Notes on the First Epistle to the Corinthians with a new translation.
1 Corinthians 1.
The epistle on which we are about to enter gives us more than any other an inner view of the church or assembly of God. It does not, like the epistle to the Romans, lay the foundation of divine righteousness. But it is not at all contracted in its scope. It deals with the practical conduct of the Christian, as well as the public walk of the assembly. It maintains the authority of Paul’s ministry as apostle. It denounces party spirit. It exposes worldly wisdom. It insists upon the power of the Spirit. It urges godly order both in the Lord’s institution of the eucharist, and in the use of the gifts or spiritual manifestations. It commands holy discipline. It reproves litigiousness, — above all before the world. It presses personal purity; it counsels the saints as to social and family difficulties, as to their relations with the heathen, as to decorum, privately or publicly, in men or women. Finally, it meets their speculations as to the future state, and shows how an error as to this jeopards soundness of faith as to Christ Himself, holiness of walk meanwhile, and the brightness and strength of the Christian’s hope. Nor does it withhold the light of God from a matter seemingly so trivial as the mode of collection for the poor saints, whilst it adjusts also the mutual relations of those who laboured on the spot and of those who might visit them.
From this sketch, slight as it is, one sees how varied and momentous are the topics handled in the first epistle to the Corinthians; and an examination in detail will manifest the holy wisdom, the burning zeal, the delicacy of affection, the admirable elasticity with which the apostle was enabled by the inspiring Spirit to throw himself, heart and mind and soul and strength yet always in the name of the Lord, into their most critical circumstances. For he writes from Ephesus, not far from the close of his three years’ abode in that city, when, to any other man than Paul, it might have seemed that his labours for a year and a half at Corinth were fatally compromised. But not so: the Lord, who had cheered him on soon after his arrival at Corinth, strengthened his faith now so severely taxed at Ephesus. “I have much people in this city” were words then to stimulate, now to sustain his hope in God spite of many fears, and in the midst of the deepest exercises of heart. Of all this and more the epistle bears the impress, and every now and then lets out the expression.
“Paul, a called1 apostle of Jesus Christ2 by God’s will, and Sosthenes the brother, to the assembly of God that is in Corinth,3 [persons] sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs4 and ours; grace to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ver. 1-3.)
To the Roman brethren Paul began by introducing himself as “a bondman of Jesus Christ.” This he omits to the Corinthians to whom he speaks of himself at once as a “called apostle of Jesus Christ.” The difference is due to the facts before him. There had been no undermining of his ministry at Rome, where indeed personally he was a stranger. At Corinth it was well-known to the saints how truly he was a bondman of Jesus Christ. Had not his very hands borne witness to it, night and day caring spiritually for the saints with the Lord’s glory before his eyes, even in that outward work by which he had refrained from being a burden to them? To both he writes formally as an “apostle,” and this, not by birth, not by acquirement, not by election of man, but as “called,” that is, by calling of God. Both he reminds that they themselves were saints, and this too by calling. It was grace which chose them as saints, grace that chose him not as a saint only but as an apostle. Such is the principle of Christian ministry, as well as of the salvation of souls or of Christianity itself. It is “by God’s will,” as he adds — “a called apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will,” not by his own ability or merit, nor by other men’s choice. God’s sovereign goodness is the spring in every respect. What can be more blessed? We do well to ponder it, and to repudiate whatever is inconsistent with it. It is God then, it is grace which, as it calls saints, so also calls to His service. How different from the ecclesiastical thought and style of olden times! Paul is not what he was in the church “by divine providence” or “by divine permission,” for this might be where the person was alien from His mind or will, God merely overruling for His own secret purpose. And it is not denied that such cases may be, as of old in Balaam, so under Christianity; but how awful for all these who intrude thus unbidden to speak in the name of the Lord! For many shall say to the Judge in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied through Thy name, and through Thy name cast out demons, and through Thy name done many wonderful works? But He will say, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Beyond controversy it is God, not man, who sets in the church, as we are expressly told in 1 Corinthians 12:28, and this applies to “teachers” as distinctly as to “apostles.” They never are in scripture called by man. The church never chose them, as it did those entrusted with its funds for the poor. Nor did apostles or their envoys choose teachers or preachers as they did elders; for these were a local charge, those are gifts set as members in the body of Christ as a whole. Such are the biblical facts, and the principle on which this distinction depends.
It is gross ignorance to confound ministry with priesthood, and to cite for the former what the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 5:4) says of the latter, as applied from Aaron to Christ. Yet if it did apply, it would go to prove, not men’s calling to the ministry, as they term it, but the exclusive call of God; for in priesthood God alone chose, though this after Aaron (and we may add perhaps Phinehas) by birth successionally, whilst the consecration was in view of all the congregation. In ministry as in the church, where the Holy Spirit dwells and acts, who is a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind, we are entitled to look for reality;5 in the flesh or in the world one must be often content to let the merest forms pass, bound to pay to each the honour owe, even where the object of it may be personally undeserving, as is laid down in Romans 13, 1 Peter 2. The church is, and is responsible to be, the pillar and ground of the truth, the epistle of Christ known and read of all men; and therein, by virtue of the Holy Ghost dwelling in it, is power and obligation to judge according to the word of God whatever is inconsistent with its profession corporately as well as individually.
We see next that the apostle associates with himself here “Sosthenes the brother,” as in the second epistle Timothy. If the Sosthenes just named were the chief of the synagogue who seems to have succeeded Crispus on his conversion, if he were himself converted after his ignominious failure to hurt Paul before Gallio the proconsul of Achaia, at Corinth, we can see with what propriety he, no longer the Jewish adversary but the brother in Christ, should thus accompany the apostle in this address to the Corinthian saints. But I affirm nothing, as there is no direct evidence, and the name was not uncommon. He was certainly known at Corinth and was then with the Apostle at Ephesus.
Notice now in what character the Corinthian believers are addressed: “to the assembly of God that is in Corinth.” It is in the strictest connection with the scope of the epistle, as this is of course according to the true wants there and then. It was not because of a godly few amongst a vast multitude of ungodly persons. What unacquaintance with the mind of God! It is not so that holy scripture speaks. They constituted God’s habitation there by the Spirit’s presence. This is the distinctive constituent and real character. No ungodly multitude could be the church or assembly of God; nor have a godly few as such any virtue to be themselves the assembly, still less to make others so by their own presence in their midst. Only the Spirit of God sent down from heaven makes those whom He gathers and with whom He dwells to be the assembly of God. The state of the Corinthians was frightfully bad, perilous to all, and such as to raise the gravest fears as to some. But we must recollect that, in commanding them to deal with the most scandalous case of all, the apostle goes on the ground of the spirit being saved in the day of the Lord Jesus; and that the second epistle exhorts the saints to confirm love by taking back the offender as one at length roused to deep self-judgment and in danger of being swallowed up with excessive sorrow. No; the assembly of God is liable to the inroad of the most serious evils through ignorance and unwatchfulness; but it does not forfeit its character, if duly constituted, till it renounces all holy discipline by refusing to judge according to the word when evil is brought before it. For it is responsible, if it have let in evil, to put it out in the Lord’s name which it bears. And the second epistle is of the greatest value among other things in this also, that it proves how the apostle’s confidence was justified in such a clearing of conscience, as led him to expect the work of vindicating the Lord to go on still farther, and thus maintain the character of the assembly of God which grace had given the brethren in Corinth.
But it is well also to observe that in apposition with that character stands more, “[persons] sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints.” The construction is peculiar, but the language is exact. The term
ἡγιασμένοις (“sanctified”) is in what is called a rational concord with
ἐκκλησίᾳ. It would not be correct to speak of the assembly as
ἡγιασμένη any more than as
ἐκλεκτή, though those who compose it are both. But the fact that they were sanctified, and that the form of the word does not mean merely a process going on but their character as stamped with separation to God in Christ Jesus, and thus saints by calling, not merely called to be saints, was a most impressive appeal to their hearts and consciences, especially in the crisis at which things had then arrived in the Corinthian assembly.
It is incorrect to say that here, or anywhere else, justification is meant rather than sanctification. The fact is that, while almost all admit sanctification in the practical sense as a matter of growth and so allowing of degrees among those justified, it seems to be forgotten that scripture speaks of all those who are actually born of God as being sanctified from the beginning of the work of grace in their souls. Compare 1 Corinthians 6:11, and 1 Peter 1:2. And so far is it from being true that the call to holiness in practice is enfeebled by this primary and absolute sanctification of all real Christians, that contrariwise it is this setting apart to God which is the ground of, and a powerful support and a solemn motive to, consistency with Christ Jesus in whom we are thus sanctified. It is in virtue of God’s will we are said (in Heb. 10:10) to be sanctified through the offering of Christ’s body once for all, as elsewhere the Spirit is viewed as its agent. Thus all the Godhead take their part in this great work from the outset and indeed right through. And this is confirmed by its result from the first; for those who participate in this sanctification are saints, “called saints” (not a mere holy nation by birth like Israel), whilst they are exhorted to follow holiness no less than peace.
But there is an addition that claims our attention: “with all that call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, with theirs and ours.”6 (Ver. 2.) It is of the deepest interest and value, as it connects the epistle with the entire field of Christian profession. There is no hint of limiting the address to the Christians in all Achaia, as we see in 2 Corinthians 1:1. And the difference is the more striking as God foresaw that men would ere long seek to tamper with the application of this epistle beyond all others, and seek to limit it to the apostolic age when the gifts (
χαρίσματα) were in full force. The unbelief that would make the Corinthian assembly an exception to the order in other places is still more strikingly provided against. Compare for this 1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Cor. 7:17; 1 Cor. 10:16; 1 Cor. 14:36, 37; 1 Cor. 16:1. Further, the clause seems to me one of those which, while applying then to those who bore the name of the Lord truthfully, would acquire a meaning more distinct as the professing mass became more and more distant from the true character of the assembly of God, and Christianity will be well-nigh swamped in Christendom.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ver. 3.) Such is the initiatory wish or prayer of the apostle here as in Romans 1:7, from God in His relation of Father to us, from Jesus Christ as Lord (compare 1 Cor. 8:6): an association however, impossible in an inspired writing, derogatory anywhere, if they were not one in the unity of the divine nature. True and sovereign favour was the spring, grace the result that would prove and magnify its source, shedding its light even on those too blind to see beyond the effect. Be it ours, enjoying the gift, to adore the Giver.
After his address and usual greeting, the first thing the apostle does is to let them know that he always thanks God for them. That he should write thus to the saints in Rome, Ephesus, Colosse, Thessalonica, is not surprising; and the wonder to some may be increased when it is observed that he withholds it in writing to the assemblies in Galatia. But the wisdom and the propriety of his procedure are apparent to the spiritual eye. The Corinthians were suffering the consequences of fleshly wisdom and worldliness; the Galatians had let in law, and thus fallen from grace, to the subversion of the truth of the gospel. Hence the reserve of the apostle’s tone to the latter; whilst he begins to the former (far more grossly fallen) with the recognition of all he could thank God for in their case. Without some such assurance, where indeed would be the ground of appeal? What the standard by which to judge themselves? It was the more necessary because of their low and disorderly state, as well as of the reproofs that must follow.
On the other hand it is a grave misconception of their state and of the apostle’s words that he alludes to any proof of maturity and richness of their spiritual life. He takes care to give prominence to the source which had so bountifully supplied the assembly in Corinth; but there is not a word that implies a spiritual state, much less maturity in it, such as could comfort his heart in thinking of them. He knew his God sufficiently to be sure that there had been no lack on His part.
“I thank my7 God always concerning you for the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all discourse and all knowledge, according as the testimony of Christ8 was confirmed in you, so that ye come not short in any gift, awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you until [the] end, unimpeachable in the day9 of our Lord Jesus Christ. God [is] faithful by whom ye were called into [the] fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ver. 4-6.)
Thus the occasion of thanksgiving was the grace of God bestowed on them in virtue of Christ Jesus. But this is defined immediately after. They had been in everything made rich in Him. In spiritual discernment of His glory and feeling of His grace? in enjoyment of Christ and devotedness to His name? In these respects alas! they were defective, as all that follows shows. He means, as he says, in every sort of expression of the truth, and all knowledge, in what was preached or taught, as well as in apprehension; for God had amply confirmed the testimony of Christ which Paul above all with others had rendered in their city. Many of the Corinthians, as we are told in Acts 18, heard, believed, and were baptized. But there was more than this: the power of the Spirit wrought largely and mightily among them. And this was the characteristic token of the assembly of God — not more truly, but far more sensibly, then than now. The issue was that they came behind in no gift, clearly not in what is called the inward grace of the spiritual life, but in communication to others and manifestation of power, as in 1 Corinthians 12.
This is strengthened by the way the saints at Corinth are next characterized: “awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not that aspect of our Lord’s return which will unfold and express His grace to His own,10 but rather that which deals with conscience now, as it by and by will display their faithful or unfaithful employment of all entrusted to their charge. Every saint who walks with God meanwhile and judges intelligently of the growing miseries of Christendom, not to speak of the world at large and of man, has love for the appearing of the Lord, as the time when He shall be exalted and we are to reign with Him, the power of Satan being publicly and effectually expelled from the earth. But our proper hope is that Christ will come and fetch us to the Father’s house; and so shall we be for ever with the Lord. The Corinthians however are hereby reminded of Him who will judge of every one’s work; when each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. They needed to be exercised in self-judgment whether they were serving the Lord with the manifestations of the Spirit distributed to each. And hence also the repeated and striking way in which the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ” is brought before them here.
Not that a word is said to induce a doubt of His goodness or love to them. Never does a soul more need to hold fast grace than when it is probed and searched by the unsparing and all-detecting word of God. Hence the apostle does not hesitate to say that the Lord should also confirm them to the last unimpeachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. How sad then that a Christian should be to Christ’s reproach now! When Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory. But this to the apostle becomes by the Spirit only one cogent motive more for urging us to mortify our members that are on the earth. It is the day of our Lord which here again calls our responsibility into play. And as this does and must act on conscience, being in truth intended to do this, so it makes the saint feel the need and value of what the apostle adds as closing his introduction — “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ver. 9.) If He has called, will He not also perform? Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:24. But His calling to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord is not more sure in His grace than serious in its present claim on us that we cast no shade of unfaithfulness on both, sullying His name that is named on us, to which the very world binds us, loose as may be its sense of what is due to Him whom it knows not. How did the Corinthians answer to that call then? How do we now?
The apostle begins next to touch one of the evils which particularly dishonoured the Lord and injured the saints at Corinth. Their party spirit was a sore grief to his heart. Not only did it hinder mutual comfort of love in their midst but the testimony they owed His name before the world.
Compared with what has followed since, or even what the New Testament elsewhere discloses, it might seem but a little beginning, but it was the beginning of a great evil. For the allowance of such fleshly preferences and the consequent formation of parties lets loose the activities of the natural mind and feeling, goes onward into passionate zeal or dislike, and well if it end not in helpless heterodoxy and open insubjection to the Lord.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,11 that ye all say the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you,. but that ye be made perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been shown to me concerning you, my brethren, by those [of the house] of Chloe, that there are strifes among you.12 But I say this, that each of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized unto the name of Paul? I thank God13 that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius, that no one should say that ye were baptized14 unto my name. And I baptized15 also the household of Stephanas; further I know not whether I baptized any other.” (Ver. 10-16.)
Apostle though he was, and the one who had not only instructed them in Christ but begotten them through the gospel, he appeals to them here by that name which most intimately deals with the believer, and most solemnly even with the professor, the centre of unity, as the Holy Spirit is its bond. By that name, if by any means, would his exhortation come home to their souls. He is jealous of the honour of Him, their Lord, whom their discords compromised. Where was the witness, of men in these rival schools with their misguided chiefs, to the fellowship of God’s Son? He exhorts them therefore that they should “all say the same thing.” For the Philippian saints he earnestly desired that they might “think the same thing,” and this by thinking one thing; of whom, as being more experienced and in a more spiritual state, he could not but expect more. Nor is it the like-mindedness one toward another pressed on the Roman saints?
Would the apostle then have been satisfied with the same uniform confession outwardly? By no means. With this he begins, according to the wisdom of the Spirit which directed him; for it is surely unbecoming, in reformers, or men who can easily follow reformers in what was wrong, to criticise an inspired writer or presume that they can draw nicer distinctions or arrange the truth better, than Paul.16 Then he adds “that there be no divisions among you,” of which, their party-cries were the expression; and lastly he beseeches that they may be “made perfect” (see Eph. 4:12 as well as 2 Cor. 13:9) or “wholly united,” in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Not that he means by this exactly the will, so that there should be a complete division of the soul, the first referring to faith and the second to love,17 however important all this may be in its place; for nou’“ signifies mind viewed as intelligent faculty, as
γνώμη is the opinion or judgment it forms. He wanted them to have a nicety of intelligent thought. They were defective where they were proud or vain, as men generally are.
Nor does the apostle hesitate to write on the information which he had received (and indeed it was too plain and precise in its character to doubt its accuracy), nor to tell them its trustworthy source. A godly woman’s household might be a particularly good means of ascertaining; as it also gives warrant for another day. It is the same apostle who, if he reprobates silly women laden with divers lusts, shows how a Phoebe or a Persis, a Prisca and a Mary, an Evodia and a Syntyche, should be valued and cared for. He can here write with full confidence of what he had learnt from Chloe’s household.
The divisions were as yet within the assembly, not rents from it, but they tended to this end, as we are expressly told in 1 Corinthians 11:18, 19. No conclusion can be less well founded than that the separation into denominations is lawful, while an evil spirit within is the sin; for this schismatic working is evil most of all because it leads those who are heady and unsubject to that worst result. It is assumed here that the assembly has not compromised Christ by unholy tolerance of false doctrine or any such evil as would make it a duty to disown those who would retain the title when they have forfeited its true character.
Alas! at Corinth the saints seem to have been largely infected with party spirit. “But I say this that one saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ:” this last to my mind as intelligible as any of the others;18 for the wrong was not in any of those named, but in such as set up their names out of their own vanity and love of opposition. And the worst of all, I doubt not, was that party which plumed itself on its superior spirituality. They had done with men.19 Paul, Apollos, Cephas, were beneath their aspirations. Not the servants, but the Master was their watchword. They disliked the high claims, especially of Paul. For their part they would cleave to the Lord’s own precept: one is your teacher, one your leader, and all ye are brethren. Thus not infrequently does self-exaltation among Christians disguise itself unconsciously (and unconsciously, because the state is bad, and the heart too long away from the Lord in practice); whereas it is evident that he who really loves and bows to the Lord does for this very reason honour His servants for their work’s sake, and according to the place He has set them in. The corruption of the best thing is truly said to be the worst; and so it was here where the specious plea of such as abjured all but Christ might seem to be the only thing right and spiritual in Corinth, divided as the assembly was. How important it is, and now as then, to judge righteous judgment, not according to appearances!
It is well to note that the evil at Corinth was the converse of what the apostle meant in his address to the Ephesian elders. (Acts 20:30) For in the one it was the sin of the disciples, in the other of the rulers. Our only security is in that subjection of heart to Christ, which estimates what is of Him wherever it may be, and walks in dependence on Him, come what will. I had made the reflection before noticing that Calvin fell into this very confusion.20 Perhaps in his own system, as being of a democratic character, it is harder to see that the mass of the disciples have their snares no less than those who guide. It is however as sure from scripture as it is evident in experience. No thing, nor person, escapes the vigilance of the enemy. How blessed that all are under the eye of perfect love in our Lord: may we be guided by it!
“‘ Is Christ divided?” asks the indignant apostle. Is He not the Head of that one body the church to which they all belonged? It is a whole Christ to whom all His own belong and who Himself belongs to all. To think of dividing Him would be as irrelevant as absurd. They might divide, not He: what an inconsistency if they valued Him! But this is followed up by the further query, “Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized unto the name of Paul?” To state the question was to render the true answer certain and necessary to the Christian; yet how many since have overlooked both! But One is worthy of imprinting His name on us.
So blinding is the influence where the first man is allowed to take the place of the Second. Apostles and others have died, yea, been crucified, but Christ alone for us, as it is to Him we have been baptized, not to the twelve, still less to other men.
Far different was the loyalty of the apostle to Christ. Therefore does he not scruple to express his gratitude to God that he had baptized so few personally at Corinth: an impossible subject for thanksgiving, if baptism be the means of new birth, for in this case he who loved God and man must rejoice the more, the more he baptized. On the other hand there is no real slight put on christian baptism as our burial with Christ unto death, the appointed outward sign of subjection to Him who died for us and rose again.
Its solemn import is derived from the objective truth signified by it, not from the position or power of the baptizer, nor from any qualities of the baptized, whatever be the Lord’s will as to either. But the apostle owns the good hand of the Lord in ordering things so that in fact Paul had baptized only a very few out of the many Corinthians who, on hearing the gospel, believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8): had he actually baptized the mass, it might have given a more tangible excuse to those who affected his name at Corinth. But there can be little doubt that those he did baptize were among such as had stood comparatively faithful to the Lord there.
It may be mentioned here that Professor Olshausen notices it as a surprising circumstance that the apostle should not have reasoned on the import of baptism itself in order to cherish his argument, but rather on the providential history of the facts as to it, so far as he was concerned. Dean Alford also urges the last clause of verse 16 as important against those who maintain the absolute omniscience of the inspired writers on every topic which they handle.
Do the two divines seem to write with enough of reverence? Both forgot, if they seriously knew what it is to believe, that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul. Does He not know better than any when to urge this topic, when that? And as to the inspired writers, I know of no sober believer who holds their omniscience, but that of Him who employed them to communicate the truth. It is common, but incorrect, to speak of their infallibility; whereas evidently none can be said to be infallible but God.
The true statement of inspiration is not that the writer became omniscient or infallible, but that the Holy Ghost so controlled his writing as to convey the truth without admixture of error and perfectly for His own design. Hence He might with perfect consistency withhold absolute recollection on a given point here, or a distinct command from the Lord on another point, as in chapter 7.
But all this leaves unimpaired the divine authority of what He does convey or command as from the Lord. Those orthodox as to inspiration may be incorrect in phrase or a shade of thought; but this in no way lessens the seriousness — indeed sin — of enfeebling inspiration, especially in these perilous times, when God’s word is the grand resource of the faithful. For the simple but grave fact that it is His word is not only a truth in itself clearly revealed, but it is the basis and support of every other. Weaken inspiration, and you jeopard all else that concerns God and man, and you may end with nothing better than human ideas.
It is not that the apostle Paul slights baptism: who could that accepts it as Christ’s institution? Impossible that he could have used such language if baptism be the means of life to the soul, as so many falsely teach. Yet we can hardly conceive any of the twelve speaking as he does here. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ should be made vain.” (Ver. 17.) The rest were expressly sent to baptize, which they did either personally or using others for the purpose. Paul too was baptized and did baptize; and no apostle unfolds the observance in so profound a way as we find in Romans 6, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2. But 1 Corinthians 11 shows us that the Lord’s supper was revealed directly, not merely accepted as he found like baptism. And v Len we reflect, we perceive that the rite is not the seal of union with Christ, but the individual owning of Him who died and rose again, buried with Christ into death, as the former sets forth the communion of His body, for which we need His ascension and the sending down of the Holy Ghost, with which is bound up all the doctrine of the church, of which Paul pre-eminently became minister. (Col. 1:25)
But Paul as emphatically became “minister of the gospel” (Col. 1:23); and so he was sent by Christ to preach it, as he tells us here, “not in wisdom of word,” as the Corinthians liked to hear, “lest the cross of Christ should be made vain.” It seems to be philosophic speculation and not rhetoric only which he denounces thus strongly. And philosophy leaves no room for divine love on the one side, or for man’s utter ruin on the other: the cross of Christ maintains both in the highest degree.
By the cross of Christ is meant much more than the means of pardon for the sinner. To treat it only as the great remedy for man’s need, however true as far as it goes, is to rob it of an immense deal of its importance as well as to obscure the truth and shut out God’s glory. For in that most stupendous of all facts, what has not come to issue? God’s holy hatred and judgment of sin; His amazing love of the sinner; the infinite grace, humiliation, and suffering of the Saviour; the audacity and craft of Satan; the abominable wickedness of man, under the best possible circumstances and, spite of the greatest benefits, without cause to justify or excuse to palliate: all met, as nowhere else, in the cross. There are the pretensions of man crushed; sin condemned and put away; Satan defeated and vanquished; judgment borne; and God glorified in Christ who knew no sin made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. There only indeed divine attributes and; ways, which our sin had otherwise seemed to set aside or at variance, are now conciliated for ever on behalf of those that believe, and a firm basis laid for the ruined creation, as well as the people of God, to be made new and shine unto eternal ages to the glory of God. Yet all this would be rendered vain by that wisdom of speech which some in the Corinthian church were ignorantly affecting and blaming Paul because it was far from him.
But the Corinthians were in danger who shrank from the facts of the gospel and desired to hear the philosophy of the christian scheme. “For the word of the cross is to those that perish foolishness, but to us that are to be saved it is God’s power.” (Ver. 18.) The cross bespeaks the lowest extreme of human shame and suffering. It was the severest penalty for a slave. That the Son of God should stoop not merely to the nature of man but to the death of the cross, and this in atonement for man to God as well as in rejection of God by man, seems the depth of folly to those who, ignorant of their own sinfulness and of the holiness of God, must needs perish, living and dying as they are. That He must suffer in order to save supposes the hopeless ruin of the race.
But it is also irreconcilable with every feeling of the natural heart that He would stoop so low to suffer for His enemies, and that God would give Him up to do so. For philosophy knows nothing truly of love in God, any more than of total ruin in man: the cross proclaims both, and that He who hung there in grace, suffering for our sin, that God might deliver us righteously, was Himself God over all as surely as He was man without sin. For the gospel was no effort or device of man’s wit. Yea, the word of the cross is the deepest offence and the sheerest foolishness to him; but it is God’s power, not wisdom only, to believers, “to us that are to be saved,” for here, to bring it the more home, the apostle treats it as a personal fact instead of continuing his abstract statement. Salvation here, as elsewhere in this Epistle, is regarded as not complete till the Lord comes; it takes in the whole work of bringing us through till we are conformed to Christ in resurrection glory.
In fact the seeking for thoughts and words palatable to the world argues a mind at issue with God, who had fully pronounced on its best wisdom as folly in divine things. It is worthy of note that the apostle quotes in proof God’s sentence on Israel by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 29:14). I cannot agree with those who fail to see the pertinency of this testimony, for it would be impossible to find, out of the many scriptures which declare the insufficiency of human resources, one more to the purpose which the apostle had in view, and therefore serving better to warn the Corinthian saints. “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and put away the prudence of the prudent. Where [is the] wise, and where scribe, and where disputer of this age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the21 world.” (Vers. 19, 20.) In the last words are seen not more than an illustrative allusion to Isaiah 33, where there is a burst of surprise at the deliverance from the scornful power of the enemy, as here a triumphant challenge over the failure of its proud pretensions against God.
It is well to remember that the digression here begun but carried on much farther, in which the world’s wisdom is shown to slight and oppose but to be judged by the cross of Christ, is none the less really connected with the party spirit and divisions of the saints at Corinth which the apostle has been denouncing, as he will be found to do yet more in 1 Cor. 3. Indeed it was their value for what the world esteems as wisdom which had wrought to the depreciation of Paul and to the advantage of those whom he afterwards designates “false apostles.” (2 Cor. 11)
Men had dared to call the preaching of the cross of Christ foolishness. But who and what were they? Those that perish! Was it wise to follow such? They might vaunt of their wisdom, but this would not save them from perdition; and Jews at least, yea all who feared God and heard His ancient but living oracles, should remember that it is His way to stain the pride of human wisdom no less than human power. So it is written: God had already judged it in His word. And so experience confirms. For what has been the moral history of man?
Tremendous is the blow which the apostle here deals the wisdom of the world. The proof that God made it foolish follows in a few pregnant and unanswerable words. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through22 wisdom knew not God, God was pleased through the foolishness of the preaching to save those that believe; since both Jews ask for signs23 and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling-block and to Gentiles24 foolishness, but to those that [are] called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ God’s power and God’s wisdom; because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (Ver. 21-25.)
When man fell and got the knowledge of good and evil, it was the wisdom of God to leave him to himself, though not without a plain revelation which from the first held out to the eye of faith the Seed of the woman, who, bruised Himself, should bruise the serpent’s head. But this did not suit the fallen child of Adam who assumed his own competency for worship or anything else without grace from God or the sense of his own ruin which would have made him feel its necessity. And the world grew up till its corruption and violence were so unbearable that it became morally imperative to sweep off the guilty race in the deluge. Even after this solemn intervention of God in judgment the world only became more subtly evil. It ceased to retain God in knowledge; it set up the powers of nature in heaven and earth, deifying them, and degrading themselves into whatever the demons behind those objects might drag their votaries. Thus Satan’s triumph over the nations now heathen was complete; for their religion itself most of all corrupted them, its symbols being also identified with every moral iniquity, and their wisdom bound them fast in that debasing slavery, seeking at best to explain, or explain away, all that misrepresented and supplanted the true God.
The Corinthians too of all men should have known how powerless is the wisdom of the world to deliver man from the grossest self-pleasing and the lusts which, while shunning the light, usurped the name of a god, and only proved how completely God Himself was unknown. For evil is too serious and fatal to be overlooked, and the creature would fain roll it off from himself on God, and is thus necessitated to attenuate its moral consequences as well as its contrariety to the Creator. To this effort, resisted by conscience till it is utterly seared, it is philosophy lends its baleful torch, but thus, as man is unjudged, so is God lost for the soul. Were His holy nature and His righteous judgment bowed to, man must own his iniquity and humbly seek a door of escape through divine mercy. But such was not the course of the world. Nothing is a man so slow to acknowledge as his own badness; and in such a state religion is only a blind for the soul and a sop for God, of all vanities the greatest and most pernicious.
It appears to me that Calvin25 has mistaken the force of the reasoning, as if by the wisdom of the world was meant the workmanship of the universe, an illustrious token and clear manifestation of His wisdom. This is one of the two witnesses adduced for God to heathen conscience in Romans i., the other being that knowledge of God which they possessed till the flood and after it, when first they fell into creature worship. One must not be surprised that not a few adopt the rendering “by the revelation of God’s wisdom,” that is, in His works with or without His law. I believe it to be simply a question of God’s wise ordering of things that the folly of idolatrous man should be apparent, and so the need of His salvation by the cross of Christ be the more felt when it was preached. By
διὰ τῆς σ. is meant “by wisdom” in the abstract or “by its wisdom,” either of which would require the article in Greek. I do not think that Stanley and Alford are right in taking the phrase as “through the wisdom [of God]” just mentioned, though of course the article there too would be proper. The latter wisdom seems to me contradistinguished from the former, the one self-exalting and destructive, the other real and righteous altogether.
Thus in God’s wisdom ends the world’s wisdom: He is unknown, the knowledge of whom in Christ is eternal life. And what did God in presence of this pretentious wisdom which was thus the guiltiest folly? “It pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.” The world had either adopted the most degrading notions of polytheism, or it had tried to escape superstition by the dreary blank of pantheism and even atheism. Man being now fallen was not prevented (at least after the food) from thus in his presumption proving his ignorance of God; but God showed His grace as matchless as His wisdom; for when the world’s wisdom had spent itself weary and worn in its idolatrous devices or in the waste of scepticism which those abominations provoked, God was pleased, not to close the revolting theatre of man’s rebellion, whether religious or irreligious, by judgment, but contrariwise to save. And as salvation to be open and effectual for sinners must be by grace, so could it only be by faith. (Compare the reasoning of Rom. 4.) In this way alone could it be sure to all that believe; for the essence of faith is that the worth is found in the object believed, the efficacy lies in what He, the Saviour, has wrought for us, not we for Him, however truly we do, when believers, seek to please and serve Him. Thus is God glorified in this as in all things by Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.
Accordingly it will be noticed by the careful reader that the apostle here speaks not exactly of preaching as a mere instrument, but of the thing preached. Such is the force resulting from the form of the word, which with others I have translated “the preaching.” This the Jews derided, as well as the Greeks. It was to them foolishness; nor need we wonder, if they saw not the glory of the person of Christ given to die in God’s love to sinners. For what could seem less reasonable to the natural mind, than for a crucified man to be the only Saviour from sins and the wrath of God? Yet this is the truth preached,
τὸ κήρυγμα, and salvation is the fruit of believing it. Grace not only gave the Son of God thus to suffer, but it takes care to send out everywhere the proclamation, that souls may hear, believe, and be saved.
Men naturally despise the cross, who do not believe either that their sins deserve divine judgment or that He in grace bore that judgment thereon. Their depth of need is unfelt, and hence other and lesser objects occupy them. The world is pre-occupied or turns elsewhere: “since both Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek wisdom.” Visible tokens were vouchsafed of God when He sent the Lord Jesus to the land of Israel. Never since the world began had there been such a cloud of witnesses in this kind; but what can satisfy the heart where all is alienated from God? The Jews overlooked all He gave and asked for a sign as if none had appeared. Greeks expected nothing from God; but, if the object of their search was wisdom, they never learnt its first lesson in the fear of Jehovah.
This obstinacy or levity of unbelief did not dishearten the apostle, but rather stimulated him in the work near to his heart. “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling-block and to Gentiles foolishness.” It is not here simply the blood shed that makes atonement; and it is more to say “crucified” than dead; for though both declare the end of man in the flesh, there is the extreme of shame and weakness in the cross beyond elsewhere. That God then should save by virtue of the cross, where the world saw the worst of human suffering and humiliation, was to silence that wisdom, proving it to be folly which dared so to think and speak of His wisdom. Over the stone of stumbling fell the Jews who would only have a Messiah in power and glory. So will He come shortly, but where then will those Jews find themselves who were offended by His stooping to the cross in order to save those that believe? Where the Gentiles who preferred their own ideas and vaunted reasonings to the mighty work then wrought at infinite cost? Like the lightning shall the Son of man shine in His day; but first must He suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. For it was morally impossible for God’s kingdom to be till sin was judged in the cross. How senseless and slow of heart were even disciples to see that so it must be if God was to be glorified and man righteously blessed and saved! But “to the called Christ,” and Christ thus crucified, “is God’s power and God’s wisdom; because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (Vers. 24, 25) Any other way had compromised sin or made salvation impossible. The cross of Christ is the fullest display of God’s judgment of sin and of His love to the sinner. What men taunted as foolishness and weakness, the incarnate Word suffering on a gibbet, equally proves man’s utter ruin and God’s saving mercy. So did the Saviour endure the judgment of sin that the believer might be saved. Is it not then wiser and stronger than men? Did not the resurrection prove, does not the gospel proclaim, it to be so?
The apostle pursues his theme — the annihilation by Christ’s cross of every object flesh would cherish and vaunt. His first proof was drawn from the utter and evident infatuation which was most foolish where most it affected wisdom without God; his second from the ways of God in those brought to Himself by the gospel. As to the latter he appeals to themselves.
“For look at your calling, brethren, that not many [are] wise according to flesh, not many powerful, not many highborn. But the foolish things of the world God chose that he might put to shame the wise; and the weak things of the world God chose that he might put to shame the strong things; and the lowborn things of the world and those despised God chose, [and]26 the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are, so that no flesh might boast before God.27 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made wisdom to us from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, according as it is written, He that boasteth, let him boast in [the] Lord.” (Ver. 26-31.)
Thus the reproach which infidelity loves to cast on the gospel the apostle avows and puts forward as a fact which brings glory to God. For the gospel is the revelation of the grace which calls man from the world to Himself. Hence every ground of worldly distinction and of human merit disappears. He who alone is good and great would act in His own love and display His supreme excellence above the faults and the ruin of mankind. Yet so stubborn is the pride of guilty man that he parries the consequence of his misery and rejects the proof of his sin and danger, rather than accept the free mercy of God in Christ the Lord: and thus it becomes a question of God’s love in electing sinners to eternal life in His own sovereignty, unless He would either save or condemn the race indiscriminately and thereby destroy all testimony to His holy judgment on the one hued, or to His counsels of grace on the other. If neither can be, He must choose: else none could be saved, for all have sinned, and not one sinner would trust His love in Christ for eternal life, such goodness being above all his own feelings and contrary to all experience of others. The more man reasons, the less can he believe and rest on salvation in Christ for one who, if God’s word be true, deserves condemnation. He prefers to trust his own efforts with or without Christ, manifesting how little he accepts the testimony of God to the glory of Christ and to the infinite value of His work. If he is an unbeliever and dost, still more plainly is the man who defies the truth of God and despises His grace, at open war with the God who now bears with but will surely judge him. If a man values his advantages and disdains those around, he is the surer to fight against that grace which makes nothing of all that is precious in his eyes.
The Corinthians then, who were not weaned from their old admiration of man’s wisdom and power and rank, the apostle bids to consider their calling. In the assembly of God before their eyes was the clearest evidence that not many were wise according to flesh, not many powerful, not many highborn. And they could not but know enough by report of Christians in other parts to be satisfied that the same features were true everywhere else. But the apostle goes farther and shows that it is not only a fact among men (ver. 26) but a purpose on God’s part. (Ver. 27-29.) He chose the foolish things of the world to put shame on the wise men; He chose the weak things of the world to put shame on the strong things. So clear is His judgment pronounced on what is ever apt to captivate the heart of Christians, for they love to be able to count up the wise and the world’s grandeur in their own ranks, as if aught of the sort could add lustre to Christ. Did not God choose the mean things of the world, and the disdained things, the things that are not, that He might bring to nought the things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the sight of God? It is no question of what they or their circumstances seemed, but of what these really were for most when God chose them. Few of the saints had been among the wise, most knew what it was to have been arrested by the gospel from obscurity and of no influence or account among men. If God called such to the fellowship of His Son, to be one with Him now, to reign with Him soon and for ever, if the wise and powerful and nobly born were for the most part left in their possession or pursuit of all which blinded them to the glory of Christ on the one hand and to judgment on the other, whose sin was this? whose grace that? But how unworthy and inconsistent that the Christian should yearn after or glory in flesh and its advantages! Looking within and without, what believer could fail to learn that no flesh should boast before God?
Yet such a negative conclusion, important as it may be, is not enough for the Spirit of God. He would lead the heart from the emptiness of man’s vanity or pride to real moral worth, to the provision of divine grace and holiness, and to that glory which shall not pass away; and all this and more he shows to be the portion of the Christian, with pointed emphasis affirming it of those he was addressing. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” How vast the change of nature, position, and relations for any! How blessed for those whose wretchedness in the world and according to flesh he had just set forth without disguise! Nor is the stability of the source a whit less than the character of the blessedness “of Him,” of God whose grace has given us to have our being in “Christ Jesus” “who was made to us wisdom from God.” Here is the reality, and this of blessings incalculably precious.
Christ has been made wisdom to us from God, for wisdom is the first question here; and it is now answered for the Christian in Christ, and Christ crucified, who alone thus put everyone and everything in its true place; and this it is the part of wisdom to see, as folly disarranges and misunderstands all. If philosophy left God out, it was necessarily all wrong; if it essayed to bring Him in, it subjected Him to man’s mind, and this made matters, if possible, worse. Christ revealed God and blessed man, and this not by glossing over his state and sins but by suffering for them on the cross, so that God was glorified as much about evil in His death as about good in His life. He was thus made unto us wisdom from God. Not merely was the world’s wisdom, flesh’s wisdom set aside, but God’s wisdom shown and given us in Him.
Nevertheless wisdom was not our sole want, greatly as it was needed — wisdom to its end, and not its beginning only in God’s fear. The sinner has no righteousness for God; but God has for him, and this in Christ, yea, Christ Himself, for He it is who was so made to us, not wisdom alone from God, but righteousness. Man is thus set aside root and branch; God takes His place and gives all we lack in Christ. He had amply tested man’s efforts under His law, which the Jew twisted to make up a hollow appearance, instead of submitting to learn by it his own insufficiency and sin. But Christ is not more surely God’s wisdom than He is God’s righteousness, and made this to us; for by His death God is just and can justify the believer in Jesus. Man — the believer alone truly and fully — owns himself as a sinner. The righteousness is God’s, though it is Christ’s work alone which could have made it not condemn but justify as. In virtue of the cross God is consistent with Himself in justifying us both freely and righteously.
Further, Christ was made to us “sanctification.” The Greek wallowed in sin, however he might sentimentalize; the Jew boasted in the law, but broke it. Christ is the measure and means and pattern of holiness to the Christian; no doubt the Spirit is the agent, and He works by keeping not Himself but Christ before us. So we read elsewhere that, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, as there is bondage where the law rules. But we are not under law but under grace. Nor is this all; but we all beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled face are changed according to the same image from glory unto glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.
Finally, He was made to us “redemption,” by which, as the order clearly shows, is meant not the forgiveness of sins which we have, but that complete deliverance from the effects of sin in our bodies which we await at the coming of our Lord Jesus. See Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30.
How complete the blessing Christ has been made to us I And what a joy that we not only may but ought to boast in Him who has so ordered and given to us! Do pious souls call on us to beware of presumption? It is the apostle, and this on the strength of Jeremiah the prophet, who calls on him that boasts to boast in Jehovah. It is therefore not rash nor wrong, but a hallowed boast. We owe it to Him, and He deserves it of us.
1 Corinthians 2.
The apostle now touches on that which had been made a matter of reproach against his preaching at Corinth. He had not sought to avoid the scandal of the cross here any more than elsewhere. On the contrary it was this precisely to which he had given undisguised prominence in that city of intellectual culture and of moral corruption. Even here however there was a guard against narrow one-sidedness, as well as care to bring forward Christ personally, not a point of doctrine only, were it even that deepest and most justly absorbing point of the cross. It was Jesus Christ he preached, and Him crucified. He eschewed the pompous phrases and the subtle speculations which Corinth then affected.
Thus the brethren there might see the consistency, first and last, of that which unbelief stumbled at in Paul, and which the flesh in saints would rather shroud in silence. Is the cross God’s power to those that are saved? Is Christ crucified foolishness to the Gentiles and an offence to the Jew? Does wisdom of word make the cross vain? The apostle was led of God to present the truth in a way not palatable but truly wholesome and withal most for God’s glory when he went to Corinth. It was not Jesus and the resurrection (as at Athens), nor was it His return to reign (as at Thessalonica), though no doubt none of these elements was wanting; but at Corinth the Spirit directed to that which was in due season. And as he says to the. law-affecting Galatians, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world;” so here he could look back with satisfaction on the pre-eminence given to Jesus Christ and Him crucified in his first visit to Corinth; and this too with decision and conviction on his own part. It is not merely that so it was, but he judged it best. Nor does it mean, as some have thought, that with all the abasement of the cross he nevertheless preached Christ. No such uncertain sound came from the apostle as from his commentators. It was not Christ, crucified though He was, but emphatically Christ and Him crucified. Well he knew and deeply felt that there is nothing like that cross which stands alone apart from all before and after: yea, nothing in time, nothing in eternity, similar or second to it. For there sin in man rose up to slay the Son of God, yet was in slaying Him itself slain as well as judged, that grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life for every believer.
“And I, when I came unto you, brethren, came not in excellency of word or wisdom announcing to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified: And I in weakness and in fear and in much trembling was with you; and my word and my preaching, not in persuasive words of28 wisdom but in demonstration of [the] Spirit and of power; that your faith might not be in man’s wisdom but in God’s power.” (Ver. 1-5.)
There can be no doubt in my judgment that the various reading in the first verse
μυστήριον, though given in the Sinaitic (first hand), Alexandrian and Palimpsest of Paris (C), with some good cursives and very ancient versions (Pesch. and Cop.), etc., is not correct, but the common text. It is not only erroneous but an error which destroys the beauty and indeed the sense of the passage. For the apostle is contrasting his use of revealed truth in dealing with such souls as those in Corinth when he first carried them the gospel, and that which he would do with those who simply and thoroughly submitted to Christ. The mystery in all its hidden depths and all its heavenly glory he sets before those he calls “the perfect,” that is, the full-grown who were established in Christianity; but not so with babes unformed in the truth of the gospel.
Hence the introductory words. The apostle came not in excellency of word or wisdom when announcing at Corinth the testimony of God, who was calling them as all men to repent, and to this end testifying of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. To this Paul judged it right to confine himself at the beginning of the gospel in that voluptuous city. Maturer souls need Christ every way, risen, at God’s right hand, and coming again in glory. Here he presented His person, and especially Him crucified. It is not a philosophy but a divine person and work. “The perfect” need much more, and have no stint; and there it is that God’s hidden wisdom in the mystery hidden from ages and generations becomes so important: not that there is reserve on God’s part, but that the state of souls is such that some want milk as being babes, others solid food as being settled in Christ; and they are welcomed into all the truth of God, as indeed they need it all.
But further there was in the apostle’s tone and way a suitability to the message he brought. He repudiated all artificial method whether in thought or in the language which clothed it, that the truth of God should address itself directly to man’s heart. So also he was with the Corinthians in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. This is not the ideal that men in their imagination frame of the great apostle! But such a deep sense of weakness was by grace his strength, as the Corinthians’ straining after power was their weakness. His one desire was to exalt God, owning the nothingness as well as the guilt of man; with an anxious dread lest any word on his part should obscure His true glory, that it might be God’s testimony to and in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Hence his word and his preaching (the thing preached, not merely his manner in it) was not after the rhetoric of the schools, but such as gave scope to God’s Spirit.
Did the saints then loathe the bread of heaven? Did they pine after the leeks and onions and flesh-pots of Egypt? The apostle was not the one to gratify their natural tastes. He at least was true to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He sought not to win by the display of his own extraordinary ability; nor would he exhibit the wonders of the divine word which he could easily have presented so as to dazzle the Corinthian mind; nor did he condescend to set out these precious truths in a diction attractive to refined ears. The matter and the manner he judged most for God’s glory was that which poured contempt on man and looked only to the Spirit’s demonstration and power, that their faith might not be in man’s wisdom but in God’s power. For just so far as preachers fill men with admiration for their peculiar style of thought or language, is it evident that they are weak in the Spirit, and attract to themselves instead of clearing and establishing souls in the truth whereby the Spirit works in power. Another indication of unwholesome teaching (too abundant at Corinth) is that which produces a distaste for all but the favourite or his line. It is not that the heart does not bless God for the instrument; but the effect of such a course as Paul’s is to maintain the Lord’s glory and His truth unimpaired, to avoid the natural tendency to a school or clique with its leader, and to keep the saints in full liberty and holy confidence before God by faith. May our decision be like his whose words (and they are God’s) have occupied us here!
The apostle next explains his attitude towards those established in Christian truth, “the perfect” as they are designated here and elsewhere. To these he brought out far more than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. There is no limit or reserve. Had there been truth undisclosed in the Old Testament, secret things which belonged to Jehovah, in contrast with those revealed which had to do with Israel and their children? They are, none of them, hidden now, but shared by the Father with His children to the glory of Christ His Son. They are our proper and needed portion.
Hence says he “But we speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this age nor of the rulers of this age that come to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom] which God predetermined before the ages for our glory; which none of the rulers of the age knew (for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, but according as it is written, Things which eye hath not seen and ear not heard, and into man’s heart have not come, all that29 God prepared for those that love him, butt God revealed to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the depths of God.” (Ver. 6-10.)
It is not then that “wisdom” is wanting to the christian scheme; nor could this be, for Christ who is all therein is God’s wisdom which has a character, height, depth, and extent proper to God. For this reason it suits His children, at least such as are weaned from the first man and the world in which he seeks activity and exaltation; it suits in a word “the perfect” or full-grown, not the babes that are absorbed in their personal wants and care at best for milk, not for the meat which a riper condition needs for its due nourishment. Wholly apart from such wisdom as Paul spoke of is “this age,” the course of the world that now is, and this not in the lower strata only but in its “rulers” “that come to nought,” little as they themselves expect it, or those who covet their place. Blessed be the grace that has revealed the mind of heaven to man on earth! It is “God’s wisdom” the apostle spoke habitually and characteristically, where it was proper to be spoken, and this “in a mystery;” not meaning by this aught that was unintelligible or vague or obscure, but truth which could not be discovered by the wit of man, and was never before made known in the living oracles of God. The faithful who were settled on the great foundations of Christianity the apostle would initiate into it. All that ignore or oppose Christ come to nought: He is God’s power no less than His wisdom.
† The Vatican MS., and some cursives, the Cop. Sah., etc., read
γάρ “for,” which seems to me not to suit the context like
δέ which the other authorities support.
But if Christ be God’s wisdom, as He surely is, it is not His personal glory simply, but this “in a mystery.” It is not Christ as He was here presented to the responsibility of man, especially of the Jews; nor is it Christ when He returns again as the Son of man in His universal kingdom which shall not pass away. It is Christ exalted on high and invested with a new glory, outside all the old revelations, and founded on the cross where the world, led on by its prince, rejected Him, but thereon glorified in God, and given as head over all things to the church which is His body. This therefore the apostle adds was “the hidden” wisdom, “which God predetermined before the ages for our glory.” It formed no part of His ways either in creation or in providence. The law never touched it, nor did the chosen people under law look for it Nay, not only did the prophets ignore it altogether, but the Spirit did not speak of it in His ancient communications, though, when it was revealed, it could be seen, from hints here and there from the beginning and all through, that He of course knew all and said enough to justify its principles even where most differing from all that kind been meanwhile carried on.
But when the patient and full trial of man’s responsibility closed in the cross which showed alike his own sin and ruin, Satan’s guile and folly, and God’s perfect goodness and wisdom, then was the suited moment to bring out those counsels of God in Christ for our glory, which were predetermined before all the sorrowful history of man, before even the world was created as the sphere in which his responsibility was tested. Of this man is still as then wholly ignorant, and none more than, if so much as, “the rulers of this age.” None of them knew it when Jesus was here; and just as those that dwelt in Jerusalem and their rulers, not having known Him, fulfilled the voices of the prophets which were and are read on every sabbath by judging and slaying Him, so “none of the rulers of this age knew; for, had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;” yet thus it was that they too instrumentally laid a basis for it. For the cross of Christ on earth answers to and is answered by the glory of God in heaven Wondrous fact — a man exalted over all the universe, risen and glorified with all things set under His feet at God’s right hand! Not only a matter of faith, but the revelation of it is also made known, as indeed only now since the cross and the ascension is it a fact. But it is a fact, and a fact revealed to the Christian, totally distinct from all Old Testament hopes, or that which shall be realised when the kingdom comes in the displayed power and glory of the millennial days.
Strikingly does the apostle proceed to set out the newness of this work and word of God in terms too often perverted through misapprehension to a mere confession of such ignorance as could not but be in the times before Christ rose and the Spirit was given. It is an application of Isaiah 64:4, yet for the purpose not of direct illustration but of full contrast. The Jewish prophet most consistently was inspired to stop with the acknowledged inability of man to pierce the veil that hides the future blessedness that God has prepared for him that waits for Him. Not so the christian apostle; for the veil is rent, and we are invited to draw near now emboldened by the blood of Jesus. Thus all things are ours, coming no less than present. We look at the things that are not seen and eternal; we seek and have our mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. It is in vain to say that they are hidden from man. They were so, but assuredly are now revealed to the children of God. They are revealed that we may not doubt or remain in the dark but believe. This is the emphatic statement of the apostle. What God has prepared for those that love Him He has revealed to us by the Spirit.
Do you limit His competency or question His willingness to show us all the truth, yea, things to come, in divine love? Expressly is it added, as if to meet our hesitation, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the depths of God.” Such a declaration may well silence every argument of unbelief, as disposed alas! to trust in the ability of man as to distrust the gracious power of God on our behalf. The Spirit who searches all, and knows all, is now in the believer to whom all is revealed in the written word of God. He who sounds the depths of God is able to instruct His children; and He is as ready as able, being here for this as for other loving purposes worthy of God and in virtue of Christ’s redemption.
It is the Holy Spirit then by whom God has revealed to us what of old was hidden; and He is thoroughly able to do so, seeing that He searches the very depths of God, as indeed He is God. This the apostle illustrates by an analogy drawn from human nature. “For who of men30 knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man that [is] in him? So also the things of God knoweth31 no one save the Spirit of God. But we received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that [is] from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.” (Vers. 11, 12.)
No man knows what is in another’s mind. He may conjecture more or less accurately, but none of men can know inwardly what is in another’s mind and has not been communicated to him. The spirit of the man himself knows, and no one else. It is shut out not only from animals inferior to man in the scale of creation, but from his fellows. So, but with incomparably greater force, no one can come to know the things of God, unless they be revealed: only the Spirit of God knows them. But here is the inestimable privilege of the Christian. It was not the spirit of the world we received, but the Spirit that is from God, and this expressly that we might know, inwardly know, the things freely given to us by God.
We are in the conscious relationship of children, and have not merely an acquired objective knowledge, but realize what God has vouchsafed in our own minds. Were any courting the spirit of the world? What a descent for a Christian! What a forgetfulness of our new and divine and eternal associations through our Lord Jesus! Here then it is a question of knowing through the Holy Ghost the things freely given us by God, and to this end is the Spirit given to the believer now that Christ was come and had wrought redemption. Where the blood has been put, the oil can follow, that unction from the Holy One whereby the very babe in Christ knows all things. For the grace that has freely given him all with God’s own Son would put him in the conscious knowledge of all and in the joy of communion; and this can only be by the Holy Spirit of God, who accordingly anoints us when established in Christ, that is, when firmly attached to Him.
But the apostle tells us of more than this supernatural Spirit-given knowledge. In order that they may be enjoyed, the things of God had to be communicated divinely; and here the chosen instruments had to be made, not infallible of course, which is the quality of God alone, but perfectly guided in giving out the truth and guarded from all error for their task. This is inspiration, its permanent fruit being the scriptures we possess in the goodness of God. The principle is stated in verse 13, “which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in [those] taught by [the] Spirit,32 communicating spiritual things by spiritual33 [words].”
It is well known that the last clause has been variously interpreted, through a different sense given, now to
συνκρίνοντες, now to
πνευματικοῖς, and even to
πνευματικά. Thus Chrysostom, Theodoret, etc., take it to mean, “explaining spiritual truths [of the New Testament] by [Old Testament] spiritual testimonies.” Only less far-fetched is the counter-view of Theophylact, H. Grotius, and others, “explaining what the Spirit-led prophets said by what Christ has opened to us by His Spirit” But Theophylact proposed a way too, which as it prevailed in medieval times, so also it has been common up to our day, of taking
πνευματικοῖς as masculine, which the late Dean Alford treated as “clearly wrong” in several editions of his Greek Testament, but gave as right in his New Testament revised (1870), as Wiclif had done in 1380.
Again our Authorized Translation preferred, with all the other early English versions except that of Geneva, the sense of “comparing” as in the Syriac, Vulgate, etc., rather of “explaining” for
συνκρίνοντες. And doubtless it is a natural impulse to use a meaning which is unquestionable in 2 Corinthians 10:12 for the same word in 1 Corinthians 2:13: so Tyndale’s (1534), Cranmer’s (1539), and perhaps that of Rheims (1582), though I am not quite sure what was meant by “comparing spiritual things to the spiritual,” as the latter might be understood as masculine (so the Arabic) no less than as neuter. The Genera Version (1557) gave “joining spiritual things with spiritual things,” I presume after Calvin, Beza, Piscator, etc.
There are two elements for gathering the mind of God in the clause which have not been in general borne in mind adequately. First, the context as elsewhere helps to the sense of a. here demanded. Now it is certain that the apostle is describing, in verse 13, neither the revelation of divine things which the Spirit of God alone knows and can give (vers. 10-12), nor the reception of what is revealed, which is due to the power of the Spirit (vers. 14, 15), but the intermediate process of conveying in words spiritual things when disclosed that they may be received by the spiritual man. Secondly, as
συνκρίνοντες appears to be a carrying on the thought of speaking the things of God to others in verse 13, so is
ἀνακρίνεται equally characteristic of the manner and means of reception. As the one aptly expresses the putting together (
συνκρίνοντες) spiritual things with spiritual words so as to furnish that concrete whole, the word of God, so the spiritual man
ἀνακρίνει π., the converse sifting and examining accurately — a sense common to the New Testament and the LXX. (1 Sam. 20:12; Acts 17:11.)
Ἀνακρ. was a word used technically in ordinary Greek of the preliminary investigation to ascertain whether an action would lie.
Hence in my judgment the meaning of “comparing” or even of “explaining” is here shut out; and, when we examine the present passage along with that in the Second Epistle, we may readily see with certainty that the construction wholly differs, though Parkhurst is rash enough to say the contrary. For in the latter it is a question of persons only, and hence “comparing” gives the sense justly. So Wahl in his second edition rightly, though from Rose’s note to Parkhurst it would seem that in his first with Schleusner he explained it as “we cannot endure to enrol or mix ourselves with” etc. — a poor sense assuredly.
Here, in one phrase, if not in both, it is a question of things, and hence the analogy disappears. In the LXX, which so constantly furnishes the true source of the Greek New Testament language, we find the verb and its derivatives used in senses more suitable to the requirement of our text, as has been often noticed. Compare Genesis 40:8, 12, 16, 18, 22; 51?: 12 (twice), 15 (twice); Daniel 2:4-45 (thirteen times); Daniel 4 (seven times); Daniel 5 (eight times), where “interpret” or “interpretation” is meant. Again we have Numbers 15:32, where it means “to determine;” also Numbers 9:3, Numbers 29 six times in the sense of “ordinance,” etc.
It is certain then that the most common meaning in the Septuagint, so familiar to the writers and earlier” readers of the New Testament, is that of making known the previously hidden mind of God couched in a dream or vision; and that the word was also applied to a determination through a judge or law-giver speaking for God. By an easy transition thence the apostle was inspired to use it here in the sense of “communicating” (or, in a similar usage, of “expounding”) spiritual things by spiritual words. “Communicating” however seems to me better, because less ambiguous than “expounding,” as the point here is the fact and appropriate form of conveying spiritual troths rather than of “expounding” or explaining it when conveyed in words, which is the function of the teacher and not really in the passage at all. It is plain to him who weighs all that, though in some cases
σύνκρισις may seem to mean pretty much the same as
ἐξήγησις applied to such subjects, it goes really farther. For instance, Joseph’s or Daniel’s task went much beyond that of an ordinary expounder of scripture; and the word which duly described it might easily pass into the sense of communicating the previously unknown things of God in language suited to them. This I feel assured is the idea in the verse under consideration.
The apostle then shows that not human wisdom but the Spirit taught the words to convey the truth of Christ now. How null then in divine things is that wisdom! Why did Corinthian eyes see differently?
There was another lesson in its place of no less weight — the incapacity of man without the Holy Spirit not merely to know or convey, but even to receive the truth of God. “But [the] natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned; but the spiritual [man] discerneth all things while he himself is discerned by no one. For who hath known [the] Lord’s mind that he should instruct him? But we have [the] mind of Christ.” (Ver. 14-16.)
This is a momentous declaration in all its parts. For the apostle by the “natural man” means man as he is born and grows up, without being born of God or the Holy Ghost given to him. He might be ever so learned, scientific, intellectual and refined; still, till quickened of the Spirit, he is
ψυχικός. He does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for to him they are folly; nor can he learn them, so as to appropriate them, apprehending their truth, because they are spiritually discerned, and the Spirit of God he has not as unbelieving in Christ. The spiritual man on the other hand is one who is not only renewed but in the power of the Spirit. He accordingly has a divine spring of discerning while he is beyond the ken of all who are destitute of the Spirit.
It is in virtue of the Spirit of God that the believer now stands in so astonishing a place, capable of discerning all things, yet himself outside the discernment of man. How great the folly of any saint in Corinth or elsewhere yearning after human wisdom! What makes it even more striking is the application the apostle appends from Isaiah 40:13. For there the prophet insists on the supremacy of Jehovah’s intelligence, as before of His infinite goodness and power. Unsearchable Himself yet searching all, “who hath measured the Spirit of Jehovah, and, the man of his counsel, will teach him?” As independent of man’s measuring and instruction is the Christian in divine things, and this through the Spirit of God dwelling in him. Thus the use of Isaiah 64 bears witness that, as man’s heart had not conceived the purpose of God before the world for our glory (not merely the nations, as Kimchi would have it, but man generally, Israel included), so God has revealed it now that Christ is crucified and received up in glory, and this by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to be in and with us. But the use of Isaiah 40 goes farther; for the apostle ascribes to the Christian the mind (
νοῦν) or intelligence of Christ, in whom God’s wisdom is, and thus appropriates to us now by grace, as possessing the Holy Spirit, that which, belonging characteristically to God, is wholly independent of man and undiscoverable by him.
In short, as the revelation of God’s hidden wisdom is of the Holy Spirit, so is the inspiration that conveys it, and no less truly though of a more general character is the reception of it. In the gospel as Paul knew and made it known, in the mystery of the gospel, was brought positively new truth, of which not Gentiles only but Israel or men universally were ignorant; but now it was revealed, communicated, and received in the Spirit. As He only could make it known, so He gave the words which were the due medium of conveying it, and He enables us to receive it.
How infinite then is the Christian’s debt not only to the Father and the Son but to the Holy Ghost! Paul’s gospel was pure truth to man, and pure truth through man: may we have self judged so as to receive it in like purity. It is the flesh — man’s nature — which ever opposes the Spirit of God. There are those who count what the apostle insists on as supernatural; and they labour, some in this way, some in that, to reduce the gospel to the level of common sense. But let me warn them that if they succeed in their scheme for themselves or other men, they have lost the truth for God, who will not, to please man, give up His purpose of thus glorifying Christ by the Holy Spirit.
To naturalize Christianity is simply to ruin it. Only scripture draws a deep and marked distinction between the revelation and inspiration of the truth on the one hand and the reception of it on the other, though all be of the Spirit, and of Him only to be of true spiritual profit. And indeed it is evident that, if the communication had not been perfect by those employed as instruments of His inspiration, the revelation of God had not been any more perfect ; and consequently the authority of God attached to their writings had been not only a delusion but a deception; for Christ and the apostles treat it as no less the word of God than what He uttered without human intervention. If it be not the infinite brought into the finite, we should have nothing to trust to as divine truth; we should have the finite and nothing else. Whereas the word of God, like Christ Himself, is God’s entering into our circumstances, and this to give us His own grace and truth in perfection. Our use of it is another thing; and for this we are wholly dependent on the Spirit of God. But He is given to us; and we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3.
Such then is the ample complete and perfect provision of God for the blessing of His children by the truth to His own glory. His Spirit is everywhere the agent and power, as Christ is the object presented, and His work the efficacious ground and means, which His own sovereign counsels are the spring of all. Expressly is it the Holy Ghost who, as He reveals, and communicates in suited words, so enables the believer to receive, the things of God. And this led to a contrast between him that is spiritual, who discerns all things, and the natural man who does not receive and cannot know the things of the Spirit.
It is not however that the Corinthian saints were “natural” men, for this would imply that they were not born of God. This the apostle does not say or mean, but that they were “carnal,” or “fleshly:” that is, flesh had still attractions for them. It was not judged, detected in principle, or hated in all forms and degrees. They still valued what was of man, wisdom, ability, or eloquence, as such. They had no adequate sense of nature’s worthlessness in divine things. “Carnal,” or “fleshly” describes not those dead in their sins, but those who, though quickened of the Spirit, are either not yet set free (as in Rom. 7) or still swayed by the influence of men, and nature unjudged — I do not say in its immorality, but in its estimate of itself. This last is before the apostle’s mind here. The Corinthians might be babes in Christ, but they were not spiritual.
“And I, brethren, was not able to speak to you as spiritual, but as fleshly,34 as babes in Christ. With milk I gave you drink, not meat; for ye were not set able, nor indeed are ye now able, for ye are yet carnal. For whereas emulation and strife35 [are] among you, are ye not carnal and walk according to man? For when one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are ye not men?”36 (Ver. 1-4.)
Thus the reason now given by the apostle for having urged on the Corinthians the elementary truths of Christ is their own state. They were not spiritual but fleshly. What a blow to their self-complacency! If they were but babes in Christ, what else would be suited food? That hankering after, or admiration of, the world’s wisdom was its sure evidence: for flesh delights in what is of man, as the Spirit gives to enjoy what is of God.
It is quite an error however to suppose that all Christians are “spiritual” in the sense in which that term is used in chapter 2, which differs not at all from its use in chapter 3. In both it means those not merely quickened but walking, feeling, judging in the Spirit. To say in 1 Cor. 2 that one discerns all things but is oneself discerned by none conveys quite as much as the contrast with fleshliness in 1 Cor. 3. The mistake is in supposing that the apostle looks only at but two classes, whereas in truth he speaks of three: the natural man, the carnal, and the spiritual, the last two being Christians, but the state different. For “babes in Christ” does not refer to the recency of their conversion, but to their lack of growth. As the Hebrews were kept back by their religious prejudices (Heb. 5), so were these Greeks by their philosophising. In either way souls may be arrested, or misled, and stunted in growth. In one of the cases indeed it was from no want of time; for on this score they ought to have been teachers when they had need to be taught the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, as the apostle put it to their great humiliation. So here: he gave them milk to drink. Meat was of no use in their actual state, nay, it might help on the mischief.
But there are other mistakes to guard against. Some in opposing the absurdity of reserve, Arcani Disciplina, etc., have laboured to prove that the same doctrine is in one aspect milk, in another meat. It is true that the Christ in whom the babes rested is more and more enjoyed of the fathers, but it remains certain that there is a whole range of truth as to Him which a carnal or even immature state. in the believer would render unseasonable. The mystery of Christ and the church in Ephesians and Colossians is more than the priesthood of Christ in Hebrews. It was not that the apostle could not have communicated the depths of God; but could they then profit by such teaching? Would it be of God to give meat beyond them or injurious to them? “Ye were not yet able, nor indeed are ye yet able.” Nor was it from lack of natural ability, but on the contrary because they valued and trusted it to the hindrance of the Holy Spirit: “for ye are yet carnal.” And this he proves from their state by incontestable evidence. “For whereas emulation and strife [are] among you, are ye not carnal and walk according to man? For when one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are ye not men?” Emulation and strife were works of the flesh, not fruits of the Spirit. Their existence in their midst showed how little they walked in self-judgment. It was the party work they were used to in the schools of men. Certainly party zeal for Paul or Apollos was no better than for Plato or Aristotle; it had all the same root. Nor is there any difficulty in conciliating such a reproof of not a few of the Corinthian saints with his thanksgiving for the church in the introduction of the epistle? For as already seen, this was for the privileges bestowed on them by the goodness of God, not for their actual state. Whatever their gifts, they were in fact grievously lacking in practical grace, and this, as it exposes to fresh or revived forms in which human nature works, so it would effectually hinder growth through the truth. The Holy Spirit in such circumstances must take of their things to show them their faults, not of Christ’s things to glorify Him and comfort their hearts.
It is important, moreover, to see that it is a question not of morality according to the law, but of what suits, pleases, and magnifies Christ — the very object of the presence and action of the Spirit here below. Hence the apostle reproves them for walking, not as bad men merely, but “according to man.” They ranged themselves under their new favourites in forgetfulness of Christ, and in abuse of their own mercies through His servants. “Are ye not men?” says he, indignantly protesting against such a state of things. They were saints and ought to walk as such.
Glorying in men, be they ever so blessed, is carnal, no less than self-assertion; they are indeed off-shoots of the same tree. How could those who are thus erected into heads of schools tolerate so false a position for themselves or their followers if indeed they have the eye single to Christ: if not, can they be trusted? Far different is our apostle who asks, “What37 then is Apollos? and what38 is Paul? “Ministers by whom ye believed, and as the Lord gave to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So that neither he that planteth is anything nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase. And he that planteth and he that watereth are one thing; but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” (Ver. 5-8.)
‡ The common text inserts
ἀλλ᾽ ἤ, and so read Ds.m. L P, and most cursives, contrary to A B C Dp.m. E F G, a few cursives, several of the oldest versions, etc. It is hard to think what Calvin means, save that he is mistaken, in saying that in some copies
καί is wanting, for this is not so. The Cod. Rescr. Ephr. of Paris leaves out
ὡς, but I am aware of no support for this but a Latin copy. No Greek MS omits
καί. He may confound
ἀλλ᾽ ἤ with it, as to which we have already seen the evidence for and against. Calvin’s critical remarks here, as often, are not to he trusted. His division of the verse is every way wrong, especially in making the last clause a further query.
Thus does God’s wisdom correct the workings of unjudged nature, and this by a simple statement of the truth. For what are any? Servants at best in the proclamation of the gospel and the truth in general — servants by whom the Corinthian saints believed. Was there then no difference between Paul and Apollos? As the Lord gave to each. What room for boasting of men? Why not of the Lord who gave to each? Of this they had thought little. Grace unites. Flesh divides and scatters — flesh pre-occupied with this man or that, sometimes as here unable to find anything save in its favourites, sometimes heaping to itself teachers as at a later day. In either way there may be ever learning, but really no coming to the knowledge of the truth. The fact is that the Lord gives variously, nothing that is not good for the use of edifying, nothing in vain. It is not His way to form a class of labourers all alike, but to work differently by each. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” As it is in the work of the field where labour is expended in one form or another, but God alone can cause to grow, so it is in spiritual things. “So that neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” How insignificant is any instrument! God it is who works efficiently. “And he that planteth and he that watereth is one thing.” Here he sets ministry, or ministers, together as “one thing.” The consequence is that God alone is seen to be of moment. But this very consideration, that they are “one thing,” rebukes the party work of their flatterers; as his own reward for his own work to be received by-and-by is a serious suggestion for ministers who like or allow the unwise zeal of those who cry them up and depreciate others. Their differences vanish into nothingness before God who graciously deigns to use each for blessing; even as “each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour:” not according to his personal qualities, however cried up by his partisans, nor even according to the particular gift bestowed of the Lord, nor yet according to present results before the eyes of men often deceived and in no case able to discern as He does and will manifest by-and-by, but “according to his own labour.”
How cheering to the despised but faithful and self-denying and gracious labourers; how humbling to Corinthian vanity which never took into account the one principle the Spirit here gives for the divine and enduring recompense! “For we are God’s fellow-workmen; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.” (Ver. 9.) This is the transition which justifies the foregoing, and prepares for the expansion of the last figure into the applications that follow. Whoever the servants may be, they are God’s in direct responsibility, not in this sense the church’s, still less of a party. Not that for this reason they do not serve the saints, for the more they preach not themselves but Jesus Christ, the more are they bondmen of the saints for His sake. But they are God’s fellow-labourers, given of Him, doing His work, responsible in everything to Him, and finally to give Him an account. The phrase in no way means “workers together with God.” This is not the gist of the argument in the context; it is a thought and language foreign to scripture; and also, in my judgment, unbecoming and presumptuous. The emphasis rests on “God’s.” They were “God’s fellow-workmen, workers together,” not rivals (as flesh in others or themselves might make them) but companions in work under God who employed them as such.
Nor is this all. The saints are God’s husbandry, God’s building, as emphatically. Were they producing what was suitable for Him who had the field tilled? Was the building as God’s should be? I am surprised that any should think the meaning to be “with a view to your being God’s husbandry and God’s building;” for the apostle in saying “ye are” goes much farther. And duty is ever grounded on and shaped and measured by relationship.
We now come to language and application still more precise and solemn. “According to the grace of God that was given to me as a wise architect I laid the foundation and another buildeth on [it]. But let each see how he buildeth on [it]. For other foundation can none lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare [it], because it is revealed in fire, and the fire shall try the work of each of what sort it is. If the work of any shall abide which he hath built on [it], he shall receive reward; if the work of any one shall be burnt up, he shall suffer loss, but himself shall be saved but so as through fire.” Ver. 10-15.)
Even the apostle loved to connect his work and office with the grace of God rather than with abstract authority. It is this feeling which has so evaporated from Christendom, so that ministry has humanized and assumed even a worldly character, to the unspeakable loss of the church and the most serious dishonour to the Lord. Here he is careful to speak plainly; “according to the grace of God that was given me as a wise master-builder [or architect] I have laid a foundation, and another buildeth upon [it], but let each see how he buildeth on [it].” Here we have the responsibility of him who ministers. Apostolic place is maintained, but responsible service is affirmed, and it is a serious thing. “For other foundation can none lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any one buildeth upon the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed by fire; and the work of each, of what sort it is, the fire itself shall prove.”
Here all is in due proportion, and the revelation of God in Christ is laid as the foundation of all; but we see how man’s responsibility remains. On that foundation very different material might be built up — not only what is precious, like the great and costly stones, etc., of the temple, but also what is worthless and vile. And here man’s judgment is at fault; for doubtless many a Corinthian saint had prized the hay and straw of man’s wisdom, and slighted the gold and silver of apostolic truth. Hence the need of another day and of the Lord’s discernment. Therefore are they told that much may only be disclosed in the day that is coming. None but this day is to be revealed in fire. Then will the consuming judgment of God deal with each one’s work. Even now there may be manifestations; but they are necessarily partial. The fire itself of that day will prove of what sort is the work of each. It is good to weigh this now. All that lets in the light of God’s future on present occupation is wholesome not only for His servant, but for all concerned. There will be no mistake then: all must be in the light of God. “If any one’s work which he hath built up shall abide, he shall receive reward.” For reward there is to cheer in the midst of present sorrow with the hope of the Lord’s recompense in that day. Present reward is a danger for every soul, especially in divine things. There is however comfort of love, and the more real it is the more we rest on Christ rather than on Christians. He then takes care that we shall have it in good measure, even if the sphere seem small. And so it must be in a day of general departure from faith. It is His love which constrains the servant, and confidence in His grace too which serves as a constant spring of action.
When so labouring, the hope of future reward from the Lord acts both safely and powerfully: otherwise there is danger. But it is dangerous also to despise the future as naturally do those who are too much occupied with present results. Will their work stand? “If the work of any one shall be burnt up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” It is a powerful figure, and not hard to understand where the truth in general is held firm.
It is well known that Rome has founded on this passage one of its chief proofs of purgatory; but this is itself a sample of the refuse against which the apostle warns. For it is evident that not the faithful in general or their ways are in question, but ministers and their doctrine and again that a day of sifting judgment is meant and not some intermediate state now after death. Fire is the figurative expression of His judicial action which consumes all dross, not punishment for the separate spirit or soul, nor even a process of purifying it. “Saved, yet so as through fire,” is to mark the difficulty of it; yet will God take care that so it shall be. So, as has been said, a builder might see his building ruined by fire, yet himself escape. Besides each one’s work is to be thus tested — the apostle’s work as certainly as that of his detractors, and gold, silver, and precious stones are subjected to the fire no less than the consumable material. Does all this apply to Romanist ideas of purgatory? The real point is the danger of introducing rubbish even where the true foundation is owned, not fundamental error or Antichristianism, but airy notions, lax maxims as to practice, etc., which the day of trial would detect and destroy. It was not so with his work whom some at Corinth had despised.
The figure of a building with its foundation, already used, furnishes the apostle with a yet fuller illustration. We have seen workmen wise or negligent, materials costly and durable or perishable and worthless, with a reward as the result on the one hand, or the workman suffering the loss of his work and his person only saved with difficulty. Now he develops on both sides, and contrasts the holiness of God’s temple in the saints with the enemy’s instruments in corrupting and destroying.
“Know ye not that ye are God’s temple, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any one destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which ye are. Let none deceive himself: if any one thinketh himself to be wise among you in this age, let him become foolish that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, He that taketh the wise in their craftiness; and again, [The] Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise that they are vain. Wherefore let none boast in men, for all things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ’s, and Christ God’s.” (Ver. 16-23.)
Thus God has His temple on earth now as surely as of old in Israel. But this is often not seen by those who confess that the old Levitical order is judged and gone, and that the effort to imitate it since redemption is to fall away from the grace and truth of God now come in Christ, and proclaimed in the gospel, and to be displayed in the Christian and the church. It was the presence of God always which constituted God’s temple. Not the costliness of stones, nor the splendour of gold or silver, but the cloud wherein Jehovah was pleased to come down was its true glory, when Israel could boast of a habitation in their midst for the mighty One of Jacob. So now it is not merely that there are Christians, but God has His house or temple. It is the assembly, not the individuals considered as such, but those builded together for the purpose in virtue of the Spirit. See Ephesians 2:22. The Spirit dwells in each believer doubtless; but this is another truth and equally certain from God’s word. “Know ye not that ye are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you!” How solemn the fact that a divine person, the Holy Ghost, dwells where Christians are; and this, it may be added, because of redemption! For it was never so till the work of Christ was wrought, and He going on high sent the Holy Spirit down to be in the saints and abide with them for ever. It is God’s testimony to the efficacy of His sacrifice. Whatever the mercies and blessings and privileges before, this could not be till the blood that makes atonement for ever was shed. Now the Spirit of God comes where that blood-shedding is confessed; and there He dwells, making those who confess Christ and His work God’s temple.
But it is much to be weighed that the apostle is here showing the danger not only of unreality but of defilement. There are those who build wisely and well; there are those who, confessing His name, build on the one and only foundation unfit materials. But there is worse still. There is the enemy at work using men that bear the Lord’s name to corrupt or destroy (the same word, and one may say, the same thing). For God speaks of evil doctrine according to its own nature if it work unimpeded; and this is the only result of heterodoxy so left. He who teaches it corrupts and destroys; and him who destroys (or corrupts) the temple of God shall God destroy. Awful end! but is there not a cause? is it not sufficient? Could the holy God feel or do otherwise? It is in vain to plead love; for in truth the blow of love in caring for the objects beloved is beyond all to be feared. And how does not God resent that evil which defiles the holy temple where His Spirit dwells in virtue and honour of the work of Christ on the cross? He will surely destroy those whom Satan thus employs, under whatever disguise, to pollute the very streams of life and blessing for souls, yea, to dishonour the temple wherein He Himself dwells.
It is to deceive oneself where any reason is allowed in palliation of evil. Men who so weaken — I will not say christian feeling only, but — common conscience may be found among those who bear the Lord’s name; but, specious as they may seem and fine-spoken, it is not the wisdom of God in Christ, but of this age that comes to nought. How incomparably better and safer to become foolish that one may be wise! Such was the path the apostle took, obedient to the heavenly vision Did he not seem foolish in the eyes of all with whom he broke? Was he not wise, whatever a Festus might say? What and where is Festus now? and Agrippa and Bernice? and the high priest and the accusing chiefs of the Jews? They thought themselves wise; and so did others who in the Corinthian assembly brought in the wisdom of the schools to evade the cross and stand well with the men of the time.
But everywhere, without yet more than within, “the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God;” yet nowhere is its character so exposed, nowhere its indulgence so perilous, as in the temple of God — the church. So it is written in Job 4:13, and Psalm 94:11. Whether one look back on past experience or forward to the kingdom, it makes no difference: feast of all can human craft or sage reasonings suit God’s temple, or those who traffic in them there escape His judgment. And why should those boast who have with Christ all things? For so indeed it is in the grace of God. “All things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ’s, and Christ God’s.” We have all and abound, not only all those whom flesh would set up as rivals, but all circumstances present and future, ours now through the grace of Christ, and ourselves His as He is God’s, for ever and to His glory. flow blessed and infinite the associations which flesh overlooks and the world in its self-sufficient nothingness treats as nothing!
1 Corinthians 4.
The apostle had now shown the solemn responsibility of the workman, and the impropriety of all boast in men, seeing that all things were theirs as truly as they were Christ’s and Christ God’s. It was needful however to draw out still more fully the relations of ministers, and this he does in the beginning of our chapter. “So let a man account of us, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s39 mysteries.” (Ver. 1.) The apostle is careful so to characterize himself as well as Apollos. They were Christ’s official servants, not merely he and Cephas who were apostles, but he and Apollos, the latter of whom certainly had no such apostolic place.
Indeed nothing could be simpler than the manner in which this Alexandrian brother was led on in the work of the Lord, having begun it when possessed of the least possible light (the baptism of John) and afterwards indebted to no more formal instructors than the godly Priscilla and Aquila. But being an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures, he contributed much to those who believed through grace, particularly in the controversies which sprang up with the Jews. From Ephesus he went to Corinth soon afterwards. We can thus understand how readily so distinguished a person fell in with the taste of not a few Christians in that city, whose party-spirit raised him up (with not the least allowance of it on his part) against Paul or Peter. On the other hand the apostle in the holy liberty of grace would in no way lower Apollos — rather the contrary, classing him with himself, and this not merely as bondmen (
δούλους) but as servants of Christ. They were therefore responsible to Him only. Thus they were also
ὑπήρεται (official servants) and stewards of God’s mysteries. This was their duty to the household of God — to furnish meat in due season, specially that truth which is most distinctively characteristic of the New Testament.
It is scarcely needful to prove here that “mysteries” never mean the sacraments or standing institutions of Christianity. God’s mysteries mean those secret things which are now revealed in contrast with what Israel had of old (Deut. 29:29), not, as is vulgarly supposed, things unintelligible, but truths reserved by God in Old Testament times, now displayed in Christ on high and made known by the Spirit in the New Testament.
“Here40 moreover it is sought in stewards that one be found faithful, but to me it amounts to very little that I be inquired into by you or by man’s day. Nay, I do not inquire even into myself, for I am conscious to myself of nothing, yet I am not justified by this, but he that inquireth into me is the Lord. So then judge nothing prematurely until the Lord shall have come, who shall both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and shall make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall each have his praise from God.” (Ver. 2-5.)
Thus the apostle reasons from the figure of a steward where fidelity was especially required. The critical reading is
ὧδε instead of the common
ὅ δέ, and there can be little doubt that the former, not the latter, is correct. Here (meaning on earth), he adds, it is required in the case of stewards, that one should be found faithful. Undoubtedly it is of still more consequence in the steward of heavenly things; but the apostle is careful to place the personal responsibility of the steward in direct relation to Christ; “but to me it is a very little thing [or, “amounteth to very little”] that I should be,” not exactly, “judged” “by you.” The word properly signifies the preliminary inquiry before the trial. Not that this was said in contempt of the Corinthian saints; man’s day, or inquisition, was held equally cheap by him, whoever might essay to undertake a task which the Lord had never delegated to man. Not only is none competent, but the Spirit gives no sufficiency for this thing. It is reserved for the Lord whom alone it suits, even if the creature could conceivably be made fit for it. Here again it was no slight of others, nor self-complacency, for he particularly disclaims any pretension either to irresponsibility or to be his own judge.
Man is wholly incompetent for such an inquiry, were he even an apostle: yea, it would be an usurpation of the functions of the Lord. It is of the highest importance that this immediate sense of responsibility to Him be maintained always and everywhere. Whether it be a question of Paul or of Apollos, it is the same principle. Nor does it apply only to those whom God set first in the church, or in Christ’s service, but to the last or least no less than to the first. To the Lord alone it belongs to inquire into their service.
Again, it is of the utmost importance to see that the church has no such authority or duty. Christ’s servants according to their gift in His sovereign disposal may serve the church, or they may be debtors to all men in the gospel; but in their service, in all its details as well as in principle, they are accountable alone to Christ. For He, and not the church, gave them the gift, the possession and exercise of which constitutes them His servants. As they are called to love and honour the assembly, so the assembly is bound to respect their direct allegiance to Christ the Lord, not to interpose itself between Him and them.
The servants no doubt are saints, and as such their conduct, if apparently so wrong, comes under discipline, and, if really evil, under holy censure. No person or office enjoys or ought to enjoy immunity. Nay, the doctrine of teachers if false, would expose them to the assembly’s judgment, and more severely than in the case of others, because of their position, perhaps even to putting away. A clearly improper use of their gift for selfish purposes might bring them under similar dealing, were the doctrine ever so sound. Still in their service as such, apart from such evil, Christ’s ministers are directly and exclusively accountable to Himself. They have not a lady over them in the church, but are subject only to the Lord. The abandonment of this truth, the assertion of the assembly’s instead of Christ’s authority over ministry, brought in catholicism and finally popery, though other and still more deadly ingredients might mingle with both and the last especially. But the substitution of the church for Christ in regulating ministry, as well as claiming to be its source, is assuredly an evil of the gravest nature; and Protestantism has by no means succeeded in exorcising completely this evil spirit. Do we not see it active in Presbyterianism, flourishing in Wesleyanism, gross and unblushing in Congregationalism? Truly we may say this kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting; for as the energy and self-importance not of ecclesiastics but of men dearly loves it, it is only faith that can walk in constant dependence on the Lord, so as to dispense with it and make it an intrusion and offence.
It is of deep interest also to observe the apostle’s choice of expression. Even in speaking of the Lord he does not say
ἀνακρίνων με. The truth is that the believer never comes into judgment (
κρίσιν), as our Lord Himself laid down in John 5; if he did, he must be lost. Life and judgment are incompatible. He that refuses Christ and life in Him will assuredly be judged. He is lost, and it will be manifest then.
Thus is the honour of Christ vindicated by God on such as have spurned His Son. Those who believe in Him are called to no such compulsory and ruinous homage; they gladly bow even now to Him their Lord and life. They will give account to God; they will receive according to the things done in the body, as they will be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ; but they will never come into judgment, having already faith and eternal life in Him. They exercise themselves, therefore, to have a good conscience now.
So the apostle says here (not speaking of his past life, though even there he had walked conscientiously, however blinded and so sinning with a high hand), “I am conscious to myself of nothing,” yet, he adds, “I am not justified by this.” A good conscience is a good thing; but it does not clear the person who may in this or that be blinded by self-love or other feelings. The Lord will decide at His coming; it is He who makes the only adequate inquiry. “Wherefore judge nothing prematurely [which the Corinthians were presuming to do], until the Lord shall have come, who will [not judge us but] both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each have his praise from God.” At that epoch all that sought the dark to avoid detection will be exposed in the light of God, which will even manifest the counsels which the hearts themselves failed to see through. How fallacious often is the praise of men now where shams and shadows reign for most! Then shall each have the praise that is due and enduring and precious from God. Of this alone the apostle speaks here. He had already spoken of perdition, and of salvation where the work of the careless workman is burnt up.
The apostle had thus established both the dependence of the. servant on the Lord, and his independence of human scrutiny. Not, of course, that the church is denied its responsibility to judge conduct. Here it is a question of the counsels of the heart, which no man can scan duly, but the Lord will at His coming. “And then,” he adds solemnly, “shall the praise be to each from God.” He could thus speak freely and happily himself. It ought to have searched the conscience of many a Corinthian.
“And these things, brethren, I transferred to myself and Apollos on your account, that ye may in our case learn nothing above what is written,41 in order that ye be not puffed up one for one against another. For who distinguisheth thee? and what hast thou which thou didst not receive? But if thou didst even receive, why boastest thou as not having received? Already ye are filled, already ye have been enriched, apart from us ye reigned; and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you” (ver. 6-8). The apostle explains here what he has also done elsewhere — his applying a principle to himself, and, in this case, to Apollos also, which he meant for others, in order that the saints might be profited. The misleaders at Corinth were really in his view, as the apostle here implies; but he lays down a standard, by which he does not hesitate to measure himself and Apollos, which the saints could easily use for others whose pretensions were as high and unfounded as the services of Paul and Apollos were real and of God. Of Him some had lost sight entirely; and each, choosing his leader, was puffed up with party feeling. What is written makes God everything, man at best an instrument, as he is alone rightly a servant. God only makes the difference between one and another, and this especially in divine things. And as it is He who makes a difference, what has anyone that he has not received? and if received, why boast as if it were not so? The folly of Corinthian vanity was evident in being puffed up for those they exalted as their respective chiefs.
But he proceeds to deal a further blow, and this of the keenest irony, as Isaiah scrupled not to do in exposing the folly of idol-worship. Trashy, if not corrupting, doctrine always lowers practice; and the Corinthians had insensibly relinquished or lost the place of sufferers with Christ. This the apostle notices witheringly. When Christ reigns, we shall indeed be at ease, and in the fullest satisfaction; and He will drink the wine new with us in the kingdom of His Father — yea, He will gird Himself, and make us recline at table, and come and serve us as He in His grace deigned to assure us, when He will also set the faithful servant over all that He has, But now is the time to deny self, to take up one’s cross, and follow Him, who suffered many, all, things here below. But all was confusion for the Corinthians; their eye was not single, and their body therefore anything but full of light. “Already [that is, before the time] ye are filled, already ye have become rich, apart from us ye reigned, and I would that ye did reign.” For they were deceiving themselves: the time was not yet come. False doctrine had made them false practically to the present object of God. Satan had succeeded in severing them, in walk at least and aims, from the Lord, who nevertheless waits for the time of glory, when He and they shall really reign together. The apostle proceeds to draw out the contrast seen in those to whom, if God had set them “first in the church,” He had given grace to become the greatest and most patient sufferers in the world.
“For, I think,42 God set us the apostles last as devoted to death, because we became a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men, we fools for Christ, but ye wise in Christ; we weak, but ye strong; ye illustrious, but we disgraced. Until the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted and homeless wanderers, and we toil, working with our own hands; reviled, we bless; persecuted, we suffer; slandered,” we beseech. We became as the world’s scum, offscouring of all, until now” (ver. 9-13). It is evident that those who misled the Corinthians, as well as the saints misled by them, had made the church their world, and that fleshly principles had supplanted the grace of Christ for their souls. They had schools and spectacles of their own, as well as the Greeks outside. In a burst of the finest feeling, not without sarcasm but with real love, which could use it for good, the apostle sets out the true path of Christ as one of suffering but victory over the world. Faith working by love can alone secure such victory. This was apostolic ambition, if ambition there can be of a saintly kind; and this God had given the apostles in appointing them last, nearest to Christ, who had gone down into depths of suffering where none could follow. But there were sufferings of Christ which grace does share with the Christian, and these the apostles knew best, and of the apostles, we may perhaps add, none so much as Paul. Well could he then say, “God set us, the apostles, last, as devoted to death, a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.” Did the Corinthians wish and claim to be prudent in Christ? The apostles at least were content to be fools for His sake. Were the Corinthians strong and glorious in their own desire and estimate? The apostles gloried in weakness and disgrace; even as Peter and John, on a well-known occasion, went their way rejoicing from before the Sanhedrim, because they had been counted worthy to be dishonoured in behalf of the name. Nor was it only the fervour of early zeal. “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted and homeless wanderers, and labour working with our own hands.” Had not the Corinthians, or their misleaders, counted all this low and eccentric, ascetic and enthusiastic, in Paul? “Railed on, we bless; persecuted, we endure; slandered, we beseech: we became as the world’s scum, offscouring of all, until now:” an utter impossibility, of course, not in this or that particular which superstition can readily imitate, but as a whole, save through the constraining and assimilating love of Christ, who cheers those who set out and go on in such a path as this with the bright comfort of reigning along with Him. For I reckon, as the apostle says in Romans 8, that the sufferings of this present time are of no account in comparison of the glory that is to be revealed in regard to us. If there is a more energetic sketch of the suffering here, it is because apostles are in view rather than the saints at large; but the principle is the same, and the Corinthians had slipped out of it to present ease and dignity, which they thought due to the truth of Christianity — an error which soon culminated, as it still does, in Christendom. Where are those that can expose it, not only in word but in deed and in truth?
† For blasf. ( corr. B D E F G L, most cursives, and perhaps It. Vulg. etc. as in T. R.), p.m. A C P 17, 46, etc. give
The apostle, in accepting, yea, claiming, a place of present contempt in the world’s eyes for the chief emissaries of the Lord, in contrast with the ease and honour which the Corinthians lived in and valued, the fruit of the false teaching in their midst, had put the case in such a form as could not fail to appeal, and deeply, to every heart that loved Christ. He now, with the quick sensibility of genuine affection, seeks to reassure them. If he had wounded any, were not his wounds those of a friend? “Not to abash you do I write these things, but as my beloved children I admonish [you]; for if you should have ten thousand child-guides in Christ, yet not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus through the gospel I begot you. I beseech you then, become imitators of me.” (Ver. 14-16.) A false teacher flatters his party, and abuses those who oppose his aims. He who is faithful to the Lord loves the saints; but this very love makes him vigilant, and gives moral courage to deal with what is offensive to Him. Yet his reproof is for those ears who need it, not for others to lower in their eyes such as may be censured.
It is well to observe that there is no depreciation of christian teaching or teachers in comparison with gospel work, such as the common version naturally insinuates. It is an appeal to the love which ought to bind specially the converted souls to him who was the means of bringing them to God; and not in any way a formal comparison of the relative value of this gift with that. Hence there is the avoidance of the word
διδασκάλους, or teacher, and the use of the somewhat slighting term,
παιδαγωγούς, as applied to those at Corinth who had done too much to occupy and turn away the saints there. Some of these might affect the law, others philosophy; but all Bought to keep the brethren who listened to them in their leading-strings. They had little enjoyment of, or confidence in, the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and hence sought to direct the thoughts and ways of their admirers, as do guardians, or
παιδαγωγοί, with the young entrusted to their charge. But this savours more of Jewish or Gentile modes, than of the gospel or its liberty; and the apostle could not but remind them that he it was who begot them through the gospel. Only one could feel for them as a parent — himself; yet was it against him especially that these leaders of cliques had sought to alienate his “beloved children.” It is the interest of such a guardian to retain his charge in subjection as long-as possible; while a father’s joy is to see his children grow up intelligent as well as affectionate, maintaining the family character. Hence he adds, “I beseech you then, become imitators of me,” a word which he urges again at the beginning of 1 Cor. 11, with the beautiful proviso, “even as I also [am] of Christ.” Disinterested love is bold, and can speak freely. Certainly he sought not theirs but them, and the cross in practice, not earthly ease or honour or gain. Had they not lost their sense of what becomes the Christian? Let them follow him in self-renunciation for Christ.
“For this cause I sent to you Timotheus, who is my beloved and faithful child in [the] Lord, who will remind you of my ways that are in Christ [Jesus],43 even as everywhere in every assembly I teach.” (Ver. 17.) This young servant of the Lord was one who could speak the more intimately of the apostle’s ways in Christ; inasmuch as, on the one hand, he himself was his beloved and faithful child (which the apostle could not say of the Corinthians); on the other, the apostle never accommodated his doctrine to the assemblies, so as to falsify the testimony of the Lord. Whatever might be the elasticity of grace which dealt with individuals, seeking their blessing in Christ, he taught in every assembly just as he wrote to Corinth. The ways that are in Christ do not waver; they are straight, if painful to the flesh. Yet this was the man whom the perverse eyes of detractors charged with inconsistency and untrustworthiness! It is utterly false that a differing doctrine in discipline prevailed in the different assemblies. The apostle taught the same everywhere, and his writings insist on it where he did not go personally. It is the assembly of God, and His mind varies not. He had demanded nothing of the assembly in Corinth that he had not laid down elsewhere.
But some had drawn from the apostle’s not going to Corinth, and sending Timothy, that he shrank from visiting the assembly there. So had the false apostles insinuated in their own pride to his depreciation. “Now some were puffed up as though I were not coming unto you; but I shall come shortly unto you, if the Lord will, and will know not the word of those that are puffed up but the power; for the kingdom of God [is] not in word but in power. What will ye? that I come unto you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of meekness?” (Ver. 18-21.) Indeed he was coming, and for this dependent on the Lord’s will. But subjection to the Lord in no way enfeebles the conduct of His servants. So on coming the apostle tells them he will know, not pretentious talk, but reality — “the power.” For this in truth is the essential characteristic of “the kingdom of God,” in contradistinction from “the word,” to which Greek ears had been ever used, and alas! the Jews for the most part. And this44 leads the apostle to remind the Corinthian saints that, if he had reminded them of the peculiar bond between them and him, as their father through the gospel, he had power and authority from God, however slow he might be to enforce it. It was for them indeed, as he puts it, to decide how he was to come, for this was the real question, not whether, nor when, but how: with a rod, or with love and a spirit of meekness? What he desired himself, as he says elsewhere, was their edification, not their destruction. In Acts 5 we see Peter using the rod; and the apostle Paul could do as much according to the Lord. But his heart sought other things for his beloved children: what did they wish?
1 I see no reason for doubting
κλητός with Lachmann (because of the omission in ADE etc.) The word is vouched for by BFGLP, all the cursives, and almost all the ancient versions and the Fathers that cite the verse.
Ἰ Χ. with ALP and all the cursives save five, all the versions save the Latin, and most of the Fathers save in the west, I prefer to
Χ. Ἰ. as adopted by Lachmann and Tischendorf on the authority of BDEFG 17, 37, 76, 115, 119, some copies of the It. and Vulg.
3 This order of inserting
τῃ οὔσῃ ἐν Κ. (AD and LP, perhaps all the cursives and the Fathers, as against BD and CFG and a few Latin copies which insert the clause between
κλ.,) I believe correct.
4 The authorities are pretty evenly divided as to weight if not numbers for and against
τε (“both”); I rather incline to its absence.
5 So Calvin (in loco, Comment. Halis Sax. 1831,) ed. Tholuck, I. pp. 213, 214. “Re ipsa talem se exhibeat necesse est . . . . Sed notandum est, non satis esse, siquis tam vocationis titulum, quam suam in exercendo officio fidelitatem obtendat, nisi utrumque de ipsa probet. Nam saepe contingit ut nulli fastuosius titulis superbiant quam qui veritate sunt destituti; quemadmodum olim alto supercilio pseudoprophetas se a Domino missos gloriabantur. Et hodie quid aliud crepant Romanenses, quam Dei ordinationem et sacrosanctam successionem ab ipsis usque Apostolis? sed postea apparet, inanes esse earum rerum quibus insolescunt. Hic ergo non iactantia, sed veritatis quaeritur.” This is good and true. But it is utterly marred in the Institt. IV. iii, § 14, 15, where, not satisfied with affirming that the elders or bishops were designated by men authorised to choose them Calvin’s republicanism leads him to say boldly that Paul was in Acts 13 subjected to the discipline of an ecclesiastical call, and that the same thing is seen in the election of Matthias. Who does not see on the contrary that the lot (which was not voting) decided as to the latter, and that Acts 13 was in no sense ordination, still less election by man, but separation of men (already in the highest position) to a particular work which the Spirit was confiding to them, though engaging for them in it the solemn commendation of their brethren to the grace of God? Compare Acts 14:26.
6 I reject the notion of such as connect “theirs and ours” with “every place.” The Authorised Version gives the true sense, which does not render the first
ἡμῶν superfluous but gives emphasis. It asserts the Lord’s relationship to all that call on Him wherever they may be.
7 The Sinai (original hand) and Vatican MSS, as well as the Aethiopic Version, omit
μου, which all others read correctly.
8 Three uncials (B. F G) and ten cursives read
θεοῦ “of God;” but the received reading seems right.
9 Four Latin-Greek MSS, etc. read
παρουσία mistakenly. It was a. Western error. The Vulgate makes matters worse by uniting both “in die adventus.”
10 This would have been expressed by the
παρουσία, presence or coming of Christ, which the Authorized translators have wrongly confounded in their version here with
ἀποκάλυψις, though the correction was given afterwards in the margin. They are not synonymous, but expressive of distinct facts which embody different principles as different as grace and judgment.
11 In the paragraph the MSS differ in the order of the Greek words repeatedly.
13 The Sinai, Vatican, and a few other witnesses, do not give
τῳ θεῳ (or as A. etc.
μου also) like the rest.
14 The Sinai, Vat., Alex., Cod. Res. Par., some good cursives, ancient versions, with Greek and Latin Fathers, have
ἐβάπτισα as in others.
15 The Clermont, Aug., and Boern. MSS read
βεβάπτικα, and the first again at the end of the verse — a mere error, for the perfect is only read when special aim interferes with the regular employment of the aorist in such cases.
16 Lachmann, following the opinion of some, punctuates this clause as affirmative, not as interrogative: “Christ has been divided.” And Meyer uses against the interrogative form the fee that there is no
μή here as just afterwards But it has been justly replied that it was due to Christ that A difference should be thus made between a question relating to Him, and one that follows as to His servant.
17 There seems no ground whatever for the strange fancy of Estius and others that
ἐγὼ δὲ χριστοῦ is the apostle’s own proper sentiment in contrast with the aberration of the Corinthians.
18 “Sed videamus, quid in Christiana unitate requirat. Siquis subtilius distingui singula cupiat, vult eos cohaerere primum in una mente, deinde in una sententia, tertio vult eos consensum verbis profiteri.” Calvini in Omnes Pauli Ap. Epp. Comm. i. 219, Halis Sax. 1831.
19 “Pro Sententia Paulus habet
γνώμην: sed ego hic pro Voluntate accipio, ut sit integra partitio animae, et prius quidem membrum ad fidem, alterum ad caritatem referatur.” Ibid. 219, 220.
20 Ibid. 220.
21 Many second-rate uncials and cursives, etc., insert
τούτου (“this”) here, answering to the clause before; but the better authorities omit it.
22 “Wisdom” here is preceded by the Greek article which seems to mean its wisdom, what it has as a fact, and not merely character.
23 The Text. Rec. has
σημεῖον: so L and most cursives; but the oldest and best uncials, some cursives, and almost au the ancient versions favour
σημεῖα, the plural.
24 The Text. Rec. follows what I cannot but regard as the meddling of C3 Dc and most cursives to agree with the words before and after; but the best authorities give here
ἔθνεσιν, Gentiles, not
25 I. Calvini in omnes Pauli Ap. Epp. loc. cit. ed. Tholuck, I, 228. So the Institt. II. vi. 1.
26 The copulative (
καὶ) is not read by A B C D F G and various other authorities.
27 C is the only first-rate MS which joins many inferior copies, the Vulg. Syr. etc. in reading
αὐτοῦ. All others give
28 The common insertion of
ἀνθρωπίνης is supported by corr. A C L P, most cursives, and a few versions, with many Fathers Greek and Latin; but the great weight of authority rejects it; and in my opinion the unqualified phrase is right.
29 The most ancient witnesses give
ὅσα, the rest
30 A few witnesses, including the Alexandrian uncial and a Paris cursive (17), omit
ἀνθρώπων, but it is surely right.
31 The received text, with one uncial and very many cursives, etc., reads oi[den instead of the true word
ἔγνωκεν (ἔγνω F G 23, etc.) as in A B C D E P ten cursives, etc. With
οὐδείς it was proper to say “cometh to know,” rather than “consciously knoweth.” The Spirit
οἴδεν of course, and so do we when we have the Spirit of God in us.
32 The received text, with Dcorr E L P most cursives, etc., adds
ἁγίος “holy,” contrary to the best authorities.
33 The Vatican and a good cursive (17) read
πνευματικῶς, “spiritually;” as the Porphyrian has the Spirit communicating (
συνκρίνοντες), not we. The Alexandrian omits
αὐτῳ “to him.”
34 The most ancient authorities ( A B Cp.m. Dp.m. 17. 67s.m. 71. and some Greek fathers, who however vary elsewhere) here give
σαρκίνοις, in verse 8 all but Dp.m. F G on the first occurrence, all on the second. The difference is that
σάρκινος means physically of flesh (2 Cor. 3:8, Heb. 7:16); whereas
σαρκικός supposes a fleshly will (1 Peter 2:11; 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 1:12; 2 Cor. 10:4;), where it is not used generally as in Romans 15:27 and 1 Corinthians 9. In Romans 7:14 the best authorities (p.m. A B C D E F G and many cursives, etc.) give
σάρκινος contrary to the reading of the common text. Here the importance dogmatically is great. The main question is which of the two should stand in 1 Corinthians 3:1. Tischendorf says on Hebrews 7:16, that in the apostolic age either form was undoubtedly applied in the same sense, and refers in proof to Romans 7:14 and 1 Corinthians 3:1; but these prove really that there is the difference in scripture which flows from the differing structure of each word.
35 The common text (T. R.) adds
καὶ διχοστασίαι on the authority of many MSS uncial and cursive, but contrary to the best copies ( A B C P 23. 46. 67. 71. 74. etc., Vulg. Cop. Arm. Aeth. and many Greek and Latin fathers).
36 Instead of the vulgar reading
σαρκικοί at the end of verse 4, the weight of authority is decidedly in favour of
ἄνθρωποι ( A B C D E F G, etc., most ancient versions and fathers).
Τί is twice read by p.m. A B. 17. 46. 71. 121. Vulg. Aeth., etc.;
τίς (“who”) is found in the great majority of MSS and Vv.
38 The order of P and A is thus given in A B C Dp.m. E F G P 17. 37. 46. 71. 116., etc. The best of these uncials ( A B C P) and the same cursive add
ἐστίν which is left out of the vulgar text.
39 Only F inserts
Ὧδε in A B C Dp.m. F, Vulg. It. Syr. Copt. Aeth. Arm. etc.; whereas
ὃ δέ has only Dcorr L., many cursive) and some Greek Fathers.
41 The MSS differ in trifles or slips, which do not affect a version of verve 6, save here, where p.m. B Dp.m. Ep.m. F G, old Latin, Vulg., etc., add nothing to
γεγρ. But the Text. R. adds
φρονεῖν, “to think,” supported not only by the later correctors of some of the older copies, but by L P, and most cursives, versions, and fathers.
42 T. R.* here inserts
ὅτι “that,” supported by the corr. of and D E L P, most cursives and versions and fathers, as against p.m. A B C D p.m. F G, 46, 116, some of the best and oldest Latin copies, and of the earliest fathers, Greek and Latin.
43 C Db, some fifteen cursives, some good Latin copies, Cop. later Syr. Arm. (Aeth. invertedly), etc., give
Χ. Ἰ., but the latter is not in A B Dc E L P, most cursives, other good Latins, Pesch. Syr., etc. D F G (Gr. and Lat.) have
44 It seems to me, therefore, that Calvin did not duly see the connection with what the apostle had just pressed, or he would not have said that the person who divided the epistle into chapters ought to have made 4:21 the beginning of chapter 5. These chapters appear to be better divided as they are.