infinitely stronger than we, knowing that “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Conclusion: That the crowded Isthmian festival was held each alternate year at the very gates of Corinth and almost under the shadow of its Acropolis, must have given to the metaphor of verse 24 special force in the minds of the Corinthians. And, possibly, Paul was himself present at a festival during (Acts 18:11) his eighteen months’ sojourn at Corinth, using perhaps the opportunity to summon the assembled strangers to a nobler contest. (Prof. Beet.)
The Christian race
In a race generally there are multitudes to compete, but out of those multitudes bow few win! The same fact in the Christian race can be accounted for on two grounds:--
I. The lack of earnestness. Consider this in--
1. Its sources.
(1) Lack of knowledge, or confusion of thought. Because of such passages as Romans 6:23; Titus 3:5-7; John 3:16, &c., some do not see what there is for the believer to strive after. As though merely being a child were enough; as though it were not possible for a father to give his children special marks of his love. “How pleased father will be when he sees how much we have done.” Are not children, when speaking in this way, really labouring for just the kind of prize held out here? the expressed approbation (Matthew 25:21) of the “righteous judge” (2 Timothy 4:8).
(2) Lack of appreciation. All who see the nature of this gracious reward do not also see its great value. Besides, how dim and distant! Like Esau’s despised birthright, how intangible the whole promise!
2. In its results. Those who have never succeeded in grasping this prize with their hearts, naturally never do so with their hands. Such halfhearted competitors have lost the race even before they begin. Never starting, how are they to arrive? In such an undertaking as this, would it not be more than a miracle if they did?
II. Lack of suitable training. Consider--
1. What “training” Signifies. Living by rule. To be “temperate” (verse 25) is to rule oneself. It is to “keep under” the body, &c. (verse 27). It is to deny ourselves everything that would in any way impede us in running our race (Hebrews 12:1). Hence we see--
2. What the lack of it does. It secures failure.
(1) On account of the greatness of the enterprise. What we are striving for is nothing less than the “mastery.” In such an enterprise, if we do not rule our desires, our desires will rule us--and ruin us too. In such a work we not only need no self-inflicted hindrance, we need all the help we can get.
(2) On account of the insufficiency of our strength. Even those who are strong, if “out of condition,” are unequal to their task. Much more we, who are weak.
Conclusion: To stir us up, consider in the case of failure
1. How much is lost. How can we hope that we are true Christians if we do not even “study to show ourselves approved unto God”? There are those who have just enough religion to make them miserable.
2. How little is gained, viz., too little to be described. The man who misses the approbation of Christ obtains no other in its stead, not even his own. How many centuries have passed since the question of Matthew 16:26 was first asked? How much nearer are we, even now, to finding a reply? (W. S. Lewis, M. A.)
The Christian athlete
I. His exercises. The Christian life may be compared to--
1. A race.
2. A combat.
II. The conditions of success in these exercises.
1. Personal mastery.
3. Distinctness of aim.
4. Concentration of purpose.
III. The reward of success.
1. Its intrinsic value.
2. Its permanence.
Application: This reward should make us--
1. Burn with ambition.
3. Enduring and contented. (W. Stevens.)
The spiritual racer
I. The race. Christian life is a race. It is no haphazard thing; it is marked off and measured; it has a starting-point and a goal.
1. The race begins at the Cross. The Christian, at his conversion, enters the racecourse, and his name is recorded and published.
2. The race ends at death. The most hopeful beginning may have a hopeless ending. A good start is of immense value; but it is not he that maketh a fine start, but “he that endureth unto the end, that shalt be saved.” It does not take very long for the racer to lose all the advantage of a good start: and a life, though nobly run, if it fail in the home stretches, will be sure to miss the crown.
II. The racers are all who have forsaken sin, accepted Christ, and publicly entered the path of obedience. The Bible does not speak of invisible racers, but of those who are “compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses.” Those Grecian athletes were in training long before the day of conflict came. But the Christian’s training begins with the race. He trains in the race, and thus gains agility and skill through the turmoil of the contest. The racers--
1. Strip for the race. “Lay aside every weight.” Nothing that hinders must be left on.
2. Make progress. “Run.” Think how ridiculous a lounger would have appeared, hanging around the ancient stadium, professing to be a racer, but never getting out of sight of the starting-point. Dash into the race, or leave the ground.
3. Persevere. “A race.” Not a little jet of speed, because one feels like it, or down street for fun. Christianity demands not only prompt action, but continuity of effort. If religion were only a thing of frames and feelings, some would soon fly to the goal, especially if the feeling held out.
4. Concentrate effort. “Run a race.” Christianity harmonises all man’s powers, and, with a noble obliviousness to surrounding attractions, hurls the whole man into the race.
5. Are watchful. “So run that ye may obtain.” Christian activity is not a blind, haphazard thing. We are to keep our eyes about us, lest we stumble.
III. The reward. In the stadium, the prize, like all earthly honours, was perishable. But the Christian prize is an incorruptible crown. Proud moment, that, when the successful racer had the chaplet placed upon his brow, amid the applause of thousands. Grander moment for the Christian athlete, when amid the shouts of rejoicing myriads, the pierced hands of Jesus place upon his head the crown of glory, with the blessed words of approval: “Well done,” &c. (T. Kelly.)
The great race
I. The duty enjoined--“running.” The word implies--immediate attention--strong exertion. Not that easy, quiet religion which takes salvation as a matter of course, and regards condemnation as out of date. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence,” &c.
II. The manner of discharging this duty.
1. Previous preparation.
(2) The removal of every weight.
(3) Once more: we should take care in what manner.
(4) Being “shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.”
2. An actual exercise. Running implies--
(1) Going forward.
(2) In a direct line.
(3) Without halting.
(4) Without looking back.
(5) Lawfully (2 Timothy 2:5), i.e.,
(a) In dependence on Christ--
(b) With a view to the glory of Christ.
3. Patient endurance. Blessed are they which “endure to the end, for they shall be saved.”
III. The object at which we are to aim. Everlasting life--to be “found in Christ”--to “know Christ,” whom to know is everlasting life. (Bishop Montagu Villiers.)
The great race
I. The prize competed for. An object in life is necessary to every one. Without it our energies are like the shafts and wheels of a machine, when there is no steam in the boiler. Put before a man the prospect of a fortune, and how cheerfully will he devote himself to his business. An objectless man can only be indolent and wretched. How these conditions remain when we rise to the higher ranges of life. There is an object in religion. Nowhere is a higher incentive needed or furnished.
1. This is not happiness. There are many whose creed is--Be good that you may be happy. But the principle is wrong. It is not for that a good man runs. He knows that happiness is like a little bird which will sit on your shoulder and sing for you all day, if you do not turn to look at it. But the moment you begin to look at it, it takes its flight. Hugo says truly--“Being in possession of the false aim in life, happiness, we forget the true aim, duty!”
2. It is not heaven. That is, undoubtedly, a home of the soul. But Christ never urged men to believe in Him in order that they might get it. The assurance of it is a very different thing from making it the reason of a good life. If the only reason one has for serving God is that he may receive his pitiful denarius at the end of the day, he will find that he has been running a race for a corruptible, not an incorruptible end. His heaven will be no heaven, since his heart will still be full of that self-seeking in whose train follows a hell of discontent and misery. Out of the heart the love of Christ must thrust the selfishness which makes not only present self-good, but eternal self-good, the aim of religion.
3. The thing for which we run is a kingdom of heaven which is within us--a Christlike character. The good man runs the race that he may be “perfect and entire” in goodness, lacking nothing. Heaven will at last fall to his lot, but to get it is not his ambition. He aims at a life made holy by the pursuit of righteousness.
II. Certain conditions accepted.
1. The back must resolutely be turned on wrongdoing. No one can lawfully enter on the contest for holiness with any love of sin in the heart. The merchant who conducts his business upon dishonest principles, cannot at the same time be a disciple. He is not running lawfully, and will never win the prize.
2. A strong faith in Christ who takes away the sin of which we have repented. Many hold that for a good life one has only to recognise the voice of conscience, and to follow its directions. But let us not be deceived. History can tell us something of the fruits of this so-called independent morality. The teaching of Socrates and Plato wrought no radical reformation in Athenian morals. The precepts of Seneca could not save his pupil Nero from the depths of brutality and shame. The moral philosophy of Hume culminated in the French Revolution. It is impossible to rise above the low levels of a sinful self without a high faith in Him who is the power of God unto salvation. Argument is not needed to enforce this. It is prescribed by the eternal Judge.
3. Open confession of our fidelity to. Christ. We cannot, lawfully, run the race in secret. Here is the plain word of the Master. He requires us to enter into open fellowship with His cause on the earth.
4. Great and continued effort. It is not an easy thing to do right. In this contest, every energy of the soul is called into play. Amateur Christianity may do for show, but it tells for nothing in the great sum of life. This is the vice of our age. We are enthusiastic about everything but religion. (H. R. Harris.)
The race of life
1. The style of Paul is peculiar in its directness. We may hesitate to illustrate religious truth by sports as now conducted. The Greek games, however, were not of a mercenary character. No entrance fee was demanded, no betting, and no disreputable people were allowed.
2. Physical culture was more esteemed than now. We often have well-trained minds in thin, sapless bodies. Our schoolrooms rob vitality. In Greece the instruction was given outdoors. Manly struggles ennobled the physical nature.
3. Picture to yourselves the temple of Neptune, the stadium, and the circling seats where sat the beauty and the wealth of Greece, a “great cloud of witnesses” applauding the efforts of the racers. Here is the starting-post and there the goal, with a tripod holding a garland of pine. Now the judge is seated, and the herald cries out that no unclean, no criminal or foreigner, shall draw near. The signal is given and the race begins.
4. We are all runners. Life is earnest. It may be a triumph or a disastrous failure. What is required:--
I. Temperance. This word is belittled if referred to mere abstinence from drink. It means self-mastery. The whole nature must be under constraint and restraint, lest we slip and fall.
II. Watchfulness. Temptations creep upon us stealthily. Wealth, pleasure, ambition, and cupidity have their golden apples. Unless we keep our eye on the goal we are lost.
III. The laying aside of every weight. The Pilgrim lost his load at the Cross. We must drop there everything which hinders. Men of this world make every sacrifice to gain money or power. Politicians run with zeal. They do it for a corruptible crown. (D. M. Reeves, D. D.)
Earnest counsels on the race of life
I. Trifle not--the business is earnest.
II. Delay not--the opportunity is short.
III. Err not--the path is narrow.
IV. Divide not your attention--the work is difficult.
V. Relax not your efforts--he only that endureth shall be saved.
VI. Faint not--the prize is glorious. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The Christian race
You are called, every one of you, for the kingdom of God; but it depends upon yourself whether you will work this salvation out. Life is a race, in which many will run but will not gain a prize. What is the meaning of the simile?
I. Run with all your speed. There are some who labour from morning to night to win the treasures of this life, who are slothful in the work of saving their souls. And if they could gain the whole world and lose their own souls, what is the profit? Run with all your speed, for the way is long to the kingdom of God. The wise men from the East, when they saw the star, followed it through all the dangers and difficulties of a long journey. The attaining of eternal life, i.e., so to live that eternal life may be in us here, is the greatest work that we can do. The prodigal who departed from his father’s house into a far country, has to go back step by step as far as he departed. Surely this work is not the work of a day but of a life; and life is short for so great a work, and life is fleeting and uncertain. We cannot promise ourselves to-morrow; tomorrow is God’s, to-day is ours.
II. Run with all your strength. If you see a man set about doing a task, you can see by the way he goes about it whether his heart is in it or not. Men who decide to get rich or to make a name will overcome every obstacle. But such men are often cowardly and slack in the work of their salvation. And yet we are warned that no man can serve two masters. There must be no half-heartedness in the work of our salvation, and there can be no neutrality. “He who is not for Me is against Me.”
III. With self-denial and temperance. Our Lord has said, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” &c. The thing most necessary to you, you must cast off, if it cause you to sin. Remember that out of the seven deadly sins four are spiritual--pride, jealousy, anger, and strife. Such sins you must cast out. St. Paul says, “I keep under my body,” &c. And if he had need to say that, how much need we? Venial sins are still important sins, and grow into great sins. And therefore, as St. Paul says here, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” Men who desire to exhibit great feats of endurance have to mortify and control themselves in everything; and we cannot live with a little hardness for our eternal reward.
IV. Run with all your hearts. There are two failures in this race--the one is to have too much hope in salvation. Some are as presumptuous as if they had received a revelation that they must be saved. The other is in not having confident hope. We must have confidence in God, and in experience. St. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed,” &c. If a man is running for his life, as long as he has a hope of escape he will continue running; but the moment he despairs he slackens his efforts. A man who is swimming for his life will strike out strongly if he can hope, but the instant he despairs he sinks. So with those who lose their confidence in God, who are overcome by servile fear. Why are we to trust in God? Because--
1. God is Love.
2. You have His promises. He has promised you that if you believe in Him He will give you life eternal, What more do you need?
1. Take care you are in the right way. St. Augustine said, “You are making great strides, indeed, but you are out of the right way.” If we are out of the way, every step we take we are going from the kingdom. Our Lord says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
2. Having begun to run, do not let your heart do what Lot’s wife did. Do not look back on the world which you have given up. (Cardinal Manning.)
The Christian race
I. Its nature--“So run.” It implies--
1. Piety towards God. The love of God must be the all-constraining principle, the Spirit of God the Guide, and the Word of God the constant companion of every candidate.
2. Equity towards all their fellow-creatures. They will, by God’s grace, endeavour to render to all their dues, and it will be their daily habit “to do unto others as they would others should do unto them.”
3. Sobriety as to ourselves. It is not enough to abstain from drunkenness, &c., but the candidate’s Christian course must be temperate in all things, even in lawful matters, keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection. He is to use this world as not abusing it, and to let his “moderation be known unto all men,” because “the Lord is at hand.”
II. The manner. “So run.”
2. With the understanding. We must, ere the resolution be formed, “sit down and count the cost.”
3. Looking forward to “Jesus the Author and Finisher of faith.”
4. Penitently--i.e., godly sorrow for and hatred to sin.
7. Believingly (Hebrews 11:1).
8. Continually. The Christian, unlike the Olympic race, which was celebrated but once in five years, is to be run every day of our lives.
9. Perseveringly. Nothing honourable and desirable is obtained, even in this world, without this.
III. The resign. “That ye may obtain.” (T. Sedger, M. A.)
The Christian race
I. The christian life is compared to a race. There was a peculiar propriety in the selection of such an image when writing to a people who held the Isthmian games in such reverence, that no national calamity was ever known to hinder their performance. The city was sacked on one occasion, but the games went on. Public events were dated from the time of their celebration. The design of the apostle was to show that the advantage was always on the side of him who, instead of the pine leaves, was running for the crown of life.
1. There were points where the comparison held. The racer must keep to the rules of the course, and confine himself within the limits of the stadium. Speed will stand him in no stead without this: and though he may reach the goal, he will not receive the prize. And it is so with the Christian racer. He is not at liberty to choose his ground, to invent a short road, or to seek an easy road there; he must keep in the way of God’s commandments. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” and it is equally dishonoured, whether we multiply religious works and let these stand in lieu of the heart, or whether, under the plea of cultivating the heart, we neglect some plainly commanded duties. One man finds it easier to pray for an hour than to control his temper; another to cultivate a highly emotional religion than to part with his money. The gospel crown must be won in the gospel way.
2. There are points in which the parallel fails.
(1) In an earthly race, however many may start, only one can win, whereas in the Christian race all may win. He who is faithful over a little shall be as certainly rewarded as he who is faithful over much; each shall receive a crown as large as he can wear.
(2) In earthly competitions there must be jealousy and strife; the gain of one competitor is the loss of another, and each one feels it is his interest as far as he lawfully may, to keep all rivals back. But the Christian racer, instead of hindering a weak brother, would help him; he rejoices in the feeling that he has so many companions, and would carry all the world along with him if he could.
II. What is implied in the comparison.
1. The necessity of vigour, singleness of heart, steadiness of purpose, and determination; the concentration on that work in which we are engaged, of all effort and all hope. Thus the text is a protest against all half-heartedness, all matter-of-course religions, all views of salvation which make it a thing to be done by and by. If you are losers in this race, you lose everything.
2. Deliberation; carefulness, frequent looking both to ourselves and to our way, to see that we are running right. Many have run well who have not run rightly. They took their eye off Christ, and all went wrong with them; they missed the prize through having missed the way.
3. Habitual self-denial (verse 25). The restrictions are not meant to be unnatural, or such as to make life a burden, but mere restraints upon what would be a hurtful excess. We are to be temperate in all things--in our enjoyments, our griefs, our worldly ambitions, our most lawful and permitted affections.
4. The absolute necessity of holding on our way unwearied to the end. There is no prize for him who stops half way. If the disciple after taking up his cross grow weary in well doing; if he put his hand to the plough and look back, both labour and crown are lost. Vigour and alacrity in youth, noble self-sacrifice in manhood; the longest and the best running, all will be unavailing, if, like the Galatians, we suffer any influence to drive us back afterwards.
III. The encouragements.
1. Remember all eyes are upon you. The eyes of God are upon you; the eyes of Christ are upon you, rejoicing at each onward and victorious step, and in sorrow rather than in auger turning to look upon you when the voice of the cock-crowing proclaims a shameful fall; the eyes of the holy angels are upon you, watching their opportunities to strengthen you with invisible aids; and the eyes of the malignant powers of darkness are upon you, marking your steps to make you fall; the eyes of glorified spirits are upon you (Hebrews 12:1).
2. Think of the priceless worth of the prize for which we run. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The Christian life a race
I. The christian life is a race. Rapidity, energy, &c., required (Luke 13:24; Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; see Gr., and cf. Luke 22:44). Running often used in illustration of Christian course (Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 12:1; and see Song of Solomon 1:4, and Psalms 119:32). Some are walking, crawling, loitering,’ &c. (1 Corinthians 16:13). Is not heaven worth running for? (Matthew 11:12). Strive; for many will seek (only) and fail (Luke 13:1-35.).
II. The great difference between the figure and reality. There one receives the prize; here all may, though some come much behind others. Happy those with a finished course, a crown won! Some are lame, halt, feeble, slow, &c. Nevertheless, if in Christ, who is the way, they will yet win, and many first will be last, and last first.
III. How? Mark how these Greeks were trained.
1. What care, pains, self-denial, self-restraint in all things, hours, food, rest, &c. (Romans 8:13). The Corinthians self-indulgent, which St. Paul rebukes (cf. 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8; and especially 2 Timothy 2:3-5)
2. They were to “strive lawfully.” So we are “under the law to Christ” (v. 21).
IV. The prize. Great disparity between the reality and the figure. Astonishing what men will undergo to obtain--what? a little fame, gold, power, or authority. All the prizes of this world like those in Greece, which were wreaths, no sooner clutched than gone. But the Christian prize how glorious. A crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8); of life (Revelation 2:10; James 1:12); of glory (1 Peter 5:4; cf. Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 7:9). “Hold fast that thou hast,” &e. What hast thou?--hast thou Christ? Hold Him fast and run. Soon the race will be over (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Conclusion: Revelation 3:21; Revelation 2:10. (W. E. Light, M. A.)
The heavenly race
1. There are few things upon record in which the exertion was so violent, and yet so short, as a Greek race. And therefore it stands at least four times in St. Paul’s epistles, as the emblem of the brevity and the struggle of the Christian life.
2. We can conceive how the believer’s career will look when he casts his eye back upon it from eternity. First there came a Divine influence--then a holy ambition--then an earnest determination--then all the happy self-discipline--then the race--severe even unto death: he rushed, passed by, and all is over--and then the rest, and the joy.
3. In that course all of you are occupying now your positions. Your stadium is the little span of your present existence--the spectators are the holy angels, the heralds are the ministers who call you to the contest, and animate you by the way--the umpire is the Lord Jesus, and the crown is life eternal.
4. Already some have run their course, and are not uninterested in those who are filling, after them, the same exciting scene. Others are just offering themselves; while many are midway. But alas I some have never set out, and others who did “run well”--but, bewitched with the world’s sorcery, they have ceased to run. We shall only be fulfilling our duty, as the heralds, if we set before you--
I. Some of the conditions of the course upon which your admission and your subsequent victory must depend.
1. In those Isthmian games none could join who were not freemen of unspotted character. As soon as the combatants appeared, the crier, having commanded silence, laid his hand on the head of each in succession, demanding of all the assembly, “Is there any one here who can accuse this man of being a slave, or of being guilty of any moral wrongs of life?” If any stain was found upon his character, he was excluded; but if otherwise, then he was led to the altar of Jupiter, there to make solemn oath that he would conform to all the regulations, and so he proceeded to the brunt.
2. And now what if God should make proclamation that none should be candidates for the crown of life but those who, free from sin, are obedient to His laws? Could you pass the scrutiny? The very scrutiny of which St. Paul speaks in verse 27, “castaway” meaning “not approved in the scrutiny.” If there be any secret love of sin, men may reckon you in the number of candidates, but God does not!
II. But suppose that the examination has shown you one who, believing in Christ, is emancipated from sin, and obedient to God’s law. Follow me to the stripping room (Hebrews 12:1). There are some who are sadly “weighted” with many things, Hoarding money--personal vanity--worldly amusements--society where God is not--self-indulgence. What are these things but clogs? You cannot “run” with those things on. Will you cumber your energies when you need to stretch them to the uttermost? In the natural course, men are accurate to the ounce--and will you trifle with those fearful odds? You may set out; but if your heart is not in it, it will only be soon to creep, then to crawl, then to stop, then to lie down, then to go to sleep, and then to die! Go into the stripping room at once, undress yourself, else do not call yourself a runner.
III. But now, entered on the race, “Press toward the mark for the prize.”
1. “The mark” was a certain line drawn along tile course, to show the runners exactly where they were to run--so that if you would run lawfully, take care not only that you are going to the right object, but that you are pursuing that object along the right line. The Christian’s “mark,” in general words, is the Scriptural method of salvation. This “mark” stretches itself out all along. “Press” to it. Every day consult your Bible to find your “mark.”
2. At the time when St. Paul was writing there was a particular race in which every runner carried a torch; and he won the race who came in first, bringing with him his torch still alight. Some, running very fast, put out their torch; others, running slowly, kept their torch in, but arrived too late. Beware lest a false excitement put out the flame of love! and yet beware, equally, lest over-caution hinder too long! but let zeal and love, patience and speed, go hand in hand, with equal pace--for so heaven is won!
IV. And now I see you in the midst of your career. Every race quickens as it proceeds; and the competition grows greater. You must stretch to the point. The secret of every race, perhaps, is fixedness of eye. Therefore the apostle has given us two directions.
1. “Forget the things which are behind”--counting our own past attainment nothing.
2. “Look unto Jesus.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The heavenly race
I. What are we to run for?
1. Some think they must be religious in order to be respectable. Verily, if this be what you seek after, you shall get it; for the Pharisees who sought the praise of men “had their reward.” But is it worth the drudgery?
2. Others go a little farther and desire to be considered saints. We have a considerable admixture of persons in our churches who only come for the mere sake of obtaining a religious status. “They have their reward,” and they shall never have any but what they obtain here.
3. Another set take up with religious life for what they can get by it. I have known tradespeople attend church for the mere sake of getting custom. Loaves and fishes drew some of Christ’s followers, and they are very attracting baits, even to this day. They have their reward; but at what a price they buy it!
4. Another class take up with religion for the sake of quieting their conscience; and it is astonishing how little of religion will sometimes do that. I have known a man who was drunk in the week, and who got his money dishonestly, and yet he always had an easy conscience by going to church on Sunday.
5. If you run for anything else than salvation, should you win, what you have won is not worth the running for.
II. The rules of the race.
1. Some never will obtain the prize, because they are not even entered. These will tell you, “We make no profession.” It is quite as well, perhaps, that you do not; because it is better to make no profession at all than to be hypocrites. Yet it is strange that men should be so ready to confess this. People are not so fast about telling their faults: and yet you hear people confess the greatest fault. God has made them, and yet they won’t serve Him; Christ hath come into the world to save them, and yet they will not regard Him.
2. There is another class whose names are down, but they never started right. A bad start is a sad thing. There are some who on a sudden leap into religion. They get it quickly, and they keep it for a time, and at last they lose it because they did not get their religion the right way. They have heard that before a man can be saved, it is necessary to feel the weight of sin, make a confession of it, renounce all hope in his own works, and look to Jesus alone. But they look upon all these things as unpleasant preliminaries and therefore, before they have attended to repentance, &c., they make a profession of religion. This is just setting up in business without a stock-in-trade, and there must be a failure.
3. Some cannot win because they carry too much weight. “How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven!” Carry the weight of this world’s cares about you, and it will be as much as you can do to stand upright under them, but as to running a race with such burdens, it is just impossible.
4. We have known people who stopped on their way to kick their fellows. Such things sometimes occur in a race. The horse, instead of speeding onwards to the mark, is of an angry disposition, and sets about kicking those that are running beside him--there is not much probability of his coming in first. “Now they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize.” There is one, however, who never gets it, and that is the man who always attends to his fellow-creatures instead of himself. It is a mysterious thing that I never yet saw a man with a hoe on his shoulder, going to hoe his neighbour’s garden; but every day I meet with persons who are attending to other people’s character. They have so few virtues of their own that they do not like anybody else to have any.
5. Those will not win the race who, although they seem to start very fair, very soon loiter. At the first starting they fly away as if they had wings to their heels; but a little further on it is with difficulty that with whip and spur they are to be kept going at all.
6. Another class start well too, and they run very fast at first, but at last they leap over the rails and go quite out of the course altogether. They are like the dog that returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. “The last end of that man shall be worse than the first.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Running in the race
I. The necessity of self-denial.
1. Difficulty of winning the crown. If he who makes every exertion is the only winner, what becomes of the sluggish, selfish soul? All roads downward are easy; all roads upward difficult.
2. Greatness of the loss of the crown. Some will be saved--so as by fire (chap. 3.). Scarcely saved, but the reward lost.
II. Its nature.
1. All sin must be laid aside. Progress is impossible so long as one sin is deliberately indulged or one duty wilfully neglected.
2. All weights must be laid aside (Hebrews 12:1-3). What is lawful in itself may weigh us down. The true runner will sacrifice everything to progress.
III. Its inducement. Throughout the moral universe there runs a law of compensation. Self-denial is but a postponement of pleasure to the future.
1. Sacrifice is reward by self-mastery. To keep the body under implies the reason and conscience enthroned and regnant, and the Spirit of God ruling over all. That is the ideal estate of man.
2. Progress and coronation. To make advance is reward enough to a true disciple; but to get to the goal and get the prize too--that is heaven.
1. We must run lawfully, i.e., according to the Scripture rules of the race.
2. We must be temperate in all things.
3. We must run perseveringly; pursuing even when faint.
4. We must run hopefully.
5. We must run purposefully--not as a boxer who beats the air, not as one who runs uncertainly--a definite goal and the eye always on it. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Running, the true Christian attitude
Cecil says that some adopt the Indian maxim, that it is better to walk than to run, and better to stand than to walk, and better to sit than to stand, and better to lie than to sit. Such is not the teaching of the gospel. It is a good thing to be walking in the ways of God, but it is better to be running--making real and visible progress, day by day advancing in experience and attainments. David likens the sun to a strong man rejoicing to run a race; not dreading it and shrinking back from it, but delighting in the opportunity of putting forth all his powers. Who so runs, runs well. (The Christian.)
Not all who run win
As victory in the games was the incentive which stimulated the youth of Greece to attain the perfection of physical strength and beauty, so there is laid before us an incentive which is sufficient to carry us forward to perfect moral attainment. The brightest jewel in the incorruptible crown is the joy of having become all God made us to be. But there are men who when opportunity is given them to win true glory turn away to salaries and profits, to meat, drink, and frivolity. The incorruptible crown is held over their head; but so intent are they on the muck-rake, they do not even see it. To those who would win it Paul gives these directions:--
I. Be temperate (verse 25).
1. Contentedly and without a murmur the racer submits to the ten months’ training without which he may as well not compete. The little indulgences of others he must forego. His chances are gone if in any point he relaxes the discipline. So if the Christian indulges in the pleasures of life as freely as other men, he proves that he has no higher aim than they and can of course win no higher prize.
2. Temperance is complete and continuous self-rule. No spasmodic efforts and partial abstinences will ever bring a man victorious to the goal. One day’s debauch was enough to undo the result of weeks in the case of the athlete; and one lapse into worldliness undoes what years of self-restraint have won. One indiscretion on the part of the convalescent will undo what the care of months has slowly achieved. One fraud spoils the character for honesty which years of upright living have earned.
II. Be decided. “I run,” says Paul, “not as uncertainly,” not as a man who does not know where he is going or has not made up his mind to go there. We have all some kind of idea about what God offers and calls us to. But this idea must be clear if we are to make for it straight. No man can run straight to a mere will-o’-the-wisp, or who first means to go to one station and then changes his mind. Paul had made up his mind not to pursue comfort, learning, money, &c., but the kingdom of God. He knew where he was going and to what all his efforts tended. What then do the traces of our past life show?
III. Be in earnest. “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air,” not as one amusing himself with idle flourishes, but as one who has a real enemy to encounter.
1. How much of mere parade and sham-fighting is there in the Christian army! We seem to be doing everything that a good soldier of Jesus Christ need do save the one thing: we slay no enemy. We are well trained: we could instruct others; we spend much time on exercises which are calculated to make an impression on sin; but where are our slain foes?
2. Even where there is some reality in the contest we may still be beating the air. Many persons who level blows at their sins do not after all strike them. Spiritual energy is put forth; but it is not brought into contact with the sin to be destroyed. Paul’s language suggests that the reason may be that there remains in the heart some reluctance quite to kill and put an end to sin. We pray God, for example, to preserve us from the evils of praise or of success; and yet we continue to court them. Therefore our warfare against sin becomes unreal.
3. The result is detrimental. Sin is like something floating in the air or the water: the very effort we make to grasp and crush it displaces it, and it floats mockingly before us untouched. Or it is like an agile antagonist who springs back from our blow, so that the force we have expended merely racks and strains our own sinews and does him no injury. So when we spend much effort in conquering sin and find it as lively as ever, the spirit is strained and hurt. It is less able than before to resist sin, less believing, less hopeful, and scoffs at fresh resolves and endeavours. Finally, Paul tells us that the enemy against which he directed his well-planted blows was his own body. Every man’s body is his enemy when, instead of being his servant, it becomes his master. When the body mutinies and refuses to obey the will, it becomes our most dangerous enemy. The word Paul uses is the word used of the most damaging blow one boxer could give another. It was probably by sheer strength of will and by the grace of Christ that Paul subdued his body. Many in all ages have striven to subdue it by fasting, &c., and of these practices we have no right to speak scornfully until we can say that by other means we have reduced the body to its proper position as the servant of the spirit. There is a fair and reasonable degree in which a marl may and ought to cherish his own flesh, but there is also needful a disregard to many of its claims and a hard-hearted obduracy to its complaints. In an age when Spartan simplicity of life is almost Unknown, it is very easy to sow to the flesh almost without knowing it until we find ourselves reaping corruption. (M. Dods, D. D.)
How to win the crown
I. Make up your mind to run. Decision: This must be settled once for all: “Put my name down, I will run.” St. Paul says, “So have I; I therefore so run.” Have you?
II. Put yourself in training. Discipline: “For even Christ pleased not Himself.”
III. Strain every nerve. Earnestness: See them, each one alert, waiting for the signal--then, away, each one with desperate eagerness seeking to cover the course. “So run that ye may obtain.” Strenuous effort is needed. Look at rowers in a boat-race, or players in a football match. Are we to be put to shame by these?
IV. Aim at the winning-post. Singleness of mind: Straight for the mark! No step can he afford to take outside the line which leads right to it.
V. Hit straight and hard! Reality: It is no sham-fight. He cannot afford to hit wildly, as one beating the air. Our own besetting sin must be found out. We must learn, what the tempter knows so well, where our weak place is. There we must meet the enemy.
VI. Never give in. Persistence: Keep at it to the end. (T. Puddicombe.)
The Christian race
I. How we ought to conduct ourselves in the Christian life, or, to preserve the metaphor, how we ought to run so as to obtain.
1. We ought to make ourselves well acquainted with the nature of the Christian life, with its duties and advantages, its difficulties and its dangers. This knowledge lies at the foundation of all spiritual improvement. The history of Christianity abounds with examples of the dangerous effects of partial and mistaken views of religion. To this source we may trace that system of corruption and superstition which, after the days of the apostles, gradually spread over a great part of the world. To the same source we may trace the overwhelming influence of the papal power, the thunders of excommunication, and the horrors of the Inquisition, the practice of retiring from the world to a life of monastic seclusion, together with many of those wars, persecutions, and massacres, which in the Middle Ages deluged with blood the nations of Europe. A plan of mercy has been devised and executed for the salvation of man. This plan, together with the means by which we become interested in it, has been fully unfolded in the gospel. But if we are ignorant of those means, we cannot possibly avail ourselves of them. Hence the necessity of being acquainted with the Scriptures. They contain a full revelation of the Divine will. In them the path of duty is clearly pointed out, and they unfold the mystery which had been hid for ages, but which was at last made known by Jesus Christ.
2. Having become acquainted with the nature of tile Christian life, we ought also carefully to avoid everything that may obstruct or retard us in our spiritual course. Christians ought to guard against the beginnings of sin, and shun every appearance of evil. They ought to subdue every evil passion, and to mortify every unhallowed lust. Without doing this, it is in vain to think of making progress in religious attainments. Every commandment of the law is enjoined by the same authority, and therefore whoever habitually violates any one of them, may be justly reputed a transgressor of the whole.
3. But Christians ought not merely to abstain from sin, they ought to discharge the duties of the Christian life with patience, with ardour, and with perseverance.
(1) They ought to discharge them with patience. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Patience is opposed to a hasty, fretful, and discontented temper, and consists in a disposition to bear the severest trials without murmuring, and to fulfil the part assigned to us, notwithstanding all the difficulties with which we may have to struggle.
(2) We ought to discharge the duties of the Christian life with ardour. This temper of mind is directly opposite to that lukewarmness, and difference about religion, which the Scriptures so much condemn. Why are men so ready to lay hold of every little excuse to justify their criminal attachment to the enjoyments of the present life, and their neglect of future blessings? It is because they want that ardour which penetrates the heart of the disciples of Christ, and’ alone can raise them above the enjoyments of the world.
(3) We ought to persevere in well-doing to the end of our days.
II. Some motives to encourage you to comply with the exhortation in the text.
1. Consider, first, that you have many spectators of your conduct. To be approved of by those whose approbation we esteem; to be respected by those among whom we live; to be extolled by the wise and the good, and to obtain a name among such as have distinguished themselves among men; this conveys to the mind a pleasure, to which no man can be insensible.
2. Consider, next, the example of those who have gone before us. The duties to which we are called have already been performed; the difficulties with which we have to struggle have already been surmounted; and the troubles which we feel have already been borne by many of our brethren.
3. Consider, again, that the discharge of our duty is itself attended with pleasure; that the service which God requires of us is the most conducive to our present peace, as well as to our future happiness.
4. Consider, also, that a crown of glory is reserved for the faithful disciple of Christ. It is not a garland made up of flowers and leaves, which soon wither and decay; it is a crown which will flourish, when the most precious gems on earth are dissolved, when the luminaries of heaven are extinguished, and the moon and the stars fade away in their orbs.
5. We have the promise of Divine aid in every difficulty and in every trial. God sendeth no man a warfare on his own charges. When He calls us to duty, He invariably promises to fit us for the discharge of it. (John Ramsay, M. A.)
I. To give you a general account of the race we have to run. In general, the race we have to run comprehends the whole of that duty we owe to God; namely, obedience to His laws, and submission to His providence; doing what He commands, and patiently enduring whatever He is pleased to appoint.
II. To illustrate the fitness and propriety of this similitude, and to show that the Christian life doth very much resemble a race in several important respects. There is a certain limited way in which the Christian must run, emphatically called the way of God’s commandments. This we must keep with the utmost precision, “neither turning aside to the right hand, nor to the left.” Mere activity will not avail us: we may be very keen and busy, but if we are not busy according to rule, we only lose our labour: God can never accept it as a service done to Him. Again, as running a race is a swift and constant progression, so ought the life of a Christian to be. There are several important respects in which the Christian race doth widely differ from all others.
1. In other races, though many may start, and hold out to the end, yet none but the foremost receiveth the prize: whereas it is quite otherwise in the Christian race. There may be a great disparity among the candidates, but every one who endureth to the end shall be saved.
2. They who run in the Christian race have no envy, no jealousy, among themselves; far less do they molest and hinder one another: on the contrary, the stronger help forward the weaker, and give them all the assistance in their power.
3. They who run in other races have nothing but labour till they obtain the prize; but in the Christian race, the exercise itself carries part of the reward in its bosom: “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
4. A distinguishing property of the Christian race; namely, the certainty of gaining the prize at last.
III. Let me now exhort you so to run that you may at length obtain. And for this end let us consider--
1. That many eyes are upon us.
2. That many have already run this race who are now in possession of tile glorious prize.
3. The unspeakable worth of the prize to be obtained. (R. Walker.)
I. Nothing is more undeniably true than that rivalries are among the most fruitful sources of evil in every department of life.
1. People are agitated by heated political contests which, for a time, absorb every other interest.
2. Commercial rivalries. The rivalries of the street, the shop, the drawing-room, when and where do we not hear their echoes?
II. How universal is the training that produces these rivalries. It begins in childhood and runs all through life. How many people are there who covet a thing because it is intrinsically good, compared with those who covet it because it is better than somebody else’s. The race of competitive display we see on every side. No place is so sacred as to be free from it.
III. Yet competition, a strife to excel, nay, if you choose, downright rivalry, has a just and rightful place in the plan of human life.
1. It is the equitable thing that the best man should win.
2. But the rivalries of our daily life must be exercised under manly and Christian sanctions.
3. But having said this, let us see to it that no eagerness for victory persuades us for one moment to forget that greater than any other triumph is the triumph of inflexible principle.
4. It is just here that we touch what may be called the heroic side of human rivalries.
5. In the eagerness of business competition, in the race for a prize, whether it he social, or commercial, or political, what a rare field for that magnanimity which will not take an undue advantage of another.
6. And even so, nay, still more, when there comes that harder strain upon the nobility of our nature which comes with our successes. How hard to bear meekly and generously the intoxication of success. (H. C. Potter, D. D.)
Try a run
On one occasion I had taken my boys with me to the top of a mountain 2,500 feet high. The youngest of them got very tired on the way back; I thought he would fairly give in, and that I would have to carry him. As we were crossing the valley we came within sight of home, a mile and a half off. I said, “Shall we run and see who will be home first?” He put his hand in mine, and we started off with this idea: “We will be home before the boys.” On we went, leaping over streams, jumping over every boulder, on and on across the fields. Disheartened worker, if you get tired and weary in God’s service, try a run, holding your Father’s hand. (J. Carstairs.)
Parabolic use of the occupations of life
I. That the lower occupations of our life serve as a parable of the highest. Probably, few parables of Christian life could have been more clearly understood and keenly appreciated than these national pastimes. Pastimes become parables of Christian life. Yes, and if pastimes, why not all the engagements of life? Assuredly Scripture warrants us letting commerce become such a parable. “Buy the truth,” &c. Do not agriculture, travel, art, music, &c., stand out to thoughtful eyes as indications of the true merchandise, exploration, painting, harmony, of which all that concern merely the material are but shadows. “The things that are seen are temporal,” &c.
II. That the highest occupations of life challenge and employ all the best qualities of manhood that are employed in the lower. St. Paul clearly recognised certain moral elements of great worth in those ancient games. There was the perseverance of the runner, the self-mastery of the wrestler; arid such perseverance and self-mastery were to be imitated by men in the highest region of human experiences. So it is in the whole realm of occupation. The industry, persistence, frugality, heroism, &c., we may see in any course of human affairs are to be imitated by us in our concern for, and contact with, the sublimest spiritual realities. Why? This leads us to notice--
III. That there is urgent need for the exercise of these qualities, because in the highest concerns of life the difficulties are greater, the rewards richer, and the failure more terrible than in the lower.
1. The race to be run by the soul who would reach the true goal is longer, has more obstacles, requires more strength than that old race.
2. The rewards are higher for they are incorruptible, perfectly pure and unfading.
3. The failure is more deplorable. To miss the goal is nothing in comparison with becoming a moral castaway. (U. R. Thomas.)
Jacob’s ladder, or the way to heaven
1. The apostle saith that you must run. It is not an easy nor a short journey, which a dreamer, a snail, or any careless man may perform and take his ease. A man must always run, from the first day he setteth forth till he come to his journey’s end.
2. Christ saith, “I am the way,” and therefore He bids us to follow Him. He began betime, for at twelve years of age He was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). He made speed; for “He spake and did more good things” in three and thirty years, “than could be written!” (John 21:25). He kept the right way; for none could accuse Him of sin, though they watched Him for that purpose. He continued well; for He died like a lamb, and prayed to His Father, and forgave His enemies. Therefore do you--
I. Begin betime. God requiring the firstborn for His offering, and the first-fruits for His service, requireth the first labours of His servants, because the best season to seek God is to seek Him early. And therefore Wisdom saith, “They which seek me early shall find me”; but to them which defer, she saith, “Ye shall seek me, but ye shall not find me.” Therefore the Holy Ghost crieth so often, “This is the acceptable time; this is the day of salvation; to-day hear His voice.” Who is so young that has not received some talent or other? Therefore the fathers were charged to teach their children the same law which they had themselves (Deuteronomy 6:7), and Christ rebuked the disciples which forbade the little children to be brought to Him (Matthew 19:14), for, should children honour their father, and not honour God? Manna was gathered in the morning, because when the sun arose it did melt away; so virtue must be gathered betime, for if we stay till business and pleasures come upon us, they will melt it faster than we can gather it. Yea, doth not God require morning as well as evening sacrifice? It is an old saying, repentance is never too late; but it is a true saying, repentance is never too soon; for so soon as ever we sin, we had need to ask forgiveness. Therefore linger not with Lot; for if the angel had not snatched him away, he had perished with Sodom for his delay. They were but foolish virgins, which sought not for oil before the bridegroom came. Samuel began to serve God in his minority (1 Samuel 2:18). Timothy read the Scripture in his childhood (2 Timothy 3:15); John grew in spirit as he ripened in years (Luke 1:80).
II. Keep the way. As God taught Israel the way to Canaan, sending a fiery pillar before them, which they followed wheresoever it went; so when He ordained a heaven for men, He appointed a way to come unto it, which way he that misseth shall never come to the end. There be many wrong ways, as there be many errors; there is but one right way, as there is but one truth. And, therefore, Jacob did not see many, but one ladder, which reached to heaven. It is not enough to run, but we must know how we run. Therefore, if ye ask, like the scribe, how ye shall come to heaven, the right way to heaven is the Word, which came from heaven, and the way by which the Word doth set thee into heaven is, to do to others as thou wouldst have others do to thee; to exercise good works, and yet believe that Christ’s works shall save thee; to pray without doubting, and yet be content that thy prayer be not granted; to keep within thy calling, and do nothing by contention; to bring thy will unto God’s will, and suffer for Christ, because He hath suffered for thee; to apply all things to the glory of God, and of everything to make some use. Thus the Word goeth before us like the fiery pillar, and shows us when we are in, and when we are out.
III. Make haste. For this cause Paul saith, “Run,” which is the swiftest pace of man; as though he should go faster to heaven than to any place else in the world. His meaning is this, that as a man doth watch, and run, and labour, to be rich quickly, so he should hear, and pray, and study, and use all means, to be wise quickly. Therefore St. James says, “Be swift to hear” (James 1:19). We must be swift to pray, to obey, to do good; for he is not cursed only which doeth not the Lord’s business, but he which “doeth it negligently” (Jeremiah 48:10). The hound, which runs but for the hare, runs as fast as possibly he can; the hawk, which flieth but for the partridge, flieth as fast as possibly she can; and shall he which runs for heaven creep more slowly than the dial?
IV. Persevere to the end. For if you begin betimes, and go aright, and make haste, and continue not to the end, your reward is with them of whom Peter saith, “Their end is worse than their beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). Therefore the Holy Ghost cries so often, “Be faithful even unto death,” “Be not weary of well-doing,” “Take heed lest ye fall.” For when thou art weary of thy godliness, God doth not count thee good, but weary of goodness. Therefore Paul saith, “Pray continually,” as though prayer were nothing without continuance. Some came into the vineyard in the morning, and some at noon; but none received any reward but they which stayed till night. To have the ark but a while doeth more hurt to the Philistines than benefit them; so to serve God but a while doth more damage us than help us. Let the dog turn to the vomit, and the swine to the wallow; but thou, like Abraham, hold on thy sacrifice until evening, even the evening of thy life, and a full measure shall be measured unto thee. When one told Socrates, that he would very fain go to Olympus, but he feared that he should not be able to endure the pains; Socrates answered him, “I know that thou usest to walk every day between thy meals, which walk continue forward in thy way to Olympus, and within five or six days thou shalt come thither.” How easy was this, and yet he saw it not. So is the way to heaven. If men did bend themselves as much to do good as they beat their brains to do evil, they might go to heaven with less trouble than they go to hell. (H. Smith.)
1 Corinthians 9:25
Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
I. The fact that the Christian life is a striving after an end. This text is out of joint with much of the language of the present day. Such as “the rest of faith”--as if Christian life were inaction. This is not an exceptional experience, or merely true of babes in Christ. The language appears again and again as the constant state of the apostle.
II. The manner of the strife.
1. Lawfully. It must be in harmony with the Divine rule, not with our own impulses.
2. Certainly. Lawfulness secures certainty. Men guided by Christ are not in doubt as to what they ought to do, or as to the result.
III. The object of our striving. “I keep under my body.” We think there was little need of Paul to do this. His body was indeed subject; he had gone through peril, trial, persecution. He never indulged it.
IV. The motives.
1. Not to be a castaway.
2. To gain a crown. (W. Landell, D. D.)
Temperance helpful to resolution
It is weak to be scared at difficulties, seeing that they generally diminish as they are approached, and oftentimes even entirely vanish. No man can tell what he can do till he tries. It is impossible to calculate the extent of human powers; it can only be ascertained by experiment. What has been accomplished by parties and by solitary individuals in the torrid and frozen regions, under circumstances the most difficult and appalling, should teach us that when we ought to attempt we should never despair. The reason why men oftener succeed in overcoming uncommon difficulties than ordinary ones is, that in the first case they call into action the whole of their resources, and that in the last they act upon calculation, and generally undercalculate. Confidence of success is almost success; and obstacles often fall of themselves before a determination to overcome them. There is something in resolution which has an influence beyond itself, and it marches on like a mighty lord among its slaves; all is prostration where it appears. When bent on good, it is almost the noblest attribute of man; when on evil, the most dangerous. It is by habitual resolution that men succeed to any great extent; impulses are not sufficient. What is done at one moment is undone the next; and a step forward is nothing gained unless it is followed up. Resolution depends mainly on the state of the digestion, which St. Paul remarkably illustrates when he says, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.”
I. As an element of Christian character. There are many elements that constitute this; but there can be no full-rounded Christian life without temperance.
1. Observe the frequent references made to it in Scripture. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1-26.), and one step in the ladder of Christian graces (2 Peter 1:1-21.). In his address to Felix, Paul reasoned of it.
2. The word literally means the power of regulating one’s self; hence it is synonymous with self-control; and as self-control is needed only when there is temptation to sinful indulgence, there is contained in it the further idea of self-sacrifice. So it lies at the foundation of the noblest of all lives. This is the principle that made the martyrs.
3. Let it not be supposed that it was unknown prior to the Christian era. It was practised, as we see, by the athletes; so that Christianity simply took hold of an existing principle and applied it to a new case. But formerly its end was selfish and secular; now it is exercised for a worthier end.
4. Self-denial, then, occupies no secondary place. He who is not able to practise it is not worthy to be a follower of Christ. But how can this be unless we possess something of His spirit? The highest type of man is he who is likest to Christ in consecration and self-denying service. This is what we should aim at; it is the perfection of character. “Shall Jesus bear the Cross alone, and all the world go free?” &c.
II. As a condition of moral conquest.
1. No one ever yet did anything great without making a sacrifice. The prize-wrestler deemed it indispensable to success. He had to forego everything that did not contribute to the end in view. It is the same all through life. Whatever be one’s abilities, there is no royal road to proficiency; and of all things, the most difficult to master is one’s self. If the prize-fighter, the soldier, the student, the merchant, can be self-denying to gain their ends, why cannot the Christian deny himself to gain his end? Think of the self-denial of Moses, Daniel, tile three Hebrew children. Let their manly example impress on us the duty of total abstinence, when the alternative is sin.
2. Herein lies the guarantee of conquest. Let self be put down and Christ lifted up, and then not only will the life be itself a success, but it will be a power for the moral conquest of the world, for we can influence others only in proportion as we live under the power of the truth ourselves. The world will not readily be impressed with that spirit which makes self-interest its end, nor be struck with the excellence of that religion which makes no sacrifice.
III. As a duty of universal obligation.
1. We owe it to Christ. We owe our salvation to the practice of this principle on His part. Think what He gave up for us.
2. We owe it to ourselves. How many are there who, from protracted pandering to the cravings of their lower nature, have lost the power of self-control!
3. We owe it to our fellow-men. If Christ denied Himself for us, should we not also deny ourselves for the brethren, and, like the noble Apostle of the Gentiles, become all things to all men? (D. Merson, M. A.)
Self-control possible to all
1. Paul, instructed in all the narrowness of his people, escaped entirely from it, and became as unconventional as you can well imagine a man to be. If he went past a heathen temple, he used that as an illustration of Divine truth.
2. The illustration of our text is one drawn from the conflicts where wrestlers or racers contended for the wreath. He declares that men who strove for these things were “temperate.” Now temperance means self-control, and self-control, self-denial. This was much to say in Corinth.
I. Self-control is the common experience of men, and Christianity appeals to an active possibility, for a purpose far higher than that for which men usually employ self-control.
1. If there is a class who are more than any other given up to the force of animal desires, it is the athletic class. And yet for the (to them) highest pleasure they persuade themselves to practise extraordinary self-control. If I were to preach to them a temperate life, for the sake of spiritual dignity, they would reply, “That will do very well for parsons, but it is impossible for men like us.” And yet they practise far more than what would be necessary to make them eminent Christians. Did you ever read the history of the training of men for prize-fights? The system of exercises, if exerted in industry, would obtain for them a living during the whole year.
2. If there be anything in this world that men dislike, it is the unintermitted endurance of discomforts and disciplines; and yet how cheerfully do soldiers endure these things under the stimulus of various motives of ambition, patriotism, and esprit de corps. Well, if these men can do it, anybody can. The only question is, Will you?
3. There is no class that submit to so much inconvenience and self-denial as commercial men. The most disagreeable things are done by men, and men of sensitive nerve, if there be money in them. How patiently will they work in the tallow-chandler’s shop, or a fish-shop, or in a mine, &c.; nay, cheerfully go to the tropics, and burn in Cuba. Ah! how sublime the life would be of an all-world-disturbing merchant, if only it were for a moral end.
4. Consider how patient men are with their fellow-men. The hardest thing to bear is men. A man that can bear cheerfully his fellow-men has little to learn. When men have no motive, how cross and uncharitable they are. But the moment they have an interest in others, see what perfect Christians they are--in a way! If a man owes you a debt, and you think you can get it by crushing him as a cluster is crushed, you will do it. But sometimes there is no cluster to crush, and then you tend this man, and take care of him. You do a world of work for the sake of helping him to bear clusters that by and by shall be pressed into your cup. Why, if you should take a man on Christian principles, and do as much as that for him, you would be canonised as a saint. And then, for the same reasons, see how men bear with disagreeable men. You have your wares for sale, and anybody that buys is welcome to your shop. And if the price is that you shall be “hail fellow well met” with him, you swallow down any reluctance, and say, “We must not do anything to offend him.” During the days when colour was a virtue, in a famous church in New York a distinguished merchant had a coloured man in his pew, whose presence in the congregation had the same effect that a lump of salt would have in a cup of tea. And as they went out of the church, they gathered about the merchant, and said, “What possessed you to bring that nigger into your pew?” He whispered, “He is a great planter, a millionaire.” And then they said, “Introduce us to him.” Then where was their fine taste? When mammon said, “Let it go,” it was all right. But when Jesus said, “Let it go,” that was detestable.
5. Nay, more. We see how willingly and cheerfully great men, great natures, for the sake of an ignoble ambition, that is not very high, after all, will sacrifice their lives, their multiform faculties and enjoyments. There are those living that are to be revered for many excellences, who, adopting the apostle’s form of expression, could say, “I count all things but dung, that I may win the Presidency.”
II. Now the Lord Jesus, calling us to honour and glory and immortality, says only what the world says of its poor, grovelling, and miserable things--“Take up your cross and follow me.” Lust says so: why should not love say so? Earthly glory that fades like the laurel wreath says so: why should not that crown of gold that never grows dim say so? When we urge such considerations upon the young, and young men are fired thereby; when truly noble natures hear the call, and accept it, and yield themselves to it, and enter upon a religious life with fervour, and deny themselves in all things in furtherance of its commands, how strangely the world fails to recognise its own redeeming qualities! And how are these men called enthusiasts! Now, enthusiasm in religion is the only good sense. There is not a father who does not say to his child, going out into life, “If you are to succeed as a lawyer, my son, you must give yourself to it.” And I say to every man that is going out as a Christian, “If you are going to succeed as a Christian, you must give yourself to it.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.--
Contrasted aims and parallel methods
Here we get, in a picturesque fashion--
I. The world’s sad folly in its ordinary aims. The wreath was, of course, not what the racer ran for. It was only a symbol, and its entirely valueless character made it all the more valuable. It expressed simply honour and the joy of success. In front of the temple that presided over the games was a long avenue, on either side of which stood ranged the statues of the victors; and the hope that flushed many a man’s face was that his image, with his name on its pedestal, should stand there. And where are they all? Their names forgotten, the marble likenesses buried beneath the greensward, over which the shepherd to-day pastures his quiet flocks. And all our pursuits, unless they be linked with eternity and God, are as evanescent and disproportioned as was the wreath for which months of discipline, and moments of almost superhuman effort, were considered but a small price to pay. Business, providing for a family, &c., necessarily demand attention. You may so use them as to secure the remoter aims of growing like your Master and fit for the inheritance, or to construct out of them a barrier between you and your eternal wealth. In the one case you are wise, in the other case your epitaph will be “Thou fool!” A poet has put in homely words the lesson for us: “What good came of it at last?” asks the little child, when the old man is telling him of the great victory. “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown”--two pennyworth of parsley. It is a symbol of what some of you are living for.
II. The Christian’s wisdom in his aim. “But we an incorruptible.”
1. The emblem stands for a symbol of dominion, of victory, and of festivity. It is the crown of the king, or the wreath of the victor, or the garlands on the guests at the feast. It is a “crown of life.” The true life of the spirit which partakes of the immortal life of Jesus is the crown. It is a “crown of glory”--the radiant lustre of a manifestly God-glorified spirit. The garland that adorns those who sit at the feast is no mere external adornment, but the lustre of a perfect character which is the outcome of a Christ-given life. It is the “crown of righteousness.” Only pure brows can wear it. It would burn like a circlet of fire if it were placed on other heads. Righteousness is the condition of obtaining it.
2. This, then, is the aim which the apostle asserts to be the aim of every person that has the right to call himself a Christian. There is a sharp test for you. Do you live to win it? Does it gleam before you with a brightness that makes all other and nearer objects insignificant and pale? If you can answer them in the affirmative you are a happy man.
3. And more than that, all these nearer objects will become even more blessed, and your whole life nobler than it otherwise would be. The green of the lower slopes of the Alps never looks so vivid, their flowers never so lovely or so bright as when the eye rises from them to the glaciers. And so all the lower levels of life look fairer, because our eyes pass beyond them and fix on the great white throne that towers above them all.
III. The world’s noble wisdom in the choice of its means,
1. This poor racer had ten months of hard abstinence and exercise before there was even a chance for him to succeed. And then there was a short spurt of tremendous effort before he came in at the goal. These things are conditions of success in the would, and no matter for what the man is doing it, it is better for him to be braced into self-control, and stirred into energetic activity, than to be rotting like a fat weed in the pestilential marshes of self-indulgence, and losing all pith and manhood in tile languid dissolution of indolence.
2. And so one cannot but look with admiration at a great deal of the toil and effort that the world puts forth, even for its own shabby ends. Why, a man will spend twenty times as long in making himself a good conjurer, who can balance feathers and twirl plates upon a table, as some of us ever spent in trying to make ourselves good Christians.
IV. The folly of so many professing Christians in their way of pursuing their aims.
1. A languid runner had no chance, and he knew it. The phrase was almost a contradiction in terms. What about a languid Christian? Is that a more consistent idea? If I let my desire and affections go flowing vagrantly over the whole low plain of material things, they will be like a river that is lost in the swamp. If I set out on the race without having girt up my loins by resolute self-denial, what can I expect but that before I have run half-a-dozen yards my ungirt robes will trip me up or get caught in the thorns and keep me back? No Christian progress is possible to-day, or ever was, or will be, except on the condition--“Take up your cross, and deny yourself, and then come after Me.” Learn from the world this lesson, that if a man wants to succeed in any course he must shut out other, even legitimate ones.
2. And then the runner that did not put all his powers into the five minutes of his race had no chance of coming in at the goal. And there is no different law in regard to Christian people. Conclusion: God be thanked! We are crowned not because we are good, but because Christ died. But the teaching of my text, that a Christian man must labour to win the prize, is by no means contradictory to, hut complementary and confirmatory of the earlier truth. The laws of the race are--“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”; and the second is, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Heaven--an incentive to diligence
Julius Caesar coming towards Rome with his army, and hearing that the senate and people had fled from it, said, “They that will not fight for this city, what city will they fight for?” If we will not take pains for the kingdom of heaven, what kingdom will we take pains for? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Concerning the crown”
I. The crown. Recall the other places where the same metaphor is employed. It is extremely unlikely that all these instances of the occurrence of the emblem carry with them reference, such as that in my text to the prize at the athletic festivals. For Peter and James, intense Jews as they were, had probably never seen, and possibly never heard of, the struggles at the Isthmus and at Olympus and elsewhere. The book of the Revelation draws its metaphors almost exclusively from the circle of Jewish practices and things. So that we have to look in other directions than the arena or the racecourse to explain these other uses of the image. It is also extremely unlikely that in these other passages the reference is to a crown as the emblem of sovereignty, for that idea is expressed, is a rule, by another word in Scripture, which we have Anglicised as “diadem.” The “crown” in all these passages is a garland twisted out of some growth of the field. The “crown” which is the Christian’s aim is a state of triumphant repose and of festal enjoyment. There are other aspects of that great and dim future which correspond to other necessities of our nature. That future is other and more than a festival; it is other and more than repose. There are larger fields there for the operation of powers that have been trained and evolved here. The faithfulness of the steward is exchanged, according to Christ’s great words, for the authority of the ruler over many cities. But still, do we not all know enough of the worry and turbulence and strained effort of the conflict here below, to feel that to some of our deepest and not ignoble needs and desires that image appeals? So the satisfaction of all desires, the accompaniments of a feast in abundance, rejoicing and companionship, and conclusive conquest over all foes, are promised us in this great symbol. The crown is described in three ways. It is the crown of “life,” of “glory,” and of “righteousness.” And I venture to think that these three epithets describe the material, so to speak, of which the wreath is composed. The everlasting flower of life, the radiant, blossoms of glory, the white flower of righteousness; these arc its components. Here we have the promise of life, that fuller life which men want. Here we live a living death; there we shall live indeed; and that will be the crown, not only in regard of physical, but in regard of spiritual, powers and consciousness. But remember that all this full tide of life is Christ’s gift. All being, from the lowest creature up to the loftiest created spirit, exists by one law, the continual impartation of life from the fountain of life, to it, according to its capacities. “I will give him a crown of life.” It is a crown of “glory,” and that means a lustrousness of character imparted by radiation and reflection from the central light of the glory of God. “Then shall the righteous blaze out like the sun, in the kingdom of My Father.” We all shall be changed into the “likeness of the body of His glory.” It is a crown of “righteousness.” Though that phrase may mean the wreath that rewards righteousness, it seems more in accordance with the other similar expressions to which I have referred to regard it, too, as the material of which the crown is composed. It is not enough that there should be festal gladness, not enough that there should be calm repose, not enough that there should be flashing glory, not enough that there should be fulness of life. To accord with the intense moral earnestness of the Christian system there must be, emphatically, in the Christian hope cessation of all sin and investiture with all purity. “Thy people shall be all righteous.” “They shall walk with Me in white.” And it sets the very climax and culmination on the other hopes. These, then, are the elements, and on them all is stamped the signature of perpetuity. The crown of life is incorruptible.
II. Now look, secondly, at the discipline by which the crown is won. Observe, first of all, that in more than one Of the passages to which we have already referred, great emphasis is laid upon Christ as giving the crown. That is to say, that blessed future is not won by effort, but is bestowed as a free gift. It is given from the hands which have procured it, and, as I may say, twined it for us. Jesus provides the sole means, by His work, by which any man can enter into that inheritance. It remains for ever the gift of His love. Whilst, then, this must be laid as the basis of all, there must also, with equal earnestness, be set forth the other thought that Christ’s gift has conditions, which conditions these passages plainly set forth. In the one which I have read as a text we have these conditions declared as being twofold, protracted discipline and continuous effort. James declares that it is given to the man who endures temptation. Peter asserts that it is the reward of self-denying discharge of duty. And the Lord from heaven lays down the condition of faithfulness unto death as the necessary pre-requisite of His gift of the crown of life. Eternal life is the gift of God, on condition of our diligence and earnestness. It is not all the same whether you are a lazy Christian or not.
III. And now, lastly, note the power of the reward as motive for life. Paul says roundly in our text, that the desire to obtain the incorruptible crown is a legitimate spring of Christian action. Now, I do not need to waste your time and my own in defending Christian morality from the fantastic objection that it is low and selfish, because it encourages itself to efforts by the prospect of the crown. If there are any men who are Christians only because of what they hope to gain thereby in another world, they will not get what they hope for; and they would not like it if they did. I do not believe that there are any such people; and sure I am, if there are, that it is not Christianity that has made them so. But a thing that we must not set as the supreme motive, we may rightly accept as a subsidiary encouragement. We are not Christians unless the dominant motive of our lives be the love of the Lord Jesus Christ; and unless we feel a necessity, because of loving Him, to aim to be like Him. But, that being so, who shall hinder me from quickening my flagging energies, and stimulating my torpid faith, and encouraging my cowardice, by the thought that yonder there remain rest, victory, the fulness of life, the flashing of glory, and the purity of perfect righteousness? Now it seems to me that this spring of action is not as strong in the Christians of this day as it used to be, and as it should be. You do not hear much about heaven in ordinary preaching. And I believe, for my part, that we suffer terribly by the comparative neglect into which this side of Christian truth has fallen. Do you not think that it would make a difference to you if you really believed, and carried always with you in your thoughts, the thrilling consciousness that every act of the present was registered, and would tell on the far side yonder? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 9:26
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly.
Not as uncertainly
In the Grecian games the uncertainties of every earthly race are symbolised. This uncertainty is one of the saddest aspects of experience. There are laurels for a few winners, but many are the losers. Some nearly win the race, and miss by a hair’s-breadth; and many more never glimpse the goal, and yet bravely plod on in their weary disappointed way.
I. Men must run. Multitudes can say, not “So run I,” but, “So look I on.” They are interested in the Christian story; but this is not enough. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” “Almost!” is one of the saddest words in human experience.
II. Men admit the uncertainty of the earthly race, and so they run with this dread consciousness at their hearts. Who can tell whether health may not fail, just as honours hard-won are heralding reward? What impediments may come in the earthly path from the falsity, greed, or frivolity of others? If you seek apart from God, all is uncertainty! How different is the Christian struggle. Here all who run may obtain the prize. Men of culture and no culture; vigorous or of feeble health--for Christ has promised His own Divine aid to all who, laying hold on His strength, press toward the mark.
III. Men slight distant rewards. The goal! Let it be now, men say. The world of sense seems at first to have the best of it; but soon there comes the experience, common to all, that worldly reward is transient at the best. Earthly honours fade and wane. Even fame lives in few lives. One of the most renowned commanders of men, when the hour of triumph came, and the whole world seemed marshalled before him, was asked what the spectacle wanted? and he answered, “Permanence!” What a satire on human glory. “All flesh is grass,” &c. But so firm is the apostle’s faith, that with the heavens opened above him he calls the sons of men to seek the same incorruptible crown. The things we seek are all, like their Divine author, eternal in the heavens! As the voices of the redeemed fall from the celestial heights, they cry, “Not as uncertainly.”
IV. Men wait to begin. There are some who have long been close beside the course, who are hesitating and halting still. Much depends, in life’s crucial moments, upon habits of decision of character. So wait I! too many say. But what for? When wilt opportunity be more golden? When will heaven’s gates be thrown more widely open? Test the things that are this day more pleasant than God’s salvation, and see if they are worthy to be weighed with the soul’s immortal weal. Death may be nearer to us than we think.
V. Men stay in their course. Some did run well, but they are hindered. Heroism cools; ardour faints. If religion were one sharp conflict, one martyr sacrifice, then how many would join the ranks? But ever in this sublunary sphere the rewards of earth and time are to the persevering. AEsop was but a slave, and Homer but a poor man, and Columbus but a weaver, and they all, keeping their eyes on the earthly goal and pressing toward it, gained the prize. So in the immortal sphere--the feeble may become strong, and the last be first, through earnest faith. (W. M. Statham.)
The heavenly race
I. You must enter the lists.
1. You must be a Christian. An infidel, a pagan, cannot run this race, nor can a mere nominal professor. A sound faith must be united with an exemplary life.
2. Preparation is needed. The racer is careful in his diet. The Christian is to show sobriety, to be master of himself, subduing every passion. The athletes oiled themselves, both to give suppleness in motion, and to render it difficult for their antagonists to grapple them. The grace of Christ, the anointing of the Holy One, is indispensable to the believer. With the aid of Christ we can do all things.
3. The racer was presented in the circus. The Christian must free himself from everything that may hinder his progress.
II. You must run certainly.
1. Men fail who have no aim in life. One thing is needful. “Beware of the man of one book,” it has been said. You cannot stand in discussion with him. Others are readers of many books, but forget their contents. Some are distracted with business, polities, and pleasure, and so lose the reward. Of course, if God gives you varied gifts, you are not to neglect them, but to subordinate all to one aim.
2. Having chosen that aim, be conscientious. It is your conscience, not that of others, which is to guide. Do not falter and be turned aside, as were David and Peter. Don’t beat the air, as a gladiator who, through fear or lack of skill, swung clear of his foe, giving the air the blow instead of his adversary.
3. Be candid. Look to yourself. We all live in glass houses, and should not throw stones. Do not listen to a sermon for another, and think how well the reproof fits another, and say, “Bravo for the preacher who has nothing for us.”
III. Keep your eve on the goal till you reach it. We are to be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith,” for looking at Him will keep us from turning aside. We arc all running a race, willingly or unwillingly. Is it a heavenly one? (A. Gavazzi.)
The Christian’s race and battle
St. Paul proposes himself as an example of the life of a converted man. No conversion more unmistakable than his. If we would estimate conversion aright, let us view it as exemplified in St. Paul.
I. Position of conversion. The starting-point, not the goal--the enlisting of the soldier, not his victory. It places us on the ground, and bids us run. Enlists us in an army, and bids us fight (1 Timothy 6:12; Ephesians 6:10-17). Look at St. Paul.
1. Christ had arrested him as he was rushing to ruin (Philippians 3:12). Why? Not that he might stand still--sit down with folded hands, and wait for promised crown; but that he should run like racer in games, with no eye but for the goal--no thought but for the crown--all his powers concentrated on the one object, “to obtain” (Philippians 3:12-14).
2. Christ had delivered him “from the power of darkness,” &c. (Colossians 1:13). He was sure of victory (1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 8:37; Romans 16:20); but only through conflict.
II. A converted man must have a definite aim. St. Paul had “so run, not as uncertainly,” vaguely, hither and thither, wasting time and strength. Not enough to run fast, perseveringly, energetically, we must run for the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).
1. Our goal is likeness to Christ. So to win Christ, to put on Christ, to be found in Christ, that we may be one with Christ.
2. Christ also our crown. He is our “exceeding great reward.” The rewards of conquering in Revelation 2:3 are Christ under different symbols.
III. A converted man must realise a definite enemy. “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air”; my blows well aimed, and they tell.
1. Discover your besetting sin, or sins, by self-examination, and set yourself to fight therein. To fight against sin in the abstract is to beat the air.
2. Train for the fight. “I keep under my body,” &c. Self-indulgence fatal to victory. We must be masters, not slaves of the body and its desires.
3. Fight in Christ’s strength--with your eye on Him who has fought and overcome, leaving us promise of victory. As He did, take “sword of Spirit”--the threefold “it is written”--whole armour. “Who is he that overcometh,” &c. (1 John 5:5).
IV. A changed man not necessarily a saved man (verse 27). St. Paul’s words, “lest that by any means … a castaway,” show us the precariousness of Christian life. So, too, the “stony-ground” hearers, “backsliders,” &c. The Christian’s safety depends on union with Christ. He must watch lest bosom sins cause him to relax his hold; lest unholiness clog the channels of the life-giving sap (John 15:4-6). No danger so great as to shut one’s eyes against danger. Application--trust not to past experiences. Self-confidence is fatal to Christian life. It is true Christ’s sheep can “never perish,” &c. (John 10:28-29). But who are His sheep? They that “hear His voice and follow Him.” (Canon Venables.)
I. The subject treated of--eminent personal holiness.
1. Its spring. The Divine influence on the soul of man.
2. Its marks.
(1) A constant keeping of the great end in view. The attaining a crown (verse 25).
(2) A habitual conflict with all difficulties. “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Paul felt that he had not to skirmish shadows.
(3) The prevailing dominion of the Spirit over the flesh. “I keep under my body,” &c.
II. Its importance to the Christian minister.
1. It is essential.
(1) To his freedom. He is a soldier; the various indulgences which would enslave are not for him; the softnesses which would prevent his warfare are not for him. But that he may be thus free, he must be eminent in holiness (2 Corinthians 6:4-7).
(2) To his happiness. The unhappiness of many ministers arises from the consciousness that they are not what they ought to be.
(3) To a well-grounded assurance of the Divine favour and approbation. (H. March.)
The necessity of progressive religion
That was a fine eulogium which was made on Caesar, that he thought there was nothing done while there remained anything to do. Whoever arrives at worldly heroism arrives at it in this way, and there is no other way of obtaining salvation. Behold in Paul a man who accounted all he had done nothing while there remained anything more to do. We ground the necessity of progressive religion
I. The great end of christianity--to transform man into the Divine nature. This being the case, we ought never to cease endeavouring till we are as perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. Moreover, as we shall never in this life carry err virtue to so high a degree as that, it follows that in no period of our life will our duty be finished, consequently we must make continual progress.
II. The fatal consequences of a suspension of our religious endeavours. A man employed in a mechanical art sets about his work and carries it on to a certain degree. He suspends his labour for a while; his work doth not advance indeed, but when he returns he finds his work in the same forwardness in which he left it. Heavenly exercises are not of this kind. Past labour is often lost for want of perseverance and it is a certain maxim in religion that not to proceed is to draw back.
III. The advances themselves in the path of holiness. The science of salvation in this respect resembles human sciences. In human sciences a man of great and real learning is humble; he always speaks with caution, and his answers to difficult questions are not unfrequently confessions of his ignorance. On the contrary, a pedant knows everything, and undertakes to elucidate and determine everything. So in the science of salvation, a man of little religion soon flatters himself that he hath done all his duty. A man of lively and vigorous religion finds his own virtues so few, so limited, so obstructed, that he easily comes into a well, grounded judgment that all he hath attained is nothing to what lies before him. Accordingly we find the greatest saints the most eminent for humility (Genesis 18:27; Job 9:15; Psalms 130:3; Philippians 3:12).
IV. The end which God proposed in placing us in this world. This world is a place of exercise, this life is a time of trial, which is given us that we may choose either eternal happiness or endless misery. (J. Saurin.)
So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.--
Beating the air
The expression implies--
I. Want of skill. The boxer who strikes about wildly has never learned his art. This has to be studied--
1. Patiently. Day after day must the labour be repeated.
2. Practically. No theory will teach the various cuts and defences without actual trial. And yet there are persons who think that they can enter upon the spiritual contest without either.
II. Want of concentrations. The fighter who fights wildly loses his head and is lost, for his cool opponent seizes every opportunity, and calmly avails himself of every occasion of advantage. Does not our Christianity need a cool head, a concentration of purpose? Surely; and yet men suppose that any slipshod method, any wool-gathering frame of mind, will satisfy the requirements of that awful contest which is to win or lose eternal life. Should we not sit down sometimes amid the rush of life, and calmly inquire as to our position, difficulties, dangers, and progress? A merchant who acted aimlessly would soon come to grief; a ship’s captain would soon wreck his vessel; a tradesman quickly come to the workhouse. And the Christian in the same way would soon fall a prey to the wiles of the devil.
III. Want of preparation. The athlete lays aside every weight. Even his clothes are cast off. Alas! how often Christians are handicapped with weights! One has a heavy golden chain about his neck. Another has a load of worldly affections round his heart and almost stopping its pulsations. A third has rings on his fingers which prevent his grasp. A fourth has his thoughts, his time choked with business. Or again another is absorbed with the sweet voices of pleasure. It is impossible to win with these “weights,” and he who attempts to do so will be like one “beating the air.”
IV. Want of energy. Activity is the soul of earthly business. How much more important is it in a contest such as a race or a fight And in spiritual matters energy is quite as essential. (J J. S. Bird.)
1. To fight wisely is not to fight at a venture, but with a definite aim. Ahab, indeed was shot by an arrow sent at a venture; but this is told us to magnify the Providence of God, who, in His designs, can direct the aimless shaft whithersoever it pleases Him; not to teach us that aimless shafts are likely on common occasions to be successful. Yet what is the warfare of many Christians but the sending of shafts at a venture?
2. The first work of the politic spiritual warrior will be to discover his besetting sin, and having discovered it, to concentrate all his disposable force before this fortress. Just as each individual has a certain personal configuration, distinguishing him from all other men, so there is some sin or sins which more than others is conformable to his temperament, and therefore more easily developed by his circumstances--which expresses far more of his character than others. This bosom sin is eminently deceitful. Its especial property is to lurk.
(1) The besetting sin of many is vanity. Who knows not how it apes humility, so as really to impress its possessor with the notion that he is humble? Intensely self-satisfied in his heart of hearts, he depreciates himself in conversation. What follows? Men say to him, as in the parable, “Go up higher.” He has been fishing for compliments, and compliments have risen to the hook. Is it not so? For would he not have bitterly resented it had any of the company taken him at his word?
(2) Some men cannot bear to be second. Whatever they do must be done seas to throw into the shade all competitors. The world dignifies this with the name of honourable emulation, and accepts it as a token of fine character. But, judged by the mind of Christ, how does the sentiment sound, “Because I cannot outshine all rivals, therefore I will be nothing”? It jars strangely with those words, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them,” &c. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory,” &c.
(3) A bosom sin, that it may the more easily escape detection, will wear the mask of another sin. Indolence, e.g., is a sin which carries with it omissions of duty. Prayer or Scripture reading is omitted or thrust away into a corner, because we have not risen sufficiently early. Things go cross during the day in consequence, and we trace it all up to the omission of prayer. But the fault lies deeper. It was indolence which really caused the mischief. One of the first properties, then, of the bosom sin with which it behoves us to be well acquainted, as the first step in the management of our spiritual warfare, is its property of concealing itself. In consequence of this, it often happens that a man, when touched upon his weak point, answers that whatever other faults he may have, this fault at least is no part of his character. It is to aid in bringing to light these secret sins that we make the following suggestions--
I. Praying heartily for the light of God’s Spirit to know thine own heart, observe and reason upon the results of self-examination. When this most salutary exercise has been pursued for a certain time, you will observe that the same failures are constantly recurring. The conclusion is almost inevitable that there is something serious beneath these constantly recurring failures. What is it?--selfishness, indolence, vanity, anxiety, &c. Remember always, that in the symptom, and on the surface, it may look like none of these, and yet be really and fundamentally one of them.
II. Let us have our eye upon the occurrences which specially give its pain or pleasure. They will often be the veriest trifles; but yet, be it what it may, the probabilities are that, by tracing it to its source, we shall get to the quick of our character, to that sensitive quarter of it where the bosom-adder lies coiled up.
III. When the discovery is made, the path of the spiritual combatant becomes clear, however arduous. Your fighting is to be no longer a flourishing of the arms in the air; it is to assume a definite form, it is to be a combat with the bosom sin. Appropriate mortifications must be adopted, such as common sense will suggest. If indolence be the besetting sin, we must watch against slovenliness in little things; if selfishness, we must lay ourselves out to consider the wishes of others; if discontent, we must review the many bright points of our position, and seek our happiness in our work. But the great matter to be attended to in each case is, that the whole forces of the will should be concentrated for a time in that one part of the field, in which the besetting sin has entrenched itself. Thus point and definiteness will be given to Christian effort.
IV. For each one of us, no business can be of more urgent importance than this discovery of our besetting sin. In conclusion, he who prays, “Show me myself, Lord,” should take good care to add, lest self-knowledge plunge him into despair, “Show me also Thyself.” The course recommended will probably lead us to the conclusion that our heart, which showed so fair without, is an Augean stable, which it requires a moral Hercules to cleanse; but the love of Christ and grace of Christ are stronger than our corruptions. (Dean Goulburn.)
The prominent idea of spiritual life given in the New Testament is that of conflict. There is hardly one of the epistles of Paul in which the thought is not presented in some form. The same feature is found in the Epistles to the churches of Asia.
I. Some characteristics of the Christian strife.
1. Its individuality. It is the personal struggle of each man against the enemies of his salvation. Of the ultimate issue of the great strife of all time there is no doubt. In other warfares each soldier receives a certain amount of glory from the success of the host--but not so here. Each man for himself must fight the good fight, and by God’s grace lay hold on everlasting life.
2. Its reality. There was a time when the Christians were “everywhere spoken against”--when Paul knew that in every city bonds and imprisonment awaited him; and in the altered state of the times, and the change in feelings of men towards the gospel. Now the flesh is not less carnal, the world less alluring, the devil less Satanic.
3. Its variety. It is manifold in power but one in purpose. So is it--
(1) With the outward and visible conflict. Sometimes it is a mere strife of opinion, or it is a struggle for the assertion of the rights of conscience, or it is the resistance of virtue to some form of iniquity, or the manly effort in the cause of right to break the chains of tyranny.
(2) With the inner conflict of individuals. Some have to contend only against intellectual difficulties--in others it is the insidious growth of the world-spirit which they have to watch and resist. Others, again, have to contend against the self-righteous temper, or the mean, envious spirit, or the fierce passion. But, whatever phase the conflict assumes, we are contending against an enemy, who adapts his attacks to meet our individual cases, and the issue at stake is exactly the same.
4. Its bitterness.
(1) There is an intensity in the opposition directed against the gospel, which at first is not easy to explain. If the Bible be not true, our faith inflicts no injury to others. It is true that Christianity pronounces a certain doom on unbelief, but if it be, as infidels would have us think, a human invention, these threatenings need awaken no anxiety, and provoke no opposition, Yet there is no weapon that can be employed against the gospel that is not put in requisition.
(2) So with regard to Christian practice. If Christians are striving after too high an ideal, they are the sufferers. Why employ against them the weapons of ridicule and calumny--why not treat them as weak enthusiasts to be pitied rather than seriously opposed? Yet it has never been so. The light will ever be hateful to those who love the darkness.
(3) As in the world, so in the Christian’s heart. Here is a battle of life and for life, where no quarter will be given, and no compromise can be attempted. This is, of all kinds of contests, the most fearful. It is not one of those mock encounters of the tourneys of chivalry, where knights sought to prove their prowess, without receiving or inflicting deadly injury. But it is a deadly wrestle with the foe in which we must conquer or die.
II. Some qualities of the Christian soldier.
1. Perfect consecration. A whole-hearted service is what the “Captain of our salvation” expects from all who follow Him. This warfare must be the one business of his life who would “fight a good fight, and lay hold on everlasting life.”
2. Simple faith. This is emphatically the “good fight of faith.” It is the struggle between the love of “the things that are seen and temporal and the things which are unseen and eternal,” and only through faith can the spiritual principle be victorious. Faith in the leader, not in the excellence of the cause--in a person, not in a principle--in Christ Himself and not in any creed, will give us the victory. Even in earthly conflicts nothing seems to breathe such spirit into a host as the presence of a favourite captain. Have faith in Christ, and neither earth nor hell can prevail against you.
3. Undoubting assurance as to the issue. This is the grand distinction between this and all earthly toils. There a man may be faithful and diligent and yet fail. But here we “run not as uncertainly, we fight not as one that beateth the air.” “He who hath begun a good work in us will perform the same until the day of Jesus Christ.” Conclusion: This is a conflict in which no man can be a mere spectator. We are all fighting under the banners of the King of kings or of the Prince of darkness; to which host do you belong? The question is surely not to he lightly dismissed, since on it hang the issues of life and death. (J. Guinness Rogers, B. A.)
1 Corinthians 9:27
I keep under my body … lest … I myself should be a castaway.
Keeping under the body
The body is a bad master though it may be a good servant. St. Paul does not wish to be rid of it, but he desires to put it in its proper place.
I. It is quite essential to a high morality to have a respectful sense of the dignity of the body. What our Lord Himself was pleased to wear, and wears flow, must, on that very account, be honourable, and His teaching and His wonder-works were addressed as much to the body as to the soul. There are times when it is as right to attend to the body as to the soul. Are they not equally the subjects of God’s creation and redemption, of the Father’s care and love? Never look upon it as a pious thing to depreciate the body. We are not depreciating the body when we say, “I keep under the body, and bring it into subjection.” The very connection does away with that thought. For does the racer, the wrestler, the boxer, despise his body? Is not it rather his glory? Is not it because he values it very highly that he so treats it?
II. With this caution, we may now observe what place the body occupies in connection with the spirit. Originally the whole man was made in the image and after the likeness of God. Then came the fall. It was equally through the body as through the mind. In due time, Christ came, and equally redeemed both. But now here comes in the important distinction which determines everything. In the renewed man a change immediately takes place in his soul, but his body is not changed. That will take place at the resurrection. We all of us have felt the trouble of our bodies. One moment they incite us by their too much strength to pride and self-indulgence, and the next they drag us down to the dust. They are always carrying us too far, or preventing us from going far enough. To every physical temperament there is its own special danger--one to youth, another to age--one to health, another to sickness--to each according to his circumstances and constitution; but to all it is little better than “the body of this death.” But, remember, there is not a member or a nerve in the body but it is capable of being a great sin or a high virtue. Every part admits of sanctification. All are given for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God. What we have to do is not to destroy anything, but to guide it--not to despise, but to elevate--not to cast off as an enemy, but to employ as a servant. Let me take an instance or two.
1. There is the love of dress. It is a natural instinct, and is in itself a perfectly innocent thing, And some attention as to personal appearance is inseparable from every rightly-constituted mind. Yet every one knows that the love of dress is one of the greatest temptations of the age--to selfishness, vanity, extravagance, and sin. What shall we do, then, with it? Crush it? No. Employ it, control it, subject it. Always act upon a principle, and lay down for yourselves certain rules which your own judgment and conscience approve: Settle with yourself how much your dress ought to cost in the year, and be faithful to your estimate. Dress in the way that will please those whom you most ought to please, and not to please yourself. Make it a school of refinement and thought. So you will turn a dangerous thing into a good discipline, and a positive grace.
2. In like manner, as to food. Guide your conscience in this matter by the Bible; then live by your conscience. Take care that you live unselfishly. Remember whom you follow; and among whom, in this world of want and suffering, you are living.
3. The same consideration will apply to all worldly pleasures and amusements, and all corporeal gratifications. What is meant for pure and holy uses, keep for pure and holy uses. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
This language suggests--
I. The many-sidedness of scripture, or, its polarity.
1. One end of a bar of magnetized iron will attract what the other repels. Now break the bar in the middle; and of either half the same will be true. And so you may keep on breaking, until you come to an atom, and even in it the two poles will be found to exist.
2. As wonderful is the polarity of truth. Take this, “Hath not the potter power over the clay,” &c., and place it alongside of the text. Bring the latter near to a Calvinist, and it repels and is repelled. Bring it near to an Arminian, and it attracts and is itself attracted. And so, vice versa, of the former text. But as in the magnet there is but one force manifesting itself in duality, so with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God cannot be disappointed; yet man is free.
3. Let the theologian, then, follow the example of the philosopher who does not say, as he looks upon the needle, “There must be some mistake in the matter”; but “This is a great mystery: yet there are the two poles, and one is as deserving of my attention as the other.”
II. Responsibility for the lower or physical conditions of spiritual life. As a plant has its enemies which crawl upon the ground, and others which fly in the air, so the spiritual life has its antagonists who meet it on every level. There is the danger from intellectualism, imagination, and the affections. Then also, on the lowest and widest level, in the physical region, there is often the marshalling of forces to oppose all growth in grace. And these are what the apostle alludes to. There is--
1. The excessive development of physical appetite and passion. That this has the fearful power implied in the text is very evident. Its first and most patent effect is upon the religious life. Take the professor who is given to intemperance. Before you can trace it upon the countenance, or in the domestic sphere, you will be able to note its influence upon the pulse of the man’s religion. The man dies like some trees, from the heart outward. First and foremost dies that within him which is the very core of his manhood--his spiritual sense. There is much with which the indulged vice may make some sort of terms for a time, love of family, desire for a good name, many of the higher tastes, ambitions, and activities. But vice and spiritual life cannot exist together. The life of the one is the death of the other.
2. Too great absorption in the cares of this world. The Bible tells us to be “Not slothful in business.” But there must be subordination of the temporal interests to the eternal. A man is like a vessel. He can hold so much, and no more. The cares of this world may be poured into his soul in such quantity as to leave room for nothing else. Many a man has no taste, capacity, strength, time, for anything but business. How can the spiritual hold its own in such? Where will you find place for religion? The good seed is choked. And the result is the same if honour instead of wealth fills the man. The condition of danger is, that a man be filled with the cares of this world. And these may be generated by poverty as by affluence. How can a man grow in Christian life who cannot forget his worldly cares long enough to say the Lord’s Prayer? And but one result is possible; the religious life must die of starvation, and the man become a castaway.
3. The atmosphere of selfish indolence. Work is ordained of God as the one condition of healthful development. “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” It is the very ruin of thousands that they have nothing to do. And that which was made the condition of human development at first Christ has lifted up and sanctified to the end of Christian growth and safety. “Son, go work in My vineyard.” “If any man will come after Me, let him take up his cross,” &c.
4. The predominance of irreligious association, or, what is the same thing, living in a bad moral atmosphere. Good air, God’s sunshine--these are more to the body than all else. Let a man breathe in noxious gases day by day, and it makes no difference what other special precautions he may take, his health will be gradually undermined. So is it of moral and spiritual health. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Hence the importance which is laid upon the separation of Christians from the world, and upon tile Christian communion which has been prepared for them. No man is strong enough to stand by himself. And it was never intended that the greater part of any Christian life should be spent outside of all religious association. Conclusion: In view of all that has been said it follows
1. That Christian cultivation covers a much wider sphere than many seem to think. First in order, as a means of grace, stands the Church. And then, secondly, outside of the means of grace, there are others none the less needful, and whose places cannot be supplied by the Church and her ordinances. What matters it how much a man prays, if he is living in intemperance or impurity? What good will the communion do her who has sunken down into the depths of a perfectly selfish and indolent life? And take the man whose heart is eaten up with the cares of this world. Can the Word of God dwell richly in such a one?
2. That there is no point in the Christian’s progress at which he can afford to relax in vigilant watch and care of the physical surroundings of his life.
3. That there is a very wide sphere in which human activity may co-operate with the saving power of God. Many Christian hands are idle because they do not know what to do. To such I say, look at Paul. Hear his words, “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection.” (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)
1. The simple etymological sense of the term is “I strike under the eye.” The figure is that of a pugilistic encounter. Paul imagines to himself his body as rising up against his higher nature; and against this foe he directs his well-aimed blows; not to destroy or even mutilate it, but to render it what it always ought to be--the obedient slave of the inner nature.
2. But, it may be asked, does the apostle teach us that the body is the source of all inward evil? On the contrary, no man exalts the human body more. He represents it as the temple of the Holy Ghost. “Members of Christ.” He prays that our body, as well as our spirit and soul, may be preserved faultless. How, then, are we to understand the phrase?--whence this mysterious collision?
3. St. Paul is here speaking of his life’s work, in pursuing which he makes a discovery which all of us have to make sooner or later--that he who would conquer a world must be ready to conquer himself. In 1 Corinthians 9:4-6 St. Paul indicates three special respects in which he had turned aside from the reasonable demands of nature for his work’s sake. “Have we not power to eat and to drink?”--that is to say, he might have secured for himself a comfortable competence. “Have we not power to lead about a sister?” &c. He might have surrounded himself with all the pleasures of domestic life. “Have not Barnabas and I power to forbear working?” It certainly did seem reasonable that one who worked so hard for souls should be saved from the weariness of physical toil. And what had he to say to these natural and reasonable demands? Nothing but his work, and the will of God in that work. And when he found nature urging, as nature will, her demands for some degree of consideration, just as our Lord discovered Satan in the person of the disciple who dissuaded Him from the Cross; so the apostle discovered a foe in his own flesh, when that flesh shrank from the path of self-denial, and, smiting his antagonist down, he consigned it to its own proper place; from henceforth thou art to dictate thy terms no longer; thou art slave, and not master!
4. And now for our practical lesson. We, too, are striving for the mastery in a world which has been devastated by evil. Do we not also find that our bodies rise up and resist the claims made on them by the work which has to be done?
(1) It may be perhaps, with us, rather in little things that the conflict has to be waged. You know that there are sick and poor to be visited. Love for souls, and for God, would prompt you to set forth; but it is a cold wintry day. How the body pleads, Sit still; another day will do as well. Or perhaps it is so small a matter as rising from your bed in the morning sufficiently early to give yourself time for prayer and the study of God’s Word; or it is your time for prayer in the evening, after the busy day of toil; or it is that you have a call to visit the haunts of wretchedness and misery, where everything is repulsive. These are occasions on which we too have to arm our right hand with spiritual power, and to smite our body down, forcibly reminding it of its true position.
(2) Or perhaps the body asserts itself not so much in forbidding the painful as suggesting the pleasant--now appealing to our lower appetites with suggestions of indulgences. The mind that is taken up in any degree with the thought, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? &c., is making provision for the flesh, and in doing so is unconsciously resigning its true supremacy. The same thing is true of those higher forms of gratification which none the less have the body as their subject. There is no harm in enjoying the pleasures of the eye, or of the ear, but as soon as we give ourselves over to it, it becomes guilty. If God throws an innocent pleasure in our way, we are not called upon to suspect the gift; but when we go out of our way to pursue the pleasurable, the higher part of our nature is yielding itself as the slave of the lower.
5. How did St. Paul smite his body down, and reduce it into the condition of a slave? This much surely is obvious--a man is no match for himself! He lets us into the secret by giving us a practical direction: “If ye,” he says, “through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” All turns upon this. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Look at the chariot-drivers. Do you not see how exceedingly careful and strict they are with themselves in their training-practice, their labours, their diet, and all the rest, that they may not be thrown down from their chariots; and be dragged along by the reins? See what a thing art is! Often even a strong man cannot master a single horse; but a mere boy, who has learnt the art, shall often take the pair in hand, and with ease lead them and drive them where he will. Nay, in India, it is said that a huge monster of an elephant will yield to a stripling of fifteen, who manages him with the utmost ease. To what purpose have I said all this? To show that, if by dint of study and practice we can train into submission even elephants and wild horses, much more the passions within us. (Chrysostom.)
A friend once asked an aged man what caused him so often to complain of pain and weariness in the evening. “Alas!” said he, “I have every day so much to do; for I have two falcons to tame, two hares to keep from running away, two hawks to manage, a serpent to confine, a lion to chain, and a sick man to tend and wait upon.” “Why, you must be joking,” said his friend; “surely no man can have all these things to do at once.” “Indeed, I am not joking,” said the old man; “but what I have told you is the sad and sober truth; for the two falcons are my two eyes, which I must diligently guard, lest something should please them which may be hurtful to my salvation; the two hares are my feet, which I must hold back lest they should run after evil objects, and walk in the ways of sin; the two hawks are my two hands, which I must train and keep to Work in order that I may be able to provide for myself and for my brethren who are in need; the serpent is my tongue, which I must always keep in with a bridle, lest it should speak anything unseemly; the lion is my heart, with which I have to maintain a continual fight in order that vanity and pride may not fill it, but that the grace of God may dwell and work there; the sick man is my whole body, which is always needing my watchfulness and care. All this daily wears out my strength.” (Preacher’s Promptuary.)
Observe this was penned towards the close of the apostle’s career. Full of years, and laden with trophies, he still thinks it necessary to keep war with the flesh. View him--
I. As an aged man. There is no period in which the spiritual warrior may relax his training. Each season of life has its appropriate and dominant passion.
II. As an advanced Christian. Men may make great advances in religious knowledge, but be imperfect. Consider Paul’s attainments in theology--yet still he struggles; he is still imperfect.
III. As an experienced minister. A minister may eloquently preach, and people be delighted to listen--to real blessings to which both he and they be strangers. Again, people may be converted, and yet their minister be a castaway. So parents, masters, teachers, may help others to Christ, yet never find Him themselves. Personal religion, including persevering conflict, essential to final salvation. (Homilist.)
Lest I be a castaway
I. What is it to be a “castaway”? One who had been pronounced by the judges to be disqualified for the Greek games, or one who, having been permitted to enter into the contest, fails. Or the expression may have reference to metals, which, when the mass has been “proved” to be dross, is rejected. Thus we read of “reprobate silver.” The theological idea of reprobation does not belong to this word, it is simply intrinsic worthlessness, brought to light by the scrutiny of God’s eye, the searching efficacy of His Word, or a providential dispensation.
1. From whom may we be castaway.
(1) God. God “drove out the man” Adam; and Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord”; and David says, “Cast me not away from Thy presence,” &c.
(2) Christ, who said, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” Yet He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple; ejected demons; denounced the scribes and Pharisees, and foretold to them their doom.
(3) The Spirit of God, who “will not always strive with men.” “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,” said Stephen to the Jewish nation; and at length the Jewish nation was cast away. A man may sin till the Spirit of God will let him alone.
(4) Good men; rejected of the Church, excommunicated. The salt having lost its savour is good for nothing but to be cast away.
(5) Certain societies. You are blackballed, and your rejection may involve shame and infamy.
(6) The angels of God. Did they not turn their backs upon Sodom? Did they not smite Egypt?
(7) Yourselves; and this in the case of an apostate is not that salutary self-loathing which is associated with hope and pardon, but that of darkness and despair.
2. When? In part now; as when a man is excluded from the fellowship of the wise and good. Yet very often this may not be carried into effect; just as in the case of the tares, Christ told His disciples to let them grow together until harvest. The time of final discrimination, then, is the end of the man’s earthly probation. When he departs from this world, he is rejected of heaven. We read of those who were “without,” of the virgins who were cast away; of those to whom Christ will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity.” The most affecting thing in the universe is to be “a castaway,” finally and for ever rejected.
II. The means which the apostle took to prevent this. The text is only one among many.
1. He abjured confidence in himself, and his own virtue and excellence (Philippians 3:1-21.). He grounds his hope of eternal life on the atonement of Christ, and resting as he did in Christ, it was impossible for him to be “a castaway.”
2. He lived, and loved, and laboured by faith (Galatians 2:20). It is when the love of Christ is not present in a man’s heart and mind, that he is in danger of being a castaway. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.”
3. He kept near to God in prayer. If you cast off prayer, you will be in peril; if you continue in prayer and supplication, you will not.
4. Taking these points antecedently to the one suggested in the text, our course becomes clear. “But I keep under my body,” &c. Now the apostle does not mean anything ascetical; but that the body was subjected to the reason; and if any one of you has acquired a mastery over the animal appetites and instincts, he is on his way not to be a castaway, but to be approved and glorified of God.
5. What comes after this is sweet and sacred resignation to the Divine will “I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
6. The final thing is that Paul laid aside every weight. “This one thing I do,” &c.
III. The triumphant issue. I know not anyone name which surpasses that of Paul. He is no castaway as respects the honour done to his name in the Church. And then in the world how has his character been appreciated even by those who have rejected his doctrine! What an immense effect have his writings had on the condition of society and on human affairs! Then as respects his admission to heaven, one moment there is the axe of Nero, the next he hears, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (J. Stratten.)
1. How earnestly Paul sought the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 9:26). It was long after his conversion that Paul writes in this manner.
2. One particular in which he was very earnest. “I keep under my body,” &c. (1 Corinthians 9:25).
3. His reason for all this earnestness--“Lest when,” &c. What is it to be cast away? Wicked men shall be cast away--
I. From God (Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). From
1. The fruition of God.
2. The favour of God--“In Thy favour is life.”
3. The blessing of God. God is the fountain of all blessing. Separate a man from God finally, and no creature can give him joy.
II. From the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is now dealing and striving with natural men. When the day of grace is done the Spirit will strive no more--
1. Through ordinances. There will be no family worship in hell--no Bible, no Sabbath, no preached gospel.
2. Through providences. There will be no more poverty or riches--no more sickness or bereavements.
3. Through conscience it will condemn, but it will not restrain.
III. From all creatures.
1. The angels will no longer take any interest in you.
2. The redeemed will no longer pray for you, nor shed another tear for you.
3. Ministers will no more desire your salvation. It will no more be their work.
4. Even devils will cast you off. As long as you remain on earth, the devil keeps you in his train; then you will be a part of his torment, and he will hate you and torment you, because you deceived him, and he deceived you.
IV. From themselves.
1. The understanding will be clear and full to apprehend the real nature of your misery.
2. The will in you will be all contrary to God’s will.
3. Your conscience, God’s viceregent, will accuse you of all your sins.
4. Your memory will be very clear.
5. Your anticipations--everlasting despair. Conclusion: Let believers learn Paul’s earnest diligence. A wicked life will end in being a castaway. These two are linked together, and no man can sunder them, (R. M, McCheyne, M. A.)
Wrecked for two worlds
Ministers of religion may finally be lost, The apostle indicates that possibility. Cardinal Wolsey, after having been petted by kings, died in darkness. There have been cases of shipwreck where all on board escaped excepting the captain. You all understand the figure. There are men who, by their sins and temptations, are thrown helpless! Driven before the gale, wrecked, cast away. Among the causes of this calamity are--
I. False lights on the beach. This was often so in olden times. There are all kinds of lanterns swung on the beach philosophical, educational, humanitarian. Men look at them, and are deceived, when there is nothing but the lighthouse of the gospel that can keep them from becoming castaways. Once, on Wolf Crag lighthouse, they tried to build a copper figure of a wolf with its mouth open, so that the storms beating into it the wolf would howl. Of course it was a failure. And so all new inventions for the saving of a man’s soul are unavailing. You might better destroy all the great lighthouses on the dangerous coasts than to put out God’s great ocean-lamp--the gospel.
II. The sudden swoop of a tempest. A vessel is sailing along in the East Indies; suddenly the breeze freshens; but before they can square the booms the vessel is in the grip of a tornado, and falls over into the trough of the sea, and broadside rolls on to the beach and keels over, leaving the crew to struggle in the merciless surf. And so there are thousands destroyed through the sudden swoop of temptations. Some great inducement to worldliness, or temper, or dissipation comes upon them. If they had time to deliberate, they could stand it; but the temptation came so suddenly, and they perish. It is the first step that costs; the second is easier; and the third; and on to the last. Once having broken loose from the anchor, it is not so easy to tie the parted strands.
III. Sheer recklessness. The average of human life on the sea is less than twelve years. This comes from the fact that men by familiarity with danger become reckless, and in nine out of ten shipwrecks it is found out that some one was awfully to blame. So men lose their souls. There are thousands who do not care where they are in spiritual things. Drifting in their theology, in their habits, in regard to all the future; but all the time coming nearer and nearer to a dangerous coast. They do not deliberately choose to be ruined;’ neither did the French frigate Medusa aim for the Arguin Banks, but there it went to pieces. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Hell after preaching
These terrible words teach--
I. That deliverance from hell deserves the most earnest self-discipline. “I keep under my body”
I. strike under the eye so as to make it black and blue, a boxing phrase, indicative of strenuous efforts at mortification, as who should say, “I subdue the flesh by violent and reiterated blows.” “And bring it into subjection”; “I lead it along as a slave,” having subjugated it, I treat it as a bondsman, as boxers in the Palaestra used to drag off their conquered opponents. And the reason for this mortification of the flesh is, “lest I should be a castaway.” Self-discipline consists of two things.
1. The entire subjugation of the body to the mind. The body was intended to be the organ, servant, and instrument of the mind, but it has become the master. The supremacy of the body is the curse of the world and the ruin of man.
2. The subjugation of the mind to the spirit of Christ. Though the mind govern the body, if the mind is false, selfish, unloyal to Christ, there is no discipline. The mind must be the servant of Christ in order to be the legitimate sovereign of the body.
II. That the necessity of this self-discipline cannot re superseded by the most successful preaching. Paul had preached as no one else had ever preached; yet his preaching, he felt, did not do the work of self-discipline. Indeed, there is much in the work of preaching that has a tendency to operate against personal spiritual culture.
1. Familiarity with sacred truths destroys for us their charm of freshness,
2. A professional handling of God’s Word interferes with its personal application.
3. The opinions of audiences, favourable or otherwise, exert an influence unfavourable to the life of the soul.
4. Satan is especially active in opposing the growth of spiritual piety in the preacher’s soul. So that there is a terrible danger that whilst the preacher is cultivating the vineyards of others he is neglecting his own.
III. The most successful preaching may be followed by ultimate ruin. A “castaway”! Who shall fathom the meaning of this word? A successful preacher “a castaway”! The Tophet of him who has offered mercy to others which he has despised, urged truths on the credence of others that he has disbelieved, enforced laws on others which he has transgressed, will burn with severer fires and peal with more awful thunders. (D. Thomas, D. D.)